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 (Letters to My Father - January 28, 2017)

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.

Jan 28, 2017

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!