Monday, April 30, 2012

Living the Christian Life: Conclusion


The Christian Life is a life that begins with Christ and His Gospel, and ends with Christ and His Gospel. We are saved from our sins by Christ, and saved from our sins to Christ. It is a life that is joyful, full of gratefulness and love for our Savior.

Nevertheless, Christians do get sidetracked. We lost sight of what Jesus did for us on the Cross. We get distracted by the glamorous things of Vanity Fair, the world. We tremble as we face trials. We are misled by false shepherds promoting another gospel. We turn to the glitter of carnal and false spirituality with gold dust and gold teeth and glory clouds. We grow sick of the foolishness of the Cross it seems.

There is only one way forward: Turn back to God and His Word. Find a true church that truly loves God and loves His Word, so that you can be fed by Christ's word (both through preaching and Sacrament). Do not compromise even when God seems far away. Read Psalms 88 when you feel down, for trials and tribulations are the norm for believers now.

The way of the Cross is foolishness not only to the world, but to large tracts of supposed evangelicalism. Do not think yourself wiser than God, as if your gimmicks are more likely to convert people rather than the Word of God preached. You, and every other person, are not the Holy Spirit! Whoever thinks he is wise, let him become a fool for Christ.

Turn back to Christ and the simplicity of the Cross. Turn back to the simple means of grace which God has called us to. Do not add to His Word, as if the multiplication of spiritual disciplines will make you more spiritual. Such are a stench to God, and those engage in them will face the judgment of God just like Nadab and Abihu had (Lev. 10:1-2).

Let us recover the simplicity of Christian living, according to His Word. And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be us all. Amen.

Living the Christian Life: Hope for the future

Hope for the Future

Having gone through the manner of the Christian life, we would now look into its goal. What is the hope of believers?

Many believers will mention that our hope is eternal life, to be with God forever. This is most certainly true (Jn. 3: 16; 1 Jn. 5:12). But what exactly does this mean?

First of all, the Gospel is not hell insurance. Professing faith in Christ is not a "Get out of hell free" card. Rather, the Gospel brings Christ to us in the here and now. We are united with Christ through true faith now.

All of the Christian life is therefore with an eye to the end times, which in theological terms is called eschatological. In Christ, we are no more to see things as we used to do so. Rather, everything has to be colored by the hope of Christ's second coming.

We believers are now pilgrims on this earth just like Abraham (Heb. 11: 8-10). This world is not our home. We are not to lose sight of this truth. Yes, as those who are younger grow up, find a career, get married and so on, it is easy to be distracted. It is easy to focus on the things of this world. That is another reason why of course you should be attending a true church of Christ.

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. (Is. 55:1)

Come to the weekly gathering of God's people to be fed. Come to hear God speak through the preaching of His Word. Come to be fed through the Supper of our Lord, for it is the table of feasting and partaking of the body and blood of our Lord through faith.

Just like Abraham, we travel in this world. We have careers, spouses and so on. Yet we must always keep in mind that this world is not our home. Like Abraham, we look forward to the city whose designer and builder is God. Here we can have no lasting city, but our bodies age and even our names and reputations and legacies disappear in the sands of time.

The issue is one of faith. It is not about idealism or supposed maturity in realism. The key question is this: Where is your faith? It is not idealist to hold to our blessed hope and order our lives accordingly. To think of this view as being naive and out of touch with basic living in this world is a mark of unbelief. Jaded cynicism is a spiritual disease. Is God a god of your inner emotions only? Your "god" is too small. Is he only an old grandfather who has warm affections of love towards you? Your "god" is also too small. Is he a god who dies only to make sure you wouldn't face God's wrath and therefore go to heaven? Your "god" is too small.

The Christian God is the God of this whole universe. The nations are as nothing to him. He mocks at the bravado of those who deny Him ad ridicule His Name. He sees the scheming of the wicked and notes them in His record book, to pour out on them His wrath and judgment at the appointed time.

He who delivers the Jews from their oppressors is the same God who rules even now. O you of little faith, why do you doubt God? Why are you cynical? Trials and tribulations you may face now, and probably are facing now (Jas 1: 2). But why compromise instead of accepting hardship? Where is your light in this world?

Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed the generation of your children.

But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.

Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Ps. 73:12-26)

Let us stand firm in our faith, seeing ourselves as pilgrims in this land, and put our hope and trust in Christ our savior.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Living the Christian Life: The Church

The Church

As we have mentioned earlier, we are saved into the community of believers, the Church, through baptism. Once foreigners to God and to God's people, we are now brought into communion with God and with the people of God.

This community of believers, the Church, certainly consists of all believers everywhere. It is therefore true that whoever believes the Gospel is already part of the church. However, this universal Church is expressed in physical assemblies of believers for the purpose of worshiping God and hearing the proclamation of God's Word.

Faith in Christ is expressed in joy, gratitude and desire to please God. Likewise, being now in communion with God and with God's people will be expressed in the desire to physically be a member in a local Church. Therefore, anyone who believes in God will naturally desire to join his new brothers and sisters to worship God, to hear His Word, and to support each other in their journey of faith.

Just as faith without works is shown to be dead or not a true faith (Jas. 2: 18-20), therefore anyone who has no desire to join a local Church is not part of the universal Church. The evidence of being part of the universal Church is shown in the desire and the act of joining a local Church and being a member in it. This is what we have interpreted the Church Father Cyprian to mean when he says, "Outside the Church there is no salvation." (Extra Ecclesium Nula Salus Est).

Since joining a church is necessary, we must find out which church to join. There are countless buildings and assemblies of people calling themselves churches, but does having the name "church" necessarily mean that these are true churches believers should join? Most certainly not!

Joining a church is supposed to be the expression of our membership in the universal Church. Therefore, all assemblies of people if they are to be true churches must be an expression of the universal Church. If any assembly of people do not exhibit the signs of a true church, they are not an expression of the universal Church and we should not join them.

The marks of a true church are: the proper proclamation of God's Word, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the right exercise of church discipline. By the proper proclamation of God's Word, we mean that the preacher preaches God's Word and explain the text of Scripture to us. If the preacher goes up and uses the Word of God as a launchpad to lecture on something that interests him but is not taught in the text of Scripture, that is not a proper proclamation of God's Word.

The sacraments are Baptism and the Lord's Supper. If any assembly that calls itself a church does not do these sacraments and them only, they are not properly administering the sacraments. Therefore, both the Roman Catholic church (with its 7 sacraments) and the Salvation Army (which do not administer any sacrament) are not true churches.

The third sign is the right exercise of church discipline. Positively, church discipline is exercised in discipleship of believers in the faith. Negatively, church discipline is exercised in rebuke, censor and as a last resort, excommunication of any unrepentant member who commits grievous sin. Many churches are liable to be disqualified on the basis of this third sign as they do not discipline members who commit grievous sin.

God calls us into the Church, and therefore we should seek out a true church and join it. In the church, we are in a place to be cared for and nourished by the Word of God, for the glory of God.