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?

 

 

Brave New Worlds?

 

Driving to work early one morning, I approached an intersection. The vehicle facing me in the other lane had stopped at the red light, and its lights were shining in my direction. As I moved toward it, I noticed someone walking in front of the headlights.

Judging by what I saw, it could have been a Hispanic man. He might have weighed between 200 and 225 pounds. He was probably five feet away from the bumper of the car and moving in a westward to eastwardly direction at approximately three miles per hour. His hair may have been black and it could have been parted on the left side. He may have been going to work that morning, and maybe he worked for some oilfield service company.

He could have been wearing a maroon shirt that may have been recently washed with an aromatic detergent. He could have had a pocket knife in his right-hand pocket. He might have spoken English, and might have had a Spanish accent, and he might have been from Mexico. He could have had a tattoo between his shoulder blades which might have been in the shape of an eagle. He also could have had a pierced ear.

You may be asking yourself, “How can you tell all that from a person walking in front of the headlights of a car?” You know there is not enough information to make such determinations simply by passing in front of a light. Did you notice how many times I used the terms could have, might have, and may have? Did you notice that I left a way out each time? I didn’t say that he was Hispanic; I said he could been a Hispanic man. I didn’t say he had black hair parted on the left side. I said he may have had black hair parted on the left side.

Again this week NASA has announced the discovery of seven new exoplanets (http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/science/astronomers-find-7-earth-size-planets-where-life-may-be-possible/ar-AAne8q7), that is, supposedly earthlike planets outside our own solar system. The title of the article states that astronomers have found seven earthlike planets where “life is possible.” How do they know if life is possible? How did they determine that? As you read through the article, and listen to the video narration, you will notice how many times they use the words could, might, and may.

Three of the planets, they say, are within the life zone that may support life. They say that one may have an atmosphere that could contain water vapor that might mean there is water on the surface of the planet. And how did they determine all this? They looked at a star forty light years away and noticed a diminished amount of light coming from the star. That can only mean one thing, a planet passing in front of it. All the rest is speculation, just like my story about the person I saw passing in front of the headlights of a car.

If it is all such speculation, why are scientists so determined to find life on other planets? It is not a scientific question, but a philosophical question. They are so convinced that evolution is true, and therefore, life must have evolved on one of the many “earth-like” planets out there. They believe that finding life on other planets would justify their belief in evolution. However, even finding life on another planet would not prove that evolution is true. Evolution has too many scientific problems to be true, and it is not supported by observable, empirical science. It just “has to be” because the alternative is untenable. They will never be dissuaded despite the lack of evidence to support evolution.

If the planets are forty light years away, it would take that long just to send a signal and another 40 years to receive a response. Traveling at the speed of light, it would take forty years to get there. Even travelling at ten times the speed of light would require four years to travel even if a ship could travel that fast. Stars would never go zipping by in the background as they do in science fiction movies such as Star Wars. All this is designed to tell us that we got here merely by processes that can be explained naturally. Again, these are not scientific issues, but philosophical. It is a reason to explain the existence of everything without believing in a Creator God.

What would scientists expect to find in space? Paul wrote, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Finding life on another planet is an excuse to accept evolution and disbelieve God’s Word.

What should we find in the heavens? “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4). Rather than trying to find alien life in the heavens to disprove God, we should look to the heavens and see His glory. There is no excuse not to believe in God. Through Christ, you can have a relationship with the Creator God of this universe. Apart from him, you will only be searching through the darkness.

 

A Different Gospel

 

Jesus warned us that in the last days false christs and prophets would come and deceive many, even the elect, if possible (Matthew 24:24). Deception has always been Satan’s ruse. Sin entered the world because Satan deceived Eve, and he has never stopped using the same tactic. He still deceives today.

Since Christ said that false Christs and false prophets would arise, it was inevitable that false gospels would arise, too. Satan never creates; he only counterfeits. Counterfeits look like the genuine object or they would never deceive. That is why they are so dangerous.

Paul warned the Corinthians about receiving a different Christ and a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). Someone may say that anyone who loves and follows Christ is a Christian. Well, which Christ? Not all are the same. To some he is just a man. To others he is one of many great prophets. To still others, he is one of many of God’s sons and the brother of Satan. How would you recognize the true Christ?

Then there are the false gospels. Some gospels say that salvation is by your works. Your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds so you go to heaven. There is the gospel that says that you have to add to Christ’s work on the cross by adding ceremonies, rituals and sacraments. Finally, there is the watered-down gospel that says all you have to do is pray a simple prayer like, “God I believe that you love me and want to save me. I ask you to forgive me and come into my heart.” Then you will receive God’s favor and blessing that will lead to health and material prosperity.

But Christ’s true gospel demands more. Luke quotes Jesus as saying, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily  and follow Me” (9:23). He also said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27). That gospel is tough to swallow. Many people are not willing to take up their cross because that means they may have to suffer for the cause of Christ. That gospel does not attract large crowds. Jesus even said that few would enter the narrow way that leads to eternal life (Matthew 7:14).

People will put up with a gospel that promises wealth and ease, but balk at the gospel that demands death to self and service to others. It is not popular, and it does not fill pews and offering plates.

The oft – quoted “sinner’s prayer” found in the back of many gospel tracts and booklets does not exist. The sinner’s prayer in the Bible is found in Luke 18:13. A poor tax collector could not even look up to heaven, but he cried out, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” He did not try to justify or excuse his sin. He did not try to compare himself to others as the Pharisee in the story did. He simply admitted his need by crying out to God. Jesus said that man went home justified, not the other, the religious man.

Sit down and count the cost of believing the true gospel (Luke 14:28). In the same way counterfeit money will be of no service at a bank, a counterfeit gospel will not get you into heaven. Have you accepted another gospel? The true gospel is simple, but it is not easy. It is not popular. It is not politically correct. It is not all-inclusive. It is not tolerant of sin, but it is the only gospel that leads to salvation. What will it cost you to follow Christ?