Monday, January 15, 2007

A True Profession - Al Baker

Perpetua, a young, well to do woman, lived in Carthage in 200 A.D. Carthage, modern day Tunis in north Africa, had a vibrant Christian community living amongst a pagan people, and Perpetua had come to believe in Jesus as the Christ. She was attending a Catechism class to prepare her for public profession and baptism, when she and five others were arrested by the Roman authorities.

Septimius Severus, the Roman emperor at the time, was cracking down on Christians who refused to worship him as god. He feared that Christianity undermined allegiance to the government and he would have none of it.

While awaiting trial Perpetua's father, a prominent member of Carthage society and a pagan, came to her jail cell, begging her to recant her new faith. She turned to a vase in the cell and asked her father, "Can this vase be called by any other name? I am what I am, a Christian. I will not recant."

Later, after Perpetua had been moved to a more comfortable cell so that she could nurse her baby, her father returned and laid a heavy guilt trip on her, saying, "You will die for your faith. Why would you bring such heartache to your father and mother? Don't you care about your husband and your infant? Will you bring reproach on me and shame me by dying as a criminal?" Perpetua was moved by her father's arguments but still refused to recant.

Later at her trial her father burst into the hearing with Perpetua's baby and begged her again to recant her faith in Christ. Perpetua again refused. The judge, not wanting to execute a young woman who was nursing her baby, offered a compromise. Would she merely offer a sacrifice to the gods? Again she refused, and at that point the judge sentenced her to death, along with the other new believers. They were led to the local coliseum with hundreds watching, and a wild heifer was unleashed on the Christians. It threw Perpetua into the air and trampled her. Next a leopard came at her and the others. Their deaths were taking too long so finally the authorities ran each of them through with a spear.

In our post everything world (people no longer believe in absolute truth, Christianity, the political process, heroes to inspire them, a better life) perhaps now, more than ever, true profession is essential. Paul puts forth in verse 15 of Ephesians 1 two undeniable characteristics of a Christian. Ask yourself, do you have these characteristics in your life?

1] The first is faith in the Lord Jesus. The faith about which Paul is speaking is not mere knowledge or lip service. It is not even an experience with God. It is not even belief in God for many say they believe in God. But true faith grasps, rejoices in, glories in the gospel essentials- that we are sinners justly deserving God's wrath and displeasure, believing that Jesus is the only mediator between God and man, the only Savior of the world. Such belief does not leave open the possibility of salvation in any other religion. Can you imagine Perpetua agreeing that other ways to God existed? True faith is not merely a saving, one time faith, but a growing one of obedience. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who stood against Adolf Hitler and who was executed said, "Only those who believe are obedient, and only the obedient believe."

2] The second characteristic of true profession is love for all the saints. See John 13:35, 15:12, I John 4:19, 20. This love is not mere feelings or lip service. It is not a refusal to challenge, correct, rebuke, question, or warn a brother or sister in sin. It is action. It is a willingness to risk loss- loss of time, money, emotional energy. It is a willingness to be disappointed in those whom you try to help. It is a willingness to challenge, rebuke, and question a believer. Think of the difference between a doting and loving father. The first wants to be best buddy with his children and will likely not challenge them, especially when they reach their teen years. That's not love. We glory in the truth of our justification by faith, but this forensic standing with God does not remove our responsibility to walk in obedience and holiness. The pessimistic, post modern, post everything people of our day want, need to see authenticity, community, reciprocity (love one another, forgive one another, be kind to one another), humility, and generosity. We have the ability, those of us who have true profession, to live this way.

So where are you? Are you truly in Christ? If not, then repent and truly believe now, casting yourself on Jesus who alone can save you. See how rebellious you are, how much you deserve God's righteous anger and judgment, and then run to Jesus for refuge, plunging yourself in His blood which alone can save. And if you are a believer, would you draw daily upon the unsearchable riches of Christ? Would you truly believe? Would you truly obey? Would you allow the indwelling Christ to produce in you authenticity and community? Our words mean little to nothing if actions of obedience do not follow. Perhaps now, more than ever, our post everything world needs to see true profession.

Al Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.

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