Section One: The Spiritual Characteristics of a Godly Life.
Our current theme: Characteristic Four: Being A Warrior.
Our reading for today: Philippians 3: 12-16 (MsgB)
I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.
Have you ever noticed?
It’s one thing to say, “I’m picking up The Shield of Faith and I’m on my way toward successful Christian discipleship,” and quite another to actually live it out on a daily basis! Over the years, I’ve met many well-intentioned people who are quick to proclaim that they’ve “put on the armor of God.” Yet when push comes to shove, many of those same folks fail in their ability to hold on to even the basic tenets of the Christian faith.
So when Paul talks about putting on The Shield of Faith, what exactly is he referring to?
As I see it, a good start in answering that question comes from today’s passage in Philippians. Here, Paul tells his friends that we, as followers of Christ, must do everything we can to “keep focused on that goal.” And, for Paul, that singular goal, that one essential, is Jesus of Nazareth!
That’s why, over the centuries, the church has had to stop every once in a while, drop a lot of the add-on’s we bring to the table, and re-align ourselves back with the original recipe of our faith. True Christianity, you see, is really not all that complicated. It’s all about Jesus! But one look at church history and you’ll quickly discover how easy it is for Christians to muddy the waters by bringing additional non-essentials into the mix. So as we close this section on The Shield of Faith, let me try my best to define that “faith” as simply and concisely as I possibly can.
I like the way my good friend, Pastor Steve Sjogren, addresses this issue of basic “faith” by identifying and then separating the church’s many “doctrinal truths” into three broad categories: 1) Essentials, 2) Traditions, and 3) Opinions. Let me quote Sjogren here…
‘Essentials’ are a very small circle of vital, life-giving Kingdom-basics, rock-bottom biblical truths, that we bridge-builders must never compromise on as we work hard to stretch our lives and faith toward others from a variety of backgrounds. ‘Traditions’ compose a much larger circle of beliefs. Generally, ‘Traditions’ are the many practices we Christians have determined are important as we live out our faith in Christ. It’s in this circle we find the rich diversity that makes up the denominational differences found in the larger church of Jesus Christ. Finally, ‘Opinions’ are just that. And since they compose the largest circle of thought by far, ‘Opinions’ will be abundant at every turn in church life. Unfortunately, the church becomes quite divided and often, weakened, when we confuse ‘Traditions’ with ‘Essentials’. Worse yet, Christians often take ‘Opinions’ and allow them to divide us from other brothers and sisters in Christ, leaving us to go it alone in our faith journey in life.
In an effort to bring unity in the midst of our diversity, I often suggest to folks in my church in Cedar Rapids that we maintain only five key ‘essentials’ as the base from which our “faith” operates. Allow me to list them here in the form of five basic questions, which if left unanswered, will leave all of us floating in a world of doctrinal confusion and uncertainty…
Who is God? We believe that there is one God and Creator, eternally existing in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (Deuteronomy 6: 3-4)
What about the Bible? We believe that the Bible is God’s inspired and authoritative written revelation to us, containing His Kingdom Message of hope, love and redemption to a lost and dying world. (2nd Timothy 3: 16-17)
Who is Jesus of Nazareth? We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, His virgin birth, sinless life, miracles, death on the cross to provide for our redemption, bodily resurrection and ascension into heaven, present day ministry of intercession for us, and His second coming to earth in power and glory. (Acts 4: 10-12)
Who is the Holy Spirit? We believe in the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit, that He performs the miracle of new birth, and indwells, equips and empowers us to walk with God, accomplishing the works of His Kingdom through our humble service to Him. (John 14: 16-17)
What does all this mean for us? We believe that we are created in the image of God, but because of our sin and selfishness, we become alienated from God. Only through abiding faith, trusting in Jesus Christ alone for our redemption, which is made possible by His atoning death on the cross and His resurrection, can true forgiveness of our sins be found and our lives be restored back with God. (Ephesians 2: 4-9)
So there you have it. Five ‘essentials’ that can hopefully form the basis of our “faith”…five core truths at the very center of The Shield of Faith of which Paul talks about in Ephesians. It’s my belief that if you and I can focus our “faith” on these five essentials, we’ll be well on our way to living out these powerful words of St. Augustine:
In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, diversity; in all things, charity.
My prayer: Jesus, the truth of the matter is that true Christian discipleship is all about You. As I pick up The Shield of Faith today, may I be more like Paul, who was determined to keep the goal of following You at the very center of his faith. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: So what traditions and opinions have I made into essentials for my Christian faith? Have I cluttered and complicated the goal of following Jesus by adding on additional rules and regulations? If so, how might I simplify my faith today by getting back to just a handful of basic essentials?
So what is God speaking to you today as we attempt to live the Christ-centered life?
Over a thirty-six week period, you and I will take a deeper look into twelve key characteristics of a godly life. In other words, we’ll take A Journey into Christian Discipleship. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Journey home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
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