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What is an Authentic Christian?

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Mars Hill Productions! In this devotional series, president, Fred Carpenter is reflecting on the important lessons of God that have guided us in ministry and led us into a deeper understanding of His ways.

In our last two devotionals, we discussed the importance of honest and authentic communication in the body of Christ. Along the way, we touched briefly on the question of what it means to be an “authentic Christian.” Today, we’ll dig a little deeper into that subject.

As was noted in our discussion, there are thousands of books and sermons addressing what it means to be an authentic Christian, even though the term never actually appears in the Bible. Most writers and expositors define an authentic Christian in terms of performance (what a person does, or how he/she behaves.)  However looking at the primary definition of “authentic”; of undisputed origin, we concluded that authenticity as a Christian has more to do with nature than performance. As we discussed, just as an authentic apple tree will ultimately bear apples, so also, an authentic Christian will ultimately be inclined to walk in a manner that is consistent with his/her nature.

What then is an “authentic Christian?” Ontology is the study of the nature of being. An ontologist would tell us there is a significant relationship between the nature of a being and the life of a being. So, in order to understand the nature, and hopefully the definition, of an “authentic Christian,” let’s look at a word that does appear in Scripture; “life.”

In the New Testament, three Greek words are translated as the word, life.

  1. Bios (used over 10 times in the New Testament) is the life of the physical body. It is where we get the word biology.
  2. Psuche or Psyche (used over 100 times in the New Testament) is the life of the human soul, that is, the mind, emotion, and will. It is where we get the word psychology.
  3. Zoe (used over 130 times in the New Testament) is the divine life uniquely possessed by God. It is real life in all its fullness. “I have come that they may have life (zoe) and may have (zoe) abundantly.” – John 10:10

In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains the significant difference between Bios and Zoe.

“In reality, the difference between Biological life and Spiritual life is so important that I am going to give them two distinct names. The Biological sort which come to us through Nature, and which (like everything else in Nature) is always tending to run down and decay so that it can only be kept up by incessant subsidies from Nature in the form of air, water, food, etc. is Bios. The Spiritual life which is in God from all eternity, and which made the whole natural universe is Zoe. Bios has, to be sure, a certain shadowy or symbolic resemblance to Zoe: but only the sort of resemblance there is between a photo and a place, or statue and a man. A man who changed from having Bios to having Zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man. And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumor going around that some of us are some day going to come to life.”

In this excerpt, C.S. Lewis deals with the difference between Zoe and Bios. However, the difference between Zoe and Psuche is just as significant. Whether a person is “born again” (John 3:3–7) and has Zoe, or not, the soul is eternal. The difference that Zoe makes has to do with the eternal destiny and quality of the life of the soul.

I came to faith in Christ at the age of 22. Prior to that time, I was involved in Eastern mysticism. I had a very active Psuche (Soul), but I did not have Zoe (His Life). When Jesus flooded my life (Psuche) with His Life (Zoe), I immediately sensed a change. The blinders were lifted from the eyes of my soul. The world seemed brighter and more vivid. Time seemed to move slower. It was as if the whole universe has suddenly come into focus. That was His life in me. That was Zoe!

I’ve talked with many others about their “born again” experience; what theologians call regeneration.  Not everyone has such a dramatic experience, particularly those who came to faith in Christ at an early age. Coming to Christ as a young child doesn’t allow much time for the world to shape a soul. So then, I would not propose that the dramatic change I experienced is the only defining, or even the main, evidence of Zoe in a person.

I would propose that the main evidence of Zoe has to do with our disposition toward God, and toward sin.  And by sin, I not only refer to actions that offend God, I also refer to the power of sin that dwells in the flesh of every person. I have talked with people who struggle with a habit they know is harmful and does not honor God, even to the point of questioning their salvation. Their behavior and struggle may be chronic, but they are not “OK” with it. They never stop wanting to live in a way that pleases God. I believe that it is the Zoe in them that gives them the motivation to get back up and continue seeking God, no matter how many times they fall.

Dear friend, please to do not miss the significance of what I am trying to communicate. Some people would say that the sign of an authentic Christian is how well he/she walks the walk. While there is some truth in that statement, I would strongly insist it is not the main sign. Anyone can fake the Christian walk for short periods of time. In my opinion, it is the person who never stops struggling, who never gives up the fight, who is never “OK” with sin, who gets up when he/she falls and keeps going. It is the Zoe (His Life) in a person that makes this possible.

Simply stated, an authentic Christian is a person who has Zoe.  How’s the Zoe in you today?

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. – John 3:16

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. – John 6:35

 


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Embrace the Tension!

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Mars Hill Productions! In this devotional series, president, Fred Carpenter is reflecting on the important lessons of God that have guided us in ministry and led us into a deeper understanding of His ways.

Part 2 on The Importance of Honesty and Authenticity in Team Communication

Last week, in our devotional, we discussed the need for honest and authentic communication in the Body of Christ. This week, we’re going to dig a little deeper into this issue, focusing on the idea of “authentic communication.”  What is it, what is the basis for this kind of communication, and what does it look like?

What is it?

If you Google the term “authentic Christianity,” you’ll get 121,000 results . . . books, articles, sermons, blogs, etc. Most all of them have to do with what a person does . . . performance.

Because the word “authentic” does not appear in the Bible, I turned to Webster. Authentic means – of undisputed origin.  Applying this definition then, we can conclude that authenticity is really more a matter of nature and identity (origin) than performance.  Just as we should expect an apple tree to bear apples, so also, we should expect an authentic Christian to communicate in an authentic manner.

So, what is it about being a Christian that provides a basis for this kind of communication?

Chapter 4 Ephesians of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians has a lot to say about unity in the Body of Christ. To lay a foundation for today’s subject read Eph.4:20-25.

Eph 4:20  But you did not learn Christ in this way,
Eph 4:21  if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus,
Eph 4:22  that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,
Eph 4:23  and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind,
Eph 4:24  and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
Eph 4:25  Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.

Verse 25 tells us that Christians should “SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you.” The word “speak” here is a present active imperative indicating that we are to make a habit of speaking the truth . . . of communicating in an authentic manner.

Verses 22-24 tell us why we should communicate in this manner. Like an apple tree bearing apples, it is simply something we do, if in fact we are laying aside the old self and putting on the new self . . . if we are being renewed in the spirit of our mind.

Stephen Mcalpin, Lead Pastor of Adorn Church in Los Angeles writes, “Authenticity in the Church is the quality of our exposure of brokenness and adornment in God’s grace. An authentic person is one who is both privately and publically putting off the old self and, by God’s grace, putting on the new self.”

Christ followers are a people caught in between two worlds; one that is broken and one that is adorned in the glory of God’s grace. If we are not OK with living in the tension between these two worlds, we will live a dishonest life. We must fully embrace both realities, for that is Truth.

I’ve always been intrigued with a certain aspect of the Chronicles of Narnia. The children who traveled to the world of Narnia found themselves in the middle of a fierce war. And like all wars, it was violent and ugly with life and death consequences. All the while, the children knew that Narnia was not their home. It was not their ultimate reality.  And yet, with arrows flying and swords flashing they fully embraced their role in the battle for Narnia.

How about us? Are we OK enough with living in this fallen world that is not our home that we can be honest about our pain and struggle, and at the same time honest about our true identity in Christ and our citizenship in His Kingdom?

What does authentic communication in the Body of Christ look like?

This question is answered for us Ephesians 4:26-32.

Eph 4:26  BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
Eph 4:27  and do not give the devil an opportunity.
Eph 4:28  He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.
Eph 4:29  Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.
Eph 4:30  Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Eph 4:31  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
Eph 4:32  Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

People of Truth are not fake. They communicate what is really going on in their lives, but they do it in ways that are appropriate, not grieving the Holy Spirit, and being sensitive to the one to whom they are speaking.


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Who are You?

In Adam vs. In Christ

The Lord sees the spiritual condition of mankind in two ways…we are either “in Adam” or “in Christ.” In today’s devotional,  we examined the following scriptures which reveal to us the characteristics of one who is “in Adam,” that is one who has not yet accepted the substitutionary death of Christ on their behalf vs. the realities of one who is “in Christ.” If you are in Christ, you have recognized your need to be freed from the sin which indwells your flesh. You acknowledge that Jesus Christ is God, made flesh, and is the only one, ever, capable of paying your debt and providing the way for you to be restored to a relationship with our creator.

As you read these verses, let them remind you who you were…but more importantly, meditate on the verses that declare who you are…now…in Christ! Let them change you and free you to let Christ live His life through you.

In Adam You Were:

  • Alienated from God. – Col 1:21 >  . . .  you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds,
  • Condemned to death. – Rom 6:23 >  For the wages of sin is death . . .
  • Separated from God without hope. – Eph 2:12 >  remember that you were at that time separate from Chris . . . hope and without God in the world.
  • A slave of sin. – Rom 6:17 >  . . . you were slaves of sin . . .
  • Spiritually dead. – Eph 2:1>  And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,  Rom 5:12 >  Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men
  • An enemy of God. – Rom 5:10 >  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
  • Spiritually deaf and blind. – Eze 12:2 >  Son of man, you live in the midst of the rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, ears to hear but do not hear;  2Co 4:4 >  in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
  • By nature a child of wrath. – Eph 2:3 >  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath . . .
  • Darkened in your understanding, excluded from the Life of God and hardened in heart. – Eph 4:17 >  So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind,  Eph 4:18 >  being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart;
  • Patterned after your spiritual father, Satan. – Joh 8:44 >  “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

In Christ You Are Now:

  • Washed, sanctified, justified. – 1Co 6:11 >  . . .  you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.  Rom 3:24 >  being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
  • Indemnified (Though God rejects your sinful performance, He does not reject you!). – Rom 8:1 >  Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
  • Alive (formerly dead). – 1Co 15:22 >  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.  Eph 2:4 >  But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,      Eph 2:5 >  even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
  • A new creation. – 2Co 5:17 >  Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come
  • Seated in heaven (present tense). – Eph 2:6 >  and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
  • Complete. – Col 2:10 >  and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;

Continue reading


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What is a “strong Christian”?

Have you ever heard this phrase used to describe someone? “Oh, he (or she) is a strong Christian.” When I hear that I can’t help but wonder, what is really being communicated? Is this describing someone who has been a Christian for many years, or perhaps a person with a lot of Bible knowledge, or maybe a teacher or a leader in the Church?

If these are the marks that define a strong Christian, then I’ve got to take what I am hearing with a grain of salt. Why? Well, for one thing, the Bible never uses that term to describe a Christ-follower. Secondly, in my 41 years of following Jesus, I have seen many people who could be described by those characteristics and yet they have faltered and fallen in their walk. In fact, I would count myself in that number.

Consider these verses . . .

Eph. 6:10 (NASB) – “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.”

2 Cor. 12:9 (ESV) – “for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Cor. 12:10 (NASB) – “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Psa. 27:1 (KJV) – “the LORD is the strength of my life.”

John 15:5 (NASB) – “apart from Me you can do nothing.”

These verses make it clear that when it comes to the Christian life, our strength is not in and of ourselves. Our strength is in Jesus!  I love the observation that I picked up years ago from Bill Gillham. “The Christian life is not difficult. It is impossible. Jesus is the only one who had ever really lived the Christian life, and that is what He wants to do today, through you!”

The measure of a “strong Christian” is not how much he or she knows about God and His word, but rather how much he or she is depending on Jesus today. And please note that “today” is italicized for emphasis. The degree to which you depended on Jesus in the past will not make you strong today. Our dependency on Jesus must be present tense.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” – Galatians 2:20.

Who are you depending on right now? Are you drawing on your own resources to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1) or are you drawing upon His resource? If you are depending on His life in you (Gal.2:20), then you are a strong Christian.

 


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How Quickly Sin Spreads

The need for a solution that outdistances the problem.
Lesson 21 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.

– Genesis 4:8

Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence.

– Genesis 6:11

As the descendants of Adam and Eve increased, so also, sin increased.

– The HOPE, Chapter 4

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

The science fiction movie, Alien1 told the story of a group of space travelers who came upon a planet that was inhabited by a vicious alien life form. After a terrifying encounter with the “alien,” it seemed that the crew might escape calamity and resume their journey unscathed. On the surface things appeared somewhat normal, but in reality the alien life form had invaded the body of one of the crew. And as the crew was having a meal together, when it was least expected, the alien life form which had been incubating inside the infected crew member ripped open his chest from the inside and burst across the screen.

As horrific as this cinematic illustration may be, it is not nearly so terrible as the “alien” power called sin that has infected mankind. Adam and Eve left the garden to try once again to fulfill God’s original directive to them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). But they were infected with sin, and though things “appeared somewhat normal,” they weren’t. Not even one generation passed before the ugliness of sin burst onto the scene. Adam and Eve’s firstborn son, Cain, savagely murdered his younger brother, Abel.

Within 11 generations (as listed in  Genesis 5), the earth “was corrupt in the sight of God, the earth was filled with violence” (Genesis 6:11). And God “was grieved in His heart” (Genesis 6:6).

As we consider the way sin so quickly spread in the world, let’s look at a simple illustration. Most people are familiar with dominos, little rectangular tiles with different numbers of dots on the face of each tile. And if you are familiar with dominos, then you have probably seen people line them up like little pillars all in a row. When the first domino is toppled, it sets off a chain reaction toppling the next domino, and so on and so on.

One of the largest displays of dominos ever to be toppled involved over 3.8 million dominos. It took 100 builders working 8 hours a day for 3 months to create the domino display. The display incorporated over 51 different interlinked projects; each one very complex and delicately balanced. Once the first domino was toppled, the chain reaction spread quickly in every conceivable direction. In a very brief matter of time, all that was left was a huge mess!

God created a world that is infinitely more complex, more interdependent, and more delicately balanced that that domino display. But like that display, even the smallest wrong move has the potential to send ripples of consequence throughout the creation for all time. It has been said that the smallest sin against an infinite God has infinite consequences.2 Continue reading


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Working Out Your Salvation – Your Role and God’s Role

Mars Hill Staff Devotional
from Fred Carpenter

“. . . work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” – Philippians 2:12b-13

Most religions of the world teach that by following their tenants you will over time be changed into a different, better person. The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that the moment you are born again (Eph. 2:4-7, John 3:1-6, Tit. 3:5), God changes you into a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17). He plants a new nature in you (makes you a partaker of His divine nature 2 Peter 1:4), and the rest of your life on earth becomes a process of cooperating with Him to grow and mature that new nature as an expression of His life in and through you. This process is what the Bible calls sanctification.

Perhaps nowhere else in the Bible is this truth so powerfully and succinctly stated than in Philippians 2:12-13. Here we apprehend a truth that may require a lifetime or more to comprehend. Jonathan Edwards expressed the importance of understanding this verse, writing that, “from St. Paul a sentence hit me when I was about twenty-two that has shaped my theology ever since, ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and to do His good pleasure.’”

In two sentences, this passage sums up the responsibility of man and the sovereignty of God. Here, we have come upon a new math. The natural mind can calculate x%(God’s role) + x%(man’s role)=100%. But the equation in this verse is only completed with 100% God and 100% man. In the realm of theology, “quietists” stress God’s role in sanctification, to the virtual exclusion of any human effort. “Pietists”, on the other hand, emphasize self-effort at the expense of reliance on God’s power. Here, Paul makes no attempt to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility, but boldly proclaims both. Continue reading