Preacher, Are you making actors or disciples?

Christians are supposed to be good people, right? So preaching to them, teaching them to be good must then be good, right? Maybe good but not best.

As Jesus went about his ministry on earth he was counter-culture and often at odds with the established status-quo of the religion of the Jews. He visited the homes of sinners, he ate with them, he went to parties with them. He was cross-cultural. He once went out of his way to encounter a woman hated and despised by the Jewish religionists because of her ethnicity. And he had an ongoing habit of in-your-face confrontations with the religious elite, even telling them they were children of the devil and did not know God.

Why would Jesus slam the best people in the Jewish community? They are the ones who never miss synagogue. When the doors open they are there. They are the ones who hold the Scriptures in high esteem, who meticulously copy it by hand, who memorize it, and pass it on to others. What pastor wouldn’t want church members like that? Not only did they hold the Scriptures in high regard, they kept its teachings, strictly! In fact, they had taken the ten commandments and developed over 600 more to make certain the ten were kept precisely. They were faultless people who prayed often, fasted, tithed, and live out what they preached. Isn’t that the hope of every pastor, elder, teacher?

If not, then why does the majority of Sunday morning sermons focus on behavior? Why is so much of what is preached aimed at the results mentioned above? I fear that many preachers are preaching “therapeutic moralistic deism” at the expense of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Oh yea, you still mention that Jesus died on the cross for our sins but you don’t go much further, not into the place Jesus did.

In what is considered his most important sermon Jesus made an astonishing statement to the listening crowd. In the gospel of Matthew chapter 5, after Jesus had spoken about the Law of God, and that he had not come to abolish it, but rather to fulfill it, he said this:

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 5:20)

Can you imagine the look of horror on the faces of some of those who heard those words? What? Is Jesus demanding better law keeping than those who do it best? Is that what this is about? Is he crazy? Can anyone enter the kingdom of heaven?

This teaching comes very early in Jesus’ ministry and yet he is changing the paradigm of law keeping and morality. The old template was “do this” “don’t do that”. Jesus is introducing a new template for righteousness, “a new heart”. He moves the conversation from the external to the internal. He is laying the foundation for the transformation of the human condition from the inside out by the power of his worth and work.

Notice his direction. “You have heard that it was said…”, “But I say…”. Don’t forget, he is not suggesting that anyone take the law of God lightly. He has just established it’s validity and that keeping it is a non-negotiable. Let’s see what he says about murder for example.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment”.
(Matthew 5:21)

You’re thinking, “I’ve got that one covered! I have never killed anyone. I’m not even a hunter, I wouldn’t kill anything.” But Jesus continues.

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment… (and it get’s worse)
(Matthew 5:22a)

Do you see what Jesus has done here? He moved from the external action, murder, to an internal sin, anger. I can imagine the listeners thinking “I can never meet his standard of righteousness!”

There’s more. What about adultery? You reason, I have never been unfaithful to my wife, I have never had sex with another woman. I’m clean on this deal. Here’s the external rule.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.
(Matthew 5:27a)

Here’s the internal rule.

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart
(Matthew 5:28)

You see, folks can look good in the community. They are model Christians at the ball park, at the civic club, and even at church. If the rule of thumb is the external acts, (murder, adultery, lying, stealing, etc) and the positive side of the external (good works, tithing, leading a prayer before meals, visiting the sick, etc.) we are good people. But Jesus said…..

The point Jesus is making is that by human effort no one can be right enough to enter the kingdom of heaven. The heart must be changed.

The only way to stop adultery in it’s tracks is to have lust rooted out of the human heart by the application of the gospel of Christ by the Holy Spirit. The way to stop murder is to have anger rooted out of the heart so that it is replaced by love and long suffering.

In this sermon Jesus makes it plain as day that left to themselves no one will make it to heaven. Only those with a better righteousness than human behavior can produce will in fact enter the kingdom of heaven.

Don’t focus your teaching on trying to change the external behavior of your congregants. Instead, preach the good news about what Jesus has done for them. He was accounted as a sinner, dying for them, so that they may be accounted as righteous, and was raised from the dead putting an end to the dominance of sin and giving us the promise of living forever as His dear children.

Every sermon, every ministry, every method in our churches must be shaped and executed in view of the transforming power of the Christ who alone can give a new heart with new hope and a new ability to say no to sin and to love as Jesus did.

Preach the gospel. Love it, embrace it, wallow in it, make it who you are and what you do. It’s a life and death matter for those you preach to every week. Preach so that you are allowing God to change hearts as people come to put their whole trust in Jesus. Do what you do so that every word of praise, every hint of glory, goes not to the church or to you but to the Lord Jesus Christ.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

(1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

Christianity is Christ

Christianity is Christ.

Christianity is not:
   . Going to church
   . Living by the Golden Rule
   . Doing acts of kindness
   . Being a member of a certain church
   . Being right about certain Bible doctrines
   . Doing certain things on Sunday
   . Living a life of piety and self denial

Christianity is Christ.

When a person becomes a Christian:
   1. His sins are forgiven
   2. He is given eternal life
   3. He becomes God’s child both by birth and adoption
   4. He becomes an heir of God’s bounty
   5. He is declared not guilty of sin
   6. He is declared just
   7. He is declared righteous
   8. He is indwelt by God the Holy Spirit
   9. He is sealed by the Holy Spirit
 10. He is gifted by the Holy Spirit
 11. He is promised resurrection
 12. He will never perish
 13. He will never die
 14. He is in Christ
 15. Christ is in Him
 16. He is hidden with Christ in God
 17. He is held in God’s hand
 18. Christ will never leave him or forsake him
 19. He has access to God in prayer
 20. He is a priest
 21. He is a partaker of God’s nature
 22. He is seated with Christ in the heavens
 23. He has been chosen by God
 24. He has been elected
 25. He has been predestined to be a son
 26. He has been called
 27. He has been glorified
 28. He has been washed
 29. He has been cleansed
 30. He has redeemed
 31. He has been added to the body of Christ
 32. He has overcome the evil one
 33. He has been counted worthy
 34. His eyes have been opened
 35. He has a new ability to love unconditionally
 36. He can say no to sin
 37. He is at rest
 38. The ordinances of the law are no longer against him
 39. He is free
 40. He is not condemned
 41. He will never be condemned
 42. He is not appointed to wrath
 43. He will be rewarded
 44. He has treasure reserved in heaven
 45. He is kept by the power of God
 46. He cannot be separated from God
 47. He has the Son of God
 48. He has the Father
 49. He has joy
 50. He has peace with God
 51. He has the peace of God
 52. He is one with God
 53. He is loved by the Father just as He loves Jesus.
 54. He has been born again
 55. He is a new creation
 56. He has God’s law written on his heart
 57. He died with Christ
 58. He was raised with Christ
 59. Christ is his life
 60. He is in the kingdom of light
 61. He has been granted repentance
 62. He has been given faith
 63. He has been given precious promises
 64. He is an ambassador of Christ
 65. He is an alien on eath
 66. He is a citizen of heaven
 67. He is a lover of good
 68. He hates sin
 69. He loves his brother
 70. He hears the apostolic teaching
 71. He abides in Christ
 72. He stands in grace
 73. The Holy Spirit assures him he is safe
 74. Christ is his life
 75. He does sin as a lifestyle
 76. He has Christ as an advocate for him in heaven when he does sin
 77. He walks in the light
 78. He knows the voice of Jesus
 79. He follows Him
 80. He will not follow another.
 81. He has victory over death, hell, and the grave 
 82. He is being made like Jesus
 83. He is created for good works
 84. His greatest good is to glorify God

There is more but these quickly come to mind. Not one of them is man’s own doing. Everyone of them is true and relevant and experiential because of the person, work, and resurrection life of Jesus Christ. The only basis, the only ground upon which our salvation rests is Christ.

When a sinner changes his mind about the course of his life and puts his whole trust in Jesus He does not give that person anything apart from Himself. You see, what a lost sinner needs is life, he is spiritually dead. He needs righteousness for he is unrighteous. He needs redemption, for he is a slave to sin. He needs light because he is in darkness. He needs bread from heaven because he is starving. He needs the water of life for he is thirsty. He needs to be set free because he is under control of the evil one.

Christ can give nothing more than Himself. He Himself supplies every need. He is life, He is the light of the world, He is righteousness, He is our peace, He is our assurance, He is our joy, He is our glory, He is our hope, He is the author of our faith, He is the rock upon which we stand.

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and NO MAN COMES TO THE FATHER BUT BY ME.” Religion will leave you wanting. Church membership and attendance will leave you lacking. Acts of kindness, giving to the poor, and even martyrdom will leave you dead in your sins. Only our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ is able and willing to give you life, forgiveness, righteousness, and peace.

We are only accepted by God “in the beloved“, we are only chosen “in Him“. The mystery of God that was hidden in ages past is this, “Christ in you, the hope of glory“. That’s it, Christianity is Christ and can be nothing less, and nothing more is possible.

“Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life”(1 John 5:10-12 ESV)

It is hard to imagine how anyone could misunderstand this clear message from God’s word. Sadly, many just don’t seem to get it. Like the legalists Paul addressed long ago in his letter to the churches of Galatia who insisted that Christians be circumcised, many today insist on adding to what Christ accomplished over 2000 years ago and what God planned in eternity past.

Many preach a salvation that is “God’s part and your part”. Your part is to repent (change your mind) and believe on Jesus Christ. If you have Him (A very big “IF”) what more can you possibly imagine you need? There is nothing on earth or in heaven that is a substitute or a supplement for what Christ has accomplished on behalf of sinners. Trust Him alone, He will not always wait.

By grace are you saved.

His peace,


Acts 2:38, a second look

I just read a post at that prompted this post. You should visit Keith’s blog and read some of his stuff, especially the latest post. He poses the question “Is an imperative always a command?” He then takes a look at Acts 2:38. His take is interesting to say the least. All of his posts are excellent reading.

Acts 2:38. Is there any church of Christ/Christian church member who has not heard scores of sermons on this foundational verse? Perhaps you can answer some questions.

  • In the verse there are two imperatives “repent” and “be baptised”. Since “repent”, “repentance”, etc. are mentioned far, far more than baptism, why is the emphasis of perhaps 99% of all lessons on this verse focused on baptism rather than “repent”?
  • In my view, an improper empasis on baptism can result in a person trusting an event rather than a person, the Lord Jesus. Isn’t baptism meaningless unless one has truely “changed his or her mind” (repented) about the course of their life?
  • Is it possible that we might have misunderstood the meaning of Acts 2:38? The gift of the Holy Spirit is a promised result of obeying these two imperatives, or commands. In Peter’s own words later, he connected the gift of the Holy Spirit, not to baptism but to “belief”, which is the flip side of repentance. ““Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:47) In the next chapter Peter defends his action of baptizing Gentiles. His clear answer was “Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:15,17)

Is it possible that many of us have put the gospel cart before the horse?

His peace,
Royce Ogle