CRUCIAL QUESTIONS No. 4 CAN I Know GOD’S WILL? R. C. SPROUL Reformation Trust PUBLISHING A DIVISION OF LIGONIER MINISTRIES • ORLANDO, FLORIDA Can I Know God’s Will? © 1984, 1999, 2009 by R. C. Sproul Previously published as God’s Will and the Christian (1984) and as part of Following Christ (1991) by Tyndale House Publishers, and as Can I Know God’s Will? by Ligonier Ministries (1999). Published by Reformation Trust a division of Ligonier Ministries 400 Technology Park, Lake Mary, FL 32746 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher, Reformation Trust. The only exception is brief quotations in published reviews. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked RSV are taken from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 (2nd edition, 1971) by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked KJV are from The Holy Bible, King James Version. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939– [God’s will and the Christian] Can I know God’s will? / R. C. Sproul. p. cm.–(The crucial questions series) First published as: God’s will and the Christian. 1984. Following Christ. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, c1991. Can I know God’s Will? Ligonier Ministries, 1999. ISBN 978-1-56769-179-5 1. Providence and government of God–Christianity. 2. God (Christianity)–Will. I. Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939– Following Christ. II. Title. BT135.S745 2009 248.4–dc22 2009018820 Contents One—THE MEANING OF GOD’S WILL Two—THE MEANING OF MAN’S WILL Three—GOD’S WILL AND YOUR JOB Four—GOD’S WILL IN MARRIAGE Chapter One THE MEANING OF GOD’S WILL Lost in Wonderland, Alice came to a fork in the road. Icy panic stung her as she stood frozen by indecision. She lifted her eyes toward heaven, looking for guidance. Her eyes did not find God, only the Cheshire cat leering at her from his perch in the tree above. “Which way should I go?” Alice blurted. “That depends,” said the cat, fixing a sardonic smile on the confused girl. “On what?” Alice managed to reply. “It depends on your destination. Where are you going?” the cat asked. “I don’t know,” Alice stammered. “Then,” said the cat, his grin spreading wider, “it doesn’t matter which way you go.” The destination matters to the Christian. We are a pilgrim people. Though we do not wander in a wilderness in route to the Promised Land, we seek a better country, an eternal city whose builder and maker is God. Someday He will take us home to His kingdom. So the ultimate destination is clear. We are certain that there is a glorious future for the people of God. However, what of tomorrow? We feel anxious about the immediate future, just as unbelievers do. The specifics of our personal futures are unknown to us. Like children we ask: “Will I be happy? Will I be rich? What will happen to me?” We must walk by faith rather than by sight. As long as there have been people, there have been soothsayers and wizards exploiting our anxieties. If prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, surely fortune-telling is the second oldest. “Tell me of tomorrow” is the plea of the stock market speculator, the competitive businessman, the sports forecaster, and the young couple in love. The student asks, “Will I graduate?” The manager muses, “Will I be promoted?” The person in the doctor’s waiting room clenches his hands and asks, “Is it cancer or indigestion?” People have examined lizard entrails, snakeskins, the bones of owls, the Ouija board, the daily horoscope, and the predictions of sports handicappers—all to gain a small margin of insurance against an unknown future. The Christian feels the same curiosity, but frames the question differently. He asks: “What is the will of God for my life?” To search for the will of God can be an exercise in piety or impiety, an act of humble submission or outrageous arrogance—depending on what will of God we seek. To try to look behind the veil at what God has not been pleased to reveal is to tamper with holy things that are out of bounds. John Calvin said that when God “closes his holy mouth,” we should desist from inquiry (Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, trans. and ed. John Owen [reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House. 2003], 354). On the other hand, God delights to hear the prayers of His people when they individually ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” The Christian pursues God, looking for His marching orders, seeking to know what course of action is pleasing to Him. This search for the will of God is a holy quest—a pursuit that is to be undertaken with vigor by the godly person. The Biblical Meaning of the Will of God We yearn for simple answers to difficult questions. We want clarity. We desire to cut through the entanglements to the heart of the question. Sometimes the answers are simple enough in themselves, but the process of finding them is laborious and confusing. Sometimes the answers are simplistic, giving us temporary relief from the pressures and the burdens of confusing questions. However, there is a profound difference between the simple answer and the simplistic answer. The simple answer is correct; it accounts for all the data found in the complex problem. It is clear and can be easily grasped in its fullness. It abides, being able to stand the test of rigorous questioning. The simplistic answer is a counterfeit. On the surface it appears to be the genuine article, but under closer scrutiny it yields its bogus flaws. The simplistic answer may account for some of the data but not all of it. It remains fuzzy. Worst of all, it does not abide; it fails the test of deeper questioning. It does not satisfy in the long haul. One of the most excruciating questions in theology is, “Why did Adam fall?” The simplistic answer, commonly heard, is that Adam fell by his own free will. Such an answer is satisfying until we probe the question more deeply. Suppose we ask: “How could a righteous creature made by a perfect Creator sin? How could Adam make an evil choice while possessing no prior inclination or disposition to evil? Was he simply deceived or coerced by Satan? If so, why would Adam then be blameworthy?” If he was merely deceived, then the fault is all Satan’s. If he was coerced, then it was not a free choice. If he sinned because he had a prior desire or inclination to sin, then we must ask: “What was the source of his evil desire? Did God put it there?” If so, then we cast a shadow on the integrity of the Creator. Perhaps the simplest way to expose the weak character of the simplistic answer that Adam fell by his own free will is to ask our question another way: “Why did Adam exercise his own free will to sin?” It simply won’t do to answer, “Because he chose to.” This answer is a mere repetition of the question in a declarative form. I would like to offer a simple answer to the difficult question of Adam’s fall, but I simply can’t. The only response I can give to the question is that I don’t know the answer. Some readers will surely chasten me at this point by saying to themselves: “I know the answer! Adam fell because it was the will of God.” I immediately ask: “In what sense was Adam’s fall the will of God? Did God force Adam to fall and then punish him for doing what he had no power to avoid?” To ask such an impious question is to answer it. Certainly the fall must have been the “will of God” in some sense, but the crucial question remains, “In what sense?” So here we are, pressed squarely against a biting question that involves the matter of the will of God. We want to know how the will of God worked in Adam’s life; but more personally, we want to know how the will of God works in our own lives. When questions are difficult and complex, it is a good rule to collect as much data about them as possible. The more clues the detective has to work with, the easier it usually is to solve the crime (note the word usually). Sometimes the detective suffers from too many clues, which only serve to compound the difficulty of the solution. The corporate executive faced with major decision-making responsibilities knows the importance of sufficient data- and record-keeping. His maxim may be: “If you have enough data, the decisions jump out at you.” Again we must add the qualifier usually. Sometimes the data are so complex that they jump out like screaming banshees, defying our ability to sort through them all. I emphasize the point of data, complexity, and simplicity because the biblical meaning of the will of God is a very complicated matter. To approach it simplistically is to invite disaster. At times, wrestling with the complexities of the biblical concept of the will of God can give us an Excedrin headache. Yet ours is a holy quest, a pursuit that is worth a few headaches along the way. But we must guard against proceeding in a simplistic way, lest we change the holy quest into an unholy presumption. We note at the outset that the Bible speaks of the “will of God” in more than one way. This is the key problem that complicates our quest and serves as a warning against simplistic solutions. In the New Testament, there are two Greek words that can be and have been translated by the English word will. It would seem that all we need is to identify precisely the meanings of the two words and check out the Greek text every time we see the word will, and our problems will be solved. Alas, it doesn’t work that way. The plot thickens when we discover that each of the two Greek words has several nuances of meaning. Simply checking the Greek text for word usage is not enough to solve our difficulty. However, finding the meanings of the Greek words is a helpful starting place. Let’s examine the two words briefly to see whether they shed any light on our quest. The words are boule and thelema. The term boule has its roots in an ancient verb that means a “rational and conscious desire,” as opposed to thelema, meaning “an impulsive or unconscious desire.” The ancient subtle distinction was between rational desire and impulsive desire. As the Greek language developed, however, this distinction was softened, and eventually the words became used at times as synonyms, with authors switching from one to the other for purposes of stylistic change. In the New Testament, boule usually refers to a plan based on careful deliberation; it is used most often with respect to the counsel of God. Boule frequently indicates God’s providential plan, which is predetermined and inflexible. Luke is fond of using it this way, as we read in the book of Acts: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan [boule] and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). Here the resolute decree of God is in view, which no human action can set aside. God’s plan is impregnable; His “will” is unalterable. The word thelema is rich in its diversity of meanings. It refers to what is agreeable, what is desired, what is intended, what is chosen, or what is commanded. Here we have the notions of consent, desire, purpose, resolution, and command. The force of the various meanings is determined by the context in which thelema appears. The Decretive Will of God Theologians describe as the “decretive will of God” that will by which God decrees things to come to pass according to His supreme sovereignty. This is also sometimes called “God’s sovereign efficacious will”; by it, God brings to pass whatsoever He wills. When God sovereignly decrees something in this sense, nothing can prevent it from coming to pass. When God commanded the light to shine, the darkness had no power to resist the command. The “lights” came on. God did not persuade the light to shine. He did not negotiate with elemental powers to form a universe. He did not achieve a plan of redemption by trial and error; the cross was not a cosmic accident exploited by the Deity. These things were decreed absolutely. Their effects were efficacious (producing the desired result) because their causes were sovereignly decreed. A serious danger faces those who restrict the meaning of the will of God to the sovereign will. We hear the Muslim cry, “It is the will of Allah.” We slip at times into a deterministic view of life that says, “Que será, sera,” or “What will be, will be.” In so doing, we embrace a sub-Christian form of fatalism, as if God willed everything that happened in such a way as to eliminate human choices. Classical theologians insist on the reality of man’s will in acting, choosing, and responding. God works His plan through means, via the real choices of willing and acting creatures. There are secondary as well as primary causes. To deny this is to embrace a kind of determinism that eliminates human freedom and dignity. Yet there is a God who is sovereign, whose will is greater than ours. His will restricts my will. My will cannot restrict His will. When He decrees something sovereignly, it will come to pass—whether I like it or not, whether I choose it or not. He is sovereign. I am subordinate. The Preceptive Will of God When the Bible speaks of the will of God, it does not always mean the decretive will of God. The decretive will of God cannot be broken or disobeyed. It will come to pass. On the other hand, there is a will that can be broken: “the preceptive will of God.” It can be disobeyed. Indeed, it is broken and disobeyed every day by each one of us. The preceptive will of God is found in His law. The precepts, statutes, and commandments that He delivers to His people make up the preceptive will. They express and reveal to us what is right and proper for us to do. The preceptive will is God’s rule of righteousness for our lives. By this rule we are governed. It is the will of God that we not sin. It is the will of God that we have no other gods before Him; that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves; that we refrain from stealing, coveting, and committing adultery. Yet the world is filled with idolatry, hatred, thievery, covetousness, and adultery. The will of God is violated whenever His law is broken. One of the great tragedies of contemporary Christendom is the preoccupation of so many Christians with the secret decretive will of God to the exclusion and neglect of the preceptive will. We want to peek behind the veil, to catch a glimpse of our personal future. We seem more concerned with our horoscope than with our obedience, more concerned with what the stars in their courses are doing than with what we are doing. With respect to God’s sovereign will, we assume we are passive. With respect to His preceptive will, we know that we are active and therefore responsible and accountable. It is easier to engage in ungodly prying into the secret counsel of God than to apply ourselves to the practice of godliness. We can flee to the safety of the sovereign will and try to pass off our sin to God, laying the burden and responsibility of it on His unchanging will. Such characterizes the spirit of antichrist, the spirit of lawlessness or antinomianism, that despises God’s law and ignores His precepts. Protestants are particularly vulnerable to this distortion. We seek refuge in our precious doctrine of justification by faith alone, forgetting that the very doctrine is to be a catalyst for the pursuit of righteousness and obedience to the preceptive will of God. Biblical Righteousness Habakkuk’s famous statement, “the just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4, KJV), is found three times in the New Testament. It has become a slogan of evangelical Protestantism, whose emphasis has been on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This slogan, containing a hint of the essence of the Christian life, has its focal point in the biblical concept of righteousness. One of Jesus’ most disturbing comments was the statement, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). It is easy for us to assume that Jesus meant that our righteousness must be of a higher sort than that characterized by men who were hypocrites. The image that we have of scribes and Pharisees from the New Testament period is that of unscrupulous, ruthless practitioners of religious deceit. We must bear in mind, however, that the Pharisees as a group were men historically committed to a very lofty level of righteous living. Yet Jesus tells us that our righteousness must exceed theirs. What did He mean? When we consider the biblical notion of righteousness, we are dealing with a matter that touches virtually every plane of theology. In the first place, there is the righteousness of God, by which all standards of rightness and wrongness are to be measured. God’s character is the ultimate foundation and model of righteousness. In the Old Testament, righteousness becomes defined in terms of obedience to the commandments delivered by God, who Himself is altogether righteous. Those commands include not only precepts of human behavior with respect to our fellow human beings, but also matters of a liturgical and ceremonial nature. In Old Testament Israel and among the New Testament Pharisees, liturgical righteousness was substituted for authentic righteousness. That is to say, men became satisfied with obeying the rituals of the religious community rather than fulfilling the broader implications of the law. For example, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for tithing their mint and cumin while omitting the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy. Jesus indicated that the Pharisees were correct in giving their tithes, but were incorrect in assuming that the liturgical exercises had completed the requirements of the law. Here, liturgical righteousness had become a substitute for true and full obedience. Within the evangelical world, righteousness is a rare word indeed. We speak of morality, spirituality, and piety. Seldom, however, do we speak of righteousness. Yet the goal of our redemption is not piety or spirituality but righteousness. Spirituality in the New Testament sense is a means to the end of righteousness. Being spiritual means that we are exercising the spiritual graces given by God to mold us after the image of His Son. The disciplines of prayer, Bible study, church fellowship, witnessing, and the like are not ends in themselves, but are designed to assist us in living righteously. We are stunted in our growth if we assume that the end of the Christian life is spirituality. Spiritual concerns are but the beginning of our walk with God. We must beware of the subtle danger of thinking that spirituality completes the requirements of Christ. To fall into such a trap—the trap of the Pharisees—is to substitute liturgical or ritualistic practices for authentic righteousness. By all means we are to pray and to study the Bible, and to bear witness in evangelism. However, we must never, at any point in our lives, rest from our pursuit of righteousness. In justification we become righteous in the sight of God by means of the cloak of Christ’s righteousness. However, as soon as we are justified, our lives must give evidence of the personal righteousness that flows out of our justification. It is interesting to me that the whole biblical concept of righteousness is contained in one Greek word, dikaios. That same Greek word is used to refer, in the first instance, to the righteousness of God; in the second instance, to what we call justification; and in the third instance, to the righteousness of life. Thus, from beginning to end—from the nature of God to the destiny of man—our human duty remains the same—a call to righteousness. True righteousness must never be confused with self-righteousness. Since our righteousness proceeds from our justification, which is based on the righteousness of Christ alone, we must never be deluded into thinking that our works of righteousness have any merit of their own. Yet as Protestants, zealously maintaining our doctrine of justification by faith alone, we must be ever mindful that the justification that is by faith alone is never by a faith that is alone. True faith manifests itself in righteousness exceeding that of the Pharisees and the scribes, for it is concerned with the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy. We are called to bear witness to the righteousness of God in every area of life—from our prayer closets to our courtrooms, from our pews to our marketplaces. The top priority of Jesus is that we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. All other things will be added to that. An Allergy to Restraint “Everybody do your own thing.” This cliché from the sixties characterizes the spirit of our age. Increasingly freedom is being equated with the inalienable right to do whatever you please. It carries with it a built-in allergy to laws that restrain, whether they be the laws of God or the laws of men. This pervasive anti-law, or antinomian, attitude is reminiscent of the biblical epoch that provoked God’s judgment because “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6). The secular world reflects this attitude in the statement, “Government can’t legislate morality.” Morality is seen as a private matter, outside the domain of the state and even of the church. A shift has occurred in word meaning so subtle that many have missed it. The original intent of the concept, “You cannot legislate morality,” was to convey the idea that passing a law prohibiting a particular kind of activity would not necessarily eliminate such activity. The point of the phrase was that laws do not ipso facto produce obedience to those laws. In fact, on some occasions, the legal prohibition of certain practices has incited only greater violation of established law. The prohibition of alcoholic beverages is an example. The contemporary interpretation of legislating morality differs from the original intent. Instead of saying that government cannot legislate morality, it says government may not legislate morality. That means government should stay out of moral issues such as the regulation of abortion, deviant sexual practices, marriage and divorce, and so on, since morality is a matter of conscience in the private sector. For government to legislate in these areas is often viewed as an invasion of privacy by the state, representing a denial of basic freedoms for the individual. If we take this kind of thinking to its logical conclusion, we leave the government with little to do. If government may not legislate morality, its activity will be restricted to determining the colors of the state flag, the state flower, and perhaps the state bird. (However, even questions of flowers and birds may be deemed “moral,” as they touch on ecological issues, which are ultimately moral in character.) The vast majority of matters that concern legislation are, in fact, of a decidedly moral character. The regulation of murder, theft, and civil rights is a moral matter. How a person operates his automobile on the highway is a moral issue since it touches on the well-being of fellow travelers. Questions relating to the legalization of marijuana often focus on the fact that a majority of certain age groups are violating the law. The argument goes like this: Since disobedience is so widespread, doesn’t this indicate that the law is bad? Such a conclusion is a blatant non sequitur. Whether or not marijuana should be decriminalized should not be determined by levels of civil disobedience. The point is that a vast number of Americans reflect an antinomian spirit regarding marijuana. Such disobedience is hardly motivated by noble aspirations to a higher ethic suppressed by a tyrannical government. Here the law is broken as a matter of convenience and physical appetite. Within the church, the same spirit of antinomianism has prevailed too often. Pope Benedict XVI faces the embarrassing legacy of his predecessors as he tries to explain to the world why a majority of his American adherents tell the pollsters they practice artificial means of birth control when a papal encyclical explicitly forbids such methods. One must ask how people can confess their belief in an “infallible” leader of their church and at the same time obstinately refuse to submit to that leader. Within the Protestant churches, individuals frequently become irate when called to moral accountability. They often declare that the church has no right to intrude into their private lives. They say this in spite of the fact that in their membership vows, they publicly committed themselves to submit to the moral oversight of the church. Antinomianism should be more rare in the evangelical Christian community than anywhere else. Sadly, the facts do not fit the theory. So blasé is the typical “evangelical” toward the law of God that the prophecies of doom that Rome thundered at Martin Luther are beginning to come true. Some “evangelicals” are indeed using justification by faith alone as a license to sin; these can be deemed properly only as pseudo-evangelicals. Anyone who has the most rudimentary understanding of justification by faith knows that authentic faith always manifests itself in a zeal for obedience. No earnest Christian can ever have a cavalier attitude toward the law of God. Though obedience to such laws does not bring justification, the justified person will surely endeavor to obey them. To be sure, there are times when the commandments of men are on a collision course with the laws of God. In those instances, Christians not only may disobey men, but must disobey men. I am not talking here of isolated moral issues but of attitudes. Christians must be particularly careful in this era of antinomianism not to get caught up in the spirit of the age. We are not free to do what is right in our own eyes. We are called to do what is right in His eyes. Freedom should not be confused with autonomy. As long as evil exists in the world, the moral restraint of law is necessary. It is an act of grace by which God institutes government, which exists to restrain the evildoer. It exists to protect the innocent and the righteous. The righteous are called to support it as much as they possibly can without compromising their obedience to God. God’s Will of Disposition While we understand that the decretive will and the preceptive will of God are part of His overall will, other aspects of the mystery of His sovereignty remain. One such aspect is “the will of disposition.” It is tied up with the ability of man to disobey God’s preceptive will. This aspect of the will of God refers to what is pleasing and agreeable to God. It expresses something of the attitude of God to His creatures. Some things are “well pleasing in his sight,” while other things are said to grieve Him. He may allow (but not via moral permission) wicked things to transpire, but He is by no means pleased by them. To illustrate how these differing aspects of the will of God come into play in biblical interpretation, let us examine the verse that says the Lord is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9, KJV). Which of the above-mentioned meanings of will fits this text? How is the meaning of the text changed by the application of the nuances? Try first the decretive will. The verse would then mean, “God is not willing in a sovereign decretive sense that any should perish.” The implication would then be that nobody perishes. This verse would be a proof text for universalism, with its view that hell is utterly vacant of people. The second option is that God is not willing in a preceptive way that any should perish. This would mean that God does not allow people to perish in the sense that He grants His moral permission. This obviously does not fit the context of the passage. The third option makes sense. God is not willing in the sense that He is not inwardly disposed to, or delighted by, people’s perishing. Elsewhere, Scripture teaches that God takes no delight in the death of the wicked. He may decree what He does not enjoy; that is, He may distribute justice to wicked offenders. He is pleased when justice is maintained and righteousness is honored, even though He takes no personal pleasure in the application of such punishment. A human analogy may be seen in our law courts. A judge, in the interest of justice, may sentence a criminal to prison and at the same time inwardly grieve for the guilty man. His disposition may be for the man but against the crime. However, God is not merely a human judge, working under the constraints of the criminal justice system. God is sovereign—He can do what He pleases. If He is not pleased or willing that any should perish, why then does He not exercise His decretive will accordingly? How can there be a hiatus between God’s decretive will and His will of disposition? All things being equal, God does desire that no one should perish. But all things are not equal. Sin is real. Sin violates God’s holiness and righteousness. God also is not willing that sin should go unpunished. He desires as well that His holiness should be vindicated. It is dangerous to speak of a conflict of interests or of a clash of desires within God. Yet, in a certain sense, we must. He wills the obedience of His creatures. He wills the well-being of His creatures. There is a symmetry of relationship ultimately between obedience and well-being. The obedient child will never perish. Those who obey God’s preceptive will enjoy the benefits of His will of disposition. When the preceptive will is violated, things are no longer equal. Now God requires punishment while not particularly enjoying the application of it. Yet does this not beg the ultimate question? Where does the decretive will fit in? Could not God originally have decreed that no one ever would be able to sin, thus ensuring an eternal harmony among all elements of His will: decretive, preceptive, and dispositional? Often the answer to this question is superficial. Appeals are made to the free will of man, as if by magic man’s free will could explain the dilemma. We are told that the only way God could have created a universe guaranteed to be free from sin would have been to make creatures without free will. It is then argued that these creatures would have been nothing more than puppets and would have lacked humanity, being devoid of the power or ability to sin. If that is the case, then what does it suggest about the state of our existence in heaven? We are promised that when our redemption is complete, sin will be no more. We will still have an ability to choose, but our disposition will be so inclined toward righteousness that we will, in fact, never choose evil. If this will be possible in heaven after redemption, why could it not have been possible before the fall? The Bible gives no clear answer to this thorny question. We are told that God created people who, for better or for worse, have the ability to sin. We also know from Scripture that there is no shadow of turning in the character of God, and that all of His works are clothed in righteousness. That He chose to create man the way He did is mysterious, but we must assume, given the knowledge we have, that God’s plan was good. Any conflict that arises between His commandments to us, His desire that we should obey Him, and our failure to comply does not destroy His sovereignty. God’s Secret and Revealed Will We have already distinguished among the three types of the will of God: His decretive will, His preceptive will, and His will of disposition. Another distinction must be established between what is called God’s secret, or hidden, will and His revealed will. This secret will of God is subsumed under the decretive will because, for the most part, it remains undisclosed to us. There is a limit to the revelation God has made of Himself. We know certain things about God’s decretive will that He has been pleased to set forth for our information in Holy Scripture. But because we are finite creatures, we do not comprehend the total dimension of divine knowledge or the divine plan. As the Scriptures teach, the secret things belong to the Lord, but that which He has revealed belongs to us and to our children forever (Deut. 29:29). Protestant theologians have made use of the distinction between the hidden God (Deus obsconditus) and the revealed God (Deus revelatus). This distinction is valuable and indeed necessary when we realize that not all that can be known of God has been revealed to us. There is a sense in which God remains hidden from us, insofar as He has not been pleased to reveal all there is to know about Him. However, this distinction is fraught with peril since some have found within it a conflict between two kinds of gods. A god who reveals his character to be one thing, but who is secretly contrary to that revealed character, would be a supreme hypocrite. If we say that God has no secret will and proposes to do only what He commands and nothing more, then we would perceive God as one whose desires and plans are constantly thwarted by the harassment of human beings. Such a god would be impotent, and no god at all. If we distinguish between the secret aspect of God and the revealed aspect of God, we must hold these as parts of the whole, not as contradictions. That is to say, what God has revealed about Himself is trustworthy. Our knowledge is partial, but it is true as far as it goes. What belongs to the secret counsel of God does not contradict the character of God that has been revealed to us. The distinction of God’s revealed will and hidden will raises a practical problem: the question of whether or not it is possible for a Christian to act in harmony with God’s decretive (hidden) will and at the same time work against His preceptive will. We must admit that such a possibility exists—in a sense. For example, it was in God’s decretive will and by His determinate counsel that Jesus Christ was condemned to die on the cross. The divine purpose, of course, was to secure the redemption of God’s people. However, that purpose was hidden from the view of men who sat in judgment over Jesus. When Pontius Pilate delivered Jesus to be crucified, Pilate acted against the preceptive will of God but in harmony with the decretive will of God. Does this make nonsense of God’s preceptive will? God forbid. What it does is bear witness to the transcendent power of God to work His purposes sovereignly in spite of, and by means of, the evil acts of men. Consider the story of Joseph, whose brothers, out of jealousy and greed, sold their innocent brother into slavery in Egypt. At their reunion years later, and upon the brothers’ confession of sin, Joseph replied, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Here is the inscrutable majesty of God’s providence. God made use of human evil in bringing to pass His purposes for Joseph and for the Jewish nation. Joseph’s brothers were guilty of willful and malicious sin. By directly violating the preceptive will of God, they sinned against their brother and against God. Yet in their sin, God’s secret counsel was brought to pass, and God brought redemption through it. What if Joseph’s brothers had been obedient? Joseph would not have been sold into slavery; he would not have been taken to Egypt; he would not have been sent to prison, from which he was called to interpret a dream. What if Joseph had not become prime minister? What would have become the historical reason for the brothers’ settling in Egypt? There would have been no Jewish settlement in Egypt, no Moses, no exodus from Egypt, no law, no prophets, no Christ, no salvation. Can we, therefore, conclude that the sins of Joseph’s brothers were, in fact, virtues in disguise? Not at all. Their sin was sin, a clear violation of the preceptive will of God, for which they were held responsible and judged to be guilty. But God brought good out of evil. This reflects neither a contradiction in God’s character nor a contradiction between His precepts and His decrees. Rather it calls attention to the transcendent power of His sovereignty. Is it possible for us in this day and age to obey the preceptive will of God and yet be in conflict with the secret will of God? Of course this is possible. It may be the will of God, for example, that He use a foreign nation to chastise the United States for sinning against God. It may be in the plan of God to have the people of the United States brought under judgment through the aggressive invasion of Russia. In terms of God’s inscrutable will, He could be, for purposes of judgment, “on the side of the Russians.” Yet at the same time, it would remain the duty of the civil magistrate of the American nation to resist the transgression of our borders by a conquering nation. We have a parallel in the history of Israel, where God used the Babylonians as a rod to chastise His people Israel. In that situation, it would have been perfectly proper for the civil magistrate of Israel to have resisted the wicked invasion of the Babylonians. In so doing, the Israelites would have been, in effect, resisting the decretive will of God. The book of Habakkuk wrestles with the severe problem of God’s use of the evil inclinations of men to bring judgment on His people. This is not to suggest that God favored the Babylonians. He made it clear that judgment would fall on them also, but He first made use of their evil inclinations in order to bring a corrective discipline to His own people. Knowing the Will of God for Our Lives Pursuing knowledge of the will of God is not an abstract science designed to titillate the intellect or to convey the kind of knowledge that “puffs up” but fails to edify. An understanding of the will of God is desperately important for every Christian seeking to live a life that is pleasing to his or her Creator. It is a very practical thing for us to know what God wants for our lives. A Christian asks: “What are my marching orders? What should my role be in contributing to the establishment of the kingdom of God? What does God want me to do with my life?” It is inconceivable that a Christian could live for very long without coming face-to-face with these gripping questions. Having been a Christian for some fifty years, with the study of theology my main vocational pursuit, I find the practical question of the will of God pressing on my mind quite frequently. I doubt a fortnight passes that I am not seriously engaged by the question of whether I am doing what God wants me to do at this point in my life. The question haunts and beckons all of us. It demands resolution, and so we must ask ourselves, “How do we know the will of God for our lives?” The practical question of how we know the will of God for our lives cannot be solved with any degree of accuracy unless we have some prior understanding of the will of God in general. Without the distinctions that we have made, our pursuit of the will of God can plunge us into hopeless confusion and consternation. When we seek the will of God, we must first ask ourselves which will we are seeking to discover. If our quest is to penetrate the hidden aspects of His will, then we have embarked on a fool’s errand. We are trying the impossible and chasing the untouchable. Such a quest is not only an act of foolishness, but also an act of presumption. There is a very real sense in which the secret will of the secret counsel of God is none of our business and is off limits to our speculative investigations. Untold evils have been perpetrated on God’s people by unscrupulous theologians who have sought to correct or to supplant the clear and plain teaching of sacred Scripture by doctrines and theories based on speculation alone. The business of searching out the mind of God where God has remained silent is dangerous business indeed. Luther put it this way: “We must keep in view his word and leave alone his inscrutable will; for it is by his word and not by his inscrutable will that we must be guided.” Christians are permitted, in a sense, to attempt to discern the will of God by means of illumination by the Holy Spirit and by confirmation through circumstances that we are doing the right thing. However, as we will discover, the search for providential guidance must always be subordinate to our study of the revealed will of God. In our search, we must also come to terms with the dynamic tensions created by the concept of man’s will versus predestination. Before our inquiry can lead us into such practical avenues as occupation and marriage, we must face the thorny issues involved in the free will/predestination issue. We have seen what the will of God entails. What about the will of man? How do the two relate? How free is man, after all? Chapter Two THE MEANING OF MAN’S WILL The term free will as applied to man is often glibly declared with little or no understanding of its meaning. There is actually no unified theory of man’s free will, but a variety of competing and often conflicting views about it. The question of man’s free will is made more complicated by the fact that we must examine it in terms of how the will functioned before and after the fall of Adam. Most important is how the fall affected man’s moral choices. Augustine gave the church a close analysis of the state of freedom that Adam enjoyed before the fall. His classic concept of freedom distinguished four possibilities. In Latin, they are: 1. posse pecarre—able to sin 2. posse non pecarre—able not to sin (or to remain free from sin) 3. non posse pecarre—unable to sin 4. non posse, non pecarre—unable not to sin Augustine argued that before the fall, Adam possessed both the ability to sin (posse pecarre) and the ability to not sin (posse non pecarre). However, Adam lacked the exalted state of the inability to sin that God enjoys (non posse pecarre). God’s inability to sin is based not on an inner powerlessness to do what He wants, but rather on the fact that God has no inner desire to sin. Since the desire for sin is utterly absent from God, there is no reason for God to choose sin. Before the fall, Adam did not have the moral perfection of God, but neither did he have the inability to refrain from sin (non posse, non pecarre). During his time of “probation” in the garden, he had the ability to sin and the ability not to sin. He chose to exercise the ability to sin and thus plunged the human race into ruin. As a result, Adam’s first sin was passed on to all his descendants. Original sin refers not to the first sin but to God’s punishment of that first transgression. Because of the first sin, human nature fell into a morally corrupt state, itself partly a judgment of God. When we speak of original sin, we refer to the fallen human condition that reflects the judgment of God on the race. The Fallenness of Man Christians differ in their views concerning the extent and seriousness of the fall. However, it is almost universally conceded that in dealing with mankind, we are dealing with a fallen race. Augustine located the depths of man’s fallenness in his loss of original powers of righteousness. No longer does man have the ability to not sin. In man’s fallen state, his plight is found in his inability to keep from sinning (non posse, non pecarre). In the fall, something profoundly vital to moral freedom was lost. Augustine declared that in his prefallen state, man enjoyed both a free will (liberium arbitrium) and moral liberty (libertas). Since the fall, man has continued to have a free will, but has lost the moral liberty he once enjoyed. Perhaps the most insightful study of the question of fallen man’s free will is the epic work of Jonathan Edwards, On the Freedom of the Will. Edwards and Augustine differ in terminology, but their meaning is essentially the same. Edwards distinguished between the natural ability of freedom and the moral ability of freedom. Natural ability deals with the powers of action and choice that we possess by nature. Man’s natural abilities include the power to think, to walk, to speak, to eat, and so on. Man lacks the natural ability to fly, to live beneath the sea as a fish, or to hibernate for months without food. We may desire to fly, but we lack the natural equipment necessary to live out our desire. Our freedom has a certain built-in restriction related to the limitations of our natural faculties. With respect to the making of choices, fallen man still has the natural ability and the natural faculties necessary to make moral choices. Man can still think, feel, and desire. All of the equipment necessary for the making of choices remains. What fallen man lacks is the moral disposition, the desire, or the inclination for righteousness. Stated simply, man still has the ability to choose what he wants, but lacks the desire for true righteousness. He is naturally free, but he is morally enslaved to his own corrupt and wicked desires. Both Edwards and Augustine said man is still free to choose, but if left to himself, man will never choose righteousness, precisely because he does not desire it. Edwards took the question a step further. He said man still has not only the ability but the built-in necessity to choose according to his desires. Not only can we choose what we want, we must choose what we want. It is at this point that the protest is sounded: Is free choice an illusion? If we must choose what we choose, how can such a choice be called free? If we are free to choose what we want but want only what is evil, how can we still speak of free will? This is precisely why Augustine distinguished between free will and liberty, saying that fallen man still has free will but has lost his liberty. It is why Edwards said that we still have natural freedom but have lost moral freedom. Why talk of freedom at all, if we can choose only sin? The crux of the matter lies in the relationship between choice and desire, or disposition. Edwards’s thesis is that we always choose according to the strongest inclination, or disposition, of the moment. Again, not only can we choose according to our strongest desires, we must choose according to our strongest desires of the moment. Such is the essence of freedom—that I am able to choose what I want when I want it. If I must do something, then in a sense my actions are determined. But if my actions are determined, how can I be free? The classic answer to this difficult question is that the determination of my choices comes from within me. The essence of freedom is self-determination. It is when my choices are forced on me by external coercion that my freedom is lost. To be able to choose what I want by virtue of self-determination does not destroy free will but establishes it. Choices Flow from Desires To choose according to the strongest desire or inclination of the moment simply means that there is a reason for the choices I make. At one point, Edwards defined the will as “the mind choosing.” The actual choice is an effect or result that requires an antecedent cause. The cause is located in the disposition or desire. If all effects have causes, then all choices likewise have causes. If the cause is apart from me, then I am a victim of coercion. If the cause is from within me, then my choices are self-determined or free. Think about Edwards’s thesis that we always choose according to the strongest inclination or desire of the moment. Think, if you will, of the most harmless choice that you might make in the course of a day. Perhaps you attend a meeting of a group and choose to sit on the left side in the third seat from the end of the fourth row at the front of the room. Why did you choose to sit there? In all probability, when you entered the room, you did not engage in a thorough analysis of your seating preferences. You probably did not make a chart to determine which seat was best. Your decision probably was made quickly, with little or no conscious evaluation and with a sense of apparent spontaneity. Does that mean, however, that there was no reason for your choice? Perhaps you sat where you did because you are comfortable sitting on the left side of the room in such meetings. Perhaps you were attracted to that seat because of its proximity to a friend or its access to the exit. In situations like this, the mind weighs a host of contributing factors so quickly that we tend to think our responses are spontaneous. The truth is that something in you triggered a desire to sit in a certain seat, or else your choice was an effect without a cause. Perhaps your seat selection was governed by forces outside your control. Perhaps the seat you chose was the only seat left in the room, so that you had no choice in the matter at all. Is that completely true? The option to stand at the back of the room was still there. Or the option to leave the meeting altogether was still there. You chose to sit in the only seat available because your desire to sit was stronger than your desire to stand and your desire to stay was stronger than your desire to leave. Consider a more bizarre illustration. Suppose on the way home from the meeting you encounter a robber who points a gun to your head and says, “Your money or your life.” What do you do? If you accede to his demand and turn over your wallet, you will become a victim of coercion, and yet in some measure you will have exercised free choice. Coercion enters by virtue of the fact that the gunman is severely restricting your options to two. The element of freedom that is preserved stems from the fact that you still have two options and that you choose the one for which you have the strongest desire at the moment. All things being equal, you have no desire to donate your money to an unworthy thief. You have even less desire, however, to have your brain poured out on the sidewalk by the gunman’s bullet. Given the small number of options, you still choose according to the strongest inclination at the moment. We always do what we really want to do. The Bible teaches, some will say, that we do not always do what we want to do. The apostle Paul lamented in Romans 7 that the good he wanted to do he did not do, and the thing he did not want to do was the very thing he did. Paul’s frustration over the wretchedness of his condition would seem totally to refute Edwards’s thesis of the relationship of choice to desire. Paul, however, was not giving expression to an analysis of the causal relationship between desire and choice. He was expressing a profound frustration that centers on the complex of desires that assault the human will. We are creatures with a multitude of desires, many of which are in violent conflict with each other. Again, consider the “all things being equal” dimension of our moral choices. As a Christian I have a profound desire to please Christ with my life and to attain righteousness. That good desire for obedience to God is neither perfect nor pure, as it struggles daily with other desires in my sinful personality. If I had no conflicting desires, I would never be disobedient. If the only desire I had, or if the strongest desire I had, was to obey God continuously, I would never willfully sin against Him. However, there are times when my desire to sin is greater than my desire to obey; when that happens, I sin. When my desire to obey is greater than my desire to sin, at that moment I refrain from sinning. My choices reveal more clearly and more certainly than anything else the level of my desire. Desire, like appetite, is not constant. Our levels of desire fluctuate from day to day, from hour to hour, and from minute to minute. Desire moves in an ebb-and-flow pattern like the waves of the sea. The person who goes on a diet experiences intensifying pangs of hunger at various times of the day. It is easy to make a resolution to diet when one is satiated. Likewise, it is easy to resolve to be righteous in the midst of a moving spiritual experience of prayer. Yet we are creatures of changing moods and fleeting desires who have not yet achieved a constancy of will based on a consistency of godly desires. As long as conflict of desire exists and an appetite for sin remains in the heart, man is not totally free in the moral sense of which Edwards spoke, and neither does he experience the fullness of liberty described by Augustine. Choice as a Spontaneous Act Over against the Augustinian view of free will is the classical notion that describes the action or activity of choice in purely spontaneous terms. In this concept, the will chooses and is free from not only external forces of coercion but from any internal rule of disposition or desire. The choice of the moment proceeds freely in the sense that no inclination or prior disposition controls, directs, or affects the choice that is made. It is safe to say that this is the dominant view of free will in Western culture and is the view Calvin had in mind when he stated, “Free will is far too grandiose a term to apply to man.” At bottom it implies that man can make choices that are effects without any causes. Here it is suggested that the power of man to produce an effect without a cause exceeds even the creative power of God Almighty. Moreover, the cardinal rule of causality—ex nihilo, nihil fit (“out of nothing, nothing comes”)—is broken. Such a view of freedom is repugnant not only to Scripture but to reason. To understand freedom as purely spontaneous choice with no prior disposition controlling it is to rob freedom of any moral significance. That is, if I act with no prior motive or no previous inclination toward or away from righteousness, how can it be said that my act is moral at all? Such activity would be without reason or motive behind it; it would be a purely random action, with no moral virtue attached to it. However, a deeper question remains: Is such a spontaneous action possible at all? If the will is inclined neither to the right nor to the left, how could it choose at all? If there is no disposition toward, or away from, the action, then the will suffers from complete paralysis. It is like the donkey that had set before him a bale of hay and a bucket of oats. The donkey’s inclination with respect to the hay and the oats was exactly equal, with not the slightest degree of preference toward one or the other. The story is told that the donkey in such circumstances starves to death with a banquet feast in front of him because he has no way to choose between the two. The practical problem that remains with the classical view of freedom is one raised by behavioristic psychology. If man is indeed self-determined or free, does that not imply that if his desires were completely known, man’s action in every given circumstance would be completely predictable? There is a sense in which we must agree that such a predictability would be implied. However, there is no way that any genius short of God and His omniscience could possibly know all the complex factors present in the human mind weighing a choice. We recognize with psychologists that preferences and inclinations are shaped in many respects by experience and environment, but we cannot predict with certainty what any human being will do. Hidden variables within the complex of human personality make for this unpredictability. It nevertheless remains a fact that there is always a reason for our actions, a cause for our choices. That cause stems partly from ourselves and partly from the forces operating around and over against us. The Definition of Freedom The safest course to steer is to define freedom as did the church fathers, such as Augustine: “the ability to choose what we want.” God’s sovereignty does not extinguish that dimension of human personality, but certainly rules over it. Out of rigid forms of determinism comes the cry of despair: “If the complex factors that make up personality completely determine my choices, then what value is self-improvement or the search for righteousness? If my will is enslaved by my dispositions and desires, what hope do I have of ever breaking out of the patterns of sin that are so destructive to my present mode of behavior?” In a real sense, the process of sanctification involves a radical reprogramming of the inner self. We are not the victims of blind mechanical forces that control our destiny. As intelligent beings, we can do something to change the dispositions of our hearts and the inclinations of our minds. It is important to remember that desire is not a fixed and constant power that beats within our souls. Our desires change and fluctuate from moment to moment. When the Bible calls us to feed the new man and starve the old man, we can apply this injunction by taking advantage of the ebb and flow of moods to strengthen the new man when our desire for Christ is inflamed and to kill the old man’s desires by starving him in times of satiation. The simplest way to state the mechanism of sin is to understand that at the moment I sin, I desire the sin more than I desire to please God. Stated another way, my love for the sin is greater at the moment of its intense desire than is my love for obedience to God. Therefore, the simple conclusion is that to overcome the power of sin within us, we need either to decrease our desire for the sin or to increase our desire to obey God. What can we do to effect such changes? We can submit ourselves to the discipline of a class or a teacher and devote ourselves to a rigorous study of the law of God. Such disciplined study can help renew our minds, equipping us with a new understanding of what pleases and displeases God. The development of a renewed mind is the biblical definition of spiritual transformation. The mind and the will are linked, as Edwards noted. Understanding more deeply how abhorrent our sin is to God can change or reprogram our attitudes toward sin. We are to follow the biblical injunction to concentrate on whatever things are pure and good. It may be too much to expect that a man in the midst of an attack of profound lust will switch to pure thoughts. It would be difficult for him to push a button and change the inclination of his desire at that moment. However, in a more sober mood, he may have the opportunity to reprogram his mind by filling it with high and holy thoughts of the things of God. The end result is that he may well strengthen the disposition of his heart toward God and weaken the disposition of his fallen nature toward sin. We need not surrender to a superficial form of rigid determinism or behaviorism that would cause us to despair of any hope of change. Scripture encourages us to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling,” knowing that not only are we applying the means of grace by our own effort, but that God Himself is working within us to bring about the necessary changes to conform us to the image of His Son (Phil. 2:12–13; 1:6). Sovereignty of God and Freedom of Man What about man’s will with respect to the sovereignty of God? Perhaps the oldest dilemma of the Christian faith is the apparent contradiction between the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man. If we define human freedom as autonomy (meaning that man is free to do whatever he pleases, without constraint, without accountability to the will of God), then of course we must say that free will is contradictory to divine sovereignty. We cannot soft-pedal this dilemma by calling it a mystery; we must face up to the full import of the concept. If free will means autonomy, then God cannot be sovereign. If man is utterly and completely free to do as he pleases, there can be no sovereign God. However, if God is utterly sovereign to do as He pleases, no creature can be autonomous. It is possible to have a multitude of beings, all of whom are free to various degrees but none of whom are sovereign. The degree of freedom is determined by the level of power, authority, and responsibility held by each being. However, we do not live in this type of universe. There is a God who is sovereign—which is to say, He is absolutely free. My freedom is always within limits. My freedom is always constrained by the sovereignty of God. I have freedom to do things as I please, but if my freedom conflicts with the decretive will of God, there is no question as to the outcome—God’s decree will prevail over my choice. It is stated so often that it has become almost an uncritically accepted axiom within Christian circles that the sovereignty of God may never violate human freedom in the sense that God’s sovereign will may never overrule human freedom. The thought verges on, if not trespasses, the border of blasphemy because it contains the idea that God’s sovereignty is constrained by human freedom. If that were true, man, not God, would be sovereign, and God would be restrained and constrained by the power of human freedom. As I say, the implication here is blasphemous because it raises the creature to the stature of the Creator. God’s glory, majesty, and honor are denigrated since He is reduced to the status of a secondary, impotent creature. Biblically speaking, man is free, but his freedom can never violate or overrule God’s sovereignty. I and my son are free moral agents; he has a will and I have a will. However, when he was a teen living in my home, his will was more often constrained by my will than was my will constrained by His. I carried more authority and more power in the relationship and hence I had a wider expanse of freedom than he had. So it is with our relationship to God; God’s power and authority are infinite, and His freedom is never hindered by human volition. There is no contradiction between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. Those who see a contradiction, or even point to the problem as an unsolvable mystery, have misunderstood the mystery. The real mystery regarding free will is how it was exercised by Adam before the fall. Options for Considering Adam’s Sin If Augustine was correct that pre-fall Adam possessed an ability to sin and an ability not to sin, and that he was created with no prior disposition or inclination toward sin, then the question we face is, “How was it possible for such a creature with no prior disposition toward evil actually to take the step into evil?” As we grapple with this mystery, let me present several options that have served as explanations in the past. First, we can hypothesize that Adam fell because he was duped by the craftiness of Satan and simply did not know what he was doing. The inspiration for this hypothesis is the biblical emphasis on the craftiness of the Devil. Satan, in his guile, was able to seduce Adam and Eve by confusing their thought patterns. Thus, the weakness of our primordial parents was not moral in nature, but intellectual, inasmuch as they failed to perceive the chicanery of the serpent. What complicates the picture is the fact that the Scriptures in this instance do not describe Adam and Eve as having been completely duped by their adversary; rather, they had full knowledge of what God allowed and did not allow them to do. They could not plead ignorance of the command of God as an excuse for their transgression. There are times when ignorance is excusable, namely when such ignorance cannot possibly be helped or overcome. Such ignorance is properly described by the Roman Catholic Church as “invincible ignorance”—ignorance that we lack the power to conquer. Invincible ignorance excuses and gives one a reprieve from any accusation of moral wrongdoing. However, the biblical record gainsays this option in the case of Adam and Eve, for God pronounces judgment on them. Unless that judgment was arbitrary or immoral on the part of God Himself, we can only conclude that what Adam and Eve did was inexcusable. A just God does not punish excusable transgressions. Indeed, excusable transgressions are not transgressions. A second option is that Adam and Eve were coerced by Satan to disobey God. Here we see the original instance of the statement “The Devil made me do it.” If, however, Satan, in fact, fully and forcibly coerced Adam and Eve to transgress the law of God, then once again we would find an excuse for their actions. We would have to conclude that they did not act with a reasonable measure of freedom, a measure that would at least have delivered them from moral culpability. Such a theory violates the clear teaching of the biblical text, which hints at no coercive manipulation on the part of Satan. Consistently, the Scriptures place the responsibility, the blame, and the full culpability on Adam and Eve themselves. They committed evil. Their choice was an evil one. By what means did Adam and Eve make an evil choice? If we apply the analysis of choice common to Augustine and Edwards to pre-fall Adam, we face an insoluble dilemma. If Adam had been created with a purely neutral disposition (with no inclination toward righteousness or evil), we would still face the same rational impasse that Edwards notes for those who would impose it for post-fall man. A will with no predisposition would have no motivation to choose. Without motivation, there could be no choice. Even if such a choice were possible, it would have no moral import to it. We must examine the other two alternatives—that Adam was created with a predisposition toward evil or with a singular predisposition toward good. Both of these options end at the stone wall of intellectual difficulty. If we assume that Adam was created with a predisposition toward evil, we cast a horrible shadow over the character of God, for this would mean that God created man with a predisposition toward evil and then punished man for exercising the disposition that God Himself had planted within his soul. In a real sense, this would make God the author of, and the one ultimately responsible for, human wickedness. Every page of Holy Scripture recoils from such a thesis, as it would transfer the blame from man to God Himself, who is altogether good. Still, many take this option, following in the footsteps of the implied criticism of the first man, Adam, who excused himself before the Creator by saying, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12, emphasis added). Men from Adam onward have manifested their fallenness by trying to transfer the blame for that fallenness to the Creator. A third option is that God created man with a disposition toward only righteousness. If this were the case, then we have an effect without a sufficient cause. How is it possible for a creature created with the disposition toward only righteousness to have chosen a wicked act? Other Inquiries into the Mystery of Adam’s Sin I have a built-in antipathy to dialectical theology—theology that proclaims the beauty of contradictions and nonsense statements. Thus, I must swallow hard to agree with one neoorthodox theologian about the origin of Adam’s sin. Karl Barth calls the sin of Adam the “impossible possibility.” Barth, of course, is calling attention to the utterly inexplicable mystery of Adam’s transgression—what was rationally impossible and inconceivable happened, and remains a bona fide and impenetrable mystery to us. Other attempts have been made to seek a complex and sophisticated answer to the mystery of iniquity. One suggestion is that the sin of Adam was like all sin, namely, a privation, a corruption, or a negation of something that was inherently and intrinsically good. In other words, Adam was created with a good moral disposition. His appetites and desires were continuously good, and as a result, one would expect his activities to have been equally good. However, it is suggested that in the complexity of moral choices, sometimes a good will (which has a desire that in itself is good) can be misused and abused toward an evil end. The supreme example of such a twisting occurred at the temptation of Jesus, the second and new Adam. In Jesus’ temptation experience in the wilderness, Satan came to Him in the midst of a prolonged fast. It is probably safe to assume that at that point Jesus had a consuming passion for food. That natural human desire to eat carried no immoral overtones in and of itself. One expects a hungry man to have a disposition to eat. However, Jesus wanted to obey God through this act of self-deprivation. When Satan came to Jesus and suggested that He turn stones into bread, Satan was appealing to a perfectly normal appetite and desire within Jesus. However, Jesus’ desire to obey the Father was deeper than His desire to partake of food. Thus, filled with an altogether righteous desire, He was able to overcome the temptation of Satan. Now the theory goes like this: Perhaps it was something good that caused Adam to fall—something that in and of itself was good, but which could have been misused and abused by the seductive influences of Satan. Such an explanation certainly helps make the fall more understandable, but it goes only so far before it fails. At its most vital point, the explanation does not account for how this good desire could have become distorted, overruling the prior obligation to obey God. At some point before the act of transgression took place, Adam must have had to desire disobedience to God more than obedience to God; therein the fall already had taken place because the very desire to act against God in disobedience is itself sinful. I leave the question of explaining the fall of Adam by virtue of the exercise of his free will to the hands of more competent and insightful theologians. To blame it on man’s finite limitations is really putting blame on the God who made man finite. Biblically, the issue has been, and always will be, a moral one. Man was commanded by the Creator not to sin, but man chose to sin, though not because God or anyone else forced him. Man chose out of his own heart. Consequently, to probe the answer to the how of man’s sin is to enter the realm of deepest mystery. Perhaps all we can do in the final analysis is to recognize the reality of our sin and our responsibility for it. Though we cannot explain it, certainly we know enough to confess it. We must never attribute the cause of our sin to God or adopt any position that would excuse us from the moral responsibility that Scripture clearly assigns to us. Some have criticized the Christian faith for its inability to give a satisfying answer to the question of sin. The fact is that other religions must come to terms with this same question. Some respond simply by denying the reality of evil—a convenient but absurd way out. Christianity alone deals head-on with the reality of sin by providing an escape from its consequences. The Christian solution to the problem of sin is a radical departure from what other religions provide, for it is centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Through His perfect sacrifice, which has the efficacy of blotting out believers’ sins, we have become righteous in God’s eyes. However, that righteousness does not give us the license to do as we please. We must still seek to do God’s preceptive will, especially as we swim through the perilous waters of the moral, ethical, and social dilemmas of our age. While we have discussed the more theological aspects of man’s will and God’s will, two other topics now beckon us: God’s will for our jobs and for our marital status. These two practical concerns take center stage in the drama of our personal lives. What can we learn about God’s will and man’s will in relation to these vital aspects of living? The next chapters offer guidelines to facilitate our decision making in these all-important areas. Chapter Three GOD’S WILL AND YOUR JOB When we are introduced to people, the following three questions are generally asked: “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” The third question is the one that concerns us in this chapter. “What do you do?” is obviously a question about one’s occupation, career, or vocation. People want to know what task or service constitutes our livelihood or helps fulfill our personal aspirations. We are all familiar with the aphorism, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” We understand that life is more than work. We devote periods of time to recreation, sleep, play, and other activities not directly part of our principal employment or labor. However, the portion of our lives that is taken up by work is so encompassing and time-consuming that we tend to understand our personal identity in the light of our work. Whatever else we are, we are creatures involved in labor. This was the design of creation—God Himself is a working God. From the very moment of creation, He conferred on our original parents the responsibilities of work. Adam and Eve were called to dress, till, and keep the earth, to name the animals, and to have dominion by way of managerial responsibility over the earth. All of these activities involved the expenditure of time, energy, and resources—in short, work. Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that work is a punishment that God gave us as a result of Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden. We must remember that work was given before the fall. To be sure, our labor has additional burdens attached to it because of the fall. A mixture of thorns and thistles is found among the good plants we seek to cultivate. Our labor is accomplished by the sweat of our brow. These were some of the penalties of sinfulness, but work itself was part of the glorious privilege granted to men and women in creation. It is impossible to understand our own humanity without understanding the central importance of work. Most of us spend the early years of our lives preparing and training for a lifelong activity of work. The sensitive Christian understands that in the labor of his occupation, he is responsible to make a contribution to the kingdom of God, to fulfill a divine mandate, to embark on a holy calling as a servant of the living God. Such a Christian is keenly interested to discover how best to serve God through his labor. Vocation and Calling The idea of vocation is based on the theological premise of a divine call. The word vocation comes from the Latin word meaning “calling.” In our secular society, the religious meaning of the term has lost its significance, having become merely a synonym for career. I will be using the term vocation in its original sense: a divine call, a holy summons to fulfill a task or a responsibility that God has laid on us. The question we as Christians wrestle with is, “Am I in the center of God’s will with respect to my vocation?” In other words, “Am I doing with my life what God wants me to do?” Here the question of the will of God becomes eminently practical, for it touches on that dimension of my life that fills most of my waking hours and has the greatest impact on the shaping of my personality. If the Bible teaches anything, it teaches that God is a calling God. The world was created through the call of the omnipotent Creator: “ ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:1). God also calls His people to repentance, to conversion, and to membership in His family. In addition, He calls us to serve Him in His kingdom, making the best possible use of our gifts and talents. Still, the question faces us: “How do I know what is my particular vocational calling?” One of the great tragedies of modern society is that, although the job market is vast and complex with an infinite number of possible careers, the educational systems that train us tend to guide and direct us to a very small number of occupational choices. When I was a high school graduate embarking on college, a great deal of discussion centered on one’s major and career aspirations. At that time, it seemed as if everyone was setting out to become an engineer. The mechanized culture of the 1950s was opening up thousands of lucrative positions in engineering. College campuses were flooded with young aspirants for degrees in the field of engineering. I also remember the engineer glut on the market that occurred in the 1970s. Stories circulated about people with doctorates in engineering who were collecting unemployment or washing dishes in the local diner because there simply were not enough engineering jobs available. The same could be said for education majors. Positions in education became fewer and fewer while the number of applicants became greater and greater. The problem was heightened by misguided publicity and counseling that steered people into occupational roles that society already had filled. In the early twentieth century, the choices were much less difficult since the vast majority of American children spent their time preparing for a life in agricultural labor. Today, roughly two percent of the population is employed in farming—a radical decrease in one occupation that has opened the door for a vast number of other occupations. Finding Your Vocation The question of vocation becomes a crisis at two major points in life. The first is in late adolescence, when a person is pressured into deciding what skills and knowledge he should acquire for future use. Some college freshmen feel pressured to declare a major in their first year, before knowing the available options and the limits of their ability. The second period in life when vocation becomes critical is in midlife, when a person experiences a sense of frustration, failure, or lack of fulfillment in his current position. He may ask: “Have I wasted my life? Am I sentenced forever to a job that I’m finding meaningless, unfulfilling, and frustrating?” Such questions highlight the fact that vocational counseling is a major part of pastoral counseling in America, second only to marital counseling. We must also consider the fact that vocational frustration is a major contributing cause of marital disharmony and family strife. Thus, it is important to approach the matter of vocation with great care, both in the early stages of adolescent development and in the latter stages, when the sense of frustration hits home. The problem of discerning one’s calling focuses heavily on four important questions: 1. What can I do? 2. What do I like to do? 3. What would I like to be able to do? 4. What should I do? The last question can plague the sensitive conscience. To begin to answer it, we need to take a look at the other three questions because they are closely linked to the ultimate question, “What should I do?” What can I do? Reasonably assessing our abilities, skills, and aptitudes is a crucial and basic part of the decision-making process in choosing a vocation. We need to ask: “What are my abilities? What am I equipped to do?” We may object that Moses and Jeremiah both protested against God’s call by saying that they were not equipped for the task. Moses protested that he had limited speaking ability, and Jeremiah reminded his Creator of his youthfulness. Both experienced God’s rebuke for seeking to evade a divine calling on the basis of the flimsy claim that they lacked the ability to do the job. Neither Moses nor Jeremiah had a full understanding of what was needed to carry out the summons God gave him. Moses, for instance, protested that he lacked speaking skill, but God had prepared Aaron to help Moses with that part of the task. What God was looking for was obedient leadership from Moses; public speaking could be delegated to another. God certainly took into consideration Moses’ gifts, abilities, and aptitude before He called him. We must remember that God is the perfect Manager. He is efficient in His selection, calling people according to the gifts and talents that He has given them. Satan’s strategy is to manipulate Christians into positions for which they have no ability or skill to perform well. Satan himself is very efficient in directing Christians to inefficiency and ineffectiveness. What can I do? This question can be answered by proficiency examinations, analysis of our strengths and weaknesses, and a sober evaluation of our past performance. Abilities and performances can be, and are, measured in sophisticated ways in our society. We need to know the parameters of our abilities. People often apply for positions for which they have no skill. This is particularly and sadly true within the church and in related Christian service. Some hunger and thirst to be in full-time Christian service but lack the ability and the gifts required for the particular job. For example, they may have the academic training and credentials for the pastorate, but lack the managerial skills or the people skills to be effective pastors. Perhaps the most important principle in Scripture regarding abilities is found in Paul’s injunction that we ought to make a sober analysis of ourselves, not thinking too highly of ourselves (Rom. 12:3). Through sober analysis, we can make a serious, honest, and clear evaluation of what we can and cannot do, and we should act accordingly. The young person has a different question: What would I like to be able to do? Such a person may have developed very few skills or have little educational background, but he realizes that he has enough time to acquire skills and talents through education or vocational training. At this point, the concept of aptitude is relevant. Aptitude involves a person’s latent abilities as well as his acquired abilities. A person may have a certain aptitude for mechanical things and have no aptitude whatsoever for abstract things. This person may desire to be a philosopher but would make a far better investment of his time by learning to be an airplane mechanic. However, preferences are still important. Here we tread into that critical and frightening area of human experience called the realm of motivation. Motivated Abilities Research indicates that most people have more than one ability, and that their abilities can be divided into two basic types: motivated abilities and non-motivated abilities. A non-motivated ability is a skill or a strength that a person has but is not motivated to use. Some people are very good at doing certain things, but find no particular fulfillment or enjoyment in doing them. Performing them is sheer drudgery and pain. They may be proficient in what they do, but for one reason or another they find the task odious. I know of one young woman who in her early teenage years attracted national attention because of her proficiency at the game of golf. While still a teenager, she won a national tournament. Yet when the time came for girls her age to turn professional, she chose a different vocation, not out of a higher calling to seek a more spiritual enterprise than professional athletics, but because she found golf to be very unpleasant. Her displeasure came as the result of fierce pressure her father had placed on her in pushing her to become a proficient golfer at a young age. When she became of age and was out from under parental authority, she decided to do something else. She had the ability to become a professional golfer, but she lacked the motivation. We might ask, “How could she have become so proficient in the first place if she had not been motivated to perform well in golf?” We have to realize that she had been motivated to become proficient, but the motivation was largely based on fear of her father’s wrath. In order to please him, she disciplined herself to acquire a skill that she never would have pursued on her own. Once free from the driving force of his authority, she turned her vocational pursuits in another direction. The moral to the story is obvious. The person who gives his full measure of time and energy to a non-motivated ability is a walking pressure cooker of frustration. It is true that, as Christians, we don’t always have the luxury of doing the things we want to do. God calls us to sacrifice and to be willing to participate in the humiliation of Christ. To be sure, we live in the midst of warfare, and as Christians we have signed up for the duration. We should never neglect our awesome responsibility to the kingdom of God. Called to be servants, we are also called to obedience. Sometimes we are called to do things that we don’t particularly enjoy doing. Nevertheless, the overriding consideration is to bring our motivation into conformity with our call and our call into conformity with our motivation. All things being equal, Jesus did not want to go to the cross, as He expressed in His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet at the same time, He had an overarching desire and motivation to do the will of His Father. That was His “meat and drink,” the focus of His zeal. When it was confirmed to Him that it was the Father’s will that He lay down His life, Jesus was, in a very real and vital sense, motivated to do it. Let us extend the concept of service and obedience to the analogy of human warfare. A crisis besets a nation, and people are summoned to the cause of national defense. Leaving the security and comfort of their homes and jobs, they make sacrifices by enlisting in the armed services. Are not Christians called to do the same? Certainly there is a sense in which we are. Yet within the context of the earthly military, there are a vast number of jobs, some for which we would be suited and others for which we would not. Some military tasks would be in line with our motivated skills and patterns of behavior, while others would be completely at odds with our motivated skills and behavior. Even within the context of sacrificial service, a consideration of motivation is a vital ingredient in determining our vocation. Some rugged individualists in our society are self-employed and find it totally unnecessary to fit into an organizational working structure that involves supervisors, bosses, and lines of authority. Most of us, however, carry out our working lives within the context of an organization. Here we face the problem of fitting. Do our jobs fit our gifts, talents, and aspirations? Do our motivated abilities fit our jobs? The degree to which our job requirements and our motivated abilities fit often determines the usefulness of our contribution and the extent of our personal satisfaction. When personal motivations do not fit job descriptions, many people suffer. The first to suffer is the individual, because he is laboring in a job that does not fit his motivated abilities. Because he is in a job for which he is unsuited, he tends to be less efficient and less productive. He also creates problems for others in the organization because his frustration spills over and has a negative effect on the group. Some of us are “sanctified” enough to perform assigned tasks for which we lack motivation, doing them as proficiently as we do tasks that are more enjoyable. However, people who are that sanctified make up an infinitesimal minority within the workforce. Research shows again and again that there is a strong tendency for people to do what they are motivated to do, regardless of what is called for in their job description. That is, they spend the majority of their time and effort doing what they want to do rather than what the job, in fact, calls them to do. Such an investment of time and energy can be quite costly to a company or an organization. The following simple diagrams show the relationships between motivated ability patterns and job descriptions. They have been borrowed from People Management, a Connecticut-based organization. People Management helps people to discern their motivated ability patterns and helps organizations to coordinate people’s gifts and motivations with the needs and aims of the organizations. This kind of guidance works not only in secular industry but also within the structures of the church and sacred vocations. MISFIT DIAGRAM Job Description Unused Abilities Frustration Personal Organizational Frustration Tasks Not Performed Motivated Abilities Job Fit In this diagram, the top left block represents the job description of the employee, including the tasks required for optimal organizational functioning. The lower right block represents the motivated abilities of the employee. The shaded area represents the area of job fit. It is not in balance. A large portion of the employee’s motivated abilities are not being used. This produces frustration for the employee. Also, a large portion of the organizational job description is either left unperformed or performed at a low degree of proficiency. The result is organizational frustration. This pattern spells problems for both the individual employee and the organization. Changes must be made. The diagram below represents an ideal matchup between job description and motivated abilities. The result is fulfillment for both the employee and the organization. ORGANIZATIONAL FIT Job Description Motivated Abilities Through the influence of the world-denying spirit of Manichaeism, early Christians got the idea that the only way they could possibly serve God would be by living their lives on a bed of nails. It was assumed that to embark on a pathway of service involved self-denial. Real virtue could be found only in being as miserable as possible in one’s job. However, if God indeed called us to devote ourselves to the most unpleasant tasks possible, He would be the cosmic Chief of Bad Managers. The Scriptures describe God’s management style differently. God manages by building us into a body according to our abilities and our desires. He gives gifts to each one of His people. Every Christian is gifted of the Lord to fulfill a divine vocation. Along with the gift, God gives a desire or a motivation to make use of that gift. What Should We Do? This brings us to the final and paramount question: “What should I do?” The most practical advice I can give is for you to do what your motivated ability pattern indicates you can do with a high degree of motivation. If what you would like to do can be of service to God, then by all means you should be doing it. One vital constraint is at work: the preceptive will of God. If a woman’s great ability and motivation were to be a prostitute and a man’s motivated ability were to be the world’s greatest bank robber, then obviously vocational goals would have to be adjusted. To fulfill such motivated abilities would bring individuals into direct conflict with the preceptive will of God. If we carefully analyzed the root causes for the motivated ability of the bank robber and the motivated ability of the prostitute, we probably would find root abilities and motivations that could profitably and productively be channeled into godly enterprises. We must not only bring our motivated abilities into conformity with the law of God, but also make sure that the vocation we choose has the blessing of God. There is certainly nothing wrong, for example, with devoting one’s life to the practice of medicine, for we see the good that medicine can do in terms of alleviating suffering. We also understand that the world needs bread to eat and that the vocation of baker for someone who is motivated and able to bake is a godly enterprise. Jesus Himself spent many of His years not in preaching and teaching but in being a carpenter, a craftsman in a legitimate trade. During those years, Jesus was in “the center of God’s will.” Any vocation that meets the need of God’s world can be considered a divine calling. I underscore this because of the tendency in Christian circles to think that only those who go into “full-time Christian service” are being sensitive to divine vocation—as if preaching and teaching were the only legitimate tasks to which God calls us. A cursory reading of the Bible would reveal the flaw in such thinking. The temple was built in the Old Testament through not only the wise oversight of Solomon but also the craftsmanship of those who were divinely gifted in carving, sculpting, and so on. David’s vocation as a shepherd, Abraham’s vocation as a caravan trader, Paul’s vocation as a tentmaker—all were seen as part of God’s plan to bring about the redemption of the world. When God made Adam and Eve, neither was called to be a full-time professional worker in the ecclesiastical structure; they were basically called to be farmers. A vocation is something that we receive from God; He is the one who calls us. He may not call us in the way that He called Moses, by appearing in a burning bush and giving a specific set of marching orders. Instead, He usually calls us inwardly and by giving us certain gifts, talents, and aspirations. His invisible sovereign will is certainly working in the background to prepare us for useful tasks in His vineyard. The External Call from People In addition to the inner call of God, we recognize that there is such a thing as an external call to labor, a call that comes from people who request our services for their particular mission or purpose. We may be called by the church to be preachers or by a company to be foremen or shippers. Every time an organization places a want ad in a newspaper, a human call is going out for able workers to come and match their gifts and talents to a presented need. Some Christians have argued that the need always constitutes the call. They say that there is a need for evangelists in the world and therefore everyone should be an evangelist. I agree that we must consider the needs of the kingdom of God as we make vocational decisions. However, the very fact that the world needs evangelists does not necessarily imply that everyone in the world is called to be an evangelist. Again, the New Testament makes it clear that not all are called to be preachers or administrators. The church is composed of people with a diversity of gifts, talents, and vocations. We must not make a simplistic, passive assumption that the need constitutes the call. Certainly the presence of a need requires that the people of God strive to meet that need. However, it does not necessarily mean that people who are not equipped to meet the need are thereby forced into the gap. For example, it is every Christian’s responsibility to help carry out the mandate for evangelism. It is not every Christian’s responsibility to be an evangelist. I am not an evangelist, though I contribute to evangelism by teaching evangelists theology and by contributing money for the church’s task of evangelism. I do those things so that those who do have the gift and the motivation can be called out, trained, equipped, and sent into the world as evangelists. I participate in the responsibility of the body of Christ to see that the task is met, but I myself am not the one who delivers the goods as the practicing evangelist. I could say the same regarding a host of other vocations. How do others affect our vocational calling? We do need to listen to the community of believers and friends. Sometimes our gifts and abilities are more evident to those around us than they are to us. The counsel of many and the evaluation of the group are important considerations in our search for our vocations. However, we must put up a red flag of warning. The group’s judgment is not always correct. The fact that a particular individual or group thinks we should be doing a certain task is not a guarantee that it is the will of God. I went through a period in my life of being unemployed for six months. During that time, I had five different job offers in five different cities in the United States. Five different friends came to me and said out of sincerity and urgent zeal that they were sure God wanted me to take each of the particular jobs. This meant that if all five of them had a direct pipeline to the will of God, God wanted me to hold five full-time positions and live in five different cities in the United States at the same time. I explained to my friends that I knew I was iniquitous (full of sin), but had not yet discovered the gift of being ubiquitous (being everywhere at the same time). I simply could not possibly do all five jobs. Somebody was wrong in their estimation of the will of God for my life. I find it very difficult to resist the pressures that come from people who are sure they know what God wants me to do with my life. We all experience that kind of pressure, so we must be careful to pay attention to those whose judgment we trust. We must be able to discern between sound judgment and the vested personal interests of other people. As it turned out, I accepted a sixth position for which no one came to me in the middle of the night with a telegram from God. I was convinced that the sixth position was the one that matched my abilities with the job that needed to be done. Considering Foreseeable Consequences One last consideration that is often neglected but is of crucial importance is the foreseeable consequences of the job. To take a job simply for money or for geographical location is a tragic mistake. All things being equal, I would like to have a salary of a $1 million a year, to be a teacher of theology, and to live where the climate is mild twelve months of the year. At the present time I am a teacher of theology living in Florida, but I make far less than $1 million a year. Somewhere along the way, I had to make a decision about my priorities. Did I want to make a million dollars or did I want to heed my vocational calling? My residence was determined by the locale of my vocation. Job decisions have both short-range and long-range consequences. Consider the case of Abraham and his nephew Lot, who lived and worked together in the Promised Land. Conflict between their hired hands made it necessary for them to divide the territory they were occupying. Abraham gave Lot the first choice, offering any half that he chose. Lot gazed toward the barren area of Transjordan and then looked toward the fertile valley near the city. He thought for a moment: “If I take the fertile valley, my cows can graze there and become fat. It’s a short distance to the city market. My profit will be great.” In consideration of his business, Lot opted for the fertile areas around the city and left Abraham the barren land. Lot’s choice was brilliant—from the perspective of raising cattle. He didn’t ask himself, “Where will my family go to school? Where will my family go to church?” The city he chose was Sodom—a great place to raise cows. The short-term consequences were fine, but long-term living in Sodom turned out to be a disaster in many ways. How will our job decisions be conducive to fulfilling our other responsibilities? The person who chooses a vocation purely on the basis of money, location, or status is virtually guaranteeing his later frustration. Much of the confusion we often experience in the job arena would be dispelled by asking ourselves one simple question: “What would I most like to do if I didn’t have to please anyone in my family or my circle of friends?” Another good question is, “What would I like to be doing ten years from now?” These questions are good to keep in mind even after one has settled into a particular job. Another thing to remember is the promise of God’s Word that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. As His children, that includes the area of our work. While God’s decretive will may not always be clear to us even in our occupational pursuits, His preceptive will is more easily discerned. Wherever we are, in whatever work we find ourselves, His preceptive will must be done. Finally, what does God expect of us in relation to our work? As Christians, we have been called to be spiritual salt in a decaying world, to be spiritual light in the midst of darkness. We are to be wise stewards of God’s gifts and talents. That means striving to be the most honest, patient, hardworking, and committed workers we can be. It means settling for nothing less than excellence. God help us to live up to His high call for each of us. Chapter Four GOD’S WILL IN MARRIAGE Besides our work, the other topic of perennial concern is our marital status. Should we marry or remain single? It is possible that Christians expend more decision-making energy over the subject of marriage than any other area of human existence. No wonder, since the decisions relevant to the marital relationship have such far-reaching effects on our lives. How a person feels about his marital status determines, in large part, his sense of fulfillment, his productivity, and his self-image. The reality and the seriousness of the marital relationship are brought home when we realize that the one who knows us most intimately, the one before whom we are the most fragile and vulnerable, and the one who powerfully shapes and influences our lives is our marriage partner. That is why entering the marital relationship is not something anyone should undertake lightly. Before we tackle the general question, “Is it God’s will for me to marry?” several specific questions need to be considered. Should I Get Married? The answer to this question has often been assumed by our culture, at least until recent years. Even today, most of us absorb the idea while growing up that marriage is a natural and integral part of normal life. In many ways—from the fairy-tale characters Snow White and Prince Charming, the romantic plays of Shakespeare, and some mass media heroes and heroines—we receive signals that society expects us to be numbered among the married. Among individuals who fail to fulfill this cultural expectation, those of a more traditional mindset are left with the nagging feeling that perhaps something is wrong with them, that they are abnormal. In earlier generations, if a young man reached the age of thirty without getting married, he was suspected of having homosexual tendencies. If a woman was still single by thirty, it was often tacitly assumed that she had some defect that made her unattractive as a marriage partner or had lesbian preferences. Such assumptions are by no means found in the Scriptures. From a biblical perspective, the pursuit of celibacy (as Scripture expects for the unmarried) is a legitimate option in some instances. Under other considerations, it is viewed as a definite preference. Though we have our Lord’s blessing on the sanctity of marriage, we also have His example of personal choice to remain celibate, obviously in submission to the will of God. Christ was celibate not because of a lack of the masculine traits necessary to make Him desirable as a life partner. Rather, His divine purpose obviated the destiny of marriage, making it crucial that He devote Himself entirely to the preparation of His bride, the church, for His future wedding. The most important biblical instruction that we have regarding celibacy is given by the apostle Paul in a lengthy passage from 1 Corinthians: Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better. A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I have the Spirit of God. (1 Cor. 7:25–40, RSV) Paul’s teaching in this matter of marriage has been subjected to serious distortions. Some observe in this text that Paul is setting forth a contrasting view of marriage that says celibacy is good and marriage is bad, particularly for Christians called to service in the interim period between the first advent of Christ and His return. However, even a cursory glance at the text indicates that Paul is not contrasting the good and the bad, but rival goods. He points out that it is good to opt for celibacy under certain circumstances. Moreover, it is also good and quite permissible to opt for marriage under other circumstances. Paul sets forth the pitfalls that a Christian faces when contemplating marriage. Of prime consideration is the pressure of the kingdom of God on the marriage relationship. Nowhere has the question of celibacy been more controversial than in the Roman Catholic Church. Historically, Protestants have objected that the Roman Catholic Church, by imposing on its clergy a mandate beyond the requirements of Scripture itself, has slipped into a form of legalism. Though we believe that Scripture permits the marriage of clergy, it indicates, at the same time, that one who is married and serving God in a special vocation does face the nagging problems created by a divided set of loyalties—his family on one hand, the church on the other. Unfortunately, the dispute between Protestants and Catholics over mandatory celibacy has become so heated at times that Protestants have often reacted to the other extreme, dismissing celibacy as a viable option. Let us return to the focus of Paul’s word, which sets forth a distinction between rival goods. His distinction, in the final analysis, allows the individual to decide what best suits him or her. Paul in no way denigrates the honorable “estate” of marriage, but rather affirms what was given in creation: the benediction of God over the marriage relationship. One does not sin by getting married. Marriage is a legitimate, noble, and honorable option set forth for Christians. Just a Piece of Paper? Another aspect of the question, “Should I get married?” moves beyond the issue of celibacy to whether a couple should enter into a formal marriage contract or sidestep this option by simply living together. In the past few decades, the option of living together, rather than moving into a formal marriage contract, has proliferated in our culture. Christians must be careful not to establish their precepts of marriage (or any other ethical dimension of life) on the basis of contemporary community standards. The Christian’s conscience is to be governed not merely by what is socially acceptable or even by what is legal according to the law of the land, but rather by what God sanctions. Unfortunately, some Christians have rejected the legal and formal aspects of marriage, arguing that marriage is a matter of private and individual commitment between two people and has no legal or formal requirements. These view marriage as a matter of individual private decision apart from external ceremony. The question most frequently asked of clergymen on this matter reflects the so-called freedom in Christ: “Why do we have to sign a piece of paper to make it legal?” The signing of a piece of paper is not a matter of affixing one’s signature in ink to a meaningless document. The signing of a marriage certificate is an integral part of what the Bible calls a covenant. A covenant is made publicly before witnesses and with formal legal commitments that are taken seriously by the community. The protection of both partners is at stake; there is legal recourse should one of the partners act in a way that is destructive to the other. Contracts are signed out of the necessity spawned by the presence of sin in our fallen nature. Because we have an enormous capacity to wound each other, sanctions have to be imposed by legal contracts. Contracts not only restrain sin, but also protect the innocent in the case of legal and moral violation. With every commitment I make to another human being, there is a sense in which a part of me becomes vulnerable, exposed to the response of the other person. No human enterprise renders a person more vulnerable to hurt than does the estate of marriage. God ordained certain rules regulating marriage in order to protect people. His law was born of love, concern, and compassion for His fallen creatures. The sanctions God imposed on sexual activity outside marriage do not mean that God is a spoilsport or a prude. Sex is an enjoyment He Himself created and gave to the human race. God, in His infinite wisdom, understands that there is no time that human beings are more vulnerable than when they are engaged in this most intimate activity. Thus, He cloaks this special act of intimacy with certain safeguards. He is saying to both the man and the woman that it is safe to give oneself to the other only when there is a certain knowledge of a lifelong commitment behind it. There is a vast difference between a commitment sealed with a formal document and declared in the presence of witnesses, including family, friends, and authorities of church and state, and a whispered, hollow promise breathed in the back seat of a car. Do I Want to Get Married? Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:8–9: “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” The distinction is between the good and the better. Here Paul introduces the idea of burning, not of the punitive fires of hell, but of the passions of the biological nature, which God has given us. Paul is speaking very candidly when he points out that some people are not made for celibacy. Marriage is a perfectly honorable and legitimate option even for those who are most strongly motivated by sexual fulfillment and relief from sexual temptation and passion. The question, “Do I want to get married?” is an obvious but very important one. The Bible does not prohibit marriage. Indeed, it encourages it except in certain cases where one may be brought into conflict with vocation, but even in that dimension, provisions are left for marriage. So to desire marriage is a very good thing. A person needs to be in touch with his own desires and conscience. If I have a strong desire to marry, then the next step is to do something about fulfilling that desire. If a person wants a job, he must seriously pursue employment opportunities. When we decide to attend a college or a university, we have to follow the formal routine of making applications and evaluating various campuses. Marriage is no different; no magic recipe has come from heaven that will determine for us the perfect will of God for a life partner. Here, unfortunately, is where Christians have succumbed to the fairy-tale syndrome of our society. It is a particular problem for young, single women. Many a young woman feels that if God wants her to be married, He will drop a marriage partner out of heaven on a parachute or will bring some Prince Charming riding up to her doorstep on a great white horse. One excruciating problem faced by single women—more so in past generations than today—is caused by the unwritten rule of our society that allows men the freedom actively to pursue a marriage partner while women are considered loose if they actively pursue a prospective husband. No biblical rule says that a woman eager to be married should be passive. There is nothing that prohibits her from actively seeking a suitable mate. On numerous occasions, I’ve had the task of counseling single women who insisted at the beginning of the interview that they had no desire to be married but simply wanted to work out the dimensions of the celibacy they believed God had imposed on them. After a few questions and answers, the scenario usually repeats itself: the young woman begins to weep and blurts out, “But I really want to get married.” When I suggest that there are wise steps that she can take to find a husband, her eyes light up in astonishment as if I had just given her permission to do the forbidden. I have broken a taboo. Wisdom requires that the search be done with discretion and determination. Those seeking a life partner need to do certain obvious things, such as going where other single people congregate. They need to be involved in activities that will bring them in close communication with other single Christians. In the Old Testament, Jacob made an arduous journey to his homeland to find a suitable marriage partner. He did not wait for God to deliver him a life partner. He went where the opportunity presented itself to find a marriage partner. But the fact that he was a man does not imply that such a procedure is limited to males. Women in our society have exactly the same freedom to pursue a mate by diligent search. What Do I Want in a Marriage Partner? A myth has arisen within the Christian community that marriage is to be a union between two people committed to the principle of selfless love. Selfless love is viewed as being crucial for the success of a marriage. This myth is based on the valid concept that selfishness is often at the root of disharmony and disintegration in marriage relationships. The biblical concept of love says no to acts of selfishness within marital and other human relationships. However, the remedy for selfishness is nowhere to be found in selflessness. The concept of selflessness emerged from Asian and Greek thinking, where the ideal goal of humanity is the loss of self-identity by becoming one with the universe. The goal of man in this schema is to lose any individual characteristic, becoming one drop in the great ocean. Another aspect of absorption is the notion of the individual becoming merged with the great Oversoul and becoming spiritually diffused throughout the universe. But from a biblical perspective, the goal of the individual is not the annihilation or the disintegration of the self, but the redemption of the self. To seek selflessness in marriage is an exercise in futility. The self is very active in building a good marriage, and marriage involves the commitment of the self with another self based on reciprocal sharing and sensitivity between two actively involved selves. If I were committed to a selfless marriage, it would mean that in my search for a marriage partner I should survey the scene to find a person for whom I was willing to throw myself away. This is the opposite of what is involved in the quest for a marriage partner. When someone seeks a mate, he should be seeking someone who will enrich his life, who will add to his own self-fulfillment, and who at the same time will be enriched by that relationship. What are the priority qualities to seek in a marriage partner? One little exercise that many couples have found helpful is based on freewheeling imagination. While finding a marriage partner is not like shopping for an automobile, one can use the new car metaphor. When one purchases a new car, he has many models from which to choose. With those models, there is an almost endless list of optional equipment that can be tacked onto the standard model. By analogy, suppose one could request a made-to-order mate with all the options. The person engaged in such an exercise could list as many as a hundred qualities or characteristics that he would like to find in the perfect mate. Compatibility with work and with play, attitudes toward parenting, and certain skills and physical characteristics could be included. After completing the list, the person must acknowledge the futility of such a process. No human being will ever perfectly fit all the possible characteristics that one desires in a mate. This exercise is particularly helpful for people who have delayed marrying into their late twenties or early thirties, or even later. Such a person sometimes settles into a pattern of focusing on tiny flaws that disqualify virtually every person he or she meets. After doing the made-to-order mate exercise, he can take the next step: reduce the list to the main priorities. The person involved in this exercise reduces the number of qualifications to twenty, then to ten, and finally to five. Such a reduction forces him to set in ordered priority the things he is most urgently seeking in a marriage partner. It is extremely important that individuals clearly understand what they want out of the dating and eventually the marital relationship. They should also find out whether their desires in a marriage relationship are healthy or unhealthy. This leads us to the next question, regarding counseling. From Whom Should I Seek Counsel? Many people resent the suggestion that they seek counsel in their selection of a marriage partner. After all, isn’t such a selection an intensely personal and private matter? However personal and private the decision might be, it is one of grave importance to the future of the couple and their potential offspring, their families, and their friends. Marriage is never ultimately a private matter, because how the marriage works affects a multitude of people. Therefore, counsel can and should be sought from trusted friends, pastors, and particularly from parents. In earlier periods of Western history, marriages were arranged either by families or by matchmakers. Today, the idea of arranged marriages seems primitive and crass. It is totally foreign in the American culture. We have come to the place where we think that it is our inalienable right to choose one whom we love. Some things need to be said in defense of the past custom of arranged marriages. One is that happy marriages can be achieved even when one has not chosen his own partner. It may sound outrageous, but I am convinced that if biblical precepts are applied consistently, virtually any two people in the world can build a happy marriage and honor the will of God in the relationship. That may not be what we prefer, but it can be accomplished if we are willing to work in the marital relationship. The second thing that needs to be said in defense of arranged marriages is that in some circumstances, marriages have been arranged on the objective evaluation of matching people together and of avoiding destructive parasitic matchups. For example, when left to themselves, people with significant personal weaknesses, such as a man with a profound need to be mothered and a woman with a profound need to mother, can be attracted to each other in a mutually destructive way. Such negative mergings happen daily in our society. It is not my intention to lobby for matched or arranged marriages. I am only hailing the wisdom of seeking parental counsel in the decision-making process. Parents often object to the choice of a marriage partner. Sometimes their objections are based on the firm conviction that “no one is good enough for my daughter [or son].” Objections of this sort are based on unrealistic expectations at best and on petty jealousy at worst. However, not all parents are afflicted with such destructive prejudices regarding the potential marriage partners of their children. Sometimes the parents have keen insight into the personalities of their children, seeing blind spots that the offspring themselves are unable to perceive. In the earlier example of a person with an inordinate need to be mothered attracting someone with an inordinate need to mother, a discerning parent might spot the mismatch and caution against it. If a parent is opposed to a marriage relationship, it is extremely important to know why. When Am I Ready to Get Married? After seeking counsel, having a clear understanding of what we are hoping for, and having examined our expectations of marriage, the final decision is left to us. At this point, some face paralysis as the day of decision draws near. How does one know when he or she is ready to get married? Wisdom dictates that we enter into serious premarital study, evaluation, and counseling with competent counselors so that we may be warned of the pitfalls that come in this new and vital human relationship. With the breakdown of so many marriages in our culture, increasing numbers of young people fear entering into a marriage contract lest they become “statistics.” Sometimes we need the gentle nudge of a trusted counselor to tell us when it is time to take the step. What things need to be faced before taking the actual step toward marriage? Economic considerations are, of course, important. Financial pressures imposed on a relationship that is already besieged with emotional pressures of other kinds can be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. That is why parents often advise young people to wait until they finish their schooling or until they are gainfully employed so that they can assume the responsibility of a family. It is not by accident that the creation ordinance of marriage mentions that a man shall leave his father and mother and “hold fast to” his wife, and the two shall become “one flesh.” The “leaving and cleaving” dimensions are rooted in the concept of being able to establish a new family unit. Here, economic realities often govern the preparedness for marriage. Entering into marriage involves far more than embarking on new financial responsibilities. The marriage commitment is the most serious one that two human beings can make to each other. A person is ready to get married when he or she is prepared to commit to a particular person for the rest of his or her life, regardless of the human circumstances that befall them. In order for us to understand the will of God for marriage, it is imperative that we pay attention to God’s preceptive will. The New Testament clearly shows that God not only ordained marriage and sanctified it, He regulates it. His commandments cover a multitude of situations regarding the nitty-gritty aspects of marriage. The greatest textbook on marriage is sacred Scripture, which reveals God’s wisdom and His rule governing the marriage relationship. If someone earnestly wants to do the will of God in marriage, his first task is to master what Scripture says that God requires in such a relationship. What does God expect of His children who are married or thinking about getting married? God expects, among other things, faithfulness to the marriage partner, provision of mutual needs, and mutual respect under the lordship of Christ. Certainly the couple should enhance each other’s effectiveness as Christians. If not, something is wrong. While celibacy is certainly no less blessed and honorable a state than marriage, we have to recognize Adam and Eve as our models. God’s plan involved the vital union of these two individuals who would make it possible for the earth to be filled with their “kind.” Basically, I cannot dictate God’s will for anyone in this area any more than I can or would in the area of occupation. I will say that good marriages require hard work and individuals willing to make their marriages work. What happens in our lives is cloaked ultimately in the mystery of God’s will. The joy for us as His children is that the mystery holds no terror—only waiting, appropriate acting on His principles and direction, and the promise that He is with us forever. Sproul, R. C. (2009). Can I Know God’s Will? (Bd. 4, S. i–102). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

Published: September 21, 2016, 09:14 | No Comments on Bible Teaching: Knowing GOD´s will- by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz
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Cover of "What Is a Healthy Church Member... WHAT IS A Healthy CHURCH MEMBER? Thabiti M. Anyabwile Rosary Prayer Chain CROSSWAY BOOKS WHEATON, ILLINOIS What Is a Healthy Church Member? Copyright © 2008 by Thabiti M. Anyabwile Published by Crossway Books a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers 1300 Crescent Street Wheaton, Illinois 60187 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, except as provided for by USA copyright law. Cover design: Josh Dennis Cover illustration: iStock First printing 2008 Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Mobipocket ISBN 978-1-4335-0457-0 PDF ISBN 978-1-4335-0456-3 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Anyabwile, Thabiti M., 1970– What is a healthy church member? / Thabiti M. Anyabwile; foreword by Mark Dever. p. cm.—(IX marks series) ISBN 978-1-4335-0212-5 (hc) 1. Church—Marks. I. Title. BV601.A59 2008 248.4—dc22 2007051434 For Jesus Christ, the Head of the church, For his body and each member doing its part, For local churches that have shaped me: First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Church on the Rock and For the church that lives in my home: Kristie, Afiya, Eden, and Titus CONTENTS Series Preface Foreword by Mark Dever Introduction Mark 1 A Healthy Church Member Is an Expositional Listener Mark 2 A Healthy Church Member Is a Biblical Theologian Mark 3 A Healthy Church Member Is Gospel Saturated Mark 4 A Healthy Church Member Is Genuinely Converted Mark 5 A Healthy Church Member Is a Biblical Evangelist Mark 6 A Healthy Church Member Is a Committed Member Mark 7 A Healthy Church Member Seeks Discipline Mark 8 A Healthy Church Member Is a Growing Disciple Mark 9 A Healthy Church Member Is a Humble Follower Mark 10 A Healthy Church Member Is a Prayer Warrior A Final Word Appendix: A Typical Covenant of a Healthy Church Scripture Index SERIES PREFACE The 9Marks series of books is premised on two basic ideas. First, the local church is far more important to the Christian life than many Christians today perhaps realize. A book called What Is a Healthy Church Member? might also be called What Is a Healthy Christian? We at 9Marks believe that a healthy Christian is a healthy church member. Second, local churches grow in life and vitality as they organize their lives around God’s Word. God speaks. Churches should listen and follow. It’s that simple. When a church listens and follows, it begins to look like the One it is following. It reflects his love and holiness. It displays his glory. A church will look like him as it listens to him. By this token, the reader might notice that all “9 marks,” taken from Mark Dever’s 2001 book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Crossway Books), begin with the Bible: • expositional preaching; • biblical theology; • a biblical understanding of the gospel; • a biblical understanding of conversion; • a biblical understanding of evangelism; • a biblical understanding of church membership; • a biblical understanding of church discipline; • a biblical understanding of discipleship and growth; and • a biblical understanding of church ledership. More can be said about what churches should do in order to be healthy, such as pray. But these nine practices are the ones that we believe are most often overlooked today (unlike prayer). So our basic message to churches is, don’t look to the best business practices or the latest styles; look to God. Start by listening to God’s Word again. Out of this overall project comes the 9Marks series of books. These volumes intend to examine the nine marks more closely and from different angles. Some target pastors. Some target church members. Hopefully all will combine careful biblical examination, theological reflection, cultural consideration, corporate application, and even a bit of individual exhortation. The best Christian books are always both theological and practical. It’s our prayer that God will use this volume and the others to help prepare his bride, the church, with radiance and splendor for the day of his coming. FOREWORD “Beloved.” On Sunday mornings, that was the way Thabiti always greeted the congregation that we pastored together. And he meant it. He loved them, and they loved him. Some of the older members couldn’t pronounce his name (thuh-BEE-tee), but they knew that Thabiti meant it when he called them “Beloved.” “Good morning, Beloved.” I can still hear it. That’s also the word that the apostle John used again and again in his letters to some of the earliest churches. In God’s providence, John’s letters, together with the rest of the New Testament, tell us a lot about what it means to be Christians together. They tell us what it means to be a church member, which is what this little book is about, too. Thabiti knows from experience that living the Christian life is not something that we’re supposed to do alone. Being a Christian is a personal matter, not a private one. When you are born again, you are born into a family. And that family is not only the great extended family of Christians throughout the world, but also the particular nuclear family of a local congregation. As a fellow church member for a number of years, I had the joy of knowing Thabiti and his wife, Kristie. I remember the first Sunday I met Thabiti. I was struck by how interesting (he worked at a “think tank”), how distinguished (he just looks the part), and how thoughtful (he was measured with his words) he was. But he wasn’t simply a fascinating brain. The brother has a heart! He quickly began involving himself in the lives of other people in the church. Within a few weeks Thabiti was already helping to pastor the congregation. Though it would be several years before he was recognized as an elder, he was eldering. All of this shows that Thabiti understands the idea that sheep are to be in a sheepfold, and I have seen him be both a great member of the sheepfold and an outstanding undershepherd. I’ve spent enough of your time now. This is supposed to be a short book. Now I invite you to jump into it and profit. But take a moment to pray before you do. Pray that God might use Thabiti in your life, as he has used him in so many other lives. Pray that God would use this book to help you know and love your local church in a way you never have before. And pray that, as you come to know and love your church, you would increasingly come to know and show God’s love. God bless and happy reading, Beloved. Mark Dever, Washington DC September 2007 INTRODUCTION Jenny surprised me when she started crying during our membership interview. The first twenty minutes of the interview were fairly routine. She recounted her childhood growing up in a Christian home, her high school years filled with fear, and a period of living as a prodigal during college. Then she recalled with some joy her conversion experience in a hometown local church. So I did not expect her to sob at the question, “How was that church for you spiritually? Did you grow there?” After pausing for a moment, she explained, “I expected that after my conversion someone would have helped me to grow as a Christian.” She continued with a distinct trace of confusion and anger: “But it was as if people put me in a corner somewhere, as if they expected me to figure things out on my own. It was a terrible and lonely time.” How many Jennys have you met in your lifetime? Perhaps you are a Jenny. Perhaps you have spent considerable time in a local church, or several churches. And perhaps your Christian life is not too dissimilar from Jenny’s. You came to the faith bright eyed and bushy tailed, bouncing with energy and zeal to do great things for the Lord. But soon you found yourself wondering, “What exactly am I supposed to be doing as a member of this local church?” If so, this book is written for you. And if not, this book is written for you, too. Whether your Christian life began yesterday or thirty years ago, the Lord’s intent is that you play an active and vital part in his body, the local church. He intends for you to experience the local church as a home more profoundly wonderful and meaningful than any other place on earth. He intends for his churches to be healthy places and for the members of those churches to be healthy as well. This little book is written in the hope that you might discover or rediscover what it means to be a healthy member of a local church, and what it means to contribute to the overall health of the church. In 2007, Crossway Books published Mark Dever’s What Is a Healthy Church? That book offered one definition of what a healthy church looks like biblically and historically and, along with his prior work Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, has shaped the thinking of many pastors and church leaders in the years since it was first published. This book takes its cue from What Is a Healthy Church? though it attempts to answer a slightly different question: “What does a healthy church member look like in the light of Scripture?” While Nine Marks of a Healthy Church primarily addressed pastors in the task of church reform, this book seeks to address the people that pastors lead and to encourage those people to play their part in helping the local church to increasingly reflect the glory of God. How can you, an individual member of a local church, contribute to the positive health of your church? A lady named Mrs. Burns cornered me after the church service one Sunday morning. She was a little hot and bothered about some of the things that were changing in the church as well as some of the things that were remaining the same. I tried to greet others as they were leaving while at the same time nodding politely to Mrs. Burns as she complained of her dissatisfaction. When she paused in her litany, my first thought was to ask her, “So what exactly would you have me to do about these things?” But in a rare moment of insight I thought better of asking that question. Instead I asked her, “So what are you going to do about the state of the church? How will you become a better member and contribute to the health of God’s family in this place?” Those questions belong to every Christian, not just the ones who complain like Mrs. Burns. The health of the local church depends on the willingness of its members to inspect their hearts, correct their thinking, and apply their hands to the work of the ministry. The chapters that follow present one proposal for becoming a healthier member of your local church. The chapters assume that you’re already a member of a local congregation and that perhaps you just need a little nudge or the opportunity to think through a few key issues. Chapter 1 encourages “expositional listening” to the Word of God. Healthy church members are those who listen in a particular way to the Word of God as it is preached and studied—they let God set the agenda by seeking always to hear the true meaning of the text so that they can apply it to their lives. In chapter 2, church members are encouraged to dedicate themselves to learning the overarching themes of the Bible. In other words, they are asked to become “biblical theologians” in an effort to protect themselves and the church from false and unsound teaching. Chapter 3 invites church members to be saturated in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the gospel that saves us (Rom. 1:16), and it is the gospel that will sustain and motivate us in our daily Christian lives. There is no way to listen expositionally to the Scripture, to master its overarching narrative and themes, and to live a gospel-saturated life without also desiring and endeavoring to become a biblical evangelist. Chapters 4 and 5 offer some suggestions for thinking about conversion and evangelism in a biblically healthy way. Chapter 6 is a call to make a serious and active commitment to membership in the local church. Then chapter 7 provides one reason why committed church membership is important: the local church is where Christians experience the shaping and correcting discipline of the Lord. Chapter 8 examines spiritual growth from a biblical perspective, while chapter 9 includes some recommendations for effectively supporting the leadership of your local church. Chapter 10 is a call to consider prayer an essential aspect of becoming and being a healthy church member. A brief discussion of the biblical basis of prayer is offered along with some suggested things for healthy church members to include in their prayer lives. Each chapter also includes some recommended readings for further study. These are not the only things that make for a healthy church member; other things are important as well. But I hope these stir us all to love and good deeds for the glory of Christ and the beauty of his bride. O Sovereign Lord, we beseech you to bless your people with an unusual humility, unity, joy, peace, and care for one another. We pray that you would increasingly make all of your people spiritually healthy and fruitful, not only as individuals but as one body, one new man, laboring together to grow up into Christ, even the fullness of his stature. Bless the reading, hearing, and study of your word for the glory of your name. And, O Lord, be pleased to use even this little book in some way to advance your kingdom and beautify your bride. Father, we ask these things knowing that nothing is too hard for you, with the full assurance of faith, in Jesus’ name. Amen. MARK 1 A HEALTHY CHURCH MEMBER IS AN EXPOSITIONAL LISTENER What is “expositional listening”? Before answering that question, we need to define “expositional preaching.” The first and most important mark of a healthy church is expositional preaching. “Expositional preaching is not simply producing a verbal commentary on some passage of Scripture. Rather, expositional preaching is that preaching which takes for the main point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture.” If churches are to be healthy, then pastors and teachers must be committed to discovering the meaning of Scripture and allowing that meaning to drive the agenda with their congregations. There is an important corollary for every member of a local church. Just as the pastor’s preaching agenda should be determined by the meaning of Scripture, so too should the Christian’s listening agenda be driven by the meaning of Scripture. When we listen to the preaching of the Word, we should not listen primarily for “practical how-to advice,” though Scripture teaches us much about everyday matters. Nor should we listen for messages that bolster our self-esteem or that rouse us to political and social causes. Rather, as members of Christian churches we should listen primarily for the voice and message of God as revealed in his Word. We should listen to hear what he has written, in his omniscient love, for his glory and for our blessing. So what exactly do I mean by “expositional listening”? Expositional listening is listening for the meaning of a passage of Scripture and accepting that meaning as the main idea to be grasped for our personal and corporate lives as Christians. What Are the Benefits of Expositional Listening? Expositional listening benefits us, first, by cultivating a hunger for God’s Word. As we tune our ears to the kind of preaching that makes the primary point of the sermon the primary point of a particular passage of Scripture, we grow accustomed to listening to God. We become fluent in the language of Zion and conversant with its themes. His Word, his voice, becomes sweet to us (Ps. 119:103–4); and as it does, we are better able to push to the background the many voices that rival God’s voice for control over our lives. Expositional listening gives us a clear ear with which to hear God. The second benefit follows from the first. Expositional listening helps us to focus on God’s will and to follow him. Our agenda becomes secondary. The preacher’s agenda becomes secondary. God’s agenda for his people takes center stage, reorders our priorities, and directs us in the course that most honors him. The Lord himself proclaimed, “My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Listening to the voice of Jesus as it is heard in his Word is critical to following him. Third, expositional listening protects the gospel and our lives from corruption. The Scripture tells us “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3–4). The failure to listen expositionally has disastrous effects. False teachers enter the church and hinder the gospel. Ultimately, the truth is displaced by myths and falsehoods. Where members cultivate the habit of expositional listening they guard themselves against “itching ears” and protect the gospel from corruption. The fourth benefit, then, is that expositional listening encourages faithful pastors. Those men who serve faithfully in the ministry of the Word are worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17). Few things are more discouraging or dishonoring to such men than a congregation inattentive to the Word of God. Faithful men flourish at the fertile reception of the preached Word. They’re made all the more bold when their people give ear to the Lord’s voice and give evidence of being shaped by it. As church members, we can care for our pastors and teachers and help to prevent unnecessary discouragement and fatigue by cultivating the habit of expositional listening. Fifth, expositional listening benefits the gathered congregation. Repeatedly, the New Testament writers exhort local churches to be unified—to be of one mind. Paul writes to one local church, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there may be no divisions among you, but that you may be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10; see also Rom. 12:16; 2 Cor. 13:11; 1 Pet. 3:8). As we gather together in our local churches and give ourselves to hearing the voice of God through his preached Word, we’re shaped into one body. We are united in understanding and purpose. And that unity testifies to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ (John 17:21). But if we listen with our own interests and agendas in mind, if we develop “private interpretations” and idiosyncratic views, we risk shattering that unity, provoking disputes over doubtful matters, and weakening our corporate gospel witness. How Can Church Members Cultivate the Habit of Expositional Listening? Well, if expositional listening is so vital to the health of individual church members and the church as a whole, how does a person form such a habit? At least six practical ideas can foster more attentive listening to God’s word. 1) MEDITATE ON THE SERMON PASSAGE DURING YOUR QUIET TIME Several days before the sermon is preached, ask the pastor what passage of Scripture he plans to preach the following Sunday. Encourage him by letting him know that you’ll be praying for his preparation and preparing to listen to the sermon. Outline the text in your own daily devotions and use it to inform your prayer life. Learning to outline Scripture is a wonderful way of digging out and exposing the meaning of a passage. You can then use your outline as a listening aid; compare it to the preacher’s outline for new insights you missed in your own study. 2) INVEST IN A GOOD SET OF COMMENTARIES Add to your quiet times some of the greatest minds in Christian history. Study the Bible with John Calvin or Martin Lloyd-Jones by purchasing commentaries on books of the Bible as you read and study through them. If your pastor is preaching through John’s Gospel, pick up D. A. Carson’s or James Montgomery Boice’s commentary on John. Let these scholars and pastors help you hear God’s Word with a clear ear and discover its rich meaning. The Bible Speaks Today commentary series is an excellent starting place for those wanting to build a library of good commentaries. Also, you might want to purchase an Old Testament and New Testament commentary survey to help you sort through the range of commentary options available. Tremper Longman’s Old Testament Commentary Survey and D. A. Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey are excellent resources. 3) TALK AND PRAY WITH FRIENDS ABOUT THE SERMON AFTER CHURCH Instead of rushing off after the service is over, or talking about the latest news, develop the habit of talking about the sermon with people after church. Start spiritual conversations by asking, “How did the Scripture challenge or speak to you today?” Or, “What about God’s character most surprised or encouraged you?” Encourage others by sharing things you learned about God and his Word during the sermon. Make particular note of how your thinking has changed because of the meaning of Scripture itself. And pray with others that God would keep the congregation from becoming “dull of hearing” and that he would bless the congregation with an increasingly strong desire for the “solid food” of his Word (Isa. 6:9–10; Heb. 5:11–14). 4) LISTEN TO AND ACT ON THE SERMON THROUGHOUT THE WEEK We can cultivate the habit of expositional listening by listening to the sermon throughout the week and then acting upon it. Don’t let the Sunday sermon become a one-time event that fades from memory as soon as it is over (James 1:22–25). Choose one or two particular applications from the Scripture and prayerfully put them into practice over the coming week. If your church has an audio ministry or a website that posts recent summaries, take advantage of these opportunities to feed your soul with the click of a mouse. With your pastor’s support, establish small groups that review and apply the sermons. Or, use the sermons and your notes as a resource in one-on-one discipleship relationships. I know of several families that have a regular sermon-review time as their Sunday evening family devotional. There are a hundred ways to keep the sermon alive in your spiritual life by reviewing God’s Word throughout the week. Be creative. It’s well worth the planning. 5) DEVELOP THE HABIT OF ADDRESSING ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT THE TEXT ITSELF Jonathan Edwards resolved that he would never let a day end before he had answered any questions that troubled him or sprang to mind while he was studying the Scripture. How healthy would our churches be if members dedicated themselves to studying the Scripture with that kind of intentional effort and resolve? One way to begin is to follow up with your pastor, elders, or other teachers in the church about questions triggered by the text. Moreover, don’t be passive in your private study; seek answers by searching the Scripture yourself and by talking with accountability partners or small groups. But don’t forget that the pastor has likely spent more time than most in thinking about that passage and is there to feed you God’s Word. Follow up the sermon with questions and comments that would be an encouragement to your pastor and a blessing to your soul. 6) CULTIVATE HUMILITY As you dig into God’s Word, listening for his voice, you will no doubt begin to grow and discover many wonderful treasures. But as you grow, do not become a “professional sermon listener” who is always hearing but never learning. Beware of false knowledge that “puffs up” (1 Cor. 1:8; Col. 2:18) and tends to cause strife and dissension. Mortify any tendencies toward pride, the condemnation of others, and critical nit-picking. Instead, seek to meet Jesus each time you come to the Scripture; gather from the Word fuel for all-of-life worship. Instead of exalting ourselves, let us remember the apostle Peter’s words: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Pet. 5:6). Conclusion It is hearing the message and the Word of God that leads to saving faith (Rom. 10:17). Church members are healthy when they give themselves to hearing this message as a regular discipline. Expositional listening promotes such health for individual members and entire churches. For Further Reflection 1. How would you rate your ability to listen for the meaning of the Word during private devotions? During sermons? 2. How do you plan to strengthen your listening ability? MARK 2 A HEALTHY CHURCH MEMBER IS A BIBLICAL THEOLOGIAN Ignorance of God—ignorance both of His ways and of the practice of communion with Him—lies at the root of the church’s weakness today.” That’s how J. I. Packer began the 1973 preface to his classic volume Knowing God. Packer reasoned that one trend producing such ignorance of God and weakness in the church was “that Christian minds have been conformed to the modern spirit: the spirit, that is, that spawns great thoughts of man and leaves room for only small thoughts of God.” Sadly, Packer’s observation rings true more than three decades later. Ignorance of the ways of God and of communion with him is rampant in too many instances. Members of Christian churches continue to think small thoughts of God and great thoughts of man. This state of affairs reveals that too many Christians have neglected their first great calling: to know their God. Every Christian is meant to be a theologian in the best and most intimate sense of the word. If churches are to prosper in health, church members must be committed to being biblical theologians in whatever capacity they can. This is the second mark of a healthy church member. What Is Biblical Theology for the Church Member? To practice biblical theology is to know God himself. I’m using the term “biblical theology” with two things in mind. First, we must keep in mind that the Bible is the self-revelation of God; it is the source material for developing great thoughts about God. The Christian who is interested in knowing his God is the Christian who wants to know what God says about himself in the Bible. Such a Christian will not begin sentences with “I like to think of God as …” She has learned not to blend together a little New Age or a little Hinduism with a little Christianity in order to yield a custom-fitted deity for herself. No, the Christian church member who is serious about knowing God is the member who is committed to what the Bible says about God, because the Bible is where God tells us about himself. To practice biblical theology is to know God’s macro story of redemption. Second, the biblical theologian is a person committed to understanding the history of revelation, the grand themes and doctrines of the Bible, and how they fit together. In other words, healthy church members give themselves to understanding the unity and progression of the Bible as a whole—not just isolated or favorite passages. They approach the Bible knowing that they are reading one awesome story of God redeeming for himself a people for his own glory. And in that story, they see that God is a creating God, a holy God, a faithful God, a loving God, and a sovereign God as he makes and keeps his promises to his people, beginning with Adam and Eve and progressing to the final consummation of all things. How Does Biblical Theology Work to Promote Health in a Church Member? In his popular Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem outlines several benefits to studying systematics. Many of those benefits come with doing biblical theology as well. Grudem’s proposed benefits are worth summarizing here. First, practicing biblical theology helps us grow in our reverence for God. As we encounter the God of Scripture who establishes and keeps his covenant promises with his people, we see something of God’s majesty. The Lord’s working of all things together for good comes into clearer focus, from his promise to the woman that her Seed would bruise the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15), to the opening of barren wombs so that the Seed would be preserved (Gen. 17:15–19; 21:1–2; 29:31; 30:22; Isa. 7:14), to the actual birth of that Seed (Matt. 1:20–23). When we see that God is, always has been, and always will be the same creating, holy, faithful, loving, and sovereign God for us that he has been for others, we are stirred to faith and awe in God. If we want to know and reverence God truly, we will dedicate ourselves to becoming biblical theologians who understand the narrative and themes of Scripture. Second, practicing biblical theology helps us to overcome our wrong ideas. All of us encounter various teachings in the Bible that challenge, confuse, or provoke us. Often, we refuse to accept these teachings because of dullness and sin in our hearts. We can evade one verse here or there that displeases or confronts us. But when we give ourselves to understanding the grand sweep of biblical revelation and the total weight of Scripture’s teaching on a particular subject, we are more readily convinced of our wrong ideas. Biblical theology helps us to see how God has consistently spoken the same message to his people in diverse places and diverse ways (Heb. 1:1), a message that we will all one day bow to and accept (Isa. 45:22–24; Rom. 14:10–12; Phil. 2:9–11). As we prayerfully study biblical theology, we’re led to joyfully submit to God and to jettison our wrong ideas about him. Third, practicing biblical theology helps inoculate the church against doctrinal controversies. Church history is replete with controversies rising within and between congregations. Churches are better able to withstand and productively resolve such controversies when they maintain a good understanding of biblical, systematic, and historical theology. This is true because whatever the Bible has to say about one thing is related to everything else the Bible says. Biblical theology helps to maintain the continuity and consistency of the Bible’s teaching. Engaging in biblical theology is akin to putting together a jigsaw puzzle. When one piece of the puzzle appears unfamiliar, we can search for its proper place in the puzzle by relating it to the bigger picture on the puzzle box. The more pieces we have in place to begin with, the easier it is to evaluate and fit in new pieces and the less apt we are to make mistakes. Adequately grasping biblical theology is much like having the picture of the completed puzzle, allowing us to accept or reject errant theological pieces. The Scriptures “were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11), and knowledge of Scripture protects the church from clever wives’ tales and endless disputes. Fourth, the practice of biblical theology is necessary to fulfilling the Great Commission. Jesus commands us to teach all believers to observe all that he commands (Matt. 28:19–20). Without a well-formed theology, including an accurate understanding of how God’s commands are to be understood in their historical development and context, it is difficult indeed to obey the Lord’s command to teach others to obey. What shall we teach? What shall we obey? How shall we know what to apply to our lives? These questions are better answered when Christians are knowledgeable of biblical theology and know their God. But perhaps the most compelling benefit for doing biblical theology is that it deepens our understanding of and facility with the gospel. Jesus and the apostles did not need the New Testament to proclaim the gospel. They relied on the Old Testament and understood that the Old Testament Scriptures pointed to Jesus (Luke 24:27, 44–45). The biblical theologian follows in the steps of Jesus and the apostles by mastering the unity of Scripture, seeing Christ and the gospel throughout. How to Become a Healthy Church Member by Becoming a Biblical Theologian How can a Christian become a healthy church member conversant with the themes of biblical theology? Several strategies may be helpful. Dever, M. (2008). Foreword. In What Is a Healthy Church Member? (S. 3–31). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. READ A GOOD BOOK ON BIBLICAL THEOLOGY One obvious way to become a biblical theologian is to read a good book on biblical theology. Several works have proven useful over the years. For a good reference work, readers should try The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. For helpful introductions consider: • Vaughn Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible; • Mark Strom, The Symphony of Scripture: Making Sense of the Bible’s Many Themes; • Peter Jensen, At the Heart of the Universe: What Christians Believe; • Graeme, Goldsworthy, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible; and • Graeme Goldsworthy, The Goldsworthy Trilogy: Gospel and Kingdom, Gospel and Wisdom, and The Gospel in Revelation. The New Studies in Biblical Theology series edited by D. A. Carson provides an excellent series of studies in biblical theology. These works provide solid and readable overviews of the unity and diversity of Scripture. And for more advanced readers, Dutch-born Princeton theologian Geerhardus Vos’s Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments7 is still a classic. Use these works in your devotional or free reading times. Suggest to your small-group leader that you read one or more works like these as a group. STUDY THE SCRIPTURES THEMATICALLY Allot some portion of your private devotions to study the Scriptures thematically. The main diet of Scripture intake should probably be a study of books of the Bible verse-by-verse in their redemptive historical context. Supplement this main diet with a study of major themes that run throughout the Bible. Spend some time considering the revelation of the character of God; the unity and diversity of the covenant of God with his people; the prophethood, priesthood, and kingship of Jesus; and the kingdom of God in both the Old and New Testaments. Trace these themes throughout Scripture and make note of the continuities and discontinuities across various periods of redemptive history. As you do this, the excellencies of God and the glories of redemption will come into view in a more nuanced and brilliant way. ADOPT THE NEW TESTAMENT’S ATTITUDE TOWARD THE OLD TESTAMENT As we stated earlier, the Bible is one story about God’s redeeming for himself a special people. When studying the New Testament, train yourself to link what you learn there to the Old Testament. Ask questions like these: • How is this passage a fulfillment of something promised in the Old Testament? • How is this New Testament idea different from or similar to an Old Testament teaching? • In what way does this New Testament passage clarify, unveil, or amplify something from the Old Testament? Asking these questions will help to underscore the unity and diversity of the Bible and its message. An excellent book to study with these questions in mind is the book of Hebrews. Study Hebrews and be amazed at the supremacy of Jesus Christ demonstrated in the Old Testament. STUDY THE OLD TESTAMENT WITH JESUS AND THE NEW TESTAMENT IN VIEW As you read and study the Old Testament, ask yourself how it fits together with the revelation of the New Testament. For example, ask: • Where does this passage fit in the time line of redemptive history? • How does this passage point us to Jesus? • How does this truth about Israel relate to the New Testament idea of the church? • How is this passage foundational for an understanding of New Testament Christianity? How is this idea or teaching in the Old Testament continuous or discontinuous with the New Testament? • Which New Testament passage help me to answer these questions? A student of biblical theology is well versed in the continuing drama of Scripture. STUDY THE BOOKS OF PROPHECY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT Perhaps the most neglected books of the Old Testament are the books of prophecy, especially the unfortunately named “Minor Prophets.” The prophets contain some of the richest material in Scripture about the life, ministry, and supremacy of Jesus Christ. As you study Isaiah or Zechariah, for example, remember that their prophecies could be fulfilled on multiple horizons. Any given prophecy could have been fulfilled, in one respect, in the prophet’s own day. The same prophecy could also be “christologically” fulfilled in Jesus Christ. And then it could be “eschatologically” fulfilled, that is, occurring at the end of time in the consummation of all things. Studying and understanding prophecy in this way helps to emphasize the big picture of the Bible and to deepen our knowledge of God. KNOW AND AGREE TO SUPPORT YOUR CHURCH’S STATEMENT OF FAITH When we join a church, we should know what the church believes and whether we agree with its teaching. Therefore, commit yourself to studying the church’s statement of faith. Is it doctrinally sound? Is it a statement with a special history in that local church? Does the statement of faith agree with or depart from the broader Christian tradition? Do you understand the statement? Some churches have a healthy practice of requiring new members to sign the church’s statement of faith as an indication of their agreement with and willingness to defend the truths expressed therein. Could you in good conscience sign your church’s statement of faith? If so, commit yourselves to upholding the doctrinal integrity of your church. SEEK DOCTRINAL UNITY AND AVOID NEEDLESS DISPUTES From time to time, doctrinal differences will arise in a local church. The key question for members is, “How will you participate in the resolution of such differences?” The old maxim is useful here: “In all things essential, unity; in all things nonessential, liberty; and in all things, love.” A healthy church member, committed to becoming a biblical theologian, will work to know the difference between beliefs that are essential to biblical Christianity and beliefs that are nonessential to the integrity and continuance of the faith. Healthy church members will commit themselves to defending the essential things of the gospel (Phil. 1:27; Jude 3), while avoiding strife and contention over things that are not essential to the gospel. The apostle Paul’s instructions to Timothy are appropriate: Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. (2 Tim. 2:14–17a) On the one hand, we are to be workmen who are skilled in correctly handling the word of truth; on the other hand, we must be innocent of engendering disagreements over things of no value. Quarreling about petty and inconsequential things “only ruins those who listen” and, like a gangrenous growth, leads to more and more ungodliness. Let us work for unity in belief and peace in our churches, remembering that “it is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling” (Prov. 20:3). Conclusion According to J. I. Packer, knowing God starts with knowing about him, about his character. It also involves giving yourself to God based upon his promise to be your God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, his Son. Consequently, knowing God means following Jesus as a disciple. And, ultimately, knowing God means being “more than a conqueror” by exulting in the adequacy of God in all things. Such knowledge of God comes only from drinking deeply from the message of the Bible with all of its rich themes. And such knowledge of God belongs especially to those Christian church members who commit to becoming biblical theologians. For Further Reflection 1. How familiar are you with biblical theology? Do you think you have an adequate grasp of the major themes and developments of the Bible? Could you explain to a new Christian or a non-Christian how the entire Bible fits together as one book? 2. What specific plans could you make to strengthen your knowledge of biblical theology? MARK 3 A HEALTHY CHURCH MEMBER IS GOSPEL SATURATED The greatest need in the world today is the gospel. It is the greatest need of the world because men, women, and children are perishing without a vital knowledge of God through the good news of our Savior and his Son, Jesus. The greatest need in the church today is the gospel. The gospel is not only news for a perishing world, it is the message that forms, sustains, and animates the church. Apart from the gospel, the church has nothing to say—that is, nothing to say that cannot be said by some other human agency. The gospel distinguishes the church from the world, defines her message and mission in the world, and steels her people against the fiery darts of the evil one and the false allurements of sin. The gospel is absolutely vital to a vibrant, joyous, persevering, hopeful, and healthy Christian and Christian church. So essential is the gospel to the Christian life that we need to be saturated in it in order to be healthy church members. Becoming Gospel Saturated How then do we immerse ourselves in the gospel? What path might lead to greater spiritual health? KNOW THE GOSPEL The first order of business is to know the gospel. This seems so obvious that stating it can feel silly. But, in point of fact, many professing and believing Christians possess a shallow understanding of the gospel as a result of years of hearing short “gospel presentations” tacked onto the ends of sermons. Still others who know the message of Christ find themselves feeling awkward and incapable of sharing the good news clearly with family and friends. Taking steps to be sure we know the gospel with some clarity and depth, then, is necessary. It’s helpful to rule out some ideas frequently presented as the gospel. The gospel is not simply that (a) we are okay, (b) that God is love, (c) that Jesus wants to be our friends, or (d) that we should live right. Neither is the gospel simply that all our problems will be fixed if we follow Jesus, or that God wants us to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. All of these ideas may be true in some sense, but only in a partial sense and never as a solely sufficient statement of what the gospel is. The gospel of Jesus Christ is literally “good news.” As news it contains statements of fact and truths derived from those facts. As good news the gospel holds out hope based upon promises of God and grounded in the historical facts and truths that vindicate those promises. The gospel or good news of Jesus Christ is that God the Father, who is holy and righteous in all his ways, is angry with sinners and will punish sin. Man, who disobeys the rule of God, is alienated from the love of God and is in danger of an eternal and agonizing condemnation at the hands of God. But God, who is also rich in mercy, because of his great love, sent his eternal Son born by the Virgin Mary, to die as a ransom and a substitute for the sins of rebellious people. And now, through the perfect obedience of the Son of God and his willing death on the cross as payment for our sins, all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ, following him as Savior and Lord, will be saved from the wrath of God to come, be declared just in his sight, have eternal life, and receive the Spirit of God as a foretaste of the glories of heaven with God himself. It is this message—briefly stated here—that we must imbibe and delight in if we are to be healthy church members. DESIRE TO HEAR THE GOSPEL AND PREACH THE GOSPEL TO YOURSELF We must cultivate and protect a ravenous desire for this message. Regularly hearing and plumbing the depths of the gospel increases our knowledge of the message, our affection for the Savior, and our skill in sharing the message. So we should listen actively for the gospel and gospel implications in sermons. Don’t turn off your ears when the pastor begins to appeal to non-Christians with the gospel message. Listen to it afresh. Reaffirm your belief in its truth, promises, and power in your life. Appropriate it for any sins that you become conscious of through the sermon or self-examination. See your sins nailed to the cross as you hear the good news. Consider whether there are any new promises or aspects to the gospel included in the sermon. How will you hold onto those truths? Listen so actively and longingly for this news that you feel your poverty and malnourishment when it’s missing in a sermon. And when you find yourself dissatisfied or longing, preach the gospel to yourself. It’s a message that comes to you, for you. Own it. Rather than merely listening to others, or listening to that voice that plagues you with doubts, worries, and fears, listen to the voice of God in the gospel by proclaiming it to yourself when the need arises. C. J. Mahaney, in his excellent and helpful book Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing, suggests that we memorize the gospel, pray the gospel, sing the gospel, review how the gospel has changed us, and study the gospel. TAKE THE GOSPEL TO ITS CONCLUSION As you reflect on the events and promises of the gospel, press forward to the conclusion of the gospel. John Piper reminds us that God is the gospel, that the gospel is a message about God giving himself to us in love: Until the gospel events of Good Friday and Easter and the gospel promises of justification and eternal life lead you to behold and embrace God himself as your highest joy, you have not embraced the gospel of God. You have embraced some of his gifts. You have rejoiced over some of his rewards. You have marveled at some of his miracles. But you have not yet been awakened to why the gifts, the rewards, and the miracles have come. They have come for one great reason: that you might behold forever the glory of God in Christ, and by beholding become the kind of person who delights in God above all things, and by delighting display his supreme beauty and worth with ever-increasing brightness and bliss forever. ORDER YOUR LIFE AROUND THE GOSPEL As church members, our aim is to understand the gospel so deeply, so intimately, that it animates every area of our lives. We want the gospel central to our communication with others, central to how we encourage and correct, central to individual career and relationship decisions, central to the decisions the church makes corporately, and central to all our habits of life. We want the gospel, the God of the gospel, to take priority in every area of life. Gospel-saturated church members should consider any number of strategies for organizing their lives around the good news of Jesus Christ: • intentionally frequenting the same stores (cleaners, restaurants, etc.) with the aim of building relationships and familiarity with store personnel, and hopefully having gospel conversations; • using vacations for short-term mission trips; • volunteering in community organizations to influence for the gospel; • hosting home discussions regarding religion and philosophy; • inviting neighbors over for dinner or for holiday parties and talking with them about Christ; • hosting Bible studies in the work place; • joining neighborhood clubs (garden clubs, cycling clubs, etc.) to build relationships and further gospel opportunities; • inviting friends to church and special religious events where the gospel is sure to be center stage. We want to recognize that there is no risk in sharing the gospel, only the reward of faithfulness. We want to be “at the ready” with the words of life. SHARE THE GOSPEL WITH OTHERS It sometimes appears as though some Christians believe the gospel was meant to be preached widely until it reached them and then stored safely in the vault of their personal history, away from everyone else. Christians can suppose that just sharing their testimony or living a good Christian life is as effective a witness as doing evangelism. No doubt such a life is a witness of sorts. But is it a witness to the cross of Jesus Christ? Does “witnessing” through our personal testimonies and good deeds point effectively enough to the cross and the Savior? In too many cases such attempts leave only a vague impression of religiosity, not a brilliant display of the glories of God in the redemption of sinners through the sacrifice of his Son. If we would contribute to the health of our local congregations, we must be committed not only to harvesting the gospel for ourselves but to shipping it to others as well. We must do the work of an evangelist. With urgency and love we must tell the non-Christians among us to repent of their sins and to believe on Jesus Christ. We must tell them that turning to God does not result in an easy life, but the decision is well worth it. The forgiveness and satisfaction their souls long for is found only in the person of Jesus Christ. We have an opportunity to improve the work of our pastor by planting and watering gospel seeds even as he plants and waters through his pulpit ministry. We can greet and talk with visitors to our churches and invite our non-Christian family and friends. We should use the occasion of their visit to discuss spiritual things, particularly their understanding of and their acceptance or rejection of the good news. We can meet together with other Christians specifically to plot and pray for evangelistic opportunities. A gospel-saturated life is a life that splashes out onto others with the good news. A healthy church is built, in part, on healthy gospel-motivated members. GUARD THE GOSPEL Finally, a healthy church member takes seriously the responsibility of guarding the gospel from corruption and abandonment. The New Testament seems to place this responsibility ultimately on the congregation rather than on the pastors alone. When the churches at Galatia were unsettled by false teachers who were trying to add circumcision to the demands of the gospel, the apostle Paul wrote not to the pastors and elders but to the churches themselves. He addressed the membership and called them to guard the gospel he had preached to them. His instruction is strong: But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be eternally accursed. (Gal. 1:8–9) The Galatians, indeed all Christian church members, are to be careful concerning what they entertain in gospel preaching. The apostle John warns his readers that “if anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked work” (2 John 10–11). Peter reminds his readers that those who follow the “shameful ways” of false teachers cause “the way of truth to be blasphemed” (2 Pet. 2:2). So it’s understandable, then, that Jude exhorts his audience to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The healthy church and church member fight for and protect the apostolic gospel delivered and preserved in the pages of Scripture. When we don’t accept that responsibility and are not vigilant in understanding and applying the gospel, we leave it to be corrupted, abused, and abandoned by unscrupulous teachers and the forces of the evil one. Conclusion In the gospel of Jesus Christ, God offers himself for sinners and to sinners. It is the gospel that makes us aware of the love of God, of our depravity and need for redemption, and of the possibility of eternal joy through worshiping God. It is this same gospel, and a healthy understanding of it, that creates health and strength in members of the Christian church. Let us be saturated in it! For Further Reflection What strategies will you put into place to keep yourself thinking about, applying, and sharing the gospel? For Further Reading Bridges, Jerry. The Gospel for Real Life. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003. ———. The Discipline of Grace. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1994. Mahaney, C. J. Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing. Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2006. Piper, John. God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005. Spurgeon, Charles. The Power of the Cross of Christ. Seattle, WA: YWAM Publishing, 1996. Stott, John. The Cross of Christ. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2006 (twentieth anniversary edition). MARK 4 A HEALTHY CHURCH MEMBER IS GENUINELY CONVERTED My friend Curtis possesses a contagious Christian joy. He loves the Lord and is zealous in evangelism. Curtis’s zeal is marked by a willingness to “do whatever it takes” to have someone “profess faith in Christ.” One day Curtis, with his usual joy, told me of a mutual friend, Kenny, who “got born again.” I was struck by Curtis’s choice of words. Pressing past his excitement, I asked, “How do you know he was ‘born again’?” Curtis withdrew slightly, head tilting with the curiosity puppies sometimes display at odd human behavior, “What do you mean?” “Well, how can you be so confident that spiritual rebirth occurred?” Relief washed over Curtis’s face and shoulders. “Oh. That’s easy. He came down front after the service and prayed to receive Christ—the way lots of people get saved.” About a year after my conversation with Curtis, he telephoned, quite concerned. A problem that periodically troubled him was again causing him discomfort—only this time it was our friend Kenny. Curtis told me how Kenny began the Christian race well, attending public services, praying fervently, going out with evangelism teams, and sometimes showing great emotion during public services. “The first year was great,” Curtis reported. “But then,” his voice quieting, “Kenny just faded away. It’s like he just petered out … and now he’s having marital problems and considering leaving the faith.” Silence occupied the phone line for a moment. Then Curtis asked, “Do you think Kenny was ever really saved? How can you tell if someone is born again?” Getting Conversion Correct As we’re thinking through a list of things a healthy church member must be, a good case can be made for beginning right here—with the fact that a healthy church member must be genuinely converted. The healthy church member—the true church member—must know the work of God’s grace in his or her own soul. We must be converted ourselves. This may sound obvious, but probably 40 percent of the people I interview for membership in our local church tell me of a time when they were church members but did not understand the gospel and were not, by their own assessment, converted people. The experience is widespread. Even famous Christians like John Wesley tell such a story. Understanding Biblical Conversion Surely one of the reasons for the vast number of nominal Christians—those who hold to the faith in name only—in the history of the Christian church is that churches have failed to embrace and teach a biblical understanding of conversion. If we want to understand conversion rightly, we must begin with the Bible’s diagnosis of fallen man. To apply the proper treatment and cure, we must recognize the illness. All men suffer the illness of sin. Not only do men sin, but men are sinners by nature (Eph. 2:1–3). At his root, his core, his heart, man is alienated from and hostile toward God. He prefers to satisfy his sinful cravings and desires more than to honor and worship God—so much so that he is a slave to sin. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom. 8:5–8) Because man is a sinner by nature, he is guilty before God and deserves the punishment God promises. Unless there is a radical and profound change in his spiritual condition, man is doomed to judgment. With his mind set on evil, he cannot and does not even desire to please God. He desperately needs to be changed. He needs a new heart. This radical change is what Christian theology calls “conversion.” Conversion is the radical turn from an enslaved life of pursuing sin to a free life of pursuing and worshiping God. Conversion is a change of life, not merely a decision. This change is not a matter of moral rectitude, self help, or mere behavior modification. It is not accomplished by outward displays or religious practices like “walking the aisle.” It cannot be accomplished by human effort but only by the power of God. Conversion is a change so dramatic that it requires the intervention of God the Holy Spirit. In conversion the Spirit of God grants the twin graces of repentance and faith to sinners who turn from sin and turn to God through faith in Jesus Christ. The New Hampshire Confession of Faith’s eighth article defines biblical conversion well: We believe that Repentance and Faith are sacred duties, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God; whereby being deeply convinced of our guilt, danger and helplessness, and of the way of salvation by Christ, we turn to God with unfeigned contrition, confession, and supplication for mercy; at the same time heartily receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our Prophet, Priest, and King, and relying on Him alone as the only and all sufficient Saviour. Conversion, then, requires genuine conviction of sin that leads to turning around (repentance) and relying only on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation (faith). Knowing Our Own Souls How then will a biblical understanding of conversion affect what we do in our churches practically? It’s worth thinking about both the inward and the outward implications. So start by looking inward. We need to ask ourselves if we have received a changed heart by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This sort of self-examination is a spiritually healthy thing to do. In fact, this is what the apostles often exhorted their readers to do (2 Cor. 13:5; Phil. 2:12; 2 Pet. 1:5–11). The first order of business is to know our own souls. Are we trusting in the finished work of Christ alone for our salvation? Is there evidence of God’s grace in our lives? Are we growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–24), and in the virtues mentioned in Christ’s beatitudes (Matt. 5:3–12)? The book of 1 John is a helpful book to study when examining the work of God in our souls. John offers several tests to help Christians know if they have savingly come to faith in Christ. In an effort to know our soul’s standing before God, we might examine ourselves with the following proofs. DO WE WALK IN THE LIGHT OR THE DARKNESS? “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6–7). Genuine converts to Christ grieve at their sin. They hate their sins, and they desire the light of life in Christ, which is to say they desire and work to walk in integrity and righteousness. Persons habitually and unrepentantly living in sin, who deny that they are sinners (vv. 8–10), are not genuinely converted. “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:5). DO WE LOVE GOD THE FATHER? Some people appear to love Jesus “meek and mild” but show no affection for God the Father, whom they reckon to be the unloving God of the Old Testament. Thinking of Jesus as a God of love and tolerance allows some people to believe that God will not judge sin or condemn the sinner. They may view God the Father as an Old Testament tyrant and reject the Bible’s teaching about God because they find it out-of-date, unsatisfying, or repulsive. But the apostle John makes love for the Father a test of genuine faith. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22–23). There is but one God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no way to love both the world and the Father. And there is no way to embrace Christ without embracing the Father, or to come to the Father without believing on Christ. Love for God the Father is a test of genuine conversion. DO WE LOVE OTHER CHRISTIANS? Many people appear to live without genuine affection or concern for other Christians. They think of the Christian walk as a “solo sport.” However, “everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him” (1 John 5:1). “Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:14b–15). “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him” (1 John 3:18–19). John teaches that the commandment is to believe in the name of Jesus Christ and to love one another. If our love of other Christians is cold, we need to examine whether or not we have savingly believed on Christ Jesus the Son of God. DO WE HAVE THE TESTIMONY OF THE SPIRIT THAT WE ARE CHILDREN OF GOD? “And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” (1 John 3:24b). The Father has not left us without a testimony of his love. We may be assured of our adoption into his family by God himself, the Holy Spirit, assuring us. “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’ ” (Gal. 4:6; see also Rom. 8:15). “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16). We know that we live in God and God in us because we received the Holy Spirit when we believed the gospel (1 John 4:13–14). ARE WE PERSEVERING IN THE FAITH? “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4–5). Those who believe and continue to believe are those who overcome the world by faith in Christ. Genuine faith is a persevering faith. This doesn’t mean that hard things in life don’t sometimes cause doubt or discomfort. But it does mean that the genuine Christian presses onward in faith, trusting God and his good plans and will. After all, the same Spirit whom the true believer receives also seals and keeps the believer until that day (Eph. 1:13–14; 1 Pet. 1:3–5). Asking these kinds of questions is best done in the fellowship of the local church, among committed and growing Christians who can help us see ourselves accurately. Some people are given to an “easy believism” that resists careful curation of their own souls, while others are too easily tempted to doubt and despair. In a church culture, we can love each other both by pointing out evidence of God’s grace in each others’ lives and by asking tough questions about our profession and walk. By doing both, we help one another avoid the extremes of despair and complacency, and we encourage one another to see ourselves in the light of God’s saving work in our souls. Implications for Evangelism In addition to looking inside (and helping others to do the same), we want to look outside, as it were, at our understanding of conversion and how it affects our church’s approach to evangelism. When it comes to the work of evangelism, the healthy church member must properly understand who it is that actually converts the sinner; it is God the Holy Spirit. And the healthy church member must recognize, then, that evangelism is not a matter of clever technique but of relying on the Spirit of God to bless the Word of God to effect spiritual rebirth and the radical change of conversion. We’ll consider biblical evangelism further in the next chapter. Conclusion Over the years I’ve lost touch with Kenny. I don’t know if he is living a Christian life or if he has turned from the truth to the world. I do know that it is absolutely essential that he search himself to know whether he is in the faith. And I know that that search will only be fruitful if he looks to discover the proofs of conversion that God spells out in his Word. For Further Reflection With a group of mature Christian church members and friends, use the following questions to consider and cite evidence of God’s grace among you and, if necessary, identify areas where grace is needed. 1. Do we walk in the light or in the darkness (1 John 1:6–7)? 2. Do we love God the Father or do we appear to love the world (1 John 2:15)? 3. Do we love other Christians (1 John 3:14–15, 18–19; 5:1)? 4. Do we have the testimony of the Holy Spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:15–16; Gal. 4:6; 1 John 3:24b)? 5. Are we persevering in the faith (1 John 5:4–5)? For Further Reading Murray, John. Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984. Luther, Martin. The Bondage of the Will. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1990. Dever, Mark E. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004 (see chap. 4). Smallman, Stephen. What Is True Conversion? Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2005. Whitney, Donald. Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002. MARK 5 A HEALTHY CHURCH MEMBER IS A BIBLICAL EVANGELIST In the last chapter, we discussed the important doctrine of conversion. We began that chapter with the story of Kenny, a friend who “made a profession of faith” but subsequently turned away from Christ. What is painfully obvious now to my friend Curtis and me is that “the gospel presentation” that Kenny heard some years ago was the shallowest message possible. It was not a biblically faithful proclamation of (1) the holiness and righteousness of the sovereign God who created all things; (2) the sinfulness of man and the judgment due to him for rebelling against God; (3) the need of man for a radical change, for a new heart and perfect righteousness; (4) the fact that only Jesus Christ has provided the righteousness we need and made the atonement for our sins that satisfies God the Father; and (5) Kenny’s need to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance and to rely solely on Christ Jesus. I’m certain some of those things were presented to Kenny. But I’m also certain that biblical faithfulness required more than what Curtis shared and more of Kenny than Curtis asked. It’s frightening to think about how many people have not tasted the goodness of God and his salvation, not because Christians have not had opportunity to share, but because we have been so shallow in what we did share. A healthy church member works to make sure that he himself is converted, but he also works to make sure that his evangelistic efforts are informed by a biblical understanding of conversion. A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism Apart from a biblical understanding of conversion and evangelism, a church member will be most unhelpful in completing the church’s mission of making disciples. Yet with the contemporary church’s fascination with pragmatic (“if it works, do it”) methods and techniques, it is easy for members to be led in unhealthy directions if they don’t understand conversion and evangelism. “Unprincipled pragmatism is in the end not only unfaithful, but also unpragmatic.” The encouraging news is that when we have a good grasp of conversion, we realize that evangelism does not depend on eloquence, using the correct mood lighting, emotionally sappy stories and songs, or high-pressure sales pitches. We are free to simply and deeply trust God and the power of the gospel to produce the fruit he desires (Rom. 1:17). We realize that, though we are ambassadors for Christ pleading with men to be reconciled to God, it is God himself who makes the plea through us, his fellow workers (1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 5:20; 6:1), and his Spirit who guarantees that his Word will not return void (Isa. 55:11). We are to plant and water faithfully, confidently trusting that God will give the increase (1 Cor. 3:7). So biblical evangelism requires of us one thing primarily: that we be faithful to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the people God places in contact with us (1 Cor. 4:1–2). Specifically, faithful evangelism must (1) be content specific, presenting the truth about “who God is, who men are, what sin is, who Jesus is, what Jesus has done about sin, and what we must do about what Jesus has done;” (2) “include the notion that Christ is the exclusive way of salvation,” barring the idea that there are multiple paths leading to God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12); and (3) call the hearer to repentance and faith in Christ. Biblical evangelism requires sharing the wonderful news that Christ died for sinners and then calling our hearers to repent and believe. John the Baptist preached this message (Matt. 3:1–2). Jesus proclaimed this same gospel (Matt. 4:17). And the apostle Peter at Pentecost heralded this same good news (Acts 2:38). The healthy church member makes this message central as he or she seeks to be a faithful biblical evangelist. Doing the Work of an Evangelist Several writers have written to help us with the work of faithfully proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Some have given very helpful and practical suggestions. Mark Dever outlines six things church members should keep in mind in evangelism. 1) Tell people with honesty that if they repent and believe they will be saved—but it will be costly. 2) Tell people with urgency that if they repent and believe they will be saved—but they must decide now. 3) Tell people with joy that if they repent and believe the good news they will be saved. However difficult it may be, it is all worth it! 4) Use the Bible. 5) Realize that the lives of the individual Christian and of the church as a whole are a central part of evangelism. Both should give credibility to the gospel we proclaim. 6) Remember to pray. Michael P. Andrus offers some additional helpful advice. In order to keep a healthy view of conversion in mind in our evangelistic efforts, he suggests: 1) Counsel seekers in a way that focuses on deeds, not words; a change of life, not just a change of beliefs. The last thing we should communicate is that by merely saying yes to a proposition, they can be assured of eternal life. 2) Focus on a biblical, serious view of sin and guilt. 3) Teach the Bible and Christian doctrine so that potential converts grasp that the plan of salvation is God’s counsel, not human wisdom. 4) Abandon the facile language of decisionism (“just believe,” “pray to receive,” “invite Jesus into your heart”) in favor of the more rigorous language of conversion (“surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ” or “turn from sin, accept the forgiveness purchased by Jesus through his death, and live a life of obedience to him”). The Local Church in Evangelism In addition to these excellent recommendations, a church member should recognize the centrality and usefulness of the local church in evangelism. Where we are involved in gospel-preaching churches, then by God’s grace the gospel will be preached in each Lord’s Day gathering. Inviting our non-Christian friends to church services is an excellent way to expand on the personal conversations you have had with them about the gospel. It’s also an opportunity for them to see the gospel “fleshed out” in the lives of an actual congregation of believers. In the church, non-Christians should see the kind of unity and love that testifies to the truth and power of the gospel and God’s love (John 13:34–35; 17:20–21). Our friends will see the gospel with their eyes as they witness Christians observing baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both in the way we live together as a church and in the ordinances of the church, we display the gospel in ways that complement the preached word of the gospel. Moreover, involving our non-Christian family and friends in our church life is a helpful preview of the life they will be called to live should the Lord bring them to repentance and saving faith. Making the local church a central part of our evangelistic efforts helps to cut the root of spiritual individualism at the beginning of the Christian life. Finally, in our local churches we have at our disposal perhaps dozens or hundreds of allies—fellow Christians—each with their own conversion experiences and resources, who can build relationships with our friends and families. The Lord is often pleased to use our fellow members in sharing the pivotal word or living the compelling example that brings another person to saving faith. Don’t leave the local church out of your efforts to win the lost! Conclusion I once attended an evangelism conference sponsored by a local church. The main speaker for the conference asked the audience what they thought was the number-one reason for Christians not doing the work of an evangelist. The audience gave a number of good answers, ranging from fear, lack of knowledge, and indifference. The speaker stunned the audience when he suggested that those are certainly problems, but that the number-one problem is that too many Christians do not believe Romans 1:16. They do not believe the gospel is the power of God for salvation. They lack confidence in the gospel. How about you? Are you confident that the gospel is the power of God to save? Does your work as an evangelist demonstrate such confidence? I pray that we all can answer “yes”to these questions. For Further Reflection 1. Does the way you speak to others about Jesus include all the essential ideas of the gospel? 2. Does the way you speak to others about Jesus demonstrate confidence in the gospel message itself, that it is the power of God for salvation? 3. How would a church with members deeply committed to each other change the perception of the church in the community? For Further Reading Carson, D. A., ed. Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000. Dever, Mark E. The Gospel and Personal Evangelism. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007. Metzger, Will. Tell the Truth: The Whole Gospel to the Whole Person by Whole People. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002. Packer, J. I. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1991. Stiles, Mack. Speaking of Jesus: How to Tell Your Friends the Best News They Will Ever Hear. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995. MARK 6 A HEALTHY CHURCH MEMBER IS A COMMITTED MEMBER As a young man, Joshua Harris’s attitude toward the church reflected that of many people today. Harris writes: When I graduated from my church’s high school youth group, I started visiting around. I loved God and had big dreams for how I wanted to serve Him, but I didn’t see any reason to get too involved in one church. By then, I thought I knew all there was to know about church, and I wasn’t impressed. Most churches struck me as out-of-date and out-of-touch. There had to be better, more efficient ways to accomplish great things for God. He considered the church secondary, outmoded, inefficient, and a hindrance. It wasn’t that he didn’t love God or God’s people. He just didn’t think that belonging to a particular church was important, and might even be a hindrance. Joshua is not alone. Many people think that church—especially church membership, that is, actually signing up and joining—is a spiritual relic destined to hinder spiritual freedom and fruitfulness. The reasons for this view of church membership are many. Some Christians are just plain indifferent to church membership. They can take it or leave it; they’re neither excited nor negative toward the church. It just doesn’t matter to them. Others are ignorant. They are uninformed. They’ve never considered the Bible’s view of the local church. Still others are indecisive. They can’t make up their minds about joining. Perhaps they’re the kind of people who never really make decisions; decisions tend to happen to them. And there are the independent types. They are “Lone Ranger Christians” who don’t want to be saddled with the burdens of church membership. They don’t want people “in their business.” They want to come into a church, consume what they need, and leave unattached. Finally, there are those who are slow to commit to a local church because their affections are inverted. They have strong attachments to a “home church” in the town they grew up in, and yet their bodies are hundreds of miles away. They can’t bring themselves to join a church where they live because they’ve never emotionally left a church from their past. At root, all of these perspectives on the local church stem from the same problem: a failure to understand or take seriously God’s intent that the local church be central to the life of his people. People don’t become committed church members—and therefore healthy Christians—because they don’t understand that such a commitment is precisely how God intends his people to live out the faith and experience Christian love. Is “Church Membership” a Biblical Idea? When people who encounter for the first time the idea that church membership is necessary and important, many want to know, “Is the idea of church membership important? Where can I find it in the Bible?” As with so many things, you can’t turn in the Bible to “the Book of Church Membership” or to a chapter conveniently labeled by Bible publishers, “On Becoming a Member.” The biblical data isn’t as obvious as that, yet the idea of membership is nearly everywhere in Scripture. Have you ever considered how many practices and commands given to the New Testament church lose all their meaning if membership is not practiced, visibly identifiable, and important? Here are a few essential things commanded in Scripture for the local church that would lose their meaning without an operational concept of membership. CHURCH LEADERSHIP Two classic passages in Scripture outline for the church the qualifications its leaders must have (1 Tim. 3:1–13; Titus 1:5–9). In addition to these qualifications, there are explicit commands for leaders to shepherd the flock and for Christians to submit to their leaders (Heb. 13:17). Yet if there is no identifiable membership, there is no one for leaders to lead. Submission to their authority as Hebrews 13:17 requires becomes nonsense if the leaders are not responsible for a group, and that group is not attached to them in some way. CHURCH DISCIPLINE In 1 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul instructs the believers in Corinth to “put out of their fellowship” a man involved in sexual immorality. The Lord Jesus commanded a similar action in Matthew 18:15–17. Part of the reason the Bible commands the practice of church discipline is so that clear distinctions can be maintained between God’s people, the church, and the surrounding world (1 Cor. 5:9–13). If there is no practical, visible way of determining who belongs to the church and who belongs to the world, this distinction is lost, and “putting out of fellowship” is an impossible feat since there is no real way of being in the fellowship. KEEPING LISTS AND VOTING There is slight evidence that the early church kept some lists associated with its membership. For example, lists of widows were kept (1 Tim. 5:9). Also, Christians in the local church voted for some actions. It was the “majority” who voted to remove the man from membership in the church at Corinth (2 Cor. 2:6). Electing leaders, submitting to them, regulating membership, keeping lists, and voting only make sense if a known, identifiable, and distinct body is recognized. So while the Bible doesn’t provide us with a biblical treatise on membership per se, there is enough evidence in the inspired record to suggest that some form of membership was practiced and was necessary to the church’s operation. Church membership is no less important in our day. The Essence of Membership: Committed Love Our Lord Jesus specified one defining mark for his disciples. Of course, there are many marks of true discipleship, but one mark is singled out as signifying to the watching world that we belong to Christ: A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35) The mark of Christian discipleship is love—love of the kind that Jesus exercised toward his followers, love visible enough that men will recognize it as belonging to those people who follow Jesus. Not surprisingly, then, a healthy Christian is one who is committed to expressing this kind of love toward other Christians. And the best place for Christians to love this way is in the assembly of God’s people called the local church. Is it no wonder then that the author of Hebrews instructs us to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” and then right away says “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24–25)? Faithful church attendance is associated tightly with stirring each other to love and good deeds. The local church is the place where love is most visibly and compellingly displayed among God’s people. It’s where the “body of Christ” is most plainly represented in the world. What Does a Committed Church Member Look Like? In one sense the question “What does a committed church member look like?” is what this entire book is about. But here we want to explore this question in relation to the essential command and mark of love. Below are ways committed membership expresses itself. ATTENDS REGULARLY This is the first and most important ministry of every Christian in the local church. Being present, being known, and being active are the only ways to make Christian love possible (Heb. 10:24–25). SEEKS PEACE A committed church member is committed to the maintenance of peace in the congregation. “Let us pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19). “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18). EDIFIES OTHERS The one consistent purpose or goal of the public meeting of the church is mutual edification, building each other up in the faith (1 Cor. 12, 14; Eph. 4:11–16). A healthy and committed member comes to serve, not to be served, like Jesus (Mark 10:45); to provide, not to be a consumer only. WARNS AND ADMONISHES OTHERS This is discussed at greater length in chapter 6, “Seeks Discipline.” A committed member is committed to speaking the truth in love to his brothers and sisters, to helping them avoid pitfalls, and to encouraging them in holiness and Christian joy. A committed member will not be wrongly intrusive in the lives of others—a busybody—but he also will not be “hands off” when it comes to caring for and counseling others. PURSUES RECONCILIATION Christians are people who are reconciled to God through Christ. As a consequence, we have been given “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18–21). So, a committed member strives to repair breaches as quickly as possible, even before continuing in public worship (Matt. 5:23–24). BEARS WITH OTHERS Ministers of reconciliation must be patient and longsuffering. They must be characterized by meekness such that they do not think more highly of themselves than they ought (Matt. 5:5). They must hold up under the weight of disappointments, frustrations, loss, attack, slander, and offense (Matt. 18:21–22; Rom. 15:1). By carrying each others’ burdens we fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). PREPARES FOR THE ORDINANCES One privilege of church membership is participating in Christ’s ordinances—baptism and communion. Moreover, these privileges give us visible proclamations of the good news that Christ died for sinners and rose again to eternal life. So it’s a great tragedy that many Christians neglect the ordinances that Jesus himself established 2,000 years ago. A committed member rejoices at the baptism of new believers, and he examines his heart in preparation for joining the family of God at the Lord’s Table. He receives these spiritual exercises as means of grace, means that give visible testimony to the effect of the gospel in his life and the life of the gathered church. SUPPORTS THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY A committed member gives resources, time, and talent to the furtherance of the gospel in the local church. He lives out the Bible’s call to the body of Christ. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully” (Rom. 12:6–8). A healthy, committed church member receives and applies the grace of God by working to support the ministry of the local church and excels in giving what he has already received from God to gospel work. He should follow the example of the Macedonians, who committed to a financial giving strategy that was sacrificial, generous, increasing over time, and fueled by faith in God despite present circumstances (2 Cor. 8–9). What do we have that we did not first receive from God? What do we have that we should not be willing to give back to him in worship? Conclusion To fail to associate ourselves in a lasting and committed way with the Head of the church by joining his body is surely a sign of ingratitude, whether from an uninformed or a dull heart. We who have the privilege of living in countries where we may freely join a local church should keep this admonition from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in mind: It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing. They remember, as the Psalmist did, how they went “with the multitude … to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday (Ps. 42:4).… Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living in common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren. For Further Reflection 1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your commitment to membership in your local church? If your rating is not a 10, why? 2. In general, does your local church give appropriate attention to church membership? Can you cite particular passages of Scripture to support your answer? 3. How would a church with members deeply committed to each other change the perception of the church in the community? For Further Reading Harris, Joshua. Stop Dating the Church. Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2004. Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. New York: Harper and Row, 1954. MARK 7 A HEALTHY CHURCH MEMBER SEEKS DISCIPLINE Life needs to be ordered. That’s a simple truth too often forgotten or overlooked. In order to thrive and grow, all life needs order. Chaos, then, is the enemy of growth. Disorganization, sloppiness, and inattention generally introduce the kind of instability that weakens rather than strengthens. Where there is no order there will likely be little in the environment that sustains and nourishes. Life needs to be ordered. Young married couples discover this when God gives them children. Their lives up to this point may have been characterized by a “foot loose and fancy free” attitude, but they soon realize that in order to properly care for and raise a child they will need to maintain a certain amount of order. Sleep and feeding routines must be established. Small and dangerous objects must be removed. Outlets must be covered. Diaper changes, baths, fresh clothing all must be provided at the right times. Order must reign if growth is to occur. It’s a fact of life. Well, order is also necessary in spiritual matters. Without the proper establishment of routines, boundaries, and patterns, thriving spiritually most likely will not occur or will be haphazard at best. Another word for the order needed to grow spiritually is discipline. What Is Discipline? Today, when people hear the word discipline, they most likely think of negative forms of punishment, like spanking a rebellious child. To many, discipline sounds harsh, something to be avoided or something that only unkind or unmerciful people pursue. For others, it sounds restrictive of freedom and joy. To be sure, discipline is not always a pleasant experience. The writer in Hebrews makes this point: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant” (Heb. 12:11). But actually, the word discipline has a much broader and more positive meaning than “unpleasant punishment.” Discipline and disciple share the same Latin root and are tied closely to the idea of education and order. The disciple is a student, one who participates in a certain discipline, who learns a profession, or who masters a body of thought. Such a person has his or her life ordered under or by the rules of a trade. So, professional athletes abide by the rules of their sports. Psychology professors dedicate themselves to this or that school of thought. Doctors adhere to the principles of the American Medical Association or the Hippocratic Oath. All of these are disciples of and disciplined by the principles of their field. The same is true with the church. The church is a place where everything in the gathered services should “be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). That order is necessary for edification. And discipline is necessary in the lives of individual believers as well. Jay Adams summarized the connection between orderly discipline, learning, and the Christian life well: “When we are baptized into the church, we thereby matriculate into Christ’s school. Then, for the rest of our earthly life, we are to be taught (not facts alone, but also) to obey the commands of Christ. This is education with force, education backed up by the discipline of good order that is necessary for learning to take place.”2 So discipline is about education and learning, order and growth. It is discipline in the life of the congregation and the healthy church member that provides an atmosphere for growth and development. It leads to the rare polished jewel of Christlikeness. What Does Discipline Look Like in the Life of a Healthy Church Member? Two forms of discipline occur in the life of healthy congregations and church members. Both of these approaches to discipline have their origin in the Word of God, and, in fact, are two ways of understanding the purpose and effect of God’s Word in the life of his people. The apostle writes in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” In other words, the Scripture, which is “breathed out” or inspired by God, has two general purposes: formative discipline and corrective discipline. When Paul writes that the Scripture is “profitable for teaching” and “for training in righteousness,” he is describing positive or formative discipline. Formative discipline refers to how Scripture shapes and molds the Christian as he or she imbibes its teaching and is trained to live for God. While medical doctors are governed by the standards and oaths of their profession; Christians are shaped and governed by the Word of God. Likewise, when Paul refers to the Scriptures as profitable “for reproof, for correction” he is describing how the Word of God confronts us and turns us away from error to righteousness. This is corrective discipline. The vast majority of discipline in any church will be positive or formative discipline as people grow from the preached Word, as they study the Scriptures in personal devotion, and as they are shaped by fellowship and encouragement from brethren in Christ. But from time to time a brother or sister will indulge in sin and need loving reproof or correction from other members of the church who are committed to the welfare of his or her soul. Moreover, the Scriptures address various situations requiring correction. Our Lord Jesus outlined a process for corrective discipline in cases where one brother sins against another (Matt. 18:15–17). The apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthian church to confront and expel from membership a brother taken in scandalous sexual sin (1 Corinthians 5). And not only is the church’s correction necessary for the “really bad” sins like sexual immorality, but even the seemingly more mundane, disorderly sins such as laziness and false teaching warrant correction (2 Thess. 3:6, 11; Titus 3:10). No one lives an entire life without the need of discipline, whether positive or corrective. So the healthy church member embraces discipline as one means of grace in the Christian life. How Do We Joyfully Seek Discipline? The topic of church discipline may be new to you. Or maybe the topic isn’t new, but the practice of discipline in your local church may be quite new or nonexistent. Some people will have to simultaneously grow in their understanding of this important topic, confront fears or wrong impressions, and contribute to their church’s health. What follows are a few suggestions for cultivating a desire for both positive and corrective discipline so that we might be healthy members of our churches. RECEIVE THE WORD OF GOD WITH MEEKNESS James calls Christians to “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). Implicit in James’s instruction is a distinction between an ungodly life of filthiness and wickedness and the Christlike life of humility or meekness. Christians should receive the Word of God with meekness. That is, in the preaching of God’s Word and in Bible study, Christians should remain lowly and gentle before the Scripture, acknowledging it as the source of salvation and instruction in godly living. As we come to the Scripture, we are to do so as people knowing our sinful nature, our spiritual poverty before God, and our need for the molding influence of God, which comes normally by his Word. How can we know if we are receiving God’s Word with meekness? Perhaps the following questions will help: • As we read the Bible, are we reading for information only or with faith that God actually speaks through his Word? • When we hear the Word preached, are we generally looking to have a need met (for example, to be entertained or to gather some practical advice) or are we primarily desiring to understand the original meaning of the text and apply it to our lives? • Is our first reaction to the Scripture “how does this make me feel?” or “do I accept this as true?” Do we allow our feelings to determine what’s true, or do we allow the Scriptures to determine our feelings? • Is our listening posture during sermons or Scripture readings defensive or combative, as though we demand someone to “prove it to us”? • Do we tend to judge other philosophies and viewpoints by the Scripture, or do we try to either reconcile or judge the Scripture by other philosophies and views? Receiving the Word with meekness means accepting the Bible by faith, with a friendly and submissive heart, and with the testimony of God’s Spirit. Specifically, we accept the fact that the Bible is true, that it’s the only sufficient authority for shaping our lives, and that it must govern how we feel and think. By doing so, the healthy church member prepares himself for the formative discipline of Christ’s church. LEARN TO RECOGNIZE CHASTISEMENT AS EVIDENCE OF GOD’S LOVE If you are troubled by the perception that church discipline is unkind or unloving, consider the fact that the Bible tells us that God himself is a loving Father who disciplines his children: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb. 12:5–6). Receiving discipline at the hand of God is evidence of his love for us. Wherever he reproves and chastises us, we can be certain that he is treating us as a father would treat a son. Discipline is an act of love, not of vengeance or hatred. The writer in Hebrews goes on to state, “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Heb. 12:7). And what is the goal of this loving Father’s discipline? He does it that we might “be subject to the Father of spirits and live” and “share his holiness” (Heb. 12:9–10). In love, the Father is protecting our lives and conforming us to his holiness as he corrects and chastises us. A healthy church member recognizes this chastisement as love and accepts it as one source of assurance, since those who are not so chastised are “illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb. 12:8). HUMBLY ACCEPT CORRECTION FROM OTHERS Not only do healthy church members accept the Lord’s chastisement, but they humbly accept correction from others. They recognize that often the Lord’s correction comes through other members in the church, saints who care enough not only to encourage in good times but to confront and correct when necessary. Healthy church members agree that “better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:5–6). Many churches that take membership seriously ask new members to review, support, and sometimes sign their church’s covenant. A church covenant is a document that briefly summarizes the commitment church members make before the Lord and to each other to live out the Christian faith in a manner ordered by Scripture. One of my favorite lines in a typical church covenant addresses this important issue of accepting love and correction from others: We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of a Christian Church, exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require. “Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7), but it is the nature of true godliness, maturity, and health in church members to accept the loving instruction and rebuke of others. TAKE SERIOUSLY OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO DISCIPLINE OTHERS A fourth way we may cultivate a healthy desire for godly discipline is to take seriously our responsibility to care for others in this way. Here’s another line in a typical church covenant that addresses this responsibility: “We will work together for the continuance of a faithful evangelical ministry in this church, as we sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines.” It is a basic responsibility and privilege of every church member to help sustain the discipline of the local church. This is why the classic passages, such as Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5, dealing with unrepentant sin conclude with a final and decisive action by the congregation. But not only does correction belong to the congregation as a whole; it begins as each individual is proactive in love and seeks to restore those who are caught in sin. DON’T FORGET TO REJOICE! It may be easy to think of church discipline only in terms of the grief and sorrow that accompany sin and the loss of a brother or sister. And such grief has its place (Matt. 5:4; 1 Cor. 5:2). But the entire process of discipline, from the formative work of the Word to the corrective work of the church in sometimes removing an unrepentant member, should be undertaken with hope and the goal of repentance that leads to rejoicing and comfort (2 Cor. 2:6). We are endeavoring to win our brothers and sisters to the truth (James 5:19–20), and when that happens we are to rejoice along with the courts of heaven. Perhaps nothing is quite as sweet as seeing a person who is deceived and being destroyed by sin break free from sin’s merciless grip and discover afresh the freedom and forgiveness of our merciful Savior. As healthy church members endeavoring to strengthen our churches, we can participate in the discipline of the church with joy and faith, knowing that our loving Father graciously and faithfully corrects those whom he loves. It’s our delight to see the tracings of God’s handiwork displayed in the growth, repentance, and restoration of those who receive the grace of discipline. Conclusion It is impossible for members of a church to care effectively for each other if only a few people own the responsibility of correcting or instructing brothers or sisters in need of it. If members don’t give themselves to serving others by teaching the Word in Sunday school or leading small groups, if members shy away from getting to know one another so that there is no context for meaningful fellowship, then neither positive nor corrective discipline will occur. The house of God will be inadequately ordered, his children poorly taught, and the witness of the church tarnished by unrepentant and uncorrected sin. For Further Reflection With a group of Christian friends and church members, consider and discuss the questions listed on pages 77–78. For Further Reading Adams, Jay. Handbook on Church Discipline: A Right and Privilege of Every Church Member. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1974. Lauterbach, Mark. The Transforming Community: The Practice of the Gospel in Church Discipline. Ross-shire, Christian Focus, 2003. For Pastors Dagg, John L. Manual of Church Order. Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1990; first published 1858. Dever, Mark E., ed. Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life. Washington, DC: 9Marks Ministries, 2001. Wills, Gregory. Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785–1900. Oxford University Press, 2003. Wray, Daniel. Biblical Church Discipline. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1978. MARK 8 A HEALTHY CHURCH MEMBER IS A GROWING DISCIPLE A healthy church member is a growing church member. It is impossible to separate the health of a local church from the health of its members. And it’s impossible to divide the well-being of a church member from his or her spiritual growth and discipleship. When Christians Do Not Grow This is speculation on my part, but it may be the case that the most chronic problem facing churches and Christians is the lack of consistent spiritual growth and progress in discipleship. We all know Christians who have confessed faith and repentance, yet who sadly admit that they have not grown in some time. This situation comes in two varieties. There is the temporary plateau or spiritual rut that every Christian experiences and must overcome from time to time. This is normal and shouldn’t cause too much alarm. Perhaps routines need to be changed or focus renewed, but the problem isn’t chronic yet. But then there is the chronic variety. Here, people may not be able to perceive much growth over a prolonged period of time. They’ve fallen into something deeper than a rut. They’re not just “stuck,” struggling to get free; they’ve settled into a spiritual slumber. If they have been in this sleep for some time, perhaps they believe that there is no more growth to be had or even that following Christ is a shallow, hollow thing. The expectation of growth may be abandoned. Pride may be asserting, “I’ve arrived spiritually and there’s really not much more growing to do.” Where this happens there should be great alarm! In our largely individualistic and privatized spiritual worlds, such trouble can go unnoticed, unspoken, and uncorrected for some time. Advancement in the knowledge and likeness of Christ, spiritual maturity and progress toward it, are supposed to be normal for the Christian. So Hebrews exhorts us to “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (Heb.6:1). The writer assumes that these Christians should have progressed “by this time … to be teachers,” having moved from “milk” for the unskilled child to “solid food … for the mature” (Heb. 5:11–13). Speaking of himself, the apostle Paul modeled how to maintain humility when it comes to spiritual growth: Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it on my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:12–14) Then he gives this exhortation to his readers, “Let those of us who are mature think this way” (v. 15a). It is normal for Christians to grow, to work for growth, and to expect increasing spiritual maturity. Those who do are healthy church members. Problems in Our Thinking about Growth But saying that a Christian should expect, work for, and experience growth isn’t the end of the issue. For the Christian to grow in a healthy way, we must clarify what growth is and is not. Ours is a superficial culture that lays emphasis on the outward signs and neglects the inward reality. We’re far too vulnerable to settling for being thought of as mature rather than actually being mature. Jesus’ teaching in Luke 18 helps us to identify at least two attitudes that hinder solid biblical growth and discipleship: He … told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14) Three problems in the Pharisee’s thinking prevented him from growing in godliness. 1) The performance trap. In all major sports, statistics are recorded for player performance—batting percentage, field goal percentage, number of stolen bases, home runs, touchdowns, assists, and on and on. Often the worth of an athlete is summed up by these statistics. And those who can “stuff the stat sheet” with big numbers are celebrated, heralded as “marquis players,” and given awards. Our idea of Christian growth can be influenced by a “stuffing the stat sheet” mindset. Notice the Pharisee spoke with God about himself and all he had done. He measured growth in observable goals and objectives—fasting twice a week and giving tithes of all he received. We can do this too. We emphasize the number of times we completed “quiet times”this week, the number of times we passed Christian literature to others, or how often we shared the gospel. We can fall into the performance trap, thinking that spiritual growth and discipleship look like good performance and success. When this happens our sense of growth and worth become wrongly tied up with our “stats.” 2) Judging by the wrong standards. Another thing that often misguides Christians when it comes to growth is the tendency to judge our well-being by comparing ourselves to others. Many Christians are relativists in this way. The Pharisee was proud before God that he “was not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Imagine that! Kneeling to pray before God and simultaneously judging and denouncing the man praying right next to him! Jonathan Edwards’s eighth resolution is a better approach. Edwards wrote: Resolved, To act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings, as others, and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God. If we’re focusing on others in an attempt to justify ourselves before God or to “exalt ourselves” as “giants of the faith,” we will not only not grow as we ought, but we will also delude ourselves into thinking we’re better than we are. And we may be sure that God will humble us. So it is better to humble ourselves and trust in the grace of God than to be opposed by God because of pride (James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). 3) Depending on personal strength or effort in spiritual growth. This is another of the Pharisee’s mistakes. As far as he is concerned, all that should commend him before God is a result of his effort and ability. But self-effort is not the source of true spiritual growth. After the writer to the Hebrews exhorts them to “leave the elementary doctrines of Christ and go on to maturity,” he adds, “And this we will do if God permits” (Heb. 6:1, 3). Holy Scripture tells us that our progress in discipleship and spiritual maturity depends on the grace and will of God, not on our self-effort and strength. This is why the apostle Paul praises God for the growth of Christians (2 Thess. 1:3) and prays to God for continued growth (1 Thess. 3:11–13; Col. 1:10). We are commanded to grow and to cultivate maturity and godliness (2 Pet. 1:5–8, 3:18, for example), but all of our efforts are exercised in dependence upon God and with faith in him for the growth we seek. So biblical growth should not be confused with outward performance alone, nor is it measured by using others as our standard. And it does not finally depend on our self-effort and attainments. What, then, is growth and how does the healthy church member pursue it? The Growth We Want to See A healthy church member has a pervasive concern for his or her own personal growth and the growth of other members of her or his church. As Mark Dever correctly notes, “Working to promote Christian discipleship and growth is working to bring glory not to ourselves but to God. This is how God will make himself known in the world.” Since a concern for God’s glory should be uppermost in our lives as believers, our concern for growth should be pervasive. Several passages of Scripture outline for us the kind of growth healthy church members should hope to see in themselves and others. For example, Galatians 5:22–25 lists for us the fruit of the Spirit, evidences of Spirit-wrought virtue and character that typify those who live not according to their own power and sinful nature but by the Spirit. We are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). Ephesians 4:11–13 reminds us that the Lord gives gifted men to the church for the purpose of growth “for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” We can sum up all of these pictures and exhortations with either the term “godliness” or “holiness.” The growth we wish to see, the growth that is not finally external and superficial, is growth in godliness or holiness, growth in “the stature of the fullness of Christ.” A growing church member is someone who looks more and more like Jesus in attitude of heart, thought, speech, and action. That’s what we long to be and long for our churches to be. Growing to Be Like Jesus How do healthy church members cultivate such growth? The following are some suggestions for continuing to develop godliness or holiness in life. ABIDE IN CHRIST Jesus said: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:5–8) The key to growth in godliness is ramaining in the True Vine, who is Christ Jesus. Here, remaining in Christ and bearing fruit is “nothing less than the outcome of persevering dependence on the vine, driven by faith, embracing all of the believer’s life and the product of his witness.” And this fruitfulness comes as the Word of the Lord remains in the disciple. “Such words must so lodge in the disciple’s mind and heart that conformity to Christ, obedience to Christ, is the most natural (supernatural?) thing in the world.”4 Abiding in Christ, remaining in his Word, is essential to proper Christian discipleship and growth. USE THE ORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE Many Christians seem to believe advancement in spiritual maturity must come through some extraordinary or “breakthrough” experience. For them, it’s the fantastic that produces growth. But as we’ve just seen in John 15, it is the ordinary means of grace that ordinarily produces growth and maturity. In fact, while the sensational and extraordinary can and often does lead people astray, the Word properly taught and understood never will. The “ordinary means of grace” include the study of the Word of God, participation in the ordinances of baptism and communion along with the gathered church, and prayer. These are the customary ways in which the grace of God is proclaimed, displayed, and appropriated in the Christian life. By the Word of God, we hear Christ revealed and glorified, and there we “learn Christ” most clearly. But in the ordinances of baptism and communion, we see Christ and the gospel as we picture his death, burial, and resurrection for us and for our salvation. A healthy Christian does not neglect these ordinances and means of grace but rejoices in them, prepares for them, and is reminded through the senses of the glories of Christ our Savior. She or he remembers that grace “teaches [or trains] us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11–12). A healthy Christian relies more and more on the grace of God as it is communicated through the Word and the ordinances. PARTICIPATE IN THE LOCAL CHURCH Hebrews 10:25 instructs us not to neglect the assembly of the saints. Instead, we are to gather and encourage one another more and more as we await Jesus’ return. The public assembly is meant for the edification, the building up, the growth of the Christian. Neglecting to participate in the corporate life of the church or failing to actively serve and be served is a sure-fire way to limit our growth. Ephesians 4:11–16 offers a pretty strong argument that participation in the body of Christ is the main way in which Christ strengthens and matures us. When we serve others in the church, bear with one another, love one another, correct one another, and encourage one another, we participate in a kind of “spiritual maturity co-op” where our stores and supplies are multiplied. The end result is growth and discipleship. LOOK TO JESUS’ COMING Finally, we grow in holiness by meditating on and looking forward to the coming of Jesus. Most of the New Testament references to Jesus’ return are connected with some exhortation to holiness and purity. For example, in Matthew 25 when Jesus finishes teaching the disciples about his second coming, he concludes with the simple exhortation to “be ready,” to look for his return, and to live a fitting life in the meantime. Matthew 26 follows with three parables, all exhorting his hearers to watch and to be faithful until he returns. The Lord taught that his second coming is something for us to meditate upon consistently, and that that meditation should lead us to guard our lives and to grow. Titus 2:13–14 refers to the “blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” with this explanation of Jesus’ mission: “[He] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” In other words, we look to the cross and the second coming of Christ and remember that Christ has done everything for our redemption, purity, and zeal—our holiness. The apostle John includes a very similar statement in one of his letters. He writes: Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:2–3) Our yearning to be with Jesus and to see Jesus is intended to make us more like Jesus in holiness. Looking forward to Christ will produce growth in healthy church members. Conclusion The healthy church member is a growing church member. Specifically, she or he is a church member that grows in Christlikeness, holiness, and maturity. That maturity and holiness are developed in dependence upon Christ, his Word, and others in the local church. And most wonderful of all, we will not stop growing until we reach the fullness of Christ! For Further Reflection 1. Are there any wrong ways you have been measuring or thinking about growth? If so, what are they? What would you say needs to change in your thinking? What counsel do group members give you on this matter? 2. With a group of Christian friends and church members, discuss ways in which you all have been growing lately. In what ways are holy desires and habits being cultivated by God’s grace? 3. Which of the strategies for spiritual growth are most needed in your life right now? How will you put them into action? For Further Reading Bridges, Jerry. The Pursuit of Holiness. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1978. Ferguson, Sinclair B. The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1981. Piper, John. Don’t Waste Your Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003. Sproul, R. C. Knowing Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1977. Tripp, Paul David. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002. MARK 9 A HEALTHY CHURCH MEMBER IS A HUMBLE FOLLOWER The health of a local church may ride exclusively on the membership’s response to the church’s leadership. How the congregation receives or rejects its leaders has a direct effect on the possibilities of faithful ministry and church health. Does a congregation appreciate and accept sound preaching? Will its members trust and follow a leader in difficult or unclear situations? Do they rally behind or tear apart the leadership when plans and ideas fail? In the final analysis, church members are the people who generally make or break a local church. And making or breaking a church has a lot to do with the membership’s attitudes and actions toward its leaders. So no serious attempt to define a healthy church member can neglect reflecting on the interaction between church members and church leaders. And not surprisingly, the inspired Word of God provides ample instruction regarding the attitudes and actions of church members who wish to contribute to the health of their local congregations by following the leadership of the church. A Healthy Church Member’s Attitude toward Leadership At least three attitudes characterize a healthy church member’s when it comes to following a local church’s leaders. 1) Honors the elders. Several passages of Scripture instruct church members to honor the elders and leaders of the congregation. For example, 1 Timothy 5:17 tells us, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” What does such double honor include? The apostle Paul brings attention to two things in the following verses. In verse 18, honoring the elders includes caring for their financial and physical needs. A congregation and a member that honor its leadership provide appropriate and sufficient wages for its leaders, particularly those whose full-time labor is ministry to the body. In verse 19, the apostle indicates that honoring our leaders includes protecting their reputations. We are not to “admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” The apostle understands better than anyone how the ministry is open to charges, criticisms, and complaints from outside and inside the church. A healthy church member will help to shelter the shepherd from unwarranted slings and arrows. Rumors and backbitings die at the ears of a healthy church member who refuses to give consideration to unedifying and uncorroborated tales. A healthy church member honors the elder’s office. He or she esteems it highly, is thankful for it, and respects those who serve the Lord’s people as elders. We honor our pastors because on the day of the Lord they shall be our boast (2 Cor. 1:14). 2) “Shows open-hearted love to the leaders. The honor and respect a church member gives an elder is not the distant and official honor a soldier gives a commanding officer. Coupled with the honor due a shepherd is an open-hearted love. Repeatedly, Paul called the Corinthian church to open their hearts to him as one who cared for them spiritually: We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also. (2 Cor.6:11–13) There should be a sweet exchange of affection between pastor and congregation. As they live, grow, and labor together, their hearts are to open increasingly wide to each other. A healthy church member does not “withhold” his affection from the pastor; rather, he gives it freely and liberally. A healthy church member doesn’t want to hear his or her faithful pastor plead like the apostle did with the Corinthians, “Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together” (2 Cor. 7:2–3). A healthy member first gives himself to the Lord and then to the minister of the Lord, knowing that this is God’s will (2 Cor. 8:5). Such a member sees how the faithful pastor will spend himself for the body in love. And he would be ashamed to hear the pastor ask, “If I love you more, will you love me less?” (2 Cor. 12:15). Unrequited love is fit for Shakespearean tragedy, not the local church. Our rejoicing in and love for our pastors should “refresh their hearts in the Lord” (Philem. 20). 3) Is teachable. A healthy church member should also have a teachable spirit. A teachable spirit evidences humility of heart and a desire to grow in Christ. Without it, a people grow stiff-necked and incorrigible. The leader’s job may be boiled down to one task: teaching. If a member or any significant portion of the membership proves unteachable, the shepherd’s task becomes a burden, even undoable, since it’s opposing him at this most essential point. Writing to Timothy, Paul provides wonderful instruction for pastors that contains good instruction for members as well. Speaking of the role of elder, Paul writes: The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:24–26) Several things from this passage are useful for church members to observe. First, the pastor’s instruction is meant to be gentle, kind, and for our good. We should not take sinful advantage of that God-ordained disposition. Rather, we should accept that kind instruction as a rebuke and a call to repentance. A healthy church member doesn’t mistake godly kindness for weakness in a pastor, but uses the occasion to examine his or her own heart for areas needing repentance. Second, we should recognize how easy it is to “oppose” the pastor as he instructs us. As a regular part of our spiritual life, we should ask ourselves, “Am I in any way opposing the teaching of the pastor?” Third, we should pray for knowledge of the truth, clear-mindedness, and protection from the devil’s schemes whenever we discover even a kernel of opposition to pastoral instruction. The pastors watch over our souls as a man who must give an account to God; we should then trust and accept their leadership joyfully as a gift from God for our everlasting benefit. Be teachable. A Healthy Church Member’s Actions toward Leadership In addition to these basic attitudes or dispositions, there are some specific actions a healthy church member will take in order to effectively follow the leadership of a local church. PATIENTLY PARTICIPATES IN THE SELECTION OF LEADERS Perhaps the most important decision a congregation makes—assuming a congregational polity—is the selection of its leaders. By choosing leaders, a congregation sets the spiritual tone and direction of the church, sometimes for generations. Perhaps this is why the apostles instructed the early church to look for spiritual qualities and maturity in its leaders (Acts 6:1–6; 1 Timothy 3). Selecting a leader is to be done with patience and prayerful deliberation. “Lay hands on no man hastily” is the apostle’s instruction to Timothy (1 Tim. 5:22a). The first deacons were to be “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3). Discerning these qualities requires prayer, observation, and patience. And if the Lord’s church is to be healthy, church members must call and ordain leaders who are spiritually minded and mature in Christ. Healthy church members do not overlook the importance of this essential task. They may invite the prospective leader and his family to lunch or dinner in order to know him better. They will want to hear more about the man’s testimony, about his desire to serve in a leadership capacity, and about his previous ministry in churches. Some churches allow two months between a man’s nomination for leadership and the actual vote in order for members to participate in precisely this way. OBEYS AND SUBMITS TO LEADERS Here’s a good reason to prayerfully and patiently participate in the recognition of church leaders: a healthy church member must obey and submit to her or his leaders. Obey and submit are not only “bad words” at weddings, they’re bad words to many church members. Yet the Bible couldn’t be clearer: “Obey your leaders and submit to them” (Heb. 13:17). Our obedience is to make their work a joy, not a burden. And our obedience redounds to our benefit, since it would be of no advantage for us to call men as leaders and then disobey them. A healthy church member orders himself under the leaders of the congregation as a soldier orders himself in the rank and file beneath a military general. We are to joyfully, eagerly, and completely submit to our leaders for our good, their good, and the good of the entire body. FOLLOWS THE LEADERS’ EXAMPLE One reason the Lord appoints men to leadership in the church is to provide a flesh-and-blood example of faithful, godly living to the congregation. Our leaders are the “motion picture” of following Jesus. They are called to be an example in everything (1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:3). That’s why the apostle Paul says, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Phil. 3:17). A healthy church member patterns his or her life after the godly lifestyle of the elders of the church. We are to follow our leaders’ example with the expectation of conformity to Christ. For many in our day, this very idea of imitation sounds cultish. There are too many personality cults where people parrot all that the celebrity pastor says or does. We’re correct to be concerned with such an unbiblical notion of example setting and mentorship. Yet the Bible’s picture of following the pastor’s example points to genuine godliness “in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12) by doing what is good (Titus 2:7). Pastors are called to be such models, and healthy church members wisely follow their pattern of holiness. PRAYS FOR LEADERS Given all that church leaders must do and contend with, can you think of a more important thing to do than to pray for them? Even the apostle Paul understood his need for the saints’ faithful prayer: Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. (Col. 4:2–4; see also Eph. 6:19–20) We should pray for our leaders’ boldness, clarity, and consistency with the gospel message, and for opportunity for them to proclaim Christ. Healthy church members are devoted to prayer on behalf of their leaders. They heed Jesus’ exhortation to pray and not give up (Luke 18:1), and they do that on behalf of their shepherds. In our local church, a faithful band of members meets every Tuesday night for the purpose of praying for leadership. Weekly they solicit prayer requests and updates on previous requests. When they meet, they lift up all kinds of prayers for the personal, public, and ministry lives of the elders. God has produced great fruit in our body through their prayers. SUPPORTS OUTSIDE MINISTRY AND INTERACTION OF LEADERS This is perhaps the least obvious of the actions that a healthy church member takes in following leadership. There is a great tendency among church members to be fairly possessive of their pastors—“he’s our pastor.” There are positive aspects to this possessiveness. It shows, for example, an open-hearted attachment to the shepherds. However, this possessiveness can become selfishness if the congregation refuses to support a pastor’s involvement in ministry outside the local congregation. The person most often hurt in such selfishness is the pastor himself, who, without outside stimulation and refreshment from fellow pastors and leaders, tends to dry and shrivel on the vine. A healthy church member contributes to a leader’s ongoing health and vigor in the ministry by encouraging participation in outside conferences, speaking opportunities, and fellowship with other church leaders. The Bible provides ample illustration of one congregation’s support of another. A local church’s generosity to other churches is commended in 2 Corinthians 9:13. And such generosity, when it takes the form of “loaning” a shepherd in ministry to others, hopefully expands the regions in which the gospel is proclaimed (2 Cor. 10:15–16). A healthy church member wants to see the gospel advanced and wants to contribute to the health of other congregations if possible. Supporting a leader’s outside ministry is one way to fulfill this desire. Conclusion Leadership in the local church is established by God for the blessing of his people. However, for leadership to be effective, it needs to be encouraged and supported by the members of the church. Many faithful men have shipwrecked on the rocky shoals of incorrigible and resistant members. It ought not to be so among God’s people. Rather, healthy members of a local church should strive and encourage others to strive to follow their leaders with wide-open hearts, eager obedience, and joyful submission. For Further Reflection 1. Consider the instruction to church members in Hebrews 13. In what way has submission to your church leaders brought you advantage or blessing? 2. In what specific ways can you pray for your leaders? 3. How can you encourage other church members to place greater trust in the church’s leaders as they follow Christ and teach the word? For Further Reading Mahaney, C. J. Humility: True Greatness. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005. Sande, Ken. The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Conflict. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books Books, 2003. MARK 10 A HEALTHY CHURCH MEMBER IS A PRAYER WARRIOR When I was a little boy, we used to celebrate our friends’ birthdays by giving them spankings, a wallop for each year of their birthday. And then we’d conclude with one extra lick, saying, “… and one to grow on.” In keeping, the first nine chapters of this book correspond to the nine marks in its companion volumes, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and What Is a Healthy Church? while this tenth chapter is “one to grow on.” I can’t think of a single Christian I’ve met who did not believe that prayer is important, and not only important but a vital part of the Christian life. Odd indeed would be the Christian who attempts to live the Christian life without prayer. But despite its universally accepted status, prayer remains for many Christians a difficult task, a duty without joy and sometimes seemingly without effect. Christians may waver between the poles of neglect and frustration when it comes to prayer. Why should this be? Why should otherwise healthy Christians and members of churches find prayer such a difficult exercise? A House of Prayer for All People Difficulty in prayer becomes all the more disconcerting when we realize that the church is to be a place of prayer. The prophet Isaiah spoke of a time when eunuchs and foreigners would find a welcome home among the people of God. Those from nations outside of Israel would keep the covenant of God, and the Lord promised of these foreigners: These I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Isa. 56:7) The Lord Jesus quoted this promise when “he entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple,” reasserting that God’s house was no place for thieves but for people of prayer (Matt. 21:13; Mark 11:17). When we survey the activities of the early church recorded for us in Scripture, we discover that one of the central things early church members devoted themselves to was prayer. As they awaited the promise of the Holy Spirit, they assembled in the upper room and “with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). After Pentecost, when God added to their number those who were being saved, the earliest members of the Christian church “devoted themselves” to four things: “the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The earliest Christians’ engagement in prayer was so strong it could only be called “devotion.” As a spiritual discipline, prayer is so important that it’s the only devotion given as a reason for interrupting normal marital devotion between husband and wife (1 Cor. 7:5). Can you imagine the revival in spiritual lives that would break out if Christian bedrooms were to find spouses saying, “Not now, honey, let’s devote ourselves to prayer” instead of “Not now, honey, I have a headache.” From the home to the church, prayer is essential. What Is Prayer? But simply pointing out the importance and centrality of prayer in the early church does not make us prayer warriors. Not only that, we can often be confused as to what prayer really is. Wrong ideas abound. For example: • Unless we pray, God cannot act in the world. • God has already decided everything; he’s sovereign, so why pray? • God is too busy to listen to my prayers. At root, most misunderstandings about prayer stem from a misunderstanding about the nature of God and our relationship to him. It’s easy to turn prayer into a me-centered stage show where our claims and needs hog the spotlight and God is a stagehand changing the settings at our request. Yet it’s also easy to fall off the other side of the wagon by making God a cosmic chess player deterministically moving all the pieces without regard to the actions of his people. What we need is a gospel-centered understanding of prayer. Theologian Graeme Goldsworthy offers this understanding: The gospel is primarily about the work of the Son. How we know the Son will determine how we view our relationship with the Father who speaks to us through his word. How we view that relationship will determine, in turn, how we come to God in prayer and with what confidence. Prayer will never again be a sentimental excursion or an instinctive hitting of the panic button. Nor will it be the presumption of an innate right to demand God’s attention. Rather it will be the expression of our entry into God’s heavenly sanctuary, which has been procured for us by our Great High Priest. Believing the gospel changes our status from outsiders to members of the family of God, adopted sons of God through faith in Christ. On this basis—our sonship through faith in Christ—we may speak to God as his redeemed children. “Prayer is our response to God as He speaks to us,” first in the gospel of Christ, and subsequently in his Word. Prayer is “not pleading a cause before an unwilling God,” and neither is it acting as a surrogate for a god too impotent to effect anything without us. In prayer, as children united with Christ, our advocate and high priest, the heir of all things, we stand before God receiving a full hearing. Because we are before God in Christ, there is no ceiling that blocks our prayers, though we often imagine there is. Rather, “we involve ourselves in the business that God has with the world” by praying “towards the fulfillment of God’s revealed purposes for the whole universe” through “the gospel and its God-ordained outcome.” Prayer is “thinking God’s thoughts after Him”4—thoughts that will always be heard and answered. How and When Shall We Pray? A lot of books have been written on the subject of prayer. Some prescribe certain methods for prayer. Others examine the prayer lives of people in the Bible or great saints from church history. With so many books on prayer, and knowing how much progress I need to make in my own prayer life, I’m hesitant to offer suggestions for others to consider. But, in God’s kindness and mercy, he has told us how and when to pray. The how and when of prayer boil down to two biblical teachings: pray constantly and pray in the Spirit. CONSTANTLY The apostle Paul frequently encouraged the churches to which he wrote to pray constantly. He exhorted the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome to “be constant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12). And to the Colossians he wrote, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2). This was one way those in the Colossian church could set their minds on and “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1–2). As an example, Paul held up Epaphras, who was “always struggling on your behalf in his prayers” (Col. 4:12). In view of the temptations, dangers, and needs of the Christian life, the healthy church member heeds God’s command for constancy in prayer. IN THE SPIRIT Not only is the healthy church member constant in prayer, she or he also prays in the Spirit. “Praying in the Spirit” is variously understood by different Christian groups, and much confusion exists on this point. But, again, Paul’s letter to the Romans is helpful, where he writes: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26–27). The unfortunate result of so much speculation over a passage like Romans 8:26–27 is that the wonderfully encouraging and plain emphasis is overlooked. And there is great teaching here to encourage us in our prayers. Notice that the Spirit “helps us in our weakness.” We’ve already noted that prayer is one area where Christians readily admit their weakness. How kind it is for God the Holy Spirit to help us in precisely this area! Ever find yourself at a loss for knowing what to pray? The Spirit himself intercedes for us. Ever wish you knew exactly what the will of God was so that you could ask for it? It is precisely “according to the will of God” that the Spirit intercedes for us. All this is a pivotal clue for what it means to pray in the Spirit. Prayer in the Spirit is prayer controlled by the Spirit. And prayer controlled by the Spirit is prayer according to the will of God. It is when we pray in accord with God’s will, which is revealed in his Word, that we pray in the Spirit. Such prayer is the birthright of everyone born of the Spirit and adopted as sons of God (Rom. 8:14–17). It is by such prayer that we wage our warfare as Christians (Eph. 6:18). For What and for Whom Shall We Pray? As we saw in Romans 8:26–27, one of the ways the Spirit of God helps our weakness in prayer is by interceding for us when we do not know what to pray. Nevertheless, the Lord has also told us some things for which we should pray. PRAY FOR LABORERS AND SHEPHERDS Matthew’s Gospel records for us an instance when Jesus was moved with compassion for the harassed and helpless people of Israel who appeared “like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus immediately instructed his disciples to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:36–38). Perhaps only Christians who have been in churches that have suffered through prolonged periods without a pastor know the urgency of this prayer. The Lord’s people need shepherds, and healthy church members petition him to send shepherds to their churches and other churches in need of pastors. And not only do they pray that shepherds and laborers would be sent, they also pray that the Lord would help and strengthen those who labor in the Word during times of distress, suffering, and weakness (Phil. 1:19–20); grant boldness to pastors in proclaiming the gospel (Eph. 6:19–20); and grant opportunity for the spread of the ministry and the gospel (Col. 4:3–4). PRAY FOR ALL THE SAINTS Praying for other Christians is a tangible expression of love and care (see Eph. 6:18). Christianity is not a solo sport, and prayer is not a trip through the Burger King drive-thru, where we shout into an inanimate receiver, wait a few moments, and then receive the bag of goodies we ordered to “have it our way.” The Christian life is a family life, and our prayers are to focus on the entire family, esteeming others more highly than ourselves. One way to do this is to pray regularly through your local church’s membership directory, if they publish one. Pray through one page or one letter of the alphabet per day. Another way of praying for all the saints is to pray for other churches in your neighborhood and churches where other family and friends are members. As we meet with the Lord to study his word each day, we can love other Christians by praying the truth of God’s Word over their lives each day. We can pray for their sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3); we can pray against temptation and for watchfulness (Matt.26:41); we can pray that they would be filled with the Spirit (Gal. 5:16–25) and nearly anything else the Bible commends for Christians. PRAY FOR THOSE IN AUTHORITY The young pastor Timothy received these words from his mentor, the apostle Paul: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:1–3). Given that God ordains all authority in life, from government leaders (Rom. 13:1–2) to parents (Eph. 6:1–3), and given the blessings that God bestows on those who follow the authorities he has ordained, it makes sense that Christians should pray for those in authority. Healthy church members regularly remember in their prayers elected officials, government employees, school teachers, their own employers, parents, and others with authority. It’s helpful to keep a list of such persons in your Bible or your prayer journal as an organized reminder to pray for those in authority. PRAY FOR THOSE WHO ABUSE AND PERSECUTE THEM This is the Lord’s charge: “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28). It is natural to pray for people we love. Even unbelievers manage such “prayers.” But the love of Christ compels us to pray even for those who abuse, slander, and injure us (Matt. 5:46–47). Amazingly, such prayers give evidence that we are sons of God (Matt. 5:45), even as persecution for righteousness is cause for rejoicing because of Christ’s promised reward in his kingdom (Matt. 5:10–12). We’re not to be like the unmerciful servant, who, though forgiven by his creditor, roughly treated others who owed him (Matt. 18:21–35). We’re to fight the fleshly impulse to not love our persecutors and to neglect them in prayer, and we’re to choose instead the superior joy and righteousness of the sons of God who pray even for their abusers. Conclusion Can there be a more marvelous privilege than that which has been afforded to Christians through Christ: to stand before God our Father and respond in prayer by his Spirit to his Word spoken to us? If we would be expositional-listening, gospel-saturated, biblical theologians, we should pray with the confident knowledge of what God is doing in the world through Christ his Son and pray for the worldwide advancement of his gospel and will. For Further Reflection 1. Do you have a specific plan for prayer? Review your current plan or write a new plan for prayer that includes: a) private and group/public times of prayer; b) times and places of prayer; c) specific individuals and groups of people to pray for; d) gospel and church concerns; e) passages of Scripture you find encouraging and helpful in prayer. For Further Reading Goldsworthy, Graeme. Prayer and the Knowledge of God: What the Whole Bible Teaches. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003. Mack, Wayne A. Reaching the Ear of God: Praying More … and More Like Jesus. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004. Packer, J. I., and Carolyn Nystrom. Praying: Finding Our Way Through Duty to Delight. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006. Ryken, Philip Graham. When You Pray: Making the Lord’s Prayer Your Own. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000. Carson, D. A. A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1992. A FINAL WORD Writing this book was a blessing and a privilege. I owe much to the teams at 9Marks and Crossway for giving me the opportunity to write it, and especially to Jonathan Leeman and Lydia Brownback for providing help and guidance that cannot be monetized. Thanks are also owed to my fellow laborers in the gospel at First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman; the congregation, staff, and leaders all offer Godward encouragement and model much of what is written here. And without Kristie, a helper suitable for me and a far richer blessing than I deserve, my labors would be less fruitful, joyous, and adventurous. I am deeply grateful to God for his grace and guidance as I penned these chapters. Everything worthwhile in the book results from his work, not mine, and all the dross appears because of my weakness and inability. As I reflect on my own weaknesses as a Christian, pastor, and church member, I am reminded that you, too, may have weaknesses that affect your reading of this book. Two come to mind in particular. First, it is entirely possible to read this book and assess yourself while completely losing sight of Jesus Christ and the cross. That is, you may read this book and go away thinking “work, work, work” instead of “grace, grace, grace” or “trust, trust, trust.” Each of the chapters may have become for you a roadmap for self-improvement and self-effort, duty and perhaps drudgery. The counsel of this book is offered not as a prescription to be taken independent of God’s grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Neither condemnation and judgment nor practical atheism are the hoped-for results of this book. Rather, I pray that you’ve been able to read What Is a Healthy Church Member? with a pleading heart, desiring that the Lord of the church might supernaturally awaken each of his saints to serve in extraordinary ways. I pray that a deep dependence upon the True Vine—apart from whom we can do nothing—grows in each of our hearts as we long more and more to be what Christ is making us to be. However the Lord moves you to put the suggestions of this book into practice, I pray that you would do so with an increasing understanding of and reliance upon the life of Christ now at work in you and the Spirit who seals and empowers the Christian for every good work. Second, it is entirely possible to read this book with the spirit of individualism. You may finish this book and think, “Let me get to work on me.” And to be sure, there is a great deal of growth we all need to make, and by God’s grace will make, until Christ returns. But this book is about the church, the whole of Christ’s body in a particular place. Much is said about your role and my role in it, but you and I are meant for and belong to all the others who assemble as God’s people (Rom. 12:5). So, the best way to put this book into practice is to do so with the partnership, support, and love of other Christians in your local church. Don’t be a “Lone Ranger Christian,” exclusively or myopically concerned with you. Lock arms with others who love the Lord and love his church and together grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Author Jerry Bridges recalls his understanding of the local church during the early years of his Christian walk. He writes: For many years I took an individualistic approach to the Christian life. I was concerned about my growth as a Christian, my progress in holiness, my acquisition of ministry skills. I prayed that God would enable me to be more holy in my personal life and more effective in my evangelism. I asked God’s blessing on my church and the Christian organization I worked for. But as I learned more about true fellowship, I began to pray that we as the Body of Christ would grow in holiness, that we would be more effective witnesses to the saving grace of Christ. It is the entire Body—not just me—that needs to grow. My hope is that the same switch from “I” to “we” that Jerry Bridges describes would be true for more and more of God’s people. I pray that this small contribution would play some part in increasing our love for the body of our Savior and in so doing would lead the church to greater strength, vitality, and health. APPENDIX: A TYPICAL COVENANT OF A HEALTHY CHURCH Having, as we trust, been brought by Divine Grace to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and to give up ourselves to Him, and having been baptized upon our profession of faith, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we do now, relying on His gracious aid, solemnly and joyfully renew our covenant with each other. We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of a Christian Church; exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require. We will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, nor neglect to pray for ourselves and others. We will endeavor to bring up such as may at any time be under our care, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and by a pure and loving example to seek the salvation of our family and friends. We will rejoice at each other’s happiness, and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows. We will seek, by Divine aid, to live carefully in the world, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and remembering that, as we have been voluntarily buried by baptism and raised again from the symbolic grave, so there is on us a special obligation now to lead a new and holy life. We will work together for the continuance of a faithful evangelical ministry in this church, as we sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines. We will contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations. We will, when we move from this place, as soon as possible, unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen. SCRIPTURE INDEX OLD TESTAMENT Genesis 17:15–19 29 21:1–2 29 29:31 29 3:15 29 30:22 29 Psalms 119:103–104 20 42:4 71 Proverbs 1:7 80 20:3 36 27:5–6 79 Isaiah 45:22–24 30 55:11 58 56:7 106 6:9–10 24 7:14 29 NEW TESTAMENT Matthew 1:20–23 29 3:1–2 59 4:17 59 5:3–12 51 5:4 81 5:5 69 5:10–12 113 5:23–24 69 5:45 113 5:46–47 113 9:36–38 111 18 80 18:15 120 n. 7 18:15–17 66, 76 18:17 120 n. 6 18:21–22 69 18:21–35 113 21:13 106 25 91 26 92 26:41 112 28:19–20 31 Mark 10:45 68 11:17 106 Luke 6:28 113 18 85 18:1 102 18:9–14 85 24:27 31 24:44–45 31 John 10:27 20 13:34–35 61, 67 14:6 59 15 90 15:5–8 89 17:20–21 61 17:21 22 Acts 1:14 106 2:38 59 2:42 106 4:12 59 6:1–6 99 6:3 99 Romans 1:16 16, 62 1:17 58 8:5–8 49 8:14–17 110 8:15 53 8:15–16 55 8:16 53 8:26–27 110, 111 10:17 25 12:5 116 12:6–8 70 12:12 109 12:16 22 13:1–2 112 14:10–12 30 14:19 68 15:1 69 1 Corinthians 1:10 21 1:8 25 3:7 58 3:9 58 4:1–2 59 5 66, 76, 80 5:2 81 5:4–5 120 n. 6 5:9–13 66 7:5 107 10:11 30 12 68 14 68 14:40 74 2 Corinthians 1:14 97 2:6 66, 81 3:9 58 5:18–21 69 5:20 58 6:1 58 6:11–13 97 7:2–3 97 8–9 70 8:5 97 9:13 103 10:15–16 103 12:15 98 13:11 22 13:5 51 Galatians 1:8–9 45 4:6 53, 55 5:16–25 112 5:22–24 51 5:22–25 88 6:1 120 n. 7 6:2 69 Ephesians 1:13–14 2:1–3 49 4:11–13 88 4:11–16 68, 91 6:1–3 112 6:18 110, 111 6:19–20 101, 111 Philippians 1:19–20 111 1:27 35 2:9–11 30 2:12 51 3:12–14 84 3:15a 85 3:17 101 Colossians 1:10 87 2:18 25 3:1–2 109 4:2 109 4:2–4 101 4:3–4 111 4:12 109 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13 87 4:3 112 5:17 109 2 Thessalonians 1:3 87 3:6 76 3:11 76 1 Timothy 2:1–3 112 3 99 3:1–13 65 4:12 101 5:9 66 5:17 96 5:18 96 5:19 96 5:22a 99 2 Timothy 2:14–17a 36 2:24–26 98 3:16 75 4:3–4 21 Titus 1:5–9 65 2:11–12 91 2:13–14 92 2:7 101 3:10 Philemon 20 98 Hebrews 1:1 30 5:11–13 84 5:11–14 24 6:1 84, 87 6:3 87 10:24–25 67, 68 10:25 91 12:5–6 79 12:7 79 12:8 79 12:9–10 79 12:11 74 13 103 13:17 65, 100 James 1:21 77 1:22–25 24 3:18 68 4:6 87 5:19–20, 81 1 Peter 1:3–5 54 3:8 22 5:3 101 5:5 87 5:6 25 2 Peter 1:5–8 87 1:5–11 51 2:2 45 3:18 87, 88 1 John Book of, 51 1:6–7 51, 55 1:8–10 51 2:15 52, 55 2:22–23 52 3:2–3 92 3:5 51 3:14–15 55 3:14b–15 52 3:18–19 52, 55 3:24b 53, 55 4:13–14 53 5:1 52, 55 5:4–5 53, 55 2 John 10–11 45 Jude 3 35, 45 Anyabwile, T. M. (2008). What Is a Healthy Church Member? (S. 31–120). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.


Leben Bewahren, Schützen, Heilen-

von Uwe Rosenkranz



Published: August 8, 2016, 09:28 | No Comments on Testimonial- Leben Bewahren, Schützen, Heilen- von Uwe Rosenkranz
Category: Uncategorized





von SE. Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz, MA,D.D



Wenn wir im Fünffachen Dienst stehen,

sind wir effektiver, wenn wir eine

Kreativitäts-Matrix anwenden.

Der Workflow ergibt sich dann

aus der Häufugkeit und Relevanz

der Mittel, Ziele und Methoden.

Nachfolgend erklärt in seinem Video:

Kreativitäts-Matrix, Workflow

Uwe AE.Rosenkranz 

, wie das geht.

Im anschliessenden Schaubild

sind die einzelnen Aspekte dann

noch einmal säuberlich aufgeführt.




Für weitergehende Informationen schauen Sie sich bitte auch 

unsere vorherigen Lehrvideos an und besuchen Sie eine unserer Webseiten:



Guckenbuehlstr. 19

72475 Bitz


Tel. +49 7431 8752

shop:    Kopflogo




Die Kreativitäts-Matrix-

? Wie erschaffen wir Neues aus Kreativem Chaos

von Uwe Rosenkranz




Hi, dear friend/partner/member/reader-

this is Your upline sponsor and

team leader Uwe Rosenkranz.

I am happy to see You

on board of   team ROSARY.

To help You with the next steps,

pls confirm this button to get

full benefit from our bonus programm.

If You need further assistance, pls

feel free to contact me personally.

Your profit is my delight.

I see that you requested more information on (business opportunity).

I know we all get a ton of email

so I will keep this short.

I just wanted to let you know

that I am absolutely committed

to changing our financial futures together.

I would love to connect:

Please add me as a friend on facebook!

My direct facebook link is

My best email is

My Homebusiness Bureau fone number is: +49 (Germany) 7431 981550

I really look forward to working with you and helping you grow a great business from home!

Talk soon,

Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE. ROSENKRANZ, MA, DD.

Guckenbuehlstr. 19

72475 Bitz


CU then, Uwe Uwe 

PS. I want to share with You my testimonial.

So pls watch the video that will follow up.





 Inhalt: 5-facher Dienst 

  • Die Kreativitätsmatrix enthält:
  • Prophetie
  • Leiten
  • Lehren
  • Evangelisieren
  • Heilen
  • Dienen
  • Erfinden


  • dazu gehören variable Ziele wie:
  • Geld – Arbeiten, Bettel 
  • IT Kreative Intelligente Technologien
  • Ehre, Ehrenämter
  • Reisen

Wichtig dabei ist die Aussenwahrnehmung wie:

  • Gewerbe und Branchen
  • Lifestyle und Kultur
  • Reisen, Orte und Verantsaltungen
  • Neuigkeiten und Unterhaltung
  • Hobbys und Aktivitäten

Durch die wechselseitigen Einflüsse der Gaben, Ziele und Ämter entsteht die KREATIVITÄTSMATRIX

Bitte schauen Sie sich den obigen Video von Uwe Rosenkranz an zur


Weitere infos finden Sie auf unsere Website:











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