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Happy 53rd Birthday, Malawi

Yesterday, Malawi celebrated 53 years of independence. I took time to reflect  and thank the Lord for his goodness and blessings upon my country.  Ended up with this piece… 

I saw him at one of the world’s busiest airports this other day

“I need to see your documents,” the officer said

He was then denied entry into the country

He was a stateless person, I heard

It was my first time to learn of the term

I have a place in Southern Africa I call home

But eight million aren’t citizens of any country

I uttered a brief prayer of thanksgiving to my Lord

For a state I often take for granted

Malawi is not what we want her to be

But she is also not what she used to be

Stop now and count our blessing one by one

Proud of her people who are strong and get along

Working, building and praying

Many without noise and recognition

To make her what we would want her to be

Confident we will get there, if Christ tallies…

Happy 53rd Birthday Malawi, Happy Birthday the land of my birth!

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Counting All As Loss for Christ’s Sake

“But whatever gain I had, I counted loss for the sake of Christ” – Philippians 3:7

There is a transforming power that every believer experiences when he first takes his gaze of faith at Christ. Indeed, there is great change that is wrought in the heart of a Christian when he first comes to know Christ as his Savior. This was also true of Apostle Paul.

The verse I have read is part of Paul’s short autobiography, so to speak, given in the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians. In this chapter he describes his life before he knew Christ. He lists so many things, which he considered to be of great value. He mentions how he was dedicated to the law of God. Paul worked so diligently to follow the law in his own strength to the extent that he was proud of himself and referred to himself as a Hebrew of Hebrews and blameless before the law of God.

But one day on his way to Damascus, Paul met the risen Christ. As he gazed at the glory of Christ and saw the glorious righteousness of Jesus, all of Paul’s celebrated accomplishments grew dim. In fact, Paul says as we have read in the verse, that he considered all of them as “loss” and the actual word he uses in Greek is best-translated “dung.” And he surrendered himself to Christ.

Friends, this is how our life in Christ ought to be. This should be every Christian’s testimony. Our saving knowledge of Jesus Christ should mean that we grasp that our human or religious efforts to earn our way to God are rubbish or filthy rags as Isaiah puts it. Only Christ meets every need of our soul because through his work and life and death he has fully satisfied all the righteous demands of God.

For Paul it was his religion that made him proud and blinded him to his need for Christ. For some it might be academic achievements. For some it might be business achievements or riches or fame or even poverty and pain. For others it might be various trophies and medals that this world has to offer. Most of these things are not bad in themselves; however, if they keep us from beholding the glory of Christ they are dung.

Counting everything as loss for the sake of Christ is the work of God’s grace that begins on the day of our salvation and continues to eternity. Every day a Christian should value Christ above all as Jonathan Edwards once put it (quote)“Offer a Christian whatever you will, if you deny him Christ, he will consider himself miserable” (end of quote)

Every day, the Lord calls us to let go our grip on our own righteousness and the pride that blinds to the glory of Christ due to our heritage, gifts, talents, or achievements. Instead every day we have to hold on tightly to Christ and his righteousness. Every day, has to be a day in which we “count all loss for the sake of Christ. ”

For a podcast version of this post, please visit here

 

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A Podcast on the Way…

Dear subscribers, followers, and friends of Scripture Alone.

I would like to let you know that soon this blog will be featuring scripts of my podcast, Doctrine for Body and Soul to be launched shortly, Deo Volente. When that happens, I would like to request that you subscribe to the podcast as you have done to the blog. Eventually, I hope to merge the blog and the podcast into one website.

So, watch this space as the developments unfold…

Thank you for subscribing and following Scripture Alone.

Grace and peace.

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In the Classroom of God’s Grace

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has  appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world,” Titus 2:11, 12.

Often we we describe God’s grace as his unmerited favor, but how often do we think of this grace also as a teacher of those who are in Christ? I believe mostly it does not cross our minds that all those who have been saved are in a sense in the classroom being taught by grace?

But this is exactly what Apostle Paul tells us in the above text. Grace is our teacher. The root of the   word, “teaching,” used here, in the original language (Greek) can also be used to form a word that describes the one who teaches children (pedagogue), and not just merely teaching them, but training and bringing them up in a particular way. Like little children, grace trains and brings us up in the way and fear of the Lord.

The first thing that grace does as our teacher, according to the text, is to teach us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. Ungodliness refers to all sinful things outside us while worldly lusts refer to all kinds of sinful desires within us.

When we have experienced the grace of God, the sinful acts that once looked normal immediately become distasteful and we reject them. The sinful places we frequented thinking that that is where real enjoyment is instantly appear to be what they really are,  asvanity fair. All who have experienced this grace can agree with the poet who once wrote that when you turn your eyes upon Jesus the things of the earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

Grace opens our spiritual eyes to see how depraved we are and we cry out as Apostle Paul in Romans 7:24, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Then by the same grace we also cry out, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 7:25) because through his grace I am able to deny and kill these worldly lusts. By grace I am able to say no to the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. Contrary to what some teach that grace give us liberty to do everything we please, we realize that grace actually gives us power to deny everything that does not please God.

Secondly, grace as our teacher teaches us to embrace holiness and Paul describes this holiness with three adverbs namely soberly, righteously and godly. Soberly refers to what the Christian does to himself or herself. Righteously refers to the Christian’s relationship with others while godly refers to his relationship to God.

Soberly also means self-control. The grace of God teaches us to control our desires so that they do not lead us to sin. Being sober means exercising self-control in our eating and drinking, in our thinking and speaking, and in our pursuits for various goals in life. As Christians we should never let our desires control us to the extent that we forget that our chief end in this world is to glorify and enjoy God forever. A Christian should never be  to the one who says to himself: “I want this particular thing and I will surely get it not matter whatever it takes whether it is right or wrong.” No friends, being sober means being driven by the grace of God and not the sinful desires of our hearts.

Embracing holiness also means living righteously or justly. If we are business people, it means being honest in our transactions with our clients and customers. If we are employees, it means working with integrity. If we are employers, it means dealing with our employees with dignity and fairness. If we are students, it means studying and doing our assignments honestly and to the best our ability. At home, it means husbands loving their wives and wives to submitting to their own husbands. It means children obeying their parents and parents loving and caring for their children. Charles Spurgeon summarizes it well, “A Christian profession without uprightness is a lie.”

Thirdly, embracing holiness means living godly or piously. It implies to being thankful always for God’s mercy and grace in our lives. It means to honor and glorify God because he is exalted far above us and the rest of the creation, and yet to love him with all our hearts, minds and souls because he is our Father. Again Charles Spurgeon puts it well: “To live godly means that God will enter into all our activities, God’s presence will be our joy, God’s strength our confidence, God’s providence our inheritance, God’s glory the chief end of our being, and God’s law the guide of our conversations.”

But you might look at this verse and say to yourself: “That’s not me! I know that I have repented my sin and believed in Christ but my life has not fully denied ungodliness and fully embraced holiness.”

Well my friend, you need to realize that this work of grace is not automatic, but we have to take deliberate efforts and cooperate with the Holy Spirit to help us grow in grace. You need to constantly use the means of grace, which God has established to help you in your daily work with Christ.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism Question and Answer 88 describes these means of grace to us. It asks, “What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?” The answer reads, “ The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all of which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

How is your study and meditation of the Bible? The Psalmist says that blessed is the man who delights in the law of God and in it he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings its fruit in time. Are you seeking this means of grace to help you deny ungodliness?

What about prayer? How regularly are you praying that Christ will transform you to be more and more like him? How often are you on your knees imploring the Holy Spirit to help you to deny ungodliness and embrace holiness? You need all the means of grace, which God has provided for you to help you grow and excel in the classroom of grace. 

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Marks of a True Church

How do I know a true church? Or does it really matter which church I go to? These are important questions because a church is not just a club that one belongs to. Christ established the church for the purpose of salvation and sanctification of all who believe so that at the end of time he might present them to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle (Eph. 5:27).

So, how do I know a true church? Well, before tackling this question, it is important to clarify on the onset that we will never have a perfect church in this world. It is only in glory that we will have it as Ephesians 5:27 tells us; nevertheless, we can still find a true church. The true church is characterized by three main things or marks namely the faithful preaching of the Bible, proper administration of the sacraments, and proper exercise of church discipline as taught in the Scriptures.

First, a true church is where the Bible is preached faithfully (Acts 20:27). Now, almost all churches and even cults claim to preach the Bible. However, if you go to a church where the preacher  uses a text of the Bible as a springboard to teach his own thoughts or ideas that is not faithful preaching. Faithful preaching recognizes that the Bible is holy and inerrant word of God hence the preacher strives to present its truths as they have been revealed to us without adding or subtracting from them.

Faithful preaching also is not afraid of offending people with the truth. It doesn’t seek to please men at the expense of God’s word. It proclaims that all men are sinners in need of a savior, Jesus Christ, who after saving them by grace through faith also calls them to walk in holiness by his grace. Faithful preaching regards growing in grace, faith and knowledge of Christ and not material or physical prosperity as the main goal of our salvation in this world (2 Peter 3:18). So, a true church always believes that preaching is the major element of worship that should not be compromised or underrated at all.

Secondly, a true church is where there is faithful administration of sacraments. The Bible clearly teaches that there are two sacraments, which were established by Christ himself namely baptism and the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion (Matthew 28:19; Luke 22:19). A true church makes sure that these ceremonies are always observed according to the directions given to us in the Scriptures for they are one of the means that God uses to grant grace to his people. They are “channels of grace” as some have said.

A true church, therefore, does not allow people who are living in open sin and rebellion against God to receive these sacraments, yet at the same time it encourages all who have made profession of faith and are striving to walk in the manner worthy of their gospel calling to come and participate in these ordinances, particularly, the Holy Communion after humbly examining themselves (1 Cor. 11:28).

A couple of years ago, somebody shared with me a story of a pastor who announced to his congregation that the following Sunday they will have the Lord’s Supper and every one from the community was welcome. Well, this might sound as being gracious but it is complete rebellion against the standards laid out in the Scriptures regarding the Lord’s Table. It is a deliberate provocation of God’s judgment. It is also an act of “blasphemy” as Calvin rightly puts it, “For it is very true that he to whom its (Lord’s Supper) distribution has been committed, if he knowingly and willingly admits an unworthy person whom he could rightfully turn away, is as guilty of sacrilege as if he had cast the Lord’s body to the dogs.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion 4.12.5).

Thirdly, a true church is where church discipline is practiced according to the teaching of Scriptures (Matt. 1815-22). This, sadly, is a mark that is fast diminishing in a number churches. There are some churches that chicken out or deliberately ignore to discipline members who have going astray in sin and refuse to repent. If a church cares so much to keep their members irrespective of whether they are living their lives according to God’s will, then, you be afraid and do not be part of it.

But what do we mean by church discipline. Let me explain it with an illustration of a family. When children in a family misbehave, parents discipline them according to the offence committed. If the offence is minor, the chastisement or reprimand is also minimal. But if the offence is a major one, the punishment or rebuke is also severe. The same applies to the church. The church being a larger family, its members might commit various sins, which require a rebuke and correction from the church. Some sins are minor so a pastor and sometimes with some elders will correct the person in private. Others sins are major and public hence the Church should openly rebuke the sin in its strongest terms and even excommunicate the member if he is unrepentant after being spoken to.

In a case where the church has been forced to excommunicate a member, three goals are intended to be achieved. First, it is to reclaim the person back to the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. Through this act the church trusts that the Holy Spirit will work in the heart of the member to bring him back to the Lord in repentance (1 Cor. 5:5). Secondly, it helps to maintain the purity of the church. By expelling the unrepentant sinner, the church intends to guard against the corruption of the entire body since an undisciplined member might act as an encouragement to others to live in sin. Lastly, excommunication aims at protecting the testimony  of the church in the world. Those who refuse to repent and deliberately continue in sin should not claim to be part of the body of Christ since their lives and actions reject Christ’s teaching (1 Cor. 5:9-13).

Now, although a true church practices proper administration of discipline, it should also be borne in mind that no single church enjoys disciplining its members just as parents do not enjoy the actual act of disciplining their children. But this being an essential mark of a true church, churches should not chicken out from it for “All who desire to remove discipline or to hinder its restoration – whether they do this deliberately or out of ignorance – are surely contributing to the ultimate dissolution of the church” (John Calvin, Institutes 4.13.1) .

So, my friend, a true church is where you will find all these three marks. Not just one or two of them, but all of them. If you find or are in a church that ignores any of these marks, you should be afraid! In fact, I would encourage you to leave it if you are already a member. If you are not yet a member then do not go near again for it is not a true church.

A true church is not just a building but people called by Christ to live in holiness by his grace.

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The Gospel Will Always Work: It Doesn’t Depend on Us

“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake…we have this treasure (the gospel) in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not us,” (2 Cor. 4:5-7).

The Gospel will always work. This is obvious, is it not? I am afraid, it is not! In the last two decades, I have noticed, especially, here in Malawi the growing temptation to make the gospel more relevant. We look at the gospel and think that on its own it lacks significance. Thus we seek means of making it more attractive and appealing.

Let me illustrate my point. Slightly over a decade ago, Malawi witnessed the rise of “apostles.”
I even remember one preacher who had to change his title from pastor to “apostle.” His explanation was that God had promoted him. This was all done in order to make “the gospel” more relevant since then people were attracted to the preaching of “the apostles.” Many were made to believe that these apostles had special powers and authority more than a “mere” pastor.

But now things have changed. Apostles are no longer crowd-pullers and they are slowly fading away from the scene. Now enter, prophets! Almost every preacher now claims to be a prophet who receives direct revelations from God. The crowd-pulling mantle has shifted from apostles to prophets. But trust me, just as apostles are now no longer popular, these prophets will also sooner or later fade into oblivion. What will be next? I don’t know. We have to wait and see.

The point is: the gospel is perfectly relevant. It does not depend on anybody for it to work. Preach and proclaim it the way it has been given to us in the Scriptures and it will work because it is the power of God (Rom. 1:16). Charles Haddon Spurgeon once noted, “The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.” I would paraphrase Spurgeon and say, “Do not bother to make the gospel relevant because is already more than relevant. Let it loose by proclaiming it faithfully in the power and grace of Christ and it will always work.” It will work not because of us, but because its surpassing power is from God.

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