Archive for the ‘salvation’ Category

Lay Your Burden Down   Leave a comment

If you understand nothing else about Christianity, you should grasp this ….

Jesus died for YOU!

No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, no matter the weight of your sin (and you do have sin because we all do) … Jesus died for those.

And YOU need Him!

Because no matter how good you are, no matter that you love your mother, give food and clothes to the poor, visit the sick and those in prison … all of your goodness is nothing compared to how good God created human kind to be. None of us has any reason to boast when we come to Christ because none of us is right with God … no one except Jesus.

Jesus wants to take all that isn’t right with you and trade it in for His righteousness. If you’ll give it to Him, it will be as if you never sinned. That’s forgiveness … to have everything you’ve ever done set aside, paid by someone who has an unlimitedless treasury and loves you enough to die a horrible death in your place and still love you.

And all you have to do to have that rightness is accept that He did it for you.

That is true liberty!

Standing Under a Spotlight   Leave a comment

Christians are not bronze saints. We are human beings. We’re no better than anyone else. We’re simply saved from our humanness by our relationship with Jesus Christ. This is not our doing. It’s God’s doing.

“God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

God created mankind for something better than what we are. We were supposed to live in communion with Him, as He lives in communion with Himself. Instead, Adam and Eve believed Satan’s lies and broke their fellowship with God. In doing so, they changed the world. Nothing in this world is as it should have been. CS Lewis described it as “bent” and that’s a pretty good way to think about it. The world is like a 2×4 that’s warped so that it doesn’t quite fit as it should and we human beings are products of that bent world.

The bad news is that we are in this world and we can’t change it because we are the cause of its bentness. The good news is that God still loves us and He was willing to step down into our misery and offer us a way out.

Jesus explained this simple, yet complex concept to a Pharisee named Nicodemus who wanted to understand God.

“God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.”

So why do Christians think they are somehow different from everyone else? Because we are.

“The one who believes in Him is not condemned. The one who does not believe in Him is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.”

Christians are given some basic rules of thumb for recognizing the condition of the world.

“Now this is the basis for judging, that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.”

Jesus makes a sweeping statement – the world loves darkness rather than light because darkness makes it easier to hide evil deeds.

“For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God.”

Christians are not better than anyone else, but we’ve answered God’s call to come to the light and when we stand in the light, our behaviors become evident. If our actions are evil by God’s standard, we’ll be found out, so we must practice the truth (as He defines it) because we standing under a spotlight.

Posted February 25, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity, Faith, salvation

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Say What You Believe   2 comments

You really want to believe in Christ, but it’s going to affect your career, your marriage, your standing in the community. So isn’t it enough to accept Christ in your heart and keep it to yourself? I was asked this question not long ago and the inquirer made a good point. What if someone accepts Christ then dies before they have time to confess their salvation?

Hmmm?

I’ve often accepted as a given that someone could accept Christ on their death bed and be accepted into Heaven, but what if that person were not able to speak and therefore unable to confess their salvation? Okay, now I’m stumped and I will confess that I remain stumped on that portion of the question. My only answer is that God knows what was in that person’s heart and He is the ultimate arbitrator of who gets to enter His kingdom. I don’t know the answer, but I’m convinced that God not only knows the answer, but that Jesus Christ is the Answer, so I don’t really need to know. I think it’s narcissistic of us to believe we have to understand God totally. No, we don’t. He’s God, we’re humans. We’re like ants to Him. We will never fully understand Him and that should be fine with us.

Corinthians tells Christians to judge their fellow believers, so I’m turning from metaphysical questions to the more pragmatic part of the question. Can a person believe in Jesus Christ, but not confess that belief before men and still consider himself saved.

At the risk that you won’t read the rest of this post … NO!

Romans 10:9-10 says “because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation.”

There are those who try to explain away the meaning of these words and there are those who adhere to them like barnacles to a boat hull, but what is really the answer beyond dogmatism.

First, someone will note that Paul puts confession before belief in verse 9. That’s because (in verse 9) he’s quoting Moses’ words from Deuteronomy 30:14 and that’s how Moses wrote it. In verse 10, Paul’s own words and instructions appear — believe and then confess, which is really the only chronology that makes sense.

The word “confess” here is homologeo the same as used in 1 John 1:9 and means to “say the same thing about something as others have said”. Early Christians risked their lives by saying “Jesus is Lord”. First, the Jews tried to kill them for blasphemy and then the Romans tried to kill them because Caesar was “lord” in their society. So the simple statement “Jesus is Lord” was the most common confession that Christians of the 1st century made and it carried a great deal of importance.

In verse 9, Paul directly states that believing and confessing are both essential for salvation. In verse 10, while believing and confessing are now set apart into two separate clauses, confession is still declared to result in salvation. Confession (homologeo) in this context cannot be as easily explained as that which takes place in the heart as a private act before God as some might hope. The term “mouth” implies an oral confession. God does not need one to “confess with the mouth” for his benefit. He can see into the heart to discern our faith, and grant us justification at the very moment of faith.

Yet the vast majority of NT passages mention faith as the only condition for eternal life. What is more, the Gospel of John, written for the precise purpose of clarifying the condition for receiving eternal life (20:30-31), nowhere states that our eternal destiny is determined by “confessing with the mouth.” In fact, John wrote the very opposite—that one can trust Christ for eternal life (and actually receive it), but fail to confess the Lord publicly. He wrote, “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess [homologeo„] Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue…” (12:42). John knew of those who did not openly identify with Christ for fear of persecution and rejection, yet they had come to faith that brings eternal life.

To find Paul’s meaning in Romans 10:9-10, we need to investigate the book itself more deeply. In Romans, it is undeniable that Paul’s favorite term for redemption is the heavily theological word, “justification” (dikaiosune). For Paul justification is a legal or forensic term referring to the imputed righteousness the believer receives at the moment of faith. Paul discussed justification in great detail in 3:21–5:11, climaxing his treatise with a discussion of a few of its marvelous blessings (5:1-11). Paul’s thorough treatment of justification was been completed in Romans long before he arrived at the Romans 10:9-10 argument.

In the 3:21–5:11 passage, Paul made absolutely no mention of “confessing Jesus as Lord” in order to receive justification. In these early passages, the apostle repeatedly stressed the need for faith alone, just as the Reformers later discovered. It seems rather strange that in chapter 10 Paul would add to justification by faith the need for “confession” —a concept he completely excluded in the early chapters of his epistle. In fact, Paul never mentioned confession as a requirement for justification in any of his other epistles.

Practically speaking and theologically accurate, justification means “to be declared as righteous as Christ is righteous.” If you’re as righteous as Christ, what more is needed for eternal life? The answer should be evident: nothing more is needed to get to heaven than to be justified in the sight of God (Romans 3:20; 4:2). This is why Paul combined the two concepts in his phrase, “justification of life” in 5:18. For Paul and his epistle to the Romans, there is nothing more needed to get to heaven than to be justified by faith in Christ alone. But nothing in Romans 10:9-10 contradicts this. Romans 10:10a reads, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified…” (italics added, NIV). In chapter 10, Paul is in perfect harmony with his own teaching in the other parts of his epistle.

It’s important to note that Paul is discussing Judaism just prior to this verse and is, in fact, quoting Deuteronomy 30 in verses 6-8, demonstrating that Israel should have listened to the exhortation of Scripture that pointed her to the need for divine help issuing from faith. Romans 10:9-10 is in reality a further interpretation of the truth Paul finds in Deut 30:12-14, namely that the righteousness that comes from faith is available to all, and so is the divine help (salvation) that can follow justification. Deuteronomy 30:11-14 reads,

For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious [difficult, NASV, NIV] for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.

The context of the Deuteronomy passage is the speech Moses gave to Israel as they were about to enter the land of Canaan. Moses warned the people against rebellion and predicted that in their disobedience they would be scattered far beyond their own borders and relocated in many nations as a result of God’s judgment of them. But one day (at the Second Coming of Christ) God would bring them back to Himself, circumcise their hearts to be fully devoted to Him (the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31), restore them from their captivity, and bring them into the land to possess it (30:1-11). Nevertheless, Israel at the present time should not complain that God’s revelation was so difficult it could not be obeyed or so unclear that more revelation was needed before it could be believed. They must not think that someone should go up to heaven or cross to the other side of the sea to bring back divine truth and make the people able to obey it. Revealed truth was not distant, but as close as faith in the heart. That which was not revealed belonged to God alone, but what was revealed was given to be believed and obeyed. Divine help was also right at hand. If Israel would only turn to their Lord for help He would assist them in obedience. This help was as near as calling on the Lord, invoking His help with their mouth. In Paul’s interpretation of Deuteronomy, Christ is God’s present revealed truth given to all people in the gospel. Justification through faith in the heart and divine help for obedience to Christ (sanctification) are readily available to all, not just the Jew. Gentiles too can believe in the Lord Jesus and call on Him for help of all kinds. After all, Christ is rich to all that call on Him for deliverance. But first, one must believe in Him before he can call on Him.

One should observe that three times, once in each verse of Deut 30:12-14, the passage adds that Israel must “do” the requirements of the revealed will of God in the law. Paul does not include this phrase in his citation of Deuteronomy 30 but this must be in his thinking. Otherwise, Paul has taken an OT passage that distinctly speaks of obedience to the law and finds in it a principle of faith alone, apart from obedience to the law. This would involve a gross aberration of the original context of Deuteronomy 30. What Paul finds in Deuteronomy 30 is that faith for justification is the supreme prerequisite of calling on the name of the Lord and must precede any confession with the mouth. Calling on the name of the Lord can be done only by one who has first experienced the righteousness that comes from faith (10:6). So faith is the first and foremost response to God’s revealed truth. Therefore, Paul can also summarize both faith in the heart and confession with the mouth with the phrase, “the word [Greek, rhe ma] of faith which we preach” (10:8).

The “word is near” in the sense that when the listener expresses faith in Christ in his heart, Christ will draw near in giving him righteousness (i.e., justification). Once a person is justified before God, Christ can also be near to him for deliverance when she publicly confesses He is Lord and calls on His name. This is the meaning of the phrase, “The word is near you, in your mouth.” The author of Deuteronomy has led the way to this impression with the only other reference in the Book to the nearness of God: “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?” (italics added; Deut 4:7, NASB).

For many Christians Romans 10:9-10 is a favorite series of verses for evangelism. Generally, these verses are cited in order to emphasize the need for faith. You can’t get a requirement for public confession from the verses. The Greek doesn’t support it. However, the practical lesson of this passage is that publicly identifying with Christ has a cleansing and sanctifying effect on our lives. If nothing else, openly confessing Christ makes the Christian conscious of his lifestyle. He now knows that non-Christians will quickly respond to his inconsistencies and compromises with, ‘I thought you said you were a Christian?” Inevitably, the vocal Christian becomes careful to live a godly life because he or she never wants a non-Christian friend to confront him with hypocrisy. The world is certainly watching Christians. But it is watching Christians who can be identified as such. I can be a secret Christian, but I can never be a victorious, secret Christian. One vital principle for victorious Christian living is the public, vocal, regular identification with the Lordship of Jesus.

Evidence for Salvation   3 comments

The essence of Christianity is narrow, for only the shed blood of Jesus Christ saves anyone. The expression of Christianity is very broad, for it affects every facet of our existence. Consider some of the Biblical terms for the Christian which highlight various facets of the outworkings of our faith.

Christian. Christian is a very popular present-day term with a wide variety of connotations. Actually, it is found only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). The suffix “ian” is similar in meaning to “ist” (Methodist, Baptist, etc.) or the somewhat more pejorative “ite”. A Christian is one who is a follower of Christ or who has allegiance to Christ. The term was originally a perjorative affixed to Christians by non-believers, but that’s a history lesson we might discuss later.

Believer. A much more frequently employed term in the New Testament is believer (Acts 5:141 Timothy 4:10,12). We have already shown that belief must have some basis or content, so a believer is one who adheres to a particular system of beliefs, namely the teachings of the Bible. Then, in addition to a belief in the historical elements of our Lord’s life and death, a Christian believes in Christ Himself for salvation.

Follower. The gospels abound with references to following Jesus. Jesus invited men to follow Him (Mark 2:14), and Christians are said to be His followers:

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-28).

As a follower, a Christian is one who not only believes in Christ, but who follows Him. This implies much more than a mere conversion experience, but a way of life. It means that we will aspire to be like Him.

Disciple. It refers not only to those of the 12 who followed Jesus (e.g. Matthew 5:1), but to those who were His disciples in other places at a time after His death, resurrection and ascension (Acts 11:26,29). Here a deeper level of commitment is implied, as well as a greater intimacy between the Master and the disciple. Primarily, a disciple is a learner and thus, his following Jesus is not out of curiosity but commitment.

Saint. The term saint is one which non-Catholics shy away from using, especially with reference to ourselves. We know that in eternity we shall be like Him, but at the present time this label makes us feel uneasy because it seems inappropriate. While total sanctification will only occur at His coming, the term saint reminds us that holiness is an essential characteristic of the Christian. This is why Peter reminded us of the divine command, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16) .

Brother. A vertical relationship with God also creates a horizontal one with all those who are saved. We frequently find Christians called brethren (Acts 6:3; 9:30; 10:23; Romans 16:14, etc.). Christians were never meant to be “Lone Rangers.” Each of us is a part of the body of Christ, with a vital function to perform and with certain needs which can only be met by others in the body (1 Corinthians 12).

Servant/Slave. By far, the least popular synonym for the Christian is that of servant or slave. Yet it is a very common word in Scripture and seems to have been one of Paul’s favorites when referring to himself (Romans 1:12 Corinthians 4:5Philippians 1:1, etc.). Jesus Himself was the supreme example of servanthood (Mark 10:45), underscoring this by washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-11). Leadership, in God’s Word, is assumed by servanthood (Matthew 20:27Mark 10:44).

The overall impact of all of these terms is that while the essence of the gospel is limited narrowly to the blood of Christ, the expression of our individual faith is boundless. The modern presentation of the gospel often generalizes the basis for one’s salvation, maximizing the temporal and eternal benefits while minimizing the obligations. This is totally backwards! We are only saved through faith in the death of Christ. That salvation must be entered on the basis of the objective facts of the gospel through the subjective experience of repentance and faith, and objectified by a life of obedience and discipleship.

So is that the gospel you believed? In today’s world, there are many other gospels, but most will not save (Galatians 1:6-9). The shed blood of Jesus Christ is not an element of the gospel, but the heart of it. Search your own heart for the basis of your eternal hope. If you are uncertain, affirm that you are a sinner, deserving of God’s eternal wrath. Submit yourself to God, relying only upon the work of Christ at Calvary for your forgiveness of sins and source of righteousness and eternal life. In the words of Paul, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Perhaps you are one of those who has thought of yourself as 75% saved (see earlier post). You believe about Jesus Christ and do many of the things Christians do (or don’t). But 75% is not enough in God’s book. Take Paul’s advice:

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Obtaining Salvation   1 comment

The work of Christ on the cross is the objective basis for a person’s salvation (His shed blood—and that alone is what saves us). However there is also a subjective side to salvation. Salvation is the object of our faith, but how we obtain salvation is equally important.

There’s a lot of terminology used to discuss salvation and most of it is not understood. Repentance, belief, born again … what do all these terms mean?

Recognize that the terms we use are translated from Greek, which is an incredibly subtle language. English has limits. When you go back to the Greek, you find that translation is not always precise and that sometimes different Greek words were translated into the same English word, which leads to confusion. I’m not a Greek scholar, but I know one and this is what he has taught me. When I get into portions of scripture that make me scratch my head, I pull out the Greek Interlinear Bible to see if the words are different. Often they are. I also use the Net Bible a lot because it provides direct translation from skilled translators and textual critics, which means I don’t have to become either.

https://net.bible.org/#!bible/Matthew+1

Moreover, we have our own connotations for the words we use that don’t necessarily align with the Biblical terminology.

The word repent is probably the most frequently employed term used when the way of salvation is declared to Israelites in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Believe, on the other hand, is seldom employed in these gospels, but frequently found in John. Repent tends to view salvation more from the negative side. We are saved from eternal damnation as well as to eternal life. Repentance averts the judgment of God on unbelievers. Frequently, when the word repent is found, judgment is nearby in the context:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”… But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with your repentance; …” (Matthew 3:2, 7-8).

And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:38-40).

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31; Romans 2:4:11-16; 2 Peter 3:9, 10).

Repentance is a change of mind, which results in a change of behavior. It comes from a nautical term that means to change directions 180 degrees. Repentance involves a recognition of our sinful state and the dreadful consequences of our sin apart from faith in Christ. Before we can be saved, we must be convinced that we are lost and doomed. Repentance recognizes this and determines to make whatever changes are required to be saved. Repentance was frequently evidenced by baptism (Acts 2:38) and always by works fitting this change of mind, heart and life (Matthew 3:8). We’ll discuss that later.

If repentance speaks of the “about face” of the penitent sinner, especially his turning from sin and its resulting judgment, faith (belief in action) stresses the positive side of one’s turning toward God by faith in Christ, resulting in life.

“… that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should 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 3:15-18).

“Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name every one who believes in Him has received forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43).

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to every one who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).

Belief is a two-pronged matter. First, we must believe that, and secondly, we must believe in or uponFaith must have content. The objective basis of faith is the sacrificial death of Christ. The historicity and absolute reliability of the Gospels’ account of the birth, life, teachings, death, burial and resurrection of Christ are essential to the Christian’s faith. I have heard some naively say, “I don’t believe in doctrine; I believe in Jesus.” But which Jesus do they trust in? Is their Jesus virgin born, truly human and divine? Did He die a literal death and rise bodily from His grave? Doctrine defines the Jesus in Whom we trust. Faith in the wrong Jesus cannot save. Consequently, we must believe

… that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; … (Romans 10:9).

“And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69; cf. John 11:27, 42).

To be a Christian you  must believe in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation. It is not the doctrine of the atonement that saves anyone, but the Christ Who died that saves. We must receive Him (John 1:12), and we must believe in Him (Acts 16:31) in order to be saved. While doctrine defines the Christ in Whom we trust, it is the person of Christ that we must place our trust in for eternal life (1 John 5:11-12). Salvation is forsaking any other means of salvation but Christ and casting ourselves fully upon Him for eternal life. We therefore believe that in Him we have died to sin, and in Him we have eternal life.

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans 6:3-5).

For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions (Colossians 2:9-13).

In the Bible there is no established procedure by which men are saved. In fact, the Scriptures avoid recording any one method by which men came to faith. Everyone to whom Jesus presented the gospel was dealt with individually, not through a formula. Jesus’ use of the term “born again” with Nicodemus clearly illustrates this.

Now there was a man, of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Him by night, and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is every one who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?” (John 3:1-10).

Nicodemus, as a Jew, felt that salvation was a national matter and that being born a child of Abraham was all that it took to be a child of God (John 8:33,39). Nicodemus’ first birth did not save him. Actually, it constituted him a child of Adam, the sinner, and thus a child of wrath and an enemy of God (Ephesians 2:1-3). In order to become a child of God, Nicodemus must be born spiritually, must be born again, this time into the family of God through Christ’s atoning work (Romans 5:12-19).

Nicodemus was a man of his day. As a devout Jew, he had come to think more of a ritual than of righteousness, more of acts than of attitudes, more of ceremony than of Spirit. Jesus had no standard form for salvation. We are not even told by John that Nicodemus was saved at this time. Faith cannot be produced through formulas and so Jesus sought to stress that, in the final analysis, salvation is the work of the Spirit of God, Whose effects we may observe, but Whose working we cannot control or manipulate:

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Of course, we must participate in the process of being saved, but we do not control the process; God the Spirit does. If the lost are to be saved, we must proclaim the message of salvation to men, for without this men will not be saved (Romans 10:14-15). Men must call upon the name of the Lord, and they must confess Him publicly as their Savior (Romans 10:9,10,13), but it is not a process which we can control. Salvation is fundamentally the work of God, and, chronologically, it begins with Him (John 1:12-13Romans 9Philippians 1:29).

Today the gospel has been so formulated that it is most often presented to unbelievers in a stereotyped fashion. Salvation is sometimes thought to result from following a prescribed formula rather than from simple faith. People believe that walking the aisle, raising their hand, reciting a prepared prayer or signing a card is what saved them rather than faith in the work of Christ upon the cross in their place. While the two fundamental requirements for entering into the benefits of Calvary are repentance and faith, there is no mechanical method by which salvation can be obtained. Many people who walk the aisle are saved, but not all who walk an aisle are saved. External acts will not produce a genuine internal commitment, but a genuine faith will always evidence its existence by actions which are pleasing to God (James 2:14-26Ephesians 2:8-10).

Salvation is always based upon the objective fact of Christ’s death in the sinner’s place, but conversion is a subjective matter involving repentance and faith, which cannot be equated with an act, but only evidenced by subsequent acts of obedience to the Word of God.

A Broken Compass   Leave a comment

I live in Alaska, which is far to the north. It is so far to the north that our compasses don’t point north. They point northeast, toward Greenland, where magnetic north is located. For this reason, if we rely on a compass at all, we adjust it about 23 degrees so that it points toward true north.

A few years back, my family and I traveled to the Northeast to visit relatives and while we were there, we thought it would be fun to go hiking in a forest in the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

Let’s settle a misconception at the outset. The White Mountains are not mountains. By Alaskan standards, they are hills. In fact, we have a few “mountains” here in Interior Alaska that have a higher elevation than Mt. Washington and we call them “domes” because they just don’t measure up to the larger mountains surrounding them.

The lack of mountainous terrain may have resulted in less preparation than we normally would have taken. We essentially grabbed some sun screen, some water, my daypack and set off into the woods. We had a trail map, but it wasn’t the terrain maps we normally carry for Alaskan wilderness treks. In fact, I think I’d want a better map for taking a subway in New York.

But, hey, we’re almost professional hikers, so no problem! Right?  Uh ….

About an hour into the hike, I recognized that the sun was in the wrong place compared to where we should have been on the map. We were faced with multiple choices in paths and it was clear we’d taken the wrong one. I dredged my compass out of the back pack and my husband and I charted a new route designed to take us back to the road. Only it didn’t. Night comes very quickly in New England. In Alaska, we may only have 2 1/2 hours of daylight in the winter, but there’s two hours of dusk at either end of that, so when the sun started to lower, we weren’t worried — until it got dark. Oh, my!

Our daughter announced that she was pretty sure we were traveling in circles. She’d seen this rock formation before. She’s got a photographic memory, so we paused again. There was a moon, which any hiker knows rises in the east and sets in the west after traveling along the southern horizon and it had just come up, so we knew which direction east was. My husband stared at my compass, shooting little glances at the moon.

“Did you change the declination on the compass?” he asked.

Uh, no. We were never planning to need the compass and … oops. After an oh-so-very-polite discussion of how many degrees to remove (we eventually decided to disable declination entirely), we charted yet another course on the less-than-helpful trail map and started out again. We were all greatly relieved when we found blacktop only a half-mile from where we’d left the car.

Lesson?

If your compass is pointed toward the wrong object of attraction, you will get hopelessly lost even in conditions that don’t seem all that threatening, even if you think you know what you’re doing.

Spiritual lesson?

If you think that something other than Jesus Christ is going to save you, you are lost and you will never find your way out of whatever woods you’re in until you admit that you’ve got your moral compass pointed toward the wrong object of attraction.

There are a lot of philosophies out there that seem wise, loving, beneficial, etc. But truth isn’t a multiple choice option and Jesus Christ is the Truth.

Humanity Still Sucks   1 comment

The misconceptions surrounding the doctrine of man’s total inability (or total depravity) do not negate the implications of the doctrine.

(1) Because man is totally depraved, salvation is necessarily a supernatural phenomenon. Those who are “dead in their trespasses and sins” do not normally or naturally become alive in Christ. Many of us are not convinced of this. Our thinking goes somewhat like this:  If only the gospel were explained clearly enough, then anyone would turn to Christ for salvation. How do we explain the “failure” of Jesus to convert all but a few of His hearers? Intellectually, man is so affected by sin that a totally convincing argument will fall on deaf ears. The gospel is not logical to the lost, but foolishness:

For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18, 19-31).

While some people suppose we can reason the lost into heaven, there are others who believe that we can nag them into eternal life by breaking down their resistance to the point of surrender. That is why we play 29 stanzas of “Just As I Am” and plead with the lost. That is why some wives persist at trying to wear down their husbands with the message of salvation, over and over, sneaking in a tract here, setting up a meeting with the preacher there, and so on. Others will try to use emotions to scare unbelievers into a decision for Christ by threatening them with hell fire.

Do not misunderstand me! I am not saying that the gospel can’t be sloppily and haphazardly explained. We should make the message of salvation as clear as possible. We should address the whole person—intellect, emotions and will. But after we have done the best possible job of proclaiming the gospel, it is only God Who can bring a dead man to life. Salvation is a supernatural experience and we mere humans must not rely upon our own strength or devices. If people are to be saved, it must be because God has used us and our words. We remain continually be dependent upon Him for success in evangelism.

(2) Even children are totally depraved. I know that statistics reveal that most people are converted in their youth. A famous Southern Baptist study showed that 80% of all conversions take place before the 21st birthday. I’m not going to refute these figures. Yet, logically speaking, if we are born in sin and rebellion against God, children are just as dead as adults. They are no more inclined to trust in Christ than anyone else. Granted, they have not become hardened in their sins (1 Timothy 4:2), but they are no less dead. All that we have said above applies to children, as well as to adults.

Children, because their desire to please, will often go through the motions of conversion, but that does not save them. Children, like all others, must be convinced of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). They must be born again. Unclear statements of faith, such as “having Jesus in your heart” often lead to professions without any concept of what salvation means.

(3) Because salvation is a supernatural matter, no one is ever too lost to be saved. Some people are far more aggressively opposed to the gospel than others. This leads us to conclude that an agnostic is more likely to be saved than an atheist, but who could have been more opposed to the gospel than Paul, who referred to himself as “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15)? Salvation rests with the ability of God Whose power is infinite. No man is less dead than another. The most hardened and resistant sinner is no obstacle to the grace of God. No one is beyond God’s salvation.

(4) The bad news of total depravity is really the good news. The most difficult aspect of salvation is not getting man saved. I’ts in convincing him that he’s lost in the first place. After all, who needs to be saved who is not hopelessly lost? Total depravity means that man cannot save himself and must look to another for salvation. Christ came to the world to save sinners. He did not come to heal those who are well, but those who are sick (Mark 2:17). If you are lost in sin, there is hope, there is help, for Christ died to save sinners. When people come to the point of despair, realizing their own inability, it is also the point of hope, for where else would they look but to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation and deliverance. Soft-soaping mankind’s total inability to save himself will not hasten the process of salvation, but probably will hinder it.

(5) We must be careful not to cushion the consequences of sin so as to minimize the desperate condition of the sinner. The prodigal son wised up to his situation in the pig pen, far from his father in a foreign land, eating the pods which were pig food. As much as that father loved his son, he realized that he would not be reconciled to him until he saw the folly of his ways. He had to be lost before he was found; he had to be dead before he could receive life (Luke 15:32). Many of us are tempted to build a pig pen in the back yard, trying to soften the blows of sin. While we must surely grieve at the sins of those we love, sometimes we must allow hard times to come upon them before they will recognize the seriousness.

(6) If man is totally unable to save himself or to contribute to it in any way, then all of the praise and glory for our conversion must go to God.

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

Perhaps it is in our prayers that we are most likely to confess the fact that our salvation is solely from God. As B. B. Warfield put it,

He who comes to God in prayer, comes not in a spirit of self-assertion, but in a spirit of trustful dependence. No one ever addressed God in prayer thus: “O God, thou knowest that I am the architect of my own fortunes and the determiner of my own destiny. Thou mayest indeed do something to help me in the securing of my purposes after I have determined upon them. But my heart is my own, and thou canst bend it. When I wish thy aid, I will call on thee for it. Meanwhile, thou must await my pleasure.” Men may reason somewhat like this; but that is not the way they pray.

To God be the glory, great things He has done!

Humanity Sucks   Leave a comment

Ouch! Does it seem that I have a very low opinion of human kind? I do. I look around the world and see the depravity of man and agree wholeheartedly with the Bible that the human race, apart from God, sucks. Oh, there’s people out there who do a good turn for others from time to time and there’s even one or two exemplary folk who do a lot of good, but taken as a whole, human kind shows more evidence of hell than heaven.

The Bible got there a long time before I did. God watched Adam sin, but He knew before He ever breathed life into Adam that His creation was going to spit in His eye. God only ever created two types of creature with a free will — angels and man — and both rejected His love.

Theologians and philosophers have argued this point for centuries, ever since Pelagius (a Briton living in the fifth century) suggested God wouldn’t hold mankind accountable for obeying Him if He hadn’t also made us able to obey Him in our own right. Bible theologians like Augustine refuted Pelagius sternly, arguing for the traditional Christian belief in the depravity of mankind, but others found comfort in a synthesis view, whereby mankind was damaged by sin, but could seek God in our own strength. Both those heresies remain with the modern church.

The Bible is clear that mankind is fallen, so badly damaged by Adam’s original sin that there is no hope of recovery without God’s intervention. We are not made sick by sin. We are dead in our sin.  “‘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, There is not even one. Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving. The poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; Their feet are swift to shed blood, Destruction and misery are in their paths, And the path of peace have they not known. THere is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10-18).

Romans is a systematic exposition of the gospel of Jesus Christ as it relates to both Jews and Gentiles. In the first three chapters of the letter, Paul lays a foundation by establishing a universal need for salvation. His conclusion is found in the expression “all have sinned” (3:9, 23). The pagan is rightly under divine condemnation because God’s creation reveals His “eternal power and divine nature” (1:20), but man has willfully exchanged this truth for a lie and has chosen to worship the creature, rather than the Creator (1:23, 25). Man is further condemned because he fails to live according to the standard by which he condemns others (2:1-3).

The Jew is even more culpable, because he has received the written revelation of God contained in the Old Testament. Some not only hold God’s word to be authoritative, but are teachers of it, and yet fail to live by its commands (2:17ff.). All men, then, from the pagan who has never heard of Christ to the Jewish Rabbi who teaches from God’s word, are under divine sentence of death. And this must mean that those of us who now have the revelation of God contained in both the Old and New Testaments are even more responsible before God. Our difficulty is surely not the shortage of revelation, but our failure to live by it.

In verses 10-18 man’s desperate and damned condition is depicted by citations from the Old Testament. The extent of the depravity of man is underscored so as to force us to conclude that man is not sick but dead. First, Paul proves that when viewed corporately man, without exception, is found to be unable to do what God views as righteous. Second, individually man is rendered helpless by sin in every part of his nature: intellect, emotions, and will.

When it comes to sin, we’d all would like to think of ourselves as the exception to the rule. If Paul had said that most men were sinners, we would probably assume we ourselves among the few who are not. Thus, Paul must show that all men, without exception, fall under the wrath of God and need the salvation provided only in Christ. Four times in these nine verses Paul uses the word “all” to describe man’s fallenness. To prevent any misunderstanding, twice he clarifies his point by affirming that “not even one” is righteous in God’s eyes. So far as God’s righteousness is concerned, “there is none righteous, not even one” (3:10).

Paul did not limit man’s sinfulness to one particular age or culture. The truth of these verses can be amply illustrated throughout history. By referring to the Psalms and Isaiah, this broad historical perspective is accented. When Paul reminds us that “destruction and misery are in their paths” (verse 16), we know that this is as true today as it was in Paul’s day or-the prophet’s. In a day when a president and a pope can be shot within weeks of one another, we need not be urged to accept the fact of the violence of man.

Having established from Scripture that man, without exception, is a sinner, Paul also proves irrefutably that every dimension of a person’s nature is tainted by sin, incapacitating every person where righteousness is concerned.

In verses 13-18 Paul speaks from the perspective of a physician, showing that every organ in our body becomes the instrument of sin due to our depravity. Beginning at the head, Paul deals with the organs which generate speech. The throat is a grave, corrupted and defiling, and the tongue is deceitful (verse 13). The lips of man, much like the viper, conceal deadly poison; they are instruments of destruction. The mouth is full of curses and bitter words (verse 14). The feet hasten man to deeds of evil (verse 15). The sum and substance of this anatomical analysis of man is that from head to foot man is dominated by sin. His organs are instruments of sin (6:12, 13).

Morally, every man falls short of the standard of righteousness which God has set. “There is none righteous” (verse 10), “there is none who does good” (verse 12). Understand, this does not mean that individual people cannot do anything that his fellow man considers good. It is obvious that some who do not profess to know Christ personally at times live by a higher standard than some who do know the Savior. Unbelievers may be kind to their wives, give to the poor, and help the helpless … all commendable deeds. However, the Bible teaches that no one will ever be justified that is, be declared righteous, by his works:

Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20).

The Law was not given to save men but to condemn them, to show them their sin and the need for a savior. Legal righteousness could only be earned by obedience to the whole Law, without any violation, ever:

For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them” (Galatians 3:10).

For whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all (James 2:10).

Anyone under the Law is obliged to keep it completely, lest the Law condemn him. Further, the Law, while it provides the standard of righteousness, does not give the strength to do what is righteous:

Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? (Galatians 3:5).

Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a Law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law (Galatians 3:21).

For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bandage to sin (Romans 7:14).

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:3-4).

Righteousness, then, cannot be earned by good works or the attempt to keep the Law of God, for fallen man is incapable of overcoming sin apart from divine enablement. Beyond this, those deeds which may appear to be righteous in the eyes of man may be evil because they are accomplished out of evil motives. Good deeds, if they are done to earn God’s approval and blessing (that is, righteousness), are based upon an evil motive. God has said that we cannot please Him by our works, for they are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Most often we do good deeds in order to obtain man’s approval and acclaim, which negates any possibility of divine approval:

“When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full” (Matthew 6:2).

Unsaved man may perform deeds of human kindness and charity. Man may do those things which win the approval of others. But men, apart from God, cannot please God. They cannot do anything which God calls righteous or has merit in His eyes.

The unsaved man’s will is always contrary to God’s. It can thus be said that no man seeks God (Romans 3:11). Frequently man willfully turns from God for Paul reminds us, “all have turned aside (3:12) so as to become useless. Man is born in sin (Psalm 51:5), and is thus an enemy of God by nature:

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. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Intellectually, man’s ability to comprehend spiritual matters is nullified by the effect of sin. Paul wrote, “there is none who understands(Romans 3:11). Man has made great strides in the fields of science and medicine, but even the most elemental spiritual truths are beyond the grasp of the most brilliant person, who is still in his sin:

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (1 Corinthians 2:14).

This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart (Ephesians 4:17-18).

We are therefore driven to the conclusion that all men are sinners by nature and by practice. Man is not sick in sin, but dead. We don’t not need a doctor to treat our weakness, but a medical examiner to pronounce us slain. We do not need God’s help; We need life. The Westminster Confession of Faith states this same truth:

Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

The early Christian church understood this painful truth and taught it to all who they evangelized. Christianity spread throughout the known world over three centuries without the use of violence or the means to coercion. Yet today we reject this cornerstone of the gospel for fear that modern man will not accept a God who thinks we’re not perfect. Or perhaps its that we think modern man would reject any gospel that takes him out of the driver’s seat of his own destiny.

More on that subject later.

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