The Holy Spirit and Predestination

The Holy Spirit and Predestination

Word in Season

During the Spirit of Truth Conference Q&A Panel, people texted in many questions relating to the Holy Spirit’s role in predestination. Questions like these:

  • What is the Spirit’s role in predestination?
  • Can I receive the Holy Spirit if I was not predestined to Heaven?
  • If the Spirit starts the work in someone’s heart, does that imply that there is a distinction between chosen and unchosen?

We have to begin by defining predestination. Predestination is often associated with Calvinism, but it is a doctrine found all over Scripture, especially the New Testament (Matthew 24:22, 31; Mark 13:20, 27; Romans 8:33, 9:11, 11:5-7, 28; Ephesians 1:11; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Timothy 5:21; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1-2, 2:9; 2 Peter 1:10, et.al.). Predestination means that God sovereignly chose (elected) certain individuals to salvation before the foundation of the world.

Sometimes the word predestination makes people think of robots, with no will or role in salvation. However, Ephesians 1:11-13 makes it clear that we are predestined by the will of God AND that those who are saved “heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him.” In order to be saved, we must believe, and believing is a genuine act of our will (Romans 10:9, Ephesians 2:8). We are not robots; we choose to believe in the gospel by faith as it is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit.

So what is the Spirit’s role in this? In John 6:44, Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” This drawing or calling to Christ is what Jesus explained to Nicodemus a few chapters earlier (John 3:7-8). After telling Nicodemus he must be born again, Jesus said: “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit draws us to Christ, and that is one of the Holy Spirit’s roles in predestination. The Spirit draws the unbeliever to Christ so that he may be born again.

When a person is drawn by the Spirit and trusts in Christ, he or she becomes a child of God and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:15-17, 1 Corinthians 12:13). The Holy Spirit only indwells those who hear and believe the gospel. Also, Ephesians 1:13-14 teaches that the Holy Spirit seals the believer as a guarantee that the inheritance that God promises will be fully acquired. So not only does the Holy Spirit draw us to God and indwell us once we believe, but he also seals our position as children of God for eternity!

So that is a glimpse of what the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit and predestination. The Bible teaches that man can not come to saving faith in God unless the Spirit draws him. The Holy Spirit awakens our hearts to Christ, draws us to him. Because of the Spirit, we find Jesus and his gospel compelling and beautiful and true. And the Spirit indwells all those he draws to Jesus and seals the believer forever. You can see all of these truths in Romans 8:30: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

God is so gracious to us! He not only makes the plan for our salvation through Christ, he also completes it in us through the mighty work of his Spirit.

Spirit of Truth Media and Notes

Spirit of Truth Media and Notes

Word in Season

I am so thankful for The Spirit of Truth Conference last month. It was a rich time of learning, coupled with great fellowship and wonderful worship. If you missed it, you really missed out. However, all is not lost! We have made all of the audio files available. Including these talks (click on the title to listen):

We are also making Sam Parker’s notes available (click here to download) in case you missed some of the references or want a guide to go along with Sam’s talk.

Also, coming soon, we plan to publish articles answering the Q & A Panel questions. Those will begin to roll out tomorrow morning. Check back tomorrow for Burt Newman’s take on the several questions related to predestination and the Holy Spirit.

An Open Letter to Those Leaving the Church

An Open Letter to Those Leaving the Church

Word in Season

In just a few weeks, many people will leave Ridgeview Bible Church; many who will never again be a part of this church. We face this every year, and it is a bittersweet reality for sure. But it is also the nature of Ridgeview. Along with all the wonderful benefits and joys of being a “college church”, there is a sad side too; the time when we say “goodbye” to many who have been a part of the church for 4 years or more.

The following is an open letter to all who have been a part of Ridgeview and are leaving in May or sometime this Summer. It’s a parting pastoral shot, as it were, and my aim is to encourage you in your next chapter. So here we go:

Dear Brother or Sister in Christ,

So the time has come for you to move on. It’s a new chapter in your life, and we are excited for you – excited for what God has next in your journey. Thank you for sharing your time here with us. Thank you for being a part and plugging in and serving others. Thank you for catching the vision to be both a Paul and a Timothy – seeking discipleship for yourself while also seeking to disciple others. We’re grateful for your work here, and trust that God will continue bringing fruit from it long after you have gone.

You might not know this, but when you arrived in Chadron 4 years ago (or 5 or 6 🙂 ) the elders prayed hard and often for you. We prayed that during your short time here you would grow in your understanding of, and confidence in, the gospel. We prayed that you would grow in your walk with Jesus. We prayed that you would come to see church as more than a Sunday thing, but a 24/7 family. We prayed that you wouldn’t let college destroy your faith. We prayed. And here you are, at the other end of this chapter. We hope that your time here has been good for your soul, and good in a lasting way for your life.

If we could say one final thing – one last attempt to encourage you – it would be this: be determined and intentional about finding a new church in your new city or town. Find a church that loves the pure gospel of Jesus Christ, loves God’s people and God’s mission and is centered on God’s Word. Don’t compromise on those essentials.

Having said that, keep in mind that churches look different in different places. I don’t think you should search for a church that looks just like Ridgeview. You need a church that looks like the Bride of Christ. And, by God’s grace, she is beautiful wherever she is found. And while there are no perfect churches, there are many healthy ones. So find a local church that loves God, loves his people and loves his Word.

When you do find a church like that, go all-in. Don’t be afraid to dive right in the deep end. Don’t merely go to church; be the church. We get it – sometimes it is hard to re-engage. But just do it. Roll up your sleeves and get involved. Look hard for a Paul and find a Timothy or two. Serve the body of Christ right away.

Even if you weren’t very involved here, get involved there. No Christian is called to stay on the periphery of church life. We’re all called to be the church.

If you need anything from us, please don’t hesitate to call. But we hope that you won’t need us for very long. And that is not because we don’t love you – it is because we do. We love you enough that we want to see you in a new local church, with new pastors and new brothers and sisters in Christ who will be there for you when you need help.

Thank you for your time at Ridgeview. May you leave here set on making much of the name of Jesus everywhere that you go.

And feel free to visit us from time to time. We will miss you.

In Christ,

Pastor Mike, for the Ridgeview Elder Team

You’re Invited to the Spirit of Truth Conference

You’re Invited to the Spirit of Truth Conference

Announcements

Dear Christians in the Chadron Area,

We are really looking forward to hosting the conference that begins tomorrow night. It is free and we invite all who are interested to participate. You can expect bible-saturated teaching and wonderful worship. If you don’t attend Ridgeview, we would welcome you to come to the Friday night and Saturday night meetings. We will make the Sunday morning sessions available for download after the conference. That way you can worship with your church family, and still take in all of the conference.

Since October of last year, a group of very dedicated Bible teachers has met weekly, studying the Scriptures, working through deep truths in God’s Word, praying together and planning – all for this weekend. We believe that God will use this time to edify his people and glorify Christ. We titled the event The Spirit of Truth Conference because we will focus all of the teaching on the work of the Spirit.

The aim of the conference is summed up in this sentence: We want to educate, edify, equip and motivate God’s people by focusing on the Work of God’s Spirit as we can see his Work in God’s Word. Every word of that statement is intentional, but that final clause is crucial – we’re not simply weighing in on contemporary views. Instead, we are seeking to know what God’s Word teaches in these matters.

Things kick off at 6:30 PM tomorrow, March 22. The doors will open at 6 so you can come early for a bit of fellowship. At 6:30, we’ll begin with an interactive discussion on the Work of the Holy Spirit in a Person. We’ll do this either in small groups or in one plenary group, depending on the number of participants. Then we will enjoy a time of corporate worship, led by the Ridgeview Worship Team. After that, we’ll hear a sermon on Ephesians 5:18, and what it means to be filled with the Spirit. Then more worship, and we’ll end the evening in prayer.

On Saturday, March 23 at 6:30 PM, we will again enjoy interactive discussion, but this time on the Work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Then we will come together for sweet corporate worship, followed by a brief sermon to wrap up that theme, focusing on the unity the Spirit brings to the church. Following that, we will have a panel Q & A time. You will be able to text in your questions for the panelists to answer. So bring your tough questions to the second night!

On Sunday morning, March 24, at 9 AM, we will have another plenary meeting, and the theme of this meeting will be the Controversial Works of the Holy Spirit (i.e., the works of the Spirit about which Christians struggle to find agreement); specifically prophecy, tongues, and healings. While these are controversial subjects, you won’t find the tone of this meeting to be controversial at all. We are looking forward to joyfully digging into God’s Word together, led by Samuel Parker, for our edification and encouragement.

Finally, at 10:30 AM, we will begin our worship gathering. During the service, Scott Langemeier will preach from Acts 1:8, showing how the Spirit empowers the church to go on mission for the glory of Christ.

We’ll cap it all off with a church-wide fellowship meal.

We’re trusting God for a wonderful weekend together. I hope you will be a part of it as much as possible. Also, please pray fervently that God would be honored by all that happens this weekend.

For the glory of Christ,

Pastor Mike Johnson

 

P.S., Complimentary child-care will be available during all scheduled meetings.

Why I Disciple College Athletes

Why I Disciple College Athletes

Word in Season

For those of you that don’t know me, I will confess that I’m a sports junkie. I’ve played, coached or watched sports since I was born. My wife has been a high school volleyball coach for nearly 30 years. I have two children who were college athletes. Sports are my life. That is why I became involved in Fellowship of Christian Athletes over thirty years ago. FCA was a way I could intertwine my love for God with my love of sports. It didn’t have to be one or the other. Our athletic abilities are a gift from God and the way we utilize our gifts bring Him glory. I completely believe that the effort we give when we compete in athletics is a form of worship! We glorify God when we do sports God’s way.

You can’t do sports God’s way unless you know God.

But I have another confession. I didn’t see that connection until years later when I truly understood the Gospel myself. That’s why my passion, for the last nine years, has been sharing the Gospel with high school and college athletes. After all, you can’t do sports God’s way unless you know God. My hope is that they can apply their faith to their athletics NOW instead of waiting to figure it out when they are a 52-year-old washed up ex-high school football captain. If they can learn to live the Gospel while they compete, they will definitely be able to incorporate their faith into their jobs, their relationships and their families!

One last confession. While I love any and all sports (Ok, maybe not NBA basketball), there is one that holds a special place in my heart. Wrestling. No, not WWE pro-style wrestling. I’m talking about the ultra-physical sport between two competitors who are attempting to gain and maintain a superior position. It is one of the oldest forms of combat. The ironic truth? I only wrestled until my 7th grade year in junior high. Why? Because it was so demanding, physically and mentally.

My son, Tyler, was born to be a wrestler and began wrestling in 4th grade. That’s what led to my love affair with the sport. I went to practice with him and learned technique from the other coaches. I saw the physical preparation that was required to be competitive. While he was young, we drove all around the state of Wyoming watching him compete in tournaments. He had a successful high school career and was given a scholarship to wrestle at Chadron State. Incredibly, we moved to Chadron the very same year he started college.

That gave me first-hand experience of the commitment required to be a college wrestler. My admiration for the sport and for the young men and women who compete in it took a step to another level. Because of the strenuous demand of this sport, wrestlers must attain a level of physical fitness far and above that required by most other sports. That means hours of conditioning, both strength and cardiovascular. There is also a demanding mental component. Wrestlers drill for hours learning techniques that will give them an advantage in competition. Because of weight requirements, wrestlers must be super dedicated and disciplined in their nutrition and caloric intake. Now combine this with attending study hall and classes and you can begin to see why I have such great admiration and respect for the athletes who compete in this sport.

It’s a truth that I’ve believed for years. Christianity and wrestling go hand-in-hand.  They both require faith, discipline and commitment.

So, you can imagine how grateful and excited I was when Brett Hunter, the wrestling coach at Chadron State, asked me to be a spiritual mentor to this year’s team! I’d already built a close relationship with several Chadron State wrestlers through the college’s FCA huddle which I’d been involved with for the past seven years. Coach Hunter had some character issues with his team over the past couple of years and wanted to change the direction and culture of his program. He observed a truth that many throughout the sport had witnessed over the past several years. Many successful wrestlers (Olympic and college) were Christian and many successful college programs were led by Christian coaches.

It’s a truth that I’ve believed for years. Christianity and wrestling go hand-in-hand.  They both require faith, discipline and commitment. Neither Christians nor wrestlers can cut corners. There is no easy way out. You have to deny yourself daily. But the strongest intersection between both? The audience we compete for. As followers of Jesus, the Bible reminds us that our motivation is to please God not man. It also instructs us that, in whatever we do, we are to work heartily for the Lord and not for men. That should be the same motivation in competition. Wrestlers shouldn’t be fearful of pleasing family or friends. They shouldn’t be worried about how the coach feels they performed. Believe it or not, winning or losing should be of little concern. Honestly, those things are beyond our control. The focus of the Christian wrestler is to open up, compete to the best of his or her ability and to give God the glory. That takes all the pressure off. There is freedom over fear in Christ.

Isn’t that how we should live as Christians too?

Needless to say, the season has been a blast. I’ve met almost weekly with team members and coaches who choose to attend our motivational Bible study called RAW (Ready And Willing). I’ve spent time in the wrestling room and even traveled to a tournament in Colorado with the team. It’s been fun building relationships with each of them. It’s also been a learning experience and I’m already excited for next year and the opportunity to build on the foundation that God established this year. Hopefully, as their faith grows, so will their confidence on the mat. In the end, there couldn’t be a better win-win situation.

Who was Patrick of Ireland?

Who was Patrick of Ireland?

Moments in History

In the small town I grew up in people took Saint Patrick’s Day very seriously. What else would you expect from a town called O’Neill? In fact, O’Neill is known as the “Irish Capital of Nebraska.” When I was a child, Saint Patrick’s Day meant a giant four-leaf clover painted on the main intersection of town, at least one green horse in the parade, and Irish dancers clogging down the streets. Despite growing up with such festivities, I never really knew what the holiday was meant to celebrate. I heard the myth about Patrick chasing the snakes out of Ireland, but that was all I knew. It was not until I was older that I learned the true story of Patrick of Ireland and his importance in Christian history.

Though we do not know exactly when Patrick was born, we do know that he died on March 17, 461 AD. Likely, he was born around 385. Even though Patrick is known as an Irish saint, he was born in southern Britain, which at the time was occupied by the Roman Empire.

When he was 16 years old raiders kidnapped Patrick and took him to Ireland as a slave. Unlike his largely Christian homeland, the Irish Celts were pagan animists who worshiped nature. Even so, it was during his 6 years in slavery that Patrick turned to Christ as his savior. In his Confessions, he wrote that he prayed over one hundred times a day while working pigs for his masters. When Patrick saw the opportunity to escape Ireland he took it and returned to Britain.

Years later Patrick dreamt that the people of Ireland were calling out to him asking him to return and preach the gospel. He immediately began studying to teach God’s word. Eventually, he became a bishop. Most bishops in the fifth century stayed in urban areas and ministered to established churches. So when Patrick gave that up in order to preach the gospel to the pagans in Ireland, he did not have very much support. Even so, he spent the rest of his life in Ireland preaching God’s word to the people who once enslaved him.

What we can learn from the life of Patrick

1. The church must be about reaching the ends of the earth with the Gospel.

In Patrick’s time, Ireland was the furthest West that anyone knew or had traveled. Patrick was going to the ends of the earth, and he is an example to us of faithfully going out; leaving homelands and crossing cultures to preach Christ to the nations. And this was no short-term visit; he lived with the Irish and became their bishop. He is one of the great Christian missionaries of the early church and an example to us of obedience to the Great Commission.

2. We can use simple ideas to explain complex biblical truths.

Just as Jesus used stories about everyday objects and people to explain big truths about God, Patrick used items familiar with his audience to teach them important doctrines. Patrick is most famous for using the Irish clover to explain the Trinity. Though not a perfect illustration, it helped explain that important truth about God. The doctrine of the Trinity was especially important to Patrick because of the time in which he lived. The church had just emerged from the Arian controversy, which taught that God the Father was devine, but Christ and the Holy Spirt were not. Patrick saw the importance of teaching vital biblical truth to all believers. And he did this through simple words and illustrations, demonstrating that one doesn’t need big words to teach big truths.

3. God can use anyone who is faithful to do his work.

We all doubt ourselves, and Patrick was no different. He thought he lacked intelligence and most scholars consider him a sloppy writer. Yet, despite these weaknesses, God used him to reach the lost in Ireland and change the country forever. He was faithful to his calling. Danger knocked at his door regularly, but he relied on God’s power and Spirit to work wonders in the lives of those he reached. As it turns out, Patrick really did chase the snakes out of Ireland – snakes like idolatry and unbelief. He trusted God, and God used him greatly.

Patrick’s Own Words

To wrap this up, perhaps it is best to allow Patrick to speak for himself with a few of the most famous quotes from his Confessions:

“But after I came to Ireland – every day I had to tend sheep, and many times a day I prayed – the love of God and his fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened. And my spirit was moved so that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night, and this even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountains; and I used to get up for prayer before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain, and I felt no harm, and there was no sloth in me—as I now see, because the Spirit within me was then fervent.”


“Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.”


“I know for certain, that before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and he that is mighty came and in his mercy raised me up and, indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for his great favours in this world and for ever, that the mind of man cannot measure.”

Three Reasons to Study Church History

Three Reasons to Study Church History

Church History

While working on my seminary degree I have taken many classes that are challenging, informative, and edifying. However, the one that has taught and encouraged me the most in God’s work and God’s Word is the one that I least expected: Church History.

We often think of history as dull and boring. Add the word “church” to it and all we picture is old men in old buildings reading old books. How could such things be of value to the modern believer? How could learning about past Christians benefit Christians today? There are many reasons, but let me share just a few.

1. Church history is fascinating.

Though history can be seen as boring, the history of the Christian church is not. It involves empires, lions, wars, debates, treason, missions, and global expansion. Church history is about kings, monks, warriors, lawyers, farmers, and explorers. Every century is packed with stories of men and women who did extraordinary acts for the Kingdom of God. Men and women were martyred in the Colosseum. Monks stood up to kings under punishment of death. Christians from around the world started global missions that sent Christians to every corner of the earth. Christian history is not merely a hub-drub list of councils and meetings, it is a long and epic story about a hardworking people and their faithful God.

2. Church history helps us learn from the mistakes of the past.

George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Christians can heed these words by learning not only the victories of Christianity in history, but also its failures. Many people have done great wrongs in the name of Christ. The Spanish Inquisition, the crusades, numerous cults, false-teachers, false-gospels, and corrupt governments are scattered throughout the history of the church. We often think there is no way we could repeat these events. However, history proves otherwise. Studying the past helps believers avoid the patterns that lead to these problems. This is beneficial for us and for our churches.

3. Studying Church History is a great way to study theology.

Remember the “old men” and “old books” I mentioned in the beginning? To be honest with you, those men and their books are in many ways the most interesting and helpful parts of Christian history. Today every church has a list of doctrinal beliefs that they hold as core truth, rooted in Scripture. What many Christians do not realize is the painstaking time, effort, and dedication it took the great theologians of history to prove and solidify these core teachings as biblical truths. Dozens of councils were held and thousands of hours were spent in order to discern what the Bible teaches about the deity of Christ, the tri-unity of God, and the role of works in salvation. Though most of us see these as settled theology, it has not always been so. Men and women were fed to beasts and burned at stakes standing for these vital truths. Studying church history allows us to see these key doctrines defended. They were forged on the anvil of adversity with the hammer of debate and study in a heat provided by a fiery passion for God’s truth. Church history shows us the triumphs and the troubles involved in fighting for the precious truths of God’s Word.

Now What?

For these reasons and more, I believe you should study church history. Not merely for a head knowledge that puffs up, but for a passion and joy that comes from observing God’s sovereign work in history through his people for his kingdom. But where do you begin?

Ridgeview Bible Church is doing two things to help introduce you to church history. First, every Thursday this summer we will be hosting “Theology Thursdays: Church History” a.k.a. “Throwback Thursdays.” We will be exploring the history of Christianity from Christ to today. The study will cover the major people, events, and theological debates of the past 2000+ years. Second, between now and this summer we will be publishing blog posts about historical events and people to get you thinking about the importance of history. So expect one of those very soon and we hope to see you at Theology Thursdays this summer!

Saying Goodbye to the Periphery

Saying Goodbye to the Periphery

Word in Season

Believers in the New Testament had fellowship together. It is an odd word, isn’t it? Fellowship. What does it mean and why is that detail about believers included in God’s Word?

Real fellowship is a deep love for our brothers and sisters in Christ; a visible love that will attract other people to Jesus.

Biblical fellowship is rooted in Jesus. Through him, believers become united together in Christ as fellow citizens and heirs (Eph 2:19, 3:6), and partner together for the gospel (Phil 1:5). In Acts, fellowship looked like doing life together – a life primarily focused on the advancement of the gospel (Acts 2:42, 4:32).

Real fellowship is a deep love for our brothers and sisters in Christ; a visible love that will attract other people to Jesus. I was shocked, rebuked, and then convicted when I realized John uses “one another” in his gospel and in 1 John to refer to fellow believers. Our Lord Jesus commands this love for fellow believers at least 3 times in the gospel of John (John 13:34-35, 15:12, 15:17).

John emphasizes this commandment of Jesus 4 times in 1 John (1 John 3:23, 4:7, 4:11, 4:12). He even says that one evidence of our salvation is our love for our brothers (1 John 3:14). Let the weight of that sink in a bit.

The road is hard, suffering is promised, the world (maybe even dear friends and family) will hate us and yet we must persevere until the end (Hebrews 3:14)

Why do we need fellowship? God, in his great wisdom and because he alone is our provider, knew we would need to be loved like this. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but someday and possibly sooner than we think. The road is hard, suffering is promised, the world (maybe even dear friends and family) will hate us and yet we must persevere until the end (Hebrews 3:14). How? By God’s grace, he has given you an eternal family to exhort you every day; to serve you in your darkest hour, and to strive side by side together for the faith of the gospel (Phil 1:27). A family that you also have a responsibility to exhort every day so that none of us might be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:12-13).

A family to lift your hands up together with on Sunday mornings and praise God in the best and worst of times. A family to bear unspeakable burdens with you. The world cannot love you like this. Those of you who have experienced some of these things from your church are nodding your head right now. I can hear your “Amen” and I join you! You can tell of God’s mercy that he has extended to you through the body of Christ. You can recall that time when you had no words to pray and your brothers and sisters endlessly interceded on your behalf. You remember the Sunday you wondered if you could ever continue another day in this fight for the faith and you walked in that door only to be refreshed and renewed. This bond between believers surpasses all others and satisfies our deep need for community. This is how God designed it and like everything else he designed, it is good (Genesis 1:4).

We experience this deep, relational community in the greater body of Christ with our brothers and sisters around the world but more intimately this fellowship is intended to be lived out within our local church.

Periphery isn’t real fellowship and if we stay there we miss out on an important and necessary means of God’s grace in our lives.

If God’s design is ultimately what we should desire and strive for, why are so many of us content to stay on the periphery of our church?

We attend church but we rarely get involved in anything outside of Sunday morning. We make small talk, but we never share our life or become aware of the needs of others. In fact, we don’t really want to be involved in church because our schedules are too full already. Church falls off the priority list when it competes with sports, vacations, hobbies, exercise, work, sleep, etc.

To my great shame, this was how I interacted with the local church for many years. My thoughts about my life, my wants, and my over-packed schedule ruled my interaction with church. Idolatry. Putting other gods in place of the one God, for whom we all exist and in place of our one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom we exist (1 Cor 8:6).

Periphery isn’t real fellowship and if we stay there we miss out on an important and necessary means of God’s grace in our lives.

So, what do we do? This post can’t change hearts. Only God can do that work through his Spirit and oh how I pray he will! Father, open our eyes to see and experience this glorious truth!

Father, help us to look at our schedules and re-prioritize (or remove) to make room to love “one another” and engage in true biblical fellowship with our local church.

Father, help us make time for fellowship outside of just Sunday morning.

Father, help us prioritize building relationships and discipleship within the church.

Father, help us to leave room in our schedules, so when a need arises within the church we have the time and the energy to fill it.

And Father, help us carefully weigh the costs with missing a Sunday at church vs whatever is causing us to be absent

Father, help us say goodbye to the periphery.

How to Study the Bible, Part 3

How to Study the Bible, Part 3

Word in Season

After discerning the meaning that was originally intended by the author, it is time to ask the question: how is this relevant to me? How do I respond to this today, in my context?

This is what the last step of Bible study is all about: application!

Without application all the effort you put into observation and interpretation is just vapor that will dissipate as soon as you close your Bible and notebook. The Word of God, written for you thousands of years ago, will fall flat if your mind and heart and practical life are not transformed by it. Think about it – the Word of God falling flat!

In 2 Tim. 3:6-7, the Apostle Paul warns about people who are always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. In other words, it is possible to take in all the teaching and enjoy the intellectual exercise but do so in an empty way: with one’s life still marked by sin and various passions (2 Tim. 3:6).

So how do we “arrive at a knowledge of the truth”?

As we seek to apply a certain passage, we need to remember an important principle: the way we respond to a passage must be shaped by the main idea of the passage.

There are usually many ways to apply a given passage. And the specific ways one will apply a passage will vary depending on his or her age, background, and place in life. Even so, a legitimate application will always have something to do with what the author actually meant for us to come away with.

Thankfully, there is not a situation in my life that the Bible doesn’t address in some way! But as I seek to apply the Bible to various situations, I have to consider what the author was driving at.

In the last post, we determined that the main idea of Hebrews 3:12-14 can be said like this:

Because of the real and present danger that unbelief poses to Christians, the writer of Hebrews urges Christians to exhort one another every day in order to help each other continue holding on to our original confidence, and thereby show that we have truly shared in Christ.

How do we apply this? When we think “application”, it may be helpful to think about three areas: 1) the head, 2) the heart, and 3) one’s practical life. Let’s walk through those three areas.

Respond at the Head Level

What are some truths in the passage that I am to believe? What are some lies that this passage brings to light? What truths about God expressed here am I finding difficult to believe? Believing means more than simply affirming a set of statements. It means embracing them as true.

In our passage, some truths are made clear. For example, the sin of unbelief is deceitful, and it has a heart-hardening effect. Do I really believe that?

What is the original confidence that I am to hold onto? Surely, this refers to the gospel – the very foundation on which my new life with God began. Have I added something to that along the way? What I am hearing around me or in my culture that undermines that original confidence?

Respond at the Heart Level

How does the meaning of the text affect my affections and attitudes of my heart?

Do I feel the weight of the warning, and the urgency in this passage; the danger of not holding on to my original confidence firm to the end? Do I sense that danger for myself, and for those around me?

I need to think of the Christian faith as a marathon, not a sprint. A famous Bible teacher once said: “Don’t make 5-year long plans. Rather, think of yourself in 60 years: where will you be?” That is in line with this passage – will my original faith be deep and strong and shareable in 60 years from now?

What things must I do today for that to happen?

Respond at the Practical Level

How will this passage shape my personal life? How will this shape the way I relate to my friends or family or with the people I disciple?

And since all sin is rooted in unbelief, a clear way to apply this passage is to fight sin! So, I will fight that unbelief by saturating myself with the Word of God and surrounding myself with people who can discern in me a hardening of heart and exhort me to grow in my faith.

Hear the imperative in this passage: “Take care and exhort one another” (v. 12,13). Do I love my brothers and sisters enough to warn them against a hardened heart? Do I love God’s people to the point that I don’t miss opportunities in friendships and relationships, but instead use every opportunity to build others up?

Application: the Final Step

Application is the final step in Bible study. And, like the rest of Bible study, application has to be done correctly. And without this crucial step, the entire process of Bible study will fall flat. So let me exhort you today to apply the Word of God! 😊

Note: This is the 3rd of a 3-part series on How to Study the Bible. For part 1 of this series, click here. And click here for part 2.

How to Study the Bible, Part 2

How to Study the Bible, Part 2

Word in Season

My wife and I experienced the ultimate long-distance dating relationship. We literally lived 7,000 miles apart. To communicate, we wrote letters. It was great; nothing brightened my day more than finding a letter in my mailbox. I devoured every word of those letters. I’d like to think she did the same with my letters, but she isn’t as sentimental as I am. 🙂

Imagine that I took a passage from one of her letters and asked what’s the meaning of this passage to me? For example, she might have said, “This week, it is very warm here. Everything is melting and I think it is the first sign of spring. Oh, how I love spring!”

I could say, Hmm, to me that means that winter is cold and uncaring and without hope. It is symbolic of death and evil. Spring is symbolic of life – of all that is good. To me, this means that good people love spring and hate winter.

That obviously would entirely miss the point of what she actually said. She was expressing her opinions and anticipation of the coming spring, not using the seasons as an allegory for good and evil or a judgment on people who favor a particular season. The words in her letter don’t take on a new or different or special meaning to me – one that is disconnected from her original intent. She said something and meant something and that is how I should understand her words.

Our job isn’t to decide what a passage means to us. Our job is to discover and grasp what the writer actually meant.

The Bible is no different. The writers meant something when they penned it. Our job isn’t to decide what a passage means to us. Our job is to discover and grasp what the writer actually meant. Ultimately, since the Bible is inspired, we are trying to determine what God means by any given passage.

So how do we do that? Last week, Kristen Huls walked us through the first step: observation (click here to read that post). The question answered by observation is what does the text say? She made 10 observations about Hebrews 3:12-14. Among those, she observed that: 1) this passage was written to Christians. 2) The writer sees unbelief as a real and urgent danger for Christians. And 3) that verse 14 serves as a supporting reason for the concern in the passage.

Interpretation: What the text means.

Our next task is to grasp what the text means. We call this interpretation, and the main task in interpretation is to carefully consider our observations so that we can understand 1) how all the parts fit together, see 2) the logic of the argument, and identify 3) the main idea. So let’s do that, still using Hebrews 3:12-14 as an example.

From the observations, I can tell that this passage is a warning to Christians that evil unbelief poses a significant threat. So the occasion of this passage, which we can discern directly from this passage (but also from the wider context) is the danger that unbelief poses to Christians. A Christian can become hardened [to God] through the “deceitfulness of sin”.  And the writer urges action in response to this danger (v.12a and 13), and then he gives a supporting reason for urgently taking action (v.14).

Action: The action the author urges is to “take care”. And then, in verse 13, he gets specific as to what that care looks like: exhort one another every day. Thus (and this is when we get interpretive), we can see that carefully and urgently exhorting one another every day is a way to guard against the danger of unbelief.

Supporting Reason: Then he gives a supporting reason (and we know it is a supporting reason because of Kristen’s 9th observation – the word for) in verse 14: for we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As Kristen also observed, this functions like an if/then statement. The if part is: if we hold our original confidence firm to the end. And the then part is: we have come to share in Christ.

That clearly implies that if we stop holding our original confidence before the end then we have not (at the present time) come to share in Christ. So the way we demonstrate a genuine share in Christ now is perseverance in our original confidence (the gospel) to the end. That really makes the danger of unbelief apparent!

So let’s put those pieces together and state the main idea of Hebrews 3:12-14. Because of the real and present danger that unbelief poses to Christians, the writer of Hebrews urges Christians to exhort one another every day in order to help each other continue holding on to our original confidence, and thereby show that we have truly shared in Christ.

So clearly, we can see here that a means of Christian perseverance is Christian exhortation. Wow!

In the next post, we will answer the final question: how do I respond? Stay tuned!