The Importance of the Church Part 6: How to not live a wasted life.

(This is the sixth post in a series addressing the importance of the church in the life of the believer. Some time has transpired since the first post, but there have not been many intervening posts: so previous installments should not be too hard for you to find.)

 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw– each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15

 While I have never preached on them myself, these verses strike me as one those “preacher’s texts.” It is a text that is somewhat well-known, has powerful imagery, persuasive in nature, something that a preacher could go to when he wanted to press for a decision. It is a text that I imagine would be popular with evangelists and those preaching revival-type services. Unfortunately, as I have heard it preached, taught, and discussed, the text seldom given the true weight of its context.

 It is easy to just rip these verses out of 1 Corinthians 3 and apply them to the rather general theme of “building one’s life.” They are applied in a moralistic manner of living the Christian life in obedience to the Bible. There is some support for the idea of your life being a building in Jesus’ conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount. But this idea is completely missing from 1 Corinthians 3. Paul is not talking about your life as a building, living morally, or getting rewarded for the general way in which you lead your life. Paul’s application is much more specific. In fact, Paul is speaking against building up your own personal life.

 Paul introduces the building thought in verse 9 with the statement that Peter, Paul, Apollos, and any other apostle are only workers for God trying to do their part in the edification of God’s building: the church. The church is God’s building, more than that it is God’s temple (3:9, 16). The Corinthians had fallen prey to the party spirit of exalting men and identifying themselves by their earthly teachers. “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas.” Paul identifies this as foolishness because God is only building one building: his church. Peter, Paul, and Apollos were not cult leaders trying to form their own club. All worked together for the building up of the church.

 After calling the church God’s building in verse 9, Paul continues: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation…” In verse 9 the church is called God’s building. In verse 16 the church is called God’s temple. Verses 10-15 address the subject of rewards for the way one builds. So in the context of 1 Corinthians 3, what is the building being specifically addressed in verses 12-15? Clearly it is the church.

 Preachers dazzle their crowds with a false hope of receiving  gold, silver, precious stones if they will only live a good Christian life, but that is not at all what Paul is teaching. The basis for rewards in heaven, at least according to this passage, is what one did to build up the church of God. What is the work that is examined on that Great Day (3:13)? It is the work of building (3:14). The work of building what? The work of building God’s building (3:9), God’s temple (3:16): the church of Jesus Christ. The value of your life is determined by what you have spent to build up the church.

 Jesus died for the church. The apostles labored for the church. God rewards labors for the church. In short, the question this text asks is not, “How are you living?” but “What are you doing for the church?” As Gordon Fee comments, “This text has singular relevance to the contemporary church. It is neither a challenge to the individual believer to build his or her life well on the foundation of Christ, nor is it grist for theological debate. Rather, it is one of the most significant passages in the NT that warn—and encourage—those responsible for ‘building’ the church of Christ.”

 If you are not building the church of Christ you are not living well.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Zombie Depravity

Sin, after all, is lawlessness. The state in which humans are born either corresponds to God’s law or deviates from it; it is good or evil, sinful or not sinful. There is no third category. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics III, p. 91.)

One of the “great debates” in Christian theology is over the nature of man’s sinfulness. I call it great because while not continual throughout history, it continually resurfaces. I call it great not because it is valuable, but because it is essential. As Calvin wrote at the beginning of his Institutes,

“We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves. For what man is not disposed to rest in himself? Who, in fact, does not thus rest, so long as he is unknown to himself; that is, so long as he is contented with his own endowments, and unconscious or unmindful of his misery? Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him” (I.1).

We cannot begin to know God rightly if we have not begun to know ourselves rightly.

The core of the debate is an answer to the simple question, “Is the unconverted sinner spiritually dead.” At one end of the spectrum are those who simply answer “no.” Man is born into the world in the same condition as Adam, completely able to choose the good and forsake the evil. At the other end of the debate are those who answer, “yes.” Man is born in a state of deadness and is able to do nothing to lift himself up to God. Occupying the vast middle are those—a la Miracle Max in The Princess Bride—who assert that man is only mostly dead, or partially dead. Sin has afflicted man, warped him, inhibited him, but he still has the strength and ability to overcome it on his own power and come to God.

What does the Bible say?

The teaching of Jesus concerning the new birth seems to assume it. Jesus told Nicodemus that man must be “born again,” or born from above. Jesus strengthened this metaphor by saying it “must” happen. The statement that man must be born again seems to correspond with the teaching that man is spiritually dead. In line with this would be Peter’s 2 references to being born again (1 Peter 1:3, 23); and Paul’s statements regarding new life (2 Cor. 3:6) and new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15).

Even more clear is the teaching of Jesus in John 5:21-24:

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

The one who believes has new life, not just an improved life. He has not passed from good to better. He has not passed from sick to well. He has passed from death to life. So it comes as no surprise to hear Jesus teach at the conclusion of the parable of the Prodigal Son, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:24,32).

Apparently the apostle John was paying attention to this teaching for he repeated it in 1 John 3:14, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” The state of spiritual deadness is not so much taught as it is assumed. John takes it for granted that his readers accept the fact that the state of those who do not believe is “death.” Those who do not love the brothers demonstrate their continued life of death.

Paul weighs in on the subject in Ephesians 2:1-5:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved…

So, to paraphrase the quote at the beginning just a bit, man is either dead or he is not. God either gives “new” life or he does not.

There is no third category.