Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Imputation & The Gospel


The impue-what? I hope I didn’t lose you already!

You may be thinking, “Seriously? Is this a theology lesson?”

I recall in my undergrad studies, literally hating theology—I remember telling my wife how “dumb” it was. Little did I know I would receive a dual Masters, with the one of the degrees in theology. Why? Why such a drastic change from loathing it to loving it? It certainly was not the riveting textbooks, or the sessions of mono-toned lectures; no, it was the idea that everyone has a theology—they just don’t know it. Secondly, I learned some invaluable concepts about my faith in Christ, the Gospel, and the reasons why I believe what I believe. Theology literally opened up the Scriptures for me. And so, I pray that this is not some boring reading, but an engaging and Spirit-led challenge for you to grow in your faith. This post will not be exhaustive, nor is it intended to be. Its intention is to illuminate you with the doctrine of the imputation and it’s correlation with the Gospel.

So, since this will be somewhat short and precise, I only want to focus on two verses of Scripture: Romans 5:19 and 2 Corinthians 5:21; these will be our springboard to launch us into what the imputation is and what it has to do with the Gospel.

What is the Imputation?

            First and foremost, we begin by giving the word a more workable definition. We don’t walk around the twenty-first century talking about imputation—it sounds like someone needs their leg cut off. As well, sometimes a modern definition of a word can throw us off, which is exactly what you would find if you looked up the word imputation—as it can mean an accusation, reproach, or a charge against someone. That’s not what the Biblical doctrine means. When we talk about the imputation of Christ it is not a thing, but an event.
Just to make this easier, let’s give our word a new label, just for our understanding—let’s call this word, “counted.” Now, I don’t want you to be thinking of the word counting, in its present tense, as if it’s still happening, but at totaled sum or a calculated amount. For instance, if you needed a new TV, you find the one you like, pick it out, calculate the total amount due, and then go to the register. However, if you don’t have cash, you will use your credit card—right? Then, the amount for the TV is “counted,” on your card. But, you technically did not pay for the item—yet, but you’re driving home with it, putting it on the wall (an epic new flat screen!), and watching it—although, you have never made one payment—hence, it is “counted” as yours.  
            Now, let’s add to this and say that by some crazy stroke of luck, unbeknownst to you, your credit card company, feeling generous (as if), gives you a credit in the exact amount of the flat screen TV—the amount then that was once “counted” as yours, on your statement, is now nullified—meaning, you don’t own the debt, but you still get to watch the TV and possess it! Sounds great, right?
 Well, this is the rudimentary concept behind the imputation. The doctrine states that Jesus took our sin upon Himself, and then put into our account, righteousness instead. Likewise, the Apostle Paul explains to the Roman Church, “For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). Because of Adam, all of mankind has been born into sin, as Adam was the head of humanity. Rightly so, Jesus Christ, the only man to have ever defeated death, by being raised to life, conquered death and became the first-born of righteousness.  All who proclaim by faith that Jesus is Lord are saved by that faith and “counted” (there’s our word) as righteous. It is not that believers are righteous, but that they are “counted” as righteous, or declared righteous by God, through the work of Christ.  

“For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).
            The penalty for the sin of man then was grievously put upon Christ (2 Cor 5:21; c.f. Col.1:14; 2:14-15), while His righteousness was placed upon us, or put into our account. The analogy of the flat screen is applied to show that while we did not pay the penalty for our sin, it was paid by Christ; while we possess righteousness, it is not our own, but His.

What Does the Imputation Have to do with the Gospel?

Paul’s letter to the Roman Church carries a continuum of thought from the beginning. He begins chapter one by acknowledging that all of mankind knows about God, but suppresses the truth (1:18). They either have a moral law written upon their hearts (2:14-15) or possess the written Law (ch.2). Then, Paul “levels the playing field” leaving no man righteous or justifiable of sin before God (ch.3); meaning, no amount of works can declare any man righteous before God. Paul then continues his argument founded upon on righteousness based on faith for both Jews and Gentiles—excluding works, providing examples of Abraham’s faith and righteousness (ch.4). Paul proceeds by examining justification by faith (a one-time action of Christ) and then accordingly, he finally addresses the imputation of sin by one man Adam, and the imputation of righteousness by one man, Jesus Christ (ch.5). Moreover, Paul shocks his Jewish audience in 5:20, by stating that the Law came into existence to increase transgression, to show that grace “super-abounded” hyperperisseuō.

Grace. This is not some word which merely means that we’re off the hook or that God loves us, or that we no longer endure judgment, but Paul’s illustration paints a picture that all of humanity—whether with the law in their heart (knowing it’s wrong to kill, steal, lie, etc.) or by the adherence of the written Commandments, no one is justified by their actions; no one has an excuse as to whether or not they’re a sinner—the law (in the heart or written) proves to all of us that we are in need of a Savior and not only for salvation, but the need to be washed from the sins, so that we can come into union with a holy God. This is where the Gospel and the imputation intersect. Without the grace of the Gospel, which tells us that we all were sinners and that none of us came to faith in Christ without the power of the Holy Spirit, and then the imputation—that teaches us that man’s works are not capable of bringing us into union with a holy God—we see that they must be united and simultaneous acts—both of God.

The fact that God grants grace and that God alone gives us the ability to be declared righteous is something which should place us in awe of a great and loving God. To think that not only God’s desire was to save sinful man, but also to declare him righteous by placing Him in unity with His beloved Son, shows us an incredibly intelligent and amazing Creator. The Gospel and the imputation express that God wants relationship with His creation—His people. That God would pull the sin from man’s account, nail it to the cross (Col.2:14) and place it in Christ’s account, then in the same fashion, take Christ’s righteousness and put it into the believer’s account (2 Cor 5:21) is far from this human mind to understand all of the complexities, but I do comprehend its worth and grace. Thanks be to God for His love, mercy, and relentless pursuit of sinners. Thank God for the Gospel. Thank God for the imputation—so that I can have fellowship with Him.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Why Become a Church Member?



            “Why become a member of a church, I attend the service isn’t that enough?” This is an actual question that I have heard. I want to explain how, as a Pastor, I respond to such a claim. Let me break this down into four apparent areas of confusion. I should also mention that this thinking is based mostly from the American/Western culture and without backing that up with firm data, it may be more conjecture and observation; however, it is a mindset in churches that I have been involved with and comments heard among other pastors. One should also know that this article is not intended to be exhaustive, but to address some elementary thoughts pertaining to church membership. And so, what is the importance; I mean, why join?
  
It’s Not All About Me

            The letters which Paul wrote to the Christian churches all had an underlying thought—unity in Christ. Basically, the people were to be unified together as a whole and think less of themselves than others. It was also evident that these churches, some more than others, had dysfunction to some degree or questions regarding either doctrine or theology. Some churches even had dissension among the members. It seems today that we’re in the same boat—meaning, things haven’t changed much. However, instead of looking at the body of Christ as an imperfect bunch of hypocrites, we need to view it as a growing, breathing, living body of individuals that also are growing. What does that mean? It means that while the body grows, so does the spiritual walk of the individual—they are simultaneously developing. To think that infants remain infants is absurd thinking; of course they will grow—they will grow in stages: first the infant, then the toddler, the adolescent, and on and on until adulthood and even until the golden years of maturity.

So, to think that the Church does not need members of spiritual wisdom—assuming you are not showing up because you are wiser than the others, is assuming incorrectly. The church needs all stages of believers to continue thriving. Think about it, if the Church were filled with all mature believers, would they have the zeal and passion of the new believer? Probably not. However, if the Church were filled with all new believers, would it have the wisdom and maturity to shield from false doctrines and theology? No, it would not. Therefore, all are required not only attend, but become “koinonia” with the Church. The abiding presence of Christ is recognized in the Greek term, koinonia, to be intimately a part of Christ’s fellowship. Fellowship is membership; otherwise we’re talking about being an acquaintance, and abiding.

It’s a Living Body

All of the body parts equal the whole. Each person is uniquely gifted. Paul expresses this thought to the Corinthian Church (1 Cor 12), that each believer plays an important role within the body. The body of Christ is not some institution or organization, but a living breathing organism, glued together by the Holy Spirit of God (Eph 1:13). Besides the command to “not neglect 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 10:25), is the understanding that if the hand decided not to become part of the body, we would say that’s absurd too. Well, it is. What we do not find in Scripture are people from the Antioch Church saying, “I’m going to worship with the Church at Stephen’s house today and next week the Church at Priscilla and Aquilla’s?” We don’t see the Church in Jerusalem having people go to Antioch to worship either, and while that may seem like an argument from silence, we do have many writings regarding the early church and their fervor to worship with one another and die for one another. I’m not saying that we don’t have more choices today, we do, but my point is that each person became a member of their local church and served it, as serving Christ.

Pastoring the Flock

            As an under-shepherd, Christ is the true Shepherd, how can a pastor pray and watch over a sheep, which has no intention of resting with the flock? He cannot. Of course, the inevitable phone call will come in, “Miss Sheep’s sister’s friend’s cousin was just admitted into the hospital, are you going to make a visit?” To which the Pastor scratches his head and thinks, “Who is Miss Sheep?” Forget about the actual person in the hospital for a second, the pastor doesn’t even know Miss Sheep because she has not taken the time to enter the fellowship as a member, but visits from time to time. This takes advantage of the pastor, making him no more than a sheep and a goat herder; not that visitation isn’t a gift, and edifying to all, it is. But don’t miss the point, a pastor cannot possibly know who is in the flock if they are not a member and more than likely, no one in leadership is praying for them. They’re merely a drifter, a church shopper, or a Lone Ranger, and do not understand the importance of having Biblical leadership watch over their very souls for protection. As disciples of Christ, believers are expected to be under the leadership and mentoring of a pastor/elder. The pastor’s position is one which is to be taken seriously, if he acknowledges God’s call in his life. But a pastor is not a watchman of a sheep that is not of his fold, nor wants to be corralled.

Covenant

            While I placed covenant last, it should be first. The underpinning of our relationship with Christ is based upon covenant. It should not surprise you then that our relationship, to love and be one with another and in Christ, is about covenant. The fact that we are baptized into one body and also partake of communion with one another, leads us to understand that the Church is in covenant with one another and with Christ. A covenant is an oath, a bond. When a believer becomes a member, he or she pledges to have the same bond into the mystical union with God and one another—we become one as a living body. To stand outside of this covenant is merely to be an observer, which people can do prior to joining. For this reason, the early church had membership services on Easter, to welcome in the newly baptized and those who went through teaching about the church—this is why some churches have membership classes. But why is this important or necessary you may ask? If a person never becomes a covenant member of the family of God it does not jeopardize their salvation; true, but it does jeopardize their well-being, spiritual growth, development, and ability to intrinsically unite with Christ, through Christian brotherhood (i.e. bonding). 


May the God of all peace give you understanding and wisdom and bring you into the fellowship of believers, where you are. God’s blessings!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

3 Reasons Why a Church Wants a Good Preacher and Not a Good Pastor


I thought it would be informing to help identify what the differences are between preachers and pastors. This is not exhaustive, just a basic look at how and why some churches choose to pick the person who fills the pulpit. Also, this will provide a reason why so many churches have revolving doors, regarding pastors. So, let’s take a look at three reasons why a church wants a good preacher and not a good pastor. 

#1 A Preacher Brings an Audience

The good preacher presents a message each week which is vibrant and sounds great—he will eventually bring in a crowd. This person tells the people what they want to hear and is a great orator. However, this is not the main function of a pastor—even though it is a major aspect of the position, there are differences between preachers and pastors. While pastors should be trained in preaching and know how to deliver a message, the bottom line is not people in seats, but the Word of God in hearts. Most churches seek a person who can preach the paint off of walls, while neglecting the importance of the pastoral role—to guide, direct, and lead the people; this includes from false doctrine, theology, and also in the roles of the Church as a whole and within culture and society.

#2 A Pastor is a Shepherd

The Shepherd has a rod and a staff. Many evangelicals do not like discipline, or being told they are wrong. Let’s face it, with so many mega churches, denominations, and church plants today, believers can basically survive under the radar. So, some churches do not want to offend those visiting with a message of sin or the Gospel. If this occurs, it is time to get rid of the shepherd and find another preacher. It is even noticeable that some churches subconsciously will drive out good pastors because they adhere to either biblical teaching, traditions, or are leading the church into an area that is uncomfortable. Shepherds do that sometimes—they lead their flocks into unfamiliar territory or un-comfortability. But a good shepherd knows that he is teaching the flock and helping them to grow, spiritually and emotionally. A good preacher may know how to speak the truth, but a good pastor sees the truth and expose false teaching.

#3 No Trust in the Shepherd

            For the pastor to lead, he must be able to lead with trust. If the church does not follow the vision, teaching, or leading of the shepherd then the shepherd is no longer a shepherd, but a preacher and a goat herder. The church that does not trust the leadership of the pastor, never intended to be lead, but to lead—this happens far too often. When there is a lack of trust for the pastor, he cannot lead anywhere except where the sheep are familiar with going. This leads to complacency, lethargy, and spiritual purgatory. However, there are a few church congregations that are more than happy to lead. I’ve heard of one pastor who was told by a prominent member, “I was here before you got here and I will be here when you leave.” There is absolutely no place for that comment or person in the Church of Christ—a complete lack of trust and respect for leadership.


So, before you choose the next person to fill the pulpit, ask yourself the question; do you want a good preacher or a good pastor?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why I'm Giving Up Prayer for Lent


This year I am giving up prayer for Lent—yes, you read that correctly, but not in the sense that you may think. I’ll get to the reason why in a moment, but first let me explain that this time of year always surprises me because so many evangelicals associate Lent with some sort of taboo of cultic worship. Then again, I’m also amazed at the lack of knowledge from those who practice Lent, but don’t understand it. I confess that I’m amazed and surprised because evangelicals follow the seasons of the world without a thought: spring, summer, autumn, and winter, but neglect the seasons of the Church; unless of course, those seasons of the church do not conflict with what they perceive to be as Biblical (i.e. Advent, Pentecost, Easter, Christmas). So, let’s look at why Lent in the first place?

Why Lent?

Lent is the season of the church, handed down by the early church fathers to be recognized as a time for deep meditation on the Word of God, devotion to prayer, and penitence for sins, but it doesn’t stop there. There were people who were kicked out of the church for notorious sins and were allowed, after the season of Lent, to recommit to Christ and His Church; to come back into the fold. Easter was the time of year when new converts to the faith joined the church by baptism. Let’s us also rectify the erroneous thinking that this season of the Church is solely a Roman Catholic observance; this shows one’s ignorance of the word Catholic, which means Universal, as well as, any knowledge regarding the history of the church. Some evangelicals have a difficult time with anything that even blinks of tradition; to them I repeat what the Apostle stated regarding being a devout follower of Christ, “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thess 3:6).

The “we” of Paul’s sentence is the church, the body of Christ; the traditions are the actual things that pertain to the teachings of the Apostles. If we want to neglect all of the traditions of the church then we also neglect the gathering together, reading the Word, the Lord’s Supper, and baptism, but we’re very good at picking and choosing—we should at least agree on the seasons! Lent is so much more than “What do I give up”? Lent is a 40 day season of observance to remind believers of Christ’s majesty, reign, and sovereignty over mortal humanity and the gift of everlasting life through His blood; which then brings me to why I am giving up something.

Giving Up Prayer?

            After much prayer, I’ve decided that during this season, I was not going to quit something (which may be good); instead, I was going to add something—more prayer. I decided that I was going to dedicate more blocks of time, and give this time to the Lord. So, in essence, I am giving up prayer to the Lord! I desire more prayers moving upward to God during this season. Let me explain, the Levitical priests offered up incense before God during their prayers (as if the smoke were the actual prayers themselves). The Apostle Paul, as an ex-Pharisee, was well aware of this tradition and made the beautiful correlation to the church when he wrote:

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Cor 2:14-16)
The triumphal procession of incense was by the holy high priest, but instead, now our High priest, Christ, who went before us on the cross and into eternal dwellings, uses believers’ lives as God’s sweet smelling aroma of incense before the world. We are the aroma of Christ; may our prayers be a sweet smelling fragrance before God. Sure, it should be every day, but what the early church knew was that a time of penitence should not last forever, as it would discourage believers from understanding the joys of the Resurrection and the Virgin birth, as well as Pentecost.


So, I appeal to you in the name of Christ, to observe this church season, take an inward look at your outward life. Ask yourself questions. Do your daily actions connect with your profession of faith? Are you truly repentant of your sins before God? Did Jesus pay the penalty of your sins? Is He your Lord and Savior? Do you tell Him what to do, or ask Him how you may serve Him? Think on these things during this Lenten season, get to know Him in a more experiential way and when the Passion week comes, an anticipation of the King will roar like the Lion of Judah, Halleluiah!  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Salvation is Boring?


"Salvation is boring." These were the words that came out of the mouth of the person I was talking with, regarding a walk with Christ. I fear that we live in a time, in which people are extremely self-indulgent and always wanting to be entertained—dare I say, even the Christian. I must admit, this hits a chord with me, and when she said it, I chuckled. The reason I thought it was humorous was because anyone who has walked with Christ for any length of time knows that Christianity is not boring—there’s always a new lesson, a new trial, a new mountain to climb. But let me confess, these words carried more than humor, they harbored a sense of angst in me. Christianity is not a spectator sport!

According to Josephus, the people around Jerusalem gave the Apostle James a nickname and it wasn’t one which was very flattering—they called him, “Camel knees.” While it was true that his knees looked like those of the leg joints of a camel, it was because he had such an outstanding prayer life that he was constantly on his knees, not on cushy pillows, but of stone, dirt, and marble. Imagine a life so filled with prayer that people described you that way. By the way, this was the half-brother of Christ, which is a very powerful testimony of who Jesus really was. But you may say, “Prayer is boring!”

Some things I just don’t understand, any person who is saved from the darkness of sin and death and transferred into Christ’s glorious kingdom (Col. 1:13-14), could not possibly think a saved life is boring—unless—that person is not serving the King. This is one reason I stress that Christians become unified as a family. A family spends time together, grows together, cries together, and loves together. Our faith is not to be viewed as coming and going, but being continually on mission—as the family of God. As it has been said, “We gather, so that we can scatter.” There should be nothing mundane about our faith. Every day should bring us new challenges, new hope and dreams, and new opportunities to encourage others and share the Gospel—and if that is not enough then we should fill the holes with fiery prayer.

We’re a generation that lacks the power and Spirit of God. We confess with our mouths that God is all powerful and nothing is impossible with Him, but lack the faith to set ourselves on fire for God. And this is one of the reasons why I would get a response, “Salvation is boring.” I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but my journey with Christ is a give and get situation; I give time, devotion, energy, love, and prayer and God gives me the amazing ability to share with others and a burning desire of passion for intimacy with Him. When I was an executive chef, I would tell my chefs, if food comes back to this kitchen, it better be because it’s either too salty, too spicy, or too hot; if someone sends it back saying it’s bland or cold—there is going to be a problem! It doesn’t bother me that the world would call us names, they can choose any they like, but may we never be associated with the word boring!

We were created in God’s image, with intellect and imagination; may we be innovative, creative, and always striving to learn and do new and great things.