Sin is a common struggle, but God gives us the power to overcome. How can we distance ourselves from deliberate sin?
“Social distancing” is new term now in our common vocabulary. We are encouraged to keep our distance from others so that we don’t share germs. A few weeks ago, I shared a sermon from Hebrews 10:26-39 which included the idea of distancing ourselves from sin. Believers will never outrun sin completely this side of heaven, but with God’s help they should create as much distance as they can here on earth. Here are four ways to do that.
Call it what it is and repent. We like to use pet names for our sin like a “white lie” or a “lapse in judgement.” These euphemisms shift blame around and help us to feel better about ourselves. Instead, we need to own our offensive attitudes and actions and ask God to forgives us.
Receive God’s power to overcome. One of the most powerful pictures of salvation is to be free from the slavery of sin. When we embrace “willful sin” we put ourselves back into bondage. God wants to share His power with us to live free, if we’ll only receive it.
Change the habits that encourage sin. One of the best predictors of the future is to study the past. Our previous patterns of behavior can show us where our weak spots are. Figure out a way to change your habit if that habit leads you into rebellion against God.
Invite others to hold you accountable. The book of Hebrews repeatedly emphasizes the importance of Christian community. One of the ways that believers can build this kind of community is by supporting one another in their struggles and their joys.
Sinful attitudes and actions bring guilt, shame, and fear into our lives. In turn, this creates distance between us and God. But God wants to have a close personal relationship with each one of us.
What over steps have you taken to distance yourself from sin? Please leave your answers in the comment section below.
The COVID-19 crisis has forced us to rethink a lot of things, including church. For the first time in our lifetimes, we were unable to gather in-person as a church for months as a time. When we did come back together, we had to alter some of our habits to accommodate increased health concerns.
Now that we are meeting together regularly, we are asking ourselves a whole new set of questions. What about bible study classes and small groups? How do these smaller assemblies relate to our worship services? What schedule and format would work best for our church? Are these ministries even necessary?
As our Sunday morning, Small Groups and through-the-week Life Groups resume in-person meetings, I wanted to address the question of groups. Here are 3 of the top reasons why small groups are important to the local church.
The biblical reason: Jesus used groups. Not only did Jesus mandate that we make disciples in His name, but He also modeled disciple-making. In Rediscovering Discipleship, Robby Gallaty points out five different types of groups that Jesus used in His earthly ministry. Jesus ministered to crowds numbering in the thousand, but He also focused on a “congregation” of 70 to 150 self-identified followers. Beyond that, He spent significant time with a small community of 12 men. Three of those men were singled out for additional interaction and training. The point is that if Jesus utilized small groups, so should we.
The personal reason: groups are an avenue for care and shepherding. Small groups can provide a level of personal interaction that is not possible in a worship service. Prayer requests and concerns can be shared in more detail. Questions can be asked and answered. Group members can be encouraged and cared for. Unbelievers can be led to faith in the context of a group and believers can be equipped for spiritual growth in a group. Small groups invite people of all ages to get more personally involved in the life of the church.
The practical reason: groups encourage people to stay. Thom Rainer has quoted multiple studies that indicate that people who attend groups are five times more likely to stay connected to the church than those who only attend the worship service. People stay in a church because of relationships and involvement. Small groups are an excellent place to develop both.
If someone were to ask me why we should restart our small groups ministry in-person or why they should be personally involved, I would start with these 3 top reasons. Small groups allow us to make disciples for Christ in ways that other types of gatherings cannot and that should be enough to move us to action.
Churches can be as creative as they want to be with their vision, strategy, and values, but not when it comes to the mission of the church. In the Great Commission, Jesus tasked the church with making disciples in His name (Mathew 28:18-20). The mission of the church is and always has been to make disciples. Here are three books I would suggest about how that can be done in today.
The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman
This book has evangelism in the title, but it’s really about discipleship. In it, Robert Coleman traces the eight guiding principles Jesus used to train His disciples and to send them out in His absence. Coleman cautions church leaders against prepackaged discipleship programs. Instead, he encourages a more relational approach. This book would be good for anyone who is thinking though the overall process of discipleship and leadership development.
2. Rediscovering Discipleship by Robby Gallaty
Robby Gallaty builds his case for discipleship in the church on the ministry of Jesus and other discipleship leaders throughout church history. He goes on to suggest a model of progressive discipleship found in Charles Wesley’s ministry. Gallaty gains ground by including spiritual disciplines like Bible memorization and journaling into his suggested model. This book is excellent for church leaders who want to refocus their churches on reproducible discipleship.
3. Disciple-shift by Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington
Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington believe that discipleship should be the core focus of the church. To that end, they suggest five shifts to engage the “engine” of discipleship. The shift that is most meaningful for me as a pastor is to go from informing the church to equipping the church. This book is best for those who are already looking to ramp up the discipleship efforts in their churches. Readers will find value insights to help them troubleshoot their revitalization efforts.
You can find these books at your favorite retailers. Feel free to share this post and share these books with the people who know who care about discipleship in the church.
I made a startling discovery earlier this year. I did some research on the baptism, membership, and attendance trends in the church I serve as pastor and I realized that as a church, we have lost 500 people in the last 10 years! We have welcomed an entire sanctuary full of people (our sanctuary seats about 500) into our membership through baptism and transfer of letter, but our Morning Worship and Sunday School attendance have stayed about the same. Even though some of those people have passed away, moved out of the area, or stepping into places of ministry, you would think that we would be able to retain at least some of our newest members.
One of the reasons we have not retained our members, new and well-established, is because we have not done a good enough job collectively of discipling them. We have allowed baptism and new membership to become the finish line of faith instead of the starting line. We have welcomed people of all ages into our church and given them a variety of ministry opportunities without a clear plan for spiritual development.
This discovery led me to a new type of ministry that isn’t new at all. When Jesus Christ was on earth, he ministered to thousands of people yet focused the majority of his time on 12 ordinary men. Jesus narrowed his focus even further by investing in Peter, James, and John more than the rest of this disciples. Jesus made disciples in small groups. The Apostle Paul followed Christ’s example by teaching and training a select group of men out of the hundreds, maybe thousands, that he had contact with. Timothy, Titus, and Luke are familiar names to us today because Paul worked so closely with them during his time on earth.
The new type of ministry that I discovered is a Discipleship Group. A Discipleship Group is an intentionally small group (3 to 6 people) that meets for spiritual development and replication. Unlike Sunday School classes, these groups are gender-specific and closed to outsiders to facilitate deep relationships, open communication, and accountability. After twelve months, group members are prayerfully challenged to turn around and start their own group for the next year.
I have been involved in 2 exploratory Discipleship Groups in the last 2 years and experienced great benefits. As a believer, I have been prompted to spend regular time in Bible study and prayer, to invest in meaning relationships with other believers, and to live out the gospel daily. As a pastor, I have seen men in our church hear from God through His Word and look for ways to share it with others. I have only been involved with these particular kinds of Discipleship Groups for a short time, but I can see and anticipate the benefit they would bring to the church that I serve and the greater Kingdom of God – especially those who join in the next 10 years.
What experience do you have with small group discipleship, if any?
Jermaine Wilson experienced tremendous transformation. He grew up in Leavenworth, Kanson and started to sell drugs out of his childhood apartment at an early age. He was eventually incarcerated at the maximum-security wing at Lansing Correctional, a state prison in Kansas where he had a realization. “If I don’t change,” he thought, “I’m either going to spend the rest of my life in prison or dead in a casket.” In a strange turn of events, Jermaine is now the mayor of Leavenworth, according to a story that air on CBS earlier this year. Jermaine credits the transformation to God, education, and volunteer work. After prison, he started serving his community and got his felony record expunged, paving the way for a political run.
Jesus used a parable of the vine and the branches to teach us about spiritual transformation in John 15:1-17. Like Jermaine Wilson, the disciples experienced a transformation while they followed Jesus. In one sense, they become disciples the moment they said, “yes” to Jesus. In another very real sense, they didn’t become disciples until they put their faith in the resurrected Jesus. (John 20:29)
The parable of the vine and the branches invites the question, “When does an unbeliever become a disciple?” This metaphor and the explanation follows gives us three marks of a disciple. Notice that these marks aredynamic, notstatic, meaning they grow and develop over time.
1. Disciples build a friendship with Jesus.
Social media has changed the way we view friendship. It used to be that you had to be physically present with someone to make a friend, but now you can become friends with people all over the world with the click of a button. Social media can increase our ability to communicate, but it can’t increase our capacity to care.
A friendship with Jesus is based on trust and affection. Friends depend on each other because they have a two-way bond. Jesus calls us to “abide in me and I in you” (v. 4). We are branches and branches can do nothing by themselves, they are just sticks (v. 5).
Friends are better than servants because they care for each other. Jesus considers us friends because he gave his life for us (v. 13). He also reveals God’s Word and will to us (v. 15).
It takes time to build a friendship with Jesus. It takes up to three years to grow grapes on a vine. After the vine and branches are established, grapes grow like the life of the vine moves into them. Jesus could have downloaded everything he wanted his disciples to directly into their brain the moment he called them, but he didn’t because he wanted to develop a relationship with them.
2. Disciples bear fruit that lasts.
Spiritual fruit is the Word of God put into practice. In a broad sense, it’s every act done in obedience to Christ. Spiritual fruit is every display of Christ-like character, ever prayer prayed in accordance with God’s will, and every deed done to bring unbelievers to faith in Christ. The beauty of the vineyard is in the sheer magnitude of grapes produced, not just one particular grape. In a narrow sense, its ever act of love done for another believer (more about that in a moment).
God prunes us to make us more fruitful. The vinedresser removes all the old growth to make room for new growth and fruit. God uses His Word to prune and clean us (v. 3). He works to remove things in our lives that get in the way of our fruitfulness. Those things might be sinful habits, misplaced priorities, or even harmful relationships.
People who don’t bear fruit aren’t disciples, they’re imposters (v.6). True spiritual fruit remains to the end. Anyone can do something that looks spiritual on the outside. Only the deeds done in the power of God will make a lasting impact.
3. Disciples demonstrate love for other believers.
Spiritual fruit has a broad and a narrow definition (see the previous point). Demonstrating love for other believers is a prominent mark of a disciple because grows out of the first and second Greatest Commands revealed by Jesus in Matthew 22:35-40. The first command is assumed in this passage while the second command is reinforced (v. 9).
We must follow Jesus’ example in demonstrating love for others. Jesus laid down his life for the ones he loved – his friends. We must show love to everyone we meet as our “neighbor,” but we have a special responsibility to love our fellow disciples.
Our special relationship with Christ must not become a source of pride. He chose us, we did not choose him (v. 16). Back to the parable, he planted us we did not plant ourselves.
In summary, an unbeliever becomes a true disciple when he or she builds a friendship with Jesus, bears fruit that lasts, and demonstrates love for other believers. These activities cannot be accomplished without the transforming power of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Have you tapped into that power?
In the first half of his Gospel, the Apostle John describes a series of signs that Jesus performed in order to show his true identity. These were more than just miracles, they were powerful acts done for a specific purpose: to show that the God of the Old Testament had come in all his glory. John is careful to only include signs that Jesus performed at or near Jewish festivals or institutions like the temple, a well, the Sabbath, and the Passover.
The first sign appears in John 2:1-12, where Jesus attended a Jewish wedding. Jesus showed the unsuspecting wedding guests and his disciples that God had saved the best for last. The first-century Jews believed in God and honored the Scriptures. They took time out for God at least once a week and observed the Sabbath. But God had something better for them.
Jesus attended a wedding on “the third day,” which is a clue that something special was about to happen. At some point in the celebration, the wine ran out. Jesus’ mother, Mary, had some sort of responsibility for the refreshments at the wedding feast so she asked Jesus for help. At first, Jesus seemed hesitant to help, stating that his “hour has not come yet.” Then Mary instructed the servants to do whatever Jesus asked them to do.
There were six stone water pots at the wedding, each with the capacity to hold 20 to 30 gallons of water. Clay pots were more common and affordable, but they could become “unclean,” so the Jews used stone pots for ceremonial washings. The Jews had a complex set of rituals and traditions when it came eating and preparing food (Mark 7:1-4). They would not eat without washing their hands in a special way. This wasn’t about hygiene, but about proving their standing before God.
Jesus told the servants to fill the pots with water and take it to the head waiter. Somewhere between the water pot and the headwaiters’ lips, the water became wine. The head waiter was so impressed that he spoke to the bridegroom saying, “Most people serve the good wine first when people are most thirsty and can appreciate the high quality. But you’ve surprised us, you’ve saved the best for last.”
Contrary to popular opinion, this story is not about alcohol. The use of the stone washing pots and the words of the head waiter in verse 10 tell us the reason for Jesus’ first sign and the point of this story: Jesus as better than the religious rituals or traditions of the Jews. The coming of the Messiah was more important for God’s people than following a set of restrictive practices.
Like the ancient Jews, we have our own set of religious rituals and traditions that have a limited basis in Scripture and little bearing on our relationship with God. Unfortunately, like the Jews, we sometimes enjoy looking down on others because they do not follow our rituals or traditions. When we do we need to personalize this story – Jesus is better than our religious rituals or traditions. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is more important than what we wear to church, how many times we go to church, or how many times we “walk the aisle.” That doesn’t mean our rituals or traditions are worthless, it means they are a means to a greater end – faith in Jesus Christ.
Maybe you need to reevaluate your spiritual life in light of Gospel? Maybe you need to trust in Jesus, instead of some experience or practice? Maybe you need to follow Jesus and his leadership in your life. When you do, will know that God saved the best for last.
The term “discipleship” means different things to different people. Some people think of discipleship as a specific kind of bible study curriculum or an optional class at their church that is focused on discipleship. Other people imagine a person – one of the original twelve disciples that Jesus Christ called to follow him. Another group of people may get stuck on the root of the word which is “discipline.” These understandings aren’t wrong, they are just incomplete.
Discipleship is more than an idea, or a person, or class. Discipleship is a process in which people grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ and learn to serve him more effectively. In John 1:29-51, John the Apostle (one of the original twelve disciples) shared three short stories about Jesus and his interactions with his first followers. You could call these short stories portraits of discipleship.
Each one of the three stories in this passage answers two questions: Who is Jesus? And what does it mean to follow Jesus?
THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD (v. 29-34)
John the Baptist told his followers that Jesus Christ was “the Lamb of God” while John was baptizing and preaching by the Jordan river. Lambs were very important in Jewish thinking. A lamb was killed at Passover and its blood was spread on the doorposts of the home to symbolizes God’s pardon. This teaches us that sin can only be wiped away by the blood of a sacrificial lamb.
THE RABBI WHO TEACHES US ABOUT OURSELVES (v. 35-42)
John the Baptist passed on two his disciples to Jesus: Andrew and either Philip or John. Andrew went and found his brother, Simon, and introduced him to Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus took the opportunity to teach Simon something about himself. Even though Simon was impulsive and outspoken, he would become as solid as rock through his time with Jesus. Jesus gave him a new nickname, Peter, as a promise of the transformation that would happen in his life.
THE TRUE KING WHO RULES OVER GOD’S PEOPLE (v. 43-51)
Jesus went into Galilee and found another disciple named Philip. Like Andrew, Philip found his brother, Nathaniel, and introduced him to Jesus. Jesus explained to his growing band of followers he already knew Nathaniel. Jesus knew Nathaniel while studied the Scriptures under a fig tree. Jesus also knew that Nathaniel was truthful and authentic
Nathaniel immediately recognized Jesus as the True King of Israel. The Jewish Messiah was God’s chosen reprehensive to lead his people according to God’s promise to King David (2 Sam. 7). As such, Jesus Christ bridged the gap between heaven and earth, reintroducing God’s activity among his people.
These three portraits of discipleship present one compelling truth: The things we learn about Jesus should lead us to follow him.
This passage is more than a list of titles and descriptions. It contains a series of experiences and interactions with Jesus. It teaches us to balance our knowledge about God with our knowledge of God. It invites us to have a similar experience with Jesus as his first followers: Andrew and Peter, Philip and Nathaniel.
Each one of these portraits of discipleship highlights a different “first step” of discipleship. Some disciples come to Jesus for forgiveness, others for transformation, and others are encouraged to surrender their lives. As you assess your connection to Christ, make sure that the things you are learning are leading you to follow Him.