Articles from June 2019

No More Baths for Believers!

 

Jesus was the greatest teacher of all time. His methods of teaching were so effective because He was able to use simple real-life common activities and events to explain profound and complex theological truths. In the last hours of His life during the Last Supper, Jesus rose to wash his disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). This was an incredible act of love as the worthy one served the unworthy ones. During this act of service Jesus explains to Peter the great truths of salvation in a way that even children can understand.

Jesus Came to Serve by Washing Us!
At first Peter was hesitant to allow Jesus to serve him. Maybe it was out of humility that Peter refused, but more likely it was a result of Peter’s pride. Certainly, Peter understood that Jesus was the Son of God. When asked by Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter said clearly, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Peter understood clearly that Jesus was no mere man and that he was a “sinful man” (Luke 5:8). When it came time for Jesus to wash his feet, Peter knew that this was a task reserved for slaves and he quickly opposed Jesus. But Peter did not rightly understand what the Son of Man came to do. Jesus humbled himself and took on human flesh in order that He might serve His people (Philippians 2:6-8). He laid aside His divine rights as He left heaven and came to serve and “give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus was clearly illustrating not with words but with actions that He must serve them (John 10:11).

And the service that Jesus came to do was to “wash us.” The work of Jesus on the cross was a service of cleansing, not from dirt and grime, but from the filth of sin. When Peter opposed Jesus, Jesus made it very clear to Peter and all of us the consequences of rejecting His ministry. Jesus said, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (Jn 13:8). Jesus uses the physical washing to illustrate a spiritual truth. Rejecting Jesus’ ministry of cleansing is an outright rejection of Christ. Jesus is saying clearly that there is no other way to be saved. Jesus has the exclusive rights of spiritual cleansing. There is no other way to be cleansed. In fact you cannot even wash yourself! So many people are trying to clean up their own lives by the way the live. It is impossible to do so! There has to be a cleansing that comes from outside of us. Only the work of Christ is capable of washing away our sin (Hebrews 10:4, 10-14).

Many Will Refuse to be Washed
Sadly, most will not allow Jesus to wash them because of the pride in their hearts. It is a humiliating thing to have to admit that washing is needed. But because we are sinners and live in this filthy world, we need someone to wash us. Salvation is available only to those who are humble enough to cry out for mercy and ask Jesus to wash them (Luke 18:9-14).

Good News: Believers Only Need One Bath
When Jesus chided Peter, Peter responded with a willing heart, but with a misinformed mind. Peter tells Jesus not just to wash his feet, but also his hands and his head (v. 9) indicating that he had not fully understood the work of salvation. Jesus clears up the issue by telling Peter the wonderful good news that true believers don’t need a second bath. He says to Peter, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” It is certain that Peter didn’t understand the full implication of what Jesus was telling him. But in short, Jesus was saying that Peter had already been saved. And once he was saved there was no need for further bathing. The bath of salvation for true believers is a one-time event, never to be repeated again.

Understanding Regeneration & Justification
Jesus is explaining, in parable form, the doctrine of regeneration and justification. When a sinner puts his faith in Christ, he experiences the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom [God] poured out on us rightly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5). In a word, the first bath Christians ever have is the bath of being “born again.” And as a result, God justifies us, not by our works but by our faith (Romans 5:1). So, when Jesus tells Peter that he and the other disciples (except for Judas) are “completely clean” He is assuring them of their salvation. This event would never take place again! It was complete and finished.

Eternal Security
Can you imagine Jesus telling you that you are completely clean? This is a phenomenal statement that describes eternal security. Jesus knew that Peter was going to deny Him three times in just a few hours. Jesus knew that all of the other disciples were going to abandon Him in His greatest hour. Jesus knew that Thomas was going to doubt His resurrection. And yet, Jesus gives them all this wonderful affirmation that they had been cleansed. This cleansing was not based upon their work, but the work of Christ. He had chosen them and they were His sheep and no one could pluck them out of His hand (Jn 10:27-30). He promised to raise them up on the last day (Jn 6:39-40). Being “washed” by Jesus guarantees a person’s eternal destiny.

Continual Feet Washing: Ongoing Sanctification
Jesus continues to teach the disciples and us that though we are clean (justification) there is still an ongoing daily cleansing (sanctification) that is necessary. Jesus tells Peter, “the one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet” (v. 10). In the days of Jesus, people wore open toed sandals and their feet were continually in need of washing especially when a house was entered. Their bodies were clean but their feet needed cleansing on a regular basis. While justification is a one-time event never to happen again for the believer, the process of sanctification is an ongoing lifetime process that never ends until the believer reaches heaven.

Washing our feet daily is not necessary to maintain our legal standing with God, but it is necessary to maintain our fellowship with God. Once we are adopted into the family of God there is nothing that can change our position. Once we are children of God we will never be lost. But as children of God we should desire to remain faithful and holy to the Lord. Inevitably, whether intentionally or accidentally, we are going to get our feet dirty with sin from this world. In order to have our feet washed we must “confess our sins” knowing that “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This is the prayer of daily cleansing (NOT a prayer to be saved all over again). Jesus teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer that we are to ask God to “give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). This is not a daily prayer for justification, but a daily prayer for sanctification. We must make daily cleansing a routine practice in our lives, confessing our sins daily so that we will not grieve or quench the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30, 1 Thess 5:19)

Great Comfort
When we understand the simple teaching of Jesus it ought to bring us incredible comfort. As believers we have been completely washed, but this does not mean that we will be without sin (1 Jn 1:8). If we have been washed we will continually battle against becoming dirty. Having been washed we will desire to strive toward holiness. In fact, the mark of a true Christian is that they do not continue to practice sin (1 Jn 3:9-10). But when we do sin, we can be comforted to know that we have been washed and nothing can change our position. This should motivate us to strive to keep our feet as clean as possible in this world as we march toward Zion, the beautiful city of God.

 

Living Like Ambassadors

Growing up in our Wednesday night program at the First Baptist Church in Guymon, Oklahoma, I was an “RA” or “Royal Ambassador” from grades 1-6. The program was our children’s discipleship program and I can still quote our motto to this day. The motto goes like this:

“As a Royal Ambassador I will do my best to become a well-informed, responsible follower of Christ, to have a Christ-like concern for all people, to learn how to carry the message of Christ around the world, to work with others in sharing Christ and to keep myself clean and healthy in mind and body.”

This vision comes directly from what the Apostle Paul teaches that every true believer has be entrusted with the “message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Cor 5:20). When anyone is saved and reconciled to God, they are no longer citizens of this world, but children of the Kingdom of light (Col 1:13), and citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20). As a result, God makes us ambassadors. This is a great word which describes our new position in this world. An ambassador is “an accredited diplomat sent by a country as its official representative to a foreign country.” Since our new home is in heaven, we actually currently live in a foreign land that is not our home (Heb 11:16). God leaves us here to be His official representatives and spokesmen.

Our Hearts Must be Right
Living like an ambassador requires having our hearts in the right place. If we were all honest this is a major battle within us. We must change the way we think about this life we live here and now. We typically want to do what we want to do, go where we want to go, eat what we want to eat…..you get the idea. But as ambassadors we are no longer our own. The struggle is that we want to live as though we are the king of our own lives. We want to live as though this world is our own little kingdom. But as believers we are not the king of our own lives, but are sent here to honor the true King of Kings, who bought us with His own blood. We are called daily to “set our minds on things above” (Col 3:1). We must keep the right mindset or we will tragically live like this world is our home.

Giving up Trinkets for Real Treasure
As ambassadors we understand that we are going to give up much in this life. But having the right mindset will help us! We look around and see all of the nice things that this life offers, and we struggle. But we must remember that these things are nothing but trinkets compared to the treasure that is awaiting us in heaven. We have an imperishable inheritance that is being stored up for us (1 Peter 1:4). As ambassadors then, we must live life loosely on this earth. We must remember that the pleasures of this world are simply trinkets compared to what is waiting for us in heaven. We must strive not to “love this world or the things in the world” (1 Jn 2:15). It doesn’t mean that we don’t enjoy our time here and the blessings God has given us. But it does mean that we keep the right perspective and remember that we are just passing through, and that the King is going to come back and get us and take us to be with Him in a mansion that He has built for us (John 14:1-4).

Representing the King
Furthermore, being an ambassador means that we actually represent the one who sent us. The way we conduct our time in the foreign land reflects upon our home country and King. There are rumblings that the current US ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, may be removed from her post for dishonoring the current administration with her words. The lives and words of ambassadors are important and reflect those who sent them. In the same way we are to live our lives in a way that honors our King Jesus. As the motto of RAs says, we must strive to “keep myself clean and healthy in mind and body” for the sake of bringing glory to our Lord (1 Cor 10:31).

But Most Importantly
But more than anything, as ambassadors we are called to speak on behalf of the one who sent us. Paul makes this clear when He says that God is actually “making his appeal through us” (2 Cor 5:20). It isn’t enough simply to live a good holy life for the King in the foreign land. We are also called to promote His agenda, advance His directives, speak loudly His message to the people around us. This means that we must know the message well. No good ambassador is ignorant of the agenda. And the agenda is clearly stated that we are left in order that we might “implore [everyone] on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

We have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation, namely that God is reconciling the world through His Son Jesus Christ. Every human being is at enmity with God because of their sinful nature. But through the blood of Jesus alone, that broken relationship can be reconciled whereby God can now call sinners his friends (Jn 14:15, Rom 5:7-8). Christ died so that sinners could be made “new creations” and not have their “trespasses counted against them.” Why would we hoard or hide the message? We must speak it on a regular basis to all who come into our path.

Are You a Good Ambassador?
To live as the best ambassador for Christ we must quit compartmentalizing our lives. We must consider ourselves as incarnational, that is that we are “little Christs” walking on this earth. We must represent Him and speak on His behalf every chance we get. We never take a break or a vacation. Since we have been entrusted with the “good news” of reconciliation, we must continually be looking for opportunities to speak with those in this foreign land, never forgetting our mission. Every moment we live and move should be to represent the King not only in deed, but most importantly in word!

Are you a Royal Ambassador? Are you doing your best to be a well-informed, responsible follower of Christ? Do you have a Christ-like concern for all people? Are you learning how to carry the message of Christ wherever you go? Are you keeping yourself clean and healthy in mind and body?

A Healthy Church: Responsibilities of Shepherds & the Sheep

A young woman came into my office several years ago and conveyed to me that she had never been a part of a healthy church. Her father was a pastor and was mistreated and disrespected. She saw “church people” act very self-centered. She had come to the place where she never wanted to go to church again. She had never experienced strong biblical loving leadership and a congregation that honored and respected their pastors. Unhealthy churches can not only be stressful and unpleasant, but worst of all they dishonor the Lord and give a bad witness to the world. The Apostle Paul closes his letter to the Thessalonians and gives them instructions on how to cultivate a healthy church. His first and primary concern was to describe the expectations and responsibilities of how a pastor is to relate to the congregation and how the congregation is to relate to the pastors. Paul writes:

“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)

The Shepherd’s Responsibility
The Shepherd Pastor is called by God to care for the sheep of the congregation. He has three responsibilities in his calling. He is responsible to 1) labor, 2) oversee, and 3) admonish the congregation.

Labor: The pastors and elder leaders of the church are called to labor diligently. The word here for labor describes great effort and exertion to the point of sweat and exhaustion. Contrary to what some jokingly say, the pastor must work more than “one day a week.” He is responsible for preaching, teaching, caring, admonishing, counseling and so much more. The pastor has a high calling to diligently minister in the church and work hard (acts 20:18-20). Every pastor must have a servant’s heart ready to pour out his life night and day for the sake of the Gospel (1 Thess 2:9).

Oversee: The pastors and elders also have the responsibility to oversee the congregation and the ministry. Paul says they are “over you in the Lord.” The New American Standard translates that phrase “have charge over.” According to God’s design, the pastor has authority in the church to preside, lead or direct the ministries in the way he sees will best accomplish the mission of the church. This does not mean he can do whatever he wants or fulfill his every preference. But the pastors and elders stand in the place of the Good Shepherd and must act as faithful representatives. This is what it means to be over others “in the Lord.” The authority of the pastor is not self-proclaimed. He only has the authority to lead as the Word of God directs.

Admonish: Shepherds are also called to admonish, or give instruction, to the congregation. This instruction is given for the purpose of correcting, and sometimes warning people (Tit 1:9). It is not popular today, but the pastor must speak directly and frankly with those in his congregation. Since he loves his congregation, he should admonish them to follow the Lord wholeheartedly. He must speak “thus sayeth the Lord” and if he is a good shepherd will always point his congregation back to the Word of God exhorting them not to obey him, but rather to obey the Lord.

The Sheep’s Responsibility
The sheep, or congregation, also have responsibilities in the church designed by God. They are called by God to relate to their pastors and elders in a particular manner that would bring honor to the Lord. They have three responsibilities toward their leaders: 1) respect their leaders, 2) esteem their leaders, and 3) submit to and be at peace with their leaders.

Respect: The congregation is called to understand clearly what God expects of their pastors and as a result they are to respect them. This means that they are to appreciate that God has given them a real human shepherd to watch over and care for their souls (Heb 13:17). Respect should extend to attitudes and words spoken. It is common for people to be unkind, critical, or indifferent toward their pastors. This is not honoring to the Lord.

Esteem: The sheep are also to “esteem them highly in love because of their work.” The congregation must have a loving attitude toward all their pastors. They must keep in mind what work they have been called to do. This might mean overlooking some of your pastors’ shortcomings (not sins). Pastors are not perfect and are also on the journey of sanctification, just like the congregation.

Submit & Be at Peace: The third responsibility of the congregation is to submit to and be at peace with church leaders. Since the pastors are “overseers” and have authority, the congregation must be willing to submit and be peaceable. Being peaceable with your leaders means that the congregation is quick to eliminate conflict, strife, and discord and promote harmony so that the church can be effective in fulfilling its mission.

Promoting a Healthy Church
We all desire to have a healthy church. An unhealthy church is a black eye to the glory of the Lord and brings shame on the Gospel. We can be sure that Satan desires more than anything to destroy the Church. He will attempt to put animosity between church leaders and the congregation. The responsibilities that God has given both to pastors and the congregation are difficult. Without the power of the Holy Spirit and much prayer, it would be impossible to accomplish our Lord’s directives. We must all be aware of what the Lord expects of each of us and encourage one another for the Lord’s sake. Let us pray that God would continue to keep our church healthy and strong. I’m thankful for such a wonderful congregation here at Ebenezer Bible Fellowship Church who continually “highly esteems” their pastors and elders. Please pray for us as pastors and elders that we will be faithful to our calling. We will pray for you as well.