Many people, when they read Romans 9, begin to think that Calvinists have a point about His choosing some to be saved and some to be lost. Since the Bible teaches that man has free will (see “Predestination” from February 8, 2009) and does not contradict itself, we must be careful to study this lengthy passage in such a way as to harmonize with other Biblical texts. Because God elects certain things does not mean He determines everything. The following analysis, although revised, first appeared in the 1998 Spring lectureship book on Calvinism.
For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites; to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers, and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen (Rom. 9:3-5).
Paul begins by expressing concern for his fellow Jews (kinsmen according to the flesh). He implies that the majority of them are accursed and wishes he could somehow be accursed in their stead, much as Moses once expressed himself: “Yet now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written” (Ex. 32:32). Of course, Paul was well-versed in the Law and knew the futility of such a request; God had told Moses: “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book” (Ex. 32:33).
They had received so many privileges (the covenants, the law, the promises), yet they were now accursed from Christ. Why? Earlier in Romans, when Paul had demonstrated that the Jews were under the condemnation of sin just as the Gentiles were, he asked this question, “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision?” (Rom. 3:1). Again, the oracles of God were entrusted to them (Rom. 3:2). A similar theme recurs here in Romans 9, but it turns in a new direction. Despite their numerous advantages, the majority of the Jews are out of favor with God (since they had rejected Christ).
But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son” (Rom. 9:6-9).
Paul explains that it is not the Word of God that is ineffective. The fact is that not all Jews descended in the flesh from Abraham are true Israelites. The apostle had written earlier: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly…but he is a Jew who is one inwardly” (Rom. 2:28-29). To bolster this point, Paul refers to the fact that Isaac was born as a result of a promise that God made to Abraham—and not of the flesh (by which Ishmael was conceived).
This theme is also developed in the book of Galatians, in which Paul contrasts the children of the promise (Isaac through Rebecca, the free woman) and the children of the flesh (Ishmael through Hagar, the bondwoman). The children of the free woman are Christians (whether Jew or Gentile); the children of the flesh are the Jews (Gal. 4:22-31). The point is that the true seed of Abraham does not refer to just those born of his flesh—but rather those born of his spirit. Abraham was a man of faith (Gal. 3:9); “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7). Many of the physical descendants of Abraham were not his spiritual descendants. Today those who are Christ’s are Abraham’s seed (Gal. 3:28).
God had chosen Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to receive the aforementioned spiritual blessings and advantages (Rom. 9:4), not the least of which was to bring Christ into the world (Rom. 9:5). He made of them a great nation, but told them when He gave them the land that they should remain humble about it. He makes it clear that what they had received was the result of a promise.
The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any other people; for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers… (Deut. 7:7-8a).
God does make choices and exercises His sovereignty in some matters—if the options are equal. The first full day of school, for example, a teacher who as yet knows very little about her students may select one for a particular task. After she determines how many students want milk for lunch that day, she sends him to the office with the total written on a piece of paper. Did he earn that honor? No. Was he the best qualified, the smartest, or the quickest? No. He was chosen at the teacher’s discretion. Does her choosing him for that duty mean he will receive an A in all his subjects? No.
So it is with some of God’s choices. Was there no other man besides Abraham that God could have chosen? Of course there was. When was Jacob selected over Esau? Before birth, they were both equal; God chose one—not for salvation, but for a special purpose. Despite the disclaimer in Deuteronomy, the Israelites came to feel that God chose them on the basis of merit—because they were better than others, an attitude typified by the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14. As Paul explains the reason that not all Israel is of Israel, he knows what the Jews will think on this matter. He anticipates their objections by pointing out the prerogatives God had exercised.
And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac (for the children being not yet born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated” (Rom. 9:10-13).
Israel did not earn the right to be chosen to bring Christ into the world—or for any of their other advantages. However, Calvinists lose sight of this point; when they read this passage, they ignore the context and think of one word: election. But Esau was not lost because Jacob received this honor; nor was Jacob saved by it. God did not choose to save one brother and condemn the other, just as He did not save all Israelites and condemn all Gentiles. Consider, for example, Achan and Rahab. Achan (the Israelite) was stoned to death because of his sin; Rahab (the Gentile) was saved because of her faith.
This point is made repeatedly in Romans: “The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). If the Jews thought they could be excused when they committed the same sins as the Gentiles on the basis of their election, they were 100% wrong (Rom. 2:1-3). “But God gave us His holy law.” Yes, but it is not just the hearers of the law (or the trustees of the law) who are justified, but the doers of it (Rom. 2:12-13). Besides, “when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things contained in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves” (Rom. 2:14).
Likewise, God did not choose to condemn all descendants of Esau or save all of Jacob’s posterity. But Jacob was chosen by God before either one was born, before either one even had the possibility of doing good or evil, to be the seed line through which Christ would come. One might think that God’s choice would give the Jews advantages for salvation over all other nations, but New Testament history reveals that the Jews rejected Jesus, which is the focal point of Romans 9. When God chose them for those special privileges, His selection did not guarantee personal salvation when Christ came into the world.
That Paul is discussing those special advantages that the Jews had is seen both from Romans 9:4 and from the prophecy that “the older shall serve the younger” (9:12). This prophecy is not of individuals but nations. Esau lived in the area south of the Dead Sea. Jacob lived in various locations north of there when he returned from the land. They had a brief meeting in Genesis 33:1—20, at which time Jacob gave Esau many animals as gifts. Any other meetings between them, except for the burial of their father Isaac (Gen. 35:29) are not mentioned; certainly neither one served the other. It was long after the deaths of Esau and Jacob that the nation of Edom served Israel.
Paul, then, in Romans 9 is not discussing the sovereignty of God with respect to individual, personal salvation, but rather as it pertains to His election of a certain nation for a certain work. When God chose Israel, His decision was in no way related to their inherent goodness nor any other commendable quality. In response to this teaching on election, Paul anticipates a complaint coming forth from the Jews in Romans 9.
What shall we say then? Is there unrighteous-ness with God? Certainly not! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “Even for this same purpose I have raised you up, that I might show My power in you, and that My name might be declared in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens (14-18).
This passage emphasizes that God can use individuals to accomplish His will just as He can nations. But the passage in no way supports Calvinist doctrine about the salvation of individuals. Do these verses teach that God ordained from all eternity that Pharaoh would be condemned in hell and that there was absolutely nothing he could do about it—even if he wanted to? No. Do these verses say that Pharaoh had no freedom of choice? No. Is it fair to conclude from this passage that the salvation of each individual is determined from eternity? Hardly. Calvinism is built on a number of assumptions that are unwarranted.
The Calvinist does not know and cannot prove that Pharaoh had no freedom to decide whether or not to let Israel go. There may have been a number of nations which might have enslaved God’s people: Sumer, Elam, Ur, or others. God chose Egypt. There might have been a number of Pharaohs who were proud and arrogant; God selected this one. There is no proof that he was any more stubborn than any other world leader at that time—or any more stubborn than many individuals today.
And how did God harden his heart? Can anyone seriously imagine Pharaoh lamenting, “I really wanted to let the Israelites go, but God wouldn’t let me. He keeps imposing His will upon mine, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t give the release order”? God hardened Pharaoh’s heart with a series of events (plagues). Pharaoh was a willing participant in this process; a number of verses describe Pharaoh as hardening his own heart (Ex. 8:15, 32; 9:34).
In the Scriptures, God frequently allows people to believe what they want to believe and do what they want to do because they are committed to ungodliness. Paul writes: “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie” (2 Thes. 2:11). What? Do we read this verse correctly? Will God send a strong delusion when He has devoted Himself to truth? Actually, He is said to send it because He allows it to occur, but it is really “the god of this world” who blinds “the minds of them which believe not” (2 Cor. 4:4). The reason God grants the devil such success is that many have no love of the truth (2 Thes. 2:10). God therefore gives them up (Rom. 1).
People choose evil over good, error over truth, and moral abominations over righteousness because they treasure these things; they desire them in their hearts (Matt. 6:19-21). They resist God by hardening their hearts; they are stubborn and want things to suit themselves. God did not make them that way. Men devote themselves to wickedness because they like it, not because He compels them. God has never forced anyone to practice evil—not Pharaoh, not Ahab, not Judas!
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempt-ed by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed (James 1:13-14).
Since most Jews will resist what Paul writes here, he anticipates and answers one final objection.
You wilt say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will? But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles (Rom. 9:19-24)?
The natural response to the previous argument is, “So Pharaoh really helped to show the power of God; therefore, he did God’s bidding. So why should Pharaoh be blamed?” Of course, the application for the Jews would be, “We did God’s bidding in rebelling against the law and crucifying Christ; so why find fault with us?”
The answer is that, although God used Pharaoh to His advantage, this ruler over Egypt was nevertheless ungodly and was in no sense cooperating with God in order to show His power. Likewise, the chief priests and rulers of the Jewish nation had no noble motives in mind at all when they crucified Jesus—even though one of them prophesied the event (John 11:47-53). They were moved by envy (Matt. 27:18); they did it in ignorance (Acts 3:17); and they would have refrained from doing so had they known and understood (1 Cor. 2:8).
God’s role as the potter does not mean that anyone is predetermined at birth to follow a certain course. Two people can go completely opposite directions though they are made from the same lump of clay. The fault lies not in the clay but how they respond to God as they grow and develop. God can take a Pharaoh or a chief priest and make him a vessel of wrath without imposing or infringing on his freedom at all—just as Jesus did not force Peter, James, or John to be His disciples. No one disputes the fact that God works in the lives of men and uses events to mold them. It is the means He uses to accomplish His will that serves as the focal point of the disagreement.
Some would insist that because God is sovereign, He simply chooses arbitrarily some for destruction and some for glory. In reality, He fits for destruction those who have rejected Him and hardened their hearts, which is the reason the text says He endures them with longsuffering. He is merciful to those whose hearts remain open to Him. When God makes an arbitrary choice, His decision involves only WHICH Pharaoh or WHICH high priest He will use. He does not choose good men, ruin them, force them to practice evil, and then destroy them. He gave the Amorites 400 years to repent (Gen. 15:15), after which they were perfectly fit for destruction.
Preaching the truth results in criticism and even persecution. John the Baptizer told Herod that it was not lawful for him to have his brother Philip’s wife (Mark 6:17-18), and Herodias, who had left Philip for Herod, became so incensed that she eventually found a way to arrange John’s death. Many did not like Jesus when He talked about God’s concern for the Gentiles (Luke 4:25-30), when He healed on the Sabbath day (John 5:1-16), when He taught that He had the ability to forgive sins (Mark 2:1-12), or said God was His Father, making Himself equal with God (John 5:17-18). Needless to say, when Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees in Matthew 23, they hated Him even more. Eventually, they were able to manipulate the crowd into urging the Romans to crucify Him, but they could not prevent His resurrection. Paul and many others likewise suffered persecution as a result of preaching the Word.
In the course of preaching the gospel, Jesus and His apostles were asked many questions. And they answered them! Sometimes the questions were for the purpose of obtaining information. The woman at the well asked Jesus several questions, and He answered them all (John 4). Sometimes opponents asked Him questions to trap Him or to put Him into a difficult situation, such as when the Pharisees asked Him: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” (Matthew 19:3) or when the Sadducees asked Him whose wife a woman would be in the resurrection, since she had been married to seven brothers (Matt. 22:23-33).
Jesus answered the questions designed to trap Him just as much as He did those for information. He might answer a question with a question, as He did when the chief priests and the elders asked Him by what authority He acted, and He answered, “The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?” (Matt. 21:23-27). They declined to answer, and so did Jesus.
When the woman taken in adultery was brought to Him, and the hypocritical Pharisees asked Jesus: “Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do you say?” (John 8:5), He was silent—for a few moments. Then He raised Himself up and responded to them: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7). Now it was their turn to be silent, and they all left.
Not only did Jesus and the apostles set forth and defend their beliefs in the first century, our brethren in the 19th and 20th centuries did also. We have always been willing to defend what we believe in debate. How many times have we told others: “Truth has nothing to fear”? How often have we pleaded with others, “Come now, and let us reason together”? How often have we urged an honest discussion of the Scriptures? How many of us have echoed the sentiments of N. B. Hardeman, who said, “I can state my position on any Bible subject on a postcard and still have room to ask about the wife and children”?
Yet now it is the case that many have taken vows of silence instead of being forthright. When asked questions that could easily be answered, they refuse to speak, to correspond, to communicate in any fashion. It is kindly pointed out that this attitude is unscriptural and breaks with the tradition established by Jesus and the apostles, which faithful brethren have upheld until this postmodern 21st century.
In the October, 2008 Harvester, published by the Florida School of Preaching, Jackie Stearsman wrote a brief article in which he apparently is trying to defend the school’s silence with respect to questions asked of them. The analysis that follows does not spring from any malice on the part of this writer with that institution or anyone who is a part of it.
The fact is that I have spoken on lectureships with Gene Burgett, Brian Kenyon, and Jackie Stearsman, the latter of which recommended me to the brethren here, which may have contributed to them asking me to come work with them. In other words, there is no personal ill will whatsoever against the school, as a whole, or the instructors individually. What follows deals with an issue; it is not an ad hominem attack.
Brother Stearsman begins his article by asking if his readers have ever considered why the Lord stood silent before Pilate and Herod? He cites Matthew 27:12-14, Mark 15:4-5, and Luke 23:8-11. Many of us have studied these passages and believe there is a logical answer to the question. The questioning of Pilate and Herod were not to obtain information. They were not for the purpose of posing an “insoluble” predicament. The determination to crucify Jesus would not be altered by Him fielding questions at this point. Herod only wanted to be entertained by Jesus. His questions were pointless and basically for the sport of him and his soldiers.
Pilate actually did ask some serious questions, and although the gospel of John was not cited above, Jesus did answer a few of them, after having first remained silent (John 18:33-38). It was during this conversation that Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” a passage we often quote to refute Premillennialism. After being scourged, Pilate asked further questions, and Jesus remained silent once more, and when the governor became upset with that silence, he reminded Him that He held the power of life and death over Him. Jesus spoke once again: “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin” (John 19:11). Jesus was mostly silent, but He did say some significant things.
Is it the intention of the brief article under review to equate FSOP with Jesus under trial for His life? If so, who corresponds to Pilate and Herod? Is it appropriate to cite the only time Jesus refused to answer questions (when He was on trial and about to be crucified), and then use that as a defense for being silent as a matter of course? The reader can judge for himself how accurate such a parallel might be.
The article puts forth another question: “Do you think some might label Jesus a sinner because He did not answer every question posed to Him?” Apparently, those who have wondered why FSOP refuses to answer questions about where they stand on certain issues are now accused of being so heartless and mean that they would accuse Jesus of being a sinner!
Before answering this charge, the reader should ask himself something. Suppose that a school or a college did have something to hide. Perhaps funds had been misused, or there actually was a false teacher on the staff (this is hypothetical). Could not the school respond with precisely the same argument that brother Stearsman has used to avoid scrutiny?
The Reason for Silence
Having already noticed that Jesus was not totally silent, we should look at Matthew 27:11, which precedes the text of 12-14 in the article under review:
Now Jesus stood before the governor. And the governor asked Him, saying, “Are You the king of the Jews?” So Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.”
Jesus then remained silent because He had already answered the question. His kingship, however, was not of this world. The other questions that they asked before the governor He had already addressed. He had taught the people the gospel, and He had done noteworthy miracles all throughout Judea and Galilee to prove the claims He had made. They already had all the evidence they needed, yet they still desired to destroy Him. Of what further use would anything He said be at this point? Were they about to be persuaded by what He might now say? Hah!
But how does any of this parallel FSOP’s refusal to answer questions, period? Any school of preaching or college that seeks the financial support and good will of brethren ought to be able to explain where they stand on a few doctrinal points since they ask brethren to trust their judgment in the spending of money and in providing prospective students. In fact, they should welcome the opportunity to show that they stand where the Scriptures do.
Terry Hightower’s Three True – False Questions
It may be that brother Stearsman’s article was in response to the “Open Letter” (dated August 25, 2008) that brother Terry Hightower sent to the school. Certainly, as a former student and instructor, with close ties to Jackie Stearsman and Gene Burgett, no one would accuse him of having anything but the best interest of FSOP in mind. Now it would be cumbersome if he had sent the director and the board 100 questions or even 50. Such would be a time-consuming chore to answer, but brother Hightower only sent three, and they are not difficult to answer. They are True – False questions and are listed below.
1. T or F: We at the Florida School of Preaching hold and support the scripturalness of Elder Reevaluation and Reaffirmation as taught and practiced by Dave Miller, Director of Apologetics Press (Montgomery AL), and the Brown Trail eldership (Hurst TX).
2. T or F: We at the Florida School of Preaching hold and support the scripturalness of “mental intent” in regard to commitment in marriage with its subsequent implications for divorce and remarriage as taught and practiced by Dave Miller, Director of Apologetics Press (Montgomery, AL) and the Brown Trail eldership (Hurst TX).
3. T or F: Along with Dave Miller, Director of Apologetics Press (Montgomery AL), we at the Florida School of Preaching hold and support the scripturalness of fellowshipping false teachers [like Mac Deaver (Denton TX)] who teach the Direct Operation of the Holy Spirit and/or the present-day Baptism of the Spirit.
All three of these could have been answered false, which is the way sound brethren would answer them. So why would brother Stearsman write an article, misapplying the silence of Jesus at portions of His trial, instead of just answering these questions?
However, there is more. In the same issue of The Harvester, an article by Wayne Jackson also appears; in fact, it is the lead article. “Church Controversies” was originally published by ChristianCourier.com on July 8, 2008. Before mentioning its contents, however, we affirm that the article, for all of its good points, is too vague to be of value. Jesus did not have any trouble identifying the Nicolaitans by name, saying that He hated their deeds and their doctrine (Rev. 2:6, 15). He also mentioned that there were false apostles (Rev. 2: 2) and a false prophetess named Jezebel (Rev. 2:20). Paul listed individuals (1 Tim. 1:18-20; 2 Tim. 2:16-18; 4:14). When specific names are not given, then usually their false teaching is singled out and examined. In the instance of Revelation 2:6, the recipients of the letter obviously knew who the false apostles were whom they had tested.
Brother Jackson, however, speaks of “little people” who make “big issues” out of “non-issues.” Unfortunately, he provides no examples so that anyone would know who he means by “little people.” And what does he regard as a “non-issue”? Since this article appears in the same Harvester as the one previously reviewed, the reader finds himself wondering, “Does brother Jackson think that the elder reevaluation/reaffirmation practice is a non-issue?” Would he refuse to answer the three True – False questions?
He goes on to state that some brethren are “chronic complainers” and “perpetually factious,” which is true, and we have all known some who, as the expression used to go, were “born in the kickative mood and the objective case.”
We can also agree that internal “personal problems…should not be broadcast throughout the brotherhood,” and his reasons for saying so are valid. He does not address, however, the situation of one congregation withdrawing from another—or from the elders of another congregation—which then places all the other brethren in the geographical area in a difficult situation. All brethren can do in such a situation is investigate the matter to decide whether the withdrawal was necessary and valid or not. Likewise, if a trouble-maker leaves one church for another, brethren cannot just plead ignorance.
Brother Jackson provides five guiding principles for brethren to use in dealing with church controversies, which would be fine, if he had just stated the tenets he thought were helpful, but he peppers these good ideas with blanket condemnations of certain anonymous brethren. One may be reminded of those times when elders have come to a preacher and said, “We’ve had some complaints about you.” When asked, “From whom?” the answer invariably is, “Well, that doesn’t matter.” Other preachers have fallen victim to the “they say” mentality. The Bill of Rights does not, in some instances, apply to the accused in the church; some apparently believe in trial by innuendo.
Some of the accusations brother Jackson levies at others (without mentioning specifics) are that a few brethren “are masters at taking words and phrases and twisting them to form an indictment alien to the meaning included by the original writer or authors.” It would be nice to have an example of such master word twisting; surely brethren would profit in seeing how someone does such a thing.
Who are the “long-distant critics” who desire to hand down “dictums to be bound upon other churches”? Would it be possible to identify the “small mob of Christians scattered around the country” who are issuing ultimatums to which “all churches are expected to yield”? Who are the “misdirected, lathered-up radicals” who are threatening to impose disfellowship on others? Should not these ill-tempered brethren be exposed? They sound dangerous enough that they need to be named; this is no time for vagueness to prevail.
Who are these “rabble rousers” who enjoy fanning “the flames of local church problems,” who have “dirty laundry” of their own? And why do they think they can monitor “the nationwide church”? If we have “self-deputized” cowboys who are “constantly caught up in the frenzy of a new fight,” shouldn’t they be marked and rejected as divisive (Titus 3:10)? Brother Jackson closes his article with this sentence: “Jesus pronounced a blessing upon the peacemakers, not upon the strife-causers.” Amen. But how is someone supposed to make peace when one party refuses to talk?
Jesus said that if you have something against a brother, go to him and talk to him about it (Matt. 18:15-17). Issues, conflicts, and problems between brethren need to be resolved, and everyone has the obligation to do what it takes to bring about peace. In some cases people have asked brethren, as Terry Hightower did, why they fellowship those teaching false doctrines. The reply is silence.
Our Lord also said that, if you know that your brother has something against you, the first thing you should do (before worshipping God) is to first seek reconciliation with your brother. Many of us have something against those who fellowship error and have made it known. It is not Scriptural to prefer silence to resolution.
Those who visit us for the first time may well have this question in mind. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of them before. What do they do?” Because there are so many religious groups and therefore a number of similar designations, some may have us confused with the United Church of Christ, the Church of God, or organizations like them. We are, however, different from all of these. Below are some things you might want to know about us.
In the New Testament, God uses several terms to describe the followers of Jesus. Oftentimes, they were referred to as disciples, meaning “learners.” We are still disciples, and we have a responsibility to continue to learn and grow throughout our lives (2 Peter 2:2; 3:18; Heb. 5:12).
To be called Christians, however, brings honor to Jesus the Christ (the Messiah or “anointed one”). The disciples were called Christians first in Acts 11:26, and the name has been used ever since. To call oneself a Christian is to claim that Jesus owns us, that we belong to Him, and that we obey Him in all things.
The New Testament also calls Christians saints because Jesus has made us holy (1 Cor. 1:2; 6:9-11) and brethren because, as brothers and sisters, we are all equal before God (Gal. 3:26-29). All these words have their own meaning and are appropriate.
Many people call themselves by names that have resulted from manmade organizations. We only use the names that are in the Bible. We are brethren, saints, disciples; we are Christians. That name is both appropriate and sufficient. If you were a member of this congregation, that is all you would be—a Christian. If our brethren in the first century were content with being called by such a name, so are we.
As you have probably already noticed, we cite the Scriptures often. You may wonder why. Although we live in a time where people want to be free to do their own thing, Christianity is not our religion in that we did not invent it. Jesus (at the Father’s bidding) did. He told His disciples: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18).
Actually, we have never been our own; we belong to the One Who created us in the first place, which is described in the very beginning of the Bible (Gen. 1-2). He gave us the free will to decide whether to serve Him or to please ourselves instead. Since the latter option carries with it eternal punishment, He encourages us to worship and serve Him—so that we can have an eternal reward.
In order to save us from the punishment that our sins deserve, He sent Jesus to die on the cross and pay the debt that we owed (John 3:16). Since God is the one Who created us and Jesus is the One Who died for us, we belong to them—“For you were bought at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:20).
If we choose to accept the salvation that God offers us through Christ, then we must realize that we are not in charge of determining how to worship or serve Him; God is. He did not need to consult with us; He already knows what is the best way to love Him and to live for Him.
Jesus gave His life for the church (Acts 20:28), and He is the Head over it (Eph. 1:22-23); therefore, what He says is right, and our own opinions are not valid. Because Jesus is the authority, we cite what He and His apostles wrote to demonstrate that we are doing what He wants rather than following our own ideas.
The Word of God
We believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. What we need to know about God cannot be boiled down to sound bytes to be presented on the evening news. Phrases such as God is love and Jesus saves are true, but the Bible would be considerably shorter if that were all we needed to know. Following are some things that the Bible says about itself, beginning with what Jesus told His followers:
“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
“And now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12).
“He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).
These are just a few Scriptures which show the value of God’s Word and show the reason we need to know it. For these reasons, you will find that we study the Bible here. Although literary works of men may be referenced, as Paul cited a Grecian poet to show that his point was not one that was strange or unfamiliar, nevertheless our focus is upon the Scriptures, because they were inspired of God (Acts 17:28).
Many devout men have formulated creeds, which members of a particular group must accept. Many of these creeds contain valid Biblical principles, and the motives of those who designed them were usually good, but they are still the thoughts of men. The churches of Christ have no written creed. The Bible is our only authority. No one is ever asked to memorize or repeat a creed.
Everyone is, however, encouraged to read, study, mediate upon, and know the Holy Scriptures. Both the Old and New Testaments are worthy of our attention, but we are under the New Testament of Jesus Christ, and not under the Law of Moses. Failing to make that distinction has led to much confusion. Jesus is our mediator of a better covenant (Heb. 8:6-7).
Many people may think of the church as a sort of “religion thing” for some pious souls—but not something needed by most folks. All too often our ideas are shaped more by society than by what the Bible teaches. Did you know, for example, that God had the church in mind before He even created the world (Eph. 1:4)? He also knew that, if He created man, Jesus would need to be sent to die for our sins (Rev. 13:8); so He planned that all of those who would be saved by the blood of Christ (Rev. 1:5) would become part of this special body of Christ, the church (Eph. 1:22-23).
Because of what would later occur, the church was prophesied of in advance; usually it is referred to as a kingdom. Consider this prophecy:
“And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (Dan. 2:44).
When John the Baptizer began to preach: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2), people began to take notice. Jesus is King over this kingdom. In fact, the Jews wanted Jesus to be their earthly king, but He rejected that honor (John 6:15) because His kingdom is not of this world, as He told Pilate (John 18:36). The kingdom of heaven is spiritual, and Jesus received it after His resurrection. Daniel had said:
“I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13-14).
This passage brings to mind Jesus ascending into Heaven after His resurrection: “Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1: 9). Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, affirmed that God had raised Jesus up, that He had been “exalted to the right hand of God,” and that David’s prophecy (a different one than Daniel’s) was fulfilled in Christ because “David did not ascend into the heavens” (Acts 2:32-34). Many other passages relate to this event of Jesus ascending to heaven to receive His kingdom.
This spiritual kingdom is the church; it is a privilege to be part of the kingdom designed from eternity, built (Matt. 16:18) and purchased by Jesus (Acts 20:28), over which He is Head (Col. 1:18). The church and the kingdom are the same thing; Jesus equated these two designations (Matt. 16:18-19).
God has always expected those whom He created to worship Him. He is worthy of worship because He is the Creator and because He is the Redeemer as well, having made salvation available to us (Rev. 4:11; 5: 12). The Lord, however, never said, “Worship Me however you want.” As Jesus told the woman at the well, the Father is seeking true worshippers, adding: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
Worship that is not sincere would be worthless, and in Malachi’s day God’s people approached worship as a weariness (Mal. 1:13). Enthusiastic worship, however, does not mean jumping, clapping, swaying, or involve other fleshly exhibitions; it is more a matter of concentration. We focus our attention on God—on the message being presented, the thoughts expressed in prayer, the significance of the Lord’s Supper, and the words of the songs we sing.
Sincerity, however, is not enough. Since Jesus has all authority, our worship must also be according to truth. In the Old Testament God had ordained certain things to be done certain ways, but Jeroboam changed the object of worship (to golden calves), the place of worship (Dan and Bethel rather than Jerusalem), the time of worship (from the seventh to the eighth month); he even changed the priesthood from those whom God had authorized (the Levites) to just anyone from any tribe (1 Kings 12:25-33). Needless to say, God was displeased, and He refused to accept this worship. No matter how sincere the people might have been, their worship was not according to truth, and they were eventually destroyed because of it (2 Kings 17:21).
Our worship may not be what you are accustomed to, but we do only those things that God has commanded. The preaching and teaching of the Word is our emphasis, just as it is in the Scriptures. We also pray together when we meet (1 Thess. 5:17). And we sing, period. You will notice that we use no instruments of music. Yes, people sang to the accompaniment of instruments in the Old Testament, but we are not subject to that covenant. We are under the New Testament of Christ, and neither He, the apostles, nor any of the Christians in any of the churches in the first century sang to the accompaniment of musical instruments. We can only do the things that are authorized (Col. 3:16-17).
Two things are limited to the Lord’s Day (Sunday): the Lord’s Supper and giving. The New Testament teaches that giving was done on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:2), along with remembering the death of Jesus (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:22-29). Many do not emphasize the death of Jesus, but it was the shedding of His blood that made salvation possible (Heb. 10:4). Therefore, Christians partake of His body and blood (symbolically) in the way that He showed His disciples on the night He was betrayed (Matt. 26:26-29). These five things the church in the New Testament practiced.
Since being saved from one’s sins is vital, we make certain that we teach only what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches a great deal about God’s grace, but some make the mistake of thinking that it is universally applied instead of universally offered. The grace of God is avail-able to all (Titus 2:11-14), but God placed requirements on its reception.
First of all, one must believe in God and believe in Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus performed numerous miracles to confirm this truth (John 21:25). John recorded a sampling of miracles to prove the Lord’s Deity (John 20:30-31). Many verses of Scripture emphasize the necessity of faith (John 3:16; 8:24; Heb. 11:6). But God requires more.
The hardest thing to do is to take this next step—repentance. Why is it so hard? Most of us are fond of certain sins—whether it be coveting what is not ours, desiring to fulfill fleshly appetites in an unlawful way (such as committing adultery), or simply by being willful and stubborn (1 John 2:15-17). We might find that giving them up is difficult, but in order to follow Jesus we must let go of all these and turn from them, practicing them no more. Yet repentance is just as essential as faith is. Jesus taught: “…unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). We must realize that Jesus has something much better to offer than sin—eternal life.
If one is willing to repent, then confessing the name of Jesus as the Son of God will surely not be a stumbling block (1 Tim. 6:12). Neither will being baptized so that your sins can be washed away. Some try to minimize or explain away baptism (usually the same ones who fail to mention repentance), but consider the first time the gospel was preached after the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.
This great sermon was preached on the Day of Pentecost when Peter proved that Jesus is the Messiah the Jews were looking for. He affirmed that Jesus had ascended into heaven, as we mentioned earlier, and proclaimed the risen Savior as both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). The message pricked the hearts of those present, and they asked what they should do (v. 37). Now, you have heard many answers to this question of how to be saved, but how many of them match what the inspired apostle told the people on that day? He said: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). This is what the Bible teaches, and this is, therefore, what we teach when people ask the same question today.
Now you know a little bit about us—who we are and why we do what we do. We pray that you will want to know more and want to schedule a private Bible study. You may have been taught other ideas, and we welcome the opportunity to look at areas of disagreement with you. Please visit with us again and remember Paul’s recommendation of the Word (Acts 20:32).