Sunday, December 3, 2017

Salvation 101 (Part 10) - Is Salvation Permanent?

Salvation is absolutely permanent. If at anytime you were saved, you were absolutely saved from that moment on. Salvation, therefore, is eternally yours.

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)

Who has the Father given to Christ? All who believe in Him.

As John MacArthur said, "If you could lose your salvation, you would." In fact, nothing in all creation could cause you to lose your salvation. "They will never perish." (from John 10:28)

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)

And finally, what could be better than a guarantee of your salvation from God, the Creator of all things, who designed salvation from before the ages?

And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 5:5)

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

Remember, salvation is a gift, not of works. It is by grace one is saved, through faith (trusting God instead of yourself for your soul salvation). Works cannot earn salvation, nor can they maintain salvation. Christ did the work, all of it.

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)

Once saved always saved? Absolutely! Guaranteed!

(See previous post on What's Become of You in Christ?)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

You Know Me, Yet You Love Me

Dear Father,

You know me by name, O God. You know my thoughts. You know my words before they are formed in my mouth. You know the desires of my heart. You know the intents and thoughts deep inside my heart.

And yet You love me.
I love You, Lord.

I want, I desire, and I delight to know Your thoughts and the abundance of Your heart, Father.

Your Son,

(Oct 23, 2012, edited)

Sunday, November 26, 2017

I Hate the Sin Nature, I Desire More of God

Dear Father,

I hate the sin nature (even though I'm not a slave to it). Rather, I want to know You more. I want rest in Christ. Father, reveal more of Yourself to me. Give me more of the light and wisdom of Your thoughts and ways in Your word. Grant me courage to always pursue You with all my heart.


(Oct. 21, 2012, edited)

Monday, November 20, 2017

What's Become of You In Christ

What's Become of You In Christ:
36+ Things at the Moment of Salvation

"The old has passed away; 
behold, the new has come." 
(2 Cor 5:17b)

1. A believer is in the Eternal Plan of God, sharing the destiny of the Lord Jesus Christ. As such the believer is:
Foreknown: Acts 2:23; Rom. 8:29; 1 Pet. 1:2
Elect: Rom. 8:33; Col. 3:12; 1 Thess. 1:4; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:2
Predestined: Rom. 8:29,30; Eph. 1:5,11
Chosen in Christ: Matt. 22:14; 1 Pet. 2:4
Called: 1 Thess. 5:24

2. The believer is Reconciled:
By God, 2 Cor. 5:18; Col. 1:20
To God, Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:20; Eph. 2:14f.

3. The believer is Redeemed: (purchased from the slave market of sin)
Rom. 3:24; Col. 1:14; 1
Pet. 1:18; Eph. 1:7.

4. The believer is removed from Condemnation: 
John 3:18; 5:24; Rom. 8:1.

5. The believer is under Grace and not under Judgment: (doctrine of Propitiation)
Rom. 3:24–28; 1 John 2:2.

6. The believer's sins are judged by the spiritual death of Christ on the Cross: 
Rom. 4:25; Eph.1:7; 1 Pet. 2:24.

7. The believer is made dead to the old life and alive unto God. He/she is:
Crucified with Christ: Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20
Dead with Christ: Rom. 6:8; Col. 3:3; 1 Pet. 2:24
Buried with Christ: Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12
Risen with Christ: Rom. 6:4; Col. 3:1

8. The believer is free from the law: 
Rom. 6:14; 7:4,6; 2 Cor. 3:11; Gal. 3:25.

9. The believer is adopted: (placed as an adult heir in the family of God)
Rom. 8:15; 8:23; Eph.1:5.

10. The believer is justified: (declared righteous)
Rom. 3:24; 5:1,9; 8:30; 1 Cor. 6:11; Titus 3:7.

11. The believer is regenerated: (born spiritually into the family of God)
John 13:10; 1 Cor. 6:11;
Titus 3:5. In regeneration the believers are:
Born Again: John 3:7; 1 Pet. 1:23
Children of God: Gal. 3:26
Sons of God: John 1:12; 2 Cor. 6:18; 1 John 3:2
New Creations: 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:10

12. The believer is made acceptable to God: 
Eph. 1:6; 1 Pet. 2:5.
To make a believer acceptable to Himself, God sees to it that the believer is:
Made righteous: Rom. 3:22; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9
Positional Sanctification: 1 Cor. 1:30; 6:11
Perfected forever: Heb. 10:14
Made qualified: Col. 1:12

13. The believer is forgiven all trespasses: 
Eph. 1:7; 4:32; Col. 1:14; 2:13; 3:13

14. The believer is made nigh: (heavenly citizenship based on Reconciliation)
Luke 10:20; Eph.2:13,19; Phil. 3:20

15. The believer is delivered from the kingdom of Satan: 
Col. 1:13; 2:15

16. The believer is transferred into God's Kingdom: 
Col. 1:13

17. The believer is placed on a secure foundation: 
1 Cor. 3:11; 10:4; Eph. 2:20

18. The believer is a gift from God the Father to the Lord Jesus Christ: 
John 10:20; 17:2,6,9,11,12,24

19. The believer is delivered from the power of the Sin Nature: 
Rom. 2:29; Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11

20. The believer is appointed as a priest unto God: 
1 Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6

21. The believer is under the care of God as a chosen generation and a protected people: 
Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:9

22. The believer is given access to God: 
Rom. 5:2; Eph. 2:18; Heb. 4:14,16; 10:19,20

23. The believer is within the much more care of God; as such we are:
Objects of His love: Eph. 2:4; 5:2
Objects of His Grace: for salvation, Eph. 2:8,9;
for keeping, Rom. 5:2; 1 Pet. 1:5; for service,
John 17:18; Eph. 4:7; for instruction, Titus 2:12
Objects of His power: Eph. 1:19; Phil. 2:13
Objects of His faithfulness: Phil. 1:6; Heb. 13:5
Objects of His peace: John 14:27
Objects of His consolation: 2 Th. 2:16
Objects of His intercession: Rom. 8:34; 7:25; 9:24

24. The believer is part of Christ's inheritance:
Eph. 1:18

25. The believer is a beneficiary of the inheritance from God: (an heir of God and a joint-heir with the Lord Jesus Christ)
Rom. 8:17; Eph. 1:14; Col. 3:24; Heb. 9:15; 1 Pet. 1:4

26. The believer has a new position in Christ: 
Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:4; 1 Cor. 1:9; 3:9; 2 Cor. 3:3,6; 5:20; 6:1,4

27. The believer is the recipient of eternal life: 
John 3:15; 10:28; 20:31; 1 John 5:11,12

28. The believer is a member of the family of God: 
Gal. 6:10; Eph. 2:19

29. The believer is Light in the Lord: 
Eph. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:4

30. The believer is united with the Father: 
1 Thess. 1:1, cf. Eph. 4:6
He is united with Christ: John 14:20, cf. Col. 1:27
A member of His Body: 1 Cor. 12:13
A Branch in the Vine: John 15:5
A Stone in the Building: Eph. 2:21,22
A Sheep in the Flock: Eph. 2:21,22
A part of His Bride: Eph. 5:25-27
A Priest in His Kingdom: 1 Pet. 2:9
He is united with the Holy Spirit Rom. 8:9; 8:29

31. The believer is the recipient of the ministry of the Holy Spirit:
Born of the Spirit: John 3:6
Baptized by the Spirit: 1 Cor. 12:13
Indwelt by the Spirit: John 7:39; Rom. 5:5; 8:9; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; Gal. 4:6; 1 John 3:24
Sealed by the Spirit: 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 4:30
Recipient of Spiritual Gifts: 1 Cor. 12:11; 12:27-31; 13:1,2

32. The believer is glorified in Christ: 
Rom. 3:20

33. The believer is made complete in Christ: 
Col. 2:10

34. The believer is the possessor of every spiritual blessing: 
Eph. 1:3

35. The believer is the recipient of a human spirit: 
Rom. 8:16; 1 Cor. 2:12; 2 Cor. 7:13; 1 Thess. 5:23; Eph. 2:5

36. The believer has access to all Bible truth through the Grace system for Bible understanding
and Christian growth: 
Col. 2 and Eph. 4
A Saint of the new species: 2 Cor. 5:17

(Credit for this list goes to Lewis Sperry Chafer.)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Salvation 101 (Part 9) - How Does Getting Saved Differ in the Old and New Testament Periods?

How does getting saved differ in the Old and New Testament periods?

Quick Answer: 
How one gets saved does not differ in any period. 

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 ESV)

Longer Answer:
If you have read and understood the previous parts of this 'Salvation 101' series, you might be at the point where the Q&A here is obvious. Of course, how one gets saved is the same because it's about trusting God for His gift for the salvation of your soul. 

It's not about behavior modification, an emotional or physical response, nor any need for additional sacrifices. Salvation can and does only come from God as a gift. It only happens that after Jesus was born that we could know His name. (PS: 'Christ' is His title, not His last name.)

All throughout the Psalms, for instance, King David trusted and exclaimed that salvation only comes from the Lord.

Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! Selah (Psalms 3:8 ESV)

My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word. (Psalms 119:81 ESV)

...and many, many more.

In fact, even in the New Testament, we can read about Paul holding up Abraham's salvation as an example to the Jews to clearly show it was 1) apart from the law and 2) due to Abraham's trust in God that the righteousness of God was credited to Abraham.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- (Romans 3:21 ESV)

For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." (Romans 4:3 ESV)

This 'Scripture say' verse is quoted from...

And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:5-6 ESV)

Final Note: There is a tremendous difference between salvation in the church-age and salvation in other times. But how one gets saved and what it means to be saved is absolutely the same - by grace through faith, for the righteousness that comes from God. 

The difference is in the church itself, by which I mean the body of Christ, not just "a called out assembly." God has done something extraordinary in the church-age, which will the topic of future posts in another series, plus sprinkled messages here and there.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

And This is Eternal Life...

Ultimately, God wants, and even longs for, fellowship with us. 




And this is eternal life, 
that they know you the only true God, 
and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 
(John 17:3)

...these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. 
For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 
(1 Corinthians 2:10)

Jesus answered him, "
If anyone loves me, 
he will keep my word, 
and my Father will love him, 
and we will come to him 
and make our home with him. 
(John 14:23)

and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, 
that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 
(Ephesians 3:19)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

He is In Me (Journal Entry September 25, 2012)

In me.

The One and Only Holy Spirit is dwelling in me. Christ, the Lamb of God, the Savior of the world, God's only begotten Son, is in me, as I am in Him. 

If I love Him, which I do, He and the Father, my Brother and my Father, will come and make their home in my heart. I do love Him so. 

But, my flesh is weak; though the tapes are old.

I cling to my will until I realize it is as vapor in the air. I'm scared, Father. I want to pray, "Help me die to myself and live for You!" But, I fear, as a result, as a means of helping me do just that, all that is comfortable and familiar to me in this world will be stripped away, perhaps violently. 

I'm scared to lose worldly things, Father.

Because You love me, You will show me, even convince me, Your grace is sufficient. I don't need "things" to know the joy, peace, and love that only can You give. I can safely detach from the lustful idea and shallow desire that material "goods" will ultimately satisfy me. 

I can let go. I can detach. For You are with me. You are in me.

Then will I fully appreciate Your goodness and Your kindness. You have not given me a Spirit of fear. Rather, You have given me a Spirit of adoption as a son, by which I can cry out, "Abba! Father!"

The truth is, when I believed in Your Son, Jesus Christ, and trusted Him for my soul's salvation, You gave me a gift beyond compare: Yourself. The very Spirit inside You is now in me.

Journal Entry Sept 25, 2012

Saturday, November 4, 2017

O God, What Must I Do? (Letters to My Father - May 15, 2012)

O, God, let me call out to You in praise and thanksgiving always. Let me continually know joy and peace in my heart that comes from You alone, and know the deep love of Christ that surpasses worldly knowledge.

Yet, I do not want to be where I am. My financial burden is much greater than I can bear. Help me to trust in You. Help me to know what I must do.

I know what I must do...

Seek Your kingdom and Your righteousness first, love You, and believe in Him who You have sent.


(May 15, 2012)

For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:32-34)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Salvation 101 (Part 8) - What Are the Prerequisites for Salvation?

Me: What must I do before I can be saved?

God: Hear me out.

Me: That's it?

God: Yes. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Salvation is a gift from Me for you to believe and accept by faith. Whoever believes in My Son, Jesus Christ, will have eternal life. But, how are you to believe in Him of whom you have never heard?

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

Me: But, I've done some bad things in my life. Plus, I know I'm not perfect and will likely offend You in the future as well. Don't I have to somehow make up for that first?

God: No. Christ died for your sins, all of them: past, present, and future. Your personal sins are not an issue in salvation, nor can your future sins undo the salvation I give by My grace. I am completely satisfied in the work of Christ on your behalf to make you utterly righteous and justified in My eyes.

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

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

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Me: {Later that day...} Awesome! Now I get when and why I was lost and condemned. I could do nothing about my condition, and nothing is what I did.

The "Bad News" is awful. I saw my need for a Savior only You could provide, and provide Him You did. I heard how He did everything You would ever require so I could be reconciled to You. I could rest my weary soul in Him, forever. Amen!

What happened before I was saved? I heard the word of Christ.

I learned enough about salvation from God's perspective in His word to know there was nothing I could do. I did not need to do my best, or anything for that matter, to become salvation-worthy. I believed in Him whom He sent, and salvation was gifted to me.

Even if I behaved perfectly, I could do nothing about my sin nature. Salvation had to be on God's terms because anything done from my sin nature was unacceptable. His terms were simple: turn from thinking I could do things my way and instead trust and rely solely on Christ for my soul salvation.

 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Previously, I had followed plenty of theories about what God required, spoken confidently by religious men in religious buildings, or written by sophisticated theologians. These same stated in so many words of tradition and of their own imaginations that if I was to be saved, it was going to be by the skin of my teeth.

Or, I'd seek an easier message of grace and love for anyone who said they believed, backed with contemporary music and stylish stages to maximize an emotional response. Yet, these messages lacked knowledge and authority from God, and were simply based on acceptance, tolerance, and acts of compassion.

Eventually, I finally understood salvation from God's perspective when I was taught exclusively from His word. Only then could I see the contrast in His thoughts and ways versus man's. Only then could I understand just how much love He expressed and power He exerted for our salvation. It was all Him. I had nothing to offer. Nothing.

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)

~ ~ ~

I so desire to share with you some of the things I learned about God's perspective of salvation from His word in this blog series, Salvation 101:

1. Saved? Saved From What?
2. Why Do I Need to Be Saved?
3. How Can I Be Saved?
4. What Does It Mean to Be Saved?
5. What Does It Mean to "Work Out Your Own Salvation?"
6. Who Can Be Saved?
7. What About Personal Sins?

In summary, hearing the word of Christ is about listening to God's perspective on:

1. Realizing our lost state and seeing our need for a Savior (the Bad News).

2. Hearing the Gospel, the provision of a Savior, the Good News of the message of reconciliation.

3. Accepting the gift of salvation through faith, trusting Christ for the salvation of your soul.

More to come...

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Salvation 101 (Part 7): What About Personal Sins?

What about our personal sins in regard to salvation? Nothing. Nothing at all.

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

There is no regard for our personal sins in regard to salvation.
Personal sins do not count against us.
Personal sins are not counted against anyone.
None of our personal sins are counted against us.

No, not one!

To be saved, don't we have to stop sinning? No!
Don't we need to at least promise to stop sinning? No!

Why not?

Because personal sins are not an issue in salvation. Not at all!

How is this possible?

We know God's perfect righteousness demanded complete justice, and someone had to pay the price of sins. Well, Jesus Christ fulfilled that requirement perfectly, once and for all. It was paid once, and it was paid for all.

All personal sins that were ever committed or would ever be committed were counted to Christ when He suffered and died on the cross. Christ paid the entire price in full for the sins of the whole world, even for sins that haven't even been committed yet.

Therefore, anyone can be truthfully told, "Christ died for your sins," because He did, whether they believe it or not. That is, even if sinners do not believe Christ died for their sins, it's still a fact that He did die for their sins.

However, ...

"I knew it! There's a catch." No, not exactly. There's no catch, just a point of clarity. Christ dying for the sins of the world does not automatically result in individual reconciliation with the Father. The sacrifice Christ made completely satisfied the Father's justice and righteous requirements. But, sinners remain lost if they resist the Holy Spirit's testimony that Jesus is the Christ. Individual reconciliation with the Father is a result of belief (trust and reliance) in Jesus Christ as Savior.

Scripture references:

How do we know from Scripture (not opinion) that the Father was completely satisfied with the sacrifice Christ made for the payment of the sins of the whole world?

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

What further evidence do we have that this means our personal sins are not being counted against us?

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

When or how are we saved and reconciled to the Father? Salvation is as simple as John 3:16. (See other posts in this blog series, Salvation 101.)

"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)

How do we know that those who resist the Holy Spirit's testimony about Jesus Christ remain lost?

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)

Final Comments...

The Gospel is not just Good News, but really Great News because of this, because personal sins are not an issue. Christ destroyed that barrier for reconciliation with the Father.

Salvation, as a result, is simple; simple, but not always easy. It's our sin nature that begs to have a part in being justified. Surely, we must do something to please God whom we've offended. But, righteousness does not come from us or anything we do, it comes from God as a gift. It's what He has accomplished through Christ. We only need accept the work He has done. Believe and be saved.

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe
(Romans 3:20-22a)

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 
(Romans 3:22b-26)

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,
(Romans 4:4-5)

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)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Salvation 101 (Part 6) - Who Can Be Saved?

Question: Who can be saved?
Answer: Anyone! Anyone in the whole world.

By this time, I hope it only makes sense, from Scripture, that anyone can be saved. I hope I've demonstrated from God's word, not my imagination, that Jesus Christ has executed all the work required. Salvation is not by works. Salvation cannot be earned. I hope it is also clear from the word of God that no one, no not one, has any advantage for being saved (Romans 3:9-12).

I've already addressed many objections and reasons why. Yes, I have a few more questions I'd like to address in future posts for this 'Salvation 101' series. But, the solid foundation has been established; Jesus Christ has completed all the work necessary. It is finished. 

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

The end result of looking at more of what God's word says about salvation will be an even greater understanding and assurance regarding His message and method of permanent reconciliation. 
  • There is no wiggle room. 
  • There is no margin of error. 
  • There are no other sacrifices required.
  • There is no other name by which we can be saved.
  • There are only absolutes regarding salvation.
  • Neither Jews nor Gentiles have any advantage.
  • There is no distinction among all before salvation.
  • There are no contradictions about salvation in Scripture.
  • If the context is not about salvation, don't make it about salvation.

Click here to see all the 'Salvation 101' posts so far. If you're new to this blog, you may also be interested in "Why Scripture?" and "Scripture Q&A."

Note: In this post, I'm addressing the question "Who can be saved?" Not, "Who will be saved?" While it's true anyone can be saved, not everyone will be saved. Why not? Because there will be those who reject Christ as God's solution to condemnation, which was His judgment after Adam sinned. 

There will be those who will resist the Holy Spirit. (Acts 7:51) That is, no one is incapable of receiving the grace of God as a gift except those who would disqualify themselves by refusing to accept God's gift. To phrase that another way, if one is capable of rejecting Christ, they are also capable of receiving Christ. 

Consider these verses and phrases from God's word to be sure His word says that anyone can be saved (ESV unless otherwise noted):
  • And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)
  • 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)
  • 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. (John 3:17)
  • 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)
  • Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. (John 3:36 NIV)
  • But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: (Romans 3:21-22)
  • And all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation; whereas God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and putting the word of reconciliation in us. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
So, who can be saved? 
Anyone! Anyone in the world.

That definitely includes you.
That definitely includes me.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

How a Misfit Like Me Fits In (Letters to My Father - August 28, 2017)

Dear Father,

This world is both confusing and confused. The complexity of human-generated problems in the world is beyond my comprehension.

Much of what the world praises doesn't make sense to me anymore. At one time it did because I didn't think much on it. Now, it amazes me how upside-down our priorities can be.

What am I to do? 

Conformity is not my specialty if I don't understand why and agree with the reasons. You've given me so many reasons and validation for believing in You.

Yet, I've wasted so much time trying to fit in to this world, teetering between feeling like a misfit and trying to conform to the patterns of this world, which are simultaneously particular and peculiar.

There is no fitting in. 

There is no place for me here. I am no longer of the world. Rather, my goal is to stop being conformed to the patterns of this world and be transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2*).

Of course I'm a misfit! 

I'm a sojourner in this world. But, my sojourn is not a vacation where I lie in a hammock in the tropical sun sipping piƱa coladas to my heart's desire. It's more like a tour of duty overseas where I risk getting my heart ripped out.

Am I giving up? Not at all!

Quite the opposite, in fact. I consider Your rewards in Christ, Father, for example, there's joy, peace, love, and freedom - and all for eternity, versus the temporary satisfaction and pleasures of the world.

At the very least, there's striving to reduce the painful experiences of poverty, ill health, suffering, and loss. There's a time for everything under the sun, including fun and pain. Yet, all is vanity and striving after the wind if I simply try to fit it all in before I die.

I'd rather take at least some time to store up treasure in heaven...

I'd rather search Your word for the unsearchable riches that are in Christ (Eph 3:8). I'd rather know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge and filled with Your fullness (Eph 3:19). I'd rather learn from You who can do exceedingly abundantly more than I can ask or think (Eph 3:20).**

I'd rather discover Your secret and hidden wisdom that was destined for my glory before time began (1 Cor 2:6-10).***

What a perfect fit!

Aug 28, 2017

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 ESV)

** To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ(Ephesians 3:8)

and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God(Ephesians 3:19)

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, (Ephesians 3:20) 

*** Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him"-- these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. (1 Cor 2:6-10 ESV)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Salvation 101 (Part 5) - What Does It Mean to "Work Out Your Own Salvation?"

Salvation, all of it, is by grace. None of it, is by works. It is a gift of God.

This phrase, "work out your salvation," comes from Philippians 2:12 which reads...

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, (Philippians 2:12 ESV)

Work out our salvation? It's not done? Fear and trembling? Fear of what? Condemnation? Fear of bringing up this verse because it doesn't seem to fit a salvation that is by grace?


Salvation by works? It can't be!

Salvation is a gift of God. Isn't it?

Salvation is not of works. Is it?

Yet, here is Scripture that seems to indicate works are involved, heavily involved, with fear and trembling no less. So, how do we resolve this phrase with a salvation that is by grace? Does this mean salvation requires at least some personal effort? Is grace conditional based on something I perform? Are we supposed to work for a gift? Is it initially given by grace as a gift, but then somehow maintained by works?

By no means!

This verse does not contradict with my opening assertion and previous lessons. It was the intent of this Salvation 101 series to show that, according to Scripture, salvation is indeed by grace, completely. In fact, grace and works cannot co-exist. Work earns wages, which cannot be counted as a gift.

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. (Romans 4:4-5 ESV)

Salvation is a gift of God, plain and simple, it is not of works (Eph 2:8-9). Jesus Christ already completed the work when He pronounced, "It is finished." (John 19:30) What began in the Spirit by hearing with faith cannot be perfected by the flesh (Gal 3:2-3).

So, why does Paul tell us to work out our salvation here?

What can this possibly mean?

Paul is communicating about having the proper attitude as a Christian in this chapter to the Philippians. An attitude doesn't get one saved, it gets changed and matures over time. Salvation is not even the subject, sanctification is.

That is, the subject is growing up in Christ. Now that you are saved, which does not require works, the goal is to grow up in Christ, which does require works: show up teachable to God's word.

First comes salvation by grace...

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 ESV)

Then we learn why we were saved...

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

If you don't work, or you work on the wrong things, you're still saved.

That doesn't change.

If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:14-15 ESV)

But, there is treasure far beyond comparison to anything in this world in knowing Christ Jesus and the One who sent Him. That doesn't just happen at salvation. You need to grow into it. Just because you were born in the flesh doesn't automatically mean you'll mature as an adult. It takes effort.

In the same way, just because you were born of the Spirit doesn't automatically mean you'll mature to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:11-14). This is all about walking in the Spirit once you have the Spirit in you. And if you have the Spirit in you, you also have Christ and the Father in you.

Think of it this way. Salvation bought you a permanent membership at the fitness center. Use it! You won't lose your membership if you don't. But, you will miss out on the unimaginable benefits of regularly getting a cardio and muscular good workout.

We'll address the topic of sanctification another time, perhaps Sanctification 101. There's much to be said about this process, this spiritual journey. Most of what Paul wrote in the NT is about growing in grace: leaning forward in the chair, as it were, to focus more intently on the Instructor's voice, while eliminating the unproductive behaviors of the flesh that only grieve the Spirit.

For now, let's just know that when we're saved by grace, we're completely saved by the One who did all the work on our behalf. There is no other sacrifice required. Even if there were, there would be none qualified to do it. Only Christ could execute the Father's plan. The work of Jesus Christ completely satisfied the requirements of reconciliation with the Father, not only for us, but for the whole world, so that whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but have everlasting life.

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 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 4:11-12 ESV)

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

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 ESV)

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20 ESV)

Amen!  And...

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 1:24-25 ESV)

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Gap in the Kitchen

I don't picture eye contact when reminiscing my youth. I just don't, I don't recall it. Maybe it was there. I recall my mother's eyes were dark brown, like mine and my siblings. So, I must have looked. But, I doubt any of us saw past the pigmentation of the others' irises.

From the time around the kitchen table of my youth, what I do remember is disconnect, empty space, and vast distance. Inches were miles. Visibility was low. Like the gap between the kitchen table and the sink, where you couldn't look at both at the same time, being on opposite sides of the kitchen, so was the gap between our souls. We couldn't see each other and be seen at the same time.

In our family, we often had our backs facing each other, largely because we were busy being self-absorbed. It was all we knew. We seldom faced each other. Not that we were angry. We just had nothing to say. Even if we did, we had no skills with which to say it. Silence, we knew well, and talking to strangers. Even the strangers in our home.

If some family member were to blurt out, heaven forbid, "I love you," or something senseless like that, it wouldn't bridge the gap. Not even close. It'd be like trying to skip a pebble to the opposite shore of Lake Michigan. Why? There was no one there who would believe the pronouncement. Not I. It wouldn't fit our family dynamic at all. Besides, as far as I could tell, no one knew what it meant.

I perceived my mother's soul, her heart, was as cold as that porcelain sink once full of ice. Only, the ice had melted leaving it cold and empty.

No, that's too harsh. I'm certain she was a child at one time, too, though she never spoke of it. Surely, nurture had something to do with her nature.

"My mother did the best she could," I tell myself. Others nod. Though she has died years ago, 21 to be exact, I give her this excuse to deliver to me. She didn't ask for it. But if I don't give it to her, I will have to take responsibility for my experience of the parenting transaction. Yet, I want it to be done.

"Isn't it over already?" No, I answer myself, afraid of the truth. "Why does this past cling to me? Didn't I grow up and out of it, like my childhood asthma?" Another negative response comes to mind.

The truth is, so long as I deny it, such childhood trauma will live like a parasite in my heart, sucking the warmth from it, until I acknowledge its damaging existence and agree to open heart surgery. I didn't come up with this awareness by my lonesome; it needed to be rubbed in my face by a person I could trust, until I cried.

I realized someone had been filling the porcelain sink of my heart with chips and chunks of ice. That someone was me. I was doing it myself. Someone else I trusted pointed that out to me, gently guiding me. I didn't want to believe the hurtful gap in the kitchen, in my youth, was now the gap between my soul and another's. And unless I intentionally did the emotional work to heal that gap, it would only grow worse. Fellowship is a 2-way street. I had skills to learn and triggers to disarm.

I longed to bridge that gap by hearing the rich and meaningful sound of, "I love you." I longed to say such words and understand I wasn't merely lusting after attention I could die for.

I learned it's never too late to have a wonderful childhood.

It was time to grow up for the first time.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Salvation 101 (Part 4) - What Does It Mean to Be Saved?

What does it mean to be saved? 
It means to be justified. 

Not "just if I had" never sinned.
But justified as opposed to condemned.

Is it ever good enough that I behaved?
Let me look into Your Word,
And not depend on what I heard,
Then I'll understand how I was enslaved.

Salvation is not about behavior. 
Salvation is not even about personal sin.

Salvation is about going from condemnation to justification.
And by works of the law, no flesh shall be justified.

No one born of Adam escaped the sentence of condemnation.

No one does good. 
No one seeks after God. 
No one understands God.
No, not one.

That is what God decreed,
So we would see our need,
To depend on the love of a Savior,
And turn from self-righteous behavior.

We are absolutely saved by grace. It is a gift of God. 

There are no works involved; there can be no works, for works and grace cancel each other out.

We talk about a divine calling, but understanding that calling comes after salvation. 

Being born again is the starting point of understanding Spiritual things that pertain to us. God wants ALL people to be saved. 

Salvation is wonderful, don’t get me wrong.
It is also permanent and not dependent on any behavior, not even a lifestyle.

But salvation is not the end; it is the means. 
There’s more that God wants for us, much more!

To have the opportunity to discover how rich is this calling, be saved.

Do not resist the Holy Spirit, who is hard at work in your life to persuade you of God’s love. Christ has done all the work required to save your soul. 

Trust Him. 

Rely on Him for your soul salvation. 

Let Him do what we cannot do no matter how hard we work. 

So we can boast in Him.

Scripture References sprinkled throughout:
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 all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 
(Romans 3:23-24)

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 
(Romans 3:28)

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)

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)

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)

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 

(Romans 4:4-5)

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 
(John 16:7-11)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Wild Acres Retreat, Little Switzerland, NC

Yesterday, the warm sun bathed the mountaintops with smooth rays. The breeze playfully unable to make up its mind from which way to come and to where it shall go. Refreshing blue skies with dabs of white cotton, afloat and unburdened.

Today, rain drains from clouds so close you're in them. Heavy drops tapping their arrival. "I'm here! And here, and here, and here!" God orchestrating these gentle beats while shiny green leaves dance in delight, one with the music, choreographed yet free.

Note to reader: I went to this place for a writer's retreat hosted by The Sun Magazine on May 19-21, 2017. It was my first ever, filled with workshops from wonderful instructors. There was also relaxed time to read, write, and network. I met some wonderful people and learned valuable lessons. I hope it's not my last. I loved it. (Special thanks to Mark for making it happen!)

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Kitchen Table of My Youth

I picture the kitchen table of my youth as mostly bare and vacant. Visions play back like a bad Super-8 home movie when color film first became popular: faded color washed in cloudy yellowish muck, magnified hairs floating on and off the screen, camera skips and shakes.

It's a small rectangle with a hard, flat surface of cool gray Formica, unmistakable 70's style.

If I try to picture someone seated at the table, it's usually my mother my mind's eye recalls. A Kool menthol cigarette propped between two stiffly extended digits show smoking is not enough to relax her. Neither is the Schlitz can of beer in the other hand, nor the two combined, nor the idle, unfocused stare.

One long side of the table, edged with dull silver metal and held up with skinny tubular legs, is against a wall. It only sits three unless we pull the table out from the wall. But we seldom ate together. We don't need the leaf. That's for when we have guests. The leaf remained like new.

On the other side of the kitchen, opposite the table is a wall-to-refrigerator counter top with an aged-white porcelain sink in the middle. There was a doorway with no door from the main hallway. The counter on the left, window straight ahead, kitchen table on the far right, stove on the immediate right.

Passing between the table and the stove, I could go through another door-less doorway into the dining room where we had holiday dinners with our small, extended family, usually my grandmother and sometimes my uncle, or we did homework during school months, until we started partying instead.

If I stood in the kitchen at that doorway, I'd be directly behind my mother, her back to me, with the wall oven on my right, next to the stove I'd pass. If I glanced downward to the left to the area in front of my mother, I could see the cigarette burning and drops of liquid at the lip of the beer can near its opening.

But, I didn't have to be directly behind her to see those things. I could see them anywhere, anytime. Those images of her as the numb central character of my youth, supposedly playing the role of my mother, smoking packs and drinking from cans, were already etched on the screen of my primary visual cortex. That's probably why I mostly remember the kitchen table as bare and vacant.

I don't know what she saw from glazed eyes when she looked out the window across the table from her seat. Probably not much. I don't know what she saw from glazed eyes when she looked at me.

Is Heaven Loud? (Letters to My Father - May 29, 2017)

Is heaven loud? If not now, will it be when I get there?

Will the sound of 24 elders falling prostrate, casting crowns, offering You praise with harps and lutes- will that sound carry?

Do thousands of angels murmur in crowds near and far?

Are there 12 choirs of 12,000 led by four living creatures making loud melody and harmony like roaring thunders?

Will even You rejoice over me with loud singing?

"And the angels said with a loud voice..."

Then how will You respond when I tell You I've fallen in love?

It's true.

I've fallen in love with peace and quiet.

Please don't be mad at me.

Please don't yell.

(May 29, 2017)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Hearty Trail Mix

... or "Trail Mix from the Heart."

Lately, I've been sharing serious lessons I've learned about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Christian doctrine from Scripture, that is, the Holy Bible. Such revelations have had profound impact on my identity as a Christian. Yet, they are not commonly taught. Nor are they commonly accepted.

As a result, I don't trust most churches to teach what they ought. In fact, many have made a blatantly profitable business out of organized religion. The raw gospel, however, has a different intention.

My desire in these lessons is to give you verifiable truth about Christ. There are more lessons to come. But, at this time, I wish to share other parts of who I am and what I've been through. I want to get real.

Here comes the Hearty Trail Mix...

I want to share so much of what is in my heart. I desire to be vulnerable and genuine. What my Christian beliefs are is just one aspect, albeit a critical one in my life. Beyond this, my life has other aspects as well, soulful ones, human ones, ugly and pretty, which connect us all.

I'd like to share stories from my life that reveal more of who I am. Occasionally, I'll sprinkle in some shorter pieces I hope you will enjoy. I'd like to share some major and minor events from my life that have helped shape my spiritual journey, contributed to life decisions, and brought me to this point: my life is meaningless unless I bring compassion and joy to someone else's. And then, we shall discover together what David meant in Psalm 23 when he said, "My cup overflows."

Sharing my stories is my gift to you. If there's to be any value in this gift, let it be connection. 

So, it's time to mix things up a bit. I have things I want to write and share, some of which I've wanted to write and share for a long time. I was too scared then, making excuses too easy to come by.

Now it's time for me to face my fear; to do the thing I'm afraid to do. To paraphrase Beethoven, "What I have in my heart must come out. That is reason why I write."

I hope you join me. I hope you find something thoughtful for yourself. And may some fruity or nutty trail mix nugget touch your heart.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Delight in Steadfast Love (Letters to My Father - April 26, 2017)

Dear Father,

You delight in steadfast love, justice, and righteousness, and I delight in You. Give me the desires of my heart. Rejoice over me with gladness and loud singing.

I love You and diligently seek You, to know and understand Your deep thoughts and Your gracious ways, intimately, and to love the One whom You have sent, the firstborn of many brothers. For Jesus is my first love, and eagerly seeking You is my first work. Come, make Your home in my heart.

With all my love:
All my heart, mind, soul, and strength,

April 26, 2017

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Derailed, But Not Impaled

Can you be derailed and not be impaled? Absolutely! I was.

I've been derailed recently; over a month has lapsed since I last posted on this blog. Actually, there were a few derailments in this short period of time. A lot can happen that can keep us busy, or not happen which requires even more work. It hurts not being able to do what you'd love to do.

Most of all, worst of all, I was derailed and distracted from my first love: spending time with my Father. It was depressing. I was perplexed that so many worldly things were snatching my time away without asking my permission. Yes, it was underscored by a hope that would never fade. Joy was merely masked for a moment. But, unwanted company was at my side, clawing for attention.

If the subject is Bible doctrine, I love to write it, speak it, study it, teach it, and coach with it. I also love riding my Rocky Mountain mountain bike. Yet, for the past four weeks I didn't write, and barely studied. Nor have I rested easy, making it challenging to focus on anything. I didn't ride much either.

A few days ago, I was riding around the parking lot where I live and my mountain bike split in two. CRACK! BAM! The pavement kissed me hard, fast, dry and gritty on the cheek. I hate when that happens. I didn't kiss it back. Fortunately, I only got a couple small scrapes. Nothing broken, except my bike. I kept the sores moist and bandaged, and they've since healed, also fortunately. But, the lesson goes on...

I've fallen in life, too, and had to get back up. Financially. Career-wise. Relationships. I've also fallen away from God, when my faith was weak. Humbled, I drew near to Him again. My thoughts were scattered several times, not knowing who or what to believe.

But, now I'm refocused on His word and strive to understand His thoughts. Many lessons have been learned, the hard-as-pavement way. Now I know what and why I believe, and for that I'm grateful.

If only the bike had been maintained, the snap of the frame could've been predicted and avoided. I wouldn't have been smacked by the pavement. It could've been on a rugged trail somewhere, and much bloodier. No need to turn the other cheek, I got the message.

If only my walk by the Spirit was maintained, I could've predicted and resisted the distractions, and instead soaked in the comfort of my new identity in Christ. I wouldn't have had to be jolted awake and reminded of my highest priority, my deepest desire, and His love for me. It would've been ingrained. Not like the pavement crumbs in the skin of my cheek. But, like His love quickened in my transformed heart.

If I come out on the other side wiser and stronger, isn't falling good?

Hardly. The common theme in all these lessons is not the healing, which is a good thing. It's the loss of time, which is not good. I'm stubborn when it comes to learning that lesson: things profound but not screaming for attention should be my highest priority.

A sense of urgency is to be applied to what is truly most important to me. It is my reason why. Why does it matter? Why am I here? Why do I believe and do the things I do? I'm fooling myself if I think I can attend to important things later in life. How many chances will I get until I get it right? Later in life is now.

A dear friend reminded me of this process --the scraping and healing, proud falling and humble exaltation, coming to know the glory and love of Christ by sharing in His sufferings-- when he shared some verses about our suffering in this world. May I focus on Him all the more, now, and not wait for the next reminder.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

So, why wait? Eternity starts now.

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 
(John 17:3)


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.