Our Christian Nationality

A number of years ago I was sitting in a church service listening to the minister introduce his sermon topic for the day. One of the first things he said was, “Close your Bibles and put them on the floor. I’ve got something to tell you this morning.” Smacks of Bibles hitting linoleum is a sound I hope never to hear again. While teenage me wasn’t brave enough to stand up and walk out, I did keep my Bible open in my lap so I could do my own study while he lectured on American history.

The United States of America, rather than something out of the Bible, should feel like a strange topic for a sermon. And yet I’ve heard other sermons, though much less extreme, preached about this topic on a fairly regular basis. Typically, it’s presented as something like “the Biblical history of our country” or “America’s Christian heritage.” The speakers usually do turn to scriptures, but they may spend more time quoting founding fathers and presidents than they do Jesus.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. This isn’t a rant against my country or an article condemning people who love the U.S. of A (which I why I didn’t post this 4th of July weekend, though it would have probably gotten more views then). Nor am I saying Christians teachers shouldn’t quote writings outside the Bible. My concern is that patriotism for our physical nation has gotten muddled up with our Christian faith as if the two are, or should be, interconnected. But I don’t think they should be.Our Christian Nationality | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Not Of The World

When Jesus walked this earth, He said He was “not of this world” (John 8:23, KJV). At the Passover, He started describing His followers that way as well (John 15:19; 17:14-16). We still have to live in this world, as Paul points out in 1 Cor. 5:10, but we don’t belong to it.

“We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19, KJV). The present world is evil because it has fallen into sin and is under Satan’s sway (Gal. 1:4; John 14:30). I think most Christians would agree with that at least to a certain extent, otherwise we’d have no need for a Savior. But often, we think of this world’s evil as an abstraction. The world “out there” is wicked, “society” is evil, or there’s a spirit of wickedness at large “somewhere.” But maybe my neighborhood, this city, our country isn’t really all that bad.

Here in the U.S., we don’t yet face the sort of persecution that would serve as a constant reminder that this world isn’t a Christian’s home. I’m thankful for that, but I also wonder if it has made us lose sight of some important truths. The United States was founded with some Christian principles and a guarantee of a religious freedom, but it was never a “Christian nation” and it hadn’t even looked like one for a long time. And while you have the right as an American to get involved in pushing your country toward where you’d like it to go and a duty as a Christian to stand up for what’s right in God’s sight, this physical nation isn’t where we owe our primary allegiance. Continue reading

Is Your Church The Same As God’s Church?

How do you define “church”? A building where Christians worship, the clergy of a religious body, all the believers in a religion, a specific denomination, a public worship gathering — those are all definitions we use in the English language. If we say we “go to church,” we either mean the building or the service. If we say of a group, “this is my church,” we’re generally telling people which denomination we’re part of. If we say someone chose the church as a career path, we mean they went into the clergy.

But those definitions don’t really get at what “church” means in the Bible. In fact, the only part of our English definition that overlaps with the Greek word’s definition is “the whole body of Christians” (Merriam-Webster 3a). And because there’s such a difference, I think it’s important to look at what the New Testament writers were talking about when they discussed the church. We want to learn about how God sees His church, not just how human beings define it today.

Called Out Ones

In the New Testament, “church” is translated from ekklesia (G1577). It’s a compound word that literally means a “calling out” (Strong’s Dictionary). In general, it’s used of a “gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place.” In the church-specific sense, it’s “an assembly of Christians” that gathers in a specific place or “the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth” (Thayer’s Dictionary). Continue reading

I’m A Christian … Now What?

What do you do after becoming a Christian? You’ve acknowledged your need for a savior, repented of your past sins, confessed Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and received the gift of God’s grace. The foundations are in place. Now what?

There are some Christians, even Christian teachers, who don’t really know how to answer this question. Those who teach we have no role to play in our salvations and that nothing’s expected of us after conversion are left in a tough pickle. One could, according to this theory, have someone convert to Christianity then go out lying, sleeping around, and stealing but still be considered saved as a part of God’s family. And even the good people who wouldn’t dream of doing something like that are still left with the question, “What do I do now?”

God answers this question for us in the pages of His Bible. You can’t do anything to make God owe you salvation; it is a gift that He chooses to give freely to those who respond to His call. But once you’ve been given this gift your life is supposed to change. Salvation transforms the way you live and gives us a purpose.

Choose A Way

In Acts, Christians are described as people who follow “the way” of the Lord (Acts 9:2; 18:25-26; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). It’s a metaphorical use of the Greek word hodos (G3598), meaning “a course of conduct.” When used literally, hodos refers to the roadway you travel on a journey. In both cases, use of this word implies motion, travel, and activity.

Christians aren’t meant to stagnate. They’re meant to walk through life in a certain way. We get to choose whether we’ll walk in the ways of men or the way of God. And God’s instructions in the New Testament for how to walk look a  lot like His laws about how to behave from the Old Testament. The law can’t bring salvation and it was never intended to. But it was a revelation of God’s character and He hasn’t changed. Our conduct still matters to Him.

Ephesians is a fantastic place to start diving deeper into this topic.  Here, Paul reminds his readers that they “once walked according to the course of this world.” They were “children of disobedience” influenced by God’s adversary and acting in ways contrary to God’s teachings (Eph. 2:2-3, WEB).

But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)(Eph. 2:4-5, WEB)

Trespasses — sin — kills people. That’s why the choice of whether or not to follow God has always been presented as a choice between life and death (Deut. 30:15-18). Grace lets us choose life even after we’ve done things worthy of death. But it doesn’t give us license to sin or permission to sit around twiddling our thumbs. Continue reading

Being A Faithful Servant

Our salvation requires action. Even the most liberal versions of Christianity expect people to believe in and confess Christ even if they say you don’t have to do anything after that. And scripture takes it several steps further, saying that believers are also to repent of their past sins and then commit to following Jesus.

God wants relationship with us. Like all relationships, this is a two-way street. We’ll never be able to out-give or out-love God, or even come close to matching what He offers us. But He still wants us to give Him what we do have to offer: our hearts, minds, and souls. He wants commitment and faithfulness from those who’ve asked to be in relationship with Him.Being A Faithful Servant | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Parables and Responsibilities

Near the end of His life, Jesus’ disciples asked Him about signs signalling the end of the world and His second coming. After answering this question in Matt 24:3-44. He moved on to what’s expected of His followers while they wait. He tells them to watch and be ready, then He beings a series of parables.

Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord has set over his household, to give them their food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his lord finds doing so when he comes. (Matt. 24:45-46, WEB)

The people waiting for Christ’s return are supposed to be doing something. In this particular parable, it has to do with how they treat their fellow servants. God cares about how you interact with the people around you. Having a relationship with Him is meant to transform that area of your life. Continue reading

Knowing The Truth and Loving The Truth

In John 8:32, Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (WEB). Truth from God is a powerful thing. And it’s something God wants to share with everyone, because He “desires all people to be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4, WEB). Knowing God’s truth is connected with the salvation offered in Jesus Christ and is a key component of the Christian faith.

according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began (Tit. 1:1-2, KJV)

But head knowledge isn’t enough. It’s absolutely essential that you study and know about the One you believe in, but knowledge doesn’t get you into the kingdom. Paul says you could even “understand all mysteries, and all knowledge” but without love it would mean nothing (1 Cor. 13:2, KJV). We’re meant to go beyond knowing about God’s truth to doing something with that knowledge. If you don’t care about the truth enough to put it into action, then it’s not making the difference in your life that God intends.Knowing The Truth and Loving The Truth | marissabaker.wordpress.com

We Lose What We Don’t Love

Paul writes in second Thessalonians about a wicked one “whose coming is after the working of Satan” (2:9, KJV). He warns this one will come

with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thes. 2:10-12, KJV)

Paul doesn’t say these people didn’t know the truth. They weren’t ignorant about God’s message. But they did not believe the truth and they did not love it. Matthew Henry writes, “They could not bear sound doctrine and therefore easily imbibed false doctrines … Had they loved the truth, they would have persevered in it and been preserved by it; but no wonder if they easily parted with what they never had any love to (commentary on 2 Thes. 2:4-12, point #5). Continue reading

God’s “Real Children”

So, which ones are your kids? I mean, your real children.”

The parent with adopted kids fights to stay civil. “They’re all my children.”

I’m not adopted nor am I an adoptive parent, but it’s a topic near my heart. Partly because I care deeply about helping children and partly because adoption is how God describes His process of making us His children.

Several years ago, I wrote a blog post addressing a booklet I’d read a couple years before that which claimed adoption wasn’t really how God puts us in His family. They said it was a misunderstanding to say Christians are adopted children of God “rather than His actual begotten sons.” And that thought is still around. Just a few weeks ago, I heard a message where the speaker read Romans 8:14-17 and said, “It’s not adoption it is sonship.”

As you might imagine, I’ve got a couple issues with the idea that teaching we’re adopted by God is the same as saying we’re not His “real children.” For one thing, it implies in way that’s not at all subtle that if you’re adopted you’re not really part of the family. And it’s not okay to say things like that to an audience that very likely includes adopted children (and if it doesn’t, it should. The Bible defines true religion as caring for orphans and there are 3 times as many churches as orphans in the U.S.). But as vital as it is to make sure our words don’t injure others, it’s also important to properly represent God’s teachings through scripture.

Placing As Sons

The word translated “adoption” in New Covenant writings is huiothesia (G5206). It’s a compound formed from the words huios (“son” G5207) and tithemi (“to place” G5087). Paul’s the only Biblical writer to use it and it’s not found in classical Greek either (though the phrase thetos huios is used for “adopted son”). Rather, it’s a technical term referring to a legal and social custom in Greek and Roman society.

This sort of “adoption, when thus legally performed, put a man in every respect in the position of a son by birth to him who had adopted him, so that he possessed the same rights and owed the same obligations” (Spiros Zodhiates The Complete WordStudy Dictionary, entry on G5206). While it can be translated “sonship,” it’s a sonship obtained through an adoption process (not sonship instead of adoption). Continue reading