BEARING THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT (Part 1)

     Previously, we mentioned that we must change our mentality. We do this by studying God’s word (2 Timothy 2:15) and by imitating Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1). This means we must stop doing things contrary to the will of God, that is to say, to no longer live our lives according to the ways of the world (Romans 12:2). Rather, we should strive to live according to God’s will as He has given it to us in the Bible. This results in a Christian “bearing fruit.” A Christian must produce fruit in order to be pleasing to God according to John 15:8. But what, exactly, is the “fruit” a Christian must produce? There are several passages that we will look at in order to answer that question, but let’s begin with the most obvious, Galatians 5:22-24.
    Here, we have a list of nine things, or “fruit” that is pleasing to God. Underline these in your Bible, write them down somewhere so that you can be reminded of them, or try to memorize each one. Notice that the collective group is called “the fruit of the Spirit” in a singular sense, but then the inspired writer presents a plurality of traits. These components only come from having a right relationship with God. Every one of these traits are part of His character. Christians must add this “fruit of the Spirit” to their daily lives. They are:
    LOVE– Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; and 1 John 3:18, 4:18. This kind of love means a love without borders or limits. It is unconditional. Regardless of the actions of others, you have complete control of this kind/type of love. That is how one can “love their enemies” as Jesus said in Matthew 5:44, because it is in your control. It is quite interesting that the people of Jesus’ day spoke and wrote in Greek. That language had four words to describe love: Eros- this is the intimate love in a marriage (this word is not found in the Bible); Storge- is the paternal, familial love, like that between a mother and her child (it is not found in the Bible, but you see the idea in Mark 7:10); Phileo- is the love between friends, or brotherly kindness (John 11:36); and Agape- this is true love, it is looking out for the best interest of others (Philippians 2:4). The trait that is listed here in this passage is agape love. This is the same word used to describe God (1 John 4:8). Just how important is this kind of love, according to Jesus in John 13:34,35?
    JOY– Read John 15:11; Romans 14:17, 15:13; and James 1:2. This is not just happiness, but something deeper, more holy, and pure. Joy is much different than happiness. Happiness depends on the circumstances of health, good friends, a pleasing environment, and/or security. Joy goes beyond all those things and draws its energy from one’s relationship with God. One comment I read said this, “… the Joy of the Lord is complete and there is no human circumstance that can take it away except when the Christian himself allows Satan in to steal it away.” This teaches us that it is only God who can provide this characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit and its focus goes far beyond anything in the present.Think about this, happiness and sadness cannot coexist in the same moment. But, joy can coexist with sadness, because they come from two completely different sources. Look at what brought joy to Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:19 and to John in 3 John 4.
    PEACE – Read Romans 5:1-2 and Philippians 4:7. When we think of peace, we often associate it with the absence of war, or violence. The peace mentioned here is broader than human peace. Some of the synonyms for this peace might be: “serenity, satisfaction, stability, certainty, security, happiness, and prosperity”. Biblical peace is not an ordinary or common fruit; it is unique and precious. For the Christian, peace is an inner tranquility that comes through hope and trust due to receiving forgiveness of sins through salvation (reconciliation with God). How might we obtain this peace from God according to the apostle Peter (2 Peter 1:2)?
    Next week, we will cover the remaining six attributes, or traits of the fruit of the Spirit. In the meantime, focus on and study these first three: love, joy, and peace. Ask God to help you in instilling these in your faith. Pray that these will abound and multiply in your daily life for His glory. Your life will be truly blessed if you do! – TS


A CHRISTIAN MUST BEAR FRUIT

    We have been focusing on spiritual maturity. We identified and explained some of the highlighted characteristics of what a mature Christian looks like according to the Bible. Now the question we need to ask ourselves is this: “How do we accomplish this in our own lives?”
    First, we must keep in mind what Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformedto this world, but be transformedby the renewing of your minds, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” According to the context, Paul was speaking to his fellow Christians; so by implication, this includes us. Notice the words Paul uses. It is clear that we must make changes in our mentality. In other words, we cannot continue living our lives according to the world, but rather we should live our lives according to the Word of God. The Bible gives us everything we need in order to change and grow as Christians while living according to the commandments of God (read 2 Peter 1:3). We are all capable of changing and improving our lives in order to be pleasing to God!

Agricultural Metaphors and Growth Analogies

    When we come across the concept of spiritual growth in the Bible, we should see a noticeable pattern. The teachings of Jesus and the inspired writers often compare the growth of a disciple to that of a plant. We find this same metaphor used frequently in the Old Testament, as well. The comparison is simple: just like a plant grows and produces fruit, Christians must grow and produce fruit. Let’s look at some the analogies the Bible utilizes.
    Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-9. Considering what Paul calls Christians in verse 1, what can we deduce from his analogy in verse 6? We should be able to see that just as a child grows by nourishment of food (3:2), a plant grows by nourishment of water. In both cases, what is the source of the increase (3:6)? It is God. It our Creator who put this law into motion when He created the world. All growth comes from His power, none from our own.
    Now, let’s consider John 15:1-8. This is a powerful passage full of divine wisdom! Notice how God and Jesus are identified in the passage (15:1). What are His disciples called? (15:5) The analogy is simple, just as the vine, or trunk, supplies what is necessary for the branches to produce fruit, Jesus does the same for us. In fact, He says, “without Me you can do nothing.”
    In the original Greek language of the New Testament, there are several words for “branch.” The word used here refers to a “tender offshoot, or vine sprout,” (according to Thayer). We might call it a twig. A twig, or vine sprout is rather insignificant when compared to the branch of a large tree. A twig is small, carries no real strength, and dries out faster than a tree branch. A good-sized branch off of a tree is still useful as wood, even after it dies. For example, one could make furniture, tools, or some other functional thing with it. But when a twig dies and then dries out, it is not really useful for anything. Thus, it is gathered up and thrown into the fire. What does that imply about us? It implies that we have no other greater purpose in life than to bring glory and honor to God. Isn’t that the point Jesus is making in verse 5?
    We should also note that Jesus said, “a tree is known by its fruit.” (Matthew 12:33). This means that we can be identified by what we “produce,” that is to say, by our actions. We know what an apple tree is because of its fruit. We can identify an avocado tree easily because of its fruit, and so forth. How can people identify us as Christians if we do not demonstrate our faith through our actions? Can others see Jesus in you by what you say and do?
   This is what God desires from us. It is what is meant by “bearing fruit.” We are to behave in a specific way, make certain actions, specifically those actions that bring glory to God. Our actions are extremely important! (Consider Matthew 5:16; James 1:22). We are to produce fruit that honors and exalts our God above all else. This concept harmonizes perfectly with passages such as, Ecclesiastes 12:13. According to the passage what is the “conclusion of the whole matter”?
    So, a Christian is to bear fruit in order to be pleasing to God. But the question still remains, “What, exactly, is the “fruit” (or the actions) that we must produce?” What are these specific actions mentioned? Look in Galatians 5:22-24 to find some answers. Next week, we will examine these individual fruits in detail to see how we can apply them in our daily lives.


CHARACTERISTICS OF A MATURE CHRISTIAN (Part 2)

    As a continuation from our previous article about the characteristics of a mature Christian, we mentioned that several are emphasized in the Bible. Of those, we have chosen ten attributes to highlight in this series. Let’s now add the other five marks of a mature Christian to our preceding ones. They are: teaching; service; hope; suffering; and perseverance.
    TEACHING – A mature Christian not only knows the Bible through personal study, but is also capable of teaching it to others. Read Matthew 28:19-20 (compare Mark 16:16). This is known as the Great Commission. This involves teaching new people about Jesus (verse 19), and what is meant by the word evangelizing. It is the command to carry the Gospel, (which means, “Good News”) and proclaim it to others in order to save more precious souls. According to Romans 1:16, where does the power of salvation lie? In addition, this also sometimes involves teachingour fellow disciples (verse 20). How does Paul describe this kind of teaching in Ephesians 4:12? Consider also what the Bible says in Acts 6:7, 8:4; and 1 Corinthians 9:16.
    SERVICE – The true character of mature Christian is seen in their service to others.Look at the event that took place in John 13:3-15. Afterward, Jesus finished by telling His disciples that He had left them an example to follow (verse 15). Considering the passage, what was the example? Add to this the words Jesus stated in Mark 10:45, regarding His purpose for coming to earth. We can deduce that a mature Christian is to serve others and to do so by following the example of Jesus. We should also follow the example of giving of ourselves to the Lord, according to 2 Corinthians 8:5. How often does Paul suggest we should serve others in Galatians 6:10? A mature Christian always remembers that everything is to be done by the authority of Christ and for God’s glory (Colossians 3:17; Matthew 5:16). Read also Matthew 6:19-21; 1 Corinthians 10:31; and 1 Timothy 6: 6-10.
    HOPE – A key element to spiritual maturity is hope. Peter describes a Christian’s hope as a living hope (1 Peter 1:3) Read Romans 8:24-25 and fill in the blanks, ”For we were _______ in this hope, but hope that is __________ is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he ________? But if we hope for what we do not _______ , we eagerly wait for it with _______________ .” Hope is not an easy word to define, but Paul certainly addresses it well in his letter. Here’s an important point, according to Colossians 1:5, where is our hope laid up? A disciple must have hope.
    SUFFERING – Jesus taught that His disciples would suffer (John 15:20). This equally applies to us today, because it is certain that suffering will come in some form or another (2 Timothy 3:12). Nobody really wants to suffer. But, there are many things that result from our suffering. For one, when we are faced with trials, non-Christians will be watching carefully to see how we will respond to our circumstance. How we handle adversity can be a testimony to our faith. Secondly, read how Paul describes the benefits of suffering (Romans 5:3,4). Then, to better understand, read Romans 8:18; and 1 Peter 4:12-14.
    PERSEVERANCE – Jesus said, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life,” (Revelation 2:10). Those are very comforting and encouraging words! The apostle Peter also taught that we are to add perseverance of our faith (2 Peter 1:6). Oxford’s Online Dictionary defines perseverance as, “Persistence in doing something despite difficulty …” That can certainly describes a Christian’s life! Hebrews 12:1 encourages us with these words, “… let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, …” The word for enduranceis one that means steadfastness, constancy, and patience. Here are some more encouraging passages regarding perseverance: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Philippians 2:14-16; Colossians 1:23; 1 Timothy 4:16; James 1:12    
    CONCLUSION
    Each of these characteristics are effectuated by faith and are also that which produces faith. A stronger faith produces spiritual maturity. An old preacher once said, “We have a faith, which is called ‘The Faith,’ that produces faith.” That is so true! Let’s make application of these ten attributes. When someone actively seeks to be (1) obedient to God, by (2) worshiping and (3) praying to Him, (4) learning His will and (5) serving in His kingdom by (6) teaching others through (7) love, while (8) persevering because of the (9) hope within, despite (10) persecution or suffering  … that is, indeed, true FAITH!
    So, how is one able to recognize a mature Christian? Or, when is a Christian considered mature? The question is not an easy one to answer and certainly cannot be measured with precision. Everyone is different. However, the things we have presented here are some of the main characteristics that can certainly be observed and identified within a spiritually mature Christian, according to the Bible. Every disciple of Jesus has the ability to develop each one of these attributes in their own lives. This will lead to being spiritually mature. Why not make a commitment to develop these characteristics in your own life?


CHARACTERISTICS OF A MATURE CHRISTIAN (PART 1)

    A few years ago, while serving as a missionary in South America, I was studying with a young lady about the fundamentals of the faith. I explained to her that as a new convert, she “must grow unto spiritual maturity.” At first, she became a bit confused and then asked a pertinent question, “Well, what exactly does a mature Christian look like?” She reasoned that if she could see what it was that she needed to attain to, she could more easily arrive there. What a great attitude to have!
    So, what does a mature Christian look like? Let’s take a look at how the Bible describes that person. In doing so, we will identify ten different attributes that are emphasized frequently within the Scriptures. A Christian, who is striving to obtain spiritual maturity (whether new to the faith, or with many years) should have a life marked with the following characteristics:
 
LOVE – First and foremost, a mature Christian is characterized by love. There is nothing more important in the life of a Christian than love! Jesus exemplified love for us in every aspect of His life. Think about how one might identify you as a Christian? We are identified by what Jesus says in John 13:35.
    The Bible tells us we are to love: God (Mark 12:30); Jesus (John 14:15, 23-24); one another (John 15:12); our mother and father (Matthew 19:19); and even our enemies (Matthew 5: 44-48). This kind of love is not some “warm, and fuzzy feeling inside”! It is an unselfish love that is exhibited in our actions. This type of love is called “agape.” Remember, out of a long list of spiritual qualities, the Bible says, “the greatest of these is love,” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-13; John 3: 16-18)
 
PRAYER – A mature Christian must have a life of prayer. Without it, we can’t be pleasing to God. The Creator wants to hear from His creation, therefore, we must pray! In fact, we have such a great privilege to be able talk directly to Him! Contemplate Hebrews 4:16. Think about this also, if Jesus Christ is our example (John 13:15) and He was a man of prayer (Mark 1:35; John 17:9), then we certainly must be engaged in prayer, frequently. What are we encouraged to do, according to 1 Timothy 2:8? Consider also the manner in which Paul says we should pray in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Prayer is such an important characteristic in the life of a mature Christian. Here’s a good thing to remember, it is hard to stumble when one is upon their knees in prayer!
 
OBEDIENCE – A simple reality: One cannot be a true Christian without being obedient! Obedience that is demonstrated in every behavioral aspect of a disciple’s life is a clear sign of a mature Christian. The prophet Samuel admonished Saul saying, “Obedience is better than sacrifice,” (1 Samuel 15:22). Again, our example, Jesus, was obedient (Philippians 2:8), even unto death on the cross. What does He teach His disciples in John 14:15? Look also at what obedience provides for us in 1 John 1:7 and 2:3,4. It is only through obedience that God will allow us to enter into heaven (Matthew 7:21; Revelation 22:14).
 
WORSHIP – How can one become a mature Christian if worshiping with the church is not a high priority in their lives?! Worship is so important because it is what we are made to do. Some animals were made to run, the sun was made to shine, and man was made to worship. We have a personal responsibility to worship, (Hebrews 10:25). Think about this, if you do not like going to the worship assembly to be with your brethren, then what do you think you are going to do in heaven?
    The Scriptures give us a specific manner in which to worship, (John 4:24). To worship “in spirit” means having the right attitude and focus while engaged in worship. What can we infer from Mark 7:6 regarding our manner of worship? To worship in “truth” means to do so according to His doctrine (found only in the Bible). According to Matthew 4:10 and Exodus 34:14, what does God expect from our worship? We should always remember that God is to be the focus of our worship and not us. Worship is to give glory, honor, praise and gratitude to our Father in heaven; it is never to be for our own entertainment.
 
STUDY – We must read and study the Bible (1 Timothy 4:13; Hebrews 5:12-6:1). It is the only way to truly discern what the will of God is. It is also the only way to learn how to mature in the faith. Jesus was a man of the Scriptures. How many times did He say, “It is written,” or, “Have you not read,” (Matthew 4:4 and 12:3)? In 2 Timothy 2:15, what did Paul encourage Timothy to do? Consider also Peter’s instructions in 1 Peter 3:15. It is impossible to do what Peter says if we never study our Bibles. Therefore, let us follow the example of the Bereans in Acts 17:11, because the word of God cannot get into you if you do not first get into the word!
 
….. to be continued in next week’s bulletin – TS


EVERY CHRISTIAN HAS A RESPONSIBILITY

    No one is obligated to be a Christian, nor can one be forced to become a disciple of Jesus. Someone cannot make you do the things necessary to be saved, or coerce you against your will to obey God’s commands. You must make that decision for yourself. While it is true the Bible teaches we must admonish those who do not obey the commandments of God (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15), He still gives us free will to decide to obey or not (Proverbs 16:9; Joshua 24:15). You have a choice in the matter. Either submit to God, or don’t. One of the first principles every human being must come to realize is each one of us has a personal responsibility toward God.That responsibility involves the salvation of the soul. Quite frankly, there is nothing more important on this earth. If you want to go to heaven, you must do what God has commanded. It is that simple. This means that you bear the sole responsibility for your own soul! It is your choice to obey God and yours alone.
    That word responsibilityis a “big” word, not because of its number of letters, but because of the meaning it carries. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word as, “The state or fact of being accountable … A moral obligation to behave correctly towards, or in respect of.” Do you see a spiritual application in there? Since Jesus paid the debt of our sins by dying on the cross (Romans 3:23-26, 5:8), then we must be faithful to Him and serve Him. It implies that we have a moral obligation to behave correctly in respect to what He has done for us. In addition, we will, indeed, be held accountable for our actions (Revelation 20:12).
    Keep the above points in mind as you read and consider Hebrews 5:12. This verse teaches us a key responsibility we have toward God, it is to grow into spiritual maturity! There are certain characteristics that God desires for us to develop and produce in our lives. Just as any infant must grow, Christians too, must grow. We cannot remain “babes in Christ” forever (1 Corinthians 3:1). No one should be baptized, added to the church (Acts 2:38,40,47) and then just remain stagnant. We must show love and gratitude to God by making our best effort to grow.
    Therefore, Christian responsibility extends beyond our obedience to the Gospel call. One does not stop obeying God’s commands once they have been saved, because salvation is not fully complete until we get to heaven (1 Corinthians 15:24). But again, no one is going to force you to obey His commands, nor coerce you into growing in your spirituality, or maturing in the faith. This is something you must do for yourself! It is a personal duty and it should be the most important goal of every Christian. Each Christian bears that responsibility themselves.
     Fortunately, spiritual growth can be measured. The scriptures clearly outline what the characteristics of a mature Christian look like. Having such characteristics distinguishes you from the world and establish you as a follower of Jesus. Read John 13:15. Consider the context of that passage and see if you can determine what the goal of every Christian should be. I’ll give you a hint. Paul teaches the same principle in 1 Corinthians 11:1 and Philippians 3:17. Consider also what is said in 3 John 11. Do you see what a Christian’s responsibility is by reading these verses?
    New Christians (or even a long-time Christians, for that matter) should read 1 John 2:15-17. Here we learn that we are not to love the world, nor the things in the world. This clearly indicates that we are to leave behind our former behaviors and focus more on spiritual, heavenly things. The bottom line is this, we cannot be baptized and then do absolutely nothing! If you do not put forth your best effort to be pleasing to God, then what does it really matter that you were baptized? “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only,” (James 1:22). The Bible teaches we have a responsibility to not only obey God’s commands, but by doing so, we may also develop into mature Christians. This is God’s will and it is pleasing to Him. Accepting our responsibility toward God causes us to be that shining light and example to others He desires us to be, which brings glory to Him (Matthew 5:16). – TS


FIRST PRINCIPLES

    The writer of Hebrews wrote to his first-century Christian brethren, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food,” (Hebrews 5:12). In the context of the verse, we learn that the writer (whom I believe is Paul) had to return to teaching Old Testament topics in order to help the brethren understand the role of Christ as our Supreme High Priest (4:14-15). We can also infer that they had been Christians for some time now and should have already understood that doctrine so well that they were teaching it to others. Sadly, they had not quite progressed to that level. Instead, they were still like newborns needing “milk,” or what he calls, “the first principles of the oracles of God.” Perhaps, another way of saying it is, they needed to return to the Basics of God’s Wordin order to grow.
    The application to us is straightforward, we each have a responsibility to grow in our Christian faith. We first need to acknowledge that the only way we’re going to grow and reach spiritual maturity is by studying the word of God and then putting it into practice. There is simply no other way (cf. Hosea 4:6). Sounds easy enough, but what exactly are those “first principles” we are supposed to learn? Well, while the Bible is our handbook for Christian living, containing “all things that pertain to life and godliness,”(2 Peter 1:3), it still doesn’t just enumerate each principle we should learn. We have to search and study to find them! A mature Christian can usually identify them quite easily. Sometimes, a newer Christian might need a little extra help to guide them in identifying those elementary principles.
    With that in mind, I’d like to begin a new series of bulletin articles. Let’s see what we can do to identify those First Principles of the Oracles of God. I pray this series will be beneficial and encouraging to all Christians, but I especially hope it will reach those who are new to the faith. I believe the first “forty days” of a Christian’s life are absolutely critical since they are a new “babe” in Christ, a new creature. Babies are not left to fend for themselves. We must nurture and care for them until they can survive on their own. I pray this series will be used as a study tool to help the Bible student scrutinize and learn God’s precepts. Below are some of the first principles that every Christian should know. (The article series will be following these topics)
 
Principle 1: God has Given Us Certain Responsibilities
  • After baptism, then what?
  • The Characteristics of a Mature Christian.
  • A Christian must bear fruit.
  • A Christian must add to their faith.
  • A Christian must learn how to function within the body.
 
Principle 2: The Bible is Infallible
  • Where should we place authority?
  • How did we get the Bible?
  • “Rightly Dividing the Scriptures”
  • “The Sum of Thy Word is Truth”
  • How to study the Bible.
 
Principle 3: There is Only ONE True Church
  • Where did the church begin and who was its founder?
  • Why are there so many churches?
  • The Kingdom exists today!
  • The importance of Biblical names.
 
Principle 4: Christ is the Head of the Church
  • The divine organization of the church.
  • The Membership.
  • The mission and work of the church.
 
Principle 5: God Gave Commandments about Worship
  • The true worship of the church.
  • The Lord’s Supper.
  • Prayer.
  • May we have Musical Instruments in Worship?
  • Preaching the Word.
  • Tithing is not for the Christian?
  • Is attendance all that important?
 
Principle 6: God is Sovereign
  • The Trinity.
  • The scheme of redemption.
 
Principle 7: There are Dangers in False Doctrines
  • Can one fall from grace?
  • Have miracles ceased?


HOW DID WE GET OUR BIBLE IN ENGLISH?

    There is no book that has had a greater impact on humanity than the Bible. It has become the most copied, printed, published, and translated book of any book that has ever existed. In fact, the entire Bible has been translated into more than 600 languages, with the New Testament alone having been translated into more than 1500 languages! There are also translations of smaller portions of the Bible, which results in a sum of more than 3,000 languages having at least part of the Scriptures available to them. Translation is necessary because it was originally written in Greek and Hebrew. So, what about our English Bible? Did you know there’s been about 450 English translations made? How didwe get all the various English versions we have today? Let’s answer those question with a brief look at history.

 EARLY TRANSLATION VERSIONS

   John Wycliffe (1320-1384), is credited for the first complete Bible translated into the English language. It is beautifully hand-writtenand translated from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. Wycliffe’s version was eventually outlawed and 44 years after his death, pope Martin V was so infuriated, he ordered Wycliffe’s body to be exhumed, burned, and his ashes scattered!
    After the invention of the printing press in 1440, William Tyndale (1494-1536), produced the first Bible printedin English. He was an Oxford scholar (fluent in 8 languages!) and a major leader of the Reformation.Since it was illegal for the common people to possess Bibles, they were smuggled into England in bales of cotton and sacks of flour. Tyndale was later branded a heretic and was caught. He was chained to a stake with a rope placed around his neck. His last words were, “Lord, open the the King of England’s eyes!” He was then strangled and burned. Three years after his death, King Henry VIII commissioned a new, authorized English translation. It became known as the Great Bible (1539).
    Another period of persecution soon followed, so many Christian reformers fled to Geneva where a new Bible was produced. This became known as the Geneva Bible (1560). It is the Bible that William Shakespeare quoted and the one the Pilgrims brought with them to America.
    Of course, the most widely known English translation is the King James Version (1611), or KJV. It was produced by 47 scholars from Oxford, Cambridge, Westminster, with various protestant backgrounds. They used many ancient Greek manuscripts and other Bible versions like Tyndale’s translation, the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible. It became the most widely used Bible in English and remains the oldest version still in use.

 MODERN TRANSLATION VERSIONS

    Beginning in the late 1600’s and up to modern times, many additional ancient, biblical manuscripts have been discovered. These discoveries prompted a desire to update and replace the KJV. Publishers wanted to produce a Bible that would be commonly used among everyone in a more updated vernacular that included the latest discoveries. A long succession of different English translations have since followed.
    The first “American” English Bible produced was the American Standard Version (1901). As popular as it became, it still never eclipsed the KJV. Some of the more popular versions are: New American Standard Bible (1971); the New International Version (1978); the New King James Version (1982); and, most recently, the English Standard Version (2001). This is just a quick summary of how we came to have all the many versions that exist today. There is a whole lot more to the story and it’s one worth looking into!
    God has always intended that His Word be understood in every language. This is evidenced by the miracle of speaking in tongues (foreign languages) on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:7-11). We no longer have miraculous gifts available to us like the first century Christians did. But, God still desires that all of man understand His word equally as well. I am so very thankful there have been those individuals who have carried on the daunting task of translating the Bible for all the masses. – TS


YOU ARE LIVING IN ENEMY TERRITORY!

    Imagine waking up one morning to find that enemy forces have invaded the land. They have captured and secured all forms of the government and military. Because of this, you are no longer a citizen of the country in which you were born, you are now under the rule of an enemy force. Imagine also, that this enemy has agreed to allow you to continue living in your home and working as you had before. You must simply comply with their standards, pledge your loyalties to this new power, and pay your tributes, accordingly. What was once your homeland, has ceased. Now, you are living in enemy territory!
    Really, this isn’t too hard to imagine. In fact, it’s been happening since the dawn of time. We just recently witnessed it again with Russian forces invading the Ukraine. ISIS took over great swaths of territory during their invasive campaign. People in those lands found themselves suddenly living under enemy rule. I also think of stories like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego living under the enemy (Daniel 3), or Palestine during the time of Jesus, along with and most of the known world under the rule of the Roman empire (Matthew 22:21). Man often finds himself living under the rule of foreign powers. It usually brings hardship, confusion, persecution, violence, and even death.
    Do you realize that you are living in enemy territory today? That’s right. The land in which you live, is ruled by a foreign, evil force. He is known as the “ruler of this world,” (John 12:31); the “prince of the power of the air,” (Ephesians 2:2); and the “god of this world,” (2 Corinthians 4:4). He is the “roaring lion,” (1 Peter 5:8); “serpent,” (Genesis 3:1); “dragon,” (Revelation 12:9; 20:2); our “adversary,” (Job 1); “tempter,” (Matthew 4:3); and “wicked one,” (Matthew 13:19). He is Satan, the old devil.
    Now, consider what Paul wrote, “our citizenship is in heaven …” (Philippians 3:20) which implies that we are not of this land. Jesus also stated in His prayers, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:15-16). This is clear indication that we are living in enemy territory! This means we are at a disadvantage. It also means that we comply with the enemy’s standards if we just try to “fit in” with the rest of the world. We essentially pledge our loyalties to this enemy force if we stand by and do nothing about it. We pay tribute to him when we succumb to the temptations of sin.
    However, the Bible also says, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light,” (1 Peter 2:9). So, even though we live in enemy territory, we can be just like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego and NOT submit to the enemy. That’s what makes us a special people. Not submitting to the enemy promises us hardship, confusion, persecution, violence, and even death. That’s exactly what Jesus said would happen, if you enter into His kingdom (John 15:20). That is why we must persevere until the end and He will reward us richly (Matthew 10:22; Revelation 2:10). In the meantime, try remembering the comforting words of that old song, “This world is not my home, I’m only passing through.”


ARE WE THE ONLY ONES GOING TO HEAVEN?

    I can’t tell you how many times I have had someone, who is not a member of the church of Christ, say to me, “You people in the Church of Christ believe you’re the only ones going to heaven.” Or, they will have something similar to say along those same lines, just in slightly different words. Has that ever happened to you? If you’ve been in the church any amount of time, it’s bound to happen sooner or later. So, is it true? Is that what we believe? Let’s respond honestly to the accusation and answer those questions.

Is that true?

    First of all, I have never heard anyone from the church of Christ ever actually say that, preach it, or write it! From my own experience, I grew up in the church, have been closely associated with the church most of my life, and have been a full-time minister for twelve years now. I have been to numerous lectureships, Gospel meetings, and seminars where I’ve heard some of the best and most prominent preachers in the brotherhood. I’ve also read hundreds of articles, blogs, and commentaries by our brethren. Out of all of that, I cannot point to one single occasion where someone actually spoke those words! So, where did it come from? Well, it came from an inference someone deduced (obviously denominational) about the church of Christ from a sermon they heard, an article read, or the like. It is what someone else thinks; it is an opinion they have formed about us.
    Secondly, we can’t help it if people form opinions, but we can at least answer their allegations. So, is that, indeed, what the church of Christ believes or teaches? The answer is “No.” The church of Christ has no official, nor formal statement of faith, creed, or a mission statement registered anywhere in the world. We have no overseeing, governing authority in a headquarters somewhere to mandate such a thing. We simply adhere to what the Bible teaches regarding the church and try to replicate it. The name we use, the “church of Christ” is simply a description of the body, or assembly of the saints (Romans 16:1-16; 1 Corinthians 1:2), not some formal organization’s name. Therefore, to make such an allegation regarding the church of Christ is evidence that the accuser doesn’t really understand the true nature of the church – as presented in the Bible. Instead, they are thinking from a more worldly, man-made institution point of view.
    Thirdly, the real question that should be asked, in order to respond is this, “Who do youthink will go to heaven?” Or, perhaps, “Who (how, or what) determines who gets to go and who doesn’t get to go?” If they’re honest, their answer should be exactly the same as “what the church of Christ believes.”It should be, “God decides!” (Matthew 7:21) If they don’t believe that, then there’s a whole other issue to deal with. Thus, where do we find the rules for God’s decision? Only in the Bible. Any member of the church of Christ should be able to answer, “Only those who obey the Gospel will go to heaven,” (2 Thessalonians 1:3-10, Matthew 25:31-46). We, that is, the people who have been added to the church (Acts 2:47) believe that anyone who adheres to the plain, clear doctrine of the first century church of the Bible will go to heaven. In the first century, they were called just “Christians” (Acts 11:26), the “Way” (Acts 9:2), and the “household of God” (Ephesians 2:19), to name a few. They obeyed that Gospel plan of salvation and were all part of the body of Christ, the church of our Lord, Jesus (Matthew 16:18).
    Therefore, if the church you go to doesn’t line up with, or match the church of the first century church, as it is presented in the Bible by name, doctrine, organization, headship, leadership structure, worship, membership, and fellowship then your soul is in jeopardy! It doesn’t matter what I believe or think. What matters is what God has said!


CHRISTIANITY OR CHURCHIANITY?

    It is believed there were tens of millions who converted to Christianity throughout the Roman Empire within just a couple of hundred years after the church began in Jerusalem around 33 AD (Acts 2). The exponential growth of Christianity from its infancy was absolutely phenomenal! Here in America, the church of Christ experienced yet another remarkable growth period in the middle of the past century. Estimates from the 1960s put the total membership of the churches of Christ at around 2.5 million. That’s an impressive number! Unfortunately, that growth rate has since declined, considerably, since about 1980.

 Today’s Trend

    Today, the fastest growing religion in the world is no longer Christianity – although it still makes up about 31% of the world’s population, more than any other religion. Adherents to Christianity, that is, those who follow the teachings and doctrines of its founder, Jesus Christ, have decreased substantially and at an increasingly rapid pace. The people who obey the Gospel plan of salvation, as clearly outlined in the New Testament, (Mark 16:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 6:1-4) and who are putting on the name Christian (Galatians 3:27; Acts 11:26) are no longer converting at the rates previously seen. There’s a different trend. Instead of converting to Christianity, people are now increasingly converting to Churchianity.
    Churchianity has become the fastest growing religion in America. What exactly is Churchianity? Let’s allow Paul to explain, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” (2 Tim 4:3). This is how Churchianity has come into existence; it is attractive to those who do not know their Bibles. Churchianity assures people they are right with God by just listening to some religious leader, attend an entertaining “worship” service, and being involved in church functions. It is a religion more focused on the the social aspect of the church than on the Scriptural aspect based upon truth. Never has there been a lack of religious institutions in the world. But, there continues to be a growing lack of fundamental truth regarding the one true church of our Lord. This has resulted in yet another, new community of faith based solely on traditions, habits, and instructions of institutionalism rather than book, chapter, and verse of the Scriptures.

What about you?

    Are you a Christian or a Churchian? Are you more concerned about what Jesus and the apostles teach through the inspired words of the Bible, or do you prefer to adapt to whatever some manufactured tradition mandates? Are you more concerned about what the church is doing for you, or are you more focused on what you can do for the Lord’s kingdom? Do you come to worship to “get something out of it” for yourself, or do you come to give honor, praise, and glory only to God? Do you see souls all around you who are in need of God’s saving grace, or do you see people who are not lucky enough to belong to your special club? I hope you can see the difference between being a Christian and Churchian. You can’t be both and only one of the two will make it to heaven (cf. Matthew 7:21). Choose wisely!