The Truth About the Lordship of Christ by John MacArthur

_240_360_Book_628_coverI’ve previously written that I’m not a big fan of collected series. Pulling from other works to assemble something that might have been a book just doesn’t do much for me. For a moment, however, I’d like to make an exception. John MacArthur’s The Truth About the Lordship of Christ may have transcended the dreaded compilation book stigma. Reading more like a section from one larger doctrinal work, MacArthur lays out why exactly it matters that Christians consider their King.

This short treatise begins with why Christ is the “Lord of the Universe,” and ends with the “Ultimate Destination” of humanity. And it is perhaps in the final chapter where MacArthur stands out from so many other books on similar subjects. He pulls no punches, and hides no opinions regardless of offensiveness. MacArthur does what any good book about Christianity should do: he challenges believer’s to examine their own faith, as well as the faith of their community at large. It’s not easy to end on a note that goes something like this:

Everyone who professes assurance is accepted as a genuine believer, even if that person’s lifestyle opposes everything Christ stands for. The conscience screams against such a doctrine!

That takes conviction, and at the same time hope; a hope that believes Christians will come around if they will only realize the bunk they’ve bought into.

Overall, MacArthur’s book is a worthwhile read for mature and new Christians. While a mature Christian may not read something they haven’t encountered before, its never a bad thing to revisit the essentials. As for new believers, I would consider this book a must have. MacArthur’s plain language takes a theological concept and lays it out in the most basic it can get.

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Saving the World

I know a couple of high schoolers who have a serious desire to be a missionary. One of them said she just wanted to drop out of high school and move to Haiti until it was all taken care of down there. Another has frequently told me she doesn’t know what to do, but she knows she wants to do something. But it will probably be after college.

Both students love Jesus, and I believe the Spirit has probably placed a calling on their life for mission work (just as He placed a calling my life in the 9th grade for teaching). But I think these students indicate two very common perspectives that can all too easily fall into ineffective behaviors.

We have to be careful about our eagerness to dismiss schooling, or our desire to laud it. A pastor I respect wrote recently about the need to really ask ourselves, “is this a time to go or stay?” While he was talking about jobs, it’s a good principle that should be applied to school as well.

Over at What Christians Want to Know, they point out that much of a missionary desire is about emotions: “People can be emotionally moved by a dynamic speaker. But an emotional feeling will only sustain someone on the field for a short time. A true calling by God on their life is what is necessary to keep a missionary on the field.”

This is why school is important for most people. Strong emotions are needed to get things done in countries where no one is a “slave” to their watches, or people are already discouraged by decades of bondage. But in order to rightly use that power, you have to know how to channel it. School, whether its high school or college, can help you to more readily recognize where your energies can be put to use. A good example of how training is important can be found through the work of an organization here in Florida called ECHO. They are doing some brilliant things in third world countries, all in the name of Jesus. But they don’t send anyone anywhere without some formal training.

Too much emotion might save souls, but it won’t help rebuild agriculture. But on the flip side of that coin, too much school can kill the flame that God had once ignited in your heart. I’ve noticed a trend in some of my previous classmates: the more education they receive, the more cynical they become. They stayed too long in the academic world of ivory towers and dusty book shelves, all the while forgetting that those things don’t matter one whip if we’re not doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.

In the long run, school should be a benefit, but that benefit must be tempered with God’s leading. It’s the only way to know when to stay, or when to go, which is a big question when you’re trying to save the world.

CPR

My life group had an interesting discussion this past Sunday. We’ve been going through John, and we were looking at the Bread of Life discourse during this particular meeting. We observed how simple the message of Christ is: “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the One He has sent.” In the course of talking about the different ways we add to this Gospel, we began discussing the whole “works versus faith” issue that often arises in Christian circles. Theologians have been dealing with this for  a long time (St. James, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Karl Barth, Francis Schaeffer, James W. Sire, N.T. Wright, to name a few) and there are still a variety of opinions.

In my life group, there seemed to be two main thoughts (well, two were voiced anyways): 1) When you’re saved, you desire to have the character of Christ, and this desire produces the works James wrote about. 2) Works that are forced are bad, because works should come naturally from our salvation.

This sums up the perspective of many Christians that I have met over the years. They often cite amazing transformations (like those of Paul, or the brother of Jesus, or even Constantine) as examples of how the power of the Holy Spirit comes down and just changes a person overnight. While there is some truth to these examples, this kind of thought offers an incomplete picture for a few reasons.

1) Powerful transformation does not happen overnight. The few (and I stress the word, few) examples of this kind of thing that we find in Scripture should serve as a stark warning. For most people in the New Testament, change is difficult and slow. The Disciples are perhaps one of the most prime examples of this, and Christians should keep in mind that while the Spirit does indeed give us a new nature, that does not mean we will be sinless from that point on.

2) The Christ-like character of people like Paul came with effort. Immediately, people will want to point out errors in this thought. So perhaps an example will help. As a Christian, it is our business to help point people to God, in effect saving their life. A person trained in CPR is very similar. Both desire the best for those in need, and have a sincere desire in their heart to help people. However, if I am choking, I would rather have the CPR-trained individual nearby than the Christian with well-meaning intentions. In order to be of any use in the business of saving lives, we must practice the habits that will be used in this process. This leads into the next point.

3) Being kind by nature is not the same as being transformed. The person who was gentle before they were saved will continue being gentle. So when this individual reads that gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit, they think to themselves, “look at how easy this comes!” This is a deception though. Some people will have gentle natures, while others have the nature of a thief. And yet, no one is exempt from needing God. We have to understand that in some aspect, we will fall short of God’s standards. If kindness comes natural, perhaps honesty does not. Of maybe we fail in our sexual ethics, but stand strong in our generosity. Regardless, in order to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, we will have to practice some of them.

C.S. Lewis often spoke of the importance of doing something in order to really feel a certain way (he touches on this in Mere Christianity, The Four Loves, and The Weight of Glory, which are all books I recommend). The idea is this: if we treat someone like we love them, because we desire to love them as Christ does, our hearts will be transformed. Eventually we will find ourselves loving this person without effort. It becomes natural because we made it a habit.

In the end, the Christian who does not live the Christ-like life is not fulfilling their purpose. And that, sadly, seems to be the case in much of the American Church. Perhaps, we are just out of practice.

Lord, as we seek to really be Your body here on this earth, soften our hearts to the wounds around us. Open our minds to the truth found in Your Word. And give us the hands to carry out Your will, just as You would have it done. May Grace and Peace characterize Your people. Amen.

Evolving Faith

Earlier, I was ranting about my general disagreement with the perspective held by most Christians that salvation is summed up in terms of going to heaven or hell.

“So what do you think salvation is about?”

Well, more than heaven and hell.

In truth, the position that the whole point of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was about saving my eternal soul from an everlasting time experiencing pain and torment has never seemed complete to me. I’ve never understood how a person could read John’s Gospel and come away thinking that Jesus was only about heaven. Eternal life is knowing Jesus. He came to give life more abundantly. These things aren’t some future promise about eternity. They’re for the here and now. I’m learning that the rest of the New Testament speaks in the same way, but more on that later.

My problem always was that I didn’t know what it meant. What is life more abundant? What does it mean to know Jesus? How do these things effect us now?

In my frustration, I kind of abandoned the argument, and decided to let things be. If I didn’t have an alternative, I didn’t see any point in saying anything. I mean, going to heaven is important. And bringing the Gospel to people is crucial. So why object?

Object isn’t the right word anymore, though. Now, what I do is beg for completion of the message. I ask that Christians think about what the Bible teaches.

I’m glad I gave up trying to argue with evangelism. I was wrong in that idea. Since I felt the “heaven vs. hell” doctrine was incomplete, I was trying to throw out the whole thing (although I didn’t realize that until later). I’m glad that I didn’t think that Jesus’ work stopped in heaven, but instead I still seek to fully understand what it means to have life more abundantly.

Because I’m not alone in thinking there is something more to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And others have done a good job of explaining what that means (I was pointed to this work by a pastor whom I respect greatly).

The essence of salvation is this: God did not save you to take you out of this world. His purpose is redeeming His good creation (which has been corrupted by sin), and He saved you so that you can be a participant in that. Yes, you will go to heaven when you die. But Jesus is coming back. And He is going to bring you back with Him. Thus, when His reign is visibly established on this earth (His reign has already begun, but few believe that), all that Christians did to reflect God’s kingdom in this life will be a part of God’s New Heaven and Earth (which will be one place, rather than two). This is why Paul encourages the Corinthian church:

…be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

He isn’t encouraging these Christians to be good so that they will go to heaven. He is reminding them that their work here matters, because the God of heaven rescued them from sin and death, giving them new life through His Son, Jesus Christ.

We’re called to that life now.

Maybe you disagree with this. Perhaps you think I’m abandoning conservatism, supporting liberal ideas, or whatever. The truth is, I just think what we do matters. Politics. The environment. Education. Feeding the hungry. Helping the poor. We act like these things are divorced from Christian life because they’re tied to government or liberal organizations or whoever else we don’t like. And the excuse for much of that separation is because preachers tell their flock that what matters most is going to heaven. But true religion isn’t spending eternity in heaven with the angels. Its something we do here. Now. This very moment.

So I ask, what has your salvation done? Has the Grace of God in your life helped this world? Or has it simply given you a ticket to the afterlife?