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Posts Tagged ‘Salvation’

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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Each week I have the privilege of praying for scores of individuals from our large congregation who send in their prayer requests, so I’m very aware of the range of difficulties that they face regarding sickness, financial worries, bereavement, unemployment, business setbacks, broken relationships, and more.

Among the prayers that I bring to God on their behalf is that each person will experience peace and joy in the midst of their difficulties.

Peace? Joy? In the midst of difficulties?

Yes!

The apostle Paul—who had more than his share of trials and tribulations, including numerous attempts on his life by enemies—experienced peace and joy in the midst of good and bad times, and he reminds us that:

* Faith in Jesus Christ brings peace:

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” (Romans 5:1)

This is not peace in the sense of the absence of conflicts and difficulties in our lives, but God’s peace of mind and heart, of confident assurance in any and all situations. It’s a peace that fills our beings when we accept Jesus Christ as our savior and lord, for, in that moment, God forgives our sins and reconciles us to himself throughout this life and for all eternity.

* Faith in Jesus Christ brings joy, even in suffering:

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation.” (Romans 5:3, 4)

It’s a joy that Jesus bestows on believers who earnestly seek him, a joy that comes from a consistent relationship with him in which he fills them with his joy, for even as he said to his disciples, he says to all his believers today:

I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 14:9-11)

So, as we face the difficult periods and circumstances that each of us will inevitably encounter in our lives, may we not fear—no matter how frightening or hopeless things might seem—but may we put our trust in the risen Christ and experience his peace and his joy as we “run with endurance the race that God has set before us…keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.” (Hebrews 12:1b, 2)

*****

All Bible quotes are from the New Living Translation.

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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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A blogger, whose 16-year-old daughter recently lost a young friend to suicide, commented, “I asked God to help me understand why they [who take their lives] go to Hell. I am no one to question God, but I need an answer. I can’t find one—yet.”

Although the Bible doesn’t use the word “suicide,” it provides four incidents of individuals taking their lives—I Sam. 31:4-5; II Sam. 17:23; I Kings 16:18; and Matt. 27:5.

However, the Bible does not address the eternal future of those who commit suicide, nor does it specifically prohibit or condemn the act.

What the Bible provides are inferences regarding the high value of the human life. These include Acts 16: 27-28 where Paul stops his prison guard from killing himself, and such verses as:

Do not murder.” –Exodus 20:13

For we are not our own master when we live or when we die. While we live, we live to please the Lord. And when we die, we go to be with the Lord. So in life and in death, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose, so that he might be Lord of those who are alive and of those who have died.” –Rom. 14:7-9

Or don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” –I Cor. 6:19-20

No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body, which is the church. And we are his body.” –Eph. 5:30

Along with the grief and emotional devastation experienced by family and friends when their loved one commits suicide, there is usually a variety of difficult and troubling questions, including the one about hell.

As someone who lost a family member to suicide, and knows of two Christian leaders who ended their own lives, I have found hope and encouragement about their eternal future from Scripture, though I am careful to not apply this to all suicides.

First, these were suicides that occurred while these individuals were suffering from chronic and debilitating bouts of sadness, pain, and depression. The causes ranged from life-shattering events, medication problems, illnesses, diseases, and severe mood disorders such as bipolar disorder. Such bouts sometimes lasted for years and were so severe that the individuals lost hope and finally gave up on life.

Second, I don’t believe that they were rational or in their right minds when they ended their lives. They were in mental, emotional, and spiritual breakdown and bankruptcy—totally crushed in their inner beings—and in such a state, Jesus’ pronouncement of blessings can be applied to them when he said:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” –Matt. 5:3-4 (New International Version, NIV)

Based on these verses, I believe that the kingdom of God is a gift of grace, mercy, hope, and comfort to those who are destitute in spirit and who mourn from within the depths of their despair—even to those of his children who commit suicide.

Third, Scripture assures us that our salvation in Jesus Christ can never be broken or taken away from us:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death?

“No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Jesus Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high in the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” –Rom. 8: 35, 37-39

And what of those who never acknowledged or accepted God or Jesus Christ into their lives before their suicides? There is no such assurance of their place in his heavenly kingdom or that they will be comforted.

Still, there is the possibility that some of them might have cried out to God from within their death throes. Might God, in his compassion, grace, love, and mercy have forgiven them?

I believe he might have, for just as he expressed through Jesus his compassion, forgiveness, and healing for the sick, the crippled in body and mind, the tormented, and sinners—even the dying thief on the cross—so he might have had compassion and forgiveness for such ones who realized their need for him at the last moment.

And I believe that we might be surprised to see who will be—and who won’t be—in his kingdom on Judgment Day (Matt. 25:31-46).

*****

All Bible references are from the New Living Translation (NLT), except the noted NIV reference.

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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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In the present climate of political campaigning in which a single word or phrase can impact a candidate’s poll numbers positively or negatively, I’m reminded of an incident in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John in which Jesus lost almost all his disciples when they took offense at his invitation to eat his flesh and drink his blood.

The difference today is that while a candidate’s words might have local or national political consequences for a time, Jesus’ words have eternal consequences for every living person on this planet.

A throng of five thousand men and perhaps as many as five to fifteen thousand women and children had been following Jesus for days because he had used five bread loaves and two fish to miraculously feed them until they were full.

Like today’s throngs who flock to hear preachers with “prosperity gospel” messages that promise health, wealth, and the good life if they follow Jesus, the throngs that followed Jesus that day were only interested in the good life of his miracle food.

He warned them that they shouldn’t be so concerned about perishable things like food, but that they should seek the true bread of heaven that God was offering through him.

“Sir,” they replied, “give us that bread every day of our lives.” (John 6:34, New Living Translation, NLT)

At which, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry again. Those who believe in me will never thirst.” (John 6:35)

But the people didn’t believe that he was from heaven, for they knew him only as the son of Joseph, the carpenter.

Then Jesus dropped a bombshell:

“I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them at the last day. For my flesh is the true food, and my blood is the true drink. All who eat my flesh and drink my blood remain in me, and I in them.” (John 6:53-56)

This seemingly cannibalistic invitation offended his listeners that day, including many of his own disciples who deserted him.

So turning to the remaining twelve disciples, Jesus asked, “Are you going to leave, too?”

To which Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life. We believe them, and we know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Jesus was not inviting people to literally eat his flesh and drink his blood. He was inviting them to partake of the spiritual nourishment and eternal life that is gifted to those who believe in him and are united in a personal relationship with God through him.

As with people in the time of Jesus, there are those today who reject Jesus because he offends them with his claims that:

• No one comes to God except through him (John 14:6).

• Forgiveness of sin and salvation to eternal life are found in no one else but him (Acts 4:12)

• Love for him must be greater than love for family and friends (Matthew 10:37)

• They must put aside their selfish ambitions, shoulder their cross daily, and follow him (Luke 9:23)

• They must leave their life of sin (John 5:14; 8:11)

• They must be willing to suffer for him (Matthew 10:24-26; Acts 20:24; Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 3:13-17)

Jesus knew that not only would his own Jewish people reject him (John 1:10-11) but so would the vast majority of mankind, for he said:

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose the easy way. But the gateway to life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14, NLT)

Yes, only a few entered that narrow gate in the beginning—Simon Peter, ten of the remaining disciples, and a group of women who believed in Jesus and funded his ministry during the three years that he preached.

And after his crucifixion, death, resurrection from the dead, and his ascension back to heaven, many more people believed and chose to follow Jesus into the Kingdom of God, especially after God empowered them with the Holy Spirit to spread the good news that:

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” (John 3:16, NLT)

Today, two thousand and twelve years later, countless numbers continue to enter that Narrow Gate through which they experience eternal life, the forgiveness of sin, and find nourishment of their souls as they fellowship with the living Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life.

So, among the many questions and choices that we must make in the next few days and weeks, including for whom will we be voting to lead our nation, here are three far more eternally significant questions that each of us must answer for ourselves:

Am I among the few who have entered the Narrow Gate to eternal life that Jesus provides?

Am I willing to partake of his flesh and blood and be nourished spiritually?

Is my heart-felt response to Jesus, “Lord, to whom would I go? You alone have the words that give eternal life . . . ”?

I pray that your answer will be “Yes” to all three.

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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

Clicky

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