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12
Jul

This is Real: Liberty, Legalism, & Love

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Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him. NASB 1 Co 8:1–3.

Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. NASB Rom 14:20–21.

We have already seen in this Church at Corinth the major divisions of theology and Christian practice that existed amongst them. We learned last week that this letter was written as a response to some of these debates that existed among them. They wrote to Paul asking for his advice on certain issues. This week we come to the issue of whether or not it is appropriate for a Christian to eat food that had been offered to idols. The question they seem to be asking is this: How should the members of a gospel community exercise their Christian liberties?

Now, obviously, we do not have this same specific predicament in our culture. Rarely, if ever, do we know of someone who eats food previously offered to a pagan idol. But we do ask this same generic question when it comes to those “grey areas” in the Christian life.

For example: How should a Christian handle…
• Alcohol
• Dating
• Money
• Friendships, etc.…

There are usually a variety of opinions on how a Christian ought to navigate through these grey areas.

However, in the text this week, we find the two primary ways that the Church in Corinth was dealing with this question, which is how many believers still respond today. The extreme descriptions would be legalism and the other, licentious. The legalists would argue that nothing good could come from those “things” so stay away from them all together. While the licentious groups would argue the opposite, most likely ending up in abusing those liberties.

Both groups have their verses in the Bible that they can cite and their own experiences as well. So the question is: how do you reconcile these two groups back to a gospel community? Paul would say it is only through love.

Paul said at the beginning, “knowledge puffs up, but loves edifies.” Here is the question Paul is asking both groups: What is more important, your Christian liberty or your Christian Brother? What matters most, the conscience of the newer convert or the ability to eat, drink and do whatever you want? Which do you love most, your brother or yourself?

His point is simple, don’t let your liberties or your legalism shape the way that you handle these grey areas; instead, let love be the guiding factor of how you live your life. That is what it means to be a member of a gospel community.

After all, Jesus was the greatest example of this. The eternal Son of God laid down all of his rights, privileges and entitlements to come and be one of us. He gave up everything for love! The love he had for those who would eventually come to believe in him motivated him to lay aside his divine rights. If Christ can do that for us, certainly we can do it for our fellow brother and sister in Christ.

A challenge: If you find yourself in the freedom camp, just know this — you are only truly free if you can set aside your freedoms for the sake of others. If you instead find yourself in the legalistic camp, please know that the Pharisees were legalists and the very thing you are so against could be a barrier for evangelism and a law created by men, not by God.

6
Jul

This is Real: Singleness

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Everyone wants to be married, until they get married. Then they want to be single again. At least, that is how the expression goes. Really, this popular saying springs from the delusion that all your dreams will be realized once you get married. But then, once the honeymoon is over and reality sets in, you begin to realize how difficult marriage is, how it has a unique ability to expose your selfishness and pride, how that girl you dated actually looks in the morning without her makeup on, how that guy actually looks after too many hours playing video games and not in the gym. Marriage—this is real!

Don’t get me wrong—marriage is a wonderful thing. There is no relationship on earth that someone can have that is as intimate, secure, and edifying as a union between husband and wife. Paul talks a lot about the blessing of marriage throughout his epistles, including here in chapter 7. But here, Paul uniquely talks about a very sensitive issue both in the church and in society: singleness.

In the Ancient Near East, to be unmarried was a tragic situation. If you were a single woman, it meant that you had no opportunity to be a mother, you had no real social standing, there was no financial security, and a plethora of other negative effects. If you were a single man, it meant that you had no opportunity to carry on your family legacy; a man’s social status depended much on if he was married and to whom he was married. Socially, marriage was important.

In the church, unfortunately, people tend to view singleness in two ways: either there is something wrong with you and/or God has “blessed and called” you to singleness (though they make you feel like it is more of a curse), or you are just in a “season of waiting” (whatever that means) and you just need to be patient and wait on the Lord to bring you that “perfect person” (again, whatever that means).

Though these two responses to singleness by others sound very different, the core misunderstanding is the same. What both opinions are doing is making marriage the chief and highest end of man; therefore, the greatest thing a person can achieve in life is to find a spouse.

Sadly, many people have wasted their singleness by caving in to the social pressures. In the first century, they would respond by quickly getting married. In our culture, people don’t necessarily get married, but girls go from boyfriend to boyfriend and guys go from girlfriend to girlfriend. They feel incomplete or embarrassed socially if they aren’t currently “in a relationship.” All this stems from a very low value people have toward singleness.

Paul writes the words at the top of this page as a completely antithetical* opinion. His opinion is that he desires his readers to be single so that they can freely serve the Lord and advance His kingdom on earth. Naturally, if you are married and have a family, you can’t just pick up and go somewhere that has a need for the gospel. You have committed yourself to your family. But the single person doesn’t have these limitations. The single person can go anywhere, do anything, and take massive risks for the kingdom of God.

Far from the cultural pressures that push people toward relationships and marriage, Paul’s greatest pursuit for himself, and his desire for his readers, is to “secure undistracted devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35 NASB). Therefore, singleness should be considered a wonderful gift from the Lord.

29
Jun

This is Real: Sex

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All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything… Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 1 Corinthians 6:12&18 NASB

Sex has become a “touchy” issue in the church — I use the adjective touchy with a measure of irony. Sex has become so convoluted in our culture that many churches don’t want to touch it for fear of offending people. Some pastors don’t touch it because they themselves are oscillating on issues of sex and sexuality – both in thought or practice. Even congregants don’t want their pastors and leaders to touch the topic of sex for a variety of reasons. Sex is a touchy issue – This is Real!

But even though our church culture is skirting the sex conversation, the Bible does not! As the church’s voice grows more faint on the topic and the secular culture’s voice is getting louder, the Bible’s teachings are to be upheld as the standard for a Christian’s sexual ethic.

Paul’s words to the Corinthian believers in chapter six are as relevant for us today as they were for them two thousand years ago. And here is the summation of Paul’s ethic on sex: Sex is not as casual or as common as people treat it; instead, it has powerful implications for our most important relationships – God, neighbor, and ourselves.

In the city of Corinth (and in many parts of the Ancient Near East), sex was considered a basic human function, like eating food or playing a game. Sure, people would marry, but these marriage contracts were mostly for tribal alliance and family security – not love or romance in the way we think of marriage today. Men would often visit a prostitute causally, not much different than how men today go to a bar after work to unwind. Sex was causal, common, and inconsequential.

Is this not how our culture sees sex today? Of course there are some variations but the essence is the same: It doesn’t matter who you sleep with. Having sex is simply fulfilling a primal human instinct – nothing more.

In today’s culture, secularists are constantly trying to promote sex as something causal. A prime example of this was when one of the largest porn websites strategically placed an advertisement in the middle of Times Square in New York City. The billboard shows nothing more than a pair of hands put together to form the shape of a heart, and the copy said, “All you need is hand.” The line was a rephrasing of a Beatles tune, “All You Need Is Love.” The subtle, but obvious message this sign makes is the epitome of secular culture’s opinion of sex – it is not that big of a deal.

But friends, no matter how casual the culture tries to categorize sex, no matter how powerful those human urges may become, the Bible is timeless and true when it affirms: Any form of sexual activity outside of a marriage relationship between a husband and his wife is a deviation from God’s original design; therefore, it is sin!

There are two ways to respond to sex outside of marriage. The first (and most important thing) is that you confess it as sin and, since many fail in this area, you trust in what Christ has done for you on the cross. You do this to be forgiven and to be washed clean of your sin. Second, you flee from it. You don’t continue in it and pray for more forgiveness – that is cheap grace! Instead you run away from the hazardous condition. You don’t put yourself in situations that have the potential to lead you to stumble and fall into sin.

22
Jun

This is Real: Week 4

For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake (NASB1 Co 4:9–10a)

Let me start with a controversial statement: Christianity is NOT cool! Now, before you rip this paper up and call me a heretic, let me explain. What I mean is that Christianity is not cool in the eyes of the world. Generally speaking, the world hates Christians. And as we learned in chapter one of 1 Corinthians, they think that the gospel itself is foolishness and repulsive. Even Jesus said “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Christians have historically been one of the most persecuted and oppressed people groups. Therefore, something that we need to come to grips with is the reality that in the opinion of the world, Christianity is not cool — This is Real!

However, if you look at the church culture of the last few decades, you will notice some who have tried to make Christianity “cool” in the eyes of the world. The thought is this: if Christianity looks cool then maybe more people will embrace it. The heart behind this thought is noble — it just isn’t biblical or realistic. Sure, thirty to forty years ago, with an evangelical president in office and mega-churches springing up everywhere, you might have been convinced that Christianity was finally being invited to eat their lunch at the cool table. But those days are long gone here in America.

Of course, even today we still see some groups trying to make Christianity more palatable to the eyes of the world. But in order to do this, the gospel itself is compromised. And in their pursuit of being cool in the eyes of the world, these groups often lose their effective and powerful witness because they sacrificed their core principles and beliefs.

So what is the result: A group of people who are still uncool to the world and also shallow in their faith and witness. Here is the real: Christians will never be invited to the “cool table” — As Paul wisely put it, “We are fools for the sake of Christ.”

But let me qualify all of this by saying something that might sound like an oxymoron given all that I have previously written: Christianity is the best and coolest way a person can live. The gospel is the coolest message a person can believe. Jesus is the coolest person who ever lived.

Now, hopefully most of you who are reading this will agree with that affirmation. Those of us who have come to know Christ personally after experiencing his grace, love and forgiveness, we define “cool” differently than how the world does. Being cool to us is living under the reality of who we truly are — sinners saved by grace — and not pretending to be something we are not — cool, hip, and popular.

The world will look at us and think we are strange and foolish. Unbelievers will think that we are naïve, brainwashed, and weak. Haters will call us bigots, intolerant, and old-fashioned. But we know that in the end there is nothing in this world worth pursuing and no worldly population or affirmation worth achieving. The coolest thing we can do is to pursue hard after Christ and be engaged in his mission of saving the world. To do this, we need to abandon the delusion that we can be cool in the eyes of the world and embrace the position that Paul himself took in verse 13, “we have become as the scum of the world, the residues of all things, even until now.”

15
Jun

This is Real: Purity

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“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles…” 1 Corinthians 5:1.

In the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul has been unrelentingly addressing the first of two major issues that plagued the newly established Corinthian Church — Disunity. The lack of unity that existed amongst these believers was reaping tragic consequences. Therefore, Paul needed to spend significant time on it. As we arrive now at chapter five, Paul transitions his attention onto the second major issue — Purity.

Tragically, sexual immorality existed in this body of believers; after all, how could there not be? Remember, the city of Corinth was an epicenter for travelers and worshippers of a variety of Greek god’s. One of which was Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, whose temple housed 1,000 prostitutes. And then there was Apollo, Greek god of music and poetry, whose worshippers would engage in homosexual acts at the temple devoted to him. So in a culture saturated in pursuing sexual pleasure, to the point that it’s a part of their formal worship, it would be understandable that this would be a major issue in the life of the church.

We see similar effects in our culture today. In America, we are bombarded with sexual images and information. Anything coming from the TV or magazine racks has blaring images containing sexual content. And what are the effects of this on society? Well, there are many consequences for this that is still be researched, but one thing it does is normalize sex outside of God’s design.

When a TV show portrays a homosexual relationship as something normal and healthy in society then the viewers are deceived into believing that seam-sex relationships are a viable option for the family. When people see billboards on the side of the freeway advertising a nearby strip club they begin to think that it is normal to treat women as objects for sexual pleasure. And this list of the types of media that is normalizing the pursuit of sex outside of God’s design could go on and on. But the point is that this immersion of sexual content in society affects the culture of the world and the church.

The church is simply a people group called out of the world and into a countercultural community through a countercultural message (gospel), to worship God and then witness to the world through a countercultural lifestyle. Here’s the problem, this transaction/transformation is both instantaneous and a process. We are immediately changed and transferred from darkness to light. Yet we still need to fight sin, flee immorality and put off the worldly behaviors that previously defined our lives.

Sin is a devastating thing, but in the church sin that is not dealt with is even worse. The reason for this is because sin, like a disease, spreads. It affects everyone around. Therefore, like a disease, it needs to be treated and at times, like a cancer, it needs to be removed completely.

Jesus Christ came and died to liberate us from the effects of sin and to reconcile us back to the Father. As a mark of genuine conversion, a person needs to fix their hope solely on Christ and live a life of repentance from sin. God uses the church, fellow believers in Christ, to help in this lifestyle of repentance as the Holy Spirit transforms us more into the image of Christ.

7
Jun

This is Real: Spiritual Growth in Light of Christ’s Grace

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Written by: Joe DiGerolamo

“Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you, I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready…” (1 Corinthians 3:1-2).

Imagine sitting in a restaurant and overhearing a couple ordering a rib-eye steak for their newborn baby. You’d think they were joking; otherwise, things would seem seriously off! Paul uses a similar approach to paint a picture for the church of Corinth, addressing their immorality and lack of spiritual maturity. When he first shared the gospel with them, they were like spiritual babies, needing careful attention and guidance. But as time passed, they weren’t growing—they were stagnant, even reverting back to their old sinful patterns.

What was causing this? With love and truth, Paul held a spiritual mirror to expose their need for change:

“…you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world?” (1 Corinthians 3:3).

God has called his people to be holy, upright, and pure just like he is (see Leviticus 20:22, 26, 1 Peter 1:13-16, Hebrews 12:14-17). Paul understood this and urged every believer to treat their bodies as God’s temple, a dwelling place for his Spirit (3:17). However, the Corinthians dismissed the Lord’s command for them to be set apart, causing sexual immorality, dishonesty and corruption to take residence in their hearts. Instead of growing in Christ together and changing the culture around them, they allowed the culture to shape their ideologies and actions. In a vicious cycle, they participated in sinful acts only to blame their neighbors for the wrong-doings they saw, arguing over pointless doctrines and living in disunity.

Like the Corinthians, we are surrounded by a culture that shouts for our attention and daily encourages immorality, testing and even opposing the truths that we believe in God’s word. The world praises self-sufficiency through fame, riches and pleasure to mend their brokenness. Perhaps you’ve found yourself tempted by these very things, even slipping into them at times. Let’s be honest—we don’t have the strength to resist any of the temptations that are thrown at us apart from Jesus’ strength. But remember that if we are in Christ then we will never be alone, especially when sin entices us! He promises to save us.

Paul encouraged the church with this later on in his letter:

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Paul loved the people of Corinth; he lived in their city for almost two years and walked alongside them as they saw revival. Now, as their spiritual parent, Paul was calling them to grow up and mature in their relationship with Christ. No more blaming; no more fault-finding. It was time to own up to the truth. He commanded them to look at their own hearts in light of the scriptures:

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

These words are equally applicable for us today. The body of Christ is made up of imperfect people in need of a perfect Savior. Pastor Greg has jokingly said, “If you find a perfect church, don’t join it—you’ll ruin it!” It’s easy to know when we haven’t truly examined our own hearts to the word of God: pride creeps in, leading us to blame-shift and expose the sins of others. Yet the gospel of grace softens our hearts and disarms our complaints against one another. Jesus’ massive and unending love will never run dry even for the worst of our sins. This proves that we can trust him when we are tempted. We can live in peace with God and with our neighbor.

May the gospel of life that saved us from eternal separation and unified us with God so revive our hearts and remind us daily that we are loved by him and that he is far greater than what the world offers to us. Then and only then will we see unity and growth in our community.

“Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4).

1
Jun

Summer Camp

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There are thousands of influences that attempt to shape the way we think about God, life, the world, and people. We are bombarded with arguments and different ideas on social media everyday, and they can cause us to lose sight of the most important things.

The theme of this year’s camp is “Sola,” which is a Latin word meaning “alone.” This word is used to define five foundational ideas of Christianity that are meant to form the way that we think and live. These five ideas are: Christ alone, scripture alone, through faith alone, by grace alone, to the glory of God alone. At this camp, we’ll strive to focus our view on God alone and allow Him to influence the way that we see the world.

This camp will challenge us to consider what it means to think and live in a biblical way through powerful teaching from God’s Word and music from the Activate Worship Band. The weekend will also be full of fun days on the lake, where we’ll play Olympic style games, go on the zip line or blob, and you’ll be able to meet new people your age!

Click here or on the graphic above to sign up!