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Posts Tagged ‘Salvation’

John Lennon’s 1971 mega-hit “Imagine” enjoys international acclaim as people sing the hymn-like call for a perfect world. Believe it and it will be. “Imagine there’s no Heaven / It’s easy if you try / No Hell below us / Above us only sky / Imagine all the people / Livin’ for today.”

Many today live according to Lennon’s dream. Western culture has managed to rid itself of the old restraints that have supposedly kept us from experiencing a utopian society. Let us imagine what we want reality to be, and it will be! And “livin’ for today”? Yep—we’ve got that down.

We have a culture that is trying to reconstruct humanity along the lines of imagination. Imagine a world where there are no consequences for promiscuous sex. We’ve made abortion safe (so we’re told), legal, and not-so-rare. And those unborn babies? They wouldn’t want to be where they’re not wanted, right? They don’t have a say in the matter, but we can imagine, can’t we?

Yes—let’s live as though reality will follow our imagination. Same-sex marriage? Why not? We can imagine that homosexual couples will as able to rear psychologically-healthy children as heterosexual couples, right? We can imagine.

And what’s with this business about our sexual identity being determined by our physiology? If Bruce Jenner imagines he is a woman, then who are we to say otherwise. Mom, what if your little boy thinks he’s a girl? And you’ve always wanted a little girl. . . . A bit of makeup and surgery and drugs and . . . voila!

If we all would only imagine, what a wonderful world this would be! “Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people / Sharin’ all the world.” The reason for so much suffering, we are told, is that the few have almost everything and the most have almost nothing. What’s the solution? Increase taxes on the wealthy. They must “pay their fair share.” Now everyone will have plenty, right? After all, poor people with more money will now create jobs for others, won’t they? Hey, we can imagine.

The problem with utopian dreamers is that reality simply refuses to follow dreams. God has established certain laws that will not heed the futile dreams of depraved minds. That is really the issue, isn’t it? Who is sovereign?

The Scriptures reveal and history affirms that God made man and woman–two sexes. People may be confused about that, but confusion does not create a new reality. Some people are confused about aspects of math, but that doesn’t change the reality of numbers.

But humans will not have this God reign over them, and that is the bottom line. We would be the director of our movie, the captain of our fate. And nothing has really changed throughout all history.

The serpent tempted Eve with what is the bottom line for all sin: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). “You will be like God”—that’s what people want. Humans want to be in charge, to call the shots, to decide what “is” is, to make their own utopias.

The reality is that when humans call the shots, their innate depravity permeates everything. People are naturally greedy, and everyone’s greed mutually conflicts. When people want to be sovereign, others disagree with their view of sovereignty, and fights and wars ensue. When people choose to change their sexual orientation, their confused mentality conflicts with biological and psychological reality. Attempts at human-envisioned utopias give way to hell on earth.

There is only one answer, and that answer is submission to the divine Creator, the One who knows the way to joy and happiness and fulfillment better than we ever will. Moses clearly laid out the alternatives: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19). And the apostle John points us directly to Jesus Christ: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4).

The reality is that we all need a radical makeover, much more radical that what Bruce Jenner envisions, one that cannot be produced with psychology, surgery, or drugs. We need new hearts; we need Christ: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

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One of the forbidden things in Western culture is to question the reality of a person’s faith. “How dare you? I say that I’m a Christian,” he protests, as though an assertion settles the matter.

This has come to light recently with another minor flap concerning President Obama’s religion. The president claims to be a Christian, and those who question his assertion are roundly criticized. For most people, if the president says that he is a Christian, then that’s that. Case closed.

Byron York, writing in the Washington Examiner, addressed the matter last week with his article “Why are Americans confused about Obama’s religion?” It seems that the current media sport is to trap Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker with a “gotcha” question. After all, he may be the Republican nominee for president, so many journalists relish the opportunity to reveal publicly a stumble. York writes, “On Saturday, two Washington Post reporters asked Walker, in the nation’s capital for a governor’s meeting, whether Obama is a Christian. Walker said he didn’t know.

“Informed by the reporters that Obama is in fact a Christian, Walker replied, ‘I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that,’ protesting that the president’s religion is not a topic of great interest to voters. ‘I would defy you to come to Wisconsin. You could ask 100 people, and not one of them would say that this is a significant issue,’ Walker told the Post.”

What is striking is York’s statement, “Informed by the reporters that Obama is in fact a Christian.” How do the reporters know that “Obama is in fact a Christian”?

York notes that confusion about President Obama’s faith goes far beyond Gov. Walker: “In June, 2012, Gallup asked, ‘Do you happen to know the religious faith of Barack Obama?’ Forty-four percent said they did not know, while 36 percent said he is a Christian, 11 percent said he is a Muslim, and eight percent said he has no religion. The ‘don’t know’ group included 36 percent of Democrats.”

Why is there so much confusion? Despite his assertions that he is a Christian, the president makes little effort to attend corporate worship. York notes, “Few people see Obama openly practicing any religious faith. After the president did not attend church on Christmas 2013, the New York Times, citing unofficial White House historian Mark Knoller, noted that Obama had attended church 18 times in nearly five years in the White House, while George W. Bush attended 120 times in eight years. Yes, there are a variety of reasons some presidents don’t go to church very often, but in Obama’s case, absence does nothing to change existing public perceptions of him.”

Frankly, I suspect that only a few of America’s forty-four presidents would be classified as Christians in the biblical sense. Most have claimed to be Christians, but the reality would probably be that they were Christians in a cultural sense, not a biblical one, perhaps nominal Christians at best. Regardless, how should a person respond when his Christian faith is questioned? Should we respond as though we’ve been insulted? Should we simply protest that we are indeed Christians?

Warren Wiersbe, in his Walking with the Giants, relates a situation involving the Scottish preacher Alexander Whyte: “A friend told Whyte, ‘The evangelist said last night that Dr. Hood Wilson was not a converted man.’ Whyte jumped from his chair. ‘The rascal!’ he cried. ‘Dr. Wilson not a converted man!’ Then the friend reported that the evangelist also said that Whyte was not converted. At that, Whyte stopped short, sat down, put his face in his hands, and was silent for a long time. Then he said to the visitor, ‘Leave me, friend, leave me! I must examine my heart!’”

The question is not whether President Obama is a Christian. The question is whether we are: “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 [ESV]).”

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When you hear the term “moralism” and it is used as a negative thing, what is your reaction? After all, what can be wrong with morals? Isn’t a lot of the problem with our culture due to a catastrophic slide in morality?

There is, of course, nothing wrong with good morals and, yes, we have witnessed a tragic decline in morality in America. A culture which fights for the “right” of a boy who thinks he is a girl to use the girls’ restroom and tells the offended girls that they need to learn to deal with it is a culture which has lost almost all sense of morality, not to mention common sense.

People are rightly concerned about the abysmally low level of morality in America. The problem, though, occurs when a concern for morality is confused with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Moralism is a belief system when emphasizes the overarching importance of morality. Being a good person, emphasizing morality, being with like-minded people, and seeking to convert others to your view of morality are all characteristic of moralism. In truth, moralism is another gospel, and that should be a cause for great concern.

Moralism is what characterizes most churches in America today, and we Baptists are no exception. All moralists do not hold to the same set of moral values, but they all see morality, at least their conception of morality, as fundamental. When someone tells you, “We don’t need to get hung up on doctrine. We just need to be good people and have great relationships,” you are listening to a moralist, and that’s not a good thing.

The great danger of moralism is that it replaces the gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed, moralism is the antithesis of the gospel because the moralist essentially believes that he is right with God because he is a moral person, though he may deny that and invoke his need for Jesus. The gospel, however, reveals that our efforts at self-reformation and our seeking to be righteous are fraught with sin (Isaiah 64:6). Our being accepted by God is due solely to God’s counting us righteous through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ (see Romans 4 and 5; also 2 Corinthians 5:21).

In a September 11, 2012, blog post entitled “Christian Values Cannot Save Anyone,” Al Mohler writes: “Parents who raise their children with nothing more than Christian values should not be surprised when their children abandon those values. If the child or young person does not have a firm commitment to Christ and to the truth of the Christian faith, values will have no binding authority, and we should not expect that they would. Most of our neighbors have some commitment to Christian values, but what they desperately need is salvation from their sins. This does not come by Christian values, no matter how fervently held. Salvation comes only by the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Dr. Mohler goes on to explain: “Human beings are natural-born moralists, and moralism is the most potent of all the false gospels. The language of ‘values’ is the language of moralism and cultural Protestantism . . . . This is the religion that produces cultural Christians, and cultural Christianity soon dissipates into atheism, agnosticism, and other forms of non-belief. Cultural Christianity is the great denomination of moralism, and far too many church folk fail to recognize that their own religion is only cultural Christianity — not the genuine Christian faith.”

“Christian moralists” will attend worship services, get involved in Bible studies, go on Christian social trips, and do short term missions. There is enough “Jesus-talk” to make it all seem Christian, but it’s not biblical Christianity. It is moralism. And it is eternally deadly: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).

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Jesus Christ is commonly portrayed as a benevolent man who went around doing good, loving everyone, accepting people as they are, and in general making people’s lives better. To be sure, he did go about doing good, and he did make the lives of many people better. Many were the recipients of his physical healings and miraculous provisions. Even greater was his bestowal of eternal salvation to those who trusted in him.

We must recognize, however, that the purpose of Jesus’ coming to the earth was not to heal diseases and mend physical maladies, and it was not to help the down-and-out become the up-and-in. Most definitely, he did not accept people who intended to remain as they were. Jesus himself announced in Luke 19:10 that “the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” Those who are lost are those without God, those who are yet in their sin. Jesus came “to seek and save the lost,” those who are wayward, those living outside of God’s righteousness.

When Isaiah saw his vision of God (Isaiah 6), he was struck by the absolute holiness of God, a holiness so pure and transcendent that he had no choice but to respond with “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!” (6:5). Seeing the One who is absolutely holy, Isaiah saw himself as undone and lost.

A few verses down in Isaiah 6 we find God pronouncing this to Isaiah: “Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed” (6:10). When we make our way to John 12:39–41, we find this about the religious leaders of Judaism: “Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.”

Notice what we see here: Isaiah saw the Lord Jesus in his vision. He is absolutely righteous. The religious leaders of Judaism rejected the absolutely Holy One of Isaiah’s vision.

The Son of God is absolutely holy, which is why no one can stand before him in his unmediated glory. The apostle John’s response to seeing Christ in his glorious holiness was similar to that of Isaiah. Exiled to Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus,” John fell as one dead when he saw a vision of Christ (Revelation 1:9-17). Commenting on this passage, John Owen [1616-1683] made this observation: “Should the Lord Jesus appear now to any of us in his majesty and glory, it would not be to our edification nor consolation. For we are not meet nor able, by the power of any light or grace that we have received, or can receive, to bear the immediate appearance and representation of them. His beloved apostle John had leaned on his bosom probably many a time in his life, in the intimate familiarities of love; but when he afterward appeared to him in his glory, ‘he fell at his feet as dead.’”

Contemplating such righteousness gives us some insight into what is required to be accepted by God. Blind to their sin and arrogant in their self-assessment, multitudes assume that God accepts them simply because they are basically “good” people. Such thoughts will serve no comfort when standing before God. God requires absolute righteousness in order to be accepted by him, a righteousness that no mere mortal can produce. Jesus Christ, however, possesses that righteousness, and his righteousness is our only hope: “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [God the Son] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 [ESV]). Christ is our righteousness.

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A blue Christmas?

Christmas seems to be a particularly depressing time for many people. Statistics reveal increased numbers of suicides and attempted suicide when compared to other times of the year. Mental health professionals report an increase in cases of depression.

Many reasons for increased depression are offered. Folks get overwhelmed with trying to find the “perfect” Christmas gift. All the festivities can crowd needed rest out of one’s calendar. Expecting one’s Christmas season to match a Hallmark movie doubtlessly produces a blue Christmas for many. Gatherings that force folks to be around others they dislike can be a downer.

Perhaps more persons need to feel blue at Christmas, though not for any of the reasons often offered. The thrice-holy Christ entered the world. Juxtaposed against his holiness, any human should be filled with dread and shame, a state of the darkest blue.

In Isaiah 6 we find the prophet in the presence of the Almighty. Confronted with perfect holiness, Isaiah shrinks, “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!” (v. 5). Isaiah saw himself and his people as they really were: wicked and evil. “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45) correlates what a person says with what a person is. That is not a comforting thought.

One might ask, “Well, that’s all well and good, but we’re talking about Christmas. What does Christmas have to do with Isaiah’s experience with the holy God?” The apostle John records this account in his gospel: “Though he [Jesus] had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him” (John 12:37–41, ESV; emphasis added).

Isaiah saw Christ in his glorious holiness and saw himself as wicked and unworthy. Somehow, that’s a reality we need to grasp during the Christmas season. We are not celebrating the miracle of a birth, though the Virgin Birth was certainly that. We are not celebrating the innocence of a little child, though this Child is the only one who has ever been born as innocent after Adam’s fall. Too much of Christmas in our culture borders on sappy emotionalism, and a lot of it is thoroughly baptized in sappiness. Even the “Put Christ Back into Christmas” campaigns miss the mark, because most people would be aghast at who Christ really is. Perhaps beside manger scenes should be a depiction of Revelation 19:11-15: “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”

Seeing Christ as Scripture depicts him should drive us to the cross, for there “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, ESV). Seeing Christ in his holiness reveals us in our sinfulness and lawlessness. By his grace, we loathe our sin, repent of it, and embrace his atonement for us. And, yes, we celebrate Christmas, but for no sentimental reason. We celebrate because our kind, benevolent, gracious, holy Savior God has satisfied divine justice due our sin and has clothed us in his righteousness.

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Often persons think that being a member of a local assembly of Christians makes them right with God individually. If that were true, the apostle Paul would not have admonished: “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, ESV). Just because we are associated with others who are following Christ does not necessarily mean that each one of us is following Christ individually.

The Bible clearly tells us to “repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). If anyone in an evangelical church is asked whether he has repented of his sins and believes the gospel, he is likely to answer in the affirmative. One cannot help but question the sincerity of a person’s repentance and belief if that person is known to sin without concern. Far too many professing Christians miss worship on Sunday because they had rather hunt or fish or even do work that is not required to be done. Church members make ungodly statements on Facebook, fail to return things borrowed, fail to acknowledge all their income when paying taxes. In these and many other ways, professing believers reveal the insincerity of their repentance.

Thomas Manton (1620-1677) gave us this warning: “If an unregenerate man should leave off sin under fear of death or hell, it would not be out of hatred to sin, but out of the fear of the punishment, as the bird is kept from the bait by the scarecrow.” Similarly, William Gurnall (1617-1679) wrote: “Take heed thou prayest not with a reservation, be sure thou renounces what thou wouldst have God remit. God will never remove the guilt as long as thou entertains the sin. . . . It is desperate folly to desire God to forgive what thou intends to commit. Thou hadst as good speak out, and ask leave to sin with impunity, for God knows the language of thy heart, and needs not thy tongue to be an interpreter. . . . Hypocrisy is too thin a veil to blind the eyes of the Almighty. Thou mayest put thy own eyes out, so as not to see Him; but thou canst never blind His eyes that He should not see thee.”

Someone may immediately protest: “You have no right to question the genuineness of my repentance and faith in Christ just because I attend worship irregularly or because I make some comments you disapprove.” The purpose here is not for any of us to examine anyone else. The purpose before us is to examine ourselves. Paul wrote: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.” We need to ask ourselves: “Do I truly repent of my sins? Am I really trusting in Christ? If I am, what does my life say about my profession?”

Matthew Henry (1662-1714) provides counsel as applicable today as when he penned his thoughts: “By repentance we must lament and forsake our sins, and by faith we must receive the forgiveness of them. By repentance we must give glory to our Creator whom we have offended; by faith we must give glory to our Redeemer who came to save us from our sins. Both these must go together; we must not think either that reforming our lives will save us without trusting in the righteousness and grace of Christ, or that trusting in Christ will save us without the reformation of our hearts and lives. Christ hath joined these two together, and let no man think to put them asunder. They will mutually assist and befriend each other. Repentance will quicken faith, and faith will make repentance evangelical; and the sincerity of both together must be evidenced by a diligent conscientious obedience to all God’s commandments. Thus the preaching of the gospel began, and thus it continues; still the call is, Repent, and believe, and live a life of repentance and a life of faith.”

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Most people will tell you that they are hoping to go to heaven because they feel their good outweighs their bad. Such thinking, however, is foreign to biblical Christianity. The Bible clearly declares that all of us are sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Therefore, all of us deserve eternal death (Romans 6:23).

Maybe you have heard of the man, believing that life was unfair to him, cry out to heaven, “God, just give me what I deserve!” There is hardly a more dangerous prayer because the best of us deserve the wrath of God.

God, however, did not simply leave us in our sins so that we might face his just and unavoidable wrath. The apostle Paul reminds us that “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:4-5a). Salvation does not begin with man’s realization of his sinful con­dition and consequent search for a solution. He does not have that desire or capability within his sinful nature. Salva­tion begins with God. It was the kind and loving God who saw man in his lost condition and chose to save him.

Al­though man deserves to perish eternal­ly, God desires that he repent (2 Peter 3:9). Man has fol­lowed the way of this world and the spirit of Satan (Ephesians 2:2). He has lived to fulfill his own lusts, showing that in his nature he de­serves God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3). God, though, gave his Son to be man’s Savior, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).

William Barclay writes accurately, “God is character­ist­ically the Saviour God, whose last desire is to condemn men and whose first desire is to save them.” It is God who “so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). It is God who “shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It is “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” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

No person will ever enter heaven on the basis of his good works. All who spend eternity with God will do so because of the grace of God through repenting of their sin and believing in the Lord Jesus. The Bible states, “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).

If you are a true Christian, you have much for which to be grateful this Thanksgiving season. God has not left you to toil in a vain attempt to earn your salvation. In his infinite mercy he has freely given you eternal life through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ upon the cross.

If you have not turned from your sin and believed on Christ, do so today. He took the wrath of God due believing sinners and counts all such believers righteous in his sight. “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [God the Son] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

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