Loneliness in the Church

grieving

Christianity today, by in large, has missed the boat on the topic of sin.  As a culture we have determined that everyone has not only the ability, but the right to define truth and their own morality.  Consequentially Christians are no longer defining the problem of sin and damnation as that form which we need saving, but simply offer Jesus and salvation as a bonus and eternal security.  Gone are the days of preaching Hell, fire and brimstone, and now are the days of the prosperity Gospel.  We believe that we are fundamentally good beings and adding Jesus into our lives will secure success and happiness.

Such a worldview and belief system leaves us exceptionally lonely, however.  Because when we come to Jesus for salvation, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within our lives, and the role of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin and righteousness and live through us so that we die to our sin and become more like Jesus, more holy, throughout our daily lives.

“And [the Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

So we all have a sin problem, and the Holy Spirit is revealing that problem to us daily, but yet we are left in a situation where we are unable to confess that problem and find accountability and comaraderie in working through it.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said most profoundly:

“It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness.  The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners.  The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner.  So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship.  We dare not be sinners.  Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners.”

-Bonhoeffer

We are all sinners.  “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3.23).  And while we are constantly fighting against our sin by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are given the body – the Church – to help us along in that fight.  We are commanded to confess our sins to one another:

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

– James 5.16

We see throughout the New Testament that there are still times when people are suffering illnesses and even death because of their sin.  Paul taught that many were sick and dying for taking the Lord’s Supper with the wrong heart (1 Cor 11.30), and Ananias and Sapphira died for lying about the percentage of revenue that they gave to the church (Acts 5).  And James teaches us that the confession of sin and the prayer of the faithful brother can heal and restore one who has sinned.

We know that when we do sin that we have an advocate in Jesus Christ who stands before the Lord and declares that sin covered by His blood:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

But until we confess to one another our weakness, our failures and our sins, we will never find the level of intimacy and accountability that Christ expects from the body.  We are playing games and we are lying to one another.

Now, I am not saying that we need to be unwise with our emotions and hearts.  Scripture also teaches us to guard our hearts diligently:

“Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.”

– Prov 4.23

There are people in the Church who are non believers – wolves in sheep’s clothing – who will destroy the church.  There are those who will gossip, those who will not forgive and harbor bitterness, and those who will take your confession and condemn you.  Jesus has forgiven us our sin, and in Him there is no longer any condemnation:

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

– Rom 8.1

Therefore, we must be confident that the person in whom we are confiding is one who will hear our confession as Jesus does:  condemning the sin, forgiving the believer, and helping to establish methods for keeping the penitent from falling into the same sin again.

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness;each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

– Gal 6.1-3

This accountability is beautiful and of utmost importance.  Our souls depend on it.  Scripture teaches us that if we continue in sin after claiming Jesus for salvation, there is no hope for us:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

But if we find brothers and sisters in Christ whom we can trust, confess our sins to one another, pray for one another, hold one another accountable, then we can fight well the fight of faith as a body and as a community.  Until that point we will remain alone.  We will be blinded to some of our sins.  We will believe the lies that others around us do not struggle with sin, and we will either condemn ourselves or justify ourselves – neither of which finds favor with God.

So let’s get real.  Find those friends.  Engage in a body of believers and open up.  There is healing.  There is community.  There is accountability.  And we will find strength and encouragement by helping one another press on to the goal of righteousness and godliness.  And the love of a Christian brother will cover and encourage us.

“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”

– 1 Peter 4.8

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Vacations are Dangerous

Vacation.

We all love vacation.  Every so often we set aside a period of time when we do not work, we indulge in our hobbies, we travel, we sleep in, eat our favorite foods, or go see the world.  Vacation means something different to everyone, and and we all have our own little quirks in regards to how we spend our time and where we choose to go, but for the Christian vacations are extremely dangerous.  Spiritually.

When we are in our daily routines, the mature Christian has an established time that they spend with the Lord.  We read our Bibles, pray, spend time considering our actions and lives, confess sin, and seek the Lord and His will for our lives.  Many Christians do this first thing when they wake up.  We should continue to be thoughtful and prayerful throughout the day, and reflect on our days as we wind down for bed.

But on vacation our routines are interrupted – by design.  We think we should be having fun.  We sleep in, we choose activities that are different and we plan ways to absorb our time, we relax, and ultimately (albeit intentionally) we get lazy.  We forget to pray.  We forget to read our Bibles.  We forget to consider our hearts and our actions and we find ourselves a week later having neglected the most important relationship in our lives.

Rest is good.  Even Jesus led the disciples to rest.

And [Jesus] said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.)

– Mark 6.31

The Gospel is riddled with the fact that Jesus, by removing our sins and enabling us to live lives that glorify God, gives us rest and peace.  Our souls are complete by abiding in Him.  Our eternity is secure by trusting Him.  Our Spirit is at unity and peace by being made in Him.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

– Matt 11.28

But Jesus also instructed the disciples to get away to rest apart from the crowds.  To recharge.  But Jesus’ break from the ministry looked a little different than ours tends to.  He rested by getting away and praying.

“But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.”

– Luke 5.16

“In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.”

– Mark 1.35

“And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him.”

– Luke 22.39

Vacation was a bit of a foreign concept for the early Christians who were suffering persecution and being scattered because of their faith.  They were suffering as Jesus had suffered and in order to find peace, rest and to recharge, they sought refuge in God through prayer.

We have a lot to learn from Jesus and from them.

I am in no way saying that vacation is wrong.  I just came home from a week off, which is why I am contemplating the Spiritual danger of such a time.  Perhaps you are an extremely strong and mature Christian who makes the most of time off and spends more time with the Lord while away and resting.  But if you are like me, and many Christians out there, then stepping away from your routine can be dangerous.  But it is also revealing and convicting.

Where is your treasure?  Where is your pleasure?  Where is your rest?  And from where do you derive strength, energy, and peace?

If we try to go away and have a vacation and forget about the Lord, we will become irritable.  We will slip into our natural, sinful tendencies.  We will actually find ourselves less rested and more on edge.  Our vacation will lend us to selfishness, we will fight with our fellow vacationers, we will not be recharged.  Jesus said we must come to Him to receive rest.

“…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

– Matt 6.21

So let us stop and consider our motives and planning of vacations.  What is our goal?  How will we make time for the Lord?  Will we be intentional about our prayer time and time in the Word?  If we believe the Gospel, if we believe Jesus, then we must remember and consider the fact that we will not find rest and strength unless we spend time with Him.

Do you need a break?  Do you need to recharge?  Do you need rest?  Seek out the Lord.

“He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.”

– Is 40.29-31

Have you praised God this morning?

morning

I know, I know, you are just not a morning person.  It is hard to roll out of bed and you are still waking up on your commute in to work.  Or perhaps you love mornings and you bounce out of bed ready to face the day!  Whatever your disposition, have you taken time to talk to and praise God this morning?

The LORDS loving kindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

– Lam 3.22-23

The mercy of the Lord and His compassion is new every morning.  This is a wonderful truth to which we should cling earnestly.  As we crawl into bed at the end of the day, we should be thanking Him for the blessings of the day, repenting of our sin and wickedness from the day, and laying down to reflect on the things that He has taught us and resting in His comfort.  But in the morning, we must turn immediately to Him to refresh our Spirits, to praise Him, to commit our days to Him.  His mercies are new every morning, so we need to soak them up.  Bask in His presence.  Take the time to set our hearts and minds on Him and His will, to reflect on His grace and salvation and come into His presence.

“In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice;
In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.”

– Ps 5.3

David gave us a beautiful example of every morning rising, no matter his circumstances.  We should always get up to “eagerly watch” throughout the day.  What is God doing around you?  How can you get involved in His work around you, today?  Are you rejoicing?  Are you mourning?  Are you just going through the mundane?  God is at work around you, so take a moment to ask Him to reveal what He is doing and how you can join Him.

“In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.”

– Mark 1.35

Jesus also made it a daily habit to get up and spend time with the Lord before going about His earthly ministry.  God Himself got up before daybreak to spend time with God, Himself, and to commit His day, energy, mind, heart and will to that of God the Father’s.  If Jesus needed to do it, then we need to do it.

Consider this:  would you rather come to God at the end of the day for a recharge because you spent your day in your own energy and seeking your own goals, and you just want to check in and say hi?  Or would you rather set aside your day to the Lord and let Him guide you through it, energizing, directing, and making an eternal impact through your day?

Do not go through your day today without getting face-to-face with God.  Praise Him.  Rest in Him.  Ask Him to reveal what He is doing around you.  Speak to others about Him.  And you will find that this evening, when you are crawling in bed, you can joyfully reflect with Him about the day that you had together instead of just checking in.

If you do not obey Jesus, You are not a Christian.

People at the Cross

Many people around the world consider the United States to be a “Christian” nation.  Even though many in the public forum push back against this label, if you took a cross section of the average Joe on the street the majority will still claim to be Christian.  Research indicates, in fact, that 77.3% of Americans are professing Christians.  Many consider themselves to be Christians because their families are historically Christian.  Some claim the faith because they go to Church on Christmas and Easter, and some think that they are saved because they “said a prayer” and secured their eternity by one sentence.

Jesus, however, made radical claims and set high expectations for those who would follow Him.  If we want to be Christians or “mini Christs”, then we have to obey Him:

“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

– Luke 6.46

In order to be a Christian, in order to follow Christ, Jesus plainly said that we have to do what He said.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”

– Matt 7.21

We can call Jesus “Lord”, but in order to enter into Heaven we must do the will of the Father – and that is to obey Jesus.

Jesus gave His life up for us because He loves us (John 15.13).  God Himself is love, and we cannot know love nor can we love unless we know God (1 John 4.7-8).  It is God’s desire that we come to love Him and abide in Him the same way in which Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit abide with one another (John 17.11, 21).  And the natural response to loving Jesus is to want to please Him by obeying Him.

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

– Jon 14.15

And we learn this by following the example of Jesus.  He loved God and spent all of His energy and life seeking to obey God and fulfilling His will:

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”

– John 6.38

Scripture teaches us that when we come to Jesus for forgiveness and salvation that He actually writes His law on our hearts (Heb 10.16, 8.10), and He gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us to obey those laws (1 Cor 3.16).  Thus we see that we are incapable of obeying Jesus in our own strength, but when we become a Christian we are transformed into a new creature in which the Holy Spirit resides (2 Cor 5.17), and it is actually no longer us who are living but Jesus living in and through us:

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

– Gal 2.20

So if God is indwelling us and empowering us by the very law that He has written on our hearts, we have the conviction when we disobey, we have the desire to obey, and we look like Jesus.

What exactly, then, did Jesus command us to do?

Many go immediately to the “Great Commandment” to answer this question.

‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’

– Matt 23.7-39

Jesus gave these simple yet impossible commandments.  If you are a Christian, you will be someone who loves God with every inch of your being, and who loves your neighbor in the same way you love yourself.  Do you watch your neighbors to make sure that they have good food, nice clothes, that their cars are functioning and that they have a job?  Do you make sure that they have fun, that they have good exercise habits, that they have community and activities in which to be involved?  Do you splurge on their happiness?

Sometimes we dull down this greatest commandment and think that giving God lip service is enough and sing the mantra, “all we need is love”, and yet we truly and genuinely love no one.  What is love?  It is sacrifice.  Jesus offered His life for us.  For whom would you die?

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.  “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’”  And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”  Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

– Matt 10.17-22

Jesus is concerned about our hearts.  This man had kept the law, given preference to others, done everything that God had commanded.  But Jesus wanted him to love his neighbor as he loved himself, and this man was unable to do so.  He could not sell his possessions and give the profit away.  He could not trust God.  Therefore he was not a believer, and he went away saddened.

We must love God with all of our hearts, love our neighbor as ourselves, and die to the deeds of the flesh.  What are the deeds of the flesh?

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

– Gal 5.19-21

If you partake in immorality, impurity (think sexual), sensuality (indulging your senses), witchcraft (think good luck charms along with spells and darkness), enmities (do you have any enemies?), strife (is there someone with whom you cannot get along?), jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes (are you in an argument?), dissensions, factions (have you just written someone off?), envying, drunkenness or carousing?  Often times we think about the big things when we think of obeying Jesus.  And yes, there are some big things listed here like witchcraft.  And while this list is not exhaustive, it reveals the heart of God being concerned with our driving force and our hearts.  If the Holy Spirit is residing within you, you cannot be jealous.  You cannot have strife.  You cannot hold grudges and break yourself away from other believers.

Sure, we will continue to fight with our sin and fail.  And Jesus understands that:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

But these things cannot mark us as people.  We might be fighting against these things, and seeking to replace these things with those attributes which honor God:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

Jesus says that we if we love Him we will obey Him.  If you do not obey Him, you prove yourself to not love Him.  And you have not kept the great commandment.  And you are not a believer.

“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.”

– Matt 7.22-23

Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

– 1 John 3.24

Do you want to be a Christian?  Then begin with confessing your sins, asking for forgiveness and asking God to give you the Holy Spirit to enable you to obey Him.  Then begin the joyful life of following Him, loving Him, and you will begin to desire to obey Him and He will empower you to do so.  If you are not fighting sin and looking like Jesus, then you are not a Christian.  You are not a mini-Christ.  Let us all seek to become mini-Christs.

All Christians Are Saints.

saint

The term “saint” is a bit difficult to understand.  Many of us think of saints specifically as defined and identified by the Catholic Church.  They officially declare any deceased believer who is now in Heaven to be a saint, but assign greater honor to some and canonize and glorify them in the role of saint.  These saints are, in some traditions, hereticaly elevated to a position of intercessor before God and people can pray to saints asking them to provide or petition God on their behalf.

But Scripture clearly teaches us that under the new covenant, anyone who is a believer – anyone in whom the Holy Spirit resides – is a saint.

The Greek term for saint literally translates as “holy”.  It is the same term, in fact, which is “holy” in the “Holy Spirit” or “Holy Ghost”.  It is a sacred thing, a thing set apart by God, a thing set apart for the usage of God:  sacred, physically or morally pure, blameless, or consecrated.

The Old Covenant defined a ceremonial structure by which one tribe of the twelve (the Levites) were set aside as priests.  They were given the responsibility, role and requirement to care for the temple, to offer sacrifices for the sins of the other eleven tribes and to uphold the Law.  Within the priesthood, there was a hierarchy and there was one high priest.  Only the high priest could enter into the inner-most room of the temple and the presence of God.  He was only allowed to enter this room once a year, and much pomp and preparation was required.  This was a fearful thing.

But when Jesus died on the cross, the curtain that separated this holiest of rooms in which the presence of God resided was torn (Matt 27.51).  God no longer resides in the temple (Acts 7.48).  But we, as believers, become the temple of the Holy Spirit.

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

– 1 Cor 3.16

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?”

– 1 Cor 6.19

This new form of interacting with God is what Christians now called the “Priesthood of the Believer”.  We are all now priests in the sense that we can each approach God directly, we do not need another, more holy person to approach God on our behalf.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

– 1 Peter 2.9-10

If you have believed in Jesus and called upon Him for salvation, you are now part of this royal priesthood.  Your sins have been washed by the blood of Jesus and you can approach Him without shame and in confidence.  You are a priest, you are holy, you are a saint.  Until our sins have been removed, we are unable to approach God, but once we have been made righteous by Jesus’ death on the cross, we are pure and we can call Him father.

“…and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever.”

– 1 Rev 1.6

The only remaining priest that we have is Jesus Christ Himself.  Hebrews defines Him as the “Great High Priest” who made the perfect sacrifice which never needs to be repeated.  Previous priests had to offer sacrifices for their own sins before they could intercede for the people, but Jesus never had His own sins to atone for.  The blood of animals was a symbolic gesture which looked forward to the perfect sacrifice, the blood of Jesus, which alone could pay for our sins.  Now, our confession and repentance looks back on the blood of Jesus and finds its power there (Heb 7.23-28).

“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”

– 1 Tim 2.5-6

And we are all set aside and made holy by Him.  We all approach God in prayer through Jesus Christ.  We are all priests.  All Christians are saints.  All Christians do not always act like saints.  But that is why we have a High Priest, Jesus Christ, who intercedes for us and empowers us through the Holy Spirit, who resides within, us to fight sin and find victory over sin.

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

– 2 Cor 5.21

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

What is a relationship with Jesus?

relationships

If you have been to pretty much any church, Christian concert, Spiritual rally, Bible study or para-church meeting in the last fifteen years, then you have probably heard that Jesus Christ wants to have a relationship with you.  The twenty first century Church has thrown away religion with the mantra of relationship.

I am no longer a Christian, I follow Jesus.

Don’t label me.

 What exactly does this mean, however?  What does a relationship with Jesus look like?  How do I start a relationship with Jesus?

First of all, we must understand that while Jesus does desire to have a relationship with us, there is a barrier in between us.  Every human being who has ever lived is by nature a sinner.  The Bible teaches us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3.23).  And every single sin, no matter the scope, deserves the present punishment of death and the eternal punishment of damnation (Rom 6.23).  So we, as sinners, have an impending judgment (Heb 9.27), and the verdict has been warned in advance.  But not only that, we are incapable of having a relationship with Jesus now because that sin is an offense against Him and has put a barrier between us (James 4.4).  As long as we love the world, continue to sin, and are guilty, we cannot enter into God’s presence, we cannot have a relationship with Him, and we are bound for an eternity of suffering in Hell.

But since God loves us, He sent His only son – Jesus – to live a perfect life on Earth without sin, and then died on the cross taking the punishment that you and I deserve.  Since Jesus never sinned, He did not deserve to die.  But He died in my place, and He died in your place (John 3.16, John 15.13).  The good news is that God loves us so much that even though we are wicked, guilty, and deserving of death and damnation, Jesus paid our penalty so that we would not have to.  In essence, if we receive the free gift of salvation, our verdict from the Heavenly court will read “Time Served” or “Paid in Full”.

But the most beautiful part of the exchange is that when Jesus assumed our guilt, He covered us in His blood and we became righteous.  Holy.  Acceptable before God.  We cannot rid ourselves of sin on our own and be acceptable before God, but by confessing our sin and asking Jesus to forgive us, and turning away from that sin, Jesus’ blood covers us and we are now not only forgiven, but righteous.

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

– 2 Cor 5.21

When we come to this moment, we have now been forgiven we have now been made acceptable before God, and we can now begin that relationship.  We cannot start a relationship with God until we have gone through that experience.

So, I ask again, what is that relationship?

Consider any relationship.  How do you get to know someone?  You talk to them!  There are a variety of ways that we talk in today’s age:  face-to-face, over the phone, emails, letters, etc.  We tell them about ourselves and we listen and learn about them.  We as Christians are really good at telling God about ourselves in prayer, but we do quite poorly listening to Him.  God created the world and has been at work in His people throughout all of history.  He Himself had scribes write down everything that He felt it necessary for us to know about Himself and His plan for redemption, salvation and the future.  It is all contained in a single book:  the Bible.

“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”

– 2 Peter 1.2-3

Imagine if your new boyfriend or girlfriend wrote you a letter and you only skimmed a bit of it.  Imagine if you kept writing letters to him or her, and never read what your significant other had said to you.  Imagine your embarrassment if you were asking questions that had already been answered in the letters you had!  This would be a one-way relationship that would not last long, because you would be going to get your needs met and not caring about the other person.  Both people need to hear and be heard.  Both people need to love and be loved.  Both people need to be engaged in the relationship, giving and taking.

God is only different in the fact that He does not need us.  But He wants us.  He will not, however, entertain one-sided relationships.  We cannot ask Him to forgive you and then just keep living as though He does not exist.  We must abide in Him, get to know Him, enjoy Him, read His book to us, trust His promises, apply those promises.  We must also talk to Him, confide in Him, tell Him what we are thinking and feeling.  Imagine our embarrassment if we get to Heaven and do not know the things He revealed about himself to us in His word!  Imagine trying to walk through a difficult situation with Him, when He has told us how to handle it in His word, and yet we have not read it yet!  What must God think when we enter into a trial and we pray out, “God I don’t know what to do!” and He has given us clear instructions in the Bible?

And as we get to know Him, through His revealed Word and enjoying His presence, we will learn the majestic reality that Jesus Christ, while He calls us friend, is also King, and Priest and prophet (Heb 7).  Yes, He grants to us to become part of His family, part of His body, and we can approach God in great confidence and crawl up in His lap and call Him “Daddy” (Rom 8.15).  But He is still holy, He is still God, He is still King, and He is still our Lord.  Lord, while an outdated term, is still easily understandable as the one who has final say.  He is in charge and He expects us to do what He says.  If God has defined pride as sin, He expects us to die to our pride and quit sinning.  If God has defined getting drunk and living with someone who is not our spouse as sin, He expects us to stop getting drunk and move out or get married.  If God has defined worldliness as sin, then we need to quit looking and acting like the world and acting like people who love and know God!  He is our Lord, and He expects us to act like it.  That is a facet of the relationship that we hold with Him.

He is also our priest.  This is one of the most difficult realities to grasp, but it is ultimately one of the most comforting.  When we understand the punishment for sin and when we grasp the price Jesus paid to ensure our eternity, the Spirit will convict us greatly when we do sin.  The role of the priest is to stand before God and make a sacrifice to pay for our sins.  He is the one who appeases God’s wrath.  He is the one who intercedes for us.  The doctrine of justification teaches us that Jesus’ death on the cross covered all of our sins in completion, but the ongoing relationship we hold necessitates that Jesus stands before God and acts as our advocate as Satan stands before God as our accuser.  Every time we sin, the accuser says to God, “Did you see that?” and Jesus holds up his hands and says, “It has already been punished”.

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

“Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

– Heb 7.25

And lastly, He is our prophet.  He has promised us salvation in the end, and He has even given us a foreshadowing of the coming events.

There are many ways that we need to relate to God: through Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We cannot enter into a relationship with God until we take care of our sin problem by confession and repentance.  We cannot get to know God unless we spend time with Him both speaking to Him and listening to Him.  He has given us everything that He desires us to know about Himself in the Bible – and He has even promised that He will not give any new revelation of Himself until He returns to take us home (Rev 22.19).  We must read His Word and we must spend time in prayer.  We also see that God has created us to serve, love and worship Him.  So we will, as believers, spend time praising Him.  Singing of the wonderful things that He has done in history, in salvation, and in our lives today.

Get to know Him.  Read His letter.  Let Him change you.  Spend time with Him.  And Praise Him.  Let Him know what you are thinking and feeling.  And when you need direction, turn to Scripture.  This is a relationship with Jesus.

Let’s get you saved.

u turn

We, as a society (and as Christians), are becoming more and more timid and fearful to discuss sin.  We do not want to sound judgmental, we do not want to be labeled a bigot, we think we will be hypocrites for defining sin if we ourselves do not live a perfect life, and we are afraid that we will push people away.  Political correctness, in all of its glory, is making us into a people with soft sin who think that we can ignore reality by burying our heads in the sand and pretending nothing exists.  And in church-ese, we have become very comfortable to invite people “as you are”, we want everyone to feel comfortable and welcome to be a part of our weekly gatherings and worship services, because we just want to “get you saved”.

But what does being saved actually mean?

When we talk about Jesus, forgiveness and salvation with children, we often use terminology like, “ask Jesus into your heart”.  Not only is this concept unbiblical, it is extremely dangerous.  It is superstitious.  It will damage many people for a long time.  Why?  Because salvation the culmination of a person understanding his position before God, grasping the weight of his sin and consequences thereof, confessing his sin and repenting from it, asking God for forgiveness based on the sacrifice of Jesus, being covered by His blood and clothed in His righteousness, and living a lifestyle that is continually dying to self, obeying God and persevering through trials.  Yes, there is a mutual abiding that occurs – us in Jesus and Jesus in us (John 15.4-9).  Yes, God does also place the Holy Spirit within us to convict us of righteousness, sin and judgment (John 16.8).  And yes, we are a temple for the Holy Spirit to indwell (1 Cor 6.9).  But Jesus never commanded anyone to ask Him to come live in his heart.  Paul never preached the Gospel as thus.  Rather, it focused on repentance and making Jesus the Lord over everything.

What this all means is that the salvation experience beings with understanding of sin.  We cannot “get you saved” until you understand that every single human being who has walked the face of this Earth (besides Jesus) is utterly wicked (Rom 3.23), is an enemy of God (James 4.4), is dead Spiritually (Eph 2.1), and deserves an eternity in Hell as just punishment.  And since this is true of every single human being, this is true of me and this is true of you.  I am, by nature, wicked.  You are, by nature, wicked.  We are, because of our nature, separated from God and bound towards Hell.

God hates sin.

God hates all sin.

And because God hates sin,
God will not overlook any sin.

God will, at the end of time, judge every human being by the deeds they preformed in the flesh.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

– 2 Cor 5.10

 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

– 1 Cor 3.8

“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”

– Rev 22.12

“I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.”

– Rev 2.23

And God, being perfect, will not sweep any sin under the rug.  He is just, He is righteous, and He does not show leniency towards any sin that is preformed.  This is a terrifying reality.  Because while it is true that murderers deserve to go to Hell for killing another human being, we also deserve to go to Hell for eating a cookie that our moms told us not to eat when we were six years old.  Think about it: that is exactly why God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden, damned to Hell, and the entire world put under the curse:  eating a piece of fruit that God said, “Do not eat”.

Would you have cursed all of creation over that?

Probably not, because we are comfortable with a level of sin.  We know, in our hearts, that we are all sinners and we show grace to the little sins and pretend like they are nothing.  But God will repay everyone accordingly, and His standard is perfection:  the Law.

“Vengeance is Mine, and retribution,
In due time their foot will slip;
For the day of their calamity is near,
And the impending things are hastening upon them.”

– Deut 32.35

We cannot find salvation until we understand from what we need saving.  We are not simply trying to introduce people to Jesus so that they can have a relationship with Him, we are trying to help people understand the dire situation in which they are living and flee from it.  Jesus will not enter into relationship with you until you recognize, confess and repent from your sin.

Now, hear me.  This does not mean that we have to get all of our sin in order before we come to Jesus for salvation.  Only Jesus can empower and enable us to fight and conquer sin.  We cannot clean ourselves up enough to make ourselves acceptable to Him.  But the salvation process and experience begins with us recognizing our wicked nature, its consequence, and our turning from sin to Jesus.

Jesus came to the world and lived a perfect life – one not deserving of death – but yet He died in our place.  We have been sentenced to death – physically and Spiritually – and Jesus stepped in and paid our debt.  God does not, by our asking for forgiveness, overlook our sin, He pays our penalty in Jesus.  He does not just say, “It’s ok, I forgive you”, He says, “I have poured out all of my wrath for your sin on Jesus.  He suffered so that you do not have to.”

When we grasp the weight of our sin and fate, and when we then grasp the weight of our forgiveness – that it is not flippant but cost Jesus His life – then we begin the life of getting to know Jesus, learning what God has to say about how we are supposed to live and how we are supposed to act, and changing.

Yes, Jesus wants to have a relationship with you.  But that relationship is fundamentally Him as Lord and you as servant, follower and lastly friend.  Jesus is not your homeboy, He is God.  He is king.  On a throne.  And He will be respected.  He will be worshiped.  On the day that we meet Him, every knee will bow (Phil 2.10).  We will not even be able to stand up in His presence.

And Jesus takes the sin matter extremely seriously.  So seriously, in fact, that Scripture teaches us that if we come to Jesus for salvation, but then continue sinning, we are not saved.  There is very little hope for us, in fact:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

This does not mean that will not sin.  Scripture offers us great comfort and peace when we stumble in a moment of weakness:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

What this means, then, is that we cannot make peace with sin.  We cannot go on sinning willfully and assuming that Jesus will forgive us.  Jesus wants us to love Him and obey Him out of that love.  If we are striving to honor Him in our daily lives, but falter in a moment of weakness, He will forgive us.  It is covered by His blood.  But if we think that we are buddy-buddy with Jesus and that we can live however we want and assume His forgiveness, then we are not saved.  True love for Jesus is rooted in a sober understanding of our sinful nature and overwhelming gratefulness for His sacrifice – paying our debt – and is exemplified in our complete surrender to His will and desire.  In short, because of what He did for us, we do everything that we can to honor Him and to make Him proud of us.

This is what abiding in Him means.  Not that we just ask Jesus into our hearts and obtain some eternal fire insurance.  It means that the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us and convicts us of sin and helps us to change.

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

In summary, God wants to have a relationship with us.  And that relationship is based on love – God is love, and we only know love if we know God.  But that relationship also is built on our submission and obedience to Him.  And the outpouring of our love and appreciation for the gift of salvation is getting to know Him by reading the Bible, applying His truths to our lives, turning away from sin and glorifying Him in everything that we do.