Back to basics

PROFESSIONS OF FAITH

At one time in my ministry, I had over 1,500 books in my own personal library, not counting journals, magazines, pamphlets, and small paperback books.

Since I was 26 years old I have attempted to read a book every three weeks. But out of all those books I possessed, over a hundred of them dealt primarily with the “how to” of the Christian life. For example: How to study the Bible, how to be happy, how to be spiritual, how to be a leader, how to communicate, how to live a victorious life, how to preach how to live effectively, how to pastor a large church, how to pastor a small church, etc. But I have noticed that all those ‘how to’ books have something in common. They do not offer something new but reiterate something old. They simply take you back to the basics.

Maybe you are like me. I have found in my Christian life that it is not what I do not understand in the Bible that gives me problems, but that which I fully understand.

For example, I fully understand that I have three provisions for a victorious life as a Christian: I have the inspired word, the indwelling spirit, and I have an interceding Savior. They are all provisions for a victorious Christian life. In fact, they are provisions freely given to any person who by faith trusts Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.

But having these provisions is not enough. I must apply some principles to utilize these provisions. What principle will allow me to avail myself of all that which God has provided me to live a victorious Christian life? I call them ‘the Basics of the Christian life.”

Basic #1: To live a victorious Christian life. To live an effective Christian life. To apply the provisions of an inspired word, an indwelling spirit, an interceding Christ – Nourishment Must Be Adequate. We live in a day of junk food. It has given new meaning to the adage, “you are what you eat.” In I Peter 2:2, Peter reminds us what we are to eat. What we ought to be nourished on. He says, “Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” The text implies that babies desire milk and once you start to grow you will be looking for meat. I mean, sometime in your Christian life one must be weaned off of milk onto meat. Milk is for new-borns, for babies, fresh from the womb of the Holy Spirit. Milk is the basic Christian nourishment. But how does one make a transition from milk to meat?

II Tim. 2:15 says “Study to show yourself approved to God as a workmen who does not need to be ashamed because he handles accurately the word of truth.” Two principles: Study it. And handle it correctly. One little girl named Beatrice was correct when she said, “I think more people would study the Bible if they made it a TV series.” Allow me to give you three reasons why nourishment must be adequate and why that nourishment is to be gained through the scriptures, which are to be studied and handled accurately.

The Scriptures are a word with CONTENT to be studied. Even the apostle Paul knew he needed to study the word of God. In II Tim. 4:13, he told Timothy – when you come to me bring my cloak and the books and especially the parchments.” Parchments were skins of vellum used for precious documents. In this case they were the copies of portions of the O.T. Paul still wanted to study! Why study the Bible? Because the content is inspired and inerrant. Did you know that there are people who believe this is merely a human book? They believe in natural or ordinary inspiration and out of that belief has spawned existentialism, that is, the freedom from rules. Then there is liberalism, that is, the idea that the Bible is only a historical book to trace the development of Judeo- Christian religions. Then there are the neo-liberals that say the Bible is a word of God; one that tells important things about God but is not the final authority on God. Then there are the neo-orthodox that say the only true parts of the Bible are those that man recognizes as truth. And then there is Barthianism, Crisis-theology, and Dialectic theology – all spawned out of the belief that the Bible is merely a human book.

Did you know that there are people who believe the Bible is limited in inspiration? Lots of people believing a lot of different things about the Bible. Do you want to know what I believe? I believe the Bible is true in all it asserts or states! If I wanted to summarize the word of God what could I say about it? Psalm 119:160 says it for me, “The sum of thy word is truth.” Why is it true? Because the Bible tells us in John 1:1 that the word of God personified is Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ said I am the truth. So Paul tells us in II Tim 2:15 that the word of God should be studied and handled accurately. We are to ‘be strong in grace.” An imperative tense implying a progression of getting stronger. So Study, study, study — so that you might handle the word accurately because the content is worthy of study. Don’t be like Melissa, a little 7 year-old girl who wrote her pastor and said, I read the Bible every day since I was a child — so far I am still on the first page.

May I admonish you to get up 20 minutes earlier this week and start your day with a study of the word of God? Besides, more people die in bed then anywhere else so it may lessen your chances of dying. So the scriptures are to be studied because they have a content that is inspired and without error.

Another reason they should be studied is: Scriptures are a word with Meaning that needs to be handled accurately. How many times have you heard people say – “The Bible is hard to understand.” Just because a Bible is inspired and just because a Bible is inerrant – that does not guarantee that you will understand it. One has to learn how to study the Bible. So buy yourself a book on How to study the Bible. Set aside a time for devotions and study. As one author said, “Help fight truth decay – study your Bible.” So, the scriptures are to be studied because they have content that is inspired without error and the scriptures are to be studied because they have meaning that needs to be handled accurately.

Thirdly, the Scriptures when applied have a unique ability. The scriptures were not given primarily for knowledge; the scriptures are a body of knowledge given primarily for application in the life of the studier. I read a story once that was a bit ironic. It was a story of a man who collapsed in a bakery due to malnutrition. The author stated that therefore, it is possible to be starving in the midst of a feast. Scriptures are most useful when applied. And when applied the thing they are most useful in doing is making one wise. Psalm 119:98 says, “Thy commandments make me wiser than my enemies.” It is never a matter of how much God wants to use you, it is a matter of how prepared you are for God to use you. Therefore, one of the basic principles for Christian living is that nourishment must be adequate and the food you are to be feeding on is the scriptures. Because – they have content that is both inspired and inerrant, they have meaning, which needs to be handled accurately, and, when handled accurately, they impart wisdom to the one who applies them. How’s your food intake? Are you constantly and consistently being nourished on the word of God? If you are having a problem with the Christian lifestyle – Is your nourishment adequate?

A second basic of the Christian life is Fellowship must be frequent.

I John 1:3 “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you may also have fellowship with us and indeed out fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ.” There is a two-fold fellowship is a Christian life that is to be experienced frequently: Fellowship with God through the agency of prayer and fellowship with each other through the agency of a local church.

In the Bible, the church is described by the apostle Paul and others in terms of pictures of ordinary relationships. Each picture gives us ideas on how the church can stay healthy and work properly to get the job done that God has given that church to do. For example: In I Cor. 12 and Eph. 1 the church is pictured as a relationship between a body and its head. The church like a body is told to obey the head the church like a body is told to work with all parts of the body.

The church, like a body, is told to care for the weaker parts of the body. In Eph.2 the church is pictured as a relationship between a building and its materials. The church like a building must fit together. The church like a building must have a good foundation. The church like a building must use quality materials to build.

In II Cor. 11 and Eph. 5, the church is pictured as a relationship between a bride and her husband. The church, like a bride, must trust her husband. The church, like a bride, must be faithful to her husband. The church, like a bride, must give herself to her husband’s desires. In I Pet. 5 and John 10 the church is pictured as a relationship between a flock of sheep and its shepherd. The church, like a flock, recognizes the chief spearhead. The church, like a flock, follows the under-spearhead. The church like a flock knows the shepherd’s voice.

In I Cor. 3 and John 15 the church is pictured as a relationship between a field and its workers. The church like a field utilizes a team of workers. The church like a field finds nourishment. The church like a field accepts pruning. In I Tim. 3 and Eph. 2 the church is pictured as a relationship between a family and its father. The church as a family will honor its parents. The church as a family will have an atmosphere of love and oneness. The church like a family will share together. These are all pictures of a church. But the one characteristic of all these relationship pictures is not independence but inter-dependence. In a parsonage I once lived in we had a wood-stove. I noticed that if I would separate the hot-coals from one another, it burned out quickly. But what a pleasant fire they afforded when they all burned together. Fellowship is like a bicycle wheel. The hub is Jesus and we are the spokes. The closer we get to the hub, Jesus, the closer we get to one another. Jesus said – faith without works is dead. I say, Fellowship without church is phoney. I think too many of us are like the little boy who wrote a note to his pastor and gave to him after church, In it the note said, Dear Pastor, I like to go to church except when there is something better to do“. You want to have an effective Christian life, don’t you? Then your Nourishment must be adequate and your fellowship must be frequent. Also, your self-judgment must be continuous. I am not talking about a search for sin but an attitude that keeps one from searching for others sin. A continual judgmental attitude of others is unscriptural, but a continual self-judgment is scriptural. Self-judgment is the best preventive medicine against judging others. Amy Carmichael use to pray, “God, harden me against myself.”

Did you know that judging others is not safe? Jesus said in Matt.7:1 “Do not judge lest you be judged.” Romans 2:1 says every man who passes judgment on another condemns themselves, for you who judge often practices the same behavior.” In these two passages God is simply saying that to pass judgment on others is to invite a similar process with respect to oneself. Did you know that you and I are not qualified to judge?

Jesus said in Jn. 8, He who is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone.” Is your conscience so pure that it allows you to indulge in judging another? I think most people preoccupy themselves with judging someone else because it keeps them that self-examination which is the primary duty of Christians.

Oswald Sanders said, “Only when one is angry at sin in their own life can they experience righteous anger at the sin in others.” Did you know that judging others is not under our jurisdiction? Romans 14 says, who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls.” To pass judgment on others is to usurp a divine function. I Cor. says, “He that judgeth is the Lord.” The next time you feel as if you are getting a little too critical of others -go through the Bible and list all the New Testament commands and then check your own life out. Pray – God, it is easy to deal with others, but enable me to deal with myself. So nourishment must be adequate, fellowship must be frequent and, self-judgment must be continuous. If your Christian life has become stagnant or dull or lifeless – I urge you to go basic to the basics. Back to those basic Christian principles to avail yourself of all the provisions God has graced you with to live a productive life.

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