Christianity 201

March 24, 2018

Damascus Road, or Emmaus Road: You Need to Have the Experience

This is our fourth time with Canadian Presbyterian pastor Jeff Loach who writes at Passionately His. Because Jeff has been a longtime friend of Thinking Out Loud, I’m taking the liberty of running back-to-back articles from him today and tomorrow.  His title below for this article emphasizes a different aspect of his article than the title we chose, but both are things to consider as you read. Click the title below to read this at source.

Don’t be ashamed of the Name

I’m going to talk about a term that gets tossed around a lot – often with scorn attached – in the church and in the world.  It’s the term “born again”.

In the sense in which Christians use it, the term appears just in one place in the New Testament:  the story of Jesus’ encounter at night with Nicodemus in John 3.  Nicodemus confides that everybody who has been eyeing his ministry knows he has come from God.  Then Jesus tells him,

I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3.3, NLT).

Well, that kind of came out of left field, didn’t it, Jesus?  After receiving such a high compliment from such a high-ranking Jewish official, one would think he would demurely blush and say, “Aw, shucks” or something.  But not Jesus.  He jumps right into the challenge of the Kingdom:  to see it, you must be born again.

What did he mean by that?

As I noted, the term is fraught with baggage both inside and outside the church, and it’s often negative.  But the term that John uses for “again” in John 3.3 – anōthen – has a couple of similar meanings.  It can mean ‘again’, ‘from the very beginning’, or ‘for a long time’; or, as John tends to use it most, ‘from above’.  Some translations of the Bible have started using ‘from above’, because it is a correct translation, and perhaps also to try to steer away from the negative baggage that ‘again’ has caused over the year.

But they really all point to the same thing:

There must be some sort of new, supernatural birth that takes place in our lives before we can see the Kingdom of God.

Many well-meaning followers of Jesus have hammered away at this verse over the years as an antidote to the milquetoast teaching (or lack thereof) that suggests, “All you have to do is be good, and God will have you.”

I’m still not sure, after 30 years in this business, where people came up with that notion, but it sure wasn’t from the Bible, that’s for sure.

No, at some point in our lives – and it’s never too late! – each of us needs to come to terms with the reality that Jesus’ death and resurrection were not just historical events, but that they were accomplished for me.  For each of us.  And when God pours down his grace on us to enable us to make that confession of faith, something new happens inside us, and we experience new birth.  We are born from above.  We are born again.

It doesn’t have to have a dramatic testimony attached to it.  Instead of a Damascus Road experience, it can be an Emmaus Road experience.  Each must lead to the same conclusion, though:  at some point, we ceased living under our own strength and gave over the throne of our hearts to Jesus.  When you do, some people will label you as “one of those born again Christians.”  And when they do, you can give humble praise to the One who died and rose again for you, and who changes you within by the Holy Spirit.

It’s not about pride – far from it.  But you don’t need to be ashamed of the Name.

January 20, 2018

Born of Water and the Spirit

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.

Many of you are familiar with this phrase, found in a statement Jesus makes to Nicodemus in John 3. We found these comments on this at Biblical Hermeneutics. We’ve included the first two answers, but you may click on the title below to read more. The first answer is reiterated in #5 below.

What does it mean to be “born of water”?

In John 3:5, Jesus tells Nicodemus that to enter the kingdom one must be “born of water and the Spirit”. How is this phrase understood? Is it a single construct (i.e. one birth of both water and Spirit)? Or are two births in view (one of water and one of Spirit)? And what does it mean to be born of water?


“Born of water” does not stand alone here, but rather inseparably collocated with “and spirit”. Just as “raining cats and dogs” refers to one rain, or “this item is our bread and butter” refers to one mainstay item, “water and the spirit” refers to one birth.

In other words, we are not to take this is “first you must be born of water and then of spirit”; rather, “unless one is born of water and spirit” in v5 is parallel to “unless one is born again” in v3.

Although the phrase “born of water and of the spirit” is not found in the Old Testament, we do see water and spirit both tied to personal and covenantal renewal, notably in Ezekiel 36:25-27:

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from fall your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (ESV)

Here water is used to explicitly symbolize cleansing from impurity, and spirit for the transformation of the heart to full obedience. All that Jesus has done here is add the concept of birth to further explain what he had said in v3.


Actually, after researching this more, there are multiple possible translations of this

1. Christian Baptism

C. H. Dodd reflects this interpretation when he asserts that

“the instructed Christian reader would immediately recognize a reference to Baptism, as the sacrament through which the Spirit was given to believers, and by which they were initiated into that new order of life described as the Kingdom of God, which was historically embodied in the Church.”
Dodd, Interpretation, p. 311.

Essentially, the idea is being “born of water” would have been immediate recognizable as meaning baptism. And since Jesus had been baptizing, it could be understood as this baptism.

2. John’s Baptism

The argument here is that when Nicodemus heard “born of water”, he would immediately think of John’s baptisms, since he had been causing a stir throughout Israel. Support from this comes from here:

John 1:23 (NIV)
I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit’

The argument is that John baptized with water but Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit.

3. Natural (Flesh) Birth

This popular and well-thought out argument is supported by the quote from Nicodemus himself as well as later parallelism of Jesus.

John 3:4 (NIV)
How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

The parallels can be drawn directly from Jesus two contiguous sentences:

John 3:5-6 (NIV)
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

Clearly, being “born of water and the spirit” relates directly to bineg born of “flesh” and “spirit” in verse 6.

Finally, it gains biblical support in that the term “water” has been used in reference to female organs in Song of Songs 4:12-15.

4. Word of God

This theory maintains that there are two elements required for a person to be “born again”: the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.

Support for this theory are found in the following two verses:

James 1:18 (NIV)
He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

1 Peter 1:23 (NIV)
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

5. Double metaphor

Proponents of this theory state that Being “born of the water and of the spirit” are actually two ways to say the same thing. The argument is that Jesus said that you must be “born again” in previous verses and then “born of water and the spirit” in later verses. These two parallels, the argument goes, shows that being “born of water” is simply another way to say being “born again”.

6. Purification

This idea states that water and spirit are purification that must take place in order to be born again. This can be illustrated by the use of water in purification rituals. Furthermore, support for this can be found in Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NIV)
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

This verse shows the connection between water and the spirit in purification and the new birth.

Summary

There are six traditional views of how to view this. Two views stand out as the most likely: The natural birth (#3) and the Purificaiton (#6). These two views have the strongest support for them, both biblically and traditionally. The other views each have strong problems with their views. (I add them solely for completeness.)


The answers which follow are also worth considering. Nobody said Biblical interpretation was easy! If you have time, especially consider the one which followed these. Once again, here’s the link.

January 8, 2016

A Different Type of Fishing

ESV Matt. 4:18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

ESV Luke 5:1 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”[a] 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

Today we pay a return visit to Georgia pastor Clark Bunch (who we tend to interact with more at Thinking Out Loud) sourcing today from his church website at Unity Baptist Church. Click the title below to read at source.

Things Change After Jesus

Fishers of Men

Jesus began his public ministry by being baptized by John in the Jordan. After spending 40 days fasting in the wilderness he began preaching in Galilee and almost immediately called the first disciples. Mark 1 and Matthew 4 share an almost identical account of Jesus calling Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew by saying “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Luke 5 records the miraculous catch of fish and a very similar statement (from now on you will catch men). Things changed for Peter when Jesus got on his boat and called him to follow.

They used to fish with nets. All of the fishermen in the New Testament fished with nets. They cast the nets off the side of the boat, drug them through the water and then hauled up whatever was caught up along the way. Many of us have never fished that way but you’ve probably seen it. Tuna are caught by the hundreds as nets drag them up from the sea. It was a big deal in the late 80’s, early 90’s because dolphins were being trapped in the tuna nets and drowned. In the Luke 5 account the nets were so filled with fish they were breaking and they had to call for backup. Jesus said “I will make you fishers of men” and taught them how to cast the net of the Gospel. Some days you don’t catch anything; Peter and company had just had a bad night the first time they met Jesus. But our call as believers is to cast the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit do what he does to draw people to Jesus. Don’t worry about the days you don’t seem to be catching anything; our calling is to love God, love our neighbor as ourselves, and keep casting the net.

Peter did not fish with bait. I learned from my grandfather how to bait a hook. Most of us here today cast a hook with a rod and reel and catch one fish at a time; catfish, bluegill, trout, that’s how it’s done. When Jesus said “I will make you fishers of men” he was talking to fishermen that cast net which they traded in for casting the Gospel. We are not to fish for men with bait. See where I’m going with this? The prosperity gospel, the health and wealth preachers, are baiting people they hope to hook and do not cast the Gospel net. When praise and worship hymns we sing together are replaced by a rock concert, and when preaching the Word is replaced by a guy promising you will have everything you ever wished for and be richly blessed beyond your wildest dreams, then we’ve quit casting the net. You can fill a stadium with people that have itching ears and are willing to take the bait. People show up for the show. We must not replace authentic worship with worshiptainment.

Peter never stopped fishing. After the resurrection, in John 21:3, Peter says to about half a dozen other disciples “I am going fishing” and they went with him. They weren’t taking a new bass boat out to the lake for the first time or going on a fishing trip to get away from everything a few days. They had spent the past several years with Jesus, listening to his teaching, witnessing miracles and learning to do those same things themselves.  They most likely had no clue what to do next. Things changed when Jesus came, how would they change again when he left them? Peter said “I am going fishing” because that’s what he knew how to do. If the Jesus movement was over there were still bills to pay and food would have to be put on the table. Many of the disciples had been fishermen by trade and when Peter announced he was going back to work Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee and two other unnamed disciples went with him. Jesus appeared to them, the miraculous catch of fish was repeated, and Peter found out that his work and ministry were not over yet. In fact that work was just beginning.

Things change after Jesus. Your life may not change as dramatically as Peter’s did but our goals in life are reshaped as we redefine what is important. One of the things believers do is share with others. Think about intentionally casting the Gospel net this week and we’ll continue next with considering things that change after Jesus comes.

January 5, 2016

The Sauls Around Us

NIV Acts 9:10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17a Then Ananias went to the house and entered it.

Sometimes we return to a blog that we’ve sourced content from before, only to find that the author is no longer posting new material. Still, some of what is there is so good, we want to keep it alive through sharing it with our audience here. That’s the case at the blog Commissionary (Great Commission + Missionary).

This appears to be the second-last post from Greg Wilton on the blog, from May, 2014. Click the title to read at source.

Can God Save Anyone?

The Conversion of Ananias – Acts 9:1-18

The story of the conversion of Saul tests our faith because it causes us to wonder if we really believe that God can save anyone. Saul, the one who watched people’s garments while they stoned Stephen (Acts 7:58) and the one who was breathing threats against believers (Acts 9:1), was dramatically converted on the road to Damascus. When we read this in Acts 9, we are immediately confronted with our own faith. God radically saved Saul, but can God radically do the same for my family, my friends, my coworkers, and my neighbors? All of us know people who are very worldly, very apathetic, or very devoted to another faith. All of us have been guilty of thinking that God couldn’t save that person. We sometimes think, “They just don’t care about spiritual matters…there’s no way,” “She’s too devoted to her own religion…there’s no way,” “He loves living like the world so much…there’s no way.” Our preconceived or initial judgments condemn us. Our spirit testifies to this because we know there are times when we don’t speak to someone about Jesus because we have already convinced ourselves that they wouldn’t believe in Jesus regardless. We are very quick to affirm cognitively that God can save anyone, but we are very reluctant to affirm that God can save anyone through our obedience in bringing God’s good news to that person. This is why Ananias is so important to those of us who struggle with this. Acts 9 describes the conversion of Saul, but equally important is how Acts 9 describes the conversion of Ananias.

Who is Ananias? Scripture only speaks about Ananias in reference to the conversion of Saul. Ananias is a disciple in Damascus (Acts 9:10), a devout man according to the law (Acts 22:12), and is well spoken of by all the Jews who lived in Damascus (Acts 22:12). This is an honorable description that most believers strive for. We all want to be known as a follower of Jesus in our community. We want to be known as people who are guided by a moral code. We all want to have a good reputation in our community because we know that a good reputation is a good witness for Christ. How Ananias is described is how most of us want to be described. As a relatively obscure, moral, reputable disciple of Jesus, Ananias represents us in this story of Saul’s conversion.

AnaniasBut why does Ananias need to be converted? He does not need a salvation conversion, but rather Ananias needed a belief conversion about salvation. Just like us, Ananias doubted if God could really save anyone. In a vision, God tells Ananias to go find Saul of Tarsus. Ananias’ response reveals his doubts about Saul, “But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name’” (Acts 9:13,14). Notice the doubt, the fear, and the apprehension in his reply. This does not sound like a man who believes that God can save anyone. Ananias sounds like most of us, believing in our heads that God can save anyone but doubting that in our hearts. Despite his doubts about Saul, Ananias obeys the Lord and goes to visit Saul. His fear of God was greater than his fear of Saul, and for this reason we witness in Acts a very important kind of conversion. Ananias was converted from believing in “a God of possibilities” to believing in “a God of impossibilities.” Saul’s conversion challenged Ananias faith because Ananias had to decide if he truly believed that God could save anyone.

Jesus once said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Jesus said this because his disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” This popular phrase, “All things are possible with God” was initially related to Jesus’ statement about who can be saved. Jesus himself wanted his followers to believe that no one is beyond hope. Without question, the most impossible task we will ever face in life is trying to save ourselves. On our own, salvation cannot be obtained through being good or doing good. Be absolutely certain about this: apart from God salvation is impossible. Yet this most impossible task becomes possible because of Jesus Christ. He alone makes the impossible possible. Jesus lived perfectly, sacrificed himself for us by dying on the cross, and defeated Satan, sin, and death by resurrecting three days later. Because of this, we can have confidence that God did the impossible. Jesus saved us when we could not save ourselves. Ananias came to believe this through his involvement in the conversion of Saul. Ananias too was dramatically converted.

So what can we learn from Ananias’ example? Knowing that we want to believe wholeheartedly that God can save anyone, and knowing that we struggle at times to believe wholeheartedly that God can save anyone, what can we learn from Ananias?

  1. Say, “Here I am Lord.” Ananias responded to God by saying, “Here I am Lord.” This is reminiscent of Isaiah 6:8, “Here I am Lord, send me.” It’s a simple response, but it’s always the right response. Do you want to live your life as though you truly believe that God can save anyone that you might encounter today? Don’t get caught up in the details. Let it be sufficient to start by saying, “Here I am Lord.”
  2. Acknowledge your fears, but don’t embrace them. Ananias admitted his fears to God about Saul. He was aware of the evil Saul had already done and was capable of doing. Be honest with the Lord. In prayer, tell the Lord why you struggle with believing this person can be saved. But don’t embrace that doubt, that fear. Never. Leave the impossible to God.
  3. Embrace obedience. After Ananias confessed his concerns to the Lord, he listened to the Lord’s reply and responded in obedience. Go when God says go.
  4. Lay your hands on Saul. Ananias didn’t just pray for Saul from a distance. He got personal. He got involved. Ananias obeyed God and got so close to notorious Saul that he put his hands of him. If you believe God can save anyone, don’t be a witness from a distance. Have them in your home. Go to their home. Become friends with them. Learn what it means to rub shoulders with the people you once thought were beyond hope. You’ll likely be surprised how they have been crying out for truth, grace, and people from God all along.
  5. Speak Jesus to Saul. Ananias came to Saul as an ambassador of Jesus. He shared Jesus with Saul. That’s what people need to hear. Give them Jesus. No matter what, make sure you give them Jesus because Jesus is their only hope.
  6. Disciple Saul. Ananias played a role in baptizing Saul. We must not only be ready to believe that God can save anyone, we must be prepared for that reality. Be ready to disciple. Believe that God can save them, and be ready to show them the Christ-filled life.

There are Sauls all around us, people we thought would never believe, yet God disagrees. God is asking us to be Ananias. We must go get God’s Sauls. Believe that God can save anyone.

January 3, 2016

Jonah Feared Success, Not Failure in Mission Nineveh

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NIV-Jonah 1:1The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord…

One time when the kids were younger, for our Bible study we studied the story of Jonah for an entire week. Since by that point this was very familiar territory, we were looking for new insights into the story, and with scripture, you’ll always find them. We came up with a few, with a little help from the ESV Study Bible.

Chapter One
There is a great deal of bigotry that plays into this story, but not in the way we often think. We tend to assume that Jonah simply didn’t like the people of Nineveh and simply didn’t want to go on that basis. But it’s more accurate to say that Jonah was afraid of the success of his mission. He certainly wasn’t seeing them through God’s eyes. Do we do that?

  • What if that terrible family down the street become Christians and start going to our church?
  • What if that guy where I work became a believer and started expecting me to mentor him in his faith journey?
  • What if so-and-so in our extended family got serious about reading the Bible and started asking me why, if I’m also a Christ-follower, have I done some of the things I’ve done?
  • What if those poor people I prayed with downtown and left my phone number expect us to help them out?
  • What if all the people who put up their hands at the movie our church showed start coming ever week… there would be more of them than us?
  • Everybody knows the terrible things that _____ did; now that he’s been a believer for two years, is he going to expect a leadership position?
  • That’s the woman who hit our car in the hardware store parking lot last Christmas. What’s she doing at our small group meeting?

Chapter Two
The ESV Study describes the four chapters of Jonah as containing seven episodes, with the first three paralleling the second three. Jonah speaks to two similar audiences in the story. The crew on the boat heading for Tarshish were each praying to their own God, but then after Jonah explained to them what was causing the terrible storm, they prayed to Jonah’s God. Success! Just as he will experience in Nineveh. His ministry as a prophet was constantly bearing fruit. But inside the great fish, Jonah’s prayer is mostly thankfulness for his own safety and deliverance. There’s no mention of the sailors or the people who he was originally sent to. A rather egocentric prophet, don’t you think?

Chapter Three
Jonah shows up several days (or weeks) late for his assignment and delivers his message, albeit halfheartedly. Today we have preachers who read powerful scriptures and then deliver messages containing great truths — even if ‘borrowed’ from the internet — and yet don’t realize the power of the Word they are handling. It’s just a job. The people of Ninevah may matter to God but don’t matter to Jonah. He’s apparently quite disappointed that God doesn’t destroy the city. Perhaps that would be more fun to watch.

Chapter Four
Maybe God will destroy the city after all. He’s already changed his mind once. So instead of taking the first train, boat or great fish out of town, Jonah hangs around to see if anything develops. The closing phrase of the story shows how out-to-lunch his priorities are, as God’s final appeal is basically, “If I destroy the city, think of all the animals that would perish.” Since Jonah has a thing for houseplants, God figures he’ll appeal to Jonah’s sense of nature. Not a good ending for Jonah really. Final score: Ship passengers and crew – 1; People of Nineveh – 1; Jonah – 0.

We ended our week reading the story from The Street Bible by Rob Lacey, known in North America as The Word on The Street. He devotes almost half of his writing to Chapter Four. Maybe someone should re-tell this story for kids, using the last chapter as the basis for the story, and then recreate the opening scenes backwards in light of the closing. Call it “Jonah and the Plant;” or “Jonah and the Worm.” Or instead of pitching this story for kids, it should really be part of Church Leadership Lessons 101.

The 4th chapter — the entire book actually — ends with a question, “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh…?” (NIV) to which Lacey adds, “Hard question to someone convinced God’s only interested in the Jewish nation. It’s tough admitting you’re wrong.”

Often our evangelism efforts are focused on people who, if converted, will look like us and talk like us — people who blend into our local church culture — but the command of Jesus to go into the world means the whole world.

 

June 26, 2015

Perfection Bore Our Penalty

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Today’s thoughts are from a first-time source here, the Living By Faith blog written by Steve Fuller. You are, as always, encouraged to click the title link below to read this at source and then visit the rest of the site. As you’ll see, the video below is part of today’s meditation.

How Worship Transformed Me (“Grace so Glorious”)

Longing for More

We are seeing God work in amazing ways here in Abu Dhabi.

But at the same time, I’ve been longing for God to do in me what Paul prays in Ephesians 3:16-17 

… that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

It’s true that Christ dwells in every believer.  So why does Paul pray that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith?

Doesn’t Christ already dwell in our hearts?  Yes.  That happened at conversion, as we see, for example, in Romans 8:9-10.

But it’s also true that God can give us a greater heart-experience of this indwelling.

Which means that it’s possible for us to know and feel more of Christ’s love, majesty, and glory.

That’s what Paul is praying for the Ephesians believers.

And that’s what I’ve been lacking — and longing for.

“Grace so Glorious”

So tonight I came home and watched a YouTube of “Grace so Glorious” by Elevation Worship (included below).

And as I listened, by His mercy, God gave me a greater taste of Jesus’ glory than I have had in weeks.

Here are the lines God used to help me see more of Jesus —

Perfection bore our penalty.

Jesus was morally perfect.  But because of his great love and mercy, he bore our penalty.

Oh, the glory of a Savior’s love.

He loved us while we were his enemies.  That’s a glorious love.

To know, forever we are welcomed home.

Not condemnation, but a loving welcome home. Forever.

Worthy is the Lord of all the glory forever.

He is worthy.  And at this point in the song I was deeply seeing and feeling how worthy he is to be glorified forever.

O wondrous day when I will see the face of Him who ransomed me.

That day is coming.  And He is, and will be, worth it all.

Here’s the YouTube

I pray that God will touch your heart as he has touched mine.


Christianity 201 brings together the best of Bible Study and Devotional content from the internet. While authors on consecutive days may not agree on every last detail of Biblical interpretation, articles are chosen because they either begin with, end with, or have scripture in the middle. Be sure to link through… some the writers featured here may become part of your daily online routine.

February 3, 2014

Salvation: Still Free (Last Time I Checked)

Although I don’t use eBooks, I’m always intrigued by the concept that publishers now routinely offer books completely free of charge. There are Christian bloggers who regularly advise their readers where to find the daily and weekly bargain downloads, but sometimes I’m reading an old blog post, so even though I don’t have an eReader, I’ll click through to learn more, only to find the offer is no longer in effect and there is now a price to be paid.

Fortunately, when it comes to salvation, there is currently no closing date on God’s offer. True, a day will come when that will change. Also true, you don’t know long you have to take advantage. But it’s a free offer.

Mercy there was great and grace was free
Pardon there was multiplied to me
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary

For some, this is simply too good to be true. “Surely there is a cost;” they say, and truthfully they are correct. While Salvation itself is a free gift, God offers so much for us for this life, and that is going to involve taking up your cross daily. It might mean sacrifice or it might mean being ostracized by your family, friends and co-workers.

But in our original coming to Jesus, we find the offer to “taste and see” is both easy and simple. The problem we have is putting this idea across to those outside the church, and I believe part of the challenge is that we are living in a culture that is not Biblically literate, and therefore are not, as music and literary people say, “familiar with the literature.”

The story that needs to be kept told for me is the story in Numbers:

Numbers 21:7-9

(NIV)

7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

This Old Testament story foreshadows, as do so many OT stories, what Christ is going to do. As God’s people sojourn, they are given pictures which are somewhat for our benefit. Sometimes we impute this into the text from a New Testament perspective, but sometimes Jesus spells out for us in words unmistakable:

John 3:14

(NIV)

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up…

Again, some of you are thinking, “this sounds really familiar,” and that’s because we covered this here in August, just a few months ago. But I felt directed that we need to return to this Old Testament picture, and furthermore we need to teach people how to teach people this story. While a testimony of “what God has done for us,” and a rudimentary knowledge of basic salvation scriptures are both helpful, it’s needful to be able to construct the offer of “God’s gift” in terms unrelated to the deeper, doctrinal considerations of Romans or Hebrews which the novice believer can’t fully process.

That’s why, for the fourth time, I’ve returned to this theme today. It can be explored more in each of the blog posts listed below.

But what if salvation is being commodified too much in this approach. As with all things, we need to be careful; we need to strike a balance. Tomorrow, we’re going to explore this in a way we haven’t in any of the preceding articles. Stay tuned.

The Great Exchange from Adam4d

Go deeper, read more:

Graphic: Adam4D (click graphic to source)

September 16, 2013

Helping New Christians Understand Conversion

Each day here we encourage you to read articles at source, but this time you really want visit and bookmark the evangelism resource pages from InterVaristy Christian Fellowship.  What follows is one small part of one section that deals with the how-to’s of reaching your friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers, fellow-students and the broader community with the Good News of Jesus Christ. This page is titled What is Conversion?


Dan had grown up in a Christian family. He had first prayed the sinner’s prayer when he was five years old. His life wasn’t exactly transformed – he wasn’t a particularly naughty child in the first place. He didn’t understand basic aspects of Christianity until he was 11 and went to summer camp. It was there that he first heard about sin and the cross in a way he could understand. He went to a private place and asked God to take his sin away. He felt forgiven. But his life wasn’t all that different from others in his school. Later, at 18, he went on a summer mission trip and it was like his relationship with God caught fire in a whole new way. When he got home afterward, he began to really live it out for the first time. Dan was confused. Had he just been converted? Or had he already been converted at five… or 11?

Sarah is a leader in her InterVarsity Chapter. She has been excited to see many seeking students come along to outreach events she has helped organize. Over a hundred of these students have prayed a prayer of commitment over the past two years, but only seven or eight of them seem to now be living as Christians. Sarah is beginning to wonder whether or not Christian conversion is a genuine reality: Why, she asks herself, does it seem to be such a temporary experience for most people who make decisions at their outreach events?

The Trickiness of Conversion

Conversion is a tricky subject.

It can be a painful topic for those who, like Dan, grew up in a Christian family. They find it hard to define exactly when they were converted. They hear dramatic stories of God’s work in the lives of others, and their own experience seems a little bland by comparison.

Conversion is also difficult for those of us who, like Sarah, are evangelists. How often have you known somebody who prayed to receive Christ and yet, afterward, seemed to display no real change in his or her life?

Two Common Ways Conversion is Misunderstood

Perhaps Dan and Sarah’s struggles stem from the same two basic misunderstandings of conversion. They, like many Christians, fell into the twin traps of:

1. Believing that conversion is always an instantaneous event.

Here’s an interesting exercise: Read the gospels and figure out when Peter was converted. Was it when he started following Jesus? When he realized Jesus was the Messiah? When he was sent out to preach and heal? When Jesus forgave him for denying him? It’s just not that clear-cut.

Even Billy Graham, who was famed for calling people forward after he preached so that they could make “a decision for Christ,” never labeled these important spiritual moments as “conversions.” This probably stemmed from his life experience. John Stackhouse has pointed out that “according to [Billy Graham’s] several biographers and his own memoirs, Billy Graham has experienced what amount to three, and perhaps four, major spiritual turning points in his life. More than one of them some might call conversion experiences.”

Some people do seem to have near-instantaneous conversions. You probably know some of them. But such experiences are by no means universal.

2. Confusing justification with conversion.

Conversion is not simply a shift in status before God. One certainly cannot be converted without experiencing justification, but conversion is a much larger reality in which our restored relationship with God begins to touch and change every area of our lives.

Justification is not something visible. It is purely a work that God does through Jesus’ cross and resurrection and is not marked by any human action other than what Scot McKnight calls “a gentle nod of the soul” toward him, acknowledging our need. As the old hymn says, “The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives”.

Defining Conversion

If conversion is neither a single event nor a synonym for justification, then what is it?

Gordon Smith, in his excellent book Beginning Well, has described conversion as the “response” people make “to the invitation, love, and work of God in Christ.” It might be a very quick response, or it might occur over a longer period of time, but it is all about how people respond to Jesus.

According to Smith, a full experience of conversion includes “a cluster of seven distinct elements.” These seven elements don’t necessarily occur in the same order. Neither, Smith says, are they to be conceived of as hoops to jump through. But an ideal Christian conversion will include them all.

The first four elements of conversion are primarily internal.

They include:

  1. Belief. A person needs to understand and agree with some basic facts about Jesus. For someone without a Christian upbringing, these may be things they previously didn’t know. A person raised in a Christian family, on the other hand, might know and believe these things from infancy.
  2. Repentance. Conversion involves more than simple agreement with facts about Jesus. It means a change of mind and of direction. Repentance is not the same as sorrow or remorse. It is, in Gordon Smith’s words, “a radical and unequivocal rejection of the way of sin and the pattern of life that leads to sin.”
  3. Trust and Assurance of Forgiveness. Responding to Jesus also touches our affections. A converted person will begin to grasp on an emotional level that God loves them and has forgiven them. This complements the more cerebral experience of “belief.”
  4. Commitment, Allegiance, and Devotion. As we encounter and get to know Jesus, we develop a determination to live for him in the world. Following him becomes more important than any other call on our lives.

The other three elements of Christian conversion are more outward.

They are:

  • Baptism. This is the “wedding ring” of the Christian – it doesn’t place us in relationship with God, but it is the formal outward symbol of the union that has taken place.
  • The Gift of the Spirit. Our relationship with God ceases to be a relationship purely with an external reality. Instead, the Holy Spirit comes and takes up residence inside us. It is common for this to occur very early in the conversion process, but that is not always the case.
  • Incorporation into the Christian Community. Most people first encounter Christ through the witness of another Christian or group of believers. It is essential that they eventually become fully participating members of the Christian community – insiders rather than outsiders.

My friend Beau Crosetto, Los Angeles Director of Greek Ministry, thinks that Smith’s seven elements of conversion are a helpful but incomplete list. He says that he would add an eighth element of “missional lifestyle.” To be fully converted, Beau argues, has to result in a lifestyle that follows Jesus out into his mission of touching a broken world. In fact, in the case of some of Jesus’ first disciples, their conversion actually began with the missional call to become “fishers of men.”

How Understanding Conversion Affects Evangelism

This understanding of conversion is enormously helpful to Dan and Sarah, whom we met earlier:

It frees Dan to look back at his life and celebrate the work of God in his life over the years. His inability to indentify a single dramatic moment of conversion is no longer a cause for worry. And the long-running nature of his conversion can now be read as an indication of God’s faithfulness to him over many years, rather than a sign that he may not have really been converted.

Understanding the multifaceted nature of conversion is also helpful to Sarah. She should be encouraged that people seem to experience profound moments of decision at the outreach events she organizes. Perhaps they are genuinely coming to believe that the gospel is true, or are being affected emotionally by an encounter with Jesus. These are important elements of conversion.

But if conversion is – as Gordon Smith says – this cluster of several experiences that occur in response to Jesus, then Sarah cannot expect them all to happen in a single evening. Part of the evangelist’s role is to create ongoing opportunities for people to make these responses. So, if Sarah’s InterVarsity chapter can convince people of the truth of Christianity, then that is great. But they also need to encourage people to repent at some point. Likewise, if they help a person become an integrated member of the Christian community, but that person never becomes convinced of the truth of the gospel, then that also falls short of the ideal. All seven (or eight) aspects of conversion matter.

Understanding biblical conversion frees us to better appreciate our own stories and to help walk others through their spiritual journeys. Maybe take a few minutes to reflect on your own experience to consider where you see the various aspects of conversion in your life. Then, think about the evangelism efforts of your InterVarsity chapter and see if you can think of ways it can encourage a comprehensive experience of conversion in those it is seeking to reach.

What do you think of this explanation of conversion? How have you seen the seven (or eight) elements of conversion lived out? In a comment [at the webpage], share from your own testimony or from your evangelism experiences with others.

August 15, 2013

The Salvation Transaction

…and the transaction so quickly was made, when at the cross I believed…

~lyrics, “Heaven Came Down”

Today’s thoughts appeared here exactly a year ago, but I wanted to repeat this because I believe an understanding of the foundation underpinning salvation — which goes back to the book of Numbers — is often missed, even by seasoned Christ-followers who have been on this journey for a long time.

The moment of salvation is an invisible transaction. For some people there is an inward witness that verifies that step of faith.

John 9:24-25

(NIV)

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

But for some people, there is a desire to understand the underpinning of how that invisible transaction takes place. An entire branch of theology is devoted to this:

so·te·ri·ol·o·gy

[suh-teer-ee-ol-uh-jee]

~noun Theology.

— the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ.
So while the healing of the blind man in the story above provides its own satisfactory proof if you are, in fact, the blind man or his parents; for everyone else we have the books of Romans and Hebrews to understand the depth of salvation doctrine; how the saving work of Jesus meets all of the criteria necessary for the forgiveness of sin.
But we often miss a basic fact of how salvation works:

John 3:14

(NIV)

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up
The verse recalls a story from the book of Numbers often overlooked in times of increasing Biblical illiteracy:

7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

The concept of the invisible transaction was once entrenched through a hymn written by William Ogden in 1887 that was popular in some circles, the chorus inviting you to…

“Look and live,” my brother, live,
Look to Jesus now, and live;
’Tis recorded in His word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”

Youth ministries in the late 1960’s borrowed a phrase from a popular Clairol commercial and suggested that the invisibility of the transaction was such that “only your hairdresser knows for sure.” In other words, there isn’t necessarily a physical manifestation of salvation.

But as with so many things in God’s kingdom, there is a balance to be found on that issue, since the visible manifestation of salvation ought to be the presence of the fruit of the spirit.

Ultimately, the invisibility of the salvation transaction ought to be central if putting our trust in Jesus Christ to both redeem us and then from that point guide us is to be considered part of the realm of faith. You don’t get a certificate, or a wallet card — though sadly, some churches do just that — when you decide to become a Christ follower.

We cross the line of faith to become Christ followers at some point, but the line itself remains seen only in the spiritual world.


Today’s music:
For complete original lyrics to Heaven Came down, click here.
For an abridged version of the original redone in a modern style by David Crowder, click here.
Go Deeper:
To see an index of the main subjects that form a study on soteriology, note the ten sessions covered on this page.
To go extra deep on this topic, check out this teaching page.
Finally, here are links to dozens of other resources on the doctrine of salvation.
~PW

January 8, 2013

Unworthy, But Chosen

Isaiah 1 18 - Though your sins be as scarlet

Today’s item here at C201 is part testimony, part inspiration and part Bible study. I hope you’ll enjoy this piece from the blog Saint in Training. Click through to read at source and discover more from this blog’s two authors.

I am a living witness that God can and will save the worst of sinners.

I once saw myself as being beyond redemption, having no understanding that our Heavenly Father sees us all the same and that through His son Jesus Christ, he made a way of escape for us. Although our sins may differ we stand in danger of facing the same penalty for unrepentant sin: eternal damnation. Thank God for Jesus! It’s because of Him that every sinner is promised a future and thus once we become Christians it behooves us to remember that every saint has a past.

Dear hearts let us not forget that it was the mercies of God that brought us out of sin. We should be careful not to become self-righteous, thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to in Christ. Our awesome God, blessed be His name, is the only one worthy of praise.

The saying, “I don’t look like what I’ve been through,” is true. If I were to write a book, it couldn’t express the immensity of the love, grace and mercy God has showered upon me! Growing up in the streets of New York City shaped my thoughts and molded my life into a vehicle for sin. Loneliness was my best friend, distrust taught me to fear the night while hunger gave me the strength to beg and the will to live. I learned how to survive that kind of life. God wasn’t in my thoughts; he wasn’t a part of my life at all – or so I thought. I didn’t realize that it was he who was keeping me alive! His ever watchful eyes saw every step I took and protected my every move. He didn’t allow the devil to fulfill his desire to have my soul, nor did he let the demons of hell drive me to a point of no return. God kept my mind!

Oh! The unexplainable love of God. His love can’t be measured. It is deeper than the sea and as solid as a rock! We are so unworthy of his love, of his grace and of his mercy – yet, God still chose us to be his sons and daughters in Christ! He chose us to spend eternity with him in his heavenly kingdom. So those of you who have a feeling of unworthiness that overshadows you, I encourage you today to lift up your hands unto the Lord and bless his holy name – you are blessed. Yes, you are blessed! Why? Because he chose you to love and favored you by calling you to be his son, his daughter!

I’ll never find myself worthy of God’s love but I am grateful. I praise him for seeing me as being worth loving – that’s more than enough for me.

I am like that publican who prayed the prayer that touched God’s heart:

Luke 18:13-14 KJV

And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

Dear hearts, it was for the unworthy that Jesus died!

Mark 2:17 KJV

When Jesus heard it, he said to them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

It’s the unworthy that Jesus loves! It is the unworthy he embraces! Why? Because it is they who love him the most. They know that they are just that, unworthy. They are grateful and humble before him. God can use them to give hope to the hopeless. He shows his love toward them who desperately need the one and only true living God in their lives!

What does God see in us?

You know yourself as a drug dealer – God sees you as a preacher.
You know yourself as a prostitute – God sees you as a missionary.
You know yourself as an alcoholic – God sees you as an evangelist.
You know yourself as a liar and a thief – God sees you as a prayer warrior.
You see yourself as a nobody – God sees you as the apple of his eye.
You know yourself as a sinner – God sees you as a saint!

Where man has counted you out, God has already counted you as a winner! Where some may see us as being worthless, God sees us as being worth it! Man and Satan took us to the courtroom at Calvary dear hearts; they charged us and found us to be guilty. Oh! But God dropped the charges and He found us guiltless through the death of his son Jesus Christ!

He did this for me! He did this for you!

Forget what Satan says about you precious one, he’s a liar. Forget what you say about you, you’re only flesh. Look to God and receive what he said:

Isaiah 55:7-8 NIV

Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

Isaiah 1:18-20 NIV

“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.  If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

God has called you by name, he has chosen you for his own – receive his word, believe and watch your life change!

December 28, 2012

Continue to Come as a Child

Oswald ChambersIn our generation the most enduring devotional resource has been My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers. Many years ago a bookseller named James Reiman undertook to rewrite the entire book in more modern language, so that the type of sentence construction employed all those years ago wouldn’t be a barrier to people getting to the depth and riches of the material.

A year ago we ran a few Oswald Chambers Quotations, and  you can read a short biography of him here,  and also at Wikipedia.  It’s worth noting that Chambers never “wrote” My Utmost, rather, after his death his wife, who was a stenographer, transcribed notes from his talks.

The sample devotionals below are from the website utmost.org  and are the  readings for yesterday and today. Click the calendar page on the site for the permanent links to each.

Where the Battle is Won and Lost

’If you will return, O Israel,’ says the Lord . . . —Jeremiah 4:1

Our battles are first won or lost in the secret places of our will in God’s presence, never in full view of the world. The Spirit of God seizes me and I am compelled to get alone with God and fight the battle before Him. Until I do this, I will lose every time. The battle may take one minute or one year, but that will depend on me, not God. However long it takes, I must wrestle with it alone before God, and I must resolve to go through the hell of renunciation or rejection before Him. Nothing has any power over someone who has fought the battle before God and won there.

I should never say, “I will wait until I get into difficult circumstances and then I’ll put God to the test.” Trying to do that will not work. I must first get the issue settled between God and myself in the secret places of my soul, where no one else can interfere. Then I can go ahead, knowing with certainty that the battle is won. Lose it there, and calamity, disaster, and defeat before the world are as sure as the laws of God. The reason the battle is lost is that I fight it first in the external world. Get alone with God, do battle before Him, and settle the matter once and for all.

In dealing with other people, our stance should always be to drive them toward making a decision of their will. That is how surrendering to God begins. Not often, but every once in a while, God brings us to a major turning point— a great crossroads in our life. From that point we either go toward a more and more slow, lazy, and useless Christian life, or we become more and more on fire, giving our utmost for His highest— our best for His glory.


Continuous Conversion

. . . unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven —Matthew 18:3

These words of our Lord refer to our initial conversion, but we should continue to turn to God as children, being continuously converted every day of our lives. If we trust in our own abilities, instead of God’s, we produce consequences for which God will hold us responsible. When God through His sovereignty brings us into new situations, we should immediately make sure that our natural life submits to the spiritual, obeying the orders of the Spirit of God. Just because we have responded properly in the past is no guarantee that we will do so again. The response of the natural to the spiritual should be continuous conversion, but this is where we so often refuse to be obedient. No matter what our situation is, the Spirit of God remains unchanged and His salvation unaltered. But we must “put on the new man . . .” (Ephesians 4:24). God holds us accountable every time we refuse to convert ourselves, and He sees our refusal as willful disobedience. Our natural life must not rule— God must rule in us.

To refuse to be continuously converted puts a stumbling block in the growth of our spiritual life. There are areas of self-will in our lives where our pride pours contempt on the throne of God and says, “I won’t submit.” We deify our independence and self-will and call them by the wrong name. What God sees as stubborn weakness, we call strength. There are whole areas of our lives that have not yet been brought into submission, and this can only be done by this continuous conversion. Slowly but surely we can claim the whole territory for the Spirit of God.

December 3, 2012

Describing Christ-Following in terms of The Narrow Road

Almost exactly a year ago we visited the Orthodox blog written by Fr. Stephen Freeman, Glory to God for All Things. That’s our source for today’s excellent post The Narrow Road. You can read it here, but you’re encouraged to click the title and read it at source.

There is a small collection of Christ’s sayings that center on the topic of the “narrow road.” The heart of the topic is that the way into the kingdom of God is difficult and very few will find it. The sayings are troubling.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13-14)

So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen (Matthew 2o:16).

Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to will, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:23-24).

“And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”  When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:24-26).

The sayings are troubling because we think about the Kingdom of God in a passive manner. Heaven has become forensic – a legal reward for a life that meets the religious/moral requirements. These verses seem to indicate that the standard requirement might be quite strict and that very few will qualify.

Narrow RoadIn such a forensic model – the problem lies within the standard. God is looking for a “few, good men.” Deeper than the standard – the problem lies within God. In this model, we have been created by a very strict God, exacting in His demands, unwilling to yield to the weaknesses of human nature. Not just the universe, but the God behind the universe is stacked against us. Who then can be saved?

The difficulties presented by these sayings reveal difficulties with the Kingdom of God when it is misunderstood in a forensic or legal manner. If the Kingdom of God is just one more thing that we get into – in which simply being-there-as-a-reward is the point – the gospel becomes rather pathetic and the God behind it, alarming.

The way into the Kingdom is difficult, the path narrow, because the way itself is actually difficult and the path is actually narrow. These things are not true because God wants it to be hard for us to enter the Kingdom – they are hard on account of the nature of the spiritual disease that afflicts us.

No one is surprised to be told that the path to the remission of their cancer will be difficult (generally we are simply glad to hear that there is any path at all!). Nor do we blame the doctor for the difficulty of our treatment.

The spiritual disease (sin) that afflicts us stikes at the very fiber of our humanity, the very mode of our being. St. Paul describes sin as corruption (φθορὰ), a word that essentially means “rot.” It is what happens when the process of death works in us unchecked. Death corrupts us, body, soul and spirit.

The teaching of the New Testament is not about how to be admitted to paradise – it is about how to become the kind of human who can actually live in paradise. Paradise is not a moral achievement – it is an ontological change.

I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does corruption inherit incorruption. (1Co 15:50)

The life of change and healing (being transformed from glory to glory into the image of Christ) is the narrow way. The borders of the road are marked with radical honesty and a willingness to endure and engage whatever is required for the transformation. We move from the fragmentation of our individual life towards the integration and wholeness of life in Christ, characterized by the fullness of self-emptying love. This is the life of grace – but grace can be painful and will take us down the difficult path. St. Paul was knocked off a horse and blinded by grace. Works would be easier!

Christ is quite clear about the narrow path – there are very few who find it. The conversion of Christianity from the narrow path to world-wide religion is the elevation of the wide-road of destruction to the place of a false salvation. The Christianity of ideas and arguments, entertainment as worship, morality as asceticism, is the path found by the many. It is an adaptation and misuse of certain ideas associated with Christ. It was not created by saints nor built on the blood of martyrs. It will run continue until its cultural usefulness has run its course. It will serve as an inoculation for many – making them immune to the grace of the narrow way. They will want nothing to do with Christianity.

If this is true, will only a few be saved?

In this lifetime, only a few will be saved. Only a few will live a life of self-emptying love. Only a few will endure the humiliation of honesty. Only a few will face the despair of hell and give thanks. Only a few will forgive everyone for everything.

Christ said that with men this is impossible. The very few who walk this path are living proof of the existence of God – for with God this path is possible. In Orthodoxy, we call these few, “saints.” They are signposts and an assurance that our own struggles are never wasted. The narrow path is not a delusion – it is an awakening.

If only a few are saved in this lifetime – will many be saved beyond? The gospel contains a paradox on this very matter. As clearly as Christ teaches that the way is narrow and that very few find it, He also clearly teaches a universal proclamation of the good will of God.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:16-17).

In the words of St. Peter:

“God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to eternal life” (2 Peter 3:9).

The paradox rests between the few and the all. The temptation for many has been to reinvent Christianity as a religious shortcut for the all. In the shortcut, the narrow way is lost, and with it, the saints. One of the desert fathers said, “Prayer is struggle ’til a man’s dying breath.” This is the truth about true prayer (and true salvation) – but now we are told not only how easy prayer is, but even how easy it is to hear God (cf. When God Talks Back). On the narrow path most of the time is marked by silence.

Nevertheless, the paradox remains. I am confident of the good will of God and that His desire for all will be fulfilled in the mystery of His love. But to create a false paradise – a Christianity of the all in which no one is saved – is the path of destruction.

Strive to enter at the narrow door.

~ Fr. Stephen Freeman

September 30, 2012

An Open Heart

NIV Actis 16:13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.  [Full chapter]

Jim Williams is a bi-vocational pastor who has lived in the Canadian Maritimes, on the prairies, and currently calls Ontario home.  This appeared at his blog, The Journey under the title Cooperation.

In Acts Chapter 16 we are introduced to Lydia. She was successful, wealthy and influential. She loved God but it is her response to hearing the gospel for the first time that is revealing. Scripture says that when Paul shared the news of Christ that, ‘the Lord opened her heart…’ (verse 14) As a result, Lydia received Christ a became an influential believer in the early church.

Last week I wrote of “Our Most Valuable Asset” as being our heart because from it ‘flow the springs of life.’ To enjoy the blessings of God in our lives we must protect our hearts from evil influences and open our hearts to God’s Word and Work.

We are in a dangerous state if our hearts are closed to Him. A closed heart is unable to respond to what the Lord has to say. We become resistant to Him.

Now, if our hearts are open to Him we able to respond to what the Lord has to say. We become cooperative with Him and enjoy His blessings.

1) An open heart is like fertile soil.

Fertile soil is able to turn planted seed into valuable crops. Infertile soil is useless and seed planted in it is a wasted resource.

Jesus drew an analogy of the heart condition when he spoke of fertile soil.(Mark 4) He said that some hearts are fertile places that take the seed of God’s word and turn it into something of value. Other hearts are either too hard, stony or full of weeds that are unable to produce anything of lasting value.

The real question is whether we have a heart that is fertile or infertile. Many of us would love to say that it is good soil but truthfully some of us would have to admit the opposite. What type of soil represents your heart condition? Hardened, rock infested or filled with life-choking thorns? Is your heart open to the seed of what God has to say?

2) An open heart is like mold-able clay.

In the hands of a master potter good clay can be shaped to become useful, beautiful masterpieces. Workmanship fit for the King.

The right kind of clay in a skilled potter’s hand can be made from mud to a masterpiece.When placed on a potter’s wheel, mouldable earth can become valuable enough to sit in the palaces of royalty.

God once told Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house because He had a lesson to teach him.(Jeremiah 18) He showed him that we are like earth in the hands of the Master Potter. We are but mud in His skillful hands.

The real question is therefore: what condition is our heart in the hand of God? Are we trying to cultivate a soft, mold-able heart for the Master Potter? Is our heart hard and resistant to the shaping of the Lord? God has only good plans for us. Let’s not resist but let’s allow His work in our lives.

Cooperating with God.

Lydia’s heart was opened by God to receive the truth of the gospel Paul shared. Without His grace she would not have been receptive. Scripture does tell us that Lydia loved God and sought after Him. She cooperated and God gave her an open heart.

God is encouraging us to do the same thing: to cooperate with Him and allow Him to work on our heart. After all, He desires the best for us. He is the Great Gardner and the Master Potter. He is able to make infertile soil fertile and useless dirt mold-able.

How do we cooperate with Him?

1) Invite Him.

Simply ask God to open your heart. Life has a way of making us hard-hearted. He longs to be invited into our hearts. Jesus stands at the door of our hearts knocking. He is asking for the invitation to come in. (Revelation 3:20) Why not make that decision? Why not give the invitation? You’ll be glad you did.

2) Slow down!

We often are in too much of a hurry. As Christians we want to mature, grow up and become all that God wants us to be. We want spiritual fruit but we aren’t willing to let it grow. For example, we want patience but we don’t want to wait for.

A farmer can’t rush a good harvest … it takes time … so let God do His work.

A potter can’t rush to make a masterpiece … it takes time … so let God do His work.

Slow down … surrender to the process … listen, learn, grow … have an open heart to Him … it is your most valuable asset.

Questions to ponder:
How important to you is allowing Him to make your heart fertile and mold-able? What kind of steps can you make to cooperate with God today?

~Jim Williams

September 20, 2012

After Conversion, What Happens Next

Today’s devotional is from our friends at DailyEncouragement.net

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17).

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect”(Romans 12:1,2).

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy'” (1 Peter 1:13-16).

This past weekend in our Sunday School class we discussed the importance of we being a church that reaches out to the lost and welcomes them into the congregation. Our teacher, Stan, using the “fishers of men” Scripture pointed out that we need to catch and then clean, rather than clean them before the catch. He was speaking of the lost condition people are in when they come into the church having lived for years in disobedience to God. We shouldn’t require them to “clean up” before coming and hearing the Gospel.

I certainly agree with that premise, but in the discussion I pointed out that once they come into the church and are converted we do need to clean them (using “clean” to continue the “fishers of men” theme). Of course ultimately it’s the Lord’s work in both catching and cleaning, but the faithful church will teach that the normative result of genuine conversion (being caught) is a spiritual transformation (being cleaned)!

It is my observation that this is often lacking in the modern church today. In far too many cases people come in but are often not challenged to change and clean up. Some church leadership expects that once the new “fish” becomes a part of the congregation and takes on responsibility he or she will be changed by being around the more mature “fish”. Challenging them personally to forsake the ways of the world is seen by many as being intolerant, judgmental and unloving.

A certain minister excused sinful behavior by accounting for it in terms of “infantile environment, traumatic experiences, psychological complexes and the like.”

We can make excuses and give fancy names to sinful behavior and prolong its poisonous effect, but genuine love will call people to obedience in accordance to Biblical standards of holiness which is increasingly contrary to the standards of the world.

Last week we were visiting with Mike and Kathy, friends who went to the University of Maine in the late sixties. Kathy recalled during the years she went to college there was a strict curfew and other expectations regarding standards of behavior that would seem archaic to college campuses today. And this in a secular northeastern college!

Behavioral standards have eroded drastically during our lifetime which is evident in the lives of people coming into our churches, if we are catching the lost. We must welcome them and declare God’s love, grace and forgiveness. But we also must declare the whole counsel of God, which includes a call to obedience in accordance to the Biblical standards of holiness. That’s a vital role of the faithful church.

We really like an invitation song titled, “Come Just As You Are”. In God’s redemption plan we don’t clean up our act or change before we come to Jesus. Instead we come just as we are, call out to Him in faith and repent of our sin. God saves us and then we undergo the scrub brush of the Holy Spirit that, instantaneously and over one’s lifetime, purges the remnants of a life that once was lost in sin.

In salvation something wonderful happens, gloriously expressed by the Apostle Paul in the first daily text: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Come just as you are. Hear the Spirit call.
Come just as you are.
Come and see, come receive,
Come and live forever.
Life everlasting.
And strength for today.
Taste the Living Water,
And never thirst again.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Daily prayer: Father, You have commissioned us, as believers, to reach the lost, inviting them to surrender their lives to Jesus and receive forgiveness of sins.  It is at their point of surrender that we witness the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit; cleansing, restoring, purging, and maturing the young believer toward good works in Christ. We thank You for the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit at work in each of us who come to faith, equipping us with the endurance and perseverance needed to walk our journey of faith in the midst of an increasingly hostile and unaccepting society. It is through Jesus that we come to You in prayer. Amen.

August 16, 2012

Salvation: Invisible Transaction

…and the transaction so quickly was made, when at the cross I believed…

~lyrics, “Heaven Came Down”

The moment of salvation is an invisible transaction.  For some people there is an inward witness that verifies that step of faith.

John 9:24-25

(NIV)

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

But for some people, there is a desire to understand the underpinning of how that invisible transaction takes place.  An entire branch of theology is devoted to this:

so·te·ri·ol·o·gy

[suh-teer-ee-ol-uh-jee]

~noun Theology.

   — the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ.
So while the healing of the blind man provides its own satisfactory proof if you are, in fact, the blind man or his parents; for everyone else we have the books of Romans and Hebrews to understand the depth of salvation doctrine.
But we often miss a basic fact of how salvation works:

John 3:14

(NIV)

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up
The verse recalls a story from the book of Numbers often overlooked in times of increasing Biblical illiteracy:

The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

The concept of the invisible transaction was once entrenched through a hymn written by William Ogden in 1887 that was popular in some circles, the chorus inviting you to…

“Look and live,” my brother, live,
Look to Jesus now, and live;
’Tis recorded in His word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”

Youth ministries in the late 1960’s borrowed a phrase from a popular Clairol commercial and suggested that the invisibility of the transaction was such that “only your hairdresser knows for sure.” In other words, there isn’t necessarily a physical manifestation of salvation.

But as with so many things in God’s kingdom, there is a balance to be found on that issue, since the visible manifestation of salvation ought to be the presence of the fruit of the spirit.

Ultimately, the invisibility of the salvation transaction ought to be central if putting our trust in Jesus Christ to both redeem us and then from that point guide us is to be considered part of the realm of faith. You don’t get a certificate, or a wallet card — though sadly, some churches do just that — when you decide to become a Christ follower.

We cross the line of faith to become Christ followers at some point, but the line itself remains seen only in the spiritual world.


Today’s music:
For complete original lyrics to Heaven Came down, click here.
For an abridged version of the original redone in a modern style by David Crowder, click here.
Go Deeper:
To see an index of the main subjects that form a study on soteriology, note the ten sessions covered on this page.
To go extra deep on this topic, check out this teaching page.
Finally, here are links to dozens of other resources on the doctrine of salvation.
~PW
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