God cares about every area of our lives, and his life-giving ethics both affirm and challenge the values of any given culture. We should not shrink back from proclaiming the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). But rather than begin with pushing moral behaviors or taking our stand in the culture wars, we start with the far more important question of “Who is Jesus?” Jesus taught with extraordinary wisdom, lived with a remarkably great character, yet made the most outrageous claims to be God in the flesh (Mark 2:10, John 8:58-59), the source of eternal life and the savior of the world (John 14:6). If Jesus is who he claims to be, then it makes sense to bring our lives into conformity with his ethics. If he’s not, then we’re just pushing our own preferred morals or religion, which Jesus himself warns us against doing!1
After all, Jesus’ message – known as the gospel or the good news – is utterly unique when compared to other religions, so much so that the early Christians were even accused of being atheists for their lack of religious trappings. While religion is about what man does in order to become acceptable to God, the good news of Jesus is that God has come to do for us everything necessary to make us acceptable to him. When we trust that Jesus lived a perfect life in our place, died on a cross to pay the penalty for our sins, and bodily rose from the dead, God forgives, accepts, and welcomes us into eternal fellowship with him as an act of pure, undeserved grace (Eph. 2:8-9). It’s a grace that was incredibly costly to Jesus, but which he extends freely to us! God calls us to stop trying to save ourselves – either through self-gratification or self-righteousness – and to allow him to love and accept us through Jesus (Luke 15:11-32).
Sadly, Christians have not always been very good at extending this sort of grace to others. Many people outside the church think of Christians as judgmental and self-righteous. For us to be a Jesus- centered church means that like Jesus, we seek to love, welcome, and cherish those who do not yet share our beliefs or lifestyle (Luke 7:36-50, Luke 15:1-2, John 8:1-11, etc.).
This good news of grace is not just for those who are exploring Jesus, but it’s also essential to his followers. Trusting in all that Jesus has done for us isn’t just the way that we enter life with God, but it’s also how we grow to become more like Jesus (Gal. 3:1-6). The good news that we are forgiven and loved by God’s grace, no longer enslaved to our desires or hurtful life-patterns, indwelled by God, the Holy Spirit, and assured of eternal life in a renewed world, provides both the power to grow in godliness and the comfort for when we fail. No wonder the Bible calls this “gospel” (good news) “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16), which is “bearing fruit and growing” all throughout the world (Col. 1:6)!
Accordingly, when we teach the Bible at Grace Lake Highlands, we don’t just teach about principles for better living. The Bible isn’t primarily a manual for how to live or a collection of saintly stories. It is a unified story of what God has done to rescue and restore his creation through Jesus. Jesus himself says to some of the most biblically versed religious leaders of his day: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; but it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 6:39-40). And after his resurrection from the dead, Jesus teaches his disciples about how all of their known Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament), speak of him (Luke 24:27, 44-47). When rightly interpreted, every page of the Bible shows us our need for Jesus, what Jesus has done to meet that need, and how trusting in Jesus’ provision can transform us to flourish in the way that God intends. Therefore, in every Sunday morning sermon or smaller group discussion of Scripture, we will lift up the good news of Jesus Christ, drawing out the ways that it can bring renewal to every area of our lives and our world.
Like the members of the early Christian church, we come from different cultures and backgrounds and possess varied gifts and temperaments. We seek to maintain the unity we have in Jesus, while celebrating the diversity that exists within his Church (Gal. 3:28, 1 Cor. 12:12-27). We don’t have to share the same race, income, politics or theological distinctives to be united in our commitment to Jesus and in our care for one another.
We live in a historical moment when there is increasing division and hostility along political lines. Many people, both now and throughout history, have tried to fit Jesus into a political party and claim that he is “on our side.” But the more important question for a follower of Jesus is always, “Am I on Jesus’ side?”2 No human government system fully aligns with the values of the kingdom of God. Jesus is in some ways very conservative and in other ways very progressive. And he has very unique things to say about how we use power in general (to serve and sacrifice not coerce or compel). This doesn’t mean that Christians can’t be engaged in politics or support a particular political party, but it does mean there should be times when we diverge from the party line. It does mean that we should be able to share in Christian fellowship with people who don’t share our politics. And it does mean that as followers of the one who called us to “love and bless your enemies,” we ought to be the ones leading the way in showing respect, honor, love and civility to those who believe differently from us.
As it relates to our theology, it’s no secret that Jesus’ Church has not always agreed on the best way to interpret the Bible. While we believe, like Jesus, that the Bible is the inspired, infallible word of God, we are far from infallible in our efforts to interpret what it means. At Grace Church Lake Highlands, we find it helpful to reflect our limitations by distinguishing between theological convictions, persuasions, and opinions.
By convictions, we mean the historic Christian teaching about who God is and what he has done to rescue us through Jesus. We hold unwaveringly to these truths that are the very foundation of our hope. For the sake of our fellowship and our shared mission, it’s important that we maintain unity in these convictions, which are captured in our statement of faith. Within the global body of Christ, we also hold to a number of persuasions about the best ways to interpret the teaching of the Bible as a whole. These persuasions are part of a tradition known as “Reformed” or “Presbyterian” and are expressed within the Essential Tenants of the tribe of churches to which we belong: “ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.” Though we expect the leaders of our church to affirm these persuasions, not everyone within our church family need do so, so long as they can respect them. The same applies to opinions, like preferred music style, etc. We affirm the humble wisdom of the ancient Church saying: “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
Admittedly, there are parts of the Bible that may initially seem difficult to accept or to believe. But one need not be persuaded of the authority of the Bible before exploring the person of Jesus. Assuming that the New Testament accounts of the life and teaching of Jesus are reliable, which they are (they are too early, too detailed, and too counterproductive to be later legend); then the question becomes what do we make of Jesus? Again, is he who he claims to be? If so, we’re then led to ask what was Jesus’ view of the Bible?
When you read through the Gospels and look at the life of Jesus, you see that Jesus was absolutely immersed in the Scriptures (which for him was the Old Testament). He regularly says, “It is written,” as a basis for supporting his convictions. He repeatedly quotes from the Scriptures. In fact, he quotes from 24 different books of the Old Testament, just in the words of Jesus that we have recorded. And 10 times Jesus bases his answer to a question not on a single verse but on a single word. He absolutely trusts God’s word, and he relies on it in every moment of his life, especially in the crises and major moments of decision.
Like Jesus then, we not only believe that the Bible is trustworthy, but we believe it is worthy of our trust. As we devote ourselves to reading, understanding, and applying the Scriptures, just as Jesus did in his own life, we become more like Jesus. We are transformed into people of greater integrity, beauty, courage, and love. At Grace Church Lake Highlands, we therefore want to read, pray, sing, and speak the Scriptures into our lives and embed the Bible into everything that we do. We are passionate about helping people learn to engage with Scripture because following Jesus and following his word cannot be separated. To abide in Jesus and to abide in his word are essentially one and the same (John 15:7).
There’s a big difference between affirming some things about Jesus and living as a follower of Jesus. In the city of Dallas, there remains a great deal of what you might call “cultural Christianity.” We may make the mistake of either assuming that Christianity is something you are born into (like an ethnicity) or that it can be reduced to a conversion experience (a certain prayer or decision). But Jesus didn’t come seeking simply conversions but followers. He came not just to get people into heaven but to help us to experience abundant life with God today. We don’t just want to know “where we’ll go when we die,” but we want to experience the joy, hope, freedom and transformation of following Jesus now, as we join him in his self-giving, world restoring mission. Jesus says “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10. He says, “Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25). And so we want to say with Jesus’ first disciples, “Lord, to whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68).