Saturday, November 30, 2013

Poverty of Spirit is Possible with God

Read Luke 6:20
How can we be sincerely and consistently poor in spirit?

How are we supposed to actually do all this? How can we be genuinely and continuously so poor in spirit, trusting in God, and sacrificially generous with our money? It’s more than not easy – it’s impossible. Jesus tells us it’s impossible, in the story of the rich young ruler in Luke 18, from verse 18.

Read Luke 18:18. The man wants to be in the kingdom, and wants to know what he must do to get in. Because we understand grace, this question should be a red flag. We know it’s the wrong question: “How can I work my way to heaven?”

Read Luke 18:19. Jesus is trying to help him, and reminds him that noone is good, no-one is righteous.

Read Luke 18:20-21. When Jesus presented him with the law, which nobody can keep, the ruler responded with spiritual pride. He trusts in himself, that he is righteous. He should have responded like the tax collector, and beat his breast and said, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Instead, he says, “I’m not a sinner. The law: I’ve done that since I was a kid.”

Read Luke 18:22-23. The rich young ruler was trying to serve God and money, so Jesus told him to get rid of the money. But he chose the money.

Read 18:24-27. Jesus makes a massive statement here. Just like it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, it is humanly impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. But there’s good news: What is impossible with men is possible with God.

It is God who changes hearts. God removes the heart of stone, and replaces it with a heart of flesh. You and I are rich, by the standards of the world today, and by the standards of history. Only God can change our hearts, by his grace, so that our reliance and worship of our wealth can be overcome, and that we can truly become poor in spirit, and trust solely on God for our salvation, and for everyone else, and enter the kingdom of God.

Do you want to be blessed by God and enter his kingdom?
  • Be Poor in Spirit: Confess that you have no moral or spiritual worth to bring to God
  • Trust God for mercy in Jesus Christ, like a child trusts his father, and ask him to save you.
  • Be Obedient. Walk in the good works that God has prepared for you, being generous with the money God has given you.
  • Stay Poor in Spirit and Be Humble. Never forget or cease to acknowledge that you are his unworthy servant.
In the book What Jesus Demands from the World John Piper wrote,
“The joy of the humble does not reside in being deserving, but in receiving mercy.”

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Spiritual Poverty & Money

Read: Luke 6:20 and Luke 6:24

The point of the last few posts has been that “poor” in these verses means spiritual poverty, and “rich” means spiritual pride. So what about money?

Previously I’ve made the point that “Jesus uses figurative speech, all the time.” This combined blessing and curse is an example of figurative speech. If the poor are blessed and the rich are cursed, then the literal interpretation is that there’s some kind of net worth borderline: less money and you’re in, and more money and you’re out.

This is obviously not the case, and as I said we know from Matthew 5 that Jesus also said “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” This blessing and curse are primarily about our spirit, and our heart.

But I think it goes much too far to say that these sayings have nothing to do with money at all.

We are in the kingdom by being poor in spirit – confessing that we have nothing spiritual or morally valuable to bring to God – and by trusting in him for salvation.

But those that are in the kingdom will treat money very differently to those that are outside of the kingdom. In fact, I think that money is the main application of being poor in spirit for us today.

The poor in spirit bring nothing to God, and trust him for salvation. The poor in spirit also trust God for everything else, through all of life. We trust him for food and clothing. We must trust him when circumstances look hopeless, and when our life looks like its not worth living.

Money enters the equation in at least these two ways:
  1. Having money gets in the way of trusting God for our needs.
  2. Our generosity with money shows our trust of God.

1. Having money gets in the way of trusting God for our needs. This is almost certainly your problem, today. I know that it’s mine. Maybe one or two of us are exceptions, but I doubt it.

Read Luke 12:29-31, the well-known passage where Jesus says “don’t be anxious about your life”, and “consider the ravens” and “consider the lilies”.

“Do you have the clothes you are wearing, and will you eat another two meals today mainly because you were seeking first after God’s kingdom and trusting him to provide the clothes and food?”

In this passage, in Luke 12, Jesus is telling some of the poorest people to not be anxious about where they’ll find their clothes, or how they’ll put another meal on the table. They were anxious because they were poor and weren’t certain how they’d afford these things. We have the exact opposite problem.

When was the last time you were tempted to worry about the bare necessities of life? Worried about clothing, shelter and food? We’re not tempted to worry about these things because we are so incredibly wealthy. Our fridges, freezers and cupboards are full of food. If we need more, we go down to Coles or Woollies and spend a fraction of our money on a range and quality of foods that would have amazed King Solomon.

You are actually among the richest people in the world. I want to quote the beginning of an article that was in the Sydney Morning Herald recently. The figures of wealth in this article are net worth: take the value of all your assets, and then subtract your liabilities. They aren’t annual income figures.
Australians remain the richest people in the world, by one measure at least.

The median wealth of adult Australians stands at $US219,505 ($233,504) - the highest level in the world, according to the Credit Suisse 2013 Global Wealth Report, released on Wednesday.

Median wealth is the midpoint between richest and poorest, meaning that 50 per cent of the population has more than $233,504, and 50 per cent less than that.

Our wealth gets in the way of us trusting God for what we need. We trust our money, our jobs, our savings, our investments, our insurance, our friends and family. We even trust the government to stop us from becoming naked and starving.

We are not poor. We are so rich, that we should tremble at the thought that we could be trusting our money more than our God. We cannot trust our money to provide for our needs, and still be poor in spirit. And only the poor in spirit inherit the kingdom.

The second way that money relates to being poor in spirit is that: 2. Our generosity with money shows our trust in God.

Jesus has a lot to say about wealth, and money. His commands about money are radical, and obeying them means trusting God. Starting in Luke 6.

Read Luke 6:30, Luke 6:35 and Luke 6:38. Jesus says to give generously and lend without expecting anything in return, and trust God that he will reward you, and be more generous than you’ve been.

Read Luke 12:15-21. Again, Jesus gives a dire warning to those who are selfish with money and possessions: you die and enter judgement, and someone else gets the stuff.

Luke 12:22-34 is the passage we looked at earlier about seeking the kingdom of God first, and all the other things will be added to you. Now read Luke 12:32-34. These are radical commands.

Read Luke 16:13. When you trust money, you serve money. You cannot serve God, and money. You can’t trust God, and trust money.

Luke 16:19-31 is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man went to Hades in torment, and Lazarus went to Abraham’s bosom. In verse 25, Abraham said to the rich man, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” That sounds very familiar, doesn’t it:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

So we should pay attention to this parable, to better understand what it means to be poor in spirit, or not so poor in spirit, like the rich man. And what was the sin of the rich man, that he didn’t repent of? It’s implied by the situation:

Read Luke 16:19-21

It’s not a sin to be rich, to wear nice clothes and to feast sumptuously. But this rich man had Lazarus laid at his gate, who was poor, sick and suffering. All he wanted was the leftovers; the table scraps. He desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. He only wanted the floor sweepings, and it seems he didn’t even get that. The rich man kept his money to himself, and had no love or compassion for Lazarus. He is then held responsible for his treatment of the poor man Lazarus at his gate.

You and I are physically rich. We live in sturdy, comfortable houses, wear great clothes and eat the best food in the world. Who is lying at your door: poor, sick or suffering?

We live in a much smaller world now, than Lazarus. My wife and I bought some books and other stuff online the other day from a shop in Idaho, while sitting on the couch, using my iPad. If I can buy from a shop on the other side of the world without leaving the living room, then my doorstop beside which the poor are lying must also be global. Surely God holds me responsible for how I use my money to help the poor and suffering in Emerald, and the rest of Australia and across the world.

Do you help the poor with your money? Or are you clinging to your money more than you should, and helping the poor and destitute, especially the Christian poor, less than you should?

I recommend some impulse generosity. Just like impulse buying, impulse generosity is instantaneous. If your heart is moved to help the poor, then it’s not complicated. Get onto your internet banking and give the Barnabas Fund or Open Doors a few hundred dollars. While you’re there, set it up to happen every month. Or buy some extra groceries while you’re shopping and drop them off at the Neighbourhood Centre.

Give from the heart, generously. Don’t do it to be seen by others, or that will be your only reward. If you do it to be noticed and admired, it won’t be from the heart, and it won’t be generous.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Spiritual Poverty & Salvation: Unworthy Servants Saved by Grace

Something to ponder: Do you think that if you chose to give $100 to your pastor today, that he would deserve it? We’ll come back to that in a moment.

The poor in spirit are saved by trusting God: this is what grace is all about. What does “grace” mean? The textbook definition is: undeserved favour. Consider “underserved” – it means you don’t deserve it, and you haven’t earned it. Grace, or a free gift, is undeserved.

Let’s say I give my pastor $100 – as a free gift. That would be grace. No matter how wonderful you think he is, he is underserving of that gift. If he deserved it, then I was just paying what was owed, and it wasn’t a gift. That would be wages.

If you agreed that your pastor $100 was something he deserved, then you should pay him that money as soon as possible. If he deserves it from you, you owe it to him. You have an outstanding debt.

A gift cannot be earned – grace cannot be earned. If you do earn it, it stops being a gift.

Consider Romans 4:4 – “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.”

Read: Ephesians 2:8-10.

God’s mercy in salvation is a gift, by grace. It’s not your own doing. You don’t deserve it, at all, not even a little bit. If you’ve been saved, there’s nothing you’ve done that you can point to that says, “here is why I deserved God’s mercy”.

Your good works and my good works are the outcome of our salvation, not the cause. We are created to go and do the good works that God has already prepared in front of us to do. God wrote that to-do list before he saved you.

And here is a grave warning: do not for one moment think that after a lifetime of obediently doing these good works that he has prepared for you to do, that you have now earned any part of your salvation. Don’t think that you’ve paid any of it back, or that you’ve “given something back to God”. If you believe you’ve put something back into the moral scales, then grace is no longer grace, and you are trying to be saved by works, and you will fail.

This is why being poor in spirit is not just for a moment of confession and repentance at the time of salvation. Being poor in spirit is an all-of-life condition for those in the kingdom.

Jesus described what our attitude should be after performing all the works that God has prepared for us to do.

Read: Luke 17:7-10.

Not many people have that as a wall text in their living room. Few of us have this as our true self-assessment and confession to God. I’m not talking about new believers here, but those who have spent decades serving God, doing what he has commanded. This is what it looks like to finish the race, remaining poor in spirit.

The practical application of this is simple, but difficult. Check your attitude often. If you see yourself as an unworthy servant of our Lord Jesus Christ: all is good. Otherwise, you’re humility is being replaced by pride. What a wonderful job I’m doing.

I want to give that definition of being poor in spirit I gave a few posts ago once gain, so you can think about whether I’ve shown that definition is correct or not:

To be poor in spirit means to humbly acknowledge that I am spiritually and morally bankrupt, with nothing to commend me to God. I am spiritually worthless.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Spiritual Poverty & Salvation: Trusting God

Read: Luke 6:20

Spiritual poverty – being poor in spirit – is most important, and most obvious, in the process of salvation. The difference between spiritual poverty, or humility, and spiritual pride is illustrated in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

Read: Luke 18:9-14.

The Pharisee in this parable has great spiritual pride. He not only thinks he has high moral worth, he even boasts about it to God himself. I thank you God, that I am so worthy and moral, and not like that other scum.

The tax collector is poor in spirit. He knows he has nothing to bring to God, and he confesses it openly, with tears. He begs God for mercy, and he receives mercy and forgiveness. He is justified, and made right with God. The Pharisee remained in his sins.

There is a step between spiritual humility and receiving God’s mercy, and a step between spiritual pride and receiving God’s judgment.
Note verse 9: they trusted in themselves, that they were righteous”.

Spiritual pride says that I have all the righteousness I need: I’m fully self-contained. Spiritual pride is therefore trusting in myself, that I am righteous. The one who has spiritual pride trusts in himself.

But nobody’s morality meets God’s standard, no matter how good they make themselves look to other people. So the one who trusts in himself, or herself, is not saved. Whatever benefit this spiritual pride or “spiritual richness” has is for this life only. Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

On the other hand, the tax collector, poor in spirit, trusted in God by calling out to him for mercy. This was a genuine cry out to God to be saved, trusting that he would, and it was answered. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

Spiritual pride is subtle and dangerous. You can become proud of all the good things: your bible knowledge, your serving, your preaching, your prayer life, your sexual purity, your evangelism. You can even become spiritually proud of how humbly you clean the toilet without receiving any recognition.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Blessed are you who are Poor

Read: Luke 6:20

What does it mean to be poor in spirit? The closest single word that describes poor in spirit is “humble”. I want to give a more detailed definition, and then try to convince you from scripture, in future posts, that this definition is correct.
To be poor in spirit means to humbly acknowledge that I am spiritually and morally bankrupt, with nothing to commend me to God. I am spiritually worthless.
Not only does what I just said go against our culture, it goes against our human nature. It is offensive. But Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

Being poor in spirit is a state of complete repentance before God. It’s not something that can be put on or acted out. It’s not self-pity, or self-hate or self-loathing.

Being poor in spirit is also not about having no value as a person. We have value. As Jesus said, “we are of more value than many sparrows.” We have value to God, but we have no moral goodness of our own. It is in this way that we are spiritually worthless.

So what is the opposite of poverty of spirit? What does it mean to be “rich in spirit”. It means that I have spiritual and moral value, and I have some redeeming features to offer God. It means I deserve God’s mercy, or even that I don’t need God’s mercy.
There’s no blessing for the “rich in spirit”; there’s only a curse: a pronouncement of woe.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


This year, I find myself doing the "Movember" thing, again. And, I could really do with a donation. I'm lagging, in a big way. Click here to donate to my Mo.

The rest of this post is copied from the Movember website, to give you an idea of what Movember is all about:

Campaign Strategy & Goals:
We will get men to grow moustaches and the community to support them by creating an innovative, fun and engaging annual Movember campaign that results in:
• Funds for men's health program investment
• Conversations about men's health that lead to:
- Greater awareness and understanding of the health risks men face
- Men taking action to remain well
- When men are sick they know what to do and take action

Program Goals:
Living with and Beyond Cancer
Men living with prostate or testicular cancer have the care needed to be physically and mentally well.

Staying Mentally Healthy, Living with and Beyond Mental Illness
• Men are mentally healthy and take action to remain well
• When men experience mental illness they take action early
• Men are not treated differently when they experience a mental illness

Men's Health Research
We will fund innovative research that builds powerful, collaborative teams that accelerate:
• Improved clinical tests and treatments for prostate and testicular cancer
• Improved physical and mental health outcomes for men

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Sermons in Luke So Far

A while ago, I put an introductory sermon of mine on the gospel of Luke onto this blog. I now have the entire sermon series (to date), available for download. Left-click on the sermon titles below and you'll be taken to Dropbox, where there are links to the mp3 downloads.

Date PreachedTextTitle / Link
27/02/2011Luke 1:1-4That You May Have Certainty
15/05/2011Luke 1:5-24God's Plan
10/07/2011Luke 1:26-56Mary
19/02/2012Luke 2:1-21While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night
1/07/2012Luke 2:22-52Born Under the Law
26/08/2012Luke 3:1-20Repent!
7/10/2012Luke 3:21-4:15Fighting Temptation
20/01/2013Luke 4:14-44The Synagogue Back Home
10/03/2013Luke 4:42-5:26 Three Miracles
4/05/2013Luke 5:27-39Fasting
7/07/2013Luke 5:27-32, 6:1-39Lord of the Sabbath
13/08/2013Luke 6:12-49The Sermon on the Mount
13/10/2013Luke 6:20, 24Blessed are you who are Poor

Please let me know in the comments if you have any trouble with any of these links.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

What is Church Membership?

Context:There is a discussion occurring within our church at the moment on the nature of church membership, especially in light of the current constitutional requirement that members be baptised as believers, by immersion. This is my initial contribution to that discussion. I thought I should post it here, as it might be helpful to others.


The purpose of this paper is to explain what I believe is the biblical meaning of church membership. This paper explores the importance of church membership, and how it should be considered in relation to other issues. Its relationship to baptism is specifically discussed.

In coming to the subject of church membership and then as it relates to baptism, I seek first to remind the reader of the definitions and distinctions of the invisible church, the visible church and the local church.

Membership of the Invisible Church

In the New Testament, the saints are described as members of the one body in Christ:
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:4-5, ESV)
People from all sorts of backgrounds and social classes are baptised by the Spirit into the one body of Christ, and become members of that body:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, ESV)
From these, and other passages, it is clear that the person that comes to Christ in faith and repentence, being born again by the Holy Spirit, and being washed by the blood of Christ – such a person becomes a member of Christ’s body, the church (or assembly, from ekklesia). Although an individual can have a great assurance of his own salvation, the membership of the assembly of Christ is known only by the Godhead:
But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27, ESV)
This collection of all genuine believers – God knows who they are – is sometimes called the invisible church, not because its members can’t be seen, but because it’s members can’t be distinguished by any but God.

The Visible Church

Grudem writes:
On the other hand, the true church of Christ certainly has a visible aspect as well. We may use the following definition: The visible church is the church as Christians on earth see it. In this sense the visible church includes all who profess faith in Christ and give evidence of that faith in their lives. (Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, p. 856).
The key difference between the visible and the invisible church, is that Christians don’t have perfect vision, and cannot see into hearts. There are tares among the wheat, and sheep that are straying from the fold.

The visible church across the world is called the universal church, or the catholic church.

The Local Church

The local church is the clearest and smallest manifestation of the visible church. A local church is a congregation of believers meeting together in an organised fashion, usually under the authority of its elders. Depending on the type of church government, local assemblies may be tied, strongly or loosely, to assemblies in other places, within denominations. Depending on the type of church government, people in other places may, individually or corporately, have a degree of authority over the teaching and practice in a particular assembly. Nevertheless, the local church remains the key expression of the visible church.

There is a scriptural basis for the local church, even when the congregation is very small. For example:
“The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 16:19, ESV)

Membership of the Local Church

Is it important for a local church to define, by means of a list, which individuals or households are members of it – and in so doing define those which are not a members of it (i.e. everybody else)? I would argue: yes, and that this is what church membership is, and what church membership means.
When looking to summarise the biblical evidence for a defined church membership, I could do no better than to quote verbatim the following section entitled “Five Strands of Evidence”. This is from the notes of a sermon by John Piper entitled “How Important is Church Membership?”.
While I copied the “Five Strands of Evidence” section of Piper’s sermon into the paper I’m handing around, I’d like to refer the reader of this blog-version to that sermon with this link. If you are reading this paper, please take the time to read the “Five Strands of Evidence” section at Desiring God, because it forms an important part of the flow within this document.
The entire sermon is downloadable in both video and audio formats, and is very useful on understanding this subject from a baptistic viewpoint.

Exclusion of Membership of the Local Church

Ordinarily, the decision to accept or exclude applicants from church membership would be made by the elders of a congregation. The elders would assess, as best as they are able, whether the candidate is a confessing follower of Christ, showing the signs of rebirth, and connection to the vine by bearing the fruit of the Spirit (John 15:1-8, Romans 8:5-8, Galatians 5:16-26, Ephesians 2:10, James 2:18, 1 John 3:6-8). In short, the elders look for signs of a lively faith.

When would a request for membership be refused? This will normally only happen when the elders have grave doubts about the applicant’s confession of faith, based on the lack of fruit in his or her life. This will also occur by default when applicants are excluded by means of pre-determined criteria. This is discussed in the next section.

What does exclusion from church membership mean and how serious is it (especially when the fruits of a lively faith exist)? In the same sermon notes quoted above, John Piper writes:
... if we say, “Even though you are born again and a member of Christ, you may not be a member of this church,” that seems to undermine the person’s faith and the meaning of the local church. It seems to undermine faith because from one angle, exclusion from membership is like front-end excommunication before membership has happened. When you excommunicate a member from the church, according to Matthew 18:17, you “let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” In other words, you love him and try to win him as an unbeliever. That sounds really serious. Are we saying to those we exclude from membership that they are in the category of an unbeliever?
And saying no to a genuine believer who is part of the universal body of Christ seems to undermine the meaning of the local church as an expression of that universal church.
According to the meaning and purpose of church membership that I understand from scripture, and that I’ve tried to summarise here, exclusion of a person from church membership is a very serious issue and not to be taken lightly. If a genuine believer is excluded, it is especially serious, and brings to mind the partiality within the Christian synagogue condemned by James (James 2:1-13).

Exclusion from Membership by Membership Criteria

In many congregations, as it is in our congregation, a list of requirements for church membership is created, approved and published by the congregation or its leadership. These requirements, where they exist, pre-judge whether those seeking membership can even be considered by the elders for suitability. The requirements act as a kind of elimination criteria, preventing the need for the elders to assess the suitability of the most obviously unsuitable candidates. Such requirements may be clearly reasonable and just, such as insisting that members confess Jesus Christ as Lord. Such requirements may be just as clearly unreasonable and unjust, such as insisting that members have white skin. Nevertheless, the documented requirements for membership represent the absolute minimum criteria of acceptability for membership candidates.

The congregation as a whole – consisting of its members – is responsible for these criteria, or whether they even exist. If the criteria are such that the doors into the local congregation are narrower than the doors into the kingdom of heaven, then the local church will have a more closed, exclusive group of members than the universal church.

Such exclusivity systematises the serious and difficult issue of exclusion from church membership.

Baptism as a Membership Criterion

Baptism is very important. It is also more than a little controversial. There are diverse views on the meanings, the modes and the appropriate recipients of baptism. These views are held with a similarly diverse range of passions, from ambivalence to dogmatism.

The most common ground on baptism is that all believers must be baptised. I agree that baptism is a reasonable and biblical criterion for church membership: those entering into the New Covenant must be baptised.

Nevertheless, restricting the definition of baptism as a criterion for church membership to the baptistic definition of believers’ baptism only, by immersion only, makes the door into the local church far narrower than the door into the universal church, or indeed the invisible church: the true body of Christ. Such a limited definition of baptism is not explicit in scripture and is certainly not the historic practice of the Christian church.

Should baptism be a criterion of church membership at all? I believe that it should. Nevertheless, I would be comfortable to be a member of a church that made an allowance for unbaptised people to become members, if they provided the elders with a robust and satisfactory defence from scripture of their refusal to be baptised, alongside the usual evidences of a lively personal faith, and that it was not just the case of some personal fancy or church tradition taking priority over scripture.

Re-Baptism to Satisfy Baptism as a Membership Criterion

I am a believer, and I am baptised. I was baptised as a baby, by the mode of sprinkling. By some, my baptism is not considered to be baptism. That is, the sign and seal of the covenant applied to me is considered wrong enough to be no sign or seal at all. It’s certainly considered wrong enough to exclude me from church membership based on baptistic criteria.

I have been asked, more than once, if I would consider re-baptism. It was a question I asked myself long before anyone ever asked me. I have given the matter no small amount of thought and prayer. I have concluded that to accept re-baptism would be a lie, by:
  1. Declaring my baptism to be invalid, while I know it to be valid.
  2. Declaring baptism of the infants of believers to be invalid, while I believe it to be commanded, and have been obedient to that command.
  3. Declaring baptism by sprinkling or pouring or other non-immersive modes to be invalid, while I believe all of these modes to have at least as much scriptural warrant as immersion.
To accept re-baptism would be a grave hypocrisy, making a mockery of the sacrament. Ironically, it would make me a serious candidate for excommunication. I would rather die.

Concluding Thoughts

I have sought to explain in this paper what I see as the biblical view of church membership: what it means, and specifically what exclusion from church membership means and why it is a serious matter. If the reader disagrees with what I’ve put forward, the questions then remain:
  • What is church membership and what does it mean?
  • What does it mean to exclude someone from church membership?
If church membership and exclusion from it mean roughly what I’ve written, then the following question must be considered:
Is conformance to a view and practice of the appropriate meaning, mode and recipients of baptism more important than excluding from church membership those who otherwise appear to be genuine believers?
On the subject of infant baptism: I intend to soon write a brief explanation and defence of covenantal infant baptism, to help others less familiar with the practice better understand its meaning and its scriptural basis. For now, I would ask that the following points be prayerfully pondered:
  • What is the position of the children of believers within the church? In the New Covenant? Before God? Are they inside or outside? What do the scriptures tell us about children and the church?
  • If the New Covenant is better, and has better promises (Hebrews 8:6), and if the scope of inclusion in the New Covenant is greater, by bringing in the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-22), then why – according to the baptistic view – has the scope also been narrowed in the transition from the old to the new, by the exclusion of the children of believers? And if they were excluded in the transition of covenants, why was this change not more explicitly stated and expounded in scripture, the way the inclusion of the Gentiles was?

Edit (20/11/2013): Fixed paragraph breaks.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Faith, Not Works

Read: Romans 9:30-33

Most Christians understand, at least in theory, that salvation within the New Covenant, in Christ, is by faith and not works (Ephesians 2:8-9).

On the other hand, many believers assume that within the Old Covenant, from Abraham to Moses to John the Baptist, salvation was on the basis of works, and not faith. This passage (Romans 9:30-33) is very clear: many within the Old Covenant were not counted righteous because they also thought that they could attain it by works, and not by faith.

It is one thing that those within the Old Covenant fell over the stumbling block laid in Zion, but why do so many Christians today also stumble when they look at the saints of the Old Testament?

Consider also the teaching of Romans 4:3-8:

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Abraham was saved by grace through faith. David was saved by grace through faith. To see the Old Covenant as one of salvation by works is to look at it either in ignorance, or as a Pharisee, tripping over the stumbling block that was laid in Zion. But we must not to stumble over him: instead, whoever believes in him shall not be put to shame.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Not of Blood, Nor of the Will of the Flesh

Read John 3:1-21

This passage is interpreted by some to mean that a person is born again through the action of being baptised. Being "born of water and the Spirit" is taken to mean baptism. Because being born again refers to the process of regeneration, this doctrine (teaching) is called baptismal regeneration. I don’t think that scripture supports this understanding, and I’d like to outline why I think that.
  1. From John 3 it is clear that you must be born again, or regenerated to see the kingdom of God. The first issue with connecting baptism to being born again is that the thief on the cross went straight to paradise, but wasn't baptised (Luke 23:39-43).
  2. The saints of the Old Covenant weren't baptised. Does that mean that Abraham, Moses, David and Elijah are outside of the kingdom? Or are we to take it that Jesus meant, "from now on", or perhaps "from Pentecost"? But Jesus is speaking in the present tense. Unless Nicodemus was born again, if he'd died that night, he wouldn't have gone into the kingdom.
  3. Jesus says to Nicodemus, "Are you a teacher of Israel and you don't know these things?" Jesus clearly expected a teacher of the Old Testament to be familiar with the concepts he was discussing. If being born again "of water and the spirit" refers to the new institution of baptism, then Jesus could hardly expect him to know this was a requirement of entering the kingdom. This phrase points to the Old Testament, and is also related to point (2) above. Being born again must be an Old Testament principle, not just a New Testament one.
  4. Being born again "of water and the spirit", as prophesied in the Old Testament, points to (among other passages) Ezekiel 36:25-27:
    25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
  5. The Ezekiel passage above points to cleansing and washing of past sins, and to being born again with a new heart. This process is linked to the Holy Spirit. This is consistent with Titus 3:5, which refers to "the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit". That is, being born again has two components: washing the filth of the old man, and "starting again" as the new man. There are similar themes are in Romans 6, Colossians 2:6-15.
  6. The point of Jesus in John 3 is that the Holy Spirit is like the wind which blows where it wishes. In John 1:12-13, regeneration is said to be not of "the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." Titus 3:5 further says regeneration is "not because of works done in righteousness."

    Baptism, however, is an action or a work - done perhaps in righteousness - and is performed entirely by human will. Humans decide when and how baptism is performed. The Holy Spirit is not confined to this, and is not forced into making people born again simply because someone baptises them, and will not be prevented from making people to be born again just because nobody has baptised them. The Holy Spirit is God, and is not a human puppet.
  7. Baptism and being born again remain clearly and closely linked, but the first is a sign and seal of the second. There are very few good reasons for a believer not to be baptised on entering the covenant. One biblical example of a good reason to not be baptised is being in the process of being crucified: I do not doubt that the thief on the cross was born again. I am sure many men and women have been born again, coming to faith in Christ, in situations such that they weren't able to be baptised before their deaths. These will be in the kingdom.
  8. Many other passages link being born again and/or adoption to faith, with no mention of baptism. 1 John 5:1 and Romans 8:14.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Read Luke 5:27-32
Levi left everything, and then threw a party for Jesus. Who did he invite? People he knew: other tax collectors and other low-lifes of society. The Pharisees were not impressed.

In reply, Jesus says that he came to heal the sick, rather than the healthy, to be healed, and to call sinners, rather than the righteous, to repentance and salvation.

But isn’t everyone spiritually “sick”? Isn’t everyone a sinner? Who are these “well” people that don’t need the physician or these “righteous” people who aren’t called to repentance?

These “righteous” are self-righteous. They are righteous is their own eyes, but not before God.

Jesus doesn’t disagree with the fact that the tax collectors and everyone at the party are sinners. But does Jesus consider the Pharisees to be righteous? Absolutely not.

Jesus hated self-righteousness and hypocrisy, because it’s the worst kind of un-righteousness. This is why Jesus was so uncompromising with the Pharisees: they knew the scriptures, so they should have known better. If you’re not convinced that Jesus identified the Pharisees generally as rotten-to-the-core hypocrites, read Luke 11:37-44, and Luke 12:1.

When Jesus said to the Pharisees, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” he meant something like this: “While you are stuck in your hypocrisy, pointing the finger at others, there is no call of repentance and salvation for you. You need to know and confess that you are a sinner, that you’re sick and in need of a doctor. You need to know that you are poor, a captive of sin, and blind and oppressed before you can be healed.”

What category do you place yourself in? The righteous who needs no repentance, or the sinner who needs saving?

If you see yourself as righteous, and in no need of repentance, let me tell you plainly: you’re not. If you need more convincing, leave a comment.

If you recognise that you’re a sinner, but have faith in God, through the work of Christ, then you’re a true Christian brother or sister.

If you don’t have faith in Jesus, and don’t acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Saviour then you desperately need to confess to him that you’re a sinner, and repent, and be healed by the great physician.

The truth is: I can’t tell what’s in your heart. I’m quite easy to fool, but not God. The self-righteous exist within the body of Christ: they look and sound and act like our brothers and sisters, but inside are “full of greed and wickedness”. It’s a fearful thing. That’s why the Word says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Would you Follow?

Read Luke 5:27-32
Tax collectors were the most despised group in Jewish society, at about the same social level as prostitutes. “Tax collectors and sinners” is a phrase we see pop up many times in the gospels. The tax collectors were Jews that had sold out to the Roman Government, in a big way. Each tax collector was required to extract a certain tax quota from the people. Anything they could extort beyond that went into their own pockets. They were extortionists who collected money for the oppressive Roman overlords, and skimmed off the top for themselves. They were thieving traitors.

Levi was sitting at his tax booth, when Jesus came past and said, “Follow me”. And Levi got up, left everything and followed him. This was a huge sacrifice: clearly a bigger sacrifice than that made by the fishermen who left their nets. The fisherman could return to their nets later, should they change their minds. Once a tax collector gave up his lucrative post, he couldn’t just go and get it back. It was a government position, and men were lining up for the job. Levi made a truly life-changing decision when he left it all to follow Jesus.

Would I be willing to leave everything, if that’s how I was called to follow Jesus? What about you? If Jesus was calling you to leave everything, and go to Asia, or Africa, or Central Australia, would you leave everything and follow him? Exactly how we are called appears to be different for different people, but if you were sure of the call, would you follow?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I Will Exalt You; I Will Praise Your Name

Read: Isaiah 25:1
God isn’t hidden: he has done wonderful things. The Bible is filled with accounts of men and women who have interacted with a knowable God, who has made known his plans and made promises, and then fulfilled his plans and kept his promises. He is who he is, but he does not keep all of who he is to himself.
We praise God because he has done wonderful things. Praising him only adds to our experience. For example, a great piece of art such as a painting, a novel, or a piece of music, is only half-enjoyed until it has been praised to others.
Praising our praiseworthy God only brings more joy to our soul, as well as more glory to God.
Has God done wonderful things in your life, fulfilling his plans and promises? Is your response to exalt him, and praise his name?