Christian Slavery or Christian Love?

Continuing my study of small books of the Bible I decided to look at the book of Philemon. I must confess I couldn’t even remember the name of this book and were it was in the bible, other than I knew it started with a P and was in the New Testament. I just remembered that it was the one about the slave who was sent back to his master. I was looking at this book again because I remembered it had to do with reconciliation, mercy and goodness, which I’ve been thinking lately.  This unassuming book written by Paul to a house Church leader, Philemon, is well worth the read. It examples how goodness, mercy and love are meant to be lived not just taught.

It’s so simple in its story yet so rich in its message. Onesimus, a slave who ran away from Philemon, is being sent back to Philemon, his Christian master, by Paul after having met the apostle Paul and having his life changed. This letter was written by Paul on behalf of Onesimus. Paul is entreating Philemon to take his former slave back and treat him well. That’s it, that’s the extent of the story, a runaway slave who became a Christian is being sent back to reconcile and serve his Christian master again.

The depth of the book however is so rich and touching. Paul is appealing to Philemon to take back Onesimus and treat him like a brother rather than a slave. The amazing thing is that Paul, knowing the character of Philemon, knows that he will not only great Onesimus as a brother but will even do more than that,  but treat him with love. He will not do the minimum required in reconciliation but that Philemon so reflects the character of God that he will do so much more.

Phil: 21 “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.”

It is a stunning account of reconciliation of the indebted to his debtor, the transformation of a useless slave to a useful brother.

This book does not recount the gospel explicitly, nor is it full of theological discourse or apologetics but it is full of love and Christian principles. It is the application of the Gospel to life. As Christ forgives us, us who had been indebted to Christ unto death, so to is a Christian asked to forgive the slave who ran from his rightful master.

It may be noted that essentially Paul is sending a runaway slave back to his master, back to slavery, but we cannot use this as a justification for slavery, as some might, we must use it to breakdown the barriers of slavery and reconcile slave to master not to equal footing but to brotherly love. If a man loves his slave as a brother and a slave loves his master likewise what risk of inequality is there? None!

We are all slaves to sin set free by another, Jesus Christ, in Christianity. The issue is not slavery, its bigger than that, it’s about love.

Jesus Christ is our master who lovingly reconciled us to him but did so much more. God the father has made us co-heirs with Christ, adopted sons and Daughters of God himself, adopted into the family of God by faith alone. When you think about it we should be slaves who grovel before him and plead for mercy but should not receive it because we are not owed it nor do we deserve it because of our sin. Yet, God in his goodness, love and mercy came to us even while we were still disobedient slaves, and didn’t even recognize our need for forgiveness and mercy, and he died on the cross for us.

A man might treat a good slave with kindness but what kind of man would treat a disobedient slave with mercy and elevate him as a brother? Christ would and so should we.

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Jesus vs “Jesus”

I recently was invited to a lunch meeting of a local Christian Business group. This particular event was held at a local restaurant where we listened to an itinerant pastor. This was an interesting event because this pastor died for seven days and visited Heaven before being sent back to his body. Not every day you get to hear someone claim that.

After listening to him I just felt disgusted. All he kept saying was essentially that if you have faith in Jesus he’ll give you wealth and health, if you have faith you’ll be blessed with money, that same old tired teaching that faith leads to health and wealth. I mean how do we keep teaching this? Point to one disciple of Jesus in the first century that experienced wealth or didn’t experience death in the most horrible fashion for what they taught.

To his followers, my Jesus promised pain, he promised to his followers that they would be humiliated and made fun of for their faith, that some of his followers would suffer and die poor and in pain. Christians are not supposed to live for wealth! Christians are supposed to live for God, love him and others and for that they will be and are persecuted and killed.

Today I’m studying Jude and in verse eight it says “yet in like manner” to fallen Angels, Sodom and Gomorrah and the Egyptians,  “these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious on (Jesus Christ).”  It made me think about this false teacher, this false prophet. This “Preacher” His claim to authority is an experience where he met with Jesus, a “dream” that in of itself could be a claim to authority, that’s what happened to Saul who became Paul after an amazing experience of meeting the risen Christ.

But, do we rely on someone’s visions simply because they declare it? NO. We check it against scripture, against truth, against the word of God written down by faithful witnesses who knew Jesus, walked with Jesus and talked with Jesus. Even Paul after meeting the resurrected Jesus Christ went to Peter the chief Apostle and made sure he checked his understanding about who Jesus was before heading out to teach. Like the ungodly in Jude we don’t let people teach from their dreams simply because they had them, they have to be in line with who Jesus actually is.

This preacher I heard claims to have spoken to Christ yet all I hear is a false teaching, that if you have sorrow and debt, high blood pressure and sickness you lack faith. It’s just health and wealth theology which doesn’t line up with scripture at all. So if this man doesn’t teach the same Jesus than what “Jesus” did he meet?  Maybe he’s just lying and never had this transcendent experience, which I am inclined to believe he didn’t, but if he did die and rise again, If this is the message of that “Jesus”, than I am more inclined to believe he met a demon speaking a false Gospel.

I don’t want to be quick to dismiss someone’s experience, although that is how I’m naturally inclined, but I do want to be devoted to checking if it’s true. How do we do that? Same way Paul did, check with the witnesses, the Bible, and see if what they are teaching is right. I could pull a verse here and there and justify any number of evil and disgusting things that mankind now blames God and Christianity for.  Whether it’s the Inquisition, the Crusades, slavery, Holocaust, whatever it is we can justify it by claiming “I had a vision, I read a verse out of context, I had a revelation from God that supersedes what’s written in the Bible.” Whatever it is if it doesn’t line up with the Jesus that is talked about it scripture – ALL of Scripture – then it’s just evil humanity trying to justify evil acts, even if they claim they are Christian.

You see, I am told that my religion has caused every problem with the world, all the wars are caused by my faith and my God. But I tell you this: that all the evil in this world comes from me and you and every other sinner that’s walked this world and the only thing that gives this world hope and redeems anyone is Jesus Christ. Don’t blame him for the evil that man commits. If you are pointing at Jesus I’d point right back at me and you as the problem; if I was allowed to point, my wife tells me I shouldn’t point.  😉

I’m saddend by that teacher, I mean I really feel sad about it, but angry as well because I know that more than a few people in that room agreed with him and believe in that “Jesus” he is preaching and that he is the same one in the Bible, but he’s not. If Jesus is just there to help them gain wealth and health they haven’t met the real Jesus, the offensive Jesus, that tells us all we are sinners, whether we believe it or not, and he’s the only way to be saved. I don’t want anyone to go to hell, I want everyone to meet the real Jesus, the one that lived a sinless life that we couldn’t live and died the death on the cross to us from going to hell all because he loves us.

Teaching the Gospel: Step 2

How does the Gospel affect us and play out in our life? It does so in the all encompassing process of redemption and salvation where by we are Justified, Sanctified, and ultimately Glorified.

Justification:

We were guilty, sinners before our God, but when we believe God forgives us and counts Jesus righteousness as our own. We are justified when we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our saviour and repent of our sins. Usually when we talk about salvation we mean that WE WERE once saved, we are talking about Justification.  This is our new life, this is what the Christian is talking about when they say they are born again, that they have believed and Jesus righteousness and death on the cross has made us right before God.

Sanctification:

Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and more like Christ in our actual lives. In Sanctification we are BEING saved.

Even if you are not a runner you can imagine a race. You can imagine that when the gun goes off you begin to run hard and fast with great excitement; or maybe you start out more hesitantly and take your time. As the race goes on your speed might change, faster or slower, you might even stop to catch your breath, or you may trip and fall. Running a race is the example that the Apostle Paul gives for the Christian life. He is emphasising the need to run, the need to push on, to strive for victory.

The Christian life is a marathon and by faith you’ve been given the opportunity to run it. It is not easy but there is a great reward at the end but it takes perseverance to get there. The Christian life is not a ride. We are expected to continue growing in faith seeking after God, If we don’t we might not finish the race. None of us is fully prepared for this race on our own, but the Lord has sent the Holy Spirit to be our guide and our helper, our coach. The lord gives us strength and with his strength we can persevere in faith.

The idea of sanctification might scare many evangelical Christians because they have been taught again and again that they are not saved by works and because of that any discussion of works and salvation in the same paragraph can cause them a lot of hesitation. However the Bible clearly teaches that the response to the unmerited justification that we receive from Christ is good works, again and again and again and again the Bible makes this clear. You see those who are saved by grace not by works are saved by grace to good works.

When I speak of works I speak of the outpouring of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. John makes it clear in 1 john that if we are Christian we are assured if our new life produces love for others. So how can we know we are on the path of sanctification and are being saved? We can know by the state of our heart. If our heart’s deepest desire is to learn how to love God and others more we are on the right track. It doesn’t mean we are perfect yet. The works we produce gain us no special merit but serve as a reflection of an internal change, if these works of love are absent then can it be said of a person that they are saved? The Bible says no.

Glorification:

Glorification is the final step in the application of redemption. It will happen when Christ returns and raises from the dead the bodies of all believers for all time who have died, and reunite them with their soul, and change the bodies of all believers who remain alive, thereby giving all believers at the same time perfect resurrection bodies like his own.

Glorification is what we are striving towards, the prize, the goal the gift from God to those who faithfully persevere. It is in Glorification that we WILL be saved.

What does it benefit a person to begin the race, to lose sight of the goal and fall away or stop racing? Nothing! Glorification is the end result of our pursuit of God and a life lived seeking to love.

Glorification is the final act of the redemption process. When Jesus Christ returns those who believe, and as proof of their belief genuinely continued in faith, they will be rewarded with a new glorified body in a bodily resurrection.

Conclusion:

This is salvation, not that we are saved, but that we are being saved by Jesus Christ. That we are justified to a life of sanctification and when we come before God we will be glorified and it is all a gift of grace from God, not our own power that gets us there.

Teaching the Gospel: Step 1

I was recently asked to revise our Churches Baptism Manual which is used in baptism classes. This is a task I’ve really enjoyed because the manual gives me the opportunity to examine the Ordinances, Baptism and the Lord’s supper. But more interestingly it is challenging me to define the Gospel in a teachable way which even at college I was never asked to do.

So, defining the gospel is an exciting task for me and it is proving to be an interesting task. There is so much out there these days which defines the Gospel in reaction to a world that is trying to re-define the Gospel. For instance Greg Gilbert’s amazing book What is the Gosžpel? Is simple concise and easy to read laying out the Gospel in a very readable way.

However, I am tasked with writing a two page summary of the Gospel that is teachable. It is a challenge because I also want this teachable section of the manual to also be very robust. If it is to be part of a Baptism manual I would assume that the reader would have a basic understanding of Justification, the forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God, which is essential. But what I want to accomplish is an instructive lesson that prepares a person to be able to teach the Gospel themselves. I think over the next few days I will be working out my ideas here.

I’m excited to begin this project, really my first attempt at this sort of things. Well then where should I start? I’ll start with two views of the Gospel that are both Biblical. They are as follows:

 
God > Man > Christ > Response

  1. God is a holy God. Equally loving and Just and he has a plan to save us. (Col. 1.13-14)
  2. Man is sinful and unable to save themselves, fully deserving of death for our actions. (Col. 1.21)
  3. God in his love sends His son, Jesus Christ, who willingly goes to the cross, laying down his life of his own accord for our sins. Living the life we could not live and dyeing the death we deserved. (1 Cor. 15:3-5)
  4. Those who respond in faith and repent of their sins are forgiven and will have eternal life. (Col. 1.22-23)

Creation > Fall > Redemption > Consummation

  1. God is the creator God, he created everything that is and it is good. All of which was meant to stir up affection for him.
  2. Mankind has Fallen. We prefer creation instead of creator turning our affections away from God.
  3. Jesus Christ came to make all things new.  A saving work that is occurring.
  4. The consummation, the second coming of Christ the fulfilment of his saving action and the restoration of creation.

I believe that this is the framework, the twofold purpose of the Gospel, that I will take in explaining it.

John’s Gospel: Spoiler Alert

Have you ever read a book where they tell you the big secret right at the beginning of the book and then spend the rest of the book laying it out for you?

In John’s Gospel, the apostle John, a close friend of Jesus and one of the people who knew him best writes some pretty crazy stuff about him. It’s pretty crazy because a lot of people today just think Jesus was a good teacher and don’t want anything to do with that born again stuff, but the same guy who is going to tell you what Jesus taught, the same guy who is going to write all those cool things that Jesus said to all those religious guys, who we love to beat on because we like that Jesus would stick it to the “man,” is going to lay out at the very beginning something that might not be very easy for some people to take.

Chapter 1 in John’s gospel starts off by a making a connection back to Genesis, the first book in the bible and he writes this. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1.1-2)  Then in verse three he goes on to talk about creation. “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” What John is saying is that whoever he’s going to call the Word wasn’t only with God but was God and was the one responsible for all of creation. Nobody else is responsible for creation except God.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1.14) The Word came and lived with us, and John is saying I saw it, we saw it. I met him, the Word, and I saw his glory, the son of God. He’s talking about Jesus that teacher that we like to hear about when he is saying things like love your neighbour and feeding lots of people but who we don’t really want to kneel down and worship or call God.

You see we can’t just take the gospels and say wow look at Jesus’ cool radical and new ideas about love, kindness, mercy and grace, without taking everything else the Gospel writers wrote. Jesus was a real man who really lived and only the craziest and most out to lunch historian will tell you he didn’t live at all. So we go to the writings about him, to his friends and the disciples of his disciples who tell the story of his life. We need to realize that these writers were just as serious about the stuff we might think is crazy as they were about what Jesus taught. For these guys the two are linked and can’t be separated. To John, the guy who sat beside Jesus, talked with Jesus, ate with Jesus, walked with Jesus and recorded all of his teachings wanted you and me to know something, that Jesus is God.

Jesus isn’t a Prophet, he isn’t a teacher, he isn’t a political or social radical, he is God, the king of kings, the creator in who we have life and he is the one who brings light to the darkness.

You see another thing happened in Genesis, we rebelled against God, we became sinners and we brought darkness into the world. This darkness this sin has consumed the world and because of our sin it means we are going to die rebels to God. But what John also wants you to know is that Jesus is the light and that darkness, our sin, isn’t going to overcome him. Jesus goes on to bleed for you, he goes on to die for you!…

Jesus is the light and he overcame sin and now you and I we can get on our knees and apologize to the king of kings for our part, for our sin and Jesus that same king of kings, that same God who was responsible for creating you will forgive you. He’ll forgive you!

That’s crazy! That’s the crazy truth that John wants you to understand about Jesus. If you think you know Jesus and what I’ve written about him doesn’t seem to line up with the Jesus you know then I think you should try and get to know the Jesus John knew. It may be more radical and crazy, but it’s the truth.

(Taken from a community group lesson I’m writing for the church)