If you cannot believe.


“Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth;
For I am God, and there is no other.”

– Is 45.22

Salvation and Spiritual life are at times difficult topics to explain.  In today’s American Christianity, many church-goers grew up in the church and became Christians when they were young.  Before the age of 10 kind of young.  How much do you remember from those years?  If you have had Spiritual life 45 out of your 52 years, it might be difficult to remember what Spiritual deadness was like.  In fact, you might wonder if you even have it!  Others can wrestle with what exactly saving faith is.  There might be an intellectual assent and affirmation of the Gospel but not a trust and awe that is part of faith.  Such a one was Charles Spurgeon, perhaps the greatest preacher of the 19th century.  Below is his own account of his salvation account.  (The date was Jan 6, 1850 and Spurgeon was 15 years old at the time.)

I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm, one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist chapel. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. . . . The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. . . . He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth [Isaiah 45:22].”

He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text. The preacher began thus: “My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pain. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just, ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to college to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look.

“But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me’. . . . Many of ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. Ye will never find any comfort in yourselves. Some look to God the father. No, look to him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Some of ye say, ‘We must wait for the Spirit’s workin’.’ You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, ‘Look unto Me.’”

Then the good man followed up his text in this way: “Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ and great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me; I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to heaven. Look unto Me; I am sittin’ at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! Look unto Me!”

When he had gone to about that length, and managed to spin out ten minutes or so he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I dare say, with so few present he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart he said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did, but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “and you always will be miserable—miserable in life, and miserable in death—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.”

Then lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a primitive Methodists could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but to look and live.” I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said—I did not take much notice of it—I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” What a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could have almost looked my eyes away.

There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to him. . . . And now I can say—

E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And Shall be till I die.

– C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, Volume 1, 87-88

I’m sorry for everything I’ve done and thought.

What if you could have a clean slate?  Perfectly clean.  No blemish.  Completely forgiven.  You can start all over, and everyone in your life gives you that freedom and grace.

Yesterday and today are Muslim’s equivalent of Christmas:  Idul Fitri (Eid al-Fitr).  They have just completed the month (29-30 days) of fasting, Ramadan, and are now celebrating the completion of the fast.  The fast requires that one does not eat, drink, smoke, have sex and other defiling acts as outlined by the Imam (local pastor) or sect when the sun is up.  Breaking the fast every night is a big occasion for which lavish meals are prepared to eat at sunset.

Muslims live with no assurance of forgiveness.  Saying the Shahadah (the declaration of god’s authority and Mohammad’s role as prophet),  prayers, giving alms, making the pilgrimage to Mecca and lastly, keeping the fast are the ways that one can earn merit with Allah and pay off sins.  But working on a scale system and with an unpredictable god means that one can never truly know if/when he will get to paradise.  It is up to Allah.

However, perfectly keeping the fast and prayers during the fast are believed to wipe the slate perfectly clean.  On the holiday following Ramadan, Muslims will visit their friends, family and neighbors to ask forgiveness for sins committed and sins internal, or thought.  The slate is wiped clean between friends, family members and neighbors.  It is believed that the sins were cleansed for keeping the fast, and so making peace between one another is exemplary of the merit that has been earned before Allah.  The goal is unity.  This is the only day of the year that it is forbidden to fast and extravagant meals are prepared and snacks are available at every house one visits to ask forgiveness.

Many Muslims will tell you that if you were to die after keeping the fast perfectly and making peace with your neighbors, that you have a blank slate and would go directly to paradise.  The only other guarantee of direct access to paradise, to many Muslims, is to die on the Jihad:  service to Allah.

This might sound very foreign.  Many of us in the United States have limited knowledge and exposure to Islam, so the concept is lost on us.  However, many of us who have been brought up in Christianity function on a self-written system of merit earning, rather than the grace of God.  Some sects of Christianity teach that when one sins, he must say a certain number of prayers, he must punish himself, he must confess to a man.  Some sects of Christianity believe that our sins can be washed away, as long as it is not that sin (divorce, adultery, having a child out of wedlock, homosexuality, whatever).

Some of us do not consciously realize that we are trying to justify ourselves with our actions.  We might say that we believe that:

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

But yet in the same moment we consider ourselves to be “a pretty good person” and not deserving of damnation.  We think God owes it to us to forgive us because we only tell an occasional white lie but we give our tithe, we go to Church, we are involved in a Bible study…

Here is the beautiful hope.  God, through the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, does not give us a blank slate.  He does not let us start all over.  A blank slate would do us no good, because as long as we are in our flesh, we have a sinful nature and we will sin (Gal 5.17).  Not only that, it is not a blank slate that glorifies God.  It is a righteous and holy slate.  A life lived in accordance with His Law and unto His glory.  If a sheet of brownies is made with a tablespoon of dog poo, the entire batch is contaminated.  Even if we were capable of living a perfect, God honoring life, one small sin like eating a piece of denied fruit would damn us to Hell, as it did Adam and Eve.  Did you ever take your sister’s toy?  Cheat on a test?  Tell your parents you were going somewhere and you went somewhere else?  If so, then you are guilty.

But Jesus, knowing our incapability of keeping the Law, even if given chance after chance, clean slate after clean slate, took the punishment that you and I deserve and in exchange gave us His righteousness.

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

– 2 Cor 5.21

Being forgiven is an elementary understanding of the transformation that happens at the moment of salvation.  Yes, our sins are counted to us no more.  But that is because they were appointed to Jesus and punished in His death.  We were given Spiritual life (Eph 2.4-5).  We were given a new heart (Ez 36.26).  We were made as new creatures (2 Cor 5.17).  We became the righteousness of God, by trading places with Jesus (2 Cor 5.21).  So now, when God looks at us, He sees Jesus.  He sees righteousness and worth.  We, by no merit or action of our own, may approach Him and are welcomed to spend eternity with Him (Heb 4.16).

So you can be forgiven.  And made new.  And given a new Spirit and a new heart.  But more importantly, you can be covered in Christ’s blood, and you can stand before God on His merit:  He who did keep the Law perfectly and He who alone can enter into Heaven.  Stop trying to earn it.  And obey in thankfulness and love.


Small Afflictions

Most of our forefathers who dramatically impacted the status quo of Christianity wrestled with their sin, the reality of eternity, a holy God and new birth on intense levels.  John Bunyan is one of those who lived a self-proclaimed “morally reprehensible” life, questioning himself deeply if he had committed the unpardonable sin.  When God revealed his grace to him and saved him, his deep thoughts and meditations overflowed in rarely equaled depth and profundity.

While serving a prison sentence for preaching without a license, Bunyan wrote a book entitled, “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”, his autobiography.  In reflecting on his turmoil pre-conversion, he made this statement:

“I saw old people hunting after the things of this life as if they should live here always . . . [and] I found [professing Christians] much distressed and cast down when they met with outward losses, as of husband, wife, child, etc.  Lord, thought I, what ado is there about such little things as these.  What seeking after carnal things by some, and what grief in others for the loss of them.  If they so much labor after and shed so many tears for the things of this present life, how am I to be bemoaned, pitied, and prayed for.  My soul is dying, my soul is damned.  Were my soul but in a good condition, and were I but sure of it, ah, how rich should I esteem myself, though blessed but with bread and water.  I should count those but small afflictions and should bear them as little burdens.”

– John Bunyan

Bunyan was primarily wrestling with the disconnect between Christianity’s claims on eternity and the way Christians live.  Do we not do the same?  Do we store up treasures for ourselves here on Earth where moth and rust destroy?  Do we build barns for ourselves to house our worldly treasures, and die the next day, leaving it for someone else to enjoy?

“And He told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man was very productive.  And he began reasoning to himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?”  Then he said, “This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.'”  But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?”  So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”'”

– Luke 12.16-21

I was meeting with my mentor recently and we had a conversation about the selfish nature of our grieving the loss of a fellow Christian.  If we truly believed what we say we believe, wouldn’t we rejoice at the passing on of a brother or sister in Christ?

“Oh death, where is your victory?   Oh death, where is your sting?”

 – 1 Cor 15.55

Have you wrestled with eternity?  Have you processed the meaning of life?  Do you live for toys, or pleasures, or achievements, or family?  If you were to die today, would you regret a pleasure or experience here on Earth?  If you had the choice to enter eternity this moment or remain in life, which would you choose?  Are you confident to stand before the creator?

We will not always live here.

“Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.”

 – Matt 24.42

If there is one conversation you need to be ready to have, it is that one that will happen between you and God, face to face, when you enter into eternity.  And when we are ready for that, these momentary afflictions truly do seem small (2 Cor 4.17-18).