ONLY TWO RELIGIONS—Part 3

“Jesus never said he was God.” I heard this comment often while I was in college. Some of my contemporaries willingly accepted Christ as a great teacher or perhaps a guru, but they were not willing to accept his claims to deity. These skeptics added that the “Church” made up these claims to enhance his story and teachings. They claim that he taught the same as most other religious leaders.

Many people today believe the same ideas about Christ. Others may believe that it does not matter what he claimed to be as long as we focus on the Golden Rule or the Ten Commandments, or if we just love Jesus. When someone tells me that all you have to do is love Jesus, my question is, “Which Jesus?” Isn’t there just one Jesus? No, He himself said that many false Christs would arise in the last days. Matthew 24:24 says, “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”

Does it make any difference which Christ we believe in? After all, anyone who believes in Christ is a Christian, right? Jesus told the Jews where he was from. John 8 records his discussion with them. He said that they were of the world, therefore they would die in their sins. He repeated that in the next verse. John 8:24 says, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (NKJV). Notice what he says here in the original language. “If you do not believe that I am…you will die in your sins.” There is no complement to the linking verb “am.” Most modern English verses will add the word “He” in italics, or “the one I claim to be” in brackets in my earliest copy of the NIV translation. The brackets and the italics indicate that those words are not found in the original language.

That is a common practice in translation, not a deception. Sometimes one language expresses a thought in fewer words, but the target language requires more words to be grammatically correct. Jesus said that if you do not believe that “I AM,” you will die in your sins. The Jews recognized this as a claim to deity.  Later in verse 28, he used a similar construction: When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am…”

He made the same claim later in verse 58. There he said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” A former Mormon once asked me how this proved that he was claiming to be God in the flesh. I said, “Look at the Jews’ response.” The next verse says, “Then they took up stones to throw at Him.” I asked, “Why did they pick up stones to stone him? Because they recognized his claim to deity.” They could not stone him for not completing his sentences.

This claim is magnificent. If you believe that Jesus was a wonderful Teacher, Master, Guru, Prophet, Example, one of many sons of God with many spirit brothers, an archangel in the flesh, but you will not believe that he was Jehovah God in the flesh, hear the words of Jesus: “you will die in your sins.”

Loving Jesus is not enough. You have to love the right Jesus, not the jesus who is not God in the flesh. This is another reason why doctrine is so important.

To recap: There are only two religions in the world. There is biblical Christianity, which makes these three claims: 1) Jesus Christ was God in the flesh, 2) You cannot do anything to earn your salvation, and 3) the Bible is sufficient to tell you how to be saved. All other religions and cults in the world deny one or more of those claims. They state: 1) Jesus Christ is anything but God in the flesh, 2) You must do something to earn your salvation, and 3) The Bible is insufficient to tell you how to be saved.

Are you following a man-made religion in which you will die in your sins, or are you following the God-man, Jesus Christ who alone can lead you to salvation because he has already paid the price in full for your salvation? How you answer that question will determine your eternal destiny.

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ONLY TWO RELIGIONS—Part 2

Having gone back and reviewed my article from several years ago, I realized that I had focused on only one part of the three distinctions between the two religions. To refresh your memory, I wrote all religions fall into one of two categories. All religions except biblical Christianity hold these three teachings: 1) Jesus Christ is not God in the flesh, 2) adherents must do some type of works to be saved, 3) the Bible alone is insufficient for salvation. In that article I focused more on religions that had added books and other writings, from the Quran, to the Book of Mormon, and the Watchtower. You can review that post on mikemcg58.wordpress.com/2009/08/. Or you can purchase my books and find it there.

Today I want to focus on the second part. What types of works must we do to be saved? Acts 16 tells the story of Paul and Silas in Philippi. They found themselves in jail after having been beaten for casting a demon out of a slave girl. While they were singing praises to God at midnight, an earthquake came and released them from their chains. The prison doors swung open. They were free to go. The Gentile jailer knew if they all left, he would be put to death. Paul called out for him not to hurt himself. The jailer brought in a light and fell trembling at their feet asking, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Notice their answer. They did NOT say, “First of all, you have to be circumcised. Then you have to go to church on Saturdays. You have to keep all the Jewish laws, special feasts, and dietary restrictions. You have to wear purple tassels on your clothing. In fact, you have to become Jewish first.” They actually said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31). It is quite simple really.

Adding all those rules is a human-made religion. This controversy caused the first Church Council at Jerusalem in Acts 15. The question of how Gentiles were to be saved caused a division in the church after the conversion of Cornelius, an Italian Centurion. Peter explained what had happened in Acts 10. Then he said, “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they” (Acts 15:10-11).

This was called Judaizing. Dictionary.com defines Judaizing as “to bring into conformity with Judaism.” Such people followed the Apostle Paul around causing all kinds of problems for him. They demanded that the Gentiles first be circumcised before being accepted. Here is what Paul wrote in Galatians 3:10-12, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” In Philippians 3:2, he called circumcision “the mutilation” (NKJV).

Notice what Paul wrote. Those who try to keep the law are under a curse. You are cursed if you do not keep all the law. I know of no one who still wears purple tassels on their clothing. (See Numbers 15:37-38. This was a commandment to be throughout their generations.) I know of no group who keeps the Sabbath by working six days a week. No, they all take a two-day weekend. Only Orthodox Jews wear Phylacteries on their forearms and foreheads in conformity with Exodus 13:9, 16 (See Matthew 23:5).

Galatians 2:21 says, “for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” He later wrote in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Christians are to live a life of freedom, not under the burdens of Judaism, but Paul further warned in Galatians 5:13, “But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh.”

Read more about this in my books inked below

Embracing Faith Vol. 1

Embracing Faith Vol. 2

 

 

I DON’T WANT TO CHANGE RELIGIONS

When I was walking toward a small Mexican town in my late teens, I first heard this question, “Hey, Ministro, what church saves?” This person was looking to start an argument. What he wanted me to say was, “The Baptist Church saves.” Then he would have argued that the Catholic Church saves. And he was looking to engage me in a fight over religions and churches.

That question shows a misunderstanding about salvation. Another question is very similar to that is, “Which religion saves?” Here the understanding is that membership in a certain church or a certain religion is essential to be saved.

My answer to that man on the Mexican border surprised him. I said, “No church saves. Only Jesus saves.” Over the years as I have shared the Christian faith with many people all over the earth, I hear the statement: “I don’t want to change religions.” Again, the person who says this thinks that salvation is dependent upon belonging to a church, an organization, or a religion.

Jesus never told us that we needed a change of religion; he said we needed a change of heart. A leading religious leader of the Jewish faith came to Christ one night. The story is found in John 3. A man named Nicodemus was talking with Christ about his signs that showed he was a teacher come from God. Instantly Jesus got the point. “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) notice that Jesus did not say, “Nicodemus, you need a new religion.” Jesus told him he needed a new birth. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)

One objection I hear often today is that a person is born into a certain religion in a certain country or culture, and therefore, they do not want to change their religion. They view it as a rejection of their culture or their family. They say, “you have your religion. I have mine.” So, it comes back to the argument of which religion saves, or which church saves?” Still the answer is, “No church saves. Only Jesus saves.”

Today people view religion as any other commodity. In I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, authors Geisler and Turek say that truth in religion is like selecting ice cream flavors. Some will say, “You like chocolate. I like vanilla” (Crossway Books, 2004 p. 21). As if it is just a matter of personal taste. “You like Christianity. I like Islam.” It is not trying to find a religion that suits us.

Jesus never said that we had to pick the right religion. Jesus never said that one religion was better than another. He never said his religion was superior to others, in fact, he never said he was coming to bring a new religion. He said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).

Jesus did not come to establish a new religion. He did not even come to reform Judaism. He came to be the fulfillment of all the prophecies and sacrifices from the Old Testament. Those sacrifices were a foreshadowing of his sacrifice on the cross.

He said in the same passage where he spoke to Nicodemus in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He did not say, “whoever joins my religion,” but “whoever believes in him shall…have eternal life.”

Do not let clinging to a religion or an experience rob you of being born again. To be born again, you must trust in Christ alone for your salvation. Joining a church, a religion or an organization can never save you.

Do You Have “the Gift”?

Part of my role as pastor is to teach my people how to do evangelism. Many times, they respond by telling me that they do not have the gift of evangelism. They feel as though that excuses them from doing “the work of the evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5).

Not long ago, a vocational evangelist asked me if I had “the gift.” He said that if I had the gift, I would not be content to be just a pastor, but that I would have found a way to speak in front of crowds at crusades. I told him that God had not opened those doors for me.  If I really had “the gift,” he reasoned, I would make a way.

Similarly, I have been told that I do not have “the calling.” A little more than twenty years ago, I was the pastor of a small, struggling church in south Texas. Because the church was not growing very much, one of the deacons implied that I did not have “the calling.” If I did, he reasoned, then the church would be growing. Since the church was not actively growing, apparently I was not called to the ministry.

At an Evangelism Conference of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico in Albuquerque in 2011, one of the speakers addressed the group of pastors. He said, “Pastor, if you can’t get at least one person to walk down the aisle of your church and get baptized each year, you should question your calling.” It did not matter what kind of spiritual climate your church may be in, you are only effective if you are producing numbers.

Obviously, the gift is evaluated numerically. If your church is growing, and people are coming in (especially if they are getting baptized) and your church budget is expanding, then you must have “the calling.” If you speak at crusades and large numbers of people make decisions, then you have “the gift.” In some denominations, it is also called the “anointing.” You will hear church members say, “My, that sermon sure was anointed,” or “had the anointing on it.”

So, how do you know if you have “the gift?” Most would say that if you are not producing numbers, i.e. new converts, new church members, or dollars, you are not called, gifted or anointed. Biblically, none of these factors indicates calling, gifting or anointing.

Look at some of the Old Testament prophets, for example. Jeremiah did not have a large following. He found himself at the bottom of a cistern, and ultimately in exile. Isaiah had a dramatic encounter with God. God definitely called him for service, but in Isaiah 6, he asked God how long it would be as the people would not listen. Even God’s response sounds like a lament. God answered Isaiah’s question: “Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant, The houses are without a man, The land is utterly desolate, The Lord has removed men far away, And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. But yet a tenth will be in it, And will return and be for consuming, As a terebinth tree or as an oak, Whose stump remains when it is cut down. So the holy seed shall be its stump.” (Isaiah 6:11-13). God had promised that the people’s hearts would be dull and their ears deaf, certainly not the testimony of a widespread revival in the land. Yet God did not say that Isaiah was not “called” because he did not produce large numbers of converts.

At Christ’s ascension, he only had 11 followers with him. Judas was gone and Mathias had not yet replaced Judas as one of the Apostles. If Jesus had tried to build his church today, the sending agency would have given him three years to make it. They would have evaluated the effectiveness of his ministry by looking at the numbers. They would have said, “Well, we have funded you for three years, with a decrease in funding each year, hoping you would become self-sustaining. It has been three years, and you have only made eleven converts, so we are going to de-fund you.” That is modern church planting, so, apparently, Christ did not have the calling, the gift or the anointing.

A quick search of the scripture will not reveal the phrase of the gift of evangelism. The Bible refers to the gift of the evangelist in Ephesians 4:11, but the gift of evangelism. All believers are commissioned to be disciple-makers, which involves the task of evangelism. Paul commanded Timothy to do the work of the evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5). He did not say, “Don’t worry about it, Timothy, you don’t have the gift.”

While we may not have the “gift, the calling or the anointing,” we all have the task of evangelism. Christ commissioned all his followers in Matthew 28:18-20, among others, to do that job. Do your task and leave the numbers to God.