Greetings to all and welcome to our website for The Unity of the Spirit.
January 15, 2017
Accepted by GodMany of us derive much value and motivation in life from the feeling of being accepted by others. Whether it is a group of peers, colleagues or even those on an online social media site, the idea that we are welcomed and included gives us a sense of self-worth. Although we experience satisfaction when we have been judged by people to be worthy of their association, it is important to remember that the judgement of other people is based on a very limited understanding of who we really are and is oftentimes subject to any wind of change that blows our way. In contrast, God judges and approves of us based on his unlimited knowledge of what others cannot see, “For man looks at the outward appearance but the LORD looks upon the heart” 1 Sam. 16:7. Ultimately, it is this acceptance by God to be included among his people and to be part of his great plan for the ages that gives our lives meaning and purpose.We see the great difference in the significance of God’s acceptance over and against man’s illustrated in one of the most powerful and influential events recorded in the Book of Acts. Beginning in chapter 10 God prepares his representative, Peter, and Peter’s soon-to-be audience, the Roman centurion Cornelius and his household, for the great revelation that through the gospel God includes people into his plan based on his knowledge of their heart, not on ritual observance or external factors. He does this through a series of visions and divine visitations that set the stage for Peter’s proclamation to a group of Gentiles of the message of salvation through Christ which we pick up on in verse 34,Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached-- how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.We are witnesses of everything he did in the county of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen...He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. (Acts 10:34-46 NIV)It is important to remember that from the viewpoint of the Jewish people at this time a Gentile could only be accepted as a part of God’s people by undergoing certain external rites, including circumcision and the observance of dietary restrictions, so that any person could clearly see the change take place. But in this groundbreaking instance, God begins to fulfill his age-old promise to Abraham that “in him all nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 18:18) by giving the holy Spirit to Cornelius and his household simply because they believe the message spoken by Peter. There is no prior outward ritual to be observed or formal induction to be performed. God knows their hearts and gives his approval. This naturally causes astonishment in the Jewish believers present who hear the Gentiles speaking in tongues and praising God because they know without a doubt that God has given them his Spirit. Likewise, there is perplexity among the other circumcised believers back in Jerusalem when they hear the report. In chapter 11 Peter is questioned about his willingness “to go the uncircumcised people and eat with them” so he recounts to them the whole story of how God was at work to open the door for the Gentiles to believe. In verses 15-18 we see Peter explain the inner working of his mind as he tries to make sense of the incident as well as the conclusions which the other Jewish believers draw,As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if he gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think I could oppose God?”When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” (Acts 11:15-18)Here for all to see is the incontestable truth that God has opened the door of salvation to the Gentiles based on the faith that is in their hearts. As the years went by and the number of Gentile believers greatly increased, opposition continued to arise, especially among the Jewish believers, regarding exactly how it is that one is to be accepted as being truly one of God’s people. In Acts 15 we observe how the issues were resolved by an appeal back to this first occurrence of the outpouring of God’s Spirit on the Gentiles. In verse 5 we pick up,Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.”The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe that it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15: 5-11)Although the passage of time has rendered irrelevant some of the matters which faced the first-century church concerning the composition of God’s people, one great truth continues to shine forth from this account. Being approved by man, while of some value, counts for little when compared with being embraced by God. Through faith in Jesus Christ we have received God’s gift of holy Spirit and know of its powerful manifestation and life-changing influence. God has accepted us. At present we find fulfillment in our lives through understanding this truth; moreover, as we look ahead we know that the gift of the Spirit now is but a foretaste of all the glory that is ready to be revealed to us at the return of Christ. Scot Hahnscot@unity-of-spirit.orgFor other articles related to this topic see:Holy Spirit Guarantees the Christian InheritanceSpeaking in Tongues: Manifesting the Spirit of God
December 25, 2016
Christmas DayReading the Infancy Narratives of the GospelsIn Christmas season many people, including Dorota and I, often either read or else hear read in church the infancy narratives surrounding the birth of Christ. Undoubtedly, this is an excellent thing to do. One of the most significant things that one sees when reading these accounts in the first few chapters of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke is the emphasis on the fact that all that is being recounted is in the light of helping seekers to come to, or else to strengthen current believers’, faith in the gospel message – that is, the good news of salvation through faith in Christ. In other words, these accounts are not straight historical accounts in the same way that a historian might recount them. Instead, the events are set forth, arranged and narrated with a greater purpose in mind. The infancy accounts surrounding the birth of Christ set the stage for the fuller presentation of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as presented in each Gospel. They show that all of the events in this story of the life of Christ are part of God’s overall plan of salvation that reaches back to before the creation of the world. Thus, the life, death and resurrection of Christ are set forth in the Gospels as the fulfillment of God’s overarching plan which was foreknown before the foundation of the world and then foretold and foreshadowed in the pages of the Old Testament. Therefore, the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah or Christ of God, is set forth in fulfillment of God’s OT promises to bring forth a Savior for his people. In order to accomplish this God himself intervenes in history to bring about Christ’s conception and birth through the power of God’s holy Spirit. In each of the two Gospels where this is spoken of there is a strong emphasis on continuity with God’s plan and the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people. Thus, the infancy narratives are both the opening event in the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation and the setting of the stage for all the events that will subsequently follow in these Gospel narratives.A few suggestions about reading the Gospels in general and the infancy narratives in particular:1.Each Gospel account was written by each God-inspired writer separately from the others to an original specific audience. Though they have been preserved through God’s providential care for Christian church at large as well, their original purpose and audience should always be kept in mind in order to be faithful to the authors original intent. Previous to the writing of the Gospels in the mid to late first century, the truths that are presented in them were preached, expounded and perhaps even circulated in written form as part of the presentation of the gospel of salvation. The Book of Acts gives examples of this taking place throughout (e.g. Acts 2; 10; 13; etc.). The writers of the Gospel accounts used that information to present the gospel through their Gospels. However, they shaped and narrated their accounts according to their own specific purposes and audiences. Therefore each Gospel should be read and understood within itself, on its own, before comparing it with another Gospel account. It is perilous to try to present a systematized or harmonized account of all the different Gospels without knowing the individual “whys” and “wherefores” behind each of them.2.Read the infancy accounts in the simplicity with which they are presented apart from the heavy embellishment of extra-biblical Christmas traditions, myths, and definitions that have been added over the centuries. Any good, reliable version of the Bible should be the starting point for this. Then compare other versions.3.The most reliable way to study these accounts in depth is to use standard study and research materials prepared by first-class scholars who are endeavoring to present the original intent and meaning of the biblical text in an honest and straightforward way. See the “Recommendations” section in The Unity of the Spirit web-site to get started on this and for #2 above as wellIn closing, two of my favorite articles relating to the birth of Christ from previous editions of The Unity of the Spirit are the following:The Birth of the MessiahThe Hopes and Fears of All the YearsMay God be with you all as we continue to do our best to live for our God in the light of all that he has done, and will do, for us in and through his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.Richie Templerichie@unity-of-spirit.org
November 24, 2016
Thanksgiving DayDear Fellow Believers,Not too long ago our Wednesday night Bible fellowship finished up a study on Colossians. Though this is one of the shorter letters of Paul, it is full of great passages that highlight the thankfulness that should characterize believers' lives. I share these verses with you on this Thanksgiving morning so that you can be reminded of WHY and TO WHOM we, as believers in Christ, give thanks."We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints - the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth... For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopping praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." 1:3-14"So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." 2:6-7"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances yo may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful people. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." 3:12-17"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." Clearly, giving thanks to God for all he has done through Christ is a hallmark of life lived in Christ!If you would like to listen to the teachings associated with these passages, they are posted on our website here. I would also like to point out a teaching from a few years ago called "Thanksgiving Is Thanks-living" by David Hahn (link).You can find teachings from our recent Sunday morning fellowships here, including last month's teaching by Richie on "Living for God for a Lifetime". I am thankful to God for all of you and for the life we share in Christ. Happy Thanksgiving!Scot Hahnscot@unity-of-spirit.orgOctober 30, 2016Reformation Sunday“The Righteousness of (our loving and faithful) God”Today is Reformation Sunday, the Sunday set aside in the Protestant church to recognize the vital achievements of the Reformation of the 16th century. Though we today live mostly in free societies and in ecumenical times – indeed, I myself have close Christian friends from Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and various Protestant traditions - I am always happy when Reformation Sunday comes around because it is a time of the year to stop and specifically be thankful for the central truths of the new covenant gospel message that were re-established at the time of the Reformation in the 16th century by many courageous men and women including, in particular, Martin Luther, John Calvin and others. Though these men and their followers were far from perfect, they risked their lives to re-establish the central truths of the new covenant gospel message as set forth in the New Testament. First among these truths are those set out in the theme verses of Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God – unleashed – for the salvation of everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous by faith shall live.’” (Rom. 1:16-17). To see how Martin Luther’s own life was changed by his new understanding of Romans 1:16-17 let us quote his own famous words:“I had greatly longed to understand Paul’s letter to the Romans, and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the righteousness of God”, because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and acts righteously in punishing the unrighteous … Night and day I pondered until …. I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before “the righteousness of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gateway into heaven.” Luther was exactly right in his understanding of the key term “the righteousness of God” and it led to a change of his own life and to the liberating message of the gospel that sparked and nourished the Reformation. Though the recent theological movement of the so-called “New Perspective on Paul” has brought this phrase “the righteousness of God” to the forefront again – and with a thorough and fresh re-examination of it – its results have reconfirmed Luther’s understanding, if not all of his understanding of the first century setting of Paul’s words. Fortunately, Paul’s own exposition of the phrase “the righteousness of God” which he sets forth in Romans 3:21-26 removes most all doubt as to what the phrase meant to him:“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation [sacrifice of atonement] by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom. 3:21-26 ESV). These verses expound the “the righteousness of God” in God’s sending his Son, Jesus Christ, for the salvation of mankind. They explain how a righteous God righteously acquits and vindicates his people through the atoning sacrifice of his Son – an atonement then freely received on the basis of faith. This, of course, is the heart of the new covenant “gospel” message as Rom. 1:16-17 had earlier stated. In fact, this is the culmination of the biblical idea of “the righteousness of God” that had begun in the Old Testament itself with concept of a righteous God who righteously judges his people and continues through the NT, adding important nuances along the way, as the renowned Roman Catholic scholar Joseph A. Fitzmyer explains:“In the OT God is, of course, often called … “upright, righteous”. In the early books of the OT [the Hebrew] sedeq or sedaqah [righteousness] expresses the quality whereby Yahweh, involved in a lawsuit with rebellious Israel, judges it and displays his “uprightness” [righteousness] in doing so (Isa. 3:12; Jer. 12:1; Hos. 4:1-2; 12:3; Mic. 6:20). It is a quality of God manifested in judicial activity; God “judges” with “uprightness” [righteousness] (Psalm 9:9; 96:13; 98:2 ‘Yahweh has made known his salvation; in the sight of the nations he has revealed his uprightness [righteousness],’ from which Paul has probably derived three of the important ideas of Rom. 1:16-17).”Fitzmyer continues, “In the postexilic period, sedeq as a divine attribute acquired an added nuance: the quality whereby God acquits people, manifesting toward them a gracious, salvific power in a just judgment. In Isa. 46:13, “my uprightness” and “my salvation” stand in parallelism; cf. 51:5, 6, 8; 56:1; 61:10; Ps. 40:9-10. In this sense Yahweh is acknowledged to be “upright” (Ezra 9:15; Neh. 9:8) and “righteous” in all that he has done (Dan. 9:14), namely, in all the ways he has treated rebellious Israel.”“Paul adopts this postexilic understanding of “God’s uprightness” [righteousness] in Romans … God manifests it toward humanity when through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ he brings about the vindication and acquittal of sinful human beings. It is a manifestation of God’s saving and acquitting power…” [Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Anchor Bible, Romans, pp. 106 – 107]. It is this judicial or forensic sense that is paramount in the term “the righteousness of God” which Paul used in Romans and which Luther contemplated. However, it is the judicial or forensic sense coupled with the love, grace and mercy of God on behalf of his people in God acquitting and vindicating his people through the sacrificial death and resurrection of his Son – an acquittal and vindication freely received by humanity on the basis of faith in Christ. It was when Luther finally understood “the righteousness of God” in this way that his heart was set-free and he found himself overwhelmed by the sweetness of God’s “inexpressibly greater love.” On this truth the Protestant reformation was launched and its liberating effects continue to this day.In sum, Martin Luther through his own study of the Psalms and Paul’s Letter to the Romans “rediscovered” what Paul and the other apostles of Christ knew and expounded to their first century hearers summarized in the phrase “the righteousness of God”. These truths were not “new”; instead, they had a deep OT background, were preached by the apostles of Christ, and then were preserved in the pages of the New Testament. By the time of Luther; however, many of these truths, however, had been submerged for centuries under the hierarchy and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. Because of this they were barely understood by the average churchgoer during the Middle Ages. Since all of Western Europe was part of the Roman Catholic Christendom during the Middle Ages it was difficult for even faithful believers to see and understand clearly the light of the new covenant gospel message in all of its fullness. As such, it was the goal of the Reformation to reform the Roman Catholic Church of that time and to restore it to its proper faithfulness to its NT roots. Ultimately, the reformers and their followers were only partially successful in doing this. The result, instead, was a major split in the Christendom of that time between the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches that has continued ever since. Nevertheless, the Reformation opened up the possibilities for continued renewal of the Christian church generation after generation – according to NT principles – and this has continued through the centuries to this day. In fact, both the historical and personal effects of this movement for millions and millions of people can hardly be over emphasized. The spiritual, religious, political, economic and social repercussions of Luther’s insights and the Reformation that followed began immediately with Luther and have continued ever since. As I often tell my European history students Luther is, very simply, the man who changed the world and that change has, fortunately, been overwhelmingly good. As I write this, the United State and other parts of the world are immersed in the events surrounding upcoming elections and momentous political events. No doubt, these events are indeed important and I myself teach about such them in my own history classes. However, those who win such elections pale in significance to the liberating impact of those who led the Reformation – not by the ballot box in a populist democratic election but, instead, by putting their lives on the line for the truth of the gospel in the face of the greatest political power of their day that was aligned against them. Let us pause in these days surrounding Reformation Sunday to remember the far greater stakes of those times and to be thankful for all that we are now the heirs of as a result of their dedication and commitment. Today there is far more knowledge and understanding of the Bible available to the world than ever before in the history of the world since the 1st century itself. This is a result of the gradual progress in biblical studies sparked by the Reformation four centuries ago led by Luther and others. Today the results of this manifest themselves in the many excellent Bible translations, research books, and study Bibles that are thus available to the general public. But not only; even the freedom to worship and to study the Bible both personally and with likeminded Christians in various churches and groups throughout the world is a result of the process begun by the Protestant Reformation four centuries ago. Let us never forget the debt that we owe to these courageous men and women of the Reformation and let us continue the Christian renewal begun at that time in rediscovering and living in the light of a proper biblical understanding of “the righteousness of (our loving and faithful) God.” Richie Templerichie@unity-of-spirit.org
June 15, 2016
Fellowship with God our FatherSummer vacation begins today….. (read more)
March 21, 2016
“Now, but Not Yet”Greetings to all of our fellow Christian brothers and sisters…. (read more)
Interested in reading more? Go to our blog archive to access all of our blog posts from previous years.
In 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." (Eph 4:4-6 NIV)