Growing In Godliness Blog
Author: Mark McCrary
What Makes Christianity Unique?
By Mark McCrary
Of all the world’s religions, what makes Christianity unique? Why should it be considered above all others?
Like most religions that revolve around a concept of a singular God, Christianity emphasizes the holiness of God. But Christianity’s take is somewhat different than many others; it is not simply that He is a good God, but His holiness means He is a perfect God - there is no sin in Him. Because He is holy, if we are to have a relationship with Him, we must be holy as well (“…but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’”). God is so perfect, in fact, He cannot tolerate the presence of sin. Isaiah 59:2 tells us, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”
Such holiness demands that God be just. Unlike the teachings of some religions, He can’t look at our lives and, if there is more good than bad, wave away that bad as if it didn’t happen. It did; and His holiness can’t ignore it. There must be a price paid for those wrongs (“And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission,” Hebrews 9:22).
But, Romans 3:26 tells us something beautiful: because God is holy, He must be just; to be less than just would make Him less than holy. But—importantly— He is also the justifier (Rom. 3:26, “…To demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”). What makes Christianity unique, ultimately, is Jesus Christ—God coming down in the form of man to pay the price for our sins (Hebrews 9:22) and reconcile us to the Holy God.
“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation,” Rom. 5:6-11.
Christianity presents a God who is so holy He cannot tolerate sin. Yet, for some reason He paid the price for our sins through His Son Jesus Christ. Why would He do such a thing? Because “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
That’s what makes Christianity unique.
Trust and Faith in Hard Times
By Mark McCrary
Hardships and problems come our way in life, and sometimes they are very severe hardships and problems—the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or health, financial problems. They are most confusing to us as Christians when we are trying to do everything we are supposed to do like serving God and others. Then we begin to ask that oft asked question, “Why?”
The Psalmist struggled with the same question in Psalm 44. In the first eight verses, he speaks of how he had been taught about God and His mighty power, how he saw God as his King and ruler, and how he trusted in Yahweh to deliver him in battle.
But, beginning in verse 9, the psalm takes a very dark turn. The psalmist startles us with these words, “But You have cast us off and put us to shame, and You do not go out with our armies. You make us turn back from the enemy, and those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves. You have given us up like sheep intended for food, and have scattered us among the nations. You sell Your people for next to nothing, and are not enriched by selling them. You make us a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and a derision to those all around us. You make us a byword among the nation, a shaking of the head among the peoples. My dishonor is continually before me, and the shame of my face has covered me, because of the voice of him who reproaches and reviles, because of the enemy and the avenger” (44:9-16). “Why” is not stated, but it is certainly implied. And, he states very matter-of-factly that he and his people had been faithful to God. “All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You, nor have we dealt falsely with your covenant. Our hearts have not turned back, nor have our steps departed from Your way… If we had forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a foreign got, would not God search this out?” (44:17-18, 20-21).
Have you ever felt that way in hard times? Have you ever thought, “If I wasn’t obeying God, these problems would be understandable.” What is the answer? What is remarkable about this psalm is that there is no answer given as to why God was not there… because in the end no answer would satisfy. What answer could be given to the person eaten up with cancer as to why they are suffering that would cause them to say, “Oh, I get it! Now I understand! Everything is alright now”? There is no answer that immediately removes the pain of a heart broken by the loss of a loved one or a broken or troubled marriage.
There is no answer. There is only trust and faith.
Though overcome with questions and doubts, the psalmist persevered with these words of power, “Arise for our help, and redeem us for your mercies sake” (44:26). Our comfort in hard times does not come from an “answer,” but from continued confidence in our God we have believed in and submitted to. It comes from having faith that “farther along we’ll know all about it, farther along we’ll understand why. Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine; we’ll understand it all by an
By Mark McCrary
Studying through the Gospel of John recently, I was struck by just how often and exactly how the word “hour” is used. In John, an “hour” stands for a time of action, consequence, and sometimes decision. In Jn. 16:21, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” With that in mind, what are some of the different lessons found about hours in the Gospel of John?
Jesus had an “hour.” This is the most prevalent idea. Jesus’ hour was His time to face the cross and die as a sacrifice for the world. Until halfway through the gospel, John speaks of Jesus’ hour as something not yet present for Him. In John 2:4, when asked by his mother to do something about the wine shortage at a wedding, Jesus responded, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” This message is reaffirmed in 7:30 and 8:20. Jesus had much work ahead of him to fulfill the task given to Him by His Father. However, that changed in 12:23 when Philip brought some Greeks to meet Jesus. Jesus then said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” In 13:1, before eating the Passover meal with His disciples, we are told, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father….” This was the hour of His glorification. Before His death, He prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify you Son that the Son may glorify you…” (17:1). Jesus’ hour was the fulfilling of His purpose by dying on the cross for the salvation of all who would come to Him.
There is an “hour” of worship. Since the creation in the Garden, humanity has always been purposed with worshipping God. However, Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (4:21-23). Jesus promised a time when worship would not revolve around a mountain of some kind, or any particular place. It would be a spiritual activity enabled by truth. We need to take advantage of this every first day of the week. But, not just then; we need to remember this all the time. Our “hour” of worship is any hour, any time, and any place.
There is an “hour” Christ heals. “So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household” (4:52-53). This healing is sometimes physical healing, but more importantly, it is the promise of spiritual healing for those who come to Him.
There is an “hour” of resurrection. In 5:25,28, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live,” then “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice….” The ultimate time of consequence lays before us all.
There is an “hour” of clear revelation. Jesus promised in 16:25, “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.” This likely references the events after His resurrection when the apostles moved from uncertainty to confidence in their preaching and boldness. What was the source of this change? The coming of the Holy Spirit to reveal all of God’s truth (16:12-13). We live in this hour today. But, perhaps there’s another application for us: the hour we really start understanding what God expects from us. Call it the hour we transition from immaturity to maturity; from being unaccountable to being accountable. That hour waits for each of us.
There is also an “hour” of fear and betrayal. “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone” (16:32). That hour came quickly for the disciples as their rabbi was killed and their world shaken. Time was spent in hiding. Yet, the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 reminded them that they were not without help— “Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.” God was with them through the course of their lives, through the good and the bad. When Paul’s world seemed to be falling apart around him, he found comfort in the Lord’s presence (2 Tim. 4:17). There are hours that we face that change our lives—times that are both good and bad. We sometimes traverse the “valley of the shadow of death” (Psa. 23:4)—but we never traverse it alone. If we are faithful, God is with us in this hour.
Finally, there is an “hour” of responsibility. At the foot of the cross, the disciple John stood next to Jesus’ mother, Mary. The dying Son looked down and said to John, “Behold, your mother!” The text follows with, “And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (19:27). Jesus called John to accept in that hour a new, very personal responsibility. What responsibilities does Christ call you to today? Devotion to your parents? Spouse? Children? How about a greater responsibility to our brethren? Maybe even our society around us?
“Hour” is an important concept in John’s gospel. It looks to a time to act. What is the hour before you now? Is it the hour to believe? To serve? To confront? To endure? Is it still in front of you? Has it arrived? Or, has it passed without action from you?
What does it Mean to be a Christian?
By Mark McCrary
May I ask you to think about a question—do you consider yourself to be a Christian? May I ask you to consider a follow up question- what does it even mean to be a Christian? To a lot of people, being a Christian is just the idea of going to worship services a few times a month (or year), praying from time to time, or having a generally good idea and feeling about God and believing in Him. But, that’s not the standard that Jesus set.
Jesus said this in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
Perhaps the defining trait for the child of God is obeying God and submitting to Him and His will for our lives. It is looking to Him and His word, and taking that study seriously and contemplating when you study, “Am I living this way? Is God first in my life? Am I obeying Him?”
What many do is profess to have faith, but then do whatever they want to do. Jesus said if we want to be a part of the kingdom of heaven, we are concerned about what God tells us to do, and we do just that.
Are you living as A Christian?
Leadership from Preachers
by Mark McCrary
I wasn’t a good leader when I first started preaching. In fact, it is generous to even say I wasn’t good at leading. I didn’t lead. At all.
You see, I grew up hearing, “The preacher isn’t a pastor!” So naturally, when I started preaching the last thing I wanted to be seen as was a pastor. After all, that was one of the big problems in denominationalism, right? Biblically, formal church leadership is found in the form of elders (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). They shepherd and protect the church (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4), while the preacher’s primary task is preaching the word (1 Tim. 4:2).
Looking back, there were numerous times when I wish I had asserted more needed leadership in the first two churches for which I preached. But, because I didn’t want to be viewed as a pastor, I wasn’t even a leader. To be honest, I probably was rarely even a suggester.
Then, something remarkable happened. I actually read the Bible. Specifically, Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. These books, written to preachers, are about leadership. A preacher’s leadership. I learned that while a preacher still isn’t a formal leader like a pastor (elder, shepherd, overseer), he is still an informal leader and should embrace that leadership role.
Take for instance Timothy. He was young and unsure of himself (2 Tim. 1:3-7). Yet, despite this, he was called to be brave (1 Tim. 1:18), see to the appointment of shepherds (1 Tim. 3:1-7), teach and command the things Christians need to hear (1 Tim. 4:6-8; 11), set a good example (1 Tim. 4:12; 6:11-16; 2 Tim. 1:15; 2 Tim. 2:22-25), use his “gift” (1 Tim. 4:14), manage people (1 Tim. 5:1-16) and church disputes (1 Tim. 5:17-6:2; 2 Tim. 2:14-19), and watch out for false teachers (1 Tim. 6:2-5).
Titus, too, was to lead by appointing shepherds (Tit. 1:5-8), silence false teachers and trouble-makers (1:10-14; 3:9-11), teach “sound doctrine” (2:1), set a good example (2:7-8), and remind people to be obedient to civil rulers (3:1-2). Paul summed up Titus’ work—the preacher’s work—with these words, “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (2:15).
Living right. Standing for truth. Confronting people dangerous to the flock. Teach. Set the right example. Deal with problems. These are all things leaders do. These are things preachers do.
Now, to be clear, when elders are present, preachers are to follow as well. But, they still are to show godly influence in the church through informal, yet necessary acts of leadership.