You cannot rightly call yourself a Christian if you haven’t repented. Do you recall the first time you repented before the Lord of glory? No feeling in life can transcend higher and be more satisfying than to be at peace with God. Yet, for many Christians, repentance is merely a thing of the past—something they did when they entered the family of God, but not something they do on a regular basis. Take this opportunity to pause and consider how the child of God should repent frequently—perhaps even daily.
The Privilege of Repentance
We were once enemies of God. That’s what Paul writes in Romans 5:10. Take time to let that thought sink in for a moment. We had rebelled against holy God and rejected his sovereign rule. We transgressed his holy law and walked in disobedience to his good commands. Yet, God graciously came to us and sought us when we were strangers wandering from the fold of God. It was sovereign grace and mercy that granted us the privilege of repentance. In our culture that’s saturated by “rights” that are demanded and expected, we must remember that God did not owe us the gift of repentance (2 Tim. 2:25). In Matthew 3:2, we are called to repent. The word repent is taken from the Greek term, “μετανοέω” which literally means to change one’s mind, to change direction as a result of conviction and remorse.”
Beyond salvation, the privilege of repentance is granted to God’s children on a daily basis. We have access to the throne of God and we have a glorious mediator who is none other than Christ the Lord (Heb. 4:16; 1 Tim. 2:5). Why would we have such privilege and access to God’s throne and forsake it? Has God and his throne become too common and casual for us that we have been tempted to neglect such privileges? What about the responsibility of repentance? Have we simply failed to obey God by avoiding repentance?
The Posture of the Christian Life
When rightly understood, the Christian cannot fulfill the Christian life outside of a proper posture of repentance. A life of pride and self-sustaining knowledge and power displeases God (James 4:6). When rightly understood it will be clearly seen that every area of your life is stained by sin and stands in need of repentance on a regular basis. Repentance is difficult because it requires us to be honest about ourselves and we don’t enjoy being honest about our own failures. John Flavel stated, “It is easier to cry against one-thousand sins of others than to kill one of your own.”
While justification is a one time legal declaration—a verdict that will never be repeated, sanctification is something that is in progress. The forward motion of sanctification demands repentance. When properly understood, even our worship stands in need of repentance. If we’re honest and if we undergo a proper examination, even our prayers stand in need of repentance. The totality of who we are is corrupted by sin.
The proper response to the sins of our flesh as we journey onward in this body of sin—is genuine and honest repentance. Without repentance, it’s impossible to walk with God. A.W. Pink once stated, “The Christian who has stopped repenting has stopped growing.” Who among us can honestly state that they have lived a life of genuine perfection since their conversion? Even the smallest sin stands in the way and holds us back from properly glorifying God and enjoying him forever. We must find ourselves turning to God regularly as 1 John 1:9 teaches.
When Paul found himself held captive once again in the grip of sin—he turned to God. He didn’t look inward to himself or to the outward world of psychology for a self-esteem boost. He looked upward to God. Notice Paul’s prayer at the end of Romans 7:
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin (Rom. 7:24-25).
I once heard a man lament as he was looking at the schedule of a Christian conference. His complaint was that the upcoming session was going to be centered on John 3:16 and according to his thinking, he didn’t need to hear another sermon on that since he was already a Christian. Perhaps we have all been guilty at times of thinking that the gospel was only needed to save us, but it’s not needed to keep us faithfully walking with God. A person who rejects the need to repent is someone who is likewise rejecting their need for God. Without a walk that includes repentance, we cannot faithfully walk with God.
As our world celebrates “Women’s Day” we are sure to hear many encouraging stories of perseverance and diligence. We will be pointed to many accomplishments of women around the world. From the arts to politics and within the world of business and academics—we will hear stories of women who worked diligently to overcome stigma and discrimination in order to reach goals that were once unattainable in society. While we can certainly recognize progress of women’s equality in many ways in our culture, how should we as followers of Jesus celebrate women and the place of women in our lives, our culture, and our churches?
How to Dishonor Women
We have a long history of dishonoring women—stretching all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Throughout history, it took a long time for women to reach a place of cultural equality with men. Men and women were created equal by God, yet with specific boundaries and roles to fulfill their God ordained purpose. Although times have changed, the rhetoric continues to be negative regarding women’s equality.
This week in Spain, a high school is taking an opportunity to educate little boys about the oppression of women historically by restricting them from recess in order to point out how women historically have been restricted from good freedoms. Our culture continues to beat a drum of victimhood in order to honor women as a minority in many nations—including the United States. The reality is, women number a majority of the total population of America. Yet, we are continuing to hear the need for women’s equality in a day when women occupy nearly every office and position across our great nation—including the halls of academia and corporate America.
One of the most damaging agendas to ever assault women is the women’s liberation movement. It operated with the underpinning and foundational marketing ploy of liberating women from oppression and injustice. Through this agenda, women have been pointed outside of the home to the corporate world to fulfill their goals and flourish with their gifts. The women’s liberation movement has likewise done more to demean motherhood and encourage the murder of babies than any other movement in our world’s history. Motherhood has been traded for corporate success and pregnancy has been turned into a sickness that can be treated at a local clinic through modern day reproductive freedom. Rather than liberating women—the women’s liberation movement led them into a deep and dark dungeon far away from God’s intended purpose for their existence.
Today, we’ve reaped the harvest of the feminist agenda in America. We have officially changed our laws to include the false and contradictory category of gay marriage. Now, we celebrate men who pretend to be women by self identification and surgical procedures. This move is killing women’s sports by allowing men to compete on the same level as women. The things that once caused us to blush are now celebrated with awards. When a cultural figure such as Caitlyn Jenner can receive the “Woman of the Year” award from Glamour Magazine and the “Arthur Ashe Award for Courage” at the 2015 ESPY Awards—we must honestly ask ourselves how far will this agenda go?
In the 60s and 70s the feminists permeated the language of freedom and liberation into the minds and hearts of women seeking to change the direction of women in America—indeed to change the direction of America altogether. Unfortunately, we have allowed their movement to become less offensive, the lines to become blurred, and in some cases, their agenda has spilled over into the church. What was once offensive yesterday is openly celebrated today in America. Sadly the feminist agenda has infiltrated local churches and evangelical denominations. Once again, if anyone in the world should be celebrating the place and purpose of women in our world—it should be the church of Jesus Christ.
Today, through the social justice agenda, we’re hearing the language of gender equality within the church and empowerment. The recent #MeToo movement spawned the #ChurchToo movement and through social justice politics has caused a reactionary response of empowerment and a hyper-focused effort to raise women to the highest levels of leadership. If we continue to teach another generation of women that they’re victims of oppression and that their entire existence is riddled with injustice in the church of Jesus Christ—we will teach women that they haven’t arrived yet and that they need to do something else to fulfill their existence. Has God not made it clear regarding the purpose, beauty, and unique calling of women in this world?
This conversation has reached a fever pitch within the ranks of the Southern Baptist Convention where leaders are posturing their institutions to include women in the highest ranks of their theological faculty and denominational structures—including the highest office of president. This reactionary evangelical culture has now begun to evaluate the current hierarchies with the possibility of tearing them down and rebuilding with a new design and new boundaries. This has raised the eyebrows of many, but the language of soft and broad complementarianism has surfaced once again with some people suggesting that we need to redefine complementarianism altogether. If the feminist agenda of the 60s and 70s rocked our nation and our churches, what will the social justice agenda do to our churches and denominations? How will the United Methodist Church respond to this pressure? What direction will the Southern Baptist Convention take on such matters?
The best way to dishonor a woman is to ask her to do something or be something that God never intended in the first place. Satan asked Eve to reverse her role and to bypass the leadership of Adam. Satan likewise asked Eve to look beyond God’s boundary to the forbidden tree to find purpose in her existence. The women’s liberation movement greatly dishonored women. The modern social justice movement is positioned to do the same thing—and this time with a specific evangelical twist within the church. One of the tragedies of the social justice movement is that we continue to allow the culture to define us as opposed to God who is the sovereign creator and designer.
How to Celebrate Women Rightly
If anyone should see the beauty and acknowledge the value of women in the world it should be the church of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, as it pertains to the value, purpose, and place of women in the church today—the cultural agenda of social justice seems to be calling the shots as opposed to the sufficient Word of God. If we, as Christians, are to rightly honor women it should be through acknowledging the wonderful purpose of women as articulated in the Word of God.
The church of Jesus Christ should boldly stand against sin and push back against injustice and sinful oppression. If sexism or misogyny exists in specific evangelical circles—it should be confronted properly. If discrimination and injustice exists within the local church, there is a proper way to handle such sin within the context of the church family (Matt. 18:15-20). Likewise, the church of Jesus Christ should not blush nor back down from the God ordained boundaries for men and women and the distinct roles for women should not be redefined for a modern era.
- God created Eve distinct from Adam with a purpose (Genesis 2).
- God used Rahab (Joshua 6:17; Matthew 1:5).
- God chose Mary for a special and unique purpose (Matt. 1:18-20).
- God used women all throughout the early church (Acts 1:12–14; 9:36–42; 16:13–15; 17:1–4, 10–12; 18:1–2, 18, 24–28; Romans 16; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 1:5; 2:10; 4:19).
While the Talmud stated that it would be better to burn the Torah than to teach it to a woman, Jesus taught the woman at the well (John 4) and even allowed a small band of women to travel with he and his followers (Luke 8:1-3). At the crucifixion, we find women lamenting his death (Matthew 27:55-56). After Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to Mary Magdalene and she became one of the first witnesses to this wonderful bedrock truth of Christianity (John 20:1-18).
While in the days of the Old Testament no women served among the Levites as a priest. No woman ruled Israel as queen. With the exception of Deborah (who must be viewed as a judgment upon Israel), no woman served God as a prophet. No woman penned one of the sixty-six books of the Bible. No woman served as an apostle. No woman served as an original deacon in Acts 6. No woman is called to serve as an elder as instituted by God in 1 Timothy 3. However, God has always had his place for women and has used women in various and distinct roles for his glory. Paul specifically stated in 1 Timothy 2:10 that women should be able to learn the great truths of God and he made this statement in a time period when women were forbidden from such learning.
Christianity has consistently pointed to the value of women in our culture as a whole and within the church of Jesus Christ. Nearly every leader through church history has been helped along by women. In fact, it’s safe to say that without women, the church of Christ would not be what God intended from the beginning. We must celebrate the God intended purpose for women in our world! From the privileged role of motherhood to the high calling of a wife (Prov. 18:22)—women have a special design by God. When women understand their calling and seek to flourish within God’s intended design, they are to be praised. So, we should pay close attention to the message of the culture that’s consistently pressing women to do what God hasn’t called them to do as a means of fulfillment when there’s so much women can and should be doing for God’s glory?
Proverbs 31:28 — Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.
Unless a person comes to the knowledge of the truth by God’s sovereign grace, he will be forever lost in his unbelief (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:25). So it was with an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther. As Luther focused on Romans 1:17, God caused a divine ray of grace to fall upon the troubled monk. Suddenly, the righteousness of God was revealed to Luther—bringing him from darkness to light.
The battle cry of the Reformation was post tenebras lux, meaning “after darkness, light.” The entire movement of the Reformation was filled with light and heat. The possession of God’s knowledge among God’s people should result in a proper passion to serve God. Knowledge and zeal are closely connected. Martin Luther and the Reformers understood the balance of doctrine and duty.
Luther, in his commentary on Galatians, writes, “So we also labor by the Word of God that we may set at liberty those that are entangled, and bring them to the pure doctrine of faith, and hold them there.”
A PROPER LOVE OF GOD
Five hundred years ago, the Roman Catholic Church suppressed the promulgation of God’s Word. They demanded that everyone come and listen to lectures of the Bible in Latin, as they refused to allow the Word of God to be printed in the common man’s language.
God raised up the Reformers to bring the Bible out of the shadows. God raised up these faithful men who courageously labored to give us God’s Word in our language. Certainly, it must be recognized that the Reformation was a return to the Scriptures. The biblical words, sentences, and phrases matter because knowledge matters. God’s people love the Bible because of their love for God—not merely because of their love of knowledge.
Jesus, in quoting the Shema (Deut. 6:4–5), said, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). God wants all of us—including our minds.
A proper pursuit of God involves knowing and worshiping God with the intellect. To focus on one’s heart, soul, and strength but to bypass the mind would be a tragic mistake. James Montgomery Boice once said:
We live in mindless times, days in which millions of people are drifting along through life, manipulated by the mass media, particularly television, and hardly know it. Few give thought for their eternal souls, and most, even Christians, are unaware of any way of thinking or living other than that of the secular culture that surrounds them.
ZEAL FOR GOD
Have you ever known someone who wasted his life? How many Christians waste their knowledge? Perhaps out of timidity and fear of man, they hide their light under a basket. Consider the fact that many people join the right churches, read the right books, and attend the right conferences—but seem to lack zeal.
If you travel to Geneva and walk into St. Pierre Cathedral where John Calvin proclaimed his rich expositions, you will find the passionate motto post tenebras lux looming in the backdrop of the pulpit. This battle cry is likewise etched into the Reformation Wall on the grounds of the University of Geneva. Calvin was passionate in his pursuit of truth. He was the towering theologian of the Reformation.
However, from Calvin’s passionate preaching arose an army of zealous-hearted missionaries and preachers of God’s Word. Not only was Calvin himself zealous to serve God, but he trained many others who were filled with holy zeal. Edward Panosian writes:
From that city [Geneva], hundreds of missionaries, evangelists, and pastors traveled to all corners of the continent preaching the gospel. Their efforts, sometimes sealed with a martyr’s blood but always crowned with success, thrilled Calvin.
John Calvin’s ministry was fueled by a high view of God, and this transcendent knowledge produced a proper zeal to serve God. In a sermon on Isaiah 12:5, Calvin said:
[Isaiah] shows that it is our duty to proclaim the goodness of God to every nation. While we exhort and encourage others, we must not at the same time sit down in indolence, but it is proper that we set an example before others; for nothing can be more absurd than to see lazy and slothful men who are exciting other men to praise God.
In his letter to the church in Colossae, Paul urges his hearers on to spiritual maturity and says, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:29). The word translated “struggling” conveys the idea of strenuous effort. Paul was struggling or wrestling with all of his spiritual strength for the glory of God.
If you love to gain knowledge about God, but you lack a proper zeal to serve God, you must examine yourself to see if you are in the faith. We must remember the warning of James—faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Even demons are capable of possessing knowledge (v. 19). The torchlight of the gospel and the ongoing protest of the Reformation demand both knowledge and zeal for the glory of God (Rom. 12:11). Knowledge without zeal is no real knowledge at all.
*This article was originally written for and published by Tabletalk Magazine.
This past Sunday, we had two guests who drove a good distance to be with us for worship. One drove from the Stone Mountain area while the other drove from Lagrange, Georgia—both are right about one hour from our church campus. As they discussed their situations, each of them are looking for a healthy church where they can grow in God’s Word. As I considered the fact that two different visitors drove an hour to be with us for worship as they’re looking for a church—what exactly should we look for if we find ourselves looking for a new church home?
As we engage in a church search, there are specific things that must be prioritized in the life of the church or it should be crossed off the list quickly. Some lists will look differently depending on specific needs, but there are certain elements that cannot be optional and I’ve listed a few non-negotiable categories below.
Transcending above cultural preferences must come biblical preaching. If we truly want our families to grow in grace, that necessitates a steady diet of biblical preaching. While topical preaching can certainly feed the hearts and minds of people on occasion, the steady practice of the preaching must be centered on consistent sequential verse-by-verse preaching through books of the Bible. Without faithful expository preaching, the church will be left with a superficial understanding of the whole of God’s Word. It was D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who wrote the following in his classic book, Preaching and Preachers:
The big difference…between a lecture and a sermon is that a sermon does not start with a subject; a sermon should always be expository. In a sermon the theme or the doctrine is something that arises out of the text and its context, it is something which is illustrated by that text and context. 
How well would you understand any book on your bookshelf if a friend came over to your home and read to you out of random pages – explaining one central message about how the book ends, but not allowing you to hear how the plot and themes develop through each chapter? It would leave you a bit frustrated and disconnected from the central message of the book—right? Why is the Bible any different? Why would we be led to believe that a random approach to preaching would cause the church to grow deep and wide spiritually?
God Centered Worship
We have a worship crisis within evangelicalism today. It’s not that we aren’t worshipping, but rather, who and what we’re worshipping. Some churches are worshipping themselves as they gather to have their own cultural desires met in the worship service. Others are worshipping a specific pastor or personality who leads the church. Still others are centering their affections on the church campus or building itself. Far too often people in evangelical circles find themselves much like the Ethiopian Eunuch who was returning to Ethiopia from Jerusalem with a scroll of Isaiah’s prophecy—yet completely disengaged from biblical worship. Far too often evangelicals arrive home from church on Sunday without having worshipped God in the slightest degree.
When looking for a church, we must focus on how the worship service places God at the center. Some churches worship one member of the Trinity rather than our Triune God. Some focus on Jesus while others focus on the Spirit and still others focus on the Father. We have so segmented the Trinity that we fail to worship God as he desires. The calling of God’s people is to worship God—which involves an intentional effort to worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
When searching for a church home, pay close attention to how the worship service approaches the public reading of Scripture. How much Scripture is read and is there a balance from Old to New Testament each week? How do the songs point your mind and direct your emotions to engage in worship of our Triune God? This is critically important in order to avoid a severe imbalance and deficient understanding of who God really is and how he desires to be worshipped.
Faithful Administration of the Ordinances
If you visit a church on the Lord’s Day and they’re showing slides of the youth pastor baptizing football players at the local high school in a feeding trough for cows on Friday afternoon—it’s probably a good sign that this is not the church for you. All throughout history, if a church did not have the right administration of the ordinances, they were not considered to be a true church. This is one reason why youth group baptisms in the ocean at summer camp should not be practiced. This is why we shouldn’t encourage members to get rebaptized in the Jordan River when they visit Jerusalem.
It’s critically important for the local church to practice the ordinances within the context of the local church under the oversight of the elders who lead the church. This assures both organization, accountability, and intentionality as to what we are communicating as we engage in worship as a gathered church. This is why observing the Lord’s Supper in your living room on Friday evening with your small group is forbidden. How does such a practice honor God and encourage the local church as a whole? How does a person know if they’re welcomed to the Table? Who fences the Table before engaging in worship if the Lord’s Supper is practiced in a college dormitory at the local college? We must be firmly committed to the right practice of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Practice of Loving Church Discipline
Would you lead your family to join a church that did not practice loving biblical church discipline? When you talk to people about how they came to the decision about membership in a specific church, you will often hear about how good a specific program is in the church that attracted them or you might hear that their church was closer to their job—or perhaps other pragmatic reasoning. When was the last time you heard someone say they chose a church because they practice biblical church discipline? Jay Adams argues that if a church refuses to practice church discipline, we “should declare them to be ‘no church’ since they will not draw a line between the world and the church by exercising discipline.” 
Several years ago a family went through our membership class and became members in our church. However, within a year of their joining, they left our church after hearing a presentation on the errors of Roman Catholicism. I went to the church where they were visiting and met with the pastor in his office. I encouraged he and his staff to point them back to us and not to receive them as members because this was a gospel issue that required corrective discipline. The pastor ignored our request and accepted their family as members. Within a short season, the family completely derailed into horrible sin resulting in the husband’s picture appearing on the front page of the newspaper. To this day, their family has never been disciplined by the church who took them in as members.
Church discipline is not a debatable issue. Jesus has commanded that we practice it and that we do so in the manner and with the motives that he has charged us in Matthew 18:15-20. Consider these helpful words from Alexander Strauch:
Love is not just happy smiles or pleasant words. A critical test of genuine love is whether we are willing to confront and discipline those we care for. Nothing is more difficult than disciplining a brother or sister in Christ who is trapped in sin. It is always agonizing work – messy, complicated, often unsuccessful, emotionally exhausting, and potentially divisive. This is why most church leaders avoid discipline at all costs. But that is not love. It is lack of courage and disobedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself laid down instructions for the discipline of an unrepentant believer (Matt. 18:17-18). 
When you find yourself searching for a new church home, don’t compromise in the process. You may find a church that meets your needs on many different levels, but yet fails in one of the non-negotiable areas. Always remember a church that hasn’t practiced corrective church discipline in the last 25 years will certainly not begin with you and your family when you wander off the path of righteousness. You need the church, and you need a healthy church for you and your family.
- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 71.
- Jay Adams, Handbook of Church Discipline, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 103.
- Alexander Strauch, Leading With Love, (Colorado Springs: Lewis and Roth, 2006), 152.
Every church would do well to have one, but far too often they labor in secret and are seldom recognized, but how beneficial it is for a church to have a man who labors in prayer on behalf of the church. That was the case for the church in Colossae—and as Paul closed out his letter to them, he named Epaphras and pointed out how he was a faithful servant in prayer.
Consider the purpose of Epaphras’ prayers. He wasn’t praying superficial prayers, but rather the kind of prayers that truly need to be prayed in the life of a local church. According to Paul, Epaphras struggled in his prayers. The word he used “ἀγωνίζομαι” which we translate “struggle” can mean “to fight” or “to engage in a contest.” The idea is to engage with a passionate zeal. This is not a light and easy prayer!
Prayers for Spiritual Maturity
Far too often many churches are praying for growth, but it’s numerical rather than spiritual growth that seems to be the focus. While we should pray for numerical growth, the foundation that such growth stands upon is spiritual growth. Epaphras spent time praying for the church in Colossae to become strong and complete—fully developed in their spiritual growth.
When was the last time you could see noticeable growth in your spiritual life? Sure, we set goals for physical health and we work to maintain or to stretch ourselves to hit our mark with weight loss, muscle gain, or whatever the category may be, but when was the last time you noticed spiritual growth? Have you set goals for your own personal prayer life? What about your knowledge of God through the Bible? When was the last time you spent time memorizing verses of Scripture in your personal study of the Bible? Bible memory is not just for children—right?
We need hearts that are zealous about reaching unbelievers and seeing our church grow numerically, but we must labor to see our church grow spiritually. It’s precisely this spiritual maturity that develops love for one another and when immaturity is defeated we learn to forgive one another, serve alongside one another, and overcome hidden sins that have been hindering us for many years.
Will you pray for your church in this way? Will you labor to see your church (including yourself in that category) pursue God with such passion that it results in a great deal of spiritual maturity?
Prayers for Satisfaction in God’s Will
One of the greatest truths we can learn is that we must find our true satisfaction in God. This present evil world will fail us and will never truly satisfy us. We must find our true joy and delight in God, and not just in the knowledge of God’s perfection and holiness, but in a complete satisfaction of God’s will.
Jesus taught us to pray in the model prayer, “let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We must pray for God’s will to be done, and we must find our satisfaction in God through Jesus Christ. Epaphras struggled in prayer for the church in Colossae to be fully assured in all the will of God. This involves contentment in the secret will of God and delight in the revealed will of God. This will include a peace in the midst of storms and strength during the waves of persecution. No matter what God’s will may be—we must learn to be fully satisfied in our God.
Do you pray for your church in this way? Do you have an Epaphras in your church? Imagine how your church could benefit from a man who struggled in prayer for his church. Far too many people today spend time complaining about their church rather than praying for their church. Imagine the difference that such a struggling prayer can do in the life of a church family.
Colossians 4:12 — Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.
Whether or not you’ve been raised in the life of a local church, test yourself to see how much you know about the church. Can you make a perfect score?
The church is God’s will for us as believers. Therefore, our knowledge of the local church and how it should function to accomplish it’s biblical purpose is critically important.
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