Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Discernment”

Discernment
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard a leader say, “I commit to do what I think is right.” Such a declaration is often followed by accolades. Each time I hear it, my amazement increases. I’m astounded that so many people think that what they “think is right” is somehow representative of goodness and virtue. Now we even have virtue signs. We can even see who is right and virtuous by what may or may not be on their face. A good and virtuous person would commit to do that which is right. Whether or not one thinks an action is right is, in my mind, irrelevant. We should all seek to do what is right!
No one can declare that he is doing what is right unless he knows what is right. Romans 12:2 calls Christians not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewal of the mind. The result is: “That by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Ephesians 5:8 points out that Christians were once in darkness but are now “light in the Lord.” Therefore, believers are to live as children of light, that is, to follow Jesus. Disciples of Jesus Christ are told that the “fruit” of living as children of light is “found in all that is good and right and true” (Ephesians 5:9). Knowing what is good, right, and true is called discernment. Doing it is wise living.
The ancient Hebrews knew that “the fear of the LORD was the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10a). In order to live wisely it is necessary for the creature to know the Creator. God has revealed what He wants us to know of Him through His word written. Just as the church in the Old Testament knew to apply God’s word for wise living, so it should be today.
The application of God’s word is wisdom. Therefore discernment, knowing the right action, requires knowledge of what God has said.
The Bible reveals that God is good, righteous, and true. All three are attributes of the One True God. To know the One True God, one must know His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. As the Father is the source, discernment only grows through a personal and intimate knowledge of His Son, Jesus. Discernment is a learned ability rather than a gift and is available to everyone who professes Christ.
Discernment leads to wise living. Wise living follows the way of blessing. God said the way of blessing was to obey Him. Conversely, He warned that a cursed life would follow the one who disobeyed Him. I have yet to meet someone who wanted to live a cursed life. Yet, by ignorance or avoidance of God’s word, we head towards destruction. Don’t be fooled by following someone who commits to do what he thinks is right. First, know yourself what is right. Then do it.
The key to discernment is to know what is right, good, and true. The method for knowing is not easy but is a blessing. The method is the systematic, intense study of the Bible and the theology which proceeds from it. This is not only a personal endeavor. God has ordained that we grow in discernment and wisdom corporately. I am speaking of the necessity of growing in a church that teaches “sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).
The Apostle Paul addressed the barrier to growth in discernment and it is recorded in 2 Timothy 3. He wrote of the “last days”, those days between Jesus’ first and second coming. Paul said that people would be “lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”
Paul was not describing the world in general. He was describing the visible church corrupted by those who only looked godly. He gave a timeless answer to the problem. Paul’s answer then was for Timothy to continue in what he learned and firmly believed. Paul reminded Timothy that all Scripture was “breathed out by God” and it’s the Scriptures which can make the believer “competent and equipped for every good work” (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17). God’s answer remains the same. The visible church is the place for growth in discernment through personal and corporate study of all that is good, right, and true.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Image of God”

The Image of God
The Rev. Louis B. Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The world tells us that our value as human beings is based upon our current or potential contribution to society. Now some sociologists teach that the individual has no value except for the socio-economic group that he or she is born into. These so-called experts group all people into one of two groups: oppressors and victims. Some ethicists teach that human life has no more intrinsic value than plants and animals! This philosophy/worldview should shock you because every human life, regardless of ethnicity, race, or socio-economic origin, has a unique value given by the Creator. Genesis 1:26a says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’”
The fact is, there is a God. His existence is undeniable. He has made His divine attributes known by all that He has made (Romans 1:19-20). The Bible says that there is no other reasonable explanation for the world around us.
But this article is not about the existence of God, directly. Yet, His existence is the basis for the sanctity of human life. The sacredness of human life proceeds out of being made in God’s image. No other creature has been given such a distinction. Because of this, man is accountable to God. We have been set apart by God. We are made in God’s image. One of my favorite Psalms declares, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4).
Scripture, in Genesis 1:26, declares that men and women are made in God’s image. The sense of being made in God’s image is likened to objects reflected in a mirror. We are a reflection of God. Distortions of this idea have been offered over the years. For example, Joseph Smith wrote that “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man.” Another famous or infamous personality teaches that God is actually a man who is six feet, two inches tall. He even goes on to describe God’s arm length.
Grounding ourselves in the truth is the best defense against such false teaching. In other words, know the truth in order to recognize error. So then, what is the truth of being made in God’s image? It cannot mean that mankind looks like God in a physical sense, as the views referenced above teach. God made us male and female! Both men and women bear God’s image. Yet, all reasonable people admit that men and women are not the same.
Bearing God’s image means to have some of the attributes of God. Attributes are those characteristics that define a being. Now I used the word “some” to qualify the attributes of God that we bear. We are not God! No man is immortal. No man is self-existent. No man can make the claim that he had no beginning. Yet, all men can reason, think, and have limited knowledge. All men have a sense of right and wrong.
In bearing these characteristics, we are faced with our limitations. For example, we don’t know everything, despite thinking we might. We don’t always do what is right despite having the moral law written on our hearts. The Bible says that every intention of the thoughts of men’s hearts was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5).
Yet man’s sinfulness does not eliminate man’s dignity. God made man in His image; male and female He made them as recorded in Genesis chapter one. Two chapters later, the Bible records the fall of Adam and the woman. As a result, all those attributes were marred by the fall. We all still have the God-given attributes, and we also have an inherited sin nature. Adam is referred to as the head of the human race (Romans 5:12ff). Along with the dignity of being human comes the responsibility for our actions.
Having said all this, the fact that we are sinners does not remove the dignity which God conveyed by making man in His image. It also does not reduce our responsibility to exercise good management of His creation.
Human life is sacred because God made it so. Remember, no man can change what God ordained. You have dignity and value because the sovereign God made you in His image!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “What is Grace?”

What is grace?”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

The Apostle John wrote, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17 (ESV) John referred to the law given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai and to the truth which is reality revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. But what is the meaning of grace? For years Sunday school teachers have taught our children that grace means unmerited favor. Grace is to receive what is not deserved. Mercy is another expression of grace. As grace is undeserved, justice is what is deserved. The law of God given through Moses is a revelation of the absolute perfection of God. God revealed His absolute standard. The Jews sought to make the law fool-proof. The leaders of the Jews came up with more than 600 nuances of the basic commandments of God as a means of addressing every aspect of life and how men should behave to keep the law. Yet, Jesus repeatedly said that they had missed the spirit of the law. The truth is that no one can keep the law. The Apostle Paul wrote that the purpose of the law was to bound sin and lead men to their need for a Savior, Galatians 3:19-29.

May I offer you a fundamental principle of life from the word of God? God requires absolute perfection. Jesus said perfect righteousness is required for citizenship in the Kingdom. “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48

God doesn’t grade righteousness on a scale. I remember taking Quantum Physics in Engineering College years ago. If the professor didn’t grade our tests on a scale no one would have gotten a passing grade in his course. He took the lowest grade and the highest grade and developed an acceptable score. God doesn’t do that. If you think that God will compare you to others at the end of your life, you will not have a “passing grade.”

Are you willing to be honest with yourself? If you are, the undeniable conclusion is that you’re not perfect. No one is. This is the need for grace. Since no one is perfect no one will go to heaven unless God extends His grace.

God’s grace is the only means by which men may have a “passing grade.” But God’s grace is not simply winking at our failure to be perfect. God’s grace is extended because of merit, perfect merit. God’s grace is extended only because of the perfect merit of Jesus Christ. What all men fail to do, He did. The grace of God is His favor extended to His people because of the merit of Jesus on their behalf. This grace is called saving grace. It is given by God to those whom He chose before the foundation of the world. His choice is not based on anything we will do or have done. His choice is unconditional, Ephesians 1, 2.

You may be thinking that this choice of God to extend saving grace as He wills is unfair and God is not unfair. I agree. God is not unfair. But grace is not about fairness. God is perfectly fair. We call His fairness divine justice. He has said that at the end of this world there will be a final judgment. Two books will be opened by God. One book is the record of everyone’s deeds. The other is called the book of life. The judgment of God is that anyone’s name that does not appear in the book of life is thrown into the “lake of fire.” Those two books represent the difference between justice and grace. Those who live thinking that God winks at their sin and will somehow extend grace to them at the end are those who will experience perfect justice. On the other hand, those who live their lives relying upon the perfect life of Jesus and His perfect sacrifice will experience the fullness of God’s grace in eternal bliss.

So then, Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Grace is God’s unmerited favor based upon the merit of His only Son, Jesus. There are only two alternatives for mankind. Rely upon your own merit or rely upon the merit of Christ. In either case the standard is perfection. The truth is Jesus is the only One who was perfect.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “God’s Mission for His Church”

God’s Mission for His Church
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The purpose of the church is holiness. The church has been set apart by God for God. He said because “I am holy you are to be holy.” A purpose is a reason for being or existence. On the other hand, when we speak of mission in the church, we are looking to do something. The difference between purpose and mission is the difference between being and doing.
The church’s mission was prophesied by Isaiah. The Suffering Servant, Jesus, would come and be a “light for the nations” (Isaiah 42:6). God also said it is “too small a thing” to only save “Jacob” but that He would call all peoples to Himself through the gospel (cf. Isaiah 49:6). The Church of God was on mission, His.
One of the most familiar passages in the Bible declares God’s global mission for the church (Matthew 28:18-20). All Christian Churches know this passage to be our marching orders given directly by the Risen Lord Jesus. We refer to this as the Great Commission. The weight of this mission is supreme because of the weight of the one who gave it. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth” was given to me.” This is an inclusive statement. That is, regardless of whether men submit to Him, Jesus is the one who has all authority. We all would do well to think of Jesus’ ultimate authority when faced with other authorities in life that make clams upon us. Men have a granted authority. For example, we are called to submit to governmental authority because God has ordained their limited authority for the good and welfare of all men (Romans 13). The same Apostle wrote that a sign of the culture in the “last days” is that there will be a lack of submission to authority (2 Timothy 3). He was writing of the culture in the church. The church stands under the word of God and therefore, we receive His commands concerning purpose and mission and submit to Him.
Therefore, the Risen Lord Jesus directs the church on her mission. The church has been given a granted authority by the one who has supreme authority to do what He commands. So, we ought to be clear on the Savior’s command. Concerning mission, His command is to disciple. Those who are following Him are to go and make disciples. The word “disciple” is the main verb of Matthew 28:19-20. To translate Jesus’ command into English, the word “make” has been inserted. The critical nature of this command to make disciples was further detailed by the means. The means by which the church is to make disciples was described by two participles, baptizing and teaching.
The first means of making disciples is baptizing, which concerns identity. Discipling requires that the one discipled be identified with the One he is following, the Triune God. Followers of Jesus are identified with Him. This text is also the source of the church’s receiving of the sacrament of baptism, the sign and seal of the Covenant. Every follower of Jesus, by His command, may rightly receive the “sign of the Covenant” as a member in the visible Covenant Community. Also, the children of believers rightly receive the “sign of the Covenant”, in accordance with Genesis 17:10ff and Acts 2:39.
The second means of discipling is teaching. In the process of discipling, disciples are taught “everything that Jesus commanded,” namely, the whole of Scripture. A disciple is a learner and follower of Jesus throughout his entire life. Christians are disciples of Jesus. “And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26).
Discipleship requires teaching the whole truth. Paul told the elders in Ephesus that he was innocent of their blood because he did not “shrink from declaring . . . the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27). The content of discipleship is the Bible, the word of God written.
The first thing taught is the gospel. When Jesus began His public ministry, He preached that the Kingdom was near, therefore, He said, “repent and believe in the gospel [of the Kingdom]” (Mark 1:15). Paul wrote that the gospel was “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3).
Finally, as God’s purpose of the church is clearly given by Him; be holy because He is holy; the mission is likewise clear. God’s mission for His church is to make disciples “of all nations.”

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “God’s Purpose for His Church”

God’s Purpose for His Church
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
There are some fundamental truths that Christians generally affirm. Truths like salvation is by God’s grace, there is a God who created everything out of nothing, Jesus Christ is the only Son of God not made but eternally proceeding from the Father and trusting in Jesus is the certain hope for all believers. Most Christians know that God has given them the desire to worship and praise Him.
Yet there is a clearly revealed truth that is not often spoken of in evangelical churches in the West. This clearly revealed truth is God’s revealed purpose for His Church: to be holy! Throughout Scripture, God’s purpose of holiness is expressly given (e.g., Exodus 19:5-6; Leviticus 11:44; 19:2; Matthew 5:13-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Timothy 6:6-8; 1 Peter 1:15-16; 2:9-10).
The visible church, the one we see, is defined as all those who profess Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel, and their children. Every local church that teaches Jesus is fully God and fully Man, the second person of the Trinity, is part of the universal visible church. The Protestant Reformation described the true church, the visible church as every church that preaches the pure gospel, administers the two sacraments as ordained by Christ and exercises biblical church discipline.
God has chosen to reach the lost through the visible church. Romans 10:17 is the clear affirmation of God’s plan. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (ESV). But God has also organized the visible church. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherd and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-12a, ESV). Every local church that bears the marks of a true church is part of the worldwide visible church of Jesus Christ.
So, if God organized the church, revealed her marks, and chose to use her to reach the lost, it is reasonable to expect that He also gave her a purpose.
Some people think that the purpose of the church is the ministry that she does. We can look to biblical preaching, teaching sound doctrine, liturgy, programs, etc. But the God-given purpose underlies all the things that the church does. Purpose is concerned with being rather than doing.
The dictionary’s definition of purpose is the reason for existence or being. Applying this definition, what is the reason for the church’s existence? God’s purpose for her was revealed in the Old Testament, Leviticus 11:44. This very same purpose was repeated in the New Testament, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16, ESV).
God’s revealed purpose for His church is holiness. In other words, the church exists to be holy. The basic meaning of holy is unique. The range of meaning includes purity and perfection. God gave the church a purpose; He declared that the church was set apart, dedicated to Him. The church is by His definition, different than the world.
In Chuck Colson’s Against the Night, he observed that the church had become or was at least striving to become just like the world. D.L. Moody once compared the visible church to a ship in the sea. He said, “The place for the ship is in the sea, but God help the ship if the sea gets in it. Just as the place for the church is in the world, but God help the church if the world gets in it.” The Bible uses the metaphor of a bride to describe the church. She is the bride of Christ. She is the holy Jerusalem that the Apostle John was allowed to see coming down from heaven (see Revelation 21). Jesus Christ died for the church to make her holy (see Ephesians 5:25).
It is essential for Christians to know their purpose. For the church to be holy, all its members are likewise to be holy. The individual members of the church were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy (Ephesians 1:4). God does not leave this to the will of men. God sanctifies every believer. That is, He makes every member of His church more and more like Christ. He does so by the power of His Spirit who takes His word written and applies it to our hearts so that we might live holy lives for His glory. Soli Deo Gloria!