Our True Identity – Group Study Questions

Read 1 Peter 1:1-9

Questions:

How would you explain the idea of ‘identity’? How is the idea of identity relevant to what the author is discussing in 1 Peter 1:1-2?

We often get confused by discussions about election. What reason would Peter have for introducing the subject here? What effect might this have on his readers?

Peter calls these Christians ‘exiles’ …

  • What does this term convey, and what has brought this exile about?
  • How does the church you are part of embody the characteristics of being ‘in exile’?

New Testament commentator Tom Wright says “This is God’s purpose: to set people aside from other uses so that they can be signposts to this new reality, this new world. … They are therefore to be ‘holy’, both in the technical sense that God has set them apart for this purpose and in the practical sense that their actual lives have been transformed. The way they behave  now reflects God’s desire for his human creatures. That—however daunting and unlikely it seems—is who we are as Christians.”[1]

  • How does this compare with what we normally think about holiness?
  • What does the sentence “The way they behave now reflects God’s desire for his human creatures” say about you?

How has this passage influenced how you see 1) yourself 2) God’s work in Jesus?

 


[1] Wright, T. (2011). Early Christian Letters for Everyone: James, Peter, John and Judah (p. 50). London; Louisville, KY: SPCK; Westminster John Knox Press.

God Loves A Cheerful Giver – Group Study Questions

Introduction

Why are we often so reluctant to talk (or preach) about money and giving?

Read 2 Corinthians 8:1-7

What impresses you most about the giving of the Macedonian Christians?

What lessons can we learn from their example?

Paul does not command the Corinthian Christians to give generously, so what are the grounds for his appeal?

Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (v.6) How do we avoid the pitfalls of legalism on the one hand and prosperity gospel on the other hand?

When preaching on this passage, Tim Keller says “The Bible says … there can be no significant spiritual growth in your life unless you put your money and what you think about your money into God’s hands. Because it’s just too big and just too pivotal an issue“.

Share your thoughts together about Keller’s assertion.

Share some stories about the ‘cheerful givers’ you have known over the years. How did their generosity impact on their own lives? How did their generosity impact on the lives of others?

Consider/Share: What changes do you intend to make as a result of studying this passage for Scripture?

Living Members: A Church of Character

Read: Matthew 5:1-16, Acts 2:42-47

Whenever I am asked to write a reference for someone, I find myself very humbled: I am being asked to write a few paragraphs that sum up a person’s character. So yes, humbled. Initially. And then, in the words of the great theologian Elmer Fudd, I feel vewy, vewy powerful… What you say,  and sometimes what you don’t say, can make all the difference.

Enjoying favour

There’s a sense in which this passage reads as a reference. A character reference for the Apostolic Church. Or you could say it’s like a family photo, like those great family photos of old. All you have to do is take one look and you know precisely the sort of people you’re dealing with….

Groenenboom family 1967

…not wanting to be the centre of attention. At all.

Acts 2 tells us about the character of this church from a number of different angles. And the angle we want to looks at today is seen in the last part of v.47:

“praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47, NIV)

The word Luke uses for ‘favour’ is more commonly used for ‘grace’. What it tells us is the general population looked at this church, and saw it to be very good. They viewed it very graciously.

At first look this may not have been too difficult. They shared the same faith background as the bulk of the community. They were continuing to meet in the temple courts. The community around them were paying close attention. They saw their commitment to Temple worship. They saw their unity. They saw how they shared and supported the needy. And they liked what they saw. So in a very short time it seems this church had developed significant social standing.

Now, we will think of some churches or Christians which have developed significant social standing. And it is not always healthy. Like the Sadducees in Acts. They developed social standing by currying favour with the Romans. They played favourites with Herod. They were cunning political operators, the great pragmatists of their day.

But the Acts 2 church did not earn favour that way. Unlike the Sadducees, they did not go looking for favour or seeking influence. I say this because healthy favour is never sought. Healthy favour is always bestowed by others. Scot McKnight observes:

These deeds aren’t done in order to solicit their praise; they are done out of obedience and love, and their inherent goodness is inherently praiseworthy[Scot McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy]

This is the kind of favour God calls us to in his word:

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12, NIV)

This is the high calling Jesus gives his followers:

“You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world … let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13–16, NIV)

That’s what’s happening here. The light is shining. The salt is being tasted. The new community of Jesus are loving one another, caring for one another, meeting one another’s financial needs, worshipping together, contributing to temple life. And people are noticing. They see great things happening. They may not be sure what to think about Jesus, but they are saying ‘that’s the kind of church our community needs; if I was ever looking for a church, I’d check that one out, first.”

Now, we need to keep our feet on the ground here. A  few chapters on and those well connected Sadducees were playing more of their manipulative tricks. They are jealous of the attention Jesus’ church attracting so they resort to malicious slander, and the Apostles find themselves in front of the New Testament equivalent of a Senate Inquiry. And then it gets worse.

But here, the word is getting out and the light of new creation is shining into the darkness of humanity. Make no mistake: when the people of God are the kind of community he calls them to be, truth, love, and life always spill out into the world around them.

A story:

Some years ago I pastored a church in Hobart. That church was very active in assisting refugees to settle in Australia. I don’t know how many Bosnian and Sudanese people our church helped. Maybe a dozen families over the years. Around that time, a church on Tasmania’s north coast had been seeking a pastor for a number of years, without success. They decided to call a pastor from the reformed church family in South Africa. This was the first of the South African pastor called by the Christians Reformed Churches of Australia. At that time I was serving as the CRCA’s Ecumenical Secretary, and I was asked to countersign the sponsorship application for the Department of Immigration. We were informed it was going to be a long process: routinely taking 12-18 months for the visa to be granted.

The next day the phone rang. It was the local head of the Department of Immigration in Hobart. She said the visa application had been granted. I said “Um, OK, so you have received the completed visa application…” She said, “Well, yes we have received the application, but I am calling to tell you that application has been granted. Visa approved.”

So I asked the inevitable, “Doesn’t that normally take, like 12-18 months?”

Her answer: “Yes. But your church has done a lot to help refugees. This is our way of saying thanks…”

A process that normally took 12 – 14 months had been done in just over 24 hours. The calling church rejoiced. A South African pastor and his family packed his bags. And what is relevant to our text today is how that day we enjoyed the favour of the people.

Or take this article I grabbed from the newsfeed yesterday: The headline: “Churches are best social melting pots in modern Britain”. It said:

“…churches and other places of worship are more successful than any other social setting at bringing people of different backgrounds together, well ahead of gatherings such as parties, meetings, weddings or venues such as pubs and clubs.”

Scot McKnight agrees:

“When the church is the church it is fully engaged in loving everyone as neighbours. As such, the church becomes the most lovingly, compassionately, justly, peacefully engaged segment in all the world.” [Kingdom Conspiracy p.111]

Here’s the deal: When the church thrives, our community wins.

How important this is, friends. We tend to think that if we just keep our theology right then we will find God’s blessing. And true: It is critical that we remain committed to the apostle’s teaching – as did this church in Acts 2. But we live in such uncertain times that orthodox teaching, in and of itself, will not be enough to convince a watching world of the claims of Christ. It probably never has been enough. Our culture is becoming increasingly hostile: the ALPs Sam Dastayari’s outburst against Katy Faust on Q&S last Monday shows us just how hard it is to hold an opinion that is different from the latest pressure group. There are times when we will need to respond to such vilification with measured debate. But the church will never win with debate alone. We will only ever win as the power of the Risen Christ enables his church to live a distinctly different life, to live a better story. The Acts 2 story.

Let me say again: When the church thrives, our community wins.

Love your church

And why, ultimately, is that?

When it all comes down to it this community thrived for a reason. It wasn’t because they had a great mission statement, or because  they understood their theology so well. They were thriving because Jesus was alive in them. Jesus lived in them. Jesus has given them life. Jesus, just weeks before, had gone to the cross and taken their sin, their guilt, and borne their punishment. He has finished it utterly and completely. Jesus had risen from the dead. Conquered death. Rose as victor over the grave, over the devil and his kingdom. This risen Jesus now lived in his people. His Spirit had woken them up, brought them to life, softened their heart, opened their eyes, made them alive!

They were in Christ and they were new creation: a new community, new people, new shared life, wonderful hope bubbling out of them like living water. They were bearing the fruit of the Spirit. They were embodying the very Kingdom of God.

See this church? None of this can happen unless Jesus lives in people. Unless people bow the knee to this loving Saviour and call him Master. On their own they, and we on our own,  can do nothing. But with Jesus living in them they could do everything he had called them to do. When Jesus lives in the church, the church thrives! And when the church thrives, our community wins. This is why they enjoyed the favour of all the people.

Friends: you know how this needs to be applied?

First up: prayer. I do not know why we find it so hard to develop a culture of prayer. Yes, we are all busy. But we are all Christian. We all have Christ ruling our hearts. We all are washed by his selfless sacrifice. We all have life in his name. When loving, vibrant community can be such a powerful witness I do not know why we do not make the time to get together and pour our hearts out to the Lord on this (and other) issues.

I know we pray in our home groups. I know one or two meet on Wednesday mornings. Obviously, we pray on Sunday when we gather. But why is it so hard to have times specifically for prayer? Why is this not part of our communal life with Christ? I believe we need to open up this aspect of our spirituality, and we should do some soul searching as to why we have not embraced a prayerful communal spirit to this point. After all, doesn’t the word call us to this?

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, NIV)

Second: Love your church. Really, love your church! I don’t want to focus on negatives, but we realise, I think, that it is too easy to whinge, to complain, to compare. We have all done it, we are all sinners. I think, especially in our culture, that passive aggression is the besetting sin of today’s western church.

I have my checklist, and if you stop doing what I want, I will stop serving, I will stop paying, and if it gets any worse, I will just stop coming.

Christians don’t throw stuff when they get angry, they just withdraw.

Want to enjoy the favour of all the people? Then, yes, there is much good that needs to be done, and we should be eager to so it. That will bless our community. But perhaps the best thing we can do for our community, is to do everything we can to help our church thrive! Think of the various aspects we have covered over the course of this series, and consider what steps you are taking to bring these things to realisation:

Apostolic teaching: what plans are you making to connect with a Home Group, or to deepen your understanding and acceptance of God’s word?

Fellowship: to do whatever you can to celebrate the oneness we have in Jesus. How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity

Sharing: being sensitive to the needs right here: when one weeps, we all weep; when one celebrates, we all rejoice; prepared to bear the cost to help out those with great need

Worship: do whatever you can to enrich what happens here on Sunday and through the week; develop a God centred view of worship together. Come ready, willing, keen to honour him, and to encourage others in worshipping our King

Witness: sharing the good news of Jesus, celebrating how much we love this church he has given us. The church is his bride! Let’s make her beautiful, and wear that love on our sleeve…

And as we do, the Lord’s goodness will overflow from the church into our community. The effect will be unmistakable. The fruit of the spirit. The character of Jesus. The Kingdom of God. The church will thrive, community will win, and Jesus will receive all the glory.

Marriage Equality & Same Sex Attraction: Group Study Questions

Introduction:

Go around the room and share how these issues impact each one of you

Discuss together how the church – your church – has typically responded to these issues.

Read: Romans 1:16 – 2:1

What would make people read this list and single out same sex attraction/homosexuality as being more grievous than any of the other behaviours listed?

Discuss together whether this passage has the effect of lessening the importance of same sex attraction, or whether it more underscores the gravity of all sin and rebellious acts.

“Instead of reading this passage and recoiling in horror, we should read this passage and weep for all humanity, for the brokenness of our our lives”

  • Why do we tend to see this passage as more about “them” and less about “us”? (…see Romans 2:1)

“Same sex attracted people are not kept out of the Kingdom of God because they are gay. In the same way heterosexual people do not make it to heaven because they are straight. What keeps us out of heaven, out of the Kingdom, and away from God is sin. What brings us to God and his heaven is Jesus and his grace.” 

How does this change the way you think about this issue?

How could your church do a better job of being God’s new community for those who live with same sex attraction? Identify one thing you can do together to help your church make some of these changes.

To close

Spend time together in prayer bringing these things before God’s throne of grace.

“Marriage Equality” and Same Sex Attraction

rainbowflag

Reading: Romans 1:16 – 2:1

Today there is good news! Something has happened, and the world is different as a result. Jesus has come into the world: his life, death, rise and rule has changed everything, changed our world. This is good news: not just good advice. Not something you can take or leave. This good news says Jesus changes people, empowering them to live a new life of love.

This love is not an unrestricted love. It is love within limits. And these limits are good, and our society typically knows this (as the arrest of that man, who with 8 of his friends, allegedly systematically abused his 13 year old daughter over a two year period). There are some in our world who say that sexual love between adults and consenting children should be allowed. This is a heinous crime, however, and it not love. It is abuse of the worst kind. It has crossed the line. We say this because we know love has boundaries.

But do those boundaries preclude Same Sex Marriage and homosexuality? I want to address this and the related issue of same sex attraction by responding to a number of questions and seeking to bring Scripture’s light to bear on them.

Question One: What is the issue with marriage equality?

People who are same sex attracted want the right to marry, like any heterosexual couple might. The question is being positioned as one of rights: The marriage equality lobby argues that if they they are not allowed to marry, they somehow have less rights than everyone else. If you believe the polls, most Australians seem to agree with this. If anything, this indicates that we do not really understand what marriage is.

My first comment is that marriage is not a right: it is the God given, legally protected, socially received institution whereby a man and a woman maintain family life. All through human history, people have seen marriage as a means to legitimise, protect and raise children. It is the way people have solidified family and blessed society. If marriage is a right, then those who do not have it are somehow deficient. This is what the marriage equality lobby believe. But it is not true: for we would never say that widows or single people are deficient in their rights compared with those who are married.

Even so, the marriage equality lobby has positioned the discussion very effectively as a rights issue when it is not a rights issue at all. I think this has led many people to connect the issue with human rights, and who then can stand opposed to such rights? In a sense, this had led most Australians to think less critically about the issue than they ought.

Question Two: is the church just being bigoted when it opposes marriage equality and same sex attraction?

Once again, the marriage equality lobby has very effectively positioned anyone who disagrees as bigoted and hopelessly out of touch. This has been an intentional strategy for the last 25 years. Today, Christians and anyone else who upholds a traditional understanding of marriage is immediately and vociferously pigeon holed.

But having said that, I would also say that Christians and churches have sometimes, maybe often, displayed prejudice when dealing with those who are same sex attracted. We have joked about gays, teased gays, and parodied their behaviour, and in Christian communities, often left them marginalised. This exposes our fear and prejudice. Such actions, however, only last as long as it takes to discover the gay people in your family, or amongst your friends.

To complicate this further, the church has dropped the ball on this issue several decades ago. In the early 90s I was a founding member of United Christian Aids Concern along with Tim Costello, Eugene Goh and others. We sought to develop a compassionate response among conservative churches toward the growing numbers of AIDS victims. Apart from small handful of exceptions, churches were not interested. The Christian Reformed Churches [CRCA] in Victoria were not interested. My own church at the time was not interested. This illustrates how we have insulated ourselves and lost important opportunities to speak the grace of the Gospel into this issue. So it is harder now for us to engage with credibility.

Question Three: What does the Bible say about “marriage equality”

Marriage equality, as it is being discussed in the media today, is not directly addressed in Scripture, but we do have some very direct teaching about marriage itself. Scripture sees marriage as a permanent covenant between one man and one woman for life. Marriage is not a human invention: God spoke this covenant into the human race.

“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24, NIV)

Our own marriage form says:

Marriage is for the mutual enrichment of husband and wife, so they might love each other with delight and tenderness.

Marriage is given to provide the secure environment into which children may be born so they may know and love the Lord
[CRCA Book of Forms]

One thing we must remember: while Christians have clear views about marriage and its biblical purpose, the church does not ‘own’ marriage: it is not a sacrament. Further, Australia has a secular constitution. So the church cannot demand that laws about marriage are consistent with biblical teaching. Nor can the Government make religious laws: they cannot tell churches how to practise their religion. This is also seen in how we celebrate marriages in the Christian church. In Australia, religious celebrants like me can only marry “in accordance with the rites of the CRCA”. If the CRCA believes that its rites preclude same sex marriage, that may be enough to free us from any obligation to perform same sex marriages should they become legalised. But the legislation has not yet been framed. Our response will need to wait until that time.

Paul Kelly argues, if parliament legalises same sex marriage, they must also act to uphold the religious freedom of those who do not believe it is a biblical practise. One group’s freedom cannot be used to overrule the conscience of another group.

All this is not to say Christian marriages are necessarily better or happier than the marriages of those who are not Christians. With a heavy heart we have to agree that some Christians have dysfunctional and abusive marriages, and some of those marriages fail. This too is totally other than God’s plan. Further, many same sex parents do an excellent job, and we should be thankful for any context of love, security and safety for children.

Question Four: What does the bible say about same sex attraction?

For over 4000 years the church has consistently seen homosexual practice as something outside of God’s created order. The few texts we have to deal with: Leviticus 20, Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 consistently describe homosexual activity as sin. I want to look at Romans 1 to illustrate this.

Paul’s main argument in Romans 1 opens with a beautiful proclamation:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16, NIV)

Paul goes on the teach us how the wrath of God is being revealed against fallen humanity because they neither knew God nor glorified him as God. Then he works through a number of examples which show the result of human separation from God.

A few things to note:

Homosexual practise is included, but it is included with other destructive behaviours, including idolatry, degradation of mind and desire, shameful lusts, homosexual practice, wickedness, evil, greed, arrogance, boasting, habitual gossip, slander, incapacity to show love and mercy… These things are often spoken of as the cause of God’s wrath. That is, people live like this, God gets angry, and casts these people away.

In actual fact, these behaviours are not the cause of separation from God, but the effect of separation from God. Separation from God results in a whole range of behaviours that affect all humanity: homosexual behaviour is one of those.

The point of Romans 1-3 is that sin affects and impacts us all. As Paul says in 2:1

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1, NIV)

True: Who has not lusted? Who has not had feelings of greed? Who has not on occasions refused to show mercy? Compulsive gossips – are they nowhere to be seen?

This is how God’s word cuts to the heart, friends. It drives us to see the fall in our own hearts, and we are convicted by the word as much as any same sex attracted person.

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23, NIV)

So, does God reject homosexual activity? Yes. As much as he rejects all behaviour which neither glorifies him or give thanks to him: arrogance, judgemental attitudes, greed, sexual unfaithfulness, and sexual immorality before marriage to name a few.

We need to remember that same sex attracted people are not kept out of the Kingdom of God because they are gay. In the same way heterosexual people do not make it to heaven because they are straight. What keeps us out of heaven, out of the Kingdom, and away from God is sin. What brings us to God and his heaven is Jesus and his grace

To sum up on this question: what does the Bible teach about homosexual practise? Scripture says homosexual practice as a distortion of God’s created order for creation. This is not something Christians should feel superior about. If they reflect the heart of God, as Richard Hayes reminds us, people who love and follow Jesus will see this is a heartbreaking tragedy. Romans 1 is not about homosexual practice per se, it is about how separation from God has led to the distortion of God’s created order. The effect are everywhere: sexual activity and desires which do not reflect God’s design, substance abuse, compulsive gambling, murder, greed, and habitual gossip.

…people are more than their sexual choices and desires

So: Can I follow Jesus and hold that same sex activity is OK? No. Jesus came to restore God’s design for life and relationship, and those who are in relationship with him are called to bring that new restored life to light. They don’t just receive the good news, they live the new good. They don’t just receive new life in Christ, they must also live to his glory.

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:11–14, NIV)

Question Five: What about the studies which show a genetic connection with same sex attraction?

If there is a gene that predisposes someone to one or the other activity, that does not mean the activity is necessarily a good thing. Not all inborn traits are desirable and welcomed. For example, some studies are suggesting ‘the gambling gene’, or ‘the substance abuse/alcohol gene’. A gene may be there, but it doesn’t mean there is no other choice. It doesn’t remove personal responsibility. It does not determine one’s behaviour. If anything, it reminds us that the fall has affected every aspect of our being. It reminds us how important it is to find restoration in Christ.

Question Six: How should Christians view people who are same sex attracted? How can we love our same sex attracted friend or family member?

Think of it this way: Anyone here have an arrogant family member? Can you still love them? Can you love a greedy family member? Can you love a Muslim family member? Of course. To love a person does not mean we’re happy with a person’s behaviour. So you should love your SSA friend or family member. You should love them very much. God’s of to us is not conditional on perfect behaviour, neither should your love for others be conditional on their behaviour.

A few things to keep in mind here. One: all human beings are created as God’s image. Before we say anything about a person’s behaviour or life choices, we say “You are created as God’s image”. Think of the way God looks at people. He does not just tolerate people – he loves them. Isn’t that what we read in John’s Gospel?

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV)

God so loved the world. That world is fallen humanity. His love for the world is a love which, through Jesus, will have them find more life than they could even imagine.

Two: we must remember people are more than their sexual choices and desires. I do not think of same sex attracted people as ‘homosexuals’. In the same way I did not walk in here and think, ‘Well here I am talking to a bunch of  heterosexuals.’ That would be just bizarre and weird. So let us not reduce people to their sexual choices. This is as bad as judging people by the size of their bellies or their skin colour. We must see every person as someone who needs the forgiveness, love, and restoration Jesus gives. As Deb Hirsch reminds us “When you invite the messiness of broken humanity, you also invite the amazingness of grace” (Redeeming Sex, 2015)

As Christians we must not view one section of the community as being more sinful than another. God calls us to look into our own heart, and decide whether we can throw any stones.

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1–2, NIV)

Question Seven: If I am same sex attracted, can I still follow Jesus and will he love me?

Just ask: Do we believe the Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes? Or not? Of course we do! Hallelujah! Then Jesus can bring healing and forgiveness and transformation to any fallen, sinful, broken person, right? God loved the world which was in open rebellion. He still loves people who live in open rebellion. The reason Jesus came was to redeem us from that open rebellion. This redemption is a free gift. He lived the life we could never live. He died the death we should have died. This Jesus comes into our lives purposefully: he forgives and cleanses to lead us into a new life.

When you follow Jesus, you bow before him as Lord, and you commit to living life his way. This is necessary aspect of following Jesus. This is true for everyone who receives his grace. So, the claims Jesus makes on any same sex attracted person are no more or no less than the claims he makes on any other person. Christ calls us all to change. His promise is that he will bless us with his Spirit, enabling and empowering the change he calls us into.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1–2, NIV)

“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” (Romans 8:5, NIV)

Question Eight: If I am same sex attracted, can I switch to heterosexual preference?

Studies have shown that claims which suggest people can be routinely delivered form same sex attraction are overblown. A few years ago the major organisations which promoted this view, like Exodus International, stepped away from it very publicly.

So, you may not be able to change the inclinations, but you may be able to change the behaviour. In this respect the challenges facing a same sex attracted person who follows Jesus are no different to the challenges faced by any heterosexual person. Persons who do not marry are required to lead a celibate lifestyle. Yes, celibacy is a challenge, but quite probably Paul and most certainly Jesus led this life. It is a comfort to know that the Christ who calls us to follow him knows the struggles we face, and will be with us as we walk with him.

Question Nine: How should the church respond to same sex attracted people? Can I be part of a church if I am same sex attracted?

Can a person who struggles with addiction be part of a church? Or someone who struggles with compulsive gossiping? Yes, of course. But they must embrace God’s call to resist their behavioural tendencies. Desires may still be there, but we choose our actions. The most fallen and failing people need to be part of a loving community of likewise broken and failing people. Together, we must find our restoration in the grace of Christ and the new life he gives us.

As church we must accept all the broken, love them, enfold them, provide accountability – without agreeing with the behaviour or judging harshly or hypocritically. We must accept everyone as persons in their own right, The church must accept all people. They are God’s image. That image is broken by sin. Yet that image can be restored by the powerful work of Christ.

When Jesus started his ministry, he proclaimed freedom for captives and prisoners. This is not a freedom where anything goes. It is the freedom, granted through his own sacrificial death, to – at last – live the life we were created to live. The life God gives by grace through his Son.

Some 700 years before, the prophet Isaiah saw that day, when those with messed up sexuality (like us), where those who have been outside God’s grace, where all who have been separated from God will be brought right into God’s presence, healed and restored (se Isaiah 56:1-8). This is God’s work through Jesus, for all who receive him, and who in sheer gratitude, choose to do what pleases him and who hold fast to his covenant.

Jesus says

““Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, NIV)

Jesus says

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV)

[Sermon Audio is available from Gateway Community Church’s Podcast on iTunes]

Baptism and Children

baptism-baby

Read: Acts 2:22-24; 2:32-41; Genesis 17:1-17

As we see this little child baptised, we should all be asking a simple question: What is baptism about?

Answer: Promises. God’s promises. In baptism we hear God speaking to undeserving people, assuring them that he keeps his promises. As we hear these promises we are called to respond.

Peter’s words in Acts 2 can be summarised in one simple sentence: God keeps his promises. And he calls us to respond to them.

What the Bible says

In actual fact, Peter spoke to a crowd of murderers. Seven weeks before they had crucified Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, the Messiah. Ask yourself: Could there be a more undeserving crowd? Yet when they understood the gravity of their actions, they were cut to the heart, and asked ‘what should we do?’

Verse 38:

“Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”” (Acts 2:38–39, NIV)

Can you hear the words of promise? The promise of forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit. Given to everyone who repents. And Peter said these people were to express their repentance by being baptised.

But there’s something else going on, too. These people are Jews, and as we learned last week, they knew much of the Old Testament by heart. And there is a phrase Peter used which would have caught their attention immediately:

“…The promise is for you and your children …”” (Acts 2:38–39, NIV)

On face value, they may not mean too much to us. But when Peter’s hearers heard those words, they would have immediately thought of what we read in Gen 17 when God spoke his covenant promise to Abraham. Understanding these words is critical if we are to know why children of believing parents ought to be baptised.

The Lord said to Abraham,

“I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” (Genesis 17:7, NIV)

In verse 8 were read ‘you and your descendants’

In verse 9 were read ‘you and your descendants’

And in case we missed it, in verse 10 were read ‘you and your descendants’.

So, what’s happening is that the covenant of promise is sovereignly bestowed. And the Lord required that circumcision was how people would show their submission to that promise. What really interests us today is how the Genesis phrase ‘you and your descendants’ is a conceptual match with Peter’s ‘you and your children’.

In Genesis 17, The Lord makes a covenant promise to Abraham and his children. In Acts 2, Peter declares the promise the Lord makes to believers and to their children. In Genesis 17, there’s a context in which that promise is to come to expression: the household of faith.

We are told that Abraham circumcised himself (that is commitment!). But that’s not all: Not only would he eventually circumcise Isaac, yet to be born. He also was to circumcise every male in his household. Every servant. Every servant’s son. Every foreigner who was living with them – even people who weren’t born in Israel. 

Consider the power of that word ‘household’: To us, it’s mum, dad and 2.1 kids. But in this culture, Abraham’s culture as well as New Testament culture, a household was several generations of people living together. Grandma. Grandpa. Parents. Children of all ages. Servants. Slaves. Foreign refuges who were living in that family. They were all part of the household.

“For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.” (Genesis 17:12–13, NIV)

And that’s what Abraham did, as we read in Genesis 17:23-27. God’s covenant promises come to expression in households, in covenant families.

God’s covenant promises of grace come to expression in the context of the believing family

You may not know this, but this pattern is seen clearly in the New Testament. Check it out:

In Acts 16, Lydia is converted in Philippi. She’s a wealthy woman, a dealer in highly valued purple cloth. As a wealthy business woman, she would have had a number of servants. And we assume a family. Look at how believing Lydia submits to God’s promise:

“One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.” (Acts 16:14–15, NIV)

She believes. Yet her household is baptised. God’s covenant promises of grace come to expression in the context of the believing family.

Soon after, other people are converted. Among them, a demon possessed girl who makes money for her ‘owners’ by revealing people’s secrets. Paul and Silas cast her demon out – which is great for her, but it infuriates those who had kept her as a slave, exploiting her condition. The slave girls owners slap a law suit on Paul and Silas. They are thrown in prison. No big deal: they are chilled and singing kumbaya when suddenly all the prison doors open, and all the prisoners’ chains fall off. The jailer sees this and is about the kill himself, when Paul, Silas and all the other prisoners point out no one has escaped. The jailer is overcome, sees that God is at work, and asks what to do. Now, notice how Paul shows the Jailer how to respond to the promise:

…“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”” (Acts 16:31, NIV)

He believes, but it has implications for his household. See Acts 16:34

“Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.” (Acts 16:34, ESV)

God’s covenant promise comes to expression in the context of family.

There are other examples. In Acts 18:8, the household of Crispus believed and was baptised. In 1 Corinthians 1 we read that Gaius’ household was baptised (v.14). 1 Corinthians 1 Paul notes he also baptised the household of Stephanus (v.16). In all, five households are baptised. And it is inconceivable that those households did not include children and infants. It actually makes sense that they did, because it corresponds clearly to Genesis 17, where the sign and seal of God’s promise, circumcision, was applied to the household.

So when we take all this information together, what we see is a compelling continuity in the covenant promises of God, and the sign of those promises given in the context of family, including children.

Call and response

Think of what was signified:

Circumcision was a sign that sin need to be cut away. Baptism is a sign that sin needs to be washed away.

Circumcision pointed to the coming Messiah, Jesus. Baptism points back to the Messiah, Jesus.

Circumcision said ‘one day the Lord will do this’. Baptism says ‘God has done this in Jesus, His son’.

Both point us squarely to the action of God in saving his people, and his promise of cleansing in his Son. And the best context for God’s promise to be received, expressed and lived is the believing household, the Christian family.

In the water we hear God speak

This is why churches should never agree to baptise children of parents who do not believe. Churches should not do that because baptism is a sign of submission to God promise. That only has meaning in the context of faith.

That’s why we’re baptising little Daniel today. It’s not because he has faith. He doesn’t. It’s not because his parent’s faith somehow covers him. It doesn’t. It does not guarantee that Daniel will become a Christian: this is why Thomas and Clara promise to surround him with Christian example and influence. We all, along with Daniel, receive this sign and seal of his promises today: God gives grace to undeserving people like us. This is his covenant promise in Christ. We submit, we receive its sign in the context of family. Baptism points us to God. To the Cross. To Jesus sacrifice, which cleanses us from sin.

Today is about promise. In the water we hear God speak: I am your God, trust me, and believe the cleansing I have provided in my Son, Jesus. God can, and does, make this promise to children, to adults, to anyone who trusts in his Son: “I will be your God and the God of your descendants. My promise is to you and your children.”

And so today we hear God speak: Daniel, I will be your God. Daniel, I have sent my Son to rescue you from sin. Daniel, I am calling you to believe in me, to trust me. Your baptism shows I love you, and it’s calling you to love me back! To have faith in the Jesus who came for you.

That’s the one thing baptism does guarantee: and it’s the truth of what Jesus has done. He did not wait for us to love him before he gave his life. He did not wait for us to receive him before he bore the nails. No, while were were enemies, while we were sinners, God haters, Jesus died for us.

God’s covenant promise, made thousands of years before, are fulfilled in Christ. That’s grace! All the richest of Christ, all expenses paid by Jesus, no cost to me. And baptism wonderfully reflects that covenant grace: a promise given to Daniel before he can understand or know or love or receive. A promise of God’s grace, made through the blood of his Son, which cleanses us from all sin.