“Theology Is Only the Beginning”

Whenever my wife and I get the opportunity to travel to a new place, we have a few things we generally like to do. First we look for local book stores to see if we can find some hidden treasures. Secondly, we check to see if any local theatres have shows in production. Finally, we enjoy visiting the art museums, especially in big cities.

            My favorite period in art history is the Impressionism of the late 1800’s. So when we are deciding which art museum to check out, I always ask if they have any work from Monet, Degas, Pissarro, Renoir, Cassatt and the like. If they do, that’s where I want to go! I love to stare at these masterpieces, the swirls of colors, the movement on the canvas; it all just captivates me.

            Likewise, I am a firm believer that one’s study of theology, the study of God, who He is, what He has done, should be captivating. While some may study theology because they want to great debaters, or want to be known as intellects in the church, I believe it is imperative for all Christians to have the desire to study theology because we love God and want to know Him more.  

            Our study of God should lead to deeper devotion, more joyful worship, and sacrificial service to God. I try to share this passion in my local church by 1) encouraging a daily walk with God, 2) implementing dynamic, expositional preaching and teaching of God’s word, and 3) fostering an environment of intentional evangelism.

            To begin with, it is important to recognize that any true relationship is built upon the basic principle of talking and listening. Many people claim to know God and have a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ, yet they spend little to no time talking and listening to God throughout the week. If a husband treated his wife like this, one would believe they had a very troubled marriage. Likewise, I encourage people to spend time cultivating a daily talking and listening relationship with God. This is done very simply through intentionally spending time in prayer and Bible reading. This should not be something that becomes just another thing to check off of the “to do” list. Rather, followers of Christ should love this time and look forward to it every day with great joy.

            Secondly, as we teach and preach systematically through books of the Bible, Christ-centered churches should try to show how God’s word ought to continue to overwhelm us. As we listen to Bible messages, we should be filled with awe as we read the very words of God and recognize who we truly are and what He has done for us. A dynamic Bible message should be one that accurately follows and is faithful to the text. It also should show the joyful delight that comes from studying God’s word. This means that listening to the preaching of God’s word at church should not merely be a passive activity where one simply sits and listens to a lecture. Rather, as we hear the Word of God preached we should be actively engaged, following the arguments of the Biblical writers, and weighing what is said by Scripture.

            Finally, theology should shape how we live and serve God. Churches should desire to foster an environment of intentional evangelism. If local churches were more involved with sharing their faith in the community, I believe that they would be healthier and stronger. That is to say, church members would grow in their love and knowledge of God. I do not believe that numerical growth is the sole way that we are to measure the benefits of evangelistic endeavors. Instead, I see evangelism as a way to grow the maturity and faithfulness of God’s people as we perform that task given to us by our Lord (cf. Matt. 28:19) while we look to Him for the results.

            Evangelism can be nerve-wracking and scary for people, but this should cause us to depend upon God to help us and strengthen us through any opportunity. Perhaps a Christian may not have an answer to a question during an evangelistic conversation. This will drive them to God’s word so they are able to answer that question in the future. When a church is intentionally witnessing the truth of the gospel, they will grow closer together in prayer and fellowship. 

            I believe that if we can continue to grow and encourage each of these areas that local churches will come to understand more and more that our theology, our understanding of God, is not the end, but the beginning of loving, serving, and worship Him.

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.  

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

   

“The Big Picture of Salvation”

“Don’t miss the forest for the trees.” This familiar idiom helps people grasp the big picture and not get lost in the details. When it comes to salvation, at times Christians have lost sight of the big picture of what God is doing in salvation and have relegated it to simply “asking Jesus into your heart.” While this is a fine way to teach children, God’s redemptive plan is bigger than we can possibly imagine. We can begin truly appreciating what God is doing in the work of salvation by tracing this important topic through the pages of the Old and New Testaments. 

            God’s salvation of humanity began before time itself. God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). That is, God’s plan to redeem fallen sinners is an eternal decree dependent solely on His mercy and grace. Through the unfolding of redemptive history, we see how this eternal decree has worked out in the lives of God’s people.

            To begin, God created a good world, free of sin and corruption. “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good (Genesis 1:31).” The crowning work of creation was man and woman. Created in the image of God, they were called to spread the image of God all over the world (“Be fruitful and multiply”) and to act as the under-rulers of creation (“have dominion”). Yet they gave into the temptation to sin and, consequently, now had a broken relationship with God, bringing punishment and death into the world. However, in the midst of the curses God justly gives as a consequence of sin, there is a glimmer of hope. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel (Genesis 3:15).” Theologians regard this verse as the first announcement of the gospel, or the protoevangelion. God promises to redeem sin through one who will destroy the evil one. It is this “seed promise” that must be traced in order to see the unfolding of God’s redemptive work. 

            The failure of mankind to live up to God’s standards is evident by the continuous fall into sin in Genesis 3-11. However, in Genesis 12, God makes a covenant promise to Abraham which ensures fulfillment; namely, that God Himself will be the one who brings about the desired ends. When the other iterations of the creation mandate were given, it was up to mankind to perform (cf. Genesis 1:28, 9:1, 11:4). Yet, in the Abrahamic Covenant, God takes the role of completing the task Himself. “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:2-3).” The unconditional nature of God’s promise to Abraham becomes the hope through which the people of God could ever be assured of salvation (cf. Romans 4).

            The giving of the law is the next question. If God’s covenant with Abraham was unconditional, why did God give the law through Moses? The Apostle Paul explains “It was added because of transgressions (Galatians 3:19).” So as God calls Moses to lead the people out of slavery, He gives them His law so they may 1) come to know, love, and serve the one true God (Ex. 20:3, Deut. 6:5-6), 2) be protected from the nations which surround them, and 3) recognize their utter failure to live up to God’s holiness. (Rom. 3:19)

            The sacrificial system was put in place not merely as a means to cleanse from sin, but to point forward to a perfect sacrifice. It can be said that the law, sacrifices, and rituals were merely shadows prefiguring the reality that was to come (Colossians 2:17). King David says: “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering” (Psalm 51:16). Yes, the law required sacrifices, but David recognizes it has always been the heart that God is trying to get to. 

            Throughout the history of Israel, it becomes clearer that these chosen people will never live up to the holiness of God on their own. Through various rulers and kings, through exile and return, the people remained hopeless in their own strength.

            Yet God had not forgotten the promise made to Abraham. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). When Christ comes to earth, God’s plan crystallizes (Matthew 1:21). The people needed a seed, or offspring to defeat the work of the serpent. When Jesus is born, the promise is fulfilled (Galatians 3:16).

            Jesus is the faithful Israelite, the promised seed come to destroy the works of the serpent (Revelation 12:9). Therefore all of the unconditional promises of God belong to Him. How can we receive these benefits? By being united with Him in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:5). 

            Christ’s sacrificial death upon the cross atones for the sins of His people and His resurrection assures that sins have been forgiven. When individuals come to Christ in repentance and faith, they can be sure of salvation. We can be certain of the unconditional nature of salvation as promised to Abraham by virtue of our union with Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10).

            At Christ’s return, we look forward to glorified resurrected bodies in which we love and serve Him for all eternity. We look forward to a New Heaven and New Earth where righteousness dwells. We look forward to the final stage of salvation where all of God’s people enter into His presence with great joy, finding all of our rest and peace in Him forever (cf. Rev. 21:3-4).

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.  

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Am I Ready To Die?”

“So I’m dying… faster than everyone else.” These are the words of Claire Wineland in the trailer of a new documentary about her life. Claire is a popular face on YouTube, an online video community, as she has shared her story of growing up with cystic fibrosis. Some of her most engaging talks deal with her perspective of living with the imminence of death. Claire explains, “When I was born, I had a life expectancy of 5 years old. And then it moved to 10 years old. And then it moved to 13 years old. And then it moved to 18 years old…” She explains how the eventuality of her death has always been in the back of her mind; yet she must find ways to live in the moment, not allowing the thought of death completely consume her.

Claire Wineland

            This is a topic relevant to us all as death is, in fact, a part of the grand scheme of life. It is the ultimate statistic: 10 out of 10 people will die. So perhaps, the question we must consider is, “Are you ready to die?” Now, this is not intended to be a morbid thought experiment, but rather an important aspect of self-reflection. It is possible that some of you are living your last days. Some readers may know they are in their last days and others may not. In truth, no one really knows how much time they have left. Still, the question remains pertinent: “Are you ready to die?”

            The knowledge of impending death is often romanticized in popular music and films. So when an individual learns he has an incurable disease, he is told to live those last few days with great joy and passion. One country song says, “I went skydiving. I went Rocky Mountain climbing. I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu…” I’m not saying that is the wrong response, I’m just wondering how realistic it is.

            Wrestling with the reality of death is not new. People of every place and time have spent moments wondering about what happens after we die. Do we just cease to exist? Do we go to some sort of an afterlife? How can one truly know?

            Writing around the year 380 BC, the Greek philosopher Plato constructs an interesting dialogue in his book The Republic on this very topic. The conversation is between his teacher Socrates and an older man named Cephalus. As they speak about aging and wealth, Cephalus moves the discussion to the reality of death and how people think about death as it slowly, but truly approaches.

            “When a man thinks himself to be near death, fears and cares enter into his mind which he never had before; the tales of a world below and the punishment which is exacted there of deeds done here once a laughing matter to him, but now he is tormented with the thought that they may be true.” In other words, what is to come of me when I die?

            One of the most famous lines in all of Shakespeare’s plays comes from Act 3 of Hamlet. In this scene the prince of Denmark cry’s out, “To be, or not to be? That is the question.” Hamlet considers whether life is worth living anymore. Is it “nobler” to go through the pain and suffering of life? Or perhaps death would be a nice escape from hardship. “To die, to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, for in the sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this moral coil… Must give us pause.” Again, what is to come of me when I die?

            I am not trying to belabor the question incessantly. I only intend to make sure that we all take this question seriously before it is too late. You see, while we may personally not know what exactly happens when we die, there is One who does. One of the central claims of historic, biblical Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. So central to the Christian faith is this truth that the Apostle Paul declares that if Jesus did not truly rise from the dead, then Christians are simply fools wasting their lives (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:14). However, if Christ did truly rise from the grave, then all of His words and teaching are instantly vindicated. He knows what is to come.

            “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27).” This alone, like death itself, is bad news. The gospel is the good news that God has made a way for broken sinners such as myself to be made right with Him through faith in Christ alone. The gospel is made possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you…Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) Jesus lived a perfect life, died the death we deserve, and rose again defeating sin and death; when we turn from our sins and believe in what Jesus has accomplished for us we can be certain that we have eternal life. That death from this life is not the end. Do you have this hope?

            Sadly, Claire Wineland died September 2018 at the age of 21 due to a stroke after complications with a double lung transplant. Life is truly a precious gift. While Claire lived knowing that death could come at any moment, we often do not. So take some time today and think about this topic. Again, ask yourself, “Am I ready to die?”  

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.  

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe