Easter Isn’t A One Day Event


I know stating that Easter isn’t a one day event will be self-evident to some and nonsense to others. I guess it goes back to what a person believes Easter commemorates. There are some, of course, who think it marks the cycle of life and the coming of spring after the cold winter. Others think it’s about candy and the Easter bunny. Some think it’s a call to attend church for the year, to get a spiritual boost.

A smaller number of people think Easter celebrates the day Jesus rose from the dead. Those people might have some question, along with the others, about this idea of Easter being something other than one day that marks a notable happening.

But Easter is much more. True, there was a moment in time when a group of mourning ladies made their way to a Judean tomb with the intention of adding spices to the body of the man they had hoped was the Messiah of God. What they discovered was an empty tomb and a angel saying they shouldn’t be looking for the living among the dead.

And there it is. Easter marks the fact that Jesus lives. He didn’t just come out of the tomb on that first day of the week, then die again. He, in fact, conquered the grave—defeated it, gained total victory over it. Death could not, would never, touch Jesus again.

What He accomplished as a sinless sacrifice for the world God loves, was not a one-day exploit. He didn’t die as the Passover lambs did. His sacrifice was complete—the once-for-all kind, the just for the unjust. And His resurrection was the first fruits of God’s harvest. Just as Jesus came out of the grave with a new body that will not die—a new body that was remarkably familiar because it bore the scares of His crucifixion and allowed Him to eat at will, but also one that was remarkably different because He could pass through doors and disappear in a blink—so too, those who believe on His name will one day receive our glorified bodies.

So that first Easter was the start of Jesus’s life after death. While we are to remember Jesus’s sacrifice by taking communion—the bread to remember His body, broken for sinners; the wine to remember His blood shed to cleanse us from all sin—Jesus most definitely did not stay dead.

There’s an old church tradition among Christians on Easter. When someone says, He is risen, the congregation, or even individuals, respond, He is risen indeed. I like that affirmation, but I think a more accurate response would be, You got that right! He is alive and lives inside me!

Because, that’s the capper. Not only did Jesus get that new, glorified body, He has put His Spirit inside each one of His followers. That’s why one of the irrefutable evidences of the resurrection is the host of believers who have new life because Jesus Himself imparted His life to us.

It really is a thought TOO BIG. How can one man’s sacrifice cover the sins of all who believe? How can He live in me here in SoCal and also live in the lives of precious fellow believers living in Sri Lanka? Or Ukraine. Or Morocco? Or Tanzania. Or Peru. Or Alaska. Or South Korea.

Jesus lives and lives in the hearts of believers because . . . God. It’s really that simple. God can do the impossible. He is smarter, more capable, wiser, more powerful, unstoppable, irrepressible, more noble, truthful, good than we can ever imagine. What CAN’T He do?

So it was His good pleasure to find an answer to the problem of sin by taking on the sin of the world, paying the penalty for that sin, and then declaring from the cross, It is finished. The sacrifice was done, His new life, however, was days away from beginning.

And that’s what Easter is. Not a one day event but the celebration of Jesus alive—present as friend of sinners, as Living Water infusing His people, as the soon and coming King we await.

Published in: on April 13, 2020 at 5:01 pm  Comments (4)  
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Accused, Betrayed, Denied, Forsaken


With all the Coronavirus news, it’s easy to forget that this is passion week—the time between our celebration of Palm Sunday and Easter. How much more do we need to focus on Easter this year than we normally do! Not the Easter bunnies or egg hunts or chocolate goodies. Not even attending church because that isn’t going to happen.

In truth, people kind of have a choice: ignore Easter or celebrate it as the day to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. You probably know which one I’m planning to do.

But instead of “re-inventing the wheel,” I’m going to republish an article that has appeared here before. I think it digs into the heart of the reason Christians celebrate Easter.

During Passion Week, we Christians commemorate the great sacrifice Jesus made for us, giving His own life in order that we might experience newness of life, freedom from sin, reconciliation with God. But our focus often centers on Christ’s physical suffering. In looking at the events surrounding His crucifixion, however, it becomes apparent that He suffered in every way humanly possible.

First, His suffering had a social component. One of His twelve chosen followers into whom He poured His life, betrayed Him to His enemies. One of His inner circle, who knew Him to be the Messiah, the Son of God, who saw Him transfigured, denied Him. All His followers abandoned Him, literally leaving Him for dead. Jesus could not have been more alone.

His suffering was also intellectual. Jesus identified Himself as the Truth, yet He endured false accusations. People twisted His words, claiming He said things He didn’t say. His very purpose for coming to earth was misrepresented and misunderstood. He was also subject to an illegal trial which unfolded in six phases. He was questioned and denounced by Herod when He gave no answer, condemned by the High Priest when He did answer, and ignored by Pilate when He offered him the Truth.

Jesus suffered emotionally, too. The Roman soldiers made fun of His position as King of the Jews. As Pastor Chuck Swindoll taught, those godless men who hated the Jews presented Him with three things that marked a king: a robe, a scepter, and a crown. The crown was made of thorns, the scepter was a reed, and the robe, identified in Matthew as a chlamys, was a short robe covering the shoulders and ending at the elbows such as military men wore. He was naked from the waist down.

In addition, as He hung on the cross, onlookers and even for a time both thieves dying with Him, taunted Him. Somewhere nearby soldiers gambled for the few possessions He owned—His clothes. And ultimately, He had to put His mother into the care of someone else.

I believe the worst suffering of all, however, was what He went through spiritually. Jesus Himself gave voice to what He was experiencing:

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” (Matt. 27:46)

Jesus, Who existed with God and also was God, somehow experienced forsakenness by God. He was, after all, becoming sin for us. And Holy God has no part with sin.

Yes, the pain and suffering Jesus went through, being whipped and nailed to a beam, hung above the earth for hours until He died from the wracking effects on His body—this was physical torture few of us can imagine. Yet His sacrifice extended beyond that one part of who Jesus was. It encompassed His total person. He give Himself completely to be consumed by the Consuming Fire of God’s wrath.

And as He died, He said the most wonderful words possible: “It is finished.”

The burden of sin paid for, the certificate of debt canceled.

How can we not love a Savior such as Jesus!

Apart from the introduction, this post is a lightly edited reprint of one that first appeared here in March 2013.

Published in: on April 8, 2020 at 4:34 pm  Comments Off on Accused, Betrayed, Denied, Forsaken  
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How Not To Repent; Or, The Houston Astros Scandal


If you follow sports at all, you probably know that the Houston Astros were caught cheating. Back in 2017, when they “won” the World Series, they were stealing the signs catchers gave to their pitchers by using a center field camera. They then used a low tech method of communicating to their hitters what pitch was going to be thrown. Major league players have uniformly said that the biggest advantage a hitter can have is if he knows what pitch is coming.

Punishment was handed out by the commissioner of Major League Baseball, and managers and front office execs got fired. Then this week, as spring training is starting, the Astros players and their owner issued what they said were apologies. Except those short little speeches sounded as if they belonged in a Reeses Pieces commercial: “Not sorry.”

Rather, the sentiment seemed to be, yes, we got caught doing something the rules said we weren’t supposed to do, but it didn’t really help us and we won the World Series because we were just such a great team.

At one point the owner said, the cheating “didn’t really give them an advantage.” Then in the same interview he tried to backtrack and say it was an advantage but one that didn’t really help them.

Mostly, the most outspoken guys seemed to be saying, Sorry we got caught. A few others said, Sorry I didn’t do something to stop it.

I think that last is probably the best. There’s at least an admission of responsibility.

The other guys? Not so much. There was a lot of circular arguing, maintaining that they actually did win the big prize though they did cheat all year long. But, you see, they were quick to say, they could only cheat during their home games. When they were on the road, they didn’t have the benefit of their center field camera.

Players and fans from other teams are pretty mad. The Dodgers lost to the Astros in the World Series that year, and they feel cheated out of a championship. Of course the Yankees lost to them in the conference final, and they believe they should have been in the World Series, not the Astros.

Some players are talking about pitchers throwing at Astros hitters, and pretty much everyone is expecting fans to boo them mercilessly when they are the visiting team.

The baseball commissioner just wants the whole mess to go away, but it won’t. Why? Because the Astros issued their sorry-not sorry apologies. They will still display the trophy and they have the 2017 banner flying in their home park.

It’s a sad scandal for baseball to endure, and it’s not over. There is an investigation about cheating involving another team which was managed the following year by a former Astros bench coach. The thought is, he took the method of cheating with him to his new team. Nothing proven so far, but he is one of the guys who lost his job.

All this to say, repentance is a lot more than “saying sorry.” This applies to anyone and everyone who is faced with the ways he has ignored, disobeyed, rejected God and His Son, Jesus. Some people say, Sorry, and then go about trying to make amends. Of course nothing good going forward can change the past. The curses and insults and hateful actions don’t go away.

The only way to “say sorry” and to make it all go away when we’re talking about ways we have offended God, is by actual, real repentance. Not the Astros, Sorry we got caught, brand of repentance.

I’ve heard more than once that the word from which repentance comes has the connotation of turning around. In other words, of doing a 180° change. Instead of ignoring God, then we embrace a relationship with Him.

This is only possible because God has made it possible. First, His plan for us “from the foundation of the world” is to experience His mercy and forgiveness, bought and paid for by His own dear Son, Jesus. Without Jesus as our merciful and faithful High Priest, we’d be left with the scars of our anger or disobedience or blasphemy. Those things kind of have a way of hurting a relationship, not healing it.

Ask the Astros as this season unfolds. Are their relationships with the other teams and their fans, healed because they issued their “apologies”? Not by a long shot. Fans don’t see that justice has been done. There can’t be restoration, some kind of peace, when the scar of their cheating remains.

That’s just on a small scale compared to the way we have offended God. Every one of us. To say “Sorry” isn’t enough. Someone has to pay. And Someone did. Jesus paid, but Scripture talks about “receiving the reconciliation.” It also talks about the free gift of God’s grace. But like any gift, it must be accepted. That takes the 180° turn-around, where we acknowledge that we deserve what Jesus received—a criminal’s death.

It seems to me that there are people who attach themselves to Christ, who are actually in the sorry-not sorry camp. Those Other People are wicked, but we don’t do what they do. We don’t really have anything heinous enough to be sorry about. We certainly don’t deserve death.

Except, Scripture is very clear on this point”

“There is none righteous, not even one.
There is none who understands.
There is none who seeks for God…
There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Rom. 3:10-12, 18)

And

“The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23)

We’re all in the camp of those deserving death, and in need of reconciliation. Which God said will take place for everyone who believes what Jesus did for them.

The Bible calls it a free gift, and that seems to bother some people. They want to earn forgiveness by doing all the right things. But none of our “right things” can undo the wrong. There needs to be just payment. And that’s what we have from Jesus. He “canceled our certificate of debt.” He’s the only One able to do that.

Christians, then, are people who own up to who we are, admit we need the free gift which is available in Jesus. And we enjoy the restored relationship with God, which this free gift provides. That’s called repentance and reconciliation.

Published in: on February 19, 2020 at 5:04 pm  Comments (2)  
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Assassination


In honor of Abraham Lincoln’s actual birthday, I’m reprising this article that is a lot about him, but also about authority and . . . (gulp) race.

Some years ago I read a biography by Eric Metaxas: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, martyr, prophet, spy. You may know that Bonhoeffer was one of the Germans involved in the unsuccessful plot to assassinate Hitler.

Everything I’d heard about Bonhoeffer was positive. Specifically people refer to his strong Christian beliefs. I have a copy of his book The Cost of Discipleship, though I’ve never read it. You see, I have this problem with plotting an assassination.

Granted, Hitler was an evil man, but so were the Roman Caesars under which the early church came into being. Yet Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said to be subject to rulers and Peter echoed the concept:

Submit yourselves to every human institution, whether to the king as the one in authority or to governors as sent by him . . . (1 Peter 2:13-14a)

So I’ve always had a problem thinking of Bonhoeffer as a hero of the Christian faith or even of the human race. Is it ever right to do wrong?

Our times are troubled, too. When the 2016 political conventions drew near, the news referred to the tightening of security and the barriers and the buffer zone those tasked with keeping the candidates safe had to erect. Of course they replayed footage of a crazed spectator at one of Donald Trump’s rallies jumping onto the stage, and another clip of the police leading away a man who said he came to shoot Mr. Trump.

Shortly thereafter assassinations of the five Dallas policemen (and the wounding of more officers and a few civilians) made the news.

I thought back to the assassination of President Kennedy (yes, I can remember it). He’d been elected by the slimmest of margins, but the whole nation mourned his death. I suspect if there were to be such a tragedy today involving our President or any of the candidates, we would not pull together. We might actually see a deepening of the bitterness and hatred that has been seething in our country.

All this brought to mind another assassination—perhaps the worst crime in America—that by John Wilkes Booth of President Abraham Lincoln. I say “the worst crime” because I believe, apart from slavery itself, the period after the Civil War is most responsible for the roots of racism and poverty and injustice we see in America today.

President Lincoln had a plan for reconstruction of the South. Had he continued to serve as President until the end of his term, I suspect there would not have been Carpetbaggers or Shanty Towns or Ku Klux Klans or Jim Crow laws or black voter disenfranchisement or segregation.

Change would not have been easy but there were already allies President Lincoln could have called on to implement his ideas for reconstruction—hundreds of white abolitionists who had taken up the call to eliminate slavery and an untold number of heroic white station masters and conductors in the Underground Railroad.

Before the war was over, President Lincoln had begun to put into place piece of a reconstruction plan that would address the new societal realities—Southern plantation owners without a work force, and often with homes and outbuildings burned to the ground; and freed slaves without jobs, uneducated, and homeless.

He established temporary military governorships that would administrate the Southern states. He established The Freedmen’s Bureau which helped

African Americans find family members from whom they had become separated during the war. It arranged to teach them to read and write, considered critical by the freedmen themselves as well as the government. Bureau agents also served as legal advocates for African Americans in both local and national courts, mostly in cases dealing with family issues. The Bureau encouraged former major planters to rebuild their plantations, urged freed Blacks to gain employment above all, kept an eye on contracts between the newly free labor and planters, and pushed both whites and blacks to work together as employers and employees rather than as masters and as slaves. (Wikipedia)

The Bill that set up the Freedmen’s Bureau expired in a year. Congress voted to extend it, but the new President, Andrew Johnson, vetoed it.

How might history have been changed if President Lincoln had lived! It’s impossible to know.

Considering the possibilities, though, I’m mindful of the influence of one life, one life on an entire nation.

How might the world be different if President Lincoln had lived? How might the world be different if Hitler had died?

Above all the machinations of leaders and rebels and assassins stands our sovereign God. No, He wasn’t pulling strings like a puppet master, but He superintends all that is His—which is everything. So the struggle in our society today isn’t off track any more than the struggle the first Christians endured at the hand of Caligula, Claudius, and Nero.

Humanly speaking we can look at causes and effects. We can play the “what if” game or the “if only” game. But God does more with less, and brings life out of ashes. He restores and redeems.

I wish He had seen fit to heal the racial divide in our country right out of the starting blocks, before the ink was dry on the surrender Robert E. Lee signed.

More so, I wish slavery had never become an American institution.

But I imagine many Germans wish Hitler had never happened, or that East Germany had never happened.

It’s the old story of evil and evil men seeming to flourish while the righteous helplessly cry out to God to be their refuge.

So I wonder. Does it take the progression of evil to make the righteous cry out to God? I don’t know. But I think we’re at the place where crying out to God to be our refuge makes perfect sense. In reality, no matter what our circumstances, crying out to God makes sense. But in times like these, we need an anchor.

Published in: on February 12, 2020 at 4:45 pm  Comments Off on Assassination  
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Meeting Expectations


In case I haven’t mentioned it recently, I’m a big sports fan. The problem with being a fan is that more often than not, an expectation exists to win, and the truth is, most teams lose a good percent of their games.

Sure, there are the teams like the Alabama University football team that can reel off a good streak, but when they lose the “big game,” the expectations of the fans are dashed. Or how about the Dodgers’ baseball? They held something like a 20 game lead in their division, clinched a playoff spot before any other team, and still didn’t even make it to the World Series.

Never mind all the mid-tier teams that probably have no realistic shot of even making the playoffs. Like my Denver Broncos in the NFL. When the season started, I expected them to be pretty good. And they are. But they have lost 4 games in the final minute of play, once by not scoring and 3 times by allowing the other teams to score. Four loses in football are highly significant. A team that is 8-4 in December has a legitimate chance at a playoff spot. But the Broncos are languishing at 4-8 instead. My expectations for the team aren’t being fulfilled.

But that’s really life. There aren’t a lot of times that our expectations in life are all met. Something tends to gum up the works. It might be a transfer from a comfortable location to one that is far from family. It might be a promotion that went to someone else, or a love interest that did not reciprocate the feelings. It might be a leaky pipe that requires hours of plumber work. It could be as disastrous as a tornado or blizzard or wild fire. I’ve heard people who lost their homes saying things like, Yes, this was our dream home and now it’s gone.

Or how about illness or injury? Or a son or daughter who doesn’t like the same stuff you love. You want to share your passion with them, but they just don’t care. Then there are new pastors who don’t handle the job the way we thought a pastor would, or should.

What about the program you worked hours and hours on, practicing, preparing, and the night of the big performance, the mic doesn’t work properly and no one can hear what the performers say.

I could go on and on. I probably have too long already. I think it’s pretty clear that all of us, in whatever walk of life, are acquainted with unmet expectations.

I can only think of one instance in which we are never let down. That’s spiritually. Jesus Christ never lets us down.

Oh, sure, people might expect the wrong things from Him. They might expect that He answer their prayer the way they want and according to their timetable. Well, in that case, they can just put “answered prayer” in the column of unmet expectation. God doesn’t operate according to our dictates. He doesn’t take orders from us, because quite clearly He’s the one in charge. And He works stuff out for our spiritual good.

Our spiritual good is not necessarily the same as our physical good. I think of the Christians who left such strong witnesses by their suffering and even their deaths, and I know that the “momentary, light affliction” of this life is in no way comparable to the eternal weight of glory we will experience through God’s work in our lives.

It’s like putting temporary on one side of the scales and eternal on the other side and seeing which weighs more. Yeah, not even close. The scales tip so drastically toward the eternal, that it’s not even a contest.

So when something in the temporary doesn’t meet expectations, but all things in the eternal always meet expectations, how are we to react?

Honestly, if we were looking at the whole picture, we’d see how silly frustration or disappointment over the temporary actually is. It’s a lot like not doing well in practice. We might try hard, but if we come up short, what have we lost? Maybe a start in the big game, maybe even a chance to play at all. But what have we actually lost? Our poor play in practice did not hurt the team, and it might have actually taught me what I need to know for the game. It might actually be for my good.

Shocking, I know. But that’s actually how God works with us in life. We might face failed expectations and have to endure suffering or hardship. But the experience will never be wasted. God will use it to prep us for eternity. He might even use it in the here and now: like He did for Corrie ten Boom or Elisabeth Elliot or Joni Eareckson Tada. Suffering and hardship in the here and now, but astounding accomplishment and success in the here and now, also.

But even that success is spiritual. I mean, any number of lives have turned to Christ because of the witness of people like these three, or like Greg Laurie who lost his son, but not his faith in the goodness of God.

So in among all the disappointed expectations, we will never see our faithful God fail us or forsake us. But who is “us”? Any and all who believe in the name of His Son, the promised Messiah, the Christ, who takes away the sins of the world. We can go to the spiritual bank with the capital of His shed blood, and we will be spiritual millionaires.

Published in: on December 2, 2019 at 5:14 pm  Comments (94)  
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Faith Vs. Wishful Thinking


Sometimes I feel like I’m beating a dead horse, but when an atheist friend tells me in a comment, as happened a few days ago, that he understands faith better than I do, I need to set the record straight.

How can someone who says he has no faith understand faith better than someone who claims to live by faith?

When I first joined the atheist/theist Facebook group I’ve mentioned from time to time, our first discussion was about the definition of faith. It was then that I learned, when atheists say “faith” they mean what Christians refer to as “blind faith,” which is nothing more than wishful thinking. I wish I didn’t have to go to work—maybe tomorrow will be some holiday I didn’t know about, or a snow day, or (here in SoCal) a fire day. (I seriously doubt if anyone ever wishes for that!)

Yesderday I saw the clash between meanings arise again, this time on a video of John Lennox debating Richard Dawkins. The two men each saw faith as different entities: Dawkins as little more than wishful thinking and Lennox as a reasoned position that is trustworthy.

The two meanings can’t get further apart, I don’t think.

I know the difference. As I’ve recounted before, when I was a child, I prayed for a bicycle. That was actually wishful thinking. I wanted a bike and asked God for one. I had no reason to ask Him. I had no idea if He wanted me to have a bike. Though I thought He had the power to give me a bike, I didn’t know if He would give me a bike. I wanted one, and that’s all that mattered.

But that’s not faith.

Faith is actually a reasoned position that is reliable and can be trusted.

Atheists have faith just as much as Christians do, though I have no doubt they will deny it. The point is, they have a reasoned position that they find reliable and trustworthy. They arrive at their position by believing the various scientists and the conclusions they reach, without considering other disciplines.

Christians don’t all have the same reasonings. Some look to the Bible, some to what a church leader or parent has taught, some to their own personal experience, some to the natural world, some to philosophy, and some to a mixture of all these. Maybe more. The bottom line, however, is that Christians have some reason they find belief in God and His Son Jesus to be reliable and trustworthy.

There is no wishful thinking involved in Christianity. Unless in error, like my prayer for a bike. Which explains why a lot of people claim they were Christians but no longer are. They had no reasoned position that they found to be reliable and trustworthy. They did what they thought was expected of them or what they hoped would bring them something—acceptance, maybe, or peace and happiness. But it was never a reasoned position they found reliable and trustworthy.

Christians aren’t fervently wishing heaven was a true place. On the contrary, we have reason to believe Heaven exists and is in our future. Christians aren’t desperately wishing for a Savior. Rather, we have reasons to believe we have a Savior, One who is reliable and trustworthy.

In fact, however a Christian reaches the conclusion that Jesus is reliable and trustworthy, we discover, as we walk with Him day in and day out, that He gives us more and more reasons to count Him worthy of our trust. Not because He heals our cancer or that of our loved ones. Because Christians die of cancer. Not because He spares us from suffering and persecution or abuse. Christians get tortured, beheaded, persecuted today even as they were in the first century.

So what’s reliable and trustworthy about a God that won’t stop all the bad things from happening?

First and foremost is His promise that He will go with us in the midst of all the trouble. God said through Isaiah: “Though you pass through the river, I will be with you.” And even more convincingly, Jesus came and lived right here with us. Truly, He did what He said: I will be with you.

Then, when Jesus left, He sent the Holy Spirit who not only lives with us but in us. Think about it. The people of God’s choosing, the descendants of Abraham, had God in their midst as they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land in the form of a pillar of cloud and of fire. Then He showed His glory in the tabernacle and eventually in the temple. He sent prophets to relay His words, to demonstrate that, yes, He was still faithful, even though some didn’t believe.

Christians don’t have God in a temple made with hands. Or a church building. We don’t have God walking beside us or making an occasional appearance. We have Him with us every second of every day. We are the temple.

We are the living stones. Sure, we can ignore Him or we can rely on Him. We can go our own way or go His way. But the presence of the Holy Spirit is a powerful evidence of our relationship with God, our trustworthy and reliable position upon which our faith rests.

I certainly don’t “wish” I had the Holy Spirit. To be honest, His conviction can be decidedly uncomfortable. But having the Holy Spirit also means I have access to His gifts and His fruit and His intercession in prayer and His guidance and more. I don’t pretend to understand all about the Holy Spirit, or the Triune God, for that matter, but I do know believing Him, counting Him trustworthy and reliable, is nothing like wishful thinking.

But I don’t know if people who rely on something else can see the difference.

Published in: on October 29, 2019 at 5:49 pm  Comments (20)  
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By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone


A significant anniversary for Christians is approaching. On October 31, five hundred and two years ago, the grace of God once again took its rightful, prominent place in Christianity. Consequently, I’m re-posting this article from three years ago, with revisions, in commemoration of what God has done.

Part of my growing up included a spiritual education, so I learned early on that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. I understood that I could not do enough good things to make up for the bad. And I understood that no one could help me because they had their own sin problem. No one, except Jesus. His being the only sinless person who ever lived, qualified Him to be the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world for those who believed.

So nothing I did or could do would merit me to be acceptable to God. Only Jesus, standing in my place, taking the punishment I deserved, solved my sin issue.

Because I understood the basics of salvation at an early age, I have never grasped what it would be like to live any other way.

I’ve heard Jews and Catholics and Greek Orthodox joke in a knowing way about the guilt instilled in them by their religion, or more specifically, by someone who was holding them to a strict adherence to their religion—a parent, a priest, a teacher. I’ve also heard people refer to Christians as bound by guilt.

That thought seems odd to me. I don’t recall a time in my life when I’ve felt guilt-driven.

So I’ve been spoiled because I’ve believed from my youth that I’m forgiven because of God’s grace.

Christians haven’t always had this understanding. There was a period of time when grace took a back seat to doing good works, as the Church defined them. No doubt some people who were saved, gained that right standing with God because of His grace, but they were perhaps less aware of His free gift.

All that changed when Martin Luther went public with the results of his own doubts, questions, and struggles to understand God. On October 31, 1517, Luther sent a paper he’d written to his bishop: “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” This document became known simply as the Ninety-five Theses. Whether Luther ever attached a copy of the document to the door of the church at Wittenberg is a matter of contention, as was the document itself, when it first appeared.

But from the thoughts, question, and issues Luther looked at, grew the bedrock of Protestantism and a reformation (though more slowly, it would seem) of the Catholic Church, which is what he intended. Luther challenged the practice of selling indulgences, by which the priests grew richer because of the desire of the poor to do what they could to insure the salvation of their loved ones.

Luther contended that salvation depended on God, not on humans:

The most important [truth of Christianity] for Luther was the doctrine of justification—God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous—by faith alone through God’s grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God’s grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah. “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification,” he wrote, “is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.” (see “Theology of Martin Luther,” Wikipedia)

Luther had much Scripture to support his position, not the least of which is 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 as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The work is God’s, Luther proclaimed. A worker giving his copper to the church would not save the soul of his dead brother.

When I was growing up, I’d never heard of indulgences or even doing something to help a dead person reach heaven. The works I knew about were the kinds of things people did to make themselves acceptable to God. And these works included good things: going to church, reading the Bible, giving money to the poor, going on a short term mission trip, and so on. Good things.

But just like Paul’s list of good Jewish things recorded in Philippians, this Christian list of good things amounts to rubbish if its considered the means to a relationship with God. Paul’s birth status, circumcision, religious affiliation, and even his personal righteousness, were nothing in view of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (Phil. 3).

Essentially Martin Luther discovered and proclaimed what Paul had learned through his own quest. The two men were similar. They both wanted to please God, and they both went about it by trying to be good enough for Him based on the good things they did. Both eventually realized that there weren’t enough good things in the entire earth to make them good enough, but that God had given right standing with Himself as a free gift through Christ Jesus.

That’s grace.

Nothing earned here.

A free gift.

Undeserved.

I know that rankles American minds—perhaps the minds of others, too. But in this culture today we have two competing philosophies—an independent, “earn your own way” mentality, and an entitlement, “you deserve it” belief. God’s free gift is an affront to both of those positions. We humans don’t get to take credit for salvation, no matter how you look at it. We didn’t earn it, and we aren’t so wonderful that it ought to have been handed to us based on our incredible merit.

Luther did the hard work of sussing out from Scripture this truth, and I’m incredibly grateful.

Thanks be to God for His free gift of salvation, and thanks be to Him for teaching this truth to Martin Luther so that he could make it widely known.

Saying No To Free Gifts



Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

When I was a kid, we had a mother cat that delivered six or seven beautiful kittens. We couldn’t keep them, of course, so we put an ad in the newspaper for free kittens. No one came to claim one.

The same thing sometimes happens today. Authors, from time to time, offer free things—perhaps a free ebook or a short story that someone can download for free. Some even hold drawings in which a winner will receive some cool prize.

So, why doesn’t everyone who hears about these freebies, grab the opportunity to order or download or enter?

I’ve thought of several possibilities:

1. They already have whatever is being offered and don’t think they need another.
2. They don’t want to take the time to order or download or fill out an entry form.
3. They don’t want to give the required information.
4. They don’t think the give away will be as good as it sounds or that they have a chance of winning.
5. They see so many give-aways, they are numb to them and barely notice them.
6. They don’t want the thing that’s offered.

As you might have guessed, this post isn’t about promotional giveaways. Actually there is a clear parallel between those who decide to say no to an author’s giveaway, and those who say no to God’s great giveaway: the free gift of salvation, offered on the basis of His grace through faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of His Son.

The first reason seems to me to be common. Those who say no to God’s free gift of salvation don’t think they need salvation. Maybe they think they’re good enough or that God is such a good guy he’ll overlook their reprehensible thoughts and behavior. After all, there are so many who are worse. You know, murderers and the like, people who nobody wants to hang with for eternity. As long as they’re not as bad as those guys, then maybe they can get by without forgiveness.

Another possibility is that they think they can do enough to earn their own salvation. Maybe they ascribe to the “I don’t take charity” motto. Or maybe they think they shouldn’t need salvation and are too proud to let everyone know they actually do.

Secondly, I suspect there’s a good number who say no to God’s free gift because they’re too busy to pay attention to His offer. They don’t want to slow down to find out what exactly they would have to do and how their lives would change if they said yes. They might even promise themselves “someday,” thinking they’ll give it more thought later.

Undoubtedly there are some in a third camp—they wouldn’t mind a free gift if the price weren’t so high. You know, if there weren’t strings attached. Sure, it’s free, but there’s personal information they have to disclose—sins they have to confess, truths they have to believe. Getting to a place where they are willing to be so personal is asking too much, in their book.

Fourth, it’s possible some say no to God’s free gift of salvation because they don’t think it’s real. They think He doesn’t exist, or that He isn’t good. Some few might think their lives have been so unutterably evil that God couldn’t possibly extend salvation to them; it just can’t be true.

A fifth reason for saying no to God is that there are so many offers on the table, each saying this about God or that or the other. He’s interested in making you healthy and wealthy, he hates gays, he will bring everyone into heaven eventually, he is one with the universe—in us all and all of us in him–and so on. Who knows if the story about Jesus dying in their place to pay for their sins, is reliable and true? There are just so many other possibilities.

Lastly, there are undoubtedly some who say no to God’s free gift of salvation because they don’t want to see Him showing up in their house, at their place of business, at their parties, or any of the other places they hang out. Salvation, frankly, isn’t appealing because God is attached to the gift. They don’t want “such a tyrant” bossing them around.

Amazing, isn’t it? Something so valuable, so necessary, so life-changing, and yet person after person refuses the free gift. They have their reasons, after all.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This article is based in large part, on one that appeared here with this same title in September, 2012.

Published in: on August 23, 2019 at 5:12 pm  Comments (15)  
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Belief In What?


This question, belief in what, might not be one that other people ask. Maybe it’s obvious to them, but not to me, at least not when I first thought about the question. It came up again today as I looked at a passage in James. His explanation in the second part of chapter 2 is that Christians must have some action that gives life to their faith. At one point he says, “The demons also believe and shudder.” Believe in what?

Well, his previous statement was this: “You believe in God, you do well.” So the demons, apparently, “believe in God.” And that causes them to react in fear, not in faith. So “believing in God” is not enough. Saying, I believe God exists. Is not enough. I believe that God is the supreme authority in the universe—that He is One—is not enough.

So, what are we to believe?

I want to say, We are to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, because believing in Him sets apart Christians from other “faith communities.” In other words, from other people who believe something, but not that Jesus is Lord.

But what about Abraham and all the other saints of the Old Testament? Abraham is particularly easy to discuss because both the Old and the New Testaments say, And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. He believed God.

But what about God did He believe? In the Old Testament context when the statement was first made about Abraham (Genesis 15:6), God had just promised him that he would have as many descendants as the stars of the sky, that he would possess the land upon which he stood. Then Abraham believed in the LORD. Abraham went from calling on God to believing in the LORD. I mean, he’d left his home back in Ur because God told him to do so, back when he was calling upon God.

Now, however, these years later, his belief is counted as righteousness. What did he believe? Not that God existed. He’d believed that before. But now he believed the promise of God, the word of God. He believed that God was telling him the truth, even though he clearly would not live to see all the things happen that God said would happen. He didn’t need to see God keep His promises. He believed He would.

God’s promises, essentially, can be boiled down to one: the coming of His Son, Jesus. No, He didn’t explain it all to Abraham. But He set in motion the coming of Jesus, born of a descendant of David, who was one of those many descendants of Abraham, which God promised.

So, believe in what? I guess I’d say, I believe in what God says, what He’s promised.

It’s really the fact that Adam did NOT believe in what God said that got him in trouble back in the Garden of Eden. God’s word is the thing Satan has attacked from that time until now. Further more, the enemy of our souls wants to bring God’s word in question at every turn. Has God really said ______. Fill in the blank. He even brought that same tactic to Jesus when he tempted Him. “If You are the Son of God. . .,” “If You are the Son of God . . .,” he repeatedly threw at Jesus. If You are the Word, he could just as easily have said, because that’s precisely what John told us about Jesus.

Hebrews reinforces this. God spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets, but in these last days has spoken to us in His Son. (See Heb. 1:1-2). We can essentially put in an equal sign: God’s Word=Jesus, God’s Word.

He is the promise Abraham believed. He is the promise we must believe today.

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

The gospel. The Good News the angels told the shepherds on the day of Christ’s birth. The Good News “which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son” (Rom. 1:2b-3a).

Believing God, believing in God, is taking God at His word that He would and did send His Son. John said it plainly in his first letter:

The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. (1 John 5:10-12)

Published in: on August 22, 2019 at 5:39 pm  Comments (14)  
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Sunday “Christians”


Photo by Joshua Eckstein on Unsplash

Sunday Christians may not be Christians. Only God knows. A couple of the pastors I listen to on the radio when I’m doing dishes or the like, repeatedly challenge their congregation—and by extension, those of us listening to the broadcast—to examine our hearts to see if we are of the faith, because it’s too, too easy to sit Sunday after Sunday in a church service and not actually be saved.

But how is that possible? someone may ask.

One way is to sit under the instruction of false teachers who “tickle our ears.” Of course, no one forces us to choose false teachers. This is something we do because we like it that way: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, (2 Tim. 4:3)

In other words, these false teachers are giving people what they want to hear, but it’s not the gospel.

Another way people calling themselves Christians may not actually be Christians, is if they see their “religious activity” as their ticket to heaven. In other words, going to church is just one activity on a list that they can check off and add to the “good deeds” side of the ledger. In their mistaken way of thinking, as long as the good outweighs the bad, they can bank on heaven for their future home. It’s sort of like depositing money in your savings account so when it comes time to buy a new house, you have a sufficient down payment.

Sadly, for these folk, salvation doesn’t work that way.

There’s a third category, and of course, there well may be Christians in this group. Only God knows their hearts. These are people who come to church, listen, say they believe, and then go away and live their lives as if they are just like everyone else. In other words, their Christianity does not inform their daily lives—what they say, how they work, what they do on their free time—none of it.

Some actually think this is a good thing. The more they can blend in with society, the better they think it is. They don’t want to look too radical, too focused on “just Christianity.” They want the empirical data to govern their every-day lives and the Bible to govern their spiritual lives—never the twain should meet.

What I don’t see or understand is how this approach fits in with the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He told us that we who would follow Him should take up our crosses daily. We are to die to self, and we are to live for Christ. This approach requires a total reordering of our lives, our priorities, our purposes. Can a person be a Christian without such a renewed approach to life?

Maybe. God only knows. I mean, none of us enters the Christian life as fully formed, mature believers with all the right priorities. We talk about growing in our faith because we do need to develop from little seedlings into more sturdy plants, on our way to fully developed trees that will withstand the storms of life. We simply don’t start there once we acknowledge our need for a Savior and turn to Jesus for our redemption.

The point is, can a person be saved and still look like pretty much everyone else? Maybe. Maybe the Holy Spirit hasn’t convicted them about things others see in their lives. They might think there’s nothing wrong with porn, for example, because the world tells them nothing is wrong with porn. But at some point the Holy Spirit will convict a true believer and they will deal with that sin in their lives.

We all face this sort of roller coaster experience in our Christian lives. We repent and then find ourselves needing to repent all over again. To repent means to turn from, but our turning too often seems like a U-turn. We can’t seem to continue on the path of righteousness that God would have us walk. We want to. We pray to. And we see our baby steps taking us along the way more and more, but not all at once. Never all at once.

So who’s to say that another person is a believer or not?

Of course if they say they’re not, they’ve answered the question for us. If they think they are, but are sitting under false teaching, that’s pretty easy to see they have deluded themselves. Same with those who think doing religious duty is the same as following Christ.

Truly, becoming a Christian requires us to declare who Jesus is, what He’s done, why we need Him.

Who is He? Jesus is God’s Son who died for the world, to pay they penalty for our sins which we have no way of paying for on ourselves. He is Lord—not only in a future sense when every knee will bow to Him, but now, in my heart.

What has He done? He’s stepped in to do what we could not do for ourselves. He’s become the Mediator between God and humanity. He’s made it possible for humans to see God and to know Him and to enter into a relationship with Him.

Why do I need Him? Because I’m a sinner and have no way to reach God on my own. I’m mired in the world system, entangled by my own evil desires. I need Jesus to rescue me from the “dominion of darkness.”

In the end, I don’t want to go my own way any more. But sometimes I do. I wish it weren’t true, but that’s the reality Paul described in Romans 7—“For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (v. 19).

So, do Sunday Christians exist or are they all pretend Christians who don’t exhibit a sold-out lifestyle? I have no doubt that some are saved and some are not. God knows who’s who. My responsibility is to examine my own life, to lay it before God, and ask Him where He wants me to grow in order to become conformed to the image of His Son. I really have no way of doing that for anyone else.

Published in: on June 11, 2019 at 5:41 pm  Comments (5)  
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