They are not coming to us.

empty church

Did you know that church attendance is waning nationwide?  Did you know that even though the Baby Boomers still consider it the cultural norm, by in large, to go to church every week, but Gen Xers and Millennials may have not been raised in the church, and even if they were they see it as optional.  Even the most devout of us skip church for a myriad of reasons:  I’m too tired, it’s pretty outside, it’s raining outside, I want to go to brunch instead…

And while we are constantly encouraged as people to know ourselves, to verbalize our feelings, to go to therapy and counseling to get help and grow spiritually and emotionally, we are also encouraged to believe that we find strength and ability within ourselves and the control is ourselves.  We also keep those conversations to ourselves and rarely bring up those deep topics outside of assigned times where we pay someone to listen.

What this means, at least in part, is that the Church is no longer consider a place people go for emotional or spiritual help.  We still have a reputation for helping the poor, and those who need money or food will still call around looking for handouts.  But it is a rare occurrence that someone will be hurting, struggling or searching for truth and therefore choose to find a local church and go.

Many traditional churches, however, are still functioning with the mindset that people will wander in off the streets.  We update our buildings, we get fancy sound systems, we assign greeters at the doors and make pretty signs all with the hopes that the great un-reached masses will miraculously flood in our doors.  I personally know of a church that spent over a year updating their building and praying for people to come in the doors and utilized the motto “Company Is Coming” in order to pump up the congregation.

Guess what?

Company never came.

Why not?  Because humanity does not seek after God.  We are unrighteous, we are selfish, we are sinners and we are enemies of God, and fundamentally we are Spiritually dead:

“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

“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

Spiritually dead people, unrighteous people, and people who are enemies of God do not come to the conclusion on their own that they need Spiritual life, that they need to repent and that God might be the answer.  It is possible that they would consider religion as an answer – as one of Satan’s greatest tactics is to assure people that they are ethically and morally upstanding and headed to Heaven in eternity.  But Satan’s tactic in false religions is to blind people to the Gospel and convince them that they can be good enough by their own efforts, leaving them still Spiritually dead and without hope.

Therefore, if your church boldly claims the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, Satan will not draw crowds into your sanctuary.  And Spiritually dead people – those people we want and need to reach will not be drawn to our buildings.

But you know what?  That is OK!

Never once did Jesus tell the disciples to sit around and wait for people to come to them.  He commanded them, and us, to go!  Our recent past has deceived us, slightly, in that the 18th to early 20th century culture was at least nominally Christian, there was minimal entertainment and community events were often held in the Church buildings.  Thus, there was a social pressure to attend, people were always there for events, and traveling evangelists drew a crowd for weekend or week long gatherings.  As we continue down the path of a post-Christian culture, we are finding ourselves in a situation much more similar to the early church, however, and we have to go to them.

God used a variety of strategies to get the Gospel out and to make believers.  He sent the disciples out, and they preached on the street corners, started local groups, preached to the governing authorities when they were arrested, and started churches.  He sent Paul and his various counterparts on missionary journeys to travel to the “known world”, where Paul entered religious centers and places of worship as well as city centers where he reasoned with people one-on-one and also preached to the crowds.  He started churches in almost every city he visited thus.  God also used persecution and the threat of death to scatter believers throughout the known world:  Christians were threatened of their lives so they ran for safety.  Wherever they settled, they would share with their new neighbors and friends and people would be saved and churches were established.

In short, God sends people out and it is through their intentional efforts in the streets, in the marketplace, in their relationships, that other people came to know Jesus and salvation.  The Gospel organically spread along natural relational lines.  Often times entire households would believe, and they would share with other households who would believe.  Other times, individuals would hear and believe and take it home with them to their friends and families.

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Matt 28.18-20

It has been researched that most people would attend church if they were invited.  But even still, the onus is squarely on the people of God to share the Gospel with people where they are.  Our Sunday worship services are intentional times for believers to come together to grow, to learn, to meet with and worship God.  Sunday services are not supposed to be evangelical in nature, targeting the non-believer.  A wise pastor always incorporates the Gospel so that those who are not yet saved might believe, but corporate worship is for worshiping God.  Not reaching the lost.  We have six other days of the week for that.

How do we do that?  We talk about Jesus.  We all know that you naturally talk about the things you love and enjoy.  If you love and enjoy Jesus, it will be natural to talk about it.  Practice with fellow believers so that it is more natural when you talk to non believers.  How did you come to faith?  What is God doing in your life today?  How do you fight sin?  What is God teaching you?  What most excites you about eternity?  Be natural.  Be real.  Preach the Gospel.  It does not have to be formal, in a gathering or Bible study.  Just talk about Jesus.  Wherever you all, whatever you are doing.  This is how we will reach the world, not by inviting them in but by going and telling.

“…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.”

– 1 Peter 3.15-16

“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”

– 1 Tim 4.1-2

They will not come to us.  Let’s go to them.

When you have been poisoned.

snake

There is a slightly obscure story from the Old Testament when the Hebrew people were roaming around in the wilderness which holds remarkable implications for us today.  It is the story of the bronze serpent:

“Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey.  The people spoke against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.’  The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.  So the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.’  And Moses interceded for the people.  Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.’  And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.”

– Numbers 21.4-9

At first glance this story is strange and seems contradictory to the nature of God.  He had just delivered the ten commandments in which He belabored the point that man shall have no other gods and shall make no statues or images to worship.  Why, then, would He instruct Moses to form a snake out of bronze which looked like the very curse they were suffering, raise it on a stick and instruct the people to look at it for healing?

Thankfully, when Jesus and the apostles read the Old Testament, they had insight from God which revealed much of the imagery and foreshadowing of the stories therein.

“If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.  As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”

– John 3.12-15

When Jesus was explaining salvation and Spiritual life to Nicodemus, He explained the imagery of the serpent:  Jesus is the serpent.  Now this is a strange imagery to be sure.  The devil used the form of a snake in Genesis when he tempted Eve, and God cursed the snake because of it.  There is enmity between humanity and the snake as part of the curse, and to this day people are terrified of and hate snakes – by in large.  They are venomous, they bite, they kill.  And yet Jesus is as the fiery serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness for salvation.

This speaks first and foremost to the nature of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  He not only offered Himself to take our place in punishment, He actually became sin – He became the curse – He was accursed, on our account.

“If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.”

– Deut 21.22-23

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’.”

– Gal 3.13

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

– 2 Cor 5.21

Therefore, the imagery of the snake – the very means by which the people were being bitten and poisoned unto death – being the means of their salvation was symbolic of Jesus taking our sin – the very means by which we are cursed to damnation – and saving us from it.  Jesus could only receive the wrath of God against sin by being made the fullness of sin so that God could pour out His wrath upon that sin and therefore declare us acceptable by means of having our punishment already paid.  God never pardons sin, He never overlooks sin.  His righteousness demands that every sin be punished fully, and thus He supernaturally transformed Jesus into that sin which we have committed and punished it in Him so that we do not have to be punished.

The snakes in the camp were sent from God as a punishment for despising the manna that God had sent for them to eat and for complaining.  We are under the curse from God because we sin.  God has provided a means of salvation, by becoming accursed Himself and taking our place, and all we must do in order to be saved is to look upon Jesus.  Note, also, that the serpent serves as a means of salvation for those people who are already bitten.  They are poisoned.  They are going to die.  We are all sinful and are cursed.  We are not poisoned in the sense that sin is not something outside of us that cases our death, but we already spiritually dead and headed straight for an eternity in Hell apart from looking upon Jesus and receiving Spiritual life.

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

– Is 45.22

Salvation is so simple, yet so difficult.  We are either prepared to do a million acts of service to justify ourselves and earn merit with God, or we expect God to love us in spits of our sin and wickedness.  But God says “Look to Jesus” and “Believe” and you will be saved (Is 45.22, Acts 16.31, Rom 10.9).  The looking and believing recognizes that we are doomed, poisoned as it were, headed to Hell and in need of a Savior.  When we see Jesus crucified having taken on our sin, and believe in His work as our substitution, we are saved.  It is that simple, yet that difficult.  We must recognize that it is not of us, we cannot earn or merit God’s salvation and we cannot demand it.  We must simply accept it.

When we are poisoned, when we recognize our flesh coming out and our sinful tendencies merging into our hearts and minds, we must look to Jesus and be saved.  This is true at our initial conversion and it is an ongoing battle that we will fight until we are free of our flesh and sinful bodies (Gal 5).  Look to Jesus.  Remember His word.  Claim His promises.  Abide in Him.  Pray to communicate your heart and listen to hear His.  Fight sin with Scripture and replacement techniques.  Press into Jesus.

Love ≠ Tolerance

intervention

The seventies instilled in us the belief, er, wish that “all you need is love” to be happy and succeed in life, politics, the workplace, relationships, whatever.  Love and peace were the mantras echoed against the Vietnam war and turmoil of the draft amongst other things.  Today the battle cry has morphed into tolerance.  We do indeed long to be loved, but we are more concerned with having the freedom to believe and do whatever we darn. well. please.  Sure, it would be great if you loved me for what I do – but I want the government to protect me from you disagreeing with me, bullying me, or trying to prove me wrong.  This mindset is permeating our culture at such a rate that parents are now hesitant to teach and discipline their children, friends consider the highest form of mutual respect to be unmitigated acceptance, and employers and professors are now afraid of their employees and students – for fear that the wrong policy or statement might end in a lawsuit.

Deep in our hearts, on the most visceral level, we know that tolerance does not equal love and tolerance is not a sustainable value in education, maturation and interpersonal relationships.  If a child wants to play with a poisonous snake we tell him no and we explain the dangers.  If a young person believes that babies arrive by storks delivering them to happy parents, the eventually need to be given sex education to learn about how our bodies work and why certain changes have happened to them as they grew older.  If an American moves to England, someone must sit him down and explain driving on the left-hand side of the road and how the turn signal is opposite from the windshield wipers in the US.

Tolerance sounds great:  Live and let live, however we all recognize that there must be confines within which that tolerance resides.  Proclaiming “peace” and declaring that “all we need is love” will not stop terrorists from killing people who are not fighting.  Withdrawing from war will not force the Sudanese people to suddenly get along.  Ignoring evil will not make evil go away.

We also recognize that we must teach children to read and write, to learn math, to walk, and countless other basic skills.  To play a sport or a game there must be rules otherwise the game falls apart.

Ok, so the philosophically elite argue then that tolerance should be encompassing of our “immutable characteristics and belief systems”.  Simply, religion and carnal desires – and general worldviews that would encompass cultural tendencies and desires, as long as you are not hurting or imposing on someone else’s rights.  Again, this sounds very neat and tidy up front, but what about the culture that marries children?  What about the culture that allows multiple spouses?  What about the person who is born with the addiction to cocaine or the person who is genetically prone to alcoholism?  What about the religion that sacrifices animals?  What about the religion that eats human flesh to interact with their gods?  Or has sexual relations with animals?

We are left again with a difficult situation:  to tolerate and allow one person to practice their worldview will cause another to feel discriminated against in almost every situation.  If there are no absolutes, then everyone will find an opponent and it is asinine to expect the government to be able to rule on such a wide and vague range of topics.

That, however, is a side topic.  My main argument is that this kind of tolerance is not only impossible, it is illogical.  If a person truly believes whatever it is that he is proclaiming, then the truest form of love is to tell others and try to convince them of this belief.  If I truly believe that you will die if you step onto the street in front of that speeding bus, then it is not loving of me to philosophically evaluate the situation and consider your worldview and decision.  I will shove you out of the way or pull you back onto the sidewalk.  If I truly believe animals have rights and deserve to be treated humanely, I will join PETA and try to save animals from abusive homes and from religions that would sacrifice them or fight them for sport – and try to convince you why it is wrong to do so.

And most importantly, if I truly believe that apart from Jesus Christ we are all sinners and condemned to Hell, the most loving act for me is to warn you of the coming judgment and tell you of the hope in Jesus Christ.  If I believe that you are headed to Hell because of your sin and never tell you how to be forgiven in Jesus, I either hate you or do not truly believe that, because an eternity separated from God in the lake of fire and torment is infinitely worse than getting hit by a bus.

Tolerance, therefore, is essentially indifference.  To allow someone to do something and live something that is contrary to your belief system – if there is a consequence involved – is to not care.  Or worse, to hate.  One cannot truly validate another’s worldview and opinions without invalidating his own – unless he someone has a completely illogical all-inclusivism which would leave him with fundamentally no belief system.

Philosophy is greatly complicating our relationships and politics.

Therefore, let us cling to the long-standing authority of the Bible which has never been disproven and has withstood the test of centuries of critiques and cultures.  Alcoholism is not new.  Mysticism is not new.  Homosexuality is not new.  Nothing that our culture attempts to throw at the Bible in an effort to discredit or defame it is new.  And while it is a work of the Holy Spirit to draw someone to the Truth of the Bible, Scripture is clear that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.  Therefore, we must share so that people can hear and be saved.

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

– Rom 10.17

If you believe the Bible, if you believe in Heaven and Hell, to love your friend and neighbor is to tell them about Jesus.  To tolerate them is to not talk about Jesus and to not love them, but to condemn them to Hell via inaction.  Once they have heard, there is a level of tolerance required, but true love would continue to be concerned about their eternities and souls, and to never leave the topic far from conversation.  Let us love people, and earnestly try to reason with them so that they may be saved.

“If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”

– Charles Spurgeon

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

Do people reject your gospel?

conversation

Many people today are terrified of talking about their faith with others – especially when they know that the listener does not share a common faith.  We have been indoctrinated by society to believe that faith is personal, it should be kept separate from the workplace and schools, and since religion is only a crutch everyone should find what works for himself and we are all right in our own way.  This worldview has paralyzed many believers who truly do care about other people,their Spirituality and eternity by handcuffing them from being open in conversation and able to communicate truth.

But this worldview has developed a greater evil and danger within the evangelical community:  we have rewritten the Gospel such that very few – if any – would ever reject it.  Paul and Pascal eloquently argued that if Christians are wrong about Jesus we have only wasted our lives – but if everyone else is wrong about Jesus, then they have wasted their eternity.  We have skillfully manipulated that logic to our advantage, urging people to simply “give God a chance” or “say the sinners prayer”, just in case.  Cover your bases.  Get baptized so that when you die, if Jesus happens to be the judge, you will know the right answer to get into Heaven.

Unfortunately, that is not what Jesus had in mind when He introduced conversion and Spiritual life.  Jesus gave radical warning about admittance into Heaven:

“Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

– Matt 19.24

“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

“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”

– Matt 10.37

“And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”

– Matt 10.38

Jesus promises Spiritual peace and peace with God, but He also promises to set family members against one another.  He promises to bring a sword.  He promises that anyone who follows Him will suffer and be hated, just as He was.

We, however, have candy coated the Gospel.  Campus Crusade for Christ’s four Spiritual laws begin with “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”.  The prosperity Gospel states that God desires for us to be happy, healthy and wealthy – we only need to claim it and have enough faith.  We use logic to convince people to “give Jesus a chance”, and “If I am right then you have wasted your eternity” – just to get people in the door.

The Gospel, however, is offensive.  Jesus had entire towns come out to meet Him and follow Him, and when He preached the hard truths, everyone went away except the 12 (John 6.67).  He regularly made people so angry that they sought to murder Him – even in the wake of healing their sick (John 8.59, 10.31).  And Paul teaches us clearly that the Gospel is foolishness to those who are not being saved:

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

– 1 Cor 1.18

So we must ask ourselves, is our Gospel the power of God to some and to others foolishness?  Or is it palatable to everyone?  Do outsiders examine your life, your habits, your finances and think you are crazy?  Or do we look just like the world, with a few major vices exempted from our lives?

Salvation and godliness is not avoidance ethics or covering our bases.  Being a Christian is a having revolutionary and all encompassing God-centeredness whereby we draw our daily strength to live from Him and pour out our everything before Him to His glory and for the salvation of all people.  Yes, that is undoubtedly rooted in the truth that God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives – and also that God causes everything to work together for good for those who love Him, but it is so much more than that.  It is our soul wrenching understanding of the fact that we are desperately wicked and deserve damnation, but Jesus loved us enough to take our place on the cross and in Hell so that we might become His righteousness before God.  When we believe that and accept it into our lives, Jesus begins the process of purifying and perfecting us, causing us to look foolish in the eyes of the world.

In short, we cannot take the forgiveness offered by the cross and resurrection without being transformed and made righteous by it.  John Piper says we cannot have Jesus as our “pardoner and not as our purifier”.  If we are not being purified, we were never pardoned.

Apologetics and logic are good.  God has given us science, reason and philosophy – and those disciplines should all be utilized to His glory and honor, and those disciplines will all point us back to Him and His praise when understood rightly.  But our evangelism technique must be so much more than systematic argument.  It must be the power of God.  If your Gospel has no power, it is not the Gospel at all.

So let us reflect today.  Have we known the power of the Gospel?  Or did we buy in on a logical argument aimed at securing our salvation without impacting our lives?  Has the Holy Spirit taken up residence in our lives, giving us new, Spiritual life?  Or are we going through the motions hoping to make ourselves better people?  Is the word of the cross the “power of God” in your life?  And if so, let us start boldly proclaiming it as such.  Let us lay aside the minimization of the Truth, let us expect that people will have bold and profound reactions to the Gospel.  If some people do not hate it, if others are not radically transformed by it, then we are not proclaiming it.

Did Jesus’ death pay for the sins of everyone?

the cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Eph 2.1-2

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

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

– Rom 3.10-12

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

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

– Rom 8.7-8

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

– John 8.44

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

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

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

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

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

Why?

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

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

– 2 Cor 5.10

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

– Rom 2.5-8

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

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

– 2 Cor 5.21

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

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

– Eph 1.4-6

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

– John 6.37

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

– Eph 2.8-9

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

– Phil 1.6

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

– Phil 2.13

To summarize:

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

– Rom 8.28-3

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

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

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

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

– John 3.16-18

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

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

– 1 Cor 1.18

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

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

– 1 Cor 3.6

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

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

– Rom 8.1

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

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

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!

Excellence

respect

I work for a Christian NGO.  My full time job is managing volunteers who come in to help us sort, inventory and package donated product that we ship around the world for community development and disaster response.  We are big enough and offer enough volunteering opportunities that many non-Christian groups will come to volunteer, many having heard of us but unaware that we are in fact Christians.  The most beautiful part about my job is that I get to share the Gospel with these volunteers before we get to work!  I have had a variety of responses – believers are regularly excited and encouraged, I have led a few people to faith, and I have had some bawk at our faith.  The normal responses, all in all.  Last week I had a group of people in, and at the end of the shift a man in his mid to late forties caught me to chat.  He asked if we were always open for volunteers and I told him our schedule.  Then he stated,

“This is good.  Even though you are Christians, you are doing a good thing and I will come back!”

Of course I giggled to myself and quickly told my friends from small group what he said, but then I began contemplating and wondering what could his life experiences have been that this was his first positive exposure to Christians?  How could it be that he expected Christians to be doing not good things?

This reflection is cause for conviction on all levels.  Am I personally impacting my immediate world by serving them for Christ?  Is my Church actively involved in serving the community?  Or do we just host a private party every week?  Am I, are we, impacting the world?  Are we behaving in such a way that people expect us to be wicked, unloving, or confrontational – just like the world?

We have been commanded to glorify God in everything that we do (1 Cor 10.31).  Our primary drive and concern should be to do what pleases Him because we love Him.  When we spend time with Him, our hearts become aligned with his and we enjoy to do the things which He commanded.  We will not function in perfect love all the time, however.  Thus God gives us other incentives to obey.

“Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.  Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.  For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.  Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.  Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”

– 1 Peter 2.12-17

Out of love we obey God, and our obedience looks like excellence among non believers.  This is an easy test:  does our behavior look excellent to those around us?  Or is it just normal?  Acceptable?  We should go above and beyond – and part of our motivation will be so that they will glorify God, and part of the motivation will be so that we can “silence the ignorance of foolish men”.  Have you ever had someone lash out at you or watch you from a distance, expecting you to react like the world – and you shocked them by responding in love?  Have you ever had someone lash out at you or watch you from a distance expecting you to react like the world and you did exactly that – tainting your witness?

We are free.  God has forgiven us of our sins so that there is no longer any condemnation.  But this is not validation to act however we want, it is freedom from the bondage of sin to obey God and glorify Him.  We do not use our freedom as an opportunity for evil, rather we exemplify the love and grace that we have been shown to all around us, and in doing so we silence those who expect us to be wicked like the rest of the world.

Do you honor all people?  Love the Church?  Fear God?  Honor the president/government?  As we continue through this election season, particularly, let us be thoughtful and intentional with our words and actions.  Let us honor all people, love the Church, fear God and honor the president.  There are times that we honor the office and not the actions of the man or woman, but we must keep our behavior excellent among the world so that they will know God and glorify Him!

Why We Cannot Be Switzerland.

switzerland

Do you remember the childhood pacifist response to confrontation, “I am Switzerland!”  You could listen sympathetically to two friends who were mad at each other for any reason, but when a quarrel would break out in a large group the peace keepers would refuse to take sides, claiming to be neutral – like Switzerland always is – and just wait for the conflict to be resolved and everyone to be happy again.  This is a fairly safe method of conflict management for seven year-olds because rarely is the offense worthy of a life-long feud and while the reconciliation process might be lacking, the conflict is quickly forgotten by distraction.

What does last, however, is the implantation of the worldly worldview that it is best not to intervene.  Our young minds were molded into pacifism, cowardice and selfishness all because we were never trained to rightly and Biblically handle confrontation and sin.  We think if we bury our heads in the sand, someone else will figure it out.  We think that it is not our problem or business, so we turn our backs and ignore the situation.  We do not recognize the eternal consequences of the situation and just wait around for things to work themselves out.  We do not want to pick sides, try to befriend both sides, and end up with nothing in the end.

Does the Bible have anything to say about all of this?

Yes, actually.  It has a lot to say.  First of all, we must approach life, relationships and conflict in humility.  If we have been saved, then we have recognized our own sin, we have recognized the weight of that guilt, we have confessed our sins (and are continually confessing them) to God and to close friends, we are repenting of our sins, and we are forgiving those who offend us (Matt 6.12, 18.22).  If we all were capable of dying to ourselves at every moment and in every situation – putting one another first the way Scripture commands – this would be a non-conversation.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

 – Phil 2.3-4

Secondly, we must approach life, relationships and conflict in love.  It may feel like the loving thing to let people do whatever they want, but we all know that sometimes love intervenes.  Loving parents do not let children put themselves in harm’s way.  “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk”, right?  And we all know the intervention that is required to help a friend who has been allowed to destroy themselves for years.  But more importantly, we recognize that when someone’s heart has been hardened against repentance, his eternity is at stake (Heb 10.26).  This is why Scripture commands us to confront sin in one another, pushing one another on to holiness, and holding one another accountable.

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

 – Matt 18.15-17

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

 – Gal 6.1

“…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…”

 – Heb 10.24

Notice here, that Jesus does not say “If a brother sins against you”, but rather “if your brother sins”.  We often try to excuse ourselves from responsibility because we are not a part of the conflict.  But Jesus says no matter what, confront him so that we might see him repent and be restored and pulled back from the snares of the devil!  It is the loving thing to address sin, so as to help one another along the way to salvation.  We do this with greatest humility and tenderness, knowing that we ourselves are not perfect or above temptation:

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

 – Gal 6.1

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

 – Matt 7.3-5

Thirdly, we will be convicted to approach life, relationships and conflict when we understand God’s expectation of us:

“Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me.  When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.  Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself.  Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he will die; since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand.  However, if you have warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and you have delivered yourself.”

 – Ez 3.17-21

If we do not confront sin in our brothers and sisters, their blood is on our hands.  If love and compassion for our brother who is toying with his Spiritual walk and eternity will not drive us to say something, then perhaps the direct commandment from God and the consequence of forever having his blood on our hands will.

“Silence in the face of evil is evil itself:  God will not hold us guiltless.  Not to speak is to speak.  Not to act is to act.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

But how do we know?

Ok, so now we know that we are commanded to confront one another and it is the loving thing to do, how do we know what to say and when to say it?  To oversimplify, we take note of the unrepented sin.  As redeemed and forgiven children of God, we should not walk around looking to beat people up for mistakes and sins that they have committed.  Rather, when we observe that someone has given in to any sin, they have made peace with it, they are not changing from it.

What this means, first and foremost, is we must know what God calls and considers sin.  He is God, and He gets the final say.  Everything from murder to sexual immorality (lust, fooling around with someone and sex outside of marriage, pornography, adultery), to lying, to bitterness, pride and selfishness.

“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 5.19-21

Secondly, this means that we recognize repentance is the key.  We will all stumble and fall into sins at times, we will all willingly choose to partake in sins at times, but the determining and damning factor is our response to that sin.  Do we make peace with it?  Do we enjoy it and continue in it?  Or do we recognize it, confess it and repent from it?  If you see someone repeatedly participate or give in to a sin, then we lovingly confront them and walk them through repentance holding them accountable.  If we see two friends fighting, and they are unable to come to resolution, then we confront the pride, bitterness and division – walking them through repentance and holding them accountable.  The expectation of God is not for us to simply point out sin in one another, but to actually enable and walk alongside one another to maturity.

We also understand that God is sanctifying us all differently and we are at different points in our Spiritual development and maturation.  So when we breach a topic of sin, we first pray and rely on the Holy Spirit’s leading, then we bring the Scripture with us – because the person may not yet know that his actions are indeed sinful!  The Holy Spirit might not have gotten there yet with him.  The person may not be hardened in sin, but immature.  This is no excuse, and it is still our role as brothers and sisters to confront and walk alongside.  This is also much easier than dealing with someone who has given in to sin and has hardened his heart against God and Scripture.

Finally, this means that we do take sides.  We take sides against sin.  So often we gloss over confrontation and division and desire to remain neutral, but Scripture teaches us that division itself is a sin (Gal 5.20).  Has a husband abandoned his wife?  That is a sin.  We stand up against that sin.  Has a wife had an affair on her husband?  That is a sin.  We stand up against that sin.  Is someone stealing from the Church or their job?  That is a sin.  We stand up against that sin.  Is someone proud, sleeping around, unforgiving or a gossip?  These are all sins.  We stand up against those sins.  It is very rare that a conflict is based purely on one person’s sin.  It does happen, though typically there is guilt on both sides.  What then?  We stand up against all sin, and we forgive, overlook and hold accountable the repentant.  Our hope and prayer is that all parties repent.  Our instruction is to push all parties to repentance, and to maintain the purity of the body by removing the unrepentant from among us.

Sin is no laughing matter.  It is, in fact, what merits our eternal damnation.  We must, in love, push one another on to holiness and for the sake of our own conscience and confront sin.  We do not want blood on our hands.  We do this all in love, all in humility, and all to the glory and honor of God, hoping that we maintain purity and holiness in our families, churches and communities.  Let us consider one another – better than ourselves – and hold one another accountable!