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Archive for the ‘Salvation’ Category


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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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Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011, was exactly 34 years since I came back home to the Lord.

As a teenager in Jamaica, I had first committed my life to Jesus Christ in 1961, and later attended seminary to study for the ministry. After graduation, I married my high school sweetheart and served as a pastor of a circuit of churches before immigrating to New York with my wife and baby daughter in 1969.

But my marriage ended in divorce, and with our denomination unwilling to employ me as a divorced pastor, I found myself adrift in New York City far from the anchors of family, friends, and home church that I had left behind in Jamaica.

As a new single man in New York, and feeling rejected by church leaders, I found a new career and growing recognition in the publishing field—and the sudden availability of women. After being sheltered in the church during my teens and my twenties, I soon succumbed to the allure of New York City’s swinging singles culture and promiscuous lifestyle.

This continued for several years, even when I moved to Los Angeles to study and work in the film industry. During all this time I stopped going to church and my attitude towards God was one of aloofness in which I gave God the cold shoulder. And I nursed a lingering hurt and resentment towards the leaders of my former denomination.

Despite this, I found myself attending Easter service for the first time at Bel Air Presbyterian Church in 1977. The small chapel was packed with worshipers, choir, and musicians, and from the very start of the service I felt that something was different.

I don’t recall much of what the minister, Dr. Donn Moomaw, preached about, but I remember that soon after I took my seat I became aware of God’s powerful presence, love, and joy in that room.

In particular, I felt God’s love for me, and I had an overwhelming sense of his forgiveness for my cold attitude and rejection of him, my anger and resentment towards the church leaders, my promiscuity, and my attempts to seek and embrace the sinful allures of society. There was no feeling of condemnation from him, just his welcoming presence and invitation to come back home.

And that’s when my tears began to flow freely throughout the service and my hard heart and emotions softened and melted.

As I sat through that service of celebration for the risen Christ, unable to sing along with the congregation because of the inner emotions churning within me, I thought of past Easters in Jamaica and the intimacy of celebrating the sacraments on Maundy Thursday nights, especially the washing of feet, and I sensed the Lord saying to me, “You came to Hollywood to pursue fame and fortune as a film director, but are you willing to be a lowly servant for me?”

I remembered the solemn Good Fridays in Jamaica, the holiest day of the year, when all commerce ceased on the island and many Christians contemplated the Stations of the Cross as we journeyed meditatively along the Via Delorosa, the Way of Sorrows, the route that Jesus took from his condemnation before Pilate to his crucifixion on the cross and his burial in a borrowed tomb. And with that remembrance, I suddenly felt the weight and guilt of my sins and backsliding, and sensed the Lord reminding me of how much he loved me enough to have suffered and died for my sins.

Amid my tears and remembrances, I began to tune into the theme and tone of the Easter service in the chapel that morning—celebrating the resurrected Jesus Christ. By the time the choir and congregation stood to sing the final hymn, the roof-raising celebratory “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” I could only stand and bow my head in submission and silent prayer to my heavenly Father, asking him to please accept me back from my prodigal ways. “Father,” I cried silently, “forgive me. I’m ready to come back home.”

I left the chapel that morning, clutching one of the Easter lilies that ushers had given out, and I returned to my apartment in Westwood. That afternoon, I called my friends and lovers and told them of my recommitment to following Jesus Christ and that my life had changed.

Much has changed in the intervening years. I remarried, and now have three grown children and four grandchildren, and have served God through a variety of careers. I continue to worship at Bel Air Presbyterian Church, which outgrew its small chapel and is now housed in a large sanctuary that serves several thousand members and visitors each week.

In fact, we have grown so much that for the past few years we have been celebrating Easter in the Hollywood Bowl where approximately seven to nine thousand people join us in worship.

So, it was with a grateful heart that over the past few days, this former prodigal son joined Christian brothers and sisters during Holy Week and participated in celebrating Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday in our sanctuary, then went over to the Hollywood Bowl where we raised our voices in praise to our Risen Christ.

It is my prayer and expectation that many other prodigals—sons and daughters—found their way home to our heavenly Father at Easter–wherever in the world they were.

*****

Clicky

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Some years ago when my son, Chris, was around seven years old, I was preparing the charcoal barbecue grill in our backyard when a white-hot coal brisket fell off the grill and onto the ground. Chris was nearby and immediately bent down to pick up the lump of coal with his fingers.

“Stop!” I shouted, “Don’t pick it up!”

But he continued his downward movement and picked up the coal.

There was a one- or two-second delay before he dropped the searing coal and let out an ear-piercing scream as he flailed his hand in an effort to cool his fingers, followed by him sobbing and writhing in agony.

I quickly dipped his hand in the cool water of the swimming pool and had him keep it there until I got him some first aid out of the house and applied it to his palm. After his sobbing subsided, I told him how important it was to obey warning commands immediately, for ignoring those commands could lead to painful accidents or even death.

My words to him were not some simple platitude, for uppermost in my mind was an incident that I experienced when he was a toddler that could have robbed him of a father.

One morning in 1980 I was driving west on Riverside Drive in the Toluca Lake neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley when I stopped for the red traffic light at the intersection with Cahuenga Boulevard. As the lights turned green, I was about to proceed through the intersection when I heard a clear, sharp voice in my head saying, “Stop!”

It was such a strong, startling command that I obeyed instantly and kept my foot on the brake.

Seconds later a car ignored the red light and zoomed through the intersection from my left and continued north, leaving me gasping with the realization that, had I moved into the intersection with the green light, the car would have plowed into the driver side of my little Datsun car and I could have been killed.

So clear and strong was the voice in my head, I was certain that the Holy Spirit had spoken to me in that instant! Had I ignored that voice and that warning, Chris might have
been orphaned that day.

Although I’ve never heard that voice again in that manner, I continue to be conscious of the different ways God speaks to us through his Scripture, through his people, and through our conscience.

And very often, God’s message to us through our conscience is, “Stop!”

Romans 1:18-20 tells us that all people have an inner sense of what God requires, for the truth about God is known to us instinctively.

Our conscience tells us to stop, back away, and even flee when we find ourselves being attracted to some temptation that we know would be enjoyable in the short term but destructive in the long term.

Sometimes we try to shut our ears to the “Stop!” messages of our conscience, and we struggle within ourselves between what we desire and what we know God wants for us.

Sometimes our “Stop!” messages involve our relationships with others, especially if we are considering a marriage or business partnership. 2 Corinthians 6:14 tells us, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” As Christians we should not team up with unbelievers in partnerships because it might weaken our Christian commitment, standards, and integrity, and it could prove disastrous.

And sometimes God uses our family, our friends, and our church brothers and sisters to tell us, “Stop!” Stop traveling the path we might be on…the drugs…the drinking…the pornography…the unhealthy eating habit…the violence…the overworking…the out-of-control spending…the idleness…the lying…the promiscuity…the cheating…the gossiping…the hate…the vindictiveness….

A “Stop!” from God is always for our good and in our best interest, and to ignore it is to put ourselves in danger of detrimental consequences. Sometimes the consequence is immediate, sometimes it is long range, and sometimes it is eternal.

Nowhere is this clearer than in our relationship with God. If we have been running away from him, he continues to call to us to stop, repent, and commit our lives to him. If we insist on closing our ears to his voice, eventually we’ll become deaf to his call and our separation from him will be eternal.

That is why the Scripture says of God,

Today you must listen to his voice.
Don’t harden your hearts against him
as Israel did when they rebelled,
when they tested God’s patience in the wilderness.
(Hebrew 3:7-8, New Living Translation)

Today is the day of salvation.
(2 Corinthians 6:2, NLT)

I’m thankful that I did listen to his voice that day in Toluca Lake, for Chris, who is about to turn 32, is a constant reminder of how different life could have been for us had I ignored that “Stop!”

********

Chris, at age 8

Chris and me recently

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