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Archive for the ‘Salvation in Christ’ Category

While Scripture passages such as Romans 8:31-39 assure us that nothing can separate us from God’s love, there is always the temptation for us to accept God’s eternal salvation in which our sins are forgiven and we are assured a place in heaven, yet be reluctant to go deeper in our walk with Jesus because he might demand too much of us in this life.

We enjoy the benefits of our Christian faith and participate occasionally in church events—Sunday services, Easter and Christmas celebrations, weddings, baptisms, funerals or memorials—but often avoid commitments that demand more of us than we are willing to give.

Unwilling to move out of our comfort zone, we give minimally of our time, our resources, and ourselves to God, the church, and to others, leaving the bulk of God’s Kingdom work to the very few dedicated souls among us.

To all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus, he says, as he did to his disciples:

“So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.” (Luke 6:46-49; see also Matt. 7:24-27)

Jesus is not comparing Christians and unbelievers, but two types of Christians—those who listen to his teachings and obey them, and those who listen to his teachings but do not obey them.

What we do with the words of Jesus—especially his Sermon on the Mount teachings about the characteristics of being his disciples (Matthew 5-7)—determines how we respond to life’s hurricanes of crises:

• Obedience to Christ’s teachings creates a strong foundation that will withstand life’s crises.

• Disobedience to Christ’s teachings inevitably leads to major collapses amid life’s crises.

While life’s storms and hurricanes are sure to strike every one of us at some time or another, obedience leads to protection in the midst of these crises. Disobedience doesn’t.

When we read Matthew 5-7 and understand what Jesus teaches and what he calls us to become and to do as his followers, we soon realize that he is calling us to be a unique people whose values are a complete reversal of the world’s value systems.

For example:

• Jesus calls us to both care for people who are poor in spirit, heartbroken, and powerless, and be willing ourselves to be poor in spirit, heartbroken, and powerless, for to such belong the kingdom of God. However, those who are not poor in spirit—the proud, the self-assured, the powerful, the arrogant—are not in God’s kingdom.

• Jesus blesses those who are gentle, meek, and lowly. But the world rejects such qualities as weakness, and places no value on such people.

• Jesus teaches us to seek God’s praise. The world teaches to seek its praise.

• Jesus calls us to seek the Father’s eternal treasures. The world entices us with money, fame, and earthly success that soon fade.

• Jesus calls us to purity of heart and truth. The world persecutes the pure of heart and opposes the truth.

How seriously do we consider such teachings of Jesus? Do we see them as impractical in today’s fast-paced, complex, and sophisticated world? Do we see them as unrealistic? Irrelevant? Too hard?

Or do we, like Peter, consider Jesus’ teachings and respond, “Lord, you alone have the words that give eternal life.” (John 6:68)

Yes, through the love, grace, and mercy of God as expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Savior, we have eternal life—now and forever. And yes, we have Jesus’ assurance that no one can snatch us out of his hands (John 10:28).

But we must never forget that not only do the words of Jesus give eternal life, they also contain many warnings to those of us who are prone to ignore them.

There is grace in “once saved always saved,” but there is also the caveat: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

The Christian journey, therefore, involves the duality of living with both certainty and caution; assurance of eternal salvation and warnings; balancing God’s gift of grace with our individual responsibility to live obediently in response to that grace.

This duality is expressed beautifully by the New Living Translation of Philippians 2:12-13 where Paul writes:

“Dearest friends, you were always so careful to follow my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away you must be even more careful to put into action God’s saving work in your lives, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.”

May we embrace the duality of following Jesus as today’s disciples—assured of our salvation but always careful to live obediently with deep reverence and fear.

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Waiting for the Verdict

Waiting for the Verdict

On my visit to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles a few months ago, I was drawn to a pair of 1859 paintings by the British artist Abraham Solomon because of the biblical implications I saw in them.

The first painting, Waiting for the Verdict, depicts a family waiting outside a courtroom while their loved one is being tried inside for a serious charge. By the expressions and body posture of the family, the wait is long, tiring, and reflects the seriousness of the charge, suggesting that a guilty verdict could be devastating to the family.

The other painting, Not Guilty, shows the relief of the family as they are united with their loved one who has been found innocent of the charges against him.

As I gazed at the paintings, my thoughts went to another court—the divine court that will take place upon the return of Jesus who declared, “I, the Son of Man, will come in the glory of my Father and with his angels and will judge all people according to their deeds.” (Matthew 16:27, NLT)

The Bible states that every person who has ever lived has sinned (Ecclesiastes 7:20), that the punishment for sin is death (Romans 6:23), that all our attempts at being good and righteous are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), and that every person will be judged for their sin.

But the Bible also shows that many people, despite being guilty, will be pardoned and declared “Not Guilty,” and they will be blessed with eternal life in God’s Kingdom.

The Apostle Paul explains it this way:

“For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us.” (Romans 3:23-25a, NLT)

In today’s culture in which the word “awesome” is used so freely and flippantly for almost everything, the implication of this passage is that God is truly awesome and amazing in his love, mercy, and kindness toward us!

He is awesome in that while most other religions require their followers to earn their god’s favor and acceptability, it is only what God has done for us through Jesus Christ that matters.

He is awesome in that even though we are all guilty of our sins, he declares us “not guilty” because of the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

He is awesome in that although all our good deeds could never measure up to his holiness, yet he makes it possible for us to have a right relationship with him simply through our faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:27-28).

The wonderful and powerful message of the Bible is that we no longer have to wait for the verdict on that great Judgment Day. God stands ready to pardon us now—if we are ready to trust Jesus to take away our sins and follow him as Lord.

So, dear reader, where are you today? Still waiting for the verdict? Or are you a “not guilty” believer who follows Jesus?

Not Guilty

Not Guilty

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The high price, of course, was the sacrificial death of Jesus who willingly gave his life to save us from sin’s destruction, and forgave our sins. (I Cor. 6:20; 7:23; Eph. 1:7)

Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—for it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:4-7)

In light of such wonderful love, mercy, grace, and kindness, how should we then respond?

Gloria Gaither, one of the most prolific Christian composers today, answered that question when she wrote the inspiring lyrics in “I Then Shall Live,” and set it to the beautiful hymn tune, Finlandia.

Please listen and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you and bless you.

 

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Paul’s encouragement to the Philippian Christians to work out their own salvation (Phil. 2:12) might seem as if he were encouraging them to earn salvation through their works—their own efforts and good deeds.

This would appear to contradict his statement to the Christians in Rome, to whom he emphasized salvation through faith:

“Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on our good deeds. It is based on our faith. So we are made right with God through faith . . .” –Romans 3:27-28 (New Living Translation, NLT)

However, there is no contradiction, for while it is God who creates a desire in our hearts for him (Phil. 2:13), and offers the gift of salvation to us through the sacrificial life and death of Jesus Christ, it is we who must believe in Jesus and participate in the fulfillment of our salvation through him.

James, the brother of Jesus, certainly sees no contradiction when he says, “I can’t see your faith if you don’t have good deeds, but I will show you my faith through my good deeds.” (James 2:18, NLT)

Paul sees salvation as a process that occurred in the past, continues in the present, and will be completed in the future:

Past:

“It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!” –Ephesians 2:5

“God saved you by his special favor when you believed.” –Ephesians 2:8

Present continuous:

“I know very well how foolish the message of the cross sounds to those who are on the road to destruction. But we who are being saved recognize this message as the very power of God.” –1 Corinthians 1:18. (NLT)

Past & Future:

“And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s judgment. For since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life.” –Romans 5:8-9 (NLT)

Since we have been saved, are being saved, and will experience God’s complete salvation when Christ returns to establish his eternal Kingdom, Paul encourages us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling—or as the NLT translates it:

“. . .you must be even more careful to put into action God’s saving work in your lives, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.” —Phil. 12b-13

This is not the fear and trembling of a slave cowering under a brutal master, but the reverence and awe of a grateful person whose sins have been forgiven by a loving God, but who knows only too well how prone the human heart is to stray from that loving God. It is a healthy fear of disappointing God, for as Robert Robinson wrote in the third verse of his hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”:

O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee:
prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O, take and seal it; seal it for thy courts above.

If we were honest with ourselves, we would admit how easily our hearts and desires tempt us to wander away from our Savior. This should create in us an earnest and reverent fear—not of losing our salvation, for that cannot be lost (John 10:27-29; Romans 8:31-39)—but a fear of losing the joy of our salvation and disappointing the God who loves and redeemed us.

This is the kind of fear and trembling with which King David pleaded to have the joy of his salvation restored after he strayed from God over his adultery with Bathsheba:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a right spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence,
and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me again the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.
Then I will teach your ways to sinners,
and they will return to you.”
–Psalm 51:10-13 (NLT)

It is this awareness and reverent fear that should keep us daily working to complete the process of our salvation, ever more careful to put into action God’s saving work in our lives. Paul gives several ways in which we can work out our salvation:

• Obey God with deep reverence and fear, for God is already working in us the desire to obey him—and gives us the power to do what pleases him. (Phil. 2:13)

• In every thing we do, stay away from arguing and complaining, especially in our churches (Phil. 2:14a)

• Live morally clean, innocent lives so that no one can criticize us because of sin or evil in our lives (Phil. 2:14b)

• Let the light of Christ shine brightly through us in the way we live (Phil. 2:14c)

• Hold firmly to the Word of Life, the Scriptures—so that we can be examples of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all around us (Phil. 2:16)

• Live in the full joy of the Lord, for he is coming back soon (Phil. 4:4-5)

• Don’t worry about anything. Instead, we are to pray about everything, telling God what we need, and thanking him for what he has done, for in doing so, we’ll experience God’s peace (Phil. 4:6-7)

• Fix our thoughts on what is true, honorable, and right, things that are pure, lovely, and admirable (Phil. 4:8)

As we begin these opening days of 2013, may our lives be filled with the joy of working out our salvation with fear and trembling. And may this beautiful hymn inspire us as we continue on our journey towards full salvation.

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There are many stories of people who were once antagonistic towards Christianity but were converted to Jesus Christ when they encountered his good news of salvation. The most famous of these was the apostle Paul who later wrote: 

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ.  It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—Jews first and also Gentiles. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. (Romans 1:16-17a, New Living Translation, NLT) 

Muslims today are among thousands around the world who are coming to Christ through his Good News of salvation that they encounter in the pages of the Bible—or as they call it, the Black Book!

Rob Weingartner, executive director of The Outreach Foundation, recently related the conversion testimony of one such Muslim, Hassane (pronounced Haas-sahn).

Hassane was born into a family in which his father was a leading member of the Islamic leadership council of their town in an African nation that was 99% Islamic. His father hoped that one day Hassane would take his place on the leadership council, so he had Hassane begin memorizing the Koran at age three.

As a youth, Hassane earned a scholarship to a prestigious school of around eight hundred students, but he was soon shocked to realize that very few of the students took their religion seriously or attended the mosque where Hassane shared in leading prayers.

So he started offering leadership conferences at the school, and one day he asked the students a question about the prophets. Their answers disappointed and discouraged him, for he realized how little they knew about their holy book. He was about to explain the answer to them when he noticed the raised hand of one of the three Christian students who attended the school.

Thinking that the student had a question about Islam, and seeing this as an opportunity to convert the boy from Christianity to Islam, Hassane asked, “What would you like to know about Islam?”

“No, I don’t have a question. I want to answer your question about the prophets,” replied the boy, who then went on to speak very knowledgeably about the prophets.

This disappointed, then angered Hassane, for he felt that such an eloquent answer should have been given by a Muslim boy—not a Christian who was not supposed to know more about the prophets than Muslims.

So he asked the boy how he knew so much about the prophets. The boy replied that he learned it from the Christian book.  Hassane remembered that his Muslim teachers had warned him that if he ever met Christians, he was never to read their black book.

“This book, is it a black one?” asked Hassane.

“Yes,” replied the boy.

Despite the warnings of his former teachers, Hassane secretly obtained a Bible and began reading it at night for two years to learn about the prophets so that he could be the best teacher on the subject. Then one night he came across Ephesians 2:8-9 which riveted his attention:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast.

This shook him to the core and threatened all that he believed and the way he lived his life. Going to his mosque’s Koranic teacher, he said, “You know about all that I am doing—how I am leading the mosque, preaching, teaching, counseling. Does that save me? Does that guarantee my salvation in heaven?”

His teacher’s reply shocked him. “I don’t know if you can be elected to heaven!”

“Something’s wrong!” protested Hassane. “You know all I’m doing in the mosque, and yet you cannot assure me that it will earn me salvation?”

“No.”

Hassane went back home and pondered his future. Despite the dire consequences that could occur if he were to become a follower of Jesus Christ—such as being put to death— he committed to following Christ who alone could assure him of eternal salvation. He then went to his father and told him that he had become a Christian.

As the leader of the town’s Islamic leadership council, the father convened the council to announce that his son had become a Christian. The council voted to put Hassane to death by stoning, but later the members changed their decision because of the high regard they had for Hassane’s father, and banished Hassane instead to a region that was over four hundred miles away.

The council also ruled that Hassane’s twin brother should accompany him to convince him to return to his Islamic faith. The brother stayed with Hassane for ten years and eventually decided to follow Jesus Christ. The brothers then returned to their father and witnessed boldly to him.

Hassane became a church pastor and bible teacher, and today is a national leader for his denomination in his African nation. Over six thousand Muslims have since become Christians, and Hassane’s brother and several others from the Islamic leadership council have become elders in Hassane’s church.

As Rob Weingartner shared this story, I reflected on how a boy’s understanding of the Word of God was the catalyst that not only led Hassane to embrace the Good News of the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, but also, as an indirect consequence, led thousands of other Muslims to become Christians.

The Word of God was not only powerfully proclaimed in the boy’s answer but also in the pages of the “Black Book” that Hassane secretly studied, for as Hebrews 4:12 states:

For the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are. (NLT) 

And I wondered, “How many of us Christians are able to give an intelligent account of our faith? How many of us have a mature understanding of the Bible to be able to answer someone’s honest question about it?

We might never know the ways in which God wants to use each of us to be the catalyst through which he transforms lives, but let us embrace for ourselves Paul’s admonition to Timothy:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, correctly explaining the word of truth. (2 Tim 2:15) 

We are blessed with the freedom to read the Bible—no matter the color of its cover—and to access the living power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes.

May we not neglect this powerful book of truth!

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