SOTM: God Promised Me a Kingdom and All I Got Was This Lousy Church

kingdomofheavendyingchurch        So I’ve been working on a series of lessons on the Sermon on the Mount (SOTM), and after writing about 8 or 9 of them, I realized I hadn’t yet really explained what’s most important. So I asked myself, if I only had one 1/2 hour lesson to teach on the SOTM, what would I say? I mean, the Sermon is just so big and the commentaries are so vast. Is it possible to boil it down to something easily expressed and understood? I think so.

We have to start with some metaphors.

The Beachhead

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a nation created in the midst of other nations. The other nations are under oppressive rule by illegitimate, even demonic powers. Continue reading

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Baptism: Grace and Baptism, Part 5 (Why Grace Does Not Destroy Baptism)

the_baptism_of_the_christ_21Let’s get back to where we started: grace and baptism. Here’s the difficult thought that we need to wrestle to the ground: How can grace forgive sin (including doctrinal error — but not a lack of faith in Jesus) and not condone sin?

Recall the earlier post seeking to answer this question in relational terms. In relational terms, the answer is easy. If my child violates my instructions, he has sinned against me. But unless he is in rebellion against me — persistent rebellion evidence a lack of love and submission that is not going to get better — I won’t disown him as my child.

So does letting my son who made a mistake remain in my family somehow condone the sin? Obviously, not. On the other hand, he may suffer some very unpleasant discipline. As a good parent, I want to raise him to be obedient. Continue reading

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Baptism: Grace and Baptism, Part 4 (Justification)

baptism of JesusLet’s talk about justification by faith. What does that mean? We’ve talked at length about faith, but not justification. But doesn’t it just mean “saved”? No, it does not. Rather, it means —

The acquittal, or declaration of being righteous, before God as judge. It is a central aspect of Paul’s understanding of what God achieved for believers through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Manzer & McGrath, Eds., “Justification,” Dictionary of Biblical Themes (2012).

BDAG, the most respected lexicon of biblical Greek, says,

of God be found in the right, be free of charges (cp. TestAbr A 13 p. 93, 14 [Stone p. 34] ‘be vindicated’ in a trial by fire) Mt 12:37 (opp. καταδικάζειν). δεδικαιωμένος Lk 18:14; GJs 5:1; δεδικαιωμένη (Salome) 20:4 (not pap). Ac 13:39 (but s. 3 below); Rv 22:11 v.l; Dg 5:14.—Paul, who has influenced later wr[iters]. (cp. Iren. 3, 18, 7 [Harv. II 102, 2f]), uses the word almost exclusively of God’s judgment. As affirmative verdict Ro 2:13. Esp. of pers. δικαιοῦσθαι …

Thayer’s defines “justify” as —

to declare, pronounce, one to be just, righteous, or such as he ought to be, (cf. ὁμοιόω to declare to be like, liken, i. e. compare; ὁσιόω, Sap. 6:11 ; ἀξιόω ,which never means to make worthy, but to judge worthy, to declare worthy, to treat as worthy; …)

Think about it. If “justification” is not the forgiveness itself but the declaration of a judge that I’m acquitted — innocent, really — then what does “justified by faith” mean? Well, it means that my faith evidences my acquittal. Not my circumcision, not my kosher diet, not even my scrupulous keeping of the Sabbath. My faith in Jesus declares to the world that God has acquitted me! Continue reading

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In re Influenza

fluFrom the inimitable Patrick Mead:


The flu is now at epidemic levels and is wiping out parties, plans, and people. Why is this strain so virulent? A few things to keep in mind:

1. The flu shot is still valuable. It blocks some forms of the virus and if you get the nasty one going about now your case will probably be milder.
2. This flu is VERY dangerous but it does not start like most flus. It usually starts like a moderate allergy or a normal cold. You feel that way for a 1-3 days. Unfortunately, you are VERY contagious during this time and are likely spreading it everywhere you go.
3. Most flus start rapidly with sore throat, body aches, and fever. It can take days for this one to get that bad and by that time you’ve infected your family, co-workers, fellow church goers, and the people at the store. Continue reading

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Baptism: Grace and Baptism, Part 3 (Grace for Baptism)

baptism of JesusI have a confession to make. For decades, I was convinced that grace does not extend to baptismal error. After all, faith is non-negotiable. Why shouldn’t baptism be the same?

Not too many years ago, it became obvious to me that this isn’t true — indeed, can’t be true. But why? And how to explain?

I think it comes down to the fact that faith permeates the scriptures far more than I’ve been able to explain. Well, I covered the elements of the arguments over the years, but I’ve never tied it all together. Continue reading

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Baptism: Grace and Baptism, Part 2 (The Understanding Grace Problem)

baptism of JesusGrace is not an easy concept for most people. To some, it sounds like what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” From his The Cost of Discipleship,

cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.

But grace is not cheap grace. Like the Pearl of Great Price (Matt 14:45-46), it costs everything, even though it’s free.

(Mat 13:45-46 ESV) “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Which I admit is a little confusing. Continue reading

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One in Jesus: The Year in Review


What? We get to have another lesson on inaugurated eschatology? Wow!

Well, the year started off with me being mostly dead due to a bout of blood poisoning: sepsis. I got to within two or three minutes of all dead.

So five surgeries and seven hospitalizations later, I’m much better and enjoying my grandchildren, as an old person who was once mostly dead should. I’m back at work and posting daily once again. But I’m still not quite up to par. I just don’t have the old stamina back — but I’m gaining ground. Continue reading

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How to Argue Like a Christian: The Last-Verse-Read Argument, Part 2

[This post expands on an article from March 31, 2009, nearly five years ago.]

Perhaps the most common error in logic committed by believers of all kinds is our persistent use of the last-verse-read argument.

For example, in the Churches of Christ, we deny once-saved-always-saved (the perseverance of the saints), as we are Arminian in theology. And so in our Sunday school classes we read the once-saved-always-saved verses first. We read the yes-you-can-fall-away verses last. We tell our students that the yes-you-can-fall-away verses explain the once-saved-always-saved verses. The class goes home feeling affirmed in their beliefs.

Across the street a Baptist Sunday school teacher reads the yes-you-can-fall-away verses first. He then reads the once-saved-always-saved verses last, telling his class that the last-read verses explain the first-read verses. His class goes home feeling affirmed in their beliefs. Continue reading

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Baptism: My Teaching and a Few FAQs

[An extra post at no extra charge!]

baptism of JesusJudging from the comments, it would be helpful for me to lay out what I teach about baptism again. It’s not complicated, but because it’s unfamiliar to most within the Churches of Christ, many readers have had trouble wrapping their heads around it — which is surely my fault.

But I think recent discussions have shown me a better way of expressing myself. Okay — here it is —

* The traditional teaching of the Churches of Christ is largely correct. We correctly interpret Acts 2:38 and all the other familiar baptism proof texts. Therefore, I teach baptism of believers by immersion into forgiveness of sins — just like Peter preached on Pentecost.

* However, unlike many in the Churches of Christ, I teach that grace applies to baptismal error — in theology or practice. Hence, a failure to be correctly baptized does not damn. Continue reading

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Baptism: Grace and Baptism, Part 1 (The Flat Hermeneutic Problem)

baptism of JesusIn recent discussions about baptism, I’ve mentioned a couple of times that I believe that God’s grace will cover baptismal error. Grace will not, however, cover the absence of faith in Jesus.

I had hoped that the doctrine of grace was well enough understood that this would bring clarity to the discussion. And perhaps it did for some, but it certainly created confusion for others. So let’s talk about grace.


The classic statement explaining grace is —

(Eph 2:8-10 ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Grace is “through faith.” Notice the complete absence of baptism from the discussion. No faith, no grace. Continue reading

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