The more you know…

By David A. Liapis

Have you ever met someone who is fiercely loyal to their hometown, home state or country of origin? In many instances they wear the colors of their sports team(s), speak longingly of home, and will argue the superiority of their place of origin with anyone who contradicts them. It’s often comical to witness, and even more so when their intensity gives rise to a suppressed accent you didn’t notice before. Why is this so? What makes people think and respond this way? Simply put: Identity.

We all identify with places, experiences, personality traits and other elements that comprise who we are. For some people, such as the Jews of Jesus’ day, nationality/ethnicity is the end all, be all. The Jews were God’s chosen people, given the Law and Prophets, and were not unclean sinners like the Gentiles – or, in other words, everyone else who was not Jewish. Just like some people take pride in the fact a certain celebrity or famous person hailed from their hometown, it’s not far fetched to think there were some in Jesus’ time who were proud to be from Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, or Capernaum, where Jesus lived later in life and where he performed many of his miracles and gave the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 12:20-24 record Jesus’ words that must have been shocking and infuriating to those listening. In this passage he had just confronted the people about the identity of John the Baptist and himself and the validity of their messages, so they were probably already getting a bit riled up. Then Jesus fully crossed the line and began to pronounce woe upon multiple cities of Judea – Chorazin and Bethsaida – stating that wicked Tyre and Sidon would not be judged as harshly. Why? Because Jesus performed miracles in the Jewish towns, and yet the people did not repent. Jesus did not stop there. He went on to condemn Capernaum, his own hometown, declaring their unbelief in all his “mighty works” done there made them more worthy of punishment than Sodom – the vilest, most immoral, wicked place any Jew could conceive of. To be called worse than Sodom could only be topped by one thing – to be called a son of Satan (a title which Jesus did in fact apply to some of the Jews at another time in John 8:44).

Some have said knowledge is power. In reality, knowledge is judgment. The more we know, the more accountable we are, especially as it relates to sin and the Gospel. Jesus implied that his mighty works were intended to increase the Jews’ knowledge about him – the Messiah – and lead to their repentance and faith in Him. In the same way, the knowledge of God and the Gospel conveyed though His word, the Bible, through the proclamation of the Gospel by preachers, missionaries, family members, etc., and even through seeing the glory and wisdom of God in creation (Romans 1:20), will result in either our repentance and faith, or our eventual and just condemnation.

“So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20) should be one of the most compelling and terrifying phrases in all of the Bible. It’s the conclusion of a verse that basically says the created world was designed to point people to the reality of God’s eternal power and divine nature – and that was written before telescopes, microscopes, DNA mapping and satellite images of the Earth, our Solar system and beyond. If the people of the ancient world are going to be held accountable to God for their knowledge of Him in creation and for the message of the Gospel proclaimed during and after Christ’s life on Earth, how much more are we going to be held accountable given two millennia of collective knowledge since then of science, archeology, the proclamation of the Gospel, the testimony of God’s people, and the repeated validation of God’s Word?

In conclusion, read and contemplate the words of Paul the Apostle from Romans 1:18 through 2:5 (ESV) and consider for yourself if his words are not an accurate description of what we see in the world today, and ask yourself the most important question: will your knowledge of God lead to judgment or salvation?

Romans 1

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Romans 2

1Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

Called to be a fool

By David A. Liapis

When it comes to Jesus Christ and the Word of God, there have always been skeptics and scoffers. Sadly, it’s not just the irreligious who are guilty of belittling and rejecting the God’s truth. There are plenty of religious people all too ready to point their finger at someone or some idea that doesn’t fit their definition of what a “Christian” should say, do or believe.

The Jews of Jesus’ day were no different. They had their idea of what the Messiah and “Elijah who is to come” would look like and do, and Jesus and John failed to conform to their expectations. In Matthew 11:17, Jesus compared that generation to demanding and discontented children with particular expectations. Jesus goes on in the following verses to compare the unbelieving Jews to these children, implying that since he, Jesus, and John the Baptist didn’t act or appear as the people expected, they and their messages were rejected. The people accused John of being possessed by a demon, rather than the Holy Spirit; and they accused Jesus of being a drunkard and glutton, and found fault with the company he kept. They refused to believe all the signs and miracles and the clear teachings of Jesus. They failed to understand the purpose of the Messiah: to save people from all nations – including and especially “tax collectors and sinners” – from their sins. Yet, as Jesus said, wisdom is justified by her deeds.

Paul the Apostle in his letter to the church at Corinth dealt with this topic, reminding the church that the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is folly to the world is in fact the wisdom of God. He said, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are…” And, here’s the main point, “…so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-30)

Jesus and John confounded the wisdom of the Jews. They were not who the people expected them to be, but were exactly who God made them to be. The encouragement and admonition for us is to follow their example even if it seems like folly to the skeptics and scoffers. Christians are called to be holy – to be set apart for God’s use. We should act differently, speak differently, think differently and see the world differently. There should be no question of whose we are and whose wisdom we seek. We are to be fools in the eyes of the world for Christ, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

The pursuit of happiness

By David A. Liapis

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Every word our Founding Fathers chose to include in the Declaration of Independence was undoubtedly selected carefully and intentionally since they were staking not only the future of the United States, but their very lives upon them. The document enumerates their complaints against the King of England, what qualifies or disqualifies a nation’s ruler, the remedies for their grievances, and bold proclamations of trust in the designs and providence of God to champion their cause. The familiar quote above is probably the only one most people would recognize as having come from the Declaration; and while our citizens should take the time to read and understand the documents upon which our nation was founded, this sentence is the one to know if only one could be known. This sentence asserts and affirms significant truths – the first of which is that there is objective truth. “We hold these truths…” Which truths? Self-evident (knowable) truths that are not subject to change over time or because of circumstances or opinion. They are true regardless of whether or not people like them or agree with them.

We live in a time where people claim truth is subjective and can (and should) change. This progressive mindset says that what was true about people and governance in 1776 is no longer true today. Moreover, the most important truth alluded to in the Declaration, namely that there is a Creator God who is the source of truth and of our “unalienable Rights,” does not exist. If then God does not exist, then logically the rights granted by Him do not exist. However, let us assume (rightly) that God does in fact exist, and He has fact granted us unalienable rights.

Before looking into these rights, it should first be established who is entitled to them – all men. Why? Because all men, or people, are created equal. We are all made in the image and likeness of God and therefore have intrinsic value, worth and dignity. All people share the same inherent need for community, relationship, to love and to be loved, to have physical needs met, and to have purpose and meaning in life. Theologically speaking, all people are also marred by sin and need to be reconciled to God, their Creator, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ who was crucified on a Roman cross and then rose from the dead three days later, conquering sin and death. Without being reconciled to God, the “unalienable Rights” of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are ultimately impossible because apart from Christ we are doomed to die physically and remain dead spiritually, we are slaves to sin because of our inherited fallen nature, and true happiness can only be found in the deep, abiding joy of the Lord that exists in life and liberty as we all in spite of pain, suffering and evil.

It remains true that God created this world and all that’s in it and called it “good” and that “the sun rises on the just and the unjust,” and even though the only thing we are all truly and ultimately entitled to is eternal punishment for our rebellion against God, in His unmerited grace he allows us to live, in some cases (like ours), in relative freedom and to pursue what we determine will make us happy. These are the unalienable rights our Founding Fathers recognized and appealed to in the Declaration. Now to briefly examine those rights.

Life – to be allowed to live and thrive in a nation where all lives matter and are valued by all. Black lives. Brown lives. White lives. Old lives. Infirm lives. Unborn lives. Gay lives. Straight lives. Successful lives. Broken lives. All lives. We are commanded by Jesus Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves, and furthermore that all people are our “neighbors.” What does this mean for us? It means that we should champion the value and worth of all lives as we do for our own. We want to live, and we should seek for others to live as well so they have the opportunity to live in ways that honor our Creator. This must be caveated with this: to disagree with how someone chooses to live their life if it’s lived in ways that dishonor the Creator does not constitute hate or prejudice against someone. In fact, it would be unloving and unkind to not try to turn our neighbors from sinning against God.

Liberty – freedom for all, within the bounds of God’s laws and those of our government derived from them. We can all agree there are some things we are not at liberty to do: to murder, to steal, to rape, to harm, etc., so liberty cannot mean license to do whatever we want. Liberty in our case means exactly what our Founding Fathers established in the Constitution, such as the freedom of speech, assembly, religion, to protect one’s self and others (bear arms), to vote and to have fair trials. Liberty can only exist when it is defined objectively and protected from the whims of culture and attacks from without and from within.

The pursuit of happiness – not guaranteed happiness, but the pursuit thereof. This means sometimes (or much of the time) we will not have that which we deem will bring us happiness. We will not all be rich, healthy or successful. We will not all have the same level of education. We will not all have health coverage. We will not all be employed and well-paid. We will not all live in nice homes and drive new vehicles. However, America was designed to be a place where those things can be pursued, and possibly obtained, through hard work, dedication and with the appropriate level of government oversight of commerce, economics, infrastructure and security. What this does not mean is that the government owes it to every citizen to offer “free” healthcare, “free” college or other “free” things so everyone can achieve a commensurate level of happiness, but rather to establish and protect a society where these good things are attainable.

The sad reality is happiness is subjective, elusive and fleeting, so in the continued pursuit thereof, we are all too ready to sacrifice life and liberty. We have become a society willing to trade the lives of the unborn for sex without consequence and responsibility; freedom from government overreach for “free” services and amenities; building and being people of character and integrity for expedience and convenience; and the ability to protect ourselves from a “…Government [that] becomes destructive of these ends [our unalienable rights]…” for a false sense of security.

How does a government become destructive to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? When We the People, whether by electing (and reelecting) or simply through apathy and inaction, allow politicians who are corrupt, immoral (lack of character), and/or who put partisanship over the good of the nation to continue to represent us. We the People need to be informed, engaged and encourage civil discourse now more than ever. This quote from President Ronald Reagan is a fitting call to action and reminder of the role we play in the preservation of our unalienable rights:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Divided Church, Divided Nation

By David A. Liapis

Our nation is more divided than ever with schisms and factions tearing us apart. As Christians, we are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9, Romans 12:18 and 14:19, James 3:18) and reconcilers (2 Corinthians 5:18), and so the imperative for us is to pursue and cultivate peace and harmony both within the Church and in our culture. Therefore, it is right and necessary for us to engage our divided nation with the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – a message of reconciliation, peace, hope and love.

Yet, how can Christians presume to help our polarized and divided nation unify if we can’t even figure out how to unify around Jesus Christ and his word?

According to multiple sources, there are well over 200 denominations of “Christian” churches in the U.S. Shockingly that number would swell to more than 35,000 if all the individual “nondenominational” churches were counted separately. That’s more than 35,000 “bodies of Christ” who have intentionally set themselves apart from one another because of differences in theology, church government, demographics or various other “hills to die on.” That’s in excess of 35,000 distinct groups all claiming to know and represent one person – Jesus Christ. Imagine if there were 35,000 different U.S. ambassadors to France all trying to represent their President and nation. It would be chaotic and ineffective at best, with the only clear message sent being that division and disunity ruled where in fact unity should be present.

There are only a few times Jesus’ prayers are recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, with the most extensive one appearing in John 17. What’s even more significant about his prayer recorded in that chapter is that he prays for “all who will believe in him through [the Disciples’] word.” That means if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, he prayed directly for you. What did he pray? That we would “be one” as the Father and Son are one. Unity. Why did Jesus pray specifically for our unity? Here’s what Jesus said in verses 20-23:

I do not ask for [the Disciples] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (emphases mine)

Twice in three verses Jesus states that the reason he desires our unity is so the lost, broken, unsaved people in our world would believe in Jesus as their Savior and Lord! This is so important and so convicting. Many Christians have undoubtedly looked at everything going on and thought, “The real and only solution to all this division, fear, anger and chaos is the heart and life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ.” They are not wrong. However, are we unified as the body of Christ so that the unsaved look at us and see and desire what we have? Are we demonstrating such oneness in our mission and ministry so as to show the watching world something other than the division, anger and fighting that defines our current culture?

As is almost always the case, the problem is not “out there.” Christians recognize that what people say, do and think is directly tied to the condition of their hearts and that true positive change must occur in the heart before is can take place in the culture. What many of us Christians fail to recognize and/or admit is that there’s a lot of heart change that needs to take place within us to bring about repentance, reconciliation, restoration and revival within the Church so we can effectively extend those things to the culture.

There are two things we must actively pursue in order for this to be realized – peace and purity within the Church.

The peace we must pursue is not the kind that appeases people or avoids hard truths and conflict. It’s not the peace that comes from being soft on sin so as not to offend people. It’s also not the kind of false peace that comes from ignoring evil or being apathetic toward bad circumstances. Rather, it’s the kind of peace that “surpasses understanding” (Philippians 4:7) for the very fact it’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit and is therefore supernatural. It’s the kind of peace that transcends all circumstances and can be extended to our worst enemies because our hope and purpose is the Kingdom of God and not of this world.

The purity we must pursue is related to not seeking false peace by tolerating or downplaying sin. A major part of the problem with the testimony of the hundreds (or even thousands) of church denominations in the U.S. is that many are accepting or even affirming of sin. Our divisions are not always over doctrines or how to partake of Communion or how/when to baptize. Sometimes our division is over something valid – disobedience to the very Word of God. In those cases, purification, not false peace, is most important. Jesus’ prayer for unity does not give us license to pursue peace over obeying the clear teachings of Scripture (even when they are countercultural).

For anyone reading this who does not yet consider themselves a Christian, know that Christ has made a way through his death on the cross and his resurrection three days later for you to be reconciled with God and, therefore, at true peace with God and people. Also know that just as the unsaved are called to repentance and obedience to God, so are Christians. It’s an ongoing process. For anyone reading this who claims the name of Christ, let us humbly repent of our disunity and toleration of sin and join our Lord in his prayer for our unity and effectiveness in evangelism, peacemaking and, ultimately, glorifying God with our lives individually and collectively as his Church.

The Greatest Commandment – to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength – precedes the second half of loving our neighbor as our self. What the people of our nation need now is not for Christians to scold them or offer solutions they themselves don’t appear to have embraced. What our nation needs is collective repentance and seeking reconciliation and peace with God so that we are then able to be reconciled and at peace with our neighbors.

Doubting John – dealing with a crisis of faith

By David A. Liapis

Thoughts on Matthew 11:1-15

We’ve all likely heard of “Doubting Thomas,” but what about “Doubting John”?

We are introduced to John the Baptist in Matthew chapter three as a fiery preacher of repentance and the Kingdom of Heaven who reluctantly baptized Jesus (saying the baptizing should have been done by Jesus to him) and then witnessed the heavens open, the Spirit of God descend like a dove on Jesus, and the voice of the Father say, “This is my beloved Son…” In the Gospel of John we also read of other proclamations John the Baptist made about Jesus being “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” and about himself as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy as the “voice of one crying out in the wilderness” who would “make straight the way of the Lord.” Yet, in spite of these robust credentials as a believer in the Messiah who heard the very voice of God confirm who Jesus is, we read in Matthew 11:2-3 that John, who had been imprisoned by King Herod, sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus if he really was the Messiah. If John the Baptist, of whom Jesus said, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater” waivered in his faith, then we should not be surprised or alarmed when we have our doubts about Jesus and our faith in him.

I have been a Christian for more than 20 years now, and there have certainly been times I have either questioned my standing before God, or even if God, Jesus, the Bible and all this Christianity stuff is even real. What if it’s all a hoax? What if everything I’ve believed is false, and Jesus Christ was just a wise Jewish teacher who was executed by the Romans? What if I have missed out on so many pleasures of life because of the morals and rules I have thought God wants me to live by?

Have you ever thought those things, or something like them? The encouragement we have from Matthew 11:1-15 is that Jesus does not want us to remain in doubt and unbelief. He wants us to stop looking at ourselves and look to him and his Word (the Bible) to find renewal of faith and hope. John’s disciples were immediately sent back to him with assurance that Jesus is who he says he is based on what he was doing – things only the Messiah could do: healing the blind, deaf, lame and leper; raising the dead; and preaching the Gospel to the poor (fulfilling Isaiah 35:5-6 and 61:1). He didn’t tell John’s disciples to reprimand their leader for his lapse of faith just like he didn’t send Thomas away for doubting Jesus’ resurrection, but rather called him to see and touch him, and to believe.

When (not if) we struggle in our faith we need not look to ourselves to muster up more faith and push through the unbelief, as if we had the ability to do so anyway (faith is a gift from God – Ephesians 2:8-9). Rather, we need to look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) and the Word of God as Doubting John, Doubting Thomas – and Doubting (your name here) – were and are called to do.

When doubt and unbelief assail me, to the Savior I must return

When I feel my faith is failing, from God’s word I must relearn

That Jesus is the founder and perfecter of my faith

And that He calls me to himself, offering grace upon grace

The paradox of peace

By David A. Liapis

What is peace? Is it the absence of conflict between individuals or groups or having a tranquil state of mind? Is it something we can attain? And, probably more importantly, who gets to define what peace really is?

The word “Peace” can elicit a variety of pictures in the mind from the iconic symbol borne out of the Nuclear Disarmament movement to doves holding olive branches to tie-dye garbed people with their index and ring fingers up speaking a message in a form of cultural sign language.

For those familiar with the Bible, peace is a very familiar concept. There are more than four hundred references to peace in the Bible. The Psalmists refer to peace between the nation of Israel and its neighbors (29:11), as something to pursue (34:14), and as an inheritance for the meek and righteous (37:11, 37). Isaiah the Prophet makes multiple references to peace, stating that it will be taken from the wicked (48:22), and given by the Lord to those who trust in him and are his children (26:3, 54:13, 66:12). Perhaps the most significant reference to peace by Isaiah is in 53:5, where he prophesies of Jesus Christ, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

So then how can Jesus – the “Prince of Peace” – say, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”? The rest of the New Testament is rife with verses that extol the peace that is brought to us through Jesus Christ. Jesus even told his Disciples later on in John 14, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” How can this be? Simple.

Context is the key to understanding the paradox of how Jesus both gives and takes peace. One of the most instructive passages to understand this is also one of the most misquoted and flippantly abused verses in the Bible – Luke 2:14. Most people have heard it this way: “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace and goodwill to men.” By that reading, Jesus came to bring peace to everyone. Since lasting peace on Earth has eluded us for thousands of years, the angels were either lying or misinformed. However, that’s not what that famous verse actually says. What is says is, ““Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”

Context is very important whether it’s the immediate context of a verse or the entire metanarrative of the Bible. Matthew 10:34-42 must be interpreted within the context of the surrounding verses where Jesus is warning his Disciples that persecution and suffering will come on account of him and the Gospel. In verses 34-36, he points out that the division will be so sharp and personal it will cause families to split and believers in Jesus to be ostracized and even martyred as the early Jewish Christians experienced, and as we see today especially within Islamic countries. Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (emphasis mine) In the rest of Matthew 10 Jesus basically tells his Disciples they will need to turn their notions of life and prosperity upside down – “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

“But, persecution and martyrdom isn’t very peaceful,” you might be thinking. True. But, Paul also warned and encouraged the church in Philippi of the cost of following Jesus and of the need to esteem him above all worldly comforts and pleasures; and then he concluded by assuring them the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” would guard their hearts and minds “in Christ Jesus.”

The solution to the paradox is this: Jesus gives peace – not as the world gives it – that is so deep and meaningful we cannot even understand it. This is the kind of peace that allows a person to suffer and die for Jesus with a smile on their face and words of “forgive them for they know not what they do” on their lips. That’s the peace Jesus gives to “those with whom he is pleased.” For everyone else, Jesus brings a sword. Because the world is full of sinful people, pride-driven conflict at all levels – from interpersonal to international – will prevent any lasting semblance of whatever definition of peace people have in their minds. Division and strife because of borders, classes, races, sexual identities and just about anything else we can disagree about will continue to mar our attempts at harmony. This is all for a reason though: to enflame our inherent and God-given desire for lasting and true peace that can only be found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that reconciles us to God and to each other.

Is Salvation Really ‘Free’?

By David A. Liapis

Thoughts on Matthew 10:16-33

It has been said many times that salvation through Jesus Christ – the Gospel – is a “free gift,” and that’s true as far a Romans chapters five and six describe it that way. However, Paul the Apostle referred to salvation as “free” in those chapters by way of contrasting it with slavery to sin and comparing obedience to “the Law” with grace – as he summarizes in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” It would be heretical to say that the salvation offered by God through Jesus Christ is anything but “free” in the sense that we cannot earn it, buy it, or deserve it – it’s freely given by God to whomever he chooses “…according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace…” (Ephesians 1). However, this does not mean following Christ faithfully will not cost us something – or even everything – we have in this world from our comfort to our relationships to our freedom, and in some cases our wellbeing and lives.

There’s a belief, especially in the Western Church, that salvation being “free” means it costs us nothing from beginning to end. In other words, we get saved by reciting a little prayer, maybe give up a few “worldly” habits, become part of a community of like-minded people who talk about joy and heaven, live our best lives now in comfort and ease, and then go to heaven – a magical place where we get to live pain-free and do whatever we love forever. But, that’s not at all what Jesus tells us will happen now (or later).

Matthew 10:16-33 teaches us there is certainly a cost associated with this “free gift.” Jesus warns his disciples that they are like helpless sheep being sent out into a field full of hungry wolves, that they would be flogged, unjustly accused, betrayed by family, hated by all, and killed. He basically says that those who follow him will be treated as he would be treated, summing it by saying that if they call him, Jesus, the devil, “how much more will they malign those of his household.” Later in the New Testament, Paul even tells Timothy in his second letter to him, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

The good news is Jesus doesn’t just tell us all the terrible things that will happen to us if we follow him. He also tells us not to be anxious or to fear. He promises the Holy Spirit will aid and speak through us when we are “brought before governors and kings for [Jesus’] sake.” He reminds us that all the wicked deeds of those who oppose him and his disciples will be revealed and judged accordingly. He reminds us of the omniscience and omnipotence of the sovereign Father who knows when a sparrow falls to the ground and the number of the hairs on our heads – and how much he values us.

Jesus concludes with two truths that serve as both huge encouragements and dire warnings. The first is when he reminds and warns us not to fear men who can only kill our bodies, but to fear God who can “destroy both soul and body in hell.” This sounds all bad, but it’s not. It means that if God holds the power and authority to destroy, he also holds the power and authority to save. The second is that he, Jesus, will deny before the Father those people who deny him before men; but that he will acknowledge those before the Father who acknowledge him before men.

Not denying Jesus before men sounds intimidating given all the peril Jesus promises; but, don’t ever forget that in the same passage Jesus promises the Holy Spirit will give us what we are to say in those moments of trial and persecution. If we believe the Gospel and are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13), then we have nothing to fear when persecution and trials come our way. We don’t have to worry about what the “free gift” of salvation will cost us in earthly terms because we are assured of the eternal worth of what awaits us in eternity – life in the presence of Jesus Christ who will acknowledge us before the Father.

The words of Paul from 2 Corinthians 4:17 are a very fitting conclusion: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

The Gospel of Life and Death

By David A. Liapis

Thoughts on Matthew 10:5-15

Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” While there are many passages that show God’s love and offer of salvation to the Gentiles (non-Jews), there’s certainly a priority that shows up throughout the Scriptures. God chose to make the Hebrew nation his special people, made promises to Abraham, and, ultimately, sent his Son, Jesus, among and of those people.

We have to understand that, or Jesus’ command to his disciples to “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” would seem racist or ethnocentric. Further, it would contradict what we know so well from John 3:16, namely, that God “so loved the world,” and not just the physical descendants of a Middle-Eastern sojourner.

Jesus gave his Disciples great and varied authority – authority to heal sicknesses and raise the dead (physical), cast out demons (spiritual), and pronounce judgment (judicial). What’s more is this judicial authority was not earthly. No Roman official would give a thought to what some Jewish fisherman had to say about the character of someone else, especially for judgment. However, Jesus gave them what amounted to heavenly authority, implying that those people who rejected the Disciples and the message of the Kingdom and who had the dust of their houses and/or town shaken off by Jesus’ emissaries would incur harsh judgment on the Last Day.

Herein is the most profound and contrasting truth – the Gospel of the Kingdom, or as we know it now after Jesus’ crucifixion, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, either saves us or condemns us. Jesus basically said that those who hear the Gospel of the Kingdom from the Disciples and reject it would be held accountable and judged even more harshly than Sodom and Gomorrah because the Kingdom of heaven was “at hand.”

This dual function of the Gospel is spoken of elsewhere in the Scriptures. Paul the Apostle says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Paul also says in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 of those who spread the Gospel, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”

The question we all have to answer – the only question in all of life that really matters – is this: Will I believe the Gospel – that Jesus Christ, God himself, came into the world, lived a perfect life and died in my place to absorb the just wrath of God that I deserve because of my sin and rebellion against him, and who then rose from the dead defeating death and giving me the hope of resurrection to life everlasting – or will I choose to continue in my rebellion and pride, and reject the hope of Salvation offered by a loving, but also just and holy God?

Don’t be a Judas chicken

By David A. Liapis

Thoughts on Matthew 10:1-4

In the previous passage, Jesus told his disciples to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest,” and here, Jesus sends out his Disciples to begin that work. But, Jesus does not send them out to labor in their own strength and power; rather, Jesus gives them special authority to cast out demons and heal “every disease and every affliction.” This was a unique anointing given to these particular men at that particular time. This power, though not stated explicitly to be the Holy Spirit, was likely an outpouring of the third person of the Trinity such as we read about in various Old Testament passages and in the Gospels.

Here in Matthew, the author takes this opportunity to name the Twelve Disciples – Jesus’ inner circle, and says it was they who were given this pre-Pentecost Holy Spirit power. In the parallel passage in Luke, we are told there were 72 disciples who were commissioned for this special task. For the record, there’s no contradiction here as “The Twelve” of whom Matthew writes easily fit within the 72 of whom Luke writes. Matthew simply chose to limit his description to the 12 men, keeping the focus on the dozen whom Jesus especially set apart.

What is most significant in this passage is this: that someone who was called by Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit (for a limited time and a specific purpose, like King Saul and Samson), likely performed miracles in Jesus’ name, and sat under the direct authoritative teaching of Jesus for nearly three years, could then turn and betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

When I was a boy, there was a super cheesy song that was an attempt (I won’t call it more than that) at Christian rap. I don’t recall who the artist was or what the song was called, but some of the lyrics were along the lines of, “Just because you [sic] in a church doesn’t make you a Christian, just like being in a coop doesn’t make you a chicken.” It went on to use other analogies such as how being in a garage doesn’t make someone a car. As cringy as those lyrics are, the point is valid and even confirmed by Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23. He says in verse 21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” I can’t help but think he looked at Judas as he said these words. This is a dire warning to do as Paul the Apostle encourages us to do in 2 Corinthians 13:5 where he says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.”

There are many people who identify as “Christians” for a variety of reasons – they were raised in church; they recited the “sinner’s prayer” at some point in their lives; or they were baptized, whether as an infant or not, into some denomination. However, Jesus makes it clear that following him is much more than a mental assent to the truth of the Gospel or the completion of some religious rite. Rather, he says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23)

This means being “in the faith” is a daily dying to self and following Jesus no matter the cost. This is not a comfortable, accessorized Christianity that we can pull out of our pocket and use when it’s convenient or we fall on hard times. Judas was, by all external appearances, a follower of Jesus Christ – called, empowered, taught, and included in the list of Disciples. However, when the time of testing came, he was shown to be false. Let us examine and test ourselves today and live lives of humble repentance and dependence on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ so that when the final fire of testing comes we will be found “in the faith.”

I had a dream

By David A. Liapis

I’ve been conflicted about dreams. Not the unconscious kind we have while sleeping, but the conscious, intentional kind that might also be called goals, visions or aspirations. Here’s what I been wrestling with: are dreams good to have, or does having them more often than not end up in disappointment, disillusionment, discontentment and even despair?

I think most kids have some kind of dream(s) at various points as they grow up. Most of them are fanciful and unattainable. For example, I wanted to be a professional bass fisherman and/or a country artist. Twenty-ish years later, I am neither. I still love to fish for bass and pluck a country song on my guitar, but I know those childhood dreams were just that – dreams.

There are certainly those select people who “dreamed of doing (fill-in-the-blank) since I was a kid” and managed to achieve their goal. But, let’s be honest, that’s not the case for most of us. Regardless of what culture teaches, we cannot do anything we put our minds to. That’s a lie, plain and simple. Why didn’t I achieve my dreams? Because I lacked the resources (money, equipment, etc.), the location, and, frankly, the talent. Yes, there are stories of people who overcame many of those obstacles to finally attain their dreams, and that’s why I am conflicted about this.

On one hand, as a parent, I want to cultivate my children and help them reach their full potential. I want them to do the things they enjoy, and “dream big” about the things at which they excel. I want to give them the opportunities and resources necessary to pursue their dreams. Could my youngest daughter be an Olympic gymnast? Maybe, if we commit to years of extensive training. Could my son design rockets? Maybe, if we get him into the right schools (and all the cost and logistics that go with it). Do I want their dreams to come true? Honestly, that’s also a “maybe.”

Why would I not wholeheartedly champion my children’s dreams to the fullest extent possible? Because being a gymnast or rocket scientist or country artist or football player or President or whatever might not be what’s best for them eternally. It seems so many of the people who do work hard and make their dreams come true find that the level of their success is matched only by their level of emptiness because all their toil was in pursuit of temporal things.

I’ve not lived relatively long (36 years), but I’ve lived a lot – enough to know that what really matters in life are relationships and finding joy no matter where you are or what you’re doing. The most important relationship, of course, is with Jesus Christ, for it’s that relationship that gives true meaning to all others. The joy that I speak of also flows out of that relationship with God because it’s the hope of heaven (living in the eternal presence of the Lord) that enables joy in all circumstances.

I have found that dreams and aspirations are not compatible with contentment and joy in the present. If we’re always looking ahead to something else, something bigger, something better, then we miss seeing the good of the now, and, subsequently, fail to be grateful, content and joyful. It may be that fixing our vision on some goal way off in the distance will cause us to be blind to opportunities that God places right under our noses.

I may not be a Nashville star or making money hauling bass out of lakes from coast to coast, but I’m very content – to the point of being overwhelmed – by where God has brought me. I have a family, a job, a home, college degrees, and more “stuff” and “things” than I need or ever thought I’d have. Is it because I had some childhood dream of being a military officer and living an exotic life (a pinch of sarcasm) of living/traveling all over the world? No. That never even crossed my young mind. It’s because early on in life I got to the place where I had no plan or ambition other than to walk each day in the way I believed the Lord was leading – and seeking to find joy and contentment as I did. Have I been content and joyful every day since? Emphatically “no”! I am weak and struggle like anyone else to be content and joyful when life is hard. Here’s the point: God gets the glory when we can say it was he who brought us to where we are, rather than us saying that by believing in ourselves and pursuing our dreams we got to where we are.

So, to those people who dream and aspire to something great, and to those who live in the now, I believe God says the same things:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment.” 1 Timothy 6:6

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5