New City Catechism – Week 50

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“O Great God”
(Hymn #35 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q50: What does Christ’s resurrection mean for us?

A50: Christ triumphed over sin and death by being physically resurrected, so that all who trust in him are raised to new life in this world and to everlasting life in the world to come. Just as we will one day be resurrected, so this world will one day be restored. But those who do not trust in Christ will be raised to everlasting death.

Last week we considered the fact of Christ’s bodily resurrection and his rule of his kingdom from the Father’s right hand. This week we will look at that reality in a different light: how it affects us. Or put another way, “given the fact of Jesus’ resurrection, what does that mean for our daily lives?”

Let’s answer that question by looking at three implications of Christ’s resurrection for us: a pattern, a promise, and a warning. First, we see that the resurrection of Jesus is a pattern. 1 Cor 15:20-23 explains that just as Jesus was physically raised from the dead, so will believers be raised again to glorious eternal life with him. Just as Jesus was raised physically, believers will also be raised in our physical bodies, although transformed by God into glorious, incorruptible bodies (1 Cor 15:42-44).

But we do not have to wait until the resurrection of the dead to see the benefits of Christ’s resurrection, since it also contains a promise for us. The promise is that just as Christ was raised, we are raised to new life while still in this world (Rom 6:4). God does not leave on our own to “do our best” with this religion thing. Rather, we have the power of Christ living in us so that we can live by faith (Gal 2:20). He is at work in us to preserve us until the day he returns (Phil 2:12) and to produce spiritual fruit in our lives.

Christ’s resurrection also hold promise for the entire creation, which is broken by sin (Gen 3:17-18) and awaiting the day when it will be fully restored (Rom 8:19-21). As the Christmas hymn “Joy to the World” declares, not only will Christ defeat sins and sorrows, but also the thorns that infest the ground. We await the day when his blessings will be made known “far as the curse is found.”

The final aspect of Christ’s resurrection to consider is that it contains a warning–these blessings we have been discussing are conditional. They will come to those who have believed the gospel and placed their faith in Jesus Christ. For those who have rejected Christ, there will still be a resurrection, but it will not be to everlasting joy and blessedness. Rather, their portion will be “in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Rev 21:8). This is a call for everyone to honestly examine our faith to determine if it is genuine. Do you long for his return? Do you experience the hope that comes from knowing we will be with him forever? Let’s hold firmly to Christ’s resurrection and the pattern, the promise, and the warning it gives us.

-Pastor Jonathan

 

New City Catechism – Week 49

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“Crown Him With Many Crowns”
(Hymn #129 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q49: Where is Christ now?

A49: Christ rose bodily from the grave on the third day after his death and is seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling his kingdom and interceding for us, until he returns to judge and renew the whole world.

Christ rose from the dead in a material body. This is the uniform testimony of the gospels and New Testament letters. Paul summarizes this in 1 Corinthians 15, “that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Cor. 15:4).

By appearances, Paul refers to the fact that Jesus showed himself bodily to the disciples. They touched him, heard his voice and even ate with him (John 20:27). They also saw him taken up into heaven and heard the angels say that he would return again as he had gone from them.

Where is Christ now? Psalm 110 foretold that Messiah would sit at God’s right hand until his enemies were made a footstool. This prophecy is referenced many times in the New Testament both by Jesus and the New Testament authors. The writer of Hebrews, for instance, quotes Ps 110 five times, e.g., “…After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Heb. 1:3b), cf. also Hebrews 12:2.

The right hand represents power. Jesus is reigning in heaven with His Father. He both rules and sustains creation in sovereign power (Matthew 28:18, Hebrews 1:3, 1 Peter 3:22). Though Christ rules sovereignly, he does not rule at this time unopposed.1 Men, devils, kingdoms and rulers may set themselves against him, but in the end all will bow before Him (Phil 2:10, 1 Cor 15:24-25).

In addition to His rule, which is great comfort to His children, He also intercedes on their behalf as their faithful high priest (Hebrews 7:25, 9:24, Romans 8:24). His position next to His Father secures and guarantees our help and redemption.

-Pastor Jay

1A helpful distinction lies in the terms “sovereign” vs. “preceptive” will. God rules sovereignly such that nothing comes to pass that he has not ordained. But God commands men according to his preceptive will, which they in fact resist and disobey. Cf., RC Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith p. 67, Tyndale.

-Pastor Jay

New City Catechism – Week 48

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“Facing a Task Unfinished”
(Hymn #348 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q48: What is the church?

A48: God chooses and preserves for himself a community elected for eternal life and united by faith, who love, follow, learn from, and worship God together. God sends out this community to proclaim the gospel and prefigure Christ’s kingdom by the quality of their life together and their love for one another.

“Literally” has become a word which stymies me a bit. People use it in the exact opposite of the definition. “They were ‘literally’ the meanest people I’ve ever known.” Were they really? Out of all the people you’ve ever met and all the horrible people you know about in history, they were the meanest? It brings up the moment from The Princess Bride when Vizzini says it’s inconceivable that the man in black is still climbing up the cliff. His cohort, Inigo Montoya, says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” ”Literally” has become that word for this generation.

Within the church, there are words which are misused or misunderstood. “Community” can be that way. It’s an often-used term and one that should be a pillar in every church. However, just as having a meal at church doesn’t constitute true fellowship, having multiple people together doesn’t constitute true community. Community, by definition, isn’t simply people living together. We don’t usually think of prisons as communities. It’s more than just proximity; it’s also a common interest and common values.

When the Bible talks of the church as a community, it’s referencing a group of sinners saved by grace who are working together in the midst of diversity for the common goal of encouraging, learning, and reaching others with the gospel. It’s not simply coming together for one day a week. It’s literally people doing life together. Community within the church is sharing hurts, celebrating victories, carrying burdens, working together, and building one another up as we focus on God.

Simply put, true community is not for the faint of heart. It’s risky. People may know your hurts. But, chances are, you’ll find people with similar hurts. You may be challenged in your walk with Christ. But, chances are, you’ll find people who are wanting the same and need some accountability. Being open and honest is always risky, but the church community should be a safe place to be both.

No church has “arrived” when it comes to community. There are none that are perfect. Grace is no exception. It’s a constant work in progress. We are striving to make it better and would love if you came along with us in creating a godly community!

-Pastor Jon

New City Catechism – Week 47

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“The Communion Hymn”
(Hymn #343 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q47: Does the Lord’s Supper add anything to Christ’s atoning work?

A47: No, Christ died once for all. The Lord’s Supper is a covenant meal celebrating Christ’s atoning work; as it is also a means of strengthening our faith as we look to him, and a foretaste of the future feast. But those who take part with unrepentant hearts eat and drink judgment on themselves.

Throughout church history, there have been various interpretations of the significance of the Lord’s Supper.  A blog post like this does not give sufficient space to deal with all the different opinions. However, the catechism this week does a good job of outlining the basic Evangelical understanding of the practice.

First of all, it must remain clear that the Lord’s Supper does not add anything to Christ’s once-for-all atoning work (1 Peter 3:18). Under the Old Testament sacrificial system, repeated sacrifices were necessary. However, the work of Christ put an end to all of this (Hebrews 9:25-26, Hebrews 10:12). It is unbiblical to say that Christ somehow is re-sacrificed, re-offered, or re-presented in this ordinance.

What then is the meaning of the Lord’s Supper? We know Jesus commanded that we eat and drink in remembrance of him (Luke 22:17-19). By observing the Lord’s Supper we are proclaiming his death and resurrection (1 Cor 11:26) and looking to him in our hearts. And we are reminded to anticipate his future coming in glory (Matt 26:29). He will return in glory, and it is on that coming we set our hope.

It is also worth noting that the consistent witness of the New Testament is that the Lord’s Supper is to be practiced by the church. It is not something that individual believers should observe in private. Rather it is a fellowship meal of the gathered, visible body of believers. The Lord’s Supper binds us together as God’s people.

In the midst of this rich symbolism the Bible also gives a warning about the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is more than just a meal, it is a solemn observance instituted by Jesus Christ himself. Therefore, we must not come to it with a flippant or unexamined heart—to do so is “eat and drink judgment” (1 Cor 11:29) on oneself. The Lord’s Supper should be approached with prayerful and honest self-examination, laying our hearts open and confessing our sin to God.

The EFCA statement of faith speaks of the ordinances as “nourishing” the believer. While we come to other meals for physical nourishment, may our observance of the Lord’s Supper provide us with the rich spiritual nourishment of comfort, hope, and fellowship with the church.

-Pastor Jonathan

New City Catechism – Week 46

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“All Creatures of Our God and King”
(Hymn #11 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q46: What is the Lord’s Supper?

A46: Christ commanded all Christians to eat bread and to drink from the cup in thankful remembrance of him and his death. The Lord’s Supper is a celebration of the presence of God in our midst; bringing us into communion with God and with one another; feeding and nourishing our souls. It also anticipates the day when we will eat and drink with Christ in his Father’s kingdom.

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are visible ordinances or sacraments that the Lord commanded. They do not replace the preaching of the gospel but they convey the gospel in an additional and dramatic way. As baptism signifies our death to our old self and new life in Christ, so the Lord’s Supper proclaims the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).

There are several key truths that the Lord’s Supper portrays regarding the gospel. First, Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of me.” When we celebrate communion, we are focused on the substitutionary death of Christ for our sins. We are reminded, that as the Passover lambs were slain in the place of the firstborn children of Israel, so God’s firstborn, is put to death for the redemption of His covenant people.

Jesus told his disciples, before that last Passover supper, that he had earnestly desired to eat the meal with them before he suffered (Luke 22:15). In similar fashion, the Christian will see communion as a deep fellowship with Christ. Paul wrote that the cup we bless and the bread we break are a communion in the blood and body of Christ. When we take the elements we draw near to the Lord in our hearts and affirm once again our need of His saving work.

The catechism says that by taking this we feed and nourish our souls. Such a statement does not mean that we have a magical view of the elements. When Paul writes, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26) he uses one of the same words “proclaim” as he uses for preaching the gospel. The Lord’s Table, in a very tangible way, feeds and nourishes us, as would the very preaching of the gospel. Communion is a celebration of the gospel in physical form.

Though the formula is nowhere found in scripture, we say that we “celebrate” communion.  There is good justification for doing so. The supper reminds us of our redemption from the bondage to sin, our glorious communion with Christ, His love for us in laying down his life as atoning sacrifice, and that He is coming again. So, we will continue doing so, “until he comes.”

-Pastor Jay

New City Catechism – Week 45

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Q45: Is baptism with water the washing away of sin itself?

A45: No, only the blood of Christ and the renewal of the Holy Spirit can cleanse us from sin.

Symbols can be weird things. Sometimes they mean very little to anyone other than the person displaying it. People sometimes wear a t-shirt that no one understands. If you’re showing a symbol which needs to be explained, perhaps a new one is in order.

Symbols can also be very powerful. In the film Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne said, “People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed; but as a symbol… as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.” Symbols can be very powerful if leveraged correctly.

In fact, some symbols and symbolic gestures carry much weight. Within the church, symbols mean a lot. Communion and baptism are meant to be symbolic, but carry much weight. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 11 exactly how important the Lord Supper really is. It’s not able to save, but it’s a reminder of Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. It should be treated respectfully.

In the same way, baptism should also be respected. It’s a joyous occasion, but it isn’t something to be done lightly. It’s so important that even Christ himself showed obedience to the Father by being baptized. The act of baptism symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. When someone is baptized, they are showing others their commitment to Christ through the symbolic act of being immersed in water.

Baptism isn’t shown to save in Scriptures. It’s not what takes away one’s sins. If it were, then Jesus being baptized would be problematic. Instead, it’s a public display of an inward commitment to Christ. Only trusting in Christ’s work on the cross and subsequent resurrection can save someone from their sins.

-Pastor Jon

New City Catechism – Week 44

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Q44: What is baptism?

A44: Baptism is the washing with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; it signifies and seals our adoption into Christ, our cleansing from sin, and our commitment to belong to the Lord and to his church.

In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus fleshed out the task of making disciples of all nations in two main activities: baptism and instruction. It’s easy in the church today to focus mostly on the latter. That’s largely because our Western mindsets have conditioned us to see education as the primary solution to any problem. Give someone the right information, and they will be able to make the right decision.

However, we cannot forget that the fundamental problem fallen humans face is not a lack of education, but our rebellion against a righteous God. No amount of education can fix this, only a fundamental change of our nature. The turning point comes at the moment of our salvation. Through a miraculous work of God’s grace, we are delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:13). The transformation is so radical that Jesus calls it being “born again” (John 3:3).

What does this have to do with baptism? Much. Because baptism symbolizes that change in a new believer. In Christ, the “old man” has died, and what has emerged is forever transformed (Romans 6:4). To be clear: there is nothing in the act of baptism that adds to or “completes” our salvation—we are saved only by God’s grace apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9). This should not, however, diminish the importance of baptism.

Let’s briefly consider three aspects of baptism in the believer’s life. First, baptism is an act of obedience. It obeys not only Jesus’ command in the Great Commission, but also the consistent teaching (Acts 2:48) and witness of the New Testament (Acts 8:12, Acts 16:15, Galatians 3:27), that baptism is the first step for a new believer following salvation.

Secondly, baptism is a public identification with Christ. When a new believer is baptized, he is publicly declaring his faith and his change of allegiance—his identity is now in Christ. He is giving witness that he now wears the team colors of “Christian,” and he is not ashamed of the gospel which saved him (Romans 1:16).

Finally, baptism identifies believers with the church, the body of Christ. In the New Testament, baptism is the means through which new believers enter the fellowship of the ekklesia, the “called-out ones” (Acts 2:41ff). It is an act of a local church which recognizes a person’s faith and welcomes them into that church.

Far from being a secondary issue, the ordinance of baptism is of great significance to the church and to each believer. May our own baptism prompt us to consider our identity in Christ, our willingness to obey his commands, and our commitment to belong to a local church.

-Pastor Jonathan

New City Catechism – Week 43

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Q43: What are the sacraments or ordinances?

A43: The sacraments or ordinances given by God and instituted by Christ, namely baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are visible signs and seals that we are bound together as a community of faith by his death and resurrection. By our use of them the Holy Spirit more fully declares and seals the promises of the gospel to us.

Sacraments v. Ordinances

Some churches use the term “sacraments”, whereas others use the term “ordinances” to refer to the two key observances of the Christian church. Christ commanded his followers to baptize believers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). He also commanded us to take the Lord’s Supper “in remembrance of [Him] me” (Luke 22:19)

When Christians use the term “sacraments” they generally mean that the grace of God in Christ is somehow communicated through their celebration. Those who use the term “ordinance” tend to shy away from this formula, and instead, emphasize the command and obedience in the practice.

If by “sacrament” we mean that either baptism or the Lord’s Supper save us, then we would reject the term. We are saved by the grace of God in the gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

But “sacrament” need not mean that and is not meant so in the catechism. If we mean that both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are God-ordained, Christ-commanded observances that declare the gospel to our hearts we are on solid biblical grounds. The catechism rightly points to the rich way that the Holy Spirit applies the gospel to us through these ordinances.  The Spirit more fully “declares and seals” the promises.

Here is what our denomination, the Evangelical Free Church of America affirms in our ten-point statement of faith.

“The Lord Jesus mandated two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which visibly and tangibly express the gospel. Though they are not the means of salvation, when celebrated by the church in genuine faith, these ordinances confirm and nourish the believer.”

J.I. Packer puts it this way. Sacraments function as means of grace on the principle that, literally, seeing is (i.e., leads to) believing.  (Concise Theology, J.I.Packer, Tyndale, p. 211)

-Pastor Jay

New City Catechism – Week 42

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Q42: How is the Word of God to be read and heard?

A42: With diligence, preparation, and prayer; so that we may accept it with faith, store it in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.

Men have a “funny” way of not utilizing the owners manual for a newly acquired device, piece of furniture, or pretty much anything that comes with a manual. Admittedly, I sometimes fall in this category. Unless something goes wrong or I can’t figure something out, I’m not looking at the manual. Most things are pretty self-explanatory. At my age, I can either figure it out based on past experience, or I’ll just muscle my way and figure it out through using the product.

This approach has some obvious flaws. The biggest one being that I never truly understand the intricacies of the product. How many times has someone showed you something about a product in your house which you’ve had for a while and you never knew it was able to do that?

I think we approach the Bible at times like that. Either we’ve read it and don’t feel compelled to review what we’ve already read. Or we assume we know what it already means. This isn’t a new issue. People have felt this way about the Bible throughout the years. I imagine that’s one of the reasons Paul wrote of the Bible’s power to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:16,17.

I had a professor in college who used to say, “The Bible is like any other book [in that it tells history and is a great read], but it’s also unlike any other book [it’s life-changing].” Have we lost a little of that life-changing power of God’s words to us? Do we prepare ourselves when we read it personally or when we are worshipping corporately on Sundays?

I can be guilty of this. My heart isn’t always in the right place when I spend time in the Word. I don’t always set aside distractions as I read and often miss some important concepts. I had a friend post a question on social media the other day: what movie did you not like/understand the first time you watched it but developed a liking for it the next time you watched it? Such a great question to ask about the Bible.

What are we missing out on by not approaching our time with the Bible “With diligence, preparation, and prayer; so that we may accept it with faith, store it in our hearts, and practice it in our lives”?

-Pastor Jon

New City Catechism – Week 41

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Q41: What is the Lord’s Prayer?

A41: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

This model prayer, given by Jesus to teach his disciples how to pray, has been repeated by Christians for centuries. Found in Matthew 6:9-13, the Lord’s Prayer is indeed a rich storehouse of instruction for Christians on the topic of prayer.

Unfortunately, some have turned this model prayer into something of a magical formula, to simply be repeated word-for-word. While using Jesus’ exact words in our prayers may sometimes be helpful, we will experience a greater benefit by looking at the structure and substance of his model prayer and applying it to our own prayer life.

Volumes of commentary have been written on the Lord’s prayer. I do not have time or space to examine each section of the prayer, but I would like to make three observations.

First of all, when we come to God in prayer we are coming to him as a Father. We can trust his intentions for us, even when he leads us through difficult circumstances that we would not choose for ourselves. Charles Spurgeon once wrote we should remember that “had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.”

Next, notice that praise and submission to God take the primary location in the prayer. Immediately the Lord’s prayer begins with three requests: that God’s name be hallowed (that is, honored and revered), his kingdom come, and his will be done. Again, these requests are putting our requests and our will in their proper place of submission to God. We acknowledge that our perspective is limited, and that our ultimate desire is for all things to come under God’s good rule.

A final observation is that it is right to come to God with our needs. It recognizes the fact of our dependence on him. Our needs are not met by our own toil or accomplishment, but out of God’s gracious provision.

Let’s come to God with thankfulness, submission and humble expectation. Those attitudes in prayer will conform us to his will, just as Jesus taught us to pray.

-Pastor Jonathan