WHAT CHRISTIANS BELIEVE [Series]
WHAT CHRISTIANS BELIEVE
REV. JOHN OLIVER EVANS
1. ABOUT GOD
Background Passages: Genesis 1, Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 139, Revelation 4:1-11.
Introduction: "I believe in God" is a common enough statement. But what kind of God - a God of our own making, devising, imagining or wishful thinking (our "idol", in effect) or the God who has declared and revealed himself in Scripture, in history and in Jesus? In a word, we believe in a God who is "a living personal Spirit". How often he is referred to as "the living God" (c.f. Deut.5:26; 1 Sam. 17:26; Psalm 42:2; 84:2, Jeremiah 10:10, Romans 9:26, 2 Cor.3:3 etc). He is at least personal - not some impersonal power, force or energy - as in Star Wars – “May the Force be with you”. He has a distinct character and nature. He can communicate with his followers - remember how the OT says he "spoke" with Abraham as with a friend - and with Isaac and Jacob and Moses and his servants the prophets. He is Spirit - transcending the entire world-order, though that order depends totally on him. In the fullest sense we cannot prove that he exists, though many have tried to do so. We must come back to what the Scripture says, “whoever comes to God must have faith that God exists” (Hebrews 11:6 GNB).
1. The Glory of God
This familiar biblical concept usually conveys the visible manifestation of God's being - the sense of divine majesty, greatness and transcendence, surpassing all finite reality. Think of the experience of Moses on Sinai (Exodus 24:16,17). Remember too, Ezekiel's vision (Ezekiel 1:28). Some other references: Exodus 40:31, I Kings 8:11, Psalm 21:5, Isaiah 6:3, Exodus 33:22, Isaiah 42:8, 2 Cor 4:6.
* The infinity of God - he is without limitation
* The self-existence of God - he depends on nothing else "in the beginning God..."
* The faithfulness of God - he is always consistent and constant, unchanging and faithful.
The glory of God proclaims God’s utter priority and self-sufficiency. The creation of the universe and of humankind are acts of free grace and not requirements of God’s being. Our ultimate value or significance lie, accordingly, in his glory [cf Eph 1:12]. While God’s purposes certainly aim at, and procure, his glory, they aim also at humankind’s eternal wellbeing. “It is for God above all things that we are born, and not for ourselves” - Calvin.
2. The Lordship of God
This is made plain in the Covenant - Name, Yahweh "I am who I am", which may also be cast in the future tense. It expresses his sovereignty, his power and his will and his purposes are unshakeable and his promises are unbreakable. He rules in the world and his word prevails. He is the Lord.
* He is all powerful (omnipotent). Nothing is too hard for the Lord. Thus God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah of a son in their extreme age [Gen 18:14], and repeated in his promise to restore and liberate Jerusalem in the face of its imminent destruction by the Babylonians [Jer 32:27] this is the heart of god’s lordship and calls for an attitude of utter confidence in the midst of all “impossibilities” of human history or personal circumstances.
* He is all-knowing (omniscient) - c.f. Ps.139:1-12 This is at once disturbing and reassuring. It relates particularly to the theme of judgement and expressed in the image of the “opening of the books” [Rev 20:12]. The past is not gone for ever; all time is present to God for He is the great “I AM”.
* He is everywhere present (omnipresent) Look at what Psalm 139:7-12 says. The psalmist realises he cannot evade such a God in space, time or eternity. Further, when wickedness triumphs, or injustice and sheer might rule unchallenged, God knows and sees all [Ps 66:12; Is 43:2; Acts 23:11]. God is not mocked [Gal 6:7] and has appointed a day to judge the world [Acts 17:31].
3. The Holiness of God
This is another familiar concept - especially in the 0T and is closely related to both glory and lordship - see Isaiah's vision. Because God is holy, in serving him our lives and living are affected. Four related ideas are - His righteousness [it includes action which delivers and vindicates his people cf Jer 23:6], His justice [his holy will in operation, relating to his love and mercy, since his justice at times vindicates the needy and the penitent cf Ps 76:9, 1Jn 1:9], His wrath [not a whim, all that opposes him he resists with a total and final commitment], His goodness [relates to both his holiness and love cf Ex 33:19, Ps 34:8, Rom 2:8].
4. The Love of God
The most familiar definition of God in the NT is “God is love” [1 John 4:8]. In God holiness and love are not in tension, far less in contradiction. His love is a holy love - His holiness is a loving holiness. Read again 1 John 4:7-10. The agape-love of God is made plain in the teaching, actions and cross of Jesus as “the means by which our sins are forgiven”. Agape has little currency beyond the NT. The Gk term “eros” speaks of a love which relates to a worthy object, while agape is a love for the unworthy, for one who has forfeited all right to the lover’s devotion. His love ever works to redeem, forgive, restore and renew. Closely associated with his love is his grace - unmerited favour - and the concept of his fatherhood - “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The love of God is expressed principally in the redemption of sinners and all that goes with that. But it is also expressed in his care for his creation. This is referred to frequently as his goodness or kindness, which is also evident in the natural world [cf Acts 14:17]. God’s mercy is his love as it encounters specific human sin. He pardons his people’s transgression; God’s mercy is always costly for it involves his accepting the consequences of human sin in the Cross [Eph 2:4; Titus 3:5]. The Covenant is a key biblical notion round which much of the Bible’s teaching on God’s love is gathered. By it God freely commits himself to deliver his people and to remain their God. The Hebrew word is chesed=loyal love or “steadfast love” [RSV]. Our standing with God does not depend on our grasp of Christ, and is not qualified by faithlessness, disobedience or half-hearted responses. God’s almighty heart beats for us, and in that fact we find our ultimate security and peace.
** Fellowship Activities:
1. Share with one another some experience you have known of the mystery, wonder, greatness and variety of the Creator-God.
2. Share with one another some instance of God’s constant care or of His providence and provision.
3. Share some Bible passage from this sheet which has blessed, helped or challenged you
WHAT CHRISTIANS BELIEVE
REV. JOHN OLIVER EVANS
2. ABOUT THE HUMANITY OF JESUS
Background Passages: John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:6-10; Hebrews 2:9-18.
Introduction: "I believe in Jesus". Yet what do we believe about him? We have usually described him by names or titles - e.g. “Son of Man" or "Son of God". Interestingly, Son of Man is the designation Jesus uses of himself in the Gospels, notably in Mark. Its use in the OT can simply be another way of saying "a man". Ezekiel is thus addressed some ninety times and that is by way of emphasizing his frail humanity. However, it was also used of a divine figure breaking in from heaven whom the Jews came to expect - so in the book of Daniel. Jesus' use incorporates both: human - "nowhere to lay his head" and divine "sitting at the right hand of power". In the early Christian centuries the fight was about the reality of his humanity - whereas in more modern times generally the struggle seems to be in the reality of his divinity. Look up the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed - both have extended paragraphs on Jesus and their aim is to stress the reality of his human existence. This tension was resolved by the Council of Chalcedon (451) which defined Christ as one person, fully God and fully man, what the Westminster Confession of Faith describes as "two whole, perfect and distinct natures. . . . inseparably joined in one Person". To stress one at the expense of the other leads to a sadly distorted picture of him. In the NT it is the Gospel most stressing his divinity which states categorically “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) or as GNB has it “a human being”.
1. His Birth and Development:
The Gospels commence by setting Jesus in a stream of human genealogy - e.g. Matt 1:1-16, Luke 3:23-38. Whatever we say about the means of conception "by the Holy Spirit", his birth was a normal one - Matt.1:25, Luke 2:7, Gal.4:4. There was the climax of birth following all the normal stages of developing foetus in the womb, the weeks of gestation and labour. His life ran like ours, “from womb to tomb” [Kierkegaard]. This was followed by years of apparently normal growth and development - see Luke 2:40-52, Hebrews 5:8 - within a home and family life - Mark 6:1-6.
2. Physical Limitations:
The Jesus of the Gospels was subject to normal physical limitations. The Gospels make it plain he led a "normal" human existence in such mundane matters as eating and drinking (Luke 7:34-36), being hungry (Luke 4:2) or thirsty (John 19:8) or even tired (John 4:6f). Last century a fresh attempt was made to understand a real Incarnation in which the divine nature would not swamp or "squeeze out" his true humanity. It was based virtually on the passage in Philippians 2:6-11 especially verse 7. It says Christ "emptied himself" (RSV) or "gave up all he had" (GNB) - i.e. in terms of his glory, power, perfect knowledge and universal presence. They were careful to maintain that while giving up his divine self consciousness (yet see the Gospels in this) he did not give up his divine nature, which merely became latent. The view drew a lot of attack, usually because it was felt the explanation was saying the Son exchanged divinity for humanity. However, by any view the Incarnation surely requires some kind of self-limitation.
The Jesus of the Gospels experienced the full range of human emotions. “Those who imagine the Son of God was exempt from human passion do not truly and seriously acknowledge him to be a man” - John Calvin. Our Lord knew joy [Luke 10:21], sorrow [Matt 26:37, John 11:35], love [John 11:5], compassion [Matt 9:36], astonishment [Luke 9:9] and anger [Mark 3:5]. In fact an examination of some of the words used indicates the intensity of some of our Lord’s emotions - e.g. literally "convulsed with uncontrollable grief" (Luke 19:41); "a consternation that is appalled dismay" (Matt.27:46 cf. John 12:27); "hot indignation which .... consumes him like fire" (John 2.17).
Some might well feel that nowhere - unless it be the fact of death - is our human weakness more evident than here. We are told that in this also Jesus identified with us. See Matt.4:1-11, 27:42, Mark 1:24, 8:35, Luke 11:15-20. The NT witness is summed up in Hebrews 4:15. Remember the witness in the Gospels, that so evident was his humanity that the majority of his fellow-countrymen. - including some who knew him best - could not accept his claim to be the Messiah. Note such references as Mark 3:21, Luke 4:14-30 especially verse 22, John 6:42, Matt.13:55-56, and Mark 3:30. Sometimes conservative or evangelical Christians tend to stress the divinity of Jesus and fail to appreciate the full significance of his humanity. A quotation from a religious feature of Time magazine some years ago points this up:
"Three out of every four U.S. Lutherans do not believe that Jesus told jokes.
Eight out of ten do not think that he felt sexual attraction. More than half on
the other hand, have no trouble believing that Christ ‘knew everything all of
the time’, seven out of ten have no doubts about his divinity, and eight out of
ten believe that he rose physically from the dead. In short (they) reflect the
ancient heresy of separating the two natures of Jesus Christ (and) overemphasise
the divinity of Jesus almost to the exclusion of his humanity"
5 His Devotional Life:
Jesus took part in public worship [Luke 4:16]. He clearly studied, meditated upon and expounded Scripture [Matt 4:4f; 19:4; Luke 2:46; 24:27]. Quite apart from his inner, continuous communion with the Father, Jesus frequently engaged in audible prayer [Luke 3:21] and sometimes spent whole nights in prayer [Luke 6:12]. John’s Gospel in particular bears witness to Jesus’ life of utter submission to, and total dependence upon the Father who sent him [4:34; 6:38; 12:49 etc]. Although his relationship to the Father differs from ours [Luke 10:21f; John 20:17], it is still appropriate to describe Jesus as “the pioneer of our faith” [Heb 12:2]. This is how Martin Luther put it: "Take hold of Jesus as a man and you will discover that he is God"
* Read and ponder some of the following passages John 1:1-14, John 20:11-18, .John 20:24-29, John 21:15-19. Share what you think these encounters reveal of the true humanity of Jesus.
* "Take hold of Jesus as a man and you will discover that he is God" - Martin Luther. Share your reactions to that statement, perhaps based on the encounters above.
* Read again Hebrews 4:14-18 which is a key passage. Share with one another in what ways you feel comforted, strengthened or encouraged by what it says about Jesus and ourselves.
WHAT CHRISTIANS BELIEVE
REV JOHN OLIVER EVANS
3 ABOUT THE DIVINITY OF JESUS
Background Passages: John 1:1-18, Colossians 1:15 - 23,
Introduction: It is one thing to see in Jesus a great religious teacher, a wonderful human being a fine moral example, a charismatic leader or even a unique. prophet. It is something else again to accept the earliest basic confession of Christian faith: “Jesus Christ is Lord". The staggering fact is that at the very centre Christianity lies the conviction that Jesus is truly God. This is one of Christianity's most obvious distinctives. Jews and Muslims also acknowledge one supreme God and revere the patriarchs and prophets of the OT, but in the claims made for Jesus, Christianity stands alone. "As the NT unfolds," says one writer, "the fact Jesus is God is increasingly revealed. The hints turn to signposts and the signposts turn to bold acclamation."
1 His Character:
In the passage that speaks so eloquently of his humanity and of his being able to "sympathise with our weaknesses" and that he "in every respect has been tempted as we are", it says he was also without sin (Hebrews 4:15). In his debate with the Pharisees in John 8 he challenges them: "which of you convicts me: of sin?" (verse 46). The concept of his sinlessness and purity is what is conveyed here.. For some that seems a somewhat negative concept. Paul Tillich sought to give it positive dimension when he spoke of Jesus as “the New Being". He certainly is the prototype of the new creation. Probably into this area.- ie. sinlessness/New Being - belongs the whole discussion of the Virgin Birth of Jesus. Although plainly stated in the narratives of Matthew and Luke many have been perplexed by it. The mystery of this particular act of the Holy Spirit in coming upon Mary perhaps can only be regarded as a sovereign act of God, that it was required.
2 His Claims:
The Fourth Gospel sets out categorically to present Jesus as the .Son of God. The prologue (1:1-18) is packed full of significant comments especially the first five verses. It speaks of his pre-existence, of his part in creating and sustaining the world -functions which the OT ascribe to Jahweh. John's Gospel is built around seven sign-miracles (2:1-11, 4:46-54; 5:1-9, 6:1-13; 6:16-21, 9:1-41; 11:1-44), and seven “I AM” sayings (6:35; 8:12; 10:7; 10:11;11:25; 14:6 and 15:1). The Gospel climaxes in the risen Christ confronting the questioning Thomas and Thomas' confession "My Lord and my God" (20:28). The purpose behind the writing of the Gospel is spelt out in 20:30,31.
People were amazed at his teaching, “for he taught them as one who had authority" (Mark 1:24). Indeed he contrasted the received teaching of their tradition with what he had to say; "But I say to you" (Matt.5:22,28,32,34,39 and 44). In fact he declared: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Mark 13:31). Such authority was derived from God whom he habitually described as "the Father" or "my Father”. He claimed to be sent by the Father (John 4:34). To the Jews he uttered the astounding words: "before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58) and "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30). Further, regarding his relationship with the Father, he said the Son had been “in the bosom of the Father" and makes him known (John 1:18), that he is the only way to the Father (John 14:6), that all the Father has is his:(John 16:15) that judgement is given over to the Son (John 5:22), that the Son gives life (John 5:21 and 10:10), and indeed that the Son is to be honoured/worshipped as well as the Father (John 5 23). Paul says all God's fullness dwells in Christ (Colossians 1:19, 2:9). In this relationship, clearly he did not consider equality with God something to be held on to (Phil 2:6). Within the dynamic relationship of the Trinity, there seems to be something of a practical subordination. Jesus maintained he was sent by the Father (John 4:34), in the Father's name (Jn.5:43), doing the Father’s works (John.5:36; 9:4; 10:25) and his purpose was to accomplish his Father's will (Jn.5:30; 6:38,). He made it plain that the great thing the Father wanted was for people to believe in the Son (John 6:29).
3. His Conduct:
The whole of his life - ie. his teaching and deeds, his suffering, his death on the Cross and his Resurrection was directed to fulfilling the great work the Father had given him. He was to be the Saviour and Redeemer of lost human beings and a fallen creation (c.f. Romans 8:19-25). In Christ (Paul's great catch-phrase), that is, by and through all Jesus did in his dying and rising, those who believe in him are:
* released (redeemed) from the bondage of self and sin to serve God
- John 8:36, Galatians 3:13, 4:5; Titus2:14; 1 Peter 1:18; Revelation 5:9.
* reconciled to God - the word of healed and restored relationships
- 2 Corinthians ,5:18,19; Colossians 1:19-22, Romans 5:10-11.
* adopted into God's own family and entitled to call him-"Father"
- Romans 8:15; 8:23; Galatians 4:5f, Ephesians 1:.5 (AV).
* born again - given a completely new beginning
- John 3:3; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 Peter 1:23; John 1:13; John 3:6-7.
* made clean - purified/sanctified
- Psalm 51:10; John 15:3; 1John 1:7,9; 1John 2:2; Isaiah 53:5, 1Corinthians 1:30;
* justified - the picture from the law court in which the guilty are acquitted
- Romans 3:2; Romans 5:1,2; 1Corinthians 6:11; Roman s 4:25; 5:6-11; 8:1. '
There is salvation in no one else (Acts 4:12) for God has exalted him and bestowed upon him the Name that is over every other name (Philippians 2:9-11). He is Lord over all (Colossians 1:15-20) and one day the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ (Revelation 11:15).
1. Share with one another one Gospel incident manifesting the divinity of Jesus which is particularly significant to you.
2. Read again Colossians 1:15-20 ? Explore together what it says about Jesus. Share with one another one claim which challenges you
3. Choose one of the figures above describing what Jesus has done for us and tell the group what it has come to mean to you.
WHAT CHRISTIANS BELIEVE
REV JOHN OLIVER EVANS
4 ABOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT
Background Passages: Ezekiel 37: 1-14; John 14:15-31; Romans 8.
Introduction: Perhaps it is too much to say that we would have to admit with those would-be disciples Paul met in Ephesus (Acts 19), "we have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Spirit"! The phenomenon of the Charismatic Movement has seen to that. The sub-title to one book on the personal ministry of the Holy Spirit is: "The Church's Neglected Possession". The whole topic has become a tangle of neglect and confusion, of prejudice and controversy, of allegation and recrimination..
1. Old Testament Background
The Holy Spirit was not somehow "invented' on the Day of Pentecost. Teaching on the Spirit can be traced right through the OT. In Genesis 1:2 the Spirit of God moved over the face of the deep. The Hebrew word "ruach" denotes wind, breath or .spirit. The Spirit of God is his life-giving breath without which Christians remain spiritually inert. While sometimes "ruach" is used of man's spirit, usually “nephesh" denotes man's life, and while there can be links between "nephesh" and "ruach", -the main content of each is clear. Nephesh is natural: it belongs to human beings. Ruach is supernatural: it belongs to God. When it is given to humankind it is on loan, so to speak, a resident alien. Thus the Spirit of God is linked to speaking in God's name (prophecy) - see Numbers 11:16-30. The Spirit of God in power is linked to the ministry of the heroes of Israel in the Book of Judges - see Othniel (3:9,10); Gideon (6:34) and Samson (14:6 cf..16:20). In the ministry of the prophets there is direct reference. to the Spirit of God with regard to the Servant of Yahweh (Isaiah 42:1), the prophet's ministry (Isaiah 61:1 quoted by Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth), the new Covenant (Ezekiel 36:25ff) and the new era to come (Joel 2:28ff - fulfilled at Pentecost). There are even two references to the Holy Spirit - see Isaiah 63:10-11 and Psalm 51:11.
2 Jesus and the Holy Spirit
In addition to references to "the Spirit of God", "the Spirit of the Lord" and "Holy Spirit" - (the most usual one in NT),-he-is referred to as the “eternal spirit" (Hebrews 9:14) and in a striking instance as "the Spirit of Jesus" (Acts 16:7). In the NT there is a close relationship between the person and work of Jesus and the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel makes it plain he was conceived by the Holy Spirit. At his baptism he was enabled by the Spirit. It is Jesus the Lord who sends the Spirit into the world and into the Church (see John 7:39; 14:16f; 16:7). Jesus refers to Him as "another Counsellor/Helper" - (cf.1 Jn.2:1 - i.e. "another like myself"). It is Jesus who says the unforgivable sin is against the Holy Spirit (Matt 12:22-32; Mark 3:20-30, Luke 11:14-23, 12:10). As Jesus operated in a frame of reference to "the Father" - so, in the NT, the Spirit relates to the Son. According to our Lord himself, two of the supreme functions of the Holy Spirit are to bear witness to Christ (eg John 15:26) and to glorify Christ (eg. John 16:14).
3. The Holy Spirit and Christian Beginnings
The NT is quite unequivocal. No one can say. "Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). The Spirit shows us our need, brings conviction of sin and gives us the grace of repentance (John 16:8ff). He shows us that Jesus is Saviour and Lord (John 12:32; 16:14). He brings us to faith and new birth in Christ ( John 3:5; 1Cor 12:3; Eph 2:8-9).
4. The Holy Spirit and Christian Growth
Linking Beginnings and Growth is the whole area of proper Christian Assurance. Paul uses two metaphors to describe how the Holy Spirit assures us we belong to God - the seal, which authenticates as being genuine and having his royal authority - cf. Ephesians 1:13 and 2 Corinthians 1:22. The other is the idea of the Guarantee or pledge (Gk: arrabon) of our future inheritance in Christ, the down payment, the first instalment - cf. Ephesians 1:14. As it were, the moment we believe, we are marked with the divine seal - given the divine guarantee. In a word, it is clear that the gift of the Spirit is part of the Good News of the Gospel - hence Paul's question in Acts 19:2 - c.f. Acts 2:38. In Romans 8:15 (AV) Paul contrasts the spirit of bondage and the spirit of adoption. Thus it is the inner witness of the Holy Spirit which enables us confidently to address God as "abba - Father” - see also 8:16. On this note of assurance see 1 John 3.24 which links our knowing with the thought of abiding (from John 15) of the Lord in us and us in Him. That is how we grow up to maturity in Christ. It is the Spirit’s task to bring forth fruit or a harvest from our lives - see Galatians 5:22-23. This is a constant, continuous process - cf Philippians 1:6; 2:13. Notice the close relationship between the believer and the indwelling Spirit - c.f. 1 Corinthians 6:19. Notice -
Resisting the Spirit (Acts 7:51); Grieving the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30); Despising the Spirit (Hebrews 10:29) and Quenching the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19). In this regard too, the Holy Spirit is linked to-the Word of God in the Scriptures. He inspires the writers (2 Timothy 3:16-17;2 Peter 1:21) and illumines the understanding of those who read or teach (John 16:13-15). Hence the references to the Spirit of truth (John 14:17; 15:26 etc).
5 The Holy Spirit and Ministry
All service and ministry for the Kingdom are done not in our own strength or power, but in God's. In both OT and NT one dimension of the Holy Spirit’s working is in power - e.g. "not by (human) might or by (human) power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord (Zechariah 4:6). There is also the promise of Jesus at his ascension, "You shall receive power...you shall be my witnesses" (Acts 1:6). Thus, again, all is based on grace (charis) - and such gifts of ministry are gifts of grace -hence "charismata". In the passages dealing with spiritual gifts - Romans 12 and 1 Cor.12-14 - notice the variety and distribution of the gifts. The gifts are intended to build up the church -edification - not for puffing ourselves up. They are given and used on behalf of the Body, and for use in the world to the glory of God.
6 The Holy Spirit and our Experience
As previously noted, we cannot be Christians apart from the Holy Spirit (1 Cor12:3,13). All Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. While the use of the phrase Baptism in/of the Spirit is perhaps unfortunate and misleading, we dare not deny the effective, continuing ministry of the Spirit in the lives of believers. Thereby many have condemned themselves to an arid and superficial Christian pilgrimage. More properly Paul urges believers: "Be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) - literally, keep on letting the Holy Spirit fill you. This effectively picks up the metaphor of being soaked, saturated, dipped or baptised in the Spirit. It is in this way that the gifts are released in us. From time to time we can have a special experience of the Holy Spirit - ie an anointing of the Spirit - usually in the face of some particular need, difficulty, opportunity or situation (cf Acts 4:8) which is after Peter’s experience at Pentecost. All this, of course, presupposes not merely a vague belief in the Holy Spirit, but a longing for Him, an openness to his working and a willingness to be an agent of the Spirit.
* Share together why you think there is such suspicion, fear or hesitation about the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit in parts of the Church today.
* Explore the fruit of the Spirit [Galatians 5:22-23]. Share with one another one which you feel needs to be cultivated in your life.
WHAT CHRISTIANS BELIEVE
REV JOHN OLIVER EVANS
5. ABOUT HUMANKIND
Background Passages: Genesis 2-3; Psalms 8 and 51; 2 Cor.5:1-11
Introduction: Human beings are a puzzle. From one point of view they are simply made up of appropriate amounts of carbon, water, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulphur, lime, nitrogen and some mineral salts. From another, we are made up of conscious and unconscious mind; assorted intellectual, emotional and volitional powers as well as various instincts! Thus human beings can produce great works of creativity in art, literature; music; make discoveries in science and medicine which can be of benefit and blessing to millions. They can devise the pyramids, the Pieta, the Mona Lisa, penicillin or open-heart surgery - but the list must also include horror, suffering and cruelty, Auchwitz, the holocaust, the nuclear bomb, chemical warfare and all the rest written large in the history of the race. This is what Pascal described as “the greatness and wretchedness of man”.
1. Humanity and Creation:
Genesis 1:26-31 makes it plain that humankind is the pinnacle of God's creative activity. From a slightly different perspective Genesis 2 views man as the centre of the creation. In a word it is no mere chance event. However, we view it by direct creation or by one of the variations of "evolution", clearly it is part of the purpose, design and will of the Eternal. Equally clear is the fact that humankind is distinguished from all other animals by our rational powers, moral awareness, use of language, etc. It is stated that humanity is made "in the image of God" (Gen.1:26). Incidentally, notice the NT uses the phrase of Jesus (2.Cor.4:4; Col.1:15 cf.Heb.1:3) and Christian people are destined to share the divine image through their union with Christ (Rom.8:29; 1.Cor.15:49(b); Col.3:10). While there has been discussion whether human beings consist of body and soul or of body, soul and spirit, nowadays the emphasis is usually upon the unity of the person. Further, the various terms are really different ways of looking at the one person - eg Gen.2:7 "man became a living soul" (nephesh), Psalm 8:5 (GNB) declares that man in creation is inferior only to God. Humankind has a delegated authority for creation - see Gen.1:28(b), 2:19. Our full humanity is expressed in the complementariness of our maleness and femaleness - see Gen.1:27 and 2:18-24. Thus we were to live in harmony with our environment, with the created order and with our own kind. Does "the image of God" mean that like Him, we can exercise creativity, authority and freedom? W. Eichrodt remarks "For man to be created in the likeness of God can only mean that in him too, personhood is bestowed as the definitive characteristic of his nature . . . he is . . . open to the divine address and capable of responsible action". True as that is, perhaps Augustine has caught it more intimately still: "Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee”. However, humankind is still creature not creator, exercises authority but is accountable, and is steward of the garden not the owner.
2. Humanity and Sin:
Genesis 3 recounts the story of "the Fall" and the concept of some great cataclysmic disaster with far-reaching effects cannot lightly be dismissed. Indeed, most fear a future event that would change the course of the world and life as we know it - nuclear holocaust and what life would be like to survive the devastation. Thus we cannot know what life was like before, only the experience of after. More importantly, sin is not just something we are caught up in by our solidarity with the human race. It has personal dimensions - we are personally involved as it were. In Genesis 3 the creature disobeys and rebels. TilIich saw three phases of sin as "estrangement" from God - common to all:
(a) Turning away from God as the Centre: This is unbelief - not an unwillingness or inability to believe the doctrines of the faith or the teaching of the Church, but is an act of the total personality. It is the separation of our will from the will of God - cf “they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters [Jer 2:13].
(b) Setting ourselves up as the Centre: "You will be like God" - Genesis 3:5 (GNB). This is what the Greek tragedies called hubris. It is pride, self-elevation and arrogance - which refuses to recognise finitude and creatureliness.
(c) Drawing everything into ourselves as the Centre: This is what the fathers called "concupiscence - the unlimited desire to draw the whole of reality into oneself - seeking to "gain the whole world". It is covetousness for power, possessions, position, pleasure.
In the Genesis 3 narrative sin has devastating effects. Some scholars maintain that because of sin "the image of God" was totally lost and can only be restored by the new birth - hence the phrase "total depravity”. However, the Bible does not refer to total loss and the phrase is still used of "fallen" man (see Gen.9:6; 1.Cor.11:7; James 3:9). Calvin could speak of "relics" of the image of God which distinguish humankind from the brute creation. Some Dutch reformed scholars refer to common or universal grace. In a word “total depravity” does not so much refer to total absence of goodness as to the fact that there is no dimension of human life and existence which has escaped the effect of sin.
* We are unfit for God's presence - see Genesis 3:23. Thus we are separated from him and face his judgement.(cf Gen.3:24; Matt. 3:7; Rom.1:18; 1Thess 1:10).
* We are unable to do God's will - We have lost our freedom to conform to the divine purpose, and have become slaves to sin (cf John 8:34; Rom.7:21f).
* We are unrighteous before God's law - we are under condemnation (Deut.27:26; Rom.3:19f; 5:16ff; Gal 3:10).
* We are insensitive to God's word - We hear enough to be inexcusable for our unbelief, but not enough to comprehend God's way and will - (c.f. John 5;39f; 1.Cor.2:14; Rom.1:18-25).
3. Humanity and Grace:
The Gospel is Good News. If because of our human solidarity with Adam “all die” - so by virtue of our union/solidarity with Christ "all are made alive again". In Him we become “a new creation” (2.Cor.5:17) and enter the new humanity. Read again Ephesians 2:1-10. Notice again the darkness and desolation of sin - then comes verse 4 "BUT GOD" Sin alienates or estranges us from God - from one another - from ourselves and from the created order. Christ in his dying and rising heals, reconciles and restores. This is God's grace in action. He gives us back our relationship with God (we call him Father); with one another (we live in fellowship), with ourselves (for anxiety and despair we have peace and hope) and with the world (for it will be redeemed and transformed. He gives us His Spirit to enable us to live for His glory and as our assurance of all that lies before - beyond our sight.
1. Read Psalm 8 aloud - Share with the-group one example of the greatness of man so far as you are concerned.
2. Discuss together ways in which sin alienates us from God, from one another, from ourselves and from our environment.
3. Share with one another important lessons from 1John 1:5-10 or Psalm 51:1-13.
WHAT CHRISTIANS BELIEVE
REV JOHN OLIVER EVANS
6. ABOUT the CHURCH
Background Passages: John 17.9-23; Acts 2:42-47; Ephesians 2:17-22, 4:1-16; 1 Peter 2:4-10.
Introduction: What does it mean when we say: “I believe in...the Church”? We hear it said that people want Christianity, not churchianity and we would agree with such a sentiment. Young people in practice largely seem to be saying "yes" to Christ, but "no" to Church as part of a revolt against sacred institutionalism or a spiritual establishment. Calvin commented that you cannot have God as your Father and not have the Church as your Mother! We certainly do not wish to have an exaggerated view-of the Church's importance, but the opposite is equally to be avoided, that the Church is of no importance. What is the biblical understanding of the Church?
1. Some Images of the Church:
* The People of God is a concept, rooted in Scripture, which is increasingly prominent today. It speaks of God’s relationship with his people and is directly linked to the idea of "covenant”. It is expressed in the repeated declaration "I will be your God, and you will be my people" (see Exodus 6:7; 19:5; Jeremiah 30:22; Ezekiel 36:28; Hosea 2:23). The notion of the people of God continues in the NT church which is "the Israel of God" (Gal.6:16) and notice Peter's use of it in 1 Peter 2:9. The relationship has been inaugurated and ratified in the New Covenant instituted by Jesus in his life, death and resurrection (Matt.26:28; Hebrews 9:15 c.f. Jer.31:31).
The customary N.T. word for Church is ekklesia and refers to the people being called out of the world, called in to the new relationship in Covenant, and called together to hear the Word of God and to worship him. The figure of "a peopIe" also includes ideas of authority, discipline, structure, function and purpose. In a word, we are a people - organised, ordered and effective; not an unruly, disorganised, purposeless mob.
. * The Body of Christ is the picture of which Paul is particularly fond. It speaks of our being incorporate in Christ. Christ is the head of the body (Ephesians 5:25; Colossians 1:18;2:19). He is the Lord of the body. In another sense it speaks of the mutual inter-dependence of the various parts of the body (1 Corinthians 12:12-50 Thus we belong to Christ and we belong to one another in the body. We need one another. Otherwise the body is disfigured and deformed; and we are all the losers.
* The Building of God is the metaphor which follows on from the tabernacIe and temple of the 0T as the place where God dwelt. God dwells among his people by the Holy Spirit. Thus Paul can say "do you not know" (a) that you (plural) are God's temple and the Spirit lives among you - (1 Cor.3:16); and (b) that your body (singular) is the temple of the Spirit who lives in you (1 Cor.6:19 The idea of the Church as God's building is also found in 1 Cor.3:9; Ephesians 2:22 and 1 Peter 2:5.
* The Bride of Christ is a particularly vivid image. It has roots in the 0T in Israel's relationship with Yahweh - e.g. Isaiah 54:5-8; Jer.2:2. Jesus picked up the metaphor, referring to himself as the bridegroom (e.g.Mark 2:18-20) and using the figure of the wedding feast in many parables of the Kingdom. The specific reference to the Church as Bride is in Revelation. It picks up associated ideas of betrothal [declaration of intent to marry], waiting, preparing and then the fulfilment of hope in the wedding itself. See Revelation 19:7 and 21:2. A related passage would be Ephesians 5:25-30. The picture emphasises Christ’s relationship to us - founded on unqualified, gracious love. Similarly, it emphasises our responsibilities of fidelity, loyalty and devotion to our Lord.
2. Marks of the Church:
The Nicene Creed states: “I believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church”. These are the traditional marks or characteristics of the Church -
* The Church is ONE deriving its existence from the one true God and believers share a common life and faith - see Ephesians 4:1-6. The unity of believers is a "given" of the Gospel and the NT urges believers to "maintain" or keep the fundamental oneness of life given by the Spirit. Our Lord prayed for such oneness in John 17. Notice the oneness is never a stereotyped uniformity. It is unity in diversity, corresponding to the fellowship in diversity of the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Unity in diversity is the whole thrust of the body motif in 1 Corinthians 12.
* The Church is HOLY because it is set apart to the service of God - see 1 Peter 2:9. Christians are constantly being urged to remember who they are and live accordingly. This is clearly set out in passages such as Ephesians 4:1 - "walk worthy" (AV) and in 5:15 "so be careful how you live" (GNB). Such a consecrated life, utterly dedicated to the Lord is the theme of Romans 12:1,2.
* The Church is CATHOLIC in that it is not merely local but universal - in all the world. This is the great commission (Matt.28:19; cf Acts 1:8). See how Paul lifts the vision of the Corinthians to the scope of the Church (1 Cor.1:2) - "together with all people everywhere". Paul bears witness to the spread of the Gospel in Colossians 1:6. See too the song of the redeemed in Revelation 5:9-10.
* The Church is APOSTOLIC in that it bears witness to the ministry and resurrection of the Lord, and is the bearer of the authentic Gospel. It has to do with our conformity to the apostolic faith. Apostolicity has thus everything to do with faithfulness and obedience to the apostolic message and nothing to do with the imposition of episcopal hands. That is the real apostolic succession - see 2 Tim.2:2 (RSV).
3. Function of the Church:
What does the Church do? What is it for? It is to serve God's glory we say. But how? See Acts 2:42-47.
[a] Latreia - Worship: Enabled by the Spirit, we offer love, praise, adoration and prayer to God. It is done by Christians individually and in groups - but particularly as a body.
[b] Koinonia - Fellowship: As believers we share together in our life in in Christ. It is mutual association, participation, partnership. We are committed to one another and dependent on one another. We practice hospitality (Heb.13;2), bear one another's burdens (Gal.6:2), encourage one another (Heb.10.:25), and pray for one another (John 13:34).
(c) Diakonia - Ministry: We are committed to service in humility. We are servants of one another as well as of the Lord. Jesus gave us an example - he took a towel and basin and washed the disciples feet (John 13) Ministry in the Church is also linked to the gifts of the Spirit, so that all have gifts and all are ministers/servants. There are also specialist ministries - pastors, teachers, evangelists, prophets, elders etc. - see Ephesians 4:11 etc.
(d) Marturia - Witness: We are all called to be witnesses. "You shall be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8). As someone put it - if we were charged with being Christians is there enough evidence to convict us?
1. Tell one another which picture of the Church you find especially meaningful at present, and why.
2. Discuss which mark[s] of the church you think WE need to be working on as a congregation?
3. Share with one another ONE function of the Church you think is suffering in Greyfriars at present, and what might be done by way of remedy.
WHAT CHRISTIANS BELIEVE
REV JOHN OLIVER EVANS
7. ABOUT BAPTISM
Background Passages: Acts 8 26-39; 16:13-15,25-34; Romans 6:1-4; 1Cor. 12:12-14;
Colossians 2:9-13; Galatians 3:26-29.
Introduction: Baptism is the sacrament of Christian initiation. There are OT references to ritual and other washing or acts of purification involving water to express a cleansing from the pollution and guilt of sin (Ex.19:14f; Lev.16:4,24; cf Ps.51:2). In the context of Jesus ministry there was the baptism of John which emphasised repentance (Matt.3:2) and anticipated the imminent coming of the Kingdom, which in turn involved Judgment (see Matt.3:7-12). Clearly, when our Lord was baptised by John repentance for sin was not involved - hence John's reluctance. Jesus' baptism was an act of identification/solidarity with needy humanity, and a public act of consecration/commissioning to his ministry. Apparently our Lord’s disciples baptised, although he himself did not do so (See John 3:22f; 4:1f). The Great Commission to go into all the world to preach, teach and baptize is nowadays regarded by some scholars to be textually suspect. However it is clear from Acts and the Epistles that baptism was the normal practice of Christian initiation. It was the confession of faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord. It was the means of admission to the fellowship of the Church. (See Acts 8:36-39; 9:18; 16:33). Compared with Matthew 28:19 it can be noted that in Acts baptism was usually in or into the name of Jesus - see Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5.
1. Signs, Seals and Grace:
The Church of England catechism in a famous sentence defines a sacrament as"an outward and visible sign of our inward and invisible grace". The Churches of the Reformation acknowIedge only the two sacraments which can be traced to our Lord's direct command. The Salvation Army and the Society of Friends do not administer Baptism or the Lord's Supper.
In baptism clearly the visible sign is water. By God's gracious action the reality is sealed to us and made effective in us. Thus baptism is variously described as "the washing of rebirth" (Titus 3:5), forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38); union with Christ in his death and resurrection (Romans 6:1ff) and entry into the one body of Christ (1 Cor.12:12ff).
Further, a number of references indicate a link between baptism in water and baptism in the Spirit - Galatians 3:26f; 1 Cor 12:12 and Acts 2:38. It is because of this that in some Pentecostal circles there is the hope/expectation that in their baptism in water the candidates will emerge "speaking in tongues" - in their view the sure sign of baptism in the Spirit. While the Church still affirms "one baptism" - differences arise over baptismal practice, as exemplified in the title of Bridges and Phypers' book, "The Water That Divides."
2. Infant Baptism:
Fundamentally, the churches which practice infant baptism do so on the basis of their understanding of the Covenant which would include children as well as adults. Loosely put, the Church is regarded as the spiritual successor to Israel of old. They see some degree of continuity between the Old and New Covenants. It can be suggested that Paul regards both as cove:nants of grace and faith - see Rom.3:21-4:24. As circumcision was the sign of the Old, so baptism is the sign of the New. Thus the sign and seal are applicable to children of those within the Covenant. Emphasis is made of such passages as "the promise is to you and to your children" (Acts 2:39) as well as to references to whole households (see Acts 16:15:,31; 1Cor.1:16;16:15ff). It is suggested children would not be excluded. Thus, in stressing this view of Covenant - we are emphasising what God has done for us even while we were sinners. It is a sign of God’s love and initiative which precedes and makes possible our response to him in repentance and faith. Thus in Infant Baptism we find :
* A strong affirmation of God’s sovereignty and grace, which seeks us out before we could do anything for ourselves.
* A strong sense of the Covenant aspect of faith and thus the Church is compared to Isarel, and baptism to circumcision.
* The personal faith of the parents (or sponsors) and their promise to bring up the child "in the nuture and admonition of the Lord".
* The real anticipation that God in his goodness.will bring such children in hls own time to personal acknowledgment of and commitment to Christ - ie. profession of faith/confirmation.
* The whole context of the nurturing, caring, teaching, modelling, praying ministry of the local congregation, the church of God in that place.
3. Believer's Baptism:
Someone has said, perhaps a trifle unfairly, that in Believer’s baptism what is stressed is the candidate's testimony, faith and experience, while in infant baptism it is the grace of God which is emphasized. In this regard, Karl Barth has a memorable sentence: "In the NT everyone comes to baptism; no one is brought to it". Those holding to the view that baptism should be administered only on the basis of personal repentance.and faith, would argue that there is.no recorded exception to such a standard in the NT. They could assert that contrary to what is set out in the previous section, there is both continuity and discontinuity between the Old Covenant and the New, and insufficient weight is being given to the dimension of discontinuity. They would also suggest the references to whole households being baptised as merely inferring infants, and, for example, what we know of Lydia does not cast her in the role of young mother (Acts 16:13-15) and the Corinthian households are spoken of as responsible people (1 Cor.16:15f). Are the children of believing parents different in some way from others? So Paul says in 1 Cor.7:14 that such a child is "holy''. However, it should be noted the same term is used earlier in the same verse with regard to a Christian partner's “consecrating” effect on an unbeheving spouse. So where should we take that one? Thus, in the celebration of Believer's Baptism we note:
* The strong affirmation of what God has done and now offers in Christ.
* Personal repentance and faith on the part of the beliver/ candidate.
* The fulfilment of NT symbolism - especially by immersion, i.e. dying and rising,.
* The context of the worshipping and witnessing people of God.
Conclusion: It should be remembered that formalism can creep into any practice of baptism. Again in either mode of baptism the wrong notion of baptismal regeneration can creep in. We are brought into a right relationship with God by what Christ did once and for all upon the Cross and not by baptism (see 1Cor.1:12-18). Strictly speaking baptism, in whatever mode, is carried out once. In every generation some people baptised as infants develop a conscience regarding being baptised by immersion. It would seem this is essentially a pastoral matter. In recent years our own Presbyterian Church authorised Services of Confirmation or Rededication by Immersion. 0ne of the benefits of the Plan for Union (1971) was that there was a place for both modes of baptism in the uniting church. Perhaps by reason of our secular society such a diversity will come upon us anyway and we will see more baptisms resulting from evangelism rather than nurture or even custom.
* Think of a service of Infant Baptism. What features make you want to say “yes” to it? Which make you say"no"? Discuss.
* Which passage relating to baptism has been a blessing to you regarding your own relationship with God - and why?
* Have you ever desired to be baptised by immersion - or not? What motivated you and what would you be trying to express?
WHAT CHRISTIANS BELIEVE
REV JOHN OLIVER EVANS
8. ABOUT THE LORD’S SUPPER
Background Passages: Exodus 12:1-14, Deuteronomy 16:1-8, Luke 22:14-20 (and parallels) and 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Introduction: With the exception of the Salvation Army and the Society Friends, all Christian churches celebrate the Lord's Supper. The form and the frequency will vary from one denominational family to another so that there is the stark simplicity of the breaking of bread in a typical Brethren morning service or high mass with vestments and incense in various Roman Catholic, Orthodox or even Anglican rites, together with everything in between. Depending on denominational or local custom, the services are held weekly, monthly, quarterly or half-yearly.
The roots of our communion service are clearly in the Passover in OT and the Last Supper. Interestingly enough Paul spells out the link in 1Corinthians 5:7,8 to a diverse group of Gentile believers. At the Last Supper (see Luke 22:14-20) Jesus imparts to his followers a new meaning to their traditional remembrance of the Passover - especially to the thanksgiving for bread and wine. We need to understand that for the Hebrew mind - remembering the Passover and the events associated with the Exodus is not merely some kind of mental act of respect. It is "recalling” so as to make the past again present and here and now operative by its effects. Or as the Mishnah puts it "in every generation a man must so regard himself as if he came forth himself out of Egypt". Remember that in Luke's account of the transfiguration (9:31) Moses and Elijah discuss with Jesus "the exodus he must accomplish in Jerusalem". So far as how the bread and wine work in this way even Calvin openly acknowledged "that it is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare. And to speak more plainly, I rather experience it than understand it”.
1. This Do!”:
For all our proper desire to avoid involved or complicated interpretations of what happens in the Communion service as a means of grace, we ought to desire a true understanding of what we are doing.
* It is an occasion of Thanksgiving. The word eucharist comes from the Greek eucharistia, meaning thanksgiving. The Lord's Supper is not primarily a time of solemnity. In fact it is supremely a time of holy praise, joy, love and adoration for all that God has done for us in Christ. We praise him, we bless him, we rejoice before him for our salvation, our new life in Christ, and for all the potential of the life in the Spirit. There is something sadly wrong if we regard it as some stuffy, formal rite. It is the love-offering of our praise gratitude and devotion - warm, intense and meaningful.
* It is an occasion of Commemoration. We are familiar with the words: “This do, in remembrance of me". We consciously look back to what Christ did once and for all upon the Cross, through his broken body and poured-out blood. Or, rather, as the Hebrews did, we are remembering and recalling into our present experience the Lord Jesus and his costly ministry of salvation. If there is solemnity - it is here. Solemn - not in the sense of pompous or even merely pious - but rather awesome, so that we are literally overwhelmed by all that the Lord accepted, suffered, endured for us human beings and for our salvation. We remember he was wounded for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:5). He was made sin for us (2 Cor.5:21) that in him we might share in the righteousness of God. He arose in triumph over sin and death. We remember him.
* It is an occasion of Communion: These are precious moments of fellowship, participation, sharing in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. He is present by the Spirit. He is present to our faith. This aspect of communion reflects the whole idea of our abiding in him and his abiding in us - as set out in the discussion of the vine and the branches in John 15. However, it should be noted that such abiding in him is a whole-of-life matter and not limited to the sacramental concept. Thus we believe that in the Lord’s Supper our own personal - and corporate - faith, love and devotion are being nourished and sustained. He is strengthening us in the midst of all the turmoil and tension of life, enabling us to overcome them by his Spirit. Rather than notions of transubstantiation, we would affirm that the presence of the Lord at the Table, not on the Table. We affirm the Lord’s Supper is a special means of grace not a means of special grace. What makes the sacrament effective is not magic or superstition, but the grace of God, joined to living faith in and personal commitment to Jesus the Lord.
* It is an occasion of Consecration: The shewing forth of the Lord's death and resurrection calls for a response. Our word sacrament comes from the Latin "sacramentum" - the oath of allegiance to the Emperor. Thus we are not only recalling joyfully all the Lord has done for us, there is the glad giving of ourselves to Him anew in deeper devotion and closer obedience. It is a time when we renew our vows of discipleship and membership. Romans 12:1,2 fits naturally into place here - recalling God's mercies to us; we are summoned to live appropriately.
* It is an occasion of Hope: We are being less than just to the Lord’s Supper if we regard it as solely pointing back to the Cross. It is also a pointing forward to the future, to the Crown and to the fulfilment of the Kingdom. "Ye do shew the Lord's death till he come". Thus our celebration ought to include notes of triumph and victory, exultant expectation, anticipated glory and the great hope of the Church in the coming of the Lord. "Even so, come, Lord Jesus" (Rev.22:20).
2. Worthy Partaking - Discerning the Body:
Traditionally, over the years, within the Presbyterian family an aura has surrounded the Lord's Supper primarily due to the concept of the Communion "season". It marked a special time of worship requiring a special time of preparation. Emphasis was placed in I Corinthians 11:27-29 in this regard and the idea of worthy or unworthy partaking was linked to verse 28 which speaks of the need for self-examination. From the context, what is concerning Paul is not so much their spiritual or moral fitness but their lack of awareness of and sensitivity to others - see verses 17-22,33-34. If the question really is "who is worthy to partake", then the answer is clearly "none of us". We are all sinners - saved by grace. If we are concerned with preserving the table from flagrant abuse - or "fencing the table", then this is the purpose of examining ourselves - our lives and our motives. "Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins, are in love and charity with your neighbours and intend to lead a new life following the commandments of God, and walking in his holy ways, draw near ". The requirement of healed personal relationship is real - remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:23-24. It is also linked to "discerning the body" - not in the bread but in the fellowship. The Lord's Supper is not merely a personal act - it is a corporate act of the whole church in fellowship with the Lord and with one another.
3. "In Remembrance of Me":
We all speak of the need for Christian people to participate in the Lord's Supper "regularly". How often is that? In some parishes in Scotland it is still only twice in the year. For Presbyterians with Free Church links, it is quarterly. Here in Greyfriars we also celebrate the Lord's Supper monthly and usually on festival days of the Christian Year - Easter, Pentecost«, Christmas. In the medieval church ordinary people communicated normally only once in the year. The reformers wished for a weekly celebration (Calvin:Institutes ch.17 sections 43,44). Perhaps there can be fears of a wrong kind of sacramentalism where the preaching of the Word is edged out or denied proper place. However the Lord's Supper originally belonged to the normal worship of the Church. George Mallone says, “The Church has always celebrated the Lord's Supper as the focal point of worship. Neither preaching, charismatic praise nor silent contemplation is a fitting substitute for this practice. We need each of these in our worship service. But we also need weekly participation in the Lord's Supper. Jesus chooses to meet us at this station of grace. We do him great dishonour to ignore it or disobey it”.
WHAT CHRISTIANS BELIEVE
REV JOHN OLIVER EVANS
9. ABOUT THE BIBLE
Background Passages: Psalm 19; Psalm 119:1-16; 97-112; John 10:34-46; 2 Tim 5:15-17; Hebrews 4.12-13.
Introduction: One of the great slogans of the Reformers was: "Grace alone, Scripture alone, faith alone”. Since then, the reading, preaching, teaching of the Scriptures has been central in the Churches of the Reformation. Thus most of us have grown up in situations where a Bible is not merely a household or family possession, but a personal possession. We might even have a variety of versions which we have acquired over the years as they have become available. We have grown accustomed to the thinking which says that we who have received so much from the Scriptures really owe it to others around the world who do not have the Bible - or only small parts of it - in their own language, to assist generously in the work of Scripture translation and distribution. Such concern, passion and urgency stem from our attitude to the Scriptures and our understanding of the Scriptures. Why should we think in this way? Is the Bible merely a good-luck charm or part of the Christian package? Or are the Scriptures something unique and special? If so; why and how? -
1. The Inspiration of the Word:
In this section we consider some key phrases we use in connection with the Scriptures as the Word of God. We need to use them not merely unthinkingly as "catch-phrases" but with at least a broad understanding of what we mean - and do not mean - by them. They also relate to one another.
(a) Inspiration: A familiar enough concept, but in fact the phrase is used only once in the NT- 2 Tim.3:16 where the phrase is literally (so NIV) "God-breathed" or breathed out by God. Again remember the association of ideas between breath and the Holy Spirit. Thus 2 Peter 1:19-21 makes plain that "men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit". We see too, that the Scriptures have a human element - the personality, understanding and activity in speaking or in writing of the human agent - prophet, psalmist, apostle etc. However, behind them we see the sovereign activity of God. We need not think in terms of a dictation theory of inspiration only - although sometimes God did tell them “say this”, or “write this”. In scripture we recognise the diverse personalities -and varied styles of the writers. Inspiration does not make ciphers or even typewriters of creative servants of God. We understand by inspiration that God was exercising control over his servants - including their backgrounds, personalities, intentions, styles and personal situations. “The words were consciously the free composition of the authors and at the same time the very word of God”. Clearly the words are “their” words used to address their immediate situations, but are also in God's providence part of his eternal Word to his people in every age.
(b) Revelation: This is linked to our understanding of God as a personal being (see Study #3). In making humans personal beings suited for communion with him (see Study #5) he longs to relate to them and reveal himself to them. Doctrine speaks of General revelation - through creation, moral experience, or even history. Romans 1.18-32 sets this out as well as the reasons for God's righteous judgement on the Gentile world. They are “without excuse" (1:20). We also speak of Special revelation - by which we mean God has spoken to humanity in two unique ways through the incarnate Word -ie Jesus in his life death and resurrection, and through the written Word of Scripture - See John 5:39; 6:28-29; Hebrews 1:1-3). Thus, we believe Scripture is not so much man reaching out after God to discover about him. Rather it is God not merely telling us about himself, but also communicating something of himself to us. To faith, reading or hearing the Scriptures is a unique event - for God meets with us through his Word by his Spirit. “The word of God is alive and active [Hebrews 4:12 GNB].
(c) Authority: The Reformers asserted the Scriptures to be "the supreme rule of faith and life". Authority is right or power to require obedience. Over the years Christians have looked in various quarters for final authority. We have sought it in the historic creeds and confessions. The former clearly outlines parameters of belief or alternatively a series of pegs on which to hang lengthy expositions of the historic faith. The latter, usually dating after the Reformation eg. the Scots Confession (1560), the 39 Articles (1571;) and the Westminster Confession (1647), are much fuller than the creeds, but they are "party" statements that not all would agree with. Both are secondary - they look back to Christ and the Apostles or constantly appeal to biblical teaching. As well as this they are historically conditioned. At other times Christians have appealed to the mind of the Church - a Christian consensus-or a Committee view (?), Christian experience, reason, the "inner voice" or personal leading. All have proven futile. Thus the appeal to Scripture, not as words about God - but the word God addresses to us. Notice our Lord's attitude - exercising the very authority of God - at no point did he oppose his personal authority to that of Scripture. (The "but I say to you" passages of Matt.5:21-48 are concerned with indicating the true intent of the 0T passages in question). This is nowhere more plainly seen than in two central issues - his teaching and actions (Matt.12:3-5; 19:4f; John 10:35) and his messianic ministry (Matt 26:24,53f; Luke 24:46).
2. The Interpretation of the Word:
We sometimes speak of “infallibility” - a most emotive term. Some might prefer to talk of "the entire trustworthiness or reliability of Scripture". These matters however relate not only to the content - the actual words on the page - but to the meaning or correct interpretation of what is said. There are three major principles -
* Scripture must be taken literally - ie by a natural, straightforward meaning of the words - as opposed to "spiritualising" everything. Further, accent must be on words, grammar, etc. So we seek to interpret according to its original meaning and setting; according to literary form, eg poetry, prose, parable, allegory, apocalyptic, etc. as well as the use of metaphor and other figures of speech, and according to context - the setting of the phrase or text within a passage or book is important.
* Scripture is interpreted by Scripture - ie according to the purpose of Scripture. It applies to the Bible as a whole as well as its parts. Galatians and James are propounding complementary not contradictory truths. Interpret in the light of other passages on the same theme.
* Scripture is interpreted by the Holy Spirit - He takes the Word and lifts it out of its time and meaning/application and applies it to our lives/situation/need. He does this through personal reading and corporate worship or public preaching. He seeks to build us up in Christ.
3. The Integration of the Word:
We talk about "getting it together". The matter is not concluded because we appreciate the inspiration of Scripture and the principles of right interpretation. The collect speaks of our need to "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Word."
* Let's read the Word - not merely occasionally but regularly, not merely haphazardly but systematically; not merely familiar portions but the whole counsel of God. Some of it is very readily understood! Other passages or themes (like our present series perhaps) are much more difficult to understand. That's how we grow in Christ and develop as disciples. Are we learning from Him?
* Let's apply the Word - that is take it for ourselves, our families, our circumstances, our Church and parish. “What are you saying to me/us, Lord” is a legitimate, indeed proper, question every time we are in contact with the Word privately or publicly. Meditate on it! Think it through!
* Let’s obey the Word - and that is the important one. Reading or hearing the word of God should be a life-changing encounter with God himself. See Matt. 7:21f; James 1:21f; Col. 1:9-10 and Phil. 1:9-11.
WHAT CHRISTIANS BELIEVE
REV JOHN OLIVER EVANS
10. ABOUT PRAYER
Background Passages: Matt.6:9-13; Ephesians 3:14-21; Acts 12:1-17; James 5:16-18; Psalm 34:1-3; Psalm 150:2; 2Chron.7-14.
Introduction: What do we believe about prayer? For many it is an activity to engage in when everything else has failed. For others it is coming to God with a "shopping list" - "Lord, I want....Lord give me....Lord, do this for me". Others still sometimes regard it as twisting God's arm, - wringing blessings out of an unwilling or reluctant Lord. Rather, prayer is our affirmation of who God is - Creator, Provider, Sustainer, Redeemer and King. He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Further, prayer is our response in worship and faith to who He is. "Whoever comes to God must have faith that God exists and rewards those who seek him"
(Hebrews 11:6 GNB).
1. Dimensions of Prayer:
Our prayer times/personal devotions could be more meaningful and satisfactory if we realised they can be fluid, dynamic and varied. (We are not here speaking of "arrow" prayers in some particular difficulty or emergency - "Lord, help me.").
* Adoration: As a first step it is good to fix our minds on God. This may arise naturally out of our Scripture reading for the day. We are affirming who He is - his love, grace, mercy, power, greatness and glory. We may even use words of Scripture for this. As we come before him in prayer we worship him and deliberately, consciously remind ourselves of his majesty and holiness.
* Confession: Like young Isaiah in the temple (Isaiah 6) the sense of the presence of the glorious Lord reminds us of ourselves and our sinfulness and need. So now we acknowledge our frailty, disobedience, acts of omission and commission. Don't forget to conclude this section by confidently receiving God's forgiveness -see I John 1:8-9; 2:1-2.
* Thanksgiving: Confident of our cleansing and forgiveness, we are released in praise and thanksgiving. We give thanks for many blessings, his goodness and faithfulness. The Holy Spirit helps us in our prayer and praise - Romans 8:15.
* Supplication/Intercession: Now we offer to God our petition for ourselves and our intercessions for others. The list will vary from day to day, week to week, person to person or situation to situation. It w would include things like personal difficulties, family needs, friends, the sick, housegroup members, church or parish situations, missionaries, peace, justice, community or world needs, etc.
* Dedication: Surely we conclude by offering ourselves anew to God for his service in the world. Our prayer times should refresh us and build us up, so we can fulfil our ministry - the kingdom-tasks he has given us in the world. "Authentic prayer . . . is the springboard involvement".
2. Directions in Prayer
Now some simple guidelines in terms of our attitude :
a. Pray with love: Without love all our words are merely noisy gongs or clanging cymbals (I Cor.15 2). Moreover, the very love of God is shed abroad within us by the Holy Spirit - see Romans 5:5.
b. Pray with faith: We come in faith. The Scriptures declare that God honours the trust his people have in him - see Psalm 40,:1,4,5; James 1:17.
c. Pray with Confidence: To faith we add assurance, [See Hebrews 4:14-16]. We are coming to Christ the one who died and was raised for us. Because of his life on earth and his authentic human experience, Christ can understand our difficulties and appreciate our situations. At the Throne of God there is mercy, grace and help.
d. Pray in detail: Sometimes our prayers suffer because we pray in vague, general terms. Of course there are times when we don’t know all the details ourselves. Otherwise, we should be specific in our prayers. God is interested in the little things - the day to day details of our lives, after all he cares about sparrows and flowers in the hedgerows. So spread it out before the Lord like Hezekiah and his letter (2 Kings 19:14ff. cf Isaiah 37:14-20). Bring it into his presence - that letter, relationship, interview, examination, difficulty, problem, quarrel, meeting, etc.
3. Difficulties with Prayer:
* Find a place and a time which is convenient to you, when you can be relaxed from the pressure or your personal schedule. For the housewife/young mum it might be after the children and husband have left for the day rather than first thing in the morning, or it might be when the toddler is having his nap. One business executive I know goes to his office very early before anyone is there.
* To begin with, many find it difficult to concentrate in prayer - even for five minutes. That’s where a format or scheme can help - eg the ACTS pattern as outlined in section 1 above. We can use various set books of prayers - adapting them, making them our own, until we need to rely on them less and less. Make up your own book of prayer topics for the days of the week - so that in the course of the week or whatever, you cover all the causes, people, situations you are concerned about. Use your Bible and hymn book as well.
* Silence can be a difficulty for some people. The "eyes closed, hands clasped, say it into yourself” routine might not be helpful to you. There is no rule which says you cannot pray aloud even on your own. In fact, for some people it is very helpful indeed. Just speak out naturally and easily as to a close, respected friend. No reason why ,you can't sing - or use records/tapes of Christian music if that helps you.
* Posture can also help. Apart from invalids, lying down is seldom helpful. Kneeling, standing, sitting - even walking about - are to be preferred. "Hands clasped" can help - but hands extended or arms raised can be beneficial too. Think of all those verses about lifting up our hands and blessing the Lord - eg Psalm 28:2; 63:4; 134:2 cf Heb.12:12.
* Groups can be particularly difficult for some people. They have never heard the sound of their own voice praying in company with others. Sometimes other people in the group are more experienced Christians or more “expert” in prayer. We are embarrassed. Such groups should be fellowships where we can learn and be encouraged to pray aloud. For example, we could agree that in group prayer we can pray frequently but briefly - no long prayers allowed. Or a leader could suggest bidding prayers and silence or responses.. "Lord hear our prayer - Let our cry come to you". Another suggestion might be using the format of ACTS, pray round in one sentence prayers - ie a session of Adoration, followed by one on confession, etc. Or “dominoes” - praying in two sentences or ideas. It is again going round, or as people want to, people pick up the second idea of the previous prayer and continue it, then introduce another theme etc. One group I know asks each person to share a burden or a blessing of the week. When prayer time comes, individuals remember to pray for the person beside them and their burden or blessing.
“Prayer changes things” we say. It's true. It will certainly change us and our attitudes or outlook. It can change situations and other people. Another thing - prayer and a recovery of prayer has been at the heart of every revival in the Church.
1 Think about the Lord's Prayer (Matt 6:9-13). Discuss what patterns it sets for us in our own prayers. Share what similar patterns you have established in your own praying.
2 Read again the parable in Luke 18:1-8. Share together what lessons it teaches us about prayer. Share with one another other Scriptures which teach similar points.
3 Share with one another what you find is your greatest hindrance in prayer - and your greatest help.
WHAT CHRISTIANS BELIEVE
REV JOHN OLIVER EVANS
11. ABOUT MINISTRY
Background Passages: 1.Cor. 12, 14; Romans 12: 3-8; Ephesians 4: 1-16; 1 Peter 4: 7-11
Introduction: Many are asking today, "Where is Jesus Christ at work in our world? How does he touch the problems of society in this twentieth century?" The answer is that he is at work exactly as he was at work his lifetime on earth, doing precisely the same thing. In the days of his flesh he did his work through one solitary, earthly, physical body. He is doing the same work now through a corporate, universal complex body which exists around the world and penetrates every level of society. It is called the church, the "body of Christ", but its ministry is to the same race Jesus ministered to under the same basic conditions, facing the same attitudes and problems. Some people would see the work of ministry as something to be performed by the "hired holy man", ie the minister, pastor or the full time worker. The New Testament presents a different picture. It is to this biblical pattern and record that we must now turn.
1. Christ the Pattern for Ministry:
Christian ministry in all of its modes and manifestations must be traced ultimately to the ministry of Christ. The public career of Jesus is most aptly described by the term "ministry”. Jesus is referred to as the "holy servant" of God (Acts 4:27,30) which recalls the prophetic description of the Messiah as "the Servant of Yahweh" whose self-sacrificing career fulfils God’s redemptive purpose for his people. Jesus’ commission as Messiah (ie the suffering-servant Messiah) was a divine investiture for ministry to the whole spectrum of human need, whose remedy in every particular lay in the all-embracing term "salvation". Ministry describes the whole range of Jesus' Messianic activities: preaching, teaching, various types of miracles and the institution of the sacraments. It extends even further to include His passion and death,(Mark 10:45). This perfect example of humble, self-denying service becomes in turn the norm and pattern for all of Christ's followers. Discipleship is service (John 12:26; Rom.12:1; 2 Cor.3-7). As the Father sent the Son into the world so the Son sends His followers into the same world for ministry. Christ continues His ministry on earth through his body, the church, in which he is permanently present in the person of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15ff; 1 Cor.12:4ff; Eph.1:22, 2:22; Eph. 4:1-16). Through its ongoing service the church communicates to each new generation of society the saving grace first released through the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
2. The Nature and Purpose of Ministry:
All ministry (service), whether of Christ or the Church, is divine in its origin and sanction. As Jesus was "sent" by the Father so he commissioned his disciples and sent them into the world (Jn.20:21). There is a sense then in which the Church's ministry is a. rendering of service to the world. The New Testament repeatedly uses the Greek word for lowly service (diakonia) to describe the Church's ministry.
Christian ministry also has a priestly character and function. All believers or 'saints' are grouped as one into what Peter described as a “Royal Priesthood” (1 Pet.2:5,9; cf Rev.1:6,5,10). As priests, believers do not make sacrifices for sin as in the Old Testament. Rather they are to offer sacrifice of praise (Heb.13:15) or service (Phil.2:17; Heb.13:16) and of self-dedication (Rom.12:1).
Christian ministry, like all creation, is intended primarily for the glory of God (1.Pet.4:10,11). To achieve this end it serves a dual purpose among humankind. Firstly, Christian ministry is essentially evangelistic and missionary, looking to the numerical and geographical expansion of the body of Christ. Secondly, ministry also serves a purpose in relation to the Church itself. The apostle Paul speaks of the various gifts conferred on the Church and says that they are for "equipping [RSV] preparing [NIV] God’s people for works of service [NIV]/ ministry [RSV], so that the body of Christ may be built up” [Ephesians 4:12,16]. It can be said that both these goals of ministry have the common goal of building up the body of Christ - in the one case by the addition of new members, and in the other by advancing and enriching the spiritual life of present members.
3. Spiritual Gifts and Ministry:
Our Lord outlined how his ministry was to continue after his ascension by describing the importance of his sending of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17; 16:7ff; Acts 1:4,5,8). While to the body of Christ has been entrusted an external ministry of evangelistic and pastoral dimensions, in the inner spiritual regions it is the living Christ who executes all ministry in the Person of the Holy Spirit.
The gifts of grace which the ascended Lord has bestowed on the Church through His Spirit are essential for all Christian service. One writer observed that "the New Testament envisions no possibility of service whatever apart from the Spirit's gifts." (cf Rom.12:6-8; 1 Cor.12:4-11, 28-31; Eph.4:11,12), In the light of this we can say it is the Spirit’s gifts which decisively qualify us for service.
Several observations can be made concerning the way St Paul writes of spiritual gifts. Though originating from the same Spirit, the various gifts display a diversity which accords with the division of labour within the body of Christ (1 Cor.12:4-11).
Just as every organ in the human body performs its own unique functions so every member of the body of Christ has a special contribution to make to the well-being and usefulness of the whole. 1 Cor.13 outlines the over-riding importance of love in the context of gifts.
* Fellowship Questions and Discussion:
1. In what ways is Christian ministry today the same as Christ's? In what ways should it be different?
2. In what ways can we foster and develop spiritual gifts in Greyfriars? How can the leadership of our Church help you find and develop your spiritual gift?
3. How should the concept of training for the ministry be viewed within our Church? .
4. What value does a place like a Bible or Theological College have in preparing people for ministry?
5. Charles Colson in a recent interview noted several hindrances to ministry. He claims that egocentricity and materialism have eroded the Church's effective ministry. Do you agree with this?
6. In your opinion what should be the key elements of a Church’s ministry?
WHAT CHRISTIANS BELIEVE
REV JOHN OLIVER EVANS
12. ABOUT THE FUTURE
Background Passages: 1 Cor.15; 2 Cor. 4:7-5:10; 1 Peter 1: Thess. 4:1-3-5:11; Rev.4:1-11; Rev.22; 1 John 3:1-3.
Introduction: Christians believe our existence is not meaningless. We believe humanity and history are moving resolutely forward to the fulfilment of God's eternal plan and purpose. There can be conflicting views or controversial theories as to what the End means and holds for us. Don't be put off. Thereby we can miss out on something important and precious in our Christian experience. Remember Paul commented that if our faith in Christ relates only to the present time, "then we deserve more pity than anyone else in all the world" (1 Cor.15:19 RSV). In the face of all the difficulties, doubts, and confusion the Scriptures point to the future and affirm three great certainties.
1. The Coming Again of Christ:
This is one of the central themes of the Gospel (Matt.24:3; 1 Cor 15:23; 1 Thess 2:19 etc). “Parousia” is the most frequently used term in the Greek NT to describe this event. It means "coming", "arrival" or "presence" and was originally used of the visit of an emperor or similar distinguished person. It conveys the idea that such a coming will be a definite and decisive action on his part. It will be the return of the King (Luke 19:12).
* It will be a glorious coming - in power and great glory (Matt.20:30). There are many references to his coming "with the clouds of heaven" which usually signify God's glory and manifest presence among his people. This will be the final revelation of the majesty and transcendent glory of God. (Dan.7:13, Matt.24:30; Acts 1:9,11; Rev.1:7 etc.
* It will be a decisive coming - "Then the end will come" (1 Cor. 15:24). It will be an event in the history of all people. It is not limited to the Church or to believers alive on earth at that time. Know it or not; ready or not; all are moving towards the coming again of Christ.
* It will be a sudden coming - Although the Bible refers to the signs of the times, it speaks clearly about the unexpectedness of the Lord's return (Matt.24:37-44; 1 Thess.5:1-6). He will come when people do not anticipate (Matt.24:40). Even our Lord confessed ignorance as to the time (Mark 13:32). It is our responsibility to be alert and watching (Mark 13:37).
* It is a promised coming - Jesus spoke to his disciples about his leaving them and of his return, see John 14:3; Revelation 22:20.
* It is a proclaimed coming - PauI and the other apostles taught the return of Christ in glory. "The Lord himself shall descend from heaven" (1 Thess.4:16).
* It is an awaited coming -
by the whole creation - Romans 8:18-23
by the martyrs - Revelation 6:9-11
by the Church - Revelation 22:20
2. The Life Everlasting:
Our creatureliness is characterised by limitation, suffering, pain and death. Christians affirm the future resurrection and life everlasting. It should be noted that even some of the earliest Christians had difficulties with this truth, which provoked a detailed response on Paul's part - see 1 Corinthians 15.
* There are intimations of life after death in the OT. - see such passages as Job 19:25f. and Daniel 12:2. By the time of Jesus, the Pharisees held to belief in the Resurrection while the Sadducees did not (see Matthew 22:23ff).
* Jesus plainly taught belief in the Resurrection. We see it as he speaks with Martha of Bethany after the death of Lazarus (John 11:17-27). We see it in his response to the Sadducees (Matt 22:23-33). e rebuked them for not understanding He rebuked them for not understanding the Srciptures and failing to realise God’s power. In reference to the patriarchs, he declares that God "is the God of the living, not of the dead”. Further he speaks of "eternal life" (see John 3 etc) - it is the life of the age-to-come in the here-and-now. It is the life of the future begun to be experienced now, and has both quality and quantity.
* The heart of the NT understanding of the resurrection is not immortality or mere survival beyond death. That is a Greek concept. Rather resurrection has to do with radical transformation in power and glory. For the 0T Sheol - the place or rather state of the dead - is a shadowy, insubstantial existence. In a word, it is less than life on earth, whereas in the NT the life everlasting is more than life on earth (cf Psalm 86:13; 88:12; 94:17; 88:10).
* Paul speaks of a "resurrection body" (1 Cor.15:35-58). There is sameness, continuity of personal identity. There is also contrast between the old and the new - like the contrast between the seed and the full flower or fruit (vs.37-38). There is change (v.53) for the mortal will put on immortality. The body which expresses our being in the fullness of the Kingdom will be "beautiful and strong" (v.43) as our earthly body tainted by sin is "ugly and weak". Our body will be like our Lord's "glorious body" (Phil.3:21).
* The NT focus is on "new heavens and a new earth" (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1; Romans 8:21-23) which carries with it the notion of the Kingdom of God - rather than "going to heaven when we die". God will be manifestly real and present (Rev.21:3; 1 Cor.15:28) and joy and worship will be dominant notes. The future holds community and fellowship with others - cf Rev.5:9 and the figure of the city of God in Rev.21:2, etc. It also holds new avenues of service and responsibility (cf Rev.22:3 and Matthew 24:14-30).
The Scriptures unequivocally teach that the Lord is the righteous judge of all the earth. We are told that it is appointed for human beings to die and after this is judgement (Heb.9:27). Paul declared God's appointment both of a fixed day and of Jesus as the judge (Acts 17:31).
* For all of us the basic matter is our response to the Gospel of Christ. In a sense we are all "under sin" (Gal.3:22), "condemned already” (John 3:18) and "without excuse" (Rom.1:20). Only in Christ is there hope of salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). This is the only way out from God's righteous condemnation. We cannot presume on God's grace. Such images as we have in the NT suggest that condemnation means to be excluded from the presence of God and from a relationship with him.
* Believers have already been pronounced forgiven (Romans 8:1) on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness. Our judgement will be in respect of our stewardship of the gifts, talents, opportunities and responsibilities given in this life. It will be a fatherly judgement (1 Peter 1:17), full of understanding and compassion - but not to be disregarded or treated carelessly.
4. The Christian's Life of Faith and Hope:
Meanwhile, with such a future, we live in “this present evil world”. We are pilgrims bound for a destination - "the city whose architect and builder is God" (Heb.11:10). In the midst of present difficulties, burdens, pains or sorrows, we have hope. Christ is our hope (Colossians 1:27). Hope is a door (Hosea 2:15) out of trouble, disobedience and failure into new beginnings. Hope is a helmet (1 Thess.5:8) for soldiers alert to resist the attacks of the enemy. Faith is an anchor (Heb.6:18f) giving security in the storms and currents of life. How can we nourish our hope - and faith?
* We live by the promises of God - See Heb.10:23, 2 Cor.1:20.
* We are already part of the new creation, living in the Kingdom, possessing eternal life, members of the community of the New Covenant and belonging to the people of God.
* We are already united with Christ in his resurrection - not only prefiguring our own resurrection, but sharing in the newness and power of his risen life (Romans 6:4; cf Col 3:1-4).
* The Holy Spirit has been given to us as the first fruits, the seal, pledge and guarantee of the life of heaven (see Romans 8:23; 15:13; 2Cor 1:22; Ephesians 1:14f).
** Fellowship Activities:
1. Share with one another in what ways you look forward to the future - and to what extent you dread it.
2. Read 1John 3:1-3 - what lessons of faith, assurance and encouragement does it give you.
3. If you were planning a funeral service what elements would you want to include?