Study in John’s Gospel. Presentation 80. Mark of the Church: Truth Chap 17v17. Presentation 80. Introduction.
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In his prayer for his church Jesus has prayed for her joy and her holiness. When we ask, "How can I get and keep this joy?" or "How can I be holy?" the answer involves the application of the truth of scripture to our daily lives. Nearly all that God does in the world today, he does by the Holy Spirit through the instrumentality of his written revelation. We have pointed out that our growth in holiness or sanctification involves being set apart for God's use and co-operating with God’s Spirit so that we work out of our lives what God has worked in. And what we do with the truth of God’s word has a significant part to play in this process.
Ray Stedman writes, "The world lives by what it thinks is truth, by values and standards which are worthless, but which the world esteems highly... And how can we live in that kind of a world - touch it and hear it, having it pouring into our ears and exposed to our eyes day and night, and not be conformed to its image and squeezed into its mould? The answer is, we must know the truth. We must know the world and life the way God sees it, the way it really is. We must know it so clearly and strongly that even while we're listening to these alluring lies we can brand them as lies and know that they are wrong."
If we are to receive the blessings God has for his church, we must receive them in the way God has planned to give them to us. There are many ways in which holiness will not come to us. Some Christians go to countless holiness conferences but to no avail. What is wrong? Often, they are trusting in a great conference speaker rather than upon God.
And when they do hear the Word of God,
they hear it without a submissive heart
which alone produces growth through
Others look to find holiness through a special experience. There is nothing wrong with special experiences of God's grace. But it is wrong to assume that some decisive experience can make you instantly holy. Whenever you find yourself looking for an experience, you are always on the wrong track. Holiness of life comes as we seek to have the Lord Jesus Christ
exalted in our lives.
And the way to do that is by discovering what he wants of us
and for us. And that is revealed in his Word, his
Truth. Therefore, the third mark of the
church must be God's truth. David asked,
‘How can a young man keep his way pure?’
‘by living according to your word’. Ps. 119:9)
We need to be very practical at this point. Jesus expects his church to be distinct from the world. First of all, we have to be clear as to what our authority is. The answer is the Scriptures! But we’re in danger of replacing that with the authority of the majority view i.e. When things are done, not because the Bible says they should be but, because 51% or more of the people say so. There is a vociferous lobby of opinion in some denominations to ditch the Bible as an authoritative standard. But by doing so the church would lose its theological and moral moorings and drift off into oblivion.
Let me illustrate, in Nazi Germany most of the established church capitulated to the Nazi point of view and disregarded the teaching of scripture. A small minority, which became increasingly a church of the Book, identified themselves as the "confessing church" and opposed Hitler’s new morality.
They realised that a failure to be distinctive and to stand on God’s Word would result in their being pressed increasingly into a value system that contradicted God’s revelation.
Secondly, we need to be distinct in our theology. And again it is God’s truth that should shape our theology. We need to articulate the great biblical truths, not just adapt our theology to suit our changing culture. It should come as no surprise that those churches that have done most to send
young people into full time Christian service have been those that have retained a biblical theology.
What happens when culture shapes theology? The world, far from applauding the church for being ‘modern’, is perplexed by it for abandoning its confessional standards.
Consider just one practical example. Scripture plainly teaches that sexual relations outside of marriage are sinful but there is pressure from some quarters in the church to allow, the standards of contemporary western
culture, to shape the church’s theology.
I’m not suggesting that we should be insensitive to
the pressures placed on young people today, or
that we engage in a censorious stigmatisation
of those who have capitulated to them.
We live in a fallen world and it is the task of the
church to hold before it in all its moral
disintegration, a gospel of grace and forgiveness.
However, it is not our task to extend to it a
licence to sin.
Thirdly, the church needs to be different in her lifestyle. The culture in the U.K. is rapidly altering and the influence of its Christian heritage is speedily evaporating. Laws, which were previously shaped by
scripture, are rapidly changing, with greater change
likely in the days ahead.
It is going to become more and more difficult for
Christians to remain distinct, and to refuse to go
with the trends of our times which seem committed
to a process of secularisation.
If our minds are not being exposed to, and influenced
by, the truths of God’s Word, then they will not remain
Other influences will shape our thinking and these are either packaged as ‘new truth’ or they work subliminally in the background so that we are almost unaware of their influence. The moral compass of people’s lives is being moved bit by bit so that when they look back on convictions firmly held 10 or 20 years ago these have now been completely abandoned.
Think of the content of so many
TV programmes. 60+ years ago,
Lord Reith in the U.K. was excited
by the ways in which television
could be of great benefit to
society. But today it is increasingly
difficult to find programmes
that are wholesome never
There are many other areas where Christians are increasingly confronted with lifestyle challenges. There is the classic Christian parents’ dilemma when youth organisations and schools increasingly organise extra-curricular events on Sundays, often overlapping with church times and youngsters ask, “Mum, dad, do I have to go to church. Why can’t I be like everyone else?”
Surely the most pressing area of lifestyle challenge is in the field of sexual ethics, particularly in our understanding of marriage. The world says; ‘sleep with your boyfriend or girlfriend there are certain tax advantages that can be yours by avoiding marriage. And after a few years and a few children you can ditch your partner and find someone else, especially if they
are better looking, or have better prospects’.
But what is marriage for? Is our primary concern personal
satisfaction? Or did God bring us together to be caring
companions who will seek to bring out the best in each
other. Marriage partners once committed themselves to
one another for ‘as long as we both shall live’. Recently a
couple replaced this vow with, “for as long as our love
Finally, we need to be distinctive in our visible dependence upon God. A secular society can tempt some Christians to throw in the towel and ask, ‘What’s the point of trying to influence a society like ours?’
Well what is impossible for man is not impossible for God. It was this thought that enabled Wilberforce to persevere in his determination to see the abolition of the slave trade.
Jesus taught, “the truth shall make you free” Jn. 8.32. Dare we trust in the power of God’s truth?
‘Ah’, you say, ‘the barrier is insurmountable?’ Is it?
A biblical example may help. When Israel was confronted with the apparently impregnable fortress of Jericho, what instructions did God give his field commander? Did he provide plans for the construction of siege engines like those later used by the Romans? No! Did he advocate the siege strategies put to such good effect by Genghis Khan? No! What instruction did God give? “March round the city a total of 13 times!”
But that made no sense! Siege engines made sense, starving the inhabitants made sense but
a military parade? But the whole point of this instruction was to teach Israel to depend upon God’s word for results when faced with apparently insurmountable barriers.
How can Christians change the world? What did Jesus teach in Sermon
on the Mount as he unpacked the Christian counter culture? He didn’t
say. “Run for office in the Roman Empire. Get a Christian emperor in
place.” It could happen, of course but that’s not the blueprint he left.
Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth", "You are the light of
the world“, Matt 5v13-14.
Salt does a great deal of good and it is only when it’s salty
that it is effective. So, if we have been brought to faith in
Christ and his grace is at work in our lives then clearly
we’re not the people we used to be. Our values
and commitments will have changed. And if
God’s saltiness is in us then it will impact
on the world.
We are also “light”, the purpose of which is to shine. Jesus said, “No one lights a candle and puts it under a bed. It is to be set up on a candle-stick where all will see it.” Lk. 8v16. What does Jesus want? We are to be lighthouses in a dark world. Being a lighthouse will not change the rocky contours of the coast; the perils of destruction are still a threat - but by God's grace the light can be a beacon that will bring ships into a safe harbour. That is what it means to be set apart to God, to be sanctified. We are to be beacons, who are instrumental in helping others come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now both our saltiness and our ability to shine will be commensurate with the manner in which we have absorbed the truth of God’s word and allowed our lives to be shaped by it. If your church fellowship is going to impact for good upon society it will do so only in as far as your lives have been shaped by God’s truth. Do you want to see change? Then learn to devour this book and submit yourself to its instruction.