Enemies From Within (1)

When we were children in America during the 1950s we grew up being constantly taught through the slogan, “Bit by bit by every little bit – – – EVERY LITTER BIT HURTS.”

We were taught to keep America clean. As school children we were taught never to discard any trash, no matter how small it might be, without discarding it in a trash bin or appropriate disposal container. Automobile owners were instructed to always have a trash bag in their vehicles. No trash was ever to be thrown out the window of a vehicle. When driving down a road, we were constantly reminded with warning signs along the road that read: “UP TO $500 FINE IF CONVICTED OF LITTERING!” And since 25 cents was a great deal of money to a young boy in those days, we were fearful of ever throwing any rubbish out the vehicle window.

The advertisements and warnings changed America.   America cleaned up. Even to this day, we are compelled to always dispose of waste in an appropriate container or rubbish bin. It is a part of our culture. America was cleaned up bit by bit, by every litter bit.

Oceans are maintained by small rain drops.   Beaches are composed of small grains of sand. All matter in the universe is a combination of atoms that the eye cannot see. And when discussing the energy of the organic body of Christ, each individual member “bit” throughout the world is a united force that is organically combined against the forces of evil. Great things happen when little bits work together. But also, a great tragedy happens when little bits become a detriment to the whole, especially if they are little bits of evil in our lives.

When little bits of unrighteousness are allowed to invade the behavior of each member of the body, then the body becomes diseased. Though we are strong when united, we as individual members of the body can individually deteriorate spiritually with the smallest of evils that may seem harmless in our lives. James reminded all of us: “Even so, the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by a small fire!” (Js 3:5).   Every little harsh word hurts.   Little bits can trash our souls.

We must not forget the Holy Spirit’s warning: “For God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it is good or whether it is evil” (Ec 12:14). We will give account for every little bit that may litter our souls. With those words on their minds, the early disciples heard the Master warn, “But I say to you, that every idle word that men will speak, they will give account for it in the day of judgment” (Mt 12:36; see Rm 12:14). Every little bit hurts.

As disciples of Divinity, we must keep in mind that every bit of trash in our lives hurts our relationship with one another, but especially our relationship with God. It is for this reason that Christians must be on the lookout for those small things in their hearts and minds that will lead them away from God, and subsequently, destroy their discipleship.

We each have our “demons” with which we must deal, and thus, it takes more than ourselves to slay these unrighteous attitudes and behavioral traits. It was for this reason that James mandated, “Confess your sins [‘demons’] to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (Js 5:16). Through individual prayer, we can receive power to overcome. But many times, we need the prayers of our brothers and sisters in Christ in order to overcome those bits of trash in our lives that persistently plague our efforts to be the living sacrifice we desire to be. When “demons” persist, then it is time to call in the army of our brothers and sisters in Christ to offer up prayers for us.

[Lecture continues March 30.]

Members Of One Another

Romans 12:5 is often overlooked in reference to the function of the body of Christ. As a fellow member of the universal body writing from Macedonia to his fellow members in Rome, Paul reminded the Roman members that we “are one body in Christ, and everyone members of one another.” Being a member of the body means that each member is a member of one another. Our needs are ministered to by one another because of our spiritual attachment to one another in Christ. Our membership of the body of Christ, therefore, means that we are connected to one another as ministers to minister to one another wherever and whenever possible.

Each member of the universal body is gifted to function on behalf of Jesus in order to reveal the mutual ministry of the members of the one body. “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and everyone members one of another” (Rm 12:5). 1 Corinthians 12:12-18 is the commentary passage on what Paul reveals in Romans 12:5: “For as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the one body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ” (1 Co 12:12).   Paul was speaking in reference to the universal body of Christ. He reminded the Achaian members concerning the oneness of this body of many members: “For the body is not one member, but many” (1 Co 12:14). And because the body is one universally, then a member that is a “foot” that may be in Ephesus cannot say to an “eye” that may be in Corinth, “I am not of the body,” and thus disconnect from the universal membership of the body of Christ (1 Co 12:16). Members function locally because of faith, and thus they function universally as the one body. No one member has a right to disconnect from any other member regardless of where any particular member lives in the world.

Peter’s letter of 1 Peter is a very good example of how this works. Peter wrote specifically to Jewish Christians of the Jewish Dispersion (1 Pt 1:1). These Jewish Christians were scattered in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (1 Pt 1:1).   Imagine the distance these Christians lived from one another? Most certainly did not know one another, but may only have known of one another.   Nevertheless, in 1 Peter 4 Peter wrote to these scattered members to “be hospitable one to another without grumbling” (1 Pt 4:9). Every Christian has the responsibility of opening up his house to any traveling Christian. Though he may not have previously known a particular traveling member, fellowship in Christ goes beyond knowledge of other members. (See At 18:1-3 when Aquila and Priscilla took in Paul.)

In reference to the function of the universal body, Peter exhorted all these Christians who were scattered throughout all the previously mentioned Roman provinces the following: “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pt 4:10). This is the membership of the body functioning universally as the global family of God.

A very good example of this universal function is the publication of this book. The book was written by a member of the body in South Africa. However, proof reading of the manuscript was conducted by members of the body in America. The webmaster in America functioned to add the book to the Biblical Research Library on the Internet. It was then distributed by members of the body from the Internet, and then electronically circulated to all the world through emails and the Internet by members of the body. This is the one universal members of the body of Christ functioning as a united force to teach the word of God to people throughout the world.

In the historical context of both Paul and Peter, each writer wanted the individual members of the body not to forget that the whole universal body is made up of individual Jews and Gentiles.   For this reason there can be no disconnection of members in reference to race, or location when functioning as the universal church. The members of the body, all of whom are gifted, can never be autonomous from one another. When any group of members bunches up and claims independence from any other group of members, then they are not functioning as a part of the whole body. They are saying in their declaration of autonomy that “we are not of the body,” or “we are the only body of disciples.” If it is wrong for any one member of the body to declare his or her autonomy from any other member of the body, then it is also wrong and divisive for any group of disciples to declare their function to be autonomous from any other group of disciples. The universal body is not composed of a consortium of autonomous local bodies.   It is one body, though members have a right to organize together locally in order to accomplish unique functions.

We must never forget as universal disciples of Divinity that “God has set the members, each one of them [universally] in the body, just as He has desired” (1 Co 12:18). This is another way of saying, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved,” or as the King James’ rendering of Acts 2:47, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”

When individual members of the universal body function as one body, then the body grows. When each disciple is connected directly to Christ, …

 “… from whom the whole body being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working of each part, causes growth of the body to the edifying of itself in love” (Ep 4:16).

All gifts of every member of the body throughout the world are necessary for the building up of the body universally.   Therefore, disciples must think universally, not just locally, when considering the importance of their gifts to build up of the body of Christ. The point is that all parts (gifted members) of the body are not all the same, but function in harmony as parts of the same body. When one part works, therefore, he or she functions as one with all other parts of the body throughout the world. When one works in teaching (“prophecy”), then he or she works for the benefit of the one universal body. When one works through serving (“ministry”), then he or she is working to serve the whole body. When one works to edify (“exhortation”), then he or she is working to encourage the body to function to the glory of God. Every member of the one universal body is necessary and gifted for the growth of the body throughout the world.

Paul concludes the context of Romans 12 with a “relational constitution” concerning the unified function of all disciples of Divinity (Rm 12:9-21). In his concluding remarks, he uses words as “love,” “kind,” “diligence,” “serving,” “perseverance,” “contributing,” “blessing,” and “rejoicing.” All these words explain the relational function of the members of the one universal body of Christ. These are the marks that identify the nature of the true body.   It is by the implementation of these relational marks of identity that the whole body overcomes all evil of this world (Rm 12:21).

[Lecture series continues March 27.]

Totally Offered Sacrifices (4

D.  Walking the humble life:

         “For I say through the grace given to me, to everyone that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, according as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Rm 12:9,10).

  1. To everyone: The mandate of this text is relational in reference to every Christian.   Solomon was right: “For men to seek their own glory is not glory” (Pv 25:27). Pride destroys relationships because it pits one disciple against another. Arrogance moves one to exalt himself over his fellow servant in Christ. When one seeks his own glory, he often moves into “deglorifying” others.

In the sociological context of Romans 12:3, Paul is hitting directly at the pride of the Jews against the grafted in Gentiles. It must be noted what a particular transformed Jewish disciple [Peter] at one time said to a Gentile unbeliever [Cornelius] who had invited the Jew into his home:

“Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons. But in every nation he who fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (At 10:34,35).

By the time Paul arrived at the context of Romans 12, it seems that a reverse cultural prejudice was taking place among the Gentile disciples. He explained this in chapter 11:17-21. The Gentiles were the “wild olive trees” who were grafted into the first Christians who were Jews (Rm 11:17). The Gentiles thus partook of the root and fatness of the Jewish heritage of salvation that came through the Jews. For some reason, some of the Gentile disciples marginalized this salvational heritage that came through Israel. But Paul answered, “… do not boast against the branches. But if you [Gentiles] boast, remember that you do not support the root [Israel], but the root you” (Rm 11:18).

When Jewish branches were broken off because of their unbelief, the Gentile branches were grafted in because of their faith (Rm 11:19). However, the Gentile branches must not forget that they stand as grafted in branches because of faith (Rm 11:20). For this reason, there is no room for arrogance, but only fear lest one fall because of unbelief. So Paul’s warning to the Gentile branches was direct: “For if God spared not the natural branches [the Jews], take heed lest He also not spare you [the Gentiles] (Rm 11:21).

2.  Sobering thoughts: When discussing the transformed life of the disciple, therefore, there is never room for boasting and arrogance in reference to one’s religious heritage. The Jews came to Christ with a heritage of the one true and living God. The Gentiles came to Christ with the heritage of idolatry. But in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek [Gentile]. There is neither bondservant nor free. There is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gl 3:28).   This truth should inspire sobriety on the part of everyone who comes into Christ through obedience to the gospel.   When Paul wrote concerning our resurrection with Christ out of the waters of baptism, he spoke of “walking in newness of life” (Rm 6:4). He was referring to the mind that had been transformed from focusing on the world and self to focusing on God. And since we stand by a faith that focuses on God, then we must be careful not to lose our focus.

 3.  A measure of faith: “Measure of faith” is defined in Romans 12:3 according to the consistent definition by which we must always understand faith.   In verse 4 Paul explained that “… all members do not have the same function.” Verses 3 and 4 connect faith and function. When interpreters define faith as a simple mental ascent of belief without works, they have fallen victim to a twisted understanding of the faith by which disciples of Divinity are to be defined. We must never disconnect faith from function, for if we do, we will end up with a dead faith.

It seems that some of James’ audience had fallen victim to believing that one could be a living sacrifice by disconnecting faith from function. “What does it profit,” James questioned these people, “if someone says he has faith but does not have works [function]? Can faith [alone] save him?” (Js 2:14). James’ inspired answer to the question was direct: Even so faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (Js 2:17).

No disciple can defend his discipleship on the basis of faith only. If he does, then his faith is dead. If there is no function as a result of our faith, then our faith is not acceptable before God. Both Paul and James agree.   If our faith does not motivate one to function as a living sacrifice, then our faith is dead. We are living in the deception of our own lethargy.

Paul answers the “faith only” advocates in a positive manner. The body is universal. Local members manifest the working faith of the universal body, and thus, the universal body is defined by the “measure of [functioning] faith” that is given to each local member to minister to the body with universal results.

[Lecture series continues March 24.]

Totally Offered Sacrifices (3)

C.  Walking the transformed life:

“And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rm 12:2).

James used the word “adultery” in a spiritual context in James 4:4. He used the word metaphorically in order to refer to those who were spiritual covenant breakers. “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (Js 4:4).

If one would be transformed into the spiritual image of Jesus, then there must be struggle to divorce one’s mind from this world. Those who would seek to be totally committed to being a living sacrifice, and yet, try to be married to the world, are committing spiritual adultery. “But if anyone loves the world,” John explained, “the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn 2:15).

“No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Mt 6:24).

The explanation is as Phillips’ translation of Matthew 6:24: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.” The Greek word in the text that is translated “transformed” in Romans 12:2 is metamorphousthe (metamorphosis). Disciples of Divinity have morphed out of the mentality of the world and into the thinking of God. They have transcended in mind to the One who is transcendent in all our lives. It is as the Holy Spirit explained:

“If you then were raised with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth“(Cl 3:1,2).

In order to transform (morph) our thinking from the world to things that are above, we must do as Paul exhorted the Ephesians: “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ep 4:23). When we connect Colossians 3:1,2 with Ephesians 4:23, we understand that when one is born anew from the waters of baptism, there is a renewal of focus. After obedience to the gospel, one focuses on those things that are above. The change in focus leads to the renewal.   Because there is a refocus, then there can be a transformation. A metamorphosis takes place in one’s behavior because there has been a change in one’s focus. The change from focusing on the things of this world to things that are not of this world, transforms (morphs) us into being the living sacrifice. The refocus defines the living sacrifice.

When there is a change in our focus, there will subsequently be “proof” in our lives concerning what is the “good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” In other words, our focus on those things that are above leads to a change in our behavior, and by a changed behavior one has proved in his life that the will of God has become the foundation upon which he bases his thinking. “Your-will-be-done-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven” identifies the morphed Christian (Mt 6:10).

For example, it is as John wrote: “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). The more we focus on the God who loved us through Jesus (Jn 3:16), the more we walk in gratitude of His will to love others. Herein is the love by which the disciples of Jesus are identified (Jn 13:34,35). Our love of others is the proof that His love has permeated our lives. Paul explained:

“Let love be without hypocrisy.   Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor preferring one another” (1 Co 12:9,10).

[Part 7 of lecture continues March 21.]

Totally Offered Sacrifices (2)

B.  Walking reasonable worship:

“Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service (Rm 12:1).

No greater call to discipleship could have been made. We commit ourselves to the One who became a heavenly disciple on our behalf in reference to our spiritual disconnection from God through our sins (See Is 59:2; Ph 2:5-11).

Since the behavior of the Israelites of the Old Testament is to be an example for our discipleship (Rm 15:4; 1 Co 10:6,11), what happened to some of the Israelites immediately after they came out of Egyptian bondage should be heeded. They were “baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Co 10:2).   They too “drank of the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the Spiritual Rock that followed them. And that Rock was Christ” (1 Co 10:4).

 “But God was not pleased with many of them …” (1 Co 10:5). God was not pleased with many of them because they did not give themselves totally into His care. They did not walk straight to the land of promise and conquer it through faith in the power of God to work through them. Because of their lack of faith, therefore, those who did not walk by faith were cut off. And when there is no total commitment today on the part of some who have been baptized into Christ, then there is the danger of being cut off for lack of faith.   A faith that will not drive us to the promise land through obedience, is a dead faith that will maroon us in the wilderness of sin.

Paul used the word “sacrifice” as a metaphor in reference to our commitment. An Old Testament sacrifice was totally given for the purpose for which it was intended.   No partial sacrifices were allowed under the Sinai law. Paul explained in Romans 6:13:

“Neither present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God, as those who are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

  1. Living:   The sacrifice of our lives must be living (total) and active (recognizable). Disciples cannot be monks who hide away in a monastery, and at the same time, profess a total commitment to discipleship. The totally committed life is relational. And to be relational, disciples must be totally committed to relate with one another. Disciples, therefore, must not be “lagging behind in diligence,” but “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Rm 12:11). And “serving the Lord” means totally committed to serving others on behalf of the Lord. The totally committed disciple serves the Lord by serving others.
  2.  Holy:   Purity (holiness) must be characteristic of those who have wholly committed themselves as a living sacrifice (See 1 Pt 1:15). It is a contradiction to claim that one is totally committed, but at the same time has not wholly given himself to function as a part of the body.   The total sacrifice is the definition of holiness. The purity of one’s discipleship is identified in the fact that his sacrifice involves the whole of his or her life to relationally function with all members of the body.
  3. Acceptable: Unless the sacrifice is living and total, then it cannot be acceptable to God.   One could not drag a dead animal to the altar of sacrifice and expect it to be accepted by God. One could not offer only the hind quarters of the sacrificed animal. No sacrifice of the Sinai law was to be blemished. The prophet Habakkuk judged the people unrighteous because they sought to offer blemished sacrifices to the Lord, as well as robbing God by holding back all that was to be given in a tithe to the Lord (See Hk). Their sacrifices were not acceptable because they were partial or blemished.

In the case of Habakkuk’s generation, the people were “keeping back” the best sacrifices for themselves. In the same way, those who pose themselves to be totally committed Christians, often hold back the best for themselves. And those dead Christians (inactive) who drag themselves to the assembly on Sunday are fooling themselves. If the leadership judges their assembly to be dead, then it is composed of dead sacrifices sitting on pews.

Disciples to Divinity are “as living stones” who “are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2:5).   It is not difficult to understand what the preceding statement means. Jesus explained:

“And you will love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mk 12:30).

And again: “If anyone will come after Me,” Jesus continued to explain, “let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Lk 9:23).

We live in a departmentalized world, the thinking of which is totally contrary to Paul’s definition of the total sacrifice.   Our usual day begins in the morning with a departmentalized time for breakfast. We then move into the department of secular work. Once our work day is signed off with the sound of a bell, we close out the Work Department and move on to a variety of departments: Sports Department, Family Department, Date Department, Television Department, Hobby Department.

On Sunday there is the Religion Department.   Unfortunately, we have confined God to the Religion Department, opening up this department with an “opening prayer” and closing it off with a “closing prayer.” As long as God remains in His department, we are content to believe that we are His totally committed people between the “closing prayer” on Sunday morning and the “opening prayer” the following Sunday.

We forget that the totally committed life has no departments from which God is excluded. Totally sacrificed disciples establish all their “departments” on the basis that they are totally sacrificed disciples every minute of their lives to the God of heaven. The only closing bell one will hear in reference to his discipleship is the sound of his last breath on earth.

4.Reasonable service: Translators have a difficult time translating a word that is here used in the Greek text. The Greek word is latreia. The New International Version reads “spiritual act of worship.” The American Standard Version reads, “spiritual service,” with “worship” in the footnote. But in reflecting to the word “therefore,” with which the text of Romans 12 was introduced, and the context of Paul’s argument in concluding the preceding chapters, the International King James Version might have a better reading: “Reasonable service.” In view of all that God has done for us, as explained by Paul to the end of chapter 11, it is only reasonable that we present our lives in active service (worship) to the Lord. There can be no limits to the totality of our service to God. For this reason, the totality of our lives is a worshipful response (service) to the grace of God.

The Greek word latreia has a meaningful definition in the context of its use in Romans 12:1. Of the 21 times it is used in the New Testament, the word is used to refer to worshipful behavior. It is for this reason that translators have a difficult time concerning whether to translate the word either “worship” or “service” in Romans 12:1.   But as previously explained, the disciple’s walk in gratitude to the grace of God is a walk of worshipful service.

The “living sacrifice” of the context helps us to define how latreia is used in Romans 12:1. We are living sacrifices, and thus our worship is living.   It is behavioral. And since the living sacrifice cannot be departmentalized, then the latreia of this context cannot be departmentalized.   Therefore, the latreia of Romans 12:1 is a life-style of worship service. It is a vertical relationship with God in order to have a horizontal relationship with the fellow members of the body of Christ.

This is often difficult for some to understand, especially if they come from a background of departmentalized religiosity.   It is difficult because so many have confined their worship to a ritualistic performance of ceremonies that are claimed to be worship, which ceremonies are often used to identity whether one is “church.” Once the ceremonies (“acts”) of the Church Department are completed, and signed off with a “closing prayer,” then it is assumed that one is no longer in worship.   “Brother, John, would you lead the ‘closing prayer’ to conclude our worship?” Ever hear that request?

A ceremonial “hour of worship” does not fit into the context of Romans 12:1. It is certain that one worships during the “hour of worship.” But it is also certain that the one who is a living sacrifice worships outside the confines of an “opening and closing prayer” and the ceremonial “hour of worship.”

The living sacrifice does not confine worship to either locations or ceremonies. The totality of his life is a response to the One to whom he has given his life as a sacrifice. His eating a fine lunch is not an “act of worship,” but he worshipfully eats in gratitude to the One who gave the food to be eaten. He drives his bicycle or vehicle, not as an act of worship, but in worshipful thanksgiving of the One who gives all things. All that the living sacrifice either owns or enjoys is appreciated because he recognizes the Great Giver and Provider of all things.   His life, therefore, is a worshipful response to the One he recognizes to be the God of all things. His life, therefore, is a natural (reasonable) response (worship) of the one true and living God. His life can be nothing other than “reasonable worship” in view of all that he has and does.

All that the living sacrifice has and does is not a demand on his life. In view of the cross of Christ, it is only natural to present oneself totally to the One who gave Himself totally for all of us. And in looking into the future to what will eventually be given, the living sacrifice gives the totality of his life in worshipful service of the One who will eventually give eternal life.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed to us” (Rm 8:18).

[Part 3 of lecture continues March 18.]

Totally Offered Sacrifices (1)

Romans 12:1-8 is one of the greatest contexts of Scripture concerning instructions by which disciples throughout the world can connect with God and function with one another. It is a context that permeates all cultural barriers.   No greater challenge to unity could have existed at the time when Paul wrote the statements of this context, than the cultural, philosophical and sociological separation that existed between the Jews and Gentiles. No Jew was to eat with a Gentile. No Jew was to be caught even in the house of a Gentile. Gentiles were tolerated by the Jews only because the Jews had to live in a world of Gentiles. And yet in this social environment, God instituted a fellowship of people wherein both Jews and Gentiles could be what is stated in the following social environment:

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.   For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek. There is neither bondservant nor free. There is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gl 3:26-28).

The comments of the text of Romans 12:1-8 follows Paul’s arguments that the Gentiles have been grafted into the family of God through the sacrificial offering of the Son of God. They have been grafted in through faith. As some Jews were cut off because of unbelief, believing Gentiles were grafted into the true vine through faith. Paul convincingly revealed,

“Some of the branches [Jews] were broken off, and you [Gentiles], being a wild olive tree were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree” (Rm 11:17).

Being grafted in, and maintaining the unity of this cultural fellowship, required a total commitment to the True Vine. In order to maintain the cultural identity of Christianity, one must forsake all those cultural identities that would harm the one body of Christ. This does not mean that Christians are to be culturally cloned. However, it does mean that there are to be no cultural barriers that would separate members of the body from one another. In order to accomplish this feat of fellowship, total commitment to the Head of the body is necessary. And if the Jews of the first century could accomplish this cultural feat, then there is absolutely no cultural barrier today that should keep members of the body separated from one another in Christ.

Discipleship to Divinity is not easy in reference to total commitment, especially in areas where individuals differ culturally.   For this reason, we sometimes culturally fudge on the Holy Spirit’s call for a total sacrifice. The Holy Spirit mandated that it will take “a living sacrifice” in order to behave according to the fellowship that must exist in preserving the unity of the faith. Each member of the body must be totally committed to being this sacrifice.

When the Spirit calls on us to present ourselves in total sacrifice to accomplish the mandate of cultural unity, we sometimes think about partial sacrifices, that is, how much we can keep ourselves culturally separated from sacrificing ourselves totally for those who are of a different cultural background. When Paul talks about total transformation in our thinking and behavior, we think more of a halfhearted commitment. We think doctrine, not culture. We thus put limits on our cultural identity, while we satisfy ourselves that we are still united as disciples of the One who gave up being on an equality with Deity culturally and became in all ways culturally as finite humans (See Ph 2:5-11).   We thus exalt “doctrinal unity” over “cultural unity.”

It is easier to be doctrinally united than culturally united. When we preach total commitment to one another, we justify those cultural traits that cause division, while at the same time assume that our doctrinal unity will cover the sins of our cultural division.

We forget that culture involves relationships, and Christianity is about relationships. Two brethren may be united doctrinally, but they abide in sin if they allow cultural differences to keep them divided from one another.   This is the challenge about which Paul was writing when he came to the context of Romans 12. No individual disciple, or group of disciples, has a right to neglect a group of widows who may not be of a different cultural heritage (See At 6:1-7). Since both Jews and Gentiles have been grafted in by faith, then both Jews and Gentiles must accept one another in Christ through faith. And as he continues to explain throughout Romans 12, it is faith that moves both Jews and Gentiles to function as the one body.

A.  Transitioning into a total walk.

“Therefore, I urge you, brethren …” (Rm 12:1).

Paul begins the context of Romans 12 with the word “therefore.” “Therefore” is reflective. He wants his readers to reflect on the arguments that have been made in chapters 9-11 in order to make a relational commitment that is revealed in the context of chapter 12. In other words, because of the totality of the sacrificial work that God accomplished through the cross to graft both Jews and Gentiles into Christ through faith, then each disciple of faith must make the same commitment to be one in fellowship with the universal body of Christ.

This is taking up our cross and being a disciple of Jesus (Lk 14:27). Romans 12 is the spiritual conclusion to Paul’s arguments in the preceding chapters of Romans, but specifically the conclusion to the redemptive work of the Son of God who sacrificed Himself in order to graft the Gentiles into the true vine. Since the Jews were saved by grace, then they in turn must extend grace to the Gentiles. This is the disciple’s walk in gratitude and thanksgiving.

[Part 2 of lecture continues March 15.]


Church: The Serendipity of Loving Others

Because we as Christians are emotionally wired for community, we naturally seek out others who have likewise been spiritually born anew. “Church” is simply the plan of a Creator who designed us to function together socially as a collective of born again disciples of Christ. Though we are spiritually born anew individually into the universal body of Christ, it is not natural for us to function autonomously from the body in our spiritual relationship with all those who have likewise come individually into an obedient relationship with the Son of God.

Our innate desire to be with others who have been born again sends us as individuals on a quest.   We seek to function in fellowship with the “church of the firstborn ones” (Hb 12:23). It is for this reason that the body (church) is always defined in Scripture to be a relational function of all those individuals who have been individually born again, and thus lovingly function under the high priesthood of Jesus Christ. When our Founder stated that we would be identified by our love of one another, He was saying that we would be known by our relational function of love (Jn 13:34,35).

Jesus taught that His disciples would be defined by loving relationships, not as a legally defined corporate institution. Christians are identified by their mutual gratitude for the grace of God, not by the restriction of perfect law-keeping. Grace excludes justification through perfect keeping of law, but especially the restrictions of man-made laws (Rm 6:14). We are saved by grace through faith in God’s grace to save us (Ep 2:8).

Law challenges the relational nature of the body of Christ, for law sets aside mercy. But mercy rejoices over judgment according to law (Js 2:13). If we would seek to be under the legalities of the laws of man-made religious institutions, then there would continually be strife or competition among individual members of the universal collective (church). There would be continual dissention as to which lawgiver the members should follow in a legally structured organization. In our dissension as to which legally defined religious institution we would adhere, we would naturally denominate into our favorite groups. Lawgivers would choose their favorite names for their groups, and thus, offer options for us concerning which group to which we would “place membership.”

In legally defined institutions there is always competition “to climb a ladder of power” for influence and recognition. Where love should be exalted, seniority marginalizes the weak, or those who are unfamiliar with the accepted laws of the legally defined institution.   Lordship always encourages competition.   However, love always considers others before one’s self. Lordship always prevails in institutionally defined groups. But where fellowship is based on love, relational servanthood prevails. We must never forget that lordship among leaders in the body always marginalizes the Head of the body.

Legally defined institutions are defined by organizational structures that encourage lords, judges and lawgivers to reign. On the other hand, the New Testament definition of “Church” is the relational behavior of the members with one another that is based on love (Jn 13:34,35). The more legally we define the church of Christ, therefore, the less relational the members become in their patience with one another through love. The relationship between lawgivers and judges is always strained.

The more the members focus on maintaining the institutional ordinances that define a man-made religious organization, the less they function relationally. The more the body of Christ is defined by institutional structures, the more stringent we seek to maintain legal codes that define our existence. We become legally stringent because we are afraid that we will lose what we believe defines who we are.   Leadership in such institutional organizations turns from teaching the word of God to lords who see their duty to regiment the members of the body into conforming to legal structures that define the institution. Lords always function as regimenting leaders.

In lordship scenarios, relationships are always sacrificed in order to sustain the legalities that define the institution. It is for this reason that the religious institutions of men work contrary to the relational identity of those who have individually been born into the body of Christ. And it is also for this reason that the more we identify the body of Christ as a legal institution, the less relational the membership becomes, and subsequently, the more divided the members become in their debates over defining the legalities of the organized church. The problem with a legally defined church is that judges and lawgivers always seek to insert and bind their opinions. We thus end up squabbling over whose opinions must be legally bound in order to define who we are.

At the end of our journey in life, and when it is time for all of us to stand individually before the Creator in judgment, each one of us will not be held accountable for keeping or forsaking any legally bound opinions that were established by men to define a legal religious institution. Each one of us will be held accountable for his or her relational behavior with all other individuals of the body. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” are relational identities that are not enjoined on the members of the body through law (See Gl 5:22,23). They are inspired by love. Nevertheless, these are relational standards by which each member will be held accountable.   And because the degree of each of these qualities in our lives always falls short of perfection, there must always be grace to make us perfect in Christ. Being judged by relational abstracts, therefore, must always be by God’s grace and through our faith in Him to bring us into His glory (Rm 4:16).   Grace and mercy, therefore, must always reign in the hearts of body members in order that we be at peace with one another.

That which destroys peace in the body are relational dysfunctions as “fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, etc.” (Gl 5:19-21). These behavioral dysfunctions are not based on the love by which the disciples of Jesus are to be identified (Jn 13:34,35).   They identify those who are void of love for other members of the community of born again disciples.   These “works of the flesh” are relational dysfunctions for which we will be held accountable, since being identified by such character qualities and behavioral practices disqualifies one from cohabiting with others in eternity. Social dysfunctions of the body on earth make it impossible for one to transition into an eternal society that will dwell in peace in the presence of God.

Individuals are born into a fellowship wherein they are held together as one body because of the fruit of the Spirit that is emulated by each member. The members of the body are identified as the collective body of Christ because of their relational function with one another through love. Their function through relational identities, therefore, results from their love for one another (Jn 13:34,35).   When the New Testament historian stated, “Now all who believed were together and had all things in common,” he was defining the relational function of the body according to the implementation of the fruit of the Spirit, not the submission of those who were born again to a legally defined institution (See Act 2:44). Those first believers knew little or nothing about “church,” but they knew everything about Christ. And because they were obedient to Christ in their baptism for remission of their sins, they were church (At 2:38,41). They were born again through baptism into a relational function of love whereby each member was communally loved into eternal glory through the fruit of the Spirit. When members so function, any efforts to define the body through legal statues pales away under the power of love.

It is for this reason that we must first identify the church through love, and not by the adherence of the members to legal identities. Do not be mistaken. We seek to be obedient to the commandments of God, but being so obedient without the love that generates the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, is futile in reference to salvation. Perfect attendance without love will not take anyone to heav

BAPTISM: A Relational Response Of Faith

John did not initially write to believers. The New Testament book of John was written to those whom John urged to believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God (Jn 20:30,31). If the unbelievers to whom he wrote believed, then they would have an eternal relationship with the Son of God. They could have this relationship if they followed through with what God required to be born again (Jn 3:3-5) John affirmed that belief in Jesus was the foundation upon which they could establish this eternal relationship with God. In this way, belief was relational in reference to their salvation.

We find throughout the New Testament the rest of the story about the “relational belief” about which John wrote. In reference to the eternal relationship into which his readers must come with the Son of God, John wrote briefly about the door of entry, that is, being born again (Jn 3:3-5). To be born into this relationship with the Son of God in whom one believed, a response to belief (obedience) was necessary on the part of the believer. Belief, therefore, could not be an end within itself.   It could not be a simple acceptance of facts. It had to be a relational response to what God required in order to connect with His Son. The eternal relationship with God that John desired that his readers have had to be a behavioral response to the intellectual information that he wrote in words.

How one establishes a relationship with God can only be defined by God, and thus, only in His word are we to determine how and what a relationship is with our Lord Jesus Christ. We have found that most people are more inclined to use the common religious definitions of the confused religious world to define how one establishes a behavioral relationship with Jesus. Common accepted theology of the majority is often easier to believe than opening one’s Bible to determine how God defines these matters and establishes His terms for being born again.

In order to explain what John meant when he introduced the subject of being “born again,” Jesus continued to explain at the end of His ministry what He meant by the term.   The declarative statement of Jesus in Mark 16:15 is a record of concluding thoughts of Jesus that revealed the seriousness of what is most important in one’s restoration to a relationship with God. Jesus’ statement was simple, but loaded with meaning when considered in the context of His entire message of the gospel.

Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Every theological wiggle possible has been made in the religious world to discount what Jesus meant in this statement. But the statement is blatantly clear. The meaning can be clearly understood in the context of the truth of the gospel of Jesus. If we do not consider the whole text of His message, and what the Holy Spirit explained in the whole of the New Testament, then belief becomes a simple legal recognition of facts with no resounding confession or repentance in one’s life. Baptism is subsequently relegated to a legalistic plunge into water in obedience to a command to “get baptized.” Such a conclusion is both impersonal and a denial to the truth of the gospel and the relationship that the Father seeks to have with those who believe on His Son.

The “belief” about which Jesus spoke was relational in that it must move one to respond to Jesus as the Christ and Son of God. The gospel (good news) must be received in mind (intellect) and in heart (emotional). It is God’s ultimatum for sinners to bring themselves into a relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Belief, therefore, is an emotional response and foundation in reference to the death of Jesus for our sins and His resurrection for our hope.

In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Paul explains, “I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand” (1 Co 15:1).   The word “stand” is metaphorical in reference to emotional security.   Belief in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (the gospel), therefore, is an emotional response to an intellectual knowledge of the event of the gospel that Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Co 15:3,4). One must intellectually know and believe that Jesus, as the Son of God, died for our sins. However, one’s intellectual belief in the death of the Son of God for our sins is not good enough. Intellectual belief is not relational in reference to connecting with the saving power of the gospel. There must be an emotional attachment to the event of the gospel in order to emotionally “stand” upon an assurance that we are saved by the event of the gospel.   Knowledge of facts must be combined with behavior.

This brings us to Jesus’ connection between belief, baptism and salvation. Jesus explained in Mark 16:15 that in order to be saved, baptism must occur in response to one’s intellectual and emotional response to the event of Jesus’ death for our sins and resurrection for our hope. Baptism is not a legality. It is a relational response to the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. And when one relationally responds to his belief in the salvational work of Jesus at the cross, and in the resurrection, then the blessing of salvation comes into the life of the one who obeys the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. One is thus born again (Jn 3:3-5).

Paul explains the relational response of baptism to the gospel in Romans 6:3-6.   Notice carefully how he makes baptism a personal encounter with the death and resurrection of Jesus. He begins with a question: “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death” (Rm 6:3). Jesus’ death was personal, and so is our baptism into His death. Paul explained: “We were buried with Him through baptism into death …” (Rm 6:4).   The preposition “with” makes the response of baptism relational in reference to our contact with the death of Jesus.   Baptism is not a ceremony. It is not a legal obedience to commands. It is establishing a personal connection with Jesus right at the cross of Jesus and in partnership with His resurrection.   If one cannot establish this relationship with Jesus at the cross, and in the resurrection, then he has no real, true and personal relationship with Jesus.

Jesus died for our sins at the cross. If one would establish a relationship with Jesus, then that is were the relationship truly begins. Only through baptism into His death can we be at the cross with Jesus. This is why Peter reminded those on Pentecost in Acts 2 that they must be baptized for remission of their sins (At 2:38). If the separation from God through sin remains in one’s life, then there can be no relationship with God against whom we sin (Is 59:2).

But Paul was not finished with his commentary on what Jesus meant in Mark 16:15.   Belief leads us to be “united together in the likeness of His [Christ’s] death,” and thus, “we will also be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rm 6:5). As “our old man was crucified with Him” at the cross in repentance, our new man walks in newness of life when we come forth from a grave of water (Rm 6:5,6). Paul, through the inspiration of the Spirit, could not have explained the relational obedience of baptism in a better way. There can be no relational walk with Jesus in the new life, if there is no death and burial of the old man.

At the end of His mission on earth, Jesus concluded with a relational statement to His disciples in reference to baptism. He commanded His disciples to “disciple all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). In this statement, Jesus used the Greek word eis. Eis is relational. In baptism, one comes into a relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is belief in Jesus as the Son of God that moves one to go to the cross with Christ. It is belief that takes one into a grave of water with Jesus in order to wash away sins that keep one separated from God (At 22:16).   It is belief that brings one forth from the grave into a resurrected life with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Unless one’s belief results in crucifixion and burial with Jesus, one has no true or personal relationship with the One who will return from heaven to collect His people who have been washed in His blood (1 Jn 1:7). Those who have not believed, gone to the cross, grave and experienced a resurrection with Jesus, do not have a redeeming relationship with the Christ who went to the cross and grave for them.


Organized Religion

Many of us live in highly organized business/industrial societies. Many churches in such societies have not escaped the influence of corporate organization. How one functions as an employer/employee in the business/industrial world, often determines how he views the church of our Lord. When the entire membership lives in such a society, it is almost natural for them to behave corporately. The extreme of this invasion of worldly organizationalism among the disciples of Jesus is the conclusion that if one is not a part of the “corporately organized religion,” then he is outside the religious “church loop,” or simply a rebel from within.

We must not assume that the stifling efforts of organized religion is something new.   The same religious environment prevailed during the era when the Son of God become flesh in order to reveal an organic movement of people outside the function of organized religion. Jesus did not come to establish an institution.   He came to empower individuals in their faith. His focus was on people (church), not organizational structures. He thus came to energize an organism of believers to function throughout the world.

When Jesus came in the fullness of time to begin an organic body (His church) in the midst of a very structured religious organization (Judaism), from the very beginning His ministry was in constant conflict with the authorities of the religious establishment (See Matthew 16:18,19). The establishment called His movement a “sect” simply because His disciples did not conform to the norm that defined the existing religious organization of the day (See Acts 24:5). The books of Matthew through John explain in detail the conflict between the Jewish religious leaders and Jesus as He initiated the organic function of His disciples. The book of Acts not only explains the organic function of His body of believers, but also the conflict that the Jewish religious leadership continued to have with what they considered a virus in their organized religion. Organized religion always considers organic function an infectious virus simply because those who function organically are not controlled by the earthly authorities of the organization.

Organized religion is defined by the existence of rulers and lords on earth. In order to prevent His organism from becoming an organization, Jesus said that there would be no rulers and lords among His disciples.   The function of the disciples would be as an organic body of servants (See Mark 10:42,43). An organization (institution) exists because there is a chain of authority on earth by men who seek to maintain the structure of an organization. There is thus pressure from these “powers that be” that everyone who claims to be a part of the organization must conform to their authority structures. Membership in the organization is required, and some sort of attendance to the meetings of the organization are required in order to be considered loyal (faithful) to “the powers that be.” Budgets and spreadsheets are necessary in order to disburse the income that comes into the common “treasury” of the organization.   In order that the leadership of the organized religion is perpetuated, diplomas and degrees that hang on the leaders’ office walls, which diplomas and degrees were earned at the accepted Bible training schools of the organization. A specific name is used by the organization in order that members easily identify the groups who are in fellowship with the organization worldwide.

Inherent in any organized religion (institution) is a spirit of sectarianism, for each organized group of a worldwide network of groups must in some way maintain their identity as unique from all other religious organizations. Since competition for members is inherent in sectarianism, a unique name for the religious organization is thus necessary in order to identify the particular organization to which members give allegiance.   The validation of one’s relationship with Jesus is thus defined by one’s faithful allegiance to the religious organization of which he professes membership. It is thus incumbent on the accepted leaders of the institutional church to preserve the identity of their church by teaching the mandates of the organization that identifies its uniqueness. It is for this reason, that the preachers of the organized church are sanctioned with either “pastoral licenses,” diplomas or degrees from the accepted Bible schools of the religious organizations to which each particular group gives allegiance. Members are subsequently subjected to the sanctioned leaders by referring to them as “pastor,” “reverend,” “bishop,” etc. Authority is relinquished to the leadership by the membership, and by doing such the members have established a head of each local church, or the universal church, depending on how worldwide the organized church seeks to be networked according to Catholic Church organization of hierarchies.

In one statement of Holy Scripture the organized church is deemed contrary to the organic function of the universal membership of the body of Christ.

“. . . from whom [Christ] the whole body being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working of each part, causes growth of the body to the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16).

The words “every” and “each” assign individual ownership of the members of the body to one another. There can be no “eyes” or “feet” functioning separately or in control of the universal body. “If the foot says, ‘Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body . . .,’” then how would the whole body function as one body (1 Corinthians 12:15)? We must remember that “God has set the members, each one of them in the body, just as He has desired” (1 Corinthians 12:18). No man or group of men have the authority to set any part of the body above any other part of the body. The function of the body, therefore, is the business of Jesus as He directs the body from heaven through the authority of His word on earth (John 12:48; Romans 10:17). Therefore, there need be no rulers and lords on earth to command the organic function of the body. Upon the foundation of love, each part of the body is energized to function equally and in unity with all parts of the body (See John 13:34,35). No authorities on earth are needed.



Biblical Research Library


Book 47: Fellowship and Unity of the Organic Body

Book 55: Organic Function of the Body of Christ



We once concluded with the outpouring of our heart to an electric audience of attentive Bible lovers. After the lesson, one seemingly apprehensive, but convicted believer, stood up and valiantly said, “I want to be baptized right now!”

So after initial preparations for the event, both of us proceeded down into the water.   There was a sense of nervous apprehension in the willing subject who had declared his intentions to follow Jesus.   He was quite nervous with his first step into the water. As the subject was in the process of being laid back into the water in order to be immersed, arms and legs went flinging everywhere. Hands and feet grabbed after everything that was above water.   He was hydrophobic (terrified of water). After some reassuring persuasion, the self-confessed hydrophobic believer fought against his fears.   Nevertheless, we almost both went down into the water, he wide-eyed and struggling, and me not seeking to be rebaptized. What was so encouraging was that he overcame his fear of water in order to follow Jesus into the Jordan River.   He had not informed us before of his phobia. However, regardless of his phobia of water, he was determined to be baptized as Jesus had commanded.   After the experience, no one in the attentive audience let him pass without hugs and encouragement for his courage to overcome his fear of water in order to obey the gospel.

It is unfortunate today that there are thousands of “believers” who claim to be followers (disciples) of Jesus, but they do not have the courage to overcome their hydrophobia. They claim to be followers of Jesus, but they will not follow Him to Aenon where there was much water into which they would be immersed after the example of Jesus (John 3:23). They will not follow Jesus by obedience to His instructions to be baptized in order to be saved (Mark 16:16). And thus, they are not willing to be “of Christ” by baptism into His name (1 Corinthians 1:12,13).

Paul said, “Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).   But there are hydrophobics today who will not follow Paul to the grave of water as he imitated Christ by following Him (Acts 22:16). Some hydrophobics today are so afraid of the water that they would never even “follow the crowd” of those who followed Peter’s instructions on the day of Pentecost to be “baptized for remission of sins’” (Acts 2:38). A crowd of about 3,000 men and women followed Peter’s instructions on that day to be immersed for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:41).   They followed his instructions right into and out of the water in obedience to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (See Romans 6:3-6). We are sure there are some who could not say as the Ethiopian eunuch, “See, here is water! What hinders me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). Instead, some religious hydrophobics would say, “See, here is water! Get me out of here!”

Too many seem to forget that when a pagan idolater responded to what a Christian believed in the first century, he was not initially told to either repent or confess that Jesus was the Christ and Son of Christ. He was not initially informed about baptism. Pagan unbelievers were initially told what Paul said to the idolatrous Philippian jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you and your household will be saved.” (Acts 16:31). Idolatrous unbelievers had to first believe that Jesus was the Son of God, and then they were taught the rest of the story. Paul and Silas continued with the rest of the story to the Philippian jailor by speaking to him “the word of the Lord.” (Acts 16:32). And the result? “And immediately he [the jailor] was baptized, he and all his household.” (Acts 16:33). One must first believe in Jesus, and then obedience to the rest of the story will follow. And the rest of the story involves repentance and washing away of sins in the waters of baptism.

The entire gospel according to John was written that the idolatrous unbelievers to whom John wrote “might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing” they might have life through His name (John 20:31). In his book, John was not writing to believers.   He was writing to idolatrous unbelievers who knew nothing or little about the life and ministry of Jesus, especially the fact that Jesus was the Word (John 1:1-14), the Son of God who came down out of heaven for the salvation of man (John 3:13).   Idolatrous unbelievers must first, as the eunuch and idolatrous jailor, believe that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God. After belief, that which was necessary to be born again would come (John 3:3-5).

It is highly unfortunate that so many throughout the religious world have twisted the gospel of John out of John’s purpose for which he wrote the book. His message, that was only to be the beginning of the message of the gospel, has been made the conclusion. We must not forget, however, that belief is only the beginning of one’s journey to do all that God requires of each individual in order to be saved. If one stops at the beginning, then no obedient repentance will occur (Luke 13:3). There will be no confession that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God (Romans 10:9).   There will be no baptism into Christ (Galatians 3:26-29).

When those on the day of Pentecost believed that they had crucified the Lord and Christ, they said to the apostles, “Men and brethren, what will we do?” (Acts 2:37).   The apostles did not leave them at belief by telling them that they were saved by “belief only.” Instead of allowing them to remain lost in a “state of belief,” Peter instructed that they follow through with their belief. We read the gospel according to John in order to believe that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God. We read the book of Acts to find out where to go from belief.   Belief in the New Testament is more than a smile on one’s face, or a warm feeling. It is an inward activation to follow Jesus to the Jordan River in order to be immersed for the remission of all past sins. Once they believe, true believers will overcome their hydrophobia by asking, “Where is the water?”

Research:   BAPTISM: A FAITH RESPONSE TO THE CROSS,   www.africainternational.org