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 Transforming Power of the Word
By Matt Hennecke
The Word of God is an amazing, life changing tool. Consider for a moment the apostle Paul. When we are first introduced to him he is described as “young” (Acts 7:58). His youth may have contributed to what seems to be a certain cockiness. He seems to have been a self assured young man that seemingly “knew it all.” It’s not unusual for young men (and women too, I guess) to see everything as black and white, right and wrong. Paul (or Saul as he was then called) was certain Christianity – like Christ – had to be eliminated. Acts 9:1-2 reveals Saul was obsessed with threats and murder: Self assured. Cocky. A know-it-all. And flat out wrong. As he journeyed to Damascus he had his first dose of humility. A light and a voice cast doubt where before there had been none. For three days he ate and drank nothing. His journey of humility had begun. He was baptized into the very Body that he had sought to destroy. Talk about eating crow. Imagine the shame and the dawning realization of just how wrong he’d been. But Paul’s journey of humility had only begun. His own writings reveal the transformative power of the Word. The Word – amazing for it first convicts us and then lifts us. Paul’s transformation – indeed his journey of humility – is seen in his writings. Note the progression: In 1 Corinthians 15:9 written about 56 AD he calls himself the “least of the apostles.” That was still an elite group of men. The least of twelve is still pretty good company. It would almost be like saying I’m the least of the Super Bowl champion team. But, then note what he writes five years later in Ephesians 3:8: He says he is “the very least of all saints.” The circle of comparison has gotten larger – much larger, but is still comprised of a minority. Then two years later he writes: “Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Tim 1:15). In his own words we learn that Paul has been completely humbled. How did this journey of humility come to be? By exposure to the Word. By the constant contact with the inspired Word Paul was changed – he was transformed. Such is the transforming power of the Word. If we will let it, it will change us and transform us so that we will have our high self opinion replaced with total gratitude for Jesus Christ; and thus humbled we will become, as Paul did, vessels of service to our Lord.
The Power of Two
By Mark McCrary
“If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself!” How many times have we heard that? How many times have we said that? Have you ever looked at Luke 10 and wondered why Jesus sent His disciples “two by two?”
One of the things that made the life of Paul so wonderful is the fact he never starred in “The Adventures of Paul the Apostle.” Like the great servants of God who had gone before him—Moses and Joshua, Ruth and Naomi, Elijah and Elisha—he did his work with others. He lived the wisdom of King Solomon, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). He lived “The Power of Two.”
The “Power of Two” in Paul’s life really began with Barnabas in Acts 11, as the church in Jerusalem sent him to Antioch after the “wall of separation” had fallen between Jews and Gentiles. We are told in Acts 11:23 that great things were taking place there. Yet, verse 25 tells us this effective teacher felt, on some level, the need for help and left this blossoming work to find a certain disciple he had defended before the church in Jerusalem less than 10 years before.
Saul joined the side of his old defender, and one of the greatest “teams” in history was formed. Chapters 13-15, spanning a period of some 11 years, show remarkably the “Power of Two.” They traveled together. They preached together. They disputed error together. Together, they left churches in better shape.
What are the lessons preachers and teachers can learn from Paul and Barnabas? First, there is benefit of diversity. Paul, as evidenced in Acts 14:12 and other verses (Acts 13:7, 43, 46; 14:1), seemed to have been the more active orator. While preaching in Lystra, he was believed to be Hermes, messenger of the Greek gods. Barnabas, on the other hand, was thought to be Zeus. F.F. Bruce suggests in his commentary on Acts that he was thus identified because of “his more dignified bearing.” This is, of course, conjecture, but it does illustrate the reality that they were two different men contributing something needed to the same work. Diversity in abilities is sometimes one of the great powers of two. One may have a strength needed in one area of work at a particular moment, while someone else brings strength in other areas and at other times.
There is also the benefit of shared encouragement. How often did Barnabas get tired, yet Paul’s zeal fueled him on? How often did Paul get frustrated, yet Barnabas’ steady temperament settled him down? This is one of our great needs as Christians today—someone to lift us up when we are down; to urge us forward in our task when all we want to do is quit.
Then there is the benefit of shared wisdom. The Bible speaks often of the need of good counselors (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; 24:6). Paul likely relied upon the “seasoned” advice of Barnabas from time to time. Perhaps at other times Paul’s take on a situation was more accurate and Barnabas benefited. Preachers and teachers would do well to have someone close by for practical wisdom and guidance.
Finally, there is the benefit of a shared harvest. Barnabas left the fields “white for harvest” to make a trip of 300 miles for one reason: he knew two could do more than one. Why is it never recorded that Barnabas became angry over Paul’s more vocal position? When he was considered a “lesser” god than Barnabas, why didn’t Paul get angry? Because they were selfless men, and the harvest was all that mattered. Workers look to the potential of a larger harvest with which to glorify God. What keeps some from never “teaming” with others and discovering the power of shared work is pride and rivalry. How should you feel when another preacher or teacher is thanked for a point well made? Rejoice that the gospel is preached (1 Corinthians 3:5-6; Romans 12:15)! The harvest is our goal, not our place in the harvesting.
What, then, do we learn from Paul and Barnabas? Learn the power of two! Some preachers may preach with another preacher at the same church. Others may find the “Power of Two” in another preacher close by. Some men or women may “team teach” a class. Open your heart to the help of others—and be willing to give it as well.
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?