January 4, 2021
Eve of Epiphany
“Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites; but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep. The preacher’s job is to proclaim the faith, not to provide entertainment for unbelievers: in other words, to feed the sheep rather than amuse the goats.” ~J.I. Packer
I wish you all a Happy New Year filled with blessings from our Heavenly Father. We are grateful to the Lord for His mercies in bringing us into this new year. To Him be glory forever! Amen.
On this 12th Day of Christmas, the Eve of Epiphany, or the appearing of Christ to the Gentiles, we are faced with something people rarely talk about anymore: the fact that our Lord Jesus came into this world to inaugurate (and eventually establish) an eternal kingdom characterized by holiness, righteousness, justice, love, truth, life, peace, and joy. The sorry state of our global society – spiritual, moral, economic, physical well-being, political and social – is alarming. More importantly, the state of the worldwide Church should also be matter of a concern because our lives as Christians do not consistently reflect the virtues of Christ’s kingdom (of which we are supposed to be members). This is a sad reality in the lives and for too many Christian leaders, lay people, and churches around the world.
This is not good for the mission of the Church in the world where we are sent by Jesus to be light and salt.
What should we do, how should we proceed?
1. First, I would like each of us, individually, to ensure that we are truly in Christ’s Kingdom and living lives marked by the characteristics of His Kingdom: holiness, righteousness, justice, love, truth, life, peace, humility, gentleness, and joy. I want our lives and ministries as Christians to propagate His Kingdom (rather than any different kingdom). We must shun and reject preaching any kingdom characterized by secular humanism and sin: the sins of unbelief, materialism, drunkenness, abortion, sexual immorality, hate, nepotism, hatred, undermining of others, resentment, political partisanship, idolatry, hypocrisy, and lies. It is wrong for Christians or Christian leaders to act with bitterness, deceit, hatred, envy, hypocrisy, mean-spiritedness, ungodliness, and mendacity. These things do not reflect Christian Kingdom living and are definitely not what the Lord Jesus Christ wants for His Kingdom.
2. Second, I ask you to commit yourselves and your congregations to Biblical preaching and sharing the Gospel of Christ and His Kingdom. These lead to genuine maturity and holiness as disciples of Christ. This will be our main focus this year in The Anglican Diocese of the West. I will be intentional to both disciple and mentor Clergy to be godly men of God, and to exhort Clergy to mentor and disciple the laity in their respective congregations to be godly men and women of God in Christ. This begins with clear preaching of the Gospel that calls people to repentance and faith in Christ. More often than not, we are clear on calling people to believe in Christ as Savior and to believe God for His blessings. It is in the area of repentance and holiness that we are reluctant to engage. But we must also call people to repentance (as Jesus commanded us!). George Whitfield rightly noted, “True repentance will entirely change you; the bias of your souls will be changed, then you will delight in God, in Christ, in His Law, and in His people.” It is partly because we no longer preach the word of God in regard to Christ-centered Gospel repentance and the necessity of living a life of personal and social holiness in Christ that we have lost our way and ended up in what Charles Spurgeon called “downgrade Christianity” – that is, Christianity marked by theological liberalism, self-centered religious hype, ungodly living, spiritual mediocrity, and unbelief in the uniqueness of Christ as the only way to salvation.
We need to be intentional in our own pursuit of holiness and as we encourage one another to be holy. As Dr. J. I. Packer righty noted, “In reality, holiness is the goal of our redemption. As Christ died in order that we may be justified, so we are justified in order that we may be sanctified and made holy.” Unfortunately, this goal has been more of a gaping hole in many of our own lives, our families, and our preaching and ministry in many churches in the Anglican Communion. This has enervated the life, mission, and image of the church. Alistair Begg noted that “One of the key reasons for the flabbiness of our spiritual lives is that a generation of Christians is growing up with little awareness of the necessity of dealing with sin. There are sins to be rejected. We must learn where our personal weaknesses lie – and once they are identified, we must be ruthless in dealing with them. Earlier generations called this the “mortification of the flesh” – that is, pronouncing the death sentence upon sin and putting that sentence into daily effect by killing all that sets itself against God’s purpose in our lives.” Reformed teacher and pastor Kevin DeYoung explains the reason for this: “There is a gap between our love for the gospel and our love for godliness. This must change. It’s not pietism, legalism, or fundamentalism to take holiness seriously. It’s the way of all those who have been called to a holy calling by a holy God.” So, let us stir up and encourage one another to deal with sin in our lives, in our churches, in our marriages, and in our relationships with each other this year.
3. Third, the Church – leaders and laity – has a moral obligation to preach the Gospel AS WELL AS address the moral declension in the social and political lives of the nations. Without being politically partisan, rude, or ungodly we need to oppose intellectual, social, and political ideas, values, policies, and behaviors that contradict the Word of God. As Christians we must correct our political leaders and parties when they stray from Biblical truths and standards rather than acquiescing to such things because they are propagated by the political parties to which we belong.
4. Fourth, we need to put our trust in the Lord. Last year was a year of lows and highs, difficulties and blessings, and many uncertainties. We cannot be sure what this year (2021) will be in the end. But we do know – and can be veritably sure – that our Lord Jesus Christ reigns, rules, and saves. So, we can trust Him to save sinners, to sustain us, and to use us to expand His Kingdom. He is the only God who works miracles and he has not changed one bit! As the Bible says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8). He worked miracles in the past, and He can do them again in us, for us, and through us for His glory and His fame! Let us then prayerfully trust Him to help us in our times of need. As the Bible tells us, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6). God has not given up on us. So, don’t give up on God or on yourself because of your situation. The Lord loves you and has demonstrated the depth of His love by sending our Lord Jesus Christ to give His life as a ransom for us. There is no love greater than that. We must hold on to the Him no matter what our circumstances are because He is in the business of restoring and renewing broken lives. Our Heavenly Father never abandons His children. He will never forsake you. He is in the business of giving hopeless people and helpless sinners new beginnings. He changes lives and uses people like you and me to help others come to receive life and hope in Christ. In your desperation and despair turn to Him and He will surprise you with His amazing grace – favor that you do not deserve.
5. Finally, I ask you to reach out to one another. Don’t be Lone Rangers. Our celebrated rugged individualism and competitive, consumptive, individualism promise us high heavens but deliver loneliness, social dysfunction, and more fragility for you and the people around you. We need one another. I need you and you need me. Hopefully, that’s one lesson we have learned in the year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Let us help and encourage one another so that we can end the year 2021 well, and, in the end, finish the Christian race in the grace and holiness of God as we look unto Christ who is the Author and Finisher of our Faith.
Are you willing to commit yourself to doing these things? Pat Riley once said that, “There are only two options regarding commitment. You’re either in or out. There’s no such thing as life in-between.”
May the Lord of Hosts grant you many blessings in 2021 so that your life will be a testimony of His wonder-working power and love.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Felix Orji, OSB.
Anglican Diocese of the West.
Coordinating Bishop of CONNAM.
Holy Trinity Cathedral Church
8402 Howell Sugarland Road
Houston, Texas, 77083
“We are justified by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. True faith always yields the fruit of obedience to one degree or another.” – Dr. R. C. Sproul