Did Jesus’ death pay for the sins of everyone?

the cross

Sometimes we get a little confused in our language when we communicate.  The telephone game is a childhood favorite that not only provides us an entertaining challenge but teaches the terrifying reality that communication is difficult.  One person intends to communicate a fact, but because of the cultural background, the vocabulary proficiency, the paradigms, and belief system of the hearer – let alone any physical malady that might impair hearing or ability to comprehend – more often than not that which is heard is not the true message of the speaker.  This is why we have tests in the educational system.  This is why we have checks and balances in the work place.  This is why we take classes on communication.  This is why we have marriage counseling.  Concepts can be lost, terms can be wrongly defined and intentions can be misinterpreted.  Therapists and counselors readily teach people the habit and skill of repeating back what they have just been told – in their own words – to confirm that they have rightly understood the intention and communication of the speaker.

Slight misunderstandings of truth have the ability to compound upon each other over generations and over time.  One such tragedy in the Church is today’s inclusivist teaching that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, therefore no one will go to Hell.

In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.  He created Adam and Eve and put them in a garden called Eden giving them one prohibition:  do not eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.  Scripture does not tell us how long they lived in the Garden in communion with God, but eventually Adam and Eve ate the fruit.  They disobeyed God.  They sinned.  And because of that one, very small sin, they were cursed, condemned and removed from the presence of God.  Through one man, sin entered the world, and all of creation was cursed (1 Cor 5.12-21).  God immediately took an animal, killed it, and used the skin to make clothing for Adam and Eve to cover them (Gen 3.21).  This was the first sacrifice for sins which set the stage for all of history.  Scripture teaches us that “the punishment for sin is death” (Rom 6.23), and that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb 9.22).  Therefore Adam and Eve continued to make sacrifices to atone for their sins throughout their lifetime, as did every person who feared God until the time of Jesus.

Everyone will die a physical death because we have all sinned.  The physical penalty for sin is death.  The Spiritual penalty for sin is eternal separation from God – damnation (Matt 25.31-46).  Sin is our problem.  Sin is what separates us from a perfect God.  God hates sin.  He condemns it.  He judges it.  He promises that He will never acquit the guilty (Ex 23.7, Nah 1.3).

The progression of our misunderstanding, however, began with a wrong understanding of our sinful nature.  For the last five hundred years or so, there has been debate over whether or not human beings are fundamentally good beings or evil.  When the conversation first began, the Church had councils and meetings and declared that Scripture teaches plainly that we are wicked (they used the term “depraved”), and they declared anyone who would say that human beings are fundamentally good are heretics – non Christians who pervert the Scripture and lead people astray.

Scripture teaches us that apart from God we are Spiritually dead:

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”

– Eph 2.1-2

Scripture also teaches us that there is none righteous and none who seeks after God of his own will:

“As it is written, there is none righteous, not even one.  There is none who understands, there is non who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, not even one.”

– Rom 3.10-12

We were enemies of God, we were sons of the devil, we hated God.

“…because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

– Rom 8.7-8

“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

– John 8.44

Unfortunately, this heresy and exceptionally dangerous teaching has continued to flow into conversation and hearts throughout the years.  It does ebb in popularity when we find ourselves in major crises, however.  The Church by-in-large believed that the world would continue to get better and morph into the thousand year reign of Christ between the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the dawn of World War I.  This is when the popular beliefs of a pre-tribulational rapture and a-millenialism were birthed.  However, once humanity returned to her true colors on a global scale through WWI and the atrocities of WWII, people returned to a Biblical understanding of our wicked nature.  The last seventy years in the West, however, have lent us to entertain this dangerous belief – even in the midst of wars in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and many more, as well as the growing reality of terrorism and unrest even in our own communities.  It is almost like we have stuck our heads down in the sand and proclaim that a little love will reveal a terrorist to truly have a good heart, rather than recognizing our own tendencies towards evil.  But that is another conversation for another day.

Compounding the difficulty of our misunderstanding of the human nature is our misunderstanding of the nature of God.  We cling to those glorious biblical truths that “God is love” (1 John 4.7-8), that He is merciful (Deut 4.31), that He is kind (Ps 36.7), and most importantly He is gracious (Titus 2.11).

These truths have been erroneously applied to our worldview such that we think human beings are not really that bad, and God is gracious and loving, so He would never judge or condemn us – He will forgive us.  A loving God would never send someone to Hell, because we are all basically good.  We just make mistakes.  We cling to verses like 1 John 2.2 to appease ourselves:

“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

So we are left to simply ask the question, “for whom did Jesus die?”  The emerging popular belief is that Jesus died “for the whole world” – therefore He paid the penalty for every sin of every person, therefore everyone is safe.  The popular teaching for the last thirty years which has led us to this terrifying state of misunderstanding is “Jesus died for everyone, we only have to believe and receive it”.  This is a half truth that leads us to the heresy we are facing today.

Why?

Because either a sin has been punished or it has not.  If Jesus paid the punishment for my sins, then there is nothing left for which I would be condemned.  People go to Hell because of their sin, not because they rejected Jesus’ sacrifice.

“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

“But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.”

– Rom 2.5-8

Jesus came to the world to take care of our sin problem.  We could not appease the wrath of God by making sacrifices or tying to be good enough.  Every sin will be punished – either in Jesus on the cross, or in us eternally in Hell.

“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

The answer to the question is simply:  Jesus died for those who would be saved.  This does not compute in our finite, worldly minds because we do not have God’s sovereignty or perspective outside of time.  God not only knows who will be saved, He chooses them, gives them to Jesus, gives them the gift of faith, sanctifies them, and makes them righteous.

“Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”

– Eph 1.4-6

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”

– John 6.37

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

– Eph 2.8-9

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

– Phil 1.6

“…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

– Phil 2.13

To summarize:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”

– Rom 8.28-3

What then does the Bible mean, “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2.2)?  And, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3.16).  In order to understand this, it is important to remember the context of the New Testament letters.  Throughout history until this point, God had chosen the Hebrew people as His own.  They were commanded not to intermarry with other nationalities, they were commanded to remain separate and to keep themselves pure from the world, other cultures, other religions, and other influences.  When Jesus came on the scene, He fulfilled the promise to Abraham that through Him, all the nations of the world would be blessed (Gen 12.2-3).  Jesus blew open the doors of salvation to include people from every tribe, tongue and nation (Rev 7.9).  It is not every person in every tribe, tongue and nation, but individuals from every tribe, tongue and nation.

This was difficult for the Jews of the day.  Many Jewish believers remained separatists.  Many Jewish believers tried to force the Mosaic Law on non-Jewish believers by compelling them to be circumcised.  The Old Covenant had taught them that an outsider could settle amongst them if and only if they were circumcised.  We even see Peter stumble in adapting to this paradigm shift – the very one to whom Jesus gave a vision about reaching non-Jews and the first one to lead an entire non-Jewish family to faith in Jesus (Gal 2.11-13).

Therefore we rightly understand John to be teaching us that Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of Jews, but also for the sins of people from every tribe, tongue and nation.  The whole world.  The word “world” here literally means cosmos, the sphere of the world.  It is, in fact, the Greek word “κόσμος” which transliterates “kosmos”.  We must take the context in consideration alongside the entire teaching of Scripture to come to the full understanding that God loves and has chosen people from every nation, and His sacrifice paid the punishment and debt for people from every nation.  We know those people whose debt has been paid by their belief and repentance.  Reading the fullness of John 3.16 shows us that Jesus’ death only paid for those who would believe, and those who believe are those to whom He gives faith:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

– John 3.16-18

There is an offering of grace to everyone.  Theologians call this “general grace” and a “general calling”.  Scripture is abundantly clear, “All who believe will be saved”.  But Scripture is also abundantly clear that God puts it within some to believe.  If you hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and desire to be saved, God Himself has put it in you to believe!  So believe and be saved!  To everyone else, the Gospel is foolishness.

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

– 1 Cor 1.18

We, however, do not have that insight of God to know who will be saved.  We also have been commanded to preach the Gospel boldly, at all times, and make disciples of every nation (2 Tim 4.2, 1 Peter 3.15, Col 4.5-6, Mat 28.18-20).  Thus we must proclaim the Gospel to everyone and trust God to provide the fruit.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.”

– 1 Cor 3.6

Will everyone be saved?  No.  Because not everyone will believe.  Those who believe have made an unthinkable exchange with Jesus whereby He took our guilt and shame and by paying the penalty for them was free to give us His righteousness (1 Cor 5.21).  There is now no condemnation because every sin we have ever committed and will ever commit has already been punished in Jesus.

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

– Rom 8.1

There is, however, still condemnation for those who are not in Christ Jesus.  And that is because their sins have not been punished and will be punished in eternity.

Therefore, let us take seriously the command of Jesus to get out and share the Gospel with everyone.  Let us have compassion on those around us who do not yet know Jesus, considering their eternity and be the mouthpiece by which Jesus may instill faith in their hearts!  Let us serve and honor Jesus by obeying Him in sharing and let us be used by Jesus to make disciples of every tribe, tongue and nation – all to His glory!

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On the night He was betrayed, He gave thanks.

the last supper

Today is Good Friday.  This weekend commemorates and remembers the pivotal moment in all of history.  Everything that happened before the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ was looking forward to, leading up to and in anticipation of that greatest of sacrifices.  Everything that has happened since is in response to it.  When humanity fell in the Garden of Eden, God promised an heir who would crush the head of the enemy by offering Himself as a sacrifice, and the entire Mosaic Law and sacrificial system was developed as a foreshadowing of what Jesus would do (Gen 3.15).  The perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ in the place of repentant sinners fulfilled the Law and removed from us the burden of making sacrifices, offering us salvation by grace through faith in Him (Eph 2.8-9).  Because of His death and resurrection “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8.1).

Much can be said about the intricacies, the beauty and the sorrow of Maundy Thursday leading into Good Friday.  (Maundy is a word that was created to summarize the ceremony of washing of feet – and it specifically refers to Jesus serving the disciples by washing their feet before they celebrated the Passover meal that last time.  Thus we have a fancy name for the beginning of the final Passover celebration.)  Jesus came to the Earth with the purpose of being the final sacrifice for sins.  He spoke of it throughout His Earthly ministry, though no one understood.  He knew that it was the plan, and He embraced it – “setting His face towards Jerusalem” and the cross (Luke 9.51).  He knew of Judas’ betrayal, He knew of the suffering to come, and even with this complete understanding of the plan of God, He begged God for a different way.  He was indeed a man of sorrows, and He took the weight of the sins of the world upon His shoulders.

However, He never wavered from His plan, nor lost heart.  He went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover – the holiday of remembrance when God delivered the Hebrew people from Egypt.  He was welcomed dramatically on Palm Sunday, with people praising Him while he rode on a donkey.  When He and the disciples sat down to celebrate the Passover meal, however, Jesus forever altered the tradition.  The Passover meal had been kept in the same way for generations, but Jesus redefined the celebration in His fulfillment of the final and ultimate salvation.  He gave new meaning to the elements, namely Himself.  We now celebrate the Lord’s Supper – or Communion – in place of the Passover meal because Jesus fulfilled the promise, and we now look to Him.  Pastors have been trained to lead congregations through the Lord’s Supper by quoting a passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”  In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

– 1 Cor 11.23-26

Of all the things that can be observed today, I want to point out that little phrase we have glossed over for years:  “On the night in which He was betrayed, He gave thanks.”  Jesus had hand chosen twelve men to follow Him and minister alongside of Him for at least three years.  They went everywhere together, He taught them, He sent them out and empowered them to defeat demons and heal sicknesses.  He loved them.  Think about your closest friends from college – how comfortable you were with them, how much you loved them, and how you went through a season of grieving when those years were over.  Now amplify that to its extreme.  One of those close friends was turned by the religious officials and decided to betray Jesus unto death, for a little bit of money.  This was a predetermined part of the plan, and Jesus knew that it was coming.  But as He welcomed the men into that room to celebrate and redefine the Passover meal, Judas was already knee deep in his plan.

Jesus washed Judas’ feet.  And before He served the Lord’s Supper, this exchange happened:

“As they were eating, He said, ‘Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.’  Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’ And He answered, ‘He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me.  The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.’  And Judas, who was betraying Him, said, ‘Surely it is not I, Rabbi?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said it yourself.’”

Matt 26.20-25

John teaches us that Judas left immediately after dipping his morsel in the bowl with Jesus in order to begin the act of betrayal.  Jesus sent him out with these words,

“What you do, do quickly.”

– John 13.27

So we understand that the fulness of Judas’ betrayal began before Jesus broke the bread and served the wine.  And yet, though He was being betrayed unto death,

Jesus gave thanks.

We are commanded throughout Scripture to give thanks at all times, to worship and praise God at all times, and to have joy even in suffering and trials.  The apostles and early church seem to be un-human in some of the ways the rejoiced:  at the plundering of their property, at their imprisonment and torture, at their dispersion and fleeing for their lives…  They understood the root of Easter.  They grasped the true meaning and they gave thanks.  They praised God for the privilege and honor to suffer, just as Jesus suffered.  The were thankful through difficulty.

Jesus gave thanks in the very midst of being betrayed unto death.  We in the United States have deceived ourselves to believe that suffering is only by the hand of the devil, and Jesus only gives us money, happiness and pleasure.  We demonize our circumstances and pray for God to relieve us from those circumstances.  We pout, we cry, we get frustrated and we mope.  But Jesus recognized that even though He did not want to die, He knew that God’s plan was perfect, He submitted Himself to that plan, and He chose to worship and give thanks.

Today is Good Friday.  Jesus was delivered up to death today.  He was beaten beyond recognition, His beard was torn out, He had a crown of thorns dug deeply into His scalp, His flesh was ripped to literal shreds with a whip, and He was nailed onto a cross naked.  In preparation for that, He gave thanks.  Have you given thanks today, for the sacrifice He made?  Have you given thanks in the midst of your terrible, no good, very bad day?  Are you expecting God to make you happy and comfortable?  Or are you choosing to rejoice and be thankful because you have been counted worthy to join in the sufferings of Christ?  Let us give thanks.

Jesus loves His church more than you do.

church

Are you excited about life?  Your church?  Your community and the things God is doing all around you?  Do you ever get frustrated?  Tired?  Worn out from pouring into people, ministries and efforts that seem to just fizzle and die?

I love change.  Even though I am an introvert by disposition and need to have some quiet time to recharge, I love meeting new people, I love going new places, trying new things and experiencing life.  I love to move.  Just like most who share my disposition, I see the best in people up front and am excited to engage in new communities.  However I find it difficult to see potential and I often resign myself to consider situations to be how they will be forever, thus once things are broken it feels impossible to make them right.

In my Spiritual immaturity and involvement in a vastly superficial youth group, this disposition led me to a level of disdain for the Church.  God radically changed my life and disposition through the tragic loss of a non-believing friend and a year at a Christian university twenty miles from any outside influence.  He simply ingrained the truth in my heart that He loves His Church, and if I want to be His follower I must love the Church as well.

In my adulthood, this disposition has led me to despair when I see the gross failures of our leadership and members:  those people we love and respect abandoning the faith, giving in to unthinkable moral failures and leading the body into Spiritual inactivity and uselessness.  But walking through these trials God has simply affirmed me that nothing is outside of His control and He loves His Church more than I ever could.  He is not surprised by our circumstances, in fact He ordains them for the growth and maturity of His Church.

In short, God loves the Church and will work everything out for her best and her holiness.  He love the Church more than you or I ever could, and He has a perfect plan for her, even when things look grim.  God will work all things together such that He can present the Church – the bride of Christ – to Jesus on that final day as perfect.  She (we) will be spotless and without wrinkle in our wedding dress, holy and blameless, and that because He died for us to wash away our sins and is continually washing us and purifying us through the Word:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”

– Eph 5.25-27

In Scripture the Church is often called Christ’s body.  We are taught clearly that Jesus Himself is the head of that body and we all have roles to fill in the local body where we meet.  No one is the head of the local or universal church, not the pope, not a pastor, not a team of elders, no one.  Only Jesus is the head.  He is in charge, He makes the final decisions, and He has a sovereign plan over all of our endeavors and will sanctify us and make us holy.

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

– Phil 1.6

“…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

– Phil 2.13

Jesus loves His own body, just as we love our own bodies.

“…for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.”

– Eph 5.29-30

It is important to function as a part of the body.  We have been commanded to and if we do not serve the body with our gifting and skills that God has given us, the body will suffer.

“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.”

– 1 Cor 12.12

“For the body is not one member, but many.  If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?  If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.  If they were all one member, where would the body be?  But now there are many members, but one body.”

– 1 Cor 12.14-20

“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

– Rom 12.4-5

Jesus died for His body.  He gave Himself up for her (us) so that she might be saved and made holy.  He knows what is best for her (us) and He will work all things out together for His glory, for her good and for or the best of the Church (Rom 8.28).  If you are struggling with frustration towards the Church, remember that this is God’s chosen instrument of bringing His love and the Gospel to the world.  He loves her, and therefore you must too.  If you are discouraged by tensions within the church, by failures of leadership, by the type of music or  color of the carpet, remember that God loves the Church infinitely more than you ever will, and He is working these situations out both for your maturity and sanctification as well as for hers.  It is His Church, not ours.

Yes, there are times that churches die.  This happens because sin creeps in and goes unchecked.  Thankfully Jesus has commanded us clearly how to handle sin and push one another on to holiness and maturity.  There are times that a church becomes so inward focused and neglects the commands of Scripture that God removes His hand from that congregation and they dwindle.  Take note of these trends as you work through your feelings towards and about a Church, and always pray.  Ask God if He is at work in this place.  Ask God if this is your body where you should serve.  As God if this is a branch that is alive and bearing fruit or one that has withered and will be cut off.  And let’s get busy loving that which Jesus loves, pushing through the hard times and rejoicing in the sweet times.  And let us commit to invest as long as God continues to lead, not giving up when the going gets rough.

How Will You Die?

graveyard

Death is unavoidable.  We all know that in 100 or so years, everyone we know will be dead.  Death is the end of life, the eternal closure to our fleeting years on this planet.  The progress of medicine and cultural shift towards entertainment and self gratification have sheltered – or distracted – us from this reality, and we typically only contemplate death and eternity when a loved one dies but we all know death is our destiny.

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.”

– Heb 9.27-28

Scripture is unashamed about that fact that all mankind will die, and that by appointment of God.  After death we will all be judged according to the life we lived while on the Earth.  It has been a popular evangelism tool to ask the question, “If you were to die today and God were to ask you why He should let you into Heaven, what would you say?”  This question reveals a person’s understanding of the Gospel:  that there is nothing we can do to earn or merit our entrance into Heaven because God’s standard is perfection and we have all sinned – but Jesus died in our place and paid our debt of punishment so that we can be forgiven.

This question, however, reveals much about our personal faith and worldview.  If we approach a stranger or loved one with this question the likelihood is that we are considering salvation our escape from Hell, and that alone.  Jesus is for our eternity, He is for after we finish our life here on Earth.  Yes, it addresses our greatest need – but only in a superficial way – essentially saying, “one day we are going to die, then what?”

Jesus did not come to the world to take care of what happens after death, only.  Jesus came to the world to take care of what happens before death.  We cannot get a passport to Heaven, lock it in the drawer and count on it to gain us entrance into Heaven when we die – all the while continuing in life just as we did before.  Jesus came to give us new life which begins at the New Birth, our Spiritual birth, and never ends.  Our physical birth ends in our physical death, but our Spiritual life never ends.  You can read more about that here.

The New Birth required for salvation is when we are born Spiritually:  given Spiritual life (John 3).  This is the life that will continue beyond our death and will enter into eternity with Christ.  This life is birthed by the gift of faith by grace and results in our deep and unfaltering love for God and Jesus Christ (Eph 2.8-9).  God is love.  Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  If we do not love God and one another, we do not know God (1 John 4.7-8).  Loving Jesus and God means “abiding” in Him – or remaining in Him (John 15.4-7).  This means that our love for Jesus draws us continually to prayer (talking with Him), reading Scripture (to learn from Him and understand what He expects from us) and drawing strength from Him (relying on the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us throughout the day).

In short, salvation necessarily results in our love for God.  Everything that we do, therefore, should be in response to that love for God.  Thus we have commandments like:

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

– Col 3.17

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

– 1 Cor 10.31

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”

– Col 3.23-24

Scripture is indeed full of commandments.  If defines and condemns sin, it outlines how we should love, respect and care for the Church and for the world, it even teaches us how to worship God.  And while we take great care and make every effort to obey those commandments, it is not out of duty but out of love for God because of the love He has for us and the salvation He has given us through our new life.

“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

– Luke 7.47

And conversely, he who is forgiven much loves much.  Therefore, those who love Jesus will talk about Jesus continually.  They will recount the story of how He saved them, how He changed them, how He has given them Spiritual life.  They will talk about how much the love Him and what He is doing in their lives.  Their evangelism will not be, “Are you prepared to meet Jesus when you die” but rather, “May I introduce you to Jesus now?”  If Jesus is not transforming our lives now, we should seriously step back and examine our so called salvation – and see if we truly have Spiritual life.

I personally am more concerned about meeting Jesus and giving an account for my obedience to His commands.  He clearly taught us to go into all the world and make disciples of every nation (Matt 28.18-20).  He clearly taught us to love our neighbor in the same way that we love ourselves (Matt 22.39).  He clearly taught us to bear much fruit – growing in Spiritual maturity and teaching others to do the same (John 15.8).  We are promised that we have everything that we need for life and godliness in the Scriptures alone (2 Peter 1.3).  Can you imagine meeting Jesus face to face and admitting that you barely read or knew the Scriptures – His story and instructions for us?  Can you imagine meeting Him face to face and explaining why you did not go?  Why you did not make disciples?  Why you never met your neighbors, never gave to the Church or met other people’s needs?  Why you wasted all of your money on a house, car, entertainment and retirement?

Everything in the Earth is God’s (Ps 24.1).  We have been granted use of the Earth, the gifts and the finances that He deems fit.  We are stewards of His possessions.  Thus Paul says,

“For who regards you as superior?  What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

– 1 Cor 4.7

Jesus came to give us new life, which starts while we are alive physically.  He commanded us to be a part of Him bringing new life to others by going into all the world.  He is not primarily concerned about what happens after we die – even though we all will die.  He is primarily concerned about our love for Him that drives us to obedience of Him.  In this same vein John Piper said,

“The question, brothers, is not whether we will die, but whether we will die in a way that bears much fruit.”

How will you die?

A True Disciple

judson

Do you consider yourself a Christian?  There are many variations of self-definition when it comes to faith and Christianity.  Some are cultural Christians, some are Christians by birth, some just want to go to Heaven and some are radically transformed sinners who love and serve God.  Jesus defines a Christian – his disciples – as those who die to themselves, who have been born again, and who submit to God out of love and thankfulness for the grace given to them.  In short, we must surrender our lives to God in order to receive life from Him.

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

– Matt 16.25

What does this mean, exactly?  Theologians have coined a term that defines/explains this reality:  Lordship salvation.  Or simply, Lordship.  If we want to be Christians (mini Christs, followers of Christ), we have to submit to His leadership and authority.  Simply, He is in charge.  Paul says it this way:

“…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…”

– Rom 10.9

When we recognize our sinfulness and helpless state, we turn to Jesus for hope and help.  When we confess our sins and inability to honor God, we submit to Jesus for direction and admit that He is the way to righteousness and eternal salvation.  He is thus Lord over our lives.  He is in charge.  He is the authority.  Until we recognize the fact that Jesus is indeed the final authority, we are not believers.  We must confess with our mouths – and live out the reality that Jesus is Lord because we believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead in order to be saved.

Sometimes our logic would tempt us to disbelieve a command or teaching from Scripture.  We may try to follow Jesus as a good teacher, picking and choosing the parts of the Bible we like.  Sometimes the Bible is taught as a buffet of nuggets of wisdom from which we can choose.  But the reality is that we must take it all or none of it.  As long as we consider ourselves authoritative to decide the parts we like, the parts we believe, or the parts to which we will submit, we have not made Jesus Lord and are therefore not saved.

Adoniram Judson was the first missionary to Burma (now Myanmar).  He gave up his life to serve in this extremely dangerous and difficult place and ultimately left a tremendous legacy of believers behind.  While serving, a Buddhist teacher told him that the Gospel he was preaching was unbelievable because no king would allow his son to suffer such indignity.  This was Judson’s response:

“Therefore you are not a disciple of Christ.  A true disciple inquires not whether a fact is agreeable to his own reason, but whether it is in the book.  His pride has yielded to the divine testimony.  Teacher, your pride is still unbroken.  Break down your pride, and yield to the word of God.”

– Adoniram Judson

Our pride and self autonomy often keeps us from true belief.  Either we harbor a sin, or we allow our logic to facilitate disbelief, or we simply treat the teachings and expectations of Scripture as optional.  Pride is a wicked enemy against which we must fight continually.  Have you confessed Jesus as Lord over your life?  Have you recognized His power?  Are you submitting yourself to Him and dying to yourself?  Or are you still just enjoying the little pearls of wisdom from the buffet of Scripture?  Do you have a verse or promise that makes you feel better, even though you make your own decisions, you practice things that God calls sin, and you live life the way you want to live it?

Let us break down our pride.  Let us submit to Jesus who is Lord over us and over all of reality.  Let us recognize that God has revealed Himself in Scripture and given us everything that we need for life and godliness therein (2 Peter 1.3).  Let us turn to Him, submit to Him and die to ourselves so that we might have eternal life.

 

If you can be talked into it, you can be talked out of it.

convince

Salvation is a mystery.  Pretty much everyone would admit that the story of Jesus, being fully God and fully man, living a perfect life and dying to save the world, then raising from the dead and returning to Heaven sounds pretty fantastical.  Like a fairy tale.  Absurd perhaps?  C.S. Lewis called it the “true myth”, because of its moral affect on our lives like myths – however having the glorious aspect of being true.  Almost too good to be true.  Most people at some point in their Spiritual journey will doubt the faith – either in light of life circumstances or because the story just sounds too story-like.

In spite of the mystical nature of the Gospel story, the historical reliability of the Bible has been proven throughout the ages.  Nothing in Scripture has ever been disproven, and continued research such as archaeological digs and finds have regularly confirmed facts about the Bible that were doubted as truth beforehand.  Thus we have disciplines like apologetics – studying logic and fact to systematically answer questions of those who would doubt the reliability of Scripture and the truth of the Gospel.

Apologetics are extremely helpful.  They can offer logical explanations to normal doubts, they can silence critics, and then can explain truths that are interwoven.  Logic, fact and reasoning, however, are not enough to lead someone to salvation.  The simple fact is,

Anything you can be talked into, you can be talked out of.

We might bow up at the idea, thinking our scientific fact and experience will never change our perception of reality.  But philosophy, our interest in the unexplained supernatural world and experience have taught us that even those things we believed unalterable at times are disproven, i.e. the world is not flat, the smallest particle is not the atom, and the sun does not rotate around the world.

So what is it, then, that sets Christianity and salvation apart?  Is the evangelist not trying to convince people that we are all sinful, we all are condemned to Hell, but we can be saved by the grace of Jesus?

Yes.  And no.  The evangelist (all Christians) do in fact believe all of those things and [should] set out to proclaim the Gospel to all people and make disciples.  Jesus has commanded us to make disciples of all nations (Matt 128.18-20), Paul shows us by example the proclamation of the Gospel and tells us to share at all times (2 Tim 4.2), and Peter tells us to be ready in every  circumstance to talk about and explain our faith (1 Peter 3.15).  However, while we are proclaiming the Gospel to every person we meet, we recognize the fact that God alone causes growth.  He softens hearts, he awakens the dead, He gives “New Birth”.

Salvation happens fundamentally when we are born Spiritually.  Before we meet Jesus, before we recognize our sin and confess it and repent from it, we are Spiritually dead (Eph 2.1).  We, as Christians, cannot look at a dead person and tell them to come to life – try though we might.  We, as Christians, cannot breathe life into a skeleton.  We, as Christians, cannot change the nature of a being.  Spiritually dead people are physically alive, but have no Spiritual life.  Thus, Jesus teaches us that in order to be saved we must be born again (John 3):  the first birth is physical and the second birth is Spiritual.

We have no say in our birth.  It just happens.

Before we meet Jesus, and before we are born again, we are enemies of God and we hate the things of God (Rom 8.7, James 4.4).  We, as Christians, cannot convince God’s enemies to love Him.  We, as Christians, cannot convince God’s enemies to submit to Him.  We, as Christians, cannot convince God’s enemies to turn to Him.  There are none righteous, there are none who seek after God, and there are none who will turn to Him unless God breathes Spiritual life into them and transforms the desires of their hearts (Rom 3.10-12).

In order to be born Spiritually, however, we must hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  God has decided to utilize Christians in His plan to bring salvation and new life to the world.  He does not need us, but has decided to allow us the blessing and honor of serving Him.  Thus He commands us to share, and through that obedience He gives the gift of faith:

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”

 – Rom 10.17

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [faith] is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

 – Eph 2.8-9

God gods us the gift of faith after we hear the Gospel.  We get to play a beautiful part in the salvation experience, but we neither affect someone else nor ourselves.  Thus Paul clearly says,

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

 – 1 Cor 3.6-7

It has been said that our role as Christians and evangelists and even apologists is to get out there and find the Corneliuses.  Cornelius was the first non-Jew that God started drawing and had Peter lead to faith.  Cornelius was a Roman who had taken on many of the Jewish teachings, and God was stirring in his heart such that he was giving alms (money) to the Jews and prayed to the Jewish God.  He was not yet saved, however, because he had not heard the Gospel – so God revealed his intention to save Cornelius and his family to both Cornelius and Peter.  Thus Peter went with Cornelius’ servants to meet him, he preached the Gospel to the entire household, and they all believed (Acts 10).

God does not always tell us who He is planning on saving, or in whom He is already working, so we must obey His command to preach the Gospel boldly and at all times, and trust Him for the Spiritual birth, transformation and growth.  We go out and look for those people in whom God is working, and we do that by sharing with everyone.

This should give us the highest of hopes.  No matter how good of an apologist we are, not matter how good a preacher, friend, evangelist, or debater, the results are ultimately no in our hands.  If the results were in our hands, a better friend, debater, or speaker would be able to talk that person right out of the faith.  Because there will always be someone smarter, someone more clever, or facts (or theories) twisted in such a way as to change someone’s mind.  But God transforms us from the very nature of our being, and once we have been born Spiritually, we cannot be UNborn.  The growth, the fruit, the results are all in God’s sovereign hand, and of those He has chosen and given birth, He will loose none.

“This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”

 – John 6.39

Therefore, we have no reason to fear.  God will keep secure those to whom He has given life.  If you are alive Spiritually, you cannot die Spiritually.  And when we share the Gospel with our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers or whomever, it is not our responsibility to save them and cause growth – it is only our responsibility to share and follow up with discipleship after God brings new life!

No Regard for the Lord

plauges

The Scripture claims about itself that it is “living and active, and sharper than any two edged sword” (Heb 4.12).  There are countless depths realized by those three simple truths as we walk throughout our Christian life, but every time I read through Scriptures – particularly the Old Testament historical books – there are small tidbits that catch my attention over which I have passed many, many times.  In preparation for Easter, I have been reading about the Israelites’ captivity in Egypt, the plagues, Moses interceding with Pharaoh and the Exodus.

The interaction of God, Moses, Pharaoh and all the people during the midst of the plagues is remarkable.  God sent Joseph into Egypt to save the known world from a seven year famine, and He blessed the Hebrew people in the land of Goshen.  For four hundred and thirty years (to the day, Moses tells us), the Hebrews multiplied in Egypt and were forced into slavery because they grew so quickly and had such success and strength.  God decided to bring the people up out of slavery and into the land He had promised Abraham, but He intended to make His name known throughout the world by the plagues He would send on Egypt.  Pharaoh hardened his heart against Moses and God, but God also takes credit for hardening Pharaoh’s heart so that His power would be known.  Moses even told Pharaoh clearly of God’s plan:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.  For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth.  For if by now I had put forth My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, you would then have been cut off from the earth.  But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth.

– Ex 9.9-16

Ten plagues God sent against Egypt.  He turned all of the water in the country (except the Hebrew’s) into blood.  He sent frogs that covered the land, lice or gnats that fed on humans and animals, flies so dense that they could hardly see, He killed all the livestock, afflicted everyone with boils, a hail storm that destroyed the land and killed people, and locusts.  He also stopped the sun from shining for three days – intentionally proving his power over Ra the sun god, and lastly He killed the first born of every living creature:  human and animal.  There was not an Egyptian household in which someone had not died (Ex 12.30).

What particularly caught my attention, however, was the progression of the Egyptian people in responding to the plagues – even though Pharaoh was hardened by God.  The magicians were able to preform the first few signs, even turning water into blood, but they quickly realized that their magic was no match for God.  By the third plague, the gnats, the magicians themselves said that “this is the finger of God” (Ex 8.19).  They were outmatched and could not compete with God’s power.

Moses boldly proclaimed the upcoming plagues every time.  There was no mystery, no waiting, simply a prediction (usually with an assigned hour of the coming terror), and fulfillment.  After six plagues had already wreaked havoc on the people and the land, Moses predicted the upcoming hailstorm that would kill everything left outside, and this is how Scripture records the response:

“The one among the servants of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord made his servants and his livestock flee into the houses; but he who paid no regard to the word of the Lord left his servants and his livestock in the field.”

– Ex 9.20-21

Even in the day when there was a man standing up and predicting to the hour massive catastrophes, one right after the other, there were people who chose to ignore him and the God he represented.  And they suffered the consequences.

There will always be people who ignore the warnings and admonitions of God.  Even within the Church.  The author of Hebrews tells us that if we go on sinning willfully after hearing the Gospel and “believing” in Jesus for salvation, we are not saved and will be damned (Heb 10.26).  But yet every day Christians appease their guilt and conviction with cheap grace, believing that God will forgive us no matter what we do and it really does not matter how we live.  The Bible clearly tells us that Jesus is the way, that no one comes to God and Heaven except through Him (John 14.6), yet every day people turn to other religions or add Jesus to their list of potentials and good teachers.

Sometimes we think that if God would just do something dramatic – like write in the sky, shake the world, or send us someone from the grave to attest to the after life – that everyone would believe.  But the reality is, He did all of those things and more!  And God told the rich man who was sent to Hell that enough had been done to prove God:

“And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’  But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’  But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’  But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”

– Luke 16.27-31

We must remember, thus, that it is in God’s hand alone to change hearts.  God hardened Pharaoh for the duration of ten plagues so that He could exemplify His power and sovereignty.  He then changed Pharaoh’s heart to allow the people to go, and again changed his heart to pursue after them and ultimately led them to their demise in the Red Sea.  As believers, we are responsible for our own obedience, actions and hearts alone.  We are commanded to preach the Gospel, warn one another of judgment and sin, but leave the working of the heart to God.  Even in the midst of the plagues, there were people who had no regard for God.  There will be people still – even when the truth seems to clear to us – who have no regard for God.  But there are people from every tribe, tongue and nation who will believe and be called children of God.  Let us go out, share boldly, look for those people, and entrust God with the fruit.

“So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

– 1 Cor 3.7