From Our newsletter, "The Disciples' Beacon", Dec Edition. You can sign up at this link.
God can only train and develop His sons. Do you belong to God?
Having given 5 compelling incentives for biblical discipleship in our previous editions, we will now turn our attention to a necessary prerequisite to discipleship, and that is sonship. God can only discipline and train the sons whom He receives, Heb. 12:1-11; It is an absolute exercise in futility to attempt discipleship with people who are not begotten sons and daughters of the KING, or don't fully understand and embrace this foundational concept! Therefore we will attempt to bring clarity to this subject in this edition before we embark on the exiting journey of discipleship.
It is worth noting at this point that bringing Christians to the reality of sonship is also discipleship! It may not be the rigorous, taxing, cross-bearing, and humbling part of discipleship we will be focusing on in subsequent editions, but the necessary foundation upon which the rest of our Christian lives are built. If a Christian begins the arduous journey of discipleship and has no assurance that he or she belongs to God, or can call Him "Father," the entire journey will be one of performance and merit seeking. Instead of the journey being a challenge and joyful pursuit, it will become an oppressive, monotonous, and aimless wandering. God never intended our walk with Him to be a boring rig-a-ma-role, but an exciting, eventful journey that puts any earthly fun and pleasures to shame! John 15:11; Ps. 40:8;
Our Heritage has Become our Identity
When considering sonship, we only need to reflect on our Anabaptist heritage, and its many subgroups (including ourselves). What we'll be discussing is true of all religions and Christian denominations, but our own heritage provides ample illustrations for consideration. In spite of our many differences culturally, we all have one glaring thing in common, 90% + of the members were born and raised in the heritage/culture. While this is a good thing in more ways than one, it carries with it several sobering realities, and we need to highlight them to better understand sonship. You see, our heritage becomes our identity, and for most Anabaptists, that identity is almost seamlessly interwoven with the Christian faith. We don't consider this a bad thing, but it has profound implications when it comes to sonship, and like it or not, we project that identity upon each other and the world, ahead of our position as sons and daughters of God. That is what we'll be elaborating on as we reflect on this vital topic.
Our identity as a culture/heritage is huge, but should never be a barrier when identifying ourselves as sons of God. It hinders our growth and effectiveness! For instance, Israel had an identity, heritage, and clearly defined religion when Jesus entered the scene and introduced an entirely new paradigm. He and His teaching became an explosive ingredient to a well defined and well established "Biblical" religious order. He became a "Stone of stumbling, and Rock of offence" to all who felt their security was being challenged. This can be clearly seen in the many altercations He had with the Jews. Even long after Pentecost, many believing Jews struggled with the concept of sonship, identity, and heritage; including Peter. They pulled to their own while distancing themselves from non-Jews, they went back into legalism, they purified themselves according to Jewish customs, they made circumcision a salvation requirement, they forbid OT foods, they placed a yoke on the necks of the disciples..., just so there was some indicator that they were "of us!" We can be most assured the case is identical today. Thousands upon thousands of Anabaptists have accepted Christ into their lives, but certain doctrines and precepts of their heritage, that had provided security under the law, are placed right alongside their faith in God. We don't need to elaborate here, but suffice it to say, many are only secure in their faith IF and when the cultural paradigms are given their due honor and place. Some indeed have value in and of themselves, like modesty, community, non-conformity, etc, but they don't define nor determinewhether or not we have sonship. If they are used to define and identify us, they are projected as barriers rather than building blocks to discipleship and fellowship.
Spiritual Sons Can Only be Birthed, Purchased, or Adopted.
It is necessary then, to highlight the characteristics of sonship, and provide an assessment tool to help the believer evaluate whether or not he or she actually has and walks in sonship. Religion is powerful, it provides security, concreteness, and safety; but it will NEVER make us sons! Spiritual sons can only be birthed, purchased, or adopted. Being raised in a religious environment is OK in itself, as the Bible teaches; the law is our schoolmaster to bring us onto Christ that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Gal. 3:27 Therefore, no matter how well we were raised, followed ordinances, what catechism we learned, or how many things we memorized, we are not justified or made right thereby. It doesn't matter if we kept all the rules and regulations, denied ourselves all kinds of things, cut ourselves off from the world, lived in poverty, or punished our bodies endlessly. NONE of this Matters! We are sinners, sinful, wicked, and lost, and have no hope of eternal life even if we were born and raised in the church/community/culture. Mat. 15:9; Col. 2:18-22. Good upbringing serves a wonderful purpose once we become children of God by faith, but good upbringing and heritage doesn't make us Christians! No amount of pleading will change this fact on judgment day. Mat. 7:21-23; If we hold to the idea that any of these makes us right with God, or will have any merits in eternity, we make Christianity into just another religion like Catholicism, Hinduism, and Islam. In fact, Jesus means almost nothing to us, and if we profess Him, it is only because its the "right" thing to do. Believing that Jesus is the Savior of the world requires us to believe that there is no other way out of the mess we're in. It requires us to believe that all our righteousness is filthy rags, it requires us to believe our church, our upbringing, our culture, our parents, and our creeds can not save us, only Jesus can! John 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. John 3:18He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 5:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. John 6:40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. John 20:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
Our Heritage can be our Hindrance to Sonship
Our upbringing, our church, our culture can be very beneficial, in fact, essential to bring us to Christ, that is to the place where we fall on our face in brokenness and conviction, and ask Him to forgive us and accept us into His Kingdom. But if this is not clearly taught in our heritage, it can be the biggest hindrance to sonship there is and here's why? I grew up on a Hutterite colony and loved our way of life for the most part. There were things we just accepted as fact and didn't question them. One of those was the church community. If you were not "in" you were not in the full will of God till you came back or into the fold. Even after conversion and baptism, the established church doctrines were accepted as "the way." We had our scriptures to back it all up, and could use them to look down on everyone else. We understood church! We were the closest thing to biblical apostolic church, and every one else needed to see it this way or we couldn't be in fellowship with them. Sounds familiar? The Baptists, Amish, Mennonites, Seventh Day Adventists, Lutherans, and Roman Catholics all have exactly the same arguments..., only with their doctrines and creeds.
This type of religious spirit is one of the greatest hindrances to sonship, and thus discipleship. All religions are this way, including vast majority of Christian denominations! People identify more with their "church" than with their Father in Heaven. This needs to be demolished before we will ever again attain Biblical church/fellowship and discipleship. Every person born into every church culture MUST come to the overwhelming conviction that he or she does NOT have sonship by adhering to Church doctrines, being baptized into a church, observing rules, or staying in the "Gemeinde" for all my Hutterite friends. A Biblical church is the best place for a believer to grow in their faith, but it will NEVER make us into a Christian. In fact, it is easier to go to a garage and become a car than it is to join a church to become a Christian. We form church BECAUSE we ARE Christians, not to become one! A Christian can ONLY be made ONE way, and that is by RECEIVING the gift of Eternal life God offers us through His Son. "I am the Way, the Truth, and the LIFE; no man comes to the Father BUT through Me. John 14:6 You and I are saved from wrath by responding to God's drawing, turning from our sin, believing Jesus died and rose for our sins, and receiving His gift of eternal life. If we add any works, church theology, doctrines of baptism, tongues, Sabbath days, living in the colony, living in poverty, shunning technology, or anything we think must be added to His redemptive work to be saved, we are INSULTING Jesus and the Spirit of Grace. We are in fact saying, "God, what Your Son did on Calvary was wonderful, but I have to add these works of mine because His blood didn't quite cut it. His wounds and stripes didn't quite make me whole, didn't quite reconcile me to You. I am now justified, made holy and righteous by what I do." Such reasoning renders Calvary almost meaningless, and places creed above Christ. Let's read Isa 53:4-6 together, then ask ourselves whether there is anything to add here. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
The Offence of the Cross.
Let that sink in for a minute! It's incredible, amazing, and powerful! The God of the universe unleashes the wrath, punishment, and judgment on His sinless Son, so that He can declare us miserable wretches forgiven, righteous, and justified, when we turn to Him and accept His offer of Eternal life! John 3:16And we want to add something to that?? We have about as much input into our new birth as we have in our original birth! John 6:44 This is the offence of the cross, and I know it stings, but until we are persuaded of it IN OUR HEARTS, God can do little more in our lives other than let us wander aimlessly round and round in the wilderness till we're broken, humbled, and stripped down to nothing..., what we should have been from the onset. Our houses and temples of wood, hay, and stubble have to all burn down till absolutely nothing remains except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified! When that happens, we have arrived at sonship! Sonship! Where Jesus means more to us than anything else in this world! Sonship! Where we are overcome with conviction and gratitude of His incredible mercy and grace. Sonship! Where we're finally face to face with our unworthiness and uncleanness, and overcome with the fact that He could love someone like me. Sonship! Where we fall in love with Jesus again with all our heart, soul and mind. Sonship! Where the knowledge of who we are in Christ finally percolates from our heads to our hearts, and we become willing to obey Him in everything...., BECAUSE of His great mercy and love!
Only then do we start serving God with a pure motive. Only then do we stop comparing ourselves with others. Only then can the exiting journey of discipleship truly begin!