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Is the “sinner’s prayer” a legitimate way to get saved?

April 18, 2013 2 comments

If you’ve been in the American church for any amount of time, you are probably familiar with the concept of the “sinner’s prayer.” Basically, a preacher asks people in the congregation to repeat after him if they are interested in having Jesus Christ come into their hearts and save them. The prayer will generally go something like this: “God, I know I’m a sinner, and without you I am destined for eternal punishment. I repent of my sins. Please forgive me and come into my heart. Be my Lord and Savior. Amen.”

Poof! If you’ve repeated this prayer, then you’re now magically saved, right? Well, not exactly. It doesn’t work like a flu shot.

People will often point to the fact that when they repeated these words, they “meant it” and therefore, it has to be legitimate. Well, maybe or maybe not. The problem is, the words that come out of our mouths can often be at odds with what’s actually in our hearts—even if we feel like they are the same.

People can be swayed very easily by their feelings, whether it be the lovey-dovey atmosphere created by the powerful preaching, dim lighting, or soothing music. It could also be peer-pressure-induced, where friends or loved ones nudge you into saying the prayer or answering the altar call. Either way, the Bible warns us in Jeremiah 17:9 that human hearts are deceitfully wicked…who can know it?

There is not one place in the Bible that tell us that repeating a formulaic prayer will grant us salvation. A simple man-made prayer does not have special abilities. However, these prayers often contain a lot of correct elements that clue us in on how to actually find Jesus. Using my sample prayer, let’s break it down a bit.

“God, I know I’m a sinner, and without you I am destined for eternal punishment.”

The first step toward real salvation is acknowledging and understanding fully that we are sinners. This is more than saying “I’m not perfect” or “I have done wrong at least once in my life.” Everyone in the world could admit to that! No, this means recognizing that we have broken God’s law and that as sinners, we are broken beyond repair. This is letting go of the secular idea that we are essentially “good people” who slip up sometimes. Rather, it’s a realization that our sin nature leaves us in a very grave situation. We are rotten to the core, and there’s nothing we can do about it on our own. In light of a fully just God, we deserve hell.

Do you really believe that? Or do you look at other people around you and say that you are comparatively “good”? Do you secretly think, “If God turned me away from heaven, that would be unfair!” If you feel this way, you are not ready.

“I repent of my sins.”

Do you really? In addition to genuine remorse for your sins, are you ready and willing to do whatever it takes to turn completely away from that lifestyle? Do you see those things in a different light now, as dirty and serious? Or do you cling to your desire to dabble in sin, do enough “good” to cancel out the bad? Do you wish to be saved but have no desire to be sanctified?

Do you think this way? “Of course, I want to go to heaven! But while I’m here on earth, I don’t need to be a saint or anything. I’ll live it up because Jesus loves me and forgives me.”

If this is your mentality, then you are not genuinely repentant. Someone who is ready to be a Christ-follower may slip up time to time, but they do not brush it off as if it were nothing. When they slip off the narrow path to life, God comes for them and they continue fighting their flesh. If this is not you, you are not ready.

“Please forgive me and come into my heart.”

Let’s think about our own lives for a minute here. Let’s imagine you are married and you’ve had a heated argument with your spouse. Hurtful words were hurled and you’re still stinging from the pain.

Now, let’s say he or she comes up to you and says, “Please forgive me.” You look at them, and they are not truly sorry, nor do they have any intention of trying to improve themselves in the future. They just want the fight to stop so you can cook them dinner or give them other benefits. Would you forgive them?

In the same way, God is not interested in idle words and empty gestures. As Paul Washer once said, “the greatest heresy in the American church is that if you ask Jesus to come into your heart, he will definitely come in.” No, this isn’t how it works. If Jesus sees your heart and you are not ready or willing to do what it takes to make it work, he will not come in. He does not force himself upon you just because of some words you’re repeating in an instant of conviction.

There’s a reason why many will come to the gate and say, “Lord, Lord,” only to hear Jesus say to them: “I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:21-23) How do you know this isn’t going to happen to you?

“Be my Lord and Savior. Amen.”

People often think about Jesus as their savior, but that’s it. They are glad he will whisk them away to heaven and save them from the flames of hell, but they forget about the other requisite part.

He has to be LORD.

Most people in America will call themselves Christians, but they are the furthest thing from Christ-followers. They prayed a prayer and called him “Lord,” yet they live their lives as they see fit.

When someone is your LORD, that means he is your master. You are his servant/slave. Does your mentality really reflect this at all?

If the Bible says something is sinful or commands us not to do certain things (or support them), do you brush it off as outdated “advice”? Do you regard the opinions of man and culture more highly? Do the things that scientists proclaim to be true take precedence in your life?

Do you gloss over the uncomfortable portions of scripture that do not appeal to you, but rather focus heavily on God’s grace and love? Do you profess to love God but fail to live out his commands? John 14:15 tells us that if we love Him, we are to obey.

If you have the (surprisingly common) mentality of “I’ll follow, but only when I really agree,” then Jesus Christ is not your Lord. ANYone will follow someone’s commands if they fully agree with them already. Are you willing to obey even when you don’t fully understand or it rubs you the wrong way?

If God is not your Lord, then He is not your savior. Please don’t fool yourself.

So…

If everyone who calls themselves “Christian” is capable of deceiving themselves and feelings are an unreliable measure, then how in the world can you know if you are really saved? Well, the Bible says that a good tree will bear good fruit (and a bad tree will bear bad fruit…and be cut down and thrown into the fire) – Matthew 7:17-19. It exhorts us to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5) to see if we are in the faith. The test is not whether we prayed a prayer one time in our life, but rather whether our lives are truly changed and on the narrow path in this world. Are we being sanctified? Are we convicted of our sin and repenting continually?

Granted, change is a gradual process for most people, but the trend should be unmistakeable over time. If you were “on fire” for Christ for a short period of your life but have fallen back to a secular lifestyle, there is a possibility that you are like the second or third (unsaved) soils in the Parable of the Sower.

James calls faith without deeds useless and dead. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” (James 2:14)

If we are living our lives just as we were before, or we appear just like the world around us, then this is a serious symptom of a “dead” faith. This doesn’t mean that you are simply living a feeble Christian life, but rather, it means you are not His at all!

In conclusion, reciting the so-called “sinner’s prayer” has no magical powers on its own (though it does have some useful elements in it). This is not the way to test if you are a Christian. The true test and evidence comes in the way you walk and talk, the way you think. Is it conforming to God’s Word, or do you still belong to the world? Remember that you cannot serve both the world and God; it’s one or the other.

In fact, if you are truly a child of His, chances are at some point, the world will hate you or find you foolish (e.g., Matthew 10:22; 24:9; John 15:19). If the world finds you perfectly agreeable, then raise the red flags…there’s something wrong.

Chick-fil-A: The beginning of Christian persecution in America?

August 1, 2012 1 comment

Students of eschatology know that in the end times, believers will be subject to an immense amount of persecution—the likes of which have never been seen before (and considering the historical severity of persecution—say, under Nero—that’s saying a lot).

It’s hard to imagine something like that happening in a “modern” and “educated” society like America, but it’s rapidly becoming less and less far-fetched.

Consider what’s happening with Chick-fil-A these days. Due to a simple statement of faith and personal beliefs, the masses are calling them bigots, discriminatory, and “hate chicken.” Some even have compared the business and President Dan Cathy to the KKK. It’s not just opinionated social media types, either. Politicians and celebrities are getting in on the Bible-hating fun, even going so far as to threaten zoning their cities to disallow the expansion of Chick-fil-A businesses.

What’s next, a lynching party organized on Facebook and Twitter?

As Moehler writes in his CNN opinion piece, this is an unmistakable sign that religious liberty is at stake here.

Even in the eyes of the worldly and secular, what did Cathy do that was wrong? All he did was state his opinion—which, oh by the way, has been the long-affirmed traditional view throughout human history: that marriage is between a man and a woman. And it’s not like he held a widely viewed press conference in front of the public to say this. He was speaking to a Baptist newspaper and a Christian radio station for goodness sakes.

Dan Cathy has never told his Chick-fil-A restaurants to forbid serving homosexuals, nor do they prohibit hiring such individuals. He was merely affirming his biblical views to a small audience interested in such things. Edit: His belief in coming judgment to America is merely echoing the lessons taught from Sodom and Gomorrah. 

The attack on him and his business is far worse than any offense he may have made. People may not realize it, but they are essentially attacking the Bible and the Christian religion altogether. The Bible clearly states that marriage is between a man and a woman, and if you’re going to call that “hateful” and discriminate against those views, then you’re attacking religious freedom. Period.

Sure, there are so-called Christians out there who politely disagree with what the Bible says and go along with society, but these people are sadly mixed up. You can’t disagree with parts of the Bible or take some sections as true or untrue (context considered, of course). You take it whole or nothing at all. Either it was God-inspired or it wasn’t. And no amount of backwards hermeneutics and clever reasoning can steer away from the obvious truth.

This is partly what is meant in Revelation 3 when we are told that it’s better to be hot or cold rather than lukewarm. Take a stand for or against the Bible, but don’t insult God by calling him half-right or obsolete.

Now, imagine where it goes from here. It’s not hard to speculate on the clear direction of the tides.

Support for abortion (gross euphemism: “choice”) has grown steadily over the decades. Eventually, Christians who speak out against the killing of unborn children will be labeled as “anti-feminist” or tragically out-of-touch. (Oops, that’s already the case.)

Gay marriage is already tipping toward the majority. Marriage for all is somehow equated to human liberty and basic rights, and anyone opposed is compared to racists and bigots of the past. Everyone in this country is terrified of repeating mistakes in history (i.e., racial discrimination and slavery), so they fallaciously expand “tolerance” and inclusiveness to moral extremes. Cathy was not attacking any group of people; he was defending an institution.

Radical advances in science show that stem cell research can potentially save millions of lives. Christians who are opposed to using human life as test tube fillers are accused of holding back science and contributing to needless disease and death.

A novel chip implant can do away with all credit card fraud, medical history record issues and delays, and even keep the nation secure from outside terrorists and criminals. Christians who are opposed to getting this chip—for fear that it may be the Mark of the Beast foretold in Revelation—are suddenly outcasts and rebels who have something to hide. They are eyed suspiciously, and op-eds abound on CNN about how these troublesome kooks jeopardize the safety of us all.

The majority starts to grow to deafeningly loud numbers, and the voice of faithful Christians is drowned out. The mainstream’s “patience” with these unsavory citizens breaks and full-fledged persecution ensues, spurred by the liberal media. Most self-proclaimed Christians will fall away, telling themselves (with a modern spin and much rationalization): “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” (Revelation 13:4).

It’s really not that hard to imagine…nor is it as far away as we might hope.

Satan, the Cleverest Being Ever Created—Part 2a: Tricking Christians (and “Christians”)

February 9, 2012 1 comment

Continued from Part 1…

As we’ve seen, Satan does an excellent job of tricking the world. In some cases, his work is evident in gruesome displays of immorality and wretched appearance, but in most cases, he disguises his work very well. His intent is masked with fluffy and warm exteriors, and without the right spiritual mindset (or “glasses”), we can be blind to his power.

Sadly, those in the church are not immune to his charms and tricks. In fact, you could argue that some of his most devastating victories have been won in the hearts of those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. Sometimes, Satan goes for the small wins and deceptions. There are a lot of those. In other cases, he methodically manages to pull off huge lies that perpetuate throughout the body of believers. I believe that many souls are lost because of this.

Generalities and vagueness aside, let’s dive into some specifics. Mind you, there’s no way I will be able to cover them all, or even a satisfactory amount. I bet I’m going to want to edit this post over and over as things come to mind. Maybe this is a work in progress…which is part of the reason why it took me so long to write it. I kept telling myself, “I know I’m going to leave out something important! I need to be prepared!” But then I realized, maybe this was a stalling tactic of some sort, paralyzing me from actually getting off my butt and doing it. Rather than tackling the whole mountain, let’s take it one upward step at a time.

(My goodness, it’s been a while. I’m babbling even more than usual.)

Satan loves to distort the concept of God’s supernatural power in the minds of believers.

You hear things like, “With God, nothing is impossible,” or “God is Almighty and All-Powerful!” These things are true, right? Right! So there’s no danger in exaggerating and stretching these things out to their limits, right?

…wrong.

Sometimes, we inject our own ideas and expectations on these truths, distorting them. And that’s exactly what Satan wants us to do. Remember, he is very, very clever. He knows when he can be blatant and obvious, and he knows when he has to be subtle. Because most people are bad at detecting subtleties (or don’t bother to really think), he chooses this route quite often.

“With God, nothing is impossible.” God is Almighty and All-Powerful!”

When we hear these things, we expect that it means that whatever God does, He would do it in the most spectacular and impressive way possible. This might mean that God works instantaneously and not slowly. With a quick *snap* of His fingers, His work is done. That’s the most powerful thing we can imagine, right? After all, if we can imagine a being doing something more quickly, wouldn’t that make it more powerful than God?

But notice the Bible said nothing about these other details. Since when is power always defined in speed and style?

If God created the world as we know it in six days, people who buy into these concepts might wonder why He didn’t do it in six seconds…or one second…or an instant. After all, if God is maximally powerful, why couldn’t He do it quicker? Certainly, a universe that is billions of years old is completely out of the question. MY God would never take that long.

Oh really? Then why did it take 150 days for the waters to recede after the great flood with Noah and his family waiting in the ark? Why did God require animals on the ark instead of just creating them all over again after it was over? Why did it take God more than an instant to create the universe? Why did Joseph have to endure so many trials and setbacks before he finally rose to power in Egypt? Why did Jesus have to reach the age of 30 before he began his earthly ministry? Why did Jesus rise from the dead on the third day rather than the second? Why did God allow the enemies of Israel to dominate and rule over them for so long? Why did it take almost 1,900 years before the Jews were given back their homeland of Israel?

The list of examples could go on and on, but you get the point. For whatever reasons, God chooses to take His time on things so that they end up just right. Remember what Peter said in 2 Peter 3:9a: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness.”

With my lowly human brain, I can think of a lot of reasons explaining the examples above. And that’s with my limited perspective and knowledge. Surely, God has much more knowledge in doing what He does.

From what I’ve observed and noted, God seems to prefer directing natural processes to meet His ends. This is not lazy nor does it diminish His power; remember who created and put into place those natural processes in the first place! You think gravity and other forces just existed by themselves? There is something glorious in the way that God can manipulate His complex creation to do the job rather than going *poof, it’s done* like some kind of magic trick. Sometimes it helps to think of God more as the ultimate chess master (seeing an infinite number of moves ahead) rather than a magician pulling rabbits out of a hat.

Consider two hypothetical artists. They are both able to create the same exact masterpiece painting, but Artist A takes 10 days and Artist B can get it done in 10 minutes. Surely, Artist B is better, right? I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. If I knew he did it in 10 minutes, I would think, “Wow, that’s amazing that he is able to physically create something like that so quickly!” But if I only knew of Artist A, I would appreciate his work on a different level. “I wonder what he was thinking as he was carefully and deliberately painting those strokes. What life experience was he drawing upon to create such a beautiful painting? What was he feeling, and what was he trying to communicate?” There would be a deeper level of appreciation and glory for Artist A, I believe, all other things equal. Maybe it’s something like that with God as well.

Maybe during those 150 days of water receding, God was putting into place a new system of condensation and rain cycles. Remember, it didn’t rain the way we know it today before the flood. Water was largely in the ground up until that point, not suspended in the sky. He was changing the entire ecosystem and inventing a new precipitation method. Plus, it naturally takes time for water to soak into the ground, evaporate into the air, etc. There was a lot going on. Noah and his family were perhaps left in the ark to praise and worship God without any earthly distractions. No fields to tend to, no work to be done…just waiting and focusing on God.

Maybe God created the world in six days then rested on the seventh to model a full week for us. In fact, this isn’t really a “maybe” (Genesis 2:3 makes it pretty obvious). By the way, God didn’t rest because He was “tired”…I’ve heard that one jokingly said before by atheists. Think about it. He rested not only to model behavior for us, but because He was DONE. There was nothing left to do. And when you’re done working, you rest whether you’re tired or not. (Good grief.)

In other cases, it seems people need to go through a lengthy development process where their character will be more in line with God’s purposes for them. Or in Israel’s case, they needed time to repent and to be punished for their wayward tendencies. People are stubborn, but especially the Jews in the Bible. You’ll notice (e.g., in Judges) that there was an endless cycle of the Jews messing up, God forgiving them, and restoring their blessing…but each time this would happen, God would delay the restoration more and more. Eventually, I guess it took 1,900 years for the Jews to take back their homeland (1948), and it really only could happen after great suffering first (Holocaust, which ended in 1945). Satan might whisper, “Why didn’t God snap His fingers and move the hearts of the nations to give the Jews back their land? Maybe God is just cruel, or doesn’t exist at all!”

But God never works that way. Reading the Bible should make that obvious, and we have a ton of precedent to inform us. God puts events in history into motion to produce the desired outcome. His plans supersede all of Satan’s (and therefore the rest of the world’s) hate for the Jews. There are a myriad of other details that we cannot possibly see or comprehend.

As for Jesus rising on the third day, I’ve heard a number of theories. I think the main reason is timing…falling on a certain day of the week, or even lining up with the traditional Jewish feasts (which is very significant in prophecy). I’ve also heard that it would take that amount of time to confirm with certainty that he was actually dead—or if he wasn’t, being trapped in that tomb with no food, water, or medical treatment after being severely tortured would finish the job. The point is, we don’t always know the “why” reasons. God does things according to His own schedule and methods. His greatness and power are not subject to our expectations or imaginations.

Satan loves to stretch the meaning of “God’s love.”

You’ll hear it over and over again in many modern churches. “God is love, God is love”…”God wants the best for everybody’s life!”

Is this not true? Of course it is, but not in the way they’re thinking. Because of God’s love, His greatest desire is for everyone to come into a closer relationship with Him. Why? Because He knows that’s best for us, whether we agree or can see it or not. Anything else we seek in this life will only end in dissatisfaction or even spiritual (and eternal) ruin.

What this does NOT mean, however, is that God wants everyone to be “happy,” rich, or comfortable in this world. God does care about our temporary earthly happiness somewhat, but it’s a very distant #2 (or #200) to our eternal position.

Also, His “love” does not equate to full acceptance of everything we do and are. His love sometimes necessitates punishment to get us on the right path. His justice and righteousness sometimes mandate destruction.

A parent who truly loves his child would punish her if she were to lie or steal. A parent who leaves the child alone to her errant ways is only setting her up for future failure and misery. How is that love?

In the same way, God’s love means that He cannot accept our sinful ways and leave us alone. I was reading some of the comments for an article about Washington (the state) legalizing same-sex marriages, and I was disturbed (but not all that surprised) to see a number of “Christians” chiming in to chastise the church for opposing homosexuality. They would say things like, “Jesus is love, but sadly, the church seems to think that discriminating and hating is the right way. They are distorting Jesus’ message.”

No, misinformed Christian, you are distorting Jesus’ message by implying that He would be “accepting” of homosexuality to begin with. How could anyone who claims to know the Bible think that this is some sort of gray area? God hates homosexuality, period. It was often the last (and worst) thing God would tolerate before He destroyed entire cities and populations. That doesn’t sound like warm and fuzzy acceptance to me. In fact, I wish the whole Disney-movie expectations of God would be done away with once and for all…love is not about butterflies and roses. The Bible is far from being “G”-rated.

The truth is, God loves people and therefore desires that all turn away from this sin. If they do not, then He is left with no choice but to severely punish with His wrath (people love to forget about His justice and law). Is it “loving” to say to a person, “It’s OK to keep on lying and stealing. I love you!”? Or, “I love you my son, and therefore I don’t care if you go out and live recklessly, impregnating women and destroying yourself with drugs”? Of course not. Then why do we think God is up there saying, “It’s OK to live a homosexual life. It’s just who you are!”

If who I am is wrong, then I need to fix myself, simple as that. If a man naturally wants to lust after every attractive woman he meets, he needs to keep that in check rather than saying, “But that’s who I am!” Since when is what we want (or even “need”) to do some kind of reliable gauge for right behavior?

You get the point.

This is getting a bit long and I’m running out of time, so I will have to continue at a later point. I hope this has given you enough to chew on for now. =)

Random thought of the day: Don’t be a lemming

October 6, 2011 1 comment

Imagine a cliff with a steep drop. Everyone is walking in line and falling off the cliff to their death. You ask the person in front of you, “Why is everyone going this direction? Why not try to cross on the other path?”

“Oh, well that path is windy and uphill. This way is much easier.”

As soon as he finishes explaining that, he too follows the crowd off the cliff. SPLAT~!

Would you follow him off, thinking, “Surely, if EVERYone’s going this way, it must be OK.” Would you take one look at the harder road that safely leads across and think, “but I don’t feel like sweating”?

Following the rest of the world on the wide road (Matthew 7:13) will surely lead to destruction. It doesn’t matter that everyone else is doing it; there is no safety in numbers. Unless the bodies pile so high that you can safely land on someone who before you, you’re destined to die just like the rest of them (hint: the pit is bottomless, OK?).

Don’t concern yourselves with fitting in. Don’t shy away from being on fire for Christ. Seriously, who cares about the opinions of other human beings? We’re all just a huge collection of sinners and goofy idiots, bumbling for truth when it’s right under our noses. Personally, I don’t look up to any person as “cool” and worthy of occupying my thoughts for more than a few seconds at a time. I’d rather impress the Almighty God.

Being casual and lukewarm about God leads to the exact same place as having no faith at all, so you might as well live it up now. Or, hopefully you’ll come to your senses and commit fully.

Is there such a thing as a worldly, lukewarm Christian?

July 21, 2011 1 comment

I highly encourage everyone to watch through this entire sermon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBhqrtMqrv8. It’s by Francis Chan and it’s entitled “Luke Warm & Loving It.” I borrow heavily from his teachings, mixed with other thoughts.

So can you be a worldly, lukewarm Christian? If you’ve been reading my previous posts, the answer is pretty obvious. This is the last time I’ll touch upon this subject for a while, but I had to address a few more key verses before moving on.

There may be short periods of time when true believers experience worldly desires, struggles, and lukewarmness, but on the whole, no. A Christian cannot be worldly and lukewarm.

1 John 2:15: “15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

In my opinion, America is the lukewarm “Christian” capital of the world. There’s probably no other country where being a Christian is so convenient, comfortable…and compromised. Part of the reason, I think, is due to our propensity to be open and accepting to everything—all kinds of people, beliefs, style, and now, even morality. There is no real right or wrong anymore, there’s only “what’s right for you.” (See Lon Solomon’s 4th of July message on America and how our foundations are being destroyed: http://mcleanbible.org/media_player.asp?type=large&messageID=96038.)

But I think the biggest reason for our spiritual lukewarmness is our great wealth. We Americans idolize success, comfort, and security, all of which seem directly related to how much money is in our wallets. Money in itself isn’t a bad thing, per se, but when it becomes our priority or source of happiness, it becomes extremely dangerous. The Bible tells us that wealth is a significant spiritual handicap.

Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Luke 18:24-27: “And Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For 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.” 26 They who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But He said, ‘The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.”

The Bible can’t be any clearer than that. A big part of true salvation is the genuine realization that we are completely desolate and lost without Christ. If we have a fat savings account, healthy nest egg for retirement, and creature comforts the rest of the world can only dream about, what is there to bring us to our knees? Don’t be fooled, the rich young ruler isn’t only referring to political leaders or CEOs. It could very well apply to most Americans today.

Some people will read Luke 18:27 and point out, “See? Jesus said it’s possible with God.” Yes, that’s true. But this doesn’t negate the previous verses at all. It is still extremely difficult and rare. What would otherwise be impossible with human effort alone is possible with God, but highly unlikely.

We’ll get to some practical application in a bit.

OK, so what about morality and behavior? As Christians, aren’t we forgiven for everything we do? Why not live it up like the rest of the world does? Well, read the following:

1 John 3:6: “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.”

The Bible tells us that if it is your mentality to keep sinning because of grace, you need to seriously reexamine yourself to see if you are actually saved. My previous posts delve into this some more, but the following verses show us why we simply CANNOT abuse the grace of God as true believers. (I started to bold key phrases and words, but almost all of the words were bolded. Read thoughtfully.)

Romans 6:1-7: “1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin.”

If we are truly saved, we are now dead to our sins, we are no longer slaves to it. If a “Christian” is still enslaved to sin and is not compelled by the Holy Spirit to sanctify his life, he was never born again to begin with.

Check out this video that powerfully illustrates this kind of faulty thinking: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbwIagWI36o. Why not abuse grace? Because you simply cannot. You are literally unable if you are truly born-again.

I’m still not entirely sold. Is there any other passage that makes it clear that you can’t be lukewarm and saved?

I think you’ll agree with me that the following is a pretty obvious and direct passage.

Revelations 3:15-19: “15I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.”

Does this sound like Jesus is talking to believers? No, not at all. It sounds like he’s speaking to the church in America maybe, but not his beloved adopted children. He does not spit us out and call us wretched and blind.

Rather, this is how God sees those who are saved:

Colossians 1:22: “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”

Please don’t believe some convoluted, reassuring commentary on lukewarmness. People will do anything to avoid the unavoidable truths that the Bible painstakingly makes crystal clear. Let’s not lean toward what’s easy on the ears, but what is spelled out for us. Jesus lovingly warns us again and again, and we’d be fools to bend his words to our will.

Practically speaking?

Well, as Francis Chan says in his sermon, if you’re lukewarm, do something about it at all costs! This is not something to be casual or slow about. Examine yourself honestly and find what parts of your life you’re clinging onto rather than giving them over to God. Some of you may find his suggestion not to eat or even go to work extreme. But really, if your eternal salvation is on the line, you can’t afford to procrastinate. The longer you put it off, the less likely it is that you’ll approach it with the proper urgency. The next time you hear a message on lukewarmness, your heart may already be hardened and your mind may check out when you hear this familiar, nagging tune. Not to mention, you don’t know how much longer you have. Even if you start now, you don’t know how long it will take to burn away all the old desires.

Furthermore, from an outsider’s perspective, I believe this concept of “lukewarm Christian” really sheds light onto some things. Why do Christians live just like the world? Why do they divorce at the same rates (or even higher) that non-Christians do? Why are there the same rates of pre-marital sex among Christians, or why is there so much hypocrisy in the church? It’s simple. In America, the vast majority of “Christians” are not saved at all. They don’t have a newness in life with Christ because they have not been willing or able to put their sinful desires to death.

If 95% of the people in America who call themselves Christians are actually unsaved, then you would rightfully expect the statistics to show no difference with the rest. I’d imagine if you went to certain other parts of the world, you would see something markedly noticeable about their Christians. Why? Because they struggle and suffer for their faith, and they don’t have great wealth to handicap their spiritual growth. This is why poorness can be a blessing. Those struggling to make ends meet for a few years on this earth can be at a great advantage for eternity. Those who achieve too much success and acquire too much don’t realize their “blessing” can really be a curse.

Of course, this isn’t to say that God desires all Christians to be poor. The Bible is rife with examples of people who had great riches. The difference is, in every case, those riches were used to advance God’s kingdom. King David ruled so that his nation would follow God. Job’s wealth became a vehicle to prove his spiritual mettle, and once his undying loyalty to God was demonstrated, nothing was withheld from him. No child of God, however, acquires wealth just because. Nothing is purely for our comfort or worldly status. It’s for His glory.

Just as most of us are not realistically capable of living a celibate life with purity (as Paul chose for himself), most of us can’t handle riches without jeopardizing our spiritual lives. Let’s refine our desires and focus intently on God himself. He’s like a treasure in the field that vastly outweighs all that you currently own. You should be more than willing to give up anything to follow him, whether or not God actually holds you to that. It’s all or nothing—if your goal is to be lukewarm, then change that goal immediately. This is one area where being “balanced” or “well-rounded” is not desirable. Being completely sold-out for God is.

What’s the difference between martyrs of early Christianity and other religions?

July 7, 2011 2 comments

Sometimes, I’m a bit surprised that people don’t see the difference between early Christian martyrs and, say, Muslim martyrs. It’s really quite clear once you think about it.

A typical conversation might go something like this:

Christian: “The disciples’ willingness to die proves that Christianity is true!”

Skeptic: “Well, other religions have had plenty of martyrs throughout their history. According to you, their religion is false, so it seems people are willing to die for things that aren’t true.”

Christian: “…”

Here’s the simple but important difference: martyrs of other religions are willing to die for their beliefs. Early Christian apostles and martyrs died for something they knew to be true—something they had seen with their own eyes.

I’m willing to give Islam the benefit of the doubt and say that Muhammad probably wasn’t intentionally deceiving people. He doubted the veracity of his own dreams and visions, even wondering if they were demonic (possibly). But his wife convinced him that he was hearing the word of God.

Now, many people throughout history have mistakenly believed to have heard or felt God, instructing them to do something or leading them in a direction. If they are wrong but delude themselves, then yes, they may be willing to die for that belief. Unless someone has actually had God speak to them for real, they probably wouldn’t know the difference between a true vision and one conjured up by their own imaginations (or demonic deception). Relying on a second-hand analysis, such as by one’s spouse, is even more unreliable. In the past, our understanding of dreams was also very poor, so this kind of misinformed conviction is to be expected.

But with Jesus’ disciples, this kind of delusion is not really a possibility. If they were making up the story of the gospel, or if they had stolen the body of Jesus, they would have ridden the wave of Christianity for as long as it benefited them…then given it up once their lives were on the line. Instead, we see all of the disciples except one (John, who miraculously survived and died years later) courageously and willingly going to their deaths.

They didn’t die for a belief or convictions from a vision. They died after having seen the risen Christ in person with their own eyes—together in groups, no less. This wasn’t a story they made up or something they heard from others. They died for first-hand knowledge of the most tangible kind.

That’s the difference.

Why not wait to be saved? What’s the rush?

July 5, 2011 5 comments

In the previous few posts, I’ve talked about how different it is to be a true believer of Christ. For almost all practical purposes, it sounds a lot more difficult than the prevalent “say the prayer” plan, so I can understand how it would be a turn-off to some. Even believers might ask, “Who’s going to be interested in Christianity if it’s this hard?” Of course, how easy or difficult something is has no bearing on this issue. Truth is truth regardless of whether we like it or hate it.

So let’s accept that being a true believer results in drastic changes in that person’s life, and that their life will become much more disciplined and restrictive in some sense. What’s the rush, then? Why not wait until we near the end of our lives so that we can have all the fun we want now?

Right off the bat, we need to establish a simple truth: there IS such a thing as a genuine “death bed conversion.” People can be truly saved as they near death, even if they don’t have any time or opportunity to demonstrate the fruit we’ve mentioned. This is because salvation truly is by the Holy Spirit, and not by works. Of course, we may not be able to tell if all of them are true because there’s no way for examining or demonstrating the faith. Perhaps the best-known last-minute conversion is the thief on the cross, to whom Jesus promises, “Today, you shall be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43b)

Now, let’s examine some reasons for urgency. Why should we want to become a follower of Jesus Christ as soon as possible?

1. We don’t know how much time we have left.

This is something we all know…”yea yea, we could get hit by a truck tomorrow.” But I think it’s a little more complex than we think. Let’s examine it from a number of angles.

First, even though we might know about our mortality in our heads, in our hearts, most of us assume that we are going to live until a ripe old age. Hardly anyone honestly expects to die anytime soon. But what if you really did get into a car accident and died tomorrow (or tonight)? Even if there is less than a 1% chance that on a given day you will pass away, are you really willing to risk your eternal destiny on that chance? If you keep pushing off your search for truth, you’re not getting any closer to being saved. Those small percentages are eventually going to catch up to you, and you may never get the chance to consider matters of faith consciously on a nice hospital bed somewhere.

Second, there is the very real possibility of Rapture during our lifetimes. I know people have been saying that for a long time, and kooks will claim to know the exact dates (and invariably will prove to be false), but what if it does really happen soon? Things really are starting to come together.

There will be many people who won’t be ready in time, and as a result, they will face great hardship and danger during the time of tribulation. It would be far easier to accept Jesus before this all happens and be assured of heaven immediately. Plus, the Bible makes it clear that after some initial surge of interest in faith, most of the world will fall away and be doomed (and possibly subjected to God’s full wrath, not measured justice). No one can be sure that they will be one of the few who makes it through with their souls intact.

Finally, it’s not all about us. If you decide to wait until your death bed before you consider accepting Christ, what about your loved ones? What about your parents and children? You may find salvation, but you won’t have a chance to tell anyone you love about this saving grace. Your parents may be closed-minded to random strangers with smiles on their faces, but they may be willing to consider what you have to say (or see the evidence of change in your life). Same goes for your friends or spouse. Waiting could be the most selfish thing you end up doing in your life, even if you can’t see it yet.

2. Salvation is not purely a decision of our will.

Let’s say that you could somehow know with 100% certainty that you will die at the ripe old age of 90. Fine. So that gives you more than 89 years to live your way, and then before your 90th birthday, you can just accept Christ then, right? Sorry folks, this is usually very wrong. This is a very dangerous and risky road to travel.

If it were completely up to our willpower or a simple spoken decision, this last-minute strategy could partially work. But the problem is, the more we live our own way, fuel our pride, and reject the gospel throughout our lives, the harder it is for us to come to God. You’re basically distancing yourself from Him with every step, thought, and action. You’re putting up a wall between yourself and God brick by brick, and expecting it to be easy to get to the other side on a moment’s notice. Things simply don’t work this way, and God cares enough to warn us directly.

Ephesians 4:17-19 says: “17So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18being darkened in their understandingexcluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.”

Reversing a lifetime of rejecting the gospel is not an easy process. It’s easier to repair a heart of short-term, mild neglect than it is to fix decades of indulgence and excess. People who live by the flesh are decreasing their chances of ever coming around by hardening their hearts and becoming callous. When the end of the road is coming, they will be unable to see the error in their ways. A dying man with a pragmatic mind who hedges and claims to accept Christ “just in case” has not acquired a saving faith.

Consider the thief on the cross. It’s amazing how much theology is packed into such a short space.

Luke 23:39-43: “39One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

Notice what the second criminal displayed to find his way to true salvation. He feared God, realized his own sinfulness, and knew he fully deserved death. Then, hanging on that cross, he knew there was absolutely nothing he could do to earn his own salvation. No good works, no rituals, or even an independent decision of his own. He knew that Jesus was the only way, and it is up to Christ himself to allow us in or not. This was not an act of his own volition! It was a desperate plea with the right understanding, and God’s grace showed favor to this man.

3. True belief in Christ leads to an abundant life.

It’s a flat-out myth that true Christians have lives to be pitied. “Ignorance is bliss,” others suppose. What they don’t know is how much purpose and fulfillment believers can have that makes their earthly lives better immediately. A true believer would never, in a million years, trade his joy in the Lord for that Ferrari or a vibrant sex life with beautiful people. Even persecuted Christians or martyrs consider it joy and an honor to suffer for Christ.

The so-called restrictions or hardships we encounter can become a pleasure. James 1:2-4 says: “2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Sure, the teachings of the Bible may be painful to follow sometimes, but it produces greater rewards that are both immediately experienced and enjoyed in the long term. With the Holy Spirit’s help, it doesn’t always feel as hard as you might expect anyway.

Since this may sound far-fetched or even masochistic to some, consider these two analogies.

Some people love working out at the gym regularly. Others can’t even begin to comprehend why or how. Those who are active and fit will tell you that even though it’s hard, sweaty, and sometimes painful, they love doing it. The short-term “joy” is the rush of endorphins, filling them with relief or even a slight euphoria. The long-term pleasure comes from the clean and healthy way your body feels. No pain, no gain. Life is just better overall, and it’s worth the price of gym membership and sacrifice to achieve that kind of fulfillment. That hour on the couch or the chocolate cake, while appealing, are worth giving up.

Another analogy for our relationship with Christ is a healthy, happy marriage. There may be swinging bachelors out there who urge you not to get married, not to take on that ball and chain. “Say goodbye to your freedom,” they might say. Why would you give up your ability to do whatever you want? Stay up as late as you want, play video games all night, or sleep around with whomever you want? To some people, it’s impossible to see the appeal of a “restrictive,” monogamous, and committed relationship.

People who are happily married know all too well the cost they paid, but the reward is great enough to justify it all. Giving up “freedom” and a “fun” lifestyle is rewarded with a different level of happiness. What once seemed so appealing as a single person becomes dull or even repulsive to your eyes.

The same is true of entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Sometimes it seems to make no sense to give up the appealing world around us. The cost of entry may seem unattractively high, but the longer you wait, the more you miss out on what true satisfaction is on this earth.

4. The kingdom could always use more workers, and it’s our privilege to take part.

God is doing work in this world, and He chooses to use us to do some of it. Wouldn’t you want to contribute and be a part of the movement?

Imagine if everyone had this last-minute mentality. Who would be spreading the message of the gospel to people? Who would be the one coming to your hospital bed to instruct you and pray with you? I, for one, don’t want to be a leech that benefits from the work of others. I want to do my part, and I think deep down, most of us feel this way also. The good news is, God always has room for more workers, more soldiers.

5. God promises eternal rewards for the faithful.

OK, so the last one wasn’t really a “what’s in it for me?” reason, per se, but this one is.

God promises rewards for those who do his work and are faithful. Sometimes, the reward can manifest during our lives here on earth, but every time, we are assured to receive eternal rewards in heaven. (By the time you enter into a relationship with God, you may not need much extra motivation anyway.)

Matthew 5:11-12 says: “11Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 6:20: “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;”

What are these rewards that God promises? The Bible doesn’t say specifically, but my guess is that if God is the one rewarding us, it’s something we would enjoy. Granted, we’re not going to be lacking or covetous when we’re in heaven, but again, if God is giving it out, I want it. It’s eternity we’re talking about here. It’d be wise for us to plan ahead and make the ultimate investment while we still can. Like any good investment, the end result will be better the earlier we get started.

Conclusion

This post was just the tip of the iceberg, but I hope it’ll get some people thinking about treating their salvation with more urgency. There is literally nothing to gain by waiting, and there is everything in store for those who take the plunge. Finding Christ can sometimes happen overnight, but it may also take months (or even years). It’s safer to get started NOW, don’t you think? Don’t be like the virgins in the parable who aren’t prepared and are locked out from the feast. Don’t prepare too late.

If there are things you are afraid of losing or giving up, let me assure you that no true believer regrets the trade after it happens. No one ends up saying, “I’ve found Jesus, but I sure wish I could go back to my old ways again.” Besides, depending on what you’re holding onto, there’s no guarantee that God will ask you to give it up completely anyway. Perhaps He will refine it for his glory, or just push it down on the priority ladder. Maybe you will have to give it up. Either way, you won’t be sorry.