Jesus + Anything = damnation

faith alon

It is always an interesting thought to examine one’s self and wonder to what extent the things I know or believe are false?  The rate at which scientific laws are defined and broken, as archaeologists uncover new writings or ruins, or technology increases and new barriers are broken, we – in the 21st century – have almost become accustomed to new revelations and the debunking of long-held beliefs.  We call it advancement, and we idolize the people who make those advancements.  There is a level of excitement to wonder what change will be next, what theory will be broken or proved, what great archaeological find will finally settle this issue or that…

There are many reactions to these changes in our understanding.  Some people reject them altogether.  They are established in their worldview and consider what they have always known and believed to be unalterable.  These are the type who will learn no new technology, who will reject change and who are content to reject advancement.  There are others who will adapt out of necessity – they could care less how something works or why, but will conform where necessary and reap the benefits of advancement or revelations.  There are those who eagerly learn and listen, and there are also those who question everything and actually do the discovering and developing.  These are never satisfied, they must learn more, they must prove more.

But how does this apply to faith?  It is a strange phenomenon, indeed, that no person intentionally believes something which is false, but yet many of us are excited to see what science, history or technology will reveal to us next.  No one intentionally chooses a religion which he believes to be false.  No one chooses a worldview or life philosophy in which he can see logical flaws and inconsistencies.  But yet, how willing are you to be challenged and to grow in what you believe and how you make decisions?

Paul makes an outstanding statement regarding the Gospel which he preached:

“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!  As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”

– Gal 1.6-9

Paul argues, through the first two chapters of the book of Galatians, that if anyone believes any alteration on the Gospel which He preached and which the apostles preached, such a one is damned.  His exact argument, in fact is that if one believes that Jesus came to the Earth, lived a perfect life, died on the cross for his sins, and raised again to conquer death – and that he are saved by this work – but yet he says one must be circumcised in order to receive this salvation, such a one is not saved.  He will go to Hell when he dies.  Because it is adding to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and by adding a requirement of action the Gospel is no longer free, it is now an earned reward, a merited wage.  And if the Gospel is not free, it is not the Gospel.

We are fortunate in many ways for living in the 21st century.  For two thousand years people have been trying to discredit the Bible and prove it false.  But this, even with our technology and science, has never been done.  People have been searching for Jesus’ body, but has never been found.  People have been trying to use science to discredit the Bible’s reliability, but archaeology and research only continues to find the cities and people referenced in the Bible’s oldest of stories.  And we also have nearly two thousand years of scholars’ and theologians’ studies and writings to help us understand and cross reference Scriptures and understand the full picture of the Bible.  We are truly blessed.

But with all of these resources at our fingertips, how well do we personally know what we believe?  How much energy to we spend learning and examining that on which we base our eternity?  Paul expects that we learn the Gospel so deeply, so well, that there is no doubt within our minds and that we can be confident to not add to or distort its glorious truth.  He expects it to the measure that he would define his efforts as “in vain” if believers only believe to a point and can be swayed from the simple truth by adding to it.

God has given us the Bible to know Him, to find salvation, and to understand His truths.  He has not revealed everything in the Bible, but everything in the Bible He has revealed for us to know.  And the consequence of adding to it or taking away from it is eternal.

So where is the balance?  The whole of the Scripture is massive.  The doctrines contained therein are deep.  It takes years of careful study for someone to grasp many of the truths and depths, and to be able to defend them Biblically.  But yet the Gospel and salvation is simple.  It is extremely difficult to die to one’s self, but the truth and concept of the Gospel is so simple a child can understand it.  It is by grace alone through faith alone (Eph 2.8-9).  I can do nothing to earn or merit my salvation.  How, then, do we cling to the Gospel without variation and yet grow, learn and be open?

Missionaries often take this position:  When a person comes to faith, we cannot expect him to know the teachings of Scripture.  The discipleship process begins immediately to obey the Great Commission:  “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28.20).  The sanctification process – the continual changing to be more like Jesus – is a lifelong process of dying to our sin.  So if we are continually growing and changing, how can we be rigid and unwavering in our belief?  We submit to God through Scripture as our authority.  To put it simply:  If a person claims Jesus as Lord, then whenever Scripture reveals a truth, a sin or an expectation, we submit to it.

If someone comes to Jesus for salvation, and yet when he reads about sins in his life which God commands us to not do – and continues to do them without regard for God and His commandments, then this person is not saved.  He has not made Jesus the Lord of His life.  He submits to no one.  But the person who comes to genuine faith, when he reads of the sins that are hated by God, he will desire to change because he does not want to grieve God, and he wants to obey Jesus.

If someone calls himself a Christian but then hears a doctrine out of Scripture and proclaims, “That’s not the God I serve”, this is not a true Christian.  A true Christian understands that he cannot define who God is, but God defines who He is, and we must seek to know Him, understand Him and love Him.  A true Christian sees the difficult passages of Scripture and cries out, “God, I don’t understand.  Help me understand.”  Thus we are continually changing, continually being made more like Jesus, and that all by the standard of Scripture.

When we first come to God for salvation we must understand, however, that there is nothing we can do to earn it.  And if we add any stipulation to the Gospel, we have robbed Jesus of His glory and have begun believing a false gospel.  Jesus alone can save.  Jesus + anything = damnation.  Because Jesus will not share His glory with anyone or anything.  Therefore, Jesus + circumcision = damnation, according to Paul.  Jesus + good works = damnation.  Jesus + baptism = damnation.  Jesus + asceticism = damnation.  We will do nothing that adds to the Gospel and what Jesus did for us.  We will only honor our salvation and what Jesus did for us by obeying and serving Him.

Therefore, let us be mold-able and teachable.  Let us look honestly into the mirror of Scripture and begin removing the sins and worldliness from our lives.  But let us also stand unashamedly and unwaveringly on the simple truths of the Gospel and not allow it to be changed or thwarted.  Let us proclaim Jesus as salvation, and add nothing to Him.  Let us dig in, let us know Him, let us love Him, let us rejoice in His salvation today, and honor Him through our actions because of that love.

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Is it wrong to pray for signs and wonders?

“An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign…”

– Matt 12.39, 16.4

“For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

– 1 Cor 1.22-24

We are very familiar with Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings warning people of the danger of miracles.  Jesus condemned the Pharisees for asking for signs, calling them evil and adulterous.  We tell ourselves not to test God (Deut 6.16), and we make excuses for God when we ask Him for something and He does not come through.  Have you ever noticed, however, that the apostles and followers of Jesus asked God to preform miracles shortly after Pentecost?

“And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”

– Acts 4.29-30

The disciples and followers of Jesus received the Spirit in the miraculous day of Pentecost:  the whole building shook, there were as flames of fire, tongues on each person, they were empowered to speak foreign languages, and the result was that three thousand people came to faith.  Peter and John then healed a man who had never walked in his life, and five thousand more people believed.  Because of this miracle, they were arrested and after they were released the disciples all gathered and prayed for boldness and more miracles.  How can it be that the disciples prayed for miracles, but Jesus said that those who demand miracles are evil and adulterous?

When Paul and Barnabas went into Iconium, one of their stops on their missionary journey, they spent a long time there preaching and preforming signs:

“Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.”

– Acts 14.3

God Himself was preforming signs and wonders that were testifying to the Word.  They were not a distraction, they were not in place of, they were merely a support to affirm the Gospel.  Paul was preaching that Jesus had the power to heal physically and eternally, and Jesus was proving Himself by healing physically.  But why then is that not adulterous?  Let’s consider who exactly it was the Jesus called evil.

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.”

– Matt 12.38

Jesus had just healed a mute man, giving him the ability to speak and casting a demon out of him.  The Pharisees had seen it, and heard Jesus’ preaching in the aftermath.  The people were asking and discussing amongst themselves if Jesus was the Messiah and some of the Pharisees and religious leaders did not believe.  They accused Jesus of casting demons out by the power of Satan himself (Matt 12.24).  It was based on this hardness of heart and disbelief that they confronted Jesus and said, “prove yourself with a sign”.  They did not believe, and no sign would cause them to believe.  Jesus knew their hearts and responded by calling them evil and adulterous.  Adultery is when a spouse has an intimate relationship with another.  The Pharisees were essentially acting like a hardened mate who has already decided not to love his spouse, and saying “If you love me, prove it!”  This is the adultery.

But Peter and John were loving and serving Jesus, believing the Gospel and preaching it boldly.  They knew that Jesus has the power to heal, and they were asking Him to confirm their testimony about Himself.  They were asking him, through love and devotion to validate their preaching.  This honors God!  It is the faithful and loving spouse pointing out the glory and magnitude of the groom.

Scripture never says that God will no longer preform signs and wonders.  There is one benchmark verse for people who believe that God no longer preforms signs and wonders:

“Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.”

– 1 Cor 13.8-10

Paul was speaking of the new age:  when we will live on the New Earth with Jesus.  That is the perfect.  It has been misunderstood that the completion of the Bible is the coming of the “perfect”, but in context we understand that “then”, when the perfect comes, we will no longer see dimly but clearly (v 12).  When all things are made perfect, when sin exists no more, there will be no more need for God to affirm the Gospel through signs because everything will be complete.  Love, however, will continue forever!

Scripture also teaches us that as we near the end, there will be many false prophets who work miracles (Matt 24.24).  The supernatural is not limited by our culture’s disposition or the completion of the Scripture.

So what is the conclusion?  Do we believe that God can and does preform miracles?  What in your life has put God out there, with an opportunity to validate your claim to His power?  Or are you skeptical of God, and test Him to prove Himself with little sign-games?  “God, if you are real, then do this…”

Signs and wonders accompanied every church plant in the New Testament, and Paul and others often refer back to that fact when validating people’s faith.  Signs and wonders, however, are not given to convince the doubtful.  If you approach God without faith, loving another, then it is an adulterous request for Him to prove Himself.  But let us pray like the disciples, that God would move through our nation, that He would give us boldness to preach and that He would validate His Gospel with the miraculous!

miracles

I will sing of my redeemer

christ

I will sing of my Redeemer,
And His wondrous love to me;
On the cruel cross He suffered,
From the curse to set me free.

I will tell the wondrous story,
How my lost estate to save,
In His boundless love and mercy,
He the ransom freely gave.

I will praise my dear Redeemer,
His triumphant power I’ll tell,
How the victory He giveth
Over sin, and death, and hell.

I will sing of my Redeemer,
And His heav’nly love to me;
He from death to life hath brought me,
Son of God with Him to be.

Sing, oh sing, of my Redeemer,
With His blood, He purchased me.
On the cross, He sealed my pardon,
Paid the debt, and made me free.

 – Philip P. Bliss, 1876

Are you gathering or scattering?

When I was in the 8th grade, my family started attending a Southern Baptist Church.  In Philadelphia we went to a non-denominational church with a lot of structure and tradition, and when we moved to Indiana we found ourselves in a new setting.  Every denomination has a strength and Southern Baptists are traditionally excellent at evangelism and getting people in the door.  Having grown up in a more discipleship and liturgy oriented setting, it was exciting and intriguing to me.  I remember vividly one Thursday night at youth group hearing and misinterpreting the verse:  “for the tree is known by its fruit” (Matt 12.33).  I was beginning to understand fruit bearing as reproducing: bringing lost people to know Christ.  For quite a while I questioned the authenticity of my faith because I could not remember anyone with whom I had shared the Gospel and led to salvation.  It was a few years later when I realized that Jesus was speaking not of the work done upon someone else, but the work happening within the believer.  This fruit which identifies the believer is the fruit of the Spirit:

“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

The pendulum cannot fully swing the opposite direction, however.  Because when we are transformed and exhibit the fruit of the spirit, we are living Christlike lives and others will consequently be transformed.  Thus Jesus can make this radical statement:

“He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.”

– Matt 12.30

To be with Jesus is both to grow and deepen in the fruit of the Spirit.  And in doing so, we naturally gather unto Christ the harvest of souls.

Do you gather with Jesus?

If we are not gathering, then Jesus says we are scattering.  How can that be?  One might say, “I’m not out talking badly about Jesus” or “I’m not telling people to not believe”.  And while that might very well be the case, if you are in conversation with someone and you have received the gift of faith, the promise and hope of eternal life, abundant life here on the Earth and unsurpassed joy and peace, and you do not bring it up, that person will either consider your faith to be fake or not truly important to you – if he knows about it at all.  And he might very well continue on his path of destruction having never heard the story of hope, hardening his heart one step further every day.  In that way we scatter.  And when our attitudes fail and we dishonor Christ by our actions, in that way we scatter too.

This is true on the micro level within our communities, cities, states and countries, and it is also true on the macro level of the world.

“Every believer is either a goer, a sender, or in sin. Give or go, send or be sent, spend or be spent. A lost and undiscipled world awaits!”

– David Sills

Senders are not off the hook of daily fruit bearing in the Spirit and gathering of souls in the Spiritual harvest at home.  But our primary command, our “Great Commission”, or utmost responsibility as the Church is to make disciples of every nation.  And while the home church does that in it’s local community, it also does it by sending spokesmen out around the world.

“…for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.”  How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?  And how will they hear without a preacher?  How will they preach unless they are sent?  Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”

– Rom 10.13-15

Beautiful feet are not feet that are well groomed, clean and pretty.  Beautiful feet are those that walk the miles, go to the hard places, carry the load and reach the lost.  Are you bearing fruit?  Are you gathering with Jesus or are you scattering against Him?  Are you obeying the primary command of Jesus and serving the lost by making disciples of the world?

http://www.lifewritingphotography.com

And I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

U2 released this song in 1987 which quickly became a #1 single in the US and around the world, and because of its musicality and message of spiritual uncertainty, the song has been voted by many critics and publications as one of the greatest tracks in music history.  The lyrics are dynamic and characteristic of Generation X, Y and Millennials:

I have climbed highest mountain
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you

I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her fingertips
It burned like fire
This burning desire

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
Well yes I’m still running

You broke the bonds and you
Loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Of my shame
You know I believed it

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

Are you content just asking questions?  Or are you looking for the truth?  This comic is long, but insightful.

a day at the park

It is very cool these days to be a seeker.  Philosophicals like to ask questions, ponder the meaning of life and study what insight cultures around the world might have that we lack here in the states.  But there is often a strong disinterest in finding answers to these questions.  It is even argued at times that it would be audacious or impossible to answer these huge questions of life and reality.  Scripture prophesies this phenomenon:

“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.  For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these.  For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

– 2 Tim 3.1-7

It is good to have and ask questions.  It is by examining life, the world around us and Scripture that we learn, grow and come to know God Himself more intimately.  However, we should never hold on to a question so tightly that we would prefer it to not be answered for the sake of being thoughtful, philosophical or a seeker.  Because while God’s ways are not our ways, His thoughts not our thoughts,  “God is not a God of confusion” and has given us His word for us to know Him and to love Him (Is 55.8-9, 1 Cor 14.33).  Jesus Christ is the way, the Truth and the life, and He is the only way to God and eternity with Him (John 14.6).  Ask Him.  And if you want to know the Truth, the real and only answer, you will find Him.  And love Him.  And cherish Him.

It is interesting to me that in the litany of sins that Paul outlines here, the first few are normal marks of the world: “lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”.  But then he makes a statement that grabbed my attention:  “holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power”.  Paul, in other places, makes the assessment that the Word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor 1.18).  He says that The Gospel is spiritually discerned and that those who do not have the Spirit cannot understand it (1 Cor 2.14).  But the benefits of obeying the mandates of Scripture are far reaching, and in a society where morality is valued and faith not persecuted, we are plagued with nominal, fake Christians.  These people hold to a form of godliness, but are not of God.  They have denied His power that would transform them into a new creation: cause them to die to sin and live unto God.

Therefore, to avoid such temptations, let us be satisfied with and embrace the answers of Scripture, being transformed by its powers.  Let us be humble and meek to offer God’s Truth and not our own understanding when interacting with others who have questions to which we have the answers.  Let us push one another on to maturity.  Let us dig deep!  Because the deeper a foundation is laid, the more highly we can build.

I have found what I’m looking for.  Have you?

Set an infinite value on immortal souls.

William Carey DD, Professor of Sanskrit, Marat...

William Carey DD, Professor of Sanskrit, Marathi and Bengali in Calcutta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

William Carey, the father of modern missions, transformed the world and Christian mindset in the late 1700’s.  He was a pastor, and at a minister’s meeting in 1786 he raised the question before the other pastors as to the Christian’s responsibility to spread the Gospel throughout the world.  Another pastor, John Collett Ryland made the now infamous statement:  “Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid and mine.”

This set Carey on edge and he began work on his book “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens” in which he argued the Christian’s responsibility as based on the Great Commission, told a brief history of missional activity and then outlined the religious situation around the known world.  He later preached what has become known as the “Deathless Sermon” based on Is 54.2-3, in which he made the statement by which he is most well known:

“Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”

By 1793 he was headed to India where he spent the last forty years of his life preaching the Gospel, translating the Bible into multiple languages, and inspired many others to give their lives to full time missionary service.  In his study and meditation on the call of the church to reach the world, he wrote these eleven commandments by which he lived:

  1. Set an infinite value on immortal souls.
  2. Gain all the information you can about “the snares and delusions in which these heathens are held.”
  3. Abstain from all English manners which might increase prejudice against the gospel.
  4. Watch for all opportunities for doing good, even when you are tired and hot.
  5. Make Christ crucified the great subject of your preaching.
  6. Earn the people’s confidence by your friendship.
  7. Build up the souls that are gathered.
  8. Turn the work over to “the native brethren” as soon as possible.
  9. Work with all your might to translate the Bible into their languages. Build schools to this end.
  10. Stay alert in prayer, wrestling with God until he “famish these idols and cause the heathen to experience the blessedness that is in Christ.”
  11. Give yourself totally to this glorious cause. Surrender your time, gifts, strength, families, the very clothes you wear.

We would all do well to live with such intentionality and purposefulness.  These standards, while excellent for cross-cultural work, are well practiced within our own communities and comfort zones as well.  We are fellow heirs with Christ (Rom 8.17).  We will inherit the world, and everything in it (Rom 4.13).  We will inherit glorified bodies and we will inherit God Himself (Rom 8.22-23, Rom 5.2, Rev 21.3).  Nothing in this world will satisfy, and in eternity we will have  more than we could ask or imagine (Eph 3.20).  So let us sacrifice ourselves daily for the sake of others, so that we can all enjoy God and His promised glory in the end.

The Freedom of the Gospel.

The law says, this do and thou shalt live.
 – The gospel says, live, and then thou shalt do.
The law says, pay me that thou owest.
 – The gospel says, I frankly forgive thee all.
The law says, make you a new heart and a new spirit.
 – The gospel says, a new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.
The law says, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
 – The gospel says, Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and send his son to be the propitiation for our sins.
The law says, cursed is everyone who continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them.
 – The gospel says, blessed is the man whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered.
The law says, the wages of sin is death.
 – The gospel says, the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The law demands holiness.
 – The gospel gives holiness.
The law says, do.
 – The gospel days, done.
The law extorts the unwilling service of a bondman.
 – The gospel wins the loving service of a son and freeman.
The law makes blessings the result of obedience.
 – The gospel makes obedience the result of blessings.
The law places the day of rest at the end of the week’s work. 
 – The gospel places it at its beginning.
The law says, if.
 – The gospel says, therefore
The law was given for the restraint of the old man. 
 – The gospel was given to bring liberty to the new man.
Under the law, salvation was wages.
 – Under the gospel, salvation is a gift.

 – Hannah Whitall Smith

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.  For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.  For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 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. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.  If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.  But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.  So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.

– Rom 8.1-14