There isn't anything new in what I have to say, but I do see life from an unique perspective. As my body is shutting down, my soul is opening up to a greater and greater relationship with Christ. I am sharing the things I learn as I go through my trials so that those who read what I write will be encouraged in their own walks by how gracious God has been to me in mine. Ask me questiions, dispute my views and most of all pray for me.
All you need to do is say one little prayer and your salvation is assured, right? If we are Christians simply by believing that Jesus died for our sins, then that is al it takes to have sins forgiven and go to heaven when we die. Why then do some people insist that it takes more than that? Why do they get hung up on terms like “lordship”, “discipleship”, “spiritual formation” and “justification”? By faith are we saved, right? I believe therefore I am saved, right? What more could one want than to be assured of their eternal salvation and enjoying life among others who profess the same faith that they do? Of course everyone wants to be a good person, but it isn’t as if we become perfect when we get saved. It isn’t as if we have to do everything Jesus did or said. After all, Christians aren’t perfect, they’re just forgiven.
Lately, there have been some events in my life or the lives of those I care about that have drawn me into a spiritual review of what salvation is. Salvation is simple. That is true. However, it is not easy. That is something entirely different. Salvation is a gift that we could not purchase for our selves and is given to us by the grace of our loving God. Nothing we do can earn that salvation or assure it. Only God, by grace, through the work of Jesus the Christ is able to do that. So where am I going with this?
Someone I know has made some discoveries about her life and her desires in this life that have a profound affect upon her relationship with God through Jesus. This person has “accepted” Christ as her Savior and been a baptized member of a Bible based church. Now she is torn between her love of Christ and her desire to live her life a certain way that would not be accepted by most Christians. The question arose, “Can someone who lives that way truly be considered to be saved?” I would like to say that I am entirely comfortable with the answers I found through prayer and scripture, but I am not. Let’s look at some of the things I found or actually re-ascertained through prayer and study.
There is absolutely nothing in what Jesus Himself taught or that was taught by His early followers or even in the early church that suggest you can decide just to enjoy the forgiveness you can receive at Jesus’ expense and have nothing more to do with Him. It is not a matter of “I believe. I am saved. Now I’ll do what I want.” We have used the term acceptance so long in teaching the message of salvation, that we have disabused the words of their original meanings. We don’t accept Christ. We commit ourselves to Christ. That commitment is a direct result of our realization of what Christ has done for us. We become aware of Christ’s gift. We recognize we don’t deserve it. We regret and repent the things we have done and likely will do that caused the need for His sacrifice. We confess our sinfulness and humbly receive the gift He is giving to us. As a result we change our way of doing things to His way of doing things. We trade our lives for His. We exchange our authority over how we live for His authority over how we should live. We exchange eternal death for eternal life.
I think it was A. W. Tozer who said that a notable heresy has arisen in the evangelical Christian community – the widely accepted concept that we humans can choose to accept salvation from Jesus because we need it, but we can postpone obedience to Him until we are ready on some future date. The fact is that there can be no salvation without a resulting obedience. If your commitment is to an idea of Jesus, you need not obey. If your commitment is to the person of Jesus you do not wish to disobey. This “heresy” has created the impression that it is quite reasonable to be a vampire of Christ without being His servant. I’ll take some of Your blood please because I need it, but I do not want to be Your student or have Your character. Then we just get on living our lives any way we want and tell Jesus we will see Him later in heaven.
How could anyone actually trust Him for forgiveness of sins while not trusting Him for so much more than that. You can’t trust Him without believing He was right about everything and that He alone has the key to every aspect of our lives here on earth. If you truly believe and trust Him then you want to stay as close to Him as you can in every aspect of your life. The less committed you are to Him, the harder the choices are.
If we do not become His apprentices in living as we should in the kingdom of God we will remain locked in defeat so far as our moral desires and intentions are concerned. This is where many professing Christians find themselves today. The fact is that people generally choose to sin. Anything we do for any reason that does not include doing it for God is sin. Anything we do for ourselves at the expense of what God has asked of us is sin. As one old time preacher put it, “Anything that does not glorify God is sin.” People are filled with explanations of why they chose to sin or why they chose to disobey so that, everything considered, it would seem reasonable to make the choices they are making. Reasonable by the world’s standards, but not by God’s. Even then, people will still deny that they actually sinned. How many people will admit to telling a lie, but refuse to call themselves a liar?
We want to good, but we are prepared to do evil should circumstances require it. Of course circumstances do require it with deadening regularity. As Jesus said, those who practice sin are actually slaves to it. Ordinary life confirms that. How consistently do you find most people able to do good and avoid evil as they intend. It is amazing how we Christians will justify our sins by saying, “At least I am not as bad as I once was.” Or “At least I am not as bad as he/she is.” The truth of course is that there are no degrees of bad. There is bad and not bad period. There are no small sins in God’s eyes.Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:34-36
When we practice Jesus’ word as His apprentices, we begin to better understand our lives and to see how we can interact with God’s redemptive resources. This gives us a greater freedom from failed intentions as we learn from Him how to simply do what we know is right. By a practiced abiding in His words we come to know the truth more fully and that knowledge gives us wisdom and strength to do what we should rather than what we would. Learning and living His truth does indeed set us free.“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.” Matthew 12:33
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:6
Only discipleship to Christ through the Spirit brings the real inward transformation of thought, feeling and character that cleans the inside of the cup and makes the tree good. As we study under Jesus, we increasingly become on the inside exactly what we are on the outside, where all that motivates us inwardly plays across the landscape of our lives in social context. An amazing simplicity can take over our lives. A simplicity that is really just transparency. Then what people see is really what people get and what they see entices them to want what you have, which is Christ Jesus. It takes long and careful learning to really remove all of the natural duplicity in our lives, which has become second nature to us. We live in a world where we are supposed to control our relations with those about us by hiding what we really think, feel, and would like to do if only we could do so without being seen.
The Pharisees were in the eyes of most, the “best” people in Jesus’ day. Unfortunately, they based goodness on behavior and tried to secure themselves with absolute obedience in nit picking rules and regulations. They thought that by controlling their outward behavior they could achieve perfection with God. Problem was that God doesn’t care about the outside. He is interested in our most inward thoughts and feelings and desires. That is who we are and most often what defines our outward behavior. Because human behavior is always driven by what is hidden inside us, they constantly failed to achieve their goal of righteosness.
By contrast the fruit of the Spirit does not consist of actions, but rather the fruit is described by attitudes or settled personality traits that make up the substance of the hidden you, the inner man. Love captures this fruit in one word, but in a very concentrated form. Galatians 5:22 spells it out, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such things there is no law.”
These do not come about by our wrestling with ourselves, but they arise from a deepening relationship with Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit and by the grace of God.
We are called to be increasingly possessed and permeated by such fruits so that we walk in the easy yoke of discipleship with Jesus our teacher and hope. From the inward changes that occur, the deeper deeds of love will naturally flow without the effort required of wrestling with our behavior. There will always be room for improvement, but like our brother, Paul, we must press toward the mark that we might know Him. (Philippians 3).
However we may understand the details, there can be no doubt that we were meant to be inhabited by God and live by a power beyond ourselves. Human problems cannot be solved by human means. Human life cannot flourish unless it is filed with the “exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe.” (Ephesians 1:19)
But only constant student of Jesus will be given adequate power to fulfill their calling to be God’s person for their time and their place in this world.
Some might say cannot there be salvation without all this? Cannot one get to heaven without growing as you describe? Perhaps. I know God to be a loving God and if there is some way He could do that for you without violating any the principles of Who He is, then He would do so. Isn’t it better to think about what your life amounts to before you die? What about the kind of person you are or who you are becoming? Would you be comfortable spending eternity in the presence of One whose company you have not found especially desirable for the few hours and days of earthly existence? He is, after all, the One who says to you, “Follow Me!”
I said I wasn’t comfortable with all the answers I found and some of you may now be wondering what I am uncomfortable about. I am not uncomfortable about the truth. I am uncomfortable for a person. She has choices to make and I am not confident that she is going to make the right choices. I pray daily for her and those like her who have been convinced by the world that they can be Christians and have life any way they want it at the same time. There are so-called Christian churches that now say what Jesus taught or what Paul said no longer applies in the 21st century. You can’t walk closely with Christ and believe that to be true, but such teaching brings comfort to those who should make choices about how they live. Instead they think they can have what they want and God too. I am uncomfortable for them. My heart and my spirit weep for those who are lost and will remain so because of such teaching. I also weep for those in whom the seed has not taken deep enough root.
As I pray, God keeps telling me that I will understand. I know with certainty that is true. There will be no tears in heaven, because even though some might not be there I would look for, God says I will understand. I will. Sometimes now it’s hard.