Thinking Through Scripture

"but the word of the Lord remains forever"

Tag: forgiveness

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper Speak Louder than Words

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Christians are called to be vocal.  Confession, evangelism, preaching, and teaching are all examples of vocal Christianity.  But the Bible also speaks of silent actions.  These silent actions can say an awful lot.  Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are two examples of loud, public proclamations that we make as Christians, without even opening our mouths.

Proclaiming the Lord’s Death:

Communion, the Eucharist, the Master’s Dinner, or whatever term you use to describe it, this is a proclamation made by Christians.  When Christians gather on the Lord’s Day to share in the Lord’s Meal, we are really saying something.  We are saying that we are all united through the death of the Messiah.  We are saying thank you for our forgiveness through the death of our Savior.  We are saying that Jesus is Lord.  Every time that we gather and take the Lord’s Supper, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Appealing to God:

In baptism, without even opening our mouths, we are speaking to God.  We are making “an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21).  We all have a need for forgiveness, cleansing, healing, and the ability to move forward.  When we are baptized, we are asking God to forgive us and cleanse our conscience.

Sometimes we need a healthy reminder that God has cleansed our conscience.  We have no reason to continue feeling the strain of guilt from sins previously committed.  At baptism, they are washed away and God gives you a good and clear conscience.

Calling on the Name of the Lord:

The splash caused by immersion into water is not that loud.  However, the message proclaimed is deafening.  In baptism we are not only requesting a good conscience, but we are “calling on the name of the Lord.”  Peter preached, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21).  In that same sermon he preached, “God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).

When the crowds heard Peter say they must call on the name of the Lord, and that Jesus is the Lord, they asked, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).  You might be thinking, “He already told you.  Call on His name.”  But clearly something deeper is meant.

We don’t call on Him simply by saying “Lord” or the name “Jesus” (Matthew 7:21; Mark 1:24).  Peter described how to call on the name of the Lord when he said, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

Later on when Paul was instructed to be baptized, he was told, “Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).

When you are baptized in His name, you are calling on His name.  That is not something you do with words, or a prayer, but by actions.  By your actions you are declaring that Jesus is Lord, and the Lord of your life.  At baptism Jesus becomes your Lord and Master, the Ruler of your life.

In the Lord’s Supper and baptism, your silence says more than words ever could.  By your actions you are proclaiming, appealing, and calling.  And God is listening.

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Confronting the Sinner

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Jesus gave up His life for the opportunity to forgive those who have wronged Him.  That’s pretty remarkable.  Our desire as followers of Christ should be to act like Him.  We should want to forgive, be kind, and speak well of those who harm, persecute, or hate us.  When someone has wronged you, Jesus gives a step by step process about how you should attempt reconciliation.

 “If your brother sins” (Matthew 18:15)—translations and manuscripts differ about whether the phrase “against you” should be added.  It is in verse 21, but might or might not belong in verse 15.  Either way, is the beginning point.  A sin is committed and you are either a witness to it, or negatively affected by it.

Notice also that it is a “sin” that is committed.  People can be irritating, thoughtless, and stupid on a pretty regular basis.  But this passage is not about some brother who takes your seat with the better cushion, eats the last pizza roll at the potluck, or forgets to invite you to a birthday party.  It is about someone who is actually in sin.

“Go and show him his fault in private” (Matthew 18:15)—the first thing one ought to do it have a private conversation with the one who is sinning.  This is probably the step we struggle with more than any other.  It is uncomfortable and difficult, but Jesus says it is step #1. Don’t go to the elders or the preacher if you are unwilling to go to the individual sinner first.  Don’t tell your friends, call your mother, blather away at work, or post it on Facebook if you can’t talk to the one who sinned.  Also, keep in mind that you are the one taking the initiative to produce reconciliation.  You are not waiting on him. If you won’t do this, then you have no right to take any further action.

Matthew has a lot to say about those who try to do things secretly, privately, or quietly.  Joseph, as a righteous man, was going to do every possible to put Mary away “secretly.”  He did not want to disgrace her name.  Disciples are supposed to practice their righteousness “in secret” (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18, etc.), for God to see rather than for men to see.  As much as possible, whether practicing individual righteousness or correcting our brothers, we should try to go the most secret route possible.  Keep it between us and God.  We do not want to disgrace our brothers, even those who are caught up in sin!

“take one or two more with you” (Matthew 18:16)—if he doesn’t listen in your private conversation, bring one or two more people with you to serve as witnesses.  This does not mean witnesses to the sin, but witnesses to the conversation and rebuke.  If it were witnesses to the sin, you could only confront someone if they sinned in front of multiple people.  Then you would have to ask around and begin a witch hunt about who all knows about this sin. In doing so you will besmirch the name of the sinner, which these first two steps are designed to avoid!

This step helps confirm the details about what actually took place and hopefully serves as more incentive for the individual to repent.  If the brother will not admit the sin in front of the witnesses, then it is simply your word against his, and the matter should be dropped.  These witnesses serve as a way to “confirm” every fact.  If the facts are not confirmed, then the process must halt.

“tell it to the church” (Matthew 18:17)—if he will not listen to you, and you have several witnesses that confirm what he did and that he will not repent, then you can bring the matter publicly to the church.  This is something of a last-ditch effort with the hopes that maybe a whole congregation can help bring this brother to his senses.  Maybe when he sees how many people love him, care for him, pray for him, and desire his repentance and salvation, maybe that will open his eyes.  Maybe it can change his heart.  Maybe a brother can be restored.

The goal of this step ought never to be to harm the name of a brother.  It should never be to get “justice” and embarrass someone who wronged you.  And certainly it should not be to get attention or praise as one who is unafraid to rebuke sin.  It should never be to build yourself up or to tear another down.  Like every single step Jesus has mentioned, the purpose is the well-being and restoration of a person who sinned.

“let him be as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17)—the final step in the process, after speaking privately, attempting a small group confrontation, and congregational involvement, is to treat him as an outsider.  That is the removal of fellowship.  This ought to only be done with weeping and tears.

“I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20)—This passage is a true comfort to an individual, small group, or congregation that has just gone through this troubling process.  After this process is over, God reminds his disciples that these proceedings on earth, are also happening in heaven (Matthew 18:18).  And that when you have those two or three witnesses, who have confirmed every fact, made requests of the Lord, and have gathered together to do what is right, God in with them and on their side.

Several reminders: 1. If you cannot talk to a person in private, you have zero right to take the matter public.  2.  If the witnesses cannot confirm all of the facts, then the matter should not be taken to the church. 3. Informing the church is not an attempt to harm an individual or earn a merit badge, but an effort to help restore one who is caught in sin.  4. The removal of fellowship is also designed to teach a valuable lesson, and to encourage the sinner to come back home.  5.  There is no limit to how many times a brother should be forgiven (Matthew 18:22). 6. The goal of this entire process should be to reconcile with a person who is drifting from God because you love and care about them.

Snapchat and Grace

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Snapchat: Used and Abused

Ah, good ol’ Snapchat.  The cause of a tremendous amount of problems in the world.  Yet, still an app that I play with probably way more than any adult should.  To any who might not know, Snapchat is an app that allows you to take and send pictures to your friends.  Those pictures can be set to exist from 1-10 seconds before they vanish forever.  (At least that’s the idea, there have been hackers able to recover some of these pics and there is always the option to screenshot).

Normally when taking a picture, you worry about getting the right angle, making sure every hair is in place, and your eyes are big and beautiful.  But when you know the picture you are sending won’t exist forever, you’re a little less anal about how you look.  Your friend can see that bad angle or goofy face, if only for a few seconds.  However, if that picture were plastered all across Times Square for years to come, you’d probably be more concerned about those crossed eyes and double, triple, quadruple chins.

Sadly, what has often happened is people have taken advantage of the disappearing picture.  Instead of having more confidence and less vanity about every detail, they send pictures that no one should see.  Immodest, seductive, and naked photos have spread across Snapchat like wild fire.  After all, if the picture is gone, so are the consequences.

Abuse of Grace

This is not only a problem with snapchat, but this mindset permeates in many other areas of life.  Remarkably, it even spreads to the topic of God’s grace.  God’s grace is a marvelous gift.  It takes the ugly parts of our life and erases them before God.  Our sins, like our double chins, are vanished forever!  This should give us tremendous confidence before God.  But as always, there are those who seek to abuse the grace of God.

Paul warned against this attitude when he wrote, “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?  May it never be!” (Romans 6:1, 2).  There are those that think that since they have God’s grace, avoiding sin is less important.  Some will even sin more simply because they “trust” in God’s grace.  Talk about missing the point!

Afraid of Grace:

Not only has God’s grace been abused by those who use it as an excuse to sin more or be less careful with God’s word, but this has had terrible effects on the way others view grace.  The flip side of abusing grace is being afraid of it.  “If I tell someone that they remain saved and forgiven in spite of their sins and failures, it will just encourage them to sin more.  Ergo, I need to make sure they know that they can lose God’s grace, and that grace has conditions and limits!”

Divided by Grace:

All of the sudden, you have some brethren who abuse grace and use it as an excuse to engage in unbiblical ideas and practices.  Then you have other brethren who neglect to teach about grace, or at least put it so far out of reach that you feel you must be perfect to attain it.  Both of these attitudes are egregious.  Grace, what should have been considered among the greatest blessings God has given mankind, has been abused, belittled, and used as a source of division.  And Satan giggles to himself.

What to do with Grace:

Snapchat can be a lot of fun.  You can take goofy, funny pictures.  You can use your finger to draw on those pictures.  I have drawn myself as Aladdin, Iron Man, Captain America, Darkwing Duck, a gangster, a hipster, and a man with thick hair.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t be abused.  Grace is incredible.  To know that every flaw, failure, and defect in my life has vanished before God is cause for great joy.  The confidence that in spite of myself, I stand assured of my salvation is what gives me the strength to continue in this Christian life.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t be abused.

Don’t see grace as ticket to sin without consequences.  Don’t think that grace in any way is opposed strict adherence and obedience to God’s will.  If you love God, why would you?

Don’t be so afraid of people misusing grace that you hide it under a bushel.  Don’t fear that a grace centered theology will cause more harm than good.  If you believe God, why would you?

Allow grace to give you confidence.  To help you through times of struggle and doubt.  To encourage you when you fail.  To humble you when you’re proud.  To change your life from top to bottom.  To give you reason to love and obey.  To give you reason to worship and praise.  Grace be with you all!

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