Back to the Basics! Introductory Matters #9 Essentials and Distinctives!

Today’s topic is a critical one — one which often divides Christians from one another. And part of the issue is that we sometimes don’t divide from one another when we should!

I’m talking about the area of essentials and distinctives. By “essentials” we are referring to the Christian truths that all Christians everywhere should affirm (the deity of Christ, His atoning work, the authority of the Bible, etc.). By “distinctives” we are thinking about the many areas where sincere believers have different opinions — and where the Bible is less clear on what we ought to believe on those issues (for example, what translation should one use?, Is Jesus returning before or after the Tribulation?, Have the miraculous gifts ceased?, etc.).

One man’s distinctive might well be another man’s essential. Liberals have no essentials. All theological points are preferences to them. A raging fundamentalist has no distinctives. All issues are of first-level importance to him or her.

The Reformers used a term that I think is valuable. They referred to the perspicuity of Scripture. By that they meant the clarity of the Bible. Is the Bible equally clear on all matters? It is, thankfully, perspicuous on the essentials of the Christian faith.

For example, Romans 14:5 says, “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” We do not have to hold exactly the same opinions about every issue in life! (to be continued)

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Posted by on February 19, 2018 in essentials and distinctives


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Back to the Basics! Introductory Matters #8 Systematic Theology?!

We’ve been thinking through some of the issues of a preliminary nature that need to be discussed before we get into the major areas of Christian doctrine. How one defines faith, the reality of heresy, the need for good philosophy, etc. are important topics to touch on before tackling the categories of God, the Bible, the Church, etc.

As we look at the material of the Bible, how ought we to organize and summarize what we find? There are essentially two ways to approach the biblical “data.” One way is to begin at Genesis and read straight through the Scriptures, collecting the truths we find, for example, on the doctrine of God. This is looking at the biblical material chronologically, sometimes called “biblical theology.”

“Biblical theology” is a term used by some in other ways, but we are referring to the collecting of Scriptural truth as it is progressively revealed in the 66 books of the Bible. There is value in seeing how, for example, the doctrine of the atonement (how God saves us) is gradually unfolded in the pages of Scripture (beginning, of course, with the proto-evangelium in Gen. 3:15).

Our approach in these posts, however, is called systematic theology. With a systematic theology approach, doctrines are looked at from a logical perspective. The data of Scripture are collected into logical categories (everything the Bible says about the Person of Christ, for example) and analyzed.

I don’t believe one approach is better than the other. They are just different ways of collecting the same material. The real question is what does the Bible as a whole say about the doctrine of __?

Some would say that the Bible might contain some examples of systematic theology, such as I Timothy 3:16 where we read, “Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” (I Tim. 3:16)

Regardless of which approach one takes, aren’t you thankful for the many truths about our wonderful Savior?

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Posted by on February 18, 2018 in systematic theology


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Back to the Basics! Introductory Matters #7 THE FAITH!

There are many issues that could be considered under this category of “Introductory Matters.” We’ve briefly looked at a definition of faith, how everyone (to some extent) lives by faith, what’s meant in the Bible by “belief,” the danger of heresy, etc.

Let’s spend one more post on this issue of FAITH. But not in the sense of one’s belief or trust in the Lord. The expression “the faith” is used in the Scriptures to refer to the content of truth which has been revealed by God.

We noticed earlier Jude’s challenge to “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” (Jude 3). Notice the expression: the faith.

That same expression is used about 19 times in this way:
Gal. 1:23- “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”

Eph. 4- 4 “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Acts 14- 21 “They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.”

Acts 16- 4 “As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.”

2 Cor. 13- 5 “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?”

I Cor. 16- 13 “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.”

2 Tim. 4- 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

We are told to reprove false teachers that they may be “sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). In later times some will fall away from the faith (I Tim. 4:1). Believers are to be nourished on the words of the faith and sound doctrine (I Tim. 4:6). I Timothy 6 says 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  Later in that same chapter we read: “20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, 21 which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith.”

Galatians 3:23 speaks of the time “before the faith came we were under the law.” In chapter 6 we read “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (the household of the faith).

In Acts 6 we read, “7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

In Romans 10 we read, “8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith (literally “the faith”) that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Luke 18:8 asks, will Jesus find the faith upon the earth when He returns”

Summary: The faith is something some want to destroy! There is one faith we must acknowledge. We are to encourage others to remain true to the faith, to stand firm in the faith, to keep the faith. Churches are to be strengthened in the faith. We are to engage in self-examination to see if we are in the faith. False teachers need to be reproved so they may be sound in the faith, for some will fall away from the faith; some will wander away from the faith. Some will depart from the faith.

A question:  What will you do today to spread THE FAITH to others?



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Posted by on February 17, 2018 in The Faith


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Back to the Basics! Introductory Matters #6 Philosophy!

We have been thinking through a few issues of an introductory nature that need to be discussed before we get into the specific subject areas of God, the Bible, Christ, the Holy Spirit, etc. [For those of you who like technical words, this area of study is called PROLEGOMENA, literally, “things you discuss first.”]

There are many of these preliminary matters to be considered. This morning we want to consider the issue of philosophy. “Philosophy” is the love of wisdom. How does philosophy relate to theology (the study of God and the things of God)?

The Apostle Paul says in Colossians 2:8- “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” Philosophy can quite easily become theology’s enemy, especially if it elevates the thinking of fallen man above the infallible Word of God.

But notice that Paul warns against “hollow and deceptive” philosophy, not philosophy in general. If one’s philosophy is how one views life, everyone has one, and needs to have the best one possible!

Paul knew philosophy, especially Stoic and Epicurean philosophy (as we see in Acts 17). We need to know various philosophies today IF we want to relate to where people are in their thinking.

We are not to put down good philosophy, but test it by the word of God. I love the quote from John Gardner, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Lyndon Baines Johnson: “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”

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Posted by on February 16, 2018 in philosophy


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Back to the Basics! Introductory Matters #5 Practice!

What we believe is critical. Faith, in the Scriptures, is not wishful thinking or unreasonable hope. It is a conviction founded on solid evidence.

But faith is more. It is life change. True faith must show itself by works (see the letter of James for his broadside on this issue). When we make faith merely cognitive propositions or cerebral conclusions, our convictions become only internal. Biblical faith is much more than what we think. It is what we do and how we live.

Sheer belief, by itself, is meaningless mental ideas devoid of practical proof. James 2:19 says, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.” But demons aren’t saved; they aren’t redeemed. However one part of their theology is correct — they are trembling monotheists!

2 Peter 1 is quite clear that we must work out our faith — and this working out is a life-long task. Peter says, 5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

We are to work on the additives of Christian faith: goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love. Peter says we are to “make every effort to add to your faith . . .”

How’s your addition going? Faith is more than thoughts. It is actions, attitudes, and characteristics of the Lord Jesus!

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Posted by on February 15, 2018 in practice


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Back to the Basics! Introductory Matters #4 Heresy!

Before we study the areas of Bibliology (revelation and the Scriptures), Theology Proper (the doctrine of God), Christology (the doctrine of Christ), etc., we need to talk about some preliminary issues.

We’ve talked a bit about faith, the need to struggle for the truth, and the concept of belief. Belief in the Bible is not gullibility, but a reasoned decision to align oneself with God’s reality.

The opposite of truth, of course, is heresy, a word that means “choice.” Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses heretics? They affirm the existence of God, the inspiration of the Bible, and the need of salvation. They are heretics because they choose to deny the doctrine of the Trinity, the deity of the Lord Jesus, and salvation by grace alone through faith alone.

“Heretic” is a strong word conjuring up images of people being burned at the stake. But heresy, untruth, is all around us. It may take the form of a formal denial of biblical truth or the spirit of the age which tells us to live for ourselves.

Jude writes to urge us “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” And that sometimes involves dealing with heresies.

(I’ve written a short booklet entitled Whatever Happened to Heresy which you can order here).



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Posted by on February 14, 2018 in heresy


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Back to the Basics! Introductory Matters #3 Belief!

We are thinking through some of the introductory issues in the Christian faith. Getting back to the basics means we need to review, periodically, the fundamentals of Christianity as we live in this world and want to serve Jesus.

While it is true that everyone lives by some kind of faith (see our previous post about stepping into an elevator), the Good News about Jesus is that we are to exercise faith in Him.

But for many “belief” or “faith” is just another way of saying “this is what I think” or “this is my opinion.” Belief in the Bible is much more than having a correct opinion. It involves aligning oneself with the reality of God and His truth!

The gospel of John has often been called the gospel of belief. Here are a few points which John makes in the fourth gospel about belief:

1. The goal of John the Baptist’s life was that all might believe in Jesus (1:7).
2. Being condemned or not condemned rests on belief or unbelief . . . in Jesus! (3:18).
3. While belief needs to be supported by evidence, it is possible to demand more evidence that one needs to believe (4:48).
4. We can’t work our way to God — The work God wants from us is belief in Jesus! (6:29).
5. Not believing Jesus’ claim to His own identify (the Son of God) means dying in one’s sins (8:24).
6. Believing in Jesus is so important that Jesus allowed one of His friends to die so He could raise him from the dead! (11:15).
7. Jesus demands the same belief in Himself as in God the Father! (14:1).
8. It is a sin not to believe in Jesus (16:9).
9. We can — and should — pray that others will believe in Jesus (17:20).

There is much more about BELIEF in the gospel of John. And I would recommend that you take a Bible you don’t mind marking up (preferably one of your own!) and highlight each use of “belief” or “believe” by John.

I heard one preacher say, “When I share the gospel, I worry about what people will think of me. And I worry what they will think of Jesus. But mostly, I worry about what they will think of me.”

Are you worried what people will think of you?  Use your influence today to challenge someone to believe in Jesus.  There is nothing more important than that!

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Posted by on February 13, 2018 in belief


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