With a family of four small boys, any road trip can and should consist of plenty of movies, (praise God for built-in automobile DVD players), hand-held video games, books, and when all else fails, an arsenal of road games. One of our favorite road games is “I Spy.” This game also provokes many questions from our boys. In looking around outside the car windows, they observe the world around them.
On one of our recent road trips, we drove past a truck hauling a trailer with two horses. The horses had blinders on their eyes, blocking their side view and narrowing the scope of what they could see. In the equestrian world they are called blinkers. On the side of the blinders (or blinkers) was written the name of each horse. Of course, the boys had to know why the horses had on what they called black sunglasses. As best I could, I explained that the blinders are put on the horses to narrow their vision while traveling. Because if they got a full view of what was going on around them, it might freak them out.
It occurred to me in that instance that many professing believers in Christ are the same as these horses. Many Christian live out their spiritual lives with blinders on. Except the names on our blinders are our denominations; Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, and so forth.
There are times I have heard people talk about a Biblical truth clearly defined in scripture, yet they will walk in denial saying, “Thats not what my denomination believes.” But I would have to ask this person, “It may not be what your denomination believes, but what about what the Bible says?” I am not saying denominational status is a bad thing. Because denominations can do a great job of highlighting the Biblical truths a person believes. Denominations are good as long as they don’t hinder our view of God.
And my fear is at times, Christians are quicker to label themselves with the denominational tag of their choosing rather than simply a Christ follower. They wear the blinders of denominational status, and refute anything that goes against denominational tradition even if it is Biblical. People choose to wear these denominational blinders not for a lack of Biblical understanding, but rather, some of the truths in scripture freak them out.
There are certain things about God that they don’t like. There are things about God that clash with their personal world view of how things should operate. There are certain things about the character of God that are scary to them. And so, it is much more calming to view God through narrow blinders instead of viewing Him in full range. Because a God in full focus is both awesome and terrifying. Of any being or creature in the scriptures, it is the demons who seem to have the best grasp on God. They don’t view Him with denominational blinders on. They see God in full view.
“You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.” James 2:19.
So many would say that they believe in Jesus. But James would push to ask, “Is it the God of the Bible you believe? Because the demons believe and tremble in fear at this God!” Proverbs chapter one verse seven says that it is a fear of the Lord that leads to the beginning of truly knowing Him. In Revelation, John writes that in the end times when wicked men see God they will cry out for mountains to fall on them! When Abraham was told by God sacrifice his son Isaac, God stopped Him by saying this;
“He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God.” Genesis 22:12.
When Isaiah gazed upon the Lord in a vision, He did not see a God that was there to make much of Him. It was not comfort Isaiah felt. It was not satisfaction Isaiah felt. It was ultimate fear in the presence of God in full view.
“And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Isaiah 6:5.
And these are just a few instances of God’s people throughout scripture having a reverent fear of the Lord. But we don’t see this in our world today. God is more or less viewed as on His knees begging for sinners just come to Him. God is many times viewed a nothing more than a genie in a bottle who exist to give us our best life now. God is more or less viewed as a soft, cuddly, teddy bear for us to run to when we need comfort and toss in the toy box when we decide to play with something else.
When I was a small child, I had sweet, cuddly stuffed shark that I always played with. I thought sharks were sweet little fish in the sea. I would even brush Frankie’s cotton filled teeth at night (don’t pretend you didn’t name your stuffed animals). Frankie the shark was not scary. However, a few years later when my dad was flipping through the TV channels and paused on the movie Jaws, I was horrified. Especially when I realized that this was a depiction of what a real shark looked like. Needless to say, my parents never had to worry about me getting in the water at the beach for years!
The terrifying thing about our God is that He is in total control. He is loving, but He is not waiting for acceptance. Jesus Christ is not a pleading beggar, He is a sovereign King! Revelation details a chilling picture of Christ at His return. And my first emotion at reading this description is not comfort, but reverent fear.
“Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords.” Revelation 19:11-16.
Why is so much of the evangelical world void of this reverent fear? I believe it is because many have chosen to view Him through blinders. This way, the scary parts of God that we don’t quite understand can be ignored while we narrow our view on to the things that make us feel comfortable. When we wear blinders, we practice religion, not Christianity. When we wear blinders, church tradition and what the culture deems moral becomes God.
And when a person wears blinders, they end up having to perform theological gymnastics so to speak when interpreting scripture. For example, the scriptures will attest to an attribute or a command of God very plainly. However, when a person doesn’t agree or wishes the verse said something else, they will respond most of the time by saying, “Well, what God really meant was…..” As if God didn’t really mean it how He said it! The Bible is clear our God is not a God of confusion. Confusion comes in when we read something in the scriptures we don’t like, and then attempt to alter what is said to make us feel better. Theological gymnastics are sadly a very common practice.
“The very essence of your words is truth; all your just regulations will stand forever.” Psalm 119:160. “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” Isaiah 55:8.
Read these two verses together. The very essence of God’s word is truth. God means exactly what He says. There are no loop holes. And God’s thoughts and ways are not our ways. He does not operate and rule over the universe in ways that fallen man would think best. He’s God and we are not. God tells us through scripture that He cannot be contained in a religious box and His ways are far beyond that of human reason!
So when man feels like He has God all figured out and has, in his mind, successfully contextualized the parts of scripture that make Him uncomfortable so that they now jive with his personal world view, the blinders have been put on. The reality is that without blinders, this God of scripture is at times scary. But within the fear, there is a comfort. It is in knowing how helpless we really are that we find a deeper humility and stronger security. In the Chronicles of Narnia, the evil queen and her minions were terrified of the great lion Aslan. You may say, “Of course! They were His enemies!” But those whom Aslan loved and who truly knew him feared the great lion as well. When one of Aslan’s allies asked Mr. Beaver if Aslan was safe, Beaver responded by saying this;
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Do you have a reverent fear of God? Or have you molded Him into a nice, neat little cozy image that you can relate to? Does your denomination tradition hold ultimate authority pertaining to your views on God, or do you seek Him in the full context of God’s word? Taking the blinders off is no doubt scary. But once you take Him in, you will discover a much bigger God than you had ever imagined.
“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the LORD’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice?l And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back?” Romans 11:33-35.
I love food. There are some people who are timed about trying new things. Not me. This is a trait my kids inherited from me which is seen in our monthly grocery budget. I love meeting new people as well. I know one of the worries my wife always has when a new couple invites us over for dinner is what they will be serving for dinner. Because unlike me, Lacy is a self-professed picky eater. There are only a select few foods that I will avoid like the black plague. Actually, only three; meatloaf, anything with mayonnaise, and tomatoes.
A few years ago, Lacy and I were invited to have dinner with our new friends Bob and Sarah at their home. Dinner with new friends is kind of like a first date. Of course, pleasantries are at their highest seeing that everyone wants to make a good impression and create a lasting friendship. After visiting for some time, we are adjourned to the dining room for supper. Bob commented to me, “I hope you’re hungry! Sarah has been cooking all afternoon. She really hopes y’all like her cooking!” To which I responded, “I’m positive it will be delicious!”
I was greatly anticipating a wonderful dinner! Sarah had been slaving away in the kitchen all afternoon, so I figured it had to be good! Finally, Sarah comes out from the kitchen with a little appetizer. First course, deviled eggs…made with mayonnaise, and pear halves, covered in mayonnaise. I politely passed on the appetizers, saying that I wanted to save room for the big main course she had been preparing.
Finally, Sarah brought out the main course. Meatloaf.
I felt like I was inside the sinking Titanic, trapped with nowhere to run from immanent destruction. I picked at the food scarcely, despising every tiny morsel that I forced down my throat. My appetite was now non existent, and if my stomach could have spoken, it most assuredly would have been cursing me. After forcing myself to take a few small bites, I could no longer pretend. I had no desire to eat the meal because it tasted horrible to me. Bob and Sarah quickly noticed without me saying a word that I was not into the meal. Thankfully they were very understanding. And the red velvet cake we had for dessert more than made up for the awful dinner.
I tried to force myself to eat a meal that in reality, I did not think was good. And honestly, if you do not like something, you will not indulge in it. I attempted at first to make them think I liked the meal, saying to Sarah between swigs of water to force the meatloaf down, “This is wonderful!” But my lack of appetite for the meal betrayed my false words of praise.
Inside of the church, there are many people who would profess that they love Jesus. But in reality, they have no hunger to know Him. As a pastor, one of the most commonly asked questions I receive from people is, “How do I truly know that I am saved?” The scriptures are fully of evidences of the new birth. 2 Corinthians 5:17 sums up most of them by saying the we literally become a new creation in Christ. We take on new desires that are indicative of Christ living within us. I could spend all day writing of these indications of the new creation, but in this blog, I want to focus on one.
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” 1 Peter 2:2-3.
In John chapter 3, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night to inquire, “How can a man be saved?” Jesus compared salvation with being born again. In church circles, we call this word regeneration. The apostle Peter builds on this concept of being born again in his first epistle. Peter writes that if we have truly been born again in Christ, just as a newborn baby is starving for milk, so is the new believer hungry for the knowledge of God. The sign of a true believer is that the person has tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and as a result, now has a hunger to know Him. And this goes well beyond nominal church attendance.
Martyn Lloyd Jones in his book “Experiencing the New Birth” addressed this issue in depth. He said that there are many people in church on a weekly basis who have no appetite for God. They merely endure the weekly trek to church. During the message, their mind is more on things in their life, and they count the seconds until the preacher says his closing prayer. Not only this, but the notion of seeking God on their own is literally non existent. This type of religious person has no desire to deepen his or her knowledge of God, no desire to dig into the scriptures daily, and no desire to read books on theology and the things of God. There is no objective hunger for spiritual growth in their life, they merely do what is expected.
The Bible describes growth in a persons knowledge and love for the Lord with a term called sanctification. And the Bible is painfully clear, where there is no progressive sanctification, their has been no true justification. You may ask the question, “Am I truly saved?” Let me ask you one in return. Is Jesus Christ now like a fine meal that you cannot get enough of? Have your taste buds been changed that you now hunger for the knowledge of God that you once despised?
The Bible speak elsewhere of how the true believer sees Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Matthew 13:44-46.
There are some who come to church for most of their lives. They are religious, they are moral, they are committed, but they have no hunger for God and no desire to know more of Him, and they are not saved. Then one day, something in the word of God catches their attention. Although they have attended church for years, they begin to see Jesus in a beautiful light.
Suddenly, Christ becomes more than just a Sunday morning God and He becomes the driving force in their life! I will submit to you that this person has stumbled over the treasure in the field that is Christ. They may have walked that field hundreds of times previously and had never seen it. Going to the field used to be work to them. It used to be nothing more than a chore to them. But now, they want to spend all of their time in the field and with this treasure.
When we begin to seek the treasure that is Christ, our priorities and desires start to change. Have you seen the treasure that is Christ, or is seeking Him confined to the bare minimum and to you a toilsome field? Is Jesus an extravagant, three course, delicious meal to you that you cannot get enough of? Or is He a tasteless dish that you must force yourself to eat weekly?
Martyn Lloyd Jones writes, “You do not enter the Kingdom of God and then only have a desire to maintain the rest of your life. You launch out into the deep. The prize of the high calling of Christ! My friends, is there evidence of growth and development and enlargement in your life? Or do you say of the Knowledge of God, “Thats enough for me, I do not have time for anymore.” If you can say this, that just means you do not know what is in the treasure house.”
How I wish I could have supernaturally changed my taste buds the night we ate with Bob and Sarah. Had I been able, I would have created new taste buds that now hungered for the meatloaf I despised. This is precisely what God does when He transforms a person into a new creation. God literally changes our hearts and our desires. When Christ opens our spiritual eyes to truly gaze upon Him, we begin to hate the sins we once loved and hunger for the righteousness we once hated. The sinful things of the world that were once so precious to us we now begin to view as nails that pierced our savior, and they are counted as rubbish. Because the treasure of Christ is more desirable than anything. The strongest hunger of a true believer is to know Jesus. It is an awakening of the spirit brought about by the new birth.
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection” Philippians 3:7-10.
I was astounded by a recent article I read that was written by Yed Anikpo. Yed is the founder of Christian Apps LLC, a tiny Minneapolis based app company. In his article, Yed gives a brief synopsis of a Christian slave back in the 1700’s named Olaudah Equiano. Olaudah kept a journal during his enslavement, and I was astounded at his unwavering dependence and faith in God even in the worst of circumstances. Olaudah’s faith is truly a picture of someone who understands the Gospel, and trusts in the Lord Jesus with a full heart. Below is an excerpt from Yed Anikpo’s article. I pray it presses you further into standing in awe of God as it did me.
“Your life is not that hard. Not compared to this.
In 1756, Olaudah Equiano and his sister were kidnapped from their home in Nigeria. They were separated a few months later, never to see each other again. In shackles, Equiano walked several hundred miles along the West African coast, sold from one trader to the next, until he eventually ended up in a European vessel set to sail for America.
Then came the horrifying Middle Passage across the Atlantic. In his own words, “The closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us. This produced copious perspirations, so that the air soon became unfit for respiration, from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died. . . .”
This wretched situation was again aggravated by the galling of the chains, now become insupportable; and the filth of the necessary tubs, into which the children often fell, and were almost suffocated. The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable.
And all this even before Equiano turned twelve. Here are four lessons learned from his life, relevant for all of us.
1. God Is at Work in the Tiniest of Things
“A sparrow does not fall to the ground except by God’s will and the hairs of our heads are all numbered.” (Matthew 10:29–30)
These things we know intellectually, but we could know them so much better in our hearts. Equiano traced the hand of God ordering everything even in the movements of the minutest particles of dirt.
Equiano wrote, “While I was in this ship an incident happened, which, though trifling, I beg leave to relate, as I could not help taking particular notice of it, and considering it then as a judgment of God. One morning a young man was looking up to the fore-top, and in a wicked tone, common on shipboard, damned his eyes about something. Just at the moment some small particles of dirt fell into his left eye, and by the evening it was very much inflamed. The next day it grew worse; and within six or seven days he lost it.”
Equiano’s God searches out his path and his lying down and is acquainted with all his ways (Psalms 139:3). What comfort, confidence, zeal, and hope must he have had in his daily walk with such a belief. No other view of providence would do in the trenches of a slave’s daily warfare. There are no people of weak faith in the foxhole of Middle Passage. No, the only God who would do in such trauma instantly punished the foul-mouthed sailor by commanding a particle of dirt. In like manner, this same God is able to free Equiano, upon request, or relieve his misery if he so pleases.
2. Self-Examination Has a Role to Play
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5)
Equiano’s narrative is replete with instances where he examines his heart, speech, and actions. In one case, he laments his presumption in swearing that as soon as he reached London he would spend the day in rambling and sports. Smitten by conscience, he quickly ran to the throne of grace where he acknowledged his transgression and “poured out his soul in unfeigned repentance.” How beautiful is the tender conscience of a healthy Christian.
In another case, Equiano became irritated while pumping water on deck and cursed the ship. Later that night they were shipwrecked.
One of his journal entries read, “All my sins stared me in the face; and especially, I thought that God had hurled his direful vengeance on my guilty head for cursing the vessel on which my life depended. My spirits at this forsook me, and I expected every moment to go to the bottom: I determined if I should still be saved that I would never swear again.”
The best case of self-examination, however, is the one that eventually would lead to his salvation. Protracted over several months, Equiano is in a deep state of repentance. Finally, one day in October, God opened his eyes.
Equiano wrote in his journal, “The Scriptures became an unsealed book, I saw myself a condemned criminal under the law, which came with its full force to my conscience. . . . I saw the Lord Jesus Christ in his humiliation, loaded and bearing my reproach, sin, and shame. I then clearly perceived that by the deeds of the law no flesh living could be justified. . . . It was given me at that time to know what it was to be born again (John 3:5).”
A sinner would never see the free grace offered in Jesus, except he knows that it is something he is in need of. How would he know unless he first looks into his wicked heart — unless he first examines himself? Self-examination is an ingredient in the start of our Christian pilgrimage and the sustaining of it. To truly pray after the way Jesus taught us, “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12), we must continually be examining our hearts.
3. Christ Can Give Contentment in Horrible Circumstances
Godliness with contentment is great gain. (1 Timothy 6:6)
We should be clear that Equiano did not accept slavery as being morally right. In fact, he eventually bought his own freedom back from his master and went on to become a major player in the abolitionist movement, this very narrative being perhaps his most valuable contribution.
The fruit of contentment evident in his life lies in the way he lived day by day before his heavenly master while under the power of slavery. Equiano determined early on that he would attempt to run away only if he felt he was mistreated by his master. He also decided that he would attempt to buy his freedom only if he could do it honestly. Although slavery is evil and ought to be vigorously combated, Equiano also acknowledged God’s providence in assigning him his station in life and considered it as a sacred calling.
Equaino writes, “As I was from early years a predestinarian, I thought whatever fate had determined must ever come to pass; and therefore, if ever it were my lot to be freed, nothing could prevent me, although I should at present see no means or hope to obtain my freedom; on the other hand, if it were my fate not to be freed I never should be so, and all my endeavors for that purpose would be fruitless. In the midst of these thoughts, I therefore looked up with prayers anxiously to God for my liberty; and at the same time, I used every honest means, and endeavored all that was possible on my part to obtain it. . . .”
Equanio continues, “I met with buyers, white men, who imposed on me as in other places. Notwithstanding, I was resolved to have fortitude, thinking no lot or trial too hard when kind Heaven is the rewarder.”
Equiano took his work seriously and was eventually blessed by God for it — and his diligence was one of the means through which he was able to buy back his freedom. Once, a captain told Equiano’s master that “he was better to him on board than any three white men he had.”
Now, recall the brief Middle Passage experience above, “the loathsome smells,” “the galling of the chains,” “the shrieks of the women and the groans of the dying.” Hold the thought for a moment. When Equiano puts pen to paper to write his story, he starts by summarizing his life in the following words:
“Did I consider myself an European, I might say my sufferings were great: but when I compare my lot with that of most of my countrymen, I regard myself as a particular favorite of Heaven, and acknowledge the mercies of Providence in every occurrence of my life.”
To Equiano, knowing Christ was worth it all. And therein lies the secret or mystery of Christian contentment referred to by the apostle Paul (Philippians 4:12).
4. God’s Wrath Is Being Revealed Even Now
The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)
God’s wrath is being revealed from heaven. The apostle uses the present continuous verb to indicate that it is happening today, right now. In verses 24–28, he tells us that God’s wrath is expressed in his giving men over to various forms of sin. He gave them up to lust (verse 24), to dishonorable passions that led to homosexuality (verses 26–27) and to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (verse 28). Therefore, the unruly child at the checkout line, being disobedient to his parents, and the powerful gay lobby in this country are both expressions of God’s judgment.
Likewise, the institution of slavery itself was a judgment from God on both the slave owners and the slaves themselves. Reading Olaudah’s narrative gave me a renewed sense of the utter sinfulness of sin in light of the severity of the celestial judgment brought upon man in the face of slavery.
And yet, mercy was mixed in it. A lifetime of slavery is put in different light when compared to what the wicked currently endure in hell. But we need not read a slave narrative to appreciate sin’s sinfulness. As Thomas Watson put it, “See the evil of sin in the price paid for it. It cost the blood of God to expiate it.”
My uncle was one of the strongest men I knew growing up. Every time we went to visit he and my aunt, he would clear the table and challenge me to an arm wrestling match. And even though he was much stronger than I, he would always let me think I won, even though I knew better. I never saw the man without a smile on his face and a cigarette in his hand. Like many men who grew up in the great depression era, he was a heavy smoker. My uncle started smoking when he was just a boy, long before studies had been done on the dangers of nicotine and how it was the cause of many cancers. Uncle had always boasted that cigarettes were just as safe as drinking a bottle of Coke. He thought this way because that’s all he had heard growing up. That cigarettes were not harmful to your health.
Eventually when careful studies yielded results finding that smoking was very harmful to a person’s health, and that it could even lead to cancer or death, my aunt tried constantly to get my uncle to stop smoking. But uncle staunchly stood his ground and refused. My aunt even brought articles to him with factual evidence of the extreme dangers of cigarette smoking. But uncle refused even look at the scientific studies. He had been told that it was safe from a young age, and was unwilling to accept anything different from what he had always believed.
My uncle died of lung cancer caused from years of cigarette smoking about fifteen years ago. It seemed right to him that cigarettes were completely safe. But in the end, his unwillingness to look at the facts led to his death.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” Proverbs 14:12.
Many professing believers in Christ suffer from the same problem as my uncle when it comes to God. They know what they have been told by men regarding the Lord, and the word of a man becomes their Gospel. However, they are unwilling to look at the facts of what God says through the scriptures for themselves. I am ashamed to say this was me for many years. But when I began to actually study and dig into God’s word for myself, I discovered an amazing and all-powerful God that Id never known.
One of the most beautiful and humbling verses in scripture to me is Ephesians 2:8.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ” Ephesians 2:8-9.
In this verse, we see the full snap shot of how our God saves sinful, undeserving creatures such as ourselves. When it comes to the topic of repentance and faith in Christ, I am constantly reminded through conversations with people of the old question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Many believers hold the view that repentance has to come first, and then through repentance we receive faith. Basically they believe a person must first be broken over their sins before Christ regenerates their heart. But the problem with this line of thinking is the verse in Ephesians you just read above. According to the scriptures, repentance occurs after God has granted new hearts of faith. And as a result of faith, repentance becomes not a one time thing, but a lifestyle of the new believer. Repentance cannot happen without new eyes of faith. Faith is preceded and followed by repentance.
Look at Ephesians 2:8 once more. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing….” If a spiritually dead person can find it in themselves to save themselves by deciding to repent, then would this not constitute the person “Doing” something?
“….children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:13.
The scriptures are constantly pointing us to the fact that we did nothing in and of ourselves. Rather, faith is given to the children of God after God has shown Himself to them in all of His beauty! And as a result of having their spiritual eyes opened, they now desire to repent of their old ways. Not because they think they have to, but because they have truly been pierced to the heart by the reality of Christ sacrifice for our sins. Salvation is not a decisional work of man. Salvation is a supernatural work of God within man that we could not achieve on our own. Consider the words of Jesus regarding those who are saved.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5.
Let the words of Christ penetrate and humble you. The verse did not say, “Apart from me, you can do nothing…except change your sinful ways.” Jesus said that in terms of bearing any fruits that the Lord would deem good, including the fruit of repentance, we cannot do any of this in and of ourselves without the supernatural working of Christ. Consider how the sinful and rebellious nation of Israel was brought to repentance in the book of Ezekiel. Look at what the Lord said;
“And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Ezekiel 36:23-27.
The Lord is speaking through Ezekiel to the wicked nation of Israel. They have been running from God and worshipping other idols rather than the Lord. And finally, God has had enough. Notice God never says to the nation, “Please straighten up and act right, I know you can do it.” He didn’t, because he knew their hearts were evil and were unable. Rather God notes that they have profaned His Holy name. But goes says to Israel, “But the nations surrounding you will know that I am the true God.” How will the outside nations know this? Continue reading the verse. God says, “They will know without a shadow of doubt that I am God when they see what I do to you Israel!”
So what is God going to do to Israel that would cause the nations to look on and say, “This had to be a work of God!” Simply put, God is going to change what the nations would have said was unchangeable. Israel had the reputation as Idol worshippers among the nations. But God said:
“I will separate Israel from the other pagan nations.”
“I will cleanse Israel from their wicked Idol worship.”
“I will give Israel a new heart of flesh.”
“I will put my spirit within Israel.”
“And I will CAUSE Israel to walk in my ways as a result of my will.”
Read over that verse again and consider how many times God said “I” and then count the number of times he said “you.” The only role we see you playing in conversion is first of all, being a profaner of God, and secondly after God has done His work, we see you walking in His ways. It seems again as it is God who says that faith comes through the good will of God and not as a result of man finding the power within himself to clean himself up.
Consider the salvation of the apostle Paul. Paul did not come to the conclusion on his own that he was a persecutor of God and a despicable man on his own, and then cry out of Jesus. No, rather Paul was actually on his way to kill Christians when God revealed Himself to Paul. Jesus did not plead with Paul to stop his evil ways. To summarize and paraphrase Paul’s conversion in Acts 9, Jesus basically told Paul to stop persecuting Him and instead follow Him. And upon seeing Christ revealed, Paul said, “Yes Lord.”
Paul didn’t see his need to repent of sin until He first was granted the eyes and heart to see Jesus.
Jesus teaching on Jonah is another illustration: “The men of Nineveh shall stand up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold a greater than Jonah is here” (Matt. 12:41). All of us know that they would not have repented under the threat of punishment by God, if they did not believe that there was a God that could punish them. They repented because they had faith that God would keep his promise, and that he would punish them if they did not obey. Their faith preceded their repentance, rather than repentance preceding their faith.
Man in his natural state loves sin and does not desire to seek God due to his great love for sin.
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”Romans 3:10-11.
But when God grants eyes to see Him, all of the sudden, the reality of Christ’s beauty makes our sin pale in comparison. Consider Lydia in her account of hearing the preaching of Paul.
“One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” Acts 16:14.
Notice she was unaffected by the preaching of Paul, until God acted first in supernaturally opening her eyes. This was brought about through the preaching of His word. She could not have repented of that which she had no knowledge of, because she was not paying attention until God acted first, granting her the gift of faith through the hearing of the word. And even the act of repentance is not an act of man himself, but rather, even repentance is a gift from God.
“correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,” 2 Timothy 2:25.
Notice who is responsible for the act of repentance. Paul tells Timothy to instruct unbelievers in a Godly manner, in the hopes that GOD will GRANT them repentance. So we see here that man cannot find a repentant heart on his own, God must first grant it to him.
When I give an invitation at the end of a sermon for people to walk down if they feel God drawing them to the knowledge of Himself, I always tell them that it was not the act of walking the aisle that saved them. If they have truly been saved, God acted first and saved them through the hearing of the Word in their seats. The only reason they began to desire the beauty of the Kingdom of God is because Christ first opened their eyes. Basically, God saved you in your seat. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3.
Jesus went on in His conversation with Nicodemus to explain how conversion works. When Jesus mentioned being “born again” Nicodemus immediately thought of what he must do in himself to be saved. Nicodemus asked, “Should I crawl back into my mother’s womb?” Granted, Nicodemus knew that was impossible. But he was basically asking, “What must I do in order to be saved?”
And Jesus answer back to Him never ceases to produce praise in me.
“Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” John 3:5-6.
Consider for a moment how the words Jesus used to describe the new spiritual birth. Born again. Think back (if you have a good memory) to your first birth. Did you have anything to do with it? Did you decide it was time to be born? Of course not. Jesus compares regeneration to being born. But He goes into more detail. Jesus said that flesh gives birth to flesh. But the creations of the spirit are born of the spirit. In other words, flesh does not give birth to spirit. It is God who saves. It is God who grants faith. And it is God who grants repentance. Philippians 1:6 summarizes this.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6.
The good work is salvation. Who began the good work? It doesn’t say that man began it. It is not even man who would complete it. To even think that is to say that man is capable of saving himself. As John Macarthur once said, “If it were possible to lose your salvation, you would.” But once God saves a person, once He begins the good work, it will come to pass. Salvation will not be lost. And because of the supernatural grace and mercy of God granting faith and repentance to spiritually dead sinners like us, we are saved.
“looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2.
He is the Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end. He is the beginner of the good work in man and the one who works in the heart to complete it. He is the author and perfecter of our faith. And it is Christ who receives all glory and honor for the things he has done, so that we have nothing to boast in.
So that you say, nothing in my hands I bring simply to the cross I cling.
My parents built a new house when my brother and I were in college. The house was in the early phases of construction, basically just a wooden structure, when one night my brother Andy decided he would go check it out. In the dark. Alone. Andy arrived home later that night covered in mud. As it turned out, Andy decided to walk around the structure of the house in the dark. He went to the upstairs part and due to the darkness, he didn’t notice an unfinished hole in the floor and he fell all the way down to the first floor, landing in a puddle of thick mud. My parents were not happy to say the least, because as they told him, “You could have easily been hurt!” My brother being the constant optimist that he was only smiled and said, “There was thick mud all over where I fell! No way I could have been hurt!” Andy laughed it off and went to bed.
The next morning he and I went out to the new house where he could show me where he fell. He was laughing about how safe he was the whole ride over to the house. However, when we finally walked through the house and to the spot where he had landed, his face went white. Not six inches from where he landed, there was a huge metal spike sticking out of the ground. If he had fallen six inches over, he would have been impaled.
Due to the darkness, the night my brother fell he was blinded to how close to a physical death he actually came. And in the same way, we are blinded by the darkness of ignorance. We are ignorant to how very much in need of a savior we are, and how very close to the flames of Hell man is due to our sin nature. Jonathan Edwards in his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” described man akin to a spider hanging from the thread of a web over a fire in the ignorant state of our own depravity before God.
“They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” Ephesians 4:18.
Our culture does not run from sin today, but instead embraces it. Even in Christian circles, we are ignorant to how hopeless we are without Christ. We gravitate more towards moralistic deism than the actual God of the Bible. Moralistic Deism would be when a person thinks he or she can inherit eternal life by serving a God who just expects us to be good. And we hear this all of the time from people in and around church culture.
I once attended the funeral of a man who had no love for the Lord. He never went to church, he never read his Bible, and was a constant womanizer and alcoholic. But there is a problem with that line of thinking, mainly the Bible. The pastor presiding over the funeral made the comment in his closing remark, “And we know that he is present with the Lord, because even though he had his struggles, he was a good person who loved his family.” And I remember being angry and broken hearted at the same time. Because what that pastor had just told everyone in attendance was, “To inherit eternal life, you don’t need to be changed or have any love for God, you simply need to be good.”
Even inside of the church, many congregants have yet to understand that no amount of good works can entitle us to eternal life! Another phrase you will hear people say is, “Well I know Ill go to Heaven if I died because Im a good person.” But who are they comparing themselves to? What is the measuring stick they are using to declare themselves good? Adolf Hitler? Serial killer Ted Bundy could be considered a “good person” compared to Hitler who slaughtered thousands of innocents! The problem is, we base our idea of goodness by comparing ourselves to others! A person who doesn’t cuss would be considered good when compared to a person who curses like a sailor! But that person who doesn’t cuss may be a terrible gossip!
“But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” 2 Corinthians 10:12.
Paul dealt with this in 2 Corinthians. When we judge ourselves by comparing ourselves with other sinners, we are without a proper understanding of how close to the spike in the ground we really are. When a person says that they are going to Heaven and safe from the fires of Hell because they are a good person, it is much the same as my brother saying that he was perfectly safe the night he fell through the floor.
The truth is that no one is good. Here are just a few verses that speak to the true nature of man.
“And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Mark 10:18
“Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.” Psalm 143:2
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” Isaiah 53:6.
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Romans 3:10-12.
“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Isaiah 64:6.
The scary reality is, there are no good people apart from faith in Christ! Even if a person is the most moral person on the face of the earth, if they are not covered by the blood of Christ, then their good works are like filthy rags before God!
“For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Romans 14:23.
That is how little we think of sin! In our world sin is predominantly thought of as murder, excessive cussing, promiscuity, or what we would consider major sins. But God takes it a step farther, saying that anything that is not done with faith in Christ is sin!
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31.
Even the natural day to day things we do such as eating, drinking, playing with our children, loving our spouse, if not done with faith in Jesus Christ is sin! Why is this?
God gave man good food not so he would gorge himself, but so that man would enjoy and give praise to God for making it. God gave sex in the confines of marriage not so husband and wife would worship each other, but so they would glory in God who gave them that union. The same goes for a beautiful sunset. A warm gentle breeze. Laughter with friends. James writes that every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17).. And these are good gifts that bring men and women joy. So what happens when God lavishes these good gifts upon his creation, and instead of thanking God for the gifts, the horde and over indulge in them. Like a small child who gladly takes the gifts of his father but then spits in his face are we. And God calls this sin.
In the days of the old testament, God would have nothing to do with anything that was not perfect. Man could not come before God because he was sinful. The sons of Aaron tried this in Leviticus 10 and God killed them. And they were attempting to draw near to God, but without the proper sacrifice for their sins! So God created the sacrificial system, in which before a person could commune with God in the temple, they would have to make an animal sacrifice to atone for their sins.
And on top of the everyday sacrifices of the people, once a year there was an event called the Day of Atonement. On this day, the priest of the temple would bring a bull and a ram, pray the sins of their family over them, and slaughter them as a sacrifice. Then, the priest would bring in two lambs. The priest would bleed one lamb of its blood praying the sins of the nation over it, and the other lamb would be led out into the wilderness and let go, symbolizing the lamb carrying the sins of Israel away.
God has not changed. The God of the Old Testament is the same God we serve today. Contrary to what many think, God still cannot have fellowship with anything that is less than perfect. That means just one tiny white lie, one sin, is more than enough to separate us from God forever! Where we use each other as the measuring stick of what is good, God measures us by Himself, and we all fall short. God’s standard for eternal life is perfection.
Matthew 5:48 “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Matthew 5:20 “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the time. They were the most moral men and devoted to the scriptures that you could find. In fact, they had the old Testament memorized! Yet they trusted in their goodness and had no relationship with God. And Jesus said that unless we have a level of “goodness” the exceeds that of the Pharisees, we cannot enter Heaven!
So knowing this, and knowing how sinful we really are in the sight of God, this should concern a great many people! Because according to the scripture, no amount of good works can get you to Heaven!! So how is it that we can be seen as righteous before God! We can’t!! Unless we were to be given the perfect record of someone else!!
Remember the two lambs at the Day of Atonement. One lamb the priest bled and the other he prayed the sins of the nation and let it go off into the wilderness, symbolizing the carrying away of sin. On the cross, God struck His only son with the blade of His wrath that was meant for you and I, and He bled the son dry. And in the physical Death of Jesus, the sins of mankind were placed upon His head. And He carried them away. This is what John the Baptist meant when he said;
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29.
Jesus became the final sacrifice. He gave His life for those the Father had given Him before the foundation of time, so that when God would now look upon the sinful man who was in Christ, He would no longer see the sin, but instead the blood of His perfect son. And they would now be declared righteous, not due to works, but according to the faith that had been gifted to them by God.
Does a Christian do good works? Absolutely. But not in order to be justified. We do good works BECAUSE we have been justified. Not to earn God’s favor, but because we have been given Gods favor. Its not that we have to live for Christ, but that we now desire more than anything to live for Him! Because we realize what a savior He is in light of how unworthy we are!! That is the Gospel! And the realization of the cross should never cease to pierce our hearts, and birth a heart of extreme gratitude in living ever moment for Him!
The Lord gives small gifts to His children. It is a good thing for a man or woman to have passions, as long as we enjoy these gifts in light of the one who gives. People that are passionate about cooking can praise each time they begin to put together a recipe for gift of food God has given. The person who is into restoring old cars can easily see the shadow of 2 Corinthians 5:17, where Paul writes of how God takes a spiritually dead sinner and makes him a new creation in Christ.
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31.
As for me, I have always loved fitness. As with most earthly passions, it started off at a young age as a vain pursuit. However, since my own conversion, I constantly see how very similar physical discipline is to spiritual discipline. God gives his children small gifts in the form of hobbies.
But to the true Christian, these gifts are merely shadows that direct our affections, not to the gift itself, but to the giver of all things, the Lord Jesus.
A few years ago when my wife Lacy and I owned a Gym in Atlanta, I had an interesting man join our gym. We’ll call him Roger for the sake of anonymity. Roger was about six feet tall, and was slightly overweight. I had asked Roger what brought him to our gym, and his answer surprised me. He said he was a professional bodybuilder, and was in training for his next competition coming up in six months. I would have never guess that from his out of shape appearance, but I figured if he truly was a bodybuilder, I guess he could whip himself into competition shape within six months with hard work.
In the weeks to come, I proceeded to watch Roger when he came in to train. He was very quick to strike up a conversation with anyone who would listen and tell them he was a bodybuilder, but I never saw him break a sweat. Further confusion entered my mind when I ran into him at a local fast food restaurant eating a hamburger and fries. Six months flew by, and Roger looked the same way he did when he had first joined. He always stood by his profession that he was a bodybuilder, but would always find an excuse as to why he didn’t compete when he said he was going to.
I knew some real bodybuilders. One was a guy named Matt, who shared with me once that he was hooked on junk food as a kid and extremely overweight. However, one day that all changed as he threw out all the junk in exchange for healthy foods and Matt began a rigorous daily workout routine. In time, Matt was a new creation. He was not the same person he once was. Matt had new desires. New affections. And although he admitted to being tempted by junk food from time to time, he in no small way wanted to go back to how he used to be. Matt was a real bodybuilder not in just his profession, but it was evident in the way he lived his life.
I have a great fear that our world has many professing Christians who have not truly been converted. They are very similar to Roger, professing Christianity with little to no life change being evident. Much of our evangelical culture has all but forgotten the doctrine of regeneration. It is not predominantly taught today that salvation is a supernatural work of God within the heart of man, but rather that salvation can be attained by man making a decision, and then after this decision has been made, reminding man, “You made a profession of faith, now act like it.”
Iain Murray expounded on this dangerous deception. Murray said, “When a man first becomes concerned about salvation, he commonly thinks he can do what is needed. He then embarks on a quest to improve himself. But the more he seeks to obey and be holy, the more hopeless he finds his position to be. Instead of getting better, he finds he grows worse. What God requires begins to look like an impossibility. The recognition of that impossibility is exactly what the spirit of God intends to bring about. When the disciples observed the way Christ dealt with the Rich Young Ruler, and saw the man go away sorrowful, they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?” Then Jesus told them why He had spoken as he had, “With men it is impossible, but not with God.” (Mark 10:27). The Rich Young Ruler was never convinced of this or he would have seen that he was truly lost and in need of a deliverance outside of himself.”
His words are evident still today. And how clearly Jesus speaks to salvation being a regenerating work of God in the account of the Rich Young Ruler.
“And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Then he *said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man *said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.” Matthew 19:16-22.
The Rich Young Ruler indicated that his heart was wrong in his very first statement. “What good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?” There are two things very wrong with his question. First, he is concerned with what he must do to inherit eternal life. With the best of intentions, we at times teach this false theology inside of the church. We tell people things like, “You must pray a sinners prayer, be baptized, and then get involved in a church.” Although all of these things are good things, they are incapable of saving a person in and of themselves.
A sinners prayer is a great tool to lead a person in, but if that person has not been discipled to know the depth of their sins, the sacrifice of Christ, and has not personally been pierced to the heart and broken over their spiritually dead lives, no words recited have the power to save a man. In the same manner, baptism is required, but not as a means of salvation, but rather as evidence of salvation. Ive seen far to many people hear an emotion driven sermon and be encouraged to immediately jump in the baptism waters with no real brokenness in hopes to get them saved.
Iain Murray said it best. A man who seeks salvation in himself, much like the Rich Young Ruler, will naturally inquire how to do “good” works. They will attempt to do better and to change their habits, but in time only have their desire for sin increase and begin to hate the righteousness that is keeping them from what they really love, that being sin. Frustration will eventually set in. And when the emotional high final wears off, they will return to their life of debauchery, all the while thinking that they are saved because they made a profession.
In the Great Awakening of 1740’s, Jonathan Edwards was elated at the many professions of faith he saw at the preaching of the Gospel. However, in the years that followed, he felt great remorse because a great many of those who converted reverted back to a Godless life after the excitement had worn off.
Edwards wrote of this conviction, “There are many that think themselves born again that have never experienced any change of nature at all; that havent had one new principle added, nor one sinful disposition mortified; that never saw one glimpse of divine light; never saw the least of God’s or Christ’s glory. They think themselves now renewed in the whole man that never have had one finger renewed.”
Edwards went on to say this of true regeneration;
“They that have truly converted are new men, new creatures, and new not only within, but without. They are sanctified throughout, in spirit, soul, and body. Old things are passed away, all things are becoming new. They have new hearts, new eyes, new ears, new tongues, new hands, new feet. They walk in newness of life, and continue to do so until the end of life.”
Edwards stated that sinful man is governed by false affections, meaning he may think he has a love for God, but only because God is in some way profitable to him. But the truly regenerate person loves God for his holiness and moral excellence.
I think of it like this. If you put a plate of steak and a plate of garbage in front of a pig, it will by its nature gravitate towards the slop. If you put a clean mattress and a pool of mud in front of the pig, it would choose the mud. The pig may try the steak and may try the mattress for a time, but will soon begin to crave the slop and mud that is natural to it. The pig cannot change its natural desires.
Now imagine that someone came and supernaturally transformed that pig into a human being. The pig, now a human, would look at the slop hanging from his mouth and begin to be disgusted. He would see his nakedness and be ashamed. He would begin to desire that which is clean over the mud and slop. In short, his nature would be transformed.
This is a picture of Biblical regeneration. Man can make a profession, but he has no power in himself to change his heart. By nature, man is not good. In fact, Jesus told this to the Rich Young Ruler that no man is good but God alone. It is not in our sinful nature to be good. By nature, we are enemies of God.
“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” Colossians 1:21.
And this was due to our sinful nature.
“among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Ephesians 2:3.
The next verse of Ephesians 2 says this…..
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” Ephesians 2:4.
Notice the verse did not say, “You were children of wrath, but you turned things around.” BUT GOD….the most beautiful words in scripture. Offensive to man are these words, because so desperately do we in our fallen nature want to take some credit for the work of God. God is the only one who can regenerate a man’s heart. Salvation is a supernatural work of God, not a work of man.
Going back to the account of the Rich Young Ruler, not only did he think good deeds would get him into eternity, but he revealed his wrong motives for seeking God. He asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Heaven is not a place for people who are afraid of dying, Heaven is a place for people who love Jesus. The question we should all desire to ask is, “What must I do to know Jesus?” He is the prize, not crowns of glory or mansions in the sky. Christ is the draw of every true believer.
Jesus went on to list external acts of the law pointing to fruits of a new creation. They Ruler proudly said that he had accomplished this moral feats. Then Jesus dropped the bomb. Jesus told the Ruler he must sell everything he owned, and the ruler walked away because this was not something he was willing to give up.
Jesus was not saying that to be a Christian you must be homeless. Rather, He was saying to be a Christian you must not have any idols in your life more precious to you than God. Jesus knew that in the case of the Rich Young Ruler, his wealth was his idol. It was his God. And it was something he was not willing to part with. This was his fallen, sinful human nature. This is all of us without Christ giving a new heart. We all have worldly desire that we pursue instead of God. But when God regenerates a mans heart, he supernaturally changes his nature and new desires begin to set in. Suddenly, the new man begins to recognize idols in his life and is ashamed that they have been a greater love than Christ.
Upon seeing the Rich Young Ruler walk away, Jesus used this meeting as a time to teach His disciples about regeneration being of God and not of man.
“And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:23-26.
This example was not primarily used to teach on the evils of wealth, as many will misuse it. Because the bible never says that MONEY is the root of all evil. Instead it says “The LOVE of money is the root of all evil.” 1 Timothy 6:10. Jesus was saying to the disciples that it is hard for a man to part with his idols. An idol being anything we love more than God. John Calvin compared the human heart to and “idol factory.” C.S. Lewis said that man in his unconverted state is satisfied to play with mud pies instead of the holiday at sea that God offers in salvation. And the disciples realized this. Maybe they even realized this draw towards worldly things within themselves. “Who can be saved”, they asked. It is impossible for man to deny the cravings of his flesh is what they were getting at. And they were right. But look at Jesus response.
“With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
You can’t be good enough. Christ can.
You can’t change your evil ways. Christ can.
You can’t deny the cravings of your flesh. Christ can.
You can’t save yourself. Only Christ can.
We do not possess the power of life and death, and we cannot resurrect that which is physically nor spiritually dead.
Praise Christ He can.
The question is not have I been through a Christian ritual. The question is not have I made a profession or even have I been baptized. The question we need ask regarding true regenerative salvation is, “Have I been made a new creation?” Is your life different from before knowing Christ? I often use the example in church of how I am a movie lover. And my favorites were always war movies. Rambo and any Chuck Norris flick I could find. But when Christ changed me, I had a new disdain in my life that I never had before. All of the sudden, it made me sick to my stomach to hear the Lord’s name taken in vain in these movies. Try as I did to justify, watching them only made me sicker and angry. As much as I love movies, I cannot sit through a movie with even one instance of the Lord’s name taken in vain. Not because I feel I have to. Because He is now my new desire, and we protect and defend that which is most precious to us.
Have you been given a new heart? My dear friend, please do not hang your salvation on what someone may have told you. Ask yourself, “Has God done a supernatural work in my life and in my heart?” Do I desire Him more and more? Ask yourself “What idols are currently in my life that are more precious to me than Christ?” Must you read about Him, write about Him, tell others about Him? Is Jesus becoming your primary affection in life? The question is not have you ever repented of your sins. The question is, are you continuing to repent on a daily basis of revealed sins in your life? Are you staying stagnant in your love and knowledge of God or are you being sanctified? Are you growing in holiness? Don’t ask yourself, “Was there ever a time I walked with Him?” Instead, ask yourself, “Am I still walking with Him?” It is Jesus who begins this supernatural work of salvation within a man, and it is He that will carry it to completion.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6.
It wasn’t easy growing up with a metabolism that traveled at the speed of light. Yes, I was the skinny kid. The painfully skinny kid of middle school. Although a slender physique does lend itself not having to count calories, it does nothing to profit an insecure sixth grader. I was an easy target for bullies and in more fights than I can remember…usually on the losing end. I really didn’t like sports, because physical activity and me really didn’t get along. Picture a new-born horse. Long gangly legs that can’t seem to coordinate the concept of movement in a graceful way. This was my profile in my first year of middle school. Awkwardly put together would be an understatement. I was head and shoulders taller than all the other kids, but physically much weaker than others my age. Even the girls.
I still remember the week it all changed. It started off in gym class one day. The coach had us divide up into teams to play basket ball….shirts and skins. Of course, as fate would have it I was on the skins team. Needless to say my bird chest and bony arms provided an ample laugh for the other boys. The game started and one of the kids on my team passed me the ball. I shot, and as usual, I missed. The boy who passed me the ball yelled a sarcastic remark at me and I yelled back at him. Yeah, not such a good idea when the boy yelling at you outweighs you by at least fifty pounds. Needless to say I ended up going to the nurses office with a black eye.
Later on that week in gym class, we had pull up competitions. Everyone in class could at least do one pull up, even the girls. Everyone except…yep, you guess it. Everyone except me. I was devastated. But this humiliating week was the straw to break the camel’s back. I had finally had enough. I was tired of being the skinny, weak kid. But I had quite the uphill battle ahead of me. My friends and I loved watching professional wrestling. The men the stepped into the ring each week were mountains of muscle. They trained long hard hours in the weight room to achieve their dominant statures. And I knew that this was where my journey would begin.
I signed up for a weight lifting club at the school. This was quite humbling. The weights were intimidating and I had no idea what I was doing. I began buying work out magazines and slowly learned how to design my own routines. I eventually talked my parents into buying me a gym membership at the age of fourteen. The gym was a good thirty minute drive from our house, but my parents were so supportive and loving that they drove me every single day to that gym. While other kids were playing the new Nintendo Entertainment System (I know I’m dating myself), I was spending my after school hours in an iron jungle lifting weights. I gladly traded leisure and comfort for sweat and pain. I trained hard and woke up the next morning sore all over, but eagerly went to the gym again the next day. I began to actually relish the pain of being sore, because I realized this was a byproduct of pushing myself hard.
Pretty soon I realized that diet had just as much to do with physique as training. I disciplined myself to cut out the junk food, and to eat high protein foods along with clean fruits and vegetables. It was quite a chore to be a teenager and not partake in enormous amounts of junk food. But my desire to transform myself physically far outweighed the sacrifice. Results were not immediate. It was very slow. While many other friends of mine could just pick up a weight and put on muscle rather quickly, with my skinny build, I had to literally fight for every pound of muscle I gained. And then I had to work twice as hard to keep it. There was a lot of sacrifice given to changing my skeleton like appearance. But again, the goal far outweighed what I was giving up.
I look back on that journey today and thank God for the trial. I still like to workout, although now I do it for health and not for appearance sake. I still eat clean ( for the most part), but more so to take care of myself. Even though this quest was birthed out of a rather vain pursuit, it taught me a discipline that I’ve learned to extend to every area of life.
Nothing worth having comes without a fight. There can be no victory without a struggle. Every prize worth attaining comes not without sacrifice. And manhood is such a journey as this. You see, when I was growing up, I thought what defined a real man was the one with the biggest muscles, or the man who was the best athlete, or the best hunter. Basically all the things that the world defines as manly. But I was so very wrong.
When Lacy and I had our first son, we named him Andy. I’ve yet to meet the person who said that their baby named itself. A husband and wife create a baby, and the creator is the one who defines the creation. In the same way, God made man. And the men that were most recognized by God were defined differently than we define men today. God defined them, not culture.
They were men of faith. They were men of prayer. They were men who stood strong in the face of persecution. They were men of God. And God still calls men to Biblical Manhood today, but there are few who are willing to pay the sacrifice.
It is awkward for a man to start praying with his wife daily. You may feel the skinny kid who is struggling to do one pull up in front of a class full of athletes, but God will honor your efforts. And over time, what was once awkward will little by little become more the norm. It’s challenging to lead your kids in family worship daily. You may feel like a person who has just walked into a gym for the first time and has no clue as to how to design an exercise routine much less use the machines. But God will honor your dedication. And you will learn what works and what does not, and begin to see transformation. It is humbling to own up to past sins. Pride is the number one killer of Biblical manhood. But God will honor true repentance.
Biblical manhood is never achieved without men being strong and persevering through the hard things.
Men of God are not born naturally, they are forged like iron. Jesus never said follow Him would be easy. He never said all it would take is a small sacrifice of driving to church once a week and trying to be a good person. Rather, he challenged his disciples to count the costs, because unless they were willing to persevere through in the hard things, Jesus said they would fail.
“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:28-33.
Men were made to work. Men were made to strive. Men were made to seek out great adventures. Little boys begin at an early age wrestling and playing superheroes in the backyard. And this doesn’t change when men get older. Grown men are drawn to video games and movies based on great adventures. Sadly, we’ve cheated our God-given adventure seeking nature and settled for less than what we were created for.
God never designed men to play video games. God never designed men to live vicariously in front of a television set. God created men to live the greatest adventure of advancing the Kingdom of God. So many men are bored out of their minds at a typical Sunday morning church service, and rightly so! God never designed men to sit complacently in a pew!! He designed men to live with a passion for Him! To be soldiers of His great Gospel, and seeking to make Christ known first to our families, then our communities, and ultimately the nations!
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10.
Men, we have been called to a great adventure of GLOBAL proportions. Unfortunately, Satan has robbed men of their joy and lulled many men to sleep, leading them away from experiencing such abundant life. And because many men have not realized what it is God created them for, they keep searching to fulfill this deep longing of the soul for accomplishment in other temporal things that will never eternally satisfy.
If a person is extremely out of shape, the journey to achieve their fitness goals can seem like a thousand mile hike. And because of the distance, many will give up before they get started in frustration. But although results are not immediate, the one who overcomes is who takes that first step. The one who runs that first mile, and continues to do so even though it is not easy.
In the same way, it is not easy to lead for Christ. It is not easy begin to read the Word daily. But the one who perseveres is the one who reaches the goal. The greatest man who has ever or will ever walk the face of this earth (besides Jesus) was John the Baptist. Jesus said this about John;
“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” Matthew 11:11.
John the Baptist was a man’s man. He would be the mile marker God would use as a standard for biblical men. John the Baptist was not concerned with the latest fashions or caught up in attempts to please other men. One trait that enveloped John was a trait that is almost lost in men today. And that trait is self denial.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30.
These were the words John the Baptist lived by. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Do these words describe you? When you are tired after a long day of work, it is so much easier to feel entitled to just veg out on the couch. It takes self denial to love your wife. To check on her heart. It takes self denial to work hard all day, and then come home and spend time with your kids wrestling and playing. It takes self denial to pray with your family at night and disciple them in the things of the Lord. These are all hard things for a man to do. But what was it about John the Baptist that made him stand out above all other men?
“He must increase, I must decrease.”
It’s hard to read the Bible. But He must increase.
Its easier to watch TV. But I must decrease.
It’s hard to begin praying with your spouse. He must increase.
Its easier to just turn over and go to sleep. But I must decrease.
It’s hard to make family worship mandatory with your kids. He must increase.
Its much easier to talk about their day at school. But I must decrease.
Real men die to themselves every day. There is a difference between biblical men…real men, and boys who can shave. It is a thousand mile walk into biblical manhood. When will you take the first step? When will you begin training for the race? There is no prize without sacrifice. And there can be no true man without God.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
Poverty. Sickness. Strife. Famine. Depression. Heartache. Death.
The question is why.
We live in a world riddled with conflict. From broken marriages to crimes against humanity, our culture is screaming for salvation from the trials of everyday life. And when the question of why these things happen cannot be answered, man begins to seek out a solution, or at the very least a temporary fix to ease the hurt. Our world seeks refuge from the pains of life.
The problem is, far too often we end up running to the wrong places. Alcohol, drugs, pornography, food, even relationships appear to be appealing options for deadening these pains of the human heart. But in the end, after the high has worn off, and the person in the relationship has failed in filling our soul, we are left worse off than we began. Still hurting. Still empty. Still seeking answers. Still trying to alleviate our pain.
The question is why. Why do we live in a world where the joys of life can so easily be shattered as quickly as the turning of a page? Why is there so much hurt?
The answer is sin.
God created the world and called it good. It was better than good, it was perfect. When Adam and Eve fell into disobedience in the Garden of Eden, the first original sin fractured the universe as God had created it. And ever since then, the ripple effects of this sin nature has echoed throughout history and into our society today.
We are children of Adam by nature. Fallen and prone to gravitate towards the enticing but fleeting desires of the flesh. The most terrifying thing about God is that He is righteous, He is good, He is perfect, and He is Holy. You may ask, “Why would this be a bad thing?” And the answer is because we are not. So what does a good and perfect God do with a bunch of rebellious sinners like us? Imagine that a man were to murder your family, and he went to stand trial before a judge, only to have the judge declare the man innocent and let him go. Would you consider the judge to be fair and just? Of course not! The crime went unpunished.
So the question we must ask is, “How can a righteous God with with perfect standards let law breakers like us escape punishment and still be considered a God of justice?
The solution is found in the cross of Christ.
“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:3-4.
God sent His perfect Son to be the fulfillment of the law that we could not keep, thus meeting His perfect standards and imputing His accomplishment to His adopted children in the flesh. The wrath was satisfied, the punishment atoned for in the cross of Jesus Christ. This is how God remained just and still punished our sin, by placing it upon His Son.
“It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:26.
The cross was not an after thought in regards to mans original sin. Rather, the solution to all of mans pitfalls and trials was foreknown and planned by God long before the first star was hung in the sky. Before the foundation of the world, all that Satan would attempt to destroy, all of the family strife, all of the addiction, all of the sickness and turmoil of the human heart….All of it was on a collision course with the cross.
“This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” Acts 2:23.
But the implications and purpose behind the cross go much deeper than just a tree on Calvary. It is not merely the fact that Christ took our sin upon Himself, but that He became our sin on that tree. The full thrust of the wrath of God that was due towards humanity was poured out on the sinless, spotless, Lamb of God. It is not enough to tell the story of the crucifixion. We must understand what it was that was accomplished upon the cross. Imputed righteousness upon the enemies of God. Justification, wherein God the Father would now look upon sinners seeing only the blood of His Son. And regeneration, which is the supernatural workings of God within a man, not just hoping that he will walk different, but causing Him now to walk in His ways. The implications of the cross are far greater than most can imagine.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21
The purpose is just as important. The salvation of the children of God was always part of the plan, but it was never the primary reason for cross. The primary reason for the cross does not have man at the center piece. Rather, the glory of God throughout the world was the primary reason for the cross. There are two ways to view the cross and the whole of scripture in general. One is that you are point. The other is that God is the point. From Genesis to Revelation, the scriptures draw us back to the redeeming work of Christ on the Cross.
“Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power.” Psalm 106:8.
And it is in the cross that we find healing. It is in the cross that we break addiction. It is in the cross that we realize Christ alone is the answer to the problem of sin. The cross of Christ is our only hope. As the old hymn writer sings, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”For those of us who have been called, we gladly consider our lives, past, present and future, Nailed to The Cross.
Join us this Sunday, Feb. 15th, at 11 AM at First Baptist Camilla as we begin our new sermon series,
“Nailed To The Cross.”
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20.
The greatest danger to Christianity in our world today is not the lost world outside of Christ. We hear this far too often. The church will at times, look on at the outside world in judgement and disgust while patting themselves on the back for their efforts at being more moral than everyone else. The lost world is not a danger to Christianity, because they are the ones that Christ sends us to share His love with. The greatest danger to Christianity is Christians who have a misunderstanding of the Gospel.
We Preach Jesus, Not Morality
Christianity is not based on the external, but rather the internal. Too many people inside of the American church preach plenty against sin, but very little on things like the attributes of God, the mission of God, and the Cross of Jesus Christ. Telling a person who does not know Christ to stop sinning is like telling a bird not to fly. Sinning is human nature.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Ephesians 2:1-3.
This is a description of mankind without Christ. We are dead in our sins, and by nature we run to sin. So if we believe the Bible, that we are spiritually dead and we have a sin craving nature, do we honestly think that a creature can go against its nature? Evangelist Paul Washer says it like this;
“Man is a fallen, radically depraved, spiritually dead, morally corrupt, sin-loving, God-hating creature. In the very core of his being, he is as opposed to God as the devil himself. He cannot change and has no desire to do so. He loves a lie and will do everything in his power to restrain and suppress any and every truth about God and the more he knows about God, the more he hates Him, because God is righteous and man is evil. Now, how do you expect a creature like that to all of a sudden hear a Gospel message of self-denial and turn his back on absolutely everything he is and at all cost follow the Christ?” –Paul Washer.
Also, if all it takes to convert someone to Christianity is to tell them to stop sinning, then we really have no need for Jesus! If man has the ability to clean himself up and turn from his wicked ways, then that would make us fully capable of saving ourselves! However, this is not the case. We are by nature sinful. Enemies of God. Spiritually dead in our trespasses. We are children with no hope.
And we are in desperate need of a savior.
Take the sin of gluttony for example, which is the over consumption of food. Good food is tempting to eat. But God has said overconsumption is a sin, because it leads to idolatry, which is finding our joy in things other than God. Imagine if in my good intentions to assure people kept themselves from gluttony, I made a mandate that food was a sin, so everyone should get their nourishment from protein shakes. The Pharisees actually tried to do this! Not mandate protein shakes, but rather, create new rules to keep people from sinning.
There were many laws in the Old Testament regarding cleanliness and eating. Food was not to be unclean.
“And if any animal which you may eat dies, whoever touches its carcass shall be unclean until the evening, and whoever eats of its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening. And whoever carries the carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening.” Leviticus 11:39-40.
And if you read Leviticus, this was just a small example of the extreme nature that the law spoke to cleanliness. With good intentions, and to guard people from breaking this law, the Pharisees added a law of their own on top of God’s law. That law being that you must wash your hands before eating. In fact, they thought so much of their man made rule, that they actually would deem it a sin if a person did not wash their hands before dining. But God never blamed sin on the externals, He judges sin according to a mans heart. If you add anything to the Gospel, it is no longer the Gospel. Jesus exposed mans error in creating rules on top of God’s law.
“While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. Luke 11:37-41.
The Pharisee was astonished that Jesus did not wash His hands! And Jesus knew that this would stir up controversy! But He did not wash His hands so that He may have an opportunity to point out their love of legalism and straying from the Gospel. Jesus said it is not the externals which make a thing sinful, it is mans wicked heart and perversion of that which God made.
Furthermore, if we believe that the law was given so that we may attain our salvation by checking off the ten commandments, then we totally miss the point for which the law was brought in the first place!
The law was never given to save us! The law was given by God to show man that he cannot save himself!! The law was given to point man to his utter depravity, and show him that he has no hope.
The law was given to show us that we need a savior.
Paul said as much to the Judaizers in Galatia. These false teachers were telling the Galatians that they could attain salvation only by keeping the law perfectly and being circumcised. Basically, abiding by a moral checklist. But look at what Paul has to say to these false teachers.
“I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” Galatians 5:3-4.
Paul basically said, “If you are going to preach externals as a means to salvation such as circumcision and keeping the law perfectly, then you have made the law your savior. And in order to be saved, you better be able to keep every single law perfectly.”
Sinful man cannot keep God’s perfect law. Not only can we not keep it, we don’t want to keep it! By nature we love sin and hate God. We easily forget that God’s standard is perfection. God owes no man anything except wrath due to our sin. God is perfect and a God of justice. So the question that lay at the very center of the true Gospel is, “How does a perfect God save spiritually dead, incapable of doing good sinners like us and still remain a God of justice?
“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:3-4.
To bring this verse more into context, I always tell my congregation to read the verse again and insert their names everywhere they see the phrase “the flesh” or “flesh.” Do you see it? The Gospel is that we are incapable in and of ourselves of doing anything right. We are lovers of sin by nature. In our unconverted state, our hearts have no desire to walk according to the law or even to seek God.
The law was given to show us that we can’t, and that Christ can. He is the savior, not us.
It is useless and legalistic to preach morality to the lost world! Do we inform them of what sin is according to God? Absolutely! But we don’t add rules to keep them in check. And we don’t preach morality in hopes of changing their ways. Because as John says, flesh cannot give birth to flesh. That which is born of Spirit if from Spirit! It is God who transforms a mans heart! Using the sin of gluttony, we now see that the food itself is not the sin. Rather it is man’s naturally evil heart that can easily make a God of that food.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 2:4-5.
Notice this verse was preceded by Paul telling us that by our nature, we are sinners. Now look at the first two words in the above verse. “BUT GOD..” It doesn’t say, “But man, you cleaned yourself up and decided to start living right.” Because again, that is something that by nature, man cannot do! Man cannot merely chose to go against his nature and become holy. Holiness must be attained and driven within the person not by himself, but by the indwelling grace of God. D.A. Carson summed it up best in this quote below;
“People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.” -D.A. Carson.
God is the one who supernaturally changes a mans heart from fallen to righteous. I love the example in Matthew when Jesus distinguishes between false teachers and true Christians.
“You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. Matthew 7:16-17.
We are all thorn bushes and diseased trees bearing bad fruit simply due to our sin nature. Can a thorn bush turn itself into a fig tree merely because it decides it would like to bear fruit? Absolutely not! By nature, it is a thorn bush! In order for a thorn bush to become a fig tree, a supernatural acts must occur!
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5.
Can moralism be preached to a sinful man and he find it in himself to change his ways? According to Jesus, apart from Him we can do nothing! Therein lies the beauty of the Gospel. That our hope is in Christ alone. That we do not have the power to save ourselves through self improvement. Because thorn bushes don’t just become fig trees. This is the Gospel. That Jesus saves and He alone transforms the naturally sinful heart of man and causes Him to supernaturally walk in His ways.
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Ezekiel 36:26-27.
The Gospel is scandalous. It is greatly offensive to even the most religious men. The Pharisees hated this Gospel. Because it robs man of taking any credit, or boasting in any act of the flesh. God alone receives the glory. Men hated this Gospel then, and they have a disdain for the message of salvation by grace alone even today. Because in our wicked hearts, we desperately desire to take some credit and not be viewed as the bad guys. None the less, this is the Gospel.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9.
But to those who truly understand this Gospel and have been humbled by His amazing grace, what a beautiful Gospel this is! Therefore I boast in the fact as did Paul that there is nothing good in my flesh! I boast in the fact that I had no hope to deliver myself from the bondage of my sin nature. And that Christ saved me from myself!
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” Romans 7:24-25.
Adding rules to the law will save no man. Putting up new fences around externals in hopes of keeping man from making idols of them will only provoke sinful man to find a way to climb the fence. Spiritually dead man will not and cannot respond to a list of do’s and don’ts. Only showing preaching of the Gospel can transform a dead soul. Only God the Father revealing the fullness of His glorious Son has the power to change and save a man. God makes no man follow Him. All He must do is reveal Christ in all his beauty, and man will gladly follow. Consider the Apostle Paul, who was a murder of Christians before the Father revealed Christ to him.
“But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles” Galatians 1:15-16.
What did God do to get a sinful murderous man like Paul to preach Christ among the Gentiles? Did God reason with Paul or tell him to stop killing people? No. The Father simply revealed the Son to Paul, and that caused a supernatural change in him. Man cannot save man. Only the Lord our God has the power to bring the dead to life. We must have a right understanding of the Gospel. Saved by grace alone, so that no man may boast. What a beautiful Gospel.
Football season has reached its peak. Time for the National Championship game is drawing near. Seriously, its hard to walk into a room full of guys without the topic of conversation veering towards the topic of college football. But have you ever asked yourself what the point of football really is? You may be thinking, “Well, the point is that I enjoy it and it makes me happy when I relax and what the games.” True enough, but if you were actually on the team, what is the point of the game? Basically to score touchdowns that ultimately lead to Championships! To a football player, that is the goal. To play the game with all their might, and to score.
Now imagine that I approached you to have a conversation about football. But I had some ground rules before we began conversing. What if I told you, “If we are going to talk about football, I have one rule. You cannot mention winning, losing, or championships. Other than that, we can talk about football.” That would narrow down our conversation on the game quite a bit! If we were going to have a talk about the game of football, yet we couldn’t talk about the goal of the game, then we really cant talk about football!!
Ive been doing quite a bit of thinking during this Christmas season. I have asked myself what the true meaning of Christmas is. More than that, what is the goal of being a true Christian? Whenever I preach a sermon or teach a class, regardless of the text Im in, more times than not I touch on the topic of missional living for Christ. I talk a lot about mission. Some would say almost to a fault. Ive actually heard people comment that they would prefer to hear sermons that don’t talk about missions.
But to me, this is exactly like trying to have a conversation about football without talking about touchdowns.
If we are students of God’s word, then we would realize that the goal of Christianity is Glorifying Christ through obedience to His mission. Jesus Himself was sent by God on a rescue mission to save His children from their sins.
“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Romans 5:8.
In Genesis, God sent Abraham on mission.
“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Genesis 12:1.
God sent Moses on mission.
“Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” Exodus 3:10.
God sent the prophet Isaiah on mission.
“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go…” Isaiah 6:8-9.
God sent Nathan to King David on mission.
“The LORD sent Nathan to David.” 2 Samuel 12:1.
God sends Jonah on mission.
“Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.” Jonah 1:2.
God appointed and sent Jeremiah on mission to be a prophet to the nations!
“Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:4-5.
God told Malachi that he would send John the Baptist on mission.
“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” Malachi 3:1.
God sent the disciples on mission.
“Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” Luke 10:3.
God sent the rebellious Saul (who became Paul) on mission.
“But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” Acts 9:6.
God sent Ananias to Saul to cure His blindness and minister to him.
“So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 9:17.
I could keep going, for these are just a few examples. On practically ever page of scripture, in every story, we cannot get away from the fact that the God of the bible is a God of mission! God sends people to accomplish His will! And if you are sent with a task, you are on mission! The whole point of being a Christian is living your life for Christ! And living for Jesus is not just being a good, moral person. Living for Jesus is putting your desires behind and living for His mission.
To grow tired of the mission of Christ is to make Christianity about us and not Him.
So how can is it that we have grown cold and almost indifferent to the message of missions? I am always drawn to examples from my everyday life with my kids. My kids love it when I tell them that I love them and tell them how good they are. My kids love it when I give them gifts! However, when I ask them to do something for me, like chores or helping out around the house, they don’t like those talks so much.
In the same way, much of our culture has made Jesus more about themselves. We love the messages about God loving us and God giving us eternal life. But when it is brought to our attention that God wants us to do something, we get uncomfortable and would rather hear a message about how good we are.
We love hearing about what Christ has done for us, but we shudder at the thought that we might actually be called to do something for Him.
Much of this false Gospel is due to the ever popular prosperity gospel that is widely televised today. We have grown numb to the true message of the gospel and sought out a false version that doesn’t convict or interfere with the desires of our flesh. Yet in this, culture has forgotten the words of Paul.
“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20.
Paul plainly states that once we become Christians, our old selfish ways die. They are crucified with Christ, because He died to save us from living for ourselves. Therefore, if we are truly regenerate, we now seek to live for Him!! We put the desires of our flesh behind.
So what is the mission of every believer in Christ? What does Jesus call us to do?
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Matthew 28:19.
If you claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ, you cannot escape the topic of mission. And to grow tired of the mission of Christ is to openly walk in disobedience.
“Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” John 20:21.
God sends those whom He calls on mission for His glory. And this should excite us! And if you profess Jesus as Lord, He is sending you.
It is my prayer that God will use these verses I have listed above to awaken some to the reality that you cannot separate the mission of Christ from the Gospel. The good news is that Jesus was sent to save us from our sins. And now, He is still being sent through His followers. We have a mission as the body of Christ. It is an inescapable fact that is found all throughout scripture. The problem many times is that we don’t want to see it.
There are those who would call this obsession with living missional for Christ radical. Ive even heard it said to me that Jesus didn’t call everyone to live so radically for Him. But according to scripture, I only see two classifications of Christian. Those that are radically on fire for Him, making the point of their lives the mission of Christ. And those that don’t know Him. Harsh words to think about, but let us consider scripture.
“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! ” Revelation 3:15-16.
You are either hot for Christ or cold. What about that middle ground? What about those who don’t want to be too radical for Jesus, they just want to profess Him as Lord and try to lead a moral life? Well God would consider them to be lukewarm in their faith. Ive often heard people use the term, “lukewarm Christian” to describe someone who really isn’t living for Christ. But notice in the verse above that the word Christian is not mentioned after lukewarm. In fact, God says that if a person is lukewarm, he wants to spit them out of His mouth! That is to have nothing to do with them! To be lukewarm is to be separated from Him. Do we go through dry seasons where we are not living as close to God as we could? Absolutely! But for the true Christian, God will not allow you to stay there. The true Christian is marked overall with a life of passion to serve on mission for His glory!
““Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it..” Matthew 7:13-14.
Two roads. One that is narrow, meaning it is hard. It takes denying our flesh to stay on this road. And then there is a broad road that most people will travel, because it is easy and pleasurable to us. Notice there is no middle sized road. There is no road where you can live in the narrow way when we want and then broaden out. The road to life is narrow, and few will find it. Why will few find this road? Because it is our human nature to make everything all about us, including Christianity.
The startling things about the above verse in Matthew is that when Jesus is speaking of few people finding the narrow road, He is not talking about people who don’t come to church. Jesus is saying that out of those who would say they profess Him as Lord, few of them will actually find eternal life!! Again, this is scary to think about! How do we know this?
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:21-23.
Notice that Jesus says many will say to Him Lord, Lord! Many will begin to spout off all the good works they did in His name during their lives! Think about this. A person that never professed Him as Lord would not be emphatically saying, “Lord, Lord!” In the Hebrew, if the writer or speaker repeated himself, making a strong statement! Also, a non believer would not be boasting to God about all the church activities he or she was involved in.
Here is what we should take away from this. Does our profession of Christ match up with the life that we live? What is the goal of your Christianity? Is it do come to church once a week and just be a good person? Or is it truly to give your life away? Do you merely pray for those who don’t know Jesus, or do you feel a responsibility birthed out of a broken heart over their lostness to actually go to them? Not to just invite them to church, but to build a loving friendship with them and to point them to Christ. We all thank God for the gift of eternal life given through Jesus during the Christmas season. But have you realized that because Christ was sent to you, you also now have been sent?
The goal of Christianity is not to be moral and hear nice sermons about how to improve our lives. Although this is part of the Gospel, it is not the goal. The goal of Christianity is mission driven. Only a spectator would think that the goal was about making him happy. One who is actually on the team knows that Christ was sent, and now He sends those who are His. The true Christian is not a spectator, but he or she is now on the team. They are agents in God’s global plan of the reconciliation of the world.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:18-21.
There is the game plan, the goal, and the mission. So the question we must ask ourselves is, “Am I just a spectator, or am I on the team?”
You cannot talk about football without talking about the goal of scoring. And until professing Christians begin to realize that the goal of Christianity is the salvation of His children, and that we have been given the ball by coach Jesus, then we only prove that we do not understand the Gospel. You cannot begin to live for Him until you have the end goal in mind. Christianity is not about us. The goal is to glorify God to the ends of the earth in everything that we do. It is all about Jesus.