Salvation, Faith, and Practice
The United Methodist Church, via our denominational standard, addresses the issue of the sufficiency of Scripture. Our 2008 Book of Discipline reminds us that Scripture is “necessary for salvation” and is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
Surely the "practice" referred to, is the practice of our faith (the practice of living in this world and preparing for the next, as Christians). Thus, we believe Christians should live in accordance with Scripture’s doctrines, direction, rules, laws, commands, examples, teachings, and principles. You can see, therefore, that “faith and practice” cover a great deal of ground.
United Methodists believe that what John Wesley called scriptural holiness relates to both our inward intimacy and communion with Christ, but also our outward relationships, conduct, and witness in this world. Our Doctrinal statements, General Rules, and Social Principles address an enormous variety of topics such as economics, environment, bioethics, justice, marriage, human sexuality, parenting, politics, poverty, and yes, our Wesleyan understanding of grace, Jesus Christ and the salvation that comes through him, and the other foundational doctrinal truths. In all these spheres and more, Scripture is our “true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
Our 2008 Discipline says this about scriptural holiness…
We insist that personal salvation always involves Christian mission and service to the world. By joining heart and hand, we assert that personal religion, evangelical witness, and Christian social action are reciprocal and mutually reinforcing.
Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world.
This is what is meant by my phrase, “the sufficiency of Scripture for every sphere of life.” This is surely what our Discipline means when it reminds us that Scripture is “necessary for salvation” and is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
Thus, while the Bible doesn’t, for example, teach me how to change the oil in my car, it still directs and guides me to do even something as mundane (and as important) as that to God’s glory. Among other things, it teaches me to be a good steward of what God has provided.
The Apostle Paul teaches us…
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The Bible is Sufficient
Paul is declaring that Scripture is profitable (sufficient) for virtually every sphere of life. This is no mere rhetorical flourish. Bishop Mack Stokes addressed this by writing,
Immediately following the “General Rules,” Wesley wrote, ‘These are the General Rules of our society; all which are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice.’ (The Bible in the Wesleyan Heritage, p. 21) (Emphasis mine)
That’s what is meant by saying Scripture is sufficient for every sphere of life.
To be sure, embracing the sufficiency of Scripture is not the same as suggesting the Bible is a science textbook, a political constitution, or a manual for how to change my car’s oil. But it does have something (and something important) to say about those areas and far more.
Wayne Grudem, (who is not a United Methodist) shares this definition for the sufficiency of Scripture which I believe is helpful. He writes,
The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contains all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly. (Systematic Theology, p. 127)
Christians want to submit to our Lord in every sphere of life and are guided in that pursuit in and through the study of God’s revealed Word. It is sufficient for such a pursuit. Thanks be to God.
The Shape of Love
Love is love. This unhelpful tautology has seemingly won the day with Christians and non-Christians alike. It works well as a slogan but offers little substance for how God calls us to live a life of love. Instead, the Bible teaches us there is a shape to love. The love God calls us to looks like something. It has content to it. It is first and foremost received from God, then directed back to God, and then, lived out toward neighbor. It’s sacrificial, others-centered, joyful, and obedient. This life of love is the Way of the Lord, and the reason for the title of this study.
The Ten Commandments are an expression of the love Jesus commands in his summary of the Law. The great commandment is to love God with our whole being and the second commandment is like it, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But even that word from our Lord Jesus is general, and even vague. Yet he could speak in such a way because he knew he was summarizing something more detailed and specific, something his first-century audience would have understood.
In speaking of the two great commandments, Jesus was really summarizing the moral Law of God, the Ten Commandments. The first table of the law, for example, which contains the first four commandments, focuses primarily, though not exclusively, on our love for God. The second table addresses the nature of neighbor-love, which as we learn throughout Scripture, is also an expression of our love for God.
In other words, the way of loving God and neighbor looks like something specific. The commandments are not platitudes. They are concretely helpful. And the rest of Scripture is a commentary on what this love for God and neighbor looks like. The prophets, Jesus, and the apostles all shed light on the height, width, and depth of what it means to love God and others in the way God has prescribed in the Ten Commandments.
More Than Meets the Eye
By the time of the first century, many in the Jewish religious community had reduced the Ten Commandments to external rules and regulations that could be manipulated. But Jesus came along and reminded them that obedience to the Law had always involved the motives of one’s heart. It was not merely about behaving in the right way. It had always been about doing the right things, in the right way, for the right reason, with the right attitude.
Of course, a standard like that immediately leads one to self-discovery, or at least it ought to. When you come to understand, for example, that “not murdering” another person is more than not taking the life of another person, but includes not hating them or being unrighteously angry toward them, you begin to realize how far you fall short.
Furthermore, when you consider that each commandment carries with it a positive side, such as desiring that same person’s best interest and doing what you can to help them, then a legalistic framework really begins to crumble. Such a realization ought to cause us to run to the grace of God found in the work of Christ, for he was the only one who faithfully lived out a perfect life of righteousness. His sacrificial love on the Cross paid for our inability to live a life of perfect obedience to God’s Law.
Morality Revealed by God
What we learn as we study the Ten Commandments is that morality is fundamentally theological. That does not mean irreligious people cannot live moral lives, but it does mean when they do so, they are borrowing from a theistic framework. For their worldview cannot justify their way of living. There are secular forms of ethics. But those systems are usually forms of utilitarianism. They base their view of what is right and wrong on whether something works (whatever “works” means) for the common good (whatever “common good” means).
A secular ethic is not grounded in that which is immutable, transcendent, and objective. It is not a revealed ethic. It is dependent on king or crowd. What is considered normal, or even good, is determined, so to speak, in the voting booth of public agreement and alignment. Absent from such a worldview and ethic is an objective standard, revealed by an immutable and transcendent Creator, who not only created the universe, but also each and every person, in God’s own image.
Christians believe that having such an ethical standard is good, not only for individuals, but for families, communities, workplaces, societies, and ultimately, the world. A commitment to such an ethic does not mean every moral decision is clearly understood or that every command is easily interpreted and applied in every situation. But it does mean we have a firm foundation from which to start as we seek to faithfully live in this world.
Contrary to popular notions, freedom does not mean being untethered to any moral restrictions in one’s life. Nor is desiring to obey God a form of legalism. Instead, we should understand that obedience to God is true love. And this kind of love produces real freedom, which is the ability to live the life for which we were created.
That is not a life of legalism or bondage. The Law of God provides freedom to become all that God created and redeemed us to be, as well as delivering us from a path of self-destruction and potentially hurting others along the way. We don’t live this way in order to earn points with God, but such a life is evidence that God is doing a great work in us. God is molding and shaping us into something we cannot possibly imagine – his grand masterpiece – the very likeness of his Son. How could such knowledge lead us to anything but joyful and grateful obedience?
The heart is the heart of the matter. God gave us his moral law to reveal to us his character and will for our lives. God’s Law does provide structure and rails to keep us safe. God revealed this way of life for us because he has our best interest at heart. He really does want what is best for us and thus has revealed the way for us to live.
But more than that, in and through Christ, God has recreated us once again in his image. His very Spirit indwells us. God not only wants us to live this way because it is best for us. God wants our hearts. He wants us to desire to live this way because we love him, want to please and glorify him, and because we love others. He wants us to love what he loves.
It is God’s sanctifying process for helping us become like him… in what we desire, the way think, how we speak, and in the manner in which we conduct ourselves in this world. And not only is this what is best for us here and now, but God is also training us for eternity. Thanks be to God.
A Word About Each Lesson
It will not take you long to see that some of the study questions have many Bible verses to look up. You might even say an obnoxious amount of Bible verses. And that’s true. But they are there for a few important reasons.
First, they are included to show you how widely the Bible speaks on the particular commandment of each lesson. These Ten Commandments are not isolated only to Exodus and Deuteronomy. They are repeated, interpreted, and applied throughout the rest of Scripture.
Second, the verses are there to reveal that God’s commands are not to be understood and applied in a simplistic fashion. The Ten Commandments are not only prohibitions. That is, they are not only forbidding us to behave in certain ways, but they also point us to the birthplace of those behaviors. Our desire for sin festers in the human heart and sometimes finds its ways into our thought-life, as well as the words we speak and the actions we take.
Third, the variety of Scripture is there to remind you that there are positive, godly ways to live out the commands. The Ten Commandments are not merely a list of things not to do. They also guide us in a God-honoring, life-affirming, Christlike way of living in this world.
The Last Reason for All the Scripture
And that brings us to the last reason for all the verses, which is also why we have the Law in the first place. The first time I read the Sermon on the Mount, with a level of maturity and understanding, I immediately understood how far short I fell of living according to this standard that Jesus had set before me. And frankly, I was distraught. What hope did I have of faithfully and consistently living in this way, even if I tried my best every single day? And who among us does that?
But that was also a key moment in my life for understanding grace. It’s the point of the Law, at least a part of the point. We cannot perfectly live this prescribed way of the Lord. Yet it is still the standard. So, what do we do? We turn to Christ, who did perfectly live it out. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Savior of the world, Lord of all creation, and Light of life did perfectly fulfill all righteousness in his life, death, and resurrection.
His sacrificial and substitutionary life, death, and resurrection is what we trust in. We trust in him, not only to forgive us for our sins, but to impute his righteousness to our account. We died with Christ in his death and were raised to new life with Christ in his resurrection. And now, not only are we forgiven; not only are we new creatures in Christ; but the very Spirit who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead lives in each person who trusts in him. Therefore, Christ can live his life in and through ours.
And When We Stumble
We are not called to live the way of the Lord in our own strength. But Christ guides and empowers us through his gracious Spirit. The reason God has revealed this way to us is for us to become like Christ. It’s the path by which we are progressively molded and shaped into his likeness by the Spirit of love.
We will stumble along the way. But even the grief and conviction we experience when we fail is the gift of a loving Father disciplining those he loves. His discipline is gracious correction to get us moving along the right path once again.
My Advice for Each Lesson
Thus, my advice is to answer each question however you see fit. You can write down your reflections for each verse of Scripture. Or, you can read all the verses and write down your summary statement of what they all mean. Or, you can read half of them, a third of them, or even a fourth of them. It’s up to you. My goal is not to provide you with a legalistic framework in a study which hopes to show you why legalism is neither godly nor livable.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least encourage you to go the extra mile and try to read as many verses as you can in each lesson, and to think deeply about this way of the Lord prescribed for us. If you think about the character of God and the ways he has worked throughout redemptive history, then you recognize that even though we may not understand all the things God has included in his Word, we should realize that there are no “throw away” verses. They are all there for a reason, especially when they relate to who he his is, his way of salvation, and his path to holiness.
Ultimately, we are here to glorify God. We want to please our loving God so that when others see our good works, they will give praise to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). My prayer is that this study will enlighten, encourage, and equip you to know God’s will, the way of the Lord, and that by it, God’s Spirit will carry on to completion the great work he has already begun in you until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
The following sermon is Part 3 of a five-part sermon series entitled, A Different Gospel, by my good friend, fellow pastor, and dear brother in Christ, Rev. Mike Hudson. He is the senior pastor of Christ United Methodist Church, in Venice, Florida.
In this message Mike examines what Scripture teaches about the person and work of Jesus Christ and why a proper understanding of Christ is at the heart of Christianity and essential to understand correctly. I would also encourage you to purchase my book and study guide, Lord of All: A Study of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ for a fuller look at this core teaching of the Christian world and life view.
In his book, Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection, Christian philosopher and theologian, William Lane Craig, recounts a conversation he once had with a former student of his.
“There ain’t gonna be no Easter this year,” the student remarked to Craig. “What’s that?” Craig asked, just to make sure he heard his student correctly. The student repeated the same line, “There ain’t gonna be no Easter this year.” “And why is that?” Craig asked. “Because they found the body,” the student replied.
Craig commented on this exchange by saying,
“Despite his irreverent humor, my friend displayed a measure of insight often not shared by modern theologians.”
Craig’s student understood that the Christian claim is not that Jesus was “resurrected” figuratively or metaphorically in the hearts of his followers, but that he was raised bodily from the dead. And if his actual body had been found, there would have been no resurrection from the dead. Nothing to celebrate. No Easter.
This is the Apostle Paul’s testimony in our Scripture from 1 Corinthians 15.
Various and Spurious Denials
Throughout my ministry, I have observed a variety of ways the resurrection of Jesus has been denied, sadly sometimes, even from those who profess faith in Christ.
One of the earliest denials of Jesus’ resurrection goes back to the New Testament itself. It is what’s called, the “Conspiracy Theory.” In Matthew’s Gospel we find the Jews explaining away the resurrection. There we discover the chief priests bribing the guards who were stationed at Jesus’ tomb. In Matthew 28:11-15, we read,
When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
Other ways it has been denied has been to say that everything that happened can be explained naturally, not supernaturally. Some say Jesus didn’t really die, but that he took medicine to make him appear to be dead. Then, when he was placed in the tomb, he woke up and went on his way. Others say the disciples went to the wrong tomb. If you kept up with the Jesus Seminar in the early 90s, you may remember that their conclusion was,
“After the crucifixion, Jesus’ corpse was probably laid in a shallow grave, barely covered with dirt, and subsequently eaten by wild dogs.”
Finally, there’s even one philosopher who suggested that Jesus had a long-lost twin brother who came to town and fooled all the disciples.
As you can tell from just these examples, there are great lengths people will go to in order to avoid dealing with the risen Lord.
The examples just mentioned represent complete rejections of the bodily resurrection of Jesus by unbelievers, or perhaps those on the fringe of Christianity.
The Problem in the Church
The problem inside the church, however, is another way in which the resurrection of Jesus is denied. It’s a subtle form we have to pay close attention to or else it may sneak by us. It can best be illustrated by the sentiment of one theologian who wrote in a newspaper column,
“If the bones of Jesus Christ were found tomorrow, it would make no great difference to me. I would go on going to church as would a majority of Christians.”
For this particular theologian, the important thing is not what happened to the body of Jesus, but what happened to the spirits of the apostles. A similar view was raised a number of years ago in a Methodist newspaper. The author couldn’t understand what the big deal was concerning whether or not Jesus was actually, bodily, raised from the dead. “The important thing is that we come together like the early church and love one another,” he claimed. I had a classmate in seminary once tell me the same thing.
Of course, that response ignores the issue of “why” the early disciples came together and loved one another in the first place. Perhaps we should take them at their word when they tell us they actually saw the body of the risen Lord. In our Scripture from 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul makes clear that whether or not Jesus really came back from the grave, is a very big deal.
If Christ is Dead
Paul is very logical in his response to doubts about the actual (bodily) resurrection of Jesus. Paul begins in verses 13-14,
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
Paul was smart enough to know that if Christ was still in the tomb, then he was still dead. And if Christ is dead, then the Christian message is a useless lie, a religion that declares a lot of things that just aren’t true. If Christ is dead, then the Christian faith is futile.
He continues in verses 17-19,
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
In other words, if Christ is not risen from the dead, then there’s nothing behind the faith we proclaim. It’s powerless. There’s no Spirit of Christ who dwells in you. All that talk about the forgiveness of your sins is worthless. There’s no use talking about salvation. God has not honored Christ’s words, life, or death.
If Jesus remains dead, then the death of Jesus was just one of thousands of deaths on Roman crosses. Tragic perhaps, but nothing more.
And if Christ is dead, Paul says, then those of us who believe in him now “are of all people most to be pitied.” We’re no better off than the person who is dying of an incurable disease who puts all their eggs in the power of positive thinking.
But Christ is Risen
But the good news, Paul declares, is that “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead (verse 20).” That’s the greatest fact in all of history! That’s the fact that changes everything and everyone who believes and trusts it and gives their very lives to it.
All we have to do is look at Paul himself. As Saul of Tarsus, he was a living nightmare to the early Christians. But then he personally encountered the risen Christ. Paul went from one of the greatest enemies of the Christian faith to one of its greatest missionaries.
He was dramatically transformed from an intolerant, bitter, and proud persecutor of the church to a humble servant of the Lord Jesus. Not only did his relationship with Christ change, but so did his relationship with followers of Christ. He came to love them, helped them grow in their faith, and spent his life making more of them.
Was this radical change in Paul’s life the result of nothing more than a psychological warm feeling or was it something more? Paul tells us over and over again that this change was the result of meeting the risen and living Christ! He was so convinced of this that he gave his life as a martyr for his faith in Jesus.
What was true of Paul’s life was true for all the disciples. They went from frightened lambs to bold lions of the faith, traveling the Roman Empire, bearing witness to the risen Christ. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the only things that makes sense of this change in their lives.
Our heavenly Father vindicated our Lord Jesus by raising him from the dead. The resurrection revealed that death was not the winner, for Christ defeated even death itself. It was this belief in the resurrection that enabled the disciples to proclaim their crucified Lord as God’s Messiah.
If they didn’t really meet the risen Christ – if they didn’t actually believe he was raised from the dead, is it likely they each would have kept up their delusion or charade, all the way to their own persecutions, and ultimately, their deaths? One historian commented that if the disciples didn’t truly believe Jesus was raised from the dead, then the Christian faith would be nothing more than a dead folk religion of the first century.
He Can Transform Us, Too
But he lives! And just as the disciples believed, and just as our hymn proclaims, “We serve a risen Savior, he’s in the world today.”
The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that those of us who live two thousand years after the fact can still be in a relationship with him today. It means he’s not dead, but alive! The same risen Christ who transformed Paul and the other disciples can transform us today.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ means we can have hope in the midst of trials, suffering, sorrow, despair, and pain.
A figurative, metaphorical resurrection can do none of that.
Alister McGrath tells the story that in Soviet Russia, right after the Communist Revolution in 1917, a government official was tasked with crushing the spirits of the remaining Christians and, ultimately, ridding their country of Christianity altogether.
So, he gathered the people of a particular town so he could discredit and disprove Christianity using all the clever arguments he could muster. He ranted for hours as he sought to show the people just how ridiculous their faith in Christ was.
After he finished, feeling quite satisfied he had done his job well, he offered the platform to anyone who dared to respond to him. A young priest took him up on his offer and came forward. The official told the priest he had two minutes. “I won’t need that long,” the priest replied.
And in a very meek and humble way, the priest approached the podium. After looking at the people for just a few seconds, the priest threw his hands high into the air and shouted, “Christ is risen!”
To which the people responded as one, “Christ is risen indeed!”
And so he is!
Thanks be to God.
From my new book, Lord of All. Click here to buy the book and Bible study so you can use it devotionally or work through it with a small group of Christian brothers and sisters… or to even give away to someone who desires to learn more about Jesus.
An Early Confession
Thus far in this study we have looked at who Jesus is and why it matters, why Jesus came to our world, the nature of his atoning work on the Cross, and the historical reality of his resurrection. We have learned that Jesus Christ was, and is, the God-man, who died for the forgiveness of our sins and was raised on the third day for our salvation. And yet, as essential as those affirmations of faith are, they are not the earliest creedal formulations about Jesus.
One of the earliest confessions of the Christian community was, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” The title, “lord” in the first century would have been used in much the same way we use the words “sir” or “Mr.” today. It was a sign of courtesy and respect, but not necessarily a divine, or even regal, designation. It was used for Jesus throughout his earthly ministry by those who knew him well, but also by those who did not know him at all. It was a term of respect for the day in which he walked the earth. But all of that changed after his resurrection from the dead. The term “lord” used in polite society came to mean much, much more to his disciples.
Jesus is God
“New Testament scholar, F.F. Bruce wrote,
“The word mar (‘lord’) had a wide range of meaning. In some Aramaic documents dating from shortly before the Christian era it occurs as an equivalent of such divine names as Shaddai (‘the Almighty’) or Yahweh (the personal name of the God of Israel). …Since the form Marana-tha was addressed to the risen Christ in the context of worship, a sense nearer the divine end of the scale of meaning was probably intended.” (Jesus: Lord and Savior)
Bruce goes on to say,
“What is true of the Aramaic form is equally true of the Greek word kyrios, used repeatedly in the New Testament with reference to Jesus. …When early Christians said ‘Jesus is Lord’ (kyrios Iesous), they used the word in its most exalted sense. That is why they refused to say ‘Caesar is Lord’. It is not that they refused to honor the Roman Emperor; on the contrary, they made a special point of honoring him. But they would not allow him to share an honor which, in their view, belonged to Christ alone. To say ‘Caesar is Lord’ from the later years of the first century AD onwards was to acknowledge his divinity, and this was something which Christians could not do.” (ibid.)
What we start observing in the New Testament writing is the usage of Old Testament titles and references for Yahweh – the God of Israel – being used for Jesus, particularly the title, Lord. In the Christ-hymn of Philippians 2:5-11, we discover that this move by the early Christian community was “not a matter of inadvertently equating them: it is deliberately affirmed that God has conferred his own name, with the unique dignity attaching to it, on Jesus. It might not be appropriate to reword ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ as ‘Jesus Christ is Yahweh’; but nothing less than this is involved.” (Bruce, ibid.)
In the Christ-hymn, just referred to, the Apostle Paul writes,
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
This point is made crystal clear when Thomas encountered Christ in one of his post-resurrection appearances. Upon experiencing the risen Lord face to face, Thomas declared, in what must have been both amazement and worship, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). About this declaration of faith, the English Standard Version Study Bible notes,
Thomas’s confession of Jesus as his Lord (Gk. Kyrios) and God (Gk. Theos) provides a literary link with the references to Jesus as God in [John’s] prologue (1:1, 18).
Thus, to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord is nothing less than to claim he is God, and therefore, has the authority of God himself. For example, in Matthew 28:18, Jesus declares,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
In other places in the New Testament, we read statements about Jesus that are rightly attributed to God alone.
In Colossians 1:15-20, we read,
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (emphases mine)
John 1:1-3 puts it this way,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (emphases mine)
Hebrews 1:1-4 affirms,
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. (emphases mine)
What a majestic and glorious vision of Christ these New Testament writers had! And those are only a few examples of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I hope it is becoming clear that the early church did not view Jesus as just a man, nothing more than merely a great teacher, moral philosopher, or political revolutionary. He was truly human to be sure, but he was more than human; he was the God-man, the Lord of all.
A quotation that is often attributed to St. Augustine goes something like this: “If Jesus Christ is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.” The Dutch theologian and statesman, Abraham Kuyper expressed a similar line of thought with these words: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
But what does it mean, practically speaking, to understand and affirm that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord? There are two senses of Lordship that I want to focus on in the rest of this lesson.
The first is the ontological sense of Christ’s Lordship. Ontology is a branch of philosophy that focuses on “being” or “existence.” This relates to the nature of Jesus Christ – the affirmation that Jesus Christ is God incarnate. He is the very God of the Old Testament, as well as New Testament. As such, he is Lord over all things – over heaven and earth, time and space, and life and death. He has dominion over all there is, inside, and even outside, the universe. This understanding of the Lordship of Jesus Christ ought to lead us to religious devotion to him, which would include, but not limited to, our worship of him.
At this point I hasten to add a vital detail to help us properly understand this aspect of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This understanding of Lordship means that Jesus is Lord of all there is, whether one chooses to recognize and acknowledge him as Lord or not. Our belief or disbelief in his Lordship does not impact this reality in the slightest. As the Apostle Paul points out, however, it would be much better, (as one’s voluntary expression of love, commitment, and worship), to bow before Christ and confess him as Lord now, for the day will come when every person will have to bow before him and confess his Lordship, whether one wants to or not (Philippians 2:10-11). C.S. Lewis made the same point this way,
“When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else – something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left. For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not.” (Mere Christianity)
There is a second sense in which Jesus is Lord. We might think of this as an ethical perspective of his Lordship. This has more of a subjective understanding to it and application of it. This means we must not only recognize him as Lord but also choose to submit to him as Lord. This involves submitting our thoughts, words, deeds, desires, attitudes, priorities, values, and every other facet of our lives to his authority and reign. The word authority means, “the right to impose obligation.” When we submit to Jesus Christ as our Lord, we recognize and understand that every sphere of our lives belongs to him. For, as the Scripture we have already looked at affirms, not only was everything (including us) created by him, but it was also created for him. Therefore, we are only able to live the way we were created to live, when we are living in alignment with who Christ is, and in accordance with his will for our lives.
Thus, there should be no compartments of our lives that we keep off limits from Jesus’ claim on them. Our lives should be lived for his glory. We glorify him by living in obedience to him, for this is an expression of love for him (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; 1 John 2:2-5). We take all our thoughts, words, deeds, desires, etc., and submit them to Christ by cultivating his perspective on them and bringing them under obedience to him (2 Corinthians 10:5). By doing this, we are honoring him and living in alignment with the One who created all things, and therefore, knows what is best for us.
Because Jesus Christ is Lord, every sphere of life and human interest must be brought into submission to him – religious and ethical convictions, marriage, family, workplace relationships, money and finances, sexuality, politics, government, entertainment, television and internet viewing habits, hobbies, friendships, priorities, art, education, law, leisure, values, beliefs, conduct, economics, and on and on. Jesus Christ has been given authority over it all. Thus, it is Christ and Christ alone who sets the parameters for what brings him glory in these multifaceted and various spheres of life, and what does not bring him glory. In fact, Jesus asks his hearers in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?
To be sure, Jesus is a loving and gracious Lord, filled with mercy and compassion, but he is still the Lord, nonetheless. Therefore, we may not rebel against him with impunity. Yet, the glorious and beautiful truth in this is that the better we come to know this Lord of all, the more we grow in love for him, want to become like him, and desire to faithfully follow him in every sphere of life. And, astonishingly, this same Lord invites us to relate to him as brother and friend, for this Lord is also the Lover, Redeemer, and Reconciler of our souls.
This view of Christ’s Lordship has transformed my life and ministry and I believe it can do the same for you. Such a view has helped guide me away from a self-centered, compartmentalized, temporal perspective of living in this world to a Christ-centered, holistic, and eternal perspective. Seeing life this way is like finding the right pair of eyeglasses with the proper prescription to view reality. Only with these eyeglasses am I able to see things as they really are. C.S. Lewis put it this way,
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
What About You?
Is Christ your Lord? We’ve already seen that Christ is the Lord, regardless of our perspective and acknowledgement of him or our response to him. Idolatry has been part of the human condition since the beginning. We often look for other masters to serve who will permit us live the way we deem best. But they are broken idols of our own making which will lead us astray. Furthermore, it was Jesus himself who said we cannot serve two masters. In Matthew 6:24 he taught, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other…” In other words, Jesus taught that there is no neutrality when it comes to him. He says in Matthew 12:30, “Whoever is not with me is against me…” One Master or Lord will lead you to abundant and eternal life; the other lord and master will lead you to death and destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).
Jesus is not a Savior only, but Lord and Savior. He is the Lord of your salvation. He sets the parameters of how a person can enter into an intimate relationship with the living God. It is a gracious gift that comes through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Indeed, this has been a defining mark of faithful Christian belief since the first century. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:9,
“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
This is the faithful confession of faith that has been passed down from one generation of Christians to the next, for two thousand years. But this is not a faith that saves souls for eternity only. It is also the one Way that brings abundant life that yields true temporal blessings to individuals, families, communities, nations, and even the world, as Christ’s disciples produce much, good, and lasting fruit for him and his Kingdom.
Let me end with a prayer I developed based on a study of the ancient Celtic Cross, which emphasized the Lordship of Christ.
Jesus Christ, Son of God, please have mercy on me a sinner.
You are the Lord of heaven and earth, of time and space, of life and death.
You are the fount of all wisdom and knowledge.
You are the Lover, Redeemer, and Reconciler of souls.
Please fill me with your Holy Spirit that I may,
Know you more clearly,
Love you more dearly,
Become like you more nearly,
And follow you more faithfully in every sphere of my life.
For the sake of your Kingdom and holy Name I pray. Amen.
I pray that that prayer would be more fully realized in my life, as well as yours. Thanks be to God.
The following sermon is Part 2 of a five-part sermon series entitled, A Different Gospel, by my good friend, fellow pastor, and dear brother in Christ, Rev. Mike Hudson. He is the senior pastor of Christ United Methodist Church, in Venice, Florida. In this message Mike looks at what the Bible teaches about the who we are as human beings created in the image of God, the problem of the sin, the human condition, and how the Gospel makes us holy and whole.
What the World Needs Now
In 1965, Jackie DeShannon sang a song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. If you know it, it will now be stuck in your head the rest of the day. It was called, “What the World Needs Now is Love.” The title says it all. It was true in 1965, and it’s perhaps even more true today, especially in our politically polarized country.
Love has been a topic of stories, poems, and songs for centuries. Again, going back to the 1960s, an “obscure” band from Liverpool, England sang quite a few songs about love.
And, in the same spirit as Jackie DeShannon’s song, we can add,
Well, what the world does need today is love. But I wonder if we know what we’re saying when we claim that. I wonder if we have a firm grasp on the subject when we use popular slogans such as, “love is love” or “love everyone, always.”
Not An Abstraction
Christian love, biblically understood, is anything but abstract. It’s a way of life. It not a mere feeling or emotion, but an act of the will. I almost called this post, “The Shape of Love,” because love, biblically understood, looks like something. It has a shape to it.
It cannot be reduced to an abstraction or slogan. Furthermore, this kind of love, biblical love, is hard. It takes practice because it is a way of life, and not merely a feeling or emotion. It is a mindset.
The Great Commandment
Jesus emphasized the priority of love for his followers, indeed for every person, when he gave us the Great Commandment. In Matthew 22:36, Jesus was asked by an expert in the law, which of the commandments was the greatest. He was trying to test Jesus.
But Jesus, being the smartest human to ever live, didn’t take the bait. He summarized all ten of the commandments by saying these words in Matthew 22:37-40,
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
You see, love is the greatest commandment. Love is the purpose of all the commandments – love of God and love of neighbor. And that kind of love looks like something.
What does it look like? It looks like…
Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments by saying we’re commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength – with all that we are. And we’re to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
The Real Meaning of the Commandments
And so, what do we often do? Well, a lot of times, instead of trying to dig into those commandments to understand them, we oversimplify them and say (or infer) silly things like, “Well, I haven’t murdered anyone today or robbed a bank, so I must be ok.”
But then Jesus comes along in the Sermon on the Mount and tells us that not murdering anyone is a good start. However, if we have unrighteous anger toward someone, we’ve murdered them in our hearts. He says, you may not have committed adultery, but if you have lusted after someone, you’ve committed adultery in your heart.
Jesus gives us eyes to see what the commandments really mean. And they mean much more than we usually give them credit for. Moreover, Jesus also teaches us that the commandments aren’t merely negative prohibitions against things (“Thou shalt not”). They also imply positive actions. To not murder means more than not taking someone’s life or hating them in your heart. It also means desiring the best good of others and helping them flourish. It’s to act with reverence toward all living things and to honor the sanctity of life.
That’s just an example of what it means to love God completely and love our neighbor. It’s a way of life and requires a sanctified mindset.
Where the Rubber Hits the Road
Biblical love is immensely practical, not just theoretical. It ought to be the heart and soul of all who follow Jesus Christ. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:1-2,
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
The ESV Bible version says we’re to “imitate God.” As God’s children, who are dearly loved and forgiven by him, we’re called to imitate God. How? By walking in the way of love.
Jesus, who is our ultimate model, shows us what that love looks like. And the short answer is… it’s a sacrificial love. Paul says, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” That’s sacrificial love. That’s real love. That’s Christian love.
But even at this point, it would be fair to say, “that description is still sort of vague. What does it mean to love sacrificially?” And here the Apostle Paul is very helpful.
Paul loved writing lists. And right before Ephesians 5:1-2, he gave us a list of what sacrificial love looks like when it’s put into practice. And again, Paul is doing the same thing Jesus did, by summarizing the Ten Commandments with practical examples. Here’s his list in Ephesians 4:25-32.
What does it mean to walk in the way of love? It means…
That’s what walking in the way of love looks like. Want another list? Paul has one for you in the “love chapter” – 1 Corinthians 13. There he wrote that love…
That’s the way of love we’re called to walk in.
So, How Are You Doing?
How are you doing with all that? Are you faithfully walking in the way of love, based on the descriptions of Jesus and Paul? Understood Christianly, love is a bit more than a slogan, isn’t it?
Love, as the world understands it, is so much easier when it fits into the title of a song, or a bumper sticker, or a slogan. But Christian love is hard in real life.
The good news is that we don’t have to love perfectly, to be perfectly and completely loved by God. God has redeemed and reconciled us because he loves us, and when we put our trust in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, we become new creatures.
God’s Holy Spirit takes up residence within us and we become people who are able to walk in the way of love, as Scripture describes it. In fact, we are unable to walk in love without the continual power and guidance of the Holy Spirit living in us and through us.
But we do participate. God doesn’t do it for us. We won’t love this way by accident. Walking in the way of love takes practice. It takes conscious intentionality.
This is why God has given his people means of grace. For example, God has given us his church, the fellowship of the saints, prayer, Scripture, worship, fasting, the sacraments, just to name a few.
These are means by which we’re able to learn and grow in grace, so that we can walk in his way of love. And the more we experience the true love of God, the more we’ll want to love God and others the way we have been loved.
But we need a plan. Like a vine needs a trellis to guide it in the right life-giving direction, so it will bear fruit, we need an intentional way of life to help us bear fruit… to help us walk in the way of love.
Make A Plan
This consciously intentional way of walking in love will not happen by accident. We need a plan, or a “rule of life” to serve as our trellis or, to change the metaphor, a rail that guide us in godliness.
In fact, this Bible study is part of that plan. Think about and develop ways to employ the means of grace, or spiritual disciplines, to help you move in a godly direction.
It is God’s will that we walk in the way of love. As we saw earlier, what the world needs now is indeed love. That’s absolutely true.
But the world needs the love of God. And that love has a shape to it. There’s content to it. Thus, what the world really needs is followers of Jesus Christ who not only love God, but love others as they have been loved and instructed by God.
The following sermon is Part 1 of a five-part sermon series entitled, A Different Gospel, by my good friend, fellow pastor, and dear brother in Christ, Rev. Mike Hudson. He is the senior pastor of Christ United Methodist Church, in Venice, Florida. Mike begins his series by looking at why and how our understanding of God sets the tone for everything else we believe and how we live our lives.
“I have also, as a bishop, sought to strengthen churches across the labels of conservative or centrist or liberal,” he said. “And I don't like the labels, but I've sought to be fair across the spectrum of kinds of churches. And while I believe in our traditional, orthodox faith that's rooted in the Scriptures, I also have always believed that we have to adapt our doctrine and our Scriptures to changing life circumstances that people have.” Bishop Ken Carter. Interview with The Lakeland Ledger
Where There is No King
There’s a prophetic and sobering verse at the end of the Book of Judges, one which speaks directly to us today. Judges 21:25 says, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” Another translation puts it this way: “in those days Israel had no king, and everyone did that which was right in his own eyes.”
The Book of Judges, and that verse in particular, sets the context for the Book of 1 Samuel, which describes Israel’s sinful desire and demand for their first human king.
Judges 21:25 tells us there was no accepted authority over the people of Israel. They no longer submitted to the King they already had. They weren’t content with their invisible, yet divine King. Thus, the people did whatever they wanted to do. We too live in a culture that makes light of any authority outside ourselves. Many of us know parents who have abdicated their rightful authority in their own homes, schools where students do not recognize the authority of the teachers, and communities where citizens no longer respect police officers as authorities in their lives.
So too, the Church at large no longer commands the respect of authority it once did. How often we have heard words to the effect, “Well, my church believes such and such, but I don’t.” Perhaps most sadly, the Bible, the Holy Word of God, is no longer held up as the authority in the lives of many. How often have you heard someone dismiss something the Bible plainly teaches because, according to them, the Bible is nothing more than what ancient people wrote a long time ago, and therefore, isn’t relevant to our day and age? That sentiment is so often expressed it’s practically a cliché.
We too might say, “There is no authority in our day, and each person does what is right in their own eyes.”
Our culture is confused and many in the church are following the culture’s lead.
When there is no recognized authority to govern and lead a people, then the people themselves become the measure for all things. You can imagine the chaos which would ensue if each person in a city, large or small, thought he or she was his or her only authority. Such a conclusion would lead us to ask the same question the late Francis Schaeffer asked, “how should we then live?”.
Rock or Sand?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of two builders who built two homes, which based on casual observation looked basically the same. Yet our Lord tells us there was a profound difference between them. One house was built upon the shaky foundation of sand. The other house was built upon the sure foundation of rock.
Jesus was teaching that we are all builders of lives. And, according to Jesus, we’re either building our lives on the sand or on the Rock. Furthermore, when Jesus spoke of the sure foundation which should undergird every sphere of our lives, he had something particular in mind. He said the only foundation that can give us the strength we need to withstand the raging storms of sin and crises is his Word – both hearing and obeying it.
Francis Schaeffer compared this idea to the small bridges throughout Europe built by the Romans 2,000 years ago. He said those small bridges have lasted centuries and centuries because they were strong enough to support people and even horses and carriages. Yet, he pointed out they would immediately crumble if a modern-day 18-wheeler was to drive across one of them. They are strong enough for the light load, but the heavy load would destroy them.
God’s Word is the sure foundation we need for every sphere, season, and circumstance of our lives, for the light and heavy loads.
Continue in What You Have Learned
The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, his son in the faith, to make this very point. Paul reminded Timothy that he knew Paul’s teachings and his way of life. Timothy knew how greatly Paul was persecuted and suffered for the faith. Timothy knew how God rescued Paul from all of that. He then reminded Timothy that all Christians would be persecuted, and false teachers would run rampant, and even become more blatant in their deception.
It was in that context that Paul encouraged Timothy to continue in what he had learned from the Holy Scriptures. He then explained to Timothy why the Holy Scriptures should be Timothy’s authority for his salvation, faith, and life. “The holy Scriptures,” Paul wrote, “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15-16). (Emphases mine)
Every culture in every age is in desperate need of a transcendent authority that does not blow with every wind of change. Every person needs a clear and true Word from God to guide them through this life and safely into the next. God’s word provides all that and more.
John Wesley beautifully expressed this idea. He wrote,
“I want to know one thing – the way to heaven, how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: Here is knowledge enough for me. Only God is here.”
God’s God-Breathed Book
The Bible is authoritative and sufficient for us, Paul says, because it is God’s book. It is God-breathed. Some translations say “inspired,” but the N.I.V. gets it right. The idea is not that the Bible is inspired in the way we might say, “The actor in the play gave us an inspired performance.” Instead, the meaning of the phrase, “God-breathed,” literally means words breathed out by God. Paul is teaching us the words of Scripture are literally God’s words to us. We have in Scripture precisely what God wants us to have, the way he wants us to have it.
What did God, as John Wesley put it, condescend to teach us? In addition to the way to heaven through Christ, Paul indicated all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. We have been given Scripture for a reason. Paul reminds us that Scripture is sufficient for all our needs and should be our comprehensive guide and authority for every sphere of faith and life.
Reformed writer, R.C. Sproul, once shared the story of a time when he was preaching on the authority of Scripture. After the service was over he saw a familiar face walking toward him. It turned out to be his college roommate. Sproul had not seen him for many years. His friend had gone to the mission field for three years after college and then came back to the U.S. to attend seminary in New York. Sproul had attended seminary in Pittsburgh and then went to Europe for doctoral studies. They had lost contact over the years.
Their reunion was a happy one, and they decided to catch up over dinner. During dinner, Sproul’s friend said to him,
“R.C., before we begin visiting, I want to tell you that I heard your sermon tonight where you affirmed your confidence in Scripture as our authority for life. But I have to tell you, after having been a missionary for three years where I learned about many other religious books, and after going to Seminary in New York and learning about biblical criticism, I don’t believe in the authority of Scripture anymore.”
Sproul said he was a bit surprised to hear his old friend say this, and so he asked him, “Well, what do you still believe?” His friend said, “Oh, I still believe that Jesus is my Savior and my Lord.” Sproul said he was delighted, of course, to hear that. However, his friend’s answer led Sproul to ask a follow-up question. “You say that Jesus is your Lord. Can you tell me how Jesus expresses his Lordship over you? That is, a Lord is someone who issues commands. How does Jesus, as your Lord, give you your marching orders?”
His friend replied that it was through the church. Sproul responded by asking, “What church? The Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, the Lutheran church – what church?” His friend answered, “through the Presbyterian church.”
“Which Presbyterian church?” Sproul asked. “The one in New York or the one in Dallas or the one in Atlanta?” “The General Assembly for the Presbyterian Church,” his friend responded. Sproul followed by asking, “Which General Assembly, the one that voted one way last year, or the one that voted a different way this year?”. “Well, I guess I have a problem,” his friend conceded. “Yes,” Sproul said, “You have a Lord who is unable to exercise Lordship over you.” (from Sproul’s video: “Hath God Spoken?”)
Give Me That Book
Is Jesus your Lord? In truth, Jesus is Lord whether you recognize him as so or not. Yet, he exercises his Lordship through his Spirit working through his Word. Thus, we must hear his voice in the pages of Scripture and obey them. Let us say with John Wesley, “O give me that book! At any price, give the book of God! Here is knowledge enough for me.”
Only the Spirit of God working through that book, the Bible, will lead you to Christ and the real, abundant, and eternal life that comes through faith in him. Only God’s Spirit working through God’s Word will sanctify you, making you more and more like Jesus. In a world full of people, ideas, and activities competing for your allegiance, there’s only one standard worthy to be your sure foundation. May it be for you the Word of God.
Based on Galatians 5:13-26
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