Is Salvation A “Loophole”?


At the Facebook atheist/theist group in which I participate, one of the atheists has said on more than one occasion, “god sacrificed himself, to himself, in order to have a loophole for the rules he created.” Is salvation a loophole?

The Oxford-American Dictionary defines loophole as “an ambiguity or inadequacy in the law or a set of rule.” In order for salvation to be a loophole, then God’s law would have to be ambiguous or inadequate.

Except sin entered into the world when there was just one commandment: don’t eat from this fruit or you’ll die. Nothing ambiguous there. Is it inadequate? Inadequate for what? What was the purpose of that commandment?

I have to admit, I’ve never really thought this out before. The fruit was of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but I wonder if it could have been any old fruit. Clearly eating what God had prohibited did open Adam and Eve’s eyes, but to what? The first indication Scripture gives is their awareness that they were naked. And they wanted to cover up. They hadn’t cared that they were naked before. So something changed. Their sense of morality was altered.

But Adam’s sin had already occurred. Knowing full well that he was doing what God told him not to do, Adam ate of the forbidden fruit.

I think there’s really only one explanation for this action. Adam decided he would do what he wanted to do, not what God told him to do. In short, Adam placed himself as a higher authority than God. And that’s the thing that separates humans from God to this day.

The issue, then, isn’t actually a particular rule and certainly not a set of laws, but the question, Who’s in charge?

When God told Adam and Eve what they could and could not enjoy in the garden, He also revealed to them the consequences of going their own way. They would die.

The natural order of things broke when Adam sinned. God, who upholds all things by the word of His power, was now cut off from the people He had made. They had cut themselves off. Just as surely as they wanted to cover their bodies with leaves, they also wanted to hide themselves from His presence.

In addition, they faced death—something that came about as God said it would. But not only their own death. The death of people they loved, too. Children and animals, which I suspect they became fond of as any of us do with our pets. They now died, too.

Obviously being cut off from friendship with God was the greatest penalty they could pay. When did they realize how bad it would be? When Cain became a law unto himself and killed his brother? When God kicked them out of the garden? When work became hard? When they no longer enjoyed regular personal conversations with God? I don’t know.

The bottom line is that God is the only One wise enough, good enough, strong enough, to make the decisions, to direct the world, to keep the universe in place. It’s nothing but hubris for humans to say, No, we don’t need God. But in one act of disobedience, that’s exactly what Adam said.

But back to salvation. Did God come up with a loophole to fix a flaw in His plan? No, He didn’t. Scripture makes it clear that Christ was part of the plan all along.

For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:20-21)

He was the free gift God intended from eternity past to give to us as a demonstration of His love.

Of course there is some truth in what the atheist guy says; God did sacrifice Himself to Himself. But that’s not a negative.

I remember when I was a kid, my dad would give us money to buy Christmas presents. His money, to buy him (and others) presents. Did that make the gifts meaningless? Not at all. The money came from him and the money went to him, in the form of the presents. Why would he do this? Because he loved us, wanted to teach us, wanted us to experience the joy of giving, and because we in turn had the opportunity to express our love for him and the others in our family.

God isn’t selfishly wanting sacrifice, nor is He trying to fix a broken plan. I know sometimes we believers when explaining it, because we’re limited to our linear, finite thinking, can make it sound as if that’s the case, but in truth God knew what was best, what would be the best way for people made in His image, and therefore with free will, to actually come to Him and submit to Him. That’s what makes for the best relationships. When I say, God, You’re in charge and I am not, He showers me with His love.

So, no, salvation is not a loophole!

Advertisements
Published in: on August 30, 2018 at 6:00 pm  Comments (8)  
Tags: , , , ,

Christ Died for … ?


When I was young, I thought it was clear who Jesus Christ died for. In fact, most of my adult life, it never crossed my mind that this was a controversial subject. Rather, it was fact … that some believed and others did not.

But the world of the internet has put me in touch with lots more people, and suddenly the things I thought were clear, plain, easily understood from Scripture, I now realize don’t appear the same to everyone. Some professing Christians believe one thing and others believe a quite different thing, all based on the Bible. 😕

When it comes to some topics, I don’t think it’s all that surprising that Christians hold differing positions, simply because the Bible isn’t all that clear. End times comes to mind as a topic that can stir debate. Some have studied prophesies in the Old and New Testaments and believe they can create a time line, with the only missing piece the actual date of Christ’s return to rapture His church. Others don’t even think there will be a rapture. And among those who do, there is disagreement as to whether this will occur before, during, or after the Great Tribulation.

And so it goes. Other topics that generate similar disagreements are creation, the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit, church government, baptism … on and on.

But to the question at hand, Who did Christ die for? Isn’t that sort of … the foundation of what it means to be a Christian? So how can there be debate about this question? But there is.

Here are the positions I’m aware of (doesn’t mean there aren’t more):
1. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that no one will go to Hell (the view espoused by The Shack and Rob Bell’s Love Wins and the like).

2. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that Man’s sin nature has been forgiven, but he will be judged for the specific sins he commits. The sins of believers are covered by the blood of Christ, and the sins of unbelievers bring judgment upon them.

3. Christ died for the elect, those He predestined to be His from the foundations of the world.

4. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him appropriate forgiveness.

5. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him, chosen from the foundations of the world, appropriate forgiveness.

The latter is my view, and the more I study Scripture, the more I believe it to be true. This position, as I see it, takes into account all of Scripture, not just a handful of proof texts. But I did come across a verse, one of a number, that shows this tension between God’s work—through His predestination and redemption—and Man’s faith.

I’m referring to a verse in I Peter 2, in which the writer declares Jesus Christ to be the cornerstone, who also is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and then says “for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed” (v 8b). There it is, in one verse: men’s response to God (in this case, rejection of Him) and God’s appointment of men to their destination. The conjunction and gives the two equal weight.

Philippians 3 has a verse like this, but from the side of faith. “Not that I have already obtained [resurrection life] or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (v12).

Again, both sides. God lays hold of us and we lay hold of Him.

Too many people want to make salvation a chicken-or-egg discussion (which came first, God’s foreknowledge or God’s predestination? God’s sovereign decision or Man’s free choice). Does a person have faith because he’s predestined or did God predestine those He knew would have faith?

Those are unanswerable questions, though people seem quick to pull out Scriptures to support their view. The fact is, the Bible clearly says God foreknew. And it just as clearly says He predestined. So can we know which He did first? Many will look at Romans 8:29 (“for those He foreknew, He also predestined …”), and conclude, Yes, foreknowledge first. But those from the predestination camp can just as easily point to election verses.

Which is why I say the entire Bible needs to be taken en toto which teaches both God’s sovereignty and humankind’s unfettered responsibility to choose Him.

In the end, I think only the first view in this debate skews God’s nature and distorts His work (and therefore is false teaching). Views 2 through 4 are reasonable and could be true. They do not alter a Biblical view of God. However, as I see it, the last position best accounts for the varied statements throughout Scripture as well as passages like I Peter 2 and Philippians 3. When the Bible seems to say two different things, it’s wise to accept them both. Just because we don’t see how they mesh, does not mean they don’t. After all, God’s thoughts and ways are not limited like ours are.

This article is an updated and expanded version of one that appeared here in August 2009.

Can Someone Lose His Salvation?


Many Christians may not be aware that there are Bible scholars who disagree concerning the question: Can someone lose his salvation? This is a practical matter for me because I have family members who certainly look, by their choices, as if they have walked away from the Lord, even though they made a profession of faith at some point in their lives.

Some passages in the Bible make it seem abundantly clear that no, a Christian doesn’t need to fear losing his position in Christ. Verses like 1 Corinthians 1:21–22: “He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.” And Ephesians 1:13b: “you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Or how about Ephesians 4:30? “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Of course there are other passages such as Romans 8 that tells us nothing can separate us from the love of God, and passages in Deuteronomy that say God is with us, that He will not leave us or forsake us. The Psalmist says God’s compassion for us is like that of a father. And of course there is the example of the Prodigal Son who simply stopped acting like a son until he came to his senses and returned to his father’s house. He was looking for servant status but instead received from his father the treatment of a son, as if he had never left.

So it’s settled, right? Christians can’t lose their salvation.

Except, what about the parable of the sower. Jesus’s explanation in Luke 8 of one kind of experience with the seed, the word of God, is this: “Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.” So receiving the word is not the same as becoming a Christian?

Or how about Hebrews 6 and 10? From the latter, vv 26–27: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.”

From the former, vv 4–6:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

That description certainly sounds like a Christian to me. In addition, there are any number of atheists who will tell you, they once were Christians, but then they “realized” it was all myth.

So which is it? I have to admit, I kind of waver. I’ve thought at one point that God seals us but doesn’t imprison us, so if anyone wants to leave Him, they can, though nothing outside them will snatch them from His hand.

That sounds reasonable.

But of late I’ve found more and more verses that indicate that a Christian is really known to be a Christian because he perseveres. The idea is continuing in the faith.

Colossians 1:23a is an example: “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel” Or how about Hebrews 3:6: “Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.”

Hold fast, endure.

One commentary said there’s a difference between falling, like Peter did when he denied Christ, and falling away like Judas did when he betrayed him.

Another thought from a commentary concerns the Hebrews 6 passage that basically says, if you leave the faith, you can’t come back. Or does it. In truth, the idea may be that if you enter into sin and continue in your sin, you can’t repent and stay as you are. The Prodigal Son couldn’t repent and not return home, for instance. He had to leave the life that repudiated his relationship with his father.

So, can someone lose their salvation? Only God knows. Were those who knew the truth, who believed for a time, ever Christians? They certainly didn’t persevere, unless they come back home as the Prodigal did. Can we know what’s in a person’s future? Of course not.

What we can know is if we are remaining faithful until the end.

What we can do is pray for those who have turned their back on Christ.

I mean, He Himself asked the Father to forgive the very ones who crucified Him, so clearly He holds no grudges. And who knows which of the people we pray for will come out of the pig sty and come home?

God Speaks However He Wants


I’m privileged to be involved in the book launch for the third edition of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by the late Nabeel Qureshi, who had been a member of Ravi Zacharias’s RZIM apologetics team.

I suspect it isn’t the usual practice to do a full-out book launch for a third edition, expanded though it may be, as this one is. But Nabeel died of cancer not long ago, and he can’t do any of the promotion an author might naturally shoulder for a new edition of his work.

The fact is, this autobiographical account of how Nabeel became a Christian, is important. More people need to discover this book. Consequently, I’m happy to help get the word out.

I read the first edition a number of years ago based on the recommendation of our church librarian. Boy, was she right! Nabeel faced difficult questions and a near impossible decision. He didn’t shy away from revealing what he went through.

But back in February 2014, before I’d even read the book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus inspired me to write a blog post about the way God speaks to people. In honor of Nabeel, I’d like to share it again, with a few necessary revisions. BTW, the third edition is available for pre-order now. It will come out August 21.

– – – – –

One more story, this passed along from the Ravi Zacharias International Ministry newsletter—a Muslim came to Christ after experiencing a dream or vision (in this man’s case, three dreams and a vision). I’ve heard a proliferation of such stories, from disparate sources, all reputable.

It’s enough to convince me that God is on the move in parts of the world that we once thought were closed to the gospel, simply because missionaries weren’t welcome. But God is not limited the way we so often think He is. Yes, He chooses to use His people to declare His message, but He’s not limited by our weakness or unwillingness.

However, listening to some faithful believers—even some pastors who have studied Scripture—you’d think God was working with both hands tied behind his back and a gag over his mouth. Consequently, the only means at his disposal to bring people to Christ is humans preaching God’s Word.

I believe in preaching, and I know God works through the proclamation of His Word. But the fact is, that very Word tells us about the Apostle Paul who came to Christ, not after hearing a sermon or studying God’s law and prophets. He came to Christ because he saw a vision.

Not only that, the Apostle Peter saw a vision that led him to believe that faith in Christ was not limited to Jews, but that Gentiles were welcome also.

In addition, Scripture tells us there will be a time when

[God] will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
And even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days . . .
And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Will be delivered. (Joel 2:28-29, 32a)

Yet some people believe God’s miraculous works such as prophecy have ceased. How do they resolve the places that Scripture seems to contradict this idea? Are they saying dreams and visions ceased . . . until they didn’t? But when did this ceasing begin? Certainly not before Paul’s conversion. And if it ceased when the cannon of Scripture was closed, who told the leaders of the church this fact? I mean, I think it’s a stretch to make Scripture say that the gifts of the Spirit that are miraculous would be done at some future, undisclosed date—until they wouldn’t be done, at some other distant undisclosed future date.

I know this is controversial. And it’s potentially dangerous. Because as soon as you say, God can work through visions, then you have all kinds of wack jobs claiming they’ve had visions and met with angels and received a new and more complete word from God.

Except, the people in Muslim lands who are seeing visions and dreaming dreams are being pointed to the Bible and to Jesus Christ. Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, formerly a devout Muslim who authored the book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus has just such a story. Here’s part of the description of his conversion from the RZIM newsletter:

Growing up in a devout Muslim family, Qureshi read the entire Quran in Arabic by age five, memorized more than a dozen chapters by his teens and boldly proclaimed Islam to his friends of other religions. “We are Qureshis, descendants of the Quresh tribe—Muhammad’s tribe. Our family stood sentinel over Islamic tradition,” he describes. “Islam was the lifeblood that coursed through my veins. Islam was my identity, and I loved it. I boldly issued the call of Islam to anyone and everyone who would listen, proclaiming that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger.”

Qureshi’s love for Islam defined and directed his life until a close college friend defended the Christian message with compelling evidence and disrupted everything he knew about religion, faith and meaning. Shaken by the potential that Christianity might be true, he turned to God for direct guidance and was given a vision and three dreams that led him to Jesus.

“That led him to Jesus.” That’s the key, I think. Any visions or dreams that lead a person elsewhere or to a different personality, to a different gospel, to a “new” understanding, is patently false.

But what an exciting truth: God is not limited in the way which makes Himself known. That He chooses to use us in the proclamation of His truth is awesome, but we’re not the only means at His disposal. He can have a personal, direct conversation with an individual if He chooses—as Paul tells us in the book of Acts. As does the Apostle John in the book of Revelation.

Oh, that was Scripture times, someone may say. Things are different now. God doesn’t work that way any more.

Do we believe this because we think God isn’t as strong as He once was? Or do we believe it because people who claim “special knowledge” have started cults or tricked people into giving them money or convinced others the end of the world was on a certain day? Do we believe this because WE haven’t seen any visions or had any “pointing to God” dreams? Do we believe this because we say we believe the Bible but filter it based on our own assumptions or traditions that have been passed down to us?

It’s the latter that I think influences a lot of evangelical, non-charismatic, western Christians today. We are quick to judge the Pharisees for the traditions they held on to in place of God’s clear word, but I tend to think we cling to our traditions pretty strongly, too.

Time, I believe, to read God’s Word with fresh eyes and let Him speak however He wants.

The Difference Between Christianity And Other Religions


I’ve addressed this subject before, but I like what Dr. John Lennox says in answer to the question at an event at Harvard a year ago. (Not sure what the title of the video is referring to. His answer is all of six minutes long.)

Published in: on June 7, 2018 at 5:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Jesus And The Government


I just signed a petition urging the California State Senate not to pass a bill that the Assembly sent to them, but I’m not sure I should have.

We live in a representative democracy, so in that regard, I have some responsibility to shape the government as much as I can. But that’s not what Jesus did.

Of course He lived under the Roman Empire, in an occupied land with an appointed governor in charge. Yet I wonder.

After all, His counsel to the people of His day was to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” When He was interrogated first by Pilate, then by Herod, and again by Pilate, He did not revile in return, He didn’t utter any threats. What we have recorded in Scripture is either His silence or simple answers to the questions posed to Him.

What’s more, Peter instructs churches in the first century to

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. (1 Peter 2:13-14)

One more important piece of information: my hope is not in the government. I have no illusion that the government is going to fix things. The things that need fixing are a result of humankind’s sinful nature. We are increasingly becoming a nation of people who only want to do what is right in our own eyes. As a group we see humans as the arbiters of what is right and what is wrong. So if it looks good to us, if we think it might be tasty, if we think it can get us more power, more prestige, then we’re all for it. We are not thinking in any tangible way differently than Eve thought.

So government is not going to change our nature. In fact, our democratic republic was purposely designed to counter our sinful, selfish tendencies, and here we are, a scant 200 years later, considering a law that would undermine the very protection of rights our founding fathers thought necessary to include in our governing document.

Religious freedom? No, not if it’s going to clash with someone’s sexual desires. Or sexual proclivities. Or sexual perversions that they don’t even want any more. In reality, this law wants religion to shut up about sexual sin. The sin of choice in this case is homosexuality, but that’s because we have already OKed heterosexual sins. Even we in the church say very little about couples living together before marriage, or adulterous affairs, or multiple divorces and remarriage, or pornography, or pornographic entertainment disguised as TV shows or movies or books like Fifty Shades Of Grey.

Really? I’m bringing up that old book now? Well, yes, because that bit of our culture has had an influence on our attitudes—what we accept and what we think is OK.

Rather than looking to culture, though, we should be looking at Scripture and seeing what God has to say. He, after all, has our best at heart. He doesn’t give us laws to be a kill-joy. He isn’t thinking about the human experience and concluding that if He’d forbid X or Y or Z, then we’d be more miserable, so that’s what He’ll do.

Nothing could be further from the truth. God wants to give us Eden, He’s preparing a mansion. His free gift brings wholeness and healing. He sets things right. He doesn’t make life a little better. Instead, he changes our dead into life, our broken into made new, our slavery to corruption into freedom in Christ.

What does any of this have to do with me signing a petition?

If I am to emulate Christ, if I am to trust Him instead of government, am I spitting in the wind to do anything else?

Sometimes I think so. But I always come back to King Josiah who discovered God’s law and determined to bring his nation back to righteousness. In truth, a generation later, Judah succumbed to Babylon and the people were hauled into captivity. But Josiah had an impact during his lifetime. How many people found God and repented of their sins because one ruler determined to do what was right?

Shouldn’t we Christians be doing what is right, seeking to influence our government for right, all the while knowing that our trust is not in the government to fix things?

Faith In Christ Is Falsifiable


“Falsifiable” seems to be a scientific argumentation tool to sort out what is or isn’t true, what does or doesn’t exist. One definition states it this way:

Unfalsifiability (also known as: untestability) Description: Confidently asserting that a theory or hypothesis is true or false even though the theory or hypothesis cannot possibly be contradicted by an observation or the outcome of any physical experiment, usually without strong evidence or good reasons.

The way it works is like this:

A statement, hypothesis, or theory has falsifiability (or is said to be falsifiable) if one can conceive an empirical observation or experiment which could refute it, that is, show it to be false. For example, the claim “all swans are white” is falsifiable since it could be refuted by observing a single swan that is not white. (Wikipedia)

I’ve encountered a number of atheists who use this tool against Christian arguments in support of the existence of God. In truth, the supernatural does not pretend to be “scientific,” so it ought not be held to the standard of scientific investigation, but that fact seems to escape those who pull the “falsifiable” card every now and them.

However, it dawned on me the other day that falsifiability can serve Christianity as much as it can the atheist position.

The first thing I noted was that this claim of Scripture—the wages of sin is death—is clearly falsifiable. If someone could be identified as without sin who also did not die, then the Biblical principle would be proved to be false. But the opposite is true. While the statement is falsifiable, all people sin and all people die.

So Christianity is true in its assessment of humankind’s problem.

In addition, we know that Christ’s resurrection was falsifiable: all anyone every, at any point in history, had to do to disprove the resurrection was to reveal a body or a tomb containing a body. Since that never happened, the truth of Christ’s resurrection must be affirmed.

In a quirky sort of reversal, falsifiability can also prove what saving faith looks like, I think.

Any number of current atheists claim that they were once Christians. But the claim of Christianity is that saving faith continues:

yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel (Col. 1:22-23a)

That statement would be false if one example of a person who continued in the hope of the gospel and was not saved, could be found.

Of course who does or doesn’t have saving faith isn’t for us to determine, so maybe the idea breaks down there, but it seems to me that the possibility exists and yet has no evidence to support it, which should prove the statement to be true: only those who continue in the faith are saved.

Of course there’s always the question about the prodigal. Since Jesus told the story of the son leaving his father, making a royal hash of his life, coming to his senses and returning home with the intention of taking a servant’s position, only to be met by his father and treated like the son he was—since Jesus told that story, it seems pretty clear that prodigals are real, and welcome.

Since Jesus also told the thief dying on the cross beside Him that the man would be with Him in paradise, the idea of “continuing” doesn’t seem to include any kind of time limit, like, you need to be at this for at least XXX number of days or years.

If fact, Jesus told a story about that too. An employer went out to hire day laborers, came back at various times, including the last hour of work. When he paid them, he gave all the same amount, the last as much as the first.

I have to admit, that used to bug me. I mean I was raised with the good old capitalist mindset that you got paid for your work. But God’s ways are higher than our ways. As it turns out, He’s not grading on our efforts. Rather, we who come to the cross of Christ, be it early or late, can claim reconciliation with God through His blood and our faith in what He’s done, not through our efforts.

If a person has that faith, he or she has that faith. It’s not a “I used to, but now I don’t” proposition. How could it be? God either accepted Christ’s sacrifice for sin, or He didn’t. We either believe the sacrifice paid for our sins, or we don’t.

The question is, I guess, can you change your mind? Well, that’s not falsifiable. Did you have saving faith and then give it up? There’s simply no evidence to verify that claim.

Published in: on May 17, 2018 at 6:20 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , ,

Comparing


One of my neighbors has a band that recently started rehearsing in his garage. To be honest, they aren’t very good. The lead singer is especially weak.

Understand, I’ve recently been watching The Voice, and the contestants this season are especially strong. So even though I don’t really listen to contemporary music, like on the radio or via iTunes, I still have a standard with which to compare my neighbor’s band.

But here they are, playing for all the neighborhood to hear. Unless they’re playing for the love of music, I assume they have hopes of performing somewhere. I’m sure their family and friends have told them they are good, that they could find an audience. But a paying gig? I have a hard time imagining that anyone would actually give them money for their music.

But isn’t that they way we are? We evaluate our lives, our talents, our weaknesses in a large part in response to what others say about us. We listen to our co-workers, read the evaluations from our boss, maybe get a word of affirmation from our spouse or children, or maybe a complaint or murmured confrontation. From all that feedback we add our own summation based on what we see in the world.

Likely we reach a conclusion that runs something like this: I’m not so bad. After all I don’t cheat on my spouse, I don’t lose my temper that often, and I don’t rob banks or gun people down. I’m a pretty good citizen since I vote in most elections. I don’t speed more than anyone else, and I don’t drive drunk. Nobody’s suing me, I pay my taxes. My neighbors don’t complain about my dog barking, and I always greet the mailman. I mean, I really am not so bad.

The problem there is that we make our judgment according to a minimal standard. We’re not evaluating if we love our neighbor, just that no neighbor is complaining—to our face. We’re not detailing what service we do for our city or state or nation, just what we do that is required of us. We haven’t identified any selfless, loving action toward our family that puts them first, just what we do to keep those relationships.

And isn’t that enough?

Actually, no, it isn’t. God’s standard is much higher.

First He says, above all we are to love Him with all we have—our mind, body, soul. We’re to be sold out to Him. As if that wasn’t enough, we are also to love others—our neighbors, our family, our enemies—with the selfless love Jesus showed. One example Jesus gave was to give, pretty much, the shirt off our backs to someone in need. If someone asked us to help them, we are to do twice as much as they ask. The story He told on this same topic was about a man who knew he was in territory where people hated him, and still he stopped to help a stranger in need. And this help cost him—in time, in money, in resources.

Do we love like that? Do I love like that?

Not even close.

So, am I OK? Are any of us “not so bad”? Well, sure, some might say. We didn’t beat up the guy who needed help, who’d been robbed and left for dead.

But are we to compare ourselves to the bottom rung of society and evaluate our character based on the fact that we aren’t as bad as we could be? Or are we to make the judgment based on what we should be, what we were created to be?

When we look at what’s highest and best, we have to consider the things Jesus told us He considers:

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

There’s more, but it’s clear that Jesus set the bar high. He wasn’t interested in our just being better than murderers. He wants us to eliminate hate in our hearts.

With that as the standard, it’s pretty clear, we are not getting any paying gigs any time soon, because we all fall short of what Jesus set out before us.

Which is why He came—to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Published in: on April 11, 2018 at 5:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

When The Roll Is Called—A Reprise


In 1893 a pastor named James Black wrote a simple chorus entitled “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” prompted by the absence of a girl named Bessie who was too sick to attend one of the youth meetings. For those who may be unfamiliar with the words, now in the public domain, I’ve copied them here:

1. When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more
And the morning breaks eternal, bright and fair
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

2. On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise
And the glory of His resurrection share
When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

3. Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun,
Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care;
Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

Chorus:
When the roll, is called up yonder,
When the roll, is called up yonder,
When the roll, is called up yonder
When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there!

Lyrics: James Milton Black
Music: James Milton Black

If you read the story behind the song, you learn that Pastor Black had a heart for the lost.

Sadly, there seems to be a growing belief today that there will be no “lost.” The ideas behind “universalism”—usually traced back to Origen of Alexandria (c.185-284), an influential early Church Father and writer who believed in the ultimate salvation and reconciliation with God of all moral beings, including Satan and his demons—seem to have gained more acceptance starting in the 1800s. Today it seems the majority of people, East or West, embrace some form of this view.

Some believe all religions are true (different rivers flowing into the same ocean) whereas some believe all are saved through Jesus Christ.

Chances are, if someone asks, “When the roll is called up yonder, will you be there?” the answer is most likely, “I hope so.”

I hope so? That answer is a pretty good indication that the person doesn’t know what is involved in getting there and they just don’t realize it.

The sad thing about this is that people who don’t know they’re lost have no particular interest in being found. And those who don’t believe anyone else is lost aren’t very concerned about mapping out the way back home.

For me there’s not a sadder scene in the Bible than Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, declaring that He would have gathered them to Him like a mother hen gathers her chicks, but they wouldn’t have it. They didn’t want to be gathered. They didn’t want to be found.

These are the people Paul was talking about when he said,

For many walk of whom I often told you and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.
– Phil. 3:18-19

At the heart of the deception that all are going to heaven (whatever you believe that to be for you – 🙄 ), is the denial that God is a righteous, just, sovereign Judge; that He makes the rules and He determines the consequences and He metes out equitable rewards or punishments.

Why is it so hard to believe that the One in charge gets to do that?

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in February, 2011.

Jesus, Facing Death


Jesus knew His time had arrived, not for a coronation but for a trial and an execution. But knowing what awaited Him, He still went into Jerusalem.

I imagine most people, including those closest to Him, thought things were pretty much as usual. Sure, they had hopes that Jesus would publicly declare Himself to be the Messiah and seize the throne. But things didn’t start off so well.

I mean, His first stop was the temple, as it so often was, where He once again kicked out the merchants and money changers. I suppose some people might have seen this as an act of defiance toward the powers that be, and perhaps a foreshadowing of the Messiah exercising His authority over the nation. I don’t know. Clearly the Pharisees saw His actions as unwelcome.

The thing that catches my attention most of all is the Passover meal Jesus shared with His disciples. In reality, Jesus should have been considered the guest of honor and treated with special respect. Instead, He played the role of host which involved washing the feet of the group. Tradition had the host arrange for the foot-washing when the guests arrived. After all, people mostly walked from place to place, but when they ate, they reclined. In other words, their feet could easily end up in someone else’s face.

At this meal, no one washed feet when they arrived. I don’t know what prompted Jesus to get up from the table and start washing feet. Maybe someone’s feet smelled, but I doubt it. I think He wanted to take the opportunity to teach one of the most important principles He wanted His men to learn: to love one another.

After all, they’d been arguing about who was the greatest and about who would sit on his left and His right hand. He wanted to give them a living example they would remember of selflessness: “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:13-14).

The fact that Jesus washed their feet is amazing enough, but when I realize that Judas was still with them and Jesus washed the feet of the very man who would sell Him out, seems shocking. Peter was there to, and before the night was out he’d swear he didn’t know Jesus. Of course, the rest weren’t much better: they all left Him when the mob came to arrest Him.

And Jesus knew those events would take place—the betrayal, the denial, the desertions. Yet He washed their feet.

John, at the beginning of his account of that last supper, included this statement, “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1b).

His act of washing feet had to be an act of love. He was doing servants’ work. But who could miss His injunction to go and do likewise. I know some churches in the past took that idea literally and had feet-washing services.

I attended a few of those when I was growing up. The way it worked was like this: men went in one room and women in another. Then the people paired up. So one woman washed the feet of one other woman, and then they reversed the role.

Jesus washed the feet of twelve men.

I’m guessing they stayed reclined at the table while He moved from person to person. I wonder if any of them looked for another towel and tried to come alongside Him to get the job done. We certainly have no record of that, and I wonder why. Wouldn’t it have been shocking to see Jesus bending over those dirty, calloused feet, scrubbing away the road dirt, and drying them so they could continue their time around the table without irritating each other with the filth that did not belong at a meal. I can’t imagine all those guys just sitting there munching away at the Passover lamb while the Lamb of God did the work of a servant.

But that’s what He wanted to show them. I know some people mock the idea of servant leadership, but that’s precisely what Jesus modeled for us, and then commanded us to do.

Lots of people understand the verses in Philippians 2 about Christ’s humility, and they are very important.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

In reality, this simple act of washing the disciples’ feet fits in with those verses in a powerful way. Not only did Jesus give up the glory of heaven, come to earth as a man, and ultimately died the death we deserved—a huge sacrifice—He also did the small sacrifice, the private sacrifice behind closed doors, the act of service that demonstrated His love in the face of indifference, at best. Because clearly, none of those men cared enough to wash His feet.

It’s like a microcosm of His offer of salvation. He came to save even the people who nailed Him to the cross. In the face of their rejection—Pilate caring more about the approval of Caesar than true justice, the Jewish leaders concerned more about keeping Rome out of their business, the Roman centurions concerned more about doing what they were told, the people more concerned about their dashed hopes—Jesus offered forgiveness.

Just as He does today.

Published in: on March 27, 2018 at 5:35 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,