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?

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!

Fruit is not optional

fruit

When Jesus calls a man, He bids him come and die.  This is how Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the conversion experience.  Jesus calls it the new birth, where we gain Spiritual life added to our physical life.  When we meet Jesus, and are given Spiritual life, our Spiritual walk becomes an ongoing battle between our flesh and spirit:  we are dying to our sinful habits and sinful ways, while growing in Spiritual and godly ways.  Paul says that the two are always at war with one another:

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  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 5.16-17

Paul and Jesus clarify this by defining our actions as “fruit”.  Jesus says that a tree is known by its fruit – good trees bear good fruit, and bad trees bear bad fruit.  A bad tree cannot bear good fruit and a good tree cannot bear bad fruit (Matt 7.18, Luke 6.43).  Paul goes on to explain what the different (good and bad) fruit are:

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

– Gal 5.20-21

The deeds of the flesh, or the bad fruit are those things that come naturally to us and are displeasing to God.  The fruit of the Spirit, however, are the exact opposite:

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

– Gal 5.22-23

The person who is Spiritually alive, and being made more like Christ will be marked by all of these characteristics.  We will struggle with and fight against the deeds of the flesh, but we are not marked by them.  When we are tempted to envy, to fight, to go out and get drunk or give in to any worldly pleasure, the Holy Spirit convicts us and even if we give in on occasion we will repent of those sins and fight against them.

Jesus says that He is our source and our life.  He uses the imagery that he is a vine, and Christians are branches that grow off of the vine.  We are extension of Him, and we depend on Him for our sap, structure and support.  Without Jesus Christians cannot survive.  He provides everything that we need to survive and thrive.  Interestingly enough, however, He paints a grim picture in terms of our fruit production:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”

– John 15.1-2

This teaching echoes the sentiment of the parables of the sower and the seeds.  The seed of the Gospel will be sown in four different types of soil:  the hard road which cannot receive it at all, the rocky ground where it will grow but be scorched by the sun, amongst the weeds where it will grow but be choked out, or the fertile soil where it will grow and produce fruit.  The rocks in the soil are the persecution that cause some to turn away from the faith and the weeds are the cares and pleasures of the world that cause others to turn away.  Those people who hear the Gospel and receive it, yet are either distracted by a love for the world or chased off by persecution cannot bear fruit.  They were never true believers with deep roots and productive lives.  They were branches that were seemingly connected to the vine, but proved themselves dead by not producing fruit.

Therefore Jesus says He will cut them off and throw them into the fire.

This simple fact teaches us that we can text ourselves by our fruit.  Sometimes people ask, “How do I know if I am saved?”  or  “How can I know if I was born again?”  The answer is simply, “Are you Spiritually alive?”  We can know if we are Spiritually alive by examining the fruit of our lives.  Are we marked by love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control?  The term utilized in the Scripture is the singular form of fruit.  Therefore, all of these characteristics are necessary.  We cannot have just one or two, we must have them all.  Or are we marked by the deeds of the flesh (plural, therefore any of them)?

Our cultural love affair with tolerance and acceptance has tempted the church to make peace with sin.  Gross sins that Jesus says will render us fruitless, therefore dead, therefore unsaved.  We believe that since we are better than some, that since we have trained one another to placate ourselves, that we are all “ok”.  I went on a prayer walk this weekend with some friends and we got into conversation with two men.  We told them that we were out praying over the neighborhood and asked if there was anything we could pray about for them, and they said, “No thanks, we will be fine”.  Unfortunately, apart from Christ, none of us will be fine.  The standard is not societal acceptance or creature comforts, it is Godly perfection.  We cannot attain Godly perfection, therefore we need to be covered in Jesus’ righteousness and through His enabling, produce the fruits of the Spirit.

The point is simple.  Fruit is not optional.  A healthy branch will produce fruit, and a branch that produces no fruit or bad fruit is already dead and will be cut off.  Let’s check our fruit today.  How would people characterize you?  How would God identify your heart and driving passions?  Are you at war with your flesh and dying to sin?  Or are you coasting, assuming that you will be ok?  Let’s not toy with eternity.

Spiritual Ambulance Chasers

ambulance

It has been said by some that our salvation experiences are the result of a crisis.  Some even say [heretically] that there are two crises required to achieve a higher, second experience with God.  What does that mean, however?  If by crisis we mean a turning point, then yes.  Absolutely.  Our salvation is the moment of Spiritual birth, when we begin walking in obedience to the Lord and abiding in the Holy Spirit.  A major change happens the moment that we are saved.

If, however, by crisis we mean that something major or tragic must happen in order to turn us to God, then I fear we gravely misunderstand salvation, God and the nature of man, and we turn well meaning evangelists into Spiritual ambulance chasers.

Jesus is not a Spiritual band-aid or medicine to fix our problems.

When Jesus came to the Earth and began His ministry, He met the people’s physical needs.  In fact, we are told regularly that He healed all who came to Him (Matt 4.24).  He gave sight to blind people, He healed sick people and He even raised people from the dead.  He was concerned about people’s situational maladies.  He also preached to the crowds who came to Him for healing!  And while He promised to meet all of our needs to the end of our Spiritual maturity and God’s glory, He never promised that the Christian life would be easy, or would relieve us from worldly suffering.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  He promised that in the same way people hated Him, they will hate us (John 15.18-20), and we should consider ourselves blessed when we are persecuted for His name’s sake (Matt 5.12).  Jesus never intended to remove believers from the world, but to empower them to live righteously in  the world:

“I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.”

 – John 17.15

Jesus is also not a supplement, He demands our entire life.  If we wish to find our lives in Him, we must lose them to ourselves (Matt 16.25).  He is not a Spiritual genie that we call upon when the going gets tough, He is our Lord, our boss, our authority as we wade through the trials and temptations of this life.  Life will get more complicated and hairy for those who turn their lives to Jesus, not easier.

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”

 – Matt 10.34-36

Mankind is Spiritually dead apart from Jesus.

People regularly say that “there is a God-sized hole in each of us”, and that “we are all searching for something”.  Now, considering the fact that God is infinite and everywhere, to have a void of that size would mean we are, in fact, infinite black holes.  If we understood the magnitude of God we would never make such a claim.  We are not beings which God must complete, we are nothing which God must create.  We are Spiritually dead, needing God’s life-breath.

“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

Nothing can help dead people.  Only a supernatural miracle can give life to the dust.  Salvation is not Jesus coming in and healing a disease, or filling in a hole, salvation is Jesus giving us life, breathing air into dry, dead bones.  Making something out of nothing.  He takes our hearts of stone away and gives us a heart of flesh, completely making us new, Spiritual, God-inclined creatures:

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

 – Ez 36.26

Such a worldview implies that we are fundamentally good and we just need a boost to get us through this crisis and into eternity.  It implies that we are all on a Spiritual journey and we just need direction, we are searching for the light and Jesus is that light.  We are doing it.  However Scripture teaches us that not only are we Spiritually dead, there are none who seek after God, there are none who are righteous, and we are all naturally born enemies of God.

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

 – Rom 3.10-12

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

 – Rom 5.10

Spiritual Ambulance Chasers

People have observed that it is often in a moment of crisis that people come to faith.  A child is terminally ill and the parents are desperate to find an answer and a cure.  A man has lost his job and is unable to provide for his wife and family.  A woman is so overwhelmed by depression that she cannot even get herself out of bed in the mornings.  These weak and hurting people are prime for the picking, because they need an answer.

Unfortunately, it is often the reality that this type of conversion is not genuine.  Why?  Because us ambulance chasers are looking for the quick fix.  We promise that God has the answer – a perfect plan for their lives – and once the crisis is over, there is no longer a need for God.  Sure, they might continue to go to Church, they might fix up their behavior so they can call out on God during the next crisis, but they have not understood the promise of salvation.

If we are all born without Spiritual life, if we are all separated from God, and if we all deserve an eternity of damnation because of our sin (Rom 3.23, 6.23,) then our greatest need is not someone to walk us through trials:  heal a sick child, provide a job, or cure depression.  Our greatest need is a savior who can intervene and change the entire course of our lives.  We need Spiritual life.  And when we find Spiritual life, we find our joy and pleasure in Jesus Christ.

Yes, when we are walking with and abiding in Jesus Christ, He will give us the wisdom and strength to walk through unimaginable trials, but if all we want out of Jesus is to get through trials, then we are not saved.  Do you want Jesus?  Or do you just want His benefits and help?

The irony of being a Spiritual ambulance chaser is that we have come to believe that people need to be searching for help because of a trial in order to come to faith.  But then, when we encounter someone walking through great difficulty, we are afraid to tell them about Jesus because we might sound insensitive, or we think that they may be hurting too badly.  This is an ingenious tactic of the enemy to keep us silent.

There are no Biblical examples of people being called to salvation in the midst of or because of a great tragedy in their lives.  Yes, countless people came to Jesus for help, but they turned on Him continually throughout His ministry.  They received help and got through their tragedy, but then could not handle the requirement of His calling.  All of the apostles were busy about their jobs and Jesus simply called them.  Paul was zealously persecuting the Church and Jesus knocked him off his feet.  Literally.  Peter was sent to Cornelius – the first non-Jewish believer – because the Holy Spirit was already working in His life and He was ready to hear the Truth of the Gospel.  God calls people when He is ready.  God breathes Spiritual life into dead bones at His perfect timing.  We cannot generate or predict a conversion based on someone’s life circumstances.

So what?  What does this all mean?  Jesus promised us that the harvest is plentiful.  There are many people out there in whom He is already working (like Cornelius), and they need only to hear the Gospel.  Some of them might be in the midst of suffering.  Most of them are simply going about their daily lives like the apostles were.  And there may even be some who are out trying to kill us – like Paul.  Our fundamental need, and their fundamental need is not a crutch to get through life, it is a savior to redeem us from our sins.  Salvation has to start with a recognition of our sins.  The wrath of God is and will be poured out from Heaven against all ungodliness and sin, and if we have not settled our repentance with God, we have no hope.

We must make sure that our Spirituality is not crisis-based, that we do not only turn to God in our moment of need, and that we do not only desire God’s benefits, but that we desire God.  When we preach the Gospel, we must make sure that we do not promise God’s benefits without explaining God’s expectations.  We must explain new, Spiritual life – not just an answer to a felt need.

And the beauty of all of this is that it is only our responsibility to share.  God breathes the life.  God causes the growth.  If you have shared the true Gospel, then you have done your part!  And we can leave the rest up to God.  If the hearer rejects this salvation, they are rejecting God and not us!

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

 – 1 Cor 3.7

The Sinner’s Prayer Won’t Save You.

sinners-prayer

It was hot:  high nineties, 100% humidity, tromping around on the equator during a mission trip with a group of untrained, well meaning Christians.  We walked into the local open-air market in teams of two, looking to engage anyone we could in meaningful conversation – you know, “In the marketplace” (not the intention of the phrase).  My partner and I approached a young man selling handicrafts, and found ourselves quickly in a conversation about religion.  Because of his belief system, he admitted that he did not know what would happen after death, but was hoping for God to be merciful in light of the good deeds he had preformed.  Then my partner said something that has forever been etched on my mind:

“If there was something you could say so that you could know you would go straight to Heaven, would you want to say it?”

We as Christians fundamentally believe that there is no way we could ever be good enough to earn God’s favor.  That is the whole point of the Gospel, and the need for grace.  God’s standard is perfection.  None of us will ever attain perfection because we have all sinned, and therefore we need a Savior who can intervene for us.  Enter Jesus.  He came to the world and lived a sinless life, and then suffered death and separation from God to pay the debt that we owe.  He took our place so that we could be forgiven of our sins and made righteous before God.

Therefore we know that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone.  I cannot earn it.  You cannot earn it.  We will never be good enough, it depends solely on Jesus.

“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

What, then, does that look like?  What does that mean?  Scripture teaches us that we must confess our sins (1 John 1.9), we must believe (Acts 16.31), and confess Jesus as Lord (Rom 10.9).  Over the years, we have blended these truths into a beautiful little package we now call “The sinner’s prayer”.  The faithful will remind us that it is not the words said, but the heart behind it – and it is not a phrase we memorize verbatim, but the sentiment is the same:  confess our guilt, admit our belief, and ask for forgiveness.

We must do those things.  Unless the cry of our heart is our confession of guilt, admission of belief, request for forgiveness and submission to Jesus as Lord, we will not be saved.

The prayer, however, holds no power in-and-of itself.  You cannot recite the prayer and be covered eternally.  Islam has the Shahada, a verbal recitation that will immediately begin one’s life as a Muslim.  You must say it to be a Muslim and the words alone, they believe, have power.  It is not so with Christianity.  We recognize New Birth as the beginning point of Spiritual life.

Jesus told Nicodemus that in order to be saved, one must be born a second time:  born Spiritually (John 3).  Ezekiel teaches us that God enters into our lives, removes our heart of stone – the heart that is dead, and replaces it with a heart of flesh – one that is alive and moldable by God.

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

– Ez 36.26

We do not make this happen by reciting a prayer or mantra.  Rather, we cry out to God in confession in response to this happening.

Here’s where it gets tricky.  No one wants to go to Hell.  Sure, some people might say that they would prefer Hell, but the moment the realize what Hell actually is, they will regret that statement.  People might be seeking a comfortable eternity after living a self-serving life, and thus recite the sinner’s prayer.  Children might want to please their parents or have a minimal understanding of cause and effect and therefore recite the sinner’s prayer.  There are an abundance of reasons one might recite the prayer, but unless it is the utterance of a heart of flesh, of the Spiritually new-born, it means nothing.  It is superstitious and wicked – in that it offers a false assurance to the reciter and to those around him.

How then do you know if you are saved?  Scripture teaches us that when we are born again we are made into an entirely new creation:

“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

Scripture also teaches us that before we know Christ, 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

But when we come to Christ, we are born again and we are alive.  How do you know you are born again?  How do you know that you are saved?  If you are alive.  Does the Holy Spirit convict your heart?  Do you enjoy Jesus?  Are you changed, now hating your sin and the things that dishonor God?

Too many parents have assured themselves that their children are “safe” because they walked an aisle and said a prayer when they were six.  Too many friends have let one another live sinful and wicked lives because they made a commitment at youth camp.  Too many missionaries have assured hearers that they are eternally secure because they said a prayer.

The prayer is just the beginning.  Our lives will immediately begin to transform after being born again and confessing Jesus as Lord.  If you life is not changing, if your child’s actions are not driven by the work of the Holy Spirit, if your friend continues the same exact life style, if the national on the mission field is not a new creation who longs for and loves Jesus, then they are not saved.  They have simply followed our superstitious instructions to make sure that they do not go to Hell, or to make us happy.

So let us stop and consider our own Spiritual life.  Are you resting your eternity on a prayer you recited at some point in your life?  Or on a dynamic Spiritual walk with Jesus Christ?  Did you walk an aisle?  Or were you born again and made into a new creation?

Let us also stop and consider our evangelism methods.  Yes, we want to rescue the perishing from Hell.  But more importantly, we should desire to introduce them to Jesus, who is our life, our joy, our peace, our everything.  Is Jesus your get-out-of-Hell free card?  Or is He your Savior and your life?

Resist the temptation to placate yourself and others on the notion that a simple prayer will assure our eternity.  Eternity is a big chip to gamble.  Let’s make sure we know Jesus, we have been born again and made alive, and that when we see Him face to face He will welcome us into His presence.

How do you know that you were born?

baby

Yesterday I wrote on eternal life and how it begins at the moment of Spiritual birth, and not at the moment of physical death.  Jesus taught Nicodemus clearly that in order to be a child of God, one must be born Spiritually.  No one is a believer in Christ if he has not been born again, born Spiritually.  We cannot go to Heaven when we die unless we are born Spiritually.

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”  Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’.”

– John 3.3-7

So that begs the question, “How do you know that you were born again?”  As your mind starts running to answer the question, stop and consider your physical existence.  How do you know that you were born physically?  It is because you are alive!  No one would go and pull out his birth certificate as proof that he was born.  No one would go search out a video of the birth or a witness who knew his mother when she was pregnant.  No.  We simply understand that all who are alive now were born.  That is how human life and existence begins!  The actions of a man and a woman led to conception which resulted in a new life that was physically born nine months later.

Now, consider again the question, “How do you know that you were born again?”  Is your knee jerk answer to say, “I asked Jesus into my heart”?  Jesus very intentionally chose the imagery of birth to describe what happens spiritually when we are saved.  No one has any control over when he is born, physically.  It was not your choice to be conceived, to grow for nine months inside of the womb and then to come out into the world.  You were not a Spirit that chose and said, “Now is my time!”  This truth is the same Spiritually.  Paul teaches us that before we were born again, we were dead Spiritually.  There was no life in us:

“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

We were dead and walking in Spiritual darkness.  When we fumble around in the dark we cannot find our way, but God chooses to reveal His light:

“For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

– 2 Cor 4.6

As a dead creature that resides in the darkness, we cannot and will not ever choose to come to God on our own.  It is an impossibility.  It is like someone choosing to be born physically.  And Jesus said that,

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

– John 6.44

God gives faith (Eph 2.8-9), and God grants repentance (2 Tim 2.25).  We cannot have faith or repent in our own strength, that is of the Spirit.

And after the seed of the Gospel was planted in our lives, only God causes Spiritual growth:

“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

God grants it to some to believe:

“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…”

– Phil 1.29

After God gives us this Spiritual life, He makes us a new creation.  We were one type of creation before having Spiritual life, and then He recreated us into a Spiritual child of God.  We did not create or form ourselves physically or Spiritually.

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

Jesus Himself said that no knows God or can see God except those to whom He chooses to reveal Himself and God:

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”

– Matt 11.27

And ultimately, Jesus teaches us that it is of the will of God alone that we are born Spiritually:

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

– John 1.12-13

Now, understanding that Scripture teaches us clearly that the new birth, our Spiritual birth, is not anything that we do or of ourselves, but of God and His will, how do we know that we were born Spiritually?  Asking Jesus into our hearts is not the proof.  Spiritual life is the proof.  In the very same way that we know we were born physically by the fact that we are alive, we can know that we were born Spiritually because are alive Spiritually!  The moment of birth comes at the moment of faith.  The moment that God reveals Himself to us, draws us to Himself, causes us to be aware of our sin and the righteousness of Christ that is made available to us by repentance, we have life.  Then God begins the work of sanctification:  causing us to die to our flesh and be transformed into the image of Christ.

“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

God began the work of salvation in our lives and He will complete it.  He is the one who is causing our Spiritual growth and maturity, by transforming us.

Does that mean that we are off the hook of responsibility?  Most certainly not!  We know that people go to Hell as punishment for their sins, and we know that we prove ourselves to be of God by our submission to the Spirit.  If we refuse to obey then we ultimately prove ourselves to have never been saved, to have never been of God.  Therefore if we continue in sin we know that the just reward is an eternity separated from God in Hell.  But we also must understand that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit alone that we can obey.  Thus we must seek Him daily, we must rely on His strength and pursue His will.  We must die to our flesh, put away the deeds of sin that we enjoy, and put on righteousness – by the strength and power that He provides.

Are you alive Spiritually?  Do you hear the Holy Spirit convicting you of sin and righteousness (John 16.8)?  When you approach a decision and entertain a sinful path, does the Spirit convict you?  When you choose to sin, do you experience the grief of the Spirit and desire to make right what was wronged?  Do you understand the voice of the Spirit guiding you to make decisions that honor God, that proclaim the Gospel, that obey His word?  Do you enjoy worshiping Him and making much of Him?  Do you have hope?  Do you have peace?  Do you have faith?

These are the markers of Spiritual life.  Not an action that you preformed, a prayer that you prayed or a card that you signed.  Do you know that you were born?

From Preaching to Meddling

preach

What is the point of Christianity?

Did Jesus come in order to make your life easier and then to guarantee that you would have an easy eternity too?  Did Jesus come just to take care of the after life, once you have done everything that you wanted to do while you were alive?  Are you in charge of your life on Earth and Jesus takes care of everything after death?

Let’s look to see what Jesus had to say about His intention of coming to Earth.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

– John 10.10

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.  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.  For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

– John 6.38-40

“I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.”

– John 12.46

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

– Luke 19.10

Jesus was very clear about His intentions of coming to Earth:  He came to give eternal life to those whom God has chosen.  So what exactly is eternal life?  I grew up in the Church and although no one ever said it to me intentionally, I always perceived eternal life to be life that started after death.  The life that never ends.  Life on the New Earth with Jesus.  And while this is true in part, it is not the full story.  Jesus taught Nicodemus that in order for one to be saved he must be born again:  born Spiritually.

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?  Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’.”

– John 3.3-7

Jesus was teaching Nicodemus that there are two births.  There is a physical birth that will result in physical death and a Spiritual birth that will never see death.  Everyone has a spirit, and everyone will remain in existence throughout eternity.  But only those who are children of God will have that eternal life with God in the New Earth.  And one can only become a child of God by being born Spiritually.  In short, we must be born Spiritually before we die physically.  And when we are born Spiritually, our eternal life has begun.  That Spiritual life which begins at the moment of salvation is the life that will never end.  It is the abundant life.  It is not yet in its fullness, as we remain in our physical bodies until death, but it has been started, in part.

This eternal, Spiritual life which we receive at the moment of Spiritual birth is marked by the conviction and leading of the Holy Spirit.  When we are born again, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives.  God writes His holy Law on our hearts, and the sanctification process begins:  we start looking more and more like Jesus.  We die to our flesh, we wage war on our sin and we produce the fruit of the Spirit that sets us apart from those who are not alive Spiritually.

And to this end of our sanctification, God has given us the Church to hold us accountable and to sharpen us in the Word and in our walk.  Have you ever listened to a sermon or Bible lesson and felt convicted?  There once was a small country church in rural Kentucky.  They same group of people had been attending the same church for generations, but when the pastor died they called a new pastor who was not from their small town.  The new pastor came in and started preaching on forgiveness and reconciliation.  He was unaware of a feud which had been going on, and the church goers approached the pastor and said, “Pastor, you have gone from preaching to meddling.”

These people considered church to be a social event and they considered Jesus to be their genie who would usher them from death to Heaven.  Nothing more.  Thus they heard the commands of Jesus to love and to forgive as burdensome and as meddling in their business – where it did not belong.  The Spirit was not alive within them convicting them of sin and righteousness and helping them to obey and experience abundant and eternal life.

Do you have eternal life?  When you hear the teachings of Jesus, is it a burden?  Does it feel like cumbersome meddling from which you would prefer to be left alone?  Or does the Spirit within you convict you that it is truth and cause your heart to long for those things which Jesus taught?  Jesus said,

“For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

– Matt 11.30

Jesus offers us His righteousness by taking our burden of sin and guilt.  Jesus paid the penalty for that sin on the cross so that we could have Spiritual, eternal life.  The burden of Spiritual life is much easier than the burden of sinful life.  There will be times of great difficulty, however.  Some of us will give our lives for the sake of the Gospel.  Some of us will walk paths of unfathomable circumstances.  But it will be made easier by the power of the Spirit at work within us, and we will never have to walk alone.  If the Spirit is trying to meddle in your life, then let Him.  Step back and surrender to Jesus, ask Him to make you a new creature, and experience the beginning of eternal life.  If we do not have it before we die, we will never be able to have it.

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

– John 16.8