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.)

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

Tears Of The Messiah – A Reprise


I re-posted this article two years ago (it first appeared here in March 2013), but I think it rightly brings a couple things together. First, it deals with the events leading up to Jesus’s trials, crucifixion, and resurrection, which we commemorate at this time of year. Secondly, it includes thoughts based on the book of Jeremiah, which I am again currently re-reading. Without further prologue:

– – – – –

Most people know that Jesus wept at Lazarus’s tomb before He raised him back to life. It’s a touching scene, one that has produced any number of sermons.

Fewer people, I tend to think, know about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem on his final entry into the City of David. Luke records the scene, as well as the build-up to it. Clearly Jesus cared deeply—not for the walls and the buildings, but for the people inside, for what Jerusalem stood for. This was the place God intended to be central to His worship. His people were there, the temple known as His house was there.

As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting:

    “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord;
    Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:37-44)

Earlier, when Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, He had similar thoughts:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! (Luke 13:34)

Jesus was deeply moved by the rejection of His rebellious people. He wanted them to receive their King, to experience the peace with God He offered.

Scripture makes it clear that God’s desire is still for rebellious people to repent and turn to Him. Jesus said in Matthew, “It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish” (18:14) Then in 1 Timothy, Paul wrote

This [prayer on behalf of all men] is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

I’m in awe that Jesus unabashedly wept for those who would turn their back on Him, that God, loving the world so much, paid the price for our sin just so we could enjoy peace with Him:

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 Peter 1:18-19)

I’ve never thought about it much before, but might not Jesus weep for each person who walks away from Him?

Jeremiah is sometimes called the weeping prophet because in a number of places Scripture mentions him weeping for Judah and their stubborn, rebellious heart—well, more precisely for the destruction of the nation which he foresaw.

At one point he prophesied that the people who had been taken to Babylon in the first wave of captivity would be better off than those left behind. They would prosper in their new land and one day be restored to Judah. But those who stayed or who fled to Egypt would bring destruction on their heads. I’m sure the people who heard him thought he was nuts. Captivity good, freedom bad, he seemed to be saying.

The problem was, they had limited sight. Jeremiah was speaking the words given him by omniscient God.

So, too, Jesus knows we are in desperate need of His life-giving blood—more dramatically than if we were in need of a transfusion. What’s more, He bled out for us. Why, then, wouldn’t He weep over those who wave Him off and walk on by to destruction?

Published in: on March 19, 2018 at 5:21 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Need For The Cross


As we approach Easter, I’m well aware of the fact that many people will simply ignore the day. Some (at least those in the northern hemisphere) will also celebrate it as a “spring is here” day, commemorating the new life in nature demonstrated by buds on trees, green replacing the colorless world of winter, baby birds pushing out of eggs.

But the resurrection of Jesus? No need for such “myths,” many will say.

The resurrection, of course, hinges on the cross. Jesus had to die first before He could be raised incorruptible.

In fact His death was not an act of martyrdom. It wasn’t the tragedy that spawned a movement.

Rather, Jesus did something no one else could do. The nails that crashed into His hands and feet, essentially nailed the “certificate of debt” owed to God by every sinner, to that cross.

The blood Jesus spilled that day was that of a Perfect and Unblemished Lamb—chosen to make redemption possible. His blood did exactly what the blood of the Passover lamb did: it covered those “under the blood” so that the angel of judgment would pass over that place.

Jesus paints His own blood over the doorposts of our heart, so that we who believe He did what He did and promised what He promised, will be redeemed in the exact same way.

Because Jesus went to the cross, anyone of any race or gender or culture or age can now receive remission of that debt we could not pay—the wages of sin which is death itself.

Some people think that God unfairly judges, that “nice” people or “good” people should go free. But that’s like saying the nice rapist should go free or the good business man or great basketball player who abuses his wife should go free.

Because the truth is, we all fall short of God’s standard.

Some people think God is terrible for “sending millions of people to hell.” But the truth is, those “millions” who make themselves God’s enemies, don’t want an eternity with Him.

Some people claim God is cruel for allowing suffering. But again, He has only given way to what people who oppose Him want or have earned:

“Your ways and your deeds
Have brought these things to you.
This is your evil. How bitter!
How it has touched your heart!” (Jeremiah 4:18).

Which brings us back to the debt of sin and the cross that cancels it.

If someone says God is “unfair” for giving laws He knew we wouldn’t keep, they’re missing one important ingredient: holiness. God is perfect, without spot, righteous. A different standard simply would be other than perfect, not holy, marred. Fellowship with a perfect God is not possible for imperfect people.

Unless God makes it possible.

The cross did just that.

Couldn’t God have just changed the rules, waved away the requirement for sin?

Well, that leaves out an important ingredient too: justice.

God is as just as He is holy. When His law is broken, when the debt is owed, He requires payment.

So Jesus paid at the cross.

It’s kind of funny. Of all the objections I’ve heard about Christianity and God’s plan of salvation, I don’t think I’ve ever heard an objection to God loving humanity so much He was willing to die.

Sure, I’ve heard that God the Father was committing child abuse by sending His Son to die. But that’s all wrong. His will was to save the world. He didn’t send a “second god” or a “lesser god” or a human iteration of Himself to die. Jesus is God and Jesus went to the cross even though He could have commanded legions of angels to come rescue Him. He didn’t because “of the joy set before Him.” That joy was each and every person who would love Him back.

The cross is the greatest symbol of God’s love. There Jesus showed God’s love, cancelled the debt of sin, washed away sin, provided a way of escape from the result of sin, and reconciled all who believe in Him to God.

In short, without the cross, there would be no Easter.

God’s Plan And The World—A Reprise


For God so loved the world, John 3:16 says. And yet there are people who think Christians are some kind of exclusive club looking to keep out people who aren’t like us.

First, Christianity doesn’t belong to Christians. It belongs to God. Second, it isn’t a club, though it is a relationship—first with God.

Jesus told a story to illustrate how His plan of redemption and reconciliation works.

A rich ruler decided to put on a banquet. He sent out invitations, but one after the other the people he wanted at his feast sent their regrets: A new responsibility needed attention. Another important relationship had to take priority. Too busy to squeeze in the time.

Fine, the ruler said to his servants. They don’t want to come, then they don’t get to come. Invite people from all walks of life, no matter what their status, what their occupation, even the beggars.

When everyone arrived, there was still room for more people, so the rich man sent out his servants again, this time to the places where criminals were apt to hang out, and told them to compel the people to come.

At last the banquet got underway, but one person wasn’t dressed appropriately. Why aren’t you wearing banqueting attire? the host asked. The guest had no answer, so he was put out.

The banquet is a metaphor for the “marriage supper of the Lamb,” the great celebration God has prepare for His people. But “His people” aren’t necessarily who you’d expect. They aren’t an exclusive set handpicked for their charm, wit, intelligence, skill, power, prestige, or money. They are simply those who accepted the invitation. In contrast, those who are too self-important, too determined to go their own way, won’t accept the invitation. And some might accept but won’t come prepared.

This story, this word picture (actually two versions—one in Matt. 22 and the other in Luke 14—which I’ve compressed into one), makes several things clear. First, those who ended up at the rich man’s table, enjoying the feast, did nothing to earn their invitation.

Most of them were going their own way, expecting to do something different, be somewhere else, and suddenly the invitation comes—there’s a banquet, and you’re invited.

To accept such an invitation, it seems to me a person would have to realize what an honor, what a privilege had come their way. If they thought, No big deal; I can throw my own banquet if I want to—then chances are, they wouldn’t put a great deal of priority in attending. If they had plenty of food and weren’t particularly hungry, they could easily have thought ill of the invitation—what a bother, in the middle of the work day? he can’t expect me to drop everything and come just because he’s throwing a party.

But for the people who were out of work, who begged just to buy a scrap of food, who had never sat at a banqueting table in their lives, this invitation had to be the best news they’d ever heard.

Of course, there may have been some who didn’t think the invitation was real. What, you think you’d be invited up to the mansion for a party? You’re deluded. Or someone is scamming you. You’ll show up and somebody will jump out from the bushes and shout, April Fool, and you’re it. I mean, no one, no one in their right mind, invites a bunch of riffraff to share their table.

So the people who benefit from this invitation don’t earn it, but they must trust that the invitation is true.

The_Marriage_Feast_by_MillaisThe part of the story that has long given me trouble is the part about the guy getting put out for not wearing the proper clothes. I’d think none of those beggars or poor or the ones coming in from the highways and the byways would have the proper clothes either. I can only conclude, the banquet attire was something the host provided for his guests, so the man who was dressed inappropriately had no excuse. Which his silence would seem to corroborate.

So there’s God’s plan for the world. He invites, and we either accept or reject. Nothing exclusive about it. In reality, none of us can provide our own banquet. We might think we can, but that’s delusional. Only God can provide what we need. Our role in the matter is to recognize our need and His provision, then trust that He will give what He said He would give. That trust, I believe, is the proper clothing we need. Trying to go to His banquet all dressed up in our own rags of self-righteousness will surely get us barred from the table.

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in April, 2015.

Salvation And The Christian Writer


Not everyone is a writer, but I suspect these thoughts, first shared in September 2010, apply to people of other professions as well.

Before I precede, however, I want to point out the unique nature of today’s date. It’s 1/8/18. Cool, don’t you think?

And now on to the topic at hand.

As I was talking with a writer friend a number of years ago, it dawned on me that what I believe about salvation shapes my attitude toward fiction.

By way of background, there has been from time to time, a group of writers who plea for Christians to free their art from any “utilitarian” purpose, such as preaching the gospel.

I’ve been on the fence to a great extent because I do want Christians to write fiction that stands the test of time, and that’s usually a work that bears some kind of mark as “art.” However, I believe wholeheartedly in the idea that a “utilitarian” theme is necessary for fiction to be great art—if the writer doesn’t say something meaningful, then why would that story be around tomorrow, let alone fifty years from now?

But here’s the intersection between that point and my realization about salvation. If a Christian has certain views about salvation—a “God’s sovereign so I have no part in salvation” view or a broad understanding of who is saved (from some form of universalism to a belief that the sincere or the “good” or the consistent are saved)—he may feel little or no urgency to carry the message of Christ to the dying world. (Of course, a third option might be a “let them burn” lack of concern for the lost, but then I’d wonder about the genuineness of that person’s profession of faith).

Am I saying that every piece of fiction a Christian writes should have the gospel message embedded? No, I don’t think I can make any determination what other writers should write. Let’s just say I understand the divide better.

Some writers, myself included, look at fiction as our opportunity to reach thousands of readers, some who may have yet to hear the message of forgiveness in Christ through his redemptive work at the cross. These writers feel an urgency to get this message out to as many people as possible. The world, as we see it, has one and only one hope—Christ Jesus—and here we sit, holding this vital information. How can we watch people stream by our doors day after day and do nothing?

A writer with a different persuasion has no such sense of urgency. Fiction, instead, may be an exploration of spirituality, a personal journey of discovery regarding spiritual matters.

The difference in purpose makes perfect sense based on the difference in theology.

Ironic that some people don’t realize the importance of understanding our own belief system. I recently read a blog post about how dreary it is to read about such topics as original sin (hmmm—wonder if the writer had a particular blog in mind. 😉 ) when what we should be doing is getting out from behind our computers and living like Christians.

I certainly agree that we should live like Christians. I simply think that includes my moments behind the computer.

What fiction writers understand is the need to know our characters at the level of their beliefs—that’s what makes their actions properly motivated. Real life is the same way. Our beliefs inform our actions. How critical that we know what we believe about something so eternal-life giving as salvation.

Published in: on January 8, 2018 at 4:46 pm  Comments (2)  
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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.

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.

What Does “Believe In Jesus” Mean?


woman-praying-840879-mI’m glad I didn’t sit under some of the Bible teaching as a young person that I’ve heard as an adult. Don’t get me wrong. I respect the preachers and I believe what they say, but it’s not what I needed to hear as a young, immature Christian who often doubted my salvation.

The message these pastors are giving is undoubtedly intended to counter “easy believe-ism.” This false teaching wasn’t familiar to me, but apparently some people claim that as long as you say “the sinner’s prayer” you’re going to heaven no matter what you do thereafter. It sounds sort of like a “works” salvation, with “works” reduced to one—saying a prayer “accepting Jesus into your heart.”

I understand why pastors are standing against this approach to salvation. There’s so much it leaves out. Where’s the part about repentance, about taking up our cross and following Christ, about entering into a relationship with Him, about obeying God, loving Him first and loving our neighbor more than we do ourselves?

The truth is, though, I became a Christian by asking Jesus into my heart.

I was young, a small child. I don’t remember the specific time I first prayed to receive Christ (yes, first—I’ll get to that in a bit), but I do remember asking a Sunday school teacher how Jesus, pictured as a man on a flannel graph, could fit into my heart.

Chuckle if you must, but I think that’s a good question. It’s not normal to invite a person “into your heart.” Anyone who does so without understanding what he’s doing, very well might not actually be doing it.

That poor, dear, wonderful teacher did her best to explain that it wasn’t Jesus’s body that would come live inside me but His Spirit. So, I wondered, why don’t we say we’re accepting the Holy Spirit, but I don’t think I actually asked that question, possibly because the teacher explained that it was Jesus who died for me, Jesus who paid for my sins.

I got it. But I had another question. Again, I don’t have a clear recollection of the sequence of these events, but at some point when I was six or seven, I wasn’t so sure if I agreed that all had sinned and come short of God’s standard. I knew a few Bible stories by this time, so I figured if I could just think of one person in the Bible who hadn’t sinned, then maybe I could be like him. (I shared a little more about this incident in this post: “My Deceitful Heart.”) I mean, what evil had I done at six? Obviously I hadn’t yet learned about pride and self-righteousness.

I was probably in fifth grade, maybe fourth, when I came across John 3:18. I was playing alone in my room, pretending to be a preacher (I hadn’t learned yet what the Bible says about women and teaching in the church, either 😉 ). I opened my Bible to about the only passage I knew by heart, John 3:16, and started in explaining what it all meant to my pretend congregation. But when I got through that verse, I had more sermon I wanted to preach, so I went on to verse 17, then verse 18. And when I explained the part about Jesus not coming to condemn but that those who didn’t believe in Him were condemned already because they didn’t believe, I got it.

Salvation wasn’t about toeing the line, because none of us could. We were all condemned. Believing in Jesus gave us a pardon.

I was still confused about a lot of things—most particularly why I continued to sin. It gave me no end of doubt about my salvation and contributed to my “accepting Jesus” any number of times because I just didn’t know if it was enough that I meant it when I said it but later acted like I didn’t.

What was it I meant? That I knew I was a sinner, that I knew Jesus had died in my place, that He would forgive me if I believed in Him, and that I would have everlasting life, which meant I’d go to heaven.

I didn’t want to go to heaven particularly. Everything I heard about it made it sound kind of boring, but I knew I didn’t want to go to hell, so I pretty much just wanted to keep living on earth.

That changed, many years later when I read C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce and came to understand that eternal life is Real Life.

I could go on and tell how one by one God added to my understanding and corrected my misunderstanding. But the point is, my “faith journey”—actually my walk with Christ—started because someone asked me if I wanted to pray to accept Jesus into my heart.

Are there false conversions, people who prayed “the prayer” and who have not continued with Christ? I’m sure there are. That’s what Jesus said in the parable about the sower and the seed. Some seed sprang up, but weeds choked it. Some seed fell on the side of the road and was trampled or the birds snatched it away (Luke 8:5-7). Jesus explained it this way:

Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. 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. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. (Luke 8:12-14)

So who, then, believes in Jesus? I’m convinced I was “born again” when I first put my trust in Him as a small child. My faith wasn’t grounded in theology and it wasn’t mature. It didn’t need to be. It only need to be, because the work wasn’t mine. It was and is Christ’s.

After all, that’s what Scripture says:

but these [signs] have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:31)

And after [the jailer] brought [Paul and Silas] out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (Act 16:30-31a).

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in February 20011.

God’s Great Story In Esther


pagankingA few years ago there was great consternation over the story of Esther. A pastor who has since fallen into disrepute preached a series of sermons from the book of Esther, and apparently pointed a finger at Esther and accused her of . . . wait for it . . . (gasp) sin! And feminists had a field day! Oh, how they stood up to defend Esther and how they accused this pastor of condoning rape and abuse and sex trafficking.

I have to say, ever since I heard the story of Esther, I’ve had problems with it. Yes, Esther was one of the exiles from Judah, and therefore, not free. But was she forced into a relationship with the king? Not really.

But my intention isn’t to rehash the debate over Esther’s choices—or whether she had any. Rather, I was struck by something about the opening scene, before Esther has been introduced.

The book is ostensibly about the salvation of the Jewish people from annihilation because of God’s intervention through Esther and her role as queen in King Ahasuerus’s (Xerxes) reign in Medo-Persia. But as a number of Bible teachers will tell us, every book of the Bible is about Jesus Christ.

The pastor I mentioned above certainly preached his series from that perspective. His sermons had titles such as “Jesus Is A Better King,” “Jesus Has A Better Kingdom,” “Jesus Is A Better Savior,” and “Jesus Is A Better Mediator.”

But of course Jesus isn’t mentioned in the book of Esther. Neither is God, though His fingerprints are all over the place. The writer alluded to God most clearly in 4:13-14 when he wrote,

Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”

So what about the opening struck me as so significant?

We’re introduced to King Ahasuerus who inherited his position as ruler of the greatest empire then known to man. It stretched from India to Ethiopia. He was the greatest sovereign of that time.

With his position came power and wealth—so much so that in year three of his reign, he declared a six-month-long party for all the nobles, leaders, soldiers of his empire. Anyone who was anyone was invited to this bash. He capped the lengthy celebration off with a seven-day feast for those who served him in his palace.

Seven days his men drank and feasted. And elsewhere in the palace, his queen also held a banquet. King Ahasuerus used the occasion to brag about all his power and wealth. At some point, when he was drunk, he also started bragging about how beautiful his wife was. He decided to show her off, so he summoned her to leave her feast and her guests and to parade in front of his men.

Some commentators suggest this had sexual ramifications—making his party to be like a stag party or using her as live porn. Scripture doesn’t say that, but it’s not too hard to imagine that he wasn’t telling her to model the latest evening gown and then return to her own feast.

It’s all very unsavory.

His queen, for whatever reason, refused to come to him. He was furious. As punishment, he removed her from her place as his queen. On the advice of one of his princes, he determined to replace her with someone more worthy.

So here’s the opening of the story:

  • an all powerful king summons his chosen wife to his banquet
  • she refuses to come
  • he removes her and gives her favored position to someone else

Here’s the key verse:

If it pleases the king, let a royal edict be issued by him and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media so that it cannot be repealed, that Vashti may no longer come into the presence of King Ahasuerus, and let the king give her royal position to another who is more worthy than she. (Esther 1:19)

This opening, I suggest, is a metaphor for God’s dealing with humankind.

I know some people will object because King Ahasuerus is an unsavory character who did selfish, godless, unwise things. Some will call him a misogynist.

But throughout Scripture metaphors gave a picture of God’s work in the world and His plan of salvation, and they used sinful people to do so. Jesus even used a godless King in one of His parables to illustrate a point about God. The nature of this king should not blind us to the similarities.

  • God, the all powerful sovereign, calls His people to Himself.
  • His chosen nation refused Him, and finally rejected His Messiah.
  • In response, God chose a people from those who had not been a people—the Church—which has become His bride.

In other words, God’s plan of redemption is right there in the opening chapters of Esther.

Yes, the book is full of other great truths. Esther did have to make a life or death kind of decision, which she did on the strength of the prayers of the Jews she would intercede for. God did orchestrate a set of circumstances that we can only think of as providential because the chances of them all happening when they happened is just too coincidental to be believed . . . unless Someone was in charge.

How sad that in the cultural context of our day we can’t seem to see past the issues we’ve put on our human-centric pedestal.

Ahasuerus was an ungodly king, no doubt about it. He had a harem of untold number of wives and concubines. He made bad decisions and trusted the wrong advisors. He gave away his authority to a man who was prideful and wicked. What’s more, the king was unaware of the effect of his rule on the people in his empire. He wasn’t a good king, he wasn’t a good man, he wasn’t a good husband.

Scripture does not condone any of his behavior. It records it. And by doing so, a picture of God comes out of it all, like the phoenix rising from the ashes: God who is sovereign, calls His people to Himself. When they rejected Him, He created a new people for His own.

Published in: on January 5, 2017 at 6:55 pm  Comments (4)  
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