God’s Blessings Are Not For Sale

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Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! (Acts 8:18-20).

Simon–not Peter–we are told in the narrative was a magician. Not only a magician but one held in high repute by the people. Scripture records his “magical exploits thus: “But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic.” (Acts 8:9-11).

Here was a magician who has bewildered the people of Samaria with his magic and left them fixated on him for a long time and indeed considered him as somebody from God. But things will change when by the sovereign will of God, the people of Samaria encountered the gospel through the ministry of Philip the evangelist:

But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed (vv.12-13).

The gospel liberates and in the preaching of it lies the power of God to save and liberate from bondage and deception. Now, permit me to consider the activities of Simon and Philip  as a clash of powers, though it is not, for the Sovereign Lord and King, ruler of the heavens and earth has no equal and competitor; but for the sake of argument, we see magic and the power of God through the preaching of the gospel coming face to face. And the power of God prevailed, so that “Even Simon himself believed.”

In response to this great move of God, Peter and John were sent to Samaria to reinforce the faith of the Samaritans so to speak (vv. 14-17). Hands were laid by the apostles on these new Samaritan believers and they received the Holy Spirit. That was when the state of the heart of Simon now an ex-magician was revealed. It appears he had not fully overcome the love for power hence he wanted what the apostles had by offering money. Peter rebuked Simon the magician pointing out to him that the gift of God–the Holy Spirit — cannot be bought with money: “you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!”

Sadly, what Peter rebuked has become the model for many so called Christian ministries. Money has become a conduit for God’s blessings and gifts. People are promised all kinds of blessings from God if only they will sow a seed—give money. It is common these days to hear preachers arrogantly speaking blasphemous words about money and the blessings of God: “If you want my anointing, sow a seed.”  “If you want your ministry to grow like mine, sow a seed.” Everything you want and desire, you are told “sow a seed.” All around us the word of God and his blessings are up for sale by preachers who merchandise the gospel.

It is crucial for us to come to an understanding that God’s blessings cannot be purchased. Everything we receive from God is a result of his grace and mercies. Whatever spiritual gifts we have has been freely given to us by God (Matt.10:5-8; Jn 3:27; Eph. 2:8-9; Jam. 1:5; 1Cor. 12).

What then must be our attitude towards ministers of the gospel and money? Any minister that ties the blessings of God to money must be avoided. He is a false teacher teaching unsound words (1Tim.6:1-10). Does God bless our generosity at all? One may ask. The answer is yes. However, our generosity must not be transactional in our Christian journey. By all means give to support Christian ministry. Give for the cause of the gospel. Give to the poor and needy. However, don’t engage these in a transactional manner because God’s blessings cannot be bought.

Many people give with the hopes of receiving back. It is true that God loves a cheerful giver. But our giving must be influenced by our love for God and the example of Christ that he loved us and he gave himself for us. Amen.

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Looking Unto Jesus

Now unless you are not paying attention when reading Hebrews 11, you will certainly admire these mere mortal men and women. However, as is consistent with the intent of the writer of Hebrews, that is, pointing to the superiority of Christ over all, Christ is quickly brought into the picture so we don’t settle our faith on these heroes lined up.

Beautifully, as if it is a distraction from the heroes of faith in Chapter 11, Chapter 12 shifts attention to Jesus Christ. In verse 2, we read the words “Looking unto Jesus:”

The Gospel Network

Biblical characters are some of the greatest sources of spiritual truths for Christians. We glean lessons from both their obedience and disobedience to God. From some of them we learn about courage. From others we pick lessons about parenting. Others teach us about frugality, governance, productivity and excellence in life, marriage, faith  e.t.c. 

In all of the Bible, Hebrews 11 presents us with what I describe as a masterpiece chronicleing the lives of many of these biblical characters and their walk with God. We see a parade of what is commonly called the heroes of faith. They were men and women like us. And succinctly Scripture wraps up all of their lives in these popular words of Scripture: “For by it[Faith] the people of old received their commendation”. (Heb.11:2). 

“The people of old”, or “elders” as the Authorised version calls them are lined up verse after verse with their exploits…

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Paul: The Transforming Power Of God’s Grace

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Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, as he often introduces himself in his epistles is undoubtedly the most influential Christian leader in Christian history. He authored 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament. By his own testimony, he worked more than all the other apostles. He didn’t take glory for that though; he is quick to point to the grace of God undergirding whoever he was and became (1Cor. 15:10).

Paul was simply a great man.

But in our celebration of Paul; perhaps we may overlook his past and which may blur our vision about what made Paul who he was. Charles R. Swindoll captures this well in his book Paul: A Man of Grace And Grit:

The first portrait of Paul’s life painted in Holy Scripture is not of a little baby being lovingly cradled in his mother’s arms. Nor does it depict a Jewish lad leaping and bounding with neighborhood buddies through the narrow streets of Tarsus. The original portrait is not even of a brilliant, young law student sitting faithfully at the feet of Gamaliel. Those images would only mislead us into thinking he enjoyed a storybook past. Instead, we first meet him as simply a “young man named Saul,” party to Stephen’s brutal murder,standing “in hearty agreement with putting him to death” (Acts 7:58; 8:1). That’s the Saul we need to see to appreciate the glorious truths of the New Testament letters he wrote. No wonder he later came to be known as the “apostle of grace.”standing “in hearty agreement with putting him to death” (Acts 7:58; 8:1).¹

Paul our man was a product of God’s grace. Before his conversion, he was Saul: a murderer and hated believers with all zeal. In fact he acknowledges this by calling himself chief of sinners and the least of the apostles because he persecuted the Church ( 1Tim. 1:15; 1 Cor.15:9). One of the most obvious places in Scripture about Paul’s past is the murder of Stephen—the first Christian martyr. Paul himself recounts the story in his defence of the Christian fait:

And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him” (Acts 22:20).

Paul here narrates how he was involved in the martyrdom of Stephen (see Acts 8) . He tells his own story. In our modern day, if you are looking for the equivalent of Saul–prior to the road to Damascus encounter, look at the most gruesome terrorist group around: Saul could be a leader of any one of them. His brutality becomes clearer when we ponder the response of the believers when they heard of Saul’s conversion. They didn’t believe it: “But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?” (Acts 9:21). Even when Jesus appeared to one of the believers then–Ananias—concerning Saul, he was courageous enough to question Jesus’ instructions: “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.” (Acts 9:13-14).

Paul before his conversion was a terror.

And by any human reasoning, he doesn’t belong in the fold of God’s people. He unleashed terror on God’s people  yet he was a chosen vessel of the Lord. Jesus told Ananias: “... he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:” (Acts 9:15).

Paul was unstoppable, full of hatred for the believers of his day. But when he encountered the Lord Jesus on his way to Damascus; his life was changed. Though a murderer and persecutor  of the church, grace transformed him.

And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.(Acts 9:3-6).

Saul the terrorist “trembling and astonished”…the rest of his life he became a disciple of the Lord and what a gift he is to the body of Christ. Though a persecutor, nonetheless, he became a product of grace. He encountered the grace of God and was transformed. God’s grace pardons. Irrespective of your history. Pardon and forgiveness of sins are available through the atoning sacrifice of Christ.

Could it be that you are stuck because of something from your past? Perhaps it has pinned you to the ground with embarrassment, shame, and fear. You’re crippled by it. The best you can do is to limp through each day, hoping for a painless end. That way of thinking is the Enemy, Satan. He loves to push your nose in the dirt, hoping to make you miss the marvelous claims of grace. Don’t allow him that power in your life today. Around you are people who have no greater claim on grace than you do, and the Lord mercifully brought them out of their pit of sin. If He could turn a Saul of Tarsus engaged in a murderous rampage into a Paul the apostle who preached and lived the message of grace, He can change your life too.²

Notes:

1. Charles R. Swindoll, Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit ( Nashville: Tennessee, Thomas Nelson, 2002), Kindle edition

2. Swindoll, Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit, Kindle

Silencing False Teachers By Sound Doctrine

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For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake (Titus 1:10-11KJV).

AD. 62-64: the Church in Crete is threathened by false teachers, “teaching things which they ought not for filthy lucre’s sake”. Paul writes to Titus instructing these false teachers must be silenced. But how will they be silenced? By sound doctrine. Contrasting the false teachers of the time, Paul tasks Titus to appoint elders/Pastors who will teach sound doctrine: “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.”(1:9).

Clearly, the duty of a Pastor most importantly among many other duties is to teach the word and to teach it soundly. Not only in Titus, but in other places in Scripture, the need for a Pastor to teach and teach soundly is expressed. Further, Paul instructs Titus himself to “speak…the things which becomes sound doctrine”(2:1). We see clearly the importance of teaching sound doctrine if anyone identifies as a Pastor.

First, in Acts 20:28, elders are encouraged in the “pastoral” duties of overseeing and shepherding. Second, in 1 Peter 5:1–2, elders are exhorted to “shepherd” the flock of God that is in their charge, which is the role of a pastor. Third, in Ephesians 4:11, the one time that the word pastor occurs in the NT, pastors are treated as one group with teachers. This suggests that the chief role of the pastor is to feed the flock through teaching, which is a primary role of elders (Titus 1:9). Hence, the NT seems to indicate that “pastor” is another name for “elder.” An elder is a pastor, and a pastor is an elder.¹

One may ask, what then is sound doctrine? To answer that, we may first have to define what doctrine is:

The term doctrine refers to that which is taught. The Greek word in the New Testament is didaskalia, and it is variously translated as teaching, instruction, or doctrine. Christians use it to describe the basic theology which is understood to be the teaching of the Bible. In this sense it represents the content of the Christian faith

From this, we can simply say doctrine is what Christians believe as taught by Scriptures. Doctrine regulates Christian living. In Titus 2:2-10, Paul lays down some guidelines on Christian conduct. He spoke about how older men and women must conduct themselves. Then he spoke to young men and women. Further, the Christian is justified by faith alone in the finished work on Calvary.

Doctrine can be sound or unsound. Sound doctrine is any doctrine or teaching consistent with biblical teachings. Unsound doctrine will be the exact opposite of sound doctrine, that is, any doctrine or teaching inconsistent with Scripture.

A.D 2019: today’s Church in the modern world and in Ghana in particular is no different from the Church in Crete Paul wrote about. We have become inundated with unsound doctrine coming from many angles. There are all kinds of blasphemy parading around as gospel preaching and the true gospel—the good news of the death and resurrection of Christ for the salvation of sinners is no more preached. From the prosperity gospel, to health and wealth and various kinds of so called prophecies, many souls are been led astray.

When Paul charged that the mouth of these false teachers be stopped or silenced, he instructed the teaching of sound doctrine. And consistently in the epistle, we see Paul stressing the importance of sound doctrine (vv.9;13, 2:1). This tells us how important sound doctrine is to the life of the church and believer.

The teaching of sound doctrine matters because we are called upon to grow in our knowledge of Christ and not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. It is crucial we pay attention to doctrine because doctrine points us to whether our beliefs are true or not.

Notes:

1. Matt Permann, “What Is The Role of An Elder”, accessed 10th January 2019, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-the-role-of-an-elder.

2. https://www.theopedia.com/doctrine

 

—Originally posted on https://thegospelnetworkgh.com as The Mouths of False Teachers Must Be Stopped by author.

 

A Cure For Worry

Hopelessness

Matthew 6:25-34

All too soon, 2018 has come and gone and we have entered a new year. I trust the past year had its own successes. Undoubtedly, I am sure the year also included its own failures. That said, a new year is here with us and in Paul’s words, let us enter the New Year “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:12).

The New Year presents us with many opportunities to amend and improve on areas of our lives where there were failures and forge ahead with confidence. As humans, it is very likely our past experiences, especially where they are not positive experiences may influence our moving forward and if not checked, may slum us into a state of worry, anxiety and in extreme cases hopelessness. To address this, we turn to a very popular sermon delivered by our Lord himself: the Sermon on the Mount. It is so called because the sermon was delivered on a mountain:

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him (Matthew 5:1).

When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him Matthew 8:1)

The Sermon on the Mount begins from Matthew 5:2 and ends at Matthew 7: 29. It is considered Jesus’ longest speech in all of the New Testament; stretching about 109 verses. If you use a red letter edition Bible, you will appreciate how long the sermon was. And in this sermon, we see some of Jesus’ most popular words recorded. Our focus for this article will be on Chapter 6 especially from verses 25-31. A bird’s eye view of the Chapter presents us with these divisions:

1) Rebuke of Ostentatious Living: A life of Pretence (vv. 1-13)
2) Forgiveness (vv.14-15)
3) Attitude Towards Money (19-24)
4) Worrying (25-34).

As indicated, the focus of this article will be on verses 25-34 from which we will glean four lessons.

Worrying Is Disobedience

Worrying first and foremost is disobedience to God’s commands. The Bible clearly commands against worry and anxiety. Jesus in His sermon on the mount issued some imperatives against worrying. Continuously we hear him saying “Do not be anxious” (vv. 25; 31; 34). These are not suggestions or pieces of advice Jesus was giving with an option for us to heed to or not. “Do not” is a command and Jesus commands us not to worry. “Don’t!” If Christ says “don’t” and you do, it is simply disobedience. And the things that cause us worry often are the very basic necessities of life: food, clothing and shelter.

This may sound too simplistic but for those of us in the developing world, these indeed are our major headaches. Of course there are other issues to worry about, but the crust of Jesus’ discourse is that your life is more important than these. It is an argument from the greater to the lesser: “If I have given you your life, why can’t I take care of you in these basic necessities” Christ seems to be saying. In this New Year one of the ways you can deal with worry is to look at it as disobedience to the commands of Christ and stop it.

Worrying Is Unbelief

Look at the little phrase in verse 30: “O you of little faith”. This is a rebuke of unbelief. God has promised to take care of us and to worry is to not believe He is able to do what he has promised he will do. To worry is to take matters into our own hands rather than leave them in the capable hands of God. When you worry, you live your life like an unbeliever without hope: “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (v.32). God knows your needs and he has promised to take care of us. There are many places in Scripture we are warned to not worry.

Paul says:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

This is very instructive. Whatever will cause you worry and anxiety, Paul says bring it to God. Talk about it with God. And after you have done all that “…the peace of God will guard your hearts” (v. 7). You see where the battle of worry and anxiety takes place? In your heart and mind; and God has promised to calm the storm of worry and anxiety if you will bring your worries to Him in prayer; “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1Peter 5:7).

Your Life is More Precious Than Birds and Flowers

In verses 26-29, Jesus contrasts the worth of human life to that of animals and plants. Though we are all creations of God, human beings are created in the very image of God. And especially as believers, God’s care is upon us. In fact, he calls us beloved in Christ. If God cares for birds and flowers; how much more you who is created in his image?
One of the things that fascinates me about birds is how they perch on electrical wires but are not electrocuted. Did God foresee a time in human civilisation when there will be live electrical wires on which birds will perch? Hence he gave them cells and tissues appropriate for that? He surely knew. And he structured birds with a system to handle that. This is about his divine Providence:

God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy (Westminster Confession of Faith 5.1).

God knows everything. He knows what we need. He has promised to take care of us and we should learn to trust in him. He has promised never to leave or forsake us.

Worrying Changes Nothing

Worrying will not change anything. Worrying will not heal a sickness. Worrying will not put money in our pockets. Worrying does no good to anyone: “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” (v.27KJV). In fact worry may rather worsen our lives. It has been proven that worrying has negative medical effects.

Worrying can have a negative effect on your health, making you tired, stressed, speed up the ageing process and sometimes more prone to depression….When you worry, your body responds to your anxiety the same way it would react to physical danger…. Your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes heavier and you may sweat more…. over a prolonged period of time, raised levels of these chemicals can start to have a toxic effect on the glands, nervous system and the heart, eventually leading to heart attacks, increased risk of stroke and stomach ulcers….You may also become more prone to infections. It is widely accepted that stress and anxiety can lower your immune system, making you more susceptible to picking up colds or more serious illnesses… Worry may also make you absent minded or neglectful of your health…. Excessive worry could even lead into depression.¹

We have a Father who cares: a Father who has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. Whatever we may experience or go through in this New Year, we can be confident of God’s provision.

Notes:

1. Rosalind Ryan, “What Worrying Does To Your Health”, accessed 18th December, 2018, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-97853/What-worrying-does-health.html

—Originally posted on thegospelnetworkgh.com.

Jesus Christ Our High Priest

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It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, according to the covenant made between them both, to be the mediator between God and man; the prophet, priest, and king; head and saviour of the church, the heir of all things, and judge of the world; unto whom he did from all eternity give a people to be his seed and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified. (LBCF 8.1).

A study of Hebrews shows that the central motif of the book is the superiority of Christ over Jewish religion including prophets and angels. Even Moses. This central motif was revealed  by juxtaposing Christ with angels, prophets, Moses, the Old Testament Priesthood and Levitical order with its rituals and sacrifices and draws a conclusion at every point with the superiority of Christ over all these.

Jesus Christ in his work of redemption holds a mediatory role as a High Priest interceeding for believers and bringing reconciliation between sinners and God. In Hebrews 4:14—5:1-10, the author presents Jesus Christ to us as a High Priest comparing him to the Levitical Priesthood order of the Old Testament. And as is consistent with the central motif of Hebrews mentioned earlier; Christ’s superiority over that priesthood order is revealed: “we have a great high priest” (Heb. 4:14).

Christ is not only presented to us as a high priest; but a Great High Priest. This points to Christ’s superiority in his role as a Priest. Also, Jesus’ priesthood is after the order of Melchidzedek:“You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”(Heb. 5:6). The difference between the Levitical Priesthood and that of Melchidzedek is that the former is hereditary while the latter is not. Melchidzedek is presented to us as “without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.”(Heb. 7:3). Also, as a Priest after the order of Melchidzedek, Jesus lives forever to make intercession for his own (Hebrews 9:27). This makes Christ a superior high priest after the order of Melchidzedek.

Who Is A High Priest?

High priest, Hebrew kohen gadol, in Judaism, the chief religious functionary in the Temple of Jerusalem, whose unique privilege was to enter the Holy of Holies (inner sanctum) once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to burn incense and sprinkle sacrificial animal blood to expiate his own sins and those of the people of Israel…The office, first conferred on Aaron by his brother Moses, was normally hereditary and for life.¹

The High Priest, as seen above in Jewish religious worship had a mediatory role. He stands in between God and the Israelites to offer annual sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people and for his own sins.

How The Author Presents Jesus As High Priest

Jesus’ Humanity

The Son of God, the second person in the Holy Trinity … when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary…(LBCF 8.2)

The role or office of a high priest is a human role that is, a human being must occupy that office: “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God” (v.1). The high priest as we see is a mediatory role where another man stands as an intermediary between God and other human beings. And Jesus as we know was born of the Virgin Mary and lived on this earth as a human being. He is the God-Man, fully God and fully man–hypostatic union. The high priest is human so as to understand the plight of his fellow human beings: “He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward , since he himself is beset with weakness”(Heb. 5:2).

In his humanity, Jesus understood the state of humans–our sins, weaknesses and frailties– and therefore sympathetic to our cause. The Bible is however careful to point out to us that he was a sinless high priest: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Heb 4:15). This distinction is important as it sets Christ apart from all the human high priests of Jewish religion who needed also to make sacrifices for their own sins.

Jesus Offered Himself As A Sin Sacrifice

For every high priest chosen from among men j is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. (Heb.5:1)

The main duty of the high priest was to offer yearly sacrifices on behalf of the people and his own behalf. Jesus Christ in this same role as a high priest offered himself up as a sinless sacrifice to God on behalf of his people–God’s elect. He suffered on our behalf. He not only suffered, but obeyed God’s laws for us fully (Heb. 5:8). Jesus’ death on the cross was to atone for the sins of humankind so they will be reconciled to the Father through faith ( Matthew 1:21)John 3:16

Appointed by God As High Priest

Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you. (Heb 5:5).

In the Levitical Priesthood order, no one personally appointed themselves as a high Priest, but rather it was God who established the priesthood and those who qualified to be priest. They are to be from the Priesthood family established by God (Exodus 28:1). Now in this same pattern, Jesus was appointed by the Father as High Priest. He didn’t take that honour unto himself as the Scripture testify. Jesus Christ is God’s appointed high priest.

The Only Mediator Between God And Man

Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation God has provided for sinful humankind to be reconciled to him ( Heb 5:9; John 3:16; Acts 4:12). Jesus himself said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”(John 14:6). Paul says “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1Tim. 2:5).

Jesus Christ is the Great High Priest who reconciles sinners to God. Apart from him, no one can have access to the Father. And by his finished work on Calvary, we can access to the throne of grace:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:15-16).

Notes
1.
https://www.britannica.com/topic/high-priest

Post was originally posted on http://www.sovereigngracegh.org

Christian Maturity

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When a child is born, they are expected to grow (Ex.2:10; 1Sam. 2:21; 26; 3:19; Luke 1:80; 2:52) and at every point in their biological calender, we expect certain traits of growth in them. When these are not forth coming, we may begin to worry that perhaps something may have gone wrong. At the birth of our youngest son about three years ago, Theodora my wife signed up to a website that gave her weekly updates about what to expect at every stage of our son’s growth. We followed these weekly updates to monitor his growth and the day he took his first step was an exciting moment in our lives.

Now in the same way, growth is also required of believers. When we come to faith in Christ; putting our trust in him for salvation, we are expected to grow. At various places in the Bible, the necessity for Christian growth is commanded and one of the clearest places is Hebrews 5:11-14.

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Here the author rebukes immaturity among his audience. You can immediately sense his fraustration: “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain.” In my mind, I am hearing him saying: “There is much to talk about concerning the topic in view–Christ’s priesthood — but I don’t know how to go further since you lack understanding” He then addressed certain traits which can generally be seen as marks of immaturity. However, I will move from the negative– immaturity–to the positive —maturity— using the author’s rebukes to address Christian maturity. From the rebukes; dull of hearing (v.11), you ought to be teachers (v.12) trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (v.14), there seem to be a beautiful pattern: Understand, teach and live what you understand and teach.

Having said these, let me now attempt to list three points from the text which I have identified as Marks of Christian Maturity.

Understanding Basic Christian Doctrine

The charge is: “…you have become dull of hearing”(v.11). This charge is simply a charge of lack of understanding. The antidote obviously is, you must become sharp in hearing. Clearly then, the charge is a call for understanding.

From the beginning of Chapter 5, the author wrote certain truths and doctrines about the person of Jesus Christ and draws a comparison between the High Priesthood of Christ and Melchidzedek. However, he tells his original readers, there are many things to say about this topic but the people were not ready for since they had not grasped even the basics of the Christian faith (v.12c). Think about this. The immaturity of these people has denied us what more things the author intends to say.

This is a reminder that failure to appropriate the truth of the gospel produces stagnation in spiritual advancement and the inability to understand or assimilate additional teaching (cf. Jn 16: 12 ).¹

A believer must not be dull in hearing, that is, they must grasp things about the Christian faith. If this is not happening, then it means people may not be applying themselves to growth. Every believer must grasp the basic doctrines and teachings of the Christian faith and must indeed desire this to happen. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is instructive here: “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him“(Eph 1:16-17). James also said “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”(James 1:5). These texts point to the fact of desire. We must desire growth in our walk and in fact ask for it.

Ability to Teach Others

Every believer has a responsibility of passing on Christian truth to others. One sure sign of Christian maturity is our ability to teach and instruct others in the Christian faith: “by this time you ought to be teachers…” the Hebrews writer told his recipients. We cannot tell how long they have been believers. But we can be sure if this is required of them, then they may have been believers for long. To be able to pass on Christian faith, we must know and understand it.

Unfortunately, there are many believers who have a disdain for Christian doctrine. They are all of experience and lacking in any knowledge of what they believe. R. C. Sproul calls them “sensous Christians”:

Sensuous Christians don’t need to study the Word of God because they already know the will of God by their feelings. They don’t want to know God; they want to experience him. Sensuous Christians equate “childlike faith” with ignorance. They think that when the Bible calls us to childlike faith, it means a faith without content, a faith without understanding. They don’t know that the Bible says, “In evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Cor 14:20). They don’t realize that Paul tells us again and again, “My beloved brethren, I would not have you ignorant” (see, for example, Rom 11:25).²

Such people, as the ones mentioned above stand the danger of being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14). We deny ourselves the joy of the Christian faith if we don’t apply ourselves to learning and maturity. In an age of great deception; believers would have to pursue growth in the Christian walk.

Now it is not all believers who are called to vocational or Christian pulpit ministry, nonetheless, every believer has a responsibility of communicating Christian truth wherever they find themselves. But if we don’t know what we believe, logically, it will follow that we would not be able to pass on what we believe. When Jude wrote to his audience, he called upon them to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 1:3). But how can one contend or defend the faith if they do not know what they believe? Here Peter’s charge is also relevant: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Pet. 3:15). It is important you and I know what we believe to be able to pass it on and defend it.

Right Living

Perhaps this will be the most difficult mark of Christian Maturity because it calls us to a practical application of Christian doctrine: discernment to distinguish between good and evil. Here, doctrine and living fuses together. It is not enough to know Christian truth and to be able to pass it on to others by instruction. Rather, our knowledge and ability to teach must reflect in how we live. We must, as the author puts it be able “to distinguish good from evil.” All what he calls for in that text is discernment. Can you identify error when you see one? When you are living in disobedience are you able to tell and repent? We are not tasked to only know and teach the truth. But we are to live the truth. We are to be able to apply the word of God to every area of our lives.

What is required here is a proper application of the word to our lives, exactly what Paul charged Timothy to do “rightly handling the word of truth.” A proper handling of Scripture, its application and obedience in the Christian faith is a sure sign of maturity. We are to be doers of the word and not hearers only. (James 1:22-25). On this point I will end with the words of J.I. Packer:

If our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both; if it does not encourage the commitment of faith, it reinforces the detachment of unbelief; if it fails to promote humility, it inevitably feeds pride.³

Where do you find yourself in these exhortations? The Bible calls us to maturity and that call we must answer.

Notes

1. John MacArthur, The John MacArthur Study Bible ( Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2006), Kindle

2. R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 2009), Kindle.

3. J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1990), 15.