Basic Training, Church

Throwback Thursday ~ Basic Training: 7 Reasons Church is Not Optional and Non-Negotiable for Christians

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.

It’s a disturbing trend that’s spreading like the plague, especially among women who claim to be believers:

“I’m a Christian but I refuse to attend church.”

These aren’t women who can’t attend church due to health reasons, caring for an ill or disabled loved one, who have no other choice but to work on Sundays, or who live in an area with no reasonably doctrinally sound church to attend. They’re women who could get plugged in to a decent local church, but intentionally shun the body of Christ.

Usually, the decision to opt out of church boils down to one of two scenarios: a) a believer who was hurt by a previous church and yet isn’t ready to risk being hurt again or b) someone (often a false convert) who doesn’t grasp the concept that being joyfully joined to a local body of believers is part of what defines someone as a Christian.

I can tell some of y’all have already fired up your e-mail programs or mentally formulated a corrective comment. Hang on, and please read what I’m about to say so we’re all on the same page here. I am not saying, have never said, and will never say that attending church, joining a church, serving at a church, or being baptized into a church is what saves a person, even in part. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian. Everybody with me? Scripture is clear that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and that good works, such as church attendance, play zero part in a person’s salvation.

What I am saying is that one of the signs, or fruits, that someone is already saved is that she has a heartfelt love and affection for the things of God, which includes the gathering of the saints for fellowship, worship, encouragement, and edification. For a believer, love for the bride of Christ is a natural extension of loving Christ, Himself. She doesn’t have to be talked into attending church; there’s no place on earth she’d rather be.

We’ve all been in difficult situations with difficult people at church that can hurt, sometimes deeply – believe me, I’ve been there – and can leave us in need of taking a few Sundays off to recover, or possibly the need to change to a healthier church. But if you’ve harbored antipathy toward the church, as a whole, for years, have never taken joy in fellowshipping and worshiping with fellow believers, don’t see any particular need for gathering with the Body, or are generally apathetic in your attitude toward church, you’re in a very dangerous place, spiritually, and you need to question your salvation. Those are symptoms of being lost, not fruit of being saved.

For Christians, being joined to a local church is not optional and non-negotiable. Why?

1. God Says So

Just in case the entirety of the Bible isn’t clear enough that God wants His people meeting together for fellowship, worship, and the Word, He says so very bluntly in Hebrews 10:24-25:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

The HCSB puts it this way: “not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do,” and NASB says: “not forsaking our own assembling together.” God says we are not to neglect, stay away from, or forsake, the meeting of the church body. For anyone who claims to be a Christian, that reason alone ought to be good enough. When God tells us to do something, we do it. Period.

2. The Church is God’s Plan for Christians

God doesn’t need or want your help devising the best methodology for your life and growth as a Christian. He already has a plan. He already established that plan. That plan is the church. There’s no plan B or any cafeteria-style options. If you’re a Christian, God’s plan for you is to be a faithful part of a local body of believers. The Bible never suggests that it’s OK for you to be a “Lone Ranger Christian.” There are no explicit statements to this effect, nor even one example of a New Testament Christian who lived life apart from the church. The New Testament assumes Christians will be part of a church. If not, the majority of Matthew through Revelation would be moot. If you reject the church, you’re rejecting God’s word and His way in favor of your own way.

3. Jesus Values the Church

You claim to love and follow Jesus, right? Well, Jesus founded the church. Jesus is the head of the church. Jesus loves the church. Jesus died for the church. Jesus is the Savior of the church. Jesus nourishes, cherishes, and sanctifies the church. How could anyone claim to love and follow Jesus and yet cavalierly toss aside something He values so much that He laid His life down for it? If you really love Jesus, you’ll value the things He values, and, clearly, He values the church.

4. Being Joined to the Church Is an Indicator of Salvation

First John 2:18-19 makes no bones about it. Forsaking the church is an indicator that you’re not saved:

…now many antichrists have come…They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

Want to make it plain that you’re not of Christ? Step one is to leave the church.

5. The Church is the Dispensary for the Word and the Ordinances

The preaching and teaching of God’s Word. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In order to preserve their purity and sanctity, God established a hierarchical structure of ecclesiastical authority and placed the responsibility for administering Scripture and the ordinances with the church, not isolated individuals. Do we have women’s Bible studies and Sunday School classes? Of course. But only under the oversight of our pastors and elders, as an outflow of, and in keeping with, the preaching and teaching ministry of the church. Do we share the gospel with the lost we encounter during the week? You bet! Our churches enable us to do so by training us in the Word, and we bring new believers back to our churches so that they may be discipled.

6. The “One Anothers”

Love one another. Comfort one another. Forgive one another. Serve one another. Bear one another’s burdens. Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another. Have you ever stopped to think which people “one another” is referring to? It’s easy to see when you look at these verses in context. It’s our brothers and sisters in Christ. All of the New Testament “one anothers” are written to the church. You need brothers and sisters to minister the “one anothers” to you, and your brothers and sisters need you to minister the “one anothers” to them. We cannot properly carry out the “one anothers” outside the church because they were meant to be practiced first and foremost within the church.

7. Sheep Need Shepherds

The Bible often uses sheep as a metaphor for God’s people. And since we know that God is the author of Scripture, we know God handpicked that metaphor to describe us. Ever notice that God never describes a sheep wandering off on its own as though that were a good thing?

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;
Isaiah 53:6a

I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
Psalm 119:176a

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Matthew 9:36

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?
Matthew 18:12

Sheep who leave the flock to make their own way in the world are in danger from wolves, the pitfalls of sin, and any number of other perils, especially the trials and tragedies of life. I can’t tell you how many e-mails I’ve received from distraught Christian women in dire personal circumstances who desperately need pastoral counsel. Sadly, when I tell them I’m not equipped to help them with such a complicated problem from so far away and that they need to make an appointment with their pastor for one on one, face to face counseling, the response is often, “I haven’t been going to church. I don’t have a pastor.”

We need the protection of the sheep pen, the brotherhood of the flock, and the leadership of our shepherds, our pastors, to help guide us. God knew we needed those things. That is one reason He established the church and created the position of pastor. Christ is our Good Shepherd, but until He returns, He has appointed godly men to watch over and protect the flock in His absence:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
John 21:15-17

And he gave…the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
Ephesians 4:11-12

So I exhort the elders among you…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
1 Peter 5:1-4

You can’t shepherd yourself. That internet pastor you listen to – even the most doctrinally sound one – can’t shepherd you. You need to be part of a flock led by a shepherd who knows you and cares for your soul.

Do you take joy in gathering regularly with your brothers and sisters in Christ for worship, the Word, the ordinances, building one another up, and serving one another? If not, the solution is not to leave the church altogether. The solution is to examine your heart against Scripture to discover whether or not you’re truly saved, and then to find a healthy church you can pour yourself into. Christ has given believers the local church as a blessing and a benefit, not a burden and a bore. Love and embrace this precious gift He has lavished on you.


Additional Resources

Six Ways Not to Forsake the Assembly 

7 reasons worshipers need the church at The Cripplegate

Mailbag #49: Home Groups Over Church at 9Marks

My Jesus, I Love You; Your Bride I Despise! at Reformation21

Why You May Be Tempted To Neglect Your Church by Tim Challies

Five Essential Reasons for Christians to Gather in Public Worship at Ligonier

Prioritize Your Church by Tim Challies

Is a “Churchless Christian” an Oxymoron? at Ligonier

The Plight of Churchless Christians at The Cripplegate

40 reasons to be part of a local church at The Cripplegate

Basic Training, Obedience

Throwback Thursday ~ Basic Training: Obedience: 8 Ways To Stop Making Excuses and Start Obeying Scripture

Originally published August 18, 2017

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. James 4:17

Excuses, excuses.

We’ve all got them. We’ve all used them.

“The dog ate my homework.”

“I was going to, but…”

“I’d like to, but I can’t, because…”

Sometimes there are legitimate reasons we can’t take part in certain earthly activities. Time conflicts: If a birthday party and a wedding are scheduled for the same date and time, you obviously can’t be in two places at once. Financial constraints: Maybe you’d really like to attend that conference, but there’s no money in the budget. Prioritized responsibilities and loyalties- you’d like to travel as much as you did when you were single, but now that you have a family, taking care of them comes first.

Those aren’t really excuses, though, they’re reasons – totally understandable ones – that you can’t do something. But we’re so much in the habit of explaining why we can’t do something in the day to day logistical realm that it never occurs to us that this isn’t right when it comes to the things of God. When God’s word tells us to do something, we are to obey it, not make excuses about why we can’t.

Most Christians seem to grasp this concept when it comes to one of the “big” commands. Take abortion, for example. We know that abortion is a sin regardless of the circumstances, even when those circumstances are huge and scary. We reach out to pregnant women with the gospel and with practical help so that they won’t commit that sin. We love the homosexual who wants to come to Christ but is being pulled the other direction by her lifestyle, living arrangements, and loved ones, by compassionately providing for her needs while holding firm to the biblical gospel that says she must turn from her sin in repentance if she wants to be saved.

But when it comes to the “little” commands like…

…submitting to your husband

…being a faithful, active member of a local church

…refraining from teaching men or holding authority over them in the church

…refusing to be anxious about anything

…lots of those same Christians (including me) who are so clear that abortion and homosexuality are sins requiring repentance regardless of the circumstances, have at the ready, all kinds of excuses and reasons and circumstances to offer up as to why we can’t obey God’s word.

“I just don’t think my husband’s decision is the right way to go.”

“A church hurt me in the past, so I’m done with church.”

“None of the men in my church will step up and lead, so I have to.”

“I’m in a really bad situation. I can’t help it if I’m constantly stressing about it.”

Uh uh. No excuse for disobedience that we can come up with is going to wash with God. There is never any acceptable reason or excuse to say, “I can’t,” when it comes to a command of Scripture. God expects us to be obedient. So how can we move from excuses to obedience?

1. Understand that obedience to Scripture is not “legalism” or being a “Pharisee”

As much as pop evangelicalism would like us to believe it, obedience to Scripture is not legalism, nor is someone acting like a Pharisee if she’s teaching that all Christians should obey Scripture. Legalism is when you think obeying God’s commands will save you, make up for your sin, or somehow make you right with God through your own fleshly efforts. Pharisee-ism is making up your own bibley-sounding laws – usually ones that are related to Scripture, but more restrictive than Scripture – and insisting that others adhere to them or they’re not saved, not as good of a Christian as you are, etc. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about rightly handling God’s word in context, understanding what His commands to Christians actually are, and joyfully submitting to them in obedience.

2. Embrace what Scripture says about obedience:

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. James 4:17

Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Matthew 28:20a

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” Luke 17:10

And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.” 1 Samuel 15:22-23a

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:3-5

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3

Scripture says that Christians seek to obey God’s word, and when we don’t, we’re sinning.

3. Know that there are no commands of Scripture followed by asterisks

“You shall not murder…unless…” “Do not worry…except in circumstances X, Y, or Z, then it’s acceptable.” “If no men will step up and teach that co-ed Sunday School class, it’s OK if a woman teaches it.” Nope. You will not find a command of Scripture that contains exceptions or caveats. When God says “do” or “don’t”, He means it. He means it for you. He means it for everybody. He means it if it’s difficult or inconvenient. He means it regardless of your circumstances.

4. Realize that God is sovereign over your circumstances

God controls everything in this universe. Nothing happens anywhere that He hasn’t either allowed or caused. Translation: you’re in the circumstances you’re in because God either put you there or allowed you to be there. Everybody has some sort of situation in her life that makes obedience to Scripture difficult or inconvenient. Do you think God intends for everyone to use those circumstances that He sovereignly decided to allow or put into their lives as an excuse to disobey Him? Adam and Eve tried that. Did God accept their excuses? Isn’t blaming your disobedience to Scripture on the circumstances you’re in just another way of saying it’s God’s fault you’re being disobedient? That if God had just created you differently or put you in a different set of circumstances, you’d obey, but since He didn’t, you have no choice but to disobey?

5. Ask yourself, “Do I really want to obey?”

When we really want to do something, we find a way or die trying. Be honest- have you checked out every single church you can get to and explored every available resource and option for finding a church before giving up and saying you can’t attend church? Have you actually tried submitting to your husband even when you think he’s making a boneheaded decision? Is anybody at your church going to die if all of the women refuse to teach men and that co-ed class is disbanded? Are you so willing to obey Christ that you’ll do whatever you have to do in order to find a way to obey Him?

6. Consider that this might be a test

Remember taking pop quizzes when you were in school? Unless you were a child genius, you probably don’t look back on them fondly. They were unpleasant. Hard. Sometimes scary because so much was riding on them. Maybe you were like a lot of students who could easily answer questions on the subject matter while studying, but went blank during the quiz because of the fear and pressure.

The testing of our faith can be a lot like those pop quizzes. We know the test is coming, but we’re never quite sure when. We’re supposed to be studying the Textbook and asking the Teacher for help every day so we’ll be prepared. But when the test comes, we have to take it. There’s no opting out and saying, “If this test weren’t happening I’d be able to obey easily.” Of course you would! It’s easy to obey God when it’s convenient and everything’s going your way, but obeying when it’s difficult or inconvenient pushes you. Stretches you. It reinforces what you’ve learned, reaffirms your commitment to Christ, and refreshes your trust in God. Don’t give up in the middle of the test. Hang on to Christ, hang in there, and…

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

7. Look to Christ as your example

Christians are supposed to “walk in the same way He walked” (1 John 2:5b). Christ is the perfect example of someone who determined to obey God regardless of His circumstances. Just look at everything He went through. Don’t you think He was awfully hungry after fasting for 40 days in the wilderness? Wouldn’t it have been extraordinarily easy to strike down every Pharisee who got on His nerves? Couldn’t He have decided the cross was just too much and that redeeming mankind wasn’t worth the trouble?

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. Hebrews 12:3-4

Jesus gave up His body – His life – in order to obey God. Are we willing to give up whatever it costs us to walk in the same way He walked?

8. Remember that God has promised to help you

What an amazing God we serve who doesn’t just give us a bunch of rules to follow and leaves us to figure it out on our own! The Holy Spirit is right there, indwelling His people, always ready to help, guide, strengthen, and comfort. First Corinthians 10:13 says:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

God isn’t going to put you into a situation in which you have no choice but to disobey Him. Jesus proved that with His own life. Have you asked God to provide you with a way to obey Him? The Bible tells us that when we pray for things in accordance with God’s will, He will give those things to us. It is definitely in God’s will for you to resist temptation and obey Him, so it is His delight to answer when you ask Him for a way to do that.

Ladies, obedience to Christ is not optional. We don’t get to pick and choose which of God’s commands to Christians we want to obey and which ones are OK to let slide. He expects us to follow after Christ, who obeyed to His last breath, His last drop of blood. And He promises to help us, even when obeying Him is hard. Let’s stop making excuses and start looking for ways to submit to, and obey, God’s word.

Basic Training

Throwback Thursday ~ Basic Training: 8 Steps to Finding God’s Will for Your Life

Originally published October 6, 2017

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.

What is God’s will for my life?

I’ve asked this question before. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but it was probably some time in my late teens to mid-twenties. You know- when you’re making all those big, life-changing decisions: Where should I go to college? What should I major in? What kind of career do I want? Which job should I take? Should I move to another state? Whom should I marry? When should we start having children? How many children should we have?

Maybe you’ve asked the same question yourself. Life as a young adult can be pretty overwhelming, especially when you’re still kind of immature and inexperienced, and you have to make so many big decisions that have such intense and long-lasting impact on your own life and the lives of others. As you age, there are still big decisions to face from time to time, and they can still feel overwhelming.

So, how can a godly woman who wants to make sure she’s making a godly decision be certain she’s following “God’s will for her life”?

1.
Reframe the Question

When we use the term “God’s will for my life” we’re usually thinking in terms of a life map. A career track. A family plan. It’s almost as if we think of God as pulling up the spreadsheet that has our name on it and that every category of our lives is neatly planned out and squared away in a little box. The way we would organize it.

College: LSU
Major: Education
Career: Teacher
Marry: Joe Blow
Kids: 2
Retirement age: 65

That’s our focus, but that’s not God’s focus. Does God care about and guide us through all of life’s circumstances? Of course, but God’s primary concern is our holiness and growth in Christ, not our choice of a career or whom to marry. Those life circumstances are merely tools in God’s hands to shape us into more Christlike people. We look at the life circumstances first and think it’s God’s highest priority that we choose what matches up with His spreadsheet. God’s highest priority is that we pursue Him and holy living, and leave the details up to Him. The question really shouldn’t be, “What is God’s road map for my career, family, etc., from this point forward?” but “In the process of pursuing Christ, how can I make godly decisions that line up with Scripture?”


2.
It’s In the Book

When we want to know anything about God, the Bible is always our go to source of information. What does the Bible say about God’s will for our lives?

God’s will for your life is to trust and obey Him in suffering.
Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls
to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4:19

God’s will for your life is whatever is good, acceptable, and perfect.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

God’s will for your life is joyful obedience to Him.
not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, Ephesians 6:6-7

God’s will for your life is to pursue purity and forsake impurity.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality…For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 1 Thessalonians 4:3,7

God’s will for your life is to live in gratitude to Him.
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:18

God’s will for your life is to be a living testimony to Him.
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence
the ignorance of foolish people. 1 Peter 2:15

God’s will for your life is to live for His desires, not your own.
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 1 Peter 4:1-2

God’s will for your life is to be wise, not foolish.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Ephesians 5:15-17

And there’s so much more. Any Scripture that instructs you on how to live your life is God’s will for your life.


3.
Live in the Word

An athlete preparing for the Olympics doesn’t just go about life as usual and panic the day before his event because he doesn’t know the right techniques and strategies for his event. He trains and studies every day so that when it’s time for his event, he’s as ready as he can be.

The Christian life is a little bit like that. While the athlete knows exactly what his event will be and exactly which day he’ll have to perform, we don’t always know what kinds of life decisions we’ll be faced with or when they’ll materialize. But daily study of God’s Word is the best way to prepare our hearts, train our minds, and strengthen our character so we’re as ready as we can be for whatever circumstances God sends our way.


4.
Pray

A strong daily prayer life also helps prepare our hearts and minds to make difficult decisions. We should absolutely pray about the particulars of specific situations that challenge us, but just the general practice of communing with God in prayer day by day teaches us to depend on Him, trust Him, be conformed to His will, love Him, honor Him, and submit to Him. And that’s a great foundation for making godly decisions.


5.
Flee from Sin

Sometimes the formidable decisions we face are a result of our own sin. So just stay away from sin. Not only is that God’s will for your life because it honors and glorifies Him, but, as a bonus, you can totally avoid having to make the difficult decisions that are part and parcel of the consequences of sin.


6.
Get Invested in Church

In addition to the fact that it’s God’s will for your life to be a faithful, active member of a local, biblically led and structured body of believers, investing yourself – your time, your love, your priority, your money, your service – in the life of the church means that when you face challenging decisions you already have a godly support network in place. Brothers and sisters in Christ will be at the ready to pray for you, provide practical help and advice, comfort you, point you to God’s Word, walk through it with you, check on you, rejoice or grieve with you, and so on.


7.
Get Wisdom

Get wisdom,” Proverbs 4 admonishes. God isn’t going to just bop you on the head with a magic wand, and “Presto!” you’ve got the wisdom to make godly choices. It doesn’t work that way (believe me, I’ve tried). You have to proactively pursue it. How do you get wisdom?

Study God’s Word Copious amounts of it, every day, starting with the wisdom literature. Listen to good, doctrinally sound sermons from your own pastor and others. Get plugged in to a good Sunday School, Bible study, or discipleship class. Read doctrinally sound books. Discuss Scripture with others. Find out which biblical principles apply to the decision you’re faced with and pore over them.

Pray Ask God to grow you in wisdom. Ask Him to help you correctly apply Scripture to your situation and lead you to the wisest, most godly decision. Ask others to pray these things for you as well.

Seek out wise brothers and sisters for counsel. Reach out to mature Christians who can offer godly advice and help you apply God’s word to the decision making process. Set up an appointment with your pastor (or an  ACBC certified Biblical Counselor) for counseling. Seek the expert advice of brothers and sisters who are professionals in the field (legal, medical, educational, etc.) of your dilemma.

Get informed. Usually, in order to make a wise and godly decision about something, you have to know the “facts of the case” first. For example, if you’re trying to make a wise decision about whether or not to take a certain job, first find out as much as you possibly can about the job, the company, the work environment, the pay, and so on. You can’t rightly apply Scripture (or pray, or seek counsel) if you don’t know what you’re applying Scripture to.


8.
Trust God

You’ve studied Scripture about it. You’ve prayed about it and have others praying for you about it. You’ve sought wisdom about it. You’ve done everything you can do on your part to pursue godliness and make a biblical decision, and all that’s left is to make the actual decision.

So make it and quit fretting over whether or not it’s “God’s will.”

Yes, it’s really that simple.

Why? Because if you’ve done all that prayer and study and seeking wisdom, guess what? You’ve already done God’s will for your life: You’ve pursued Him. You’ve pursued holiness. So go ahead and make the choice that seems the wisest and most godly. Stuck between two options that appear to be equally godly? Choose the one you like better. Sometimes God uses those unique tastes, preferences, and “bents” He has fearfully and wonderfully knit into us to guide us one way or another.

Go ahead and make the decision and stop worrying (because we know worrying isn’t God’s will for your life). Trust in God’s sovereign power to control the situation, His care for you to guide you and carry you through, His love for you, and His desire to do what’s best for you.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6


It is precious in God’s sight when we want to please and obey Him, but He doesn’t want us to become overwrought along the way with anxiety over decisions. When God tells us we can trust Him to guide us and direct our paths, He really means that. Strive to live godly in Christ Jesus and trust God to handle the rest.

Basic Training

Throwback Thursday ~ Basic Training: Baptism

Originally published November 17, 2017

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.

 

Baptism can be a very controversial topic, especially when Christians who passionately hold differing views get together to discuss it. So, just a few parameters and caveats before we dive in:

💧 I am convinced from Scripture that Believer’s baptism by full immersion is the biblical understanding and method of baptism, so this is the view I will be presenting. I will not be argued out of this view and I don’t publish attacking comments. (Just trying to save you some time if you’re thinking of commenting in either of those veins.)

💧 I’m not going to attempt to present an explanation of any view of baptism other than my own. I prefer to leave that to others who hold those views, are more knowledgeable about them, and can present them better than I can. Please see the “Additional Resources” section at the end of this article.

💧 With the exception of baptismal regeneration, baptism is a secondary issue in biblical Christianity. It’s an important ordinance of the church, but should not preclude fellowship and cooperation between doctrinally sound Christians whose views differ.

💧 This article is a very general overview (this article series is called “Basic Training”) of baptism. I’m not attempting to cover every nuance of the topic. For more details about what your own church teaches about baptism, I encourage you to chat with your pastor or elders.


What is baptism? Why is it so important for Christians? What does getting wet have to do with being born again? There are lots of important things to understand about baptism.

The Bible on Baptism

When we want to learn about baptism, the first and best place to go is Scripture. Below are just a few of the passages that teach about baptism. (You can – and should – find and read more by searching baptize or baptism in a good concordance.) As you search the Scriptures on baptism, be sure to read them in context and ask these questions of the text: Who should be baptized? Why should someone be baptized? What is the meaning and significance of baptism? When should someone be baptized? How should someone be baptized?

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Matthew 3:13-17

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Matthew 28:19

And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Acts 19:4-5 

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Acts 2:41

Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.
Acts 16:30-33

But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Acts 8:12

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 6:3-4

Church Mindsets and Modes

Different churches and denominations have differing beliefs about water baptism and perform it in different ways. The two most common theological approaches to baptism are paedo baptism (infant baptism) and credo baptism (“Believer’s baptism”- being baptized after you’ve publicly confessed Christ as Savior). Baptism may be administered by sprinkling (“aspersion”), pouring (“affusion”), or immersion (dunking someone partially or completely under the water in a baptistry or other body of water).

Baptism by full immersion symbolizes Christ’s death, burial (going down into the water) and resurrection (coming up out of the water), as well as what has happened in the heart of someone who has been born again: we die to sin and are resurrected as new creatures in Christ. This is why you’ll often hear Baptist pastors say “buried with Christ in baptism” (as they immerse the person) “raised to walk in newness of life” (as they raise the person out of the water). Baptism by immersion is a visual picture of the gospel.

This is what a typical Baptist baptism (credo baptism by full immersion) looks and sounds like:

Why Get Baptized?

Much like saying the Pledge or belting out the Star Spangled Banner (although infinitely more significant and sacred) baptism is the way we publicly and unashamedly proclaim our salvation and allegiance to Christ and our intention to obediently follow Him. In the United States today, that may not seem so daring, but in New Testament times (as well as in many countries today where Christians are brutally persecuted), to be baptized was often to take a dangerous – even subversive – stand of loyalty to Christ.

Baptism is also our “initiation” into church membership – a statement that we wish to join ourselves to the church at large and to a local body of Believers. Many churches require that a person be baptized (or has previously been baptized into a church with biblical soteriology, or a church of the same denomination) before inviting that person into membership. Because baptism is a public declaration that one is a Believer, baptism is usually also a prerequisite for partaking of the Lord’s Supper (which should only be partaken of by Believers).

Every born again Believer should publicly declare her loyalty to Christ, her intention to follow Him obediently, and her identification with the local church by obeying Scripture’s command (see above) to be baptized. Baptism is neither optional nor trivial for Christians, and the New Testament knows nothing of unbaptized Believers. If you’re saved and reluctant to be baptized, examine your heart as to why this is the case, and talk to your pastor about it.

Why NOT Get Baptized?

💧 Don’t get baptized because you think it will save you, make you right with God, forgive your sins, or send you to Heaven. Baptism does not save anyone; the water doesn’t have any magic, holy, or salvific properties. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. 

💧 Don’t get baptized just to become a member of a particular church. Your motivation for getting baptized should be obedience and loyalty to Christ. Church membership is secondary.

💧 Don’t get baptized just because everybody else is doing it, because someone is pressuring you to, or in order to please someone. Baptism is your personal declaration of faith in Christ. It should be something you want to do to in your walk with the Lord.

💧 Don’t think you need to get re-baptized every time you sin. That’s what repentance is for. Unless you come to the realization that you weren’t saved the first time you were baptized, baptism is a “one and done” thing just like salvation is.

💧 Don’t get baptized if you aren’t saved. Baptism is for people who are already saved.

Trinitarian Baptism

Excerpted from Basic Training: The Great Commission

“Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19b)

After salvation, baptism is the first step a new Christian takes on the road of discipleship. It is not optional. Baptism publicly identifies a person – to the church and to the world – as a Christian, and is a personal pledge to follow Christ obediently all the days of one’s life.

Being baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” carries several layers of meaning.

💧Again, pay careful attention to the language in this phrase. Jesus does not say “in the nameS” – plural. He says, “in the name” – singular. This is a boldly Trinitarian statement directly from two of its members: Jesus, who spoke these words to the disciples, and the Holy Spirit, who breathed them out through the pen of Matthew. This is God Himself telling us who He is. Jesus spoke these words to good Jewish boys who were born and bred on the shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” There was to be no confusion for new Believers back then, Believers today, or to the onlooking world, as to who these Christians are following. They are not following three different gods. They are following the one true God in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – the whole ball of wax.

💧Names meant far more in biblical times than they do to us today. We see God changing people’s names – Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter, etc. – when He commissioned them for a new mission or phase of life. Being baptized “in the name of” the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit echoes that tradition of God changing people’s names. You are no longer your own, you are Christ’s. You are no longer “Sinner”, you are “Saint”. You no longer go forth in your own name, but in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as their emissary, endowed with the power and authority of God to live for Him and to proclaim the gospel to a lost and dying world.

💧Because Christians are, by definition, Trinitarians, and because baptizing a Believer is commissioning her to go forth into the world as a representative of Christ, it’s appropriate for pastors to take this verse literally when performing a baptism and verbalize its words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Who Should Perform Baptisms?

Excerpted from The Mailbag: Is it biblical for women
to carry out The Great Commission?

When it comes to teaching inside the church, we have clear, prescriptive passages that specifically tell us what women are not to do. With evangelism, we also have clear commands in The Great Commission, and elsewhere, that disciples of Christ are to share the gospel.

But when it comes to baptism, we don’t have a clear “this or that person should or should not perform baptisms” passage, so we need to look at the principles and precedents surrounding baptism.

The people specifically named as personally performing baptisms in the New Testament were John the Baptist (who baptized Jesus), the twelve apostlesPhilip the EvangelistPaul and/or Silas, and Paul. All of these were men, and all held pastoral or pastoral/elder-type formal leadership positions in the embryonic or infancy stages of the church. All of them were commissioned, ordained, or set apart to their positions by GodJesus, or the church. We do not see any New Testament instances of random church members – male or female – performing baptisms, only those in positions of church leadership.

Additionally, baptism is a formal, official, consecrated ordinance of the church, not a casual, personal, relational activity between individuals, friends, or loved ones. It should no more be administered by any church member who wants to do it than the Lord’s Supper should be. Both ordinances should be administered by an ordained pastor or elder of the church. That leaves out women as well as most men. Does the responsibility of pastors to baptize mean that men who aren’t pastors shouldn’t carry out the Great Commission? Of course not. We – men and women – share the gospel with someone, and if that person gets saved, part of our responsibility is to do what we can to get him plugged in to a local church where a pastor can baptize him. We don’t have to baptize him ourselves in order to be fulfilling The Great Commission.

💧💧💧💧💧

Baptism should be every Christian’s joyful celebration of his or her new life in Christ. Jesus was baptized. Jesus instructs His followers to be baptized. In baptism, we both follow Jesus’ example and obey His command. If you’re a born again Believer who’s never been baptized, what are you waiting for?


Additional Resources:

What is the importance of Christian baptism? at Got Questions

Baptism at Theopedia

Explaining Baptism in Children’s Language at Reformed Answers (A simple explanation of the Reformed/Presbyterian view of covenental paedo baptism.)

Understanding Baptism by John MacArthur

Biblical Case for the Lutheran Doctrine of Baptism by Chris Rosebrough

A Closer Look at Baptism by Bill Gordon (An overview of the Southern Baptist view of credo baptism by immersion.)

A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism by The United Methodist Church

Baptism at Christian Apologetics Research Ministry

Waters That Unite: Five Truths About Water Baptism at 9Marks

Going Public: Why Baptism is Required for Church Membership by Bobby Jamieson

A Review of Justin Peters’ “Do Not Hinder Them”

Basic Training

Throwback Thursday ~ Basic Training: 5 Ways to Face Tests and Trials Biblically

Originally published February 9, 2018

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.

 

Your car breaks down and you don’t have the money to get it fixed.

Your child develops a behavior problem, and you have no idea how to help her.

Somebody royally messed something up at work and now you have to figure out how to fix it.

You’re smack dab in the middle of a tenuous situation at church instigated and exacerbated by THAT lady.

Anybody who tells you, “Come to Jesus and all of your problems will be over,” is selling something. The Christian life is not a stroll through a flowery meadow with never a bump in the road. In fact, sometimes it’s just one big pile of poo after another.

The truth is, if you come to faith in Christ, you’re going to continue to have some of the same kinds of general “that’s life” poo that you had before. People at work will keep messing up. Your child will still pour nail polish on your new white rug (Why do you have a white rug if you have children?). Your neighbor will back into your fence (again) and drag her feet about fixing it (again).

So what’s the point of coming to Christ if you’re just going to keep having problems?

Because the point of coming to Christ is not for Him to make all your problems disappear, it’s for Him to redeem you from your sin and propitiate God’s wrath against you. That’s why the symbol of Christianity is a cross, not a magic wand. So how does God want us to face those tests and trials of life in a biblical, Christian way?

1.
Recognize God’s Purpose in Testing You

There are scads of blessings and benefits that come along with repentance and faith in Christ, and one of them is that poo now has a purpose. (I sense some of you have had enough of the word poo. OK, moving on…)

What is the purpose of all these aggravations, sorrows, and worrisome circumstances that keep coming your way?

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2-4

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
Romans 5:3-4

Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:9-11

Those difficult situations we face in life – whether they come as a consequence of our sin, a consequence of our Christlikeness, or simply a consequence of living in a post-Fall world – are the tools God uses to make us more like Jesus. Obediently bearing up during hard times develops steadfastness and maturity, endurance, character, and hope, holiness, peace, and righteousness.

You want those Christlike characteristics, don’t you?

I do too. But I’ll be honest – my flesh is not crazy about the fact that God often pulls a chisel out of His toolbag instead of a feather duster. And once again, we’re back to the cross versus the magic wand. We want God to “abracadabra” us into Christlike character. God points us to the cross.

2.
Look at Tests and Trials Through Jesus’ Eyes

…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1c-2

Jesus was not some crazy masochist who enjoyed being beaten, mocked, nailed to a cross, and having the wrath of God poured out on Him for our sin. That was not fun. It was not pleasant. It was such a unique kind of awfulness that a whole new word had to be invented to describe it: excruciating. It was such a horrifying specter that it caused Jesus to sweat blood as He prayed in Gethsemane, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”

God does not require you to enjoy pain, suffering, inconvenience, stress, or aggravation any more than He required Jesus to enjoy it. What Jesus did was to focus on “the joy set before Him” – the results of His suffering and the great and glorious things it would accomplish – to help Him endure the suffering. That’s what God wants us to pattern our approach to suffering after – Jesus. We don’t look at the circumstance itself. We look past the circumstance to how God is going to be glorified, how He’s going to grow us in Christlikeness, what we’re going to see Him do in answer to prayer, and whom He might save as a result of the circumstance. We look at the finish line. The winner’s circle. We focus on those things to help us get through the pain and exhaustion.

3.
Remember the Nature and Character of God

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:9-11

God is not some nasty bully sitting up there in Heaven arbitrarily messing your life up for His own personal entertainment like a kid setting ants on fire with a magnifying glass on a sunny day. He’s your Father. He loves and cares for you. Like any good parent, He wants what He knows is good for you more than He wants you to be fat and happy. He’s in complete control of what happens or doesn’t happen to you.

If something unpleasant comes into your life, go back to what you know to be true of God. God is not trying to harm or punish you. He has sovereignly allowed or caused this thing to happen because He is your Father who loves you and wants to do something good for you. He wants to work in your heart and life for your benefit, the benefit of others, and to glorify Himself through this circumstance.

4.
Don’t Worry

Yeah, right. If you’re anything like me, your first thought when faced with a problem is “Oh no. I’ll never get through this one. What if this happens? What if that happens?” Suddenly, in your mind, you’re ten miles down the road in Armageddon-land.

God does not sovereignly put circumstances into your life to give you a platform for worrying. It is never God’s will for you to worry. It is always God’s will for you to trust Him. If you’re worrying about your circumstances, you are not doing God’s will. God puts difficult circumstances into our lives to give us the opportunity to exercise our “trust muscles”. Worrying is just another way of saying, “God, I don’t trust you in this. I don’t believe you’re in control in this situation. I’ve got to be the one to figure this out and handle it.” If God is big enough and powerful enough to save you, He is big enough and powerful enough to carry you, protect you, provide for you, comfort you, and reassure you through whatever He places in your path. Trust Him.

(And a special note to my fellow Reformed brothers and sisters – as I preach this to myself – if anybody shouldn’t worry, it’s us. We are the “God is sovereign over everything” people! It is utterly ridiculous to believe that God is sovereignly in control of every aspect of salvation, that He providentially foreordains the activity of every atom of the universe, and then turn around and worry that He can’t or won’t handle something as measly as a repair bill or a surly co-worker.)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
Proverbs 3:5

Fear Not: 9 Biblical Ways to Trade Worry for Trust

5.
An Opportunity for Obedience

In the same way that God doesn’t place situations in your life as an opportunity to worry but as an opportunity to exercise trust in Him, He does not place situations in your life in which you have no choice but to disobey Him, but rather, as opportunities to stretch, trust Him, and obey His Word in spite of how difficult it might be. Anybody can be obedient when things are awesome. Obedience during the hard times is what grows you.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
Hebrews 12:4

In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Proverbs 3:6

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.
Psalm 37:5

Can’t find a doctrinally sound church nearby? Yes, that’s difficult, but God is not OK with you sitting down and resigning yourself to disobeying Him by giving up the search just because it’s hard. No man will step up and lead at church? They might be disobeying God, but we ladies don’t have God’s permission to violate His Word by teaching or exercising authority over the men of the church just because it would be a lot more convenient to do so.

Convenience, comfort, and smooth sailing are not the be all end all of life. The character that God wants to build in you, the glory He wants to bring Himself, the good He wants to do to others through your obedience during hard times is far more important. But you’ll never experience those amazing things if you take the easy way out by sinning. Have you stood against sin to the point of bloodshed? Have you prayed that God would provide you a way to resist temptation and obey Him? Are you committing your way to the Lord and trusting Him to work everything out? If you want God to accomplish His purposes through the sticky situations of your life, you’ve got to stand firm and obey Him no matter how great the challenge.

Basic Training: Obedience: 8 Ways To Stop Making Excuses and Start Obeying Scripture

 

We may not like difficult situations very much, but for those of us who know Christ, we can rejoice in knowing that God has a purpose for them. The highest purpose – to make us more like Jesus. He does that for us because He loves us. And while we might still wish for Him to bop us with a magic wand and instantly make us patient or steadfast or peaceful, God created us, and He knows that suffering and difficulties are the best way to accomplish those things. So just as Christ endured the cross for the joy set before Him, we can endure any difficult situation God blesses us with, knowing that He’s doing it for our good and His glory. And that’s definitely something to rejoice about.