"For by grace have you been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8).
In Ephesians 2:1-3, the Apostle Paul describes our state as fallen humanity prior to the coming of Christ. The description of our former state is that of spiritual death, transgressions, and sins. He goes on to declare that we were followers of this world's system and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, who is Satan. Our state was bleak with serious consequences. However, through Christ, God the Father has transformed our lives and altered our allegiance from following the prince of the air to that of the resurrected and exalted Christ.
Today some people argue that there are variety of ways to salvation and the kingdom of God. They hold the belief that all roads lead to salvation. However, the Bible states emphatically that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that nobody comes to the Father except through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Salvation is purely and entirely based on the grace of God through the atoning work of Christ, the Son of God. Therefore, the saved are the ones who have their tickets and are on their way to heaven. Someone has said that grace is the undeserved favor that God gives to those who bow the knee of their heart before Him. I like that. This removes any proclivity to pride and self-exaltation. It enables you and I to see our helplessness apart from the grace of God as manifested in Jesus Christ our Lord. Furthermore, it shows our hopelessness as humans besides the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. It eliminates human merits and the alleged inherent "human goodness."
Show me a person who is boastful and self-sufficient and I will show you a person who does not know God. Show me a person who has arrogant spirit and I will show you a person who does not know the grace of God. The Apostle Paul asked the boastful believers of Corinth, "What do you have that you did not receive from the Lord?" Many people think that somehow they can make it to heaven without Jesus Christ. In their self-efforts they try to give alms to pacify God. They try to perform in order to win the approval and favor of God. They think that they can "buy God off." They think that salvation is based on personal efforts whereby their good deeds would outweigh their evil deeds. They imagine that their scale of goodness would outweigh their sins. The bad news is that the Prophet Isaiah says, "Our righteousness is like filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6). If salvation is acquired by works or personal performance then, Jesus died in vain. That was Paul's argument with the legalists that had hijacked the Galatian church.
On the contrary, salvation brings humility in the life of a believer, because the believer comes to the realization that he/she was on the way to destruction when Jesus stepped in and rescued him/her. When you sit down to ponder what the grace of God that comes through faith in Jesus Christ has done for you, it encourages and compels you to rely on Jesus and develop an unceasing attitude of gratitude to God. This should motivate every recipient of God's amazing grace to share the good news of salvation with family members, friends, and neighbors.
Therefore, look up to Jesus and bend your ears to hear what He is saying to you. Grace and grace alone will see you through life. It is not your skill, talent, intelligence, prowess, and special gifts that make you acceptable to God, but divine grace and faith in Jesus Christ. I like the acrostic of "GRACE"--God's redemption at Christ's expense.
Therefore, when pride is about to rear its ugly head, remember that it is grace that has led you thus far and grace will lead you to your eternal home.
- Kennedy A. Adarkwa, PhD.
Instructor of Evangelism
"Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness" (Psalm 29:2).
M. R. Gordon in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible defines glory as, "Difficult, weight, heaviness, worthiness, reputation, or honor." God's glory is the result of His nature and acts. He is glorious in His character; for there is a store of everything that is holy, good, and lovely in God, and in that He must be glorious. The actions which come out of God's character are also glorious. When you give the glory that is due God to any of His creatures, you are attempting to De-glorify God. Nevertheless, God will not share His glory with any man or woman, or anything for that matter. There is nothing in man/woman of which he/she ought to glorify self. Who made you to differ from other people that you tend to glorify yourself? What do you have that you did not receive from the gracious hand of a loving God? Therefore, you are to walk carefully and demonstrate an attitude of humility before the LORD on daily basis.
Those who are students of the Bible know what happened to Nebuchadnezzar when he usurped the glory of God. He was literally driven into the forest and became like one of the beasts until he came back to his senses. We also read of the demise of Herod Agrippa I when he basked in the glory due God and began to persecute the early Christians (Acts 12).
The moment you glorify yourself, you make yourself a rival of God. God is the Most High and besides Him there is no other. Shall the insect of an hour glorify itself against the sun which warmed it into life? Shall the creature glorify itself against the Creator? Shall the potsherd exalt itself above the man who fashioned it upon a wheel? That is why God sent Jeremiah to learn an object lesson from the potter on behalf of Israel. Shall the drops of the ocean struggle with the tempest? Give unto the LORD all you righteous. Yet it is one of the hardest thing in the Christian life to learn this sentence--"Not unto us, not unto us but unto Your name be glory." The reason is that human ego is hard to put to death.
Human nature is egotistical that sometimes it wants to take the center stage, but the center stage belongs to Jesus Christ. We live in world where men/women think that the universe revolves around them. The Nineteenth century Enlightenment philosophy that placed man as the epicenter of the universe is still with us. Secular Humanism and Post-Modernism are fancy and sophisticated terms for Enlightenment, which have failed to establish the utopia the secular man has anticipated. However, when a catastrophe occurs, we wake up to the realization that humans are not the center of the universe after all. God is teaching us that "Glory belongs to Him and Him alone." It is a lesson we must learn on daily basis, but when we become defiant, the LORD uses a painful discipline to help us realize that glory and worship belong to Him exclusively, because He is holy and righteous. Give God the glory everyday of your life. Whenever He does something special and supernatural in and through you rejoice but give the glory to the LORD. Direct all glory to the LORD and you would experience His blessings upon your life. Worship and glorify the LORD in the beauty of holiness.
- Kennedy A. Adarkwa, PhD.
Adjunct Professor of Evangelism
The issue of “abortion rights,” and the ethical questions it poses, is again at the forefront of national news. Following an election period in which pundits assured us that the economy was the overriding issue for the majority of Americans, social issues (primarily gay marriage and abortion) have dominated headlines for the last several weeks across the country. The horrors revealed in the Gosnell trial have turned heads and stomachs across the country, in particular with conservative bloggers and authors wondering where the outrage from the media is to be found since the trial has been so scantly covered.
For many, abortion is seen as a religious issue, and it certainly is. Many, perhaps a majority, of those who oppose it in any form, or nearly any form (with exceptions perhaps in the case of the endangerment of the life of the mother), do so grounded in their belief that humans are a special creation of God and that human life is precious and should be protected. This desire to protect human life is most deeply valued for those who cannot protect themselves, and infants and the unborn are perhaps, if not clearly, the most fragile of all human persons. What seems to be ignored in the debate, however, is the logic of the issue. I do not dispute the legitimacy of arguing against the horrors of abortion on religious grounds, but the philosophical issues which undergird the debate are much more revealing of just how horrific the cultural acceptance of abortion truly is.
My desire here is to extend the principles which undergird the defense of abortion and show how untenable they truly are. Most would vehemently dispute the logical outcomes, but yet many of those who would dispute these outcomes still defend the practice of abortion, and clearly do so in fundamental philosophical conflict. So on what grounds is abortion typically defended?
One of the most frequent, if not the most frequent, justifications given for the right of a woman to have an abortion is that it is “her body,” and she has the right to do what she wants with it. This assumes that the fetus is not a separate organism from the mother, which clearly is not the case. What makes this especially fallacious is that, once the fetus is delivered and separated from the mother, its personhood is apparently seen as changed, though little has changed beyond the spatial location of the child. What is changed is the physiological dependence of the child to the mother via the umbilical cord. The child is, however, no less dependent upon the mother for survival after birth than before, as any new mother can attest. If the principle used here to defend abortion is dependence, then what prevents one from extending this beyond the womb? Children are dependent upon their mother/parents for long after they are born. So why do we not advocate for the right to parents to terminate the life of their children based on their dependence to them? Or furthermore, what about the right of caregivers to terminate the life of the terminally ill, elderly, or those with severe disabilities, since they too are dependent upon their caregivers? If dependence is the issue, then by principle the death of these individuals should also be justified, though few argue for such a precedent.
Another line of argument used to justify abortion is that the fetus in early development is not yet fully human because it lacks certain parts or capacities, or the actualization of certain capacities. Again, by principle of extension, this would assume that if such parts or capacities were missing from grown children, persons with severe disabilities, or the elderly, that their caregivers should have the option to terminate their life as well. Another angle on this argument is that because the developing fetus is not able to feel pain in its early developmental stages, an abortion causes them no harm. By extending the principle, however, the same argument could be made, for example, to justify the murder of an individual born with a neuropathological disease, such as CIPA, which prevents the person from feeling sensations of temperature or pain. In fact, this line of reasoning has been extended by Professor Peter Singer of Princeton University, who argues that caregivers should have the right to terminate the life of the human fetus, child, or dependent person (such as the elderly or those with severe disabilities) based on the preference of the caregiver. Because these persons lack certain capacities or the ability to experience certain sensations, Singer argues that their caregivers are morally justified to end their life. His position has been met with much outrage, but is philosophically consistent with those who would support abortion on these grounds.
Another common defense of abortion is that the child may be unwanted, and causes undo stress, because of emotional, financial, or physical reasons, to the mother. It is assumed that the relief of burden to the mother justifies the killing of the child. Again, by extending this principle, one sees that parents of grown children, such as school-aged children, may experience the same stresses or hardships, but certainly we would not see justification in the parents ending the life of their children simply because it causes undesired stress or hardships for them. Again, the same principle may be extended to those who care for their elderly parents, or adults who are dependent on others, which is equally as burdensome emotionally, financially, and/or physically. Yet who would argue for the justified murder of these individuals?
What each of these arguments assumes is that personhood is somehow defined by level of dependence, individual parts or capacities/actualization of capacities, or the level of hardship generated. Clearly when these principles are extended beyond the case of the fetus, the immorality and lack of justification for death is displayed. So what prevents us from seeing the lack of justification for abortion in the life of the fetus? Logically, nothing. ONLY if the fetus is viewed as less than a human person, which advances in medical technology are constantly rebutting, is such a view possibly justified. Murder of any innocent person is unjustifiable, no matter what “benefits” this may entail. On philosophical grounds, I do not believe abortion can be justified by any line of argument. For those whose lives and families have been affected by this tragedy which our culture has disturbingly accepted, the issue is far more than a philosophical argument, but a personal, and often very painful, experience. I believe fully that there is healing and forgiveness in Jesus Christ for the victims of this cultural stain. The Church has a duty to love and nurture those who have been wounded, while also maintaining its prophetic posture against this ongoing tragedy.
- A. Chadwick Thornhill,
Chair of Theological Studies, Instructor of Religion
Any discussion of the topic of marriage and homosexuality in the New Testament must be done against the backgrounds of several areas predominant to the writers of the New Testament in the first century: the Jewish Scripture, first century Judaism, Greek culture, and Roman practices. This short article can hardly do justice to all of these areas, but an attempt will be offered to give a brief overview of these topics as depicted in the writings about Jesus and the letters of Paul. The New Testament records do not include treatises by Jesus or Paul on the issue of marriage per se, but there are materials in the NT that indicate a concern for the issue. In the Gospels, Jesus speaks about marriage (or the related event, divorce) in six passages (Matthew 19:1-12; 22:23-28; Mark 10:2-12; 12:18-27; Luke 16:18; 20:27-40). These passages represent two events in the life of Christ: 1) a time when Jesus addresses the issue of divorce; and 2) a question from some Jewish rulers about Levirate marriage laws. In both cases the foundation of the discussion is that marriage is something that involves a man and a woman. Jesus’ makes this emphatic in Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:5-9 when he goes back to the creation of humans (Genesis 1:27; 2:24) to describe God’s intention for marriage as involving “male and female” as the agents of a biblical marriage. Jesus reaffirms here the ideal for marriage laid down from the beginning, indeed, an ideal that was supported even by much of Greco-Roman culture (For more on this issue, see Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 70-76). That ideal was a view of a monogamous marriage of a man and a woman until death.
Paul likewise affirms this view in his various dealings with the subject of marriage and divorce. In Ephesians 5:15-32 Paul addresses the issue of relationships in marriage and uses the exclusive language of male and female as the primary agents of what constitutes a marriage. Paul even quotes Genesis 2:24 (like Jesus) in discussing this relationship. Paul, like Jesus, viewed marriage as a commitment between a man and a woman. In the Pastoral epistles (certainly of Pauline influence) even the characteristics of certain leadership positions within the church include the call to be “the husband of one wife” (literally mias gynaikos andra, 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6; cf. 1 Timothy 5:9. Alternative translations emphasize the exclusivity of the genders here with words like “married to one wife only” or “a man faithful to his own wife” or even “one woman man”). At the very least, when Paul deals with issues of marriage, the focus is on the relationship between a man and a woman. No reference is given anywhere in the NT to a marriage as consisting of a committed relationship between individuals of the same gender.
If marriage in the New Testament is characterized as one man and one woman in a monogamous relationship, then homosexuality is presented as a rejection or even a corruption of a proper knowledge of God. Although Jesus never directly addresses the issue of homosexuality, Paul mentions the issue several times in his letters (Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:8-11). The last two references primarily name “homosexuality” as one of many sins in a list of what is considered unrighteous, while in Romans Paul lumps homosexual relations in with a host of “unnatural” errors that humans embrace when they cease to acknowledge God and his righteousness. Paul here lists male and female homosexual activities as an exchange of the natural passions for that which God considers unnatural (Rom. 1:26-27). The point Paul seems to make is that homosexual sin is one of many ways that humans tend to exchange God’s natural order for an idolatrous unnatural expression of their own humanity. In other words, Paul sees sexual sin in general (including sins like fornication and adultery) as a rejection of God’s natural intentions. In other words, to reject God’s purpose is to exchange God’s nature for selfish human desires.
What is the point then of this short investigation? The point is that marriage and sex are presented in the New Testament as having a particularly godly function. Marriage is not a means of satisfying an individual’s personal cravings for attention or for adulation, and sex is not created purely for the sake of human pleasure. This brief article does not allow room to explore the Old Testament views of sex and related issues, but suffice it to say that the goal of these relationships focuses not on human pleasure but rather on the nature and intentions of God. That humans are created for relationships is evident in the whole of the Bible, but that those relationships are created solely for selfish pleasure is not at all apparent. The goal of human relationships is to reflect the image of God; that is, to give little glimpses of God’s character. To relegate these relationships solely to the area of personal preference or even personal pleasure is in essence to deny that human beings resemble the Creator in any way. This denial damages human relationships in general and will eventually degenerate into a treatment of other people as merely a means to a rather selfish end. The recognition that God has a purpose for sex and marriage is not a magic wand to cure all relationship problems, but this recognition requires us to investigate fully how our relationships reflect God’s purposes and designs. If they do not, they must be changed.
- Leo Percer, PhD
Associate Professor of Biblical Studies
The Great Commission, the parting command of Jesus to His first disciples, is stated in a number of New Testament passages (Mt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15; Lk. 24:46-49; Jn. 20:21; Acts 1:8). The passage most commonly quoted is the one in Matthew's Gospel:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
At the heart of this assignment is the command to make disciples. Maturing disciples of Jesus are committed to obeying everything Jesus commanded. They are transformed into His likeness as they apply the truth of His Word to their daily lives, and they intentionally influence others to do the same. The ultimate goal of this disciplemaking process is the multiplication of disciples who can make other disciples, so that the Gospel message effectively penetrates every people group in every region of the world.
How close are we to completing the task? God is moving mightily in the hearts of many of His people in various places around the world, empowering them to plant new churches and make disciples among unreached people groups. However, many more are needed who will step up to the challenge of becoming fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ and leading others to do the same. There are still thousands of people groups with little or no access to the Gospel in the modern world, and Christianity seems to be losing ground in America and other places where it was once much stronger.
What is the most effective way to make disciples? One of the most exciting developments in the effort to make disciples in contemporary America is called "relational discipleship." This is not really a new approach at all but the very method that Jesus used to train the twelve apostles.
Jesus invited them to follow Him. He took them with Him wherever He went. They observed His behavior and interactions with other people, they heard His teachings, they watched Him perform miracles, and they asked Him questions. Later on, He began to delegate His authority to them by giving them assignments. He sent them out to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom and extend His healing ministry, then He asked them afterward what they thought about the ways God had worked through them. He provided rebuke and correction when they needed it. He poured His life into them and trained them in the context of close, personal relationships. His training was even more intense with a select group of three within the twelve.
The book of Acts reveals a similar relational training pattern used by the apostles following Jesus' ascension to heaven:
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47).
The relational dimension of this disciplemaking process for new converts can be seen in such phrases as "they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship" and "continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house." Unlike contemporary America, when it is often unusual for Christians to spend time with other Christians outside of scheduled church services, these first century believers spent a lot of time together.
This method of training new converts was immensely effective because those early Christians were accused of turning the world "upside down" with their teachings (Acts 17:6). This means that in addition to the individual transformation resulting from the relational discipleship process in which they were engaged, they were impacting the very society in which they lived.
So the question must be asked, is something missing in the modern church when it comes to making disciples? Is disciplemaking even at or near the top of our list of priorities?
A true revolution is taking place in ministries where disciplemaking has been put on the front burner. It is called Relational Discipleship! It may be a new term, but this is the way reproducing disciples of Jesus have always been developed.
What does Relational Discipleship look like? The essential elements of this approach to making disciples are an intentional leader, a relational environment, and a reproducible process (see Lisa Sells, "Discipleship Revolution: Avery Willis' Last Dream," Mission Frontiers (January-February 2011), p. 8). The intentional leader is the person who commits to making disciples who can also make disciples by investing his life in this all-important work. The relational environment is small group Bible study. The reproducible process is the "road map" developed by such churches as Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho (see Jim Putman, Avery T. Willis, Jr., Brandon Guindon, and Bill Krause, Real-Life Discipleship Training Manual (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2010); see also Jim Putman, Church Is A Team Sport: A Championship Strategy for Doing Ministry Together (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008)).
Any disciple of Jesus Christ or local church willing to step out in obedience to make reproducing disciples will find that the power of the Holy Spirit is available to make it happen (Acts 1:8).
- Peter C. Hamilton, PhD
Adjunct Professor of Old Testament