What is a Christian?

Kimberly Mathembe

And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26).

My friend and brother from another mother became a father for the third time almost a year ago. When Isaac and Tabitha found out they were pregnant, they decided to name the baby after either myself or my wife Kimberly, a name rarely heard of in Kenya.

And so little Kimberly Mathembe was born last May.

It is a great honor to have someone named after you. It signifies a bond between the two people of the same name and even between two families. That bond endures as long as the name continues. It is my hope and desire that little Kimberly will grow to be a godly woman like her namesake.

Christians are so named, not because they were raised going to church or believe in God. The name Christian literally means one who is like Christ. A Christian, then, is one who is like Jesus.

The Bible records that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians in the city of Antioch in present-day Turkey, as a term of ridicule. Soon after, believers gladly took the name as a symbol of being persecuted and martyred like Jesus.

What does it mean to be a Christian, but to follow after Jesus and be made day-by-day more in His likeness.

We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).

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A Heart of Stone

It is truly amazing how all animal life obeys God’s commands without hesitation. Balaam’s donkey became God’s ambassador to a false prophet (Numbers 22:21-34); a great fish served as ready transportation for a stubborn prophet named Jonah (Jonah 1:17; 2:10), and ravens brought food to Elijah hiding in the desert (1 Kings 17:6). It is only man who rebels against God. Birds may have a “bird brain,” but to the bitter end, man has a heart of stone!

When the gospel of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) is preached, the Holy Spirit changes man’s stony heart of sin into one of flesh and the new believer’s life becomes a letter written by Christ (Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:25-27).

You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; you are manifestly an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. And we have such trust through Christ toward God (2 Corinthians 3:2-4).

True, Effective, Productive Prayer

Take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17-18).

Today we emphasize a very man-centered religion. Sermons, books, and songs are fashioned toward satisfying the consumer rather than the Creator. Another way we misdirect people is through prayer.

Don’t misunderstand me. Prayer is vitally important in the Christian experience, but prayer is not profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This honor rests squarely upon the sufficiency of the Scriptures alone (2 Timothy 3:14-15). It’s God’s Word that empowers and equips you to live the daily Christian life … not prayer.

Prayer is man talking to God; the Bible is God talking to man. You’ve read it here before, and you’ll read it here again: you need to hear the voice of God more than He needs to hear you. His words are life, not yours.

Yet so often we downgrade the perfection and sufficiency of the Bible and elevate our own words. We pay more attention to the thoughts and feelings we have as we pray than what God has said. I’ve heard of churches holding all-night prayer meetings, but never a service for all-night reading and meditating on God’s words.

No one can truly, effectively, and productively pray until he has first heard from God and had his mind renewed by the Holy Spirit working through the holy Scriptures. Godly prayer is always a response to what God has said in the pages of His Word. The Scripture reveals God’s holy character, points out my sinfulness, and then fills me with thanksgiving to Him for His grace. The Bible shapes the priority of my needs and those of others so that they align with His will.

I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways. I will delight myself in Your statutes, I will not forget Your word (Psalm 119:15-16).

 

Why Jesus Went Back to Heaven

And Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into Heaven (Luke 24:50-51).

When Daniel was little, I’d take him up on the hillside above our house to pick strawberries. I’d show him how to pull the berry and leave the cap behind on the stem. I’d watch him pick a few berries then move over and start picking on my own row. He needed to learn to trust me and what I’d taught him.

After being raised from the dead, Jesus spent 40 days with His disciples (Acts 1:3), then He ascended into Heaven to take His place of honor, authority, and equality with God the Father (Heb 1:3).

You may have wondered at some time why Jesus went back to Heaven after His resurrection. He’d certainly have a bigger influence if He was still hanging around the world today leading, preaching, working miracles, and showing off His wounds. Right?

Though Jesus ascended back into Heaven from where He came, He did send the Holy Spirit to permanently dwell in His followers (John 14:16). As the Light of the world, He still leads and shines through His Church (Mt 5:14; Col 1:18). By the preaching of the Scriptures, He speaks to us today (Lk 24:27).

His return to Heaven required His disciples – including you and me – to learn to trust Him and His Word. It causes us to learn to walk by faith rather than by sight. That faith in Jesus, when tested by trials, is more precious than gold.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, who having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:5-9).

A New Father, a New Family, and a New Name

Leslie Lynch King, Jr

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God (First John 3:1).

You’ve never heard his name, but Leslie Lynch King, Jr became the most powerful man in the world in the summer of 1974.

He was born in the State of Nebraska in 1913, and two weeks later Leslie’s mother fled her home to escape a physically abusive and alcoholic husband. She took her infant son with her to Michigan and soon married a paint salesman.

The hardworking and kind salesman adopted the baby, giving him a new father, a new family, and a new name. In an instant, Leslie King became Gerald R  Ford, Jr. He was one man but with two names. The old things had passed away and all things became new. The younger Ford was catapulted into the pages of history when he became the 38th President of the United States upon the resignation of Richard Nixon.

Adoption is a legal act whereby a child is separated from its biological parents and placed permanently into a new family. In adoption, the rights and responsibilities of one set of parents is terminated and the child is brought fully into a new family. Once in this new family, every legal difference between the adopted child and any biological children comes to an end. All the children legally become joint-heirs together in the family.

Through faith in Jesus, the sinner – not a cute cuddly baby – is adopted into the family of God. By this great legal transaction, God the Father lovingly makes the sinner His child forevermore. In salvation, we receive a new Father, a new family, and a new name. O! What love of God to be made a child forever of the King.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name … and redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons (John 1:12; Romans 4:5).

A God of Order

Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near (Revelation 1:3).

The past few months I’ve been watching the construction of a house. It began with the clearing and leveling of the land. Then the builder laid a foundation and put up the walls. Finally came the roof. There was an order to the process.

God is a God of order.

The Book of Revelation is filled with symbolism which many find mysterious, but the word revelation (Rev 1:1) means unveiling of truth, to make what was hidden visible, so every symbol is identified directly in the text or elsewhere in Scripture. Each of the 66 books of the Bible stands alone but also functions as a compliment to the other books, each building upon the other.

Revelation opens with a blessing upon those who read and obey God’s Revelation of Jesus Christ. But have you ever wondered why such a blessing is withheld by the Holy Spirit until the final book in the Scriptures? Why not begin the blessing with Genesis when all of the Bible is a blessing to the one who reads and obeys.

We serve a God of order, and Revelation is last in the Bible for two great reasons: first, it gives us the climax to the story of Jesus. Genesis gives us the beginning of man and the beginning of God’s promised Saviour; Revelation gives us the end of man and the triumph of God’s Saviour.

The second reason is so very important. There are 65 other books of the Bible that must be taught and understood before the Revelation can be taught or understood. Without understanding the message of Genesis, Revelation lacks a solid foundation. Unless we comprehend the priestly service of Leviticus, Revelation confuses us about the priestly work of Jesus. Seeing King Jesus in the Gospels helps you apprehend the fulfillment of Christ’s kingdom.

Yes, Revelation comes with a blessing to one who reads and understands; but it is a terrible woe to those who don’t have the solid understanding of the first 65 books. Like building a house, no one begins with the tiles on the roof. A sturdy house begins with a foundation, then the walls, and the roof comes last. Anything else will end with confusion and disaster.

Revelation comes last in the Bible for a reason.

Three Crosses

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit (1 Peter 3:18)

It was Friday morning, and the Roman governor of Judea was feeling the pressure. Pilate didn’t want to condemn Jesus, but gave in to political pressure. Rather than doing what was right, Pilate went against the advice of his own wife and did what was convenient for himself and his future (Mt 27:19; Jn 19:8).

Pilate released to the Jews a well-known terrorist named Barabbas (Mt 27:15-17; Lk 23:25; Jn 18:40). Barabbas was more than a convicted robber; he was also a notorious murder and terrorist. He was, as the saying goes, guilty as sin.

That Friday, three crosses were erected on the highway leading into the Jerusalem. Barabbas and two other robbers were set to be crucified for their crimes.  Now guilty Barabbas had been set free and the innocent Jesus of Nazareth would take his place. The Perfect would die for the imperfect, the Righteous in the place of the guilty, the Holy One and the Just for a murderer (Acts 3:14).

Imagine that a vile, guilty, condemned sinner named Barabbas would go free, while a Substitute would die on the very cross built for Barabbas.

The Bible says that The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). There is no way around the penalty for sin. A Just God must see that justice is meted out.

Like Barabbas, you and I are guilty as sin. We must receive the penalty of eternal death unless an innocent substitute is willing to take our place.

When Jesus died on the cross, He died in the place of every guilty sinner. All the sinner must do is believe that Christ’s death fulfilled the transaction of the guilty for the Innocent. Faith in Christ and His work alone – without any addition of our own effort – saves the sinner.

This message of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, is the consistent story of salvation in the Bible from Adam to Noah, from Abraham to David, from Barabbas to you.

Three crosses. One was meant for you, but Jesus took your place. Believe on Him today. This is the Good News of God’s salvation

You Have a Divine Appointment

Custer National Cemetery, Crow Agency, Montana, USA

And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment … (Hebrews 9:27) 

The Bible describes Adam as the first man of the earth, made of dust (1 Cor 15:45-49). When he sinned, Adam (1) immediately died spiritually and then died physically 930 years later; (2) was cast from the Garden of Eden and cursed by God; (3) brought death into the universe; (4) passed sin and death to each of his descendants.

Every descendant of Adam not only inherits his sin nature, but also receives the death penalty for sin. None of Adam’s sinful race can escape that penalty; each is appointed to die once (Heb 9:27).

The word appointed means to lay aside in reserve, to store away for later use, destined. As a descendant of Adam you have an appointment with death determined and awaiting you from God because like Adam, you have sinned. Both life and death – and everything in between – is according to God’s schedule and plan. The writer to the Hebrews says that God’s divine judgment awaits every son of Adam (Heb 9:27).

Since you can’t pay for your own sin, you must either be judged by God or receive refuge in a substitute willing to take your punishment and satisfy the wrath of Father God.

In First Corinthians 15:45-49, Paul describes Jesus as the last Adam, the spiritual, the heavenly Man, the second Man. He says that as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man (1 Cor 15:49).

In salvation, we take on the image of Jesus, the last Adam. The One who knew no sin became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). He was judged, condemned as guilty, and died for your sins – in your place – so you could have fellowship with God the Father.

When you are born again, you are made spiritually new (2 Cor 5:17). You become a son of God (Jn 1:12) and a descendant of Jesus, the last Adam. As a child of God through faith in what Jesus accomplished at the cross, you begin taking on the qualities of Christ by the Spirit working through the Word. His death on the cross of judgment, and His resurrected life become your “hope of eternal salvation.”

The Shield of Faith

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood … so take up the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one (Ephesians 6:11, 12, 16).

It’s much easier to defend myself against something or someone I see than what is unseen. I can easily imagine throwing a rock at a mugger or barking dog, but how do I fight overwhelming thoughts of lust, gale force storms of doubt, or crushing circumstances that tempt me? In the matter of the Christian life, the Bible reminds us that our enemy is not flesh and blood, but an invisible army.

Sticks and stones are impotent against an invisible enemy. Even my cherished  American right to keep and bear a gun for defense is powerless against Satan or my own sinful heart. All the self-confidence, self-posturing, and self-reliance in the world results in nothing but utter failure against an unseen foe attacking me with unseen weapons.

Faith in God is my defense against an unseen foe shooting unseen arrows. Faith isn’t something tangible I pull out of my pocket and securely grip in my hands as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Like unseen darts, faith is also unseen. I can see the result of faith, but not faith itself.

Faith isn’t something I work-up by forcefully repeating certain words over and over; it’s a gift from God. It is the utter reliance and dependence upon God and God alone. My only part to play is taking up this faith and standing. In the heat of the spiritual battle I must believe God, trust in His all-sufficient Word, and firmly stand in His power and goodness. In the midst of every attack I need to  humbly walk in obedience to Him. He provides my shield; He is my shield.

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him and I am helped (Psalm 28:7).

Untrained Hands

holding fast the faithful Word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers whose mouths must be stopped, teaching things which they ought not … (Titus 1:9-10).

My heart and mind reeled when I heard that a young man who attends church an hour a week is starting a church. Today everyone feels qualified to start a church and be a pastor; qualified or not. Feeling is the qualification.

Which brings more fear to your mind: an untrained surgeon with a scalpel, an untrained bomb defuser, or an untrained and unqualified pastor?

We would never encourage a child to open a surgical hospital because of a feeling he got after a dream. We wouldn’t permit a woman to defuse a nuclear weapon after watching an episode of MacGyver. We should never accept the thought of anyone leading a church without first having careful Bible and theological training and meeting the Biblical qualifications for the ministry. One of the qualifications for the pastorate is that the man holds fast the faithful Word as he’s been taught so he can teach sound doctrine, but the untrained man begins from day one upon the threshold of false teaching before he even opens his mouth.

We are prone to lightly handling God’s Word. We don’t realize that the slightest error is to misrepresent the True and Living God. The tiniest distortion of the Word of Life – even by well-meaning people – leads others into spiritual darkness and deception. As Jesus warned, it becomes a matter of the blind leading the blind.

The Scripture is the flaming sword of the Spirit, able to divide even the soul and the spirit. It is the very words of God, breathed out by the Spirit of God. It is powerful for the condemnation of the wicked, the calling of God’s elect to salvation in Christ, and the training and instruction of God’s people in righteousness. Untrained hands are eternally deadly with such a powerful tool.