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The Gospel liberates

The freedoms granted us in Christ are Christ’s victories won, but couched in liberty’s language.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

The freedom the Gospel brings is a wonderful thing. It is not dangerous, wild, or boundary-less. The Gospel’s gift is freedom in Christ, not freedom apart from Him. True freedom is not licentiousness or lawlessness. Those who live without restraint are not free, but prisoners of sin, satan and flesh. Freedoms in Christ are His victories appropriated, and appropriating these will always move us towards Christlikeness, and never away. The opening line of Freedom for Dummies would be, “It’s freedom from sin, not freedom to sin, silly!”

Like everything else the Gospel brings, it grants freedom unconditionally. No strings attached. The freedom that is ours in Christ is without rules and regulations. It is unmerited, and it can be squandered. For this reason the Bible wisely cautions us against using our freedoms to indulge our flesh. Why? Because, if we do so, we will once again find ourselves in bondage to our carnality. And why run back to that from which the goodness of God has delivered us?

freedom-001Those who are in the know tell us that most addicts require more than one attempt at rehabilitation before they’re able to break the cycle. This is because they typically misuse their early freedoms, flirt with temptation, and get themselves back into bondage that first time round. The fact is that the addict is only truly free when he or she uses his or her freedom to stay free. So it is in Christ. True freedom values freedom. In Him we are unfettered; free; no strings attached, and soon learn that to misuse that freedom is to relinquish it. The younger son in the parable ended in the pigpen thanks to the exercising of his rights and freedoms. Not the freest of outcomes, that. This is why Paul tells us that all things are lawful, but not all are helpful; all things are lawful, but not all edify. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should, and maturity can tell the difference between the two. Walking in this distinction – now that’s freedom!

The mechanism by which we are free in Christ is the same by which any of the other benefits of salvation become ours – death and resurrection. In the moment we believed, His story became ours, and we were placed in Him. Faith is confidence in this exchange, which in turn enables us to appropriate the richness of the salvation-package in its fullness. In the moment that we believe into Jesus, His victories become ours. All of them. Instantly. But it is believing that is receiving, and so it is in the day-to-day of our Christian living that the Gospel imparts revelation and faith, both of which work within us for the appropriation of these freedoms a little at a time. As we shall see in a later chapter (The Gospel Empowers), freedom from condemnation is the linchpin around which all of the many benefits of salvation are appropriated. This is so because it is impossible for a righteous man to be powerless. Increasingly the full assurance of our right-standing with God becomes the beachhead from which we possess our inheritance on an experiential level. The gift of righteousness persuades us that we indeed qualify, without exception, for everything that God has promised. On that foundation, believing is receiving.

hurdv4Then, in Christ, we are the justified. We are not guilty. We are righteous. We are condemnation-free. In Christ we are free from sin, and from its dominion. We have been forgiven, cleansed, and delivered from sin. We are saints (holy ones). Grace teaches us to say no to sin, for grace has loosened us from sin’s grip. Christ has also freed us from our past. We are no longer in Adam. Our baptism served as the funeral service for that old life of ours. We might still carry its scars, but not its wounds. Even Jesus carries scars, and they do not make Him ugly; on the contrary, His scars are medals all; veritable trophies of grace and mercy. We no longer have a sinful nature. Our old man was co-crucified with Christ. We are not who we once were. What freedom! In Christ, we are no longer subject to the dictates of our flesh. We are Spirit-born, Spirit-indwelt, Spirit led and Spirit-empowered people. By the Spirit, we put to death the deeds of the flesh. Our vestigial in-Adam-ness does not provide the drumbeat to which we march; we keep in step with the Spirit and are moved by the rhythms of Heaven.

The pressure is off. No more striving. No one left to impress, including God! We are free from trying to be and trying to do, for God has made us to be, and has prepared good works for us to do. The righteous requirements of the Law have been met in us. We are free from the Law’s demands (we are not under it), and we have been delivered from its curse (its accusation, condemnation and disqualification). Satan is a defeated foe. Christ has triumphed over Him. In Jesus’ name, demonic strongholds yield and demons flee. His power over us has been broken, and to us has been granted authority over him, in Jesus’ name. The world no longer fools us. We are no longer ensnared in the system that surrounds us. Its way of thinking is not ours; its value system no longer ours either. We are citizens of a kingdom that is not of this world, and our worth and ways are determined there. We are no longer ashamed. We are the forgiven, loved, accepted and affirmed – no matter what has transpired. God is not ashamed of us, nor is He embarrassed to be associated with us. He proudly, publicly, takes full responsibility for us. We’re His kith and kin now. He is the lifter of our heads, says the Bible.

Last but not least, we are free from fear. Even death, the last enemy to be conquered, has lost its sting. No judgement awaits us; only the consummation of our salvation. The Lord has promised that He will never leave or forsake us, and He reassures us constantly that there is no need for us to be anxious about anything. He is well able to take care of us; and He will; and He does.

csa-bron-freedomThis chapter could be amplified exponentially. For instance, all sickness, war and poverty has its source in satan and sin. Jesus is Healer, Prince of Peace, and Providence Himself. The will of God is clear – Jesus taught us to pray heaven to earth – and there is no sickness, war or lack in heaven. Having couched the benefits of believing in the language of liberty, let’s not short-change the Gospel by misrepresenting its richness in any way. The truth is, the benefits of our salvation are a two-sided coin – freedom and fullness – which can and should be described, understood and received in abundance. Freedom and fullness in Christ, that’s the Gospel, and the Gospel believed is its benefits received.

A well-proclaimed Gospel will leave no room for an orphan spirit. Our God is our Father, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of His Son, the Spirit of sonship. Anyone who is in Christ is God’s child in God’s family, and is blessed. The old has gone; the new has come. The bad has gone; the good has come. Paul’s words help us to conclude the thought: “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).

This is one of a series of posts adapted from the e-book “Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever!” by Gavin Cox. Go to the first post in the series by clicking here.

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The Gospel defines

70099c4f97f7370a1ee45adf222abdb2“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:16–17).

The Gospel believed is salvation received. In our moment of faith, Holy Spirit plunged us into Christ. Simultaneously, the Spirit birthed new life in us: God-life. Spiritual life. Eternal life. Suddenly everything had changed. The old had gone; the new had come!

Perhaps not everyone noticed the change. I came into this world with my mother’s nose and my father’s ears. These remained the same after I was born again. In other words, while absolutely everything had changed, to the casual observer nothing had changed. This is Paul’s point in the passage quoted above. Many people even looked at Jesus and saw just their neighbour, another Galilean; nobody special at all. They knew Him according to the flesh, or according to outward appearances. And outward appearance is not the business end of the Gospel.

That’s not to say that the Gospel doesn’t impact outwardly. Countenances change. Postures do too. Behaviour should make a quantum shift. But the issue here is that Christians are judged by the work of Christ, and not by their outward appearance, or even their behaviour. For Christians, the old has gone and the new has come. This is so because of what the Lord has done for them and to/in them. Therein lies the defining measure.

399635879We all continue to live in our Adam-suits after we are born again. The Bible calls these vestigial components of our old lives our flesh. This flesh refers to a little more than just our physical bodies, for it encompasses the remnants of our in-Adam-ness. Thanks to our flesh, our lives have the propensity to be reduced to some kind of war zone. Our mortal bodies are subject to sickness and disease, deterioration and decay; even death. In Christ is health and resurrection. Unhelpful views, attitudes, memories and beliefs flood our hearts and minds. In Christ is a lifestyle of repentance and mind-renewal. Our flesh is by its very nature godless, rebellious, selfish and sinful. Our new life in Christ is anything but.

The result can be an unhelpful religious schizophrenia. Sinner sometimes; saint sometimes. Saved today; unsaved tomorrow. Passages of Scriptures, unhelpfully applied out of context, all too easily reinforce the confusion. Into this malaise comes the Gospel with glorious clarity. Our flesh does not define us; the work of Christ does. Our freedom from any confusion is wrapped up in the once-for-all-ness of the Gospel. The Gospel is definitive news, and as such the Gospel defines us unambiguously. Christians are righteous. They belong to God. The Holy Spirit is in them. Period! The Christian with a hand in the cookie jar is just as justified (not guilty) as the Christian piously praying in the pew. There is no difference at all between the two according to the Gospel plumbline. Both are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone.

imagesGrasping this becomes the God-given foundation for all behavioural change. It takes us off the horns of dilemma and settles once-for-all who and what we are. Christianity is identity-driven. Christians learn to live righteously because they are righteous; to do good because they are good; to do what pleases God because they are pleasing to Him! Christians “do” because they “are”. That’s the mystery of the Gospel.

By way of illustration: The early church was being prepared to disseminate the Gospel cross-culturally. At the time, while not all Jews were Christians, nearly all Christians were Jews. Consequently, the distinction between Judaism and Christianity was not all that clear.
One morning, as lunchtime approached, Peter, the leader of the Christians at the time, went up onto the rooftop to pray. At that moment, Peter the apostle was Peter the hungry, and the Lord made magnificent use of the opportunity. Peter was induced into a trance-like state, and in the ensuing vision a huge tablecloth of sorts descended in front of him. In it were birds and animals of all kinds, and they all shared one thing in common – by the standards of Law of Moses, they were unclean or common. Three times the Lord instructed Peter to kill and eat. Three times he declined. Each time his reason was the same – he’d never eaten anything unclean, and he didn’t propose to do so now. Each time the Lord’s response was the same. “What God has made clean, do not call common”.

From there the Gospel went to the Gentiles. From then on Peter and the Christians understood that only one thing defined clean and unclean, and that was the Gospel! Anyone in Christ had been fundamentally redefined. It did not matter what they once were, or even what they looked like, for nothing was to be judged by its flesh. Anyone who was in Christ was a new creation. The old was gone; the new had come. To be in Christ is to be clean!

2-corinthians-5-17Many of the Jewish brothers and sisters of the day struggled enormously in coming to terms with that, Peter included. So do we, because it takes us so firmly into counterintuitive territory. We all agree that God does not judge the book by its cover, but we’re also painfully aware that everybody else does. Perhaps in the church, this is especially so. After all, if it walks like a sinner, talks like a sinner, sounds like a sinner and smells like a sinner, well, it must be a sinner. And if it walks like a saint, talks like a saint, sounds like a saint, and smells like a saint, well, the probability is that it’s a saint. Not true, bellows the Gospel! Saints who walk and talk like sinners may well be wayward saints, and on other days they might be you and me. Sinners who walk and talk like saints are a blessing to have as neighbours, but their self-righteousness falls short of Heaven’s Perfections.

It’s not unusual for things not to be as they appear in the religious arena. The church is consistently embroiled in scandal, and unhelpfully so. But even more scandalous is the Gospel, our God-given plumbline. Outside of Christ, and apart from the righteousness that is by grace alone through faith alone – everyone is leprously unrighteous. And in Christ, even the most Peter-repelling, creepy-crawly-esque individual, who evokes our immediate no-thank-you is perfectly righteous. Perfectly righteous, and mercifully, undeservedly, completely so! There is nothing fair about the Gospel. There is nothing fair about sinners being made righteous. But then, there is also nothing fair about sinless Jesus becoming a sin offering for our sake. It’s not fair, but in Christ, the old has gone, and the new has come!

Best News Ever 3DThis is one of a series of posts adapted from the e-book, “Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever!” by Gavin Cox. Go to the first post in the series by clicking here, or on the icon to go to the book’s page.

 

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The Gospel regenerates

‘Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again”.’ (Jesus in John 3:7)

21ya3ywuvlOur world is indeed a global village, and emigration (from) and immigration (to) common. In a way, this describes what happens when we believe into Jesus. But faith in Christ results in much, much more. As the Holy Spirit plucks us from in Adam and plunges us into Christ, there is a new passport, but there is also a new birth certificate! The Gospel literally regenerates. Emigration might make a South African an Australian citizen, but it can never make the South African an Australian genetically. Union with Christ accomplishes exactly that. The Bible is emphatic about this. Those who are born again by the Spirit’s power are born again with a new nature. They are no longer who they once were; they are altogether new. What they have become is not a reconditioned or improved version of their former self, but an entirely new self. “Born again” can just as accurately be rendered “born from above” in its translation. This helps us comprehend that the new birth is of holy, imperishable, eternal, incorruptible seed. The new nature is just like Jesus’ nature. Not like Adam, but like Jesus! Christians are born again from the same stuff Jesus is made of, and their new nature is effectively a twin of His.

The implications are enormous, and the Scriptures reiterate this truth in numerous ways. Peter’s writings teach us that Christians are participants in the divine nature. The book of Hebrews declares that anyone gathering with Christians is gathering with the spirits of the righteous made perfect. Paul described his body parts as the body of Christ. In this he went beyond the mere metaphorical use of language. We are not just like His body; we are His body. We are spiritual, and that’s not because we behave in “spiritual” ways, but because we’re spiritual in nature. Jesus is the only Son of God, but we are the sons and daughters of God. Christians are the residential address of God here on earth. Holy Spirit is in us. We are not like temples; we are temples. Christians have eternal life, and we have it now.

None of this implies that Christians are God; to suggest that is heresy. But it is to convey emphatically that Christians are born of God, and made of God-stuff. We are no longer of earth, but of heaven; and literally so, born and bred. Paul once again makes this point magnificently when dealing with the subject of the resurrection. Our Adam-suits (bodies) are perishable, weak, dishonorable, natural and temporal. Our new nature could not be more different. It is imperishable, glorious, powerful, spiritual and eternal. Our resurrection will be the clothing of our newness in an appropriate way, for that which came from Adam cannot adequately contain all that is ours in Christ.

Remember those Old Testament saints to whom righteousness was credited when they believed – the likes of Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and David. They were put into right standing with God against the promissory notes of the sacrifices of their day. On the foundation of that gift they, and many others just like them, lived what can only be described as extraordinary lives. They healed the sick, raised the dead, circumvented death, and saw countless other miracles. Yet none of them received the Holy Spirit in the way in which we do today. Their sin was covered over, but not yet taken away. Righteousness was credited to their account, but they were not yet those made righteous in the same way we are. This resurrection life into which we are raised by the Spirit’s power at the moment of our re-birth was something longingly anticipated by those saints of old, and something which they only received after the cross. These saints went to the grave awaiting Christ, but for believers today, absence from the body is presence with the Lord. It was only together with us (in Christ) that these saints of old have been made perfect (their salvation made complete), for salvation only came in its fullness through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

born_of_spiritBaptism means immersion, and the Scriptures use this term with reference to our inclusion in Christ, and with reference to the Spirit’s work in empowering believers. Taking a moment to think this through will be most helpful. In the days of old, when craftsmen plunged cloth into dye, it was said that they were baptising the cloth in the dye. Dip, dunk, immerse and plunge are all synonyms. Notice also that the cloth did not baptise itself, the point being that self-baptism is a swim and not a baptism proper. Notice also that the cloth when fully immersed was also saturated, i.e. the cloth was in the dye, and the dye was in the cloth. So it is when we come to faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit is the heavenly craftsman who immerses us into Jesus, uniting us with His crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection. In that moment, we are plunged into Him (included in Christ), and He indwells us (we are born again). These two things are simultaneous and inseparable, just like the cloth and the dye. Both also enjoy amplification as we respond to them and appropriate them more fully, and it is baptism that facilitates this.

As Christians are then taught that they are no longer in Adam but in Christ, they should also be taught that Scripture commands a response of faith-filled obedience. Baptism (immersion) in water celebrates their death and resurrection, testifying to its reality, and serves as a funeral service for the old life that once was but is no more. Extraordinary demonstrations of the goodness of God are often unleashed into the faith-filled believer’s life as the truths of the Gospel are appropriated through this simple, ever-so-tangible step of obedience. The hasty departure of demons is commonplace. So is healing from sickness of all kinds, and release from addictions and emotional pain. It has even been reported on occasion that ugly, disfiguring tattoos or occult-induced scars simply vanish. These good things happening are thanks to the Gospel at work, as vibrant faith, expressed in obedience to the commands of Jesus, accesses grace. The same sort of thing happens through the laying on of hands and the breaking of bread. These are not powerful rituals, but empowered means of grace, when appropriated by faith.

A similar explosion of transforming power accompanies baptism (immersion) in the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit who immersed the believer into Christ when he came to faith. Now, as this new believer learns that all life in Christ is by the Spirit, a desire for more arises deep within him. This is all of God, and as deep cries out to deep, Jesus steps in and baptises him in the Holy Spirit. He does so just as John the baptiser had said, “I baptise you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire”. This immersion is for enabling, and the Scriptures describe it as such – a baptism for power. Experiences likened to encounters with water, wind, fire and oil are commonplace. Gifts are imparted; revelation abounds; joy overwhelms; peace proliferates; and this immersion in the Spirit is typically accompanied by speaking in tongues. Drunkenness in the Spirit is also not uncommon, as was the experience of the one-hundred-and-twenty in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. Believers who step into this vortex of life and power also learn that encounters of this nature are in the offing, and many pursue a lifestyle of repeated infilling as they desire to be conduits of more and more of the life and power of God.

born-againWe have all been given far more than we’ve received. The Gospel is good news of glory, freedom and fullness, and even those amongst us who have experienced much have only just begun to enter into all that has been freely provided for us. In the moment of faith we are included in Christ, and the Spirit regenerates and indwells us, a deposit guaranteeing much, much more. And there is so much more! Our experience of Him intensifies, heightens, deepens and widens as we grow in God. The Lord works in our lives to bring us increasingly into what Paul so wisely refers to as the obedience of faith. Compliance is not a good motivator for water baptism or the infilling of the Spirit. There’s little point in subtly pressurising believers towards these things because “that’s what the Bible teaches” or “that’s what we do as a church”. We should preach and teach them unashamedly, and offer opportunity for them constantly, but be sure to anchor them in the perfect, finished work of Christ. Let’s have the Gospel impart the faith that will see believers responding expectantly and obediently. All of Christianity is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. All of Christianity is with the Father, through and in Jesus, and by the Spirit. These are things that cannot be legislated or administrated. Let’s preach the Gospel, and let the Gospel do its life-giving work.

This is one of a series of posts adapted from the e-book “Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever!” by Gavin Cox. Go to the first post in the series by clicking here.

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The Gospel includes

Nothing could be more revolutionary than that which is done to you in the moment that you first put your confidence in Christ. The Gospel believed is the Gospel received, and in that instant of faith, the greatest exchange imaginable is effected – Christ’s life for yours!

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:1–9).

goodbyeoldhellonewThe transformation that occurs is literally out of this world, as in a moment you go from being “in Adam” to being “in Christ”. All of the major metaphors of Scripture apply in that instant – death to life; darkness to light; satan to God, condemned to justified, slave to freeman; enemy to friend – on and on it goes. Many books would be necessary to do justice to the many wonderful facets of this single glorious truth – inclusion in Christ. And that’s the big idea. Believing includes us in Christ. This is not just some sort of transfer of allegiance; it is the all-encompassing transformation of a life. The phrase “in Christ” is ubiquitous in Paul’s letters, for it describes the essence of salvation. “In Christ”; “in Him”; “in Christ Jesus”. Those of us who preach and teach these truths will often refer to this as the believer’s position, placement, status or standing. In Christ!

Christians are saved, but they did not save themselves. They are in Christ, but they did not put themselves there. It is not even their faith that saved them. In the moment that they believed, it was the Holy Spirit who went to work as per the Father’s decree, transferring them from in Adam to in Christ. This was all of grace, and is something that God does to all who believe.

in-christThe enormity of what happens is not faith-sized, but grace-sized. It’s not as if those who have great faith receive a great salvation, and those with less faith receive a lesser salvation. Those with less faith may well appropriate less of the salvation given to them, but a lesser faith does not lessen the work of Christ on our behalf. To think thus is absurdity, for those who believe have not just seen, heard or tasted, but have entered into salvation by the power of God. Tentative faith (a mustard seed’s worth) does not unleash a tentative reaction from heaven. Salvation is a one-size-fits-all proposition – Jesus! Rather, believing thrusts us into the white-water of the new birth, and those who have put their confidence in Christ have been carried along by the power of God, away from the old and right into the new.

It is simply not possible to be a half-Christian or a bad Christian. It is not we, ourselves, who make ourselves Christians. It is a work of God, and all that He does He does well. There is only one kind of Christian on the planet, and that is the perfect kind, for we are of His making. Some of us do live poorly representing our in-Christ-ness, thanks to paucity of faith, or to misbeliefs of one kind or another. But that does not mean that we are lesser Christians, for we are all Christians by the same work of the same Spirit. Understanding this is life-changing. In Christ, is in Christ, is in Christ! We’ve received a faith of equal standing before God, writes the apostle Peter. We might have different gifts and callings, and some might fellowship more intimately with God than others do, but we’ve all received equal access to God, with equal rights and privileges. It is all of grace alone, and all because of Christ alone. We have all received the highest title and the richest commendation imaginable, for in Christ we are all God’s beloved children, in whom Father is well pleased. That is who we are. That is our identity.

inchristlogoIn the moment of faith His story became our story. That’s the Gospel. In an instant, the Holy Spirit united us with Christ, in His crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection. We were raised to new life in Him, and are now seated with Him in heavenly places. We are the saved; He is the Saviour. Our salvation has come through our literal immersion into Him, and into His substitutionary, atoning work. Christians have been baptised (immersed) into Christ. It is this to which believers’ baptism testifies most graphically.

The gift of salvation is not extraneous to our person. It is not like an item of clothing or jewelry, or even like any other experience we might have. It is not something that can be received, explored, enjoyed, kept, exploited or discarded. It cannot be lost or misplaced. It is defining. It’s not so much something we possess, as something that possesses us. Being in Christ is far more a matter of Christ having us than our having Him. Those who have believed have been engulfed in Saviour and salvation just as surely as Jonah was swallowed by the big fish. The difference is that we were not ingested, but en-wombed. We were re-created; born again; re-made. Nicodemus puzzled over this because he could not imagine how he would ever get back into his mother’s womb. He understood the point, just not the means, for the womb into which the Spirit thrusts us is the work of Christ, from which we re-emerge altogether new.

col-3-3-hidden-in-christWe would better speak of believing into Jesus, even if it is grammatically awkward. Coming to faith is literally believing into Christ, which is what faith ultimately accomplishes as grace is appropriated by the Spirit. It is also why the whole experience is irrevocable. If we were saved by our faith, then our salvation could well be on-again, off-again. But we are not saved by faith; we are saved through faith. Believing opens the door to the tsunami of God’s power, and that which was wrought for us on the cross, is applied to us by the Holy Spirit. It is a leap forward from which there is no way back. In a moment, we are included in something altogether other, immeasurably bigger than ourselves. We are welcomed into a kingdom, a family, a fellowship, a union. We enter by literal re-creation. The Gospel believed is salvation received; the Gospel believed is inclusion in Christ.

This is one of a series of posts adapted from the e-book “Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever!” by Gavin Cox. Go to the first post in the series by clicking here.

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The Gospel imparts

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

7db7f87187eed67e28ffa402a2f759d1This one-liner is one of the most misquoted verses in the Bible. The misquote declares that faith comes by hearing the word, by which is meant the Bible. In other words, more Bible, more faith; less Bible, less faith. The absurdity of that claim becomes clear in the light of the Bible being an account of seven covenants. Increasing expertise in the now-obsolete Old Covenant, which the Bible itself claims is not of faith, will by no means increase faith. What the verse does say: more Jesus more faith. In other words, more Gospel, more faith. Now that makes sense. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, and what Paul is teaching us is that the more grace flooding our hearts and minds, the greater our response of faith will be.

Two illustrations help us here. Both revolve around Jesus. The first is of the woman with the discharge of blood (Matthew 9:20-26 et al). She was ceremonially unclean and should not have been barging through a crowd to get to Jesus, let alone reaching for Him in order actually to touch Him. Yet, as she watched Him from a distance, she became so filled with faith, that in a moment of unselfconscious abandon she did the unthinkable. She knew that if she could just get to Jesus, her problems would be over. When Jesus sensed her touch and turned to her, He did not see a ceremonially unclean woman who had behaved inappropriately. All He could see was her faith. Here the relationship between grace and faith is well illustrated. When we fix our eyes on Jesus (Grace), doing so fills us with faith. And as we unselfconsciously reach out to Him, all that Grace sees is faith!

The second is a point made earlier as we contemplated the Gospel as powerful news. Jesus described the Gospel as a seed. Peter goes one further and tells us that it is in fact imperishable seed. As you know, seeds contain everything necessary for maturity; the whole oak is in the acorn. What we are learning here is that faith is included in the Gospel’s DNA. As the good news of God’s unmerited favour reveals His grace and mercy, it beckons us towards Him, all the while imparting to us the faith necessary to do so.

9791531-the-word-faith-printed-in-red-ink-on-parchment-distressed-destroyed-faded-and-splattered-with-paint-stock-photoOne important point does require clarifying, though, to ensure that we don’t cause confusion. The Gospel imparts faith. It does so to the unbeliever, in order that he or she might believe. It does so to the believer also, not for the new birth per se, but so that the benefits of salvation can be appropriated in that believer’s life. Fortunately, Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice is appropriated by an irrevocable, once-for-ever, action of faith. When we move from in Adam to in Christ, that moment is all-defining. It is not on-again-off-again based on the strength of our faith at any given time (we don’t move into Adam when our faith is weak, and back into Christ when our faith is strong again). The faith that saves in a moment has irrevocable rewards.

Not so the faith that appropriates the benefits of salvation. This is a variable. Its lack was what most exasperated Jesus about the Twelve. Their salvation was not under threat, but again and again, just like ours, their faith was found wanting. And just like us, it was for the same reason – faith in God became faith in faith or faith in self. The disciples panicked as they saw the wind and the waves. Peter took his eyes off Jesus and sank. They thought Jesus was fussed because they didn’t have much food with them, forgetting that He’d twice fed multitudes with little. They found a demon impossible to dislodge because they did not believe. As with us, as Jesus pointed out, anxiety on any level is rooted in unbelief.

39871212-faith-from-bible-word-graphic-vectorThe remedy is simple. Faith is always a gift from God. That is true of the faith that saves, and it is true of the faith that appropriates the benefits of our salvation. He is always the source of faith, and it is always all of grace that we ever have any faith at all. Faith does not stem from our efforts. It is unselfconscious. Its eyes are on Jesus, not on itself. That’s why it so pleases Him. Faith has the main thing as the main thing, always. Perhaps the best way of summarising this is to say that Jesus is faith’s object. Authentic, mountain-moving, water-walking, giant-slaying, sick-healing, dead-raising faith is focused on Him. It’s not looking at the mountain, raging sea, giant, tumour, or corpse. If you ever find yourself wondering whether you’ve got enough faith for something, the answer is no. Asking the question means that your faith is displaced, and you’re relying on yourself rather than on Jesus.

Dynamic, vibrant faith is within reach of all of us. All it requires is for us to break away from crippling self-preoccupation and yield to grace. Just like everything else that comes our way thanks to Jesus, . Faith is by grace. When we lack faith, we need grace. We need Jesus. We need Gospel! Paul clinched the argument when he taught that reigning in life is through the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness (Romans 5:17). Christians walk by faith. They stand in faith. They please God by faith, and they run their race by faith. They even fight the fight of faith. They are believers, and believers believe! But while it is true that every victory is by faith, it is even more true that every victory is by grace. God even does us good when our faith wavers. How much more so when our faith is strong.

Are you in need of more faith? Immerse yourself in the Gospel. That will do it!

faith-comes

Adapted from the e-book “Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever!” by Gavin Cox

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The Gospel attracts

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him.” (Luke 15:1)

Jesus is attractive! And Jesus is the Gospel, remember. He is God’s message. In this our Lord has been grossly misrepresented. He is wrongfully portrayed, frowning disapprovingly, the holy God who hates sin. That much is true – He does hate sin. But He is not the God of the frown. He is the God of the warm, open-hearted, beckoning smile, for He has dealt with sin. He did so, once for all, through the cross of Christ. When He looks at His world, He does so to save, not counting humanity’s sins against them. These were credited to Jesus’ account.

c0qcsmwIt’s also good continually to remind ourselves that this world is His world, and He loves it. He created it, and He is its Redeemer. The Lord does not labour under the same sacred-secular divide we do. He loves all men, and does good to all. He sends rain on the righteous and on sinners. All good gifts come from Him, and He does not limit them to His children. God is good to all, for God is good. So it was that the grace of God, which saved us, touched our lives long before we ever placed our confidence in Jesus. We’ve all observed the way in which children exhibit profound, unfettered faith. You and I were once that child. Like most others, you and I in all probability were educated out of that faith, this through the influence of others and the messy business of just living. Yet, again and again along the way, we were also the beneficiaries of the prevenient (going ahead of) grace of God.

Coming to faith in Christ is a personal journey. While there is most often a clear moment of believing, there is also almost always process involved. For some the journey is shorter and sharper, the Gospel heard and believed, but for others it is a long and protracted one. The very idea of being born again helps us to understand this, for spiritual realities are reflected in the natural realm for the benefit of our insight. When the proud parents announce that their baby was born at 05h15 in the morning, they are not implying that everything took place in a moment. We know that the moment of birth was the culmination of many months, starting with conception, through gestation, and finally the rigours of labour.

j8rxvtJesus is the way to the Father. The Gospel – good news about good God and what He has done – is empowered by the Spirit to unfurl this attractiveness to men and women the world over, no matter who they are, or what their circumstance might be. Jesus is a suitor who woos His bride. Be sure, the Jesus-way is a narrow road, for it is an exclusive one – no one comes to the Father but by Him – yet at the same time it is the broadest highway imaginable, for our Heavenly Father desires that all men be saved. It is a road without condemnation, disapproval, rejection or demand. No toll fees to be paid. No strings attached. No obstacles to be overcome. It is the easiest thing imaginable to come to faith in Christ, for God has made it so. Were it at all difficult, then many, if not most, would be excluded. Rather than difficult and obstacle-ridden, the way to the Father is by grace alone through faith alone. It’s Good News Boulevard, a highly incentivised pathway, for along it can be found provision, healing, deliverance, acceptance, restoration, opportunity, mercy, loving-kindness, and much, much more besides. These are there for the taking, for Christ has given all, and He asks nothing in return. The mystery is how, in so doing, we are won heart and soul, and will give anything back to Him in return.

It is therefore not ours somehow to make Jesus attractive or appealing by the way we do church or share the Gospel. Neither is it ours to make Him relevant in any way. He is attractive and He is relevant. Our challenge is not to distort the unconditional beauty of Perfect God, who is Love itself, in our bearing witness to Him.

One of the surest signs that we’ve moved away from the Gospel is that we are no longer attractive to sinners. It happens all too easily. Our Christianity inadvertently becomes about ourselves, and more about what we’re doing, than about Jesus and what He has done. It’s a subtle shift, from Jesus to Jesus plus – Jesus plus prayer; Jesus plus worship; Jesus plus evangelism, revival, holiness, our church, or some other vision – good things all, but before long, religiosity begins to rear its ugly head.

Jesus plus can be very popular with some Christians. At times they’ll flock in droves, even travelling great distances for it. Not that there is anything inherently amiss in events that are by Christians for Christians about secondary matters. It’s just that these should not be the dominant norm. They should not define, let alone consume us.

farfalle-notturne-4561Surely it is obvious, to the point of being self-evident, that Christians and churches should be like Jesus – magnets to sinners and repellent of Pharisaic self-righteousness. Sinners can sniff out a fake a mile off. Being attractive to sinners is not something you do, it’s something you are! The Gospel is more than something you believe; it is something you embody. You do not as much have it as it has you. If the Gospel has you, ministry flows, to believer and unbeliever equally generously. None of us has anything better to offer another than Christ and His perfect work. Embattled saint or rebellious sinner – both find hope and life in Jesus. Any local church that gets to grips with this will have no problem filling their building. Their gatherings will be condemnation-free zones, and their singing, preaching and prophesying all about what Jesus has done. These gatherings will likely be a bit messy, pleasingly reminiscent of the crowds around Jesus. To fix this is to lose it. To love unconditionally is to partner with God in the bringing to salvation those for whom He died. New Covenant discipleship is teaching people to love and trust Jesus. As we shall see, it is He who transforms lives.

Like moths to a flame. This is the Gospel!

Adapted from the e-book “Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever!” by Gavin Cox

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The Gospel informs

tragic-jesus-crucifixion-pamela-johnsonThe first thing that the Gospel does is inform. It tells people who Jesus is, what He did, and why He did it. It conveys the facts.

“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14)

As it does so, it addresses any number of things that folk are confused about. Given the amount of trouble in our world, people are surprisingly ignorant of the fact that the mess we’re in is not God’s fault. As we share the Gospel with them, they discover that He is good, and that His intentions towards us are good. They also learn of His plan of salvation, and they learn that it is a free gift already given to them, no strings attached.

imagesAccurately conveyed, the Gospel has been appropriately described as the greatest story ever told. The ability to communicate it precisely, creatively and skilfully, is within reach of everybody. This is thanks to the fact that the Jesus story is a story that the Holy Spirit just loves to help tell. It’s also all been couched in picture-language and story-form, remember. And besides, every good gift, random kindness, or incident of unmerited favour speaks of it. When you understand this, luck and coincidence cease, and are replaced by a serendipity whose architect is Grace.

Right at the centre of it all is Jesus, last Adam, who identified with our humanity in any and every way. Consider the following: Jesus was conceived out of wedlock, and so was effectively born to a single mom. He was adopted and raised by his step-father. His birth was to a relatively poor family, and in a stable. He spent a part of his early childhood in exile, for His were a subjugated and oppressed people. During His relatively short life He experienced significant loss (His cousin John was unjustly executed), and He was consistently misunderstood. He was also misused, the needy extracting from Him without thanks or concern for His well-being. Then, having done nought but good, He was wrongfully accused, unjustly condemned, and brutally executed even though clearly innocent. Alongside injustice of every kind, He endured frenzied and seething hatred, riotousness, imprisonment, mocking, horrific beatings, public humiliation, betrayal, abandonment, deprivation, loneliness, fear and shame. He died destitute, and even tasted separation from God as He became a sin offering.

cross-211989_640During His lifetime Jesus consistently embraced the marginalised, aided the poor, delivered the bound, and healed the sick. He touched lepers, engaged prostitutes and adulteresses, and dined with tax collectors and sinners of all kinds. He held and blessed babies, stepped over cultural divides, and even had time to engage the thief crucified alongside Him.

The five major metaphors of salvation underline all the more the degree to which Jesus identified with humanity in all of its frailty. In the law courts of heaven those who were once guilty are justified; in Christ they are declared not guilty. Through the cross of Christ those who were enslaved to satan, sin and flesh find their freedom. Those once imprisoned are redeemed, ransomed, set free. Jesus was tempted and tested by the devil. Enticed and opposed, He triumphed. The serpent (satan) bruised His heel (the crucifixion), but Jesus crushed his head (total defeat on every front). Christ is the victor in whom any embattled man or woman can find victory. The cross breached every divide. In Christ, God and sinner are reconciled, and because of this reconciliation, every other divide becomes reconcilable. Thanks to the cross even the worst of our enemies might yet be our friends. Furthermore, Jesus taught us that meaning in life is found in the will of God. For this we were created, and to this we are saved. Everyone has purpose, for accidental pregnancies are a reality, but accidental children are not. All of us are the work of His hands.

electrifying-jesus-crucifixion-pamela-johnsonThe oft-overlooked crux of the matter is well illustrated using a sci-fi analogy. Should we finally discover life on another planet – let’s call it Zork – then the best way by far to establish relationships with the Zorkians would be to travel to Zork as a Zorkian. Jesus laid aside the glories of Heaven and became another Adam. Just like us, He came to us, and so we can understand Him, for He understands us. His identification with us even enables us to understand the ways in which He is different from us, for example, His sinlessness and righteousness, because they are in direct contrast with us and ours. And, thanks to His identification with us, He is well able to explain the things of Heaven to us in ways we can understand.

Anything and everything provides a starting point for sharing the Good News of the Gospel. The good things, that reflect His grace, and the bad things, which attract His compassion and mercy. At every point of celebration, we joyfully give thanks to God, from whom all good gifts come. He is willing and able to bless, and not so only for the deserving. A baby born or promotion earned; reason both for words of gratitude or a prayer of thanks. And no matter the adversity, we can sensitively tell of our God, who understands. He is able to comfort, for He identifies.

Herewith something of a postscript thought of exceptional consequence in this day and age: When God tells us that He hates divorce, He makes the statement as a divorcee. The Scriptures are clear that He issued unfaithful, wayward Israel a certificate of divorce, and that He has bound Himself to the bride of Christ, a second wife if you will. His heart towards divorcees is compassion, not judgement; He knows their pain.

cross-666948_960_720The facts about Jesus – who He is, what He did, and why He did it – inform life on earth of the realities of Heaven, no matter the circumstance at the time. The Gospel reveals Jesus. Simple as that!

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The power of the Gospel

The Gospel is the power of God for salvation!

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16–17)

1This glorious Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection is not passive, but active. It works. It does stuff; it accomplishes things. It’s also not just that the Gospel can be powerful when put to appropriate use, for example by powerful preaching or testimony, or when accompanied by confirming signs and wonders. The Gospel is powerful all on its own without any of these very good things attending it. Stand-alone, the Gospel is powerful! It is the power of God for salvation. It’s glorious to partner with, and it certainly makes good use of our gifts and callings, but the Gospel all on its own is able to save, for saving is its purpose, and save it does.

EarthGlobeAfrica.tif.746x600_q85The creation account helps us to understand. God the Father decreed; He spoke by the Living Word, Jesus; Holy Spirit did the work. Will, Word and Works, and there you have it – the Trinity in glorious synergy bringing something out of nothing. Into the dark, formless void that was, Father decreed, and that which was Spoken was accomplished by the Spirit, who was to be found brooding over the project to do all that was willed. In exactly the same way, salvation in Father’s will, through and in Jesus, and by the Spirit. When the Gospel is proclaimed, the Good News and the Spirit work together in creative synergy – Will, Word and Works – their sublime redemptive poetry, joyfully engulfing, loving, and saving, just as choreographed to do before time began.

GerminationJesus Himself made the same point very simply when He described the Gospel as a seed. Fertile seeds are powerful things, containing everything necessary for maturity, including life, thanks to their ingenuity in design. The whole oak is in the acorn. In the same way, the freedom and fullness secured for us in Christ is in the Gospel. Jesus crucified, died, buried and raised – such a tiny seed – yet therein lies every provision and every victory, sufficient for everyone who believes, and in an abundance befitting eternity. Just as fertile seeds can lie dormant for decades before conducive conditions facilitate germination, in the same way the Gospel shared can patiently await its appointed time. Like any seed, harvest depends upon the soil into which it’s sown, but scant harvest on occasion in no way reflects upon the perfection of this seed. On the contrary, just as we’ve witnessed plants of all kinds breaking through paving or rock, the Gospel produces exceedingly abundantly above expectation, again and again, even in the most adverse of circumstances.

Both Jesus and Paul demonstrated their confidence in the power inherent in the Good News in a rather noteworthy way. Both encountered self-appointed ministries whose motives were questionable, and neither sought to put a stop to them. Both knew that the Gospel was well able to look after itself. Good motive or bad, the power of the seed remained unchanged.

picture1This blog post sets up a series of a further ten posts, each expanding on what the Gospel does. It works wonders; awesome wonders. The Gospel bears fruit; plentiful, abundant, lasting fruit. The Gospel does all that the Lord designed it to do. It is ever so worth our while teasing out the richness of the Gospel’s power, so as to better to understand, admire, appropriate and communicate it. The beauty is that the Gospel doesn’t justify or redeem or reconcile or …; it justifies and redeems and reconciles…. Where one stops and another starts is of little consequence, for the colours, flavours and facets (pick the metaphor you most prefer) work off and into one another in magnificent, enriching, enhancing and compounding splendour.

downloadContemplating the Gospel in this way is comparable to gazing into the night sky. It will always be breathtaking, and there will always be more to see. This is the nature of the infinite. Describe what you see in terms of planets, stars or galaxies, whichever you prefer, for magnificent remains magnificent, even when perspective shifts. My prayer is that this exercise in Gospel-gazing will whet your appetite for a lifetime of exploration. Together we will forage on the fringes of the inexhaustible, exploring the limitless bounds of the revelation of our Lord that will keep us captivated for all eternity.

Adapted from the e-book Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever! by Gavin Cox

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A broad multi-laned highway

i-80_eastshore_fwyThis is the fifth and final in a series of posts documenting the paradigm-altering revelation that has fashioned my understanding of the local church, and of the Gospel that shapes her. All five revelations came as one-liners from the Lord. Read about the first four here: Open the windows and doorsPreach the New CovenantDon’t fence the waterholeNo flags.

The fifth one-liner came in ways just as dramatic as the other four. Having settled in my spirit over a period, a visiting ministry sounded it out by giving it to me word for word over dinner, having received it for us as a word from God: “The Lord is building a broad multi-laned highway here”.

Bear in mind that at this time we were going through some significant challenges as a local church. Before all was said and done our list of trials maxresdefaultwould include two church splits, with the second precipitated by relationship-ending ultimatums from the family of churches of which we had always been a part. We were numerically and financially devastated, disorientated and displaced, and focused on little more than survival. With all respect to New Yorkers, we referred to the meltdown as “our 9/11”, and thought about rebuilding as from “ground zero up”. All we had was the foundation of the New Covenant, which is indeed all you need.

Traditional wisdom in that kind of situation was to get back to basics. A metaphor gleaned from the corporate world expresses it well: “Get the right people on the bus”, and “get the right people in the right seats”. In other words, get the vision clear and build your team accurately, playing to strengths. This is sound leadership advice for any performance-orientated environment: Do it, and everyone will know where you’re going, who is who in the zoo, and what needs to be done, by whom, and why. This was how we had done things in the past, and the only way in which we knew how to operate as a leadership. The only problem was that it was not a good fit with our freshly adopted New Covenant paradigm, which was not performance orientated. We’d been through an extreme makeover, and our Christianity was simply no longer about what we needed to do, but about what Jesus had already done!

How profound then is a “broad multi-laned highway”. What this one-liner did was change leadership’s role from vision generating and casting to facilitating vision. From then on the “vision” for the church no longer lived in the hearts and minds of the leaders, but in the hearts and minds of the people. Everyone was to be encouraged to do the good works prepared by God for them to do. Nothing more; nothing less. These were the vehicles that would populate the highway.

32093299-tropical-fruit-mix-stock-photo-fruit-fruits-vegetablesThis has all been an extraordinary game-changer. We’re as supportive as we know how, and have watched as the Lord thrust our congregation into service. Some have changed jobs. Others have adopted children. A few have started NGOs. A number have volunteered for service in these NGOs, and in other organisations like them. Folk are reaching out to others. They’re caring for immediate and extended family in new ways. There are those that are approaching their jobs, businesses, recreation and art with new eyes. It doesn’t matter what the good work is; the important thing is that it is God-given and done in faith.

This “doing the good works prepared for you to do” is the only significant point of accountability amongst us, and presupposes necessary accountability in character underpinning the outworking. Momentum is gathering all the time, even though we as a leadership have done little to create or sustain it. Congregants are treated as responsible for their own lives, well able to hear God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and appointed for good works in Him. Treating them in this way has made the Gospel to be the self-fulfilling prophecy the Lord crafted it to be. It saves, transforms, enables and deploys.

tmbspnbfClarity about this has simplified church life no end. The preaching encourages folk in the fullness and freedom that is theirs in Christ. They then hear the Lord and get on with it, following the Spirit, with us providing pastoral support, coaching and mentoring as appropriate. “In the church” the children’s ministry runs itself. So does the worship team. There are also some small groups that are by and for the congregation, but these are few. Most of the activity is “out there”.

From a church leadership point of view this “broad multi-laned highway” is something of a two-edged sword. The great positive is that as a leadership you’re living the dream. Congregants take responsibility for their own lives, have their hands full of kingdom business, and are fulfilled in life, call and destiny. The down side is that their time, energy, gifts and resources are directed to the coalface of their endeavors, and there is little left for doing church in traditional ways. On any given Sunday morning (not to mention midweek) a number of the congregation are “out there” doing the good works prepared in advance for them to do, which means that they are not “in here” making church better. The net result is a very fruitful local church that masquerades as a loose and disorganised affair that is not very successful at all. Unless you know what to look for, that is!

13781279-transportation-icons-set-stock-vector-vehicles-icon-truckAnd so it is that a broad multi-laned highway continues to form. On it are vehicles of all descriptions, driven by congregants of all ilks. Some are very committed to us as a local church. Others are pretty much passing through. Some are small single-seater ventures; others veritable buses that need “the right people on the bus” and “the right people in the right seats on the bus” in order to get where they’re going. Each is legitimate in its own right.

It might be helpful, in conclusion, to mention a few of the essential adjustments necessary in our leadership paradigms in order to migrate from “bus” to “highway” thinking.  1. You have to get over your insecurities. Leaders are no longer in control, and personal loyalties no longer factor in the equation. Some members will even get serving in other churches while still considering yours their home. Deal with it. 2. If you want people to be healthy and productive, you have to place a high value on rest. If folk have families and are shouldering careers and ministries, they’re stretched. They are going to take Sundays off quite regularly in order to stay healthy. Get used to it. Attendance measures nothing useful in this environment. 3. As David taught us, those who stay with the bags get the same reward as those on the front lines (I Sam 30:21-25). Sometimes all people can do in life is hang on, and this can be so for an extended period. During these times they appear to contribute nothing. A New Covenant environment does not penalize or prejudice them in any way for a lack of performance. It’s Holy Spirit’s job to get God’s children fruitful. Make peace with it. All of that to say this: Fruit is fruit. In preaching the Gospel we after week, you pay attention to the root. The fruit comes, and is His business, not ours. The Father, not the elders, is the vinedresser.

jesus-walking-on-waterA final thought, and as a friend puts it: This New Covenant is an extraordinary and remarkable thing. It’s like being out of the boat and on the water. It feels insubstantial and transient, fragile and unpredictable. It’s easy to yield to fear and insecurity. Yet no surer foundation can be found, for we stand on the work of Jesus and the promises of God, all of which are infallible. And Jesus is quick to rescue us when our faith fails us. This is not about us. It is all about Him!

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No flags

flagpole-49506_640“No flags.” Another one-liner from the Lord, and this one as pithy as they come. As usual, I knew exactly what He meant. Since gaining numerical significance, the people of God have always carried tribal overtones within their unity. Jacob’s sons became the heads of twelve tribes, each with distinctives in character and calling. Benjamin, Levi, Judah – these are names with a great deal of meaning to anyone who has a handle on Old Testament history.

But problems arise when unity begins to fracture along these tribal lines. It is but a small step in the heart from Benjamin, Levi and Judah to “I’m of Apollos”, “I’m of Cephas”, and “I’m of Paul”. As Paul pointed out to the fragmented community in Corinth, we’re actually all of Christ, and this polarising stuff is counterproductive. The lesson is this: while we cannot avoid having distinctives, these should not define us. Christ alone does that. Some of our distinctives are primal, like skin colour and gender; others are nuanced, like doctrine and calling. No matter which, our carnal tendency is to quantify and categorise, define and delineate, and then associate and/or disassociate accordingly. The result is Christ divided; a house that crumbles. A fundamental error repeated over and over again.

So, no flags! No flags marking our allegiance to any faction of the church above another. And no flag calling for allegiance to this part of the church above another. Autonomous, inter-dependent local church – nothing more; nothing less – under the responsible government of it’s Biblically appointed eldership, and relationally connected to the important trans-local gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. Nothing could be simpler or clearer.

b9317967944z-1_20150704151929_000_gohb8pva9-1-0Yet walking in this has been challenging in the utmost. The reason is not that other church leaders don’t understand or disagree with the position. Rather, it’s regarded as some sort of lofty idealism. Consequently, the Lord’s church is so divided along the lines of it’s respective distinctives, that it has often become the purveyor of a its respective brand of Christianity, more so than of the Gospel. Just gather with other leaders. The first question typically goes to who you’re “under”. For me this question raises something of a red flag (excuse the pun), because you soon discover that you’re welcome everywhere on a superficial level, but nowhere on a significant level. Unless of course you subscribe to the finer points of the distinctives of the brand in question.

To state this is to state the obvious: The New Testament church was one congregation, many apostles; not one apostle with his many congregations. Again, to state the obvious: Paul’s reference to some who he had raised up as sons was descriptive, not prescriptive. If the shoe fits, wear it, but let’s not insist that everyone dons our preferred brogues. All that does is corrupts and weakens the gene pool by incestuous inbreeding. Why should everyone we invest in undergo some sort of DNA transfusion in order to become just like us?

The flag issue ultimately addresses ownership. It is my strong conviction that the church, and by that I mean the local church, belongs to Christ. The Scriptures are clear on local church structures – elders and deacons; with elements of episcopal, presbyterian and congregational approaches, dependent on context. Any structures that emerge between these autonomous local churches and the glorious eternal church are man-engineered. They may facilitate health and mission, but they arise out of pragmatism (us) rather than Perfection (Him). Let’s hold onto them lightly. And when they begin to define us in ways that supersede our identity in Christ, let’s jettison them in haste.

Every local church has distinctives. These is nothing wrong with that. But so strong is our need to define ourselves by association that even a flagless local church runs the risk of becoming part of some no-flag movement, where flaglessness becomes the defining characteristic, and where like good teenagers, we all non-conform together in identical ways. See above, and count us out.

downloadOne last thought, and I include it simply because I encounter it so often. My resistance to defining alignment within the wider body of Christ is not because I’m hurt, bent and buckled. It seems there are those who resist relationships of depth and accountability because they are wounded, and it is true that living rogue doesn’t produce much by the way of good fruit. But I’m not rogue. Neither are many others who share these convictions. And we are walking in, and healthily desirous of, trans-local relationships of depth and accountability. We’re just not prepared to become card-carrying movement members, for doing so would have us perpetuating an exclusivity and elitism that needs to be flushed out from amongst the people of God, and not reinforced and entrenched.

imagesSo it is that the proverbial flagpole rises high above the roof of the building in which our local church gathers on Sunday mornings. Around us, any number of believers, and more commonly leaders, eye its vacant tip with considerable perplexity, and at times more than a little disdain. We know this because they agitate about it, and subtly raise the matter with us again and again; and at times not so subtly. But long may it so remain, and soon may those whom it bothers come to see that it really is OK. For a flagless flagpole does not default to a Jolly Roger (the skull-and-crossbones, and pirates ahoy!), or half-mast (another failed church and perhaps a building for sale). If it defaults anywhere, it’s to a white flag, and this part of the body of Christ unwilling to be at war with the rest of itself.

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