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!)