The "called out" ones: H.C. Lord's Day 21

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 21

Q 54. What do you believe concerning “the holy catholic church”?
A 54. I believe that the Son of God through his Spirit and Word, out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, protects, and preserves for himself a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith.  And of this community I am and always will be a living member.

Q 55. What do you understand by “the communion of saints”?
A 55. First, that believers one and all, as members of this community, share in Christ and in all his treasures and gifts.

Second, that each member should consider it a duty to use these gifts readily and joyfully for the service and enrichment of the other members.

Q 56. What do you believe concerning “the forgiveness of sins”?
A 56. I believe that God, because of Christ’s satisfaction, will no longer remember any of my sins or my sinful nature which I need to struggle against all my life.

Rather, by grace God grants me the righteousness of Christ to free me forever from judgment.

Who’s in?  Who’s out?  It seems like that has often been the question the surrounds the question of God’s people.  This has become so true that it seems that church has taken on a rather “exclusivist” mindset when it comes to its members.  We see this is a number of different ways, not the least of which is the rampant denominationalism that plagues the church in North America.  Everyone, it seems, has their own idea of what exactly “true faith” looks like, to the exclusion of all others who, they think, clearly do not exhibit it.

This posture within the church has, sadly, become so pervasive that it has negatively impacted the witness of the church on many levels.  As the world looks at the Church, with all its churches, fighting and bickering with each other over petty, selfish issues, they don’t see the body of Christ reaching out to those around them and emulating the same love that Christ had for all people.  What they see is a broken institution that has become more about itself, citing faithfulness to Scripture as an expression of musical form, clothing choice, or even regularity of worship attendance.

All the while we seem to have forgotten a few things.  First and foremost, we aren’t making the rules here, God is.  We are not the ones that have somehow “saved ourselves” into God’s good graces.  Rather, we have been saved through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and adopted into God’s family by grace through faith.

Second, to be in God’s family is not a matter of membership, raising our own status and watching our for our own rights as some have made it out to be.  In fact, being “in Christ” doesn’t have much to do with our own selves at all (apart from the assurance of our salvation and eternal life) but has much, much more to do with taking on the heart of Christ…

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.  – Philippians 2:6-11

Two of Jesus’ disciples seemed to deal with this same sort of mistake, arguing about who among them was the greatest.  Jesus, responding to this question, pointed out that the greatest among them was the “servant of all.”  In other words, they were called to be outward focused, modeling His heart for the least, the last, and the lost.

Finally, I think it is important for us to remember what the true meaning of the word “church” is as it relates to the calling of the people of God.  “Church” comes from a Greek word which literally means “the called out ones.”  Certainly, to be “called out” implies some sort of a distinctive identity, somehow different than before.  In the Old Testament, this looked like those that belonged to the “people of God,” or Biblical Israel.  They were called, chosen by God to be His people through whom He would work to accomplish His will in the world.

The Church, Scripture says, is the “spiritual Israel,” God’s people with whom and through whom He is working to share the Good News of His love and grace.  This people is not one of bloodlines or family heritage, it is a people chosen by God, who have received His grace through faith.  There is no limit, no exclusion to who can be a part of this people.  There is no special thing that we can do to earn our way in… it is solely by God’s grace and love, which we receive through faith in Jesus Christ that we find ourselves adopted as God’s own children.

When we find ourselves here, we also find ourselves different than before.  We begin to take on the heart of Christ, turning our focus outward as Christ did, to share the great love and hope that we have found with all those around us and taking on the very nature of a servant, following Christ’s example set for us by His life, death, and resurrection.



The Church: H.C. Question 54 (Part 2)

 What do you believe concerning “the holy catholic church”?

Ephesians 1:3-14 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Acts 2:42-47 – They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Ephesians 4:1-6 – As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

1 John 3:14 – We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.

1 John 3:19-21 – This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God

John 10:27-28 – My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.

1 Corinthians 1:4-9 – I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Peter 1:3-5 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.



1 John 2 – Loving the Other

Read 1 John 2

Echoing Jesus’ words and directives to love, John writes here encouraging his readers to show love to each other.  He even goes so far as to say that those who don’t love their brother, a word which we could exchange readily with the word “neighbor”, do not have Christ in them.  While this may not seem like a dramatic statement, but when we look at these words in combination with chapter one, John is essentially saying that those who don’t love others are the same as those walking in darkness, they have not encountered God.

Indeed, John writes in his Gospel that Jesus says the world will know we are His disciples by our love.  This comes in sharp contrast to how many Christian denominations act today, defining themselves not by the love that they show to those around them, but by the high towers of theology they have built for themselves.  Far too often, our “doctrines” and “theology” create an interpretation of Scripture that divides rather than bids of to love.

There is, however, a limit to the love that we are to show as well.  While loving our neighbor is an essential part of the Christian life, loving the world is not.  In fact, loving the world actually brings the same determination as those who do not love at all: they do not have Christ in them.

Loving the world means loving the things of this world more that God.  John lists these things as bring primarily related to lust and pride, out of which I’m sure we could track most of the common sins of our lives.

Finally, John talks very intentionally about what it means to deny Jesus.  For John this might have been a very personal thing for him to say, remembering Peter’s denial of Jesus and recording the reinstatement of Peter in his Gospel.  He encourages his readers to remain faithful, reminding them that their calling and anointing comes from God alone and cannot be changed, even by their own actions.  This is an important reminder of Christian identity, something that has implications to everyone who believes.



2 Peter 1 – All We Need

Read 2 Peter 1

As Peter opens his second letter, he spends a great deal of time emphasizing the identity of the recipients.  He reminds us that our identity is secure in Christ and that God has given to us everything that we need to live into this reality of our lives.  This was likely a needed reminder for those he was writing to considering the hard times that they were dealing with.  It is a necessary reminder for us all that time as well, considering the pressures and competing worldviews that culture throws at us every day.

Peter encourages believers, in the midst of the spiritual battle that we are in, to strengthen our faith and our witness through adding a number of things to our lives.  Each of these, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love, are elements of the life of faith that we are called to live.  Each are attributes of God, parts of His character that are revealed through Christ Jesus.

Like everything that we talk about when it comes to faith, Peter is not talking about a sort of “works righteousness” way of living, but rather a deepening of the faith that we have which will in turn cause us to live in a greater way into the calling that we have received as children of God and heirs to His promises.

Why does Scripture continually come back to this?  Peter points out here that, even though his readers are firmly established in the truth, he wants always to remind them of these things.  This is an important aspect of what why we read Scripture and worship together as Christians.  In this world, where so many different things trying to suck us into their own identity, we need to be reminded constantly of who we are and whose we are.  So often we forget in one fashion or another, straying all over the place.  For this reason, we remain committed to Scripture and to prayer, seeking God and listening for the Spirit’s voice to remind us and direct us each day.



Exodus 19-31 "Defining Freedom"

  1. Think about your first experience with the 10 Commandments. How were you introduced to them?  What were you told about their purpose or how you should be following them?  How has that impacted your view of the Old Testament Law?
  1. After leaving Egypt, God had a lot of work to do replacing the identity of the people of Israel as slaves with the identity of being God’s chosen people. How does the giving of the Law help that process?  Do you think that these things could be helpful for us today as we leave our own personal “egypts?”  How?
    1. Do you think the Law could give our church some direction when it comes to leaving our “egypts?” How?
  1. Essentially, the giving of the Law and God’s work to re-identify Israel as His people is an invitation to Love. This is different than slavery’s demand of work and striving.  How does God’s invitation to love challenge you?  What are some of the biggest obstacles to loving well?
  1. Far too often for us, the Law becomes more like “rules” and “regulations” rather than “boundaries.” What is the difference?  Does that difference change your perspective of the Law?  Of God?  Of how we approach the Law in our own lives?  How?
  1. Egypt seeks to take away our true identity and replace it was that of a slave. God begins the process, here at Sinai, of piecing together Israel’s identity once again.  Have you had a “Sinai” moment in your life?  What lies needed to be replaced with truth in your life?
  1. How does knowing that you are called a “treasured possession” make a difference? How do you feel when you hear the words of dignity and love that God speaks over you?

*Some questions taken from Leaving Egypt, by Chuck DeGroat



Romans 8 – Spiritual Life

Read Romans 8

Claiming to be “spiritual” but not Christian has become a common phrase in western culture.  As social and cultural trends continue to move us away from anything that may have a “negative past,” people have desired to shed the Christian title and lingo for the sake of less “offensive” labels.  While there is something to be said for being conscious of what one is known for (or as), the title of those who are “in Christ” is not nearly as important as the reality that comes with their identity.

As Paul has been laying out the plan of salvation, he has made it abundantly clear that we are sinners who are born sinful by nature, and that God is justified in His judgment against us.  However, the reality of the grace of God in Jesus Christ leads to these words, the apex of God’s salvific work in Jesus Christ: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

With these words, Paul speaks to the truth of our identity.  When we place our faith in Jesus Christ and receive the Grace of God, we are forgiven of our sins, set free from sin’s bondage, and ushered into a new life in which the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ and we find ourselves raised with Him.  Your old self is no more; we have been made new.

This new identity is permanent.  Do we continue to sin?  Yes.  The fullness of our new life in Christ will not be recognized this side of eternity.  But Scripture assures us that we no longer stand condemned because the one who can condemn us is also He who died for us, and nothing in all creation can separate us from His love.  This is true spiritual life.



Romans 2 – The Law

Read Romans 2

The prominence and important of the Law in the Old Testament cannot be understated.  It’s relevance to the New Testament and the New Covenant often is.  Paul is laying out the basics of God’s plan for salvation and we see here that the Law was a vital part of that plan.  For God’s people, however, Paul points to the true purpose of the Law and God’s true desire of His people: a “circumcised heart.”

God’s desire for His people was a renewed, reconciled relationship with humankind. Since the calling of Abram in Genesis 12, the whole arc of this relationship was that all of the nations of the world would be blessed through God’s covenant relationship with Abram.  The Law, then, became a part of how God was calling His people to live in this relationship.  It was, as Moses points out in Deuteronomy 6, always about the heart.  God’s Law showed His people the things that would damage their relationship with the goal being that they would want to avoid these things, desiring a deeper relationship with Him.

Yet Israel completely misses this point.  First, they ignore the Law and, when they are punished in exile, they eventually divulge into legalism rather than heart change.  So many laws were developed to protect people from breaking God’s Law that it was literally impossible to follow, even for the religious leaders and teachers that Paul addresses here.

Israel’s problem, in the end, was that they thought that having the Law and being in the land is what gave them their identity.  What they failed to see is that it isn’t what one does that makes them God’s people but who they are as God’s called children.  We too need to remember that our Identity is grounded in Christ, not our actions.

Check out what the Heidelberg Catechism says about this:

Heidelberg Catechism Q & A: 12, 13

Check out what the Belgic Confession says about this:

Belgic Confession Articles: 17



Acts 25 – Trial #2: Festus

Read Acts 25

When governor Felix is succeeded by governor Festus, the Jews waste no time in coming to him and bringing the charges they have against Paul.  No doubt they have been working hard make these charges sound much worse than they actually are.  Sadly, though, it seems that in two years, they still are unable to convince the governor that Paul has done anything seriously wrong; certainly nothing that warrants death by any means.

However, here we see politics come into play.  Governor Felix had “won” the hearts of the Jewish people through years of extended peace in which they had a good deal of freedom to live and practice their religion within the Roman Empire.  Festus had no such advantage and so, seeking to gain one, he is willing to go against Roman law to gain some Jewish brownie points.

Paul, though, will have none of it.  He has been held without conviction for the past two years and it’s pretty clear that he isn’t planning on going back to Jerusalem and so he does the one thing that he knows will get him on the way to Rome: he appeals to Caesar.

For Paul, heavenly standing with God is always more important than earthly citizenship.  He knew his identity was in Christ and that is what always came first for him.  Yet there are times when our worldly titles and positions can be an advantage to us as well.  Here, Paul once again takes advantage of his Roman citizenship, something the Jewish leaders cannot do.  This was a privilege reserved only for Roman citizens.

It is important to remember the order of identity here.  Paul has been appealing as a follower of Christ; this always comes first.  Sometimes I wonder if American Christians today get that backward.



Acts 19 – Paul in Ephesus

Read Acts 19

Paul spends two years in Ephesus, another one of the major cities of the Roman Empire in that region and a significant place of Christianity in the early church.  As a matter of fact, the Apostle John moved to Ephesus after the church was established there and became the leader of that church after Paul died.  After his time on the island of Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation, John returned to Ephesus where he later died.

It appears that, when Paul arrived, there were already believers present in the city.  Luke refers to them as “disciples,” indicating that they were followers of Jesus, yet they seem to have only experienced Jesus through the teachings of John the Baptist.

Highlighted here is the difference between an “old identity” and the “new identity.”  The old baptism, that of John the Baptist, was still part of the old covenant, preaching a message of repentance and preparation for the coming Kingdom.  Everything points to Jesus’ coming; all of the Old Testament points to the coming of the Messiah and the redemption of the world.

In contrast, the Baptism that Paul offers in the name of Jesus Christ is not about redemption so much as it is about identity.  We are no longer waiting and preparing for the Kingdom of Heaven, we are living it right now.  Notice that Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ sees the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the unleashing of spiritual gifts.

More than this, though, is the bold proclamation of the Gospel and the restorative work that is indicative of Kingdom expansion in the name of Jesus Christ.  Miraculous things are done, people are healed, evil is driven away, lives are changed, and the Gospel and glory of God are seen everywhere!



Luke 9 – Who is Jesus?

Read Luke 9

Here at Hopkins Community Church, we have been going through a sermon series examining 7 Essential Questions for faith and life as we journey through Lent.  We began this series examining the question that Jesus asks His disciples: “Who do you say that I am?”

This is an important question that Luke has to examine for his audience, the answer of which is the crux of the whole book.  If Jesus is not the Messiah, then Luke is simply chronicling the life of a religious leader.  The whole purpose of his writing revolves around this.

What we see in this chapter, in response to Jesus’ question and particularly Peter’s response, is a series of incidents related to Jesus’ question.  More important are the different sources from which the consideration comes.  Herod, a Roman official is perplexed at the news of Jesus.  Could a prophet really rise from the dead?  Obviously, it can’t be John.

Later, in the scene of the Transfiguration, we see the Divine affirmation of who Jesus is, followed by another spiritual affirmation of Jesus’ identity from a demon.

I think the point that Luke is trying to make here is two-fold.  The first, and probably more obvious, is that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Son, our Lord and Savior.  Yet the second, and perhaps the one we often miss, is that the answer to the first may not readily be obvious to everyone.  Peter is the only one of the disciples that confess Jesus as Lord.  Later Thomas will still doubt Jesus even after He appears to them.

This is a question that we all must answer at some time in our lives.  God in not afraid of our questions.  In fact, He welcomes them as an opportunity to show His true love to us.