Fasting according to Jesus

Sad to say, most Christians have neglected the discipline of fasting. There are probably a thousand little reasons this is the case, but there appears to be three big reasons:

  1. Ignorance: Few sermons are preached on it.  Few Bible studies address it.  Therefore, few Christians know what it is and why it is important.
  2. Fear: Perhaps some Christians fear being called a “weirdo” or being associated with a religious group outside their own.  Many, however, seem to fear failure
  3. Hedonism: Hedonism is basically a love for pleasure that is rooted in sinful desires.  Hedonism is the opposite of fasting.  It is self-gratifying rather than self-denying.

One Bible teacher, Donald Whitney, has said, “Christians in a gluttonous, denial-less, self-indulgent society may struggle to accept and to begin the practice of fasting. Few Disciplines go so radically against the flesh and the mainstream of culture as this one.”

The most basic truth of all about fasting is that Jesus expects us to fast.

Matthew 6:16-18—“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

     Jesus clearly taught use about the legitimacy of godly fasting.  Not only did Jesus Himself fast (Matt.4:2), but in verses 16 and 17, He says, “When you fast,” two times.  Therefore, the expectation is that Christians are to fast.  Jesus goes on to affirm this even more plainly later in Matthew’s Gospel.

Matthew 9:14-15— Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

     What is biblical fasting?  Fasting is a Christian’s voluntary abstinence from a basic need or some other desirable pleasure.  The point of fasting is to withhold something from the body and the mind that will be sorely missed, especially things that are fundamental to life.  Food and certain drinks are the most commonly withheld items because they are extremely needful, extremely craved after on a daily basis, and extremely missed when withheld.  There are few greater tests of mankind’s character than taking away food and fluids

     What kind of fasts are there?  The Bible teaches at least eight different kinds of fasts:

  1. Normal fast: Abstaining from all food but not water (Mt.4:2)
  2. Partial fast: Limitation of the diet but not abstention of all food (Dan.1:12)
  3. Absolute fast: Abstaining from all food and fluids (Ezra 10:6; Esth.4:16; Acts 9:9)
  4. Supernatural fast: Moses on Mt. Sinai (Deut.9:9) and Elijah’s journey to Horeb (1Kgs.19:8)
  5. Private fast: Not publicized (Mt.6:16-18)
  6. Congregational fast: A group of God’s people fast together (Joel 2:15-16; Acts13:2)
  7. Regular fast: Scheduled on specific days (Lev.16:29-31; Lk.18:12)
  8. Occasional fast: Observed on special occasions that arise (Mt.9:15)

What’s the point of fasting?  When we fast, we are saying that we need and desire God more than whatever we are fasting from.  If it is food, we are saying we hunger more for God than bread.  If it is coffee, we are saying we thirst more for God than any pleasure caffeine can bring.  Fasting helps us to remember our relationship with Jesus more throughout the day.  Every hunger pang and every frustrated desire reminds us that Jesus is better.  The result of genuine fasting is greater victories over the flesh.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Fasting helps to discipline the self-indulgent and slothful will which is so reluctant to serve the Lord, and it helps to humiliate and chasten the flesh.”  Do ever feel like you will never win the battle of overeating, losing your temper, or giving in to internet pornography?  Fast and pray, and see what the Holy Spirit will do in your life.

With this foundation built, Jesus warns us not to fast in a way that glorifies man (vv.16-17).  Apparently, people in Jesus’ day used fasting as an opportunity to really put on a show.  They would put on a gloomy face.  The word translated “gloomy” can also be rendered as “sad” or “dark.”  Many interpreters believe  Jesus may be alluding to how some people were even using makeup to change their appearance.  At the least, they were making themselves look miserable.  In verse 16, Jesus confirms this when He says, “for they disfigure their faces so that they may be seen by others.”   The word translated “disfigure” in this context is related to cleanliness, which makes sense because Jesus tells us in verse 17 to wash up when we fast.  In that culture, the daily routine of anointing your head with oil and washing your face constituted the bulk of personal hygiene.

What does this mean?  It means whatever personal hygiene you practice when not fasting is the same personal hygiene you should practice when fasting.  It means, while fasting, we should get up, wash our bodies, wash our hair, shave, put on deodorant, put on clean clothes, and do whatever else that we normally do.

If we fast for the wrong reasons, the consequences are serious.  One consequence is that Jesus calls such people “hypocrites.”  As we have already learned, a “hypocrite” refers to a person that pretends to be one thing but in reality is someone completely different.  Of course, we all must admit we all have some hypocrite in ourselves.  But we must understand that Jesus is using the word here of people who know they are hypocrites and they don’t care.

A second consequence is that such hypocrites “have received their reward” (v.16b).  Now don’t pass over that too quickly.  For a Christian, this means that fasting to be seen of men causes a loss of reward but not of eternal life itself.  For a non-Christian, however, fasting to be seen of men means the only reward they will ever receive is man’s applause and a one-way ticket to hell.

On the other hand, fasting that glorifies God is righteousness (vv.17-18).  Christians are to fast in a way that it brings God all the glory, all the credit.  When we fast, we are to go about our daily routine as if we are not fasting at all, especially regarding our personal hygiene.  Jesus says that secret fasting is the best kind of fasting because it’s strictly between you and God (v.18a).  Obviously, there will be a few people in our lives who might have to know about our fasting—wives, children, close fellow employees.  But for the most part, fasting is something we can do without many people knowing at all.

And what is the result of this kind of fasting?  Jesus says, “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v.18b).  Man’s applause and approving words will no longer be of any concern of yours so long as God gets the glory!

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

Wisdom of a Church Covenant

In a world  often confused about personal accountability, some churches have seen fit to abolish what has been a historic mainstay, namely the Church Covenant.  At Grace Life Baptist Church, we recently renewed our covenant commitment as a church family, and we discussed why having and holding onto such a covenant is wise.  We defined a biblical covenant this way: A covenant is a God-initiated agreement between He and His people, established with mutual obligations for His glory and their joy

Before I offer you 4  reasons for having a church covenant, let me make one clarifying note. I must admit there’s no biblical command prescribing that a local church have a church covenant.  Therefore, a church should never present a covenant as anything more than a descriptive document of what the Bible teaches about living the Christian life in relation to Christ and a local body of His disciples.

With that said, there are biblical principles in Scripture that make a church covenant wise.

1)  A covenant summarizes what it means to be in fellowship with Christ and His Church.  The Bible is our only authority in matters of doctrine and practice; but the Bible is a big book and a summary statement is helpful, especially for new believers.  Our church covenant is a reasonable way to define God’s expectations of us in the New Covenant.

2)  A covenant clarifies accountability.  Without mutual accountability, you don’t have a church because you won’t have unity of faith and practice—everyone would just do whatever’s right in their own eyes.  Without accountability, sheep and elders won’t get along—both will vie for control.  Using our covenant, we can hold each other accountable while still allowing for lots of grace, patience, and understanding toward each other.

3)  A covenant protects the Church from wolves.  Our covenant is threatening to potential new members that are just church-hopping, trouble-makers because they’re less likely to join a church that tells them up front what is expected.  It warns them of the consequences of not walking in humility before Christ and His people.  Our covenant threatens to expose wolves for who they really are.

4)  A covenant limits personal preference.  You may prefer 1,001 things, but most of your preferences are irrelevant to the gospel.  Perhaps you prefer dressing up for church or dressing down.  Or you prefer 20-minute sermons instead of 40-minute ones.  The list could go on.  Your preferences are important, but important doesn’t equal biblical or helpful.

For example, the trending craze todayis having churches for specialty groups like hipsters, homeschoolers, cowboys, or bikers, etc.  Are these preferences important?  Yes, it’s a part of who these people are.  But none of these is the defining mark of what it means to be a Christian committed to a local church.

The defining mark of the Church is the gospel.  At Grace Life, we advertise our purpose as Proclaiming God’s Glory in Christ because that’s at the heart of the gospel.  God’s glory is best magnified when the Church is like a prism refracting and reflecting all the colors of the spectrum—the hipsters, homeschoolers, cowboys, bikers, and on it could go.  May the Lord continue to build His Church with a beautiful array of people.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

Man-Centered Methods in Parenting

As discussed in the previous article Beyond Behavior: Dealing with the Heart, parenting is no easy task because we are not just dealing with our children that sin.  We are also dealing with our own sinful hearts.  In order to discipline our children biblically, we must be aware of the ways in which our sinful pride manifests itself in our parenting.  At the end of the day, our sin is pride and can be rightly described as very much man-centered rather than Christ-centered.  Here are what seem to be the primary manifestations of prideful discipline in parenting.

1.  Anger: Unrighteous anger is probably the greatest obstacle to godly parenting.  I would also include the use of threats in this category because of their close relationship.  In just one outburst of sinful anger, we can destroy days or weeks of godly parenting.  Anger is a man-centered method of parenting because it puts the focus on fear of the parent rather than fear of God.  Using anger as a parenting method usually only leads to bitterness in the hearts of both child and parent.  Sinful anger is very critical, demanding, harsh, and the child will struggle to see any real love in dad or mom.  There is such a thing as righteous anger, but parents must be prudent.

2.  Humiliation: Humiliation in parenting is when the parent plays on the child’s emotions in order to induce “feelings” of repentance in the child.  The problem with the use of humiliation is that it produces only a worldly sorrow rather than a godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10).  Further, it only serves to debase the child and produce bitterness in them.  Remembering the Golden Rule is crucial for avoiding the humiliation of our children in the process of disciplining (Matt. 7:12).

2 Corinthians 7:10—For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret,  whereas worldly grief produces death.

Matthew 7:12—“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

3.  Delayed Obedience:  Another common mistake that Christian parents make is in substituting the requirement of biblical obedience for a lesser form of obedience that is delayed.  We would never want our children to be delayed in their obedience about crossing a street, touching a hot stove, or snorting cocaine because the damage will already have been done.  The same is true with all issues of obedience.  While grace should abound toward the child, parents must insist that their children do what they say, when they say it, with an attitude of respect.  Delayed obedience is really just a more subtle form of making threats.

4.  Bribery:  The use of bribery in parenting is the attempt of the parent to change a child’s behavior through the use of enticement.  The problem with this man-centered method is that the parent is appealing to the child’s sin-nature.  In effect, the child’s selfishness is being fertilized.  They are being taught to obey for the sake of getting something they want and not simply for the joy of knowing that they have done what is right.  Here we must make a difference between bribery and reward.  Bribery is always negative because of its aim to entice.  Rewards, however, can be a good way of showing grace and appreciation to a child.  Normally, rewards should not be pre-announced to the child but should be a kind of surprising-grace.

Undoubtedly, there are other man-centered methods of discipline in parenting, but these should help Christians recognize the more prominent ones.  By God’s grace, may we discipline our children in a Christ-like way.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

How NOT to Leave a Church

Here’s an article that I’ve been wanting to write for years, but there’s never seemed to be a good time to do so because I always felt like someone who has left the church recently might think I’m talking about them.  But I’ve come to realize that I’ll never be able to write this article if I continue to worry like this because there’s always people coming to and leaving the church.

DISCLAIMER: So, if you’re reading this and feel like I’m targeting you, then please understand that I have no one in particular in mind.

As a person who has grown up in the church and has now pastored for nearly ten years, I’ve heard a lot of people give their reasons for leaving the church.  Unfortunately, most of the reasons have been, what I would deem, unbiblical.  Here’s my top eight.  If you have heard some different ones, feel free to leave a comment.

1.  “It’s nothing personal.”  This one I’ve heard in combination with some of the other reasons.  I don’t think a person who says this really grasps what the church is.  The church is God’s chosen people who has been set apart by His grace and redeemed by Jesus.  As such, the church is God’s family that loves and serves one another.  Therefore, leaving a church, even for biblical reasons, is a deeply personal thing.

2.  “I’m not mad at anybody.”  This one I’ve heard several times.  Most of the times it was in months following an argument or disagreement with another church member(s).  Seeing it in others and dealing with my own anger at times, I’ve found that the “I’m not mad” reason is really just a way to make us feel better about ourselves even though our hearts are bitter.

3.  “There’s not enough activities for the kids.”  This one ranks pretty high on the list among the most frequent reasons for leaving the church, primarily among thirty-somethings.  While there is part of me that sympathizes with this one, my ecclesiology kicks in and reminds me that the Bible doesn’t place children/teenagers at the center of church life.  When the corporate church gathers it is for the purpose of worship through prayer, preaching, and Holy Communion.  “Activities” should be a natural overflow of our worship together and should manifest themselves in living our lives together outside of the corporate gathering.  That may mean having an organized children’s/youth program or it might mean children hanging out together while Dad and Mom are hanging out with other church members.

4.  “My kids don’t have any friends.”  This is similar to the previous one.  Again, I have some sympathies here having grown up in a church where I was the only kid who went to school in the next county over.  The friendships I had through church were never as deep as they could have been had I went to school with them, but at the end of the day it’s still no reason to leave a church.  The Bible doesn’t place children/teenagers at the center of church life.  Besides, children are under the authority of their parents.  Parents that move churches based primarily on their child’s wants are making a grave mistake.  At the least, they are teaching their children that church is all about getting what we want out of it rather than finding ways to serve others.  It’s a very self-serving attitude.

5.  “I don’t like the preaching.”  This is one that I’ve heard several times, sometimes referring to my pastor’s preaching and sometimes referring to my own!  There’s nothing more humbling than being told “your preaching stinks.”  Sometimes leaving the church because of the preaching is a good thing, if that preaching is unbiblical or if the pastor is biblically unqualified.  But even in these cases, I would say that patience and loving dialogue with your pastor is prerequisite to you leaving.  In my experience, most of the people who say “I don’t like the preaching” are under deep conviction of sin as result of the preaching.  I’m not sure if I could say that anyone I’ve known who has used this reason had a passion for knowing and obeying the Bible.

6.  “I don’t like the music.”  This one is like the previous.  If the music is unbiblical or the person(s) leading the music is biblically unqualified, then leaving the church might be acceptable.  But again, patience and loving dialogue with church leadership is prerequisite.  But in my experience, people who have left the church over the music have been generally selfish.  They want the songs that they want played on the kind of instruments that they want without taking into account the preference of the rest of the church.  Worship is not about “me”.  It’s about “we,” God’s people gathering together to worship HIM!

7.  “It’s just time to move on.”  I’ve heard this one a lot over the years.  It’s probably the most troubling because you generally know your fellow church members well enough to know that it’s really a cover for, “I’m not happy,” or “Someone hurt my feelings,” or something similar.

8.  Don’t just disappear.  This one is the most frustrating and probably the most selfish.  For the church, it’s like having a limb removed without anesthesia because the person who leaves doesn’t prepare the church for the pain but simply cuts the body.  I understand that some people have a hard time with good-byes, but no matter how hard it can be, love says “good-bye.”  For others, they’re embarrassed about leaving, possibly because they have one of the other 7 “reasons” for leaving.

In the end, a few minutes of good-bye tears will be much more therapeutic than the days, weeks, or even years of bitterness that can result from just disappearing from the body.  My suggestion is that you talk to your pastor(s), your small group, and your closest friends about the possibility of leaving and ask for their prayers.  This simple step can go a long way toward a less painful departure.

In light of all of these reasons people give for leaving a church, might I offer some biblical reasons one might leave?

1.  The Word of God is held in little esteem.  The church may say it believes the Bible but few people are demonstrating hunger and thirst for it.  The preacher may say he preaches the Bible but his sermons are really not much more than reading a text and departing never to return thereafter; or reading a string of texts that may or may not be related; or continually preaching “turn or burn messages” that appear more hateful than helpful.

2.  The driving force is something other than Jesus Himself.  The church may say Jesus is its main priority but it turns to forms of entertainment, manipulation, and various other shenanigans rather than relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to both attract an audience and convert a people for Jesus’ glory.  Some may say this is too passive of a view.  To the contrary, it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to be the church: preaching, teaching, worshipping, praying, giving, and serving one another.  Jesus said that unbelievers will know that we’re His disciples by our love for one another (Jn.13:35), not by how entertaining of an event we can put on.  [For the record, I’m not against programs and events, but I am against them if our trust is in them rather than the power of the Spirit]

3.  The majority of interpretations of Scripture are rooted in legalism rather than grace.  The church may say that it believes in salvation by God’s grace alone but the “air” may be thick with legalism: do this/don’t do that; shape up or ship out; turn or burn; be present every time the doors are open; you can’t wear this; you can’t drink that . . . .

4.  Holy living is sparse at best.  While legalism is satanic, holy living is Jesus-like.  We cannot save ourselves or stay saved by being good enough, yet all believers who have been justified by faith will live a godly life by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  The church may say that they believe in holy living by God’s grace, but the “air” may be thick with carnality–“holy” on Sunday but helly the rest of the week!

I hope this helps us minister to our fellow church members who are considering a church change.  May God grant us grace to be biblical in our decision making when it comes to whether we stay or go.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

Communication and Correction

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph.6:4).  Ephesians 6:4 sums up so much of what parenting is all about, including communication and correction.  When it comes to correcting our children, it seems that too many of us are correction-heavy and communication-light.

Now, when I say that we are communication-light, I do not mean to say that we communicate too little.  But I mean to say that we communicate inappropriately.  The reality is this: we as parents are always communicating with our children.  The question is not whether we’re communicating but what we are communicating.

Therefore, both good communication and biblical correction are crucial aspects of discipline that have three primary stages of discipline.  It is important to note that these three stages can overlap at different times and in different ways depending on the individual family dynamics.  Today we will look at the first stage.

Discipline Stage of Child Rearing
The discipline stage is what some have termed the give me your attention  stage.  It is most crucial in the first 5-8 years of childhood.  Having corrupt hearts, we are born as me-centered sinners. The discipline stage is when parents should use communication and correction to say “give me your attention,” and it should begin very early.  Take, for example, the changing-table situation in which an infant is demonstrating anger.  While it is not appropriate that you spank an infant, simply placing a gentle but firm hand on their chest or legs accompanied by a firm but gentle voice can do wonders.  Regular spankings of a child may be used as soon as the child is able to understand  a simple command and demonstrate defiance to that command.

Defining Discipline
1) Positive in nature :  Defining discipline can be difficult because many consider it to be negative and confuse discipline with punishment or retribution.  Biblical discipline, however, is always positive even when a spanking is involved.  God’s word tells us this plainly:

Proverbs 3:12-13—“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reprove, 12 for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”

Proverbs 23:13-14—“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.  14 If you strike him with a rod, you will save his soul form Sheol.”

Hebrew 12:7-11—“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

2) Love-oriented:  Discipline must be administered out of love rather than sinful anger.  If we are angry about our children’s disobedience, then we are likely disciplining out of retribution rather than reconciliation.  The goal of discipline is to reconcile children to God and to others.  Therefore, we should be grieved by our child’s disobedience rather than angered.

1 Corinthians 13:4-6—“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;”

1 Corinthians 5:1-2—“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.  2 And you are arrogant!  Ought you not rather to mourn?  Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

3) Heart-oriented:  Discipline must be administered out of a concern for our child’s heart and not simply his behavior.  We must focus our attention on “Why?” a child did what he did and not simply on “What?” he did.  Dealing only with behavior can quickly turn children into hypocrites, who either become manipulators or fearful of punishment rather than God.

Matthew 15:19—“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

4) Instruction-oriented:  Discipline must be saturated with instruction in righteousness and the gospel of Christ.  This is where communication plays a crucial role.

Ephesians 6:4—“Fathers, do no provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Kinds of Discipline
1) Formative instruction (offense): This kind of discipline is primarily preventative in nature and can  be both formal (Scripture, catechisms, prayers, Christian literature) and informal (using teachable moments throughout the day).  This is the foundation of everything that a Christian parent  does.  Just as in sports, we want to spend more time on offense than  defense in our parenting.   For example, the best way to deal with a child who runs away from you when you call them at the grocery store is by practicing this at home through formative discipline.

Proverbs 1:8-9—“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching,    9 for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.”

Proverbs 22:6—“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart      from it.”

2) Corrective discipline (defense): This kind of discipline is primarily reactive in nature and should be used frequently in the discipline stage when formative instruction has been ignored.  Sometimes only a verbal reproof is needed, such as when: the child has not been informed of the parent’s standard; or the child is not characterized by the sin in which he is caught.  In many cases, however, a spanking should be given.  Formative instruction should always precede and follow a spanking, though it should be brief because neither the child nor the parent is in their best form.

Proverb 22:15—“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Pr. 22:15).

Proverbs 29:15—“The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”

Steps in Corrective Discipline

1) Examine your motives:  Ask yourself a series of questions such as the following.

–Am I doing this because my will has been violated or God’s will has been violated?

–Am I doing this because my child has sinned against God or because his behavior has caused me some personal discomfort, embarrassment, or trouble?

 –Am I doing this out of love and kindness?  (beware of unkind comments like, “I can’t believe you are so inconsiderate,” and replace them with more positive comments like, “Do you think it is kind or rude for you to . . . ?)

 2) Choose the right time and place:  Whatever you do, don’t embarrass your child because this shifts the focus to humiliation rather than repentance.  While discipline should be swift, it should also be prudent.  Therefore, do not spank your child in public or even in front of his siblings.

3) Choose the right words, not substitutes:  In describing your child’s disobedience, avoid words such as mean, stupid, or telling a story and replace them with the biblical words unkind, unwise, and lying.

4) Choose the right tone of voice:  Do not scold your child and demean him, but be self-controlled and respectful toward him.  Remember the Golden Rule:

Matthew 7:12—“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

5) Bring Scripture to bear:  Give them God’s standard and show them how they have fallen short of that standard.  Show them that only Jesus can meet this standard and that we must turn from our sin and trust in Him as our only help for obeying God.

6) Administer the spanking:  Give 1-5 swats on the bottom or upper thigh (the number will depend on their age and the nature of the disobedience, and make sure you tell your child how many swats they will be receiving). The spanking should be significant enough to inflict pain but should be controlled (as should dad or mom’s temper).  After the spanking, comfort your child and tell them that you forgive them and that forgiveness from God is possible through faith in Jesus. Tell them that Jesus died for this kind of disobedience.  Whenever possible, pray with your child after the spanking is complete.

7) Be prepared to suggest a biblical solution:  Help the child work through what a biblical response would have been and have the child follow through with it.  If they have sinned against someone, have them go to that person, apologize to them, and make restitution.

Obviously, there are many variables when it comes to corrective discipline, but prayerfully what we I have written here will be of help to parents as they strive to raise their children to know Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

Remove the Persistent Agitator

This is adapted from a manuscript of a recent sermon preached at Southside Baptist Church in Lebanon, TN.

As Paul brings his letter to Titus to a close, he wants to give some instructions on what to do with divisive church members who persistently disrupt the unity in the church with their wild theologies and controversies.

Titus 3:10-11—As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

1. The Church must be patient with divisive members (v.10a): Paul has already alluded to divisive members who promote “controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law” (v.9).  He says they are “unprofitable” and “worthless.”  Notice, Paul didn’t say that these divisive members were being unprofitable and worthless or that their theology is unprofitable and worthless, though those things are certainly true.  Paul says that they, the members themselves, are unprofitable and worthless.

This is why the job of the shepherding elders is so tough.  Not every person that enters our building is membership material, meaning that not every visitor is here for the right reason.  The reason we exist as the Church is to “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pt.2:9).  But people come in all the time with their own agenda and motivations that are rooted in selfishness and not the gospel.

And sometimes, some of our own church members will become like those self-righteous visitors.  Some of our own members will hear a weird preacher with weird views, or else they’ll hear a good preacher with good views but they misunderstand something he says.  And then they begin to promote those weird views in the church, and before you know it divisions arise.

Paul gives Titus, as one of the elders of the Cretan Church, the responsibility of rebuking such divisive people.  But notice the patience with which the Cretan leadership is to have with them.  They are to be warned not once but twice.  This is very similar to Jesus’ teaching on church discipline in Matthew 18: call for repentance privately; then with two or three witnesses; and then tell it to the church.

In Matthew 18, however, sinning church members get three warnings.  In Titus, Paul is dealing with a more serious problem, namely false teaching that is causing division.  Someone who is committing adultery may or may not threaten the unity of the church.  Someone who has been unfaithful in gathering with the church may or may not threaten the unity of the church.  But false teachers spreading their gangrenous division is always a threat to the unity of the church.

Paul, however, is not saying that the false teachers ought to be ousted because of their false teaching, although that would be permissible.  Rather, Paul is saying that false teachers that are causing division in the church ought to be ousted.  And it is Jewish legalism that is especially in view in Paul’s mind.  Today, it might be denominational legalism or American-pride legalism or self-made moralism.  Yet in God’s grace, God calls for patience.

2. The Church must remove divisive members from its fellowship (vv.10b-11): Paul says to “have nothing more to do with” the divisive church member.  It means that after two warnings, the agitator is to be excommunicated and ostracized.  No more hanging out.  No more game nights or Mexican cheese dip or guy outings of any kind or shopping trips for the gals.

Paul is very adamant about this, and he tells us why in verse 11: “knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

Warped and sinful means that a person is beyond ordinary instruction.  While they are not beyond the power of God’s grace to work in them, we must understand that the primary way that God works grace into a person is through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.  If a person is unteachable, always arguing and debating doctrine with a know-it-all attitude, then they are beyond God’s ordinary means of grace.

The phrase, “He is self-condemned” is very interesting.  Often people will react to church discipline by saying, “Who are we to judge?”  But notice that Paul does not promote the judging of others.  Rather, he makes it clear that such people are self-condemned, meaning they have brought judgment on themselves.  The church is simply confirming the sinner’s unrepentant status.

Sometimes we react to a single teaching of Scripture like this as if it is an isolated instruction, but the teaching on church discipline is far from being a single teaching.  Here’s a few examples of other places that mention the removal of and warning about unrepentant members:

2 Thessalonians 3:6—Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.

2 Thessalonians 3:14—If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.

Galatians 6:1—Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

Romans 16:17-18—I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve.

The biblical evidence is clear.  The church should not tolerate theologically divisive people, but we should lovingly remove them from our fellowship.  For church discipline is love in three directions:

1) Love for the unrepentant person–It is better they suffer now than to suffer eternally in hell.  The hope is that they will repent and get right with Jesus.

2) Love for faithful members–We hear a lot about harming the unrepentant sinner, but what about the rest of the church that is walking faithfully with Jesus?  What is it teaching our children when a church member is living in adultery and the church stands by and does nothing about it?

3) Love for the glory of Jesus–Ultimately, it’s all about Jesus.  The Church has been saved and set apart for the purpose of making Jesus look good, for shining the spotlight on Him.

May the Lord continue to purify for Himself a people who willingly remove unrepentant members from its fellowship with patience and love in the hopes of bringing them back to repentance.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

Beyond Behavior: Dealing with the Heart

If the previous article, Foundations for Gospel Parenting, where not clear enough, this article intends to convince us further that parenting is impossible without the grace of God.  In parenting, we are not dealing with a dog or some other animal that can be trained through behavior modification or some other psychoanalytic method.  We are dealing with human hearts.

Corrupt Hearts
Every human being has a serious problem called sin.  Drawn from Scripture, Christians have referred to this as the doctrine of original sin, which says that all of humanity is born with the inherited sin-nature of Adam (Rom.5:12; 1 Cor. 15:22) that leaves us dead in our “trespasses and sins” (Eph.2:1; cf. Col.2:13).  This is the bad news that makes the good news so good.

Romans 5:12—“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

1 Corinthians 15:22—“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

Ephesians 2:1-2a—“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked. . .”

Therefore, every child is born with a sin-nature (Ps. 51:5; 58:3), with sinful foolishness “bound up in” his heart (Pro. 22:15).  We know they are born this way because we see the evidence from the earliest days.  No one has to teach a baby to arch his back on the changing table or to bite others out of selfish anger.  While we can learn how to sin in more horrendous ways from others, we do not need others to teach us how to sin.  One of the earliest examples in the Bible is Cain’s murder of Abel (Gen. 4:8).  Who taught Cain to murder?  No one.  He learned it from his own sinful heart.

In the same way, every “fit” that our child throws is really the rebel cry of the sinner saying, “I want what I want right now!”  Sometimes we convince ourselves that it is only the “strong-willed” child that needs our greatest prayers and correction.  The fact is every child is strong-willed, some are just more obvious about it.  Every child has the same sin-nature.

Psalm 51:5—“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

Psalm 58:3-4—“The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.  4 They have venom like the venom of a serpent.”

Proverbs 22:15—“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.”

But lest we forget, we parents were born with that same sin-nature, and even after salvation, we still struggle with our sinful flesh (Rom. 7:13-25).  So we are not simply dealing with the sinful hearts of our children, but we are dealing with our own hearts too.  The only help we have is the new birth that only the gospel of Christ can bring.

Romans 7:18—“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

New Birth
Therefore, Christian parenting is not mainly about parents changing a child’s behavior but about God changing hearts, both the child’s and the parents’.  Our hearts need new birth, the regeneration of the Holy Spirit (Eze.36:22-32; Jn.3:1-8).

Ezekiel 36:25-27—“ ‘I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rule.’ ”

One of the greatest dangers of parenting is to assume that your child is saved.  But we should never presume upon God, and we should never assume that because a child has “made a profession of faith” or that our child attends Sunday School and church that he is converted.

On the contrary, parents should preach the gospel continually to their children and be fruit inspectors looking for evidence of conversion.  Salvation is known by its fruit, not simply a decision that was made in the past.  Parents should watch for the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23 that will be produced in every believer.

Galatians 5:22-23—“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.”

But be careful of two things when inspecting children’s spiritual fruit:

1)  Do not confuse fruit for faith.   We are not saved by the fruit of the Spirit.  We are saved by faith in Christ alone.

2)  Do not expect a bumper-crop from young fruit trees.  The fruit of the Spirit is a progressive process for all believers that is life-long.  This process is called sanctification.

May the Lord grant us the grace required for dealing with corrupt hearts in our parenting.

Sola Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta