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The Holiness of God

Growing up my brother and I were known for our very red hair. I wish I had a quarter for every time someone called me “carrot top” or asked us while in the grocery store, “Wherever did you get such red hair?”

While the red hair was attention getting, I have to admit I didn’t really like either the hair or the attention. I even let my brother cut my hair when he was only four years old and didn’t mind the extra locks he cut off! Thankfully as I got older my hair has turned more brown than red, and now with four teenagers the white hairs are coming through!

God is known for his attribute of holiness. God’s people are known as “saints,” or holy ones. The church is to be holy and blameless. Yet, the doctrine of holiness that is essential to who God is and is to characterize God’s people too often gets the same kind of response that I gave to my red hair! There is little to no real understanding, thankfulness, or love for holiness. Too many of Christ’s church today are not only wishing for a change—like I wanted my hair to change color—they are actively making the change, cutting it out entirely!

Continue reading ‘The Holiness of God’

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Does the Gospel have a Social Mandate?

The gospel should be the dearest thing to the heart of the redeemed. That God would save a sinner such as I should never cease to amaze me. That there would always be some who stretch the gospel to include things that it does not should not surprise me.

For the last sixty or so years we have heard new evangelicals stress “social involvement.” Harold John Ockenga characterized fundamentalists as being indifferent to the physical needs of people. He and other new evangelicals promoted a positive social message. Their view of a contemporary kingdom of God provided a foundation for engaging the culture and advancing a social element in the Gospel. Ockenga claimed, “There need be no disagreement between the personal gospel and the social gospel.” Fundamentalism was portrayed as leaving out an important part of the Bible message. The push for the Gospel to have a social relevance gained acceptance in both liberal and new evangelical circles. This emphasis has appeared in many different forms, but has never gone away.

Today there are groups which claim to be defining the Gospel. The Gospel Coalition is gaining popularity among new evangelicals and some fundamentalists. I wholeheartedly agree with the Gospel Coalition that salvation is “received by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone” (Gospel for all of Life: Preamble). But in the same document they claim that Christian living is supposed to impact the arts and improve living conditions.

“Developing humane yet creative and excellent business environments out of our understanding of the gospel is part of the work of bringing a measure of healing to God’s creation in the power of the Spirit. Bringing Christian joy, hope, and truth to embodiment in the arts is also part of this work. We do all of this because the gospel of God leads us to it…. Christian churches must work for justice and peace in their neighborhoods through service even as they call individuals to conversion and the new birth” (Theological Vision for Ministry, V, 5).

Those who wrote the Foundation Documents for the Gospel Coalition lament that they do not “see enough individual churches that embody the full, integrative gospel balance we have outlined here” (Theological Vision for Ministry).

In 1976 Ronald Sider wrote, “Social reform and social welfare are aspects of proclaiming the gospel.” That has been the rallying cry of most new evangelicals for decades. The Gospel presented in God’s Word calls men to turn from sin and trust the finished work of Christ. The lost must see that they are spiritually bankrupt, and the God of all grace provides salvation through Jesus Christ alone. That’s the Gospel message. Our work is soul work. We should beware of any man or movement that removes repentance from the Gospel, and we should be aware that many are preaching social action as part of Gospel work.

I’m always wary of any movement that presses for evangelism but has little or no use for biblical separation. Historically fundamentalists have warned of an inclusivism that claims we can focus on what we have in common with compromisers for the sake of the Gospel. While some have rejected the terms “fundamentalist” and “new evangelical”, differences in agenda and emphasis still exist. Always look behind the curtain of any “coalition” to see who started it, who’s supporting it, what they are stressing, and what they are leaving out.

The mandate of the Gospel is repent and be saved. A social consciousness is not part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Lord.

June 2010

God Has a Purpose for Trials

Have you ever wondered why good things happen to bad people? We have all observed the dilemma. We possibly have given thought to the world’s determination that “life isn’t fair.” Why should bad people be able to not only get by with their evil ways, but even prosper in them?

Continue reading ‘God Has a Purpose for Trials’

Forgiving as We Have Been Forgiven

From a Roman prison cell Paul wrote a short letter to be hand delivered to a Christian brother. The recipient was Philemon, and the deliverer was his runaway slave, Onesimus. Paul could refer to Onesimus as “my child. . . whose father I became in my imprisonment” (v. 10) because this slave became a child of God by faith. As Paul discipled this new believer, his heart was knit to that of Onesimus. This young believer was of great encouragement and service to Paul, but Paul knew that Onesimus needed to be returned to and reconciled with Philemon. On his behalf, Paul writes to Philemon to receive back on brotherly terms this one who had run away.

While it is easy to harbor a hurt and resentment, it is our duty, our “glory to overlook an offense” (Prov 19:11). If we withhold forgiveness, we put a basket over our light. Nothing causes our testimony to shine brighter than when we forgive for Christ’s sake. Onesimus had an opportunity to show obedience to the Lord by returning to the one he robbed by running away. Philemon had an opportunity to show the forgiveness of the Lord. Paul had an opportunity to lead both men to be more Christ-like.

Onesimus had not a farthing to restore him to Philemon. Philemon could not begin to pay Paul for the spiritual debt he owed him. Paul could very easily have pressured Philemon to do him a favor, but instead he tenderly leads Philemon to the high principle of forgiving one who owed him so much.

It could be said of all of us that we have a debt that we could not pay. No one is more in debt than a sinner is to God for sending Jesus to die in our place. Like Onesimus, we were in no position to contribute anything to change our status before God. Whether someone has defrauded you or maligned you, you are not owed as much as you owe your gracious God for salvation.

Our heavenly Father, like the loving father in the story of the prodigal son, gives total, glorious forgiveness. We have no right to give anything less than complete forgiveness. Paul instructed the church at Colossae, “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col 3:13). The standard we are to live by is very high and does not change. We cannot seek what we are not willing first to give (Matt 6:14).

When we show mercy we promote unity. When we forgive beyond what is commonly seen in the world, forgiving as often as someone wrongs us (Matt 18:21), then we show we value true fellowship more than anything and want the focus to be on Christ.

Instead of demanding justice or compensation, the Christian practices compassion in light of the great grace shown to us while a sinner with nothing to offer.

To refuse to forgive someone who has wronged you is to declare that you are not forgiven and changed by God, or else that you have been forgiven your sins by God, but are asking for chastening for not obeying the commandment of God. But to forgive as Christ forgave you is to give a clear testimony to the One who redeemed you.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32).

April/May 2010


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The OBF Visitor is the official publication of the Ohio Bible Fellowship. Feature articles from past issues of the Visitor are made available here for your use. You may read, distribute, and use this material as long as you do so in its entirety and without modification. All articles © The Ohio Bible Fellowship.

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