If you ask the church that I’ve spent most of my life in what their mission is they have a ready answer: preaching the gospel and preparing a people. I can’t speak for your churches, but I imagine many (perhaps even most) of them would also point to some version of what we call The Great Commission as their mission statement.
Jesus came to them and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:18-20, WEB)
Is this a commission? yes, it’s “an instruction, command, or duty given to … group of people.” Is it great? since it came from Jesus and involves a responsibility given His disciples, yes. But is it really meant as the defining mission statement for the entire church from Jesus’ resurrection to His return? I’m not so sure.
A Sobering Warning
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were the group He spent the most time criticizing and correcting. They professed to follow God’s highest standards but were in reality hypocrites. They did righteous looking things just to get attention (Matt. 23:5). They went to great lengths to convert people only to pervert their faith (Matt. 23:15). They placed too high an emphasis on money received as tithes and offerings (Matt. 23:16-19). They neglected the “weighty matters” of God’s law and instead followed their own traditions. They even turned the temple itself into a marketplace where they exploited people coming to worship God (John 2:14-16).
The scary thing is, these people honestly thought they were the most righteous God-followers out there. That serves as a warning today that church leaders and organizations have to be very careful where they place their focus. And so do we as individual members of Christ’s body.
A Greater “Commission”
We certainly shouldn’t ignore Christ’s instruction to go, disciple, baptize, and teach. But we need to make sure we’re thinking of that command from Matthew 28 in its proper context. Because there are two other commissions that Jesus plainly told us are His greatest commands. Continue reading
I’d meant to just write one post about the Sermon on the Mount. Now here we are three weeks later with a third post on this study. And the first two only got through chapter five! I’m marveling at how much depth there is in such a familiar passage of scripture.
In the first part of this sermon, Jesus focuses on what God expects from those He’s in a relationship with. And it’s not always something that makes sense to human beings. The Beatitudes cover actions and character traits that don’t seem particularly positive from a human perspective, yet Jesus describes them as “blessed.” Then He starts talking about how law-keeping will change under the New Covenant. Walking in the spirit raises the bar higher, aiming for being like God rather than just living by the letter of His law. We end up keeping the law as we live in the spirit. And Jesus sticks with this theme of God’s expectations verses man’s ideas as He continues the sermon.
Jesus tells His hearers not to “do merciful deeds,” pray, or fast “as the hypocrites do” (Matt. 6:1-18, WEB). Those things are good — even essential — but they need to come from the right heart. The word hupokrites (G5273) means a stage actor or player who assumes a character’s role. So if you call someone who’s not on stage a hupokrites, you’re accusing them of playing a role in their lives. These people are living a performance, pretending to follow God while having other motives.
Hypocrites pretend to follow God so they can show-off to other people. But if we do that, Jesus warns “you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 6:1, WEB). The hypocrites do things for human praise and when they get it “they have received their reward” (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16, WEB). If your only motive is impressing people, then that’s all you’ll get out of your righteous play-acting. Continue reading
When we start talking about the relationship between God’s law and New Testament Christians, everyone wants to jump right into Paul’s writings. It’s easy to pluck verses from his epistles out of context and use them to argue the law has been abolished and you don’t have to keep the commandments. But is that really the best explanation for passages like Romans 7 and Colossians 2 in light of the rest of the Bible?
I’ve written quite a bit about Romans but never Colossians, even though some commenters have asked. But a short time ago I was re-reading Paul’s letter to Colossae and felt a nudge in my spirit, “study this,” as I read 2:8:
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (KJV)
This verse provides context for what’s to follow. Paul’s going to be talking about the difference between following traditions invented by men and following Christ. He’s not just talking about whether or not the Old Testament law matters since Jesus came in the flesh. There’s another factor in play.
Jesus’ Take On God’s Law
Before going any farther in Paul’s writings, let’s look at what Jesus says. During His ministry, Jesus and His disciples were accused of things like Sabbath breaking, defiling Himself with sinners’ company, and unclean hygienic practices. We know that Jesus lived a sinless life and never broke His Father’s commands. But He did reject the additions humans made. Continue reading
If we say we’re followers of Jesus Christ, there are certain things we should, nay, we must do. As we talked about last week, there are observable markers of being someone who follows God — things we should be able to notice when we examine ourselves. Those things are inseparably connected with Christ’s presence in us.
There is plenty of freedom within the perfect law of liberty, but there are absolutes as well. God is highly personal and He’ll work with you on a personal level. That does not, however, mean He has different requirements for how different people follow and worship Him. He’s also a just God who is not inconsistent in His commandments, laws, and expectations. We might have different understandings of what God expects, but as we grow toward God we should also be growing in unity as we understand His mind more fully. There isn’t one law for you and one law for me. There’s just God telling us all to walk in His ways.
Love + Obedience + Indwelling
John begins both his gospel and his first epistle with a focus on Jesus Christ’s role as the Word of life. Then, in the epistle, he focuses on how we can have fellowship with this great Being and His Father. We must “walk in the light as He is in the light,” “confess our sins” so He’ll forgive us, and then keep His commandments (1 John 1:5-2:3). We cannot claim to know God unless we’ve keeping His word and walking as Jesus walked (1 John 2:4-6). God wants us to be part of His family and that means becoming like Him (1 John 3:1-2). Continue reading
One of the biggest problems in modern Christianity is an extreme either-or mentality. We lack balance, straying from one ditch to the other. Consider the Christian’s relationship with the Law. Some will say we must keep the whole law slavishly and seek part of our salvation in it (legalism), while others reject it entirely and say God doesn’t care if we keep His commands as long as we have Jesus (license). Both views miss the point.
Most arguments that the Law isn’t relevant today start with Paul. But Paul’s letters contain things “hard to understand” which people who aren’t well-grounded in the entirety of scripture can “twist to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:15-16). When we’re going to study a complex subject like this, we have to start somewhere more straight-forward. I can think of nowhere better than words directly from Jesus’ own lips.
Using The Law Rightly
When Jesus came to this earth, He didn’t tell people He was done with the Law. Instead, He said, “I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). This word, pleroo (G4137), means to fill to the fullest extent. Or, as Thayer’s says, “to cause God’s will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be, and God’s promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfillment.” Continue reading
Newly converted Christians (and even many of us who’ve been in the church for years) often struggle with God’s expectations for them, especially when reading the Old Testament. And I’ll admit, the Law can look really daunting. The Jews traditionally say there are 613 commandments, or mitzvot, in the Torah. Because there’s no temple or priesthood anymore, some have estimated only about 270 of these laws are still applicable today.
Reading the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” might feel overwhelming (“How could I ever keep track of them all?”), or sound unfair (“These don’t make sense; is God setting me up to fail?”), or seem stifling (“Why would He dictate my behavior in this area?”). To get around this, many modern Christians have rejected the Law completely and adopted the mentality that once you accept Jesus Christ as your savior there’s nothing else you need to do in order to be called a Christian.
This belief is mistaken. Jesus told people, “if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17). He also said He did not come “to destroy the Law or the Prophets” (Matt. 5:17) and that those who love Him will keep His commandments (John 14:15). Jesus thought the Law was not only relevant but also vitally important, and if we claim to follow Jesus we have to agree with Him. But how do we reconcile 613 (even “only” 270) commandments with Jesus’s statement that “My yoke is easy and My burden is light”? (Matt. 11:30). Where is the love and grace of our Savior in the strict rules of the Law? Continue reading