Archive for ‘Youth’

December 31, 2011

Do you plan to read your Bible in 2012?

by Calvin Goligher

It is impossible to imagine Christianity without a Bible. Without that one book, there would be no church, no worship, no prayer, no instruction, no obedience—in short, no Christianity at all. We might invent substitutes for these using our imaginations, but we would never devise a religion that would be acceptable to God.On the other hand, it is entirely possible to imagine a Christianity with only the Bible. To take away every other piece of literature would no doubt greatly impoverish the church. Nevertheless, with only the Bible we have sufficient guidance to have true worship, prayer, obedience, repentance, faith, doctrine, evangelism, and church life.I think all Christians would readily agree that the Bible contains a greater wealth of truth than all other literature combined. We are used to the idea that without the Bible we can never know God, but that with the Bible we need nothing else to know Him. But how many of us demonstrate this principle in our daily lives? If you’re anything like me, you know that it is far too easy to neglect reading the Bible because we are busy reading history, theology, sermons, biographies, devotionals, or some other literature. As a result, we get our knowledge of God and our Christian experience secondhand, from the hearts and minds of some great authors rather than from the heart and mind of God.

There is nothing more important for our Christian life and health in the coming year than for us to come to know God in His Word, rather than in a series of books about His Word.

To encourage and help you in your personal reading of the Scriptures in this coming year, here are a few suggested reading plans. Each one has advantages and drawbacks, so choose the one you think will be best for you; it might even be a good idea to choose a different plan from the one you did last year.

M’Cheyne’s Bible Reading Plan is a classic. Four chapters per day from four different places in the Bible. In one year, you’ll read the Old Testament once and the Psalms and New Testament twice.

If you are feeling ambitious, check out Grant Horner’s plan. It is deliberately less neat-and-tidy than M’Cheyne’s. Horner has provided ten lists of varying lengths. Each day, read one chapter per day from each list, and you’ll have a year of constantly reading and re-reading different parts of the Bible in new combinations.

Equally ambitious, and a little simpler, is James Gray’s method of reading the Bible for mastery. Taking one book of the Bible at a time, read it right through twenty times before moving on to the next book. Start wherever you like, and move at your own pace through each book of the Bible. Fred Sanders explains the rationale and advantages of this method.

If you don’t think you’ll be able to handle such heavy or rigid plans, you might appreciate the flexibility of the “Bible Reading Plan for Slackers and Shirkers.” Read something from each genre (Poetry, History, Letters…) once per week.

If simplicity, independence, and flexibility are what you need, Don Whitney’s Bible reading chart might be the most helpful. Hang it up on your wall, and just cross the chapters off as you read them—in whatever order, and at whatever pace you please.

Scripture reading breeds Scripture reading! 

Tags: , ,
September 12, 2011

On Reading

by Calvin Goligher

The Scriptures are very clear that doctrine is of the highest importance to the Christian. Our religion is not merely a code of ethics, to tell us how to live; nor is it a merely an institution, in which to participate unthinkingly; nor again is it merely an experience, to perpetually seek after. The Christian religion is certainly concerned with ethics (God’s law), institutions (God’s Church), and experience (without which there can be no knowledge of God). Each of these vital elements of Christianity, though, are grounded upon and defined by the Truth that Christianity proclaims. There can be no Christian morality, no Church life, no genuine spiritual experience, where there is no Christian Truth to believe. Truth by itself is never enough, of course; but it is a necessary minimum.

As Christian young people, then, our greatest need is to understand the Truth of the Scriptures. In other words, we need to understand doctrine. Now, we live in a culture of pragmatism. That is to say, our generation is inclined to focus on what is practical, what is tangible, what is “relevant.” We like to express contempt for mere “theory,” and get our hands dirty with “real stuff.” In Christian circles, this is expressed as a preference for “action” over “doctrine.” We like to do, and we have little time for knowing. This is a very problematic way of thinking for the Christian. If we neglect doctrine, we are not neglecting pie-in-the-sky “theory,” we are rejecting God’s Truth, which is at the heart of our religion.

There is a very great irony in this general preference for “action” over “doctrine.” The irony is that our generation is the most privileged in history, in terms of access to information, literacy, and education. From childhood we are taught to read, to examine, to analyse, to predict, to estimate, to search, to connect, in order to gain knowledge of truth. Particularly in the Church, we have computer programs, websites, e-books, booksellers, and libraries full of Christian truth at our fingertips. We are awash in information, awash in truth, and so we place very little value on it. Christians in past generations who couldn’t have even written their own name, on the other hand, paid dearly for access to the truth of God’s word.

The problem, perhaps, is particularly acute among Christian youth. We have been led to believe that the hard work of thinking about our faith is not all that important. The pastors and leaders in our Churches have often assumed that we will find doctrine boring and irrelevant to our lives, and so we have come to believe that it is. So here we are, the generation of Christians with, overall, the best education, the most access to information, and the most free time to devote to learning Biblical doctrine, and we don’t care.

What are we to do? What is our responsibility before God? Among other things, I think we can start giving more attention to reading Christian literature. In order to encourage and help Christian young people in this, I am planning to regularly review suitable books here. Merely reading books, of course, is not enough. Knowing doctrine, for that matter, is not enough either. We must also pray that the Holy Spirit will bless our reading, and use it to build us up in our understanding of Christian truth; in seeking to know Christian truth, we must primarily seek the knowledge of Him, whom to know is eternal life (John 17:3).

August 15, 2011

The alternative to Christian maturity

by Calvin Goligher

The author of Hebrews has issued a call to Christian maturity, provided a description of Christian maturity, and informed his readers of the foundation that is necessary for Christian maturity. Each of these exhortations to maturity were positive, explaining what Christians ought to be, do, and have, in order to gain spiritual maturity. In 6:4-8, the author moves on to a negative exhortation, explaining the consequences of failing to grow into mature Christians.

A healthy child never stops growing. If a three-year-old doesn’t grow at all for a period of a few months, her parents would be right to worry. Their concern, however, would not centre on the possibility that their daughter might not grow past three-foot-one, but that the lack of growth is a symptom of a very serious underlying health problem.

Similarly, a Christian who stops growing and maturing spiritually is not just “missing out” on the benefits of spiritual growth. Rather, his lack of spiritual growth is an alarming symptom of a very fundamental spiritual malady. If a Christian is not growing, the author says, it is likely that he is not really a Christian at all.

His exhortation is in three parts. First, he shows how far an individual may progress in the Christian life, before her profession of faith is ultimately proven false. She may be “enlightened” to Christian truth, and brought to “taste” or experience for herself “the heavenly gift” of salvation. She may appear to be a genuine “partaker” of the spiritual life produced by the Holy Spirit. She may have “tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,” finding real delight in the Scriptures and in thoughts of eternal life.

Second, he shows how serious a sin it is to fall away from the faith. To fall away, he says, is to “crucify the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” In other words, the apostatizing (falling-away) Christian is declaring his agreement with those who killed the Lord Jesus. Moreover, he is shaming the name of Christ, because his faith is exposed to all as a sham.

Third, he shows how difficult it is for an apostate to be restored to faith in Christ. It is more difficult for an ex-Christian to be saved than a non-Christian. An ex-Christian has a bitterness against the truth, a series of broken relationships with Christians, and an ego that is now doubly sensitive to the humility of true repentance. It is only “impossible” for him to be saved in the sense that it is “impossible” for anyone to be saved apart from God’s grace and power. God certainly can save an apostate, and has done so on occasion, but this is the exception, not the rule.

The practical implication of the author’s warning is that we must never rest content with our current spiritual condition. A real Christian is always a growing Christian, and a Christian who stops growing is likely not a Christian at all. No matter what stage of Christian life we are at, or what degree of knowledge, service, or experience we have attained, we are never done pressing onward towards the goal of full Christian maturity.

None of this is to say that a true Christian can lose his salvation. The false profession that ends in apostasy may show all the features mentioned in vv.4-5, but these are not the sum of true faith. Those who are truly saved will always persevere in their faith in Christ to the end; yet it is still true that only those who persevere in their faith, seeking constantly to grow in maturity, are actually saved and will ultimately be saved.

August 8, 2011

The foundation of Christian maturity

by Calvin Goligher

The author of Hebrews has called us to Christian maturity, and also given us a description of Christian maturity. He follows these with an exhortation: “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on again unto perfection” (Hebrews 6:1). Moving on from the basics of Christianity, the author is saying, let us keep progressing towards full Christian maturity.

If we are to move on in the Christian life, though, we do well to ensure that we are ready. Telling a builder to “move on,” when he hasn’t poured the foundation is foolishness. So, before these Hebrew Christians are to move on, the author describes for them the foundation they need in order to “go on.”

Modern foundations are made of concrete, which is a mixture of various ingredients. Here (6:1-2), the author gives a list of three pairs of ingredients that together will make for a strong foundation for Christian maturity.

The first pair of ingredients is “repentance from dead works” and “faith toward God.” The degenerate Judaism of the New Testament era was a religion focused on works. External obedience to God’s law was the centre of their religious life. These actions, though, were just empty, dead, useless attempts to please God. This is the problem with every false religion, from Islam to Roman Catholicism to Atheism: there is no life; only a struggle to please whatever God they profess to serve.

True Christianity starts with “repenting“—turning away from—these dead works, and placing our faith in God. By faith, we are united to Christ. By our union with Him, our sins are transferred (imputed) to His account, and His righteousness to ours. God then declares that we are righteous (justified), because, in union with Him, we really are righteous. By our continuing union with Him, we partake of His life. The Holy Spirit, in whose work this union consists, dwells in us and energizes us, enabling us to perform not “dead works” but living works of obedience to His law (a.k.a. the “fruits of the Spirit”).

The second pair of ingredients is “the doctrine of baptisms” and “the laying on of hands.” The inward life of the Christian begins with repentance and faith. This inward life is always accompanied, though, with outward life in a Christian community. Baptism is a public declaration of our personal faith in Christ, which marks the beginning of our membership in the Christian Church.

The “laying on of hands” seems to refer to other aspects of public Christian life, usually following baptism. This formality is connected in the New Testament with, among other things, a prayer for blessing (Matthew 19:13-5) and a separation for service (Acts 6:6, 13:3, 2 Timothy 1:6).

The third pair of ingredients is the “resurrection from the dead” and the “eternal judgement.” The first four ingredients are concerned with the beginning of the Christian life; these two are concerned with end of the Christian life. It lies at the heart and foundation of the Christian message that our dead bodies are not going to lie in the grave for ever. Rather, there is coming a day when our bodies will be brought back from the dead, either to enter into the joys of the new heavens and the new earth or the torments of hell.

Where our eternal destiny lies will be decided by the Lord Jesus, who will return to judge us all. These twin truths—resurrection and judgment—are at once the hope of the believer, who longs for the day of the Saviour’s return, and also the impetus for us to evangelize those who don’t know or don’t care about the coming judgement day.

This six-ingredient concrete is the only solid foundation from which to progress toward Christian maturity. Before we can think about our Christian growth, we must seriously consider whether we have the inward Christian life of repentance and faith, the outward Christian life of membership in a Christian Church, and the Christian hope of eternal life in our resurrected bodies.

August 1, 2011

A description of Christian maturity

by Calvin Goligher

After issuing his call for Christian maturity, the writer to the Hebrews explains his idea of Christian maturity in terms of food. These Hebrew Christians, he says, need milk because they are unable to handle “strong meat.” The analogy is evident: babies eat milk because that is all their digestive system is able to handle. If you give a baby steak, it will cause all sorts of problems. The same is true of young Christians: they need to be spiritually nourished with simple and easy things from the Scriptures. If the first spiritual food a new Christian tastes is a lecture on historical-grammatical exegesis, for instance, it will likely do them more harm than good.

The problem works the other way too, though. An eight-year-old that only wants milk for supper has as big a problem as the steak-eating newborn. In time, it is necessary for children to stop eating pablum and move on to vegetables, cereals, and meats in order to grow to physical maturity. The same is true of the Christian life. It is very proper for a new Christian to spend time learning the “first principles” of God’s Word. In fact, it is very necessary. Nevertheless, their diet must eventually expand if they are to continue growing.

The author’s idea of Christian immaturity, then, is very straightforward. A “baby Christian” is someone who is “unskilful in the word of righteousness” (5:14). He doesn’t know all the Bible stories, he isn’t familiar with all the important doctrines of God and salvation, and he doesn’t see how all the  instructions in the Bible apply to him. No matter how intelligent, experienced, sane, or informed a Christian individual may be, he is an immature Christian until he is skilful in these matters.

So we see that Christian maturity consists in being skilful in using the Scriptures. What, then, does this skill look like? The author tells us more in the following verse (5:15): mature Christians, he says, are “those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” That is to say, their minds have been trained through practice to recognize right and wrong.

There are three elements, then, that comprise Christian maturity. First, Christian maturity requires a knowledge of the Bible. The author evidently intends to say as much, for by what other standard are to identify “good and evil“? We must know what the Bible says is right, and what it identifies as wrong.

Second, Christian maturity requires biblical discernment. It is not enough to know “good” and “evil” as they appear in the Scriptures. We must also be able to identify, based on the Bible’s teaching, “good” and “evil” in our own lives and circumstances. Knowing the commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” is one thing; being able to recognize deception in the world around us and in our own hearts is another.

Third, Christian maturity requires sustained effort. The author uses the phrase “by reason of use” and the word “exercised” to remind us of this fact. Biblical knowledge and biblical discernment don’t drop from the sky. They are to be acquired progressively by constant spiritual effort and exercise.

%d bloggers like this: