The intellectual battle for the pure gospel

“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you that what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.  For do I now persuade men, or God?  Or do I seek to please men?  For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.”  Galatians 1:6-10

When the Holy Spirit inspired the preceding words through the pen of the apostle Paul, the apostle was dealing with a very serious issue in the Galatian churches.  The gospel of Jesus Christ was being deviated from by false teachers, who were leading people astray.  The Judaizers were teaching that you had to stick to the Mosaic Law as a prerequisite to salvation.  They were abandoning the grace of Jesus Christ for the various requirements, ceremonies, and standards in the law of Moses.

Paul was amazed that people were deserting Jesus Christ so easily and quickly for a “different gospel”, which as the NIV puts it in verse seven, “is really no gospel at all”.  He put it that way because he knew the truth.  He knew the gospel that he had preached, the same gospel that had been given him by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (vv 11-12).  He knew that there was only one gospel.  And for anyone who preached differently, Paul’s strong words, “let them be accursed” or damned, ring very strongly.

It is hard to imagine Paul having stronger words for false teachers, but he would probably need them in 2003.  Today the gospel is being butchered and perverted like never before.  Unfortunately, most churches in America and the world today are contributing to that perversion.  The abandonment of biblical Christianity has had both intensive and extensive effects on 21st century churches and society in general.  Sadly, most church-going, Christ-professing evangelicals are even subject to the perversion.  However, while the times have changed, the perversion by and large has stayed the same.  The attack on the grace of Christ that Paul was combating is much the same today.  For many professing Christians it is easy to recognize the ever-increasing amount of hucksters parading around as preachers on television networks with big golden chairs.  However, the bigger, more serious problem is subtler, and more widespread.

The problem with the preaching of the Judaizers was the addition of works (i.e. human merit) to the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Salvation no longer became a matter of God making alive the unregenerate sinner and calling them unto salvation by giving them faith in Jesus.  Instead the deciding factor became how good a Jew you were.  It was no longer the righteousness of Christ that saved, but the righteousness of the one sticking to the ceremonies, traditions, and laws of the Old Covenant.

Salvation by works remains a huge problem within the church.  The gospel is under attack on a variety of “Christian” fronts.  The most obvious example of this perversion is the Roman Catholic Church, but they are not alone by a long shot.  The strides made toward biblical truth by the Protestant Reformers have been slowly, but surely reversed to a large degree.  The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the Protestant denomination I have been a part of all of my life is guilty.  A very large majority of SBC churches preach a version of salvation by works.

“I prayed the prayer.”

“I walked down the aisle and talked to someone.”

“I joined the church.”

“I was baptized.”

“I was re-baptized.”

“I re-dedicated my life.”

I have heard and/or said all of these things over the course of my life in explaining to someone, or hearing someone explain, why I or they were going to heaven.  None of these are correct.  I believe that God saved me and I made a public profession of that faith on August 11, 1983.  But it wasn’t because I raised my hand or went down front, which I did.  It’s not even that I decided to follow Christ.

So how was I saved?  How can I be sure that I will spend eternity with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?  Most denominations (and I’m not slamming denominations) have done their own version of “Judaizing” the gospel of Jesus Christ that Paul fought for so valiantly.  The waters have become so muddied that, truth be told, many professing Christians don’t know what to believe; or worse, they are either naive to it or simply ignoring it.

Well, then?  What is the gospel?  To answer this question we have to understand a few things first.  There must be agreement on what our authority is:  the Word of God.  Without that objective standard of truth any and every opinion could be validated.  The truth about salvation is not relative.  It is absolute and unchanging.  It is Scripture that judges what is right and what is wrong.  So that is the basis upon which I will attempt to answer the question, “What is the gospel?”.

We also must have a proper understanding of those being saved, and why they need saving.  Since God created man in His own image He has had a supreme requirement:  perfect righteousness.  This is best articulated by the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:48:  “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”  It is exemplified in the curse coming upon Adam and mankind after one transgression.  Adam died spiritually when he sinned, and since we are all descendents of Adam we all come into the world spiritually dead. as Paul says in Romans 5:12:  “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because sinned–“.  We are cursed before we come out of the womb because Adam’s sin is inherited in us.

Our spiritual death results in an inability to meet God’s requirement of perfect righteousness.  Romans 3:10-12 says “There is none righteous; no, not one.  There is none who understands.  There is none who seeks after God.  They have all turned aside.  They have together become unprofitable.”  We can’t even seek God in our spiritual condition.  It was Jesus who told Nicodemus that (and notice the order here) you must be born again to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).  Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that the natural (unsaved) man cannot understand the things of God.  They are “spiritually discerned,” and the natural man is spiritually dead.

In our helpless condition, the result if nothing changes is the Great White Throne judgment, where all unbelievers will be cast into the lake of fire for eternity, separated from the eternal blessings of God.  This is not negotiable.  All sin is rebellion against God and must be punished.  Because God is perfect He must be perfectly just.  He cannot overlook sin.  How can a sinful man ever merit God’s blessings when this is true?  He cannot.  Therefore, God has provided one, and only one, solution.

In my pastor’s words, Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the eternal Trinity, took on flesh.  He lived a perfectly sinless life and then went to the cross in our stead, to bear the full fury of the wrath of God for all sin, for all time, for all who will ever believe in Him.  God has to punish everybody’s sins, so Christ has borne the punishment for the sins of every believer for all time on the cross.  Christ, the sinless One, the righteous One, is the only One who can meet our righteousness deficiency.  Only if you rest in the finished work of Christ for your salvation and absolutely nothing else — not anything (at all) that you have done — will you be saved.

There are many different things to look at when we study salvation.  Of course, there is no way to cover every aspect of this in this space, but let us now dig a little deeper into what comprises so great a salvation.

If the natural man cannot even see the kingdom of God nor discern spiritual things, how in the world does anything ever feel compelled to believe in Jesus Christ?  Something external from man has to change the man internally.  Paul said to Ephesian believers, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world,”  Ephesians 1:3-4a

It is important to see who the “us” is in these verses.  It is believers.  He chose believers in Him before the foundation of the world.  Peter calls believers a “chosen race” (1 Peter 2:9).  Luke recounts this scene in Acts 13:48:  “When the Gentiles heard this (the gospel), they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (parentheses mine).

Appointed?  Chosen?  Yes.  The Scriptures are clear.  Whom He foreknew, these He predestined (Romans 8:29).  The Scripture does not say “what He foreknew about them.”  It simply says “whom He foreknew, these He predestined”.  You may counter by saying that God is omniscient.  He knows everybody. Well, yes and no.  Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23:  “Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?  And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”  If God knows everybody how can He honestly say He “never knew” those “who practice lawlessness”.

The Greek word in Romans 8:29 indicates a strong, intimate knowledge.  The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, uses the same form of the word in Genesis 4 when it says Adam “knew” Eve, and she conceived.  There are obviously some, those whom He has predestined, that God knows intimately, that He “forloves” so to speak.  He has set His affection on those He has chosen from before the foundation of the world.  God’s election of those He will save is based on nothing more than His good pleasure.  It is not based on what He knows about us.  God didn’t look into the future and see that I would someday accept His Son as my Lord and Savior, and then elect me.  He saved me on His own.  Election is a biblical reality that has to be understood.

That said, even if God did elect me, I was still born a sinner, spiritually dead.  Every man inherits the sin of Adam, and unless there is some intervention from outside of me, since I cannot discern spiritual things, I suffer the consequences of Adam’s sin, and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  How did I wind up being in Christ?  Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:3:  “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Being spiritually dead, I had to be born again, or regenerated.

“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins,” Ephesians 2:1.  Regeneration is the act of God of making spiritually dead sinners alive in Christ.    He gives us spiritual life, where we are now able to discern and understand those things of God, those spiritual things we could not comprehend before.  God does this at some point in time in the life of every person He chose, or elected, before the foundation of the world.  Man has no part in initiating this.

Think about it this way.  Did Lazarus decide at some point that he did not want to be dead anymore?  Of course not.  It was the power of God, Jesus Christ, who made him alive.  He came out of the grave and the burial cloths were removed.  The power of God works the same way in us.  We can understand the message of the cross and not only know it factually, but believe it spiritually.  Upon regeneration Jesus Christ gives us faith.  We are able to rest in His finished work on the cross to save us.  We may be made spiritually alive, but what good does that do us if we are still condemned because of sin?  That sin had to be punished, and it was in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Paul puts it this way in Romans 3:23-25a:  “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood through faith.”  That word justified, or in the noun form — justification –means to be declared righteous.  We are declared righteous freely, without a cause in us, by God’s grace through redemption in Christ.  That other big word, propitiation, means wrath-absorber.  Jesus Christ absorbed the wrath of God that had to be poured out on our sins when He went to the cross.

Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  God treated His own Son like a sinner, punishing Him in the stead of the elect, all who will ever believe.  On the other hand, He declares believers righteous, crediting the perfect, sinless life of His own Son to the sinners He saves.  We are justified by faith in God, a faith that is given to us by Jesus Christ by the grace of God the Father.  You may be saying, “Yeah, the grace is God’s part, but the faith is our part.”  This is a very common misconception taught in today’s churches.  Consider the words of Ephesians 2:8-9:  “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”  It’s the grace AND the faith that is the gift of God.  He, not us, is responsible for our salvation.  He is the author and finisher of our faith.  Salvation is not a synergistic effort.  It is completely of God.

But it does not stop there.  When God justifies us we are saved from the penalty of sin.  But as we live our Christian lives He begins to conform us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).  Sanctification, the act of God’s grace by which our affections of men are purified, or alienated from sin and the world, and exalted to a supreme love to God.  In other words, as 2 Corinthians 5:17 puts it, the old passes away and all things become new, as we are a new creation.  Believers begin to crave the things of God more and more, growing in the grace and knowledge of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).  This process of being conformed to Christ is life-long, and it involves hard decisions for the believer living in a world super-saturated with sin.

The process is finally complete when we see Jesus Christ face-to-face, which is either upon physical death or His return for His own.  This is glorification, when we shall be saved from the very presence of sin.  We shall be sinless, He is sinless.  Remember the Garden of Eden?  Man was made in the image of God, perfect and sinless.  But then sin entered the world through Adam.  Upon glorification sin is done away with in a believer, the curse no longer having any part in a man.  Any sufferings or tribulations that man should suffer on earth are petty compared to the glorious riches that await a justified one in glorification, the final link in the golden chain of redemption.

“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Moreover, whom He predestined; these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”  Romans 8:29-30

Christians don’t have to say all of this when sharing the gospel, but the truths need to be made clear.  God has chosen to save some to magnify His mercy.  Others He has predestined to wrath to magnify His justice, a holy God having to punish sin.  And this is all for His glory.  The overarching purpose of everything is the glory of God.  That is the purpose of our lives, and should be the motivation for everything a believer does.  Way too many churches are putting “reaching the lost” with a perverted gospel ahead of the glory of God.  They are getting the cart before the horse.  A pure gospel glorifies God, and His people will respond by proclaiming the good news as they are going.

That is why we must continue to fight for the pure gospel, being diligent to present ourselves approved of God.  In 2 Corinthians 10:4 Paul tells us that the weapons we’ve been given in the spiritual war we find ourselves in are for pulling down strongholds.  What kind of strongholds?  The next verse tells us.  The intellectual battles.  “Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”  We will never know if a different gospel is being preached unless we know the true gospel as defined by our objective standard, the Word of God, the Scriptures.

Examine yourselves and your church.  Do you have the pure gospel?

Don’t run away from theology

People, especially church-going people, like to talk about God’s love.  It’s easy to talk about God’s love.  The most famous verse in the New Testament, and perhaps the whole Bible, is probably John 3:16, which says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  The love of God makes us feel good.

A topic that is not quite as popular is the fear of the Lord.  We are out of our comfort zone when we talk about ourselves being under the authority of an all-powerful, all-knowing God.  The desire to have control over our own affairs (“No one tells me what I can and cannot do!”) is part of our lives.  Whether we realize it or not, in our hearts we gravitate toward rebellion against God because we want more.  More what?  More everything.

All too often we are discontent with what God has provided for us.  We fail to fear Him because we are not satisfied with what He gives us.  We do not show Him the proper respect because we feel He is not given us our due.  This is the tragic tale of man in his fallen state.

It has been said that the Bible talks about the fear of the Lord about twice as much as it talks about the love of God.  Thus, it is crucial to every person who ever lived to understand what the fear of the Lord is.  The Old Testament book of Proverbs gives us a clue in a few places.  Here are two:

– “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”  Proverbs 1:7

– “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  Proverbs 9:10

Knowledge.  Wisdom.  Instruction.  Understanding.  But wait, there is more.

– “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way.”  Proverbs 8:13

Hating evil is an attribute of the fear of the Lord.  So how does one know what is evil, as defined by the Lord?  How does one gain this knowledge, this wisdom, instruction, and understanding?  We must know what He has said concerning these things.  This knowledge comes from the reading and study of His Word, the Bible.  Consider some of the last words of the apostle Paul to his student, Timothy:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”  2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

Human hands wrote the words, but God was the author.  And as the phrase goes, words mean things.  It is not enough to say the Bible is God’s Word.  It is not enough to say it is all true.  It is not enough even to read the Bible.  God commands us, through His Word, to study His Word to present ourselves approved to God (2 Timothy 2:15).  Words mean things, and God has commanded us to know the meanings.

We must not run away from theology.  I have heard it said, “Don’t give me theology.  Just give me Jesus!”  The flaw in that train of thought is that it is impossible to have Jesus without theology.

What is theology?  It is the combination of two Greek words actually, “theos” and “logos”, which mean “God” and “word” respectively.  Theology is the word on God, the study of His nature, the pursuit of truth about who God is.

If the fear of the Lord, mentioned twice as much as His love in Scripture, is the beginning of knowledge, wisdom, instruction, and understanding, how can we run away from theology?  How can we ignore and avoid digging into the deep things in Scripture?

There is nothing more important for you in this world than your understanding of God, and how you relate to Him.  Scripture is clear that there are two roads of travel.  In Matthew 7:14 Jesus said, “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  Broad is the path that leads to destruction.  Which road are you on?

So many so-called Christians do not talk about the Gospel.  Maybe they think it gets boring after awhile.  Perhaps they think discussion of it is for the new Christian.  They might feel like there are deeper, more important things to start concentrating on.  Most likely, though, is that they truly do not understand it.  Derek Webb, a contemporary Christian musician, says this:  “I think the church feels like the Gospel is what they preach to nonbelievers. But what people don’t realize, and this was a really revolutionary discovery for me, is that we need the Gospel today. I’ve been a believer for 12 years and I desperately need the Gospel. You’re never going to get over the Gospel, to move on to something deeper. There isn’t anything deeper.”

The Gospel is theology.  The deeper we get in theology the more we understand about our God.  If we claim Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Savior, shouldn’t we strive to know Him as much as we can?  We are all supposed to be theologians, students of God.  If we fear the Lord we will no doubt be students of His Word.  That is where the wisdom, the knowledge, the instruction, and the understanding is found.  That is where God reveals Himself to His elect.

Do you fear the Lord?

The light unto our path

These days I am continually amazed by the grace of God.  He gave me the gift of salvation by grace through faith.  I can’t boast about it because I did nothing to obtain it.  It is His gift to me.

I have not always been amazed.  For many years as a Christian I thought I had it pretty good.  I looked around me and thought to myself, “I’m a pretty good Christian.”  I was pretty busy looking at specks in others’ eyes while ignoring the Lincoln Logs accumulating in my own.

The old saying is that “pride cometh before the fall.”  I praise God for all the ways He can humble me.  Just when my head starts to enlarge He can poke it like a pin into a helium-filled balloon and bring you back down to earth.  It seems like He does it, one way or the other, on a daily basis now.

Do you know what I am talking about?

It is the greatest feeling in the world, actually, when you realize that you are not as smart or as good as you thought you were, but God loves you anyway.  He gives you the chance to leave your preconceptions at the door and be taught by none other than Himself, through His Word.  It is then that you begin to really “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)

“The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.  The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.  The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.”  Psalm 19:7-9

As the hymn goes, “How wonderful!  How marvelous!”  The Word of God is perfect.  If you believe in Jesus Christ and are not studying His Word and measuring your life up to the standards which God lays down in it you are missing out.  It is by reading the Word and finding the truth in it that you realize just how amazing God’s grace is.

It is through the sufficiency of God’s Word that you can realize that Christian living is not about adding works to your salvation, but responding with good works, which God prepared beforehand (Ephesians 2:10), out of a desire to serve the Savior who has given us so much.

It is through God’s Word that we learn of His Majesty in creating the heavens and the earth and everything that dwells within them.

It is through God’s Word that we learn of His covenant with Abraham, which He has kept since its inception through the slavery of the Hebrews in Egypt, the supernatural parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Law, the Promised Land, the kingdom of David, the Messiah, the dispersion of the Jewish people, and the restoration of the nation of Israel.

It is through God’s Word that we learn about Jesus, the promised Messiah who saves His people from their sins.  We learn that He was born of the virgin Mary, lived a sinless life, performed many miracles, fulfilled the Law, was crucified, buried, and rose on the third day.  We learn that today He sits at the right hand of God as our Advocate.

It is through God’s Word that we learn about the establishment of the Church on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit indwelt believers.  We learn how the apostles laid the foundation started by the Chief Cornerstone, Jesus Christ.

It is through God’s Word that we learn that, as believers, we are “living stones” upon that foundation.  We learn how to live a life worthy of the calling with which we have been called (Ephesians 4:1).  We learn how to do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

It is through God’s Word that we learn that “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

It is through God’s Word that we learn of tribulation, the man of sin and the false prophet, and the judgments of the tribulation.

It is through God’s Word that we learn of Jesus Christ returning to the earth at the end of the tribulation to establish His thousand-year reign on earth as King.

“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  Psalm 119:105

Peter said in his second epistle to the churches, right before he was martyred, that while he got to see Jesus in His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, “we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place…” (2 Peter 1:19, emphasis mine).  How valuable, then, is the Word of God if Peter considered it more sure than what his own eyes saw on that mountain?  The Bible, the Word of God, is such a treasure.

Paul agreed in the last letter he wrote before he was martyred.  He told Timothy that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”  (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

God requires perfect righteousness, but we learn in Romans that none is righteous, not even one.  Jesus, the only Righteous One, bore the punishment for our sins on the cross.  Those who believe in Him and proclaim Him as Lord and Savior of their lives are, therefore, declared righteous in God’s eyes.

It is the Word of God that trains us in righteousness.  We can learn how to treasure what Christ has done for us when we begin to treasure the Word.

Truth in love: A response to the “open-minded”

Writer’s Note:  The following is a response I wrote to an individual who posted an entry on one of those personal journal websites.  I will not disclose the name or the website, but I felt like what I wrote should be posted on my web site as well.  This is not an ad hominem attack, but a general response to what that individual wrote.

“But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.”  Ephesians 4:15

Sometimes the truth seems harsh, but the Bible commands those in Christ to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the Truth (John 14:6).  Thus, this is done out of love.

It is not judgmental to say that a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, atheist, Gnostic, Taoist, or even a Jew does not know God.  It is the truth.  The Bible, the infallible Word of God, says so.  In John 14:6, referenced above, Jesus told His apostles “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”  Christ uses “the”, a definite article, here to make it clear that there is no other way, no other truth, and no other life.  No one gets to the Father without Jesus Christ.  None of the above referenced religions believe the gospel.

Muslims can pay lip service to Jesus, but they do not believe He is the Son of God, God in the flesh. Mormons also mangle the deity of Christ, as do Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Orthodox Jews believe the Old Testament, and while that is all well and good, the Bible does not stop there.  The name of Jesus is like a cuss word to them.  As for atheists, Psalms 14 and 53 tell us that the man who says there is no God is a fool.
Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church preaches a mangled gospel in which salvation is subject to works, while in Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul, speaking to the church (true believers), says “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.”  The grace and faith I have is a gift from God.  I did nothing to earn my salvation.

Confession to a priest does not work either.  There is but one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5).  When Christ said “It is finished,” the work was done.  He took the full fury of the wrath of God, dying for the sins of all who would believe for all time.  The temple veil was torn in two; the way was cleared for those who believe to enter into His presence.

Galatians 1:9 says that if any man preaches a gospel contrary to that the apostles preached, he is to be accursed!  Throw all of your alternate religions into that pile (the Jews being a special case, but that is another post).

You cannot pray to Allah and be saved.  You cannot pray the rosary, confess to a priest, and think everything is alright.  You cannot be a “good” person and get to heaven, thinking God could not possibly punish a “good” person.  Thus, here is the brass tax.

“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. (Romans 3:10-12)”

Contrary to the gospel that is preached in many a pulpit, Protestant and Catholic, these days, without God’s help no one even sees Him nor seeks Him.  Furthermore, aside from Jesus Christ Himself there is no such thing as a good person.  God would be totally in the right if He were to extinguish us from the earth immediately upon our first sin.  But He has given us grace, and He will give saving grace to those whom He chooses.  He is righteous and we are born sinners.  We will die sinners unless He gives us the eyes to see and the ears to hear, giving us new life, making us a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), making us born again.

John 3:3 is clear.  Jesus says “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Are Hindus and Muslims born again?  Atheists?  Good people?  Even Jews?  Are they putting their faith in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation?  As Paul would say, certainly not!

This “Let’s all just love each other” Christianity is not Christianity at all.  Yes, Christians are supposed to love their neighbor, but that will never save said neighbor.  One of the last things Jesus told His disciples was a command to go and preach (i.e. proclaim) the gospel.  We cannot pick the pieces of the gospel we wish to share.  The entire gospel of Jesus Christ, both the justice part and the mercy part, are the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).  God has, does, and will punish sin.  Those who are not born again, repenting of their sin and turning to Christ, will be given justice.

Harsh?  Yes.  Just?  Absolutely.  I praise God for the grace He has given me, and as a follower of Christ I have to defend His Word.  I pray you and all who read this will search the Scriptures daily to see if these things be so (Acts 17:11).  Truth in love.  It is not always easy to hear but it has to be said.

Cast away by society, we await rescue

We live in a world that hates Jesus.

By proxy, if you are a faithful follower of Jesus, the world hates you, too.  In a bout of self-examination, I think that’s the measure of one’s relationship with the Lord.  When I consider my own life, I find myself lacking.  How can the world really hate me when I spend so much time striving to better myself in it, taking advantage of it, and trying to impress it?

In the movie Cast Away, Tom Hanks’ character finds himself alone on an isolated tropical island with nothing but a volleyball to keep him company.  He spends four years surviving and waiting to be rescued and taken home.

Followers of Jesus find themselves in a similar predicament.  In a world that is so anti-God, those who are truly living for God find themselves stranded, separated, and cast away from the rest of the world. The only solace is found in the knowledge that the Christian has something much better than a volleyball to keep him or her company.  The Bible says that the Lord is with you wherever you are.  The Christian’s purpose on this earth is to make disciples of all nations, and that means coming under fire because of your faith.

Deuteronomy 31:6 tells us to “be strong and courageous… for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you.  He will not fail you or forsake you.”

Like Hanks’ character, Christians must survive, living according to the Word and will of God in a world that tells us to live according to our own will.

Also like the character, the followers of Jesus must wait to be rescued and taken home.  The Christian rock group Petra had a hit in the early-1980s that said “We are strangers. We are aliens. We are not of this world.” That is true. This world hates Jesus, and thus hates His followers.  The Christian’s home is in Heaven with the Lord, and that’s why Christians must wait to be rescued and taken home.

First Thessalonians 4:16-17 says that the Lord Himself will descend, and “we who are alive and remain will be caught up…to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”  Talk about being rescued!

I do not know how many years Christians will have to survive on the earth.  However, the Lord will rescue those who follow Him, and the rewards will be great.

In the meantime, Christians must not worry about being cast away from a society inebriated in sin.  As Christians, we must be strong and courageous, unafraid of separation and disapproval from a finger-pointing world.  After all, we have God on our side, with a promise never to leave us or forsake us.  In the ninth inning of history, followers of Jesus must rise up and draw a line in the sand.

This world glories in the compromising of principles for the sake of harmony.  Denominations and organizations masquerading as Christian have signed over what they know to be truth in order to get along with those who ignore the truth.  Christians must not be fooled by the rhetoric of peace and harmony from those who have no true interest in it.

Truth is found in the Word of God, and it tells us that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  2 Timothy 3:12

So I come back to self-examination.  Am I persecuted?  The Bible says that is the mark of one’s godliness.  I continue to seek my own will, and that has to stop.  All Christians need to continuously look in a mirror and ask themselves these questions:  Have I been cast away by the world?  Am I seeking intimate fellowship with Jesus Christ, or am I fearful of what others might think?

No one ever said living for Jesus was easy.  The Lord Himself said that we must take up the cross, and the cross was a very painful persecuting death at the hands of the world.

We must not fear for our own earthly lives, because Jesus Christ will rescue us.

The dangers of cyclical Christianity

I saw a movie the other day.  A man left a drug and alcohol rehabilitation, supposedly clean and sober and off to face the world.  Not ten minutes later in the movie, that man was back at the clinic he had just left to start over.

He had gone from drunk, to rehabilitated, to giving in and being drunk again.  Now, back at rehab, he began the cycle again.

There is a parallel in the lives of many Christians.  It’s what I call cyclical Christianity.  That is, a faith that is revived every now and then by some spiritual high.  Those spiritual highs are good, but one must never be so unbalanced spiritually that they rely on these highs.  It’s predetermined rededication, and while it might seem genuine on the surface, it’s dangerous and unhealthy for our individual relationships with Jesus Christ.

When I was in junior high and high school I got a good taste of this in my church’s youth group, which suffered from the “last night” syndrome.

At a summer camp in 1991 our youth minister confronted the entire group on the last night of camp.  There had been a lot of misbehavior, unbecoming of Christians, and he was blunt in his assessment of where we, as a group, were spiritually.  As a result, many people saw the error of their ways and repented.  Jesus Christ was glorified that night.

A friend and I thought that message was very appropriate.  We had been discouraged by some of the things we saw, so we warmly dubbed it the “You suck” speech. The new attitude of the youth group held out for a little while, but the spiritual high wore off.

I remember an event in February 1992 called Disciple Now Weekend.  The main event of these annual weekends, so to speak, was the rally on the last night (Saturday).  That’s when the time of dedication occurred.  The weekend was very important in my life, but looking back I find another example of cyclical Christianity.

The students were dismissed by grade level, but the sophomores and juniors stayed longer than the others (I was a sophomore).  We had just been asked to consider signing a painting of Jesus, the theme of the weekend being to “Be the One,” the theme derived from Al Denson’s song of the same name.

Being the one amounted to standing firm in our faith in a world soaked with sin.  Not floundering, but standing up for Jesus Christ in our schools, with our friends, in our daily lives.  I signed it, so did everyone else in attendance.  It was special to me, but amongst most it was the thing to do.

I’m not telling this story to judge anyone else who signed the painting.  I just know the history of the youth group after that.  There had been a lot of talk at the time about cliques in our youth group.  Sub-sections of friends that hung out together.  There had been disunity.  Now people were talking about breaking down those barriers.  It was a very good thing. I had been as guilty as anyone.  I’ve never been very good at exposing myself to those who aren’t close friends.

So that night a lot of people cried.  Decisions were made, commitments determined.  However, two months later at our Spring Break retreat we needed another spiritual high.  The cliques were as real as ever.  The “last night” syndrome was in full effect once again.  That last night was a deja vu of Disciple Now, a deja vu of the summer camp.  It was cyclical Christianity.

The disease of ups and downs is by no means new.  After their exodus from Egypt the Hebrews’ obedience to God went back and forth, back and forth.

They would obey God, then forsake Him.  Before you knew it they were worshipping Baal (or insert any other false god here).  The Lord would allow them to be overtaken, either by the Babylonian empire or someone else, and they would no doubt blame Him.  They would do their time, but because God loves them, He would raise someone up to lead the people back to the narrow road.  It happened over and over.

I ask you now.  What in your life is taking the place of God?  Your job?  School?  Your own selfish desires?  Are you 100-percent dedicated to Jesus Christ right now.

Cyclical Christianity is all too familiar to me.  I don’t go into exile for seventy years or anything, but there are times in my life where my obedience to the will of God has been on a week to week basis.

I struggle with being obedient.  But then I go to church, hear someone speak, read something, or am just plain convicted.  I repent of whatever I’ve been doing and for a while I’m really walking with God, only to eventually go astray again.

I’ve got a feeling it’s like that for most Christians, and therein lies the tragedy and weakness of the church. Jesus is the Shepherd and we are the sheep.  All too often we are trying to walk off on our own.

The remedy for daily discipleship of Jesus Christ is to put on the full armor of God.  Look at Ephesians 6:10-19 and examine the things Paul instructs us to do.  Be strong.  Stand firm.  Resist.  Gird up your loins with truth.  Put on righteousness.  Prepare yourself with an attitude of peace.  Have faith.  Guard your mind with the Word of God.  Pray at all times.  Be alert.  Persevere.  Make the gospel known.

The guideline for behavior as a follower of Christ lies in the cliched question:  What would Jesus do?  It’s not about a bracelet or a bumper sticker.  It’s about obedience and the glorification of Jesus.  Does your behavior glorify God?  Are you living up to your responsibilities as a Christian (Ephesians 4:1)?

My high school chemistry teacher used to tell us to RDTP.  Read the darn problem.  That’s what we need to do.  We can read about every problem we might have in Scripture.  That’s also where the solution to all of those problems are.  After all, 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Read the darn problem, then recognize the solution so you can be the disciple that Christ wants you to be.

We are living in precarious times, which means that, more than ever, we must not live in ups and downs.  Cyclical Christianity goes against everything the Bible teaches.  God is constant, and we must be constantly seeking.