My Reflections on Holy Living

We all need Him as we pursue Holiness

There are times when it feels so good to be a Christian, especially, when you walk in the life of obedience to the will of God. It is that time when joy overflows every chamber of life and heaven feels closer than ever before. Then there are times when the flesh takes over and it’s nasty. You fight but you feel like punching the wind. The once higher graph of obedience nose-dives and you see no sign of progress. It hurts. It really hurts!

In times like these, I have found comfort in the assurance that God never loosen his grip on me and he never let me go. He still holds me as strong as always while the Holy Spirit convicts and leads me back to the path of obedience. It is comforting, really comforting! Of course, His discipline, in such cases, is inevitable (Hebrews 12:5-11)  but the thought that he still holds me stronger in his hand is soothing and assuring.

I would have loved that the moment Christ takes full control of ones life, they would never be tempted to go to the old ways or wander away from the path of obedience. But the truth is otherwise.  In this world, I am prone to let the fresh rule sometimes. It sad, really sad! However, I pray that the Holy Spirit will rule more.  I can’t agree more with R.C. Sproul:

“We all begin the Christian life with the intention of living in such a way as to please God. But we encounter obstacles along the way. We meet conflicts between what pleases us and what pleases God.

We need help in overcoming these obstacles. In a real way the Christian life is often a struggle. We gain ground and then slip backwards. There is such a thing as backsliding. Sometimes the slide seems as if is greased with the slickest substance the Devil can use. But as children who totter at the top of sliding board, fearful to move, we have a heavenly Father who guards the edge of the board and who waits at the bottom of the slide to catch us in His arms” (Pleasing God, Tyndale House Publishers ©1988)

Lord, I fall on your feet seeking more of your mercy and grace. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I will myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I will serve the law of sin” (Romans 8:24, 25).

Saints, lets always pray for one another no matter how rosy and beautiful our Christian lives might look. We all need more of His grace and mercy! I really need it. Pray for me as I pray for you.

This Deadly Temptation

This is a deadly temptation indeed. From the beginning of the New Testament Church, it has troubled the Body of Christ and it continues to do so. Of course, it comes in various forms but the essence is the same namely Christ is not enough.

In Scripture, we first encounter it in Acts 15. Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch in Syria where they were preaching that salvation is through Christ alone.  However some Jews who had been converted to Christianity and still felt that Christ alone is not enough for salvation came down and started teaching that “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses you cannot be saved” (v. 1, 5). Paul and Barnabas debated and argued with them that salvation is through Christ alone but these people did not back down.

Therefore, Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem where the first recorded church council of apostles and elders gathered to discuss the matter. The council resolved that it is not necessary to be circumcised in order to be saved because salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone.

Fast forward to the Epistle to Galatians. Paul is addressing the same problem of Acts 15.  Judaizers (Jews who had been converted to Christianity) continued to preach that Christ alone is not sufficient for salvation.  Instead, they were adding circumcision to it. So, salvation, according to them, was through faith in Christ plus circumcision. Unfortunately, some Galatians started buying into this error and Paul was angered by this deception and wrote Galatians:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are returning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:5-8, ESV).

Now, what type of gospel did Paul preach to the Galatians? Back to Book of Acts, Paul preached that salvation is through Christ alone. And what did those who troubled the Galatians preach? Salvation is through Christ plus circumcision. So, Paul, boldly, declares that if anyone, even if he is an angel, should preach that salvation is through Christ plus… should be accursed. This how serious and deadly this temptation of adding on Jesus is.

We are not yet done, so let’s skip some pages of the New Testament and come to the Letter to Colossians. This epistle was written to oppose what has commonly become to be known as “The Colossian Heresy.” The heresy involved a lot of things but to sum it up, it also taught that Christ alone is not sufficient for salvation. It taught that apart from Christ one was supposed to among other things deny themselves (2:21; 2:23); worship angels (2:18); and have special knowledge (Gnosticism) (2:18; 2:2-3). Apostle Paul then wrote the Church at Colossae to remind them that Christ alone is sufficient (1:15-20; 2:2-3, 9) for our salvation. There is nothing we can add to Christ for God to save us.

Again, let’s fast forward to almost 1, 500 years later.  This deadly temptation continued to rear its ugly head in the Church. During this time, there was only one church and there were serious errors being taught in this church. Then, God, through his Holy Spirit, raised a man by the name of Martin Luther who by God’s grace boldly stood up to oppose the errors, especially, the one that said salvation is through Christ plus good works. Of course, it should be noted that before this man, others also opposed the errors in this church including John Hus and John Wycliffe.

Martin Luther opposed various errors in the church basing on Scripture and his opposition reached the climax on October 31, 1517. The climaxing of his opposition led to what is now known as Reformation which also led to the birth of what are now called Protestant Churches.

Reformation emphasized on five main issues which sometimes are called Five Banners of Reformation or Five Solas of Reformation namely Christ Alone (Solus Christus), Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura), Faith Alone (Sola Fide), Grace Alone (Sola Gratia) and To God alone be the glory (Solus Deo Gloria). For the sake of this post we will just dwell on Solus Christus (Christ Alone).

Martin Luther opposed teachings like you need to believe in Christ and also punish your body through penance and fasting to be saved. He opposed the teaching that stated you need to give money to the church and believe in Christ to be saved.  All in all, Luther and the other Reformers like John Calvin opposed any teaching that added on Christ as means of salvation.  After, devotedly, studying Scripture, the Holy Spirit opened their eyes to see that salvation is through Christ Alone for only Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. No one can go to the Father unless he goes through Christ alone (John 14:6).

We now come to our time. Has this deadly temptation ceased to bother the Church? Not at all! It has just put on a new form. Today, some still preach that Christ is insufficient.  It is very disheartening to note that the preaching that focuses on Christ alone is becoming less and less popular. Instead those preaching Christ plus miracles or Christ plus success and riches or Christ plus prediction of minute details of life are becoming more popular and crowd pullers.  Whatever happened to the old but ever relevant and satisfying truth that Christ alone is all we need, I don’t know.

I pray that the Church today will sober up and realize that the Head of the Church, Jesus, is sufficient. We don’t need to add anything to him to make him sufficient or more appealing. Fellow preachers, please preach Christ Alone.  He is our all in all.

“For by (Christ) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the first born from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross…and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority” (Colossians 1:16-20; 2:9, ESV).

“Dear Father,  give us this day the understanding of the sufficiency of Christ and deliver us from this deadly temptation of adding on Christ.” May all God’s people say…”Amen and Amen!”

Singing Scripture

Recently, I posted on this blog about God-centered songs.  I would like to share my experience a number of weeks ago when I attended a missions conference in Kasungu. There was one singing group, Joy to the World Choir, from Dzuwa Village in Lilongwe that really impressed me. All the songs the group sang at the conference were taken from the book of Psalms.  As a matter of fact, the group sang psalms.  It was reviving, and I, strongly, believe that God was glorified.

This is one of the ways in which we can achieve God-centered worship in our churches. When we sing Scripture, we sing God’s Word and God is, definitely, glorified. As I earlier indicated, songs should direct our focus on God and not an individual or anything.

As we wrap up this series of God-centered worship , I would like to implore all those who have been entrusted with the responsibility of leading worship in churches to strive, by Christ’s grace, for God-centered worship in all the areas of the church. This is what glorifies God and satisfies us as His children.  John Piper once put it, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.”

The worship in our churches will never be satisfying until God is glorified by it.  Indeed, as the deer pants for the streams of water, so pant our souls for God to satisfy (Psalm 42)

Is Home Unclean for Worship?

Last Sunday, I was reading the newspaper, Nation on Sunday, when an article titled “I don’t want to go to church” by Christian Psychiatrix caught my attention.  The author of the article argued that people should go to church and not worship in their homes because “homes of men are unfit for worship.” He contended:

“The home is unworthy because every minute of every hour in every day the home is unholy or unclean for one reason or another. Let me illustrate. The parents of the home might have spent the morning today making love and the material their body fluid touches is made unclean and it in turn makes what it touches unclean until the whole house is unclean from flesh to cloth to utensil (Leviticus 15). It will be afternoon before the house is declared clean by Levitical Law and that is if they take a bath and pray for a cleansing of the home, if they don’t then the home in unclean till the next day.

“Or it could be that the maid starts her monthly period the next day. A woman during her monthly flow is unclean by Levitical Law, that is why men are not supposed to have sexual relations with women during this time (Leviticus 18:19). In her function as maid she will touch 90% of the house making everything she touches unclean before God’s eyes” (Public Pulpit  of Nation on Sunday, Sunday, August 12, 2012, Religious Perspective page 7)

All I can say in regard to this statement is that:

There is a need for every believer or Christian to fellowship with fellow Christians in a church.  God’s Word requires of us to do so in Hebrews 10:24, 25. From the birth of the New Testament church, believers have always assembled together to among other things hear the teaching of God’s word, break bread (Holy Communion), and pray (Acts 2:42). The importance of the church can also be seen in the whole of the New Testament in which two-thirds of the epistles (letters) were addressed to churches where believers met.

We should also not forget that the church is also responsible for administration of Sacraments namely baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion). These cannot be administered outside the church but only within the church by ordained men called by God to lead his flock. Sacraments are very important in every Christian’s life as they are means or channels established by God in which He uses to give grace to his children.

Furthermore, general overview of the Bible also shows us that meeting in a church helps Christians to be accountable. On our own, we can easily fall into various temptations and sins without someone warning or helping us; however, in church, fellow Christians help us remain faithful to Scripture and God uses the church to discipline and restore a believer when he, temporarily, stumbles into sin.

In a church, we also encourage one another through sharing of God’s Word and testifying to the good work that the Lord is doing in our lives. In the same set-up we are also able to carry each other’s burdens as commanded in Galatians 6:1-3.  These things cannot happen if we are on our own.

However, we should also bear in mind that the Bible encourages us to have time when we can personally fellowship with God in prayer (Matthew 6:6) and meditation on his word ( Psalm 1:1, 2). This too is important.

Therefore, church should not replace personal time of fellowship with God just as time of personal devotion should not substitute God’s requirement of believers to assemble in a church. All these two activities are required of every Christian by Scripture.

Now,  in response to Christians Psychiatrix argument that  worshipping God at home is defiled by a married couple having sex in the home or a maid experiencing her monthly period, I would like to point out that  in the Old Testament, there are three types of laws namely ceremonial, civil and moral law.  The laws that my friend cited in his article fall in the ceremonial law category.

Ceremonial laws related to Israel’s ceremonial purity, diet and sacrifice. They pointed forward to Jesus Christ hence were fulfilled and no longer necessary after Jesus’ death and resurrection. These laws, symbolically, showed how man falls short of God’s holiness.  But when Christ came, he fulfilled the requirement of God’s holiness so that everyone who believes in Christ is regarded as holy because of the righteousness of Christ (Hebrews 10:1-14).

It should further be known that God ordained sex to be enjoyed in the confinements of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:3; Hebrews 13:4) and there is nothing unclean when a married couple has sex.  A woman also remains clean and holy in Christ and before God the Father even if she having her monthly period because Christ fulfilled the ceremonial law on behalf of all believers.

God-Centered Worship: Liturgy

Today, I would like to continue discussing God-centered worship by looking at liturgy. Liturgy basically refers to the order of worship or the program of how we do various things when we meet to worship God in our churches.

Having a program is a very good thing and God loves order (1 Corinthians 14:33); however, sometimes what we do in our order of services hinders us from having a God-centered worship. For instance, in some churches you find that more time is spent on various activities and preaching of God’s Word is given a very short time.  How can we have a God-centered worship when the time we allocate to God to speak to us is very minimal while all the other activities are given too ample time?

In our churches, we have singing groups. These groups when they sing God-centered songs are very essential part of worship; however, sometimes they hinder a God-centered worship. I have seen with my own eyes groups singing just to entertain instead of leading people into God-centered worship.

Then there are announcements. I have gone to churches where almost one-half of worship service goes to announcements regarding finances and other things.  This is a problem because it’s supposed to be a service of worship where believers are allowed more time to focus on God rather on matters which can equally be handled in different forum.


What is Wrong with ‘Prosperity Gospel’?

On the onset let me say that I know some true and sincere believers who have bought into ‘prosperity gospel’ for various reasons.  Some of these are personal friends and I know that this post will break them. I, strongly,  do pray that it breaks you not because I have written it, but because the Word of God contained in it, powered by the Holy Spirit, has come with full force in your life  to break you and thereafter mold you according to God’s will revealed to us in Scripture alone. Now here we go:

What is wrong with ‘prosperity gospel’? Before answering the question, it is good to put the record straight that ‘prosperity gospel’ is no gospel at all. The Bible is clear that there is only one Gospel (Galatians 1:6-8)and if I were to take at least one verse that summarizes this Gospel, I would go for John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” This is the Gospel. Anything that adds or subtracts from it is no gospel at all.

In light of this, Apostle Paul warns us of ‘other gospels.’  His words in Galatians 1:8, 9 echo with great emphasis: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (ESV)

Now, what is wrong with ‘prosperity gospel?’ First, it misses the mark on God’s chief plan for a sinner. It emphasizes that one should come to Christ in order to get material blessings not what is big in God’s plan of salvation namely eternal life.

God gave his Son, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect life on behalf of a sinner like me and die on behalf of a sinner as me and later rose from the dead so that every believer should have eternal life. Therefore, God’s chief plan in redemption is that man should be saved from sin and death and not to prosper materially. If that was the case John 3:16 would read: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should be healthy and wealthy.”

Secondly, ‘prosperity gospel’ robs God of his Godhood and renders Him as a vending machine. If one takes a closer look at ‘prosperity gospel,’ they will notice that it emphasizes on faith as means of obtaining blessings from God. So, God becomes a vending machine and the currency for buying on this vending machine is faith. You put faith in this vending machine and out comes a very big mansion. You slot in faith, and boom you have a top-notch job.  You push faith in and the machine gives you an ‘all-eyes-on-me’ car.  The moment you slot in faith, the vending machine spits out good health. If you a bachelor or spinster, you just have to put in faith, and the vending machine will give you a beautiful wife or handsome husband and a happiest marriage as a bonus.

So, people become followers of God because He is like a vending machine that gives them their wants and not because they have experienced His true and amazing love and grace in their lives.  It is similar to what Christ experienced while on earth. In John 6:1-71 we read that after Jesus miraculously fed 5000 men, He withdrew to a lonely place and later at night walked on the sea and joined His disciples as they crossed over to the other side of the lake.

The next day, when some people noticed that Christ was not among them, they got into boats and followed Jesus to the other side of the sea.  Upon meeting them, Jesus rebuked the people because their motive for seeking Him was wrong. He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.  Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (26, 27 ESV).

In other words, Jesus is telling these people and us today that we should not follow Him because we want to prosper. Doing that is missing the mark. Rather we should follow Him because He is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:16). Jesus is not the vending machine that dispenses out material blessings at our will. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

Material possessions, not matter how huge, cannot satisfy us. It is God who satisfies.  King Solomon explains this outstanding truth very well in the book of Ecclesiastes. King Solomon was a very prosperous man in every way (1 Kings 10:14-29).  However, despite having all those riches, Solomon still felt that life was useless and was like chasing after the wind because he did not allow God to satisfy him.

Eventually,  God enabled him to realize that  silver and gold cannot satisfy but only God and Solomon confessed and said: “All has been heard, here is the conclusion of the matter: fear God and keep his commandments for that’s the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13 NIV). We should realize that only Christ and not the riches of this world can satisfy us. For sure, “Our hearts will remain restless until they find rest in Christ” (St Augustine).

Thirdly, ‘prosperity gospel’ robs God of his sovereignty.  By God’s sovereignty, we basically mean that God is in full control of what happens in heaven and on earth. He carries out all that he wills and nothing can stop His plans. In other words, when we say that God is sovereign, we mean that God is God.

Now do proponents of ‘prosperity gospel’ recognize God’s sovereignty in the lives of his people? No, they don’t because they teach that if you are a Christian you should prosper and be rich.  By such emphasis, they usurp the place of God and start determining the destiny of God’s people. They teach that it is God’s will for you to be rich.

Now, is it true to say that it is the will of God that every believer should be rich and prosper materially? Turning to the Bible, which by the way is a final rule of faith and practice for Christians, we find so many examples of believers who were very dedicated to God but were not materially rich including  Jesus himself who reminds us : “The poor you shall always have,” (Mark 14:7).

Does this mean that Christians should always be poor? No, that’s another extreme which the Bible does not teach. Instead the Bible calls on Christians to work hard and trust God for their both spiritual and physical needs. In the model prayer which Christ taught His disciples and is also commonly known as the Lord’s prayer, Jesus teaches us to trust God to provide for us and He encourages us to ask: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3 ESV). God knows our needs; we should trust him to meet such needs one day at a time.

Jesus also warns us of focusing our eyes so much on riches that we are  blinded to the fact that God is the sole provider  and sustainer when he says: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist  in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).

Another warning comes to us through the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 6:6-10:

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desire that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (ESV).

Apostle Paul continues with the word of admonition regarding focus more attention on riches than God  in 2 Timothy 6:17: “As for the rich in this present age, charge then not be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (ESV).

And what is this ‘everything to enjoy’? Is it big mansions, expensive cars, and excellent jobs? No, it is Jesus! Jesus is everything that a Christian needs to enjoy. Jesus is the greatest provision that God has made for his children far richer than material blessings which are temporal.  That’s why a Christian should echo the words of the Psalmist and say, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25, 26, NIV).