Morality Vs. Salvation

morality

Is Christianity just fancy moralism?  So many Christians today are known for what they do not do and what they oppose.  We don’t drink, we don’t party, we don’t wear skimpy clothes, etc.  And the most holy amongst us are known more for what we do do instead of what we do not do:  we go to church, we give money (or little bags with snacks and a Bible) to the homeless, we volunteer, etc.  Is that the foundation of Christianity?  Did Jesus die on the cross so that we can clean up our lives and feel better about ourselves?

Moralism is as old as creation. The very first people, Adam and Eve, had two sons – Cain and Abel.  Abel loved God and offered sacrifices from love and Cain was jealous because he wanted God to accept his sacrifices, and instead of getting his heart right he murdered his Abel.  As soon as God handed down the Law of His expectations, there were people who set out to keep it in their own strength for their own glory.  God has been exceedingly clear about His expectations of humanity:  both on the heart level and on the outward – or pragmatic level, and human pride has always lent some to the effort of self-approval through keeping the law.  Morality.

It is also true that the Old Testament is centered on the Mosaic Law of God, and the New Testament is full of commandments for Christians saved by grace.  There is no doubt throughout the entirety of Scripture that man’s problem is sin – we are all condemned to death and eternity in Hell because of our sin and when we come to God for salvation through Jesus Christ, we are still commanded and expected to stop sinning (Rom 6.23, Gal 5).

The end goal, however, is not moralism.  God is not primarily concerned with our actions, He is primarily concerned with our hearts.  This has been true since the beginning.  When Cain killed Abel and interacted with God, God was not primarily concerned about his actions of offering a poor sacrifice and killing Abel, He was concerned about his heart:

“Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, [will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

– Gen 4.6-7

When God gave the Law to Moses for the Hebrew people to observe, the first and primary commandment was to Love God with everything and to not worship other gods or idols.  The first three of the ten commandments, in fact, deal specifically with this command.  He sums up the whole Law thus:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

– Deut 6.4-5

And the summary of the entire Bible proclaiming the truths about the end times lists those sinners who will be condemned to Hell, even in light of salvation by grace alone through faith alone:

“But for the cowardly and [unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

– Rev 21.8

This, of course, is not an exhaustive list, but we have similar lists throughout all of the New Testament which exhort Christians to stop sinning.

Compounding the issue of moralism is the prevalence self-acceptance and self-realization in western thinking.  Philosophy has lent us to believe that there are no true absolutes, that we all have autonomy to determine our own paths, and that there is truly no right and wrong.  Lying is acceptable in certain situations, murder in others, deceit against immoral persons or governments and even theft to care for the less fortunate.  No longer are there black and whites, but everything is a shade of grey and we are left to determine our own way.

Moralism, fundamentally, is looking to an outward standard and attempting to attain that standard in our own strength and power.  It can be based on aversion (avoiding certain activities) or action (preforming certain activities).  Either way, it is a person proving his righteousness by his actions.  Self-realization, fundamentally, is looking inward to realize who one is at the core and development of a life system based on one’s own valuation of right and wrong.

Salvation, however, is neither of these.  The Law was given to us to show that we can never keep God’s law perfectly and therefore never be moral or good enough to earn His favor.  Paul teaches us, in fact, that the entire point of the Law is to reveal our sinfulness and therefore the frivolity of trying to keep it in our own strength:

“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.”

– Rom 7.7-8

Scripture also teaches us that the heart is deceitful above all else, that we are Spiritually dead apart from Jesus, that there is none righteous and none who seeks after God in his own strength and that we are all fundamentally wicked (Jer 17.9, Eph 2.1, Rom 3.10-12).  Therefore, self-realization and determining our own truth leads us only down the wide path of destruction (Matt 7.13-14).

What does all of this mean?  Simply put, it means that we – in and of ourselves – are neither capable of being good enough nor able to prove ourselves by our logic and making peace with our decisions.  We need a savior.

Thankfully, salvation is the answer.  Salvation is that work of God whereby we are Spiritually awakened, we are changed at the core level and transformed into new beings.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

– 2 Cor 5.17

Once we have been Spiritually awakened and empowered by the Holy Spirit indwelling us, the Spirit begins changing us such that we keep the commandments of God because we love Him and want to please Him, rather than trying to prove ourselves or simply be good people.  We are no longer students, sitting in class learning a lesson and proving ourselves on a test, we are now children who love our father and long to please him by obeying what he says to do.  We do not fear a bad grade, we fear disappointing our father.

This reality teaches us that morality is not our internal realization – God has established a perfect standard and He expects us to obey, but He enables us and drives us to obey it by transforming our hearts to be willing to submit to His leadership and direction.  We are therefore compelled by the Spirit within us to please God, not driven by our need of approval or self-validation.

It is by this reality only that we are given commands.  And Paul clarifies for us beautifully that the works of the flesh are sinful, but our obedience is purely the works or “fruit” of the Spirit living in us:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  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 5.19-23

People who practice the sinful deeds will not inherit the kingdom – because they are sinful and sin deserves damnation.  But we will only truly discontinue these sins and live in righteousness when we have been transformed at a heart level and given Spiritual life, and thus the Holy Spirit can live through us and exemplify all of those righteous attributes.

So what does this mean practically?  How do I get Spiritual life and live by the Spirit?  How do I stop trying to prove myself and live in freedom, aiming to please my Father?

Jesus teaches us that our Spiritual and eternal life begins at the moment we are born Spiritually (John 3).  When we hear the Gospel and long to be made right with God, we confess our sins, begin the process of repentance and are given the Holy Spirit.  If you have had a longing to be made right with God, have confessed your sins and are experiencing the conviction of the Holy Spirit in your life, then you have Spiritual life!  The Holy Spirit is alive within you.  It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict us of sin and righteousness (John 16.8).  Therefore, as we are reading the Scripture, understanding God’s hearts and desires, the Holy Spirit will convict us of sin in our lives and push us on to change.  We will know at a heart level that God is displeased with our laziness, with our lying, with our selfishness and with our pride.  He will then, through promises in Scripture, enable us to change.

This will be a lifelong process.  As long as we are in our human bodies, our sinful nature and our flesh will wage war against the Spirit.  Sin is pleasurable and desirable, and we will give in to it.  But the Spirit will convict us of it and the love that we have for God will drive us long for change and obey.

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.17

We will fight sin on the heart level, on the actions level, and we will need tools to help us along the way.  Replacement tactics work very well:  when we are tempted to sin, we purposefully turn to God instead.  When we are tempted to look at pornography, we stop and pray or call a trusted friend to chat.  When we are tempted to go out drinking or partying, we call our Christian friends and gather together for wholesome entertainment.  When we are tempted to have an affair or fool around with a girlfriend before marriage, we turn to our spouse or go out on group dates to hold us accountable.

We can also utilize fighter verses when the sin is mental or emotional.  Are you fighting fear?  We can claim the promises of God that we have nothing to fear – even if we should die we would be in the presence of God and the troubles of this world will be over!  Are you fighting depression?  We can claim the promises of God that we are His beloved children and He has given everything so that we can be saved.  Are you fighting doubt?  We can claim the promises of faith, provision, or whatever specific doubt we might have.  Thus it is important to be in the Scripture daily and to have accountability in wise friends and mentors who can push us on in these truths and disciplines.

God is ultimately concerned about our hearts and the drive to please Him because of our Spiritual transformation.  Our morality is worthless because we can never be good enough.  Our self-realization is also worthless, because apart from Him we are Spiritually dead.  God Himself will give us Spiritual life and when He transforms us from the inside out, we will be driven by a love for Him to please Him by obeying Him.  We cannot obey Him, however, if we do not know the Scriptures and understands what He wants from His children!  So let’s get busy about loving and knowing God.  Let’s be transformed and work on pleasing our father, not trying to earn His approval.

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.'”

– John 14.23

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Do people pity you?

misunderstanding

The election season renders to us an extra level of self and cultural examination.  We ask ourselves, “What are the laws and rights I value?”  and we weigh  our personal interests against the campaigns of the various candidates – ultimately choosing to vote for the one who most aligns with our greatest passions, needs and interests.  This particular election is leaving many feeling as though there is no candidate they truly endorse and therefore are left feeling as though they will vote for the lesser of two evils.  This simply means no one candidate upholds much of their personal value system, but one offends them more than another does.

We as a people are extremely divided, opinionated and vocal about our personal beliefs.  And this is the structure of democracy:  that we all have a right to our own opinion and the majority vote will be given the power.

When we look at one another and listen to beliefs and worldviews we have a variety of responses.  We get angry, we get hardened, we systematically build up our responses and defenses, we feel compassion, we love, or we can even pity one another.  As Christians, we are given much leeway to respond to culture and our circumstances with almost all of these responses – so long as they are all rooted ultimately in love.  We can have righteous anger, we must be prepared to give intellectual and informed responses, we are commanded to be compassionate and giving and all of this is driven by a love for God that overflows into a love for people (Eph 4.6, 1 Peter 3.15, John 13.34-35).

Have you ever stopped to consider the world’s response to believers?  The most common reality and teaching on the subject is Jesus’ teaching that the world will hate Christians because it hated Jesus:

“You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.”

– Matt 10.22

“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”

– John 15.20

It is a very convicting thought to evaluate our acceptableness to the world.  Am I proclaiming the Gospel, am I living in such a way, am I following Jesus’ example such that the world around me hates me?

But let’s look at another interesting teaching:

“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”

– 1 Cor 15.16-19

Often times people will become angered because of our political positions on issues like abortion and the sanctity of marriage, and our bold proclamation that Jesus is the “only way” to Heaven and eternal rest in Heaven.  Anger is typically a response to thoughts and our interest in convincing others to believe as we believe.  Pity, however, is a different emotion evoked by a lack of understanding or a feeling of superiority in intellect or circumstance.

So my question is simply this:  Why would the world pity believers?  Does the world pity you?

I know a couple who has given their life to the service of God in international missions.  For their entire adult life they have raised support from Churches across the United States and have scraped by on less than 100% support for years.  They are now at the age we in the US would consider “retirement age”.  They have no savings to speak of, they have no pension, they do not own a home, to state it bluntly:  they are not prepared to retire.  They have nothing, and they will have to work until they die, even if they draw Social Security.  Christian friends and family members who have supported their ministry for years pity them.  The non-believing world thinks that they are nuts.

In 2008 I attended training for missionaries with families who were being sent around the world with take the Gospel to the nations.  There were some who were being appointed to South America and Europe – those somewhat normal mission fields where one can actually be granted a missionary VISA and function boldly as a Church planter.  There were many, however, who were being sent to the 10/40 window and countries considered closed.  Countries where it is illegal to be a missionary, proclaim the Gospel and teach people about Jesus.  And while there were some singles and a handful of married couples without children, many had multiple children – and all under the age of 14.  Grandparents, friends, and church members were angry:  How can you put these innocent children in harm’s way?  How can you take little babies to places where there is limited medical care?  The outside world can see the appeal of moving somewhere exotic or the Europe, but they think those moving to difficult places are crazy at best and idiotic at worst.

Christians are called to live their lives in such a way that the outside world would pity our life choices.  This, of course, does not mean that we should make unwise decisions, but it does mean that our decisions should be based on the leadership of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Scripture.  Jesus taught profoundly that it is incredibly difficult for a wealthy person to be saved, and if we are unwilling to give up everything that we have for His sake we are unworthy of Him.  This includes possessions, family and comfort (Matt 10.37-39).

Jesus also commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations – and that not only includes but necessitates the difficult places (Matt 28.18-20).

Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, bless those who persecute us and pray for those who hate us (Matt 5.43-48).

Jesus commanded us to store up treasures for ourselves in Heaven by not storing up treasures on Earth (Matt 6.19-21).

Often times our Christianity is simply moral and ethical purity.  We obey the laws, we don’t drink (too much, anyway), we don’t do drugs, we don’t have affairs, we don’t do the big sins.  We go to church and we look squeaky clean.  Unfortunately, popular research is catching up with our moralism.  The secular world is scientifically proving the impact of drugs and alcohol on the body.  Research is proving that pornography is not only destroying marriages but having profound psychological impacts on people and psychologists and counselors and speaking out against it.  Sexual promiscuity, extreme wealth and the pleasures of the world have been proven not to ultimately satisfy, and thus countless articles have been written on the drug usage and suicide frequency amongst the wealthy and celebrities often speak out about the reality that money cannot buy happiness.

For Christians to be content financially, in a faithful monogamous marriage, and in general ethical living makes sense to the population at large.

Ethical and complacent living is neither what Jesus calls us to, nor what the world would consider pitiable.  Jesus calls us to give up our lives radically for His glory and for the salvation of the lost.  Just like He did.

Is your life pitiable to the world?  Or are you striving for moral excellence?  Are you building up treasures on Earth or in Heaven?  Are you following the example of the world, or are you following Jesus’ example?  If the Gospel were somehow disproven, would your life be proven a waste?

“I kept you from sinning…”

ethics

Being finite and confined to our own, physical bodies, it is very often difficult for us – especially self-centered westerners – to consider powers outside of ourselves, and greater than ourselves, greatly impacting our lives.  I vividly remember my high school freshman AP English class entering the discussion of destiny:  is there such a thing?  Are we in control of it?  And that conversation quickly turned to the issue of morality:  would we know right and wrong if it weren’t for laws and rules?  We were essentially discussing the existence and power of God without bringing His name into it.

Interestingly enough, however, those who believed in destiny were the more free-thinking artistic type, while those who did not were more of the scientific, right-brained persuasion.  However one such guy, who is now a pharmacist, made the statement:  “I think if I killed my friend and there was no law against it, I would at the very least feel sad that he was gone, and recognize that I had done something bad”.  This conversation has remained in my mind as I have grown Spiritually through the years.  I am a bit more right brained, and without the direction of Scripture, I would naturally like to believe that I am in control and make my own destiny.  But when we truly consider our limited nature, it is the greatest blessing to have Scripture teach and guide us.

The book of Romans beautifully teaches us that we are given the Law of God so that we may know sin (Rom 7.7).  When Adam and Eve were first placed in the Garden of Eden, they had not yet sinned and therefore had no experiential knowledge of it.  They were still innocent and thus could walk in the presence of God.  God did, however, give them a commandment and consequence for breaking that commandment – thus they had an intellectual knowledge of sin.  They knew disobedience was an option, and its result if they did it.  The law gave them knowledge of sin.

Romans also teaches us that God has written His Law on our hearts to the extent that we have consciences and feel guilty when we do something that is morally wrong.

“For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.”

– Rom 2.14-16

So my non-believing, scientifically minded friend recognized this God-given attribute of a conscience, which is founded on God’s perfect law.

We also see beautifully in Scripture that God is the beginning and the end.  He wrote the entire story of history before He even created the world, prophesying Jesus at the very moment Adam and Eve sinned.  Because of this sovereignty we can believe promises like Rom 8.28 which states that “all things work together for good for those that love God”.  If God were not sovereign and in control of the universe, then He cannot guarantee that everything will work together for good.  He is just a piece of the puzzle watching and waiting to see what happens next.

What, then, when someone puts us in an impossible situation?  Will we ever be tempted or able to turn back and blame God for our actions and sin?

While God is sovereign over every situation, and while He uses sin as a part of His plan and will, we still make that decision to sin in our minds and will still give an account.  It was God’s sovereign plan from the beginning to offer Jesus as our atoning sacrifice, and yet those who actually murdered Jesus will be held responsible for their actions and sin.  It was prophesied and God’s perfect plan that Jesus would be betrayed by one of His close friends, and Judas is still responsible and guilty for that sin.  As Joseph said, “what you meant for evil, God meant for good” (Gen 50.20).

God does promise, however, that with every temptation there will be provided an escape.

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

– 1 Cor 10.13

I once was in a situation where the local police were looking for some Christians because they had been talking about Jesus and seeing people saved (this was illegal in that country), so I and some friends were helping to hide them until they could leave the region.  Their car was in my back yard, but they kept moving from friends’ house to friends’ house.  The police came and asked if we knew where they were.   We were honestly able to answer, “no”.  They did not ask any probing questions, they did not ask if we had seen them, God oversaw the situation such that they asked the only question we could answer without lying and without endangering the lives of our friends.

Whatever temptation comes your way, enticing you to sin, God has promised a way of escape.

Not only that, we also see a beautiful example of God protecting a king from unknowingly sinning:

“Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.  But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married.”  Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You slay a nation, even though blameless?  Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.”  Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.”

– Gen 20.2-6

Abimelech was the king, so it is not only possible but likely that he had multiple wives.  But even so, consider taking a wife and not being with her intimately that same day!  He was exercising his rights as king, he considered Sarah beautiful and so he took her to be his wife without the knowledge that she was married, but believing the lie that she was not!  Therefore, God kept him from sinning.

I am not promising that there will never be a time when you sin based on incorrect knowledge or the sin of someone else.  But we do see that God is concerned about our holiness so much so that He promises to always provide an alternative to sinning, and there are times when He will intervene and keep us from sinning when we are unaware.

We do all have a God-given conscience by which we recognize sin, and there is a destiny.  God has written the story of our lives, and He will cause all things to work together for good for those who love Him.  He will intervene in our lives and provide us ways to escape temptation and sin, and He will intervene in our lives in ways that we may never know – to direct us down a path, to keep us from sinning, or to bring glory to Him in any number of ways.  So let us trust Him today.  Let us praise Him for our salvation and the provisions thus far, and let us continue to trust in Him and follow Him diligently until we get to meet Him face to face.

Seven Churches, Six of them dying.

danger

The book of Revelation is perhaps the most difficult book in the Bible to read and to grasp.  Jesus gave this revelation of the End Times and what is to come to the seven churches in Asia through the Apostle John.  It is the only book in the Bible which promises a blessing upon the reader, and it looks towards things yet to come with great trepidation and hope.  Jesus reveals Himself to John standing amongst seven lampstands which represent the seven Churches who were intended to read and apply this prophecy, and then He takes two chapters (or nearly one tenth) of the book to write specific letters to these Churches regarding their individual and specific situations.

Six of the seven Churches to whom Jesus gives the prophecy of the end times are in dire situations.  Six of the seven churches have missed the proverbial boat when it comes to the faith.  Six of the seven churches are in danger of proving themselves to not even be believers – to have their lampstand removed – to not enter into eternal rest with Jesus.  Their six sins are unique, and yet similar at the core:  unbelief.

  1.  Ephesus – This church has persevered and toiled hard by performing good deed, but they are doing these good deeds without love for Jesus, they have “left their first love”.  The are morally upstanding but have no passion or love.
  2. Smyrna – This church has been faithful but yet is about about to enter tribulation and some will be thrown into jail.  Jesus warns them to hold fast or else they will perish.
  3. Pergamum – This church was tolerating the false teaching of “cheap grace” – it does not matter what you do because Jesus already forgave it.  In essence they were allowing sin and thus abusing the forgiveness and ransom that Jesus offers.
  4. Thyatira – They have perseverance and good deeds, and are even growing in them, but they have allowed a false prophet to remain and gain a following perpetuating immorality and idolatry.
  5. Sardis – This church has a name that they are alive but they are dead.  They are doing “good deeds” but do not know or honor God.
  6. Laodicea – Their deeds are lukewarm, Jesus says He will spit them out of His mouth.  They do not need God because they are wealthy and self sufficient, they are complacent.

The other Church, the Church at Philadelphia, receives no warning and only praise and encouragement.  Philadelphia knows Jesus, loves Him and is obediently serving and honoring him.  These six temptations and pitfalls are prevalent today.  Many churches in the United States are like Laodicea in that they are so wealthy and comfortable that Church is just an event or “good thing” to do on the weekend, to help us feel more comfortable about the afterlife.  Very few of us rely on Jesus daily and focus on earning eternal rewards because we are so fat and lazy here.  Many church here in the United States and around the world are much like Sardis and Ephesus in that they have good deeds, but their deeds are of their own strength and not centered in the will and power of Jesus.  These churches look really good to the outside world, but they are actually dead.

Many churches also look like Thyatira and Pergamum – not only tolerating but following false teachers.  False teachers do not infiltrate the church by preaching some crazy doctrine.  They start out sounding solid and Biblical and then slowly drift away from the Truth.  They twist the truth just enough to take Jesus out of the equation, and yet still remain convincing.  Most tolerated and followed false prophets teach half truths or promise blessings that Jesus simply does not promise, but yet they enchant the follower with their charisma and hope that people are blinded.  Turning a boat by one degree at first seems like no variation, but when it travels the length of the Atlantic, it ends up no where near its intended course.  So it is with false prophets.  And Jesus says that following such a one will lead to damnation.

Lastly, there are churches in the world today like Smyrna, who have a faith but run the risk of apostasy in the face of persecution and tribulation.  We know that Jesus does forgive those who fail in a moment of weakness like Peter, but the whole teaching of the Scripture is that those who persevere until the end are those who will be saved.  Jesus suffered greatly, and it is promised that all who love and follow Him will also suffer.  We will not all experience the same persecution and tribulation, but perseverance in faith through every trial is that which marks true believers.  There are some churches in the world who reject the idea that our faith will result in suffering, and there are many who would believe Jesus as long as it requires nothing from them, and thus suffering turns them away from their faith – like the seed sown on the rocky ground.

This admonition of Jesus should be a sobering one for us today.  There are churches on every street corner, even in cities that are considered “less churched” in the United States.  But Jesus, who sees all and knows all, and who will be the judge over everyone at the end, has pronounced condemnation over six of the seven churches.  These are not good statistics, folks.

What does that mean for us?  What is our take away?  Firstly, we need to examine closely the sins that Jesus says will lead a church away from Him and from salvation, and we need to check ourselves on all of those fronts.  Do you know and love Jesus?  Do you obey Him and preform good deeds as an overflowing of that love?  Are you persevering through trials and persecutions?  Are you faithful to the Scripture and not entertaining false teachers?  And are you relying on Jesus and storing up for yourself treasures in Heaven instead of here on Earth?  If so, then you are living a life like the Church at Philadelphia.  If you are unsure, or if you see any of these tendencies in your life, examine the commanded repentance in each situation instructed by Jesus.  There is still hope.  So long as you can repent, there is hope.

Let us test the Spirits, let us examine our hearts, and let us be ever diligent over our salvation and our souls, so that we do not find ourselves amongst those who thought they knew Jesus but never did.  It is not risking eternity for a moment of comfort or pleasure here.  Jesus is faithful and will grant salvation to all who call upon His name!

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

– Phil 2.12-13

Wicked Morality

white washed tombs

Did you know that there is no term for legalism in Scripture? The idea is present, and Paul struggles to define it with terms like, “deeds of the flesh”, but if you flip open your concordance, there will be no reference for legalism (if you have a literal translation, anyway).

But we all know about legalism, don’t we? We hear Jesus’ stinging rebuke of the Pharisees calling them white washed tombs: dead on the inside, but beautiful and clean on the outside (Matt 23.27). We rebel against authority because we know that our hearts are not in our obedience, and we are so disgusted by religion that we would prefer to break the rules than look like a fake.

Is morality good?

This is a difficult question. Scripture tells us clearly that anything apart from faith is sin (Rom 14.23). Anything. Feeding the poor, obeying the rules, being morally upstanding people is sin if it is apart from faith. But what does that mean? If we are in a situation where we are tempted to sin and we do not feel like obeying, is it therefore sinful to obey if our hearts are not in it?

The bottom line here is, “what is faith”? Scripture tells us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11.1). So we are left to understand that any action we preform without the assurance of our future hope is sin. There is no emotion described here. Faith is not the warm fuzzy feeling that salvation can bring at times. Faith is not the feeling of butterflies or great excitement. Faith is not happiness. Faith is assurance. Confidence.

So if faith is not a feeling, how do we know if our obedience, when we begrudge it, is legalism or genuine reverence? How do we know if our morality is wicked or righteous?

It has to do with our mindset. Emotions are fleeting and generally uncontrollable. But if we have right, biblical, and holy thinking about our circumstances then we can determine our driving force. When you encounter a dilemma, do you think about the relational, legal or situational ramifications? Or do you think about what God has to say about the decision? When you consider sin, do you remember that your sin is primarily and foremost a sin against God? Or do you think of it as against another person or authority in your life?

If we keep rules for the sake of keeping rules, these are acts of self righteousness and therefore apart from faith, and ultimately sinful and damnable. This is legalism. If we keep rules because we know Gods expectations and we think we can earn favor or merit with God, we have no faith in the atoning death of Jesus, and therefore are performing sinful deeds. We must have the mindset of trust in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and preform acts of obedience out of love and thankfulness. This is not a feeling, but a response.

Vain morality is every bit as much an outpouring of our sinful nature as blatant acts of sin. God is primarily concerned with our hearts and motivation. If we act out of honor, reverence, love and thankfulness for our forgiveness and future salvation, then we are acting in faith and not sinning. We do not have to emotionally enjoy or even engage in every act, as long as our motivation and hearts are pure. There will be emotional responses and we will feel His presence, but the emotion is not necessary allthe time.

So let’s check ourselves.

“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

The Bible and The Newspaper

Is God relevant?  We are in a new and unique situation where much of Western Europe and the developed world is not in what historians are calling a “Post-Chrisitan Culture”.  Many of our core values and morals are based on Biblical principles, but we are no longer accurately identified as Christian as more and more people claim agnosticism or atheism.  There is, no longer, absolute truth and we are all capable of determining our own destiny.

While this era in history may be come to be identified thus, it is not a unique circumstance.  When societies are young, they are looking for a greater good and external power to affirm and assist in their establishment.  But once they achieve sovereignty and greatness, they attribute deity to themselves (Eastern countries, like Japan and China) or they waste away in vain philosophy (Rome and Greece) or they simply become introspective and self glorifying (Babylon, the United States).  

But God is always relevant.  Whatever issue we are facing, whatever moral dilemma, whatever ethical decision, the Scripture speaks to it, at least at the core level.  No, the internet is not mentioned in the canon of Scripture, but God’s will regarding morality, accountability and stewardship are clear and easily applied.  Karl Barth, the great theologian and philosopher said that we should always “read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other”.  

Do you compartmentalize?  Is God around for your eternity?  Or is He integral for every part of your life?  Does He speak into your decision making?  Your politics?  Your lifestyle?  Or is He just your “get out of Hell free” card?  Whatever it is about which you find yourself passionate, grab your Bible and stand firmly on what God directs on the issue.  The world needs Godly politicians (like William Wilberforce).  The world needs Godly doctors.  The world needs Godly teachers.  The world needs Godly evangelists and church planters.  Use your passion.  Get out your newspaper.  And take purposeful stands on the foundation of the Scripture.  Let’s change our thinking.  Let’s change our world.  

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Stealing on a mission trip.

Fifty-five people of all ages gathered together at the church in eager anticipation for their annual service project at a local non-profit organization.  An elderly woman pushed her walker into the gathering area while the energetic pre-teens played tag and giggled together in the front lawn.  After a brief welcome and headcount, they loaded onto the ancient school bus whose hand painted sides were flaking off the dull green matte paint someone had applied generations before.

They crammed into the musky benches, squeezing three to four people in each seat to begin the trek to the warehouse.  Upon arrival, they poured out of the bus like water through a broken dam.  And then, orientation.  They were serving at a NGO that sends out donated supplies to children and families in need around the world.  They believe in Jesus Christ and that He is the only true hope for the world, but they sent out physical supplies to help meet temporal needs as they share the Gospel.  The organization relies on volunteers to sort, package an inventory all of the product and after listening to the Gospel the group jumped to work, eager to help the poor around the world.

The warehouse is quite simple, with minimal decorations in the work room, but a welcoming room that portrays the history and displays the major efforts of the NGO around the world.  And of course there is a vending machine with snacks and sodas for purchase if the volunteers get hungry.  The whole group began diligently sorting school books and educational materials that have been donated and requested by the field.  After two of the designated three hours of filling boxes and breaking their backs moving and inventorying 1800lb pallets, a few of the young men felt hungry and desired a snack, so they went to the break room and inspected the sodas and snacks available for purchase.  

Not wanting to spend the $.75, they stuck their hands up in the machine and began stealing snacks and sodas.  The last culprit wriggled his hand up in the machine, but was only able to grab the tab on the top of the soda, and as he tried to pull it out, the whole Mountain Dew opened and sprayed out into the machine.  The sticky mess was all over him, the floor and the machine, so they boldly went to the worker at the warehouse and announced, “A soda exploded in the machine”.  And walked away.

Christian youth.  With their church.  On a service project.  Immediately after hearing the Gospel.  Serving the poor.  Choose to steal from the non profit organization.

Earlier this week I read a short devotion from a book that attempted to claim that conduct produces character.  Unfortunately, that simply is not true and we can easily see it in our youth.  We can see it in adults as well, but they tend to hide it a little better.  

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

 – Rom 5.3-5

Perseverance of faith produces character.  If it were true that conduct produced character, we would never see children raised up in the church abandon their faith and lifestyle when they attain their freedom at college or in adulthood.  If morality produced character, our laws would establish ethically strong and pure people.  Looting would not be the first even after any major or natural disaster.  But laws, structure and parental discipline are simply restraining forces put in place to safeguard us while God alone can change our hearts and make us holy from the inside out.  

Taking youth with the church to hear the Gospel and serve a Christian organization that helps people around the world does not fundamentally change them at the core.  It never will.  But God can speak to them through that experience and His truth, through the hearing of the proclamation of the Gospel alone is what will take away the heart of stone that lies, steals and cheats and give a heart of flesh that is broken for the things of God.  

Have you been transformed from the inside?  From the core?  Or are you restrained by laws or personal disciplines that make you feel better about yourself?  Or do you lie, cheat and steal?  

“If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

 – 1 John 1.9

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