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DISCIPLESHIP SERIES: Working Out Our Salvation with Love and Charity

January 15, 2011
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It appears, based on some of the reactions to last week’s commentary, that we need to further explore the subject of the gospel of the kingdom. Let’s face it: what we believe about Jesus’ mission—why he came to earth—is an essential starting point in discipleship. The slightest deviation at the beginning can result in dramatic differences in our conclusions, in much the same way that starting a few degrees off course can lead you far from your intended destination.

To do this is going to require the critical examination of some very popular and deeply entrenched theological positions—and doing so is always rife with contention. This is the part of my work and ministry that I truly dislike. I dread most Mondays because I know that I will inevitably receive ugly responses to something I wrote. It’s not that I resent the disagreement—I don’t. What grieves me is when the disagreement becomes personal and condemning as if I am an enemy of Christ.

Our human tendency is to build theological fortresses and lob shells over the wall toward anyone who may challenge our presuppositions and beliefs. This is never helpful, always divisive, and in the end, we avoid testing the spirits and may, unwittingly, remain on the wrong side of the truth. That is a place I personally do not want to be.

Because I recognize the limitations that my sin nature imposes on me, I am willing to explore beyond the limits of my understanding and listen to the whole church.  Of course, if we subscribe to the “fortress” mentality then we may think the “whole church” exists exclusively within our walls. If this is your inclination, please resist this impulse and hear the Lord who prayed that we be one (see John 17) and assume the character of this unity that is described in 1 Corinthians 13:7. Even when we disagree, we are to do so in a spirit of love and charity with a hope that is rooted in a faith that Jesus’ promise of peace is sure. If we lived this way, we would be far less inclined to hurt those with whom we disagree, and be much more charitable to those who, in fact, may be wrong. If we truly desire to correct, then certainly grace and charity will go much further than a combative approach.

Recall Apollos, a man “competent in the Scriptures” who “taught accurately the things of Jesus.” And yet Apollos’ understanding of the gospel wasn’t accurate because he knew “only the baptism of John.” Despite his error on this point, the Bible doesn’t condemn Apollos. Quite the contrary: Apollos is praised as a man “fervent in the spirit” who taught “diligently the things of the Lord” (see Acts 18:24–28). So, here is a man esteemed by God despite his mistaken understanding. So when I say that the majority of Christians have embraced and teach a truncated version of the gospel, this in no way suggests that those who do so are false or unfaithful Christians. Neither does this suggest that they are biblically ignorant or insincere in their desire to grow in their knowledge and understanding of the Lord. The fact is, most of us were raised on this truncated and privatized version of the gospel. We have taught it and lovingly shared it with others, and many of us received salvation upon hearing these simple words. It is, as are we, a product of the times in which we live.

Nevertheless, these facts do not necessarily validate that gospel—divorced from the kingdom—as being the complete and true representation of what Jesus taught and preached. It is not our understanding or our decision that secures our faith in Jesus Christ, but the Holy Spirit acting on our behalf and in opposition to our sinful will (see Romans 9:16). Regardless of whether we are vibrant or lukewarm, faithful or not, God’s will continues to come forth (see Daniel 4:35). My only desire is to lead an exploration of the gospel of the kingdom over and against the reductionist version so that as we pursue discipleship, we arrive at Christ and his mission, not a lesser, culturalized version of Christian faith.

You may think I am overemphasizing the process and should just get on with the subject. However, the manner in which we engage these questions is as much a part of Christian discipleship as the theological and doctrinal issues themselves. The very act of peaceful disagreement—loving those with whom we disagree—within the body bears witness to the power and presence of Christ. Conversely, the uncharitable display of rancor and dissention tells the world in the loudest possible terms: Jesus is not real! Again, John 17 gives the most powerful argument affirming that our life together—our relationships with each other—serve as an indispensible testimony to the triune God.

Beginning in John 17:20, Jesus prays, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us….” Jesus then gives the purpose for this unity when he says, “so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (ESV emphasis mine). This point is so important that Jesus repeats it in vv. 22–23. Think about what Jesus is saying here.

The object of Jesus’ prayer is the body of Christ throughout the ages (all who are children of God by grace of adoption and true members of Christ by sanctification of the Holy Spirit) and the subject is a visible relational unity that communicates to the world that God is real and Jesus is his son! 

So my challenge (myself included) is that we approach the questions raised in the weeks ahead with the same attitude as Apollos, who humbly received instruction and, being pleased, God sent him out to help “those who through grace had believed … showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:27, 28 ESV). May we seek to avoid rancor and dissention as we move forward, desiring to know Christ more completely and walking in a manner that pleases him.

© 2011 by S. Michael Craven



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Response from : Chip Burkitt  

January 15, 2011 4:34 PM

Good luck! I suspect that those who respond with rancor will continue to do so. But I wish you well nonetheless and pray that your words will hit home.

Response from : Matt Edwards  

January 16, 2011 10:23 PM

I agree with the spirit of this article. As believers in a loving, gentle, and merciful God, our default attitudes should reflect this same demeanor. One cannot preach a message of love with a hateful tone or out of any motivation other than love for ones neighbor. However, I think we need to be cautious about making Jesus into what I once heard a minister refer to as the Soda Pop Jesus where He is running through the fields hand in hand with a bunch of children perhaps with a lamb over his shoulders and all is happy and good all of the time. Yes, Jesus was compassionate and kind when that was the appropriate course of action. But He was not always meek, gentle, and gracious. Lets look at some passages that are not often covered when discussing Christ-like character:

Matthew 10:34-36 Jesus says He did not come to earth to bring peace but to bring a sword and that He has come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.

Matthew 23:1-36 Jesus lays into the Pharisees and Sadducees, referring to them as children of hell, hypocrites (several times) blind guides, blind fools, blind men, whitewashed tombs, snakes, and a brood of vipers.

Mark 8:31-33 Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to be killed by the elders and chief priests. Peter rebukes Jesus for this, and Jesus then rebukes Peter right back, even calling him Satan!

Luke 11:15-17 Jesus is incensed that the outer courtyard of the temple, intended to be a quiet place for women and foreigners to pray and worship, is being used as a place to conduct temple-related business transactions (and unethical ones at that). He becomes so enraged over this that he kicks over the tables and runs everyone off. (The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus did all of this using a whip!)

John 8:31-59 Jesus tells a group of Jews who have been following Him that they are children of the devil because they have rejected Him and His message. He later made this same crowd so angry (by equating Himself with the Father) that the crowd picked up stones to kill him.

Had these things been done by anyone other than Christ, we might have written them off as momentary lapses of Christian judgment or the flesh overcoming the Spirit. But these things were said and done by the Son of God, who did not sin and who was perfect in all that He did. So what are we to make of these passages about Christ and His character? We certainly cannot say that we must be meek and gentle at all times because our Lord, our Example, was not always this way. While we must strive for unity and, as Paul wrote, to be at peace with all people to the best of our ability, we cannot simply strive for unity at all costs. We must be diligent to be true to Gods Word and to rebuke (yes, I said rebuke, a frequently-referenced biblical calling that is often under utilized in todays all-affirming Christian church) when necessary (see Titus 1:10-14). If someone is introducing false doctrine, that person should be corrected gently when possible but firmly when necessary. We cannot compromise what is true just to preserve peace and to maintain the membership in our churches. As the evangelist Tony Campolo once said, Sometimes revival begins not when we get new people into the church, but when some of the old members leave. Let us work with great effort to display the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, to be self-controlled in our actions, loving in our deeds, joyful in our attitudes, peaceful in our souls, longsuffering in our trials, gentle with those who struggle, and good through and through with the righteousness of our Savior. But at the same time let us not tolerate those who seek to bully their way in Christs church with unbiblical traditions or theological suppositions that are unsupported by Scripture.

Response from : Steve  

January 17, 2011 9:17 AM

Thanks for this balanced article. It also really disappoints me when Christians react with ungracious hostility to things. This speaks more about the individual's heart than anything else! Great point from Matt about Jesus' - and agree that debate and confrontation does needs to happen (in love) at times. So let's be like Jesus - seeing the best in people, being open to correction but never reacting in unrighteous anger. And I speak to myself first and foremost!!

Response from : Louie  

January 17, 2011 9:48 AM

Michael, you are spot on with your comments and I would like to take a few minutes just to encourage you. I'm sure that you're aware that frequently it's only the rabid who respond and I'm disappointed that your comments would elicit such vehement reactions, but quite frankly due to my own experience, I'm not the least bit surprised. I work with a campus ministry in the Northeast and in my similar challenges even to young believers here on campus I find a disturbing number of ungracious theologians who are disguised as 20 year old engineering students. Not only is the evangelical church not teaching correct discipleship, but it is also demanding an unswerving loyalty to the non-biblical teachings that it is purporting in its ranks. I do appreciate an approach that calls for a firm foundation in one's faith, but what I've observed here is a dogmatic allegiance to a system of beliefs that offers very little grace or mercy, nor does it even remotely resemble the admonition of Jesus when he told his disciples "by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another". I'm sadly familiar with the hateful responses that come forth from this crowd when you challenge their 'System'. My encouragement to you Michael is to stay focused on Jesus and his Kingdom, knowing that there will be numerous push-backs from the 'religious' crowd. It was the religious leaders who initiated the ruckus that sent Jesus to the cross. Thus I have come to understand that when the pressure is applied to MY system of beliefs, my reactions are characteristically and predictably self-preserving. If I am truly centered on Jesus and his Kingdom, I come to the understanding that I don't need to run to his defense. Jesus never called his disciples to defend him; in fact, when Peter struck Malchus with his sword and cut his ear off, Jesus chided Peter and told him to put his sword away. We have somehow along the way bought the lie that we need to defend the faith, that God is indeed losing the battle and if it were not for us, all would be lost. I shudder at such heresy. OK enough ranting from me. Be encouraged Michael, you are on the right track.

Response from : Bob Soule  

January 17, 2011 10:02 AM

Hey Mike-

Thanks for your obedience to the Gospel. We who are shepherded by minister of the Gospel have to remember one thing. "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he isa perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check." (James 3:1,2)

We must remember that all of us are at various stages in our faith walk and that can be ugly. We will not reach perfection until we are called home.

The Apostle Paul exhorts us to: "Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don't have anything to do with foolish quarrels. Ant the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, ablt to teach, not resentful." (2 Timothy 2:22-24) Are we all servants to the Lord, whom we claim to be our Redeemer and God?

In Jesus's own words, when word was brought to Him about one who was driving out demons in His name, yet was not one of the twelve: "'Do not stop him,' Jesus said. 'No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.'" (Mark 9:38-40)

We must always go back to the inspired and perfect Holy Scriptures, not the thoughts or feelings of imperfect man.

Thanks Mike and Happy New Year!

Semper Fidelis!

Response from : Bob Geiger  

January 17, 2011 10:09 AM

Dear Michael,
As a practicing Catholic, I read your column and am amazed at how little we disagree on practical theology and Scripture. This should be expected, as orthodox Christians hold 98% of their beliefs in common. That last 2% is the source of a lot of trouble, though!
Keep up the good work, Michael!
Bob Geiger

Response from : KJQ  

January 17, 2011 10:29 AM

Thanks for taking the time to write this preliminary article, Michael. I just want to (hopefully) encourage you by reminding you that the (visible) church today is filled with those who are not the elect, just as there were many Jews who were not of "the faith" in old testament times. We are told this over and over again in scripture. Many have an incorrect view of passages such as the parable of the wheat and the tares to mean those inside and outside the church. Both are inside the visible church. I took have encountered much hateful comments and attitudes from professing Christians when I express a different viewpoint, regardless of how lovingly I tell them the truth. Please go ahead and continue to write articles which challenge us. Paul wrote to the churches, all of whom contained some unbelievers who resented his letters. In my opinion, the west is under God's chastisement and so will decline as have all other civilizations and nations before who have turned from Him. The result will be severe persecution of the church, and so those who are not the elect will fall away quickly. This has always been how God has refined His church. I pray we will all be like Peter, who said "... where shall we go, when you have the Words of life?".

Response from : Ruth Maughan  

January 17, 2011 10:45 AM

Dear Sir: I tremendously respect your articles, especially the time and depth of thought, research and prayer behind them. They bless me and articulate beautifully my own mental pursuits. Blessings to you and yours.
Ruth Maughan

Response from : Jae Charles  

January 17, 2011 1:04 PM

My heart goes out to you regarding the plea to the body and also the weight that I am sure you feel discussing and revealing God's truths to the body. I can only imagine what that weight is as I have experienced similar, albeit on a much lesser scale. These trials have actually been a blessing to me enabling me to become rooted and grounded in God's word. My engineering background has conditioned me to prove all things and research and discover for myself what the word of God states. This has taken me from new age channelers to
prosperity gospel name it and claim it to the disregard of admonishment from Paul about the blatant misuse of tongues without any research, insight or understanding of the history and context (please just do the research and look at the evidence). In all things that I
have learned it is God's love supersedes all else so in the hierarchy of prevalence of who is right and who is not, rule number one and two would be (1) Love God (2) love your brother (3). when all else fails, refer to number 1 & 2. So with this in mind I would enjoy
discovering, sharing and establishing truth. There are so many sensitive subjects that I am amazed the body is so segregated and with this comes anger, deceit, frustration, intimidation, unforgivingness and separation all the while neglecting rules 1 and 2 above! I had one lady/friend say she would refuse to talk to me for two weeks! I could not figure out what the magical number of two weeks had to do with anything, but that in itself showed me what I was dealing with! If I have learned anything this one thing I do know, that I am prone to error, that my body and my mind try to undo the things of God so that I must not trust physical impulses that are not related to the 9 fruits Paul spoke of. I crucify those thoughts, feelings and emotions that seek to protect me in my carnal mind and I yield to humility. If there is an impasse, then I agree that Jesus is Lord and that I still love my neighbor who disagrees with me. Our actions will be the defining point on who is obedient to the word to bring glory to God, not our words. God's words will endure forever, giving glory to Him is my reasonable service. If I make any claims to Discipleship, it start with
humility and obedience. How I act when one disagrees with me is as important or more so than what I am speaking. Let us show Discipleship in the manner it was meant. The first will be last and the last first. Those who assert themselves with their words let them be the ones who are taking the word in love and peace and with hope, believe that through prayer, The Holy Spirit will reveal His truth. It is not about getting a point across. It is all about servitude in humility. Check your discipleship meter. Do things offend you? Like Thomas Kempis said in The Imitation of Christ, if things offend you, you are still tied to this world. Discipleship is all about God's Kingdom. We are always looking to Him.

Response from : wayne w  

January 17, 2011 2:40 PM

Your first commentary on Discipleship helped me see the way I understood the Gospel was more imperfect than I knew. Thank you. I definitely was of the mindset that the world was the sinking ship and an awful place. And my attitude toward my neighbor was harmed by that thinking because (I judged) he had embraced it. I appreciate the view that as an agent or witness for God, I can love the world and those in it, and show the reality of God by demonstrating faithfulness, obedience, and the blessings of discipleship. (Which are summed up in the two greatest commandments!)

Response from : Selase Kwawu  

January 17, 2011 4:53 PM

May the Lord strengthen you Michael. And may He show you more of the truth in His word.

Response from : William R Garrard, Jr  

January 17, 2011 7:47 PM

You are right to call us to love one another in our disagreements and discussions as Christ tells us. What happens often is that there are in each of us certain triggers that set us off in a reaction which strike out at others when this trigger is pulled by someones assertion in contrary to what we hold dear. Christ teaches us not to react but to respond in love when those triggers are pulled. To let the Spirit create a loving response that focuses on the other rather than on the perceived threat to our personal truth. Gut reactions divide, careful and compassionate responses unite.

Response from : Randall Schruer  

January 18, 2011 10:50 PM

Michael, I'm concerned for u & the tone & content of the negative feedback u're rec'ing. I know a Christian blogger who requires posters to give a first & last name & name of their city & state, b/c he believes if people have to stand behind their comments, it makes people reflect b/4 they post gossip or accusatory or destructive comments that u describe. He still gets questioned & challenged, but it's amazing how civil & peaceful the tone of the conversation is when believers put their name & city w/ their comment. An idea to consider.


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