Monthly Archives: December 2009
“How are things going at Eagle Heights?” This is a question I get a lot from pastors, people who used to go to Eagle Heights and generally anyone I know who knows I am the pastor of a church called Eagle Heights. It’s mostly a chit-chat question and typically people are not looking for an in-depth answer, but I personally think it is one of the toughest questions a pastor can answer.
Why? Because most of the time I don’t know. But before I go on and leave myself sounding as though I am completely clueless, let me explain. It is one thing to answer the question from the perspective of counting heads, dollars, baptisms and being thankful that the church hasn’t split, but it is quite another thing to think about the spiritual battle that is taking place in individuals and families and in the life of the church. It is more difficult to say that God is transforming people and sustaining people and doing things that I can’t see or won’t see for quite some time and maybe until heaven. (By the way, such is the nature of change. For some it happens in big bangs and for most of us it is a grind and for others of us it is both.) So I guess I am making an admission that there are a lot of things in the life of the people of Eagle Heights that I don’t know and can’t see, whether present or future.
But it is also an opportunity to say that some of the most important fruit that God produces as a result of obedience to His word is unquantifiable. I am not making an excuse for lack of results but the reality is that I can’t count the progress of a marriage that is moving toward Christ-likeness. I can’t count a renewed vigor to meditate on the scripture. I can’t count love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. I can’t count the number of people who are developing a biblical world-view. I can’t count the man or woman who is waging war on a pornography addiction.
So I am glad in what the numbers do show but I am also careful not to count as though the church were a business with a bottom line that is the end of all our efforts. Numbers matter because people are numbers (they are people before numbers) but the crowds and multitudes that saw Jesus miracles and praised His name upon His triumphal entry into Jerusalem were no where to be found at His crucifixion for their sins.
What I am saying is this, quantifying is helpful but not the sum of all that God is doing. I once heard a person say that what is valued gets counted, but some of the most valuable things that God has done and is doing are things which can’t be counted or seen, at least in the now time. Perhaps in heaven we will see the whole picture of our efforts in Christ, but until then we should “expect great things from God and attempt great things for God” (William Carey) and be thankful for what we can see and be hopeful and glad for what will one day be revealed.
Without further ado here is where I have seen God work and where I see opportunities for growth and stretching.
The Encouraging Things I See As A Pastor
- God’s Word Has Been Thoroughly Proclaimed Week After Week. This is so important for the credibility of the leadership and the direction our church must go. All of our efforts must be grounded in an effort to be thoroughly biblical. Teaching and preaching through chapters and books of the Bible shows that we are committed to the authority of scripture and not an agenda that we have concocted. It also shows that we are committed to telling the whole truth and not just the truths that are convenient for the sake of good feelings or organizational advancement. God’s Spirit uses God’s word to accomplish God’s will. All of our speaking and teachings should be done as though we were speaking the very utterances of God so that in all things God might be glorified through Jesus. (1 Peter 4:11)
- People are sharing the gospel and being challenged to share the gospel. We all want to see people saved and baptized. It is a real jolt to the mind and heart to see someone saved by grace through faith and begin a life of obedience to Christ. But success is not in the outcome, but rather in faithfulness and obedience to all that Jesus commanded. William Carey, the famous missionary in the 1800s spent 7 years in India before he saw his first conversion. Success is obedience and I have heard many stories of people both sharing and wanting to share the gospel with others.
- A good number of people have trusted in Jesus and been baptized. I don’t know the numbers but we have seen many people come to faith in Jesus and we also seen many of those people follow Jesus in obedience by being baptized as believers.
- God continues to transform people in many ways. We have seen marriages restored and persevere through difficulty. We have seen people give their “Yes” to God to do missions. We have seen people accept the challenge to share the gospel with just one person this year. We have seen people commit to deal with hurts, habits and hang-ups by going to Celebrate Recovery (CR). I have seen men commit to be the leaders they ought to be in their homes. Again, there are many things that God has done and continues to do in causing people to be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.
- There has been a spirit of unity and excitement among the people of Eagle Heights. I have heard people express this very thing frequently and I have even been surprised at the lack of complaining. Of course there will always be murmurs and critiques of this or that, but it is worth valuing that God has given us a season of unity and peace. Unity and peace are not the end of all of our efforts, but they should be kept at almost all cost. Only when the gospel is at stake should we be willing to risk unity, and really any unity that does not center on the gospel is just unity for the sake of good feelings. Our unified purpose is the gospel and Eagle Heights has had that kind of unity this year.
- People have been praying. The elders meet every other week just to pray. The staff meets once a week to pray. I meet most every Sunday Morning with a group to pray. We must continue to depend on God in prayer.
- Our giving was up considerably this year despite the fact that we are in a recession. Our budget is very healthy in reference to what we are spending and taking in. Additionally, in 2009 our giving increased over 13 percent, which is up almost $82,000.00 from last year. God has been gracious to us and our people have been faithful stewards of the resources God has given. At the same time I am mindful that there are many families and people in our church hurting because of the economic difficulties. Therefore, let us be both thankful and prayerful and also willing to help those who are in need.
- We have been able to help those who are in need financially and physically. For practical and personal reasons I will spare the details of who was helped, but on a number of occasions people in the church and the deacons have gone out of their way to help people who are struggling financially and in some cases with physical health. In the last month I have heard at least two stories of people in our church who were in tears when they found out about someones needs and struggles. The gospel meets spiritual needs but also calls us to meet the physical needs of people too. We must do both just as Jesus did.
- Our missions giving was up 100 percent. Last year we took in just under $7000.00 for missions month in November. This year we set a goal of $10,000.00 and took in more than $15,000.00 to help advance the gospel and help people around the world.
- People continue to commit to being a part of Eagle Heights. At least 70 people joined Eagle Heights this year.
- The youth ministry is putting an emphasis on being in the community. Our Youth Pastor, Jason Denney, has worked very hard to not only teach the gospel but also to help students live the gospel. Among other things, the youth have served others by raking leaves, picking up trash in Stillwater, collecting food items for the Mission of Hope, and ringing the bell for the Salvation Army.
- God continues to give us a vibrant children’s ministry. With VBS, Upward Basketball and AWANA we continue to see children being taught the truth of God’s word. Just as important, we have many families who are actively sharing the gospel and training their children in their homes, which is the front line of the fight for the gospel.
- We have added two elders and four deacons. Leadership for biblical offices is critically important to the life of a church. I am very thankful that Eagle Heights is seeking to be biblical by asking deacons to function as deacons and elders as elders. The Bible is clear that there is a difference.
- People are willing to lay aside personal preference and adjust for the good of the body at Eagle Heights. Change doesn’t come easy for most of us because it usually means we have to adjust something that we have grown accustom to or like. We haven’t made any huge changes this year but we have made some minor ones and not once have those changes met any resistance. For the upcoming year we are going to be adjusting the way we do Bible Study and the overwhelming response has been one of support and encouragement. We must be willing to change and change we will, but only after a lot of prayer and examining the scriptures to make sure we are being thoroughly biblical. The world is changing and we must be willing to change to take an unchanging savior to a changing world.
Growth Opportunities Moving Forward
No one and no church arrives this side of heaven. We will always be striving and changing to be all that God wants us to be in His strength and for His glory. The following are areas of growth where I see the need for growth in the next year and beyond.
- We need to continue to focus on communicating. I believe we have really improved in trying to communicate in all aspects of life at Eagle Heights. Whether it is the elders communicating with the body or the staff communicating with the elders, I believe we have made strides in this area. However, we must continue to be intentional and consistent in helping everyone know what the direction of the church is and the details that facilitate that direction. Remember, if you don’t know, then ask. The elders and the staff have an open door policy with regards to most all things concerning Eagle Heights.
- We need to find ways to engage the community in a consistent and sustainable way. Last summer we did “Go Together” in some local parks, cooking hot dogs and providing inflatables, but we need to help people engage other people with the gospel by serving them where they are. People are largely not going to come to us, we have got to go to them. What if we adopted neighborhoods and did something in those neighborhoods once a month. What if we offered weekend parenting classes or financial classes for those neighborhoods. What if we prayer walked those neighborhoods and started Bible Studies in them? We must be creative and we must be intentional. It is not realistic to think that the unchurched or even the non-churched are going to come to us because we have a nice website or because we have good music. We have to go to them.
- We need to find a way to do a better job of life on life discipleship and training. It is happening in our church but not as much as it should. We need to meet with others but also be intentional about that meeting. How many people in our church are meeting with other people for accountability and the practice of spiritual disciplines? How many people in our church are practicing a 2 Timothy 2:2 ethic? Are established couples mentoring younger married couples about raising children and how to mange finances? These things are happening some, but they need to happen more.
- The elders need to come to a consensus on some biblical questions. The elders are to teach and lead, and part of that teaching and leading is deciding what the doctrinal position of Eagle Heights will be on any number of topics that might need to be clarified or addressed.
- We must continue to value and even raise the bar as to what membership means. Membership is biblical. Membership is a commitment to Jesus Christ and those who are trusting in His finished work on the cross. We have made strides in the last year by asking people to be interviewed for membership and by asking them to come before the church for accountability. But down the road there needs to be a functional way to introduce people to what it means to be a member at Eagle Heights. We have tried classes in the past, but we may need to require classes in the future. We shall see. Church discipline in love is something we need to learn to practice as well.
- We need to be praying about missons partnerships. We have been talking for years about North American and overseas partnerships. It would change the DNA of our church for our people to be in the habit of going to other cultures with the gospel.
- Parents must take on the primary responsibility of discipling their children. Again, this is happening a lot in our church, but we must remember that the children’s ministry and youth ministry are supplemental to what should be going on at home. The home is the front line for the hearts and minds of our children and students. If we lose the battle to make disciples at home it doesn’t matte what we do at church.
- We will need an associate pastor. Budget wise we are about $60,000.00 away from being able to pay and provide insurance for an associate pastor. But if we are going to be excellent at Bible Study Curriculum and helping people connect at Eagle Heights, then this is a big next step.
- We need to dream big. For instance, I know that we are in a slumping economy but we need to trust that God can provide for all that He wants to do among us in this community and to the ends of the earth. The status quo is unacceptable for the God who created everything. God is big and we must dream and live in a way so as to not blaspheme.
- We must address facility questions. Eagle Heights was out of room when it moved into the present facility. We are thankful for the facility we have, but what is next? Is our lack of space a limiting factor? If we build what do we build next? I am confident that the new facilities team will address this issue and give us some prayerful proposals in the coming year.
- We must be patient. Following Christ is a life-long process of triumphs and let-downs. So it is with church life too. There will be peeks and valleys. There will be ebb and flow. But we must pray and wait on God and be patient for His timing. I am not advocating passivity or laziness, but we must trust God in all seasons of life, even the difficult ones. Houses are not bricked in in a matter of minutes but rather one brick at a time, so it is with building the body of Christ. We should be about a way of life, not just a decision(s) made.
- The Gospel of Jesus must remain the focus of all we do to the glory of the triune God. So much goes on in the life of a church. People are messy, life is complicated and the needs and challenges are at times overwhelming. But Jesus is King and His purpose of redeeming a people for himself cannot fail. We would be foolish to be distracted from making Jesus the point of all we do to the glory of God the Father. May Jesus be our all in all because He is all.
God has at His command all the power in the universe, the Lord God omnipotent can do anything easily as anything else. All His acts are done without effort. He expends no energy that must be replenished. His self-sufficiency makes it unnecessary for Him to look outside Himself for a renewal of strength. All the power required to do all that He wills to do lies in undiminished fullness in His own infinite being. AW Tozer on the Omnipotence of God from The Knowledge of the Holy; The Attributes of God
Ponder these facts:
- The Magi (The Wise Men) in Matthew 2:1-12 probably walked about 800 miles from Babylon or its vicinity, following a star, to get to Jerusalem to see the “King of the Jews.” At 20 miles a day, it would take them about 40 days.
- The earth is 24,820 miles in circumference at the equator. At 20 miles per day and with some great water shoes it could be walked in 3.4 years.
- The sun is 2,713,406 miles in circumference. At 20 miles per day it would take 371.69 years to walk around the sun with a super flame retardant suit. Comparatively speaking, if the sun were a basketball, the earth would be a pea. 1,000,000 earths can supposedly fit in the sun.
- The Sun is an averaged size star. The largest known star in the universe is “VY Canis Majoris”. 7 quadrillion (7,000,000,000,000,000) earths can fit in the this massive burning ball of gas.
- There are estimated to be 400 billion stars, half smaller than earth and the other half larger, in the Milky Way Galaxy alone.
- There are estimated to be 100 to 200 billion galaxies in the universe. (Notice in 5 – 7 the word estimated, which speaks of the scale of the universe. The best scientists can do is get within 100 billion of the right answer.)
- There are an estimated 10 sextillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) stars in the universe, though no one knows for sure.
- God chose one star to be the star of the King of the Jews, the Christ-Child, the Word became Flesh, God-Incarnate.
When I consider God and the magnitude of His creation, three thoughts weigh heavily on my mind. First, when compared with the universe I am like a grain of sand on this beach we call earth. Second, God is unimaginably powerful and indescribable, though absolutely knowable with regard to what can be known. Finally, all things are possible with God, even moving a star. (Mark 10:27, Matthew 2:2, 9) For it only makes sense that God can do whatever He wants to do with what He has created. If He wants to move a star, then He can move a star. It is nonsense to think that God can create something and then have no control over it. If God could only set things in place, whether laws or planets or stars, and then do nothing but observe that which He created, the only conclusion that could be reached would be that God would be no god at all. For that which He created would be more permanent and powerful than the Creator Himself. God can do all things and that is what makes Him God, and we ought to have much joy because of this fact.
If you read the Bible enough you will start to notice a trend, actually lots of trends, but the trend I have in mind is the one in which the writers of the Bible consistently remind themselves and their audience that God is the creator of the heavens and the earth. (For example Ps. 124:8 “Our help is in the name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.) The Bible is replete with creation proclamations. The reminder of who God is and what He has done should motivate joyful trust and obedience. For if a person ponders the vastness and complexity and order of the universe and knows that there is a God who created it, then they must come to the conclusion that the one who created the heavens and the earth can also do whatever He wants with the heavens and the earth and everything in them, which would include acting favorably for a person to God’s own glory. Especially if that person is His one and only Son named Jesus.
God is not like us. He is big and we are so small. If we would grasp this, we would pray with joy and confidence. Unfortunately, I fear for myself and others that we pray to a god that we have imagined, a god that is confined and short of power and not so different than us. To which I ask, “What kind of god is that?”
The wise men certainly knew they were following a moving star, a star that pointed to the God-Man who created everything and for whom are all things. We would do well to follow their example and be overjoyed with reverence and worship at seeing what the star has led us to, which is the very One who created it with the words of His mouth. (Genesis 1, John 1:1-4)
Preventative confrontation is the best kind of confrontation. What I mean is this. If you can anticipate a potential problem and confront it before it happens, then you are better off than having to confront the problem itself. It is better to say, “Don’t do this and this is why.” Than to say, “Why did you do this?”
For example, last night I was helping Luke get ready for bed and because we were getting home late from church I told him that he could read one chapter out of a book. The potential snag was that he likes to read three or four, if not all the chapters. With his zeal for reading in mind I told him that he should read only one, and I wanted him to be honest about reading only one. I went on to intentionally say that if he read only one and was honest with me then I would be able to trust him in the future and next time maybe he could read more chapters.
He was listening intently and this was an opportunity that was too good to pass up. To make a conversation short, I simply said to him, “Son, if you always tell daddy the truth then you will always have my trust and support, even when you do something wrong. But if you lie, daddy won’t know if he can trust you and it will be hard for daddy to help you when you get in trouble. Always tell the truth son; even when it is hard and you have done something you know you should not have done. Do you understand daddy? I love you son and want what is best for you.”
Lacey walked in on the end of our conversation and asked, “What was that all about? Did he do something?” To which I responded, “No, it was just a good opportunity for a teachable moment that might help us down the road.”
This preventative, preemptive idea of confrontation applies to all facets of life including: leadership, marriages, friendships, work relationships and especially parenting. As with all of life, it won’t happen by itself but will require foresight and initiative. A lazy mind and a passive demeanor will save you from doing the hard thing now, but will only be creating a deluge of hardship for the future when the dam of “should haves” and “would haves” collapses under the stress of bad decisions. Don’t wait for relationship problems to happen but anticipate and confront them. If you do, perhaps you will get to say hard things instead of having to say harder things. There is a big difference.
Here are five ideas that I am considering giving more thought and time. Some for my own understanding and others for the understanding of others and if both are accomplished simultaneously, then all the better.
- Five Things To Look For In Choosing a Church. What are the top five things a person ought to look for in choosing a church? If I am feeling overly ambitious I might talk about the things that often do matter to people but shouldn’t.
- Loving People With Your Holiness. I have this statement written on the inside of my Bible, “What my people need most from me is my personal holiness.” That is a quote from Robert Murray McCheyne that speaks of the need to live with personal holiness so that others might see God in us. Can a person lead others to holiness if they themselves are not holy?
- The Correlation Between Justification and Sanctification. One of the great Bible mistakes we make is to try to make a complete dichotomy of Justification and Sanctification as though they have nothing to do with each other. Either one without the other is something other than biblical.
- The Crusade of New Atheism To Capture the Minds and Hearts of Children. The “New Atheism” won’t be happy with just being heard, they want to make converts and one of the groups they are targeting are children. Will your worldview allow you to protect your child from their worldview? Will your faith system stand up to their faith system?
- The 10 Most Important Things I Do Each Week as a Christ-follower, Husband and Father and As A Pastor. What does a pastor do every week besides study and preach? What are the intentional things that I do to pastor and teach and model when it isn’t Sunday?
What I am hoping for is that these ideas will give me the motivation to follow through on them. I make it a point to discipline myself to blog once a week and most of the time I blog based on response instead of initiative. Anyway, just thoughts rolling around in my head.
This is a rather flimsy and tricky way to prove the point, but all belief systems are, well, belief systems. We all value a certain set of beliefs that express our worldview and every person, every person, exercises a degree of belief or faith in holding to their worldview.
I suppose it is a bit of risk for me to give a title that speaks about beating my son with a big stick, especially in the information age of cable news and social media where people are constantly looking for a story. I can see it now, “Pastor beats his son severely swinging a big stick in the back yard.”
But alas, let me ease your mind. I don’t severely beat my son swinging a big stick in the back yard, at least physically. I might from time-to-time beat him with a big stick playing America’s used to be pastime, baseball, but I don’t physically beat my son with a big stick. I repeat, I don’t beat my son with a big stick. Now for the rest of the story.
Unfortunately, just as my title could be taken out of the greater context and be maligned and misconstrued, so also the Bible gets miscontextualized quite often leading to misunderstanding and bad theology and practice. It is common in our day, and I suppose it has been throughout history, to take a text and remove it from the context to say what supports a theology or agenda. This is one of the causes of so much misunderstanding about God and practical Christian living.
I don’t mean to say that using a text to support a theology and/or practice is bad, but taking a text to substantiate a claim should be done with consideration as to what is being said around the text that is being interpreted. Let me illustrate but give caution before I do.
My warning of caution is this, don’t be an interpretation Nazi. Certainly, you and I should take every opportunity to teach people how to study the Bible appropriately and in context, but we shouldn’t go around ripping people to shreds when they unwittingly misuse a text the same way you and I have been guilty of misusing a text. I don’t know about you, but I often agonize when I realize in hindsight how careless I have been with the scriptures.
The Bible calls us to be both patient and gentle, and we should consider carefully that none of us is as we ought to be, and we are all prone to error. But let us not use humility as a cover for cowardice and patience as a crutch for interpretive carelessness. The Bible is God’s special word to us and it should be treated like the sacred treasure it is.
That is why we must be careful with passages like Matthew 18:19-20 which says, “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
We really love verse 20 don’t we? It is one of the most quoted or paraphrased verses in the Bible and one the most misused and misunderstood too. Why? Because it is used to motivate people to corporate prayer when it should be used to motivate people to do church discipline and to pray.
Don’t misunderstand me, corporate prayer is important and there is no doubt that God is with us when two or more are gathered in the name of Jesus. But isn’t Jesus with each of us when we are alone in our closets? Is there something more potent or powerful about corporate prayer? Is God more likely to hear and act when God’s people pray together? Is that the point of this passage?
The point of the passage is that when the church must discipline someone for his or her sin, the church will also have full certainty that God in heaven is in agreement with the decision of the church to discipline the one who does not listen. What I am saying is that Matthew 18:19-20 should not be read and applied without taking into consideration Matthew 18:15-18. It is clear these verses go together because in verse 19 Jesus says, “Again Is say to you…” Jesus is repeating in verses 19-20 something he has just said in verses 15 – 18. So yes, we should pray corporately and yes we should be grateful that Jesus is in our midst, (19-20) but just as important is the truth that we should be confident in prayer that God will help us rightly confront and restore people who are living in sin. (15-18)
When was the last time you witnessed someone getting excited about confrontation and restoration the biblical way? Perhaps that is why there is the emphasis on prayer to the neglect of the context, because it would probably be more pleasant to be beat severely with a big stick than do what Jesus instructed, at least in the minds of a lot, if not most people. May God give us wisdom and courage to interpret the Bible correctly and do what it says, even when it is hard.
Let me give some prefatory commentary: I personally am somewhat uneasy with tagging any group with a hard and fast description. I am probably this way because I believe deeply that irregardless about what a generation has in common, it doesn’t change that they are fallen and infected with sin, that they were created for God through Jesus, and they were created to need others. Or maybe I am uneasy because I am postmodernish when in it comes to labels? Preface over.
Despite my uneasiness I still find that I am curiously drawn to want to know what makes different generations identifiably unique.This morning in our staff meeting we had a fascinating conversation about the ways various generations view God and how they respond to authority. We were asking the question, “How do you help people of all ages relish the magnificence of God, causing them to want to give reverence and awe to God through Jesus, especially when they have little or no regard for any authority?” My answer: Pray like crazy and do our best to know and talk big about an inexhaustible and indescribably big God. If we don’t start with God, depending on God, I am convinced it won’t matter what we know about those we seek to engage. But beyond that, it may be helpful to know as much as we can about the people we are engaging. Here are some characteristics about generation Y (born 1984 to 2002) and generation Homelanders (born 2003 to 2021).
Generation Y (1984 to 2002)
- Green friendly, but self-indulged
- Secure; high self-esteem
- Easy come, easy go
- Poor at finances (Great, a country in recession with an out-of-control deficit, spending more than it takes in and the next generation of leaders can’t balance their checkbooks – I’m thinking no social security.)
- Dependent on parents/adults
- Optimistic and progressive
- Cause oriented
- I want it all
- Cautious and safety preoccupied
- Green-biased; focus on conservation
- Insecure; seeking identity
- Frugal stewards of resources (They are going to need to make up for the previous generation -I’m just saying:)
- Realistic and pragmatic
- issue oriented
- Seeks balance; trade-offs
- Globally savvy and aware
Three thoughts: First, it is interesting how, at least according to this sketch or projection, the “Homelanders” seem to counter-balance the Millennials. I hope that each generation is teachable enough to learn from the mistakes of the other(s). Second, contextualization will always be a challenge. What worked in getting the gospel to one generation might not work for the next generation. I don’t want to ignore this fact because it is one reason for the death of many churches. Third, and most important, they both need the exclusive gospel of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Whatever peculiarity each generation exhibits, they all share the common need for the gospel and I guess that means in the most important way, each generation isn’t that hard to figure out after all.
It may not be the worst thing about being a preacher, but listening to your Sunday sermon via podcast on Monday is humbling, to say the least. On many a Sunday I hammer away at a text for 35 to 40 minutes and on Monday I listen and critique and think to myself, “Why did I say that?” or “Why didn’t I say that?” or “What in the world did I say?” or “I wish I would quit saying, “Get this” and “Um”, to name a few. But as with all things in this fallible life , at the end of the day I am left to trust the Triune God Who is infallible and guides us into all truth through the person of the Holy Spirit.
Even recently I was reminded how important even just a few simple words can be in communicating clearly my intention and what I perceive to be the meaning of the text. I was working (preaching) through Galatians 3:15-29 and had worked up to Galatians 3:26-28 when I said, “We put on Christ and begin acting like Christ because we are in Christ.” What I should have said for the sake of clarity was, “When we are in Christ and if we are in Christ, then we will desire to clothe ourselves or put on Christ and discipline ourselves to live like Christ.”
Why should I have said it differently? Because Paul’s point is that the Galatians had been saved by faith in Christ alone and had become “sons of God” (Galatians 3:26) and were therefore displaying their saving faith by being baptized and therefore had clothed themselves with Christ by baptism, which is to say they were identifying themselves with Jesus through the act of water baptism. To say it more simply, a saving faith is an active and obedient faith, (Romans 8:12-17) and baptism is an act of obedience and identification.
The clarification is important for at least two reasons. First, what I did not want to communicate was that progressive sanctification or practical holiness/righteousness just happens. Nothing in this life takes care of itself, but as the Holy Spirit works in us we are to discipline ourselves to live to righteousness. (1 Peter 2:24) Training in righteousness is necessary and important. In this instance, baptism is an obedient and righteous act that flows from saving faith.
But in addition to saying that we must strive for obedience, it needs to be clear that Galatians 3:27 is not a verse about justification but rather obedience that results from justification by faith alone. Both the context and the grammar bear this out. The context is fascinating because Paul draws from first century background of adolescents, pedagogues and moving into manhood, but the grammar is adequate proof without going into the imagery Paul is referencing.
The Greek word “clothed” is the same word that is used elsewhere as “put on”. It simply means to, “put on any kind of thing on oneself to wear.” Used metaphorically it means to take on the characteristics, virtues or intentions of someone, which in the context of Galatians 3:26-27, that someone is Jesus. So already, the meaning of the word implies that this is something you do to yourself, not something that is done to you. But the grammar makes this point crystal clear. “Have clothed yourselves” clearly shows that this is something done in the past, but more importantly the middle voice of the verb shows that the Galatians (the subject) are being affected by their own actions as something that actually happened (indicative mood).
Therefore, if the Galatians clothing themselves is in fact obedience and identification with Christ by baptism, it cannot be a verse about being justified by faith. For if it were about justification then Paul would have just completely contradicted himself by teaching works, and we know Paul doesn’t do that because in verse 26 he has just stated that the Galatians have become sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. He is not in verse 27 stating what he has already said plainly in verse 26, but making a different point that he more thoroughly unpacks in chapters 5 and 6 of Galatians.
Also, it is important to point out that in other Pauline passages such as Romans 3:12, 14; Ephesians 4:24; 6:11, 14; Colossians 3:10, 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:8, the same word that is used in Galatians 3:27 is speaking of actions we take to advance personal holiness because we are in Christ. It is not speaking of salvation or justification and therefore shows that Paul consistently uses this word to speak of fighting the fight of faith or advancing practical and progressive holiness.
So why did I not just say this on Sunday morning? I wish I would have and I wish I would have had the time to say all I just wrote, but that is another hard thing about preaching (what to say and what not to say) and for another time and blog.
“Preaching is hard work,” my professor was fond of saying to his classes in seminary. But additionally it is important work and my pride aside, because I am dealing with God’s special message about Himself, I want to be as precise and as right as I can. After all, I am charged to speak as one speaking the very utterances of God. (1 Peter 4:11) That is punch you in the face serious. But as I said earlier, I must trust God’s Spirit ultimately and probably get used to saying, “I wish I would have said…..”