Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Christian Life Now


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The Bible is often described as a great drama told in four acts. It is the story of God and his dealings with humanity, and the four acts tell the story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. We have spent the last several weeks discussing the reality of our sin and God’s solution to it, but now we want to draw the strands of the story together and ask where we belong in it.

Our Tendency towards Self-Centeredness

When we look at the world around us and consider our place within the story, we have a very strong tendency to place ourselves in the centre of our own universe and assume that everyone revolves around us. We interact with and invest in other people, but usually only those who will also do something for us.

If we were to illustrate it graphically it would look something like this:

Of course, the problem with everyone assuming that the world revolves around them is that it is of course completely impossible. Because if everyone only cared about themselves and expected everyone to make way for them (which is exactly what happened in the Garden of Eden, and with every other sin since then), them no one would ever move at all because everyone would be expecting everyone else to move around and accommodate them.

It would look something like this:

Is God Self-Centered?

Often when we think of who God is and what he asks of us, many of us think of him as acting in much the same way. He created us for his for his glory and he demands our worship, praise, and obedience, so he must be a self-centered God, right?

The Triune God in His Relationships

In order to understand how God relates with his creation, it is helpful to consider how he relates in Himself. For example: if there is no God, then the whole universe is merely the product of blind impersonal forces, and whatever we may feel or think, life has no ultimate meaning or purpose. We sought to disprove this in our earlier discussions.

Alternatively, if there is a God who is all powerful, but he is unipersonal and eternally alone, then he has no need for love, since before creation he would have been alone, and thus his ultimate essence would not be one of love but one of power.

But what if, as the Bible tells us, God is eternally Three? If God is a relational God in his very essence as this would require, then love becomes a necessary and inherent part of His being. This is exactly what the Bible tells is true of God. “God is love,” 1 John 4:16. That means that only a Trinitarian concept of God can make any sense of our inner need for relationship and community. We feel this need because a relational God created us for a relationship with Him, and it is only as we enter into relationship with Him that it can be met.

Of all the truths about God revealed to us in the Bible, the doctrine of the Trinity is by far and away the hardest to understand. But even though we cannot possibly wrap our human minds around the idea that God can be both eternally one and eternally three, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we should be very careful not to diminish or ignore its truth. In fact, it is only as we consider the eternal Three-ness of God that we understand the love and community of God.

Consider the testimony of the Bible about how God relates in himself:

  • The Son “in the bosom” of the Father – John 1:18 (A metaphor for a loving relationship)
  • The Spirit glorifies Christ – John 16:14
  • The Son glorifies the Father – John 17:4
  • The Father glorifies the Son for all eternity – John 17:5

In other words, the trinity gives us a beautiful image of a perfect community, completely free from selfishness and wholly focused on the other. The ancient Greek church fathers had a words for this: perichoresis. It means that the members of the Trinity “dance or flow around the others” in a continual display of self-giving love.

If we were to illustrate it graphically it would look like this:

God’s Invitation to Us into Community

The amazing reality of the Christian life it that this is just the kind of community that God invites us into! God invites us to join the dance and move beyond our own lives to centre ourselves on something outside of ourselves. We see this quite clearly when Christ tells of the greatest command of all: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28-34).

This also provides for us the answer of whether God is ultimately self-centered because he asks us to glorify him. The answer must certainly be no, because in the incarnation and death of Jesus Christ we find the greatest example of all of God moving beyond himself and centering his life around us! (Philippians 2:3-11)

The Wholeness of the Christian Life

If we fail to see this vision of our place within the story and the invitation that God extends to us to join the dance, as it were, then the other common but incorrect view of Christianity is that it serves as a sort of heavenly fire insurance against the flames of hell. In this view Christianity does very little to change my life now, but it protects me from any nasty consequences in the future. This results in a self-centered, stunted form of “Christianity,” and fails to see in the Christian life the glory and possibility for real transformation in this life.

When Christ gets ahold of our hearts and we see the vision of the community of love that he has invited us into, then we are freed to live a whole and complete God-and-others-centered life now, because it is where we can find the most joy. In this true version of the story, Christianity is no longer a list of dos and don’ts, we aren’t saved on our merits and God does not accept us for how good we behave. It is a vision of a community of love that we step into and centre our lives around the God who is worthy of all glory, and our fellow man who is made in the image of God, because it is only in losing ourselves for the sake of God and others that we are able to find any true and lasting joy. (Mark 8:34-38)

The Future for Those in God’s Community

Not only does this correct understanding of what God is calling to help correct our understanding of the Christian life now, it also gives a better understating of the future. Many Christians have a myopic vision of the future, seeing heaven merely as a place full of personal, individual delights, a sort of personal paradise. When we understand that God created us for joyous, loving, self-giving community, then we will also have a fuller vision of our future as children of God.

Revelation tells us that one day heaven will descend and God will restore perfect harmony here on earth. In other words, contrary to most other world religions, true Christianity is not escapist. God will restore all creation to its former glory, there will be perfect racial, cultural, interpersonal harmony, and we will live forever enjoying the dance that God designed us for (Romans 8:21, Revelation 21:4)

You can download a PDF copy of this Bible Study here.

The Reality Of The Resurrection


Here are the notes from the Bible study last Sunday!  You can download a copy of this study here.

How important is the resurrection to the Bible’s teaching?

A. That Jesus physically rose from the dead is one of Scriptures’ central teachings.
The news that Jesus is alive from the dead was the substance of the early church’s message to the world, and it remains so today:

“Others said, ‘He [Paul] seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities’—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.” (Acts 17:18)

“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’” (Acts 17:32)

B. The resurrection is a feature of Christianity which makes it unlike any other faith or religion.

As we will see, the Bible’s teaching that Jesus rose from the dead is not simply a fanciful story or a religious oddity: everything Christianity claims depends upon this very fact. There is no Christianity if history does not have Jesus alive after his death by the power of the Holy Spirit through the will of the Father.

How do we know that the resurrection happened?

The resurrection reminds us of how Christianity is grounded in historical realities. For this reason, the New Testament Gospel authors (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John) give significant attention to carefully document the historical details of the event. How do they document it? Three events:

A. Jesus really died.

1. The means of his death: crucifixion—criminal execution. The circumstances of Jesus’ death were such that those involved in putting him to death were interested in ensuring that it really happened.

2. The events of his death:

a. Each gospel writer is careful to record the moment of Jesus’ death.

Matt 27:50 “He yielded up his spirit”
Mark 15:37 “He breathed his last”
Luke 23:46 “He breathed his last”
John 19:30 “he gave up his spirit”

b. The Gospel of John records the witness of the soldiers to Jesus’ death (John 19:33–34).

c. The Gospel of Mark records the report of the commanding officer to the Roman governor confirming Jesus’ death (Mark 15:44–45).

B. Jesus’ body was buried.
The ultimate proof that Jesus really did die is the fact that his body was buried. The New Testament makes a point of recording the events of his burial.

1. The body was given traditional burial preparation (John 19:38–42).

2. Jesus’ tomb was sealed with a great stone and guarded because the Jews remembered Jesus’ prediction that he would rise again (Matthew 27:62–66).

3. Jesus’ body remained in the tomb for three days.

C. Jesus was physically raised to life from the dead.

1. The Empty Tomb (John 20:1–7)

2. An Angelic Testimony

“As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.’” (Mark 16:5–6)

3. Bribed guards and a false report of a stolen body

When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day. (Matthew 28:12–15)

4. First-hand observation of numerous eye-witnesses
The ultimate proof that Jesus was alive again was the eye-witness testimonies of those who saw him after his death, burial, and resurrection. The authors of Scripture were careful to draw our attention to how his resurrection was evident to our human senses:

a. His physical resurrection was evident to those who saw and talked with him.

1) Jesus showed himself to numerous people, including to a crowd of over five hundred disciples (1 Corinthians 15:5–7).
2) Jesus ate food in front of some of them to show them he was not a ghost (Luke 24:40–43).

b. His physical resurrection was evident to those who touched him.

“They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’” (Luke 24:37–39).

How does the reality of Jesus’ resurrection fit into the teaching of the Bible?

Raising Jesus from the dead was one grand act of God’s vindication over the life and teachings of Jesus.

A. The resurrection confirms that Jesus was who he claimed to be—the Son of God, loved by his Father.

“[He] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4)

B. The resurrection exhibits the power Jesus claimed to have—power over sin, death & Satan.

“God made you [the Colossian Christians] alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:13–15)

C. The resurrection confirms that Jesus can give what he promised—eternal life.

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” (John 11:25–26)

D. The resurrection identifies Jesus as the Head over God’s New Creation.

“He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18)

E. The resurrection shows the reality of what Jesus himself taught, that the present life is not ultimate and death is not the end.

Jesus taught that everyone who has died will also experience resurrection, some to eternal life and others to eternal judgment (John 5:28-29). For Christians, those who know Christ as their Savior, this reality is a source of comfort and courage:

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

“What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Co 15:32)

F. The resurrection certifies Jesus as God’s appointed Judge over mankind.

“he [God] has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31)

The Apostle Paul summarized all of this well by saying, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins… If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:17 & 19)

How should I respond to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection?

Among those who observed the event, the Bible records two types of responses:
A. Rejection and Denial

1. The Jewish Leaders (Matt 28:12-13, 15)
2. The Guards

B. Worship and Adoration

1. Doubting Thomas: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)
2. Disciples worshipped him…

“Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him” (Matthew 28:9)

In which category does your own personal response to the resurrection fit?

The (True) Story of the Cross




Read Matthew 21:1-10 for the story of Palm Sunday



Only 5 days later the same crowd that shouted “Hosanna” would also shout “Crucify him!”



Read John 19:1-30 for the story of the crucifixion.

Today many have become uncomfortable with the story of the cross.



A common modern understanding of the cross:



“I could accept Jesus as a martyr, and embodiment of sacrifice! and a divine teacher. His death on the cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it, my heart could not accept. -Gandhi, “An Autobiography”



Is this a proper understanding of what Jesus did on the cross? What did Jesus do on the cross? It has become popular to deny that Jesus’ death actually accomplished anything other than set an example of love.



But if Christ’s death does nothing more than set an example of sacrifice, then it is meaningless and wasteful. If you were walking alongside a deep river with you friend, what would you think if he threw himself in the river and drowned just to show you how much he loved you? You would be sad and think he was crazy! But if you fell in, then he jumped in, though he could not swim, and pushed you to safety then drowned himself, then you would know that he loved you, because there was a real danger that he have his life to save you from.



Why is the cross so important in the story of Christianity anyway?


The bloody reality of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross makes us uncomfortable in our modern day. It sounds like “divine child abuse” to say that God could not forgive us unless he killed his own Son in our place.



Why can’t we leave the cross out? Why did Jesus have to die?




First reason: real forgiveness is costly suffering



Why could God not just forgive us without any payment?



Whether we recognize it or not, it is impossible to “just” forgive, it always involves a cost. All wrongdoing creates a debt. If someone borrows your car then crashes it, you can’t “just” forgive him, someone must absorb the debt. This is true for all offenses, whether great or small. Either the offending party “pays” through some form of actual or relational payback, or else the offended party pays, but wrongs don’t just disappear. In order to forgive, the offended party must bear the sin of the offender. There is no other way.



And here is the amazing thing, God did not make us pay, he came Himself through the person of his Son and paid the debt that we could not pay.



This is exactly what Jesus did for us on the cross: 1 Peter 2:21-25




Second reason: real love is a personal exchange



It is not real love that does not get personally involved in the life of the one loved. It is never enough to say you love some needy person, but do nothing to meet their needs at some personal cost. We had a great need: we were condemned in our sin. God would not be loving if he had not done anything about it.



The great reversal: not only did he get involved, he actually took our place. God became man so that he could pay the price that we could not pay and fix the mess that we could not fix.



If you take away the cross, you don’t have a God of love.



On the cross Christ wins through losing, triumphs through defeat, achieves power through weakness and service, comes to wealth via giving all away.



Only the cross was able to satisfy both the mercy and justice of God. Because of our sin, it would have been just for God to condemn us all, but it would not have been merciful. Yet if God had just overlooked our sin and forgiven us anyway, it would have been merciful, but not just. Only the cross allows for God’s justice to be satisfied by the price being paid AND his mercy to be displayed by offering us forgiveness. (Philippians 2:5-11)



Yet if we think of the cross as just an amazing example of personal self-sacrifice, we will miss its life-changing power.



Ultimately the cross is not just an amazing story about something amazing and sacrificial that was done for someone else. WE are in the story of the cross. It is the story of what Jesus did for us! (Isaiah 53:6)

 

What Are We Doing?


So what are we doing at the Kitwe Bible Study Fellowship?  

This fellowship is primarily an outreach to individuals and families who are unchurched.  Our goal is to teach the Word of God faithfully, invite people to believe in Jesus and live for Him.  Our focus is the Word because we know that is what God uses to change lives.  

This Bible Study is open to everyone!  

We are an international group and want to reach out with God’s word to all people regardless of the country they originate from.  If you are not part of a church or you just want to have your questions about Christianity answered, please join us on Sunday mornings at 10:00 at the Nkana Polo Club Kitwe.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  This Sunday is a “Blackout Date” at the Polo Club because of a horse show.  We will be meeting at a home in Parklands.  For information on how you can find your way to the meeting this week contact RJ on 0973065259.

Next week (Easter) we will be back at the Polo Club!  Hope to see you there.

Religion & The Gospel


The Dome of the Rock is a Moslem mosque that sits on the historic site of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem

The Dome of the Rock is a Moslem mosque that sits on the historic site of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem

The Problem of Sin affects us all.  Seeking fulfillment, self-worth, and identity in anything or anyone other than God is sin.

  1. Every person is seeking for identity – the sense of being distinct and valuable.  God calls us to love Him supremely and to build or identity upon Him.  Anything other than this is sin!
  2. “Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God.”

Even when we achieve our goals and dreams we will find that they do not bring us fulfillment.  Look at how many successful celebrities, sports stars and successful business people thought they would find happiness and peace with success but found it empty. When we offer excuses by pointing a finger of blame for our problem of sin somewhere else we shut the door for finding a solution to the problem. Until we can admit that we are flawed human beings, i.e. sinners, we will be caught in a hopeless cycle of bondage to sin that ultimately leads to hopeless emptiness of eternity in hell? So how can we be delivered from this cycle of bondage?  How can the emptiness be filled?  How can we be saved? There is a profound fundamental difference between the way that other religions tell us to seek salvation and the way described in the gospel of Jesus.

  • Religion – salvation through moral effort
  • Gospel – salvation through grace

Why must the solution to the problem of sin be Jesus and Christianity?

TWO WAYS WE TRY TO BE OUR OWN LORD AND SAVIOR

Irreligion – I will live my life the way I want

  1. One who lives a life of rebellion – moral decadence (Romans 1:18-31)
  2. Breaking all the rules
  3. I’ll be my own god – “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”   (Judges 21:25 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.)

Religion – I am going to avoid sin and live morally so that God will have to bless me.

  1. Being good – keeping all the rules (Mt.19:20)
  2. You are trying to save yourself by following Jesus
  3. If you are avoiding sin and living morally so that God will have to bless and save you then you may be looking at Jesus as as a teacher, model, and helper but you are avoiding him as Savior.  You are trusting in your own goodness rather than Jesus for your standing with God.

Self-salvation though good works may produce a great deal of moral behavior in your life, but on the inside you are filled with self-righteousness, cruelty, and bigotry, and you are miserable. You cannot become a good person through an act of will.  You need a complete transformation of the very motives of the heart.

EXAMINING THE PHARISEE

The appeal of Pharisaism (Moralism)

  1. Pharisees build a sense of worth on their moral and spiritual performance.  (Lk 18:9-14). They had a spiritual resume to present to God and others and were quite sure that God approved of their righteousness.’
  2. Pharisees are empty on the inside. Down inside they never knew if they were doing enough, praying enough, giving enough. (Mt. 23:23-28)

Results of Pharisaism

  1. An attitude of self-righteousness that condemns others (Lk. 18:9-11)
  2. Develop an exclusive attitude with little tolerance for those who are not like them. They are insecure & angry.

This kind of Pharisaism is extremely repulsive.  Many people who have been raised in churches with these kinds of people reject Christianity because of their experience.  They become inoculated against Christianity.

Important Clarification:  Pharisaism is a “religion” it is not Christianity!

THE DIFFERENCE OF GOSPEL GRACE

How can we put things right?

Religion and Grace have very different starting points

  1. Religion says, “I obey – therefore I am accepted by God.” (Moralist)
  2. Grace says, “I am accepted by God through what Christ has done – therefore I obey.” (Genuine Christian)
  3. Religion – if I live up to my standard I then feel superior, if I fail I am filled with self-loathing.
  4. Grace – I know I’m accepted by grace, by Christ and in Christ.  I cannot feel superior to anyone, yet I have nothing to prove to anyone.

The difference between religion and gospel grace is motivation!

Two people sitting next to each other – both pray, give generously, try to live decent lives, but from radically different motivations!

So what is gospel grace?

In the OT the word used is ‘hesed’

This word is most often translated mercy = the outpouring of an unfailing undeserved love.  This is a mercy that flows from love not obligation. Out of His steadfast love God called people where were nothing and had nothing. (Deut.7:6-9)  He delivers them and gives them His law (Ex.20:2-6). This grace calls men to covenant loyalty to God (Num.14:18-19) and graciousness toward one another (Mic.6:8; Ps.109:16). Psalm 136 tells us that the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.

In the NT the word used is ‘charis’

This speaks of God’s un-coerced initiative reaching out to form a people from all nations through God’s appointed agent, Jesus. (EBD) Grace has been called: God’s unmerited favor.  Others have described it as God giving to us what we do not deserve and what we could never earn. God’s grace is inseparable from His love expressed in Jesus Christ (Ro.1:7, I Co.1:3) The Grace of Jesus is through the cross (Gal.2:20; Eph.1:20; Ro.5:9). God freely justifies all who believe. By grace through faith we are rescued from the Problem of Sin and placed into the family of God. (Ro.3:24-25, 5:1). Grace is received by faith (Eph.2:8).  But the grace that is offered is not received because of legalism on our part (Gal.2:21; 5:4) or negligence on God’s part (1 Co.15:2; 2 Co. 6:1) Grace is completely abundant and adequate for every sinner (I Ti.1:15-16). The gospel is a declaration of Grace! (Acts 20:24,32)

THE THREAT OF GRACE

  1. Grace & Gratitude – If we receive His grace we will be so grateful that we will be more subject to the sovereign Lord than ever!
  2. The motivation for this is all joy!  ILL: Marriage – you fall in love, eventually ask, “Will you marry me?” and she says yes.  You don’t say:  “Great, I’m in.  Now I can live any way that I want!”  There is no coercion or obligation, yet your behavior has been radically changed by the one you love.
  3. One word of caution:  You may think that if this is true, then people would all jump on board and then go live any way they choose – no one who has received gospel grace thinks like that!  Because of the overwhelming grace poured out upon a person the heart response is to love Him, to desire to obey this lover of our soul!

CONCLUSION:

“The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued and that Jesus was glad to die for me.” – Keller Illustration to summarize Grace:  Jesus healing the lame man by the pool of Beth-‘hesed’a.   Bethesda means “house of mercy.” ( John 5:1-14)

  1. This man was paralyzed.  He was helpless and he knew it.
  2. Jesus came to him, the man did not come seeking Jesus
  3. Jesus asked if he wanted to be healed
  4. Jesus healed him

This is how grace works! You realize that you are hopelessly lost in sin, there is nothing you can do to save yourself.  Jesus comes to you, seeks you out like a lost sheep and pours out upon you His lovingkindness, His unlimited favor! Have you accepted His grace?  Have you turned from your sin and put your faith in Jesus Christ alone to save you? ————————- You download the PDF version of Religion & The Gospel by clicking the link. This Bible Study comes from the book The Reason For God, by Timothy Keller.  This study can be found in Chapter 11.