Found Guilty in Order to Find Mercy

“For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God (Galatians 2:19).”


The Apostle Paul’s opponents were the Judaizers. They were professing Jewish Christians who believed that certain ceremonial OT practices were still binding upon the church. The epistle to the Galatians was written by Paul to refute the mischief caused by the Judaizers. For they had circulated among Paul’s converts in Galatia, seeking to impose ceremonial OT regulations, including circumcision.

The Judaizers argued that Paul was not an authentic apostle. Paul’s response to their charge is found in Galatians 1-2. In these chapters, Paul establishes his apostolic authority and substantiates the biblical gospel. The book of Galatians is an eloquent defense of the essential New Testament truth that a man is justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone. A man is not sanctified by legalistic works, but only by faith in God’s work on his behalf. The life of faith is lived out in the freedom of the Spirit which issues forth in obedience.

It was the rediscovery of the basic message of Galatians that brought about the Protestant Reformation. Galatians is often referred to as “Luther’s book” because Martin Luther relied so heavily on this epistle in his writings and in his arguments against the heresies of his day.

The historical setting of Galatians 2 involves an event which took place in the church in Antioch. Paul stood up in the congregation of Antioch and rebuked Peter for withdrawing from his Gentile brethren for fear of the Judaizers. By Peter’s act of separating himself, he was compelling the Gentiles to go back under law for full righteousness (2:11-21).

The grace purchased by Christ’s work had torn down the barrier between Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:11-16). But Peter, by separating himself, was reinstalling the barrier that the cross of Christ had removed! (Peter’s error was grievous. By reinstituting regulations on eating and drinking, he was rebuilding a salvation structure by Law-works which was previously torn down.)

How important is justification by faith? Luther said that it was the article of faith upon which the church stands or falls. Where the doctrine is systematically neglected, churches are spiritually dead. In stressing the importance of justification, Luther said, “We must know it well, teach it to others, beat it into their heads continually.”

Why did the reformer emphasize constant reiteration of this doctrine? The reason is that Luther knew the heart of man. He understood that we carry a lower nature that is self-righteous to the core. One could accurately say that all men are born with a natural heart religion that imagines a man may be justified by what he does before God. There is a self-righteous legal spirit in all of us that hopes to achieve standing before God by means of law works.

When a person is born again, his “heart religion” is displaced by the glorious truth of justification. Theologian Berkouer says, “Justification touches man’s life at its heart; at the point of a man’s relationship with God, it defines the preaching of the church, the life of faith, the root of our security, and our perspective on the future.”

Justification is not grounded upon what we do, but in the work Christ did on Calvary. Therefore we do not rest in any of our merits, but solely on the work of Christ. It is the glorious doctrine of God’s own righteousness imputed.

The false apostles and Judaizers who had troubled the Galatian churches had said in effect, “unless you live according to the Law, you are dead to God. Live after the Law or be dead to God.” But Paul, God’s true apostle, proclaims that the redeemed man is dead to the law and now lives to God. Paul uses the law as it should be used – its design is to show us our sin, not give us life before God. The law is intended by God to show us our need of justification.

Paul warns the Galatians of the severe danger of attempting to contribute to one’s legal righteousness before God. The Apostle’s “formula” in Philippians 3:7-9 is to reckon as rubbish anything that competes with Christ as a source of right-standing before God. Paul reckons all personal accomplishments as refuse in order that he might gain Christ. (In so doing he steers clear of any personal attempt to accrue merit before God.)

It is impossible for the nature of man to accomplish the Law. If a person depends upon the religious duties of the Law for righteousness, he only proves that he is a transgressor of the Law and not a fulfiller of it (Gal 2:18). The Law has the power to condemn, but not to justify. A person who returns to the Law for right standing with God debars himself from justification through Christ.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the Law. The problem stems from man’s depravity. The Law is holy, righteous, spiritual and good says Paul (Romans 7:12, 14). In Romans 13:10, he states that love fulfills the Law. (The Law can “x-ray” the heart, showing its sinful condition, but the Law cannot give us a new heart.)

PROPOSITION: Our purpose is to understand the relationship that believers bear to the Law as a result of their justification. We seek to understand that relationship so that we might fully lean upon Christ’s sufficiency in our new life of grace under God.

In order to accomplish this purpose, we will look at three principles drawn from verse 19:

1.) The Law is the instrument of your death to itself.

2.) You have died a death to the Law.

3.) You are living a new life unto God.

I. The Law is the instrument of our death to itself.

The Law slays its disciples. It forces us to die to itself by threatening destruction. It leaves us with nothing but despair. When we try to be devoted to it, it inflicts a fatal wound and drives us away. The reason for this is that the Law accepts nothing short of perfection. To fail at its legal requirement of perfection is to be judged in one’s whole person (James 2:10).

Now the Apostle Paul gives us a number of graphic descriptions of the Law’s lethal power. Paul has the evangelical use of the Law in mind in these metaphors. His descriptions are from the vantage point of the new covenant in Christ’s blood.

  • The Law “shuts up” all men in a prison of condemnation where they await divine judgment. As such, the Law reveals the legal status of the human race to be that of criminals, guilty of a capital offense against the God of heaven (Rom 11:32; Gal 3:22).
  • The Law pronounces “the curse of God” upon all who seek to commend themselves to God by Law-keeping (Gal 3:10-13).
  • The Law “enslaves” in that it binds the conscience, holding it in a state of guilt and torment (Gal 2:4; 4:3, 7, 9 25).
  • The Law is a “tutor” or child-conductor that exasperates its pupils. This tutor fails every student who does not love God an neighbor perfectly. The Law as a tutor has only one lesson to teach: the revelation of God’s righteousness reveals the absence of man’s righteousness(Rom 3:19).
  • The Law is a “document of condemnation” that demands the death of lawbreakers (Col 2:14; Eph 2:15). The letter of the law kills, for the Law is a minister of death (2 Cor 3:6, 7).

Are you beginning to see now how the Law functions as an instrument of death? No man living is able to accomplish it. Yet God requires it. The Law therefore condemns.

The Law’s work in condemning and killing is an evangelical or gospel work. Its job is to thunder God’s wrath against sin from the heights of Sinai so that man will despair of any humanly devised approach to God.

Paul gives yet another metaphor of the Law in Romans 7. He describes it as an inflexible husband to whom we looked for life and right standing before God. Talk about spousal abuse! This husband beat us and ultimately killed us (Rom 7:9, 10). Instead of saving us, this husband dealt out death, not life. Herein lies the evangelical value of the Law. For the death and condemnation it exacted from me drove me to Christ my eternal Husband who gave me mercy, pardon and life.

Your experience with the Law (your “first husband”) was absolutely necessary. Here is the reason why. Until the Law as a covenant-husband is dead to you and you to it, you will never look for righteousness in Another (in the Lord Jesus Christ). Until the Law kills you and you are dead to it (expecting nothing from it), you will continue to look for justifying righteousness through legal working.

II. You have died a death to the Law.

What does it mean to be “killed” by the Law? How does the Law KILL us? The Law accomplishes your death first of all by accusing you, condemning you, and showing you your wretched state. It knocks you down and curses you. It incarcerates you to be slain by God’s wrath. Only by this “killing” will you be brought to expect nothing from the Law by way of merit before God.

The Holy Spirit is the Agent in this “killing” (Jn 16:8ff). He takes a man’s conscience into the court of God’s Law. There the conscience is arraigned, indicted, and convicted. The man is crushed in his spirit over his sins as he beholds the just sentence of God against him. “I deserve eternal death, hell, condemnation under God’s wrath.” “I deserve to be eternally miserable.”

The person who is convinced of his ill desert by this humbling work of the Holy Spirit despairs of all self-righteousness. His conscience no longer accepts “bribes.” He throws his religious deeds overboard. He is brought to the end of self. His mouth is closed as his desperate case is spread before him – he has no alibis (Rom 3:19).

It is at this point that the Holy Spirit illuminates the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ so that the person appeals to Christ alone for life. Our text reminds us that although God’s grace is free, He only bestows it upon the sinner who has been slain by the Law.

The Law prepares a man for the gospel by resounding blows that break up the flinty rock of self-righteousness resident in every man’s heart. The stony ground must be pulverized by the Law to allow the gospel to effectually enter. (No man will appeal to Christ alone until he is found guilty and condemned by Moses in the court of God’s Law. In our zeal to offer free grace, we are at times too quick to present Jesus as the answer before the “patient” has seen that his sin condition is terminal.)

Untold numbers of individuals have made a religious appeal to Christ’s gospel before they have been brought into God’s Law court. Luther described them as “double appealers,” for they lean on two supports. They presume to be saved by faith aimed at their own efforts and religious works as well as faith aimed at the grace of Christ.

If your appeal to Christ is a correct one, it must be a TOTAL APPEAL. He must have all of the honor in a man’s salvation. Only when a total appeal is made to Christ does the Law cease to be your judge, husband, and covenant of death.

Churches today are filled with religionists who have made a partial appeal. The problem of the religionist is that he has never been killed by the Law. He has never been arrested by it and found worthy of death in God’s sight. He has never been hopeless in himself. He has always maintained a self-righteous optimism that his religious deeds contribute to his safety. When the Law kills a man, it shows him that his self-righteous hopes are damnation.

The religionist has never been cross-examined by God’s Law and found to be a criminal in the sight of heaven. Those who have never been exasperated by the Law as tutor are reluctant to jettison the religious measures they clutch to their bosoms. Their self-righteous hopes have not been broken. In reality, their hope is no better than the hope of Cain the apostate whose religious efforts were rejected by God.

To pass through God’s law courts is come out poor in spirit, mourning over sin. It is to see that all religious hope outside of Christ has been keeping you from justification by faith in Christ. Lest we be guilty of self-deception, we must take Paul’s words to heart. It is only those killed by the Law who have their sentence of damnation fully carried by their Substitute.

To be dead to the Law is to be joined to Christ. For the Law has passed sentence upon Christ our Substitute. He bore our sin up to the cross. He vicarious death is the affirmation of the Law’s verdict (Gal 3:13). Christ became the Law’s curse for our sakes. Our death to the Law was accomplished through Christ’s death. “I am crucified with Christ” Paul says. My participation in Christ’s death has decisively severed us from the Law’s dominion. The Law ceases to exercise its condemning claims upon me (Rom 7:4, 6).

By reason of Christ’s death for me, I have died to the Law’s slavery. I have no more confidence in the Law. I am free from its mastery because it has prosecuted its penalty to the maximum degree upon my Substitute. It has done its worst to my Savior.


III. You are living a new life unto God.

Our freedom from the Law’s dominion is solely because of union with Christ. In Him, I have died to the false way of righteousness. In my Substitute, the document of condemnation was “nailed to the cross” (Col 2:14).

Once a person apprehends Christ by faith, he understands that he is dead to the Law, justified from sin, delivered from death, the devil, and hell. Out of this new relationship we live a new life of consecration to God (Rom 4:15). In this new life we live unto God, we do good works, love God, give thanks to Him, and do deeds of charity to neighbors. Our works of obedience do not add to the sufficiency of Christ. Our crucifixion with Christ is our entrance into a superior life in which we are dead to sin and alive to God (Rom 6:13ff.).


Natural reason cannot understand that the Law is not a path of life before God, for the Law says, “Do this and live.” It seems too wonderful that we should, through Christ, live unto God and be dead to the Law.

What comes natural to a man is to measure personal accomplishment. Every person longs for some kind of “scorecard” to record personal achievement. Therefore, every professor of the Christian faith ought to ask himself, “Was there ever a time in my life when the books of heaven were heavy with charges against me, when God had written dark things against me that I had no hope of erasing?”

Until God shows us we are captives and debtors, guilty and beyond self-help, we are not prepared for God’s remedy in Christ. God uses the tool of His Law to pierce the sinner’s darkness and ignorance with bolts that startle the sleeping conscience. The awakened man begins to fear God’s holy character.

Prior to the Spirit’s conviction, the man had been apathetic, now he shudders at the truth of God’s unbending justice and wrath against sin. With the full conviction of sin, comes the desire to be made new – to be delivered from sinful habits and affections.

The counsel of Scripture to sinners is to welcome conviction and stop running from it. Be willing to feel the weight of your guilt, to be brought low. Accept no remedy for this guilt but the blood of Christ.

Oh how a man needs to be slain by the Law, for nothing is more difficult than to take Christ alonefor righteousness. The natural religion of the heart is secretly opposed to the free grace of God. Only those killed by the Law will fall at the feet of Christ and gladly be beholden to Him forever.



Gospel Reasoning

Every true saint lives with the awareness of his or her ‘dereliction.’ (Dereliction is a fitting word to describe the brokenness, guilt, alienation, and depravity that is the human condition by reason of sin.)


Consciousness of personal sin makes the believer’s conscience restless.  There is a corresponding sense of justice that calls for some form of judgment upon us.  The conscience, with its principle of strict justice, demands punishment or atonement.  When our conscience bothers us, we feel the burden of “not measuring up.”  We feel disqualified for God’s blessing.


Thoughts of “what we deserve” circulate in the conscience as a permeating sense of disqualification orineligibility for God’s love, acceptance, and favor.  The fact that we do not measure up to God’s standard tends to put our focus upon personal unworthiness.  A form of “spiritual paralysis” sets in; we are prisoners in the grey “castle of self.”


This is why it is so important to preach the Gospel to ourselves every day.  Only by fresh acts of faith in Christ, as He is set forth in the Gospel, can the verdict of an accusing conscience be overturned.  Only the sacrifice of Christ can cleanse to the depths of conscience so that its defilement is purged (Heb 9:14).


God’s only basis for our full acceptance is Christ’s Person and work.  We have no standing before God in ourselves.  When we preach the Gospel to ourselves, we are consenting to be accepted upon God’s terms. We are again consenting to be protected by Christ – we are fleeing to Him for refuge from the wrath our sins deserve. We are taking Him as our righteousness.  This is the only adequate motive for the pursuit of holiness.


How foreign it is to natural reason to think that God is glorified when the guilty sinner runs to Christ for mercy and grace – but God is glorified when we do so.  He is glorified when we run to the atonement and receive all we need in Christ.


Our natural, carnal wisdom contains a subtle form of pride when we disqualify ourselves for God’s favor freely offered in Christ.  Divine grace crosses the grain of our instincts of self-preservation.  The flesh wants control, not dependency.  By contrast saving faith is self-renouncing in that it looks away from self to Christ as the source of our favor and acceptance with God.


Faith in Christ alone can take us off of self.  Faith that truly trusts in Christ is willing to regard self as the ongoing object of divine mercy, compassion, love, and pity.   The person in that faith posture is in a position to worship (Is 12:1-6).


By contrast, pride argues and disputes about eligibility for God’s love and favor – pride says, “I don’t want to be a ‘charity case’ one more day – I’d much prefer to operate on the basis of personal merit.”  The flesh is more “secure” when performing for love. 


The Gospel overturns our pride.  When Christ conquers us by His love and mercy, we become willing to receive God’s love – we actually consent to be loved by God “for no good reason in us!” Think of it; Christ has taken out of the way everything that disqualifies me for a love relationship with the Trinity!


What a source of liberty this is.  The message of the Gospel of Christ believed gives us full permission to receive God’s grace, and to keep going to God for His grace.  Faith in the Gospel transforms our thinking. As we consent by faith to receive His love anew each day, the posture of our souls becomes characterized by trust and peace. 


Out of this trust comes joy.  Joy has as its cause a virtue that is inexplicable to the natural man.  It is a virtue supernatural in origin – we literally learn to trust God above self.  In so doing, we grow up into Christ (Eph 4:15). 


Trusting God above self (Prov 3:5, 6) releases God’s strength and boldness in us.  Have you ever noticed how this strength and boldness seems to dry up when we are stuck in a mode of self-protection, self-absorption, and self-recrimination?


Much of our self-rejection is a byproduct of refusing to reason by means of the Gospel.  But Gospel reasoning is the only means appointed by God to think accurately about ourselves.  When we are marooned in the quagmire of preoccupation with self and the spiritual condition of self, a sense of inferiority and unworthiness spoils our joy and ability to receive freely from God.


The Lord’s solution is always a return to the Gospel way of reasoning.  We must not evaluate ourselves without Christ by our side.  Right-standing with God is freely given to those who are in union with Christ. For in the Gospel, God’s way of man’s right-standing with Him is uncovered; the way of faith (see Rom 1:16, 17).


When hounded by inferiority and self-rejection, we can’t seem to get our eyes off of how we are doing. Fresh faith in Christ and the Gospel will deliver us – for the Gospel gives us full permission to receive God’s love, grace, and favor just as we are – without any qualification coming from us.  Christ is our eligibility.  He became a man in order to qualify us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Col 1:12).  As faith in Christ and the Gospel becomes increasingly habitual, our union with Christ is attended by the comfort the Holy Spirit brings (Rom 15:13).


The Gospel believed, as a habit; as a lifestyle, opens the door to victory. 

Patterns of defeat begin to fall away.  We begin to treat the promises of God’s Word as having more authority than our fears, our doubts, and our opinions.  Scripture becomes even more real than the fearful messages we infer from our circumstances.  Our pessimism concerning what we fear we deserve from God because of our failure is replaced by holy expectation that He desires to bless us for Christ’s sake.


As the Spirit enables us to take hold of Christ as our entire eligibility and qualification for God’s ongoing grace, we learn to live the life of sonship; the son has faith that his Heavenly Father indeed has an eternal inheritance for him.  Thus the trusting saint pleases God by his faith.  God is honored when we expect Him to keep His promises – He is pleased when we leverage ourselves upon His promises, basing our entire welfare on His oath to perform them.


Faith in the Gospel keeps settling the disputes about our eligibility which are raised by the conscience.  By Gospel faith we keep displaying our crucified and risen Savior to the accusing conscience.  But why do we do this?  That the conscience may accept the fact that justice has been done on our behalf by the death of our Substitute.


Only the Gospel can quiet the conscience.  We will fail if we attempt to make a Savior of our repentance, of our contrition, and of our remorse.  It is fresh faith in the Gospel that overcomes our innate tendency to try to earn merit and favor with God.


Faith in the Gospel gives us the warrant and the confidence to expect God’s goodness to exceed all that we could ask or think.  Let us remember that Christ is our life; Christ is our completeness.  All of God’s promises are “Amen” in Him.


Questions and Considerations for a Skeptic: A Gospel Plea to be Saved

One of the many titles by which Jesus designated Himself was, “Faithful Witness.” He was afaithful witness because He testified accurately proclaiming the message given to Him by God the Father – “For I did not speak on my own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak” (Jn 12:49).

We must never forget that Jesus was a witness. A witness is one is does not aver from what he hears and knows to be absolutely true (Vines Dictionary). He does not alter the message. He does not back down in the face of opposition. He refuses to compromise the truth; he is willing to declare the truth full strength, even when his life is endangered.

Do you understand what it cost Jesus to get the truth to us? He faced unimaginable resistance – the religious establishment of His day accused Him of being demon-possessed; they said that His birth was illegitimate. Then after subjecting Him to so many insults, they plotted His murder. Eleven of His twelve Apostles were eventually tortured and murdered for the sake of the truth. Their time under Jesus’ ministry had so transformed them that they too had become willing to pay the price of a faithful witness.

Have you ever considered why the truth is so ‘expensive,’ and why it can be so inflammatory? Jesus gives us the answer in John 8. In that discourse Jesus attests to the fact that apathy toward personal sin allows one to remain a slave to sin. The Lord went on to say that those who die as slaves to sin will not inherit eternal life (Jn 8:34-35).

Now before you bristle at that truth proclaimed by Christ, realize that God does not share ourlaissez-faire attitude toward sin. He cannot share His eternal abode with a hardened sinner any more than you can comfortably share your bedroom with the rotting corpse of a horse.

Jesus continually testified concerning the seriousness of sin. That’s precisely what got Him in trouble. He came into a world like ours in this sense – that its citizens, like us, had the attitude, “nobody’s perfect, what’s the big deal about sin?”

Our problem is that when we think about the God of the universe, we seldom contemplate Him as He really is. The Psalmist dealt with this problem when he described the unbeliever’s imaginings of God as follows, “You thought that I was just like you” (Ps 50:21). The weight of that statement cannot be fully appreciated without its context – for the Psalmist is addressing the fact that the unbeliever imagines that the Holy God of the universe is just as apathetic about sin as the unbeliever is!

Bear with me while I suggest an exercise. Try to imagine God as great and infinite as He is revealed in the Scriptures. May I humbly suggest that it is something you are unable to do; the best that you can do is imagine a large version of yourself.

Perhaps an illustration will help. Remember the footage that came back from the first Apollo moonwalk? You remember it; a 175 pound man was skipping and nearly floating air born between steps as he glided across the dusty surface of the moon. Gravity was less of an issue because the size of the heavenly body he was dealing with was relatively small (in relation to the size of planets and stars).

Suppose that same astronaut attempted his skipping on the surface of a planet the size of Jupiter; do you know what would happen? Because of the mass of the planet, his 175 weight would now be closer to one third of a ton. He would be pinned to the surface of the planet, unable to walk upright. His breathing would be labored; his own weight would squeeze and crush his lungs and heart.

Now here’s the application. Sin is a life and death issue – not because of what some religious institution says. No, sin is a life and death issue because of the infinite immensity of the Holy God with whom we have to deal! We have no idea what it would be like to stand before this Holy God just as we have no idea how debilitating it would be to attempt to walk about the surface of a planet the size of Jupiter. We think of God’s glory as a light thing, but in fact the Hebrew word for glory, kavod, has the meaning of weightiness. There’s a mighty weightiness to God’s glory that would consume us in an instant if we were to stand before Him in our naked sinfulness. It His mercy that keep us from being consumed (Lam. 3:22).

This is the truth about which Jesus was a faithful witness. Jesus bore witness to the truth BECAUSE, as He said in John 12:50, “And I know that His commandment (the Father’s) is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.

The truth Jesus preached, when received, is the only way to be rightly adjusted to the God of the universe. It is the only way to be free and to have eternal life; it is the only way to know God as He truly is. It is the only way to be liberated from slavery to sin.

Now that brings up the subject of guilt. This is a subject which the Scriptures frequently address in the most realistic terms imaginable. You may express your objection in quite strong terms that you have no use for any organized religious ‘authority’ which attempts to lay a burden of guilt and fear upon you. The point is well taken; and it factors in nicely at this stage.

(In conceding an aspect of the point about guilt; church history’s dirty laundry reveals the following fact: when organized religion departs from the Scriptures, the inevitable result is a man-made system that attempts, but fails to manage human guilt.)

Now back to the objection about guilt. In Southern California the other day I saw the following banner stitched onto a motorcyclist’s backpack: “To hell with guilt!” Obviously this biker felt that guilt was “cramping his lifestyle.” In other words, he had a definition of freedom that meant living without guilt.

This is precisely where the message of Christ is infinitely practical. The ‘freedom’ which Christ spoke of in John 8 includes freedom from guilt. The issue is; how do we get there – how can a man live guilt-free? When one reads John 8, it’s quite clear that organized religion is not the path to freedom from guilt. Remember; it was the religious leaders who were opposing Jesus during His discourse about sin, truth, and freedom.

Let’s compare the California motorcyclist’s approach to freedom from guilt with Christ’s truth about freedom (the truth He received from His Heavenly Father). The motorcyclist’s approach could be paraphrased as follows: “I hate guilt; it disturbs my pursuit of personal fulfillment. Therefore I have made a decision to reject guilt feelings.”

Here’s the amazing thing – Jesus is offering the very thing the motorcyclist craved – freedom from guilt. The motorcyclist’s desire is legitimate; it’s realistic. He’s more of a philosopher than he realizes; for guilt is the human condition; guilt is what makes our lives miserable. But here’s the problem. The motorcyclist wants freedom from guilt, but NOT by way of truth. Jesus offers freedom from guilt in a much different way; through the assured and guaranteed path of the authoritative truth which He is preaching.

This is the reason the motorcyclist will not be successful in his pursuit of a guilt-free life. He is attempting freedom from guilt by avoiding the truth of God in Christ. Denial and repression of God’s truth cannot bring freedom from guilt. Ultimately his denial mechanism will fail.

Again an illustration will help make this more understandable. A little over one hundred years ago there was a surgeon named Joseph Lister. He was convinced that the reason his fellow surgeons were losing over fifty percent of their patients to infection was because they refused to sterilize their surgical instruments. (What was common practice back then would horrify us today; surgeons operated upon disease-infected patients and then wiped off their scalpels on their aprons before working on the next patient.) Lister warned that by not using sterile knives, the doctors were spreading infection between patients.

Lister’s peers mocked him as an ‘old maid,’ too fastidious to be taken seriously. Lister was practically driven mad by what he saw. Patients who were stitched closed soon swelled with infection and died a painful death.

It wasn’t until the microscope lens became powerful enough to see living bacteria that Lister was vindicated and antiseptic procedures became the norm. Here is the application for us. Apart from the ‘lens’ of Scripture (the Words of Christ) we are unable to see sin for what it is. We are unable to see it as the ‘infection’ of the soul. We are oblivious to its destructive power.

Because we are already troubled with guilt, the last thing we want to hear is a message which will bring our guilt to the surface and intensify it. In essence, we don’t stay long enough in the “doctor’s office” of Scripture to hear the remedy. The diagnosis is so painful to our pride and so troubling to the conscience; we walk out before we hear about the cure. We’re strongly tempted to return to our failed efforts to live guilt-free; we’d rather deal with guilt by means of denial rather than by the truth.

Jesus discussed this universal tendency of man to run from God’s diagnosis of the heart. In John 3:19 Christ Jesus says, “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil.

That sure hits home. In fact our Lord is saying that because of sin and its accompanying guilt, men will run from the truth. They do not want God’s light, Jesus Christ, to shine intensely upon their lives. Now it’s easy to see that the issue here is that sinful man abhors the exposure of his sin. But notice also in this verse that Jesus is stating that rejection of the light brings a certain kind of verdict from God. It means that men who reject the light cannot plead ignorance; because their denial of the truth is willful; they’ve seen the light and they don’t like it nor want it to illuminate their thoughts, actions, and motives.

This reminds me of a tragic, but true story about the crash of a Spanish jetliner. The pilots were flying in a severe storm. Navigation was proving difficult; a planned landing had to be suddenly aborted due to violent weather. During their new heading the pilots heard a warning voice from the radar instrument, “Pull up! Pull up!” The black box records that one of the pilots yelled out, “shut up gringo!” and shut off the radar. Moments later the plane slammed into the side of a mountain killing all aboard.

The application is obvious; God has planted a conscience in us to send out a warning whenever we stray off course morally. But here’s the chilling part of the airline story – the pilots shut down the warning device. It is possible to override the dictates of conscience and shut it down just as the pilots did.

Internal warning devices are a great benefit. Consider how merciful it is that parts of our bodies emit pain when the danger of damage is near. Heat, pinching, bending, piercing, and pressure on a part of the body cause it to send out a pain signal. One of the reasons that lepers lose fingers and toes is because the disease kills the nerves that send out the pain warning. Without these sensitive pain receptors, the individual is unaware when forces cut into his tissues.

God has planted a conscience in man. It serves as a moral receptor that sends out warnings when we come close to committing wickedness. It is constantly weighing our motives and actions. It tells us when we are uncaring and malicious. It uncovers lies. It approves of our behavior when we avoid evil and do the right thing. The conscience functions like a tiny courtroom. It admits evidence; it uncovers motives; it determines guilt or innocence. It demands justice – it calls for punishment of wrongdoing.

The Scriptures make it clear that the reason we have a conscience is because we are made in the image of a righteous and holy God. When a man fights against his conscience he is fighting against his very being; he is warring against who he is as the very image of God. He can scream at his conscience, “shut up!” But no amount of yelling can change him into something else – he never was, nor will ever be, a highly evolved animal: he is the image of God.

This courtroom of conscience we carry around bears witness to a greater courtroom, the courtroom of God. Our conscience speaks of God’s moral authority. Our conscience tells us that God’s moral government is wise, and good, and righteous; it tells us that a world without the Ten Commandments would be a hellish place to live. Our conscience also tells us of our future court date before God’s throne.

The Holy Scriptures confirm in graphic, authoritative terms what our consciences have whispered to us all along; that there is a just and holy God who will bring every transgression into account. Yes, our conscience also tells us of our future court date before God’s throne.

Now it is against this backdrop alone that divine forgiveness takes on inestimable preciousness. Think of the infinite gift and blessing of having your conscience cleared by God, clean before God, reset to a state of purity in His sight so that you can meet with Him as your treasured Friend.

God knows our condition. He has compassion upon sinners who lay trapped in a cycle of sin and guilt. It is exactly at this point that we must listen very carefully to Jesus. For He tells us that coming to God for a clear conscience must be your highest priority. All other endeavors must take a back seat to this ultimate goal of being right with God.

False religion has always described “rightness” with God as some kind of moral ladder which a man climbs toward heaven. But that is not what Christ Jesus taught. Our Lord spoke of “rest” instead of climbing (Matt 11:28-30). He preached the need for men to come to God and be forgiven.

Please hear me out a little longer – as long as your conscience has a memory of sins committed for which you are responsible – you cannot help but regard God as your Judge, and therefore as your enemy. But when a sinner receives divine forgiveness, all that enmity is changed into friendship in an instant.

This is how God expresses His love to our lost souls. He puts His crucified Son on display and offers forgiveness through His shed blood. Does this not touch and move your soul in the slightest? If a friend were to give you an extremely valuable gift your mind would eventually wonder, “What in the world must that have cost him?” So also, the sinner who consents to be forgiven and protected by Almighty God asks, “What did this amazing forgiveness cost?”

In order for divine forgiveness to be precious to you two things must take place. First, you must see the depth of your need for forgiveness.

Look at all of your false hiding places into which you have retreated. You trust your own mind above the infallible Word of God. You lean upon your own opinions of things; a hodgepodge of ideas that make up a hopelessly inconsistent view of the world and yourself. You think you are well-armed against the God of the universe because you have found Him to be unjust in His rule over mankind. But all you have done is to bribe your troubled conscience into a tremulous state of false peace, knowing that false peace will not hold you up at the hour of your death.

As a result you devalue the most precious gift in the universe – divine forgiveness. Was the Lord Jesus Christ wasting His breath when He faithfully uttered His Father’s Word, when He warned that a man’s conscience will gnaw upon him forever like a worm if he rejects the gift of forgiveness in this life?

In the next life the conscience will accept no bribes. For your conscience is a friend of God’s Law; it demands justice; even when that justice is against you. The conscience, if it is lied to and bribed in this life will take eternal revenge in the next life. Do not think that God must fashion implements of torment in hell. A man’s conscience will be the source of his eternal misery. Before you dismiss this because it is not to your liking, consider what it cost God to purchase forgiveness for sinners.

Yes, the second thing that must take place in order for you to value God’s forgiveness; you must consider what the cost was to God. The Only Begotten Son of God’s love became a man and lived under the curse in this troubled world. He experienced the whole of life from birth to death. He obeyed His Father perfectly for our sake – an obedience that reached its pinnacle in His willingness to die upon a cruel cross.

While hanging between heaven and earth, the demons tormented Him. Bystanders lashed out at Him, hurling cruel abuse. The Heavenly Father turned His gaze away and let fall upon the Son the very wrath against sin that we deserved. The Scriptures say, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Is 53:6).

The Son of God was dying a substitute in place of guilty sinners. He was bearing the penalty of their sins in His own body. It was the death of the Just One in place of the unjust. This is the very reason God can bestow forgiveness freely – it is because justice has been done! The penalty for our sin; death and separation from God has been paid in full by the Son of God!

Do you see the greatness of the cost? Can you comprehend what it cost for your conscience to lay down and be at peace – knowing that justice against your sins has been satisfied?

The cost was great because God is great and sin against Him is horrific. But God is satisfied with the work His Son has performed on that cross. The completeness of God’s satisfaction is expressed in the Gospel. For in the good news of the Gospel God’s way of man’s right-standing with Him is uncovered and made known (Rom 1:17a).

A smaller price than the death of the Son of God in our place could not have secured divine forgiveness. But bless God, the price has been paid. Think of it, because of the death and resurrection of Christ, God is free to pronounce the believing sinner forgiven and righteous in His sight. Now here is the inescapable truth – your conscience, in order to be guilt-free, will accept nothing less than this divine pronouncement that God holds nothing against you. No fellow sinner, whether priest or parishioner can utter this word of acquittal to your conscience. It comes only from the Word of Christ in the Gospel.

Why gin up empty arguments? Why settle for a false peace when the Judge of all the earth is willing to receive you in Christ just as you are? When He is willing to speak peace to your conscience and welcome you into His eternal family? When He is willing to give you a new record in heaven and a new heart?

Oh the love of God in Christ. He knows our frame; that we are but defiled dust – but He has made His eternal intentions known in the sending of His Son. He knows what is necessary for man to be at peace with Himself forever.

The power of the Gospel to cleanse the sinner’s heart is remarkable. A social worker friend of mine who is a pastor was granted admission to see a tightly secured prisoner. He was a young black man arrested for attempted murder. The social worker walked into the man’s jail cell and said, “I’m here on behalf of the Judge.” The man was downcast and silent. The worker went on to say, “The Judge of the universe is the One I represent. He does not hold your crimes against you because He has charged them to the account of His Son.” The prisoner could only look puzzled. He asked for the worker to return. After explaining the Gospel to this man on three different occasions, he believed and repented and was wonderfully forgiven by God.

God’s revealed attitude toward you is a willingness to forgive you and receive you freely. He is willing to let bygones be bygones and to cast your sins into the sea of His forgetfulness. Now what is your attitude toward God? You charge Him with injustice. You turn up your nose at His most precious gift – divine forgiveness.

Wouldn’t it be wise to inquire at this point whether or not God has a special place for people who reject His love, who prefer to live in self-deception? Is there an eternal dwelling place besides heaven where the immortal soul can be at rest? You know the answer. Jesus tells us that there are but two eternal abodes.

Your Creator holds out reconciliation to you. His revealed disposition toward you is love and compassion. His Word is truth. When you despise His Word and trust your own opinions you throw down the gauntlet before God and defy Him to fight you.

Because God’s truth is eternal, you will remember reading this plea. The time is short; recognize that God’s testimony is about both man’s preference for and sin and it is about God’s gracious remedy in Christ. I plead with you to give up your fight against God. Stop opposing the welfare of your own soul. Be reconciled to God through Christ.

“Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).



Sharing the Gospel with Roman Catholics

1. Establish the Authority of the Word of God.


  • Holy Scripture is the very words of God (2 Tim 3:16-17; Jer 23:28-29).
  • The words of Christ (Scripture) form the basis of judgment on the last day (Jn 12:48-50).
  • To add to, or take away from, or distort the Holy Scriptures is to endanger one’s eternal soul (Rev 22:18-19; 2 Pet 3:16).
  • The whole of Scripture was inspired by the Spirit of Christ (1 Pet 1:10-11). (We emphasize in these last three points that the triune Godhead is in complete consensus concerning the identity of the Word of God.)
  • It is incredibly dangerous to grant authority to the teachings and traditions of men. According to Jesus, to do so is to undermine the authority of the Holy Scriptures (Is 29:13; Mark 7:5-13).

2. Establish the Sufficiency of Christ’s Person and Work.

  • Christ is the only way to God. He is the only Mediator between God and sinful man. He alone can bring us to God (Jn 14:6; 1 Tim 2:5).
  • Christ’s atoning sacrifice is all-sufficient for salvation; it is complete and finished (Jn 19:30; Heb 1:3; 7:25; 9:12, 28; 10:14).
  • Christ’s atoning sacrifice (propitiation) on Calvary’s cross was between the Father and the Son. It was the Father’s wrath and justice against our sin that Christ fully appeased. At the crucifixion, Christ “offered” Himself to God (Heb 9:14; 7:27; 10:10; Eph 5:2).
  • For sinful men (human priests at the Mass) to attempt to assist in, and continue the divine transaction of propitiation is the height of blasphemy, for Christ’s cry from the cross was “It is finished!” Christ offered Himself to God, how can sinners possibly offer Him to God? (Rom 3:23-26; 5:10; 6:23; Col 2:11-14; 1 Jn 4:10).
  • The veil in the Temple was torn from top to bottom by God. He did this because the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” had been sacrificed (Jn 1:29; Matt 27:51). Christ’s death ended the Levitical priesthood. The only priesthood God recognizes now is the priesthood of every believer (Rev 1:5-6). The only sacrifice any man can make now that is recognized by God is the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for Christ’s finished work (Heb 13:15-16).
  • Because Christ’s work is complete and finished, the ordinances (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) are commemorative of the Lord’s work, and of the believer’s union with Christ. They cannot conduct saving grace to sinners. Salvation is by faith in Christ alone, not by any religious work a man might do. Christ alone is the source of saving grace. He personally is thesole distributor of the saving benefits of His life, death, and resurrection, the sole Mediator of the new covenant (Matt 11:27-30; 1 Pet 3:21-22; 2:4-10; Acts 4:11-12; Heb 9:15; 12:24). 

3. Establish the Scriptural Definition of the Gospel and Justification.

  • Paul reserved his most serious warning for those who accept a “gospel” contrary to the Gospel he preached (Gal 1:6-9).
  • Those who are attempting to be saved by human effort, by religious works, and by moral exertion are refusing to submit to the righteousness of God (Rom 10:1-4).
  • Scripture says that God justifies, NOT the person “who works,” but the ungodly person who believes upon Christ for salvation (Rom 4:4-5).
  • Justification by faith is a gift of God’s grace, never a reward for good works (Gal 2:16; 3:24).
  • Justification has been purchased by Christ’s work of redemption (Rom 3:24).
  • The righteousness that God looks to when He justifies the sinner is resident in Christ alone, not in the believing sinner (Phil 3:9).
  • Christ took fully the believing sinner’s penalty upon Himself. His work as a Substitute was for the purpose of an exchange; that He might bear our sin and that He might give us His righteousness as a gift of His grace (2 Cor 5:21).

4. Establish the Biblical Definition of Saving Faith.

  • Saving faith is clearly defined in Scripture (Rom 10:9-10).
  • Saving faith itself is a gift of God’s grace (Phil 1:29; Eph 2:8-9).
  • Saving faith is the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in convicting the sinner (Jn 16:8-11), incalling the sinner (Rom 8:30), and in regenerating the sinner (Titus 3:4-7).
  • Saving faith can only be produced by the Holy Spirit’s power accompanying the message of the Gospel. Faith is the only proper response to Gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:16-17; 10:13-17; Acts 16:30-31; James 1:18; 1 Pet 1:23).
  • It is possible to come short of saving faith, even if one knows about the life and work of Christ (Matt 7:22-23). Saving faith is not merely knowing the truth, nor is it merely acceptance of the truth. Saving faith is absolute trust in Christ alone for salvation. All man-made religion refuses to consolidate all trust in Christ alone for salvation. Instead, it places its trust in rituals, practices, human works, and religious dogmas (Titus 3:5-7).
  • Saving faith is always joined to repentance (Luke 13:3-5; Acts 20:21). Repentance is both moral and intellectual. The believing sinner repents of all the false ways of salvation he has trusted in before coming to Christ alone (1 Thess 1:9; Phil 3:7-10).
  • Faith unites the believing soul to Christ so that all the benefits of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection become the believer’s possession (Rom 6:5-8, 22-23; Eph 1:13-14; Col 1:13-14; 2:10-14).

5. Establish the Truths of Scripture over against the Most Deceptive Errors of Catholicism.

  • There is no regional center of Christian worship (Jn 4:21-24). In this Gospel age, the most sacred temple and sanctuary of God is the believer himself. All true Christians comprise the “Temple of God” (Eph 2:21-221 Pet 2:4-101 Cor 6:19-20).
  • The Church of Jesus Christ has no universal, fallible, sinful leader. Christ alone is Head of His Church (Eph 5:23-27; 4:15-16; Col 1:18). When Peter rightly confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, Christ promised to build His Church on the true foundation of this confession, not upon the man Peter Himself (Matt 16:17-19). (Note that in subsequent addresses, Jesus granted the authority to bind and loose to all the Apostles – Matt 18:17-19; Jn 20:23).
  • The events surrounding Peter’s hypocrisy, recorded in the book of Galatians, gives evidence that he was not the leader of the Christian Church (Gal 2:11-14).
  • Purgatory is not a biblical doctrine. Belief in purgatory adheres to the erroneous idea that God will accept the sufferings of sinners as a payment and purification for their sins. Closely associated with teachings about purgatory is the notion of indulgences and their purchase (an indulgence is the means of remission of the temporal punishment due to sins; it may be applied to the living or the dead). Belief in this false doctrine amounts to an oblique attack on the perfect sufficiency of Christ’s work on behalf of sinners (Heb 10:10, 12, 14).
  • The Scriptures teach that every person will experience one of two unchangeable destinies at the moment of death: 1.) the redeemed will immediately be with Christ forever (2 Cor 5:8; 1 Cor 15:50-57; 1 Thess 4:15-17). 2.) the unsaved will face immediate, and fixed eternal judgment (Heb 9:27Matt 25:41-46).
  • The Virgin Mary, by her own admission, needed a Savior. In her prayer, recorded in Luke 1:46-55, she addresses God as her Savior. God’s work as Savior is to save sinners from their sin.
  • “Sainthood” is not earned. It is the status of every true believer in Christ. It is given as a gift of God’s grace at the moment of salvation (1 Cor 1:2). No deceased believer has the power to give us grace or pray for us. Christ alone is the Great High Priest; His prayers of intercession for His people are always all powerful and effectual (Rom 8:27, 33-34; Heb 7:25). 



The Centrality of Christ and Evangelism




One reason God has put you in ministry—making you shepherds is because He has given you eyes to see, and ears to hear.  By His grace He has given you spiritual sight and vision—the ability by His Spirit and His Word to see beyond the horizon of this world—to fix your gaze upon things above so as to behold the majesty of Christ.



            He has called you to proclaim the Savior and His Kingdom to many people who have little or no spiritual sight—whose eyes are closed to eternal things.  Whose spiritual sleepiness conceals both the brevity of life and the endlessness of the existence to come.



            Your sermons are spiritual alarm clocks—designed to stir from slumber. God has made you master communicators describing a scene, a reality, in great detail to blind men and women.



            Christ is Lord of all—kiss the Son while there is time—fall at the feet of the rightful Ruler of the universe—a day is coming soon in which His glory will fill the universe.  Flee the wrath to come.  Christ, crucified for sinners will receive you.



            Like the response of Lot’s family to the angels who warned—many of your hearers will be unmoved—maybe even assuming that you are jesting, or not in your right mind.



            Apart from regenerating, sovereign grace—people have limited restricted spiritual vision.  They sit in their circumstances as in a wooden barrel and only see the sides of the barrel.  You must be their eyes—praying that God will give them sight. 



            You must display Christ preeminent to them—your own vision must be acute to do so.  Strive to see Jesus better and better each day—until you are staggered at His majesty and supremacy—until you are lost in awe at Who God is toward you in Christ.



            To see in this manner is better than being the richest man in the world.  To have this kind of sight makes you a steward of what you see (you can’t keep it to yourself).  Like Moses with an eagle eye able to see all the promised land from the summit of Nebo—you have milk and honey to speak of concerning the Savior (to craving souls). 



            Your sermons must present a complete portrait of Christ in all His offices—His Kingship and worthiness to be King—the King of Kings who will soon judge this world and crush every rebellion.



            How necessary this is—we live in an age of endless marketing and consumption.  Religion is treated like a product.  In today’s world, the benefits of salvation are more and more being separated from the Savior—as if forgiveness and eternal life can be acquired like a commodity (I heard a professing believer the other day refer to his salvation as having his ticket punched—as if he had his boarding pass to heaven).



            It is irreverent and dangerous to separate the benefits of salvation from the Savior.  No earthly cleric or minister ever distributed the benefits of salvation.  Christ as Mediator of the new covenant is completely sovereign over the benefits He purchased at the cross.



            Saving faith unites a man to Christ—to Him who is supreme and preeminent—who is Alpha and Omega—who has the keys of death and hell—who has all authority and power—who is above every name that is named.  We have salvation only because we have Christ and are joined to Him.  Thus, to be united to Christ is to be joined to Him who fills all in all—and by this union, all the benefits of His Person are communicated to you (from His life, death, resurrection, priesthood, advocacy).



            The world is blind to Christ’s identity; God is made known by the revelation of Jesus Christ to the sinner.  God’s wisdom and power are resident in Christ and made known in the cross.  How God saves is the greatest revelation of who God is.  How God saves—by the cross of Christ is contrary to human pride and wisdom.  But the wisdom of God in the cross is exposing all natural wisdom as foolishness. 



            God will judge all carnal wisdom and display it on the gallows forever as folly, shame, vanity, and wickedness.  The darkened, rebellious intellect of man peers at the cross and puzzles for but a moment. Though God is accessible by the cross—His mercy and righteousness revealed—the sinner is offended that only sovereign pity can save him.  He is insulted that the only possible remedy for his ruin is the death of his Creator in his place.



            Therefore the unbelieving sinner chooses to remain an enemy of God and the cross.  But God is penetrating this thick darkness of heart.  He is making friends out of enemies.  He is conquering sinners by His love.  He is blasting into their bondage, ignorance, and pollution—to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 



            It is salvation by revelation.  It is God’s glory reflected in the Savior’s passion.  It is God’s Spirit showing the sinner that the cruel implement of execution is a work of substitution.  It is God in our nature—His divinity hidden—His glory obscured—drinking the cup of wrath meant for us.  It is Jesus draining the cup—it is dying love that can conquer the most stubborn transgressor.



            Apart from the Spirit’s penetrating light—no sinner can say ‘Jesus is Lord’.  No sinner really understands that the One who hung on the cross on that darkened day in Judea is the Holy Creator of the universe—who left His throne and the worship of angels to taste death and wrath for guilty rebels. 



            When by the Spirit the quickened sinner comes to understand his own desperate condition—his ruin—his ill desert—and the wrath of Almighty God whom he has offended—the Spirit at that time brings several insights together.  For the Gospel reveals the Character of God; the character of the sinner; and only then the perfect suitability of the Savior.



            Now to see Him in His majesty—as supreme—as Lord of all requires the gift of saving faith. To see by faith the Risen Lord is the result of a gift of faith bestowed by God’s grace.  The last view the world had of Christ was a hideous scene of abject weakness; victimization, shame and ignominy—flies, dust, spittle—hollow eyes, complete isolation.  Christ’s supremacy and centrality were completely hidden in His atoning death.  When Christ arose—He subsequently only appeared to believers.



            Because Christ is central and preeminent—His work on behalf of sinners is all sufficient.  If His sufficiency were had not been attacked so soon after His ascension; many of the N.T. epistles would not have been written.  But praise God they were written.  Let this be a lesson to us—in every age of church history there is a tendency to lose sight of the majesty of Christ.



            So infinite is the gap between Holy God and sinful man (that defiled creature of clay) that only Christ the God-man in His supremacy can bring us all the way to God.  He is Lord of All, cosmic King; preeminent in all things is perfectly fit to reconcile us to God and to bring us from dust to glory. This is the great theme of Colossians. 



Colossians is pure Christology.  Paul is exhibiting Christ as preeminent in all things, all-sufficient Redeemer, sovereign Lord, and God very God.  As God-man and Redeemer, Christ entirely fills the infinite gap between God and sinful man.



            Consider how expansive this chasm is between the self-existent, transcendent, holy God of the universe, and sinful, feeble, defiled humans made of dust (the gap is infinite cosmically, morally, and ontologically). 



            The human race is created with a spiritual longing for the transcendent (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  But carnal reasoning leads men away from Christ to religious philosophies of human invention (Col 2:8).



            When Christ’s supremacy is preached; it beats down man-made religion into the rubbish heaps where it belongs.  But the moment Christ’s centrality and supremacy are out of view; the human heart goes about trying to supply beams for a bridge to God. 



Brothers, if sinful man lays even one plank in the bridge to God; it will not bear your weight.  As creatures made in God’s image—only Christ the perfect image of God can conduct you safely into the presence of Him who is thrice holy.



            Your task as pastors is to proclaim Christ in His centrality and preeminence—for only then will ruined sinners trust Him as all-sufficient to save. And only then do sinners understand that salvation has been taken out of ma’s hands and into God’s own hands.



            Paul has written Colossians to combat the errors that are troubling the churches of the Lycus valley in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).  The false teachers had introduced doctrines and practices that proved to be an indirect attack upon the preeminence and sufficiency of Christ. 



(The Colossians were attracted to the Greco-Roman dualism taught by the philosophers of the day. Dualism taught that spirit was good and matter was evil, therefore they reasoned that God must have utilized a host of intermediaries (angels) to do His bidding (including creation) so that God would not be “contaminated” by coming in contact with corrupt physical matter. 



Mixed with the error of dualism was a legalistic, perhaps Essene, version of Judaism that thought highly of asceticism (severe treatment of the body in order to promote spirituality). Both dualism and legalistic Judaism had an almost worshipful admiration for angelic beings or intermediaries.)



  The Colossians were in desperate need of instruction regarding the Person and work of Christ. Human “wisdom” was corrupting their understanding of Christ and the Gospel.



            When sinful man leans upon his reason in order to attempt to partially bridge the gap between God and man, he always comes up with an “ism.”  The book of Colossians destroys these dangerous “isms” by exalting Christ as all-sufficient and preeminent.



            Legalism, asceticism, ceremonialism, mysticism, sacramentalism, subjectivism, antinomianism, and Gnosticism are all refuted by the powerful Christology of Colossians which declares the absolute preeminence and perfect sufficiency of Christ.



            The dangerous “isms” prove to be nothing more than will worship – that is man asserting his fallen will, telling God how he will approach Him and be commended by Him.  (When we preach Colossians today we ought to address the human tendency to add our own “building material” in an attempt to partially bridge the gap between us and God.)


            A little over 500 years ago, before the Protestant Reformation, sacramentalism (or sacerdotalism), had a strangle hold upon the Church.  Through the Protestant Reformers, the blessed truth of the Gospel of free grace in Christ was recovered through the study of the Scriptures.


            So also in first century in the region of Colossae, incipient Gnosticism was harassing the churches seeking for a stranglehold.  Paul exposed the false premises of his opponents.  Paul thunders out in the book of Colossians, Christ completely fills the entire gap between holy God and sinful man!  He is all and all. All the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him.  The believer is complete in Him! 


            Everything in relation to God needed by the believer is to be found in Christ.  In Christ the believer finds acceptance, favor, sonship, status, right standing, power, purpose, destiny, bold access, wisdom and knowledge.  Our entire life is upheld and provided by Christ – none of our spiritual needs are provided by us.  This is death to the “isms!”


            (EX. Recently a Jehovah’s Witness woman came to my door; she was training another woman.  I quickly challenged her as why the founders of her cult had changed the N.T. so as to make Christ a creation of God instead of God the Son.  She answered back, “Then how do you explain Jesus praying to God as His Father?”  I said to her as respectfully as I could, “Madam, if you could answer that question, you’d be a saved person.”  The point is Christ lived the perfect life of a human believer and disciple for our sakes.  His life as God incarnate completely filled the gap between God and man.  His praying to the Father is an argument FOR the Trinity, not against the Trinity.)


We study Christ’s supremacy to learn more of His sufficiency

He is Creator and Redeemer.  Christ the Agent of creation; the Origin and source of creation; the Upholder of creation; the Goal of creation.  He is the Head of the new creation.  He has first place in everything; He is cosmic King.  He is supreme and preeminent over all creation.  He is the consummation of all things—every knee will bow to Him acknowledging His rightful sovereign rule over all.  Christ has unshared authority in every sphere.    


Bonar Quotes:

Every act and suffering of that glorious Person confronts the case of every sinner.  If I see Him who is the atonement to be God-man, then I see an offering so vast, and so extensive in its applications, that every crevice of the conscience must be reached.


The perfect sufficiency of Christ (2:8-10)

V.8 – Paul exhorts the Colossians to stay anchored in the bedrock of Christ—for His is a ‘continent’ of rock; our stronghold and fortress.  Stay firmly anchored in Him because false teachers are seeking to carry off many ‘captives.’  You must understand that the conventional religious wisdom of this world wants to make a captive out of you.  But this spurious wisdom is exposed by the Word of Christ; the Word of God; the Word of the Cross.   The supremacy of Christ exposes false doctrine—because false doctrine inevitably proves to be an attempt to partially or completely bridge the gap between God and man.


So be careful of these spiritual tricksters who come to plunder you and spoil you.  These false teachers lean upon the intellect of man; they trust profitless speculations.  Their religious insights are nothing more than the inventions of men’s brains. They mind external things—things such as religious ceremonies and ritual practices (or promote religious methods which promise earthly power, health, wealth).  They teach spurious doctrines that can capture those who are unaware.


You must remember that you were rescued by Christ.  You are His sheep—and you know what the protective wall is around Christ’s sheepfold.  It is the pure gospel—that is our protective wall. The Gospel proclaims Christ as central and preeminent—majestic and awesome—and all sufficient to save His people.  The church is not protected from its enemies by physical walls of stone; it is protected by the gospel.


V. 9 – The world’s elements and philosophies are not according to Christ—they do to comport with the doctrine of Christ.  All and everything that men add to religion constitute an attack upon the nature of Christ.  The religious inventions of men are not neutral—they are attacks upon the Person of Christ; attacks which charge Him with imperfection and insufficiency.


The sum is that God has manifested Himself fully and perfectly in Christ.  God is wholly communicated to us in Christ (see 1 John 2:23).  The Son of God is the only Mediator between God and man.


Like the false teachers of our day; the false teachers of Paul’s day were sinning against the doctrine of Christ’s Headship and sufficiency by doing two things: a.) They were proposing angels to be mediators between God and man; and b.) they were teaching rituals and ascetic observances as the basis of their moral teaching (rather than the all sufficient, finished work of Christ).


Paul’s charge against them was that they were in effect distributing the source of spiritual benefits over a number of practices rather than consolidating all in Christ as source of all light; life; favor; forgiveness; reconciliation; and blessedness.


V. 10 – The only begotten Son of God—the eternal Word of God has possessed the fullness of the Godhead from all eternity.  But since His incarnation; His deity has had a human abode.  For sinners; true life before God is only possible by union with Christ.  Your fullness; your completeness is from His fullness.  All of the Christian’s graces and energies are communicated from Him.  He is the source of all our life and spiritual energies.


By union with Him; we participate in His life (Jn 1:16).  By union with Him; we are on the receiving end of all of the benefits.  In his divinity and perfect humanity; He is our perfect complement. For all we need to be—He is (Heb 7:25-27).


Therefore He has become our Perfecter.  He is conforming us to His own image—by reason of our union with Him.  From His own Person; He fills us with the resources necessary to be perfected.


            In order to correct heresy Paul brought the true doctrine of Christ.  One cannot have Orthodox Christianity without accurate Christology.  Paul’s exquisite portrait of Christ centers upon the relation of Christ’s Person and work to eternal salvation.


V. 13 – Salvation words describe “a birth, an release, an adoption, a deliverance, an engagement, a verdict;” but here salvation is a transfer.  transfer from one kingdom to another—out of the kingdom or authority of darkness and into the kingdom of light—the realm of the Son of God. 


Kingdom Citizenship is procured for us by the purchase of Christ. Redemption in Him – (as in Rom 3:24) weaves together the ideas of redemption and the believer’s position in Christ.  This identification with Christ is the crux of the issue for the believer. 


V. 14 – The uniqueness of Christ’s all-sufficiency was a central issue for Paul.  Any theological error that undermines the all-sufficiency of Christ instantly  jeopardizes redemption in Him.  To lessen Christ and His power is to lessen His role in salvation.


“In whom, in Him, in Christ. . .”  Emphasizes living organic union with the Son of God.  So that every spiritual blessing that we enjoy—our status, favor, sonship, security, significance, supply, source, life, promise, covenant, destiny, future – ALL RESULT FROM our union with Christ. 


The Father contemplates us in the Son -- should we not contemplate ourselves in the Son? Redemption is the price of our release; the price of our forgiveness.  Can God forgive without a ransom; atonement; redeeming price?  Forgiveness of sins is in Christ – in Him.  The benefits of Christ’s death are inseparable from His Person.


V. 15 – Christ is the eikon of God – meaning not only likeness; but includes the ideas of representation and manifestation.  This echoes Christ’s words in John 14:9, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”  See also Hebrews 1:3 and 2 Corinthians 4:4-6;’ and Phil 2:6. 


As the “image of God” Christ is the great and final theophany; or literal manifestation of God.  He is the projection of God onto the canvas of our humanity and the embodiment of the divine in the world of men. 


“First-born” suggests supremacy, not temporality.  Israel was designated as God’s firstborn (Ex 4:22) – even though many nations existed prior to Israel.  She was chosen to be supreme over the nations – “I will make him My first-born the highest of the kings of the earth” (Ps 89:27). Christ as First born is is the Heir and Ruler over all.  (See also Heb 1:6 – Christ as the protokos.)


V. 16 – This verse unfolds the meaning of Christ in creation.  All things created in Him means that creation not only finds its origin in Christ; but it is centered in Christ.  Christ is the embodiment of reality (whether of creation; or the redemption of mankind).  Christ was the location from whom all came into being and in whom all creation is contained.  (This idea is also suggested in verse 18, “He is the beginning.”)  (See worldview notes on Christ as the LOGOS – the rationality of the universe.)


All laws and purposes which guide creation and govern the universe (to the furthest galaxy) reside in Him.  Christ’s creative work is all-encompassing, for it includes all created things “in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.” He is not in all things (pantheism); but all things are in Him.  His majesty and might and transcendence uphold the universe; all things find their source, sustenance, purpose, destiny, and order in Him.  All things are created for Him – they abide forever to that end. 


Christ is preeminent above all creation; above every creature.  Christ is the point of reference of all things and all creatures.  The Son is the goal of the existence of all things.  The region they occupy makes no difference—it is still true!  Whether heaven or earth—even angels have no power apart from Christ.  


Paul boldly affirmed that everything – physical and spiritual (visible and invisible) is part of the creation that is in Christ – contained in Him and by Him.  (Thus nothing in creation is worthy of worship—Christ having created angels, makes angel worship illegitimate and heretical – 2:18.)


The supremacy of Christ is both arenas of reality (heavenly/invisible and earthly/visible—stands in direct contrast to every false teaching (all glory belongs to Christ alone). 


The phrase all things created for Him means every aspect of creation exists for Him. Everything has its being for His sake.  He shall realize every purpose of His heart—He is the Ruler of creation and the goal of creation. 


All creation is unstoppably moving toward this goal.  Someday the world will fully recognize the preeminence and sovereignty of Christ (1 Cor 15:25; Phil 2:10-11; Rev 19:16). 


V. 17 – He is before all things; there never was a time when He did not exist.  All things are held together in Him.  All is unified by Him.  All coheres by Him; stands together by Him, stand in relation to Him.  All things are defined in relation to Him.  The Creator of all things maintains all things—the unity in nature; the order of all things; the flow of history—is all traced to Christ—Creator, Sustainer, Upholder.


The reason the world is a cosmos and not a chaos is because of Him.  This world is a system with a plan because of Him.  From the smallest living cell to the blue whale the monarch butterfly—each creature occupies its appointed ecological niche due to God’s guiding hand in Christ.  Christ is the cause of creation and He upholds creation—being the very bond that holds creation together (His power is exerted in doing so – Heb 1:3). 


What an encouragement for Christians since, “He is not their Cause only, in an initial sense; He forever their Bond, their Order, their Law, the ultimate secret which makes the whole universe, seen and unseen, a cosmos, not a chaos.” 




V. 18 – Christ is first in all things material and spiritual.  All religious philosophies that depart from the Gospel are ultimately hostile to Christ preeminent.  How we need to constantly consider the dignity of the Person who took our iniquities and infirmities upon Himself. 


Christ is Firstborn; Point of reference; Agent of creation; Goal of creation; Forerunner; Governor; Head of the Body; the Beginning of the creation of God; Firstborn from the dead; first in the realm of the visible and the invisible—He had the right to the title preeminent.  His divine sovereignty is over all things. 


He is the “beginning” the origin of creation; and also by His death on the cross He established a new beginning – the beginning of redemption for mankind.  His death and resurrection signaled the dawning of an age in which individuals would enjoy a closer more personal relationship to Him than ever before. 


As first-born from the dead; He possesses authority and dominion over yet another aspect of this world.  As the “first-born over all creation” (v. 15), He is supreme over the created world; and as “first-born from the dead,” He is supreme over death. Having conquered death by His resurrection, He now holds “the keys of death” (Rev 1:18). 


Paul pointed out the purpose of all of this—that “Christ would have first place in everything” (v. 18).  In the church, in creation, in salvation, and even in death, Christ holds the title and privileges of the Firstborn.  He is preeminent over all. 


V. 19 – “For” – God the Father’s design is that He should reveal himself in Christ.  And that He would reveal Himself in Christ by executing all of His purposes by Him.


In Christ is the fullness of saving grace and power reside (the totality of divine attributes and might. This is by divine design—every aspect of Christ’s suitability to be our perfect Savior has been thought through by the Godhead. 


All the fullness of salvation dwells in Christ.  “For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”  The Father was pleased to have all redemptive power dwell in Christ who  is the Agent for and goal for reconciliation (v. 20). 


v. 20 – To reconcile (apokatallacia) – means to exchange hostility for friendship.  The prefix conveys the idea of complete reconciliation.  God’s reconciling of man to Himself is necessary because of the enmity of sinners toward God in their natural mind (Rom 5:8-11; 8:5-7).  Man’s corruption is an effrontery to God; the fact and existence of corruption requires reconciliation before relations can be restored.


In what sense does Christ reconcile all things to Himself?  (All things reconciled by His blood cannot mean universal salvation.)  The reconciliation in this verse points to the Great White Throne judgment at the end of the millennium when every knee will  bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father (Phil 2:10; Rom 14:11). 


“Having made peace.”  The participle is inserted to indicate the reconciliation is not a cosmic miracle in which the universe is changed outside of man.  BUT that reconciliation is primarily concerned with relationships that are restored.  Peace here is not primarily defined in the negative—that is by erasing or canceling out hostilities—but reconciliation points to positive content with positive blessings—spiritual blessings impacting the prosperity of the whole man. 


At present, heaven and earth are not now united.  Kingdoms are in conflict; sin brought the universe into a state of corruption; decay; deterioration.  Sin destroyed harmony (see Romans 8 and also the four separations caused by sin.  


Through the blood of His cross the sin principle is conquered—the curse is borne; the law satisfied; peace is made and restored.  Through Christ and His cross the universe is brought back to its proper relation to God. 


As a just reward for His obedience; Christ is exalted to God’s right hand—from this position of exaltation, glory, and power—He rules the universe. 


What He accomplished at the cross; He will consummate at the second advent when He formally and militantly takes back the title deed to the earth. 


Through Christ; all intelligent beings—both obedient and disobedient, and both human and angelic will acknowledge the sovereignty of God manifest in the Lordship of Christ who is over all. 


The vastness of Christ’s Person is seen in His cosmic Kingship.  Thus His cross affects not only mankind; but the entire cosmos.  Also a distinction needs to be made between reconciliation and salvation.


            Reconciliation removes the barrier between God and man and opens the potential for a new type of relationship between the two. But the barrier removed does not mean that reconciliation has been appropriated. 


The act of reconciliation in Christ’s death does not itself immediately effect reconciliation for the individual—people by nature do not desire to take advantage of this situation of their own accord.  This does not detract from the reconciling work of the Father—for it had to take place for salvation to be in accord with God’s nature.


All the redeemed and unredeemed will acknowledge His sovereignty; AND in that sense there will be reconciliation.  But this does NOT mean the unredeemed will be given salvation.  (Christ’s vicarious death on the cross paid the price necessary to make possible this peace.)


As cosmic Lord, when God in reconciling all things prepares to put creation itself under His authority and rule, through the administrative reign of Jesus Christ—then when Christ is inaugurated as the cosmic Potentate at the beginning of the eternal state, the earth will have its day of reckoning and redemption, and will be transformed (2 Pet 3:10; Rev 21:1).


Present spiritual warfare in this life takes place between the believer and satanic powers (Eph 6:10-18).  But Christ at the right hand of the Father possesses authority over the angelic realm, though at the present time that realm has not come under final judgment.  


In spite of their present limited power; the angelic realm will be subject to God’s work of reconciliation.  Christ will be exalted and every knee will bow (Phil 2:10). 


Paul highlights all the aspects of the believer’s former alienation in the bulk of Eph 2. 


Now the believer’s present condition as reconciled (Col 1:22) emphasizes life; and blamelessness free of reproach.  The purpose of the reconciliation is to present each believer before Him holy, blameless, and beyond reproach.


The intended goal of reconciliation is reached BECAUSE Christ’s incarnation allowed Him to die a real death in our place.  The prepositions Paul uses to support our being in Christ. By identification, believers are positionally holy, blameless, and beyond reproach.  And they are to manifest these qualities in the Christian walk. 


The “Christ hymn” of 1:15-20 is a powerful statement about the Person of Christ and His work. Christ’s supremacy is seen at every turn.  The first portion focuses on His preeminent role in creation, while the second emphasizes His work as Redeemer.  For any who are confused or fuzzy about Christ’s role in the world—these six verses testify to Christ’s absolute authority—not shared with any angel; person; or demon. 


Christ’s authority in every sphere is UNSHARED!


The vastness of His Person gives us insight into the marvelous dimensions of His work—we gaze in awe at His supremacy to learn more of the sufficiency of His redemptive work. 


The sufficiency of Christ refutes the Colossian heresy as well as all false religion


Paul thunders out three points which overturn the doctrinal heresies that were plaguing Colossae.  Those points are:

  • All the fullness of deity dwells in Christ
  • Believers are complete in Christ
  • Christ is the authority over all creation including angels

Paul’s affirmation that the believer is complete in Christ (2:10-14) is significant in light of the Colossian error that identification with Christ is not sufficient for the Christian life.


The Centrality of Christ in Discipleship - Part 1

I. The Cost of Discipleship




How do converts become true disciples of Christ?  What has to happen in order for a new believer; a babe in Christ to become a disciple?  We know that a true disciple denies himself; he takes up his cross daily; he follows the Lamb; he loves the brethren; he puts sin to death; he walks by means of the Spirit; he is zealous for good works; he serves God.


            True disciples grow into disciples as the result of systematic encouragement and teaching by mature brethren.  It says in Acts 14:21-22, “Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.”


            Disciple-making is the aim/goal of the Great Commission.  The Body of Christ is to commit itself to the task of making disciples.  But we have many shallow Christians today; folks who follow Christ in a tentative, stuttering and sputtering manner—who are not equipped to reproduce their faith. 


How we need to return to the Word and uncover again the secret behind Paul’s optimism and effectiveness as a disciple-maker.  When you pour over his epistles and you will find that the Apostle Paul’s heart throbbing and beating with a disciple-making passion. For Paul, pastor and missionary, disciple-making is his controlling mandate, his sacred trust and deputation—the central work that commands his full attention and energies. 


            Colossians 1:28-29 encapsulates the lengthy process of disciple-making in just two verses.  You see the context there—it is Christ in you (a reference to the Christian’s union with Christ – 1:27).  Because the believer is in Christ; and Christ is in him—discipleship and Christian maturity are real and possible.


            It is union with Christ that guarantees ultimate conformity to Christ. But that conformity is to begin now; and not just wait until glory.  In Christ and His promises we have everything we need in relation to life and godliness—our Savior is a fountain of life.             Because to be united to Christ is to have as one’s possession—all the benefits of His Glorious Person at work in one’s walk—His life; His death; His resurrection; His heavenly advocacy; His endless Priesthood.


            This was Paul’s confidence as a disciple-maker.  Those eternally united with Christ experience real changes in their being—changes that produce repentance and transformation of character.  For union with Christ (or Christ in you) is our hope of glory. 


            Christ’s substitutionary work; His vicarious death in our place makes us new creatures (2 Cor 5:17). So radical and monumental was that great exchange—Christ’s life for ours—His righteousness for our sin—that the moment of a sinner is saved; it marks the beginning of conformity to Christ.  Christ in you means you are being fitted for eternity.


            The transforming power of Christ in you was Paul’s hope; it drove his optimism in both evangelism and discipleship.  But Paul knew that all his efforts at disciple-making did not ultimately rest upon the forcefulness of his exhortations to self-denial; to devotion; and to repentance.  Paul built solely on the foundation of Christ. 


Self-denial is a response to who Christ is—to discovering Him as Lord of All—and what He has done—it is life in Him—the experience of His fullness.


             A true disciple of Jesus Christ is a person who does not live by his natural desires—but instead lives by the loving rule of Christ, his Head.  A true disciple is conformed to the will and likeness of his Head.


            When Christ set forth the cost of discipleship—He usually did so when talking about His own impending death.  It says in John 12:23-26, “And Jesus answered them saying, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.  If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall my servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”


            Christ joins His own ordeal (the cross of Calvary) to the ordeal the true disciple will undergo in a life of self-renunciation.  The Father gave Christ a ‘Bride’—the elect of every age—a people without number from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  But Christ must die for His Bride in order to resurrect His Bride who lies in the cold tomb of her spiritual deadness and depravity.


            This is such a thrilling truth.  The context of true discipleship is Christ’s own death for us.  It was Christ’s cross-work on our behalf that brought forth the infinite fruit of reconciliation; both spiritual reconciliation (salvation), and cosmic reconciliation (the renewal of creation—Col 1:19-20).


            We have a “death” to undergo as well.  Self-denial is the cost of true discipleship and it is also the cost of fruitfulness. Jesus gives an illustration from nature in John 12:23-26.  A shiny wheat kernel has a tough resilient seed coat.  It repels dust and scuffing and moisture. 


            But in order for that wheat grain to reproduce; it must go down into the darkness of the soil—be permeated with water until the seed coat bursts.  If you pulled a seed from the ground in that state it would look dead—even rotten (Jn 12:24). 


            But this death-like state is the prerequisite to germination.  The kernel swells and the beginnings of leaves sprout and push their way above the soil line into the sun.  When the plant comes to maturity; what was once a single seed is now a series of wheat heads filled with ripe grain.


            What a picture this is of true discipleship.   The individual who follows Christ will have to die to self in order to bear fruit.  Jesus warned against abiding alone—He warned against loving one’s life in this world (Jn 12:25).


            The Lord Jesus made stringent demands on those who would be His disciples.  In today’s culture of consumerism and easy-believism—it is all-too common to think that a person can add Christ to his life.  Such is not the case according to our text.


            In many Christian circles today; folks are promised that Christianity will save them from hell and guarantee them a place in heaven—certainly this is true, but the life of self-denial necessary in order to follow Christ is frequently left unsaid.  The assumption is that once eternal life is secured, the individual has every right to enjoy the best that this life has to offer.


            Countless souls are sadly mistaken about the requirements of discipleship; but Christ removes all middle ground.  He defines what a commitment to Him actually looks like.  Therefore to preach on discipleship passages tends to produce shock among many listeners.  For multitudes of professing Christians have the utmost difficulty reconciling the passages on discipleship with their own ideas on what Christianity should be and what Christianity should afford them. 


            They reason, “How can Christianity be a free gift if following Christ requires me to die to self and lose my life for His sake and the sake of the Gospel?”


            The words of Christ are very clear.  There is hardly any room for misunderstanding if those words are accepted at face value.  Here are the terms of discipleship laid down by the Savior of the world:


A. A supreme love for Jesus Christ.

    “If any one comes to Me, and does not hate his father and mother and wife, and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple”  (Luke 14:26). 


            This grates on our 21st C. ears.  Does Christ really command supreme love to Him without any rivals?  Won’t divine grace allow something less than this from the saved?


            Actually the most difficult clause in this passage is the expression, “Yes, [hate] even his own life.” Self-love is one of the most stubborn hindrances to discipleship.  Not until we are willing to lay down our lives are we in the place where He wants us to be.


            When preaching the necessity of a disciple’s love to Christ; it is essential to stress that our love to Him is reflexive.  In other words, as the Apostle John says, “We love, because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19).  Our love to Christ is a response to seeing Him as He really is—to seeing who God is towards us in Christ.  


            Christ is God’s infinite treasure given freely to sinners who believe and repent.  But the key mark or evidence of believing and repenting is not only turning from sin to God; but also an apprehension of Christ as one’s greatest treasure. 


            “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matt 13:45-46).  This is the fulcrum—the entire issue.  If the sinner sees Christ as precious beyond measure; then no sacrifice is too great to have Him. 


            Paul saw this treasure principle as an “either or prospect.”   We must release our hold on all the things that are in the world in order to gain Christ.  “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I might gain Christ” (Phil 3:8).


B. A denial of self.

     “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself. . .” (Matt 16:24).  Denial of self is not the same as denying oneself certain activities or pleasures such as foods, drink, or possessions.  Self denial means complete submission to the lordship of Christ over all of life.  It is the affirmation that self has no rights at all. 


            In self-denial, self abdicates the throne.  Paul summarizes this principle in 2 Corinthians 5:9, 14-15. “Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.”  “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”


            Thus denial of self is the end of a self-directed life.  Self denial results in universal obedience to the lordship of Christ.  It is living without ‘compartments’ in one’s life.  It is living as Christ’s possession.


C. A deliberate choosing of the cross.

     “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross. . .” (Matt 16:24).  No doubt you have heard some suffering saint utter, “My gout is my cross; or my wayward spouse is my cross.” But this in not what Jesus is referring to.  The cross taken up by a disciple is not some physical infirmity or mental anguish.  The cross we take up is a path that is deliberately chosen.


            It is a path of radical identification with Christ which will involve a degree of dishonor and reproach from the world.  Jesus told His followers to expect to be misunderstood and even hated for Christ’s sake (Jn 15:18-16:2). 


            To deliberately choose the cross is to set out on the narrow way spoken of by Christ (Matt 7:13-14). The narrow way is the way of transformation and renewal by the Word and the Spirit (Rom 12:1-2).


            Those who do not choose the narrow way simply allow themselves to be conformed to this world and its ways and values.  How different is the walk of the true disciple—he is always watching his own steps and making frequent ‘course corrections’ to assure that he daily choosing the narrow way; the way of the cross.


D. A life spent in following Christ.

     “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt 16:24).  Christ is our example of obedience.  His life was totally conformed to the will of His Father.  Christ’s life was lived in the power of the Spirit.


            It was a life of unselfish service—of zeal, of expenditure, of self-control, of meekness, of kindness, faithfulness, and devotion (Gal 5:22-23).  The life of His disciple must manifest the fruit of Christ-likeness (Jn 15:8). 


            Those who follow Christ gather with Him (Luke 11:23)—they are fishers of men (Matt 4:19).  Those who follow Christ take their “marching orders” from Christ—they have made Christ’s cause their cause. They are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).


            Their boldness for kingdom values is a result of following Christ.  “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).


E. A fervent love for all who belong to Christ.

     “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).  This is the love that desires the very highest for a person in light of eternity.  It is a love able to esteem others as better than oneself.  It is a love which covers a multitude of sins.  It is a love that suffers long and is kind (1 Cor 13:4-7).


            It is a love that finds great joy in sacrificing for the sake of the kingdom.  In fact one pastor put it this way.  The world’s definition of happiness is self acquiring what it desires.  But the Christian’s definition of joy is as follows: When my life intersects with the lives of my brethren at the points of sacrificial love for the kingdom of God—it is inestimable joy.


            John Piper has noted well that the experience of Christ’s love fits us to love the brethren supernaturally.  “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Pet 1:22).


            The reception of God’s love produces an irresistible desire to pass the Father’s love on to others.  In fact, loving the brethren is the supreme test of love to God (1 Jn 3:14-24).  Says William McDonald, “Without this love, discipleship would be a cold, legalistic asceticism.”  But all our instruction, including our training of disciples, is to dove-tail into the action of love.  “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Tim 1:5).


F. An unswerving continuance in His Word.

    “If you continue in My Word then you are My disciples indeed” (Jn 8:31).  Genuine discipleship demonstrates a track record of faithfulness.  It is not a flash in the pan moment of blazing glory—it is as one pastor has said long obedience in the same direction. 


            Jesus is emphasizing continuance.  Being a disciple requires endurance, stamina, holding fast, determination.  Countless individuals start well only to fall away through neglect (Heb 2:1-3). 


            In the parable of the soils, the good soil is identified by the fact that the good seed (the Word of God) dominates exceptionally so as to bring a harvest!  This is God’s Word controlling the life; revolutionizing everything in one’s life—dictating your values on pleasures, cares, possessions, and life direction.


            Disciples persevere by looking unto Jesus as a habit of life (Heb 12:1-2).  They stir themselves to action by feeding their faith on the promises of God’s Word.  “And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises”  (Heb 6:12-13).


            True disciples manifest a devotion to the Word that fits them and furnishes them for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).


G. A forsaking of all to follow Him.

     “So therefore, no one of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33).  This is perhaps the most unpopular of all of Christ’s terms of discipleship. 


            Christ is laying out a specific requirement in regards to the world’s goods.  In effect, He is issuing a command not to stock pile this world’s goods.  Maintain material possessions that are absolutely essential and that could be used for the spread of the Gospel.


            A true disciple is controlled by a passion to advance the cause of Christ.  The genuine disciple invests everything above his current needs in the work of the Lord—and then leaves the future with God.


            In seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, he believes that he will never lack food and clothing.  Therefore he cannot hold onto surplus funds and resources when he knows that souls are perishing for want of the Gospel. 


            In giving up all his own possessions, he offers what he cannot keep anyway, and what he has ceased to love.  He plows the cream of his time, talent, affections, and resources into the cause of Christ.


            Theses seven terms of discipleship are clear and unequivocal.  When we examine our lives in light of these seven requirements—is it not easy to say, “Lord I am an unprofitable servant?”  Confessing our past failure, let us courageously face up to the claims of Christ upon us and seek from now on to be true disciples of our Glorious Lord. 


            How we need to recline upon the mercy and grace of Christ.  For our Savior’s grace has brought us into a relationship of sonship, status, favor, and acceptance with God.  The grace of Christ holds us up and sustains us—He is our life (Col 3:1-4). 


            Our steady progress toward maturity cannot be reduced to the mastery of a moral code.  Though moral excellence is required of God’s people (2 Pet 1:5), the saint who is being made like his Savior is steadily growing in his heart-knowledge of Christ. 


            No small part of our conformity to Christ is a result of beholding the glory of Christ.  “But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord the Spirit”  (2 Cor 3:18).


            Listen to the Apostle Paul as he speaks about the knowledge of Christ which is central to maturity: “. . .that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”  (Col 2:2-3)).


            Paul’s passion as a disciple was to know Christ—ours must flow from the same motive (Phil 3:10).


The Centrality of Christ in Discipleship - Part 2

II. The Cross of Discipleship


INTRODUCTION: When we hear about the cross of discipleship, normally the first thing that comes to mind is the life of self-denial required by the disciple.  Our minds turn to command to take up our own cross and follow Christ.


            But the ability to take up our own cross flows from the fact that Christ took up His cross—thus Christ’s work for us makes real changes in us that enable us to live the life of a disciple. 


            Therefore we must feed our faith upon the message of Christ and Him crucified. 


            Paul’s own activities in disciple-making always began with we proclaim Him!  The admonishing and the teaching follow.  It is the proclamation of Christ in His fullness that is the foundation for all ethical action and devotion (Col 1:28-29). 


            Paul knew that his listeners must also build upon Christ.  All of their own striving and repenting must rest upon Christ and Him crucified.  The centrality of Christ must always be our proclamation in discipleship—or our efforts will be met with disappointment.


A. We proclaim Him and His cross-work—for only in the Christ-centered—cross-centered life do we find the divine power and love necessary to make a disciple.  Only in His glorious Person and work upon Calvary are found the divinely powerful resources necessary to make a disciple.


            When Paul was among the Corinthians, his message focused upon the heart of the Gospel—the truth with which God associates His power (Rom 1:16-17).  “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).


             The cross produces real transformation—radical changes that can only be adequately described as an entirely new creation.  In Christ’s atoning work there is a death applied to us; a resurrection performed upon us that implants a new life principle; there is a spiritual circumcision in which the dominance of the flesh is cut, severed, and rolled away (Col 2:11-12). 


            Christ’s death and resurrection affects these changes in the believing sinner.  Therefore, our approach to discipleship must have the centrality of Christ at its center.  For it is in the hearing and believing of this sweet message of the God-man standing in your room and stead that the poor sinner receives the power and the motives for discipleship.


            That means that when we proclaim Christ, we do so with the goal in view of making disciples and bringing them to maturity.  For the Word of the Cross is a message filled with divine power. 


            When the converted sinner hears what Christ has done to slay our old man and how we have been resurrected to an entirely new form of existence—it opens his understanding to spiritual realities that are life-changing.  He discovers the source of power for personal holiness (Christ in you).


            This has immense consequences and crucial application for our own methodology in making disciples.  We must follow the Pauline order—We Proclaim Him—then we Admonish and Teach.  Because only Christ and His cross can make a true disciple—you cannot by your own efforts.


            All of our instruction, exhortation, pleading, and admonishment must be anchored in Christ and His cross. 


And here is why—because the devotion, the diligence, and the sacrifices made by a true disciple constitute a series of faith responses to Christ, the Lord of Glory.  The life of obedience lived out by a true disciple takes place because he has ever clearer views of his Savior.   Faith-based obedience is never separated from its object; the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, as pastors and disciple-makers, we proclaim Him—for in Christ there is limitless transforming power.


Now at different times in church history these precious truths of Christ’s centrality in discipleship have been forgotten.  The pietistic error has dominated at times.  In that error the present power of Christ’s atoning work has been obscured and hidden from view; and all the emphasis has been placed upon the individual’s pursuit of personal piety. 


The pietistic, or holiness movements, have had much to commend; but they have been characterized by foggy view of the comprehensiveness of the Savior’s work in our nature.  And they have been characterized by weak views of the believer’s union with Christ.


B. Naturally a struggling Christian who is for the most part blind to the glories of his Savior’s work will fall back on self in an attempt to perfect the flesh. 

Dear brothers, practice without (Christ-centered) doctrine tends to produce legalism—like the Galatians of old; they made an attempt to perfect the flesh apart from the cross.


Another error is quietism—“only rest and believe” we are told—God will do the rest—He will do it all.  In this error, there is a disproportionate emphasis placed upon the believer’s position in Christ without the attending truths of diligence; self-denial; mortification of sin; and zeal for good works. 


In the quietistic error we see that doctrine without practice leads to carnal false security andantinomianism.  This constitutes an anemic, passive form Christianity which does not overcome the world; nor does it make true disciples.  Both of these errors (pietism and quietism) prove to be a departure from the Pauline model of disciple-making. 


Paul gives us our pattern—for he joins the power of God in the cross with the believer’s response of diligence and consecration.  The power of the message of the cross believed produces consecration and devotion to Christ which we will see shortly in our text.


Our disciple-making must be characterized by both proclamation and practice; by exhibiting the supremacy of our Savior and by exhorting believers to follow Him without limits or reservations. 


Today many evangelical pastors have strayed from the Pauline formula of disciple-making.  As they seek to shepherd from the pulpit; they have sincerely hoped that exhortation to holy living would gain the result of spiritual victory in the lives of their listeners.


But what they have failed to consider is that consecration to greater obedience is a function of looking unto Jesus and beholding Him.  They are exhorting without exhibiting.


Bare principles and moral injunction will not produce lasting change in the listener.  In the final analysis our most impassioned pleas for our listeners to be good; to try harder; to stop sinning—must be joined to the display of Christ—or the flesh will conclude that in itself are the resources necessary to crucify the flesh. 


This author has found that a substantial portion of believers a stuck in cycles of lukewarm-ness; defeat, uncertainty, doubt, fear, guilt.  When we call them to greater devotion and consecration and holiness—we must also exhibit Christ their Sanctifier—who is the Author and Finisher of their salvation (Heb 12:2).


If we do not; our poor listeners are apt to conclude that we have shouldered them with a heavy yoke—for where are they to find the strength; the hope; the motivation; the enablement and capacity to measure up?  How will they break out of their cycles of mediocrity and compromise and move squarely into victory?


Brothers, we must preach to our hearers what we preach to ourselves—namely that Christ is the Divine Architect of the new man.  The cross of Christ has redeemed and purchased us making us God’s possessions for His holy and loving purposes.  Christ’s mediatorial work has poured us into a life mould—totally shaping us to live for God’s glory (Col 3:10-11).


Brethren, on this side of the cross, true discipleship is living the new life Christ has wrought for us. We do not live a life of self-denial so that Christ will accept us—no; God has accepted the believer in the Beloved.  Discipleship with its life-style of self-denial is living the life Christ has wrought for us. 


C. The power to live the life of a disciple comes from the fact that our Savior lives through us (Gal 2:20).  Paul’s overflowing joy as a disciple of Christ emanated from his understanding that he was living anexchanged life.  Paul could say with complete confidence that Christ was living His life through Paul. 


The old Paul had been crucified with Christ.  The new Paul was nothing less than a daily cognizance of the reality that Christ lives in me.  Paul was animated by this truth—it permeated his understanding—Christ is expressing His personality through the vehicle of my fleshly body (Gal 2:20).  Paul was so conversant with his divine resources in Christ that he could actually say of himself, “It is no longer I who live!”


Pastors, let us mark this down in our own disciple-making—exhortation without this Word of Christ and Him crucified can produce exasperation.  I remember the formula this way: exhortation without enablement equals exasperation.   When we exhort—we must never fail to imbue our listeners with their infinite resources in Christ. 


These spiritual realities of identification with Christ stretch our understanding to the limit.  Just to think that in the mind of God, the elect were so fully identified with Christ their Head as to gain His life.  So intimate was this identification that in Christ’s crucifixion, our fallen human natures were judged so that we should no longer be slaves of sin (Rom 6:6). 


This is Paul’s victory cry—those who have died are freed from sin—sin is no longer master over them.  Our Adamic nature with its original sin—that bottomless vile vent of rebellion and pollution was once and for all judged in the body of Christ in His death. 


The Apostle does not relegate this doctrine of co-crucifixion with Christ to the realm of theory.  He immediately plows it into practical use.  The believer is to reckon, count, consider himself dead to sin and alive to God.  He is to present the members of his body to God as instruments of righteousness (Rom 6:11-13).


How blessed this is to know that our fruitfulness as disciple-makers is tied to the Word of the Cross. For the message of Christ and Him crucified comes with assurances that the message of the Gospel is God’s power to all who believe. 


The proclamation of Christ’s indestructible life and His intercession for us in His passion and His glory cannot fail to produce a life of true discipleship in the elect.  As pastors; you and I need that assurance. 


            In the Corinthian correspondence, Paul was dealing with a local church that was not manifesting true discipleship.  The problem in Corinth was that the believers there were still too attracted to the human strength and wisdom.  In their spiritual immaturity and pride, they flirted with an earthly value system that was hostile to the cross of Christ. 


False apostles from Jerusalem found the Corinthians all too ready to have their ears tickled by this fleshly value system. 


By contrast, Paul stressed that true disciples of Christ are radically identified with Christ.  They take their marching orders from the Lord; they operate by means of an eternal value system. The strong meat of the cross-centered life is their spiritual diet.


Paul spends much of the second epistle vindicating the genuineness of his apostleship.  He does so by both exposing the fleshly value system of the false apostles AND by revealing his own motivations for ministry.  When Paul opens his heart, we see that he abides at the base of the cross.


Paul made it known that his motivations for ministry were the polar opposite of the false apostles who preached earthly prosperity.  Paul’s radical identification with Christ meant that “[He] was always carrying about in his body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus might be manifest in him” (2 Cor 4:10). 


The Corinthians were in danger of being deceived by the false apostles.  These false teachers from Jerusalem had motives tied to pride, vain-glory, boasting, human wisdom, and the approval of men.  The world has always been transfixed by human strength, human honor, and human resources.  Christ said, “That which is esteemed by men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).


How different was Paul.  He only was seeking to prove to the consciences of the Corinthians that Christ was in him (2 Cor 13:3), and that all of his motives in ministry issued from the Person and work of Christ.


Paul’s point is that only Christ’s cross can produce the mindset of a true disciple of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5, the Apostle expounds his motives for serving God, and he expounds the source of those motives.


D. Paul’s motive for service and discipleship was the controlling love of Christ.   This motive issues forth in an action—the believer no longer lives for himself—he lives the life of a true disciple.  “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor 5:14-15).  


Paul says that he is constrained or controlled—he is so affected by a sense of incarnate love as to be controlled.  He makes the will of Christ the rule of obedience.  The true Christian is controlled by a sense of divine love so as to consecrate his life to Christ.  The one who lives supremely for family, science, world, mankind, or whatever else is not a Christian.


Christ died and rose on our behalf.   That is, He died in our stead.  The theology of this verse is more profound than merely the response of love to love.  The cross has an inner consequence only understood in terms of substitution.  He died for me as Substitute.  He met the demands of justice for me (the basis and reality of my justification) – I died with Him (co-crucifixion is the basis for the whole possibility of my discipleship and sanctification).


The power of Christ’s cross is life-transforming.  The sacrificial work of Christ is not merely an example of ultimate obedience for the disciple of Christ to emulate.  The cross of Christ exerts the power tomake new creatures. 


This is a profound truth in relation to discipleship because the cross of Christ produces actual changes in the sinner—changes which make the new believer willing to pay the cost of true discipleship!


Therefore we must fix in our minds that the cross provides each of the following three necessities for true discipleship.  The cross provides the motivation to live as a disciple (we are controlled by the love of Christ); the cross provides the obligation to live as a disciple (we are to no longer live for ourselves); the cross provides the enablement to live as a disciple (we have died with Christ).  


E. The nature of the atonement is learned from its effect – one effect is “therefore, all were dead” (lit. Grk).  His death secured their death.  Its design and effect limits (qualifies) the use of the word “all” in the preceding clause.  Thus, “Christ died for all who died when He died” (Hodge, Mac Arthur, et al).  Christ’s people are so united with Him that His death is their death (same argument as Rom 6:1-14 & Gal 2:20).


Dying with Christ involves death to sin and self and involves the obligation to die to sin and self. All who died with Christ receive the benefits of his substitutionary death.  The specific character of the atonement -- it was for those who partake of that new life of which Christ’s resurrection is the pledge and pattern. 


This is how Paul defends his conduct before the Corinthians.  Christ’s love claims him in such a way that in relation to others, he can no longer exist for himself (in contrast, his opponents boast to the Corinthians that they are religious, spiritual, and something in themselves). 


Paul wanted his readers to know that his old self-centered life was gone (now righteous, resurrection life).  Paul’s disinterested motives are a result of the cross.  God’s design in the atonement was to found the relationship with the sinner (design, choice, calling, relationship – Romans 8).  Divine love proceeds from Christ and streams down to the elect producing conformity to their divine Head (Rom 8:28-29).


 “Having concluded this” or “We thus judge.”  This clause assigns the reason why Christ’s love exerts constraining power.  Christ’s death not only placed the obligation for devotion, it secured that devotion!! (they died in Him).  “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24).


F. Faith in His having died for us is the source and principle of the Christian life.


Paul’s motive—the constraining love of Christ—is followed by another actionas a new creature in Christ; he no longer judges according to the flesh (vv16,17).


            To judge after the flesh means judging by the external, or outward side of life.  Paul is saying that since his conversion, he no longer estimates any man by the world’s standard of judgment.


            Paul exposes the error of his opponents with a powerful argument: his opponents used the same criterion of evaluation on Paul that the unbelieving Jews did on Christ!  Christ’s weakness (as the suffering Servant and Savior) was a stumbling block. 


            Now that the cross was the center of Paul’s existence (through the cross Paul had obtained a new knowledge of Christ and a new set of values, and a new orientation).


            Paul had known Christ “according to the flesh.”  By fleshly judgment, Saul of Tarsus viewed Jesus as a crucified messianic pretender, cursed of God.  When he saw Christ according to the flesh, he viewed Him as unbelieving Israel did (Is 53:3, 4).


            Paul’s new values include his theology of the cross – to know the power of Christ’s resurrection, we share in His sufferings (we are like Him in His death) (Phil 3:7-14).  Paul now recognizes that Christ’s suffering was vicarious—accomplished in the room and stead of Christ’s people.  (On earth, Christ’s true identity as Lord of Glory was hidden behind weakened mortal flesh – But Paul now knows Christ as both suffering Messiah and exalted Lord of Heaven).   


            Union with Christ has transformed Paul—as a new creation, he has a different standard of judgment—old opinions, views, plans, desires, principles, affections have “passed away.” Now he has new views of truth, new apprehensions of his destiny and purpose.


            The Spirit’s work in regeneration is a “first fruits” creative work that makes each believer a representative of a coming new world order!  The transformation has affected a kingdom transfer (Col 1:13). Here we are, radically identified with the cross, yet citizens of the new heavens and the new earth (Phil 3:20-21).  The recreated man in Christ is part of the new cosmos coming (the theme is replacement—new world, new body, new values). 


            With this perception comes a new standard of judging—the pretensions of the world sink into insignificance.  A new creation by union with Christ is the ground of all our hope. 


            A true disciple, like Paul, is animated by Christ’s love and a true disciple does all his evaluating by means of kingdom values.  Friends of the cross have an eternal value system.  No man who sets his mind on earthly things can be said to be a friend of the cross (Phil 3:18-19).


The Centrality of Christ in Discipleship - Part 3

III. The Cost of Disciple-making


A. Paul’s disciple-making was by proclamation and by admonition (Col 1:28-29).


“And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom that we may present every man complete in Christ.  And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. 


            According to Colossians 1:28-29, Paul’s message is not a system, but the glorious Person of Christ – “we” refers to Paul’s colleagues and Epaphras.  Christ fulfills the deepest longing and hope of mankind.  Christ is the source of new life in His people.  “We proclaim” is the message of the resurrection (Acts 4:2); of forgiveness of sins (Acts 13:38); of Christ (Phil 1:17-18); of His death (1 Cor 11:26); of the mystery (1 Cor 2:1). 


            The Apostle teaches and admonishes – these are the two attendant circumstances or tones of Paul’s verbal ministry (and ours as well).  To admonish is to address especially the will and the emotions.  It includes the idea of warning.  (Admonish – a putting in mind, it is used of correction and training in righteousness, whether encouragement, reproof, or warning – admonish contains instruction that addresses things that are wrong and call for warning and change – whereas teaching has to do primarily with the impartation of positive truth – Vines TheolDict. pp. 22-23


            The Greek word for admonish (nouthesianoutheteo) is where we get our word fornouthetic counseling.  Growing believers are to be adept at admonishment (Rom 15:14).  This is a superb reminder that true discipleship contains the element of counseling and admonishment. 


            When we admonish, we bring to the attention of believers where repentance is needed—correct a wise man, and he will love you (Prov 9:8).  “Remind them,” and “remember” are frequent terms in the Word of God.  Act upon what you have been taught so as to love the truth and be conformed to it.


B. The goal of Christ-centered teaching­­ is to present every man complete in Christ.  Paul will not rest from this goal.  This is the heart of everyone who seeks to shepherd God’s lambs.  It is the heart of a disciple-maker. We labor so that each convert moves to maturity that he may be perfect, mature, complete, irreproachable and blameless at the coming of Christ. 


            “Perfect” means to have one’s heart wholly devoted to God so as to walk blamelessly before Him in His ways and His will (Rom 12:1-2).  It is to be assured in all the will of God (Col 4:12).  The true pastor/shepherd is not satisfied with anything less than the full maturity of every believer (1 Thess 5:23; 3:13).


C. The goal is to present all complete in Christ at the return of Christ.  Such maturity in Christ is possible because of union with Christ.  (Union with Him is the guarantee of conformity to Him – see Romans 6). 


            According to Colossians 1:28-29; Paul gave himself uncompromisingly to this task.  In view of full perfection in Christ on the last day, Paul extends all energies in the exercise of his ministry. Conversion of individuals is only the beginning of growth. 

The “day of Christ” will test the quality of everyman’s work (1 Cor 3:10-15).  


            “I labor” – Paul exerts himself to the point of weariness.  The Greek word for work here speaks of exhaustion from physical labor.  In his pastoral efforts, Paul toiled day and night in the cause of the Gospel (1 Thess 2:9; 1 Cor 4:12). 


            Striving – The Greek (agonizomai) word is where we get our word agonize.  In the Greek culture, the word was used of striving and struggle in an athletic contest in an arena.  Though the context is different in this passage, the word still retains its original color of an athlete straining as he exerts. 


            According to God’s power – the struggle Paul, and we, are engaged in is according to the work of God’s power.  The knowledge of God’s almighty assistance will shape the way we strive and think about our work of ministry.  We have a supernatural work to do – it is beyond our natural powers.  Supernatural power was at work in Paul and in every true believer. 


            God’s power is at work in His laborers – it is power and strength from above (Eph 1:19; 3:7; 16; 20; 2 Cor 3:5).  We struggle, but according to God’s working.  God is invisibly, but powerfully at work where Paul toils laboriously and energetically—it is also true of us (1 Cor 15:10; Phil 4:13). 


            APPLICATION: Faith in Christ is our link with the source of strength that enables us to rise above natural limitations.  Let us not be tempted to constantly measure the size of our task against the weakness of our limitations.  God desires through us to impart grace and glory to the recipients of our Gospel proclamation.


            God actually refers to us as His “co-laborers” or “fellow workers” (1 Cor 3:9).  Faith puts our eyes back on Christ instead of on our limitations and the smallness of our harvest.  Endurance is needed if we are to reap!  See 1 Corinthians 15:58 and Galatians 6:9. 


            Even the smallest earthly business venture requires planning, labor, and endurance, how much more so the work of God which lasts to eternity?  There is a cost to disciple-making; but it is miniscule compared to the glory to come and the harvest that will surely follow our labors.


D. In our own disciple-making we are to follow Paul’s example of instruction, exhortation, and nurture (1 Thess 2:10-12).      

Great care is needed when handling the subjects of the law and sin.  If growth is to be equated with more life, freedom, relationship, and righteousness, then we must not communicate that growth is merely mastering a code (God’s law). 


            Our emphasis should not be upon keeping the creed or the law, but upon living the life in the Son.  It is so easy to burden and deaden with duty.  Christ said that His yoke was easy and His burden was light (Matt 11:30).  The child of God by definition is not under sin and law as a dominating, controlling, condemning force.  He has passed from death to life—he is free from the controlling principle of sin and death. 


            In order to preach for growth in the inner ma (a necessary component of discipleship), we must deal with our listeners in their being alive!  We must not make the Christian life an oppressive harness.  Avoid generating a sense of condemnation.  We must steer clear of forever talking about duty, focusing on failure, intensifying a sense of grievous disobedience, and deepening a sense of condemnation.  This doesn’t promote growth. 


            If we hammer duty too much it can be a symptom of imbalance in our own ministry. Are we trying to make up for our lack of preaching to unbelievers?  Are we seeking to assuage our sense of evangelistic failure by projecting our own sense of inadequacy on believers and imparting our sense of failure to them?


            Great transparency before the throne of God is needed in the life and ministry of the preacher.  Are we piling up precepts on our people?  We must guard against “be good” sermons that leave the listener with the impression, “You have so many commissions to fulfill, so many duties to accomplish, will you ever catch up or measure up?.”  To preach in this manner is to make them far from grace—it is to place them back under law.  It builds a wall to separate them from the fullness of Christ (Hywel Jones). 


Our entire eligibility for God’s favor is Christ; we have the Savior’s blessed availability—all by gracious donation.  We must avoid grieving the hearts of the righteous.  Sanctification is relational; it is living the life of toward-ness to God in Christ as His beloved possession, set apart for Him. 


When promoting growth in the disciple, we are to press down the “die of truth” on the understanding and the affections.  There are particular truths that promote growth.  Make much of the love of Christ.  The truth concerning His love is a constraining truth that promotes likeness to Him and conformity to His commands (as we saw in the previous section, The Cross of Discipleship).  Our obedience is achievable by virtue of His energy.  When we deepen these “indentations” by means of the die of truth, growth will result.


How easy it is to lose sight of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Other things become central and He is marginalized in the process.  Beloved, the Church thrives only when Christ has preeminence in all things.


Christian people are right and correct when they hunger to hear how perfectly suited Christ is for their every need (Heb 7:26, 27).  Our preaching must hold Him before Christian people.  Set Him before them as their “Source Person” and it will cause them to hunger for Him; feed upon Him; and yearn to be like Him.


Our strength and energy for obedience is the Person of Christ.  He is to be preeminent and central in all of ministry.  He is to have preeminence in everything.  Don’t talk more about God than Christ (1 Cor 2:1-3). 


The motivation for growth is the Gospel, not the Law.  Use the Gospel to keep your people aware of what they owe, who they are, what they were, and where they are headed.  The Gospel is the Christian’s “I.D, map, and compass” so to speak.  The Gospel tells him what he was; who he is now; and what he will become.  It tells him where he has come from; where he is now; and where he is headed.  The Gospel provides a constant corrective to wrong thinking in any of these areas.


E. The precepts and laws of God must be filtered through Christ and Him crucified.  Are we consciously seeking to bring our listeners to delight—so that in their affections they want to receive Christ’s love and law in their hearts?  Our tendency as ministers is to make biblical commands stand alone from Christ’s finished work and present power. 


But, it is the experimental knowledge of Christ’s love that gives us the disposition to love one another, and to bear one another’s burdens.  His love gives us the disposition to please.  His precepts give us the specifics of how to please God; He directs our love by His precepts.  (We need to view our living the Christian life in this way instead of merely adherence to a code.)


We must understand that our being “in Christ” is our strength.  Our union with Christ is vital, living, and organic; it is not merely federal representation.  The mind of Christ is available, the might of Christ is available – we don’t have to fulfill a single command by ourselves, in our own strength.  We operate in the realm of grace full and free.  We cannot barter for God’s infinite goodness in Christ, we cannot exchange anything for it; it is still for nothing, it is still all of grace (Rom 5:1, 2).  The dictates and absolutes of discipleship do not change this ruling principle of divine grace.


F. In order to press down these truths upon the minds and hearts of our hearers, we will have to speak in “three different tones.” 

 This ministry of pressing down the die of truth has three “tones” or “strands” that function together.  The Apostle Paul used them in conjunction (1 Thess 2:11).  “Just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children.”


Exhorting: is to appeal by argument.  It is not the same as laying down the law.  It is face to face, side by side ministry as when the Apostle Paul acted as a spiritual father and mother. Laying down the law is not as effective, though it might seem so.  By contrast, the exhorting pastor asks the question, “What will make people rise up, want to be more like Christ, and want to obey?”  “What will make them more like Christ in attitude, word, and deed?” 


Faithful shepherds keep exhorting.  They are willing to patiently reason with the sheep—helping them build a case for obedience and a case against disobedience.  We are not to assume that our people have thoroughly thought through the benefits of obedience; and the consequences of disobedience.


Encouraging: is to comfort humans in their frailty.  Distressed minds and hearts need to be consoled.  So many are distressed within and without.  They are living with turmoil of soul, with stress, fear, anxiety, and condemnation.  Even under the Old Covenant, the Levitical priest exemplified compassion and empathy (Heb 5:2, 3).  How much more do we, under the new covenant, need to show compassion and empathy.  We must not send the message that we have arrived spiritually.  We can be too hard.  Our own infirmities are always with us.  Let us not be too censorious, too overbearing, or too demanding.


Sheep need continual encouragement.  Our encouraging of hearts is not only to lift spirits and to comfort;  but also to motivate the brethren to love and good deeds (Heb 10:25).


Imploring: is to warn the indifferent; it is to withstand the rebellious face to face.  It is to confront in specific areas where obedience is lacking.  We implore in the context of a “spiritual family.”  We are to implore our people to go to perfection.   Yet, some are not of us as the Apostle John cautions (1 Jn 2:19).  If individuals persevere in disobedience, that sin might bring them to a point of irrevocable apostasy. 


Disobedient believers must be taught to submit to the Heavenly Father’s discipline.  In some cases of protracted disobedience in a believer, that correction from God may claim the health and life of the individual that their spirit may be saved in the day of Christ Jesus. 


  In all three of these tones (exhorting, encouraging and imploring), God is the One who is ultimately speaking.  He is the One who calls us to call His people into His glorious kingdom.  God is the one who is speaking through us His ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20).  We are calling men to communion with Christ.  We are setting forth the Son of God—and life in Him. 


Christ is the gift of all gifts.  We need to inculcate more longing and more yearning to know Christ and to be like Christ in Immanuel’s land.  In order to preach to the life of God in the soul, we must preach and speak in all three tones: in speaking truth, we exhort, in communicating compassion, we comfort, in exercising firmness we warn.


The Apostle Paul spoke in all three of these tones and so must we if we are to pay the cost of disciple-making (1 Thess 2:11).            



Paul was constrained by Gethsemene love—by the Savior who gave Himself for me.  Paul’s motivations and values were produced by the cross.  Christ’s love animated and controlled him. (Paul reckoned his sufferings to be a result of union with his Savior who suffered for him.)


            In this epistles to the Corinthians, Paul takes a knife and lays open his heart.  He tells us the reasons why he serves and ministers selflessly.  By contrast, the Corinthians were restrained in their affections and transparency.  They wouldn’t open their hearts to Paul, because they had carnal (fleshly motives).


            Paul’s vindication of his Apostleship to his Corinthian readers is also an admonishment. Judgment day will be the revealing of motives (1 Cor 4:5).  No wonder Paul always spoke of his motives.


            This truth is directed at you and me.  The question is not, “Are you motivated?” but, “What motivates you?”  The motives that Paul sets forth are not merely the obligation of every believer,they are the marks of true discipleship – the evidence of union with Christ.


A true disciple dies to self in order to bear fruit says Jesus. He who places high esteem on the perishable will perish with it (he who loves his life in this world).  A true disciple hates his life in this world—he does not love his life in this world (Jn 12:24-26).


Beloved it takes a death to produce self-renunciation in place of self-preservation. The first is instinctive and natural to us.  The latter, including a willingness to suffer and die for Christ if need be, requires the supernatural work of the Spirit applied to a man.  


A true disciple sees his Savior by faith as enthroned Conqueror—who has defeated the enemies of the saints.  To be a disciple of Christ is to participate in Christ’s conquest—it is to be a fellow overcomer (Rev 2:7).


A disciple is consumed with the Person of Christ.  A disciple has Kingdom values.  He regards it to be his glory to bear the reproach of Christ (Heb 13:13-16). 


A disciple practices Christ-centered looking and cross-centered living.  He is constantly about the business of putting off the old man and putting on the new man—that’s what it means to become who you really are in Christ—a new man—a new creation.


A true disciple lives an exchanged life—he yearns to know Christ better and better. And it is by reckoning our union with Christ that we know the Savior ever better and become conformed to Him in the process of knowing Him.


A disciple is one who cherishes Christ above all else—Christ is His Pearl of infinite price—a genuine disciple will part with anything and everything to have Christ.  Like the Apostle Paul; the true disciple reaffirms this decision each day to sell all that he might have Christ.  He daily counts it an infinite privilege to know Christ—and therefore is willing to suffer the loss of all things and count them but dung in comparison to knowing Christ.


Can you say today; I owe my discipleship to the cross of my Savior?  Can you affirm that the love and devotion you have for Christ is because His death was your death—your death to a selfish; self-centered; self-directed life?  Do you live by faith in the Son of God?  In your Christian walk, can you say that the preached Word of God is constantly mixed with faith and therefore it profits you unto eternal life?  


Christ gave Himself to produce a certain guaranteed effect if you will.  He gave Himself to this end—that His people might be redeemed from every lawless deed.  He gave Himself so that His people might be purified for Himself—to be His own possession.  And He gave Himself so that His people would be zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:14). 


Christ’s cross cannot fail to produce the above effects in His people.  This is so significant—we must let this sink in—namely that the cross-work of Christ will produce the mind-set of a disciple in His redeemed child.  It cannot fail to do so.


Our exhortations to live the life of a disciple must be joined to the cross.  In effect we are to exhort believers to be who they really are in Christ.  “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:2).  If God contemplates His children in the Son—then we must contemplate ourselves in Him.  This is vital if we are to find our life direction in Christ.


            In his own liberation from the world; and his consequent dedication to Christ—Paul was extremely careful to give all the glory to Christ and His cross.  “But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14).



The Centrality of Christ in Discipleship - Part 4

IV. The Kingdom Consciousness of a True Disciple


A. The Kingdom of God was the heart of Jesus’ teaching (Luke 4:42-44).


What God has done, and will do, through Christ in the inauguration the kingdom of God is the pervasive mindset of a true disciple.


            Christ’s announcement of the Kingdom of God marked the end of the old era of the Law and the Prophets.  Jesus stated that the ‘Good News’ of the Kingdom of God was being preached starting with John the Baptist (Luke 16:16).


            Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom of God was very closely associated with the Gospel message itself. “And [Jesus was] saying, ‘The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel’” (Mark 1:15).


            The term, “Kingdom of God,” in its general sense in both O.T. and N.T. means God’s reign—His divine kingly authority, especially over those who belong to Him (see Ps 103:19; 145:13; Is 52:7; Dan 2:44; 7:14, 27).  The passages in Daniel indicate that God’s reign—His rule as King of creation, will at the end of the age invade human history and establish everlasting dominion on earth.


            The glorious message of the Kingdom is that God will establish His kingdom on earth through His Son, Jesus Christ.  God’s divine reign is given by the Father to the Son (Luke 22:29-30; 1 Cor 15:24-28; Rev 11:15).


            Christ is appointed by God to take back the title deed to the earth and to reclaim God’s authority in every sphere by overthrowing and judging all hostile authority.  The angelic victory cry announced during the future Tribulation period is, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15). 


            This same angelic victory cry encompasses the divine conquest of both the satanic and the human enemies who oppose God’s reign and glory.  “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of the brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them before our God day and night” (Rev 12:10).


            The death and resurrection of Jesus was the decisive point in the coming of the kingdom (Mt 16:21; Mk 9:31; Luke 18:31-34; 24:7).  According to Colossians 2:13-15, Christ’s redemptive work disarmed the rulers and authorities.  In other words, Christ’s sacrifice in the place of His people not only brought redemption to the elect; it also stripped Satan of his weapons (2:15). 


            The kingdom is now manifest in heaven’s spiritual rule over the hearts of believers (Luke 17:21); and one day will be established in a literal earthly kingdom (Rev 20:4-6).  In one sense the kingdom is a present reality, but in its fullest sense it awaits a yet-future fulfillment (MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1396).


            (FOR DISCUSSION Why are the thoughts of a true disciple of Christ  dominated by thoughts of the Kingdom of God?)


B. In Christ and His work, the future has already come (2 Cor 5:17).  The age to come (though not in its global fulfillment) is penetrating this present age.


The sin, death, and meaninglessness of the present age have been transformed by righteousness, life, and meaning of the age to come.  Hope in Christ connects us to the age to come.  “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19). 


            The conquest of sin, death, and the devil at the cross established the rule of God over the church.  We are in a period between the comings of Christ.  The future, or eschatological dimension, penetrates the present.  The truth is, with the coming of Christ, the present age died (Gal 4:4; Eph 1:10).  This is afundamental division in human history recognized by Scripture (David Wells, Above All Earthly Powers, pp. 205-210). 


            “Last Days” refers to the present period established at the cross (Heb 1:1-5; Heb 9:26; 1 Tim 4:1; 2 Tim 3:1; 1 Cor 10:11).  The end of the ages has come upon us.  The victory won at the cross of Christ has established this era as “the last days.  We live in a unique time period between the victory won at the cross; and the consummation of this victory at the Day of the Lord.


            (FOR DISCUSSIONIn what sense does the first coming of Christ mark the fact that the end of the age is imminent?) 


C. We live between the cross and the resurrection.


Eternal life is a present reality—in essence it has begun in the believer already (Jn 3:36; 5:24; 6:47, 54; 11:23-27).  For the believer, the present age of this world has passed.  The so-called wisdom of the present world has been judged and exposed by Christ. 


            The “wisdom” of this world is foolishness.  It cannot lead men to a saving knowledge of God.  The Lord is systematically shaming the wisdom of the world through the ‘foolishness of the cross’—He is doing so through a message regarded as foolish by the world (1 Cor 1:20; 2:6-8; 3:18; Titus 2:12). 


            Think of how tragic it is for the unbeliever living apathetically in his spiritual darkness. For the non-Christian, the present age still belongs to Satan—for Scripture states that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 Jn 5:19). 


            By contrast, the believer has been delivered from the domain of darkness and has been transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col 1:13).  For us as believers, God’s grace has brought eternity into time. Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20-21).


            God has decisively reclaimed us and saved us for Himself.  Yet there is a final phase of this reclamation that is still to come.  Scripture says that we are eagerly waiting for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (Rom 8:23b). 


            The fact that believers are eagerly awaiting their glorification does not diminish the truth that God has now, in the present, ‘broken into our lives’—transforming them by the reality of His truth, power, and love.


            C. K. Barrett writes, “The common pattern of N.T. eschatology is in [the book of] Hebrews made uncommonly clear.  God has begun to fulfill His ancient promises; the dawn of the new age has broken, though the full day has yet to come.  The “age to come” is already being tasted and experienced (Heb 6:4-5) because “the world to come” has already been subjected to Christ’s rule (Heb 2:5) (Barrett quoted in Wells, p. 212).


            This rule of Christ is the target of opposition from enemies (Heb 2:8-9; 10:13-14); but the outcome is sure (Heb 9:26).  Thus the author of Hebrews speaks of a salvation being experienced in the present, a redemption, an inheritance, and a covenant each of which is also “eternal” (Heb 5:9; 9:12, 15; 13:20).


            We must not miss the significance of this.  The truth of the kingdom of God that we believe and preach is all about God’s mighty in-breaking into human history.  God’s in-breaking involved both saving and vanquishing.  God has done for us what we had no hope of doing for our selves—He has conquered our darkness and our love of darkness.  And He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and placed us as subjects in the kingdom of Christ (Col 1:13-14). 


            God’s rule has begun in the hearts of believers; and will someday soon fill the earth.  As disciples and subjects of King Jesus; we receive this Kingdom—we receive the kingdom because by His sovereign grace, God had made us subjects of Jesus Christ; the King of Kings.


            In Christ, the eternal God—eternal life—eternal truth walked on this dusty planet 2000 years ago.  It was through Christ that God was breaking into our age in sovereign mercy.  In Christ, God took decisive action against sin, death, and the devil (overcoming the greatest enemies of our souls).             


            During His earthly ministry, the context of “The Kingdom of God,” was the means by which Jesus defined Himself, and His work.  The message of the kingdom of God is what Jesus used to set forth and reveal the purposes of God in sending His Son (Matt 12:28; 16:28).


            (FOR DISCUSSIONName and describe some of the ways the believer’s life is to be controlled by the two events of the cross and the resurrection.)


D. Living between the cross and the resurrection means that the believer’s life must be defined by both events. 


To live between the cross and the resurrection is to live between the two events in a way that is dynamically connected to both.  Romans 5:1-11 contains this “already, not yet” tension.  The believer does not yetactually reign with Christ over the earth, but does already belong to that new age and rule of life in Him (Rom 5:17, 21). 


            The outworking of the “reign of grace through righteousness to eternal life” is through “Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 5:21).  This is why the role of ongoing faith in the Gospel is so vital (the Gospel is our ‘map, our identity, and our destiny’). 


            The Gospel is our constant reminder of the reality of the present reign of grace and life.  We really do participate in the reign of grace and life (5:17).  It is ongoing faith in the Gospel that produces a life-transforming awareness of the reign of grace. 


            Ongoing faith in the Gospel deepens our assurance, hope, and joy in the unshakable fact that the reign of grace cannot be frustrated, no matter what tribulations we face (Rom 5:1-5).  


            Salvation transferred and discharged us from the old era of sin’s reign (2 Cor 11:3; Jn17:3). Believers have been radically identified with Christ in His death and resurrection.  The Christian life is defined more by allegiance to a Person (the Lord Jesus Christ to whom all authority has been given) than it is by allegiance to a  moral code.


            Our part in the process of renewal is to keep the eyes of our minds fixed upon things that are unseen.  The phrase “things that are unseen” refers especially to the age to come (2 Cor 4:18; Phil 3:8-17). This same fixing of the mind on things above refers also to the “treasure principle.”  In other words, where your treasure is, there will your heart (affections) be also (Matt 6:19-21; Col 3:1-3; Eph 4:22-23).  


            We are not to be preoccupied with temporal things, we are to fix our minds upon eternal things (2 Cor 4:16-18; Phil 3:18-19).  Our responsibility is to fix our eyes on things that are unseen -- that is the kingdom age to come in which the resurrection of our body and glory will be ours.  Faith and hope in God’s promises is the key to being renewed day by day.


            Mind renewal through the Gospel puts our focus back upon what God is doing in us; and what God is doing in history.  God never backs off from His purpose to conform believers into the image of His Son.  Renewal each day means we are to live as a new person in Christ.  We are to reject the sins that are totally out of place in God’s people (Col 3:5-9).


            Our daily task of living to reflect the holy character of God, and living under righteousness (justification) is our preparation to live with God forever in His eternal kingdom.  When the N.T. describes God’s grace, with that description of His grace comes an explanation of the believer’s identity in Christ, the believer’s mandate to be conformed to Christ, the believer’s relation to the Body of Christ, and the believer’sdestiny in Christ.  These grace-based spiritual realities are a powerful incentive for Christian living. 


            Thus the Gospel gives us, and instills in us “kingdom values” that are joined to our hope of resurrection life.  Those kingdom values are lived out by setting one’s mind on things above; considering the members of our body as dead to sin (immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech, lying); putting on the new self; putting on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with and forgiving one another; putting on love; letting the peace of Christ rule in your heart; teaching and admonishing one another with Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness; being a submissive wife and a loving husband; avoiding bitterness; being obedient children; avoiding exasperation of children; doing your work heartily as unto the Lord. 


            The more our hope is joined to kingdom thinking—the more it is fixed on the resurrection, the more we will seek an energetic compliance with God’s purposes in Christ.  “If we are definitively sanctified by the work of Christ and the gift of the Spirit, ‘growth’ in holiness will mean increasing and abounding in practical expressions of that status, calling and commitment which is already ours by God’s grace” (David Peterson,Possessed by God, p.136).


            (FOR DISCUSSIONWhat is so significant about the “already, not yet” tension?  What are some of the effects upon professing believers who are blind to this “already, not yet” dynamic?  How does the Gospel instill kingdom values in us?


E. The cross is at the center of God’s plan.


In the secularized, relativistic age in which we live, we are ever prone to divide up our complex lives into compartments in order to keep things “manageable.”  To our own shame, we even attempt to compartmentalize the eternal truths of God—often partitioning them off from the demands, pleasures, and activities of life.


            “Kingdom thinking” brings us back to the reality that this is a moral universe.  It is a moral universe solely because of one reason; the Creator and Ruler of this universe is holy.  Moral cause and effect (crime and punishment—obedience and blessing) are not impersonal laws and forces.  The inviolate law of moral cause and effect is a reflection of the character of the God of the universe who rules His creation. 


            This universal truth of God’s moral government must be the backdrop for properly understanding the cross of Christ.  In the incarnation and work of Christ, God in the flesh comes to address the outcome of His broken moral law.


            God in Christ takes on the burden of His own wrath.  God absorbs His own wrath in the Person of Christ.  The holy justice His character demands—He Himself provides in the substitutionary death of Christ. This fact should shake us—rock us—stagger us, moving us to awe and adoration.  We should find His infinite grace to be ever fresh and exhilarating to us.


            In Christ, Agape love reaches out of eternity into time.  The age to come has broken into time and space.  Christ crucified is at the center of our worldview.  Time and eternity meet in Christ.  His resurrection nails us to eternity. The age to come, which will endure through all eternity, has arrived in the Person of Christ.  The cross of Christ ‘kills’ all private worldviews.


            The main point of kingdom thinking is this—for the people of God, end-time judgment has already come at the cross! The “hell” they should have justly endured was borne by Christ in His passion. 


            Christ entered our alienation and dereliction.  He came to earth and radically identified Himself with our cursed existence—He was the man of sorrows acquainted with grief.  He was the believer’s “High Priest in training” (see Hebrews 4:15-16; 5:7-9).  He identified Himself even with the consequences of our sin with its shame, sorrow, suffering, rejection, betrayal, fear, grief, death, and separation from God.


            (FOR DISCUSSIONDescribe the ways in which the cross of Christ defines your life—where you have been, what you were, what you are now, how you are to walk, where your power for holiness comes from, what you will be).


F. The cross marked the decisive turning point in the destiny of all men, fallen angels, and the creation itself.


The world was blind, and still is, to the triumph which Christ accomplished by His death and resurrection. Paul proclaims in Colossians, All the fullness of salvation dwells in Christ.  “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him I say, whether things on earth, or things in heaven” (Col 1:19-20). The Father was pleased to have all redemptive power dwell in Christ who is the Agent for and goal for reconciliation (Col 1:20). 


To reconcile (apokatallacia)—in its redemptive sense means to exchange hostility for friendship.  The prefix conveys the idea of complete reconciliation.  God’s reconciling of man to Himself is necessary because of the enmity of sinners toward God in their natural mind (Rom 5:8-11; 8:5-7).  Man’s corruption is an effrontery to God; the fact and existence of corruption requires reconciliation before relations can be restored.


But, in what sense does Christ reconcile all things to Himself?  (All things reconciled by His blood cannot mean universal salvation.)  The broader (non-salvific) meaning of reconciliation in this verse points to the Great White Throne judgment at the end of the millennium when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father (Phil 2:10; Rom 14:11) (H. Wayne House, “The Doctrine of Christ in Colossians,” Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (Apr 1992), pp. 185-186).


“Having made peace,”—the participle is inserted to indicate the reconciliation is not a cosmic miracle in which the universe is changed outside of man.  BUT that reconciliation is primarily concerned with relationships that are restored.  Peace here is not primarily defined in the negative—that is by erasing or canceling out hostilities—but reconciliation points to positive content with positive blessings—spiritual blessings impacting the prosperity of the whole man (ibid.).  (This fact is monumental—the direction of the universe, including those who live in it, is forever changed because of what God does through a man, Christ Jesus, Col 1:19-23)


At present, heaven and earth are not now united (reconciled). Kingdoms are in conflict; sin brought the universe into a state of corruption; decay; deterioration.  Sin destroyed harmony.  


Through the blood of His cross the sin principle is conquered—the curse is borne; the law satisfied; peace is made and restored.  Through Christ and His cross the universe is brought back to its proper relation to God (see also Eph 1:9-10).


As a just reward for His obedience; Christ is exalted to God’s right hand—from this position of exaltation, glory, and power—He rules the universe. 


What He accomplished at the cross; He will consummate at the Second Advent when He formally and militantly takes back the title deed to the earth. 


Through Christ; all intelligent beings—both obedient and disobedient, and both human and angelic will acknowledge the sovereignty of God manifest in the Lordship of Christ who is over all. 


The vastness of Christ’s Person is seen in His cosmic Kingship (He is Head of the Church; all things are under His feet; He is Lord of all creation).  Thus His cross affects not only mankind; but the entire cosmos.  Also a distinction needs to be made between reconciliation and salvation.


            Reconciliation removes the barrier between God and man and opens the potential for a new type of relationship between the two. But the barrier removed does not mean that reconciliation has been appropriated. 


The act of reconciliation in Christ’s death does not itself immediately effect reconciliation for the individual—people by nature do not desire to take advantage of this situation of their own accord.  This does not detract from the reconciling work of the Father—for it had to take place for salvation to be in accord with God’s nature.


All the redeemed and unredeemed will acknowledge His sovereignty; AND in that sense there will be reconciliation.  But this does NOT mean the unredeemed will be given salvation.  (Christ’s vicarious death on the cross paid the price necessary to make possible this peace.)


As cosmic Lord, when God in reconciling all things prepares to put creation itself under His authority and rule, through the administrative reign of Jesus Christ—then when Christ is inaugurated as the cosmic Potentate at the beginning of the eternal state, the earth will have its day of reckoning and redemption, and will be transformed (2 Pet 3:10; Rev 21:1).


Present spiritual warfare in this life takes place between the believer and satanic powers (Eph 6:10-18).  But Christ at the right hand of the Father possesses authority over the angelic realm, though at the present time that realm has not come under final judgment.  


In spite of their present limited power; the angelic realm will be subject to God’s work of reconciliation.  Christ will be exalted and every knee will bow (Phil 2:10).


Paul highlights all the aspects of the believer’s former alienation in the bulk of Eph 2. 


Now the believer’s present condition as reconciled (Col 1:22) emphasizes life; and blamelessness free of reproach.  The purpose of the reconciliation is to present each believer before Him holy, blameless, and beyond reproach.


The intended goal of reconciliation is reached BECAUSE Christ’s incarnation allowed Him to die a real death in our place.  The prepositions Paul uses to support our being in Christ. By identification, believers are positionally holy, blameless, and beyond reproach.  And they are to manifest these qualities in the Christian walk. 


(FOR DISCUSSIONHow would it alter and improve our loyalty and devotion to Christ if we saw Him more and more as He truly is—as Cosmic King, Reconciler of all things, Head of the Church, Judge of all the earth?


G. Practical applications that flow from kingdom consciousness (‘sermons we can preach to ourselves).

  • Christ in us is the hope of glory – we ought to stimulate one another to love and good deeds based upon that blessed hope of glory (see Heb 10:23-25 for the connection between hope and Body life).


  • According to 2 Corinthians 3:18, beholding Christ as our King has transforming power but there is spiritual combat.  The flesh and the Spirit are locked in battle. The call of Scripture is to live out the practical implications of our sanctification by pursuing holiness as a lifestyle.  We are to do this by looking back to the cross and forward to the resurrection, when by God’s grace we will share His character and life completely” (Peterson, pp. 136-137).


  • Christ is cosmic King.  He has authority over all things.  No part of creation is finally or fully meaningful until it is understood in relation to Christ who is Creator and Redeemer.  This must radically affect how a Christian thinks about life.  All creation is made by God; belongs to Him; derives its meaning from Him—and must only be used in accordance with God’s will.  Thus the purpose of God’s redemptive work toward us is that we might take our proper place in His created order; and that we might own Christ as our Creator and Redeemer.  The glorious news of the gospel of the kingdom is that through Christ, we have been fitted by God to do His will, and to live as Christ’s subjects.


  • All things have been delivered to Christ by His Father (Matt 11:27; Jn 3:35; Eph 1:22; Heb 1:8).   Christ is Lord of all (Phil 3:21; Acts 10:36)—but His reign is currently contested by many enemies of the glory of God (Col 2:15).  At the Day of the Lord, God through Christ will make a public object lesson of rebellion and evil.  Wickedness will be taken to the scaffold and held up to public ridicule (Rom 9:22-24). God will demonstrate His wrath—the subjugation of all rule, authority, and power will be witnessed by the holy rational universe (angels) (1 Cor 15:24-25).  Willful darkness and error is headed for the gallows. It will be displayed there in all its horror and repugnancy as God demonstrates His wrath.  Thisdemonstration of God’s wrath also is the backdrop for the demonstration of God’s mercy.  As a “vessel of mercy” you are part of God’s comprehensive object lesson to the watching universe!  Therefore your life ought to demonstrate that you believe with all your heart that God has chosen you to make known the riches of His glory—the believer is exhibit “A” of divine grace (Rom 9:23).


  • Christ’s present enthronement is not the same as His future rule (Heb 1:1-8; 2:5-9).  His present enthronement is a divine accolade for His work on Calvary.  Christ’s enthronement at the right hand of God is the basis of His intercessory role (Heb 8:1-2).  Jesus’ present intercessory ministry as ‘Melchizedek’ Priest (Ps 110:1-4) is made possible through His being exalted to God’s right hand (Heb 5:5-6).  Christ is actively using His authority to help tempted believers resist sin and obtain salvation (Heb 2:18; 4:14-15; 7:25-26) (Mark Saucy, “Exaltation Christology in Hebrews; What Kind of Reign?” Trinity Journal, (1993): 14:1, pp. 41-62).  When you are tempted, are you in the habit of ‘crying to Jesus’ for help?  We must know that our Mediatorial King has promised to run to the cry of those who are tempted. It is dangerous to neglect the infinite resources and ready help found in our High Priest and King (Heb 2:18).


  • The Mediatorial Kingdom is the rule of God through a divinely chosen representative who speaks and acts for God.  As Mediator, Christ communicates God’s Word and will to His people; and He represents the people before God.  The One who rules (as King) stands between us and God (as Priest)—He is a member of the human race (Ps 2; Is 9:6: Rom 8:31-39).  The kingdom (in Israel’s history) failed because of two reasons: 1.) The people were spiritually unqualified.  2.) The human kings were less than enthusiastic about the Lord, His will, honor, and glory.  Christ (as our Mediatorial King) overcomes both reasons for Israel’s failure.  FIRST, the new covenant in Christ’s blood makes us spiritually qualified to enter the kingdom of God.  SECOND, Christ, our King is both human and divine (Is 40:9-11; Dan 7:13-14).  He is God’s choice; God’s anointed ‘Man’ to rule us (Ps 2; Jn 3:35).  Our King is our Savior.  Read Hebrews 8-10.  Describe the features of the new covenant that fit us to live as devoted subjects to Christ our King.


  • In Matthew 13, Christ described the ‘mystery’ aspect of the kingdom of God (see also Rom 16:25-27). The ‘mystery of the kingdom’ is descriptive of the Church.  The Church age sits between the ‘curse of Israel’s rejection’ (Matt 12); and the Second Coming of Christ when Israel will receive her King (Zech 8-14).  The fact that spiritual benefits belong to the Church now does not mean that the kingdom rule of Christ is here now in its fullness.  The amillennial view states that Christ’s kingdom is spiritual; and that the kingdom is here now.  The Amillennial view denies that there is a Messianic Age to come.   The ‘mystery of the kingdom’ is the coming of the kingdom into history in advance of its apocalyptic manifestation (Ladd, Presence, p. 222).  It is not a small faith that “sees” Christ enthroned now at the right hand of the Father.  We are to continually ‘fix our eyes’ on Jesus, literally contemplating all that God is toward us in Him—meditating upon Christ’s offices as Prophet, Priest, and King.  (See Col 3:1-4; Heb 12:1-3; 2 Cor 3:18).


  • The apocalyptic manifestation of the kingdom involves Christ putting all things (all authority) into subjection under His feet (1 Cor 15:23-28).  The Day of the Lord will be a violent ‘invasion’ of the Lord into human history (Joel).  Christ will smite the nations; He will tread the winepress of the fierce wrath of God (Rev 19:15; Is 63:1-6).  Christ is clothed in garments of mercy now; but a day is coming soon in which go to battle as a Warrior for God’s honor (Larry Pettegrew, “Eschatology,” Theology IV, The Master’s Seminary).  Christ will violently strike down the enemies of God’s glory—He will come with weapons of war to spill the life blood of His enemies.  Our prayer for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (The Lord’s Prayer, Matt 6:9-13) is actually a very violent prayer!  For when we pray forGod’s kingdom to come; we are praying that the judgments necessary to bring God’s kingdom to earth will be executed upon mankind.   How does a disciple ‘align his life’ with the truth that Christ will break into human history the second time as a Warrior?  (Hint, see the passages on being an ‘overcomer’ in Revelation 2-3, 21).


True Believers Never Have a Casual Relationship With the Holy Scriptures

          In 1988 John MacArthur Jr. wrote the book, The Gospel According to Jesus.  MacArthur was justifiably agitated over the state of Evangelicalism.  He had been observing a disturbing trend for decades—namely that a dangerous “easy believism” had been embraced by countless churches.  This easy-believismmade the lordship of Christ optional for salvation.


            To refute this error, MacArthur set forth the biblical doctrine of the cost of true discipleship.  He exposed prevailing errors regarding the Gospel that had been assimilated by mainstream Evangelicalism. 


            These errors could be summed up as follows: a.) Folks today are preaching that salvation is by faith in Christ alone without a commitment to Christ (pp. 53-55ff.).  b.) Folks are preaching that it is possible to initiate your own regeneration (new birth) (pp. 44, 79ff.).  c.) Folks are offering salvation with no mention for the need of repentance (pp. 159-161; 171-178).  d.) Folks are separating justification from sanctification; as if justification may be found alone without sanctification (pp. 187-188).  e.) Folks are offering Christ as Savior without mentioning the necessity of receiving Him as Lord; Creator; King; and Judge.  As a consequence, “non-lordship” salvation divides up the Person of Christ (pp. 206-210).


            MacArthur’s book is still causing a stir.  Many readers of the book have repaired their ways; they no longer teach the errors listed above.  As a result of the book; countless pastors and teachers are presenting the truth of the Gospel in a clearer fashion; they are explaining to their listeners that saving faith is inseparable from submission to Christ (pp. 86ff.).


            In the following brief article, this author will contend for the fact that submission to Christ is expressed by submission to His Word; the Bible.  


            When Jesus preached The Parable of the Soils in Matthew 13, He was setting forth the role of the Gospel and the Word of God in true salvation.  Without prepared soil; the hearer will have ‘no root in himself’ (13:21).  Soil without repentance is shallow soil; without repentance there is no depth of root.


            John MacArthur makes the following observation about the ‘soils’ passage, “Some people make an emotional, superficial commitment to salvation in Christ, but it is not real.  They remain interested only until there is a sacrificial price to pay, and then abandon Christ” (MacArthur Study Bible, pp. 1416-1418). 


            The Parable of the Soils is about the necessity of true repentance for salvation.  Many who gladly heard the Word make superficial commitments without true repentance says MacArthur.  Without true repentance; their love of money and the world has never been broken (ibid.).


            Without fruitfulness; there is no warranty or evidence of salvation.  There were three soils who heard the Word with some enthusiasm; but only one of these was fruitful.  This is remarkable!  Only one of the three who responded to the Word positively was saved!  The remainder came short of true salvation.


            You can imagine why Christ’s words do not constitute a popular message today.  Churches want to swell their ranks—as a result, the Gospel has been truncated so as to exclude the need for repentance.


            The Gospel is often preached today as if Christ is standing outside the heart’s door and the sinner is completely in charge of the deadbolt.  The helplessness and inability of the sinner—so faithfully preached by the Reformers and the Puritans, is missing from most pulpits.


            According to the Word of God; the sinner’s spiritual deadness necessitates nothing less than aspiritual resurrection if a person is to be saved (Eph 2:1-7; Col 2:13, 14).  No spiritually dead sinner ever willed himself spiritually alive.  Spiritual life is a gift of God’s sovereign grace (Jn 1:13; 3:3-8).


            Spiritual life is totally a function of divine grace—it is the impartation of a new life by reason of divine initiative.  Every truly saved person owes his faith to his election; and not the other way around. Those who are the elect are given the gift of saving faith when they are graciously called by God (Phil 1:29). 


            Our election is an election unto holiness.  It says in Ephesians 1:4 that God’s gracious choice of us (before the foundation of the world) was a divine choice unto holiness and blamelessness before Him in love. 


            That means that with the bestowal of God’s predestinating grace (that effectually called us to Christ) comes also the divine plan to make us holy; not only in heaven; but in this life.  We are predestined by God to become conformed to the likeness of His Son.


            Many quote Romans 8:28; but ignore its context.  The context is that for the true people of God; the Lord is causing all things (whether losses; crosses; or blessings) to contribute to the ongoing production of practical holiness in the believer.  The “good” toward which all things are working in the elect is conformity to Christ in holiness (Rom 8:29).


            Practical holiness is not bestowed without the use of means.  We don’t wake up and find it under our pillow in the morning.  God uses His almighty transforming truth to change His people into the likeness of Christ.  The Word of God is the means of our transformation and renewal into Christ’s likeness (Rom 12:1, 2).


            When Christ prayed for those for whom He would die; He prayed for their sanctification by means ofthe truth of God’s Word (Jn 17:17).  Every saved person has been appointed by God to become conformed to Christ’s moral likeness by means of the truth of God’s Word.


            The upshot of this is impossible to miss—if we are elected to holiness; and the means of producing that holiness is the Word of God—then the Word of God will be enthroned in the mind, heart, and conscience.  The true believer will be a doer of the Word.


            The Scriptures will take up residence in the inner man—God’s truth will permeate the core of his being and hold sway there.  The true believer’s ambition is that the Word of Truth will be the final arbiter in every one of his decisions.  


            This is why it is impossible for a person to have a “casual” relationship with the Bible and also be a saved person.  When God predestined the elect unto salvation; He also predestined the very means necessary to produce practical holiness (sanctification) in them. 


            As a consequence; regenerated persons long for the pure milk of the Word.  They live to have theWord implanted in them.  They find study of God’s Word to be a delight because they meet the Lord between its pages in sweet communion with Him.  They love the truth and pursue holiness.  Like the Psalmist; they live the examined life—their lives are constantly placed under the scrutiny of Scripture’s bright light (1 Jn 1:5, 6). 


            Now back to the parable of the soils—we saw that although three of the soils responded favorably to the Word at first; only one of the soils was truly saved; it is the spiritually fruitful soil.  The difference between the soils has been evidenced by the role of God’s Word in the life. Regarding the utter necessity of the role of God’s truth; listen to the words of Pastor Irfon Hughes of Wales:


            In the unfruitful soils fruit-bearing was choked out by the cares of the world; they heard the Word but did not regard it as exceptional.  The Word of God was treated as just one more thing in a catalog of things; and not as the supernatural words of God Almighty.  Therefore the Word did NOT become an over-arching authority and absolute guide for all that is done in life. 


            Only in the true believer does the Word of God dominate exceptionally—to the eternal interest and welfare of the soul.  In the unfruitful life; the only major crop promised is thorns.  The thorns choke out the Word; choke out godly rule; choke out godly blessing; choke out godly communion.  The Word is not in first place; but in last place.  The only thing left is cares; pleasures; and the deceit of riches. 


            In order to be fruitful (which gives evidence of salvation), God’s Word must control your life; it must dictate your values in the areas of pleasures; possessions; and the cares of this world (false believers have but a ‘casual’ relationship with the Word).


            Christ’s sermon on the soils shows just how revolutionary the message of the Kingdom is to a world preoccupied with cares; pleasures; and deceitful riches.  Thus, when the revolutionary message of the Kingdom takes root in the heart; it produces a revolution; a literal revolt against the former control the world had upon us.


            This internal ‘revolution’ changes everything!  All of our presuppositions; our directions are now under the sovereignty of God.  New creatures have a new hope; a new perspective; a new bias against sin; a new priority to follow the Lamb.


            Like a tender garden plant; the seed of faith requires constant care and nurture in order for the Word to be fruitful.  Submission to God’s rule is submission to God’s Word.  Dynamic faith in His Word puts us in touch with His faithfulness—it makes God responsible for us.  It puts us before His throne every moment.  


            The old world order is pressing; powerful; and persuasive.  It’s attractive, it is magnetic, and hypnotic.  But for the grace of God we would still be held by its sway.  The old world order woos us—it courts us; it bids us to bring our time, talent, affection; our longings for excellence and security to its broken cisterns.  But the true child of God is delivered from the love of the world by the power of God’s Word.


            The message of the Word will never be fruitful unless the message is viewed as exceptional and exclusive—it must overtake all other interests in life.  You will not bear fruit if the Word is just one important thing among many—it must reign supreme.  There is no greater privilege than to have the Gospel; for it is the message of God breaking into the world to make covenants with man; to extend mercy to sinners.


            It’s clear from Pastor Hughes’ message on the parable of the soils that in a saved person; the Word never comes along side of one’s life.  Instead it invades; upsets the agendas of self; it dethrones every idol; it slays self-indulgence; unites to Christ.


            This is the message of true repentance; sin must be repented of—radically displaced; OR any professed allegiance to the Word of Truth is but for show; it is token allegiance only. 


            In his book, Time for Truth; Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype, and Sin, Os Guinness is extremely helpful in explaining the relationship between truth and repentance.  Guinness indicates that we could cast this principle as an equation.  If you love the truth; you will hate sin.  If you love sin; you will hate the truth.  Yes, truth has a moral basis.  We either keep repenting when sin seeks expression in our lives; OR, if we don’t, sin will negatively affect our grasp of truth. 


            Our relationship to the truth is always dynamic and revealing.  The two choices are mutually exclusive; love the truth so as to be set free by it; practice the truth so as to be conformed to is; OR, neglect and distort the truth in order to keep your sin.


            God’s truth comes with immediate moral obligation; we must obey; or we are sinning against the truth.  Therefore to love the truth is to be willing to have one’s heart searched by the truth of God (Ps 139).


            Have you ever wondered why God’s truth is down right disturbing; why it makes a person uncomfortable?  The answer is—truth is an ethical matter; God’s infallible truth shines a light of exposure on a man’s heart (Heb 4:12). It reveals motives and desires.  It illuminates moral rebellion and corruption (Rom 3:19, 20). 


            God’s truth apprehends you; it ‘hunts’ you down; it finds out where you live and where you hidefrom God.  Therefore, no one can be neutral regarding God’s truth—we love the truth or hate the truth.  Jesus explains why men hate the truth (the light); He says of God’s testimony: sinful men prefer darkness because their deeds are evil (Jn 3:19-21).  The natural man has an irrational preference for spiritual darkness.


            When Christ speaks of the preference for darkness; He is highlighting the ethical nature of truth. In essence; Jesus is saying that evil deeds kill objectivity.  Men feign objectivity; pretending to be truth-seekers; when in reality they hate the light—that is God’s testimony concerning the human condition.


            So far we have established that to be in possession of the God’s truth is inseparable from true repentance.  Without repentance; God’s truth will not dominate and transform the life.


            The modern gospel neglects the fact that Christ rules His people by His Word—the Bible.  We are to submit to His lordship by submitting to His Word.  If Christ is to be one’s Savior; He must also be one’s Lord.


            The assurances Jesus gave of heaven are stipulated upon a willingness to follow Him.  In the modern Gospel; we hear little (or nothing) about the requirements for following Christ.  Sadly so much of Evangelicalism regards the cost of following Christ to be a description reserved for Christian workers and missionaries rather than the norm for every believer.


             In John 12 Jesus gives us the absolutes that must accompany true discipleship.  “He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep to life eternal” (12:25). 


            This is sobering indeed—Jesus is saying that the person who is absorbed by the interests of life will encounter eternal ruin; while those detached from worldly interests will through Christ’s work attain to eternal life.  Jesus goes on to say in vs. 26 that it is in the service of Christ and in union with Him that the reality of the above statement is experienced (Geneva Study Bible, p. 1687). 


            Numerous times Jesus sets the cost of true discipleship in the context of His own anticipated suffering on Calvary’s cross.  Christ’s followers are to be so radically identified with Him that His cross has a present reality in their lives—not only for daily cleansing from sin; but also for separation from the world. His own cross is a paradigm or pattern for every believer.


            Paul says that his ‘boast’ concerning his deliverance from the world is attributable solely to the cross of Christ applied to his heart: “But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). 


            This is heartening news!  The cross has the present effectual power of delivering believers from the love of the world; and it is successful in doing so in the case of every single true believer.  It is tragic that the modern gospel (in denying the cost of discipleship) has created a category of “saved people” who aren’t following Christ.


            The cross applied never fails to issue forth in true discipleship.  The genuinely saved individual willtake up his cross and deny himself daily (Luke 9:23).  Here Jesus is setting forth the paradigm of the cross again—that cross-bearing is normative in the life of the true believer. 


            Genuine Christians are radically identified with their Savior; His victory over the world is to be their victory over the world as well (see also 2 Cor 5:14).


            Many have misapplied this text; suggesting such things as, “My rebellious teen is my cross.”  “Or my cancer is my cross.”  But that is not the point Jesus is making.  Taking up our cross and practicing daily denial of self is manifested in a willingness to obey Christ’s commands; a willingness to serve one another; and a willingness to suffer; perhaps even die for His Name sake (MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1531).


            When the saint practices self-denial; he or she no longer sees the world as a source.  There is not a thing in the world to feed the soul.  That’s why the saint can say, he hates his life in this world (Jn 12:25). Bunyan called the world, “The City of Destruction.”


            Jesus goes on to say in Luke 9:26, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.


            To be ashamed of Christ’s words is to yet be a part of the world’s value system.  John tells us that the world can quickly recognize a person who is not ‘one of them’.  “They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them.  We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us.  By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 Jn 4:5, 6).


Do you see what a divider of men the words of Christ are?   


            Now let’s review.  To have Christ as Savior is to have Christ as Lord.  To be saved by the Word of Life is to be subject to the Word of Life.  To be ruled by Christ is to be ruled by His Word so that His truthdominates exceptionally in one’s life.


            No one is saved; a lover of God’s truth; fruitful; ruled by the truth UNLESS he or she has repented and keeps repenting of sin.


            No one is saved unless he or she is following Christ.  Only those who hate their life in this world; who deny themselves daily; who take up their cross daily; and who are serving Christ—are truly following Christ (and are therefore saved).


            The true believer (like the Apostle Paul) traces personal victory over the world, as well as his willingness to pay the cost of discipleship, to the power of Christ’s cross and resurrection.  “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor 5:14,15).


            That passage describes the cross-centered life.  That is a life of devotion to Christ produced by His cross; a life of true discipleship in which Christ is Lord. Notice that all those who died when Christ died no longer live for themselves—but they live for Christ.


They have been delivered from a self-seeking; self-directed; self-indulged life.


            We are living in a time of false conversions. Churches will do anything to stem the exodus of attendees.  The temptation to flatter the religious unconverted is overwhelming.  But we cannot do that.  It is not love.  It does not follow the example of Christ who faithfully and constantly warned of the danger of a false profession of faith.


            I’m reminded of the words of John O. Anderson, author of Cry of the Innocents (a very excellent book on the crime of abortion).  Says John, “In the O.T. there was at times very little difference between a false prophet and a true prophet.  But the following contrast was always present; false prophets never warned their listeners.


Why Did Jesus Come to Die?

Man’s Greatest Need is God’s Greatest Deed. God’s Word, the Bible declares that the dominant problem in the world is sin. It stains every life, disturbs every relationship, fixes itself on every baby, rules the heart of every worldling. It makes us susceptible to disease, suffering, war, death, and ultimately, separation from God in hell. Sin renders us unable to love and please God (Rom 8:5-8). It makes us children of wrath who are enslaved to sin. Thus sin racks up a debt of guilt and moral obligation to God that calls for God’s judgment (Matt 18:23-34). Certainly man’s greatest need is for divine forgiveness of sin.

Because God is Holy and Just, He will punish all sin. Scripture teaches that all sin is first and foremost against God (Ps 51:4). Unforgiven sin exposes the soul to unquenchable divine wrath – God has announced that He will not acquit the guilty (Ex 23:7). Scripture warns that unrepentantpersons are “storing up wrath for the day of wrath” (Rom 2:1-10). Those who do not repent and come to God for forgiveness in Christ will have God’s eternal wrath released upon them. God is determined to not leave the guilty unpunished (Ps 7:11). He is angry with the wicked everyday – He regards it to be an abomination to justify the wicked (Prov 17:15; 24:24).


Because God is Holy and Just, there must be a perfect sacrifice in order for God to forgive sin. God sent His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ to be that perfect sacrifice (Jn 3:16). Christ’s death was substitutionary. Jesus gave His life in the sinner’s place – He took the sinner’s guilt and was punished in the sinner’s place so that believers might be right with God. So perfect and sufficient was Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, that God is willing to freely forgive and receive any sinner who places his or her entire trust in God’s Son (Jn 1:12).

The Good News of the Gospel declares that every facet of our human ruin due to sin has been decisively answered by the work of Christ. Because of Christ’s death in the place of sinners, God is able to be gracious to even the worst sinner who believes and repents. Consider how each aspect of salvation in Christ answers mankind’s greatest dilemma:

Cleansing and justification answer man’s problem of shame, defilement, pollution, and uncleanness in the sight of God. Redemption answers our need of liberation and freedom from the bondage of sin. Propitiation answers our need for deliverance from the wrath of God. (Only the death of Christ in our place can silence the pounding gavel of conscience that keeps hammering out our guilty verdict.) Reconciliation answers our alienation and estrangement from God. (Scripture states that every unforgiven sinner is still an enemy of God – Rom 5:10.)

JUSTIFICATION: God’s action in our justification – when God justifies the believing sinner, He makes a legal pronouncement. It is God’s verdict that the believing sinner is righteous in God’s sight (Rom 3:24). Christ’s righteousness is given to the believer as a gift (Phil 3:9; 2 Cor 5:21).

Result of justification – the believing sinner is freely forgiven and is given a status of right standing before God (Gal 2:16).

PROPITIATION: God’s action in our propitiation – when Christ gave His life on that cruel cross He was making an atoning sacrifice for the sins of all who would believe. Christ’s death satisfied God’s wrath against our sins (Is 53:6). 

Result of propitiation – since the wrath of God has fallen upon Christ, the believing sinner is delivered from the guilt and penalty of sin (Rom 5:8-10).

REDEMPTION: God’s action in our redemption – Christ’s work of redemption on the cross paid the ransom price to set us free. His death purchased believers for God (1 Pet 1:18-21).

Result of redemption – the believing sinner is set free from the power and dominion of sin (1 Cor 6:11, 20; Eph 1:7).

RECONCILIATION: God’s action in our reconciliation – Reconciliation removes the sin barrier between the believer and God; it restores friendly relations with God. God is the Reconciler (2 Cor 5:18-19).

Result of reconciliation – the enmity and hostility in the sinner’s heart toward God is removed. The result of reconciliation is fellowship, acceptance, and favor with God (2 Cor 5:20-21).



Why Do We Need God in the Here and Now?

One theologian quipped, “Man could be designated homo sapiens religiosis” – in other words, universally and historically, mankind has been, and continues to be at his core, a worshipper.

As an attempted rebuttal to the above assertion, perhaps one might allude to your comment about the Western world becoming increasingly atheistic. Granted, a recent article in the London Times suggested that if one were to graph the decline of Protestant church attendance in England, in a mere 30 years Christianity will be all but replaced by holistic "pagan" spiritualism.

That may be true, but the original premise concerning man's worshipping nature still holds true even about pagan and atheistic men. Here's why -- mankind was created FOR God. Mankind was created to literally “run on God,” feed upon God, have the deepest longings and thirst satisfied by God (Jer 2). Mankind was created to think God’s thoughts after Him in order to reason rationally. Consider the promises in the Beatitudes (Matt 5), as well as the promises to "overcomers" in Revelation 2-3 and 21 – in those passages God Himself is the "portion," (Ps 73); the reward; the very inheritance and environment of the true believer.

Pastor/theologian (Walter Chantry) describes man's worshipping nature in the following manner.Man was created to be an enthusiastic spectator of excellence. Chantry's statement encapsulates the meaning of "worship" in its rudimentary form. The world is filled with examples which illustrate Chantry’s premise. This author finds it fascinating that once the American West was settled and the fruits of capitalism gained a foothold, athletic arenas and auditoriums were built by the hundreds. Man the pioneer and the patriot showed himself as man the pursuer of pastimes.Yankee Stadium became known as “the house that Ruth built.” Hundreds of billions of dollars are shelled out each year by folks who pass through the turnstiles of arenas in order to watch events – to be ‘spectators of excellence.’

Now as Christians, we know that God desires our worship. He is jealous for His Name sake. Butis God jealous of the attention received by American sports? Is He against baseball or any other national sport? -- That question is an over-simplification of the issue. When God commands that man must love Him with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, God is commanding something that is inseparable from our highest good and from our very being.

Here is the reason why, when man’s worshipping nature settles onto objects below God,

and remains there – idolatry is the inevitable result. Because man is created in the image and likeness of God, the consequences of idolatry are manifold and grave. There is much more going on in idolatry than merely praising the joys of wine, women, and song – or lauding the desirability of beauty, brawn, bucks, and brains. Idolatry wraps its roots and tentacles around a man’s affections, mind, and will. Like an alien intruder, an idol gets inside a man’s heart and demands the cream of his time, talent, and affection. Lusts hold a man with an iron grip.

The late Francis Schaeffer described an idol as a “false integration point.” In other words, mankind’s worshipping nature craves a higher good than self. Man as body and soul longs for something outside of himself which will bring joy, pleasure, and meaning, as well as inner unity, purpose, and fulfillment. The question which has captivated philosophers throughout history is;where is man to look in order to satisfy this longing? The Holy Scriptures of course give the only authoritative answer. Isaiah 55 proclaims that this God-given longing can only be satisfied by a personal love relationship with the Creator. In likening mankind’s longing to hunger, Isaiah the prophet states that all false sources of food for the soul are akin to “bogus bread” (Is 55:2). Only in God does the soul find true sustenance.

The Holy Scriptures, from cover to cover, state that the battle for the eternal soul of man centers upon what man chooses to worship. Certain Bible texts describe the outcome of this battle of the ages in summary form. Those who love God will live with Him forever, those who love the world will be destroyed along with it (1 Jn 2:15-17). Those who have God and righteousness as their master will gain eternal life; those who serve sin will “earn” the wages of death and eternal separation from God (Rom 6:22, 23). A man’s spiritual state and destiny are known by what a man worships.

Idolatry finds its origin in Satan. He deceived our first parents in the Garden of Eden. He is the “father of lies” (Jn 8:44). His lies “murder the soul” (Jn 8:44). Satan opposes God’s plan to make mankind in the image of God. The devil wishes to distort mankind into his own twisted bestial image, and in the process, damn man’s eternal soul. The evil one’s tool of choice is idolatry.Idolatry degrades man; it pulls him down from his high calling to love, and imitate God (Rom 1:18-32).

There is something most intriguing about worship (whether of God or an idol) – men become conformed to what they worship. Numerous Scripture texts state this operative dynamic. Those who worship idols will become like them (Ps 115:8; 135:18). By contrast, those who worship God are transformed into His moral likeness (2 Cor 3:18). Thus the object of one’s worship sets a person upon a course, a path, a direction which has a definite destination.

Satan is utterly conversant with this principle of conformity. He uses the entire world system to his end of enslaving man to idolatry (1 Jn 5:19). He uses the “lusts of deceit” to take men captive (Eph 4:22). Only through the Lord Jesus Christ are men and women liberated and restored to spiritual life; only through the truth of the Gospel are people “remade” into true worshippers of God capable of loving God (Jn 4:23, 24; 1 Jn 4:19).

Through Christ’s work as the suffering Substitute, He reconciled sinful man (all who believe and repent) to God (Col 1:20-22). Our utter dependency and need of God now is evident when one considers the array of enemies that stand in the way of reaching heaven – the sinner is confronted with the world, the flesh, the devilsindeath, and hell. Only Christ can safely get us past even one of these mortal enemies of our souls.

In the N.T. salvation has three tenses; believing sinners are savedare being saved, and will be saved. This can be stated in another manner which drives home the point that we need God in Christ for every single facet of our salvation. At the moment of saving faith, the believer is saved from the penalty of sin (Rom 6:23). Throughout the Christian life, the believer exercises faith in Christ and obedience and is delivered from the power of sin (Rom 6:22). The end and destiny of the believer’s life of faith and obedience through the grace of God is ultimate freedom in glory from the presence of sin (Rom 8:23).

Why does man need God? The answer is bound up in God’s original purpose to make man for Himself. Creation was not born of a need in God. The Holy Trinity needed nothing. God’s desire to create issued from His desire to share Himself – to share His love, glory, beauty, and excellence with an order of creatures that would find their highest joy, good, fulfillment, and purpose in their Creator, and thereby give Him the glory He deserves.

The entrance of sin appeared to interrupt God’s purpose. But now, the manner in which God is recovering sinners through Christ has become the primary revealer of the Godhead – a revelation that is both to men and to angels (see Eph 3:8-12; 2 Cor 4:3-6). God’s purpose stated in creation (to make man in His image) is a purpose that is restored and even strengthened in the salvation of the elect. All of the promises and provisions of salvation in Christ have been forged in the foundry of God’s eternal attributes. It is a profound thought that God has harnessed and put to work, and put on display His own attributes in the salvation of the sinner (see 2 Pet 1:1-4).

The Apostle Paul casts this divine purpose of redemption in a most sublime manner, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might become the first-born among many brethren” (Rom 8:29). Salvation is about knowing God; it is about being loved by God and loving Him back. It is about leaving the false refuges of this world and finding one’s true lasting home in God. It’s about turning our backs upon the city of destruction (this world) and resolutely walking toward the celestial city. It is all about preparing to live with God so that when we meet Him we will not meet Him as a stranger (1 Jn 2:28).

Paul stretches the believer’s imagination to the nth degree when he says that divine assistance is needed just to be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God (Eph 3:18, 19). To be immersed in the sea of God’s eternal love is a future experience beyond our comprehension. Paul states that the Holy Spirit’s enablement is needed just to be able to comprehend the concept of God’s dimension-less love for His own (Eph 1:17-23; 3:16, 17).

To be created in the image and likeness of God is an infinite privilege. It comes with the mandate of reflecting the moral perfection of God Almighty. That is only possible if one lives as a true worshipper. God’s claims are upon His creatures – what He has made, He owns. Sinful man cannot be restored to his cultural calling as moral reflector of God except by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Only through Christ do we come to know the Holy One. Only through Christ are we made fit to live with God. Only through Christ are we made true worshippers of God.

Man is always worshipping. Those who fear and reverence God will smash their idols and worship God alone through Christ. Salvation is about our love relationship with God. In Scripture the believer’s relationship with God is described as even more intimate than marriage. If a woman marries a man solely for his money, we rightly say that her virtue and character are in short supply. So also, when a creature’s regard for God turns solely upon a mercenary desire for personal peace and prosperity in this world, we rightly discern that the individual has yet to come into a saving knowledge of Him who is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace (Is 9:6).