Growing In Godliness Blog
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.
The Planned Death of Jesus
By Tom Rose
One of the ways in which pseudo-scholars, critics, and skeptics attack our Lord is by denying that His sufferings were planned and purposeful. His death, they insist, resulted from a miscalculation; it was a noble attempt to bring goodness into the world, but ended in an unplanned disaster. But nothing could be further from the truth. The whole trajectory of His life was prophesied 700 years before and included every aspect of His career as the Messiah, Servant of Jehovah in the book of Isaiah. Indeed, He came into the world “not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent me” (Jn 6:38)…and the Father’s will was for Him to die. Jesus was not a well-intentioned victim of a plan that surprised Him when it went horribly wrong. No, He knew exactly how His life would end, down to the minutest detail, and had know it since before the foundation of the world when the plan of salvation was formed.
Luke 18:31-34 is the third and most complete of Christ’s specific predictions concerning His death as recorded by Luke— the first is found in Lk 9:21-22; and the second in Lk 9:44. Jesus was on His final journey to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. So that there would be no misunderstanding, He takes the twelve aside to remind them, with specific details, what was about to happen to Him was God’s plan. Yet, despite Jesus’ clear teaching, the disciples failed to perceive the meaning of what He had taught them. The threefold repetition in v. 34 says, 1) they understood none of these things, 2) this saying was hidden from them; and 3) they did not know the things that were spoken.
But there was a perfectly good reason that the disciples failed to grasp the Lord’s teaching about His suffering and death; it failed to fit their messianic theology. They expected the Messiah to be a king, who would defeat Israel’s enemies and establish His kingdom. (Recall Bro. Pope’s reference to Acts 1:6 this morning.) They were looking for a coronation, not a crucifixion; for a messiah who killed His enemies, not one who was killed by His own people, and (even more unthinkable) willing to forgive His enemies as they did so. The idea of a crucified Messiah was an absurdity to them; it was so ridiculous that they could not even comprehend it. “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,” wrote Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18. Thus, “Christ crucified” was “to Jews a stumbling block” (v. 23) a massive barrier that they could not get past.
After His resurrection Christ reaffirmed the veracity of the O.T. teachings and gently rebuked two of his disciples, on the road to Emmaus, for their failure to understand it (Luke 24:23-25).
Eventually, His disciples came to understand it, to believe it, and to preach it…beginning in the first century and continuing down to the present time.
Never allow anyone to discount or minimize the importance of the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, for as the hymn says, “Without Him, how lost I would be.”
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
What Does God Want From Me?
By Paul Earnhart
In his little book, Jesus Rediscovered, Malcolm Muggeridge confided that his earliest memory was of walking down the road wearing someone else's hat and wondering who he was. In a real sense, the whole of humanity is walking down that same road, tormented by the same question. The question is built in; the answer is not.
In order to be whole we need to know who we are and what is expected of us, but only God knows that. Human beings, being creatures, cannot answer such questions. American poet Theodore Roethke expresses in haunting words this profound human yearning:
"I close my eyes to see,
I bleed my bones their marrow to bestow
Upon that God who knows what I would know.”
Denying the existence of God not only solves nothing but reduces us to utter meaninglessness. Accepting by faith that God exists and wants us to seek Him (Hebrews 11:6), and that God has spoken to us in His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2) opens up all kinds of blessed possibilities. It is wisdom to listen reverently and learn our duty well.
It is evident from the Bible's beginning that man, created in the image of God, was expected to honor his Creator with due reverence and worship Him in a divinely prescribed way. Cain could tell you about that (Genesis 4:3-5). Not everything goes. The foundation of worship had to be faith and the proper expression of faith was obedience (Hebrews 11:4). King Saul learned that lesson when he presumed to worship God in a way that violated His will. Samuel's rebuke tells the story: "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice..." (1 Samuel 15:22).
The Old Testament prophets speak to our question often. When Israel sought to placate God with the multitude of their sacrifices, Micah told them straight out that God wanted more - "And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:6-8). To the hypocritical shallowness of their worship Isaiah and Amos and Jeremiah say the same (Isa. 1:10-17; Amos 5:21-24; Jer. 7:21-23). Jesus echoes the prophets by His frequent quoting of Hosea: "For I desire mercy and not sacrifice and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings" (Hos. 6:6; Matt. 9:13; 12:7). What Jesus and the prophets were saying was not that the sacrificial offerings of the law (Leviticus) were unnecessary but that God's desire was for far more than that.
What is the lesson here? Do not try to turn God away from getting what He wants from us by offering the part for the whole -- even actions that God has clearly required -- frequent attendance at church assemblies (Heb. 10:24,25), regular eating of the Lord's Supper (Matt. 26:26-29; Acts 2:42), communal prayers and spiritual singing (Acts 2:42; Eph. 5:19,20) et. al. All these are to lead to a higher purpose -- our transformation into the image of God's Son (Rom. 8:29). What God wants is you and me, that which is expressed in the first and greatest commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12:28-29). In short, God wants all there is of us, given gladly and freely in the same measure that He has poured Himself out on us.
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?