Who influenced me to read the Puritans?

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Within the past year I have developed an appreciation for Puritan spirituality, due to its emphasis on Christ and the Word. I began reading Puritan writings in Dr. Barry Raper’s course Reading the Pastoral Classics at Welch College. Several other mentors have encouraged my reading of the Puritans. In this post I will briefly highly my exposure to the Puritans. In the next post I will highlight some commendable characteristics of Puritan Spirituality. I hope you will begin to appreciate Puritan spirituality as much as I do!

Key Influencers

Dr. Barry Raper receives credit for first exposing me to Puritan writings. He required us to read The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. This short book references Isaiah 42:1-3, which finds fulfillment in Jesus in Matthew 12:18-20 according to Sibbes. You  would benefit by stopping to read those passages before you read further. Sibbes reminds his reader that Christ does not quench the bruised reed, nor does he quench the smoking flax. This truth encourages the believer and challenges the minister. Christ doesn’t give up on those who are at their wits end. Faithfulness to Christ requires us to love people and not give up on them even when they are at their wits end. We were there before Christ rescued us. This alone compels me to read Sibbes’ writings.

Dr. Matthew Pinson, president of Welch College, also exposed me to Puritan writings throughout my studies in Free Will Baptist History. As Free Will Baptists we trace our heritage to both the Palmer movement in the South and the Randall movement in the north. Palmer had been influenced by the General Baptists (the first baptists), who were directly influenced by the Puritans. One prominent General Baptist Theologian, Thomas Grantham, has been studied extensively by Pinson, along with Thomas Helwys and others. Anyway, my course readings exposed me broadly to Puritan writings. Here are three influential selections from our required reading list: (focusing on the Puritans) 1. History of the English General Baptists by Adam Taylor, 2. The Worship of the English Puritans by Horton Davies, and 3. Renaissance and Reformation by William Estep.

Brother Eric Brown also encouraged my reading of the Puritans. He pastors Pine Level Free Will Baptist in Alma, Georgia. During the summer of 2015 I was privileged to serve as an intern at Pine Level. Pastor Eric shared The Valley of Vision with me. We used this resource during our weekly meetings and we incorporated Puritan prayers into our services.(It’s okay to read prayers from the Pulpit. Especially when they are as biblical as Puritan prayers!) The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions. If you do not own this helpful resource, go to the link above and buy it. You will not regret making this purchase! We also read The Reformed Pastor together. Brother Eric has an entire section devoted to Puritan writings, which he made available to me while I served alongside him. While in Grand Rapids, MI for the National Convention, we visited Puritan Reformed Seminary and bookstore. (I’m not confessing how much I spent at the bookstore.)

Other honorable mentions: Each week I listen to some helpful podcasts including Mortification of Spin, Christ the Center, and Truth for Life (Alistair Begg). Various Puritan references abound in these podcasts.

My love for the Puritans and their writings continues to grow. I have several new primary source writings on my “to read” list. In this post I wanted to acknowledge those who have exposed me to the Puritans. In my next post I will explore some commendable characteristics of Puritan spirituality.

 

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Why is the Gospel Good News?

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In Christian circles we refer to the Gospel as Good News. This follows from our understanding of the Biblical Greek term εὐανγέλλιον which literally translated means “good news”. I would like us to consider some practical reasons why the Gospel is Good News to everyone, regardless of background, ethnicity, or geographic location. I will begin by providing a brief definition of Gospel.

What is the Gospel?

The Gospel is the story of redemption carried forth by Israel and culminated in the person and work of Jesus. This redemptive work is necessary because Adam and Eve chose evil over righteousness, a choice I believe was a real choice. (Genesis 3) As a consequence of this decision all humans were born with a sin nature. God immediately began redeeming his creation, as seen with the Messianic promise in Genesis 3:15. Fast forward through several years of Israel’s history and you will see God making covenants with humans with the goal of redemption in mind. Several covenants appear throughout the Old Testament but God’s covenant with Abraham takes an important place in history.(See Genesis 12-15, 18, and Paul’s epistle to Galatians, especially chapter 3.) Jesus is the mediator of a new and better covenant according to Hebrews 12:24. The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus Messiah has come to redeem Israel and the world as a result of his gracious covenant. The Good News hinges on the person and work of Jesus, namely the resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15)

Jesus does rescue us from judgement but the Gospel is much more beautiful than that. Good News is more than fire insurance or an escape ticket from hell. Good News is good because Israel’s long-awaited Messiah has come. There is no Messiah outside of God’s covenant with Israel. 

There are at least four reasons why the Gospel is Good News. (This list is not exhaustive. If you can think of other reasons, comment on my post.)

1.) It is a free gift of God.

Many passages refer to redemption as a gift but I find Romans 3:21-26 helpful.

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,  to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26, NKJV (emphasis mine)

I sometimes struggle with grace, especially after I sin. God is not going to love some future state of you more than He loves you now. (Matt Chandler) Our justification finds basis on Jesus’ gracious work rather than from any meritorious work on our account. The Gospel is Good News because it is God’s free gift to you and me.

2.) It’s offer extends to all persons wherever they are.

John 4 is that wonderful story of the Samaritan woman who had a radical encounter with Jesus. We could highlight several Gospel elements of this story but I’ll point my attention to Jesus meeting her where she was. Jesus engaged in conversation and challenged the Samaritan woman to contemplate her relationship with God by emphasizing the relationship with her five previous husbands. We understand this encounter to have resulted in a lifestyle change based on the new belief of the community. John says that many believed as a result of this woman’s testimony but eventually accepted Jesus as Messiah through faith. (John 4:39-42) Jesus met the Samaritan woman in the midst of her sinfulness and brokenness. She didn’t have to clean up her life and come to Jesus. She came to Jesus and he cleaned up her life by washing her in the Word.

Wherever you are Christ is calling you to come to him. You don’t have to get your act together to come to him. He accepts you just as you are. This is Good News.

3.) It sets us free from our old master, namely sin.  

This thought inspired the entire post. In Systematic Theology we were discussing human sexuality and the transforming power of the Gospel. In American culture sexual orientation is receiving significant attention, given the rise of the so-called moral revolution. In class we examined 1 Corinthians 6 which highlights the particular problem of church discipline. An individual in the church was practicing sexual immorality and Paul urged the church to deal with this matter in grace and love in light of the transforming power of the Gospel. Sexual orientation is a matter of temptation rather than mere sexual preference. Culture excuses sexual sin, whether heterosexual or homosexual, on the basis of one’s orientation. This is really a fatalistic view of human nature. We are all oriented toward various sinful desires but the Gospel teaches us that we do not have to act on those temptations or orientations.

Let’s consider how Paul viewed one’s orientation and the Gospel’s transformative power.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, NKJV

We are all oriented toward sin rather than righteousness as a result of the Fall. We all have temptations but we do not nor should we act on every temptation we face. Only through the Good News of Jesus can we overcome these many temptations we face. We will struggle with sin until Christ returns. We are saved and being saved. 

4.)It’s transforming power extends to all people who have faith in Jesus. 

Gospel transformation is available to all who seek it. In the verses mentioned above, Paul reminded the Corinthians that they too were delivered from the ugliest sins. You can change your behavior but your heart can only be changed by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Gospel is more than mere moralism. It is Good News of deliverance to those enslaved to sin. When we become believers we are given the Holy Spirit who works to mold us into the image of Jesus the Son.

This reason moves me to celebrate God’s gracious work in Christ. Dr. Putman stated, “Regardless of your temptation, through the Gospel you might become new through Jesus.” There is no greater news than this. The Good News changes how we relate to God and to each other. The Gospel is Good News because we are not doomed to stay in our sinful muck. Jesus has reached down (figuratively speaking) and has gotten us out of that muck. What an awesome God we serve!

Grace, Grace, God’s grace

Grace that will pardon and cleanse within

Grace, Grace, God’s grace

Grace that is greater than all our sin!

The Doctrine of Immutability: Does God Change His Mind?

Each week I am assigned a theological reflection on a particular doctrine. I was personally encouraged by my assignment this week and thought I would share my reflection with you. May the immutability of God bring joy, peace, and assurance to your faith.

Millard Erickson posits that the basis for the doctrine of immutability is both biblical and philosophical. (God the Father Almighty, 96-97) Three passages provide the biblical support for immutability or God’s changelessness: Psalm 102:25-27, Malachi 3:6, and James 1:17. James 1:17 more fully encompasses the doctrine. James reminds his reader that God and the Father of Lights are the same being.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (NKJV)

Although the above passage indicates there is no change with God contemporary interpreters must interact with other passages that appear to connote a change in God’s actions toward humanity. Philosophy can function as an interpretive tool for problem passages.

Erickson includes philosophy as the basis for the doctrine of immutability by referring to how Greeks understood reality. Platonic thinkers perceived reality as divided into two levels: the upper level of reality includes the invisible but intelligible, is absolute and therefore more real, and the lower level which includes ideas or forms that are subject to change and therefore less real. Aristotelian thinkers on the other hand understand reality in terms of potentiality and actuality. In Aristotelianism “God” is static and does not change. Erickson summarizes the Aristotelian understanding thusly, “God” being fully actual cannot change because he has no potentiality no fully realized.” (God the Father Almighty, 99) How one understands reality directly or indirectly affects his understanding of the doctrine of immutability. Erickson properly reminds us that “God is an active, dynamic being at work in the world and that [his activity] is “stable rather than unstable.”  (God the Father Almighty, 112) Scripture and philosophy do not necessarily contradict one another when discussing the immutability of God, but rather complement one another. Contemporary interpreters can and should discuss this doctrine by engaging with philosophical conversation. Erickson provides us with three solutions to passages that seem to indicate that God changed his mind.

These three solutions are ways of understanding God’s relationship to humanity. Problem passages should be understood as anthropomorphisms or anthropropathisms. The biblical writer sought to describe God’s actions and feelings in human terms to convey God’s message to his people. Erickson also posits that apparent changes of mind are really only new stages in the working out of God’s [redemptive] plan. He includes the example of God’s offer of salvation to the Gentiles, which was originally offered to Israel. Other apparent changes of mind are “changes of orientation resulting from humans’ move into a different relationship with God.” (Erickson, 249-51) Dissertations can be written in favor of Erickson’s third solution highlighting the significance of human prayer in relationship to Divine acts.

Conclusion

Some passages of Scripture seem to indicate that God changes his mind. Interpreters must carefully interact with Biblical and philosophical content. Millard Erickson has provided the church with helpful solutions to the apparent changes in God. His conclusion functions as an encouragement to the Christian and the church. “God is dependable. He will be the same tomorrow as He is today.” (Erickson, 250, Lam.3:22-23) Peter Geach also provides a helpful conclusion when he says, “Confidence in God and his promises that Christians have can only be experienced and justified on the basis of the immutability of God. This guarantees that God can and will fulfill His promises.” (Cited by Erickson in God the Father Almighty, 100) We serve an amazing God.

Shackled Under Condemnation’s Chains

We’ve all been there. We’ve just committed the sin which we feel is unpardonable. Sure, we know that sin is by definition rebellion against our Creator and Redeemer. We know that those images, those new gadgets, that relationship, or that job cannot fill the longings of our soul. Yet we repeatedly revisit those old wells that never satisfy. Revisiting those empty wells leaves us thirsty. Sin always promises satisfaction, but never delivers on its apparent promises.

Satan convinced Adam and Eve that by eating the forbidden fruit they would be satisfied. You can read the story for yourself. Adam and Eve were convinced that by eating this fruit they could become like God. The truth is that they were already like God. They were created in His image and according to His likeness. (Gen.1:26-27) They had the privilege of walking with God and knowing Shalom or perfect peace, yet they were convinced that eating the forbidden fruit would bring satisfaction. Perfect peace was broken and our first parents immediately felt shame, so they patched together garments to cover their nakedness. God called out to His children and they hid.

There is continuity between our experience and the experience of our first parents. We repeatedly worship comfort, pleasure, or entertainment over Yahweh. As C. S. Lewis remarks, “We are far too easily pleased.” Almost immediately we feel the shame brought on by our sin.

The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin when we fail, but often we feel condemnation over conviction. We forget that Satan is called the accuser of the brethren.

I wish I would have been able to know Dr. John Gibson before he made the decision to end his life. Dr. Gibson was a beloved man on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He was quick to love others and served as a vessel of grace to the faculty, staff, students, and community. Though Dr. Gibson modeled Christ’s love for others, he struggled to accept it himself. He, like Adam and Eve, took a bite of the forbidden fruit and felt the bitter sting of shame. He had apparently gotten involved in the Ashley Maddison scandal and became afraid. He was afraid of what his family and what the community would say upon discovering his sin.

Dr. Gibson believed in the matchless grace of Jesus, but struggled to accept it himself. He was shackled by the chains of condemnation. I don’t know about you, but I relate to this struggle. I know that only through the imputed righteousness of Jesus can I be justified before the Father. (Romans 5, 2 Corinthians 5) Yet when I fail I feel like I have to start all over again. This feeling is simply a lie from Satan. He is the accuser of the brethren.

Do you feel condemned today? If you have confessed Jesus as your Lord you are forgiven. (Proverbs 28:13, 1 John 1:9, Romans 6:23) There’s no sin God cannot forgive. You have not gone so far that He cannot redeem you. Even while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Even as the crowd cried, “Crucify him” he pleaded, “Father, forgive them”. May the His word set us free from the shackles of self-condemnation.

You do not have to remain bound under the shackles of condemnation. You too can be set free from the chains. It will not happen by your effort. It won’t happen simply by trying to be better. Liberation comes when we submit to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Sin’s shackles are no match for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus has conquered death, hell, and the grave.

I do not know your struggles. I do not know the empty well you continue to revisit. I do know that we all struggle with sin. We are redeemed sinners, but we are still sinners. If you are struggling with condemnation you must remind yourself that God’s word is true. You don’t have to be Satan’s prisoner anymore. Let’s remember that we are pilgrims. Let’s remember that we are a community of sinners saved by grace through faith. Please don’t keep your struggle to yourself, like Dr. Gibson did.

Conclusion

Sin causes us to feel separation from our Creator and Redeemer. Conviction and condemnation are not the same. Conviction comes from the Holy Spirit, but condemnation comes from Satan. We need to be reminded that “There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) We need to remember that Satan has been defeated as Revelation 12:10-12 reminds us.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.  “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.  “For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.” Revelation 12:10-12, NASB.

*Please continue to remember the Gibson family in prayer. For more on his life and influence at NOBTS, click here. For the CNN article, click here.

Following Bonhoeffer’s Example of Genuine Love

Recently I began reading Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.[1] Thus far my reading has proven beneficial. As I read over the next few weeks I hope to share a few gleanings with you. Today’s post concerns the issue of genuine love, which was one of Bonhoeffer’s greatest characteristics during his stay in Berlin. It was because of his love for Christ and people that Bonhoeffer had an effective ministry.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Brief Overview

On February 4, 1906, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born the fourth and youngest son to Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer. Dietrich was born only ten minutes before his twin sister, Sabine, who he would be closest to. His father, Karl, held the chair in psychiatry and neurology at the university in Breslau.[2] One of his earliest recorded theological musings occurred when Dietrich was about four years old. He asked his mother, “Does the good God love the chimney sweep too?” and “Does God, too, sit down to lunch?”[3] The Bonhoeffer’s adhered to a homegrown form of Christianity with little church attendance, but daily life was filled with Bible reading and hymn singing. Paula and Karl taught their children Biblical values that would have a lasting impact.[4]

Dietrich’s upbringing would certainly come to have a lasting impact on his life. During Hitler’s rise to power Dietrich would serve as a pastor and spy and would eventually worked to dismantle the Third Reich from the inside. Metaxas wonderfully articulates Bonhoeffer’s life as a pastor, martyr, prophet, and spy. For more on Bonhoeffer, see Metaxas’ book. If you haven’t read it yet, you can purchase it here or here.

Loving people: Bonhoeffer’s example for us

Metaxas recounts of Bonhoeffer’s remarkable ability to connect with people in difficult circumstances, especially those in his confirmation class in Wedding, a notoriously tough neighborhood north of Berlin.[5] Dietrich was given this assignment shortly after his ordination in 1931. The Superintendent desperately needed help with a class of 50 boys. Bonhoeffer answered the call to come help. These children had significant difficulties with discipline, but Dietrich simply told them stories from the Bible, particularly the eschatological passages.[6] That is the situation Dietrich willingly submitted himself to.

As I read the following quote the other day I was immensely challenged.

“At the end of each evening I read something out of the Bible and after that a little catechizing, which often grows very serious. The experience of teaching them has been such that I can hardly tear myself away from it.”[7]

How is it that Dietrich was able to teach these often rebellious students? How could he say, “I can hardly tear myself away from it?”

By this point in Dietrich’s life he had developed a radical love for God and neighbor. His commitment to these students challenges me greatly. I want to have a heart like this for people and for the ministry of the word. I think Dietrich Bonhoeffer exemplifies Christ’s Gospel in a unique way.

What exactly was Christ’s gospel?

[34]  But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. [35]  Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, [36]  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” [37]  Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ [38]  This is the first and great commandment. [39]  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ [40]  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40, NKJV

In scripture we are given both the indicative and the imperative. The indicative is that God loves us because He sent His son to die for us. He gives us His righteousness. We are redeemed by grace through faith. This is the indicative. The imperative of the Gospel is that we should love God and our neighbor. It’s one thing for us to agree that we should love one another, but something entirely different to practice it.

May our hearts and minds be challenged to love people as Bonhoeffer did. We have to see others as image bearers. Some image bearers may not have been born again, but if we love people with authenticity, following Bonhoeffer’s example, we will make a difference for Christ.

 

[1] Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010).

[2] Ibid, 8.

[3] Ibid, 11.

[4] Ibid, 12.

[5] Ibid, 130.

[6] Ibid, 131-132.

[7] Ibid, 133. Dietrich wrote this in a letter to his friend Erwin Sutz, whom he met when he visited New York.

An Open Letter to Pine Level Free Will Baptist Church

Dear friends and family of Pine Level,

I wanted to take a moment to express my sincere gratitude for all you have done for me this summer. It has been a blessing developing friendships with you and preaching on Sunday evenings. You will always have a special place in my heart. We’ve shared moments of laughter as well as moments of serious conversation. I’m grateful for your example of godliness and love for the Lord Jesus.

Here are some things I have learned from you this summer. At Junior Camp I learned that even the smallest of minds can love and obey God’s word. I also learned that your pastor, brother Eric Brown, loves you dearly. We shared prayer needs on a weekly basis and it was encouraging for me to see your pastor praying for you. You have reminded me how important it is to laugh a little and not take myself too seriously. You have treated me as one of your own family members, welcomed me in, and have given me a place to serve this summer. You have shown me that you love me and care about me.

Thank you for welcoming me into your family. Please know that I am praying for you and the ongoing ministry of Pine Level Free Will Baptist Church. Thank you teenagers for inviting me to join you on your mission trip this summer. It was a blessing watching you serve and be he hands and feet of Christ. I covet your prayers as I begin studying at New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary. Thanks again for your investment in my life.

In Christ,

Dustin Walters

Intern, 2015

Mature in Christ: A Gospel-Centered Vision

Each week we are invited to participate in corporate worship in our local churches. There are various elements of worship including singing, praying, sharing confessions, giving, and most importantly there is the element of public preaching of God’s word. What is it exactly that motivates preachers to share from God’s word each week? When we look into Paul’s ministry we can see at least two motivations for a Gospel-centered ministry according to Colossians 1:24-29.

A Gospel-Centered vision of ministry is always seeks to proclaim God’s word. (v.25)

Paul writes that he became a minister to fulfill the word of God. You may recall that Paul received his call to ministry while on the road to Damascus. (Acts 9) When the Lord Jesus spoke to Saul he specifically instructed him to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel, to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles. Paul did not viewed his ministry as fulfilling the word of God. This is why his message can be trusted against the message of the false teachers in Colossae. You see, false teachers are always self-appointed, but Gospel teachers are commissioned by a calling from the Lord as well as support from the local church. False teachers concern themselves with self-promotion, but true Bible teachers concern themselves with Savior-promotion.

The message of the Gospel is simple, yet profound. Jesus came to reconcile image bearing sinners back to the Father. His message is our only message. He has commanded us to share the Gospel with all people groups and nations. We fulfill the word of God when we preach the text of the Bible. 

It’s appropriate for us to argue for expository preaching. Expository preaching is preaching the text in such a manner that the intended meaning is conveyed. Dr. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, contends that there are three marks of genuine expository preaching:

1.) It is authoritative.

2.) It is reverent. 

3.) It is the center of Christian worship.

I would like to thank Welch College for teaching me expository preaching. Thank you for teaching me that the pastor has no authority apart from God’s word. Thank you for teaching me that only the Word of God has the power to change lives, not silly gimmicks. Thank you Welch College for showing me that the Word is to be at the center of Christian worship, following the pattern of the Reformers. Thank you for showing me that God’s word should be central in preaching, but also in singing and praying. I do not claim to have mastered the art of expository preaching, however, I want to make it my aim to better articulate God’s word to His church.

I hope you see my point. As preachers we have one message and it is the Good News of Jesus. Our sermons should flow from the text of Scripture itself, not merely from cultural cues. Culture changes but the Message never changes.

There is another motivation for a Gospel-centered ministry.

A Gospel-Centered ministry always seeks to present believers mature in Christ. (v.28) 

Paul wanted desperately to see the church at Colossae grow in their faith. There is an eschatological focus here. Paul looks toward the day when believers will be presented as perfect or complete in the returning Messiah. We can be certain of one thing: if we are not striving to live as a greater reflection of Christ now, we will not be presented before his throne as faultless. Salvation includes both a now and later aspect. We are saved and we are being saved. We should strive on to maturity in Christ. This is not an option. It is the only road available to true believers. Do we believe that sinless perfection is attainable on this side of life? Absolutely not. We do believe that sanctification is a progressive progress. We will only  be complete when Christ returns or calls us home.

I’m calling you to consider your maturity as a believer. Maybe you are a genuine believer and I trust that most of you are. I have to ask you this question: where is your relationship with Christ? Could you look at your life and see significant growth from five years ago? Ten? Fifteen? There is no standing still in the Christian journey. Yes, we will fall and make mistakes which is why we must rely constantly on God’s strength. (1:11) You are either progressing or declining in your walk. There is no standing still.

What is it that kept Paul awake at night? He wanted to give his best service to his master Jesus. He wanted to plant seeds of truth so that the church at Colossae would be presented as perfect in Christ. What Paul is getting at here is that spiritual maturity isn’t reserved only for the spiritual elite. In Christianity, all teaching is relevant to all. We need to stop comparing ourselves to others in the church. We need to stop being jealous because someone has gifts you don’t have. We need to thank God for the gifts he has given us and serve Him faithfully all our days. The problem in Colossae was that false teachers were saying only the spiritual elite could know the wisdom of God.

Today we have churches that teach a form of higher spirituality. They teach that if you can just be holy enough you will have greater spiritual gifts, including the so called gift of tongues. Friend, we are all called to pursue excellence through Christ. (Some of my favorite passages include 2 Cor.10:5 and Philippians 4:4-9) There is no level of authentic spirituality that is unattainable to you.

Maybe you struggle with your Bible reading and prayer time. Do not believe the lie from Satan that you are not smart enough to understand God’s word or prayer. God’s word can be understood by a child, yet it causes the most brilliant mind to stop and think. The Gospel is understandable, yet complex. If you are struggling in these areas, maybe the problem is your method, not you. (Donald Whitney, Simplifying Your Spiritual Life.)

I hope you have seen my point and Paul’s point from the end of Colossians one. Paul labored diligently to present the church as mature in Christ. Even though Paul did not found the church in Colossae he considered it is personal responsibility to oversee their spiritual well-being. He prayed and worked to render the believers mature in Christ. That’s what I want for you. I want to see you grow into the fruitful plant God created you to be.

Authentic believers will want to grow spiritually. Maturity will be pursued and attained only through the grace of God. The goal of a Gospel-centered ministry is to help Christians grow in their faith. As pastors and leaders in the church we need to labor diligently like Paul did to present our congregations mature in Christ. Spiritual maturity happens as a result of hearing God’s word, which must first be proclaimed.

Conclusion

A Gospel-centered vision rests on the inerrant, immutable, and transforming word of God. Maturity happens when we submit ourselves to the teaching of God’s word. Pastors, center your vision on the Word. Congregational members, encourage your preacher. Challenge him to feed you from God’s word. Most of all, realize that it is God himself who enables us to grow. Thankfully he has given us all we need to be godly and holy. (2 Peter 1:3-4)