The “Golden Chain” of Salvation in Romans 8:29–30

Romans 8:29–30 states, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

Highlighted in bold above are the five “links” that make up what the Puritan John Arrowsmith (1602–1659) famously spoke of as God’s “golden chain…. a chain which God lets down from heaven that by it he may draw up his elect thither.”1

For the sheer sake of encouraging us in our salvation, I just want to briefly look at these five links in the “golden chain” of salvation. Each of the highlighted words above are verbs, and their actions are by God. The one who loves God knows himself to be recipient of these five actions, and the listing of these actions together explains how God works all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Let’s define each link of the chain in the order as they are listed by Paul.

God foreknew—this the action of God in eternity past whereby He placed His special affection upon some in order for them to receive the benefits of salvation.

God predestined—this is the action of God in eternity past whereby He sovereignly and graciously made certain that those upon whom He had placed His eternal love would indeed receive salvation and its blessings.

God called—this is the action of God during the life of the sinner whereby He effectively and imperceptibly brings the sinner to Himself through the general call of the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit, an effectual calling, which, as best I can understand, is simultaneously joined by the faith of the sinner.

God justified—this is the action of God at the moment of faith whereby God declares the believer righteous and forever treats Him accordingly.

God glorified—this is the action of God in the future wherein God will eternally deliver the believer from the presence of sin in the entirety of his being.

Paul does not list out every item in the order of salvation in Romans 8:29–30.2 What he does list, however, are some of the key actions of God related to our salvation to explain how all things ultimately work together for our good (cf. Romans 8:28). Knowing that we love God and that our salvation is secure from eternity past to future, we are encouraged that nothing can ever separate us from the saving love of God in Christ to us (Romans 8:31–39, especially 8:35 and 8:39). An unbreakable chain, indeed!

 

All quotes ESV.

  1. Armilla Catechetica: A Chain of Principles (1659; Edinburgh: Thomas Turnbull, 1822 reprint), 242. Available on Google Books. []
  2. Not listed are regeneration, repentance, faith, union with Christ, adoption, sanctification, preservation, or perseverance. []

An Overview of Romans

Romans was written in A.D. 57 during Paul’s three months in Corinth (“Greece”) in Acts 20:2–3. He had apparently received the funds promised by the Corinthians to help relieve the famine for believers in Jerusalem (Romans 15:25–26; cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1–4; 2 Corinthians 8–9). Paul hoped to visit the Romans on his way to Spain (Romans 15:28), and, in his eagerness to preach the gospel to them, gave them a letter explaining the gospel in full (cf. Romans 1:15–17).

After an introduction (Romans 1:1–17), Paul begins to explain the gospel in that all men naturally reject what they know of God’s power through His creation, resulting in God’s handing them over to sin (Romans 1:18–32). But, the Jews are no more faithful because they were given the Law—all men have sinned, something made obvious by the law and even by the conscience of the sinner (Romans 2:1–3:20).

The sinner can only be declared righteous by God through faith, whether he is a Jew or Gentile (Romans 3:21–31). Abraham believed and was declared righteous, and he didn’t even have the Law (Romans 4:1–25). So, one can have peace, grace, and rejoicing to know that he is reconciled to God through Christ (Romans 5:1–11). Just as death came to all through Adam’s sin, so also life and righteousness are to all who believe in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:12–21).

Having this saving grace, the believer is a slave to righteousness and should not think that he can just sin because he saved or because Christ has fulfilled the Law (Romans 6:1–21). The Law makes the believer very aware of his sin (Romans 7:1–25), but the Spirit enables him to live as pleasing to God (Romans 8:1–17). Since God’s salvation work for him from eternity past to future is certain, so also is his sanctification and perseverance (Romans 8:28–39).

Applying the gospel to national Israel, though Israel was given many privileges, her present unbelief is in line with the purposes of God (Romans 9:1–33). Rather than trying to secure eternal life by the Law as Israel has done, righteousness comes by faith and confessing Christ, which requires preachers of the Word (Romans 10:1–21). So, while Israel is presently rejecting Christ, the nation was yet chosen for salvation, and there is a remnant who believes right now (Romans 11:1–10). Israel’s rejection is not permanent—God will save and bring her back to the place of blessing just as He is doing for the Gentiles in this present age (Romans 11:11–36).

Those who know this saving mercy of God are responsible to live righteously in a variety ways: by presenting themselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1–2); by thinking of themselves according to their measure of faith (Romans 12:3–8); by loving, serving, being patient, and blessing others (Romans 12:9–21); by submitting to their authorities and paying their taxes (Romans 13:1–7); by loving each other and their neighbors (Romans 13:8–10); by living in light of Christ’s coming (Romans 13:11–14); and by welcoming each other as Christ has welcomed us, and doing so in spite of differing convictions in matters of Christian living (Romans 14:1–15:13).

In concluding his letter, Paul stated that he wrote boldly as an apostle of Christ and clarified his mission to preach where Christ was not known (Romans 15:14–21). He clarified his travel plans and asked for prayer (Romans 15:22–33). He commended Phoebe and gave greetings to many in Rome (Romans 16:1–16). Paul warned them to stay away from false teachers (Romans 16:17–20), and greetings were sent from his company to the Romans (Romans 16:21–23). Finally, Paul closed with a doxology (Romans 16:25–27).

An Overview of 2 Corinthians

Paul planted the church in Corinth in AD 50–52 (Acts 18:1–18a). Paul then went on to Ephesus and wrote a letter to Corinth (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9, 11) and then another letter in AD 54, what we know as 1 Corinthians. Upon hearing of trouble in the church, Paul returned to Corinth for a “painful visit” (2 Corinthians 2:1) and then wrote another letter so that he would not have to return to deal harshly with the matter in person again (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:23–2:4). During his travels, Paul found Titus who reported that the Corinthians had responded to Paul’s “severe letter” with a godly, repentant grief (2 Corinthians 7:5–9). Comforted and rejoicing, Paul then wrote what we know to be 2 Corinthians in AD 55. In this letter, a new problem needed to be addressed—the presence of false teachers, men who were criticizing Paul in a variety of ways and creating division in the church. Their presence is felt throughout the letter, which could be divided into three primary sections.

First, in 2 Corinthians 1–7, the false teachers had apparently charged Paul with not loving the Corinthians since Paul had told the Corinthians he would visit them but then made a change of plans. Paul explained that his ministry was just the same as ever, as a minister of the Word whose concern was to reconcile men to God through Christ (see especially 2 Corinthians 5:16–21).

Second, in 2 Corinthians 8–9, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to complete their giving towards famine relief for the saints in Jerusalem, something they had been doing (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1–4) and would indeed complete in time to come (cf. Romans 15:25–26).

Third, in 2 Corinthians 10–13, Paul announced that he would be visiting the Corinthians again but hoped that his letter would bring about a biblical handling of these false and so-called “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 12:11) in their midst. If not, Paul would deal with them himself (2 Corinthians 13:1–4).

This letter is helpful in many ways—it teaches about financial giving and gives some very interesting details about the life of Paul, such as a time when was despaired of life and another time when he saw heaven itself. It is also helpful for reminding us why we do what we do as Christians—we live as God’s ambassadors, giving the gospel so that men could be reconciled to God through Christ. The letter throughout is incredibly rich for pastors and Christian leaders who, like Paul, experience opposition from within their flocks. And for that reason, it is probably a letter best understood and preached by those who have “been there and done that,” though it is obviously for the spiritual benefit of any Christian at any time.

 

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An Overview of Acts 20:17–38

The text of Acts 20:17–38 has a certain gravity that has endeared its words to the hearts of many. It contains someone’s last face-to-face words to a group of people (Acts 20:25, 38), summarizes what an excellent ministry should be (Acts 20:18–21, 25–27), and shows a resolve to live and die for the gospel (Acts 20:22–24, 33–35).

Moreover, this text is written deeply in the hearts of many pastors. Not only does Paul give us himself as an example for gospel service by reviewing his three-year ministry in Ephesus, but his charge to the Ephesian elders endures for pastors today: 1) pay attention to yourself, 2) pay attention to your flock, 3) watch out for false teachers inside and out of the church, and 4) do all of the above because God purchased the church with His blood (Acts 20:28–31; cf. 1 Timothy 4:15–16). These imperatives and their reason for obedience are central to the ministry of every pastor.

For a quick walk through this passage, Paul calls the Ephesian elders to him in Miletus, some 25 miles away (Acts 20:17–18a). His address can be broken into three sections, the first two sections each looking to the past and then the future (Acts 20:18a–21 and 20:22–24) and a third section looking back one more time to provide an example for the future service of the elders (Acts 20:33–35).

In the first section of Paul’s address, Paul reviewed his faithful ministry in Ephesus (Acts 20:18b–21) and then looked ahead to the conflict awaiting him in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22–24). What Christian does not want to echo the words of Paul in Acts 20:24? “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

In the second section, Paul looked back his ministry again, now informing the elders that he would never return (Acts 20:25–27). In light of this absence, Paul warned them to mind themselves and the flock, entrusting them all to God and His word (Acts 20:28–32). In the third section, Paul reminded the elders of his selfless service, an example for them to follow (Acts 20:33–35). Finally, the passage closes with prayerful and tearful goodbye (Acts 20:36–38).

All Christians can learn from the example of Paul in this passage. We all want to be faithful to God, come what may, and finish our service well. And, when we’re gone, what we’ve left behind is sufficient for others to repeat the disciple-making process. For pastors in particular, this passage is incredibly rich. Paul is a stellar example of living for the gospel, and his charge to the elders is one for us to remember today—watch yourself and the flock, a people God purchased with His blood.

 

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“Restore Illinois” and Its Timeline for When Gatherings of 10, 50, and More Can Meet

Governor Pritzker’s five-phase “Restore Illinois” plan is summarized below with relevant points for gatherings of people. The pagination references below begin with the title page of the “Restore Illinois” document.

In short, essential gatherings of 10 are presently allowed (Phase 2), nonessential gatherings of 10 are allowed in the next phase (Phase 3), gatherings of 50 are allowed by June 26 (Phase 4), and gatherings with no limits are allowed after certain conditions are met.

Phase Summary Points for Churches Timeline
Phase 1: Rapid Spread Illinoisans must shelter-in-place and socially distance. Further, “only essential businesses remain open” (p. 2). “Every region has experienced this phase once already, and could return to it if mitigation efforts are successful” (p. 4).
Phase 2: Flattening “Non-essential retail stores reopen for curb-side pickup and delivery” (p. 2). Outdoor activities are allowed. Illinoisans must cover their faces “when outside the home” (p. 2).

 

“Essential gatherings, such as religious services, of 10 or fewer allowed” (p. 2).

“To varying degrees, every region is experiencing flattening as of early May” (p. 4).

 

“No overall increase… in hospital admissions for COVID-19-like illness for 28 days” (p. 7).

 

The end of this phase would be May 29 at the earliest.

Phase 3: Recovery Some businesses “reopen to the public with capacity and other limits and safety precautions” (p. 2). “Gatherings of 10 people or fewer are allowed” (p. 2). Again, “No overall increase… in hospital admissions for COVID-19-like illness for 28 days” (p. 8).

 

The end of this phase would be June 26 at the earliest.

Phase 4: Revitalization “Gatherings of 50 people or fewer are allowed,” and more businesses open, schools and the like “reopen under guidance” (p. 2). “Gatherings of 50 people or fewer are allowed” (p. 9). No specific time factors are given. Phase 5 only comes when “Vaccine, effective and widely available treatment, or the elimination of new cases over a sustained period of time through her immunity or other factors.
Phase 5: Illinois Restored Everything functions as before, only now “with new safety guidance and procedures” (p. 2). All phases are complete.

 

A PDF of “Restore Illinois” is available here: https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/19948697/restoreillinois.pdf

If anything above is incorrect, please correct me in the comments section below. Thank you.

When Life Puts You in a Press – Mark 14:32–42

This is more or less a transcript from a Facebook Live video that I provided to my church yesterday morning. I hope you find it to be an encouragement during trying times. Bold formatting indicates main points and Scriptural quotations from the ESV.

Imagine being pressed from all sides in life, find yourself in a somewhat isolated location, have only a few people with you, and even they do not quite give the encouragement that you wish.

That’s Jesus in Gethsemane. I’m going to be speaking from Mark 14:32–42.

Mark 14:32–42 (ESV)

32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. 41 And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

Gethsemane (14:32) means “olive press” in Hebrew and was a garden just past the brook Kidron where Jesus often met with his disciples and thus known to Judas (Luke 22:39, “And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives”; John 18:1–2, “…there was a garden… Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples”).

In the New Bible Dictionary, the entry for “Olive” states, “The oil was usually extracted from the berries by placing them in a shallow rock cistern and crushing them with a large upright millstone. Occasionally the berries were pounded by the feet of the harvesters (Dt. 33:24; Mi. 6:15), but this was a rather inefficient procedure. After being allowed to stand for a time the oil separated itself from foreign matter, and was then stored in jars or rock cisterns.”

Jesus was “in the press,” so to speak—this was the night before His death, and His disciples would desert Him. In Mark 14:27, referring to their response to His looming arrest, He told the twelve “You will all fall away.” Besides this, He who knew no sin would become sin for us and be separated from His Father for a time on the cross.

What might you be facing today? Has the temporary halt in our economy hit your wallet yet? Are you about to snap because of the time you’ve been sheltered in your place? Do you have other concerns that are weighing you down on top of this? Are you a single parent trying to figure out when to see your child? Are you elderly and wanting to see your grandchildren but have to wait until April 7?

Imagine this: I have a sister-in-law who is a nurse with 4 young children, and she may have to work on a floor helping those with COVID-19. If nothing else, just walking into the hospital is going to increase the risk for her (and thus her children) receiving the virus. Added to this, her husband in the army was just deployed to help our country with the situation as well.

Whatever our concerns may be, Mark 14:32–42 is an excellent passage for us today for multiple reasons:

  • We can learn from the example of Jesus how He persevered through a time of suffering.
  • In keeping with greater point of Mark, we can be encouraged as believers to remember what it was for our Savior to suffer for us.
  • For anyone who is not a Christian, this video will give you an explanation for how you can know Christ, find eternal life in Him, and know that you will one day see His face and be with Him and the Father in heaven forever.

Getting to our passage, Mark 14:32–42 records a series of “threes”: (1) Jesus tells the three (Peter, James, and John) to pray and watch with Him three times (Mark 14:34, 37, 38); (2) the three sleep three times (Mark 14:37, 40, 41); and (3) Jesus prays three times (Mark 14:35–36, 39, 41).

Let’s walk through this cycle of “threes” one by one, and we will close with some applications for our lives at the end.

Jesus prays the first time (Mark 14:32–36).

As noted, Jesus is in Gethsemane (Mark 14:32) where He took with Him only Peter and James and John, sometimes referred to as “the inner three” of the twelve disciples. They were with Him at the raising of Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:37), the Transfiguration of Jesus (Mark 9:2), and, with Andrew, the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:3).

From Mark’s description of Jesus and his record of Jesus’ words, Jesus was very much “in the press.” Notice these descriptions:

  • He… began to be greatly distressed (Mark 14:33). Distressed (ekthambeō) is translated “amazed” in Mark 9:15 to describe the crowd’s reaction to Jesus. It is translated “alarmed” in Mark 16:5–6 to describe the women’s shock as they came to Jesus’ tomb and found an angel instead of Jesus. One lexicon defines ekthambeō in this way: “to be moved to a relatively intense emotional state because of someth. causing great surprise or perplexity, be very excited” (BDAG). In context, distressed is an appropriate translation—Jesus is intensely emotionally aroused over the thought of His coming betrayal, trial, torture, and crucifixion.
  • He… began to be… troubled (Mark 14:33). The word for troubled (adēmoneō) is used to describe how the Philippians were “distressed” that Epaphroditus was ill, almost to the point of death (Philippians 2:26–27). Comprehending His own death, Jesus was just as troubled and more.
  • My soul is very sorrowful (Mark 14:34). Sorrowful (perilupos) is a word used to describe how Herod was “exceedingly sorry” when forced to behead the imprisoned John the Baptist (Mark 6:26). The rich young ruler was “very sad” to contemplate giving up his love for riches in order to put his love and trust in Christ (Luke 18:23). As mentioned above, Jesus was sorrowful to think of what was coming His way.
  • He fell on the ground (Mark 14:35). Jesus’ posture matched His inner turmoil. He could only throw Himself down to pray.

And pray He did. Jesus prayed that the hour might pass from Him, the hour when the Father would pour out this cup of wrath against sin on Him on the cross (Mark 14:35–36). Hebrews 5:7 tells us that Jesus prayed “with loud cries and tears . . . and he was heard because of his reverence.” Nonetheless, Jesus submitted to what the Father would will, drinking from the cup as God desired, and would provide a means of salvation for you and me (Mark 14:36).

In commanding the three to remain here and watch, He was asking them to stay with Him and pray as well (Mark 14:34).

Jesus prays the second time (Mark 14:37–39).

Unfortunately, instead of heeding His command, the three were sleeping instead (Mark 14:37). Practically speaking, they had eaten a big meal in Mark 14:17–25. It was also late and when they usually slept. However, this was a special time for the willing spirit to watch and pray and thus not enter into temptation by succumbing to one’s weak flesh, that is, a tired body (Mark 14:38). This temptation for them was to fall away as Jesus prophesied earlier in Mark 14:26–31.

For a second time, Jesus prayed the same words (Mark 14:39).

Jesus prays the third time (Mark 14:40–42).

After praying, Jesus returned and again found them sleeping, with heavy eyes, unable to answer Him (Mark 14:40). That He came the third time back implies that Jesus went prayed a third time as before (Mark 14:41). At this point, the hour for Jesus as the Son of Man had come to be betrayed into the hands of sinners with the betrayer at hand (Mark 14:41–42). With this arrest, the most intense parts of the suffering of Jesus would begin.

Some Applications for Us Today

For Christians…

  • Just as Jesus did, take your trial to God in prayer. It may be that He takes it away, but we should be willing to go through the trial in order for Him to test and strengthen our faith.
  • From Jesus’ admonition to the disciples, remember that prayer is part of the means for you to persevere. They did not pray, and thus they fell away during Jesus’ hour of trial. Jesus prayed, God gave Jesus strength, and Jesus persevered.
  • Fight your flesh and persevere in prayer. It’s easy to be lazy. It’s easy to forget. It’s easy to do something else. But prayer is hard work, and we should be diligent to pray.
  • Your Father will never abandon you, even when others are inattentive at the least or flee from you at most. The disciples slept. The disciples ran away at Jesus’ arrest. But Jesus knew the Father would see Him though it all. Stay close to Him in prayer.

For everyone…

This intense time of prayer was just the beginning of what Jesus would suffer for us. He would be mocked, beaten, and eventually crucified on the cross—all within the next day. In doing so, Jesus as God and man died for the sins of you and me. And in doing so, He died sinlessly in perfect obedience to the will of His heavenly Father. Jesus did not deserve this death, so God raised Him from the grave and thereby vindicated that Jesus was true.

When we truly see our sin as God does—as something worthy of God’s wrath and eternal death—and when we see Christ as we must—as the One who paid the penalty for our sin and who provided the perfect obedience that we cannot—only then will God declare us forgiven, righteous, and holy in His sight. We must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and no one else for our salvation. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Salvation from eternal death is through no other Name, and no man will be in heaven with the Father apart from believing in His glorious Son.

When Jesus died, God miraculously ripped the 40-foot curtain of the Jerusalem temple from top to bottom, as if to say, “My Son has provided a new and living way for you to come to Me” (see Hebrews 10:19–22). A Roman centurion watched the curtain tear and exclaimed, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:38–39). We must truly believe and say the same!

Closing Thoughts

For those of us who have echoed the centurion’s words with saving faith in Christ, we know that, whatever this world may bring our way, Christ suffered for us, and in doing so, He left us an example for how to suffer as well. If you find yourself “in the press” today, trust in Christ, take your distress to the Father in prayer, and rejoice to know that your suffering will be over when you are one day with Him.

God’s “Yes” and “No” in Christ

One of my favorite ways to explain the gospel is state how the Father communicates a resounding “yes” and “no” to us through His Son Jesus Christ.

The “Yes”

“Yes” is shorthand for a longer, amazing thought: “Yes, God loves you.” John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” 1 John 4:9–10 states it like this: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Stated simply, God loved us so much that He sent only Son to die for our sins on the cross. That’s God’s loving “yes” to you and me.

The “No”

“No” is shorthand for a longer, terrifying thought: “No, God cannot overlook sin.” As much as God loves us, our God is a righteous God who does not overlook our sin. We are “by nature children of wrath,” that is, the eternal wrath of God (Ephesians 2:3). “The wages of sin is death,” that is, eternal death and separation from God forever (Romans 6:23). Our sinfulness and sins render us guilty before God and worthy of eternal punishment. God justly says “no” to our sin.

“Yes” and “No” Together for Us in Christ

Though God says “no” to our sin, we see “that Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Only the Lord Jesus Christ—both man and God, sinless and perfectly obedient—only He could give “Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6) and merit a righteousness that is declared as ours when we place our hope and faith for salvation in Him. Our penalty for sin is paid by Christ, and Christ’s perfection is ours as well.

So, even for believers, God still says “no” to sin. However, God’s “yes” of love to us is to let Christ have taken the penalty for our sin on Himself at the cross. God’s “yes” of love to us is furthermore to declare His Son’s righteousness as ours by faith.

Putting it all together, God says “no” to sin, and emphatically so through the death of His sinless Son on the cross. At the same time, this death was God’s “yes” to you and me, His loving means of salvation in sending His Son to die in our place.

What a terrifying thing it is to contemplate the consequences of our sin. What an amazing thing it is to know of God’s love for us in Christ. May each of us say “no” with God to our sin and “yes” by faith to His Son who was lovingly sent for us!

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Jesus’ Example for Evangelism in John 4:1–26

In John 4:5–42, we have two examples of evangelism—one in Jesus and the other in the Samaritan woman. She invited others to meet Jesus, they came, and many believed in Him. However, what follows below are five practical points for evangelism from looking at Jesus Himself in His example of giving the truth to the Samaritan woman.

First, speak to someone no matter who they are.

Jesus spoke to a woman who was a Samaritan. Her gender and ethnicity were two characteristics that typically would have resulted in prejudice and a non-conversation between a Jew and a Samaritan. She herself was surprised that Jesus spoke to her in light of these characteristics (John 4:9), and the disciples were surprised at the conversation as well (John 4:27). But Jesus looked past these matters and saw her for what she was—a sinner in need of salvation in Him.

Second, use something in your conversation to transition to the gospel.

The woman spoke of water. Jesus turned the conversation to living water (4:10). She did not understand right away, but He persisted in steering the conversation to dealing with her sin and what she thought of Himself as the Messiah. While we don’t want to rudely force an unwanted conversation onto someone, it may be that gently turning the conversation to the gospel is what God uses to save others through us.

Third, point out man’s alienation from God.

The woman could not drink this life-giving water and turn to God unless she also turned from her sin—a life of living with someone other than a spouse and that after having previously lived with five husbands (John 4:16–18). Jesus answered her request for living water in John 4:15 by focusing on her sin in John 4:16–18. No one finds salvation in Christ without repentance for his sins.

Fourth, answer any objections.

The woman tried to object that her heritage had its own religion at their mountain, and the Jews had their own as well in Jerusalem (John 4:20). However, Jesus cared nothing for geography. All men were to now worship the Father, wherever they may be (John 4:21–24). He even flatly denied any validity to her religion: “You worship what you do not now” (John 4:22 ESV). Answering objections may mean eventually stating that the reasons for an objection are simply wrong.

Fifth, point the unbeliever to Christ.

Jesus concluded by pointing the woman to Himself as the Messiah. She believed, brought others to Him, and they believed in Him as well (John 4:25–26). Evangelism is simply not evangelism if it does not point the sinner to Christ. Salvation is found in Him alone.

The above is condensed and follows the points from Don N. Howell, Jr., The Passion of the Servant: A Journey to the Cross (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2009), pp. 48–51.

Lessons from the Life of Jude

What follows below is an attempt to piece together the life of Jude as told by the Bible, using what few references to him that we have.

Jude grew up with Jesus and his other siblings in the house of Joseph and Mary and thus enjoyed being from the line of David. Being last in the list of four brothers (Matt 13:55), he may have been the youngest of them all, with sisters (at least two) scattered somewhere in the lineup.

In the book that bears his name, assuming this Jude was indeed its author, we see that he identified himself as the “brother of James” (Jude 1), who, as this was a notable James, must have been the leader of the early Jerusalem church (cf. Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18).

Both James and Jude (and Joses and Simon) were the biological half-brothers (or more simply, “brothers”) of Jesus, the most natural reading of the text (Matt 13:55). They were neither the cousins of Jesus as Roman Catholicism believes nor stepbrothers from Joseph’s supposed previous marriage as Eastern Orthodoxy believes, both theories stemming from the erroneous notion of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Jude likely learned to be a carpenter like his father Joseph. Maybe he was old enough to notice when Joseph and Mary were looking for the twelve-year-old Jesus (Luke 2:41–52). Maybe not. One way or the other, he would have eventually noticed something unique about Jesus as he grew up. His older Brother never sinned!

From how his hometown reacted to Jesus in Matthew 13:53–58 (cf. Mark 6:1–6; Luke 4:16–30), and thus not in the same way to Jude or any of his brothers, we could surmise that Jude did not have unusual wisdom or the ability to do mighty works, astonished no one with any teaching, and therefore offended no one. He was not a prophet and tried to afford what honor his hometown would give him.

In fact, there are multiple occasions which showed his unbelief toward Jesus. First, while Jesus was preaching in His home and unable to eat because of the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, trying to seize Him, claiming, “He is out of His mind!” (Mark 3:20–21; cf. Matt 12:46–; Luke 8:19–21). Second, not long thereafter, they were seeking Jesus again, and Jesus responded that His mother and brothers were present in the crowd before Him (Mark 3:31–35), that is, that those who were listening to Him and following His words were His spiritual family and took priority over His physical family, a rebuke in the ears of His physical family indeed. Third, His brothers misunderstood that He should suffer and urged Him to do miracles in Jerusalem in order to show Himself to the world, becoming the King right away (John 7:1–4). In spite of all the miracles of Jesus they had witnessed or heard about (cf. Matt 13:58; John 2:12), “not even His brothers believed in Him” (John 7:5).

This unbelief would not last, however. Perhaps Mary told her family that she had seen the risen Jesus (cf. Matt 28:1–10). Perhaps James told his family about when he saw the risen Jesus as well (1 Cor 15:7). Perhaps these testimonies sat heavily upon Jude along with the fact that so many others had already believed in Him and had been doing so for multiple years. Whenever Jude’s conversion was, it was probably sometime between the resurrection and Pentecost. He was not with his mother at the cross (cf. John 19:25), but we do find Him praying with Mary and his brothers in Acts 1:14.

In addition to being saved, we also see him serving. He may have been one Lord’s brothers who traveled with his wife for missionary work in 1 Cor 9:5, something Paul wrote in AD 55. One or two decades later, Jude wrote the letter that bears his name. Far from unbelief, he called himself a slave of his half-brother Jesus who he identified as Lord, Master, and Christ (Jude 1, 4). He had an eagerness to speak of salvation in Him (Jude 3) and readily warned the church about false teachers (Jude 4–16). He followed the apostles on this matter (Jude 17–19). He saw it necessary to keep one’s self in the love of God and that God would likewise keep him from stumbling until the day he was presented as perfect and blameless before Him—all through Jesus Christ (Jude 24–25). As a result, Jude could do no less than leave us with one of the greatest doxologies in Scripture in Jude 24–25, showing us not only evidence of his conversion, but of someone absolutely captivated by the glory of God, an example for us all today:

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

 

 

All quotes ESV

Semi-regular Attenders: How to Think about Those Who Only Partially Attend a Church’s Services

Most Christians are familiar with the command to stir one another up to love in good works in Hebrews 10:24. The negative counterpart to this is the related command in Hebrews 10:25, to not neglect the assembled church where this stirring primarily takes place. To forsake the assembly altogether may betray that one may not be a Christian at all.

But what about Christians who come to church some of the time but not all the times that a church has said it would assemble? What if someone comes on Sunday mornings but not other regularly scheduled times, especially if it seems that he could have otherwise been there?

As a pastor, I have thought about this question many times. Whatever your schedule may be, my answer to these “semi-regular attenders” is to try to understand exactly why they are missing services and then go from there. What follows below are some questions I might explore in light of why some might be absent from the assembly on occasion.

  1. First, “Is this person a member?” 

My church has a covenant and bylaws to which all members must agree. In our covenant, among other things, members agree “with the aid of the Holy Spirit… to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines; to give it a sacred preeminence over all institutions of human origin.” In the section “Ecclesiology” in our Declaration of Faith, it states, “We believe the true mission of the church is to worship God in all of its services and activities.” Likewise, our Bylaws specifies the duties of members, one being this: “Each member shall seek diligently, by Divine help, to…  attend the services regularly.” Our Bylaws even specify when these services or meetings will take place: “The regular meetings of this church shall include the Sunday morning worship service, Sunday morning meeting, Sunday afternoon/evening meeting, a midweek service, fellowship around the Lord’s Table (normally the first Sunday of each month), and other meetings…”

So, if someone has been admitted into the membership of the church, that person has obligated himself to live up to what the church has agreed concerning its belief and practice of the faith. The church has likewise committed itself to holding each member accountable to this covenant, which means that all of its members should be checking up on one another to do as they have agreed to do, assembling with each other included. Thus, there has been a mutual agreement to simply do what everyone has said they would do. It would thus be natural to hold each accountable in the event of absence from the assembly.

  1. Second, “Why are you missing services?” 

My observation is that people miss services for two primary reasons—suffering or sin.

In a broken world, people suffer the loss of being with the assembly due to a job that schedules their presence during services, a sickness that keeps them at home, care for family members who are sick or aging, or health issues from aging themselves. Perhaps a long commute makes attendance difficult, especially if the weather is poor.

As to sin, sometimes people miss services because they are lazy, have misplace priorities (e.g., become too involved in youth sports leagues or vacation too often at their cabin), reject the church leadership, or want to avoid other people in their church due to some kind of conflict. Using the language above, sin is keeping them from assembling because they are forsaking the “Divine help” and “aid of the Spirit” that would otherwise move them to want to be with the people of God. This leads me to question #3.

  1. Third, “Should I confront this person? If so, when do I do so? After missing one service? Five? Fifty?” 

If someone attends some services but not others, I find it difficult to conclude that they are altogether violating Hebrews 10:24–25. If he has not made his excuses known and his absence is not a pattern, one should give the absentee the benefit of the doubt concerning his absence.

In reaching out, however, simply showing concern may stir the one absent in a far better way than confrontation. You might say, “Hey, I missed you last Sunday. Glad to see you back. I hope everything is going well.” Just the mere mention of noticing an absence and affirming the joy of his presence can strengthen his resolve to be faithful.

Or, it may be that the Lord gives the pastor and church an opportunity to address the matter through the regular preaching of the Word. I have a unique advantage for this kind of thing as a pastor. I might notice some not-so-faithful patterns in people’s lives that might be better corrected by simply addressing everyone on the matter instead of personally making a bigger deal of something than it needs to be. I just patiently wait to say the needed thing with an appropriate passage as it comes up in the preaching schedule. And hopefully the absentee is not absent on that day! If so, a personal conversation may need to take place sometime in the future.

One needs to be careful to address the congregation when preaching like this, however. Don’t illustrate an example of what not to do by describing someone’s aberrant behavior so exactly that he or she feels singled out in front of everyone else. There is a time to bring a member’s sin before the congregation, but that is the last step in church discipline (Matthew 18:17). It’s not like missing a service here and there is quite akin to outright immorality or the promotion of heresy (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1–13; 1 Timothy 1:19–20).

At the same time, churches should not let members be absent forever. Otherwise the church is danger of neglecting the command of not neglecting the assembly in Hebrews 10:24–25. It may do well for churches to specify in their bylaws how long one may be intentionally absent from the assembly and still maintain one’s membership. For example, my church only allows for 12 weeks of absence along these lines, but in between that time should be many attempts by the pastors and the membership to bring the wayward sheep back into the fold. And maybe 12 weeks sometimes turns into more while working with the individual. Voting someone out of the membership for sustained, intentional absence should be a tearful matter. Such a member would have been cautioned concerning this matter when he joined the church. Now that he has chosen to be perpetually absent, he can only expect to be put of the church membership as he was warned, an act of discipline by the church.

  1. Fourth, “But what if the person is not a member?”

For anyone who has not committed himself to the church, and therefore the church has not formally committed itself to him, I’m simply happy for however often the person attends, assuming the individual is teachable and cooperative with the church concerning whatever keeps him from joining. But, as I remind people from time to time, the longer someone attends, the more our relationships will build, and the more we will at least hold the individual accountable for living a godly life (assuming the person is a Christian).

I’m sure more questions and suggestions could be given. I’ve already said a mouthful, and my suggestions obviously assume congregationalism, church membership, and the helpfulness of a church covenant. Hopefully the above is helpful for anyone thinking through how to handle “semi-regular attenders.”