Christianity 201

July 2, 2014

About That Mansion Over the Hilltop

John 14:3 (Phillips) It is true that I am going away to prepare a place for you, but it is just as true that I am coming again to welcome you into my own home, so that you may be where I am.

John 14:3 (The Voice) I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together.

John 14:3 (NASB) If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.

Today’s thoughts are from Matt Appling at the always interesting blog, The Church of No People where it appeared under the title Heaven is not a Timeshare: How a Generation of Christians Have Been Tricked About Heaven.

What is the point of being a Christian anyway?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately because it seems like we need a sales pitch to get people in the door. What will I get if I agree to this thing called Christianity?

Will Jesus make my life better?

Will I be a better person?

Will I get to go to heaven?

There are a myriad of promises that were made to us when we first accepted Jesus as our “personal” savior, a bunch of guarantees that we could be certain of. I don’t usually do this, but I love Micah Murray’s blog so much, if you haven’t read his Four Reasons I’m Not Going to Heavenyou should (right after you’re done here.) He’s done a great job and I’m not going to retread his points.

There are a lot of bait-and-switch jobs we do to get people to accept Jesus. They are the little Easter Eggs that we scatter around in the hopes of making Jesus more appealing. But I’ve got to think that the greatest trick that we have perpetrated, the biggest bait-and-switch of all time has got to be the certainty that if you accept Jesus, you get to go to heaven when you die.

Here’s what I mean.

 

The Sales Pitch for Christianity

I have never heard a sales pitch for heaven that was not absolutely glowing. I mean, come on, it’s heaven.

The streets are lined with gold and the seas are crystal clear. It’s a beautiful place.

We get to be reunited with all of our lost loved ones.

What do we do in heaven? There’s always something about whatever we like to do, we get to do it all the time. We get to eat constantly and never gain weight. We get to party all day. Heaven is a super duper fun place. I think the heaven sales pitch has been revamped over the years. These days, we want people to know that they will not be spending eternity floating on a boring old cloud playing a harp. 

Oh and church, that place that we endure our entire lives in order to get to heaven? Yeah don’t worry, heaven won’t be like that either. Heaven will be flipping sweet. All your best buddies will be there and none of the bad people. That girl who insulted you in high school? Yeah, you’ll be able to gloat as she burns in hell, which will also be flipping sweet.

Oh and we’ll probably get to fly too. And we’re going to have totally ripped abs.

You know, stuff like that.

The Money Back Guarantee

Of course, none of that sales pitch comes from the Bible. We just made them up, because that’s what we do when God is silent about stuff like this.

If you press people, they have to say that we really don’t know what heaven is like. But they counter with “But whatever you can think of, it’s BETTER than that!” It’s like a money-back guarantee.

Tricky, tricky. You know, this is starting to sound like a timeshare presentation. It doesn’t make things any better that there are now scores of books, full of testimonies from people who “visited” heaven. They can tell us just how amazing the place is! Now who wants to make a commitment right now?

Yes, heaven is a magical place where we become angels (we don’t) and fly around and look down on the people of Earth (we won’t do that either, the rich man and Lazarus was a parable).

The Fine Print of Heaven

Okay, so what’s the harm of everyone believing all the heaven hocus-pocus?

Because it takes away the reason Jesus died for us. Jesus did not die so that we could go live in a gold mansion. He died so that we could be with God.

Jesus did not promise heaven. He promised himself. He promised to be present with us, Immanuel.

The point of heaven is not all of the stuff we get to do and have. The point of heaven (whatever it is) is that we will be with God. God is what makes heaven heaven. And the point of being with God is that we have to want God more than we want everything else. We have to despise our lives. We have to despise our stuff. We have to despise even our families. We have to even despise whatever idea we have about what heaven is and just want God for who He is. 

Otherwise, heaven is just another idol, another shiny thing that we want.

And God is just a means for us to get that idol. We turn into the whiny toddler at the store, manipulating mom into buying us that new toy.

It’s almost like we opened the biggest present on Christmas morning, and it turned out to be a big box of underwear. Someone found out that the whole point of this Christianity thing is God himself. And that was a huge disappointment. How could we have gone through all this believing and all this worship and all we get is God?

I know, it’s a scam isn’t it? You sit through the whole presentation, the whole sales pitch, and this is what we get?

God almighty.

What say you? Have we tricked a generation of Christians?

August 26, 2013

Thoughts on “Once Saved, Always Saved”

This is from Jeremy Myers at the blog Till He Comes; you’re encouraged to read at source.

Eternal Security

I sometimes get asked if I believe in “Once Saved, Always Saved.” One reader recently sent in this question:

Can a Christian lose their salvation?

The old saying is once saved, always saved.

I have two ways of answering this question, both of which are stated below.

1. Why I do NOT Believe “Once Saved, Always Saved”

The reason there is so much debate over this statement is because of the word “saved.” As I have written about on numerous times previously, the word “saved” (and other related words such as “save” and “salvation”) are used in a variety of ways in the Bible. When you do a study of the ways these words are used, it quickly becomes obvious that the vast majority of them have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with anything related to gaining or keeping eternal life.

So, for example, the word “saved” might refer to being delivered from one’s enemies, or getting healed from a sickness, or being rescued from drowning at sea. Obviously, these words are not related to gaining or keeping eternal life. I would guess that the majority of times the word “saved” (or save, salvation, etc), are used in Scripture, they are used in this way (e.g., Matt 8:25; Acts 27:31).

Another percentage of words refers to various ideas that are related to eternal life, but are not eternal life themselves. Often, the words in these contexts refer to some aspect of sanctification, or maybe getting rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ, or some other related idea (cf. 1 Cor 3:15).

Finally, there is a tiny fraction (I would say less than 1%) of uses where the term probably does refer to receiving eternal life, though even in these contexts, the actual meaning of the word is debatable.

In Acts 16:30-31, for example, the Philippian jailer asks Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” On the one hand, it seems that the jailer might have been asking about how to receive eternal life. But frankly, at this time, that may not have been the primary question on his mind. At that time, if a jailer let prisoners escape, the jailer would be tortured and killed. Maybe the jailer was not asking how to get eternal life, but how to be delivered (saved) from being killed by the authorities. This reading is possible. I am not sure how the jailer meant his question, and so don’t mind reading it either way. Besides, whatever he meant by it, Paul and Silas answer the most important question, which is how to receive eternal life: believe in Jesus for it.

There are a few other examples of places where the word “saved” could be understood as eternal life, or could be understood as referring to something else (Eph 2:1-10 is one), but these examples are less than 1% of the uses in the Bible.

But here is what happens. Most church-going people assume that the word “saved” almost always means “get forgiveness of sins so you can go to heaven when you die” even though it rarely means that. So when they come across a passage like 1 Corinthians 15:2 where Paul says the Corinthians will be saved only if they hold fast to the word that was preached to them. And people say, “See? If you don’t hold fast, then you aren’t saved? See? Once saved, always saved is false!”

Right. But what does the word “saved” mean in this context? Is Paul really talking about the concept of “forgiveness of sins, escaping hell, going to heaven when you die?” No, he is not. Paul is using the word “saved” in the same way he uses it in 1 Corinthians 3:15. The word “saved” in 1 Corinthians refers to reward and honor at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This is something Christians can lose.

So the question, “Do you believe in ‘Once Saved, Always Saved?’ is a trick question. There are numerous verses in the Bible which indicate that there is some things in our Christian life which can be lost, and these texts use the word “saved” to talk about how to be saved from losing these things.

So do I believe in “Once Saved, Always Saved?” No. I do not. This slogan is unclear, imprecise, and does not fit with many Scriptures which indicate that there are many spiritual blessings in the Christian life that can be lost.

2. Why I believe “Once Saved, Always Saved”

Of course, after saying what I have said above about “Once Saved, Always Saved” I always try to then answer the question that people are really asking. When people ask if I believe in “Once Saved, Always Saved” what they are really asking is if I believe that eternal life can be lost. That is, do I believe in eternal security?

And the answer to that is a resounding Yes!

Once you see the difference in Scripture between the word “saved” and the terms “eternal life” or “everlasting life” or even something like “justification” you being to see that while there are numerous verses which talk about saving something that can  be lost, there is not a single verse in the Bible which talks about losing eternal life, losing everlasting life, or losing our justification. All of these gifts of God, once given, are never revoked or taken back.

There is no place in the Bible that talks about getting unjustified, unsealed, unregenerated, unindwelled, unbaptized by the Spirit, or any such thing.

If everlasting life can be lost, it has the wrong name.

Yes, I know there are difficult verses in the Bible, and troubling passages (Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 10 for example), but with a basic framework understanding of what Jesus teaches about eternal life being given freely to everyone and anyone who believes in Him for it, and that since Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners there is no sin that can take away the benefits of His death from us, and dozens of other Scriptures which talk about God’s infinite, unmerited, outrageous, scandalous grace, the clear teaching of Scripture seems to be that once God gives eternal life to someone, they have it eternally.

Yes, yes, there are people who might abuse this idea. Yes, there are people who think they have eternal life, but don’t. Yes, there are lots of false ideas out there about what eternal life is and how to get it. I am not talking about any of that. All I am saying is that according to Scripture, if a person has eternal life, then they have eternal life eternally. They shall never perish!

So do I believe in Once Saved, Always Saved? You tell me! What are your thoughts about the saying, “Once Saved, Always Saved”?

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March 11, 2013

Romans 5 in The Voice

BibleGateway.com has added The Voice to its list of available translations. This is a truly different approach to Bible translation. Some of you will immediately resonate with what the translators had in mind and will gravitate toward this fresh approach. For others who prefer the traditional approach to scripture, this is not the version for you.  At the Bible Gateway blog, they highlight the unique aspects of the translation:

  • The Voice BibleThe Voice uses a screenplay format for dialogue and conversations. One advantage to this style is that it removes the need for lots of repetitive conjunctions and verbs (“he said,” “she replied,” etc.) that slow down reading. It also lets the translators use some clever and useful ways to convey key details: for example, in Matthew 8, note the use of stage directions to add detail and clearly identify the audience.
  • Words and phrases in italics represent words that aren’t found in the original text, but which are important for bringing out the original intended meaning of the passage. In the words of The Voice translators, this brings out “the nuance of the original, assist[s] in completing ideas, and often provide[s] readers with information that would have been obvious to the original audience. These additions are meant to help the modern reader better understand the text without having to stop and read footnotes or a study guide.” Here’s an example from Romans 6.
  • Another feature you’ll quickly encounter upon reading The Voice is its collection of explanatory material embedded in with the Bible text. These short paragraphs contain devotional material, study notes, background information, and other clarifying detail of the sort that you might typically find in a study Bible or commentary. These notes are placed near the passages they’re expounding on, and are clearly delineated from the text of Scripture as seen … in Romans 7.

Learn much more about the translation here. Also, I recently reviewed a book which tells the story of this version.

Our reading for today is from The Voice; I had chosen ahead of time to also use a chapter of Romans, but I selected Romans 5.

Note: While The Voice uses boxed and indented sections, that was not possible here. Scripture text in green is a convention we use here at C201, but the green and blue is not part of the original formatting of this Bible edition.

Romans 5

The Voice (VOICE)

In God’s plan to restore a fallen and disfigured world, Abraham became the father of all of us, the agent of blessing to everyone. Jesus completes what God started centuries before when He established Abraham’s covenant family. Those who put faith in Jesus and call Him “Lord” become part of Abraham’s faith family. Because God is gracious, loving, and merciful, men and women from every corner of the earth are not only declared right, but ultimately are made right as well. It happens through God’s actions—not our efforts—in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus who was crucified for our misdeeds and raised to repair what has been wrong all along. So the promises of God made long years ago are being realized in men and women who hear the call of faith and answer “yes” to it.

  Since we have been acquitted and made right through faith, we are able to experience true and lasting peace with God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King. Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory. And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.

When the time was right, the Anointed One died for all of us who were far from God, powerless, and weak. Now it is rare to find someone willing to die for an upright person, although it’s possible that someone may give up his life for one who is truly good. But think about this: while we were wasting our lives in sin, God revealed His powerful love to us in a tangible display—the Anointed One died for us. As a result, the blood of Jesus has made us right with God now, and certainly we will be rescued by Him from God’s wrath in the future. 10 If we were in the heat of combat with God when His Son reconciled us by laying down His life, then how much more will we be saved by Jesus’ resurrection life? 11 In fact, we stand now reconciled and at peace with God. That’s why we celebrate in God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed.

12 Consider this: sin entered our world through one man, Adam; and through sin, death followed in hot pursuit. Death spread rapidly to infect all people on the earth as they engaged in sin.

God’s gift of grace and salvation is amazing. Paul struggles to find the words to describe it. He looks everywhere around him to find a metaphor, an image, a word to put into language one aspect of this awesome gift. One of those is “reconciliation.” There is hardly anything more beautiful than to see two people who have been enemies or estranged or separated coming back together. When Paul reflects on what God has done through Jesus, he thinks about reconciliation. Before we receive God’s blessing through His Son, we are enemies of God, sinners of the worst sort. But God makes the first move to restore us to a right relationship with Him.

13 Before God gave the law, sin existed, but there was no way to account for it. Outside the law, how could anyone be charged and found guilty of sin? 14 Still, death plagued all humanity from Adam to Moses, even those whose sin was of a different sort than Adam’s. You see, in God’s plan, Adam was a prototype of the One who comes to usher in a new day. 15 But the free gift of grace bears no resemblance to Adam’s crime that brings a death sentence to all of humanity; in fact, it is quite the opposite. For if the one man’s sin brings death to so many, how much more does the gift of God’s radical grace extend to humanity since Jesus the Anointed offered His generous gift. 16 His free gift is nothing like the scourge of the first man’s sin. The judgment that fell because of one false step brought condemnation, but the free gift following countless offenses results in a favorable verdict—not guilty. 17 If one man’s sin brought a reign of death—that’s Adam’s legacy—how much more will those who receive grace in abundance and the free gift of redeeming justice reign in life by means of one other man—Jesus the Anointed.

18 So here is the result: as one man’s sin brought about condemnation and punishment for all people, so one man’s act of faithfulness makes all of us right with God and brings us to new life. 19 Just as through one man’s defiant disobedience every one of us were made sinners, so through the willing obedience of the one man many of us will be made right.

20 When the law came into the picture, sin grew and grew; but wherever sin grew and spread, God’s grace was there in fuller, greater measure. No matter how much sin crept in, there was always more grace. 21 In the same way that sin reigned in the sphere of death, now grace reigns through God’s restorative justice, eclipsing death and leading to eternal life through the Anointed One, Jesus our Lord, the Liberating King.

March 7, 2012

Living in Two Worlds

This poem, Pilgrim Reflections is from the blog Pilgrim Song by David W. Fisher:

Pilgrim Reflections

Reflections as I close another day on life’s pilgrimage:

The journey’s long, the going tough
And oft’ the pathway’s very rough
But sovereign grace will be enough
‘Til I get home.

The storms may rage, the billows roll
And fears assail my troubled soul
But I won’t let them take their toll
While here I roam.

The Lord is strong and holds my hand
And while I sojourn in this land
A member of the pilgrim band
I’m nearing home.

Encouraged by my brother’s prayers
That lift me o’er my daily cares
Every burden Christ now bears
‘Til I get home.

When I arrive on heaven’s shore
The cares of life concern no more
I’ll praise my God and Master…for
I’m finally home.

David Warren Fisher, 2007.

What does that home look like?  At Right From the Heart Ministries, we read this:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”John 14:3

What do you suppose heaven is like? I think most of us have our preconceived ideas about it to some extent.

The most common image is a place of clouds where people wear white robes and halos, and do nothing except play harps with goofy smiles on their faces. Well, that certainly is NOT what it is like. What a bore!

But, what is heaven really like? Jesus spoke very little of it, but He did say this, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places. I go to prepare a place for you.” What is heaven like? It’s like home, with a loving Father. It’s a place of security, a permanent place to live, and a place of refuge. A place where there is no sorrow, no pain, but rejoicing and praise for our Heavenly Father. There’s a longing within all of us to find home. Heaven is like home with a Father and loved ones as they’re supposed to be.

How can you be sure you’ll get to that home? Is there a map or rules to follow? No, it comes through a person, Jesus Christ. As He talked about a heavenly home, He added that He is the only way for us to truly come home.

Finally, Gina Han, writing at Gracepoint Devotions looks at what it means to live here, but as Citizens of Heaven.  This devotional is based on Philippians 3:12-21, where Paul is talking about those who live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Click the reference before reading what follows.

What are the characteristics of  “those who live as enemies of the cross of Christ”?  What are the characteristics of those whose “citizenship is in heaven”?  Which group do I belong to and how does my life show this?

The characteristics of those who live as enemies of the cross of Christ are that they live for their appetites (“their god is their stomach”), they take pride in dishonorable things (“their glory is in their shame”), and they live for the rewards of this world (“their mind is on earthly things”). These are what it means to live as an enemy of the cross of Christ, because Jesus on the cross is the exact opposite of these things. It’s Jesus denying and emptying Himself of all His own rights for the sake of saving others. It’s Jesus denying his own appetites and physical desires; it’s Jesus choosing the honorable values of sacrifice and humble obedience to God whereas an enemy of the cross would take pride in stepping on others to push himself to the top, or would take pride in using others to satisfy his own desires; it’s Jesus becoming obedient even to death on a cross because of the “joy set before him” – choosing the eternal rewards of heaven knowing the true joy that awaited him over the fleeting and temporary counterfeit rewards of earth.

Apostle Paul is also an example of one whose citizenship is in heaven. He says that he “presses on” to fulfill the purpose for which Christ redeemed him. He says that he forgets what is behind and strains toward what is ahead – “to win the prize for which God has called him heavenward in Christ Jesus”. Apostle Paul is all about citizenship in heaven. Through all of his imprisonments, floggings, shipwrecks, labor, toil, going without food, water and sleep, and the daily pressure of his concern for all the churches – he said, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace,” (Acts 20:24), and he was able to indeed say at the end of his earthly life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing,” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

We don’t have many of these kinds of persecutions that Apostle Paul faced, in these times and in this country. But we do have the gods of this age that seek to blind us to the reality of heaven and lull us into living for this earthly life alone – for the comfort-seeking, pleasure-seeking, self-aggrandizement and self-centered life that is lifted up as glorious, when really in light of heaven and in light of the cross of Jesus, this is shameful. That’s the kind of life that would stand in stark opposition to the cross of Christ. But how often and how prone I am to actually live as an enemy of the cross many moments throughout the day, when I give into my self-centered perspectives or emotions about something, instead of submitting them under God’s perspective and God’s Word.

One aspect in which this plays out is that as Apostle Paul thinks about his citizenship in heaven, he does all he can to take hold of the purpose God has for him. I imagine that he often thought about seeing his Lord face to face on that day, and longed to say that he lived his life for the purpose Jesus had for him, the purpose for which Jesus took up the cross. I long for this; this is what I strive for and strain toward. But how many times am I tempted to think thoughts like, who am I kidding, how can I live this kind of life of love and joyful sacrifice which is His purpose for me when I am just full of my own sins and insecurities and fears; or I need to go through a shaping and pruning process in terms of my character flaws and sins, and I feel hopeless that I will ever change and be able to fulfill God’s purpose for my life.

But those are the times that I can actively choose to say I will look ahead to my citizenship in heaven, where there will be no more sin, where I will finally experience God having completed His work in me, instead of throwing in the towel, following an earthly perspective that says I should not need to struggle with myself in this life but be physically and emotionally comfortable. That kind of thinking is still centered around me – what I can and cannot do; what I can and cannot have; how I can or cannot change; instead of a surrender and obedience to a life of denying myself, a life of the cross. As I push through these kinds of doubts and fears, daily I am committed and challenged by the example of Apostle Paul to strain toward what is ahead – my citizenship in heaven.

March 25, 2011

Hell – Eternal Punishment?

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past three weeks, you’re well aware that a popular Christian author has caused there to be much discussion on the doctrine of hell.   Sample topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Is hell a physical reality or is it figurative language?
  • What determines who goes to heaven and who goes to hell?
  • Is hell eternal; does it last “forever?”
  • Are there people who initially reject Christ who will somehow “accept” Him after death?
  • How is the concept of hell consistent with the loving, gracious nature of God?

…and so it goes.

Who engages in these discussions?  Again, the list includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • People who have their minds made up, and militantly defend their position and refute all other views;  some of whom view themselves as somewhat ‘contaminated’ by merely listening to other viewpoints.
  • People who simply like a good argument; people who enjoy the endorphin release that comes with lively, passionate debate, or enjoy the ‘game’ of just asking the awkward questions.
  • People who are genuinely seeking answers; people new to faith; people confused by the variants of doctrinal positions.
  • People who are relatively established in their faith, but are interested in exploring how others interpret scripture and how that affects their beliefs in other doctrinal areas.
  • People who don’t regard their views on secondary doctrinal matters as
    “set in stone” and would be open to reconsider their position of the points raised by those of different opinions were persuasive.

I think we need to ask ourselves, “Which kind of person am I?  Do I just like a good fight?  Or am I truly seeking for some answers?  Or am I simply open to hear how those with different takes reconcile other doctrinal matters?”

I think that about covers it.

And so, with that introduction, I give you Greg Boyd, senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in Minneapolis, MN, and someone who I regard as one of my best online discoveries about six years ago.

And certainly, this topic is timely:

Part two:

Part three:

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