IT CAN’T BE THAT EASY

That was how the young couple I was training in FAITH Evangelism responded. They had accompanied me to make an evangelistic presentation to a family. The teenage daughter, after hearing the presentation, decided she wanted to repent of her sin and trust Christ. After a simple prayer, she became a follower of Christ.

When I asked for feedback about the training experience, the young man said becoming a follower of Christ couldn’t be that easy. We want to make it a difficult process. We add rituals, ceremonies and festivities to show we are sincere. A Syrian officer named Naaman contracted leprosy. A Jewish servant girl told him to go to Israel to see the prophet Elisha to get healed. Elisha sent a servant out to greet him and tell him to go dip seven times in the Jordan River and he would be healed. Naaman went away angry. However, his servant stopped him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” (2 Kings 5:13).

One criticism of “Sola Fide,” or faith alone, is that once people “pray the prayer,” they can live any way they want. “Once saved, always saved” or perseverance of the saints does not mean that at all. Once people believe in Christ, a change needs to occur as a demonstration of that faith. Both the Apostle Paul and Apostle James point to Abraham to prove their points. Paul says Abraham was justified by faith alone. James said that his deeds justified him. There is no conflict. It is not a case of faith or works, but a faith that works. Abraham was credited with righteousness twelve years before he was circumcised and four hundred years before any one of the laws was given to Moses. He could not have kept the Sabbath, Passover, or any feasts, yet he was considered righteous because he believed. So how did he demonstrate his faith? He packed up and moved to a land that God had not yet even revealed to him.

When God approached Noah to tell him that he was going to destroy all flesh, he told Noah to build an ark large enough to carry all the kinds of land-dwelling animals. God gave him the dimensions and told him how to prepare for the coming deluge. How did Noah demonstrate his faith? Genesis 6:22 says that “Noah did according to all that God commanded him.” He went from being a farmer to being a ship builder. As James stated, he showed his faith through his actions.

As Jesus approached the town of Jericho, he encountered a man named Zacchaeus up in a tree. Zacchaeus desired to see Jesus, but the crowd would not permit it. Jesus told him to come down and take him to his home. There Jesus participated in a hospitable meal. Zacchaeus said, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” Jesus responded, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham.” What did Jesus mean by “a son of Abraham”? Wasn’t Zacchaeus already Jewish? Galatians 3:6-7 says, “just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Therefore, know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” True sons and daughters of Abraham are not those who keep Jewish rituals and festivities, but those who simply believe what God says.

Notice the changes in all three of these lives. Abraham left the place where he felt at home and moved to a place that God had not yet revealed to him. Noah’s belief in what God told him motivated him to begin building a ship. Zacchaeus’ faith motivated him to restore those whom he had defrauded and give generously to the poor. Their lives drastically changed.

Believers often use Ephesians 2:8-9 to justify spiritual inactivity: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Yet they forget to add verse 10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” We are not saved by works, but for works.

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LED BY THE SPIRIT

The Judaizers in Paul’s day brought false charges against him much like the Judaizers of this century. Because he taught that people are saved by grace, not through observing the law, the Judaizers accused him of teaching lawlessness. Paul wrote the epistle of Galatians to deal with the deceptive effects of the Judaizers bewitching the Galatians with their distorted gospel.

Salvation is only through faith in Christ, not religious works. Paul points to Abraham as an example. Romans 4:3 quotes Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness.” In Galatians 3:17, Paul writes, “the law, which was 430 years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ.” Clearly Abraham was not saved by keeping the law or by circumcision. Passover, the feasts, and the sacrifices did not come until after the 400 years of slavery in Egypt.

The Life Application Study Bible lists three distortions of Christianity: Judaized Christianity, Legalistic Christianity, and Lawless Christianity. Judaized Christianity’s definition of a Christian is: “Christians are Jews who have recognized Jesus as the promised Savior. Therefore, any Gentile desiring to become a Christian must first become a Jew.” This is what the Hebrew Roots movement wants to do today. They say that Christians must observe the same rituals and festivals that Jesus and the apostles did. The New Testament never teaches that Gentiles must become Jews first, in fact, it teaches quite the opposite.

Legalistic Christianity defines Christianity this way: “Christians are those who live by a long list of don’ts.” Good behavior earns God’s favor. Lawless Christianity says, “Christians live above the law. They need no guideline. God’s word is not as important as our personal sense of God’s guidance.” True Christianity teaches, “Christians are those who believe inwardly and outwardly that Jesus’s death has allowed God to offer them forgiveness and eternal life as a gift. They have accepted that gift through faith and are seeking to live a life of obedient gratitude for what God has done for them” (Page 2149).

The Judaizers’ claim that true Christianity leads to lawlessness shows that they did not understand the basis of salvation. Paul summed it up well: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). You received the Holy Spirit when you accepted Christ. The Holy Spirit will not guide you into lawless activities. In Galatians 5:18 Paul wrote, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Later he enumerated the fruit of the spirit in verses 22 and 23. The Holy Spirit will not guide you into the works of the flesh mentioned in verses 19-21.

Accepting Christ means that we have a new master. We are no longer slaves to sin. We no longer live lives of lawlessness. Accepting Christ means that we have repented from our old way of life and have been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

2 Timothy 2:19 says, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” True Christians must turn away from sin and let the Spirit produce fruit in our lives. So what law do Christians follow? In the Old Testament we find three categories of laws: Ceremonial law, Civil law, and Moral law. As Christians we are certainly to keep moral law. Being free from the law does not mean that we are free to murder, steal, or commit adultery. Laws against those things still apply to Christians today, but the Jewish Ceremonial law no longer applies to Christians. Its purpose was to point toward Christ. These laws are no longer necessary after Christ’s death and resurrection. Although not binding upon us, they teach us a great deal about a holy God. We can learn from their principles, but we do not have to become Jews first.

The Judaizers in Galatia had convinced the Christians to return to the “weak and beggarly elements to which [they] desire again to be in bondage. [They] observe days and months and season and years” (see Galatians 4:9-11) like the Jews had. Paul felt as though he labored in vain since they were returning with the Judaizers to the Jewish ceremonial law which Christ had fulfilled.

Walking with the Spirit is more difficult than being able to check off a list of religious activities. Walking with Spirit requires a relationship, not merely external behaviors.

THE SINNER’S PRAYER

The concept of the sinner’s prayer has come under much scrutiny recently. A co-worker one day asked me, “where do you find ‘the sinner’s prayer’ in the Bible?” He genuinely wanted to know. The sinner’s prayer is often found at the end of gospel presentations in tracts or books. While it may appear in various forms, it goes something like this: “Dear God, I know that I am a sinner. I believe that you love me, and that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. I now repent of my sins and ask Jesus to come into my heart to forgive my sins. Thank you for saving me. In Jesus’s name, Amen.”

After that prayer, the text of the tract, or the person presenting it will say, “Congratulations. You have just been born again. Welcome to the God’s family. Now that you have prayed that prayer, never let anyone or anything cause you to doubt your salvation.”

Is that person truly saved? Many evangelicals would say yes. After you have “prayed the prayer,” you are saved no matter what. “Anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved,” (Romans 10:13). Only time can answer that question. In reality, many who have “prayed the prayer” often return to life as usual. Young people, once they move away from home, may go off the deep end morally. Yet when someone asks them if they are saved, they often reply, “Yes, I ‘prayed the prayer.’”

That view makes “the prayer” little more than a magical charm, an amulet that is supposed to protect you from evil spirits. Once you pray the prayer, you can live like the devil thanks to the “assurance” you received about never doubting your salvation. This has led some denominations to separate over the “once saved, always saved” doctrine. Some churches call it “perseverance of the saints.” Several denominations believe that you can lose your salvation if you don’t “toe the party line.” In other words, you backslide into the world. You may have a habit that a particular denomination does not accept. I have heard of certain groups that do not allow you to play dominoes because they are the “devil’s bones.” If you continue to play dominoes after “praying the prayer,” you are in danger of falling from grace.

Where does the Bible contain the “sinner’s prayer”? It does actually exist, however in a different form from the one above.

In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus told the story of two men who went to the Temple to pray: one a Pharisee who religiously kept the law. In fact, he reminded God of that during his prayer. In essence he said, “I keep the law. I do not extort money. I don’t commit adultery. I fast in accordance with the law, and I tithe. I am not like that tax collector over there.”

In the other corner of the Temple, the unrighteous tax collector could not even lift his eyes toward heaven. He made no pretense of being able to keep the law. He knew how far short he fell. All he could do was beat his breast in contrition and say, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus said that man went home justified rather than the one who tried to keep the law. The law-keeper impressed no one, least of all God.

Notice the simplicity of the tax collector’s prayer? No flowery prose, no King James English unless you are reading the KJV. No theological explanation. He just knew that he needed God’s mercy.

God’s salvation does not come to those who pridefully think they are made right with him by keeping his law. Only Jesus could do that. The law was never designed to save, only to show us our need for mercy and drive us to Christ. One man exalted himself and went away unjustified although in his own mind he kept the law. The other humbled himself, threw himself on God’s mercy and went home justified.

The problem with “praying the prayer” is that you may deceive yourself into believing you are saved, when you are not. You have never repented of your sin, and you are trying to justify yourself in God’s sight by your good deeds. Ephesians 2:8-10 says that we are saved by grace through faith that is a gift, not of works so that boasting is excluded. We are not saved by works, but for works. Have you “prayed the prayer” or did you get saved?

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.

JETSONIAN THEOLOGY

In the early 1960’s, a space-age cartoon came out on Saturday mornings. Many of my generation can probably remember the theme song to “the Jetsons.” Each episode started with George Jetson taking his family out on his way to work. Each member of the family slid forward in the seat. Beginning with his boy, Elroy, and moving on to Jane his wife, George somehow snapped his fingers over their heads, a shield encased their seat, and they rode safely to school or the shopping center respectively. Each jetted off in complete confidence and safety in a protective bubble to their world that day.

Many people often have this same idea about being a Christian. They feel that somehow becoming a follower of Christ causes God to place a protective bubble around you, and you can jet through life with no problems. You will never lose your job or a loved one. You will never be poor or sick. You will always have the victory, and nothing will be able to keep you down.

If you ever experience any of those kinds of problems, it means one of two things: 1) you have unconfessed sin in your life, or 2) you simply don’t have enough faith. Either way, the problem is yours. You only experience hardship because you have down something wrong.

This same erroneous thinking took place in Jesus’ day as well, while walking through the streets one day, Jesus’ disciples noticed a man blind from birth sitting by the road. They asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he should be born blind?” Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, “This happened so the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1-2). The disciples had concluded that the man suffered from blindness due to his own or his parents’ sin. Jesus said that neither was the case.

When a Christian, especially a minister suffers from some tragedy, critics often want to point fingers and find blame. What did that person do? Is there some hidden sin? Is there a lack of faith? There must be for a person to experience such tragedy. We often think that God is just sitting up in the sky glaring down at us so he can zap us if we aren’t 100% perfect.

God does not place some spiritual bubble over us when we begin to follow Christ. In fact, in some ways, we become more vulnerable because the world often attacks Christians. Jesus basically said, “If they hated me, they will hate you as well” (Matthew 10:22; 24:9). Around the world, Christians today are being persecuted for following Christ. Christians suffer hardship and loss as well. Paul also told Timothy to “endure hardship” in his ministry (2 Timothy 4:5). In 2 Timothy 3:12 he wrote, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

Jesus concluded the Sermon on the Mount with a parable about two builders, one wise, the other foolish. The wise one chose to lay his foundation on a bedrock while the foolish builder laid his house’s foundation on the sand. A storm arose and descended upon both houses. The one built on the rock withstood the storm while the one built on sand collapsed. The storm was the same in both cases. The difference lay in the foundations of each house.

Jesus compared these two builders to ones who had heard his word. One put it into practice, the other one did not. The storm came on both of them. The one who put Jesus’ words into practice was not exempt from the storm. The difference was that one person’s reaction to the word. He chose to build his life upon the word.

When you become a follower of Christ, your life will not necessarily be any easier. It may bring trouble and persecution your way. If you build your life on Christ’s words, you will eliminate some problems from your life because you will make wiser choices, but he also said, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Christ may not shield you from the storms of life, but he will go through them with you.

From Darkest Night to Brightest Morn

“Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22). The greatest problem in all the Bible is how can God be just and righteous and still forgive sin? God cannot simply pardon us and still be righteous. That would make him corrupt. He is holy and cannot allow sin into his presence. Sin demands punishment, for the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Because we all have sinned (Romans 3:23), we all deserve God’s judgment for that sin.

How, then, can God love if all humans must die? There had to be an answer to satisfy God’s love without compromising his holiness and justice. A life was necessary, and the life is in the blood; for “it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11).

Beginning with the first animal sacrifice to make clothing for Adam and Eve, to the ram caught in the thicket that took Isaac’s place on the altar, to the Passover lamb of Exodus, the Old Testament teaches the concept of substitutionary atonement, that an innocent die for the guilty.

When John the baptizer saw Jesus walking near the Jordan, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). John knew that one day, Christ would be that Lamb foreshadowed by the sacrificial system. At the first Passover while the Israelites still lived in Egypt, every house slaughtered a year-old lamb without defect, spot, or blemish and placed some of its blood on the sides and tops of the door frame. The when the angel came to slay the first born, he saw the blood and passed over the house leaving the first-born son alive. Again, an innocent lamb died to spare the life of the son.

The Last Supper took place at Passover. After finishing the Passover meal, Jesus took bread and wine and established the Last Supper to be a memorial of the sacrifice he was about to make. Later that night he was taken captive and forced to stand trial. The next morning, He was beaten and whipped. Then the soldiers forced him to carry his cross to the place of the skull. Having forced a crown of thorns upon his head, they drove spikes into his hands and feet. He struggled on the cross for six hours while God turned his back on him. There in utter darkness, Christ bore your sin and mine, and paid the ultimate price for the wages of sin. He became the Passover Lamb.

Two other men were crucified with Christ that day, but another man often forgotten in the Easter story is Barabbas. Mark 17:7 described him as a murderer and a rebel. Surely, he was guilty. Matthew 27:16 called him a notorious criminal. The crowd that day, however, demanded his release and Jesus’ execution. Christ carried Barabbas’ cross to Calvary that day. Again, the Innocent died in the place of the guilty.

 

That is how God can be holy and just and punish sin, and still be loving and offer forgiveness to all who repent and believe in Jesus. How do we know God accepted that sacrifice? Once Christ was taken down from the cross, his body was placed in a tomb. The Jews demanded that the stone that covered the tomb be sealed so that no one would steal the body of Christ and claim he had risen from the dead. Even they knew that Christ had said he would rise from the dead.

That was the darkest moment in human history. The Son of God who had promised to establish the kingdom of God was now dead and buried. The Sabbath passed and Christ remained in the tomb. The next day as some women went to the tomb, they wondered who would move the stone away. Even they did not believe Jesus when he said he would rise again on the third day (Matthew 16:21 and others).

Matthew 28 gives the account of the women on their way to the tomb as dawn was breaking. They experienced a great earthquake as the angel came down to move the stone away. Verse 3 said the angel’s face was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. That terrible darkness caused by the crucifixion now gave way to the brightest day. God had accepted Christ’s sacrifice and he came out of that tomb alive! The angel told them that Christ they were seeking was alive.

That is the gospel story of Easter. Paul wrote: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time” (1 Cor. 15:3-6). Christ’s death did not take God by surprise. He had foretold it in the scriptures and through the sacrificial system.

The writer of Hebrews states: “There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26). God no longer expects animal sacrifices. They never washed away sin anyway. Only Christ’s death could do that. Paul also preached in Athens, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31). There is no sacrifice you can make except “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17).

When each of us stands before God in judgment, we will not be compared to others. We will be compared to Christ. Compared to others I may think I do fairly well; but compared to Christ, I fall way short. All I can do is repent and call upon him to have mercy on me and save me.

How will you do? Will you measure up compared to Christ? Or will you accept Christ’s substitutionary atonement for your soul?