Who Do You Follow?

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

Who Do You Follow?

1 Corinthians 1:11-13

A few years ago, there was a Christian worship band who made a public statement that they believed in creational evolution, just another belief system that can be corrected by taking the Bible literally but keeping it in the context of the whole Bible. But what I want to focus on is not that comment, but the comment he made to defend himself in response to the outrage of the Christian community. In one of his statements defending his point of view, he stated that there is no difference if you say you follow John Calvin and I follow C.S. Lewis. That is wherein the problem lies. Let’s look at today’s text, 1 Corinthians 1:11-13 says, 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” You could take this passage and change the names. Verse 12 could say, “What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow John Calvin’; another, ‘I follow C. H. Spurgeon’; another, ‘I follow Christ’.” Friends we need to stop following men and women and take the mindset of Paul when he said, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2.

I get it, it is easier to let some pastor or theologian tell you what to think, but that is not what God has told us to do. He told us, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15. Please don’t get me wrong; I am not saying to stop listening to your pastor, there are several pastors I listen to regularly. What I am saying is, when you listen to a pastor, you need to keep in mind that he is just a man and as such could be wrong. It is your responsibility to go home and study what he just said. In the end, God will hold pastors accountable for what they teach, but He will hold you accountable for what you do with it.

So, what exactly is the pastor’s job? What does the Bible tell us we are supposed to be doing? In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul is talking about unity of the Body of Christ. Starting in verse 11 he says, 11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.” In my book, Cathedral Made of People, I dedicated an entire chapter to this one passage, but to sum it up, if you are a pastor, you are the trainer for a bodybuilder. You have the best equipment available, so you need to train your bodybuilders to use the equipment for themselves. If you use it for them, what benefit will they get out of it? Years ago, I attended a family member’s church where the pastor told them that they couldn’t understand the Bible for themselves, so he would tell them what it is saying. This is exactly what the Catholic church did in the middle ages. The Bible was only available in Latin, so they would tell the church what they wanted them to believe. Not to worry, this family member is no longer in that church and, not surprisingly, that “pastor” now has a compound where he lives with his 10 or 12 remaining members.

So, if we pastors are doing our job and teaching our local gathering how to be that “workman who does not need to be ashamed” and how to “accurately handle the word of truth,” then our people can do the work themselves of studying the Bible literally and in the context of the entire Bible. But, a note to pastors, keep it literal. Your people don’t need to hear what you believe it is saying; they need to know what it says. I used to enjoy listening to this one Christian speaker. She was a good speaker and was usually on track with the Bible. Then one day as I was listening to her, she read a passage of scripture and said, “what I think this is saying,” then went about taking it completely out of context to prove a point. To me, it didn’t matter if her point was valid or not, I said out loud, “I don’t care what you think it says,” and changed the channel. I’m sure the other people in the gym thought I was crazy, but it infuriated me that she would manipulate scripture simply to prove a point.

What it comes down to is that we need to stop saying, “I’m of John Calvin” and “I’m of C. H. Spurgeon” and “I’m of C. S. Lewis.” Again, listen to your pastor, then do the work. If you think something he said doesn’t align with Scripture, then go to him, no one else, and talk to him about it. And, pastors, that means, when they come to you, you need to take it seriously, one person in this scenario is wrong, and it could be you. So, when this happens, pastors should set aside time to sit down with this person and study the Bible together to see what it is truly saying. Then, if you were wrong, you need to take that to the church and let them know. As I said earlier, God does hold us pastors accountable for what we preach, so we must make sure we got it right.

How Do We Stop Division?

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

How Do We End the Division?

A few weeks ago, we looked at how the Gentiles were separated from God by religion, then last week, in my blog titled “Let the Walls Come Down”, we talked about ending division in the body of Christ. Okay, so if we are going to end this division, how do we do it? The beauty is that, just like with salvation, Christ has ended it for us and all we need to do is accept what He has done.

Let’s pick up where we left off last week and look at the next two verses. Ephesians 2:15-16 says, 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.”

Paul starts out these two verses by letting us know that the first thing Christ did to stop the division was to end the system of law. You see, the law did nothing but divide the Church. The Bible is clear that the law was never meant to save us, it was meant to show us our need for God. If we try to keep the law, we will just end up sinning. Take a minute to read Romans chapter 7, Paul explains it very well in that chapter. We also read in Romans 8:3, “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.” So, the Jewish people of the Old Testament were not saved by the law as some will try to tell you, they were saved by God’s grace, through their faith in the coming Messiah. If you question that, read Hebrews chapter 11, now take a close look at everyone mentioned in that “Hall of Faith”; Able, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the people of Israel, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel, every one of these people lived before Christ, they all lived during the Old Testament times and were all saved by their faith.

So, Christ ended division, first by ending religion. You see, the religious people of the Old Testament times were the ones who made salvation about keeping the law, just like the religious people today often do. Religion is manmade and always tries to make it about us. But, the truth is, we can’t save ourselves, without the death burial and resurrection of Jesus, we have no hope.

Paul finishes verse 15 by saying that Christ was able to end the division between the two divisive groups, “by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.” He made us all one body. I believe I showed you these verses last week, but they are worth looking at again, Galatians 3:26-29 says, 26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.” So, what exactly is this saying? It says that once we are in Christ, ALL division is gone. He says there is no more racial division, there is no more sexism, there is no more class envy, and why is that? Because we are all one in Christ!

So, Christ ended religion, He ended racism, sexism, classism…He ended all the isms. The reason we don’t see denominations in the New Testament is that Christ ended them when He died on the cross.

Verse 16 goes on to say that he brought us together as ONE BODY. So, how did He do that? As this verse goes on to say “Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross” Christ’s death on the cross ended denominations, it ended division, it ended religion. Religion and division were hung on the cross with Christ!

Paul ends this passage by saying, “and our hostility toward each other was put to death.” Friends, if you belong to a church group who are hostile toward anyone, you need to leave, it’s that simple. And, it’s time to ask ourselves, “has my hostility towards others been put to death?” If the answer isn’t a resounding YES, even if you had to hesitate for a moment to think about it, then you need to take care of that right now. Lay the burden of hostility, hate, and division at the feet of Jesus. As it says in Psalm 55:22, “Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.”

Here’s the thing, it’s not really our doctrines that divide us, it’s our pride. You see, we have developed these doctrines and will fight for them to the death. Many of which were contrived by taking scripture out of context, or even worse, someone came up with an idea and then took scripture out of context to back it up. I’ll say it again, the only doctrine that matters is salvation by God’s grace, through our life-changing faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ…absolutely nothing else matters! Paul told the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified.” Again, nothing else matters!

Live Free and Love Others

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

Live Free and Love Others

In honor of the 4th of July, I wanted to talk a little about freedom. Freedom is something we talk a lot about in America, and we must protect our freedom as Americans at all cost, “against enemies both foreign and domestic.” But, today I want to talk about real freedom, I want to talk about what it means to be “free indeed”. Jesus said it Himself in John 8:34-36 when He said, 34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.35 A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” You see, we were slaves to sin, but when the Son sets us free, we are truly free. Isn’t that beautiful, to be free indeed? So, if you want to know where to find true freedom, 2 Corinthians 3:17 tells us, “For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

We see that in Christ we are free from sin. There are many more verses about this, verses like Romans 6:14 where it says, “Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” Do you see that? Before Christ we were slaves to sin, that means that sin was our master. Now that we are in Christ, we are free from the mastery of sin. It also says this in Galatians 3:22, “But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ.” So, there is no promise of freedom outside of Christ.

Christ has not only set us free from sin, but He also set us free from the law. Look at Galatians 4:5, “God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law so that he could adopt us as his very own children.” You see, as it says all through the book of Romans, and for that matter all through the New Testament, the law was never meant to save us, it was only meant to show us our need for God. The Hebrew people of the Old Testament made it about keeping the law because we humans always want to make it about us. There are many churches today who still do the same thing. I’m sure we all know people who believe that if you are a good person you will go to heaven, but the Bible is clear in the fact that that isn’t true. We are not only free from sin, but we are free from the curse of the law and need to make sure that we never put ourselves under that curse again. Look at Galatians 5:1, “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” If we are TRULY free in Christ, why would we want to put ourselves under the law? That doesn’t make any sense at all. Let’s not even think of going back there. Look at Galatians 2:4, Even that question [the question of Titus’ circumcision] came up only because of some so-called believers there—false ones, really—who were secretly brought in. They sneaked in to spy on us and take away the freedom we have in Christ Jesus. They wanted to enslave us and force us to follow their Jewish regulations.” Do you see that? The people who try to put us under the law, the Bible refers to as “the false ones.” They are false teachers trying to deceive and enslave you! In fact, in Galatians 4:12 Paul pleads with them not to fall for this, “Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws. You did not mistreat me when I first preached to you.” In fact, even creation looks forward to this freedom, look at Romans 8:21, “the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.”

Here’s the thing though, freedom doesn’t come for free. First, we see that there is a responsibility that comes with freedom. 1 Corinthians 8:9 tells us, “But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.” So, do I have the freedom to drink a glass of wine at with dinner? Of course, I do unless I’m having dinner with an alcoholic or a nonbeliever who doesn’t think it’s right, then it is my responsibility to abstain so as to not make them stumble. We see this scenario in 1 Corinthians 10:27-33. In this passage, it is dealing with a believer being asked to someone’s house and served meat that was offered to an idol. First, it tells us to eat and not ask questions, but if they tell you, don’t eat it for their conscience sake. Then it asks the question, “why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks?” His answer is in verse 31 through 33. Verse 31 says, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” And, then he finishes it up in verse 33 by saying, “I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.” So, the answer to the question is that if we are offending unbelievers with our freedom, then give them up so they can be saved. Do everything to God’s glory.

Galatians 5:13-15 sums this all up so well, it says, 13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 15 But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” First, don’t use your freedom to do sin. We are not free to sin, we are free to live in Christ. He says to use our freedom to serve each other in love. To the world that seems like an oxymoron, “I’m free to be a servant?” Yes, exactly. Our world today lives for themselves, but as Christians, nothing gives us more joy than helping someone else. Then he says the whole law can be summed up in one command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s that simple.

The last thing I want to look at today is that freedom always comes with a price, and that price is always blood. Our freedom as Americans came with the price of the blood of many soldiers who have fought and died for our freedom. Men and women who have laid their life down for our freedom, and we want to salute them today. But our freedom in Christ came with His blood. He laid down His life for you and me. His first sacrifice was to leave heaven to live here on earth, then he was beaten, humiliated, and crucified for you and me, and He did it at just the right time. 1 Timothy 2:6 says, “He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.” So, Live Free and Love Others.

The Law

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

The Law

I’m afraid the Church is confusing many unsaved people, as well as many new Christians, and even many older Christians for that matter. I hear it over and over, they say, “you say the Bible never changes. Then why were the people in the Old Testament saved by keeping the law, but you say that we’re saved by grace through faith now?” I’m sure we’ve all heard this question. But, here’s the problem. They are confused because many of our churches, many well-intentioned pastors, are unknowingly preaching a false doctrine. Please don’t stop reading here and think that I’m one of those guys that think I’ve figured it out and everyone else is wrong. I just want to share what scripture says, and you can make your own decision, but remember to keep everything in context, and don’t try to interpret the Bible.

So, did the law ever save anyone? Romans 8:3 tells us, “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So, God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.” The campus pastor at our church, Steve Meharg, would say right now, “don’t you hate how the Bible is so vague?” So, what is the Bible saying here? The first sentence of this verse tells us that the law of Moses was not able to save us. Why? Because of our sinful nature. You see, we can’t be good enough to get to heaven, because of our sinful nature.

Here’s wherein the problem lies. We are sinners! Romans 5:12, “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.” Again, so unclear, right? When we try to be good enough to get to heaven, we are measuring ourselves up to other people, and we can always find someone who is worse than ourselves. A serial killer can say that he’s not as bad as Jeffery Dahmer because he isn’t a cannibal. But, here’s the catch, God doesn’t measure us up to each other, He measures us up to Himself. Galatians 5:19-21 says, 19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” Do you see that…no sin can enter heaven…none! Notice that, along with idolatry and sexual sin, He also adds quarreling and jealousy…any one sin will keep you out of heaven. We also read in Ephesians 2:8-9, God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Again, he says that we are not saved by our works, not now, not ever!

We also know that they weren’t saved by just being born into one of the tribes of Israel, although they tried to make it about that too. Look at the examples of Rahab and Ruth. Rahab was a prostitute and a Canaanite, and Ruth was a Moabite. Not only did Rahab not keep the law of Moses, she wasn’t born an Israelite…that’s a double whammy. And, Ruth was not an Israelite either, she was a Moabite. But, not only did God save them, He went a step further. God did something He didn’t have to do by making Rahab and Ruth part of the lineage of Christ. We see this in the first chapter of Matthew. The first sixteen verses are giving the lineage of Christ, from Abraham to Joseph, and in verse 5 it says, “Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab). Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).” There are very few mothers mentioned in this passage, but he names two in this verse alone, Rahab and Ruth. Both of these women are in the lineage of Christ, and neither are Israelites.

So, if the Old Testament believers weren’t saved by keeping the law, and they clearly weren’t saved by being born a Jew, then how exactly were they saved? Yes, it is true that they did have to offer sacrifices every year because the perfect sacrifice had not yet come. But it wasn’t the sacrifice that saved them, it was their faith. Let’s take a minute to look at Hebrews chapter 11, the chapter known as the Believer’s Hall of Faith. I’m not going to print the entire chapter here, but take a minute to read it, even if you have read it many times, then come back.

Did you notice something about it? Let’s take a look at the people mentioned here: verse 4, Able; verse 5, Enoch; verse 7, Noah; verses 8-10, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; verse 11 Sarah; verse 21, Jacob; verse 22, Joseph; verse 23, Moses; verse 31, Rahab; verse 32, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. Everyone mentioned in this passage is from the Old Testament. They were not made righteous by keeping the law, they were made righteous by their life-changing faith! In the middle of all this it says in Hebrews 11:6, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” It is, and always was, IMPOSSIBLE to please God without FAITH!

But, something we must remember because we humans always try to make it about ourselves, is that it’s not our faith that saves us. God saves us when He sees our faith. And, faith doesn’t just mean believing. The Bible tells us in James 2:19, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.” So, you see, it’s not just about believing, it’s about trusting and changing. Just before this verse, we see in James 2:14-17, 14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing,16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.”

We are now, and always have been saved by God’s grace, through our faith…our life-changing faith. So, let’s stop confusing people and start living by faith.

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