Choose Joy

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
-Philippians 4:4

Joy. A small, three letter word, which is often overlooked or in turn overused but never fully understood. Joy is bigger than it seems. Joy is harder than it seems. Joy is far more amazing than it seems.

According to my good pal, Google, the definition of Joy is, “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” Yes, Google, I agree with you. However, what Google fails to mention is that as Christians this feeling of “great pleasure and happiness” needs to be rooted in the Lord.

Joy Overlooked

Often people view the word “joy” or those who have joyful spirits as naive or innocent. It is easy to perceive joy on a surface level and think those who feel that level of happiness must be unaware of what is actually going on in the world, because there is no way they could genuinely feel that happy. But this is simply not true.

If you root yourself in the Lord and delight in Him and His love for you each day, despite all the hurt and sin going on in the world around you, then you are brave. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “The joy of the Lord is my strength”. Joy is not easy. It takes a great deal  of courage to renounce the world each day and decide to not live with a negative mindset and instead find strength in the joy of the Lord. Joy is more than a feeling or a mindset, it is a focus.

It takes courage to believe God is enough and that no matter what craziness or hardships the day may bring, your faith will remain unwavering. When God has you in the palm of His hand, you can’t help but radiate His light from the inside out.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
-Philippians 4:10-12

The Bible never promises that we will be happy, but time and time again God’s word offers true joy. The early Christians were persecuted for their faith, and yet they still rejoiced in times of great sorrow and despair. Although society glorifies the idea that our goal in life should be to find “happiness”, our purpose is actually to work on fulfilling God’s calling for our lives. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” When we are working to fulfill God’s calling for our lives we will then not only be more connected to God, but we will also be fulfilled with His joy.

Joy Overused

In today’s popular Christian culture, the word “joy” seems to be used in every other sentence. It is doing “joy” an injustice if we are failing to internalize all that it means. Happiness and joy tend to be used interchangeably. The difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is circumstantial and fleeting, whereas joy is a daily choice based on faith in God. Life is unpredictable and brings a great deal of hardship. Sometimes we are faced with changing family dynamics or frightening diagnosis. But, when you are grounded in joy it is still possible to find hope and peace in the midst of the pain because joy isn’t temporary, joy is eternal.

Joy is not a word to frivolously throw around. Joy is a delight and a light far beyond comprehension. Joy is the feeling of wonder you have when you think about how we have a God who sent His only son to die on the cross for us to take away our sins even though we do not deserve this gift. Joy is the realization you have when you are feeling left out or not enough and you remember that you have a father in Heaven who loves you despite your sins and imperfections, because He has made you perfectly in His image and longs for a relationship with you. Joy is stepping back and looking at all the blessings God has graciously placed in your life and asking yourself why you ever worried, because without fail God’s plan is far better than what you could’ve ever imagined. Joy is when you wake up in the morning and see the sun peeking out your window and remember all over again that God created the entire earth by hand…WOW! The list could go on forever, because the joy of the Lord is everlasting. Next time you find yourself using the word joy in a conversation, text or Instagram post, make sure you are using it in a way that glorifies the Lord and the delight you get from rooting happiness in Him.

Joy. A complex, deeply felt, radiant word that is humbly strung together by only three letters. A word that is a gift to be able to root ourselves in, and that we are called to share with others. A word that represents an act of courage and the confidence you have in God’s perfect plan for your life. A word that is anything but frivolous or naïve. A word that is rooted in delighting in God. Joy. My favorite word. Maybe it will become your favorite word too.

Is Church Membership a Requirement?

There is no Bible verse that says, “join a local church.” Many object to the idea of church membership for that reason alone. But is this argument even reasonable?

What is church membership?

In Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever, a leading advocate of church membership, wrote that the five following responsibilities of church membership includes:

  1. Regular attendance at services
  2. Regular attendance at communion
  3. Consistent attendance at members’ meetings
  4. Regularly praying for the church at which you are a member
  5. Giving to the church regularly

Dever is not alone in believing this. John Piper, D.A. Carson, John MacArthur, Albert Mohler, Ligon Duncan, and Timothy George all endorsed Dever’s teachings in this book. To be clear, listing big names does not prove that anything is biblical, but it is important to establish that Dever’s understanding of biblical church membership is supported by many well-respected Christian leaders. Let’s look at why they believe these things.

What did the Epistle Writers Assume?

Here are some introductions to the New Testament Epistles:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.
1 Corinthians 1:2

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me, to the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
-Galatians 1:1-3

Notice that Paul addresses these letters directly to churches which are assemblies of believers. He could address his audience in this manner because of their habit of regularly gathering together. He writes under the assumption that the church itself would be meeting together in a context where the letter would be read aloud.The concept of a Christian who did not belong to a church would have been foreign to Paul.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
-Colossians 1:1-2

And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.
-Colossians 4:16

The introduction and closing statement above assume that the believers will be gathered together to read the letter, and they confirm that there were specific churches receiving letters. Being part of a church, not a wanderer who comes and goes as he or she pleases, was the norm in the earliest churches and ought to be the norm in ours as well.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
-Hebrews 10:24-25

The writer of Hebrews commands believers to assemble regularly. Neglecting to meet prevents believers from encouraging one another to obey Christ as they eagerly wait for His return.

Biblical Commands for Church Leadership and Discipline

1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9 teach the qualifications of church leaders. How would Paul appoint leaders if they were not going to preside over an assembly of Christians? Appointing leaders suggests that there is a group that needs to be led, and these leaders cannot fulfill their callings to teach, care for, and lead a group unless the members of the group are committed and submissive to the leaders’ authority. The apostle Peter explicitly commands elders (church leaders/pastors) to lead the congregation and the congregants to submit to leaders.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
-1 Peter 5:1-2, 5

Is it possible to obey God’s commands without Church membership?

1 Corinthians 12:7-26 is one of the clearest passages on how the members of Christ’s Body should function. We will examine chapter 12 verses 7-26 in two parts.

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. -1 Corinthians 12:7-11

Verses 7-11 begin with Paul saying that the Spirit gives to each believer a gift for the “common good” of other Christians. The last verse here, teaches that the Spirit freely chooses to distribute gifts to Christians so that they may serve other Christians. How can we be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s will without pledging to serve a community of believers with our gifts? It is incredibly difficult to devote one’s gifts to serving Christians if they do not commit to a church by means of membership. One who refuses to consistently serve with their gifts in a community of believers is not adequately caring for their fellow Christians. We should rejoice that we can serve in a way that pleases the Triune God, and that we can be blessed by the gifts of God directly through our Christian siblings.

If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
-1 Corinthians 12:17-20

Continuing with his discussion of spiritual gifts, Paul parallels the Spirit’s giving of different gifts to Christians with the various functions of the human body. Each person with particular gifts within the Body of Christ is represented by a body part. In verses 17-20 he explains that no Christian is truly separated from the others even if they claim to be, and that the body is made whole by all the parts being unified.  

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
1 Corinthians 12:24-26

Since the body parts represent Christians, one of the points that Paul is making here is that Christians have need of each other. If one does not commit to serving the other through church membership, how can the body be complete and how can the eye receive the benefits of what only the hand can do. Committing to church membership is part of submitting to the Holy Spirit’s purpose in giving gifts. All Christians are bought with a price, born again for good works, and commanded to sacrificially serve the Body of Christ at all times (Philippians 2:1-11, Ephesians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Next Steps

Be mindful that you bring both problems and gifts into whichever church you join. Remember that your love toward other believers is proof that you love God (1 John 4:20) and that you are commanded to lay aside your own privileges for the sake of your fellow Christians (Philippians 2:1-11). Look diligently for a church that preaches the truth about God and the gospel. The gospel is that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, took on human flesh died for the sins of all who recognize themselves as having fallen short of God’s standard (which is perfection) and trust in His sacrifice. All who repent and believe the gospel will be forgiven and adopted as God’s children. The sinner must trust in Christ and not his or her own works, since they cannot bring about forgiveness by their own deeds (baptism, church attendance, etc.).

Whoever trusts in Him will worship God in Heaven for eternity. The church you join should practice the sacraments of baptism and communion as the Bible commands. Do not blindly rush to join a church, but if you are not a member anywhere you need to be looking. Also, college students, do not be deceived, you must join a church. You may only be in your college town for a few years, but God has still called you to submit under a body of elders and be committed to serve in your local church. God has died for us to enjoy Him through serving other Christians and being served. We should be obedient to this call at all times.

Mormonism: A Different Gospel

Recently, five other friends and I visited Brigham Young University and Salt Lake Temple in Utah to share the gospel with Mormons. The Mormon religion is a formidable opponent of Christianity. Mormons say a lot of things that can sound Christian, so without discernment it is possible to think we share the same faith. However, through a Biblical examination of Mormonism, it is clear that they present a false portrayal of the gospel. Therefore, Christians must not only understand the distinctions between Mormonism and Christianity, but also equip themselves to engage with Mormons with the truth of the Biblical gospel.

One of the chief differences between Christianity and Mormonism lies in our understanding of the gospel. Paul issues a grave warning to the Galatians entertaining a false gospel, as he wrote to an audience believing the law was necessary to uphold salvation. Galatians 1:8-9 says:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: ‘If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.’

Salvation by grace rather than works is a fundamental doctrine of Christianity and, therefore, our understanding of this distinction is of eternal significance. In this article, I will examine the flaws of the Mormon gospel while comparing it to the message of the Biblical gospel.

Differing Views on Salvation

Mormons believe that salvation is obtained by placing one’s faith in the atonement of Christ, repenting from sin, being baptized, receiving the Holy Spirit, and enduring to the end. In 2 Nephi 22:31, the text states, “For we know that it is by grace we are saved after all that we can do.” Also, 1 Nephi 22:31, says, “If you follow the commandments and persevere to the end, you will be saved…” It is clear from these texts that repentance from sin, baptism, and perseverance are the meritorious causes of salvation according to the Mormon faith. They believe that the atonement alone did not secure salvation, rather it only made people savable. It is important to note this difference from Christianity as we believe that Christ alone has obtained our salvation through His act of propitiation on the cross.

Did the atonement merely make people savable as the Mormons claim? Romans 3:25 states that Christ was put forward as a “propitiation” to accomplish the redemption of sinners. On the cross, Christ satisfied the wrath of God for the sins of His people. Every ounce of His people’s guilt was imputed to Christ as Christ paid the penalty for sin. Colossians 2:14 says that our sins were forgiven “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” In Hebrews 9:12, the text states that:

Christ entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

Christ’s payment saved people on the cross and to say that Jesus only made sinners merely savable is to deny the nature of the atonement.

Distortion of Repentance

In the Mormon faith, repentance from sin is necessary as a means of making restitution to God for sins after conversion. Baptism actualizes the forgiveness of sins, yet one must continue on by their own obedience or else they will not be saved. In the LDS Pamphlet, it states that baptism is a commitment to follow Him and keep His commandments and then says, “If you do your part, your Heavenly Father promises to forgive your sins.”

On a pillar near the temple in Salt Lake City, there is an inscription that reads “The Way.” It quotes John 14:6 but also quotes Matthew 22:37-39:

‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’

The Mormon gospel has no conception of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ for justification. It’s simply not found in any of their messages, but instead they encourage their followers to strive for righteousness in order to secure their salvation.

One question we asked Mormons was, “Have you repented perfectly of your sins? Have you repented of each and every one of your sins?” If repentance is meritorious towards salvation, then it must be perfect. But it is quite simply impossible to feel the perfect amount of sorrow and hatred for sin and perfectly desire to walk in obedience. And who could repent of each and every sin? The law of God is so great and demanding, and our hearts are so wicked, that we could never finish writing down a list of sins that we have committed. For Christianity, repentance for every sin is not a condition for justification. We are declared righteous before God by faith in Christ alone. Repentance is a necessary fruit of justification, wrought by the Holy Spirit, but it does not save.

Emphasis on Righteousness

According to the pillar and their plan of salvation, they must be inherently righteous to be saved. What they quote in Matthew 22:37-39 was not the gospel of God’s free grace, but of the law of God’s demands.

In Luke 10:25-25, Jesus says

‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.’

These two commands were brought up when a Pharisee asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 25). He did not ask, “What must I do to be saved?” (which the answer would be to believe in Christ [Acts 16:30-31]) but “What must I do to have eternal life?”

The former presupposes the problem that all people face: God is righteous and just while we are sinful and deserving of condemnation. The latter does not presuppose our sinful condition, but presupposes the state that Adam was in before the Fall. Adam was not sinful when he was created, therefore, he did not need a Savior but could merit eternal life himself through his obedience.

To answer the lawyer’s question, Jesus had him read the law: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself’” (v. 27). And Jesus said, “Do this, and you will live” (v. 28). The condition of the law to have eternal life is perfect and perpetual obedience. The problem is that none of us have loved God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our strength, with all of our mind, nor have we loved our neighbors as ourselves.

Paul writes in Galatians 3:10,

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’

Yet, the law’s requirements remain the same. We need a Second Adam to be righteous for us. And that’s what Jesus did. He perfectly obeyed God’s holy law in order to impute (charge, or count) His righteousness to all who believe. In the Christian doctrine of justification, Christ’s righteousness is transferred to all who believe, and their sins are placed on Christ in his act on the cross. We have peace with God, now and forevermore, solely because of the merits of Christ alone (Romans 5:1).

Meritorious Endurance

Lastly, is our endurance meritorious? Is it even by our own effort? Our subsequent obedience to God’s law is not involved in whether or not we gain eternal life. The righteousness of Christ alone saves. Saving faith itself is not meritorious either. It is only the instrument by which we receive the merits of Christ. And all who trust in Christ will endure to the end. No true believer will fall away. In the Canons of Dort, Article 8 states,

Thus it is not in consequence of their own merits or strength, but of God’s free mercy, that they neither totally fall away from faith and grace nor continue and perish finally in their backsliding; which, with respect to themselves is not only possible, but would undoubtedly happen; but with respect to God, it is utterly impossible, since His counsel cannot be changed nor his promise fail; neither can the call according to his purpose be revoked, nor the merit, intercession, and preservation of Christ be rendered ineffectual, nor the sealing of the Holy Spirit be frustrated or obliterated.

In the end, through an examination of the Mormon faith, we can see the distortion of the gospel. I would encourage all Mormons reading this to embrace the true Jesus and the true gospel and to leave the LDS church for a church that rests solely in the work of Christ alone for salvation. I would also encourage all Christians to continue to have a heart for Mormons and pray that they would come to know the true Jesus and the true message of the gospel.