The Unholy Trinity | The Voice 12.30: July 24, 2022

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The Unholy Trinity

For some time now we have heard dire warnings about the “faith crisis” in America. Even though our country continues to grow in population, church membership and attendance, on the whole, remains flat or in decline. Warnings are sounded about the dangers that come from so many atheists and others in our society who seek to denigrate God and anyone who would believe in Him.

While it is true that there are such people out there, their numbers are few; around 2 to 9% of the population. Others may believe in God but not in Christ or Christianity and have hard feelings against Christianity and/or Christians. Yet such people are not that much more populous; no more than 20% of the population.

Statistics reveal that about 82% or so of Americans believe not only in God but also that Jesus is His Son. Slightly fewer (78%) agree with the premise that Jesus was raised from the dead. This is not the picture that is normally presented about America; then again, we should remember that it is conflict and sensational claims that sell books and get promoted on television and in movies, and therefore we should not be surprised that the reality does not seem to be as dire as the promoted story.

Nevertheless, the statistics should give us pause. If over three-quarters of Americans believe in Jesus and even the resurrection, where are they? Many, no doubt, are active in denominations and their assemblies. But that still leaves plenty of people who believe and yet are not affiliated with any church and/or infrequently, if ever, attend any assemblies of churches. Considering the message of God in Christ as revealed in Scripture, how can this be? What leads to so many people professing the faith without abiding by its substance?

At least part of the reason can be found in what we will deem the “unholy trinity.” The unholy trinity represents the combination of three pernicious doctrines that have, at some level, led to the spiritual inertia and malaise that affects America today. These doctrines are faith only, ecumenism, and “once saved, always saved.”

The first doctrine is faith only. “Faith only” comes about during the Reformation as a distortion of Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith. Paul did teach that since everyone has sinned (Romans 3:23), no man is able to be justified before God based on his works, merit, or attempts to keep law (Romans 1:18-3:21). Man cannot atone for his own sin. Nevertheless, Paul demonstrated that the proper response of faith in God in Christ demanded obedience to the truth (Romans 1:5, 2:5-11, 6:1-23); the Reformers distorted this into the doctrine of faith only, excluding any concept of works or obedience as necessary for salvation. According to the doctrines of faith only, God is the only Actor: He provides the means of salvation in Christ, He provides believers with faith, He compels them toward righteousness through the Spirit, and so on and so forth. It is an understandable reaction against the excesses of Roman Catholicism but is a distortion of the Gospel message, and flatly contradicted by Acts 2:36-38, Romans 1:5, 6:1-23, 1 Peter 1:22, and a host of other passages.

These days people hear preachers from Protestant and Evangelical churches in churches and on television telling them that all they need to do to be saved is to believe that Jesus is the Christ. A suggested “sinner’s prayer” is often given that “converts” can pray and thus “accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior” and “accept Jesus into their hearts.” Sure, most of these preachers will suggest, perhaps even strongly, that believers need to live like Christ did, avoiding sin and clinging to the good, but they would never make it an imperative. To make becoming Christlike an imperative would be adding “works” to Christ’s “finished work.”

People get this message from friends and neighbors, past church experiences, or through television or other media. This “cheap grace” is very enticing and seductive: all you need to do is believe! Accept the premise that Jesus is the Christ and Lord and you will be saved! That’s all you need to do! Many prove willing to do that, but nothing more. There is no real incentive toward growth and development as disciples of Christ because it is not made strictly necessary. No wonder, then, that people can profess Jesus Christ and yet never darken the door of any church building or actively grow in their belief system; they do not have to! After all, if all you need to do is believe that Jesus is the Christ, why bother with anything else in Christianity?

We then come to ecumenism. There are two strands to ecumenism: “general” ecumenism and Evangelical ecumenism. The latter seems to have come first. In the wake of the “Second Great Awakening” in nineteenth-century America, while doctrinal differences remained among groups like the Methodists, the Holiness churches, the Baptists, and the like, they began to develop an uneasy peace with each other. They would present their versions of truth without necessarily condemning one another to hell, yet most remained uneasy with Roman Catholicism and the “mainline Protestant” denominations.

Around a hundred years ago the “general” ecumenical movement began to pick up steam as different “Christian” denominations wanted to work out whatever differences they could and to work together according to their understanding of Jesus’ petitions in John 17:20-23.

The ecumenical movement has powered through the twentieth and early twenty-first century with great steam. Now most denominations agree that the doctrinal disputations among them involve matters of “liberty,” and thus they are free to “agree to disagree,” while they are in agreement on “essential” matters. It is too bad that the definitions of “liberty” and “essential matters” are not based on God’s definitions (cf. Romans 14:17, 1 Corinthians 1:10, Galatians 1:6-9). Nevertheless, since most denominations are “on board,” the voices proclaiming the need to follow the One True Faith are fewer and denigrated as divisive, contrary to the spirit of unity, and cantankerous.

This ecumenical movement has led to greater “acceptance” and “tolerance” of members of churches of Christ. The number believing we are some kind of “cult” has diminished; many books now speak of churches of Christ as part of this “greater church” despite its distinctive doctrines. Nevertheless, ecumenical forces work to negate the call for the restoration of New Testament Christianity and the appeal to be of the same mind and judgment based in the Scriptures.

Most people who believe do not know much about ecumenism or the ecumenical movement but they certainly believe that “we are all the same.” Under ecumenism, the difference between churches of Christ, Baptist churches, the Roman Catholic church, and other churches is akin to the differences between the church in Rome, the church in Corinth, and the church in Jerusalem. Each denomination has its distinctive heritage that has “value” in the “greater church,” according to this viewpoint. In such a climate, one can hear the message that, say, faith alone is not according to Scripture, and yet remain free to “agree to disagree.” Evangelistic efforts are thus directed toward unbelievers, “cultists,” or members of other religions; it is seen as bad form to proselytize members of other denominations.

We should not wonder, therefore, why it is difficult to gain an audience about the importance of following God according to the New Testament. If all churches are the same, after all, why does anyone need to truly investigate New Testament Christianity?

The final dogma in this unholy trinity is “once saved, always saved.” This doctrine derives directly from faith only, as its adherents often promote: if you did nothing to obtain salvation, you can do nothing to lose it.

In reality, “once saved, always saved” is an offshoot of the Calvinist system. In Calvinism, the idea of the perseverance of the saints follows logically from its earlier principles: man’s sin and inability to seek God on his own (total depravity), God thus specifically chooses whom He will save (unconditional election), the chosen ones will come to faith (irresistible grace), and they are the select few (limited atonement). Thus, the particular chosen ones will be saved no matter what (perseverance of the saints). Calvinism has a ready answer for any who fall into sin and depart from the faith: they were never really part of the elect.

Many evangelical preachers in the nineteenth century objected to the heart of the Calvinist system (unconditional election, irresistible grace, limited atonement), but firmly preached its bookends (total depravity, perseverance of the saints). Thus we have the modern Evangelical synthesis: man is sinful by himself. He must hear God’s message, and accept Jesus into his heart through the “sinner’s prayer.” Once he has been saved there is nothing he can do to lose his salvation. Some will go so far as to say that people who become agnostic or atheist, explicitly rejecting and insulting Jesus, will still be saved if they believed in Him when they were younger!

“Once saved, always saved” is a theologically half-baked argument based on faulty premises. This is evident if an adherent is questioned about what will happen to a Christian mentioned above or who is caught in some other gross sin without repentance. All kinds of answers are given, and all the answers cheapen the idea of “salvation” terribly. “Once saved, always saved” is powerfully refuted by Romans 2:5-11, Hebrews 3:12-14, 6:4-6, 10:26-31, 2 Peter 2:20-22, among other passages. We must add that “if saved, barely saved” is no better a doctrine than its contrast; believers can have assurance in their standing before God, but only when they are seeking to walk as Christ walked and to do His commandments (1 John 1:5-5:21).

If “faith only” is a seductive and enticing doctrine, how much more the idea of “once saved, always saved!” It is a powerful narcotic: no matter what you do or what happens to you, you will be saved. This doctrine is greatly cherished by its adherents, and the truth of the matter is a bitter pill to swallow in comparison.

Many people hear about “once saved, always saved” through preachers on television or in churches, from friends, or in the media. It sounds quite alluring and satisfies the carnal, worldly mind. All you need to do is believe that Jesus is Lord and Christ, and no matter what happens, you will be saved! How great is that!

“Once saved, always saved” is a powerful disincentive for true faith and discipleship. Why follow the moral guidelines of Christianity if you are saved no matter what? Why bother getting up on Sunday mornings, or why bother sitting in a stuffy auditorium when you can be elsewhere, if you are saved regardless? Why bother investing any effort into faith or Christianity when you are saved whether you do or whether you do not?

As bad as each element of the unholy trinity is, when we put all three together, we truly have a Satanically designed monster. We find that people believe that they all they need to do is believe to be saved, and then they are saved no matter what. Furthermore, since all Christians are the same, your difference in opinion will barely impact their belief system. What can we say? If we emphasize what God in Christ teaches about baptism and obedience (cf. Acts 2:38, Romans 6:1-23), we will hear the dogmas of faith only and how we cannot work for our salvation. If we proclaim the distinctive truths of the New Testament church and the need to teach the first century Gospel (Galatians 1:6-9), we will hear that we are all the same, an influence from ecumenism. If we warn about the condemnation coming to those who prove disobedient to God (Matthew 7:21-23, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9), we are told that once a person is saved, they are saved no matter what.

In such a climate the true Gospel of Jesus Christ is left unheeded because it represents an entirely different picture of faith and reality than is presented by the unholy trinity, and one fraught with far more uncertainty and challenge. The idea of mandated obedience is strange for the one accepting faith only. The importance of distinctive doctrines seems foreign to the one raised in ecumenism. Concern about the condemnation of Christians is strange to one believing in once saved, always saved. It is a lot easier to believe that we are saved by faith only, that all Christians are the same, and that we will be saved no matter what. These doctrines are much more comforting and much less controversial.

And that is exactly what Satan, the god of this world, intends (2 Corinthians 4:4). He has blinded the eyes of millions in America and around the world. This is the environment in which we must continue to preach the Gospel from of old. Faith alone never has saved and never will save (James 2:14-26); yet faith alone sounds great and makes fewer demands than obedience. Much of the New Testament, especially Galatians, 2 Corinthians, and Revelation 2-3, are nonsensical if all churches are the same and doctrine does not really matter; yet ecumenism will remain popular as long as “tolerance” is the name of the game. Far too many who accepted “once saved, always saved” will learn too late that doing the will of the Father was also necessary (Matthew 7:21-23, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9); yet it remains a powerful narcotic and a most wonderful lie.

The truth is comparatively more bitter, more challenging, and more controversial. No one has ever been saved by a lie, and that will prove true on the day of Judgment. We must accept and proclaim the truth because it is true, and because God will lead those who live according to the truth in love to eternity in the Kingdom of Christ (2 Peter 1:11, 2 John 1:5-6)!

Perhaps it is clearer now why so many millions believe and yet do not practice Christianity. The unholy trinity provides all kinds of disincentives to believe and accept God’s truths. Nevertheless, let us stand firm in God’s truth despite its challenges and proclaim them to all in the world!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Children, Fathers, and Young Men | The Voice 12.19: May 08, 2022

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1 John 2:12-14: Children, Fathers, and Young Men

I write unto you, my little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the evil one. I have written unto you, little children, because ye know the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the evil one (1 John 2:12-14).

John’s first letter represents his encouragement of Christians to maintain their association with God and to walk in Christ’s ways so that his joy might be complete (1 John 1:4). He does so through indicating His relationship with Jesus (1 John 1:1-4), the message of God to be the light and not the darkness (1 John 1:5-7), sin and forgiveness (1 John 1:8-10), knowing Christ and following His commandments (1 John 2:1-6), and love for the brethren (1 John 2:7-11).

Then there is 1 John 2:12-14, a passage that has engendered some controversy. Some believe that the text is corrupted at this point on account of its redundancy and style. Concerning whom does John write? What is he trying to say? What are we supposed to gain from this interesting passage?

We have no good evidence to believe that the text is corrupted at this point. We would do well to set aside such speculations and try to make sense of the text as revealed and preserved.

John seems to be writing some form of poetry: a series of statements perhaps more easily memorized or remembered. The statements have parallelism: a, b, c, a, b, c. The purpose is also somewhat ambiguous. On the surface, it would seem to represent John’s statement of purpose for writing, and yet he has already presented one such statement in 1 John 1:4. Furthermore, no actual purpose is presented; John speaks more about the condition of the “children,” “young men,” and “fathers” more than he does about why he writes to them.

The “little children” are those who have their sins forgiven and who know the Father (1 John 2:12-13). While some may believe that John is writing to actual children, such is unlikely: they have no sins to forgive (Matthew 18:1-4), and he uses this phrase often to refer to believers (1 John 2:1, 5:23). In this passage, it would seem that John has believers who are young in the faith in mind– he expands the connection with children, making the connection between what Jesus says about children in the flesh with the state of younger believers (cf. Matthew 18:1-4 et al). Their faith may be young, but it has a strong purity, innocence and devotion.

The “fathers” are those who “know Him who is from the beginning” (1 John 2:13-14). While fathers according to the flesh might be in view, it is again likely that John refers to spiritual “fathers”, like Paul was for Timothy (1 Timothy 1:2), mentors and shepherds and guides in the faith. They help encourage and direct younger believers in their faith, seeking honor not for themselves, but for the One who saved them (cf. Matthew 23:9-10). Their time on God’s path has been longer and fraught with more dangers, and they have gained appreciation for God who has been from the beginning.

The “young men” are “strong,” “the word of God abides” in them, and they have “overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:13-14). Those in this category seem to be in the middle among the “little children” and the “fathers”: believers in full bloom of the faith, striving diligently to serve God, not yet at the point of having the experience and wisdom to be the “father,” yet having grown significantly from being the “little child.”

It would seem, therefore, that John uses these three categories to encourage all believers in Christ. All of us, men and women, married and single, parents and grandparents, are “little children,” “young men,” or “fathers.” It all depends on where we stand in our faith. John provides statements of encouragement for each category, indicating that each has their role: one is not better because he is a “father” and not a “young man,” but at a different place in the faith with different responsibilities. God has composed the church to have many different people to work together (Romans 12:3-8). All must grow and should aspire to being a “father” one day, but all provide value to the Body when they serve God with the faculties they have been given. Whether we are little children, young men, or fathers, let us stand firm for the faith and serve God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Deconstruction | The Voice 12.13: March 27, 2021

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As Christians we ought to be all about encouragement: to build up one another in faith and in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:26, Ephesians 4:11-16). Building up is of the greatest good; but sometimes one must tear down before one can build up.

In recent years many have begun to speak of “deconstruction” and its relationship to the Christian faith. A few loudly insist that any such “deconstruction” is demonic or demonic-adjacent, a poison inflicted on the church by the French postmodernist Jacques Derrida leading to a denial of the existence of truth and shipwreck in the faith. It is true that the term “deconstruction” comes from Jacques Derrida; nevertheless, Derrida’s concern was with philosophy and the relationship between texts and their meaning, and he imagined himself to be part of the Enlightenment project. Derrida recognized that all communication is mediated and therefore demands context and thus interpretation and encode many socio-cultural aspects and dimensions. To this end Derrida sought to critically reconsider the Western perspective and value system and recognized that texts outlive their authors and get re-appropriated into later contexts for different purposes. It remains possible for such adventures in deconstruction to lead to nihilism, but such is not automatically or intrinsically the necessary result. Derrida is only one of the more recent in a long line of philosophers and literary critics who sought to fundamentally reassess the Western heritage rooted in Greek philosophy; those who would seek to demonize him would first do well to consider how beholden they might be to modernist philosophy and perspectives before they castigate his premises.

Despite what might be imagined based on present discourse, Jacques Derrida did not establish the work of deconstructing Christianity or particular ideologies believed under that umbrella. At best, one could argue that others have since taken the same kind of premises and critical perspective that Derrida directed toward philosophy and texts and have directed them toward Christianity (as well as other disciplines). Most who experience a season of deconstruction in their faith have barely heard of Jacques Derrida and remain unfamiliar with his work. Yet the experiences and trials they endure remain very real, and while “deconstruction” may not be the most technical or ideal term to use, it remains appropriate. We therefore do best to understand “deconstruction” in Christian terms as a critical reassessment of some or all of the beliefs one has accepted regarding the faith in Christ, usually as a result of some crisis experience.

Many have attempted to associate deconstruction with justifying or rationalizing sin: they imagine that only those who want to do things Jesus has told them not to do would want to go through the experience of deconstruction to excuse their behaviors. No doubt there are some who have participated in deconstruction to this end. Stories are also often told of young people who grew up going to church and participating in a Christian environment, expressing (seemingly) robust Christian faith, and then losing that faith through deconstruction in college. This can, and has, happened. Yet these are not the only reasons people find themselves in a season of deconstruction. Some deconstruct their beliefs because they have moved to a new place and are exposed to a different way of living and doing things. Many have deconstructed their beliefs because they have witnessed Christians and churches not upholding what God has made known in Christ and prove more faithful to worldly commitments than to their professed heavenly citizenship. Many are processing the various forms of trauma and/or oppression they have experienced in Christian contexts. Sadly, a good number of those who deconstruct their beliefs are not doing so because they have found the world more attractive than Jesus; they do so because they have not seen Jesus well manifested or represented in the people and institutions who profess Him.

Very few would consider deconstruction to be a pleasant experience; most who undergo a season of deconstruction have found it to be agonizing and alienating. Yet deconstruction is not intrinsically evil, or even necessarily a bad thing. Deconstruction might be unpleasant; deconstruction can certainly be taken too far; yet deconstruction is a necessary process if we would prove faithful to God in Christ.

We do well to consider “deconstruction” according to the image the word immediately conjures: that of taking down part or all of what has been constructed. The specific nomenclature may date to the past few decades, but the concept has been around for as long as people have professed faith in God. And God expressly expected His people to have to undergo trials and crises in faith that would lead to “deconstruction,” or destruction, of some or most of what His people believed and held dear.

Abram’s family in Ur lived as pagan idolaters according to Joshua 24:2-3. Thus, when God called Abram to believe in Him and follow Him, Abram had to change his views and perspectives: he would have to dispense with service to other gods and serve only the God who called him. Time and time again God would have to command His people to tear down idols and break them down; Gideon and Hezekiah were called upon to literally deconstruct the idolatrous service of Israel, breaking down altars, smashing pillars, etc. (Judges 6:25-27, 2 Kings 18:3-4).

Jesus Himself taught about faith in terms of building on the right foundation in Matthew 7:24-27, and Paul expanded upon the theme, expecting everything built on the foundation to be tested as through fire in1 Corinthians 3:9-15. To this end we do well to think about our faith in terms of a construction project we have built. If the house is built well and firmly on Jesus with a healthy understanding of His truth in love, and we experience the storms of life, that house can endure the trial and be sustained with minimal damage. Thus, well and healthy faith rooted in what God has made known in Christ has little to fear from a season of trial and deconstruction, for it is robustly rooted in Jesus. But what if the house we have built has some unsound aspects; perhaps rooted in some aspects more in cultural mores and expectations or designed to address the challenges of a bygone era? When various trials come about, those unsound aspects will be exposed, and will not be able to sustain the challenges and will collapse. The witness of God in Christ has nothing to fear from deconstruction, but all that is built upon cultural assumptions and expectations, looks to win culture wars, or to protect the institution at the expense of faithful witness in Christ has everything to fear from that exposure. It will not, and cannot, stand unless it is properly built in Christ.

The challenge of deconstruction is less in its process and much more in its end. As with doubt and skepticism, so with deconstruction: they prove necessary to a degree, but can go too far and lead to nihilism and despair. It remains true that some deconstruct themselves out of faith in Christ entirely, which is a bitter and lamentable outcome. Deconstruction therefore should never be pursued for its own end; instead, if we find ourselves in a season of deconstruction, we ought to always aspire toward a time of rebuilding in edification and encouragement. We must absolutely remove all unhealthy parts of the foundation and structure of faith which has been built up and which will not sustain the trials and challenges of life and judgment, but we must then seek to re-establish a firm foundation in Jesus and the witness of the Apostles and prophets, and build up our faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:20-22, 4:11-16). That faith will not, and cannot, look exactly like it did before. It is also no excuse to replace one set of cultural assumptions and ideologies with another set of cultural assumptions and ideologies; if it will endure, it must be built on what God has made known in Christ through the apostolic and prophetic witness (Colossians 2:1-10).

Deconstruction is neither easy nor fun, but ultimately it is the demand of repentance in healthy faith. If we would truly change our hearts and minds for the better, we must first clear out all that which was not fully rooted in Jesus. We have no difficulties expecting those who come to Christ from the world to “deconstruct” everything they have learned in the world to effectively put on Christ; the sad reality is that many Christians need to go through the same experience in order to divest themselves of the worldly accretions that have corrupted many institutions and those who have professed Jesus as the Christ. Likewise, the restoration spirit requires the “deconstruction” of all of the human traditions and institutional loyalties that hinder believers from jointly participating in the faith in Christ in its apostolic simplicity. “Deconstruction,” therefore, is not the enemy of the Christian or the faith; it is a season of trial which we must undergo if our faith would result in praise, honor, and glory for Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-9). May we all seek to root out all forms of worldliness from our lives in faith, and may we provide space, love, and encouragement for all who find themselves in a season of deconstruction, so that we all may ultimately build one another up in love to the glory of God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Keeping His Commandments | The Voice 12.11: March 13, 2022

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1 John 2:3-6: Keeping His Commandments

And hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, “I know him,” and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoso keepeth his word, in him verily hath the love of God been perfected. Hereby we know that we are in him: he that saith he abideth in him ought himself also to walk even as he walked (1 John 2:3-6).

In our examination into the first letter of John, we have seen that John’s purpose is to encourage Christians in the face of false teachers and “professors” of Christianity. He has previously established that the message he provides concerns the Word of Life, how He is light, and in Him there is no darkness (1 John 1:1-5). He then establishes that we must walk in the light: we will not do so perfectly, for we all sin, but we must strive to cease from sin (1 John 1:6-2:1). If we do sin, we have an advocate in Jesus Christ, who is the propitiation for the sins of all the world (1 John 2:1-2).

John continues to speak about Jesus, and his specific concern involves how we demonstrate that we “know” Jesus (1 John 2:3-6). In a world of competing claims regarding Jesus, how can we know whether we practice the truth? This question was as concerning in the first century as it is in the twenty-first.

John does not leave the disciples in doubt: to know Jesus is to do His commandments. This message is entirely consistent with the message Jesus provided during His life. The comparison between the man who built on the rock versus the man who built on the sand was the difference between those who keep and do Jesus’ words and those who do not (Matthew 7:24-27). In His farewell address to His disciples, Jesus indicates that if His disciples love Him, they will keep His commandments (John 14:15). Those who have and keep Jesus’ commandments loves Jesus, and such are loved by the Father (John 14:21). We are to keep His commandments just as He kept His Father’s commandments (John 15:10); this is to be done so that the disciples’ joy may be full, which is the very purpose for John’s letter (John 15:11, 1 John 1:4). To keep Jesus’ commands is to be His friend (John 15:14).

John does not shy away from the need to follow Jesus’ commands; in fact, he constantly emphasizes that need. James has similar things to say in James 1:22-25, contrasting those who “hear” the word from those who “hear and do” it.

The only legitimate test as to whether one who professes Jesus is truly His follower is to understand what he does: what is his fruit (cf. Matthew 7:15-20)? Is there evidence of repentance: is there less sin and more righteousness (Galatians 5:17-24)? Do they justify their sin or do they glorify God? Do they represent humble believers in the King, or have they been swept away by some other teacher (Luke 17:7-10, 2 Timothy 4:3-5)? The only way we can demonstrate that we know Jesus is to do what He tells us to do!

Those who profess knowing Jesus and yet do not practice His commands are liars (1 John 2:4). It does not matter how sincere or dishonest they may be: they do not have the truth either way. This is why it is so important to do His commandments!

If we keep His commands, John says that the love of God is perfected in us (1 John 2:5). While some may try to make some kind of absolute out of the statement, such distracts us from John’s true meaning. It is not as if we will ever entirely keep Jesus’ commands (1 John 1:8), but it is the humble obedient servant of Jesus Christ whom God can make complete in the Son. Such people can truly understand the nature of Jesus; they entirely understand, by their practicing of the truth, all the love that God has richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ.

Lest anyone believe that this knowledge is somehow based only in learning, John goes on to demonstrate that “keeping His commandments” is “walking as Jesus walked” (1 John 2:5-6). If we “abide” in Jesus, we ought to walk in His ways. The only way we can ever come to a deeper knowledge and understanding of the ways of Christ are to walk in those ways. We keep His commandments not in some Pharisaical attempt to check off obligations, but in order to be conformed into Jesus’ image: to love as He loved, to show compassion as He showed compassion, to avoid sin as He avoided sin. In short, it is to walk as Jesus walked. The only way to know Jesus is to know His life, His ways, and His suffering in our own lives. Let us strive to know Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Voice 5.04: January 25, 2015

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Spiritual Growth

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and for ever. Amen (2 Peter 3:18).

Very few moments are as special as the birth of a child. When a newborn enters the world, he or she comes with so much hope and promise. Yet, for any of that hope and promise to be achieved, the newborn must first grow. While newborns and infants are special, they too must grow up to become toddlers, children, teenagers, and finally adults.

The same is true in spiritual terms. It is special and wonderful when anyone obeys the Gospel and calls upon the name of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (Acts 22:16, Romans 6:1-11). At that point the believer is as a spiritual infant, and needs to grow in order to achieve their hope and promise in Jesus Christ, as it is written:

As newborn babes, long for the spiritual milk which is without guile, that ye may grow thereby unto salvation (1 Peter 2:2).

As with physical newborns, so with spiritual newborns: milk must be the first food. Spiritual milk represents the basic truths of God’s Word: understanding the plan of salvation, what Christians must do and must not do, more about who Jesus was and His Lordship, and regarding the church that is His body (Hebrews 6:1-4, Galatians 5:17-24, Romans 6:1-23, Ephesians 5:22-33). A Christian without a basic understanding of God’s message to mankind is like a baby without milk: failing to thrive and in danger of death!

While it is very important to learn about God and His will for mankind in the Bible, it is just as important to begin practicing what God teaches. The only way Christians can grow is through “constant practice” of distinguishing good and evil (Hebrews 5:14). We know that in physical matters, humans learn either in a school environment or in a “real life” environment: one either devotes himself to study, and then later uses that knowledge in his labor, or one learns by practicing the labor. While there are opportunities for Christians to learn through study and devotion to the Scriptures, Christians must also experience “on the job training”: learning by doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong (Galatians 5:17-24). One cannot truly learn of Jesus by just sitting and reading a book: one must also “walk as He walked” (1 John 2:6).

Another aspect of growth is learning to present the Gospel to others in both word and deed. It was not a long time between Paul was converted and when he began to teach of Jesus in the synagogues (Acts 9:20-22); it also did not take long for Apollos to preach Jesus as the Christ (Acts 18:26-28). As with all things in life, you are likely to make mistakes in the beginning. Yet by trying we can learn from our mistakes and be that much more effective the next time. If we are not ashamed of the Gospel, then we must not be ashamed to begin preaching it (Romans 1:16)!

Just as newborns are born into families, and normally have a support system of parents, grandparents, among others, so newborn Christians ought to have a spiritual family that will help them grow in their walk with God. That spiritual family is the church (1 Corinthians 12:12-28). Many times people have bad feelings toward churches because of unfortunate events or attitudes that might have existed. Yet the Bible makes it clear that the church is important to God: it is the Body of Christ, and represents all those who are being saved (Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 5:22-33). Those who are not in the church are not saved!

Part of God’s wisdom regarding the church involves the local congregation. God specified that His people should come together to encourage one another constantly (Hebrews 10:24-25). Such a group was to be shepherded by elders who meet certain qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-8, 1 Peter 5:1-4), and served by deacons (1 Timothy 3:9-12). By coming together and encouraging one another, Christians can rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:27-28).

Learning of God’s Word, putting it into practice, preaching the Gospel, and being part of Christ’s church help a newborn Christian grow to maturity in their faith. Can we encourage you toward spiritual growth?

Ethan R. Longhenry