Saturday, March 18, 2017

Salvation 101 (Part 3) - How Can I Be Saved?

Rest for Your Souls...

How can anyone be saved? This question jumps ahead a bit from where we left off, a leap of faith if you will (ha ha, pun intended). We considered a bit of the 'what' and 'why' of salvation, and there's more to come in that regard. But, let's take a moment to consider what God is doing here by investigating the 'how' of salvation.

I hope looking at how one is saved will contribute to your understanding and appreciating His perspective of what "Salvation by Grace" means, according to what the Bible actually teaches.

It's been awhile since I've posted, so feel free to review those as needed. The previous two questions were "Saved? Saved from what?" and "Why do I need to be saved?" So...

How can I be saved? Believe.


How can anyone be saved? Trust.

How can one be saved? Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Trust Him for the salvation of your soul. Rely on Him 100% to take responsibility for your eternal life. After all, He did the work, all of it.

Scripture answers this question simply, directly. But, you wouldn't know it from common religious teachings. Many religious leaders either over-complicate salvation. Or, they hardly talk about it and instead talk about principled-living. Both groups claim to know what God wants; either obey these rules and barely avoid punishment, or apply these principles and live a prosperous, godly life. Often what's taught is a confusing mix of the two.

Why are these overly complex things taught? Because the simplicity of the gospel is offensive to our sin nature. So, in order to avoid being offended by the cross, that is, the complete entirety of the work of salvation done by Christ on our behalf, and to still sound authoritative, there are teachings about having to do something as if to prove we really believe or (worse) to earn a good standing with God by doing what He says. It gratifies the sin nature to think we can do good and be pleasing to God. Yet, He doesn't want our works or any efforts before we're saved.

as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." 
(Romans 3:10-12)

To the religious, religion is mostly about obedience to rules, especially moral and ethical rules. Many Christians proudly claim to obey the Ten Commandments. This often translates into what some experience as judgment against them, as if they're not worthy to be saved, or their positions on political issues are the hurdles that must be overcome. Others see this as hypocrisy and are left confused. How can one claim to be obedient to such high standards as God's righteousness and be imperfect at the same time? Why do some act as though they are being made perfect via behavior modification when they are not and cannot?

To the 'spiritual but not religious', spirituality is mostly about manifesting the rare and intangible qualities of love, kindness, gentleness, awareness, inner peace, joy, etc. Again, the emphasis is on behavior modification, perhaps overshadowed by strong emotions, as if it's how we feel that determines our Christianity. It's about being passionate, compassionate, humane, gentle, caring, loving, and even tolerant. It involves calming rituals, singing spiritual songs, and reaching out to others to improve their quality of life. These are all good things, but they are not the gospel of our soul salvation.

To those who point out James 2:26 and echo, "Faith without works is dead," I say go back and read the whole chapter. See that James is not talking about the salvation of your soul. He's talking about a practical faith that is useless to our fellow human beings if it is not put into action. First, one believes and is saved, then they learn what God's purpose is for the church, the body of Christ (versus Israel) through study of His word. After we know His plan and purpose, only then can we do the works for which we were created in Christ Jesus. I'd also say go back and study Romans chapters 3 and 4. No one is justified by works. Rather, we are justified by His grace as a gift.

Yes, we should have moral integrity, respect for authority, and compassion for our fellow human being. We should be joyful and rejoice in our hearts, yet weep with those who weep. But those are not the things that save our souls.

Salvation is a gift of God offered freely to all, and given to those trust and believe in it. He did all the work. All of it! Completely!

It reality, what God wants is simple:

[God,] who desires all people to [step 1] be saved and [step 2] to come to the knowledge of the truth.
(1 Timothy 2:4)

Step 1: Be saved. 
Step 2: Come to the knowledge of the truth. 

Note that Step 1 is a prerequisite. This isn't like losing weight and then having to maintain the weight loss. God gives us a deposit of the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our salvation (Eph 1:13-14). I think we can trust and rely His guarantee. So, start there; be saved and understand what that means.

Next time human wisdom claims to know you need to do, listen to what God has hidden from the learned and wise of this world and revealed to babes, the humble in spirit; it is simply by His grace we are saved through believing in His solution, the work of Christ. The Father gives it to us because He loves us, not because we've earned it or somehow proved we believe or are worthy. Here, then, are two simple passages that make it plain:

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)

Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." 
(Acts 16:30-31)

I think these passages most directly answer the question of "How?" It also becomes clear it is all about His grace and His work. It seems to me the only ones who don't believe in the simple gospel are the ones who find it hard to believe it could be so simple. They are hard-pressed to make it about somehow making ourselves worthy to be saved. But, as John MacArthur said, "If you could lose your salvation, you would."

When you truly come to Him, and know you trust Him, your inner response will be like a huge sigh of relief: rest. His own Son was the sacrifice required by God to justify the unrighteous. His sacrifice is what mattered entirely. Believe in it, trust in it, rely on it, rest in it, like a sleeping baby, born again, in the hands of a loving Parent.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Shack Chat

Read 'The Shack?' Seen 'The Shack?' Love 'The Shack?' Hate 'The Shack?'

I hesitate to say anything about the book or the movie. There's plenty being said already. The problem is people are taking sides. One side, pro-Shack, claims to be true to the relational and forgiving characteristics of God, while the other side, anti-Shack, claims to be true to the holy and majestic attributes of God.

Is it evangelical or blasphemous? Both sides cannot be right at the same time because each requires the other side to be wrong. If it's evangelical, it can't be blasphemous. If it's blasphemous, it can't be evangelical. Which side is right?



I think both sides are wrong; the story is neither evangelical nor blasphemous. I'll bet both sides are now united in at least one area: "This guy is nuts! What is he talking about? We can't both be wrong!" Here's what I mean...

It's wrong to take sides and miss the huge opportunity being made available.

With quarreling, any chance for a discerning conversation about spiritual matters, that could've taken place, is shut down before it starts. Rather, what's become important is to pick a side.

Is that the goal? Do we want people to pick a side based on how persuasive that side is in the review of a fictional book or movie? Isn't there something much bigger to discuss?

In quarreling, both sides are dismissing the other side's claims. If you think that is effectively evangelizing or contending for the faith, think again. Coming to one side because we want to avoid the other is like having the same motivation as a rebellious teenager.

Neither side is gently teaching nor reasonably considering the whole truth of God, with the audience at hand, from a Biblical perspective. Rather, each side is stating why they are right and the other side is wrong.

As a result, all of us are missing out on the opportunity to come to the full knowledge of the truth according to God's word.

If we're arguing, count me out. I don't want to be associated with either 'side'. But, if we're discussing biblical doctrine, by all means, count me in!

As a Christian, I believe there's one thing we can all love about 'The Shack', even if one hasn't read the book or seen the movie or wants to; it can start a wonderful conversation about things that concern God,

who wants all people to be saved and come to the full knowledge of the truth.
(1 Timothy 2:4)

According to Scripture, it's not about picking sides. It's shameful to shut down someone who is questioning or yielding to spiritual information. If unsaved, then who are we to judge who shall be saved? Paul talks about being all things to all people that he may save some...

I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 
(1 Corinthians 9:22b)

If they are saved, Paul refers to hindering their growth in truth and grace as putting a stumbling block in front of a brother or sister.

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother or sister. (Romans 14:13)

Who's to say God won't use a fictional story for good? The main character of the story, Mack, is obviously questioning and then yielding to spiritual information, albeit from a fictional stand-point.

In reality, isn't this how we all came to Christ, whether gently as a bubbling brook, or harsh as a winter gale? "For such were some of you..."

What if this situation were real and Mack was your neighbor? How would you respond to his inquiries and objections? How would you reconcile your answers to Scripture and show him God's reality versus your own opinion?

What if Mack was as quiet about spiritual matters in real life as represented in the story? He saves the hard questions for God and hides them from his own wife, even from his own life. Would we be so courageous as to bring up the fresh memory of an ugly tragedy in order to get him to open up?

I've asked myself those questions. I don't know if I could do it, or even should. Could I handle the grief and anger he must feel and would potentially unleash in my presence? Or would I merely walk away from this tipping point saying, "That must be tough. I can't imagine. I'll pray for you."

This situation is, in fact, real. We have neighbors who have questions and objections. We have neighbors who have been hurt so deeply we cannot imagine. We have neighbors who would fight tooth and nail against the grace of God.

Personally, I'm grateful for such fictional works if it affords me the opportunity to lead others to God, or to at least engage in some conversation about spiritual matters, such as grace and truth.

Perhaps, I'm especially grateful for those works if human trauma is in the way of someone being genuine and vulnerable. It takes a lot to create a safe place. I don't know how to unlock someone's heart so forcibly held shut. If fiction is the catalyst that creates opportunity for the hurt and lost to talk about God and Scripture, so be it.

Yes, 'The Shack' is a powerful work of fiction. It might just be the key to unlock eternal questions in your heart. But, let's remember, it's only fiction. It does not accurately teach Bible doctrine and we shouldn't expect it to. That's not the role of a work of fiction.

But, neither are we as Christians accurately teaching Bible doctrine if instead we are busy establishing and picking sides, as if the characteristics and attributes of God could be separated.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. 
(Ephesians 4:15-16)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Home in My Heart

What follows are two letters to God written last Saturday and Sunday...

Dear Father (Feb 25, 2017 #14),

I've got so many things on my mind and heart. Confession*, writing, money, healing, doctrine, health, reading, time, prayer, work, career, taxes, social groups, evangelizing, teaching, inner child, family, friends, fitting in.

I haven't cried in a while. I know I need to. I also haven't had a good belly-laugh. Wouldn't hurt. I know I need to eat right and exercise. Most of all I need to stop, drop and pray.

Love, Dwight


Dear Reader: I did stop, drop and pray that morning. The fellowship with the Father was exactly what my soul needed; it was refreshing. I was worried about many things, like Martha, instead of focusing on the One thing that mattered most, like Mary (Luke 10:38:42).

* By confession, I merely mean that I acknowledge what He already knows. He is just and right to forgive me and cleanse me from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).


Dear Father (Feb 26, 2017 #15),

I prayed and do pray. Let me not hesitate to stop, drop and pray ever again. I love You so much, Lord.

Please come make your home in my heart (John 14:23). Work in me, both to will and to work for Your good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). I know You love me, Father. For You did not hesitate to offer Your own Son as a sacrifice (Romans 8:32) so I could be reconciled to You (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Nor did You hold back Your own Spirit so I could know You deeply (1 Corinthians 2:11-12).

Much Love, Dwight


Dear Reader: I hope the Scripture references in the letter above are not a distraction. Rather, I hope you can read the letter for what it is, but also look up those references and meditate on the context therein. These are God's thoughts I have in mind when writing these things.

I pray you also are transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2) and sanctified by His word (John 17:17). Remember, God rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

Friday, March 3, 2017

My First Attempt to Interview Myself

This is not quite what I had in mind. I envisioned a funny (funnier) and fast(er)-moving video for getting a simple point across. It was to be my baptism into video production for this blog.

Truth be told, it could be better. But, it is what it is, and I decided to share it as is. At least I tried! Anyone care to provide some anonymous brutally honest constructive criticism?


I'll give it another shot, maybe with the same or similar subject. I'll make it shorter, more like 5 minutes instead of 13:40. Scene switches can be faster. Also, I need to speak in quotable sound bites. 

Until next time... (watch out Weird Al, this is pretty weird!)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Salvation 101 (Part 2) - Why Do I Need to Be Saved?

Why do I need to be saved? Why does anyone need to be saved? Because that's where life really begins. The life God intended, where we can grow into the fullness of Him, knowing the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, begins with salvation.



For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 
(Ephesians 3:14-19)

Wow! Yes, those are heavy verses. But, it's also a wonderful passage filled with Great News of God's plan that goes beyond the Good News of the gospel. I can grow up to be a man because I was born of the flesh. In the same way, I can grow up as a Christian because I was born of the Spirit.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 
(John 3:6)

And this growing up as a Christian is not a behavior modification program. Nor is it a program where people mock or condemn others. Rather, we're talking about transformation by the renewing of our minds. We're talking about being renewed day by day even though our outer bodies will fade away with time. We're talking about being filled with God's Spirit. There is eternal life in the Spirit. There is only temporary life in the flesh.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. 
(Romans 12:2)

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 
(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 
(1 Corinthians 2:12)


Believe it or not, salvation is not the goal, although it is a necessary step. I know full well salvation being the goal is what's commonly taught in long-established denominations. Most churches make Christianity all about salvation, and most Christians are not 100% certain if they are saved. 

I believe that teaching is a sad, grave error. God really desires two things: 1) that all people be saved, but also 2) that all people come to the knowledge of truth. To get to step 2, one has to get past step 1. Why should we stay stuck on step 1?

[God,] who desires all people [1] to be saved and [2] to come to the knowledge of the truth. 
(1 Timothy 2:4)

Unfortunately, not everyone wants even the first step, to be saved. Many don't believe in God or His word, the Bible, where He explains what salvation is. Many others resist the Holy Spirit by insisting on their own works of law or by performing acts of righteousness. But those activities don't justify either. It is only by grace through faith.

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 
(Romans 3:20)

But 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, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 
(Titus 3:4-7)

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)

For the ones who are saved, most Christians then either make everything about salvation (such as maintaining it), becoming better a better Christian via human virtue (such as integrity and morality), or strive for tangible blessings (such as the so-called 'prosperity gospel').

One way or another, people imagine for themselves what they must do next. Very few actually look deeper into God's word and wonder, "Okay, I'm saved. I was called by God. But why? What's His reason for calling me? What exactly, according to Him, am I being called to?"

This question about why I need to be saved used to plague me for years. The popular reasons I heard over and over for why I needed to be saved didn't seem right. It boiled down to this:

  • God is real angry and everyone deserves to burn in hell. 
  • Luckily, He saves a few people because He is full of grace and mercy.
  • So, we'd better do our best to appease Him. We might get lucky.

Huh?! Do you really think if He's that angry anything I do is going to help? Hardly! More importantly, the more I looked for these reasons in Scripture the fuzzier they became. Rather, grace-filled verses gained clarity. It wasn't about keeping the law and trying your hardest not to sin. I saw phrases like "God so loved the world" and "unsearchable riches of Christ" and knew, because His Spirit told me and I listened, not because I followed religion, that there was more, much more, even after salvation.

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 
(2 Corinthians 3:7-8)

Yes, there's a sad ending for those who resist His Holy Spirit. But, considering He wants such amazing and unimaginable things for me, why would I resist? Why would anyone? He wants us, all of us, and did everything possible, more than what is humanly possible, to enable that to happen. He offers all of Himself, freely, even His Spirit, by His Son. We have a choice; to seek, or not to seek.

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 3:17-18)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Most Delicious Meal

Dear Father,

Why do I always bite off more than I can chew? What if the things I needed to do and wanted to do were laid out like a menu at a fancy restaurant? I could pick any appetizer, entree, and dessert. But, I could only eat so much in a single sitting. Plus, everything would come at a cost. Could I really afford the crab stuffed mushrooms, tender filet, succulent lobster tail, and molten chocolate lava cake with raspberries? Do I really need it?

[Dear Reader: In the same way, I can only fit so much into my day. I might as well choose the best things, as best I can, which are not necessarily the things I want most. And the cost of the things I want might not be monetary either, but regret. Ever walk away from the table with a solid outtie belly button groaning, "I ate too much! Again!" Sometimes, I walk away from my day like that! I only need to remember where my food really comes from.]



What course would You be, Father? Of all the fancy menu items, would You be the nutritious mixed salad? The juicy and filling strip steak? Or what course would You be? The satisfying entree? Delightful dessert?

No, I think You'd be the bread and water. You'd be the only things that were free. The menu is merely a distraction from what I really need, even in a fancy restaurant. Besides, bread and water come out first just as I need to put You first in my life.

Yes, that is fitting. For Christ is the bread that comes from heaven, and He gives living water that the one who drinks it would thirst no more.

You'd also be the most expensive item at the table, deserving Your own menu: the wine list. Your Spirit, however, is not just the fruit of the vine, it is the blood of Christ. I'd see all the prices on this menu and know Yours has the highest cost, which no mere human born of Adam could pay.

I'd order it anyway, believing it was well worth the impossible price, only to discover after ordering it the price was already paid, in full. It would be given to me freely, gracefully, so rich and fragrant.

I'd end the meal of bread and water with a sip of this wine, the blood of Christ. It would be to me as a deposit of Your Spirit inside of me, guaranteeing my position as Your heir, a co-heir with Christ. From then on, that sip would seal this meal as the best ever, served with love, garnished with grace.

Love,
Dwight
(Jan 28, 2017, #13)

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Salvation 101 (Part 1) - Saved? Saved From What?

Saved? Saved from what?

I hesitate to answer these questions directly. 

Many people think they already know what I'm going to say. If I state the answer concisely using words they know, it will sound to them like I merely chose from a list of things they've heard many times before and say, "I knew it." Their ears will shut and they will not listen to what I mean. Instead, they will point at me while walking away and declare, "See? I told you so. Your answer is just like the rest. Tell me something I don't know."

Actually, I don't blame them. 

I thought I've heard it all before at one point, too. I started reacting the same way. The bad news was getting old and losing it's power to convict me. Yet, I hope they will listen to what I have to say. This time I'm convicted and the doctrine does have power, meaningful power. At the same time, I don't want to shout at their backs as they walk away. 

I desire to speak to you, dear reader. So, if you are still with me now, still facing these words I've written, stay with me, please. This is where love, understanding and compassion come in; so sorely needed in this conversation, yet sorely amiss. Such a simple question, and yet what deceptive rumors are afloat.

What we are saved from has no power, no meaning, under God's grace.

When Paul told the Ephesians they were "saved by grace through faith," he was simply declaring how salvation was and is for everybody in every age. Abraham was saved by grace through faith. David was saved by grace through faith. Paul was saved by grace through faith.

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 Christian, you are saved by grace through faith. Once saved, no one can snatch you out of the Father's hand, and no one is greater than the Father. Nothing will separate the Christian from the love of Christ, neither life nor death, nor anything in all creation. What you are saved from has no power over you. None.

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, 
and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, 
and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 
(John 10:28-29)

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
(Romans 8:38-39)

Through Christ, God took care of all the problems that would separate us from Him, as well as the limits of our nature and condition, in the offer of salvation. If we put our trust in Him for our soul salvation, He will save. We are saved. What we are saved from is the result of a sentence handed down through Adam: condemnation. (For more about what makes someone lost, see "How did I get lost in the first place?") By His grace, through faith, we are justified. We are imputed with His righteousness.

The only reason what we are saved from remains is because many reject Him.

What we are saved from is God's wrath. There, I said it. That's what I hesitated saying. And it's probably already being taken out of context. However, the misconception I want to address head on is that many people think God's wrath is still because of personal sins. It's not. It doesn't even make sense that personal sin would be an issue. That would mean the work Christ is somehow incomplete, unfinished, and insufficient. It's not.

He is the propitiation for our sins, 
and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 
(1 John 2:2)

Personal sin is not an issue in salvation. Christ took care of that, 100%. Of course, that doesn't mean everyone is reconciled to the Father. Many reject Christ. But, personal sins are not counted against anyone. In other words, personal sin doesn't get in the way of your being saved.

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against themand entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
(2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

If anything, believing your personal sin will somehow hinder your salvation may cause you to doubt the completeness of God's solution. Somehow you need to perform the rest. But, as Christ declared on the cross, "It is finished." He did the work. All of it.

God's wrath -vs- Propitiation

Propitiation is a big word that simply means 'fully satisfied'.  This word communicates that God was fully satisfied by Christ's sacrifice for all personal sins, for all time. No other sacrifice would ever be needed again. In addition, there is no other name by which we must be saved.

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." 
(Acts 4:12)

Yet, although God was fully satisfied by Christ taking on all personal sin, the wrath of God remains unchanged for those who reject Christ. Why? They remain condemned because they reject God. 

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 3:18)

This doctrine is key to understanding why other simple verses, like John 3:16, can mean what they clearly say. Whoever believes means whoever. Because of the work Christ did, God is now fully and explicitly satisfied that the personal sins of the whole world are not the issue in salvation. Now the issue is simply, do believe in Christ?

"For God 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)

The lost are condemned already, having been born condemned by inheriting Original Sin, from the trespass of one man, Adam. We all started at the same place, under the same condemnation. But, those who reject Christ stay condemned not because they continue to commit personal sin, or live a certain lifestyle (see "Can a person's lifestyle condemn them?"), but because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

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 3:17-18)

What we are saved from is easily avoidable, it's the simple gospel: Believe in Christ and you will be saved. What we're saved into is where grace gets really amazing. Stay tuned!