A Growing Disciple: The Eighth Mark of a Healthy Church Member

The essence of being a Christian is to be a disciple. 

“Disciple” and “discipleship” are not words that get much “air time” today, and when they are used in secular parlance, it often conjures up thoughts of cults or sects.  However, in the pages of the New Testament, God’s Word speaks of discipleship with great frequency (over 260 times).  So what does it mean to be a disciple? 

The best way to answer that is to simply look at the lives of Peter, Andrew, James, John and the other apostles–because these men exemplify discipleship.  They were those who left their fishing nets, tax collecting booths, and families to follow Christ; they worshipped Jesus, learned from Jesus, proclaimed the gospel of Jesus’ kingdom, and went to their own bloody deaths for his sake.  As disciples, however, they did not simply imitate Jesus, they also trusted in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for eternal life and justification on the last day.  In short, as disciples, the followers of Christ found every area of their life transformed by the one whose name and cross they now identified.  And so do Christ’s disciples today.

In What is a Healthy Church Member?, Thabiti Anyabwile marks growing discipleship” as the eighth characteristic of a healthy church member.  From our study at Calvary Baptist Church in Seymour, Indiana, here are five points of application for growing as a disciple:

1. Baptism & Church Membership.  The first thing Jesus said after giving his Great Commission to “Make Disciples” was to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Therefore, if you have made Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior–that is that he has made you a new creation in Christ.  The first thing you should do is to be baptized by a local church who believes the gospel and teaches the Word of God.  Concurrent with this baptism should be your request for church membership.  Hopefully, your church has an informative/instructive process where new members are instructed in the history, doctrine, and practices of the church.  This would be a first step as a growing disciple.  For an excellent and brief treatment of this subject, with a funny cover, see Bill James revision of  Erroll Hulse’s Baptist and Church Membership.

2. Abide in the Word of God.  Next, as a growing disciple, it is imperative that you grow.  The second thing Jesus said to his would-be disciple(maker)s is to “teach them to obey all that I have instructed you.”  In other words, in the Christian life, knowing the Bible matters.  In fact, Spiritual growth DOES NOT HAPPEN WITHOUT IT.  Consider John 15:7-8, “If you abide in me, and my word abides in you, ask for whatever you want, and it will be given unto you.  By this is my Father glorified, and so you prove to be my disciples.”  The core of discipleship is an abiding relationship with Jesus founded on and mediated by the Word of God.  Moreover, discipleship is proven by this.  So the second step in growing as a strong disciple is to abide in the Word of God.

3. Pursue Older Discipleship.  Since discipleship is not an individual effort, it is important to learn from older, wiser, more mature believers in Christ.  Titus 2 frames this well.  It begins, “Teach what accords with sound doctrine…” and then instead of moving into a systematic theology, a lecture on doctrine, it focuses on relationships.  It says for older men to train younger men and older women to instruct younger women.  This is not an accident or a backup plan.  This is the very wisdom of God.  As Paul tells the Corinthians, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (11:1).  This is not an optional component of the Christian life.  Too many believers remain immature because they have never had anyone model for them a godly example.  If you don’t have anyone like this in your life, pray that God would bring someone into your life.  At the same time, ask God to shape you to be faithful, available, and teachable, so that such a disciplers’ example might not be lost on you.

4. Pursue Younger Discipleship.  Whether you have had a mentor/discipler in your life or not, if you have walked with Christ in obedience to his Word for any amount of time, you should begin looking for ways to share that with others.  Again let me challenge you– “The Christian life is not an isolated/individualized/introverted event.”  It is a lifetime of abiding in God’s word and being sharpened by others who are seeking Christ with you–ahead of you and behind you.  If you have the opportunity to share your life with a younger believer and to help show them how to walk more closely with our Savior, why wouldn’t you do it?  Honestly, is there anything better?  Doing life together should be the motto of the Christian life and is required for growth as a healthy disciple.  For an excellent resource on discipleship, see Robert Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism and Michael Card’s The Walk.

5. Make Disciples.  Finally, the Great Commission impels us to go outside the church and to call others to Christ, to literally take the Word of God seriously and to make disciples.  God calls us to do something that in truth, we cannot do.  He is asking us to see to it that converts/new creations/kingdom citizens are made.  We cannot do that!  But his Word and His Spirit can, and as we carry forth the message of the gospel, he promises to bear fruit and draw many into the kingdom.  Thus if we are to truly know Christ, to walk with him, and to grow up in him, sharing the gospel and living to make-disciples must be a regular part of our lives.

None of these things are novel, but all of them are easily overlooked and undercooked.  May we strive to pick up our respective crosses and to press on towards Christ-like conformity as Baptized, Word-saturated, Maturing Disciples of Christ who love to share the gospel with others.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Who Seeks Discipline? The Seventh Mark of a Healthy Church Member

Really, who seeks discipline?

In our pleasure-seeking culture and churches so inundated with the gospel of self-gratification: Not Many! Yet for those who know Christ and are known by him, discipline is not a pain to be avoided, but a necessary and blessed part of the Christian life.  As Thabiti Anyabwile shows in his chapter on the subject in What is a Healthy Church Member?,  formative and corrective discipline are actually “means of grace” that lead to life, liberty, and eternal happiness (cf. Heb. 12:3-11; 2 Tim 3:16-17; and Matt 18:15-20).  For a biblical perspective, consider these wise words:

Proverbs 3:11-12: My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

Proverbs 9:9: Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.  Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.

Proverbs 27:5-6: Better is open rebukethan hidden love.  Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

With that said, seeking discipline is not easy.  It requires the work of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and a God-given boldness (2 Tim 1:7).  Still, while we depend on God’s work in us, there are practical ways that we can grow, as we trust God to work in us as we seek him.  Here are five:

1. Personal Discipline.  Practice the personal spiritual disciplines on a regular basis.  These include Bible intake (reading, meditating, memorizing, studying), prayerr, evangelism, giving, and others.  An excellent resource for developing these personal disciplines is Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Discipline for the Christian LifeDon’s website is also a treasure trove for resources on cultivating a life devoted to Christ and his word.

2. Informed Discipline.  Learn more on what the Bible teaches about Church Discipline.  You could do this by doing inductive Bible studies on some of the key bibliclal passages: Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5; Hebrews 12:3ff; and by reading a good book on the subject.  An excellent introduction to the topic is Jay Adam’s book, simply titled, A Handbook on Church DisciplineOther resources can be accessed at the IX Marks website.

3. Formative Discipline.  Avail yourself of every form of Bible teaching and discipleship that your church offers.  If you are at a church that loves and labors to teach the whole counsel of Scripture, why wouldn’t you?  Church discipline is not merely corrective, it is also constructive, and one of the best ways to grow up in Christ is through the regular intake of Bible teaching available at your church. 

4. Corrective Discipline.  Memorize the steps of Matthew 7:1-5 (as it pertains to the individual in corrective discipline) and Matthew 18:15-20 (as it pertains to the steps of the church in cases of corrective discipline).  This action step builds on step 2, which requires an informed understanding of God’s reasoning(s) for church purity and unity.  Corrective church discipline is God’s ordained means for handling sin in the church, and though painful, the end result is good for the offending party and the good of Christ’s church. 

5. Proactive (“Rescuing”) Discipline.  James concludes his epistle with a heart-felt appeal to reach out to church members coming perilously close to destruction.  He says, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (5:19-20).  Ultimately, the aim of church discipline is restoration and rescue, not humiliation and accusation.  Consequently, church discipline cannot be something that we evade; it must be something we  embrace–individually and collectively.  Like James and Jude, we must “save others by snatching them out of the fire” as we have opportunity, all the while “hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22-23).  In this way, we grow together as healthy church members.

For more on the subject of church discipline, check out this months’ e-Journal by the guys at IX Marks.

Committed Church Membership: The Sixth Mark of a Healthy Church Member

To many Christians today, church membership is a non-essential or an enigma.   Be it from the proliferation of extra-church ministries (i.e. Bible camps, collegiate ministries, or other parachurches), the ever-increasing array of Christian teaching diassociated from church membership (i.e. Christian TV, radio, Bible studies, etc), the creation of hybrid-churches (i.e. multi-site, Internet and virutal churches), or the simple neglect to teach this subject in many churches (thankfully, not all), many Christians have little concept of God’s desire for Christian’s to be inseparably united to a local body of believers.  Or at least, that is how it was for me, but I don’t think I am alone.

In my own life, church membership was a truth I had to grow into.  For instance, for the first five years of my Christian life I was not a church member.  I was baptized at age 17, but not a church member until 22.  This was not a conscious rebellion against the church, but an unaddressed, ecclesial ignorance.  Therefore, it my conviction that churches and pastors today must teach on the importance of church membership, if our churches–Baptist, Presbyterian, and otherwise–will be thriving outposts of Christ’s kingdom.  In Thabiti Anyabwile’s book What is a Healthy Church Member?, the sixth mark of health is understanding and embracing this reality.

As an aside, but also as an entry into this week’s applications, let me add personally that as it concerns church membership, I have been much helped by my friends and teachers at IX Marks.  If you are not familiar with this ministry, I encourage you to take an afternoon at your nearest coffee shop or library and peruse their website.  From articles to audio interviews to straight-forward teaching on the subject, let Mark Dever, Matt Schmucker, and their church-loving peers, encourage and challenge you with biblical teaching and practical ways to grow as a committed church member.  (Perhaps, the first thing to do is to listen to Mark Dever’s SBTS 2002 chapel message: Membership Matters).   I remember listening to this sermon while mopping up the children’s building at Woodland Park Baptist Church, and thinking, “I have never heard anything like this before!”  It gave me a whole new love and priority for the local church.

After considering this neglected biblical truth in more detail, you could begin to grow as a committed member through these five points of application:

1. Take a step of obedience in one area of church membership.  Thabiti Anyabwile lists 8 characteristics of a committed church member: (1) Attends Regularly; (2) Seeks Peace; (3) Edifies Others; (4) Warns and Admonishes Others; (5) Pursues Reconciliation; (6) Bears with Others; (7) Prepares for the Ordinances; and (8) Supports the Work of the Ministry (68-70).  Does the members in your church do this?  Can you imagine if they did?  Be a trendsetter in your church: start practicing these corporate spiritual disciplines and encourage others to do the same.  Taking God at his word, and stepping out in Spirit-empowered obedience will have untold impact on you and your local church.

2. Develop a ministry of presence at your church.  Realize that your attendance matters.  In my own life, I started going to church regularly at age 17.  When I did, there was an older gentlemen who greeted me at the door every week.  In addition to the preaching of God’s word, I truly believe that his enthuiastic hospitality was one of the ways that God brought me to himself.  When we go to church, we are not simply going as consumers; we go as those upbuilding and supporting the rest of God’s people.  And when your Christian liberty “enables” you to freely skip church, it may have a negative effect on another brother or sister who is depending on your presence.  The ministry of presence is vital for all believers and should be something that we gladly live out each week.

3. Learn the names of every member of your church and use the church directory to pray for one another.  John 10:3 says that Jesus calls his sheep by name, and that when he speaks, his sheep hear him and follow (10:27).  So too, for Christians, especially church leaders and shepherds, we must be committed to knowing those in our church, calling them by name, and praying for them.  Now, with that said, I realize, some churches are ginormous–which is a technical term for “really big”–and that such feats would tempt some to pride if they learned 7,500 names.  However, within these larger churches, are smaller groups, however they are classified.  The point here is not legalism, but love!  Out of love, you should know the names of those in your flock, and by whatever means you can, learn to pray for your fellow members by names.  You may say, “I don’t know how to pray for those I don’t know.”  Well here are two ways to respond: (1) Get to know them!  Ask their name, their family situation, where they serve in the church, where they work outside the church–simply put, be curious.  This is where number 2 helps number 3.  (2) Pray Paul’s prayers for those people whom you still don’t know.  If they are believers, these are great ways to make concrete petitions for fellow-members to grow in Christ.  D.A. Carson’s book on the subject, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, is an excellent resource to help you here.

4. Inform yourself of church business.  Most churches have regularly scheduled business meetings.  As a committed member, you should know what is going on in your church.   This gives you opportunity to join in prayer with what God is doing in your midst; it gives you time to ask the pastor, elders, or other members about the business at hand; and it protects your church from the wiles of Satan who would love to bring division to your church by uninformed members making hasty, uninformed, and unspiritual comments at the meeting. (By unspiritual, I mean those comments that have not been sanctified by prayer, the Word of God, and even time– James 1:19-25).

5. Study the New Testament to learn what the church is and does.  Perhaps this should actually be the first thing you do, but either way, your commitment to the church is directly related to how important you think the church is, and the only way you can have a proper understanding of the church, is to get God’ Word on it.  One way to do this is to simply use a concordance (online, or in print) to look up every instance of ekklesia / church in the New Testament and see how the Bible uses it.  Is it speaking of a local assembly?  An abstract universal entity?  A heavenly gathering?  Or what?  Then you should ask, what is God’s intention for the church and how should we be participating in that?  Answering these questions will go along way to seeing how vital church membership is.

Overall, growing as a committed member is a process, but one promises lasting joy as union to Christ in his body promises inimitable opportunities to grow up into Christ.  As Ephesians 3:10 tells us, the church reveals the wisdom of God to the world, and is in fact the wisdom of God.  Sadly, most people don’t see it that way.  Consider these steps of application this week, and I trust that you too will see how the events that take place within the local body of assembled believers are more important than the events that occur in the Pentagon, the Kremlin, the halls of congress, or any place else for that matter. 

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

A Biblical Evangelist: The Fifth Mark of a Healthy Church Member

On Sunday night, the church I am interim, Calvary Baptist (Seymour, IN), looked at what it means to be a “Biblical Evangelist” according to Thabiti Anyabwile’s helpful study What is a Healthy Church Member?  During our time together, I suggested five ways to live out a life of intentional evangelism.  In addition to memorizing an evangelistic tract and /or a series verses that outlines the gospel, consider the following steps of towards evangelistic fervency:

1. Community Evangelism.  Pray for a different ‘lost’ family member, friend, co-worker each day of the week.  Then, invite someone to church each week.  Imagine, under God, what your church would look like if every member of your household of faith took seriously these two practices–praying daily and inviting weekly.  Coupled with the faithful preaching and teaching of the gospel at your church, this exercise could bear much, much fruit.

2. Spontaneous Evangelism.  In Colossians 4:3, Paul says, “Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”  Paul not only preached boldly, he prayed dependently and recruited others to pray with him and for him, so that God would open doors for evangelistic witness.  In my own life, earnest prayers like this have regularly been answered with God-ordained encounters to bear witness for Christ.  The problem is not God’s faithfulness to answer such prayers, but my weakness to keep praying for more opportunities.  May we learn to pray unceasinlgy with Paul for open doors to spontaneous evangelism.

3. Lifestyle Evangelism.  The Great Commission instructs us that “as we go” (participle) we are to “make disciples” (imperative).  Put in one word, evangelism should be our “lifestyle.”  There are dozens of ways to do this.  Let me suggest four: (1) live a life that leads to “Why”–as 1 Peter 3:15 suggests, live a life that causes others to ask you about the hope you have in Jesus; (2) get to know people by asking questions that will lead to more informed and more specific applications of the gospel, ask God to give you a heart for people and look for ways to interject Christ into daily conversation; (3) perform ‘strategic’ acts of kindness that will show the love of Christ and that instigate conversations about Jesus; and (4) commit yourself to being a regular and recruiting participant in your church’s evangelistic programs– don’t miss the joy of joining others in your church as they share Christ in your local context.

4. Thoughtful Evangelism.  Growth in anything requires time, persistence, and studied contemplation.  This is true for evangelism.  So, if you are serious about wanting to grow as a biblical evangelist, let me suggest a handful of helpful resources

  • Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism is the first book I would recommend, as it provides an excellent discussion of what the gospel is and how to go about telling others the simple, and yet eternally signficant, message of forgiveness and hope.
  • Robert Colemen, The Master Plan of Evangelism examines the life of Jesus and shows how the best evangelists are disciple-makers.  This book has been formative in my understanding of ministry, especially in the idea of spiritual multiplication.
  • J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God is an excellent theological inquiry into the relationship between God’s sovereignty in salvation and man’s responsibility to share the gospel with all people.

5. Discipled Evangelism.  Finally, there is no better way to grow as a “biblical evangelist” than to “do evangelism!”  And there is no better way to do that then to find a friend or older member in your church and learn from them and with them.  Timothy, Titus, Silas, and others co-labored with the Apostle Paul and learned first hand how to boldly share their faith, so too we should link arms with others in the church to grow in evangelism.  This co-laboring strengthens relations within the body and maximizes the effectiveness of the church’s witness.   If your church does not have such a ministry team, perhaps you, in coordination with your pastor, could help implement such an evangelistic unit.

In truth, evangelism is not something that we can do in the strength of our flesh.  Most of us experience great feelings of defeat whenever we think of evangelism, and yet this is one of God’s clearest instructions for us, to go and make disciples, sharing the good news with all the nations.  In fact, the Holy Spirit has been given to us for just such a ministry (Acts 1:8), and it is only as we join in what the Spirit of Christ is doing in the world that our joy is complete (cf. 1 John 1:1-4).  So, this week, let me encouage you to take hold of one of these action steps and to go forward with boldness and conviction to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.   You won’t be disappointed that you did.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

A Genuine Convert: The Fourth Mark of a Healthy Church Member

When I was in high school, my family moved into a new home, and lets just say, “It was a fixer-upper.”  I’ll never forget waking up the first morning in that ranch-style house and laying for what seemed like hours, hiding under the blankets as flies landed on my head.  Gross!  The floors were torn up with nails jutting out and the kitchen walls were covered with years of baked on grease, tobacco smoke, and other browning agents.  While my parents owned the home and the property had been transferred to them, it was evident that they had only just begun in their cleanup process.

With our relationship with God, we find something similar.  When the Triune God ransoms a sinner from the throws of hell and saves him or her from a life enslaved to sin, the condition of that sinner’s “house” is in a word: Wretched!!  Much worse than my high school abode.  Nevertheless, the transfer of property is certani, and the conversion process is permanent.  Powerful changes will be forthcoming.

Over time, just as my family cleared out and cleaned up that dirty house, so the Holy Spirit comes into the life of a believer and gives us him or her a new priority for God’s word, a new appetite for holiness, a new love for others, and a new power to walk with God–just to name a few of the changes.  All in all, the life-changing effects of conversion are visibly evident, and as the Bible teaches this is part of God’s design.  The one-time purchase is necessarily followed by a life-time of Christian growth and sanctification.  The moment of conversion results in a myriad of Spirit-filled changes.

In this weeks chapter, Pastor Thabiti touches on this important but often neglected truth — Genuine Conversion.  As the fourth mark of a healthy church member, he sets a course to consider the reality of our conversion and to challenge us to know for sure that God has in fact moved in.  From his helpful admonitions, let me give you five ways to meditate on genuine conversion and ways you can encourage others who are clinging to Christ by faith.

1. Read 1 John and consider your own conversion experience.  On page 55, Thabiti provides a helpful set of diagnostic questions.  Take time to read the Scriptures and consider them.

  1. Do you walk in the light or in the darkness (1 John 1:6-7)?
  2. Do you love God the Father or do we appear to love the world (1 John 2:15)?
  3. Do you love other Christians (1 John 3:14-15; 18-19; 5:1)?
  4. Do you have the testimony of the Holy Spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:6; 1 John 3:24b)?
  5. Are you persevering in the faith (1 John 5:4-5)?

2. Invite another mature member to point out blindspots in our Christian walk.   God’s word instructs us that fellow Christians should spur one another on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24), likewise that we should speak the truth to one another in love (Eph. 4:15).  Yet, we should not only do this, we should also invite a trusted friend and church member to do this, by asking them to point out areas of weakness and growth.  Of course, this requires humility and a willing spirit, but the fruits of this discipline are invaluable.  

3. Make a habit of recognizing the grace of God in others.  From a great distance, I have been challenged to do this by C.J. Mahaney.  C.J.’s radical commitment to humble himself by laboring to build up others is a model for us all– see his Humility: True Greatness.  His “others-first” mentality is only sustained by the Holy Spirit, and results in a genuine humility and gratefulness that reflects the Son of God himself.  This however, is not an exceptional kind of Christian behavior evidenced in rare Christians, it rather available to anyone who is indwelt and empowered by the Spirit.

4. With another member, set a goal to read a book about genuine conversion.  There are so many good books on conversion, salvation, and how to know the spiritual condition of one’s relationships with God.  Let me commend three:  John Piper’s Finally Alive is a basic and powerful look at conversion and the doctrine of the new birth; Stephen Smallman’s What is True Conversion? is recommended by Pastor Thabiti and looks to be a helpful, 32-page introduction to the realities of conversion; and Donald Whitney’s Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health is another reliable tool to discern the condition of your heart. 

5. With humility, patience, and love, pray for and pursue a member of your church who is walking away from Christ.   James 5:19-20 reads, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”  There is nothing more loving you could do than to pray for and gently pursue a fellow church member who is drifting from the Lord.  Perhaps they have been offended and need encouragement or exhortation to make amends and be reconciled; perhaps they have been deceived and ensnared by Satan and need a word of truth to free them; perhaps they have simply grown tired and discouraged and need the loving reminder that God loves carried to them by a compassionate friend.  Whatever it is, we will not know until we go.  And Scripture is clear: We are to be our brother’s (or sister’s) keeper.  We are not to be like Cain who shed his brother’s blood, but rather like our Master Jesus Christ, we are to shed our blood for the sake of others (cf. Col. 1:24ff).

This weeks action points are the most challenging thus far– not because of their intellectual difficulty, they are pretty simple to understand– but because they demand so much from us!  In truth, it is only the genuinely converted person who would even want to attempt these things, and who in fact has the humility and power to do them.  Yet, if these action points confront you as hard, do not be discouraged.  Simply turn to the Lord who has sufficient power to make his calling and election sure in your life and to add good deeds to your faith (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-11).  

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Gospel Saturation: The Third Mark of a Healthy Church Member

What does it mean to be Gospel-Saturated? 

That is what we considered on Sunday night — this post is a few days late — when we took another look at Thabiti Anyabwile’s book What is a Healthy Church Member?  His third mark of a healthy church member is to be filled to overflowing with the gospel of Jesus Christ–that is, Gospel-Saturated. 

Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not get drunk with wine which leads to debauchery [or dissipation] but be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  If I had to take a guess at what gospel-saturation looked like, I would say that just as someone is under the influence of alcohol, gospel-saturation would look like someone who is visibly manifesting the fruit of the Spirit and boldly proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ–after all, to be most “Spiritual” is to be most Christ-centered (cf John 16:13-14).  Consider the apostles on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).  

In thinking about growing in gospel-saturation, here are five suggestions to help you grow in your understanding and application of the gospel. 

1. Memorize the Gospel.   Obviously, your confidence in the gospel is only as good as your knowledge of it.  The best way to do this of course is to read the Bible, because from Genesis 3:15 to Revelation, the whole Bible is a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Yet, for a new Christian or one who has not spent a lot of time in the Bible, one of the best things you can do is memorize the turning points of the gospel– things like that God is the holy creator who made us for his glory, that all mankind is sinful and desrving punishment, that the sovereign plan of salvation has been in effect since the fall, and that Jesus Christ’s law-fulfilling life, substitionary death, and justifying resurrection and victorious ascension have secured salvation for all those who repent from sin and believe on Him.  This would be a start.

Here are a few other resources to help you memorize the key turning points of the gospel.  Select one and memorize it–and more importantly memorize the Scriptures contained in each–so that you can better know the gospel and share it with others.

2. Learn to summarize the Gospel in 30 Seconds.  Call this the Elevator Gospel.  If you were in an elevator, on the 95th floor of Sears Tower and the cable snapped, could you share the gospel in the 30 seconds you had before impending death?  Or for those twitteratis out there, could you tweet the gospel in 140 characters or less?  These guys did

Now hear me: THE POINT IS NOT TO SHRINK THE GOSPEL!!!  Or to think that the gospel can be distilled into less than the full canon of Scripture.  But, THE POINT IS to so imbibe and embrace the gospel that you are able to communicate it at any time, anywhere, to anyone.  The goal is to arm ourselves with the gospel so that we can preach to ourselves or witness to another, which leads us to our next two points.

3. Preach the Gospel to yourself.  The gospel does little good for others, when it is not first changing your life.  Because we sin repeatedly every moment of every day, we need to learn how to apply the gospel to ourselves.  To paraphrase Martyn LLoyd-Jones, we need to spend less time listening to ourselves, and more time preaching to ourselves.  This is the model of David in Psalm 103:1, where he commands his soul to bless the Lord (cf Psalm 42-43).  Yet, to do this we must fill our minds with heart-stirring gospel truths.  As you seek to preach the gospel to yourself, consider just a few verses to begin with: Psalm 103:1-5; Lamentations 3:21-26; Romans 5:1; 8:1; Galatians 2:16-21; Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 John 1:9-2:2.  For more gospel-saturating verse suggestions, see Desiring God’s Fighter Verses.

4. Think about the Gospel.  This sounds simplistic and obvious, but really, how much time do you think about the gospel?  For you own sanctification, gospel meditation is necessary.  As you encounter sin, you must take time to see how the Cross of Jesus Christ is the singular, God-given means of forgiving your sin, cleansing your righteousness, and building up your faith.  See C.J. Mahaney’s book, The Cross-Centered Life, for more here.  At the same time, gospel-rumination prepares you for creatively sharing the gospel with others. 

What do I mean?  Well, I can remember the time that walking on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach, coming back from a Campus Crusade evangelistic outreach, I was approached by a jewelry salesman offering som “mighty fine watches and rings.”   Like a dunce, I said no thanks and moved on.  I thought later, what if I had replied, “No, I am not interested in any of your jewelry, because I already have the pearl of greatest price!  Can I tell you about him?”  Now that would have been quite an evangelistic conversation starter, but because I wasn’t thinking that way I missed that opportunity.  So, we must learn to think (creatively) about the gospel, so that as we fill our minds with Scripture and meditate on the gospel, we will be more equipped for the next traveling salesman.

5. Order your life around the Gospel.  In What is a Healthy Church Member? (p. 43), Thabiti suggests that Christians should order their daily and weekly routines in such a way that they are constantly on the look out for gospel-sharing opportunities.  Whether at the grocery, Starbucks, the gym, the neighborhood park, or the local newstand–if those still exist– we should look for people with whom we can build relationships and share the good news of Jesus Christ.  In doing this, we are fulfilling the Great Commission and letting the Holy Spirit work in us to confirm the gospel we believe. 

Now, with these five suggestions in place, I can already hear some detractor saying that I have shrunk the gospel by advocating a 30 second, memorized list of verses.  Maybe.  But that is not my aim, so much as I am trying to think how we, as finite witnesses, can better know and make know the gospel.   In sum, I am simply trying to think through ways of practically applying the gospel to daily life.  I would love to hear how you do it, and how we can better become gospel-saturated Christians.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Biblical Theology: The Second Mark of a Healthy Church Member

Whether you know it or not, you are a theologian!  

Being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28), you are irreversibly created to think thoughts about God.    But whether or not you are a good ‘theologian’ is another story.   While everyone thinks about God — even the atheist who denies his existence — the unanswered question is “Do you think true and right thoughts about the triune God who made you?” 

Moses, in Deuteronomy 32:47 reminds us that the Word of God “is not merely a trifle, it is your life!”  Accordingly, we who want to grow in our relationship with God, who want to be healthy church members are those who must grow in our knowledge and love for the “macro-story” of the Bible.  In truth, our salvation and knowledge of God depend on it. 

Studying the second mark of Thabiti Anyabwile’s book, What is a Healthy Church Member?, this weekend at Calvary Baptist Church (Seymour, IN), I suggested 5 ways to grow as  “biblical theologians,”  and I share them with you now:

(1) Find a Bible reading plan and set a course to read the Bible cover-to-cover. This exercise will familiarize yourself with God’s wise and gracious plan of salvation and insure that you see over the course of a year or two all that God has done in this age and in the age to come.  There are many helpful reading plans that can set your pace, as well as, resources to shed light on the Bible as you read. D.A. Carson’s two books,  For the Love of God: Volume 1 and For the Love of God: Volume 2 are excellent companions to your journey through the Bible.  Likewise The ESV Study Bible is another excellent reference for reading the Bible.

(2) Read an introductory book on Biblical Theology.  If you are new to the idea of biblical theology, Vaughan Robert’s book, God’s Big Picture is the best introductory work on the subject.  An intermediate work that also has an informative section on how to interpret the Bible is Graeme Goldsworthy’s According to Plan.  For advanced “biblical theologians,” Geerhardus Vos’ Biblical Theology is the standard.   

Finally, whether you are a novice or an expert in biblical theology, let me encourage you to invest $35 in The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology – no single resource is better written to help you see the broad strokes of the biblical story.  Its short treatments of every book of the Bible and hundreds of articles–again short–will illumine many key themes and ideas present in the Bible, but often missed on account of unfamiliarity.  In the word of Nike, Just Do It!   

If you have kids, God’s Big Picture Story Bible is just as critical.  Rejecting the moralism that fills so many children’s story Bibles, God’s Big Picture Story Bible synthesizes the Bible into 40 managable chapters–short sentences and captivating pictures.  It takes the biblical themes of God’s King, God’s People, and God’s Place and shows how they all relate to Jesus.  It is excellent! 

(3) Read the Bible with eyes open to the intra-textual connections between the OT – NT connections.  Looking for ways that the OT promises, prepares, and pictures the coming of Christ is one of the most rewarding aspects of the Old Testament Scriptures.  How else can we read the Old Testament, but as New Covenant Christians.  See John 5:39; Luke 24:27, 44-49; 1 Cor. 10:1-11; 2 Tim. 3:14-17; Heb. 1:1-3; 1 Pet. 1:10-12; 2 Pet. 1:19-21 for examples of how the New Testament authors read the OT. 

(4) In your Bible, write down personal cross-references when you make any inter-textual connection.  For instance, when you see Isaiah 7:14 quoted in Matthew 1:23, or when you read the story of the serpent being lifted up in the desert in Numbers 21, scribble in the margin the John 3:14-16 connection.  There is no better way to get around the Bible then to install a personal set of markers and street signs that will help you remember that you have been here before.  Yes, this does presuppose that you are reading the Bible :-) 

(5) Learn from the experts.  Matthew, John, Paul, the author of Hebrews, Jude, indeed all the NT authors were Biblical Theologians par excellence.  Fortunately for us, they have left us with plenty of samples of how to relate the Christ of the NT to the promises of the OT.  For instance, notice the way Matthew begins his gospel applying the OT to Christ; read Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7 where he traces biblical history from Abraham to Solomon; study Paul’s sermons in Acts 13 and 17 to see his reading of the OT (cf. Rom. 4; 9-11; Gal. 3-4); or examine the book of Hebrews and the way it presents Christ as superceding all of the OT offices, sacrifices, and promises. 

Finally, if Biblical Theology is still a mystery, let me encourage you to simply keep reading.  The Spirit of Christ will open your eyes to the truth of God’s word as you come to the Bible with humility and faith.  As Paul told Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim 2:7). 

God has not freed us from thinking, but he has promised to help.  He has promised that his word will never return void (Isa 55:10-11), that the one who studies it will be refreshed and rewarded (Ps. 19:7-11), and that he given us his Holy Spirit who will lead us into all truth (1 John 2:27).   Remember: the men who confounded the world with the wisdom of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ were ordinary, uneducated fishermen who had simply been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). 

May that be said of us too!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Expositional Listening: The First Mark of a Healthy Church Member

9781433502125tThabiti Anyabwile, pastor of the First Baptist Church (Cayman Island), has written a very helpful book for local churches and church members.  Addressing concerns about the spiritual health of church members, Pastor Anyabwile in his book What is a Healthy Church Member?  gives 10 corporate disciplines that mark a healthy member of Christ’s body.

Last night, the congregation of Calvary Baptist Church (Seymour, IN), looked at the first mark: Healthy Church Members Are Expositional Listeners.

Here are the five application points from the evening service.  They are ways that Christians can grow stronger in their understanding and application of God’s word.  I encourage you to incorporate them into your own weekly routine and to challenge others to do the same.

  1. Read, pray, and prepare BEFORE the Sunday message.  Take time to read the passage of Scripture that will be preached on the coming Sunday.  If you don’t know what that passage is, ask your pastor and tell them that you will be praying for and preparing to hear his message.  (For those at Calvary, the next sermon will cover Colossians 1:24 – 2:5).
  2. Take notes DURING the message.  Purchase a good notebook and take notes each week.  Over a lifetime of expositional listening, you should acquire a virtual commentary on the entire Bible as your pastor preaches the whole counsel of God.  Pastors: Preach the whole counsel of God! (Acts 20:27).
  3. Tell someone what you leared AFTER the message.   Either for the purpose of evangelism, edification, or further understanding, take time to talk to someone about the sermon you heard last Sunday.  This can be a great way to invite someone to church or to minister God’s truth to another believer.
  4. Send your pastor an email to clarify a question.  The Lord has given pastors and teachers to the local church so that the saints may be equipped for the work of service and grow in the Word of God (cf. Eph 4:11-16).  So, in other words, God has placed men in churches who know the Bible and love to share it with others.  Take advantage of these gifted leaders, and learn from them, so that you too may be a greater biblical witness.
  5. Listen to sermons from faithful expositors on the Internet, radio, or video.  Since we live in an electronic age, one where God’s word is so readily available online, let me urge you not to miss out on some of today’s premier Bible teachers.  Below is a list of some of my favorite preachers — men who have proven themselves to be faithful expositors of God’s word.

Alistair Begg is pastor of Parkside Community Church in Cleveland, Ohio.  Pastor Begg is a Scottish pastor who has come stateside.  He is a faithful and illuminating teacher of God’s word with a witty sense of humor.

Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.  Pastor Mark is a truth-telling and big-hearted pastor whose commitment to the local church has shaped a generation of young pastors–including Pastor Anyabwile, who formerly served with him in D.C.  Pastor Mark will often preach large portions of Scripture, even whole books of the Bible.  His book-length sermons have been collected in a two-volume work called The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made and The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept.

John McArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, California, is perhaps the premier biblical expositor alive today.  His commentaries on the New Testament are a treasure-trove of linguistic-historical-cultural exposition of the Bible.  His expositional preaching is filled with biblical insight and truth.

Russell Moore is a teaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church (Louisville, KY) and Dean of Theology at Southern Seminary.  Dr. Moore is a gifted biblical theologian whose penetrating exposition illumines the Scripture with captivating references that range from Wonder Woman to the Wal-Mart Breakroom

John Piper, pastor of Bethelehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, describes preaching as “expositional exultation.”  As seen in Nehemiah 8:12, understanding God’s word results in joy.   Pastor Piper’s siren call for joy in God is seen powerfully at work in his expositional preaching.

Finally, two preachers who are dead but still speak through the medium of recorded sermons are W.A. Criswell (1909-2002) and Adrian Rogers (1931-2005).  Standing for the truth in an age of modernist drift, Criswell and Rogers preached the word of God with expositional power and consistency.  Older generations in the church will remember these biblical stalwarts; younger generations need to learn of these spiritual forebears.

This week I pray that our church and your church would be filled with expositional listening.

For the glory of Christ and his church, dss

Biblical Theology Basics

Timmy Brister, SBTS grad and assoc. pastor at Grace Baptist Church, has done a great service for his congregation and all those interested in learning more about biblical theology.  In conjunction with a study on healthy church membership from Thabiti Anyabwile’s book, What is a Healthy Church Member?, Brister has posted a series of helpful blogs that describe biblical theology (Carson & Goldsworthy), list significant and accessible resources, and even set biblical theology to lyrical rhythm (Shai Linne).

These posts will help you find food for you biblical-theological appetites.  If you utilizes their resources, they will help you read the Bible better and, by God’s grace, make you a healthier church member.   Here are the five posts.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

(HT: Garrett Wishall)