Know God, Advance Missions – Part 1

There we were at the base of Mt Elbert.  At 14,440 ft, it’s the highest summit in the Rocky Mountains, the highest point in Colorado and the second-highest summit in the contiguous United States.  My group of Jr and Sr Highers were on a mission’s trip in Colorado, helping a local church reach out to their community with the Good News.  We took a day for both recreation and team building, which was how we found ourselves that morning, looking up at the monstrosity before us.  They say every journey starts with the first step.  Which is both technically and metaphorically true.  You do need to commit, make a decision and then act on it.  You may want to make the journey, dream of making the journey, tell others, and yourself, that you are making the journey, but until that first step, you are not making that journey.  What they don’t say is that the first step is really kind of easy but it is followed by a second step and a third step and thousands of steps after that.  The higher we went on the mountain, the harder the steps were.  Decisions had to be made as to the best path, safety concerns needed to be taken into account, some needed to be forced to take breaks while others needed to be spurred onward and upward. And in a lot of ways, isn’t that similar to our Christian walk?

Of course, you need to take the first step.  We’ve all sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23) and while the consequence of that sin is death, both physical and spiritual, God has provided a way out as a gift for us (Romans 6:23).  But just because that gift (Jesus dying in our place on the cross) is there for the taking, we don’t possess it until we accept it.  We have to believe it, place our trust in Him, confess it openly to others (Romans 10:9).  That’s the first step.  It requires us to commit, to make a decision and then act on it.  But that’s only the first step.  Some Christians seem to think that the first step is the end of the journey, but far from it, we have a lifetime of steps to go.  Sure, that first step of accepting God’s free gift is vitally important.  It’s our crossing from death to life (John 5:24), our adoption into God’s family (Romans 8:16), our gaining our citizenship in God’s Kingdom (Ephesians 2:19-21; Philippians 3:20), it’s a guarantee of our salvation through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14; II Corinthians 1:21-22).  It’s the first step and you can’t take any more steps without it.  Unfortunately, some Christians take that first step and park there.  

Some are not confident in God’s promise and think they need to take the first step over and over.  I’ve had many youth who would raise their hand at every altar call.  They didn’t need to be saved again, they needed to take the next step of assurance of that salvation.  If only the Bible would say that we could ‘know’ we have eternal life. Oh wait, it does.  I John 5:11-12 tells us that we can know we have eternal life if we have the Son and believe on Him.

Some think that because works can’t get us into heaven (Ephesians 2:8,9), they (works) are useless after we’ve become citizens of heaven, so they don’t even try.  Many times, I’ve heard Christians talk about how our works are ‘filthy rags’ (Isaiah 64:6), but that’s why we need Jesus’ perfection to be saved.  But once saved, now we need to take the next step.  We are created to do good works but that was sidetracked by sin.  Once we are put back on track by God through His saving grace, we can start doing those good works that God created us to do (Ephesians 2:10; James 2:17-18).

Some seem to think that because God is loving and has already save us by His grace, we can live however we want and that grace will cover us.  They have the old ‘get out of hell’ card. But God can’t be played, fooled, conned, etc (Galatians 6:7). If you truly take that first step, you are saved from Hell, but God still disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:6-10). Paul makes an excellent argument against this in Romans 6.  ‘Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?’  The answer is a resounding ‘By no means!’.

So, what are the next steps? Well first, we need to understand what the first steps are.  Hebrews 6:1-2 says,

Therefore, let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

These elementary teachings are not to be discarded but to be built upon as the foundation for all the other steps that we are to take on this journey.  Let’s take a closer look at these elementary teachings that once understood, we are to ‘leave’ and go on to maturity.

Repentance from dead works:  These first two are easy.  Most of us know them well.  Works can’t save you.  We can’t be good enough to earn heaven (‘Filthy rages’ and all that). The Bible says to understand this and move on.

Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. Isaiah 59:1-2

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8

Faith toward God: See the above verse.  It is by grace we are saved through faith.  Faith is putting your trust, your belief in something or someone.  In this case, God. We need to understand these first two personally and move on.  Though we as a church still dwell on these as we endeavor to share that good news with others.  Evangelism is one of the steps we do after we’ve built the foundation.

“For  God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. John 5:24

Instruction about washings: Washings, in the culture of the Bible, referred to symbolic cleansing.  In the Old Testament, Naaman was told by Elisha to ‘wash’ himself in the Jordan 7 times to be cleansed of leprosy (II Kings 5).  John cleansed people through washings called baptism.  His was not a total cleansing, but a baptism of repentance to point to Jesus (Acts 19:4).  We follow that now and get baptized when we believe. We get baptized once and move on.

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. I Peter:21-22

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38

Laying on of hands: To allay any confusion, this does not have to do with healing but with commissioning.  Throughout the Bible, the laying on of hands accompanied the conferring of blessing or authority (Deuteronomy 34:9).  We were commissioned when we became missionaries for TIME Missions.  It’s realizing to what God is calling us and the church confirming that.  What is God’ call on your life?  What part do you play in the body of Christ? Does the church agree?  Many don’t know what God is calling them to.  They don’t know the gifts that God has given them to use for His glory.  This is should not be something we discover after years of being a Christian, it's a foundational doctrine you need to discover so you can move on and build on it.

And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. Acts 6:5-6

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. I Corinthians 12:4-7

Resurrection of the dead: These last two have to do with the afterlife.  Understanding that the dead will be resurrected is the whole basis for why God sent His Son.  We are all dead in our sin. We are all dead spiritually and many, over the course of history, are dead physically.  If there is no resurrection, then all this is futile.  This was an also a common argument in Jesus’ day between the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  The Pharisees believe in a resurrection of the dead, though their method for getting there depended on the dead works doctrine which has already been discounted earlier (see above).  The Sadducees believed there was no resurrection or afterlife and our soul perished at death (and that is why they were ‘sad, you see’ {That’s a free mnemonic device for you}).  It is vital to understand this so everything else makes sense.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. I Corinthians 15:12

Eternal judgment: While the resurrection of the dead was denied by some in Jesus day, eternal judgement is denied by many ‘progressive’ churches today.  They are good with heaven, but don’t like the idea of Hell and therefor deny that it exists.  They got that half right.  Nobody likes the idea of Hell, but it does exist and that’s why we do what we do, doing missions and ministry to share the good news.  We are not going to tackle the apologetics of Heaven and Hell or try to define them (too much to go into here).  It's enough to know that heaven is where God is and Hell is where God isn’t.  Yes, I know that God is Omnipresent but that He is also Holy and set apart from things like sin.  See what I mean, it’s not a simple discussion, but the basics that there will be eternal judgement is foundational.

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:27-28

But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. Romans 2:5-6

By the way, we all made it to the peak of Mt. Elbert.  From the Jr High girl to the slightly out of shape youth pastor (that’s me), we all made it.  There was a lot of encouraging and cajoling.  We each had our different pace and stamina, but we kept moving, taking the next step until we reached our goal.  Tony Evans once said that ‘God is not looking for perfection, He’s looking for progression’.  Forward motion. Building on the foundation.  And all this was just about the foundation we are to build upon.  This was all to set the stage for Part 2, what we need to add to our faith.  I know what you’re thinking, ‘Sola fide’ (faith alone).  Two things: We already alluded this concept earlier and I didn’t make up the term ‘add to your faith’, I was quoting the Bible.  Intrigued?  Keep your eyes out for Part 2 and get ready to take the next steps.

Rick Jacobsen has been serving short term mission trips for over 15 years, both as missionary and pastor of youth mission trips. He is TIME Missions Vice President of Leadership Development and serves 15 plus missionaries. He also has a large involvement with training interns for summer mission trips. He and family served in TIME Mexico, facilitating mission trips for all ages.