Nothing but the Gospel: Our Only Hope

Nothing but the gospel gives us hope.  Upon reading Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church, that hope stands strong, because it resides in Jesus.  Here is what Paul writes,

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence.  For it is all for your sake, so that as the grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God.  2 Corinthians 4:13-15

Notice several truths Paul highlights in this very compact declaration of the gospel:

  1. His faith rests on the word of God.  He notes, “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what is written…”  Nothing but the gospel offers hope because that hope finds its source in the One who revealed Himself to us in Jesus.  Faith looks to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and nowhere else.  Many claim that faith can claim presence with God with other means (pluralism).  However, that claim surfaces from and rests with man and not with God.  As such, it offers not hope.
  2. Faith gives motivation to boldly declare the gospel of hope.  Paul says, “I believed and so I spoke…”  Spoke what?  The gospel of salvation!  Our faith rests in historical reality.  That is, God actually did come in the form of the man Jesus as God promised.  We trust in a righteous God who keeps His promises, and this gives us assurance and boldness to speak the gospel.
  3. Not only did Jesus come in the form of a baby and interacted with His fellow men and women, but He died, was buried, and rose from the death.  Overwhelming testimony shows this to be historical fact.  Some try to separate history from faith by claiming that truth does not need to rely on fact.  This is post-modern wishful thinking.  Truth not supported by fact is faith in a lie and fiction.  Since Jesus really did rise from the dead, our faith gives us the hope of being with God when we also die.

Such wonderful truths enable us to live confidently and hopefully in the return of Jesus.  Review 4:14 again.  Paul declares that God will keep His promise of a resurrection for us, also.  He says Jesus will “bring us with you in His presence.”  Our faith rests in real hope and not in one that aspirates, “I hope so.”  That is not hope but wishful thinking.  Stand firm.

Copyright (c) 2014, Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  Not to be used without expressed written permission.

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Spiritual Leadership: Leaping Tall Building or Christ’s Sufficiency

We want our spiritual leaders to exhibit competence, because we do not want to follow an incompetent leader. We want our pastors and elders to be spiritual giants able to leap tall buildings in a single bound or at least to walk on water or stand tall in the pulpit.  Frequently, however, when competence comes to mind, the areas of greatest importance are primarily administration, charisma, public speaking, and the display of confidence. These attract and give a sense of importance and a feeling of security.  A pastor once informed me that he spoke on a series regarding competence in the church.  It mostly concerned how well staff and leaders performed in their ministry jobs 

When performance in church leadership has prime importance, do we tend to leave God at the door and neglect many of the gifts He gives to us to lead the church? Do we emphasize performance to the extent that the power of Christ fails to shine through?  Do we want people to get with the program or leave?  Do we try to plug people into a ministry or do we mentor them toward using their God given gifts in helping others grow to maturity in Christ?  Is performance greater than the person?  From these perspectives, weakness seems to many to have little value as a contributing factor in church ministry.  This is a huge drawback in two ways. First, it focuses on the flesh and what can be seen rather than on the Spirit and the unseen. Second, it neglects what God does inwardly and places little emphasis on spiritual transformation—the way of God rather than the way of man.

Years ago when I was associated with a Christian organization on a university campus, dozens of us would gather in a home to sing praise songs, listen to a speaker, and fellowship with fellow believers. The main leader of the organization and host introduced one of his disciples to the group. He said, “This gentleman knows passages from memory from each of the books of the Bible.” The leader commenced to give a Bible verse, and the man quoted it from memory. Smiles rose from those gathered, and many beamed with pride and awe. To them this man was a spiritual giant, because he knew the Scriptures. This was a seen spirituality and an outward display of self-confidence.

The message was obvious. What you see is spiritual. Righteousness depends on outward display rather than inward transformation. Leadership can make or break true spirituality by focusing on the wrong things. True competence comes with the price of losing oneself in the sufficiency of the Spirit. Paul wrote,

“We are not sufficient in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves. Our sufficiency is from God, who made us sufficient as ministers of the New Covenant…”

(2 Corinthians 3:5-6).

The ‘letter’ or outward confidence works out of the framework of self. The ‘Spirit’ works out of the framework of the Trinity, the all-sufficient God who called light out of darkness and gives light that leads to spiritual transformation.

Copyright (c) 2014 Action Faith Books Press.  Use prohibited without expressed written permission or proper citation.

“In Christ” and Spirit Led Christian Leadership

The previous post “Leadership, What?” referred to Brian Dodd’s remarks about what the Apostle Paul writes about spiritual leadership in the church community.  Dodd also cites probably the most common phrase Paul uses in his letters to demonstrate the mark of genuine Christian leadership: “in Christ.”[1] This is the crux of Pauline theology and marks the whole of the Christian life and not simply leadership.  This phrase characterizes the beginning, ongoing, and end of true Christian redemption and maturity.  Unless the believer recognizes this mark and becomes ensconced in and enraptured with it, he or she will exhibit fleshly leadership.  Dodd writes, “What was striking about Paul’s leadership…was the uniquely Christ-centered and cross-reflecting style of leadership that he exhibited.” [2] These two traits reflect the true meaning of in Christ.  In his commentary on the calling and character of the Christian leader, William Willimon expands on the meaning of in Christ,

We being ‘in Christ’ and being a’ new creation,’ are those who don’t just know about the righteousness of God, or believe in the righteousness of God; we are to be God’s righteousness. If you want a Scriptural basis for Christian ethics, make it this one. [3]

Biblically stated, being God’s righteousness begins with core expression of the gospel: justification by faith through which God imputes Christ’s righteousness to the sinner so that one stands in the right before Him.  The phrase “in Christ” reflects an identity and a moral stance for the believer and serves as the basis for Christian leadership. In a sense, this is a new way to equip saints and release leaders in two ways. First, the modern era of people alienated from Christ knows little of it, and it has no place in a secular society. Second, it is new in that the abiding life of Christ has its roots in the new commandment. Spiritual leadership is about caring for people and loving them in and toward the kingdom of God. It is for this reason Dodd made this phrase and the Holy Spirit the foundation of all he wrote throughout the book. [4]

According to Dodd, the Apostle Paul would have failed every human litmus test for leadership.  He suggests Paul’s failures as one of the reasons God chose Him to lead.  The key to Paul’s leadership, according to Dodd, is Spirit-empowerment.  1 Corinthians 12:4-13 repeats this truth.  There Paul emphasizes that the Holy Spirit sovereignly leads the Church and provides its leaders with all the resources needed to guide and mature God’s chosen people.  A. W. Tozer wrote, “There was hardly a great leader from Paul to the present but was drafted by the Holy Spirit for the task.” [5] Developing spiritual leadership requires a spiritual source and mandate or it will scatter the sheep.  However, even in leadership failures, we must remember God remains faithful and will accomplish His redemptive purpose among those He saves.  He also redeems fallen leaders so that He is glorified not only in the Church but also in all the world.

[1] Dodd, Brian J., Empowered Church Leadership: Ministry in the Spirit According to Paul (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 14.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Willimon, William H., Character and Calling: Virtues of the Ordained Life (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 129.

[4] Dodd, 15.

[5] Sanders, J. Oswald, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago, Moody Press, 1994), 29.

Copyright (c) 2014, Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  Not to be used without expressed written permission.

Marks of Christian Leadership – Part One: Leadership, What?

All that can be said about leadership in many respects has already been written. Brian Dodd also came to a similar conclusion. [1] A Christian leader is one who serves. One must possess spiritual maturity and faith. [2] A leader has followers. A leader has character. A leader is a team builder and leads with courage. A good leader is strategic in thinking. Therefore, is there anything new that can be said or can it be restated in a new way for future leaders? Dodd brings the reader back to the letters of the Apostle Paul for a rediscovery of spiritual leadership that needs to be unleashed today in the church.

Why Paul? Was he not ancient? We have so much information on leadership today and so many proven models that Paul never had. We have defined and refined what others before us wrote and applied concerning effective leadership. Is there anything new? Dodd identifies several key and proven ingredients that stand the test of time and outlast every leadership model implemented in the Church, business, or government. He emphasizes that whatever leadership model may exist, these ingredients must always be there for effective Church ministry leadership. These leaders must live and teach them to gain lasting results. Equipping the saints needs these ingredients for the church to grow in grace and for that grace to permeate the body of Christ for its edification of its members in love.

In the proclamation of the gospel, spiritual leadership is critical.  With some in the business world, leadership comes naturally.  However, spiritual leadership arises from the spirit dependent on God.  God equips those whom He sends with His message.

Part two expands on these ingredients.

[1] Dodd, Brian J., Empowered Church Leadership: Ministry in the Spirit According to Paul (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003). 13-14.

[2] Sanders, Oswald, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 27-32.

Copyright (c) 2014, Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  Not to be used without expressed written permission.

The Gospel and the Mission of the Church (Excerpt from upcoming book: Nothing but the Gospel)

The issue of the lost stands as a core mission of the Church. Jesus commanded His disciples,

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

This command comes from Jesus’ mouth and therefore carries God’s authority. Jesus said He had all authority in heaven and earth (Mathew 28:18). He sent His disciples on His mission with His message. If Jesus possessed this authority and gave His disciples such a command, the power to accomplish what He commanded invariably follows.

This authority is especially true given the latter part of this mission Jesus gave concerning His continued presence with them (28:20). God will accomplish what He sets out to do with the power vested in His Son in whom and through whom He works out His redemptive purpose. It is a certainty because Jesus promised the success of His mission through the work of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, the triune God is the grounds for the success of the gospel: the Father’s promise from the beginning of time, the Son’s provision from all eternity, and the Holy Spirit’s power now until the end of the age.

Copyright (c) 2014, Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  Not to be used without expressed written permission.

Stray Cats, Wild Animals, and the Gospel

Some years ago, a cat started coming around in the back yard. He had no identification tags but appeared well groomed and domesticated, indicating that someone had him as a pet. I later learned that a neighbor abandoned him when moving. Yet, he seemed rather skittish and kept his distance. I began putting food down for him, and he eventually allowed me to pet him. In time, I took him in the house and began sitting him in my lap and petting him. At times, when he heard an unfamiliar noise, he would freeze up. One time when a friend came over and we were sitting around talking, he suddenly dug his sharp nails in my leg and hop off my lap. I finally caught him and placed him outside. He ran away and never returned.

Sometimes stray cats become involved in the Church. They hang out and get to know people in the congregation. Eventually they begin teaching classes and becoming deacons or elders. Many of these strays appear well read in the Scriptures and know their way around them. They can speak well of basic doctrines and talk of application. Their lives reflect devotion to God and the Scriptures. Sometimes they receive Bible college or seminary degrees and go on to become professors or pastors. Eventually, they introduce questionable teachings in the pulpit, groups, or in their discussions one-on-one. These teachings at first seem simply like a different interpretation or something taken out of context, a familiar approach not unlike what normally occurs in informal group settings.
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