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.

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When Christ Shall Come — A Reprise


No, this is not a reprise of last Friday’s post. This one is just on the same topic. Actually there’s a lot more that I could say, but I think this is a good place to focus our attention for now.
– – – – – –
The position of the Christian today is not so different from that of the Old Testament saints. They waited for the coming of Messiah and we wait for the return of Messiah.

They had God’s promises, given to His prophets, assuring them that their Redeemer King and that their Suffering Servant would come. We have God’s sure written word telling us of the arrival of our Suffering Servant Savior and the promise of His return as King eternal.

So we wait today, much as Daniel and Micah and Joel did.

The cool thing is, as the people of Israel looked back to how God rescued them from Egypt, we now look back to how Christ rescued us from sin and death. They looked forward to Messiah coming to establish His kingdom, and we look forward to His coming again in power and glory to reign supreme.

One of the best loved hymns, certainly of the twentieth century, “How Great Thou Art,” captures the jubilation of Christ’s return in the fourth stanza.

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home—what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God, how great thou art!

I wonder if Christ’s return will be similar to the really big earthquakes which you hear at the same time you feel them. Maybe those shouts of acclimation will rend the heavens as we see Christ with His entourage of angels.

As an aside, this particular hymn, was written by Stuart K. Hine, an English missionary to Ukraine. From time to time something would occur which inspired him to write another stanza. Here’s the story behind the third stanza:

It was typical of the Hines to inquire as to the existence of any Christians in the villages they visited. In one case, they found out that the only Christians that their host knew about were a man named Dmitri and his wife Lyudmila. Dmitri’s wife knew how to read — evidently a fairly rare thing at that time and in that place. She taught herself how to read because a Russian soldier had left a Bible behind several years earlier, and she started slowly learning by reading that Bible. When the Hines arrived in the village and approached Dmitri’s house, they heard a strange and wonderful sound: Dmitri’s wife was reading from the gospel of John about the crucifixion of Christ to a houseful of guests, and those visitors were in the very act of repenting. In Ukraine (as I know first hand!), this act of repenting is done very much out loud. So the Hines heard people calling out to God, saying how unbelievable it was that Christ would die for their own sins, and praising Him for His love and mercy. They just couldn’t barge in and disrupt this obvious work of the Holy Spirit, so they stayed outside and listened. Stuart wrote down the phrases he heard the Repenters use, and (even though this was all in Russian), it became the third verse that we know today: “And when I think that God, His Son not sparing, Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.” (“How Great Thou Art”)

Back to Christ’s return, of course we don’t know the day or hour, but we do know a few things about it. For one, He’ll come to rule. That’s the great and ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and the New Testament promise.

But there’s more:

Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might,
With His arm ruling for Him.
Behold, His reward is with Him
And His recompense before Him. (Isaiah 40:10)

He’s coming to give His reward. Hard to imagine what that will be like. Jesus used the analogy of a banquet. David also talked about our Shepherd preparing a table for us. The idea here is lavish abundance, provision beyond our means. This is fare fit for the King of Kings, yet He seats us at His table.

Without a doubt, Christ’s return is going to be the pivotal moment in all of history. Again from Isaiah 40:

Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

The event will be worldwide, it will be dramatic, even cataclysmic, but mostly it will reveal God’s glory. This is the Shekinah glory which Moses experienced in a secondary way at the giving of the Ten Commandments and which the people of Israel experienced as a pillar of fire at night. This is the glory Paul likely saw and wrote of in 2 Corinthians that outshines what those in the Old Testament experienced:

But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. (3:7-11, emphasis added)

OK, here’s the real shock, at least to me. I don’t know what this will look like:

When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Col. 3:4)

It just dawned on me that this may be why God wants to involve us in His work. I’ve wondered why He bothers giving us fallible, weak humans the important task of preaching His word and proclaiming His truth and even of loving our neighbor when obviously God could miraculously care for each one in a far better way than we can. But repeatedly He has given us work to do. Maybe that’s because, in His love for us, He wants to shower us in glory. What a concept! What a God!

Maranatha, Lord Jesus. Come quickly!

This post originally appeared here July 2014.

A Personal Relationship With Jesus Christ


At my Facebook atheist/theist group, one of the atheists posted a question of sorts, asking Christians to describe their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, because, he said, if the thing is not demonstrable, then there’s some question it even exists.

I’ve thought about the question a bit. The thing is, I don’t think an atheist can understand my answer. How does a believer explain the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Or the peace that passes understanding?

As I thought about my answer this morning, I left out the “demonstrable” part, as in, what I assume he was asking for—something other people can observe.

I can say that because of my relationship with Jesus, I read the Bible and pray. The Atheist Guy (AG) would likely answer that I was reading myths and saying words to the air. Because he can’t see Jesus.

My Christian friends, those in real life and on the web all know that reading God’s word is reading words of life and praying is the greatest expression of our thoughts and needs, or potentially can be so, to Him who loves us most. But how can those outside the faith knows this?

Another thing that is “demonstrable” is my going to church, but then people without a relationship with God through Christ might also attend some place of worship. That’s just a religious thing if you aren’t hearing the truth and if you aren’t meeting with God and with His people.

I could list service things or career things, but the atheist can once again point to people of other faiths or no faith who do good and some who even alter their career to serve others. So what does knowing Jesus do that nothing else does?

It’s not really something anyone else can witness. The first thing that came to my mind as I pondered the question is a tag line from a friend’s Christian fantasy: “Never alone.” Because the Spirit of the Living God dwells in my heart, I literally am never alone. He’s with me when I see the snow-capped mountains or a rosebush bursting with blossoms. He’s with me when my friend needs prayer because of a surprise medical condition or a death in her church family.

God is with me when I read His word or listen to the preaching of it. He nudges my heart into realization that the Bible is living and active. It’s not distant and irrelevant or old-fashioned and culturally flawed. It’s vibrant and powerful, and the Holy Spirit, who is with me, brings the truth of Scripture to bear in my life and my circumstances.

I know the AG won’t get any of that.

He won’t get how important it is for me to sit at the Lord’s table or how God gives me living water, how His presence comforts me in times of sorrow and grief. How He quiets my fears, and certainly not how I can turn to Him any time of any day and know He hears my cry.

The AG can’t know how God answers my cries for help, sometimes by sending godless strangers to bail me out of a pickle, sometimes by giving a friend words of wisdom, sometimes by directing my reading to a certain article or book, sometimes by speaking to me in my spirit.

Are these things that an atheist will be able to see and understand as God working in my life because we have a relationship? I doubt it. Most often I’ve heard, “coincidence” or “imagined” in conjunction to God’s answered prayer.

The thing is, whenever I think of living without God, I can’t imagine going on. I don’t mean that to sound moribund. But I don’t understand what an atheist does when they hear a loved one is sick or has been in an accident or if he loses his job. Who do you turn to for help, I wonder. How do you get through the death of a loved one, if you have no hope and no comfort? I can’t imagine going on.

I can’t imagine life without worship. What do atheists do during the proverbial “minute of silence” in a public gathering? Who do they thank for a glorious sunset? Who do they turn to when disaster devastates a community?

The old adage is, There are no atheists in foxholes, which is kind of true if we look at the response of Americans immediately following the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The problem is, as quickly as people turn to God for rescue in crisis, they turn from Him in times of security.

A real relationship with God means we aren’t foul-weather friends—we don’t just care about Him when times are tough.

I can hardly talk about a relationship with God through His Son Jesus without mentioning joy. But how can I explain that sense of well-being and contentment and satisfaction and an awareness of being completely loved, even at the most desperate times?

How can I explain how freeing it feels to be completely forgiven? How can I show AG how different Jesus Christ has made me and is making me as the years go by? How can I explain that my relationship with Him colors my whole worldview, and influences what I write, what I do, how I vote, what I watch on TV—all of it.

I guess what I’m really asking is, how can I make “demonstrable” new life in Christ?

I’m a new creature, I want to shout. Old things just aren’t appealing any more. I don’t have a certain set of ethics because I have to but because I want to. I serve God in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter of the Law.

None of this is “demonstrable,” but all of it marks me as God’s child, His heir, because I’ve been adopted into the beloved. It certainly is enough for me to be sure about my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, even though others may not see it.

Perfect People Aren’t Saved


No Perfect People

Yesterday I re-posted an article about morally flawed people, and the irony that many who accept their flaws without blinking still think they “deserve” heaven. Today, I want to address the opposite problem: people who think heaven is for good people. This article originally appeared here in May, 2013.

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Along with an erroneous view of the Bible, some people also have misconceptions about salvation. One of the most common is that it’s the good people that come to Christ—the people who like church and gospel music, who think a good time means going to a prayer meeting. Those are the people that become Christians.

Wrong.

For one thing, there are no “good people.” If someone is devoted to religious expression but has not believed the claims of Jesus Christ, he’s using his religion to get something he wants. In other words, religious expression can be an evidence of our selfishness, our desire to manipulate—either other people or even God Himself.

Good people aren’t saved. Sinners are saved. The lost are found, the broken are healed, those at the bottom of the pit are rescued. Jesus Himself said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick” (Matt 9:12b). In context it’s clear he was referring to messed up people—“tax collectors and sinners.”

Even today, I think some Christians have the idea that a person needs to clean up a bit before coming to Christ. Jesus seems to say the opposite. He first encountered people where they were at, and knowing Him then brought about change. In some instances, such as His conversation with the woman caught in adultery, He told her to sin no more. In other instances, such as with Zaccheus, the sinner himself volunteered to clean up his act after his encounter with Jesus.

Either way, Jesus saves sinners, not because they get rid of sin but because they can’t get rid of sin and they know it. They repent but it is Jesus who takes away the sin of the world. It is His Spirit that gives each sinner the desire to live in newness of life.

By our nature, none of us wants to worship God and serve Him [atheists call this our “default position,” not realizing that they are defining the sin nature]. We want to worship ourselves and serve ourselves. We do unto others so that they will do unto us. In other words, we largely look at relationships as trade-offs. I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. And woe to the person who doesn’t follow through on his promise. Revenge awaits! Justified revenge, because people are supposed to come through for me (even though I don’t always come through for them).

The interesting thing is, those who think they are good don’t see any need for God. Why would they? They don’t think they need saving.

So it’s ironic that people falsely think good people come to Christ. People good in their own eyes are too busy with their perfectionistic ways to pay attention to what Christ is all about. They are making sure that they recycle, give to the charity of the month, teach their children to be tolerant of all lifestyles, and do their fifty percent of what it takes to have a good marriage.

Don’t get me wrong. When a person comes to Christ, he changes. A thief like Zaccheus doesn’t want to keep stealing. Just the opposite. He has a passion for making right the wrongs he’s done. But his new life is a result of his relationship with Christ, not a cause of it.

He didn’t come to Christ because he stopped stealing. He stopped stealing because he came to Christ.

Too many Christians don’t really understand this new life we experience. We’d like all the old desires to be gone and for some people, they are. For others, it’s a fight to the death, or so it seems. The old desires seem to raise their ugly heads at the least opportune times. Some people experience gradual and constant improvement. What they used to do, they hardly do any more. What they want to do to please Jesus, they find delights them now, too.

The process, we’re told, is sanctification—growing up into our salvation, becoming like Jesus through the supernatural transformation of His Spirit. Most of us think it’s a long process that doesn’t show a lot of results to most of those who are close enough to us to see our warts.

And because we fall down so often, because lots of people think only the good come to Jesus, we give Christ’s name a bad reputation—because clearly, Christians sin. When we think about it, it grieves our hearts because we’re dragging Jesus’s name into the mud. We’re letting people think poorly of our Savior because we wallow in the sins we say He saved us from.

Christians aren’t good people. We’re saved people, and it’s important that we let others see who we are: a people who have received mercy, who have been pardoned, redeemed, cleansed, forgiven, and who one day, when we see Jesus face to face, will be like Him. It’s just that we’re not there yet.

Published in: on February 9, 2018 at 4:33 pm  Comments Off on Perfect People Aren’t Saved  
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What Does It Mean To Be A Christian?


I know it’s getting close to Christmas, so this post should be more traditionally about things like shepherds and wisemen or bells and Christmas trees. Those will come. But Christ’s birth began what we now call Christianity, so I thought it might be important to answer the question: what is a Christian?

In the early days after Jesus rose from the dead, after Peter preached his first sermon, Christianity was not considered a new world religion. Some of the Jews called it a cult. Christians themselves referred to it as “The Way,” and many continued keeping the Jewish Law. In fact many thought all Christians should keep the Law, even those Gentiles who joined hands with them in fellowship.

Because Gentiles were included in Christianity. The book of Acts details how God’s Spirit convinced the church leadership that just like Jews came to faith by God’s grace, not by works which they did, so Gentiles too were coming to faith by God’s grace and not their good deeds done in righteousness.

Women became Christians too, not just men. And some poor, some rich. In other words, Christians didn’t look a certain way. There was the Greek woman Lydia and the unnamed Ethiopian man who Phillip baptized. There was the educated Jew, Paul, and his half Greek/half Jewish disciple, Timothy. There were believers in Rome and believers in Ephesus. There were kings and there were slaves.

Christians didn’t have to be from a certain background or come out of a similar belief system. What they needed was belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. That was the necessary ingredient.

Nothing has changed.

Well, one thing has.

In those early days nobody was professing to be a Christian if they weren’t really believers. Because persecution set in fairly soon. Stephen, one of the early Christian leaders in Jerusalem, was killed for his faith in Jesus. His death sparked a wave of persecution that caused many to flee.

The “many” were not all locals. Some were. But many had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feast of Passover and were still there at Pentecost when Peter got up and told them who Jesus is. They believed and stayed so they could learn more and so they could enjoy the strength they received by being in the company of others who also believed.

When they scattered to their homes or to places they felt would be safer, they took their new-found faith with them. They received instruction from traveling preachers like Paul and Silas and Barnabas and John Mark and Apollos and Aquila and Priscilla. And they studied the scriptures which gave them deeper understanding about Jesus. Because belief in Jesus set them apart.

Interestingly, as Peter noted, those scriptures included letters from Paul. And, as it turned out, from Peter himself, from James and Titus and John.

These letters were read aloud in the various churches, not just the ones to which they were originally written, and from them the new believers came to understand more about Jesus and what was required of them.

For example, James made it clear that a person couldn’t just mouth words of faith without actually exhibiting the actions that faith produced. John spelled out how a person couldn’t just say he loved God and then turn around and hate his brother. From Paul they learned the importance of unity, the purpose of the Church, the way Christians were to respond to government leaders and to each other, and so on.

The main thing to note here is that Christians believed and followed the teaching of the Apostles who had walked and talked with Jesus, and they followed the Scriptures. They were, at their core, disciples of Jesus Christ, though they now understood He came to set up a spiritual kingdom, though He would one day return as reigning Lord.

The Apostles actually warned them against following false teachers. In one of his letters, John said, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.” Deceivers. There were also some who preached that Jesus had already come back—when clearly He hadn’t. Still others preached the need to keep the Jewish Law. Then there were those like Simon the magician who simply wanted to tap into the power that made it possible for the Apostles to do miracles. He wanted to use Christ, not worship Him,

The Way was not confusing or complicated: believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. But false teachers preached different gospels in the name of The Way.

Until persecution poured down upon Christians from Rome. I think the suffering caused by the executions of Christians in the Colosseum and through other heinous means may have stopped a lot of people from simply getting on the bandwagon. After all, who would want to associate with people doomed to die painful deaths because of what they believed?

Today things are different here in the US. Not so different in other parts of the world where being a Christian may not be easy or popular. But here, Christians have enjoyed a great deal of peace and prosperity over the decades. Only until the last thirty years or so has being a Christian become a position that fewer people admit to and fewer people mean.

There are some of the same false teacher types in our society as existed in the first century. We have some people who have added “later revelations” which are simply the “different gospel” which Paul warned against. There are people who want the power of God instead of a relationship with Him, as Simon the magician wanted. There are some who think they are Christians because they were born in America, because they’ve gone to church all their life. In other words, they think their good deeds done in righteousness or their cultural heritage or some other thing makes them a Christian.

It doesn’t.

What makes a person a Christian has not changed. Someone who believes on the name of God’s only begotten Son for salvation, the forgiveness of sins, and who lives that faith—who doesn’t just say he loves God, but who shows he loves God—that person is a Christian.

Published in: on December 5, 2017 at 5:49 pm  Comments (3)  
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Nobody’s Perfect—Except One


When Martin Luther make his declarations that served as the catalyst to the Reformation, one of the key points focused on Christ—not His person. Not even His work. Luther didn’t disagree with the Church on those doctrines. Rather, his statement had to do with the sufficiency of Christ.

Evangelical Protestantism embraces that point while also declaring Christ’s person and work. Because, sadly, in our world many who claim the name of Christ, don’t hold fast to what the Bible says about who He is or what He has done.

Some say He was a good example, and we simply need to live the same kind of selfless life that He did. Some think He was created by God to carry out His plans. Some think “exercising faith in Jesus is vital to salvation” but they don’t see Him as God.

These positions are outside the teaching of the Bible. These false teachings use Scripture, pulled from its context, to explain what they believe, yet the essence of all these approaches is that Jesus is not God.

While the Bible doesn’t contain the words “Jesus is God,” in a thousand other ways it proclaims the divinity of Christ. The Church of old came to a settle view of Christ’s person—He is fully human and fully divine.

Any faith community that denies the divinity of Jesus Christ is simply not Christian no matter how they identify themselves. These false groups might recognize Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. They might even speak of His playing a part in salvation. But if they don’t accept that He is in fact God, they are teaching a different gospel than the one that the disciples preached.

But what was Luther on about, if not the person of Christ or His work? He was declaring that what Jesus did on the cross, needs nothing else. His work, and His work alone, paid the debt of sin. His work, and His work alone, satisfies the Father’s righteous wrath against sinners.

For centuries the Israelites took animals to the temple to make sacrifice for their sins. There were sacrifices when they knew they had sins, others when they didn’t know. There were peace offerings and thank offerings, offerings when they needed to be cleansed, others when they were celebrating. But all these sacrifices had one thing in common. They required a perfect animal, one without blemish and spotless.

In his first letter to the early Christians, the apostle Peter tied together the old sacrificial requirements with what Jesus accomplished:

you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. (1:18-19)

We could just as easily fit in other things from today’s culture: you were not redeemed with good works, with going to church regularly, with taking communion, with saying certain prayers, with ceremonial washings, with a word from a pastor or priest, with the laying on of hands. In short, we are not redeemed by anything we give or do or say.

Redemption comes from Christ alone.

There it is—the sola that Martin Luther preached. Through his extensive study of the Bible, he realized the truth that salvation comes through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross, plus nothing.

The apostle Paul spelled out Christ’s work a number of times in his letters. To the church in Colossae he wrote

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (2:13-14)

In short, spiritual life comes from Christ’s work at the cross.

Because the new life has such a powerful and transforming effect on the believer, people can easily mistake the outer results with the inner cause. But what a person does because He’s received the gift of salvation, has nothing to do with how he received the gift.

Simply put, we can add nothing to the work that Christ already accomplished.

How could we? Like the sacrifices of old, only a perfect offering is sufficient. Nothing about us qualifies.

In conclusion, this fourth sola gives us this picture of salvation: “According to the authority of Scripture alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone . . .”

That leaves one more piece to the puzzle which we’ll look at next time.

Warnings Or Threats


Jesus Christ came to seek and to save. That cost Him His life. But Scripture also says He gave us an example to follow. Peter said it clearly in his first letter.

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 2:22-24)

So Christ is our model. When he was condemned, censured, abused, attacked, He didn’t sling invectives back. While he was beaten bloody, while he hung dying, He didn’t curse those who were responsible. He didn’t threaten them with Hell, and surely He could have.

I started thinking about threats in the context of warning sinners about their eternal destiny if they don’t repent.

I’ve said before that part of a Christian’s responsibility is to tell people the truth about what their headed towards. How else can they turn from the error of their ways if they haven’t heard that their ways are leading to destruction?

I’ve likened the Christian’s role to that of an emergency worker warning traffic that up ahead the bridge is out. They can’t slow down and carefully easy their way forward. No, the bridge is gone! If they continue down the road, they will crash. No other option. They must either turn around or die.

Is that a threat?

I know some atheists think so. They look at Christians as gleeful in their pronouncements of doom.

The truth is, there’s a difference between warning someone of impending disaster and threatening someone with it. In the first case, the person is trying to prevent harm and in the second, he is calling it down on another’s head.

Sadly, I believe the Christian’s job to proclaim the truth about God’s justice is much harder as a result of a misguided group of people professing Christ but listening to false teaching—five years ago it was the Westboro Baptist folks and now it’s many in the alt-right.

Five years ago the Westboro Baptist group was in the news here in SoCal as they made plans to come and picket the funeral of a soldier killed in combat. As it turned out, they didn’t show up, but the local community was up in arms and ready to spring a counter-protest.

These wrong-headed people are in no way following in Jesus’s steps. This from a news release sent out days before the funeral and still available on their web site:

GOD HATES AMERICA & IS KILLING
YOUR TROOPS IN HIS WRATH.
Military funerals have become pagan orgies of
idolatrous blasphemy, where they pray to the
dunghill gods of Sodom & play taps to a fallen fool.

The last line is the worst: “THANK GOD FOR IEDs.” That would be the weapon used to kill this soldier.

So how is it that people like this think they are walking in obedience to God’s will? Christ was suffering but He made no threats. Do they think that because they’re not the ones suffering, it’s OK to issue threats and recrimination?

In the end, all they accomplish is to confuse society so that when someone wants to issue a warning, it’s taken as a threat. But that’s what false teaching does—it plays right into the hands of Satan, the father of lies.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in June 2012.

Published in: on June 19, 2017 at 5:57 pm  Comments (2)  
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No Thank You, Mr. Buffett


Suppose I decide I want to talk to Warren Buffett, the American business magnate. I hunt up a number, call, and wonderfully am answered on the first ring by one of his many assistants.

I explain I want to talk to Mr. Buffett himself. The assistant tells me he just happens to be on site and available. In seconds I hear Mr. Buffett’s energetic voice.

I eagerly identify myself, then move on to the reason for my call. “Thank you,” I say, “but Mr. Buffett I’ll have to say no. I just can’t accept a million dollars from you.”

He pauses, clears his voice, then says, “There must be some mistake. I never offered you a million dollars.”

As you know, this scenario is completely fictitious, but I think there are parts that are analogous to our perception of humankind’s relationship with God.

Jesus clearly said that

he who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18; emphasis mine)

As I understand this passage, there are only two camps—he who believes and he who has not believed. In other words, no one is in the state of my fictitious scenario in which no offer has been made.

We frequently talk about accepting Christ, yet we don’t take much time thinking about what rejecting the Son means. Instead, we assume that first a person hears about Jesus, then he “makes a decision.” That way of looking at things suggests the third category—those who have not heard.

I want to postulate that the decision to reject the Son of God has more to do with our heart attitude than it does with hearing the name of Jesus.

I realize I am walking a dangerous line here, one I think some of the universalists traverse. However, I hope I am coming at it from a Biblical perspective.

More and more, people claiming to be Christians speak of the “innocent” people who haven’t heard the gospel (as Rob Bell did some years ago in his ABC interview with George Stephanopoulos). At best that position is tapping into the “blank slate” theory, that man is born neutral and can decide to be good or evil. At worst, it aligns with the belief that man is good and something from the outside—society or government or Satan or an evil parent or traditional religion—drags him into sin.

The truth is, none is innocent. None is righteous. We are all in “reject” mode, dethroning God and enthroning ourselves.

Let me turn the page for a minute. When Jesus was teaching in the temple one day, He began a discussion with the Pharisees about who their father was. They claimed God was their father, but Jesus said no. Their father was the devil (see John 8:18-59).

Whether Jesus stood in front of them or not, their father would still have been the devil. He did not become their father because they rejected Jesus as their Messiah. The devil already was their father.

Jesus, of course, knew this about them because He is omniscient. He knew they were slaves to sin. The only thing that could free them would be His shed blood.

But today so many are coming to the issue of salvation as if it is a matter of imparting information—giving everyone a chance to hear the truth, and if they haven’t had that chance, then God is either unfair or He’ll give them that chance later or the information we thought they needed, they didn’t really need because their own belief system is a good substitute.

All of this rejects the idea that an omniscient, all powerful, good God who forms us in our mothers’ wombs can know our hearts and that He calls those who are His. It’s an uncomfortable idea.

We don’t know, can’t understand why God put us in America where we could so easily hear the gospel.

But we must marvel just as much about Tisquantum, better known as Squanto, who was kidnapped with the intent to be sold into slavery. As a result, he had the opportunity to learn about Jesus and escaped the plague that wiped out the rest of his people group.

Or how about Mincayani, one of the Huaorani tribesmen that killed Jim Eliot and the others martyred with him. His act of violence did not stop the truth of God from coming to his people and specifically to Mincayani himself.

The stories of people coming to Christ are many, varied, and no less miraculous if the miracle is about being born where the gospel is readily heard or if it is about one hearing the unexpected and unsought truth of God’s Son.

My point is this. I don’t believe anyone will be judged for rejecting an unoffered gift. God is not Warren Buffett.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in March 2011.

Abiding In Christ


My church has a candidate for senior pastor, Darin McWatters, and it turns out he was a guest speaker at our church last July. I even wrote a blog article based on one of the three sermons he preached that month.

In his first message Pastor McWatters spoke from John 15, particularly these verses:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me (vv 1-4).

I’m not going to go into everything he said (I just watched the video last week, so it’s fresh in my mind), but he gave one illustration that I think will stay with me for a long time. He came to the point where Jesus said we are to “abide” in Christ, which he said means essentially to stay. But the original carries the idea of actively staying. It’s not a passive, do-nothing role.

In other words, we aren’t to stay in the “hands off the wheel” sense of the word. But what does actively staying look like?

Pastor McWatters said it can be likened to aerial refueling of fighter planes which both the US Navy and the US Air Force use. I did a little checking and learned that there are two types of aerial refueling processes: the probe-and-drogue system used by the Navy, and the flying-boom system used by the Air Force.

It is the latter that our speaker referenced, and it certainly seems like an apropos illustration of actively staying.

With the flying-boom system, the fuel tanker goes on autopilot at the appropriate speed and altitude, but the plane receiving the fuel remains hand-flown. In other words, it’s the job of the pilot of the plane receiving fuel to match the speed and altitude of the tanker, and to stay in the proper alignment while the boom is attached and the fuel dispensed.

An article describing the process said it’s essentially the same skill needed when pilots fly their planes in formation.

In either case, the job is anything but kicking back and letting come what may. There has to be a great deal of work involved to stay at the proper distance and to maintain proper air speed and control, especially if unexpected turbulence should buffet the aircraft.

In the same way, believers are to abide in Christ. He is the constant. We are the ones tasked to “stand firm” as Paul phrased it. We are to be in proper alignment, which certainly is the work of Jesus at the cross. He spilled His blood for the forgiveness of sins. He made it possible for us to be born again, to have new life, to be adopted as children of God.

But fruit-bearing, which is what Jesus was talking to His disciples about the night before He went to the cross, requires us to abide. To actively stay.

I think about the Jewish Christians the book of Hebrews was written to. They had certain expectations about this Messiah they had put their faith in—one being that He would return soon. When that didn’t happen, some considered turning back, leaving their new faith, and returning to their old way of working to fulfill the Law.

The writer of Hebrews is encouraging them to stay the course, to keep going in the Way. One way they were to accomplish this was to take heed to God’s word:

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. (2:1)

Another way that we believers can “hold fast” is by encouraging each other. The writer of Hebrews says we are to do so day after day so that we won’t be “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” I take this kind of encouragement to be more than sideline cheerleading. I think it’s a constant, continual reminder of why Jesus Christ is trustworthy. The fact that we are to counter the “deceitfulness” of sin implies that we are to offer the truth of righteousness: we have it because of Jesus Christ and would have none of it apart from Him.

In terms of the aerial refueling illustration, if we don’t abide, don’t stay aligned with the tanker, we might be able to keep going on our own for a little while, but eventually we’ll run out of fuel. Our brothers and sisters in the faith can help us by reminding us that we need fuel, that the source of fuel is within reach, that it’s worth staying where we’ll get the fuel we need.

Third, we are to “hold fast our confession.” I take this to mean we are to refuse to go back on our word. Our confession of faith is our decision to trust Jesus to forgive us our sins and to put us in right relationship with God.

For years I questioned my confession of faith. Did I really mean it when I repented of my sins? I didn’t feel any different. I didn’t sense the Holy Spirit in my life. Nothing seemed all that different. So did my confession of faith “take”? Just to be sure, I made several more confessions of faith. I was where a lot of those Jews were that the the writer of Hebrews was talking to:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

That brings me to the final point for today: discerning good and evil. We can abide in Christ when we discern which way we need to go when turbulence buffets us. Do we need to correct to the right so we won’t be carried off line? Do we need more speed because we’re headed into the wind? We need discernment. What is evil and what is good.

That could be a blog post all on its own, and maybe it will be someday. At any rate, the concept of abiding in Christ has a lot more to it than “just staying.” For starters it means to pay attention to God’s word, to encourage (and be encouraged by) other believers, to keep to the confession of my faith, and to discern evil and good.

Published in: on March 29, 2017 at 5:56 pm  Comments Off on Abiding In Christ  
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The Addiction Of Freedom


Hell is, as Lewis says, “the greatest monument to human freedom.”

the-great-divorce-cover

So noted Pastor Tim Keller in a 1997 article in Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal, “Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age.”

Interestingly, Pastor Keller identified a shift in attitude regarding freedom in the postmodern era akin to the attitude C. S. Lewis ascribed to those destined for hell in his classic work The Great Divorce.

The attitude is one that puts freedom above all else.

Perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that the people on Lewis’s bus from hell are enslaved because they freely choose to be. They would rather have their freedom (as they define it) than salvation. Their relentless delusion is that if they glorified God, they would lose their human greatness (Gen. 3:4-5), but their choice has really ruined their human greatness.

I couldn’t help but think of atheist Christopher Hitchens and his dread of “celestial tyranny.” How sad that he did not realize the tyranny of his own desires. Unfortunately, he was not so different from the majority of people in western culture.

Freedom, we cry, let us voice our opinions, choose our own path, chart our own life. So we legalize abortion and a good deal of pornography. We outlaw spanking and prayer from school and tell parents Johnny needs medication, not discipline.

And then we wonder why children no longer respect authority, why tolerance is the end-all of our society, why child abuse is on the rise, and human trafficking is rampant, why greed runs Wall Street and corruption keeps cropping up in Washington, or City Hall.

Somehow we’ve missed the connection points. Freedom, when it becomes more important than salvation, enslaves just like any other idol. Freedom to pursue sex without consequences makes a person addicted to lust. Freedom to pursue wealth without restrain makes a person addicted to greed. Freedom to pursue unbridled power over others makes a person addicted to bullying and manipulation.

If we would open our eyes, we would see the trap to which the pursuit of freedom can lead. It held Christopher Hitchens tightly in its jaws. No one, most certainly not God, was going to tell him what to do with his life, not even in the last hours of his life. Why?

Because he wanted to enjoy humanity.

Sadly, he’s chained himself to the ephemeral rather than to the eternal. For, yes, the option to unbridled freedom is also slavery.

But what a difference. Rather than slavery to that which would destroy, becoming a bond-slave of Jesus Christ is freeing. Ironic, isn’t it. Freedom that leads to slavery, and slavery that leads to freedom.

What a contradiction, but that’s in line with what we learn from Jesus. If we lose our lives, we’ll find them. If we are last, then we’ll be first. If we become His slaves, He’ll set us free. Then, and only then, will we be free indeed.

This post is a revised and edited version of one that first appeared here in October 2010.