Category Archives: Salvation

Condemned to Hell?

“Yes, I do!”

That is what Russell Vought should have answered.  But, he can be excused for trying to deflect the question, because it was outrageous and unconstitutional.  Bernie Sanders, asked the nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget if he believed non-Christians are condemned to Hell. When Vought replied that, as a Christian, he believed Jesus was central to salvation, Bernie said he therefore was unfit for the office, that he was “not someone this country was supposed to be about.”

Leaving aside the issue that the Constitution forbids such a religious test as a qualification for office, and the question of whether he would have asked a similar question of a Muslim, it is troubling that Sanders implied Christians would discriminate against those who are so condemned.  We are called, instead, to love, serve, sacrifice and possibly die for them.  Perhaps Bernie has seen the John 3:16 signs behind the goal posts, but he obviously has no understanding of the heart of Jesus, revealed in what He said.

Here are Jesus’ own words:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.   (John 3:16-18)

Jesus stood before a government official who grilled Him about His fitness – not to serve in government but to live.  In that setting, Jesus said this:

For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the worldto bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  (John 18:37)

Do you believe Jesus spoke the truth?  Bernie won’t be the last person to misunderstand or accuse.  How would you answer?

Good Eats

“Open your mouth and close your eyes and I’ll give you something to make you wise.”  Ever hear that as a kid?  Did you do it?  If so, what did they put in your mouth?  It could have been anything from a chocolate chip cookie to a worm.  Unless this was your first time out at this game, you’d only open your mouth and close your eyes if you really trusted the person who gave you the challenge.  I can remember the names and faces of lots of childhood chums with whom I would never play that game.

That kids’ game illustrates the answer to a puzzling question.  Look at these two quotes from Jesus, taken from the same passage:

Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.  (John 6:47)

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”  (John 6:51a)

The first question most people ask is “What does Jesus mean by eats this bread, especially since He identified Himself as that Living Bread?”   He wasn’t suggesting an act of cannibalism.  But what?  The first and second quote are talking about the same thing: what it takes to gain eternal life.  The second one says you have to “eat this bread;” the first says you have to “believe.”  Apparently, Jesus was using eating as a metaphor for believing.

But does such an analogy work?  It actually is perfect.  Eating is an act of believing, an act of faith.  When you eat, you take something external to yourself and ingest it, making it a part of who you are (Remember: You are what you eat?).  You only chew and swallow because you believe eating that thing will make you better in some way.  If you don’t believe, you don’t eat, right?  This is why most kids won’t eat Lima beans.  To believe in Jesus is to willingly receive Him into your innermost being, allowing Him to become the Source of your new life.  To believe in Him is to “swallow Him, hook, line and sinker.”

Jesus comes to each of us and presents an invitation:  He says, “Open your mouth and close your eyes and I’ll give you something to make you truly alive.”

It’s no game.  What’s your response?

 

Junkyard Beauty

Next time you are at a craft fair, take a close and thoughtful look at the paintings done on old saw blades and other rusty pieces of junk.  The artist took something shabby and transformed it.  Reminds me of what Jesus did for the blind guy :

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.  (John 9:1-3)

God used the canvas of that man’s disability to display His power and grace. As Jesus healed him, in his transformation, he glorified God.  That word, glorified, sounds a bit churchy but simply means demonstrating or calling attention to how wonderful someone else is.  A spotlight operator, shining his light on the star of the show, draws our eyes to that person and glorifies them.  When someone comes to faith in Jesus, the changes produced are evidence of God’s glory.  God uses those changes to attract others to Himself.

He doesn’t limit Himself to people with physical disabilities.  The town drunk becomes known for a complete 180 and becomes known for his works of charity.  The greedy miser becomes generous.  Even your seemingly ordinary circumstances and generally good reputation are a suitable canvases upon which God can paint beautiful images of His grace.  A simple change that allows one to live with joy and hope in the midst of all the sniping and complaining – it shows.  People notice.  They see glimpses of God, reflected on you.  That’s why Peter encouraged his fellow believers to:

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.  (1 Peter 2:12)

What God did for the man who was physically blind, He does in an more significant and powerful way for those who are spiritually blind.  Like John Newton, whose song you know:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.

Full Advantage

If you live in my town, you have been given the right to use the library.  Far more than simply being allowed to check out books, you can take full advantage of a whole bunch of pretty cool extra services.  For example, recently, on a long trip through Texas, I connected to the library with my cell phone and was soon listening to an audio book as the hours and miles flew by.  Everyone who lives here has been given all those wonderful opportunities.  Not everyone uses them.

Peter wrote about a similar situation for those who follow Jesus:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.  (2 Peter 1:3-4)

If you sign up for a library card, you are given free access to a long list of amazing opportunities.  But they are worthless unless you use them.  When you enter into a relationship of trust with Jesus, which Peter refers to as “the knowledge of Him,” you are given free access to everything necessary for the fullest and most satisfying good life.  Amazingly, you are promised the ability to partake of the very nature of God!  Those gifts and promises are yours.  But they lie dormant and of little value unless you put them to use.  So then, how do we do that?

Peter explains:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  (2 Peter 1:5-7)

You don’t earn the gifts and promises by doing these things; you already have been given them. But, by doing these things, you gradually learn to use what you have been given more fully.  Peter’s words might sound a bit stuffy.  Here’s my paraphrase:

Because you have these great promises, as you come to Jesus by faith, make a practice of getting in step with His good way of living (virtue).  Intentionally get to know Him better (knowledge).  Let the influence of His Spirit control you from the inside out, particularly when you are tempted to mess up (self-control).  Keep at it – practice makes a real difference (steadfastness).  Adjust your thinking and attitude in life to really appreciate and enjoy your interaction with God (“godliness” is a word whose component parts means enjoyable worship!)  Let the joy of enjoying fellowship with God spill over into genuine love for others (brotherly affection).

Living like that, Peter says, helps us take full advantage of all we have been given in Jesus.

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (2 Peter 1:8)

In Line

A friend of mine signs autographs and sells sketches at Comic Conventions because he used to be an animator for Disney.  People line up to meet him (which continues to baffle him…).  I wonder if there will be lines in Heaven to meet various Bible celebrities.  Some of those lines would be pretty long, with all the people wanting to meet John, Peter and the rest of the boys.  Don’t even think about how long the line would be at Jesus’ booth.  Good thing we’ll have eternal life if we’ll be waiting in all those lines.

I’m not sure how that will work out, but if there are lines like that, don’t be surprised if you see Peter standing in your line.  How could that be?  Let’s ask him.  He wrote this greeting:

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:  (2 Peter 1:1)

Peter got to be one of the original apostles of Jesus and yet considered every believer to be of equal standing.  How can that be possible?  Because, as a follower of Jesus, your standing is obtained “by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”   God’s righteousness is perfect.  How much of that righteousness will He impart through Jesus to you?

Paul wrote:

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)

 

And John:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  (1 John 3:2)

I don’t know about lines to meet Bible rock stars in heaven.  But know this: as hard as it is to imagine, if you follow Jesus by faith, you are already in line to obtain perfection. The next time you pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” remember that promise is part of the deal.

The Opportunity in Failure

If God knew His plan couldn’t work, why did He bother?  He chose Israel as a demonstration of how wonderful it is when people live in close fellowship with God, enjoying His protection, provision and guidance.  He gave them every advantage – a land “flowing with milk and honey,” success in battle, and a written book of instructions.  All they had to do was stay faithful to Him as their God.  But even with all of God’s special protection and instruction the people of Israel couldn’t pull it off.  They ignorned repeated warnings, ruined everything and were hauled off into exile.  And God knew it in advance.  Before they were even settled in the Promised Land,

The Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them.  (Deuteronomy 31:16)
So why do it if He knew it would fail?  God knew humans would never accept His help until they had utterly failed so often they were ready to give up on trying to help themselves.  

People have not changed.  Perhaps, no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to find satisfaction.  There’s always something that “ain’t right.”  There’s a restless emptiness inside.  If so,  it’s time to quit trying.  Facing  your failure brings a perfect opportunity to surrender and receive what really does work – God’s perfect plan.  There’s a reason they call it “salvation.”  God’s plan succeeds because He installs His Holy Spirit in our souls, to comfort us, guide us and empower us.  His Spirit is what has been missing.  

Those who stop trying, who humbly accept Jesus’ offer of help, receive His Spirit and cross over into a new and satisfying kind of full life.  Jesus described the difference as a spring of cool, fresh water.  He said,

“… whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  (John 4:14)

There’s No App for That

Did you know there is an app that checks if a watermelon is ripe? And one that checks if you are brushing your teeth long enough?  I have an app that tunes my guitar and one that checks if my RV is level.  You may have apps to time your eggs and keep track of your exercise or just about anything else you can think of.  But there is one thing for which there is no app: abiding or remaining in Jesus.  Jesus said,

4 Remain in me [some translations say abide], as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  (John 15:4)

Apps are temporary temporary tasks.  But to abide, or to remain, means to make your home permanently in a place – in this case in Jesus.  Abiding is not an app; it’s an operating system.  The operating system in your smartphone is always on when the power is on.  It under-girds and controls everything the phone does, including the apps.  Abiding or remaining in Jesus is like that.

Jesus told us,  “remain in Me, as I also remain in you.”  How does He abide in us?  He promised He would never leave us or forsake us.  He doesn’t come and go for a visit or for a service call.  He lives in us.  He instructs us to make our home in Him like that, as a steady and permanent condition that controls everything else we do.  When we pray, “Jesus, come help me bear fruit in this situation,” we are treating Him as an app instead of an operating system.  Better yet to adopt Paul’s attitude, he expressed like this:

20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20-21)