Salvation

So, a good friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to an article about the remake of the Left Behind movie. The review was as good as I could have hoped when a desire is made by Hollywood to remake a “Christian classic” so that people in the movie industry can line their pockets. You can find the review here.

That said, it brought up something that I’ve often talked about and thought it was a real thing but, it appears, it is not. I speak of the “apology gospel” or the “gospel of apology”. See, the crux of the first movie (you’ve seen it, right?) is when the lead role comes to faith in Christ. If you’ve read any of my posts you know how I feel about this and that it’s important that people understand what they’re saying when they say they have faith in Christ. Jesus himself placed a lot of emphasis on this in Luke 14:20-30, where he makes the point that no one jumps into something without first counting the cost to see whether or not they can complete what’s before them. People who do so are, in the eyes of the creator of all eternity, unworthy to enter into his rest.

So, what is this “apology gospel” then? I know you’ve all heard this. It starts off as a great conversation about Jesus or a great sermon about any number of topics but at the end there’s a bit of an odd transition, and you can see that everything before was all fluff – filler to get to the point. They say that Jesus is the son of God and that is important for you to know. They say that there are these things called “sins” and that everyone has committed them, and then apologize for having to tell you this, but you (even YOU) have maybe committed one of them as well. Maybe. Probably. BUT THERE IS GOOD NEWS! See, Jesus represents his Dad and has come here to save you from him. And there are some great benefits to this as well! See, he can fix your marriage. Financial woes? Man, we used to drive an old beater, but now we have a new Lexus! You know how my wife, Nancy, had that horrible accident, or you know how Joan couldn’t have kids? Now that she’s found Jesus my wife is all better, and Joan now has 7 kids! Praise God! So, would you, you know, consider Jesus too? He’s just up in heaven right now, waiting for you to choose him over porn, or that movie with an “r” rating, or, I don’t know, Pepsi. All you have to do is to close your eyes and follow along with this prayer thing. What? You don’t want to say it? That’s alright, just listen to what I say and “really mean it” and squeeze my hand, or raise your hand, or wink your eye for Jesus. That’ll be his queue and he’ll rush in the door to your heart and you’ll be a Christian forever! Yay Jesus!

Those reference? Heard them all. The Lexus one? Yup. The sickness one? Totally. Even the one about being barren. All of the “wink your eye” or “squeeze/raise your hand” as well. It’s all well and good, and churches and even people have little notches in their mind that they carve out to show how many ppl they’ve “brought to the Lord”, but it’s all for nothing. Absolutely nothing. Remember what I said before about Jesus and “counting the cost”? Every one but one of Jesus followers were murdered for their belief. Murdered. Their families were bereft of them because of their belief. John, the only one who didn’t die that way, had been placed inside a cauldron of boiling oil and emerged unharmed, so they banished him to an island to stop him from talking to people about Jesus. Further converts were dipped in wax and set on fire to burn alive at parties for the Roman emperor. Many were tossed to the lions or simply murdered in the street. Even today we have Christians in other countries who are murdered for their faith, stalwart defenders of their belief in Christ, even to death. Children of Christians are raped and murdered, their Christian parents crucified after watching their children violated before their eyes. Yet none of them recant their faith. This is pretty far from the “daddy got a new Lexus” and “every day is a Friday” mentality of the common American gospel of apology mentioned above. So, what is this message by which we have to count the cost of our discipleship, understanding that those who “put their hand to the plow and turns back are unworthy of the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:62)”.

The word “gospel” means “good news”. While it could be “good news” to have a new Lexus, that really means less than nothing in the grand scheme of God’s design. This goes all the way back to the Garden, where life first erupted on this planet of ours. God created the entire universe for the purpose of displaying his communicable attributes like longsuffering, mercy, and grace. He created everything and it was “very good”. The only thing that wasn’t very good was that man was alone. He created for him a helper, out of his side. He was incomplete without her and she without him. They worked together in union to glorify God. They then broke God’s only rule at the time and ushered in an entire history of pain, disappointment, and death. Pain in that we all equally share in the knowledge that we cannot ever please God on our own anymore. Disappointment in that we all know that what we see here is a fraction of the perfection that was available before the fall. And death since the consequence for sin (violation of God’s commandments), the just due for our crimes before him, is death. God, being perfect and the creator of all things, has the authority to define the rules and we, his creation, are to follow them. We have free will and choose of our own volition to disobey, though it’s not that we can even do it on our own, because our very nature – the who and what we are – leads us to divorce ourselves from dependence on him.

God, knowing this, promised to Eve, our first mother, that he would send a savior to save us from His wrath. He required that we have faith in him that this savior would come, and that we do our best to follow his commandments, but that it is the faith that God not only will send a savior but that he would be sufficient to exonerate us from our sins before him that is the main thing. Days turned into weeks, weeks into years, years into centuries. Things got so bad at one point that God erased the history of the Earth that was in a flood, destroying and burying all life outside of those whom he chose to save in the Ark.

Life began again, and, as before, people started off well and quickly went after their own desires despite what they had just witnessed God do to the world. People had families, families begot cities, cities begot nations, nations begot kings and monuments. God, again, chose a fledgling nation so he could showcase his glory through them. Promised people beyond number but the founding father of this nation never saw any of this develop outside of a life in the wilderness, where the only land he owned was where he buried his wife, despite having been shown the land that his descendants would inhabit. He had 2 sons, one because he was frustrated that God didn’t act when he wanted him to, and the second was the child that he had promised to him. His son, likewise, had two sons – not exactly the grand nation that was promised, but he, as did his father, had faith. His second son had 12 sons and they entered Egypt shortly before his death. Those 12 sons had their own children which begat more and more until the number reached about 2M at the end of 400 years. Then God stepped in and brought them into their own land through more miracles and promises fulfilled. Just as before, they fell back into old habits. New laws were given and broken, promises and covenants were made and within a generation merely forgotten. No one, it seemed, would care about the God who had saved them so many times before. Eventually they were even completely removed from their capital city and it was razed, though, as he had promised, he kept a few who trusted in him who were able to inhabit the land but their sovereign nation was removed.

Then 400 years of silence.

Suddenly a star, a birth to a young teenage couple, and a promise is fulfilled. God has entered the universe as a man. Jesus is born to this couple, is raised in relative obscurity, living among the people he intends to save. He sees their pain, feels their loves and experiences their disappointments. He eventually begins his ministry with the same message as was relayed in the garden, “Repent and believe” but now starts with something new “for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”. No more prophets, no more confusing messages, God himself is here to proclaim the good news. God is going to take the punishment that we deserve for our sins. God, acknowledging our inability to save ourselves, has revealed that his plan was to do it for us, on our behalf. His authority is challenged and, as we do with all things we don’t understand or that threatens our power, we murdered him. The only good person to ever walk the earth and we murder him because we’re afraid of his message. God uses this, knowing that it would happen (he spoke about his impending crucifixion numerous times before his eventual arrest and conviction), used it to not only show what he had said was true, but in his resurrection, confirmed to all that the sin debt of all who trust in him have their sins likewise forgiven through him.

That is the gospel. That no matter what you’ve done in your life, you will never, ever be able to meet God’s holy standard (never lie, never steal, always trust that God will give you want you need, never look at another person to whom you’re not married with lustful intent, always keep God at the forefront of your mind, never trust in something else to meet all of your needs, etc), so he took it upon himself to do it for you, and in the end all you need to do is to trust that he has done so.

Wait, isn’t there some magic formula? Where’s that sinner’s prayer? I can tell you this, it’s nowhere in the Bible. God never gave us a specific way to pray because he knows our hearts, that we’ll turn it into an idol and worship it. Have you ever been to a Southern Baptist revival? It’d be a lot like that. John Calvin was dead on with that – that our hearts are factories for idols. See, it’s not about the method but the intent. In trusting in Christ we’re admitting a lot of things here. We’re admitting that God exists and that he has not only an interest in our lives but wants to be directly involved. We admit that everything we know about the universe is wrong. We admit that we are incapable of determining the right path for our lives, but are instead are dependent on an outside force to direct us and to determine that for us. We freely acknowledge our own sinfulness and that we are untrustworthy, even to ourselves. We also admit that we are the worst judge of others since we can’t even be certain of our own intent most of the time. But the end of it all – knowing that this is the cost for admission, we clearly understand that it is not us who keep ourselves in his good graces but him alone who holds onto us. Even when we sin. Even when we do horrible, stupid things, he holds onto us. That’s how we can handle losing family members, and children, and cancer, and death, and accidents, and shootings, and natural disasters, and on, and on. Because Jesus endured this as well, and overcame them all. It’s not about tricking someone into saying some stupid speech or squeezing your hand for Jesus, it’s about knowing the creator of the universe, knowing that he suffered in ways we could never imagine, all for his love for us, and us living our lives in a manner where we try to bring him glory. We read his word because we know he wants us to know about himself, and we learn about who he is through what he’s shared with us. We love other people who hate us or our message, not because it’s a way to be better than them, but so that we can extend to them the same love that he extended to us. We tell people about Jesus, not to get another notch in our belt of glory, but because we were as they are, lost and confused – blind to their own sinfulness and seeking to justify themselves, and we want to show them that, despite their often angry and spiteful retorts, God loves them through us, and wants to save them from their own body of death. That is the gospel.

All this false gospel of apology does is to create people who think they’re saved but inoculated from hearing more about it because “they’re good” and they “did that”. It creates a whole army of people who never really trusted in Jesus outside of participating in American Religiosity who say that they were “Christians” but who are now atheists or Hindu or any of other counterfeit religion that exist today. They have no need for repentance because they believed the lie that their acceptance of a false message bought them into the body of Christ. As Paul said, though, those who have left us reveal that they were never part of us to begin with. Why not? Because we are secure in Christ because of Christ. He will allow us to falter and even to fall from grace, but only to show us our dependence on him and never release us from our salvation within him. What a sad world we live in where this needs to be hidden behind an wall of idols to make people want to come in.

It breaks my heart.

There has been a resurgence of pastors preaching the real gospel. Not the gospel of health and wealth, that Jesus somehow died on a cross 2,000 years ago so that you can live in “victorious living” which amounts to you basically having a Bentley for each day of the week and never being sick again. Most of the world now understands that this is nothing but a lie perpetuated by schemers and charlatans. Joel Osteen and the like.

No, the real gospel – that Jesus is God in the flesh, that the God who we sinned against, has taken the initiative to reconcile us to Him, literally bringing peace on earth between God and man. Jesus was born into a poor family, lived a normal life outside from the fact that he never sinned. Never lied, stole, cheated – he was just like us and wholly different from us at the same time. Ultimately, he was murdered by the people that he came to save because he didn’t fit the model that they wanted. They were looking for a conquering ruler to crush the Romans and Jesus was there to crush their real enemy – idolatry and self-salvation. His substitutionary death on the cross paid the price for their sins so that they would be forgiven before God and the only requirement was that they believe in him – in his diety, purpose, power, and that his death in their place was sufficient to pay the price for their sins. 3 days later, as he predicted, he emerged from the tomb – wholly resurrected. His resurrection is the seal on his promise and power that he is the messiah sent from God the Father to atone for the sin in the garden.

Churches and pastors have done a much better job overall in proclaiming that message to the people. I would like to say that the death knell has been rung for people who proclaim that salvation through Christ is available to those who work for it, but I know that people who try to make a dollar at the expense of people who are hurting will always be present. For those people I am glad that God doesn’t bypass the sins of those people and that he says that they are deceivers and the “anti-Christ” (2 John 1:6-8) who betray God’s people for a profit (Titus 1:10-11) and that it would be better in the end for them if they were tied to a heavy stone and tossed into the deepest part of the ocean than to receive the wrath of God that will come upon them (Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2). God will punish them more than we ever could imagine.

But, if there is any area that needs to be improved, I think, it’s that there needs to be some emphasis on a life change. Not that we do it but that our salvation is not a simple decision but a commitment to allow Jesus to invade every facet of your life and to radically alter not only your worldview but your entire life – throwing out your idols, maybe even stripping you of your personal dreams and aspirations so that you can be used for His purpose, not your own. A radical surrender, if you will. Too many people in this world are being sold a “purpose” for their lives and a “plan” from God that includes church membership and a promise not to be a jerk to people but the are missing out on the best that God has for them because they are too tied to their own idols of self fulfillment and are missing on the greater purpose that God would like them to achieve through His actions on their behalf. That, however, is uncomfortable. It means caring for the poor, and meeting the needs of others. It means that the money you’ve been saving up for a boat may better be spent helping a young couple in your church who just lost their only car to buy a new one with no expectation of that money coming back to you. It means that you may need to open your home to people from church when a pipe breaks and they need a place to stay or adjust your schedule to spend time with people who need help learning from you and your past experiences to focus their lives more closely to that of Christ.

Remember when Jesus said “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26)” and “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” and the respondents asked “when did we come to you and help you” and he responded “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. (Matthew 20:31-46)”? In the first part he is saying that we must be so focused on Him and His purposes that it is as if we hate our own families and our own life (desires, dreams, etc) in comparison, and in the last section he is talking about our love for others in that our love for those “his brothers” (meaning the adopted brothers and sisters who are one with Him in His salvation – literally, those in the Church). Jesus Himself commands us to put our own lives on hold and, in some cases, to even abandon our own plans and dreams to serve the greater needs of his Church.

So, as I said, I think that the Church as a whole and especially new converts, would be good to see this as a model. Not something for them to emulate right off the bat but to know that it’s something that God will bring about in their lives through the process of surrendering ourselves to Him and His will in our lives.

Something to think about: None of the people who made the Ark of the Covenant, and the golden lampstand, and the bronze sea, and the table of show bread, and the bronze altar, and the veil, and the tabernacle, and everything else that they used to praise and worship God until and through the time of the first temple that Solomon made in 964 BC (nearly 500 years) ever lived to see the promised land. Well, not entirely – Joshua and Caleb were the only two who lived to enter the land as they were the two spies who trusted in God. Even Moses, who led the Israelites out of Egypt, served as their judge and, with Aaron, as their chief priest, wasn’t able to enter into the promised land. Why? Because of unbelief. It wasn’t because of their hard work that they were able to enter into the land of promise, but because they trusted in God and when they failed to do so God gave them their wages in the form of food and safety (for the most part) in the wilderness, but it was given only to their children to receive the promised land of Canaan.

Your works can’t save you. God has delivered you from your sins and into freedom, not into the slavery of the law. There is nothing that you can do that will make you right with God, but He has provided a way of escape for you. Repent of your sins, and trust that Jesus’ death in your place was sufficient to pay the price of your redemption. Nothing more, and nothing less will grant you access to the kingdom of God.

The heart of man finds it difficult to believe that so great a treasure as the Holy Spirit is gotten by the mere hearing of faith. The hearer likes to reason like this: Forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death, the gift of the Holy Spirit, everlasting life are grand things. If you want to obtain these priceless benefits, you must engage in correspondingly great efforts. And the devil says, ‘Amen.’

We must learn that forgiveness of sins, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, are freely granted to us at the preaching of faith, in spite of our sinfulness. We are not to waste time thinking how unworthy we are of the blessings of God. We are to know that it pleased God to freely give us His unspeakable gifts. If He offers His gifts free of charge, why not take them? Why worry about our lack of worthiness? Why not accept gifts with joy and thanksgiving?

~ Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians

HT: Of First Importance

Happy Resurrection Day! I pray that all of you may contemplate Jesus’ sacrifice on your behalf and forever surrender yourself to the God who suffered and died in your place. No other religion in the world places the workon God to save you and keep you in the fold. Every other one is a maze of legalism – even within the realm of “social christianity”. Jesus Christ alone is the only one who could take your sins upon Himself and suffer in your place. His resurrection stands as a firm pillar of truth – pointing to the fact that Jesus is who He said He was – that He IS God and that His sacrifice has been accepted in full.

Please, turn to Christ today and ask Him to forgive you, surrender yourself to Him and ask Him to transform your life. He will not leave you wanting- He will not reject your plea.

Jesus’ Tomb is Empty
Post-Resurrection Appearances and the Beginning of Christianity
Death, Where is Your Sting?

As we near Resurrection day, I wanted to post some long and drawn out story about redemption and love. Something akin to a story of God’s great love for us and how we’re so preoccupied with our lives that we don’t even stop to recognize that He’s there – providing our air, food, and shelter for us daily. Then I realized that I had already made on last year and that it’s one that I liked quite a bit. So, on this Good Friday, where we recognize our own sin that nailed our Creator to a tree that He fashioned – to our shame, murdering the God of love – let’s remember that it’s Him who pursues us, and not the other way around. Without further ado, King Solomon had it right:

So… reading through Ecclesiastes and it’s King Solomon basically stating, “I’ve been there, and done that”. Really, who else has had the ability to do so as he did? He had every possible resource at his disposal; The wisest man in all the world. The richest king in all the world. He never had any wars against him throughout his entire kingdom during his whole reign. Even in that he found no lasting pleasure. He had 300 wives, 700 concubines and found no lasting pleasure in that. He built monuments to himself and gardens and wonders the world had not yet seen – some of which are still around today, and he found no lasting pleasure in those either. He sought out the deepest wisdom that he could find and found no lasting pleasure in that. Ultimately, he kept coming back to what I kept going back to – at some point, everyone dies, and all your accomplishments account for nothing. Someone else will own your homes, your possessions will become old and worn down, your discoveries will become passé, and eventually no one will mourn your loss.

The only highlight of the whole book is the last chapter when he finally comes to the understanding that the only constant in all things outside of death is that the Word of God is true and that it is the goal of mankind, not to pursue ungodly desires, but to fear God and keep His commandments and that God’s coming judgment will be the ultimate and only true decider of the worth of one’s life.

It’s too bad he didn’t have the full revelation available to him. Remember that they only had the Old Testament – the law of condemnation and the promise of a Savior to come. Their salvation was based on their adherence to the laws (as best they could muster), their continual sacrifices, and their faith that God would send a Savior who would rid them of the burden of the Mosaic Law.

Then Jesus came, and most rejected Him because they wanted a conquering ruler to crush Rome and place them at the top of their geo-political structure. They had the “wrong Savior” in mind when God’s Savior came. They were guilty of acknowledging God’s choice for them and rejecting it in favor of their own. So then, who is this Savior that God provided?

The Savior the God provided was His Son, Jesus. Jesus was born of a virgin to separate Himself from the sin-drenched seed of Adam. He lived the perfect life that you or I could never live – never, ever sinning. He never had a dirty thought about a girl (or a boy, if you’re wondering), he never lied, never stole anything, never wanted something that belonged to someone else (was completely content in what He had), never was unrighteously angry at someone, and always kept the laws of His religious upbringing. Most importantly, He did all this, not for His own glory, but for the glory of His Father in Heaven. He lived under an oppressive and antagonistic government against His cultural religion, and, even while He was teaching those who were to spread His message among others, He never told them to attack or mistreat the government, but to submit to authority as all authority comes directly from God the Father.

Once it was revealed to those in the religious system who have been looking forward to His coming since that fateful day in Eden when man first rebelled against God, they flatly rejected Him and had Him murdered to shut Him up. It was by God’s sovereign hand that all this took place, so that God’s justice and righteousness over all mankind would prevail. Not because we’re so loving and worthwhile that God can’t keep from doing anything to love on us. God REQUIRES that ALL WHO SIN AGAINST HIM (even those who don’t even understand what “sin” is) MUST BE PUNISHED FOR THEIR CRIMES! ALL! It was by the mercy of God that He opted to act for us – He had no obligation to do so. It was by grace alone that He has sent His Son to take our place on the cross. God chose some out of the billions who will live throughout our history to save from the consequence of their sins through HIS mercy and by HIS grace.

God did not die so that you could be the very best “you” that you could ever be. He did not die so that you can have a Bentley, or a mansion, or a 4 carat rock on your hand. He die so that your race, creed, or political party could be the top ruling party in the world. He did not die so that we would have a moral society that organized walks and marches to combat against the murder of our children in the womb. He did not die to create your brand of church – Southern Baptist Convention, Calvary Chapel, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Sovereign Grace, etc… would exist for all time, and He did not die so that we’d give up a couple of our weekends to feed the poor, or to give our shoes for Haiti.

What Jesus did on the cross was to glorify God by fulfilling His law for His elect. The Church that erupted from that event and from His life and teaching exists to feed the followers of Christ and to encourage discipleship, teaching, worship, prayer, and to prepare evangelists to head out into the world to glorify God through the spreading of the Gospel. What is that Gospel? It’s not social justice, nor is it better legislation, nor is it feeding the poor. The Gospel is that though we are wholly destitute before God and incapable of any transformative ability to save ourselves, that He has accepted Jesus payment for our sin debt against Him on our behalf. What is our responsibility in light of that revelation? Our trust in the work that Jesus has done on the cross has saved us, and that we will abandon all things to follow after Him. Our dreams, our ambitions, our friends, and, in some cases, even our families. There is nothing that can stand between us and our God if we wholly surrender our lives to Him. The hard part of the walk comes in following that commitment.

King Solomon was exactly right – death is the great equalizer. Nothing can save you from it, nor can you keep anything you’ve done once you’ve passed through it. Those that came after him hardened their religious beliefs to follow their own sinful hearts and to cater to their own desires for power and control. They wanted God’s Savior on their terms and, as a result, rejected Jesus – God’s chosen Savior – in favor of their own. The real question is, which Savior do you want today? The Savior that God provided for you, or the Jesus that is your personal conquering ruler, who provides you with the things you want?

The Baptist Confession of Faith (1689)

Chapter 15: Repentance and Salvation

  1. Those of the elect who are converted in riper years, having lived some time in the state of nature, and in this state served various lusts and pleasures, God gives repentance which leads to life, through an effectual call.

    to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

    Titus 3:2-5

  2. Because there is not one person who does good and commits no sin, and because the best of men may fall into great sins and provocations through the power and deceitfulness of their own indwelling corruption and the prevalency of temptation, God has mercifully provided in the covenant of grace that when believers sin and fall they shall be renewed through repentance to salvation.

    Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.

    Eccles. 7:20

    “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

    Luke 22:31-32

  3. Saving repentance is an evangelical grace by which a person who is made to feel, by the Holy Spirit, the manifold evils of his sin, and being given faith in Christ, humbles himself over his sin with godly sorrow, detestation of his sin and self-abhorrency. In such repentance the person also prays for pardon and strength of grace, and has a purpose and endeavour, by supplies of the Spirit’s power, to walk before God and to totally please Him in all things.

    “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.

    Zech 12:10

    Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations.

    Ezek. 36:31

    6 Then I shall not be put to shame,
    having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.

    Ps. 119:6

    128 Therefore I consider all your precepts to be right;
    I hate every false way.

    Ps. 119:128

    When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

    Acts 11:18

    For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.

    2 Cor. 7:11

  4. As repentance is to be continued through the whole course of our lives, on account of the body of death, and the motions of it, it is therefore every man’s duty to repent of his particular known sins particularly.

    And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”

    Luke 19:8

    though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

    1 Tim. 1:13-15

  5. Such is the provision which God has made through Christ in the covenant of grace for the preservation of believers in the way of salvation, that although even the smallest sin deserves damnation, yet there is no sin great enough to bring damnation on those who repent. This makes the constant preaching of repentance necessary.

    For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Rom. 6:23

    Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
    cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
    seek justice,
    correct oppression;
    bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause.

    “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
    though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
    though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.

    Isa. 1:16-18

    let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
    let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

    Isa. 55:7

Hmm… no “every head bowed and every eye closed” recitation of a pamphlet prayer here either. I couldn’t find one in scripture…

Still looking for it…

While talking with a friend of mine yesterday, we got on the subject of atonement. She is a proponent of the “ask Jesus into your heart” and that Jesus’ death on the cross was wholly sufficient for all people but we must “choose to accept” his sacrifice for it to be of benefit to our lives. While it’s something that’s often taught in churches, it’s not taught in the Bible. If it were so, Jesus would have asked that the paralytic man who was lowered to him through the ceiling, “ask Him into his heart” before he would be absolved of his sins. Instead what do we hear? Your sins are forgiven. Now go and sin no more. What was Jesus’ requirement for healing? That they have faith in His ability to heal them and, upon their restoration, he told them to go and sin no more. There is no man-focused acceptance required, but a faith that He is the only one who can bring you salvation from your troubles.

At my response to her, she stated that the gift of salvation is like a man who goes to a store and buys an item for you and leaves it at the counter. It’s wholly paid for but you cannot receive it until you accept it. This places the act of salvation firmly in the hands of the one to whom it is granted. It also, unfortunately, means that you can LOSE your salvation if you either decide that it’s not something that you desire and also if you are found unworthy of the gift. She also stated that anyone who goes to hell, is sent there because of their refusal to accept Jesus’ sacrifice in their place. This goes directly in opposition to scripture that teaches that we are secured by God, and not ourselves (Jn 6:35-37,10:27-29; Rom 8:1,35,38-39,11:29). We cannot out sin the grace of God and once God has transformed our heart and filled us with new desires (Eze 36:26), we will be bound to God by HIS sacrifice on our behalf and it is HIM who upholds and sustains us in this new covenant.

A better (though weak) analogy is that you are guilty of a capital crime. You’ve been caught, found guilty before the court and are now awaiting your execution when a man whom you do not know says that he loves you so much that he is willing to take your place in the electric chair so that you may go free. Against your own guilt which you know you carry, and your desire to see justice fulfilled on you, the judge agrees to this man’s proposal and he is executed on your behalf. The work is complete, justice is fulfilled and you are set free, no more under debt to the law. You may wish that he did not give his life for yours and you fully understand that you are not worthy of his sacrifice, but it has been placed upon you and you are granted redemption from your sins against the court. In the same way, Jesus has taken our place on the cross and has died the death that you and I deserve for our crimes against God.

If anything, our only participation in this act of salvation comes as we are the object upon which the grace of God is bestowed. God is the one who saves us, against our nature, from His wrath, by His grace, and for His glory. Men are not cast into the eternal hellfire for their refusal to accept Jesus. The demons fully acknowledged who He is and proclaimed it loudly before Him (Mt 8:29; Mk 3:11,5:7; Lk 4:41,8:28) and we know that they are not saved because hell was created FOR them (Mt 25:41). Who knows more than they do that He is the Christ, the son of the living God? He created them and they saw Him in power when they were cast down to the earth. If all we need to do is to accept his teaching or his authority, who is more prepared to enter into heaven than they? Our salvation is not based upon a mental ascent to His power in our lives, nor a religious acceptance of his teachings. It is, as it has always been, reliant upon His work on our lives and when He changes our hearts from being self-serving to thankful appreciation of the work that He has completed for us, in our stead. It is through our trust (faith) in Him to complete the salvation that He has promised. Men are cast into hell for their sins as they are judged based on the product of their lives (Eze 18:4; Rev 20:12-13). It is the Christian who can take comfort in this, knowing that we stand before God, cleansed from our sins. If I had to stand before Him in the knowledge that my own ability to hold onto the salvation that He has provided for me I would be deeply concerned. I loudly proclaim with the great hymn writer Edward Mote:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ name.

On Christ, My solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

I remember my second baptism. My wife and I were recently married and, assuming that this was what responsible parents do, we found religion. We started attending a local church using the Willow Creek (“seeker-sensitive”) model and became members. As part of that membership, they recommended that we be baptized as a sign of our “rededication” to the Lord. Our church rented a large heated pool for the afternoon and about 40 people all lined up and were baptized. There was a neat little dinner held afterward and all in all we had a great time. Once we were in the car and on the way home, however, it became very serious for me and I remember thinking to myself, “I wonder if it will stick this time”.

This wasn’t my first run-in with religion. I was baptized at 4 years old at Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church in Lakewood, Colorado. My parents were devout Lutherans, attending service every week, becoming members, going to prayer meetings and Bible studies. My mom first taught Sunday school then became the Sunday School director. I memorized all the same stories we’d have every year and eventually was even able to predict the text of the sermon based on where we were in the Liturgical calendar. During the next 10 years we were at church every week, rain or shine. In that time I dedicated myself to Jesus probably 40 times. I “said the sinner’s prayer” with weeping many times, sometimes under the fear that “if I were to die and I didn’t know Jesus then I’d never see my parents again”. Other times it was because I was afraid of punishment. The single similarity that marked each one was my undying commitment to myself. No one had explained “repentance” to me outside of “changing my mind in relation to Jesus”. I did, however, see the difference between my relationship with Jesus and how other people referred to Him. I knew that they had something that I didn’t and, while it intrigued me, I just figured that God was working on them in a different way than me and I let it go.

The problem in each of these cases was a misrepresentation of the gospel. I was told that Jesus died so that God could put me into Heaven. The pivotal point was on me and my righteousness before God – that I was so fabulous that God surrendered Jesus so that I could be in His presence. I never understood that. Then the language about “falling away” made sense to me because I thought that it was merely about me and my goodness and that I could always just ask “Jesus into my heart” and “accept HIM” and everything would be alright. I could run that razor’s edge between sin and sanctification with my “get out of Hell free” card in my back pocket containing the “sinner’s prayer” embossed in gold.

It took God taking away from me everything I held dear before He finally got it through my head that it wasn’t about me, but it was always about HIM. It was about God’s righteousness, and for that Jesus was pleased to die on the behalf of sinners who would repent of their sinful lives and turn to Him for salvation. It wasn’t about ME accepting HIM, but God accepting ME because of what Jesus had done for me.

Through all of my previous experiences I had become just another false convert to Christianity. Another man who follows my chosen religion because it provided a salve for my conscience and gave the reigns to my salvation to ME alone. True Christianity, however, requires that we surrender our “right” to be right to Jesus alone. My commitment to myself and to my own besetting sins was so strong that I was unwilling to open my hand on those things to Jesus and to allow Him to transform my whole life. I was like a man who married his wife and promised to love her and her alone forever, but who refused to quit an addiction to prostitution. God rightly rejected my “commitment” until I rejected everything that hindered our relationship. I needed to have my commitment to sin broken and to be tied instead to Jesus, and His work on our behalf, to be acceptable to God. That’s why I hate the language that states we must “accept Jesus”. No – it’s God that must accept us and He does so through our humble rejection of our own works to save us and our trusting (and subsequent following of) Jesus.

My last baptism, two years ago with my son, was a baptism marking the end of myself. I was no longer trusting in my own works to save me, nor did I trust in my baptism to “stick” and to hold me firm in this commitment. I leapt into the deepest parts of the ocean of God’s grace, trusting that God will keep me firmly bound to the salvation that He provided for me. My transformation in the way I act, speak, and think has happened as a result of this faith that He has provided for me. I am no longer the man I used to be and I know that it’s not my actions that have caused this transformation to take place but instead it is the natural result of a changed heart and mind that came through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in my soul.

So, in my daily reading, I came across 1 Peter 1 today and stopped on verses one and two.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

~ 1 Peter 1:1-2

For those who don’t know, my mind tends to follow specific lines of thought. I see patterns and follow them through to their end. This is how my mind read that after stripping out the parts that, while historically significant and describe the intended audience, are, in my mind, in the way of the text itself:

Peter (author), an apostle of Jesus Christ (authority),

To those who are elect {…}, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood (intended audience):

May grace and peace be multiplied to you (specific blessing).

Now, where I was caught was on that “intended audience”. Peter is writing to the elect. Who are the elect? Let’s break that down:

They are those who God foreordained, through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit are now empowered to serve Jesus Christ and are forgiven their sins by the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf.

It is to those people who Peter is asking that God would “multiply His blessings of grace and peace”. While we Calvinists (read: Biblical Christians 😉 ) understand that God has predetermined those whom He will save from our own desires and path to Hell, we also understand that Jesus had said that there will be many people who are fakers – people who follow along in service, attend Bible study, even lead ministries and worship God with the most fervor that you’ve seen, but they are merely false converts who God will shuffle off in the day of judgment. Think about it – the parable of the ten virgins, the good catch, and the wheat and the tares (weeds). In each instance, there are those who thought that they were in the party of the righteous but were really never part of it to begin with. They never “KNEW” Him, and He never “KNEW” them. How can you tell if you know Him?

Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.

~ John 14:19-21

Jesus makes it clear – those who keep His commandments are those whom He knows. Does that make our salvation one based on works? Not at all! The New Testament is replete with text to the contrary, the most often quoted is Ephesians 2:8-9:

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

~ Ephesians 2:8-9

Even in James 2:14-26 where the brother of Jesus states “Faith without works is dead”, he is not making the point that if you fail to work for Christ He will abandon you, but instead the point is made that our works are the evidence of Christ living within us. Paul drives this home with his illustration of the Gentile Christians being grafted into the olive tree of God’s salvation through the Israelites in Romans 11:11-24: Our salvation is in the root of God’s justice and righteousness, purchased through Christ’s work on our behalf, and we are merely broken from our own sinful man-centered tree and grafted in against our will into a tree of salvation. We are then fed by this tree through the work of the Holy Spirit who then produces fruit in us.

That is the sign that a graft has taken – that it produces fruit. Not out of its own will, but because it is fed by the root and the fruit comes naturally. Don’t feed the homeless because it will buy you salvation – do it because Jesus fed you while you were His enemy and now that you have been reconciled to Him, you want to show His love to those that hate Him as you once did. Don’t clothe the poor because it makes you appear holy before your friends – do it because Jesus made sure that you had your needs met when you refused to acknowledge every good thing He has given to you and now you are able to do the same to those who also are selfish in the same manner that you were. It is through this empowering of the Holy Spirit that we are able to enter into His salvation, not one purchased by our own works. This same empowering enables us to seek to serve Jesus Christ with right motives and a desire to see Him exulted instead of ourselves.

This two verse introduction into Peter’s book clearly defines the Trinity as the relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and reveals the nature of our salvation, how it is acquired, and how we live it out.

Man, I can’t wait to read the rest of this chapter… 🙂

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(e.g., John 1 or God's love)

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