For our congregation, this is the time of year when we pay the most attention to teaching our children. There have been women meeting in the building for weeks working on various aspects of our upcoming vacation Bible school, and the week after that, we’ve got a quarter change coming up, with all the work that entails.
All this is quite demanding for those involved. It’s demanding for our teachers and resource-preppers, and it’s demanding for our parents too. Parents are the ones who have to clear their schedules to get their kids here for every night of VBS. Parents are the one who have to get their kids up early on Sunday morning and put them to bed late on Wednesday evening so they can be here for Bible class. We all know very well that given these stresses, it would be much easier not to help and participate.
Why should we participate anyway? What is it about the result that makes all this effort and stress worthwhile? In short, why should we care about teaching our children?
There are several Biblical answers to this question. The first, and in some ways the most important, reason that I want us to consider has more to do with us than it does with our kids. We should care about teaching them because IT REVEALS WHO WE ARE. Here, let’s look at Deuteronomy 6:4-9. This is a familiar text, but I must admit that until recently, I didn’t understand it as fully as I should have. I read it flatly, as a list of commandments. Commandment One was to love God. Commandment Two was to keep these words in our heart. Commandment Three was to teach them diligently. And so on.
However, that doesn’t reckon with Jesus’ statement in Matthew 22 that the whole Law depends on this commandment, along with the commandment to love our neighbor. We can’t understand Deuteronomy 6 as a laundry list of commandments. Instead, we need to connect every other commandment in this reading back to the commandment to love the Lord, and we need to understand each one as an expression of that love.
In other words, if we truly love the Lord with all our heart and soul and might, we won’t have to go down two verses and say, “Oops! Now we need to remember to diligently teach our children!” Instead, we will be diligently teaching our children already, because diligently teaching children is one of the things that people who love the Lord do.
To put things a different way, our devotion to teaching children is a litmus test for our devotion to God. If we don’t care about it, if we are unconcerned with telling the young about Him, that’s a serious heart problem, and it indicates the presence of a much more serious heart problem. Conversely, if we are filled with love for teaching children about God, it indicates a love for God too. Deuteronomy 6 does not allow us to separate those things, either in our families or in our churches. If we are the people we ought to be, teaching children will be important to us.
Additionally, this is an important matter because IT GUARDS AGAINST APOSTASY. Consider the sad tale of Judges 2:6-7, 9-11. This is the story of three generations. The first generation consisted of those who stood with Joshua and conquered Canaan with God’s help. The second generation was made up of those who were children at the time and saw all of God’s great work. The third generation, though, comprised those who had no direct experience of God’s deliverance. Once the elders who did have that direct experience died, the third generation that did not know God began to serve the Baals instead.
It’s interesting to note that since the Restoration, trouble has arisen in the Lord’s church on about this same time scale. 70 years after the Restoration, about the turn of the 20th century, a brotherhood-wide split occurred over the issues of instrumental music and missionary societies.
I don’t think this is coincidence. Instead, I think it’s the same pattern repeating itself. You have a generation that goes through some great conflict, a second generation that doesn’t participate much but sees it happen, and then a third generation without direct experience. The founders are faithful; their heirs are apostate.
The only cure for the disease is to make sure that children know the Lord. Even now, I see signs of failure in this. There are all too many young people around the country who are “raised in the church” who don’t know why we do what we do. They assume it’s a matter of human tradition rather than divine commandment. They don’t understand the importance of doing all in the name of the Lord because they have not been brought to encounter Jesus as Lord. Unless we are diligent to teach them with all the passion that Deuteronomy 6 implies, either history will repeat itself, or something even worse will happen.
Finally, investing ourselves in teaching matters because IT GLORIFIES GOD. We see how we ought to conduct ourselves when serving the Lord in 1 Peter 4:10-11. Whatever we have been given, we are to use it to serve one another, and we are to use it as well as we can. Only then will God receive the glory that He deserves.
Among other things, this should warn us against the dangers of apathy. It’s all too easy for us to go through the motions of doing the right thing without truly investing ourselves in it.
We see this problem unfolding in the first chapter of Malachi. There, the returned exiles are offering to God blemished sacrifices that they never would dare to give to their governor. In response, God expresses the wish that someone would shut the doors of the temple rather than allowing such halfhearted service to go on.
Today, we know all too well what it looks like when parents and Bible-class teachers are going through the motions rather than giving their best. In situations like this, no one is prepared. The children haven’t done their lessons, and the teacher is frantically rummaging around in bins in the resource room 15 minutes before class starts trying to piece together a craft.
No adults involved have put much thought into the class. They’ve acted like it’s not important, and from this, the children involved will draw the conclusion that it shouldn’t be important to them either.
That, brethren, is what a blemished sacrifice in the classroom looks like. Sure, the lights are on and everybody’s there, but the zeal that should animate each participant is absent. In a time as troubled as ours is, our children need more from us than that. In any time, God deserves better from His people than that.
If we want our classes to be effective, we have to give them our best. This doesn’t mean that every Bible-class teacher has to be the most wonderful teacher in the world. We all have our limits. It does mean, though, that we will be pushing those limits. If we do, our effort will communicate the importance of God to the children we teach more clearly than anything we say.
Believe it or not, brethren, we’ve finally come to the end of this half-hour study series. Because the goal of this is to equip you to study with people, I’ve had Jennifer include in the bulletin a sheet that you can fold in half and stick in your Bibles. It has an outline for every sermon in the series, with Scriptures. If you need a refresher on what to say about each point, the link at the top goes to a post on our church blog with links to each individual sermon. Hopefully, this will help y’all for years to come!
Also, all the way through this series, I’ve been saying that these studies are nothing more than introductions to some very complex topics. Never has that been truer than with this morning’s sermon. The doctrine of original sin is one of the foundations of Calvinism, and I could easily preach sermons on Calvinism until 2020 without running out of material! What I have to say this morning won’t be enough to convince Calvinists who really know their Bibles, but it might be a conversation-starter, and it could also be useful for somebody who has heard Calvinist teaching but doesn’t really understand the Scriptural basis of the argument. With these modest aims in mind, then, let’s turn to the Scriptures to explore three problems with original sin.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the doctrine of original sin is the idea that every human being inherited the guilt of Adam’s sin in the garden of Eden. We believe that all people die physically because of that sin, but Calvinists argue that every human being is also spiritually dead because of it. Thus, a newborn baby, minutes out of its mother’s womb, if it dies and is not baptized, will go to hell because it is stained by original sin.
This is an extremely powerful doctrine. If you accept it, it will change the way you read the entire Bible. However, there are some powerful reasons not to accept it. First, IT DENIES THE INNOCENCE OF CHILDREN. Look at the words of our Lord in Mark 10:13-16. Here, of course, we are looking at a situation that existed hundreds of years before anybody suggested the existence of original sin. None of these children have been baptized. The boys would have been circumcised, but there is nothing in the Law of Moses that says that the purpose of circumcision is to take away sin.
Nonetheless, Jesus says of these children that the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. They don’t need His grace to enter that kingdom. They’ve got it already. They don’t have to be baptized as children so that they can receive the kingdom like us. Instead, we must receive the kingdom like them.
Clearly, in the Lord’s eyes, there is not a thing wrong spiritually with any of the children He is blessing. This lines up with our own experience. Even though children can certainly disobey, all of us who have been parents or even older siblings know that they don’t have a true consciousness of sin. On their own, they are entirely innocent.
What Calvinists would have us believe, though, is that even though they have committed no wrong themselves, they stand condemned regardless because of inherited sin. Unless they just happen to be born into a family that believes in baptizing infants, if they die before maturity, they will be eternally condemned.
There are many who question the existence of God because they can’t understand how a loving God would allow children to die. However, the death of innocent children pales in comparison to the horror of millions of children who had never done anything wrong being sentenced to hell for what somebody else did. That, brethren, could only be the work of a God who is not loving, not merciful, and not even just!
This, indeed, takes us to the second major problem with the doctrine of original sin. IT HOLDS US ACCOUNTABLE FOR OTHERS’ SIN. I think there are fairness problems associated with that, but even more than that, God says outright that it’s not how His justice operates. Here, let’s consider Ezekiel 18:1-4.
This text tells us that in Ezekiel’s time, the Jewish exiles were playing the blame game. The proverb that God cites means, “Our fathers were the ones who sinned, but we were the ones who got punished.” That’s awfully convenient if you don’t want to admit your own guilt. You can just blame your bad circumstances on Dad.
In response, though, God says that the soul who sins will die. The rest of the chapter elaborates on this theme. If the father is wicked, he will die. If the son is wicked, he will die. However, a righteous son will not bear the punishment due a wicked father.
This presents a massive problem for anyone who wants to argue for original sin. My own father was a faithful Christian, but even if he had been a scoundrel, I still wouldn’t be punished because of what he had done. That being the case, how could I or any of us possibly be stained with guilt because of what our ultimate ancestor Adam did? If the son will not die for the sins of the father, why would any of us die because of the sins of our many-times-great-grandfather?
Of course, practically speaking, this doesn’t help me much. I may not be guilty because of the sin of Adam, but I am guilty because of the sins I’ve committed myself. However, it is good to know that God will only hold us accountable for what we’ve done!
Finally, the doctrine of inherited sin is problematic because IT MINIMIZES THE POWER OF CHOICE. There are many texts that emphasize the importance of free will, but let’s look at Hebrews 12:25. This passage offers us a stark choice. Either we hear the One who warns us from heaven and live, or we refuse Him and die.
To my thinking, it simply doesn’t make much sense for the Holy Spirit to tell us such things if our eternal destiny is predominantly determined by things other than our own choices. It reminds me of a soccer coach I saw once—not my children’s coach, thankfully—back in Illinois. He told all of the five-year-olds on his team that he would give them five dollars if they could beat him in a race across the field. For the first three-quarters of the race, he dogged it and made them think they could beat him, but in the last quarter, he raced ahead and made sure none of them would collect. What a jerk!
If God tells us that our actions matter, but they really don’t matter because we’re doomed no matter what, as far as I’m concerned, He’s no better than that jerk soccer coach. Frankly, that doesn’t sound like the God I know from the Bible. His standards are high, and it is with difficulty that even the righteous are saved, but He will reward everyone according to what they have done. If my soul is lost, I can be sure that it’s not because of a choice somebody else made. It’s because of a choice that I made.
- How God Speaks to Us (Ephesians 3:4-5)
- The Reliability of Scripture (2 Peter 1:19-21)
- The Sufficiency of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
- He Is the Creator (Revelation 4:10-11)
- He Is Good (Mark 10:17-18)
- He Is Holy (Isaiah 6:1-3)
- He Desires a Relationship with Us (2 Corinthians 6:17-18)
- Jesus Is the Son of God (Romans 1:3-4)
- The Bible is God’s Word (Matthew 15:3-4)
- The Bible Is Reliable (Isaiah 55:10-11)
- God Expects Us to Obey (Romans 2:6-8)
- Sin Is Lawlessness (1 John 3:4)
- All of Us Have Sinned (Romans 3:23)
- Sin Leads to Death (Romans 6:23)
- Christ (Acts 2:36)
- God’s Son (Matthew 16:15-16)
- Savior (Acts 13:23)
- Belief (John 3:16)
- Repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10)
- Confession (Romans 10:9-10)
- Baptism (Acts 2:38)
- The Definition of Repentance (Acts 26:19-20)
- Knowledge of God’s Will (2 Samuel 12:7-9)
- Honesty About Sin (2 Samuel 12:13)
- Willingness to Change (Matthew 19:20-22)
- Immersion in Water (Acts 8:38-39)
- Of a Believer (Colossians 2:11-12)
- To Wash Away Sins (Acts 22:16)
INSTRUCTION IN RIGHTEOUSNESS
- It’s Consistent (Colossians 3:17)
- It Calls Us to the Word (Acts 17:10-11)
- It Honors Jesus, Not Ourselves (Ephesians 5:22-24)
- Ask About Baptism (Matthew 28:18-20)
- Evaluate Their Worship (John 4:23-24)
- Listen to Their Teaching (John 8:31-32)
- God’s Pattern (Mark 10:6-9)
- Judgment on the Immoral (Hebrews 13:4)
- Lust (Matthew 5:27-28)
- Divorce (Matthew 19:7-9)
- Why (2 Corinthians 8:8-9)
- When (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)
- How Much (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)
- The Baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-47)
- The Laying on of the Apostles’ Hands (Acts 8:14-18)
- Their Nature (Acts 2:6-11)
- Their Duration (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)
- It Denies the Innocence of Children (Mark 10:13-16)
- It Holds Us Accountable for Others’ Sin (Ezekiel 18:1-4)
- It Minimizes the Power of Choice (Romans 5:12)
As we move into the final portion of our half-hour study series, we come to topics that won’t come up in studies with everybody but might come up in studies with somebody. The first of these topics is spiritual gifts. Many of you may well have had, as I have had, the experience of talking Bible with somebody who believes that the miraculous spiritual gifts of the first century continue today.
Let me be honest with you, brethren. It is difficult to find success in studies with such people. Though it’s not obvious, these problems stem from a disagreement over spiritual authority. In everything we say, we appeal to the authority of the Scriptures. People like this, though, generally place the authority of their own experiences over the authority of the word. They are more concerned with what they have seen and felt than with what the text says.
Of course, “difficult” is not the same thing as “impossible”. I know people who have come out of Pentecostalism to become faithful disciples, and there are certainly honest hearts in any group. To equip us to help such people, then, let’s consider miraculous spiritual gifts.
The first problem with claims of modern-day gifts has to do with the first-century origin of such gifts. In the time of the early church, believers received gifts in two ways. The first was THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. Look at Acts 10:44-47. In this story, we see the Gentile household of Cornelius receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in tongues.
This is in fulfillment of a prophecy made in Joel 2, in which God promises that He will pour out His Spirit on all mankind. Even though the passage we’re considering doesn’t mention this prophecy, it describes both halves of its fulfillment. The first took place on the day of Pentecost. It’s what Peter is referring to when he says that “we”—that is, we Jewish believers—received the Holy Spirit. In Acts 10, the Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit in the same way.
After this event, we never see another occurrence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures, and it makes sense that we wouldn’t. After all, God promised to pour out His Spirit on all mankind. He poured it out on the Jewish portion of mankind on Pentecost, and He poured it out on the Gentiles of the household of Cornelius. As a result, all of mankind received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the first century. God has kept His promise, so we have no reason to look for more Holy Spirit baptism today.
Second, believers could receive spiritual gifts through THE LAYING ON OF THE APOSTLES’ HANDS. Consider the evidence of Acts 8:14-18. In this text, the phrase “the laying on of the apostles’ hands” is extremely significant. At this point in Acts, the gospel has just come to Samaria through the preaching of Philip the evangelist. Philip is one of the seven from Acts 6, but he is not an apostle. He has spiritual gifts himself, but he does not have the ability to communicate those spiritual gifts to others.
As a result, the new Christians in Samaria were without spiritual gifts. They did not receive them until the church in Jerusalem sent the apostles Peter and John to lay hands on brethren so they could receive them. Only apostles had the ability to do this.
This poses a serious problem for people who claim to have these gifts today. Where did they get them? They can’t get them from the baptism of the Holy Spirit because the promise of the Spirit has been completely fulfilled. They can’t get them from the apostles because all of the apostles are dead, and you can’t become an apostle unless you are an eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus. The Scriptures lead us to the conclusion, then, that Christians today should not expect to receive miraculous spiritual gifts, and those who believe they possess them merely are deceiving themselves.
This conviction is further strengthened when we consider THE NATURE of first-century miraculous gifts. For example, look at Acts 2:6-11. This passage is important because it gives us more evidence than any other about what the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues was like. Today, there are millions who claim to have the gift of tongues, but they say that they are speaking in a prayer language or in the language of angels. However, that’s not what the first-century gift of tongues was. Instead, we see from this text that the gift of tongues gave the apostles the ability to speak foreign languages they had not studied.
Back when I was getting my religious-studies degree, I did some research into the origins of Pentecostalism in the early part of the last century. The earliest Pentecostals claimed to have the ability, like the Christians of Acts 2, to speak foreign languages.
However, they quickly retreated from that claim because it is falsifiable and was falsified. If you claim that you have the spiritual gift of speaking Russian, all I have to do to determine whether you are telling the truth is find somebody who has learned Russian and have him listen to you. If he says, “Yep, that’s Russian”, like the audience in Acts 2 did, then you have proved that you have a gift. If, however, he says, “That’s not Russian,” he has proved you are mistaken. People who claim to speak in a prayer language make that claim because it isn’t falsifiable, but what they claim to have is not the true gift of tongues.
Finally, we must ponder THE DURATION of gifts. Let’s read from 1 Corinthians 13:8-13. Everybody agrees that this passage says that spiritual gifts will come to an end. However, there is disagreement about when this will occur. Brethren traditionally have argued that “the perfect” is the completed revelation of the Scriptures. Pentecostals, on the other hand, generally contend that the text is saying that gifts will come to an end in heaven.
However, there is a serious problem with that interpretation. In contrast with the spiritual gifts that will pass away, Paul says that three things will abide: faith, hope, and love. That doesn’t fit with heaven at all. Faith won’t abide in heaven. It will have become sight. Hope won’t abide in heaven. It will have been fulfilled. Only love will remain.
Paul has to be talking, then, about a time on earth when we will still have faith and hope but won’t have gifts. From this, we must conclude that “the perfect” is the complete written word. Because we have it, we no longer should expect to have miraculous spiritual gifts.
Of all of the spiritual topics that we might address, one of the most sensitive is giving. First of all, it’s about money, which always has been very important to people. Second, though, the Holy Spirit’s words on this subject have been misrepresented and abused for 2000 years. In 1 Timothy 6, Paul writes about preachers who saw godliness as a means of gain, and sadly, there are untold thousands of religious leaders who still think this way today. As a result, whenever we raise the subject with a new convert or with brethren in general, there is always the suspicion that the preacher is motivated by selfishness rather than love of the truth.
This is unfortunate, but it most not deter us from teaching that truth. Those who recently have obeyed the gospel need to understand what their financial responsibilities are, and more mature Christians need to be reminded. For the next lesson in our half-hour study series, then, let’s consider giving to the Lord’s work.
The first thing that we must teach when it comes to giving is WHY it is important. Frequently, those who collect the contribution will talk about returning to God a portion of that with which He has blessed us, and that’s true, but it’s incomplete. Our motivations for generosity should go much deeper than that.
As evidence, consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 8:8-9. In context, Paul is urging the Corinthians to contribute to the collection for the needy saints in Jerusalem, and he tells them that their example must be Jesus. We don’t normally think of Jesus as a generous giver, yet Paul points out that that’s exactly what He was. Before He came to earth, Jesus had everything. He was rich on a scale that makes the concept of riches meaningless.
However, even though Jesus was rich, He made Himself poor. He left the glories of heaven behind for life down here in the mud with us. Indeed, He surrendered His life on the cross, so that the One who once had everything was left with nothing. Why? So that through His poverty He could make us rich, so that we could share in the glories of heaven with Him.
If we want to be like Jesus, then, we will seek to give as generously as He gave. We will view the contribution as on opportunity to imitate His self-sacrificing love. When you get right down to it, giving is about love. It’s about love for the poor brethren here and around the world whom this church helps. It’s about love for the children who are taught in our Bible classes and for the brethren who are built up in the faith. It’s about love for the sinners who so desperately need to hear the gospel. When we give generously, that reveals our love. When we don’t, well, that reveals our love too.
Second, let’s consider WHEN we should give. Once again, the apostle Paul helps us out here, in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. There are several things that are worth noting about this text. The first is that this collection is supposed to take place on the first day of every week. Interestingly, it is the only thing that we are directly commanded to do every Sunday. We only have an example of brethren sharing in the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week, and preaching, singing, and prayer can occur at any time.
We need to be careful in our attitudes toward these things. I think that sometimes, we can fall into the habit of thinking of the other expressions of worship as these wonderful, exalted activities, whereas the contribution is this distasteful necessity that we do because we have to, but we want to get it out of the way as quickly as possible because we’re embarrassed about it. Brethren, that’s dead wrong. Giving is no less a sign of godliness than any of those other things, and it’s just as important to Him!
Second, Paul says that each is to give as he may prosper. To put things another way, our contribution is supposed to be proportional to our income. If some Christian is unemployed and doesn’t have any income, then because he isn’t prospering, God doesn’t expect him to give. It is when we have the means to give but choose not to that our non-giving reveals a heart problem.
Third, notice the purpose of the collection. Paul says it’s so that no collections will have to be made when he comes. In other words, because there is a big need in Jerusalem, Paul wants the Corinthians to get this money together bit by bit, over time. That way, when Paul returns to Corinth, the whole sum will be waiting for him, and the Corinthians won’t have to scurry around checking under couch cushions for loose change.
From this, we see that one of the purposes of the collection is to gather together money for large expenses in the future. It’s 100 percent legitimate for a church to have a treasury with money sitting in it, against the day when a cyclone wipes out the brethren in Zimbabwe or the septic-system pumps at the church building give out, to name a couple of the expenses the Jackson Heights church has seen this year. Not only is it authorized to store up money like that, it’s prudent!
Finally, let’s turn to the question of HOW MUCH. Look at 2 Corinthians 9:6-8. Once again, there are several things in the passage that are worth attending to. The first is that we must give as we have decided in our hearts. We can’t go through our week spending, spending, spending, and then when Sunday rolls around, God gets whatever is left in our purses and our wallets. That’s not deciding in our hearts. That’s letting our materialism decide for us. Instead, we need to put our giving as the top line item in our budgets and make the rest of the budget work around it.
Second, notice that giving as we have decided in our hearts does not give us a monetary amount, either absolutely or as a percentage. In fact, if we go through the whole New Testament, we will never see any particular figure attached to giving. Tithing, giving 10 percent of our income, was an Old-Testament practice that has not been carried over from the Law of Moses.
How much we give is entirely up to us. I once had a sister ask me if she should give as a percentage of her gross income or of her net. I told her only that she should give whatever she could give cheerfully. The only guidance I will give a new Christian, or indeed any of you, is to look into your hearts, consider what the Lord has done for you, and return to Him what you know is right.
Third, though, notice that God promises that whatever we give, we won’t suffer because of our giving. This isn’t a promise that He will make us rich. However, it is a guarantee that if we are generous in our contribution to Him, He will make sure that we always have the means to be generous. When we are contributing, we don’t have to worry about the consequences. Instead, we can trust in Him.