What Must I Do to Be Saved?
There is a tendency as humans to want to feel that we must do something to secure our salvation. God may have done the lion’s share of the work, but we have to do our part and without our part salvation would not have been possible. This enables us to pat ourselves on the back and take some credit. We, in partnership with God, earned our salvation and became righteous.
Is this what the Bible teaches? If we contributed in any way to our salvation then we first must have sought God. If you don’t seek God how can you know God and know what to do to be saved? Yet the Bible says:
“There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.” (Romans 3:11)
Well that doesn’t sound very good but maybe that was part of God’s contribution. Surely our good works counted for something, right? That must have been our part. I mean, we had to believe and we’re not all bad so surely the good in our life must count for something in God’s eyes? The Bible says salvation is:
“not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:9)
“For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)
What? Are you telling me God did it all and I had no part?
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8)
You see, man has two problems. The first is that God hates sin. God cannot sin and will not allow sin to dwell in His presence. Why is that a problem? Because we are sinners! We can’t go one day without sinning much less a lifetime. Well, what if we don’t sin too much? First, if we could see our lives through God’s eyes, we would realize we sin a LOT more than we think. Remember, sins are not just things you do or say but includes your thoughts, your motives, your desires. God can see all that. How many sins does it take to be a sinner? ONE. That’s it, just one. Raise your hand if you have never sinned? No hands. Didn’t think so. So, by definition you ARE A SINNER. What did we say about God and sin? He hates it and won’t allow it to dwell in His presence.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
Is God going to be in heaven? I know, dumb question. So, if God hates sin, and God won’t allow sin in His presence, and God is in heaven, how can we, sinners, go to heaven? Well that’s only in God’s presence. God must have a fancy throne room in a fancy building in heaven and so long as we don’t go in there, we are free to enjoy the rest of heaven. Oh really? Does God have a body? No. Jesus does but not God the Father, not the Holy Spirit. Can God be contained in just one location? No. God is omnipresent which means He is everywhere all at once. There is no place you can go where God is not. Since God is everywhere at all times, I think that includes heaven! So, no sin in heaven.
“Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?” declares the LORD. “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:24)
Well I can’t live a perfect life, and I have sinned, so I guess I can’t go to heaven? You can! Because
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
You see when Jesus went to the cross, for a moment the sin of all the world for all time was put on Him. Even though Jesus had never sinned, He suddenly became sin. But Jesus was righteous. Jesus had never sinned. Jesus was the Son of God. His blood is sufficient to wash away all our sins. Just one drop. God demanded the death of the sinner. Look back at Romans 6:23 I quoted earlier. What are the wages of sin? Death! Are wages gifts? No. You earn your wages. They are due you. You have sinned against God and you have earned the wages of death. Not physical death, though that will happen, by spiritual death which means eternal separation from God!
Jesus took our place and He died for us. God’s justice was satisfied. The sin problem was dealt with. It was literally nailed to the cross. That’s why Jesus went to the cross. He went there to take on our sin and die for it. It’s like you committed a capital offense, were found guilty, and sentenced to death but then Jesus came and sat in that electric chair for you. Because He died, you don’t have to. Jesus gave His life for yours. It was a free gift.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8)
We call that mercy which means unmerited favor. Unmerited means you didn’t do anything to deserve it. Jesus didn’t die for your sins because you’re a nice guy and He felt sorry for you. No, there was nothing special about you that caused Jesus to die for you. He did it out of love and now is offering you the free gift of His death and His blood to pay the penalty for your sins and to wash them away in His blood. It’s a gift. Can you earn a gift? No. If you earn it then it’s not a gift. Gifts are freely given by the giver. Don’t let our modern holiday and birthday gifting taint your view of gifts. You might give a gift in certain circumstances because you feel it’s expected. You would rather not give it but you feel you have no choice. We might call that a gift but if you feel obligated to give it then it’s not a gift. Not really. True gifts are given because YOU want to give them. You don’t have to, you’re not obligated to, you simply want to. Jesus wants to give you His gift. He loves you. He really wants you to have it. To get a gift though you have to receive it. The gift is not yours until you receive it. How do you receive Jesus’ gift then? We’ll get to that.
You said there were two problems? What’s the other one? Glad you asked. God has another requirement to enter heaven. It’s not enough that you have no sin. You have to also be perfectly righteous. Ah, that’s where our good works come in right? Wrong. You cannot do enough good works to be perfectly righteous. Plus, do you think a sinner is perfectly righteous? Well maybe once God washes us in the blood of Christ, and removes all our sin, then we are perfectly righteous? Nope. That’s kind of like someone paying off all your bills and so you owe no one anything but you have zero dollars in your bank account. Do you get a perfect credit score of 800 if you have zero dollars but no debt? No. Even if after you are saved, you go on to do lots of good works through the Holy Spirit you still haven’t done enough to be perfectly righteous. Well then, it’s impossible!
Every heard of imputation? Impu-what? Imputation. No. Fancy word but to have something imputed to you means to have something not of you credited to you. It’s like having that zero-bank account and less than 800 credit and someone with a perfect credit score gives that score to you and the credit bureaus now view you as having a perfect credit rating. You didn’t earn that credit score. You did absolutely nothing to get it. That’s imputation. When it comes to salvation, God takes Christ’s (Jesus’) perfect righteousness and imputes it (credits it) to us. Now in God’s eyes we are perfectly righteous. We weren’t but we were made righteous by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2nd Corinthians 5:21)
So, if we except Jesus’ gift we can have our sins forgiven and washed away? Yes. Good news. What? Jesus really has two gifts for you. The first is His shed blood and death for you. The second is the imputation of His righteousness. So use the money analogy, you started out in terrible debt and facing a death sentence. Jesus came along and paid off your debts and took your place on the electric chair and died for you. You are so thankful because you know you were in terrible debt and that was your own fault. You also know you deserved to die. All you had to do was say yes and all this happened for you!
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
That’s probably the best-known verse in the Bible. Ever see the guy in the background at football games or other TV events and he’s holding a sign that says “John 3:16?” This is the verse. What did God do according to this verse? He gave his only begotten Son (Jesus). Note God gave us Jesus. That’s a gift. Why did God offer us this gift? Because “God so loved the world.” God did it out of love. How do we receive the gift? “whoever believes in Him.” You have to believe. Is believing a work? No. It takes place in your mind and in your soul. What results from the gift? “[you] shall not perish, but have eternal life.” God offers you a gift out of love. The gift is His Son Jesus who died for your sins and offers you His righteousness. If you believe, you are no longer deserving death and God gives you eternal life!
What’s the catch? I mean, this sounds too good to be true and usually things that are too good to be true come with a catch so what’s the catch? There’s no catch. No hidden clauses. However, in accepting these gifts you have to acknowledge the giver of the gift. Jesus isn’t just some guy. He’s God. He’s sinless and perfectly righteous. He created time and space and everything in it. He is Lord. He is above all kings, all rulers, all countries, all armies, all royalty. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. You have to know that and believe that. You can’t just say Jesus was a good man, or a prophet, or a guru, or some great philosopher or teacher. If Jesus were any of those things or all of those things that still wouldn’t have made Him perfectly righteous and no amount of His blood could have washed away your sins. It’s because He is God that He is perfectly righteous because only God can be perfectly righteous. It’s because He is God that His death could satisfy God perfect justice. We sinned against God and it’s God we have to answer to and our own death would not be enough to pay the price for our sins. Only Jesus’ death could do that. If you believe Jesus is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords then what should you do? What did regular people always do in the presence of their king? They got down on their knees and prostrated themselves before their king. They also pledged their allegiance to him and promised to do all he commanded. In return he protected them and provided for them. We don’t bow to Jesus to earn salvation. We bow in recognition of who He is. We humble ourselves and bow before our God and Savior.
If you have any other concept of who Jesus is then believing in that Jesus will not save you. There are a lot of counterfeit Jesus’ out there and lots of groups who claim they’ve got the real Jesus or they claim it’s doesn’t matter who or what you believe in just that you believe. They are wrong. You have to bow your knee and accept the free gift from the one and only true Son of God. He is the only one who can save you. You don’t need to know everything about Him when you ask for His forgiveness. You just need to acknowledge He is God. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and that your sinned against Him and need His forgiveness and His righteousness. Do that and He will give you His gifts and welcome you into His family.
How can you know more about Jesus? Read his book. It’s called the Bible and is the number one best seller of all time even today. He’ll help you to understand it too even though it’s not hard to understand. He will give you the Holy Spirit to live inside you and guide you. He will always be with you. Don’t buy the lie that God has other books. Just the Bible.
Jesus did it all and He offers all of us the free gift of salvation. Don’t make the mistake though of thinking your earned it nor the mistake of thinking you have to add to it. You can’t accept His gift and think you earned it at the same time. You have to acknowledge that you sinned and became unrighteous and that you could not save yourself or contribute anything to your salvation. It’s all Him. Our pride might not like that. We want to think we had some part to play. If we think that then we have no idea how bad our sin is and how useless we are in contributing to our salvation. You have to come to Jesus humbly acknowledging that your only hope for salvation is found in His death and His righteousness. If you believe it was me + Jesus, then you got the wrong gospel and you have not been forgiven. It’s not me plus Jesus. It’s just Jesus.
Once we’ve been forgiven then we begin a new life. Now we have the Holy Spirit of God within us. When we obey God and do good works, it’s not to earn our salvation or maintain it. Jesus did it all. It’s done. Past tense. We do good works now because we love God and want to do His will.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)
Notice we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus. Who did the work? Not us. God did it. What did he also do? He created good works for us, beforehand, so that we would walk in them. God has big plans for you. We aren’t doing good works to get right with God. We are doing good works to please God, to obey Him, and because we love Him.
One more thing. Ever heard of an “Indian giver?” Thankfully that saying is out of style. It means someone who gives you a gift and then changes his mind and wants it back. That’s not what the Indians did. The term came from a cultural misunderstanding in the 1700’s. In Indian culture when a gift was given, something of equal value was expected back. If you did not want to give something back then the Indian might be offended and take his gift back. Hence the term.
We already established that you didn’t do anything to earn your salvation and that you didn’t do anything to receive except to believe. We also learned that God offered us salvation out of love. God doesn’t care if you’re wealthy or poor, young or old, have light skin, dark skin, or any other shade of skin, if you’re from America or Russia, you’re a man or a woman. God’s gift is for everyone. God does not play favorites. Once you receive God’s gift, you have eternal life. You can’t lose it, have it taken away from you, or stolen from God.
“and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:28)
Some people teach that once you are saved you have to keep doing good works or you could lose your salvation. That’s not what the Bible teaches. We read the verse earlier that God prepared “beforehand” good works for us to do. He prepared these for us to do after we received His gift of salvation. We just read that we can’t lose our salvation so there is nothing more we need to do after receiving God’s gift. These people think that you have to keep your salvation by adding good works. They get this idea from something James wrote:
“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14)
If you read what James wrote, all of it, you see he’s trying to make a point here. An important point. Anyone can go around claiming to be a Christian; claiming to have saving faith. We have some expressions, talk is cheap. The proof is in the pudding. Put your money where your mouth is. Actions speak louder than words. We all know what those expressions mean. Walk your talk.
What did Ephesians 2:10 said God did? It said he prepared good works for us to do. Salvation is about more than making us right with God. God loves you so much that He wants you to be like Jesus. He gives you the Holy Spirit to aid you in living your new life of faith. Those good works you do, that God prepared beforehand, that are the “proof in the pudding.” They are the evidence of the salvation you already possess. That’s what James was arguing. If you say your saved and have faith but your life is not showing any evidence of it, then maybe your faith was not true faith. Maybe you didn’t really mean it. Maybe you talked yourself into saying the words but in your heart they were not true. If that’s your “faith” then that faith cannot save you. You are saved by faith alone but your faith does not leave you alone. You change. God begins working on you. Some things might change quickly while other things might change more gradually. You don’t become perfect. Not this side of heaven. We still have that old habit of sin hanging around that we have to resist. But you do change. If you live a long life after your claim faith and nothing ever changes, then you ought to question if your faith was genuine.
The Apostle Paul, in writing to the believers at the church in Corinth, said:
“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you– unless indeed you fail the test?” (2nd Corinthians 13:5)
Paul was warning them against complacency and false faith. It is always a good thing to take a good hard look at your life and ask yourself the hard questions. If you see some answers you don’t like, then you know what to work on. A changed life and evidence of a relationship with Jesus is a good test. Was your salvation a one-time event in your life and after that you just went back to your old life and never spent time with God? You never changed, you never sought God in prayer, you never read His Word (the Bible), you never sought the company of other believers. That’s what Paul means by testing. He’s not saying you can lose your salvation but maybe you’ve stopped walking in those good works or maybe you never had saving faith.
So, no you don’t need good works to be saved. You just need faith. That faith is a seed from which a new life will sprout and grow and produce good fruit. That is the outworking and evidence of our faith.
If you have never asked God’s forgiveness, do so now. Ask Jesus to forgive you. Ask for His blood to wash away your sins and His righteousness to be imputed to you. Tell Him He’s your Lord and you will strive, with His assistance, to lead a fruitful life out of love and obedience to Him. There are no special words. You don’t have to be in a church when you pray this prayer. Prayer is just talking to God. He can hear you. No matter where you are. He loves you no matter what you’ve done. More than you know. He will make you beautiful in His eyes. No matter who you are, what you’ve done He loves you. You think God could never love you because you’ve done so many bad things? You’re wrong. God’s love is unconditional. He loves you despite who you are and what you’ve done. He has seen it all. No one is beyond God’s reach. You can’t be too bad for God. Don’t believe Satan’s lie that you’ve cross a line, are too far gone, and God could never forgive you. God can and will even when you are not ready to forgive yourself. Maybe you’ve never experienced that kind of love and forgiveness and it’s totally foreign to you. That’s ok. God understands. Trust Him. I promise you will never regret it.
What I Have Learned – So Far…
You never get a do over in life. You can start over but you can never do over.
God never promised us an easy life. He never promised we’d be free of pain, sadness, loss, or persecution. He did promise He’d be with us to the very end of the age.
God never said He would take away all the consequences of our sin or of those whose sin harmed us. He did say He would wash our sins away as white as snow.
Sometimes God’s greatest work is accomplished in our pain and suffering. How we handle suffering is sometimes our greatest witness to a world that suffers but sees suffering as something to be avoided.
We will not find justice in this life but before the throne of God justice will be handed out and by the grace of God so will mercy.
Happiness is not a feeling when all is well or we are having fun. Happiness is a by-product of a right relationship with God. It is learning to be content and give thanks no matter what our circumstances.
Trials are a part of live as a believer. God is preparing us for eternity and to make us more Christ like.
Nothing on this earth will satisfy the longing of our soul. Only God can fill that vacuum in our hearts. The only true soulmate we will ever have is Jesus Christ.
If we do find happiness and joy, friends and family, good health and good living we owe it all to God and His good grace and good pleasure.
The greatest words we can ever hope to hear are “Well done good and faithful servant. Come and enter into the rest I have prepared for you.”
The greatest act we will ever perform will be to take the Crown of Glory off our heads and cast it to the feet of Jesus on His throne.
What we have cannot be bought with all the money in the world and the richest man or woman will never have as much as us. Our treasure is in our hearts and bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
Therefore rejoice and give thanks to God Almighty. He loves you, cherishes you, died for you, and calls you His child.
There is no greater love and this truly is the greatest story ever told.
Look to Jesus and you will never lack for anything again.
Loving the Darkness
I think the #1 reason people refuse to follow Christ is a failure to grasp the holiness of God and by contrast their sinfulness. We compare ourselves to an arbitrary standard, pick out the worst in society or history, and judge ourselves to be “pretty good.” Therefore, if there is a God (not that they need one), then surely he would not reject a “good person.” Yet our righteousness is like a dark cave compared to God’s which is like the blinding sun at noonday. Stare at the sun too long and you will blind yourself. Our eyes simply cannot handle that much pure light.
Imagine a man who lived his entire life from birth in a dark cave with seemingly no way out. A stream trickles through with some fish and the climate is warm enough that he does not die from exposure. His eyes have grown accustomed to the darkness of the cave. He can’t really see much but his eyes, accustomed to the extreme darkness, can make out a little. Then one day some cave explorers find a way into his cave and discover him. They have bright lights on their heads that blind him. He has to look away as he’s never seen such brightness. He can’t understand their language but they seem trusting and he allows them to lead him. Realizing his eyes aren’t ready for the full light they put a bag over his head as they approach the exit. At first he is frightened why they would do such a thing but suddenly he senses he is in more light than he thought possible even with a dark bag over his head. It takes months of gradual exposure to the light for him to get to where he can open his eyes fully outdoors. Finally he can see and a new world all around him. A world he could never have imagined. Yet compared to the brightness of the pure sun he is still limited in what he can see as are all the others there who never knew the darkness he did. He can though see more than he could have imagined.
We are spiritually born into utter darkness like the man in the cave. All we know is darkness yet are convinced we can see as our eyes have adjusted to the darkness and we can dimly make out a few things. We have no idea that such brightness as the sun exists! Indeed it is so foreign to all we’ve even known that we cannot even imagine such a thing. We have no idea what we are missing outside of that cave. We don’t even realize a world exists outside that cave. We don’t know we’re in a cave. The cave is our world, our universe. We have no idea how we got there or what awaits us.
One day someone comes into our cave and through sign language communicates the idea that there is a whole wide world outside the cave and that there is light in that world. We have to choose though if we are willing to leave the safety and comfort of the cave (at least it feels safe and comfortable to us) or venture outside into the light. Scarcely believing such a world exists and feeling we already have all we need we decline to follow. Why go we reason? There is nothing more to life than what we have. This person is deluded. Logically they are either a liar, a lunatic, or highly unlikely are correct. We don’t trust them. Even if they are correct how do we know what the outside is like? What if they make us a prisoner or make us live a miserable life? Why risk so much for the unknown that really doesn’t make sense to us? So we stay (John 3:19).
Jesus Christ is the man coming into the cave to lead us out into the light. Yet we love the darkness more than the light. God the Father is the sun. His holiness is SO bright our eyes cannot look upon it. We will need new eyes if we ever hope to gaze upon such light. If we follow Christ out of the cave our eyes begin to adjust to the light slowly over time. We begin to see our sin but also the greatness and grace of God and the beauty of all He has created. No longer hidden away in darkness we now marvel in the light. Such beauty! So much to marvel at! We are aware though that compared to the brightness of the sun we are still in relative darkness but for the first time in our lives we understand that there is more than the pure darkness. There is a marvelous light. We cannot fully gaze upon it yet but we look forward to the day we can.
Praise God that He sends His Son (John 9:4) to us in the darkness of our sin and leads us into the light and into a life we never knew possible! Those in the darkness think they are the ones having all the fun with absolutely no idea how much they are missing out on. Non-Christians think Christians lead boring lives not allowed to have any fun. How little do they realize that true fun is not in license to do whatever we want (which in their case is controlled by their blindness) but in the freedom to be whom God created us to be. We are not slaves or handcuffed. We are living the life God designed us to live.
If you are wealthy enough you can buy a sports cars capable of hitting speeds of 260 mph. Yet if all you do is drive it around town in 25-45 mph zones you have no idea what the car is capable of and the feeling of opening it up wide and feeling the hum of the engine as the car rockets to its maximum speed. You will never know the thrill or riding a bike until you take the training wheels off. Those in Christ are living life to the full. Their engines are running full throttle. Those who reject Christ are driving that expensive sports car at 35 mph having no idea what more that car could do.
Too many are born, live, and die in the cave never knowing the light. When their eyes are finally opened it is on Judgement Day and it is too late. The passed up on their opportunity to leave the cave preferring the darkness. Given their choice God rightfully sentences them to eternal darkness. That is after all what they wanted. They had a chance to step out into the light and see but they preferred the darkness. Their lifetime passed without ever choosing to leave the cave so now they will dwell in eternal darkness. Yet now, for a time of judgment, their eyes are open and they are startled by what they see. Yet all too quickly they are taken back to the darkness from which they will never leave. The greatest suffering they will experience is having glimpsed the light and now with understanding realize their doom. Oh they will curse God and hate Him for not allowing them into His light! Yet for a lifetime they refused Him. He sent many to their cave to rescue them but they refused to leave. They were told about the marvels that awaited them outside the cave yet still would not leave. The rejected everyone who ever came to them. So now God has given them an eternity to live out their choice. They got what they spent a lifetime wanting. Yet somehow God is at fault!
No God is not at fault. We must take responsibility for our choices. Faith is when we do take responsibility for our sin and acknowledge it to God and ask for His forgiveness, His grace, and ask Him to lead us to the light promising to follow Him. The choice is ours. Do we stay in the cave of eternal darkness or do we step out in faith and embrace the light? Do we believe we are already living life to the full or do we trust God to show us how to really live life to the full? Do we accept our car can only do 55 mph or trust that it really can do 260 mph and even more?
That is the question. That is the choice. How will you choose?
What is Greatness?
I just finished watching (again) the excellent HBO mini series “John Adams.” It is a wonderful account of our Founding Fathers and the birth of our nation. Woven throughout the account is the story of the friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. They began as allies working together on the Declaration of Independence and being great friends. Politics though divided them as Adams was in favor of a strong Federal government whereas Jefferson stood for State’s rights with only a small Federal role. Jefferson stooped to low blows (all too common today) in order to defeat Adams in his bid for re-election after becoming our second President. Late in life for both men they reconciled though only through the pen never visiting each other again. The deep respect and friendship survived the years of politics and age brought wisdom and charity to both men and ironically and providentially both men died on July 4th on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Without doubt both were great men with great vision and passion. They had the courage to risk their lives to stand for rebellion and the dissolution with England. Both had great wisdom in formulating the government for this nation while flawed still stands as perhaps the greatest government of men ever created save God’s own governing of Israel. Their names are still known to us over 250 years later yet for all their great accomplishments it still comes down to one thing. Did they know Jesus Christ and follow him? No earthly accomplishment no matter how great and no matter how many are benefited can overcome a lack of faith. In the light of eternity what we build in this life, no matter how good and lasting, will not last. The Roman Empire stood for a thousand years yet eventually was conquered by Germanic hordes. The United States is still young compared to the Romans. If the Lord tarries it will one day be supplanted.
I sometimes fear my life has not accomplished much and indeed I should desire it to do so providing I labor for the Lord’s glory. Yet one life, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is immeasurably more valuable than the greatest of secular giants if it is lived for the glory of God. We are stewards of what God has entrusted us with and so until He returns we are to strive to govern as best we can, cure diseases, and provide jobs yet all of that will one day be destroyed when God remakes the universe. What lives for eternity is our souls and our faith. That no fire will ever touch.
I applaud such great men as Adams and Jefferson. Truly their Creator endowed them with great gifts. Let us pray for such gifts but let us use our gifts and resources, whether great or small, to the glory of the one, true God. For indeed what profits a man to gain the whole world but lose his very soul?
Perhaps Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson are in heaven. I hope so. Let us never though fear our accomplishments too meager if the love of God is in our hearts. Such love triumphs over all accomplishments for it is not by works but by faith that given by the grace of God that saves us. Praise be to God!
Is This the Gospel?
An interesting thing has happened in to the church in the last few decades. America is becoming an increasingly unchurched nation. We have the tradition of church attendance largely due to our Judeo-Christian heritage. Our parents and grandparents largely attended church. Increasingly though Americans are eschewing church while “spirituality” is on the rise. Personally this became apparent to me while viewing profiles on mainstream dating sites of all places. More and more people are listing their faith as “spiritual but not religious.” I’ve exchanged messages with several and what they mean by that is all over the map. So we are more “spiritual” than ever but traditional “religion” is on the decline.
So the modern Christian church has tried to adapt to the changing population. Increasingly churches are catering to the unchurched. They feature contemporary style music, light-weight sermons, sermon series focused on “real issues”, and offer attractions like coffee bars and a plethora of children’s programs. Those things are not bad or wrong. However my concern is that in many of these churches their “preachers”, “tickle men’s ears.”
In 2 Timothy 4:3-4 Paul wrote about this very thing:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
I call this the Tony Robbins Church. I am not knocking Tony Robbins. So far as I know he does not represent himself as a pastor, preacher, or theologian. He is a motivational speaker and I don’t think most people feel like they are attending church when going to a Tony Robbins seminar. Yet the church has seen men like Norman Vicent Peale, Robert Schuller, and now Joel Osteen and Jesse Duplantis (to name but a few) who do not preach the Gospel. In their zeal to be every positive they fail to preach the whole Word of God. They purposely skip those verses that deal with sin, damnation, punishment, etc. They preach a “health and wealth” Gospel. After all if they were to preach the whole Gospel of God they would not be able to afford their extensive TV networks! No one wants to hear about their sin! How negative. We would all love to believe that God wants us to be health, wealthy, and wise. He wants us to have that fancy house and luxury car and of course perfect health to go along with it.
Jesse Deplantis put it this way:
“I’ve never had the Lord say, ‘Jesse, I think that car is a little bit too nice.’ I’ve had vehicles and the Lord said, ‘Would you please go park that at your house. Don’t put that in front of my house. I don’t want people to think that I’m a poor God.'” (Jesse Duplantis, “When Will We Yield To The Anointing of Wealth II,” April 10, 2005)
Really Jesse? Where do you find that in Scripture? Did not Jesus and his disciples live often sleep outdoors with little more than the clothes on their back? Which of the apostles was rich? How many died of old age? History is full of the greatest pillars of the faith being martyred for their faith. Was their faith deficient and that is why they suffered thus? No most of the pillars of the faith died terrible deaths and lived very modest lives. Richness is not a sin. Neither though is poverty or poor health. God desires us to be spiritually rich and spiritually healthy. Guess what? We are all going to die and we can’t take anything with us. Do you still think God wants us all to be healthy and wealthy? No God does not want us to be poor or in bad health but He cares more for our spiritual well-being than He does for our material well-being. Those who teach otherwise are NOT teaching the true Gospel.
In Acts 20:24 Luke wrote:
For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.
Yes these men do not proclaim the whole counsel of God. They only preach what they feel are the positive verses. As I wrote in my previous blog article, the Good News is understandable only by knowing the “bad news.”
In a way they are lazy and concerned only with tickling ears and filling seats (oh and raking in donations). You see the truth is when we understand why God allows poverty, poor health, and suffering we see them through wholly new eyes. My dear sister died nearly a year ago from a nine month battle with pancreatic cancer. In the midst of dying her comment was not why God chose to inflict her but “why not” her. She understood that God was good and her cancer, thought fatal, was not a punishment. Her cancer drew her closer to God than anything else in her life ever had. She died in the arms of Jesus. At peace. Did her faith fail her because her health failed or did her faith triumph over her failed health?
Joel Osteen may pack the house and draw millions more via television but are they hearing the whole Gospel? Or are the only hearing those things that make them feel good about themselves?
God does not want us to feel good about ourselves. He wants us to glory in Him. When our will aligns with His will we will have all the desires of our hearts. Someone once wrote that “The purpose of the church gathered is to edify the saints. The purpose of the church scattered is to seek and save the lost.” I believe we have lost our vision. The church is the gathering of God’s people to worship Him and edify one another. It is outside of church, in our everyday lives, that we “seek and save the lost.” In other words, the primary mode of evangelism happens in everyday life. Inviting people to church and entertain or motivating them is not evangelism although God can and does use churches to save people. We must remember that when the church gathers our purpose is to worship God and edify each other. As such we would expect no less than the whole Gospel.
In an interview with Christianity Today, published on Oct. 5, 1984, Robert Schuller was quoted as saying:
“I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and, hence counterproductive to the evangelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition.”
My oh my! What Bible was Robert Schuller reading? Let’s contrast this to the very first sermon given by a follower of Jesus. The preacher was the Apostle Peter and the occasion the Day of Pentecost right after the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. Here is the last sentence of Peter’s sermon:
Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ. (emphasis mine)
Not the way to win friends and influence people! No Peter accuses the Jews of crucifying the Lord! Their Messiah. To be guilty of the death of God’s Holy Messiah is about the worst sin imaginable to a Jew. Yet Robert Schuller would say such a thing is “unchristian.”
Once again Romans 3:23 (written by Paul) says:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God
First Peter now Paul! How can Robert Schuller say such a thing when the very followers of Jesus made clear to men their sinful state?
Joel Osteen was once interviewed by Katie Couric.
Host Katie Couric suggested that the popular minister does not “spend a lot of time in (his) sermons talking about good and evil, sin and redemption. It is a very overall positive message.” She asked, “Why don’t you give people more of a moral template?”
Osteen insisted that he does, but “in a positive way.”
“There’s enough pushing people down in life already,” he added. “When they come to my church, or our meetings, I want them to be lifted up. I want them to know that God’s good, that they can move forward, that they can break an addiction, that they can become who God’s created them to be.”
That sounds good and I don’t doubt Joel’s desire but at the same time what is it he wants them lifted up from? By far the #1 thing God wants them to be lifted up from is their sin! Sure God wants you to overcome your addictions, love your spouse better, etc, but without forgiveness from your sin those things are meaningless. If God is good then even the “negative” things He has to say are for our good.
I know it would seem I am picking on Joel. I am using him as an example just like Robert Schuller though I like Joel far better. Joel considers himself a pastor and the leader of a church. Yet Joel does not preach the whole Bible! He only focuses on those things he believes are uplifting and positive. Yet in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 wrote:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Not Paul said all Scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for training. He did not say “some Scripture” or “only the positive verses.” No he said it was all useful. So why doesn’t Joel, or Rober Schuller, or a host of others preach all of Scripture? One simple reason. Because if they preached all of Scripture they would not fill all those seats and raise all the money. They would not have worldwide TV audiences.
In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul wrote:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
If someone is offended by the message of the cross then that is not our concern so long as we are faithfully preaching the Gospel. For such it is foolishness. That is not our problem. We are to preach the Good News (which includes the Bad News) and leave the rest to God. Whether our church is big or small is up to God. Our job is to faithfully preach the truth.
I had the pleasure once to attend a series of lectures by Paul Matzat author of the book “Christ Esteem: Where the Search for Self-Esteem Ends.” Our generation is obsessed with self-esteem. We are told we have to learn to love ourselves, esteem ourselves. Only allow the positive in our lives so nothing can drag us down. Yet listen to what Paul Matzat wrote:
“The call of the gospel is away from self and unto Jesus, because self is the problem and Jesus is the solution.”
His book is aptly titled “Christ Esteem.” We don’t need self-esteem. Most of us already think to highly of ourselves. What we need is “Christ Esteem.” You see when you lose your life in Jesus Christ and realize who you are in Him then you have something far more valuable than self-esteem. When you realize the God of the Universe took on flesh and blood and died a terrible death on the cross to pay the price for your sin you will realize you are of infinite value to Him! Now what could be more positive than that?
God allows suffering to mold us into the image of His Son Jesus Chirst. Poor health, poverty, lost job, … are sometimes the way God gets our attention and increases our faith. Those things might be our fault but God uses them for good (Romans 8:28).
We don’t need our self-esteem built-up. We need our Christ-esteem built-up. We don’t need to feel good about ourselves. We need to feel good about God! Once we know who we are in Christ we will feel good about ourselves.
The church and many of her leaders are losing their vision, losing their way. The message of the cross and our need for forgiveness from our sin is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. If pastors will not preach on sin who will?
 As an aside I somewhat dislike the term “religion.” Religion is man’s attempt to explain God or some other higher deity. Christianity is God’s revelation to man. For some it may be a religion but what it really is at the core is God sending His Son to make a way for us to have a relationship with Him. Christianity is a relationship not a religion. It is a relationship with Jesus Christ. If it is not that at the core then it is not Christianity. We attend church because we want to be in the company of fellow disciples of Jesus (iron sharpens iron). It is not our church attendance though that makes us Christians. It is our faith.
The Good News versus the Bad News
According to Dictionary.com, a preacher is “a person whose occupation or function it is to preach the gospel”. Sounds right. Now what is the gospel? The word “gospel” comes from two Greek words but in essence means “to bring the good news.” The same words were used to describe a messenger or runner sent from the front lines of battle to deliver news of victory to the King. So a preacher is someone who proclaims the good news. Now I come to the crux of the purpose of this article, what is the good news? What victory was won? What great thing happened?
Good news is good exactly because it is not bad. The military messenger’s message would not be good news if the army lost the battle. It is good news because there was an alternative and that was bad news. In the case of the gospel the bad news was not just a potential outcome it was a reality. Every human being is born under the outcome of the bad news. The bad news is that we are all born in sin separated from a Holy God. Theologians call it original sin. It is the sin of Adam and Eve and their disobedience applied to all mankind. When they fell (sinned) in the Garden we (all mankind) fell with them. It was a representative judgment where a group is judged by the actions of one or a few. As a result of that original sin we are born with a sin nature. By nature we are in rebellion against God, against His authority over us. We want to make our own rules, decide our future. We want to be our own man; our own woman. We want to judge for ourselves what is right and wrong. We don’t need God or at least we don’t need a God who is going to tell us how to live and stifle our fun. At least while life is good we can ignore God or at most look to Him as a cosmic vending machine who dispenses only the good things want. Leave religion for the fanatics, the foxholes, the dying, and anyone else not strong enough to stand on their own two feet and thus in need of an imaginary crutch to help them stand.
The Bible describes this state we are born into:
Romans 3:10-12, and 23
As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” … For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.(NLT)
So Paul’s letter to the Romans informs us that “no one is righteous” (i.e right with God). “No one is seeking God” (i.e. we are not searching for Him). We have all become useless. We have all turned away. No one does good. Not a single one. That is part I of the bad news. All means all as is in everyone! No one means not a single one. There are no exceptions. This is who we are in our natural state which we were born into.
In case you think Paul was not inspired and misrepresented Jesus then hear what Jesus had to say:
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Jesus describes a narrow gate through which we may find eternal life and “few who find it.” We’ll come back to this but that doesn’t exactly sound like the universalist approach that there are “many paths to God.” If that were the case then the gate would be wide yet Jesus said the wide gate “leads to destruction.” Christians are often accused of being narrow minded precisely because we don’t embrace universalism (in case you are not familiar with that term it is a belief that all religion is equal and all bring man in harmony with the divine.) Christians are labeled intolerant because we don’t believe all beliefs are equal. Instead we believe in absolute truth (i.e. that their are absolute truths that cannot be violated and that two “truths” cannot coexist. Buddhism cannot be the path to the same “god” Christianity is. They are not different but equal paths to the same end. They are different paths to different ends.
So where does this leave us?
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (NLT)
Wages are something you are owed for services rendered. You sign an employment contract and you perform your work as instructed then your employer owes you wages as agreed upon in the contract. If not there are laws to protect you and enable you to recover your wages. So you earn your wages. Romans 6:23 says the “wages of sin is death.” What kind of death? Physical death? No worse. Spiritual death. Yes we will die physically and that is part of the punishment of the fall of Adam and Eve but note in this verse death is being contrasted with “eternal life.” Eternal life is eternal life with God which goes far beyond the physical.
There is another critical contrast apparent in this verse. Not that our sin is due wages (i.e. we are owed death) whereas the contrast is the “free gift of God” – eternal life. Can you earn a gift? Dictionary.com defines a gift as:
“something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without its being earned”
People give gifts not out of obligation nor expecting repayment. They are unmerited, unearned. Don’t confuse gifts as used in the Bible with our human institution of gift giving. We might withhold a birthday gift from an unruly, or ingracious child saying they don’t deserve it. However that is a contradiction. It would not be a gift if it had to be deserved. Gifts are not earned or owed. A good word to introduce now is the word grace. In the Bible grace comes from a Greek word meaning “unmerited favor.” If God gives a free gift it is pure grace.
So in summary here is the picture. We are born in sin. The wages of sin is death. The road to eternal life is narrow and few find it. The only way out is the free gift of God of eternal life. There you have the bad news. We are sinners deserving hell. There is good news though too! God offers us a free gift of eternal life. How do we get that gift?
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”
How many ways are their to God? Jesus said He was the only way. Can Buddhism lead you to God? Can Hinduism? Can Joseph Smith? Can your own spiritual beliefs? Nope. Is that narrow minded? Sure. Is it narrow minded to say “2+2=4” and not 5 or 3? Is it narrow minded to say water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit? No those are absolute truths. Too many people today throw around the term “God/god.” “God” can be anything to anyone. So when I speak of God I mean the God of the Old and New Testament. I mean Jesus Christ. I mean him and him alone. I have run into spiritual teachers who say they believe in Jesus but they also believe in Buddha, Confucius, and a host of others. No Jesus said He is the only way. He is not a path he is the (one and only) path.
Now some of you may have been reading earlier in this article and raised an understandable question. Why should I be born in sin because of what Adam and Eve did? That doesn’t seem fair. Shouldn’t I stand or fall on my own? Hmmmm…ok do you really think you could live a lifetime and never sin? Have you ever even made it through a day or a week? You’ve never lusted in an improper way? You’ve never had hateful thoughts toward someone? You’ve never lied? Never cheated? We live in a world today full of temptation. We have Internet porn, unlimited access to entertainment of all kinds not all of which are good, streets full of sights and sounds meant to entice us to sin. Now think about Adam and Eve. They lived in a beautiful garden. No tv, no radio, no billboards, X rated movies. Just the two of them and God. Plus they were born without original sin. So they had a nature that could truly chose between right and wrong. Yet what happened when temptation came in the form of a snake but in the person of Satan? They caved in minutes. Do you really think you could have done better? Really? Ok so maybe you do. Maybe you think you could have lived a lifetime without every once sinning. If so you would have then been very lonely in heaven as I don’t think anyone else would be joining you! Was it really unfair of God though to judge us through Adam and Eve? Consider the flip side of that coin. In 1 Corinthians 15:45 Paul refers to Adam as the “first man” and Jesus as the ‘last man.” Remember the story of David and Goliath? The Philistines had this giant of a man that no one could defeat in battle. There mere sight of him put fear in men’s hearts. Goliath taunted the Israelites offering to fight their best man winner take all. It was really psychological warfare as the Philistines knew nobody in Israel would dare take on Goliath with the nation’s fate riding on the outcome. What they were proposing though was representative form of war. We each pick our best warrior and let them decide if for the rest of us. We should be able to relate to that. Many of us live in democratic countries where we elect our representatives. We don’t get to vote on bills they do. On a much larger scale our military represents the whole country. During WWII the US had approximately 16 million men and women serving in the military in some capacity. That represented about 11% of the total population. In subsequent wars the percentages have been much smaller. Still 11% represented 140 million.Had they failed out country might have eventually fallen. Let’s go back to the free gift of God or grace. God could have left us in our sins, sent us all to hell, and we would have had no right to complain. Instead He freely gave of His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus was our David. He took on that giant of sin and through His death on the cross and His shed blood he won the victory. He sacrificed Himself for us. Except His death was not the end as death had no hold on him. 3 days later her rose from the dead. All we have to do is accept his death and victory on our behalf and put our faith and trust in Him and Him alone. That sounds like good news to me! If you don’t like the good news and think you can do better on your own then I hope you can lead a sinless life. I’m sure it’s already too late for that though. Plus we are born in sin so you are born condemned and incapable of leading a sinless life.Jesus is the way. The only way.
Would the Good News be good news if you did not know the bad news? Imagine the king when the runner appears and announced we won the battle and the King says “what battle?” “All my troops are resting and none are at battle so I don’t know what you are talking about.” Until we realize we have a sin problem that has eternal consequences we are tempted to think we are fine. We think we are a “good person” and therefore surely God will let us into heaven. We don’t, nor could, understand the absolute holiness of God. He cannot allow sin in His presence. Not any amount. No one can be good enough.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
You can’t earn your salvation. As we saw earlier it is a gift not something you earned and God owes you. It is “not as a result of works.” This is a stumbling block to the pride of man. We want to believe we are good. We want to believe we contributed to our salvation. It is a blow to our ego to admit we can do nothing to save ourselves. God has to do it all. Yes when we truly understand the “bad news” we are so grateful that God made a way. He could have left us in our sins but chose to send His Son to die for us. We can be washed by His blood and have our sins erased. We marvel that God would save us.
I took pains to explain this because in my next post I want to address the trend today to ignore the bad news and even aspects of the Good News. Many pastors/preachers today are motivational speakers rather than preachers of the Bible. They are more Christian Tony Robbins. Yes there is tremendous motivation in the Bible but Christianity is not about being healthy, wealthy, or being positive all the time. God wants something greater for you. He wants to give you spiritual health, spiritual wealth, and an eternal perspective that allows even the negative things to be seen as part of God’s great plan.
Thoughts on Christmas 2012
Recently my local Christian radio station encouraged listeners to call into their listener line and comment on their best Christmas memories. I have yet to hear any on the air but I imagine the stories will have to do with family reunions, loved ones returning safely from war, a last Christmas with a loved one, or just great fun times. As I thought about it I could not think of a single meaningful Christmas memory. For various reasons I won’t go into holidays in general have never been much celebrated in my life and I have no traditions around any of the holidays. While others are madly dashing to stores in December and attending all sorts of holiday parties and events my Decembers tend to be pretty close to any other month. This Christmas, like some past, I will spend alone yet I can’t say that bothers me. Oh I would love to spend it with someone but at the same time I don’t find it depressing that I will be alone.
Not having traditions has it’s advantages. For me Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. I am not distracted by all the gift giving, events, and family gatherings. At the same time I know December 25th is just a day picked by an ancient Emperor since we don’t know the true day on which Christ was born (probably not in the winter though). As a believer I celebrate the birth of my Savior every day. So while it is nice to gather with other believers in a community celebration Christmas is not that unique for me.
What I told the radio station is that I don’t have any wonderful Christmas memories but perhaps this year will provide one. This might seem backwards but my dear sister is dying of pancreatic cancer. She has fought bravely since March but at this point the cancer has won and her days on this earth are nearing their end. It could even come during this holiday. While it saddens me to no end yet it is a powerful reminder of why Christmas is such a wondrous celebration. We would be without hope had Christ not been born. He came into the world to bring us the Good News and then to pay the price for our sins on the cross. Through His death and resurrection we can live eternally with God in Heaven.
For many the loss of a loved one at Christmas can forever dampen the holiday for them yet for me it will be a celebration of the birth of my Savior and my sister’s Savior. Though we mourn the death of a loved one because we will miss them so badly yet when they know Christ we know they’ve graduated to glory. We cry because we miss them and feel the loss of them in our life yet we cry not because they are without hope and we will never see them again. Now we look forward to that day we will be reunited with them for all eternity in the very presence of God Himself.
To me the story of the birth of Jesus overcomes our human affairs. In the future my celebration of Christmas will come with the glorious reminder that the birth of our Savior means I will see my sister again.
There is nothing wrong with gathering with family and friends to celebrate Christmas or to attend events and such. As Christians though we need to find our true meaning in what the birth means. Hope was born that night!