Fight for Joy! Blog
Where Jesus Changes Everything
“Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43). I’ve written a lot on the subject of suffering. Perhaps this is because suffering is one of the few things all of us have in common. I am certainly no stranger to it and I suspect you aren’t either. And, if you’re like me, I doubt you enjoy or look forward to another opportunity to suffer!
In the midst of suffering we’re told by Jesus and the biblical authors not to worry. When it comes to our daily needs Jesus reminds us not to worry about tomorrow. Why? Because, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”—King James speak for, “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34).
A dear friend who is now with Jesus—Jack Kinsella—wrote, “All that is well and good and we understand it on the spiritual level. But somehow, sometimes that doesn’t seem to be enough. Sometimes, the weight of this old world and where it is going is crushingly heavy. Sometimes you just want to throw your hands up in despair and cry out, ‘I’m losing faith in everything. What’s the point?’”
That’s a good question—“What’s the point?” I mean, really, what IS the point of suffering? Even if we try and write suffering off ultimately as a result of sin and the fall of man we still, if we are honest, have to admit we struggle over the question of why? Or, to stick with our aforementioned question: What’s the point?
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2). It was C.S. Lewis who said, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?” The Bible teaches God’s approval comes by way of faith (Hebrews 11:1-2). In fact, the Bible makes it crystal clear that our faith, when perfected, is more valuable than anything we could ever imagine (1 Peter 1:7). Perhaps this is why the writer of Hebrews goes to great lengths to underscore the importance of living by faith. He teaches us about the nature of faith, the honor associated with it, and its way of seeing things. The entire eleventh chapter reveals the honor associated with faith through the lives of Old Testament saints. In the next chapter the writer describes living by faith in athletic terms—running a race. In so doing, he encourages those of us who name the name of Christ to run the race of life by faith, just like the Old Testament saints described in the preceding chapter.
“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints”(Jude 3). I just returned from another outstanding annual meeting of the Pre-Trib Study Group (www.pre-trib.org). The meeting took place at the Sheraton Grand Hotel near the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. This was my fourth opportunity to attend, having also attended in 2007, 2008, and 2011. The conference did not disappoint, proving once again to be Christ exalting, biblically focused, and academically stimulating.
Several papers were presented by various scholars around a common theme: Contending for the Faith in the Last Days. Dr. Thomas Ice began the conference with a paper on, “What Does the New Testament Teach about End-Time Apostasy?” Mike Gendron (www.proclaimingthegospel.org) presented a paper giving an overview of “Roman Catholicism’s Drift into Apostasy.” Tom McMahon (www.thebereancall.org) presented a paper on, “Psychology in the Church,” which to me, was the best paper presented at the conference. The so called church growth movement was discussed by the Monday evening banquet speaker, Paul Smith, where he discussed the church growth movement and how it was used to change the church’s focus from theology to sociology. Several other papers were presented, all focusing on end-time apostasy in the church.
“For what does the Scripture say? ‘ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.’ Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited to him as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:3-5). Paul’s letter to the Romans has been rightly called The Constitution of Christianity. Indeed, it is the greatest of all the letters of Paul. Its theology is, on the one hand, profound beyond comprehension. But on the other hand, the Holy Spirit gladly guides the believer into the truth that is Romans. The entire letter can be summed up with the phrase, “Righteousness from Heaven.” Paul meticulously demonstrates the utter sinfulness of mankind concluding beyond any doubt, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE” (Rom. 3:10). Such a universal condition results in the need for divine righteousness. In other words, if I want to see God I must have the righteousness of Christ credited to my account. Such is only possible through faith.
“Abraham believed God, and it was credited to Him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). Romans 4 is a pivotal chapter in establishing righteousness through faith alone in Christ alone. There is a mystery here. This should not be taken as something unusual, as elsewhere Paul describes the entire body of revealed doctrine as, “the mystery of faith” (1 Tim. 3:9). Paul is not saying that our faith is recognized to be righteous. If that were the case one would have reason to boast before God. Righteousness credited to us happens outside of us. The phrase, “it was credited to him,” is in the passive voice meaning God does the work, not me. In other words, this righteousness is imputed not imparted. Remember, imputed means to set to one’s account. God has imputed, or set to my account, the righteousness of God. There is no works-righteousness here, as it is totally the work of God brought about through faith in Christ alone. This is the method for obtaining this righteousness—believe God! Otherwise, we receive what is due: “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23a). But if we come through faith, we receive “the free gift of God” (Rom. 6:23b), which is the righteousness of Christ. This is the miracle of faith that results in certain blessings bestowed on the one who believes. First of all, our sins are forgiven—they are sent away. Secondly, they are covered. In fact, they are covered so completely there’s no chance of their ever being uncovered. Finally, miracle of miracle of miracles, the righteousness of Christ is credited to the account of the one believing the Gospel.
So, this raises an important question. Do you possess, by way of imputation, the righteousness of Christ? Your answer to this question is crucial as it concerns matters of eternity—where you will spend it. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). It doesn’t matter how good one might be or think they are as the Bible also teaches even the good things we do are marred by sin. Isaiah wrote, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Is. 64:6). Remember, Paul has already demonstrated the utter sinfulness of all mankind—you included. This is why we need righteousness from heaven. And the amazing thing is this: although it cost God everything to make this possible, for you and me, it is free! This is what Christ came to do—to fulfill a righteousness and die a death that would remove all your sins and my sins and become for us a perfect righteousness. He offers you this righteousness today as a free gift. It is yours for the asking—simply believe the Gospel. “BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT” (Rom. 4:8).
“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:21-23). I have the privilege of pastoring a wonderful congregation of believers. We are slowly working our way through Paul’s letter to the Romans. We have already answered the question, why the Gospel (see Rom. 1:18). We have thoroughly enmeshed ourselves in the goodness of God (see Rom. 2:4). Next we are coming to chapter three where Paul discusses a glorious imputation. Imputation is a legal term that is used in a variety of ways in Scripture. It appears some forty times in the New Testament, ten times in Romans, alone. The word means, “to set to one’s account.” For example, in Philemon 18 Paul admonishes Philemon to charge (impute) to his account any debts Onesimus may have incurred. Theologically speaking, there are three great imputations in Scripture. First of all, there is the imputation of Adam’s sin to me. “Through one man sin entered into the world” (Rom. 5:12). Because Adam sinned, all are sinners. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Secondly, there is the imputation of my sin to Jesus. This happened at the Cross. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Finally, there is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to all those who believe. This is a glorious imputation that God brings about in the life of all believers—those who through faith believe the Gospel. It occurs at the very moment of salvation when God imputes to the sinner what is not actually his—the righteousness of God—“Even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe” (Rom. 3:22).
Paul describes this righteousness of God as that which is apart from the Law. In other words, the Law cannot save us. The Bible says through the Law all are accountable to God. Furthermore, it is through the Law we have the knowledge of sin. For this reason, at the final judgment the Law will close the mouth of the unbeliever (see Rom. 3:19-20). But thanks be to God for the glorious imputation of His righteousness. The Bible says the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel—“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (Rom. 1:17). Both Romans 1:17 and 3:22 speak of this imputed righteousness as coming through faith in Jesus. This is the essence of God’s plan of salvation. It is a salvation that is offered “apart from the Law.” In other words, you can’t earn this salvation. It can only be obtained as a gift and it comes through faith in Jesus. Although this is the fulfillment of the New Covenant, this isn’t some new way of saving people but is in perfect agreement with God’s work in times past. This is what is meant by the phrase, “being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets” (Rom. 3:21b). In other words, God has always been in the salvation by grace through faith business. This is demonstrated in the Old Testament through the faith of Abraham. In fact, Paul mentions this in the next chapter, “For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). “Credited” here is that glorious imputation about which I write. And this imputation comes by way of Jesus: “But now apart form the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested” (Rom. 3:21a). It has been manifested in Jesus!
Romans 3:23 declares, “All have sinned.” All here would include you and me. It includes every person who has ever lived from Adam onward. The exception is, of course, Jesus—“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). And it is this Jesus who, although “He knew no sin [He became] sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:21). We do not earn this righteousness by faith but we receive it through faith. Think about it. Because Adam sinned you and I are sinners—sorry, it doesn’t matter how good you might think you are because you are still a sinner by nature. But God has taken your sins and imputed them to Christ. Through faith you can have Christ’s righteousness imputed to you. This is the essence of the Gospel message and is the message I believe and proclaim. You don’t have to remain in your sin. You can experience freedom. You can be changed. You can have the righteousness of Christ. You can choose life! If you haven’t done this, what are you waiting for? “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).
“But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses...I charge you in the presence of God,...keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 6:11-14). C.H. Spurgeon once quipped, “I would recommend you either believe God up to the hilt, or else not to believe at all. Believe this book of God, every letter of it, or else reject it. There is no logical standing place between the two.” Life is all about choices. It seems to me I face a daily barrage of choices—some minuscule some not. It’s the “some not” with which I am most concerned. These choices often look me square in the eyes with a simple yet profound question—will I believe God? And by “believe” I do not mean passive acknowledgement but active faith. I meet people all the time, from all walks of life, who readily acknowledge they believe the Bible yet for some reason fail to make a personal, life-changing commitment to Jesus Christ. They refuse to join the fight—the good fight of faith which Paul admonishes us to fight in his first letter to young Timothy. I am convinced if one is not fighting the good fight of faith then he or she probably doesn’t belong to God. The good fight of faith is a serious matter, indeed—one I like to describe with the phrase “Fight for Joy!”
How do we fight for joy? In 1 Timothy 6:11-14, Paul offers three principles we must employ as we fight for joy. First of all, we are challenged to flee from some things while pursuing other things. To put it plainly, we are told to flee from a desire for earthly treasures and instead pursue a heavenly treasure—Christ Himself. We do this as we “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” Secondly, we are told to get in and stay in the fight—the good fight of faith. This is where I am faced with the question of will I believe God? If my answer is yes then the next part is not necessarily easy but it is settled— how long will I believe God? Paul says I am to fight the good fight of faith until I “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” In other words, I fight for joy—the good fight of faith—until I see Jesus either at my death or the Rapture of the Church, whichever comes first. He drives his point home with a third principle: “Keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, keep on believing until Jesus comes. I like the old Southern Gospel hymn--Keep on the Firing Line— which says, “If you’re in the battle for the Lord and right, keep on the firing line; if you win, my brother, surely you must fight, keep on the firing line; there are many dangers that we all must face, if we die still fighting it is no disgrace; cowards in the service will not find a place, so keep on the firing line.” Friend, keep fighting the good fight of faith until you see Jesus! Like Paul, be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). This is the Word of the Lord!
C.S. Lewis once said, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it?” It is easy for me to say I believe God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do. But it is only when life throws me a curveball and the bottom drops out and I’m stripped of everything but Jesus that I truly discover what I really believe. Then the question as to whether or not I will believe God becomes very real and of utmost importance. Don’t wait until the bottom drops out. Settle right now—once and for all—no matter what happens you will believe God and that belief won’t be merely passive acknowledgement but an active and vibrant faith in the one who has promised, “He who believes in Him will not be disappointed” (1 Peter 2:6).
“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow”(James 1:17). The Bible says that God is forever faithful. I believe that. However, I will also be the first to admit that simply because I believe something to be true does not mean I always act like it. Like you, I face a daily bombardment of uncertainties, challenges, and circumstances that are inherent in a fallen world. Sometimes these uncertainties, challenges, and circumstances catch me off-guard. Sometimes they turn my world upside down. Sometimes they leave me with more questions than answers. It is during times like these we must endeavor to turn our attention to and meditate upon what I believe to be the greatest truth about God’s eternal character—His faithfulness. The Bible is crystal clear on this point and leaves no room for debate. God always has been, and forever will be, faithful.
James, writing about the God who gives perfect gifts to His children, says this about Him: “There is no variation or shifting shadow.” The use of the words variation and shifting is interesting. In using these words, James is probably referring to the sun, which because of the Earth’s rotation, “varies” its position in the sky throughout the day. This variation in position results in shifting shadows on earth. It’s a great illustration because we have all seen shadows and we have all witnessed the shifting of shadows brought about by the varying position of the sun throughout the day. But James reminds us it is not like this with God. God is the “Father of lights,” meaning He is the Creator of the sun and stars—the heavenly bodies that give off light. And unlike these heavenly bodies that are constantly changing or appearing to change, the “Father of lights” does not change. He is faithful and with Him, “there is no variation or shifting shadow.” This is in perfect agreement with Malachi 3:6, which says, “For I, the Lord, do not change.” Because God does not change, we can count on Him to be faithful—always! The same thought is captured in Psalm 100:5, “For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting, and His faithfulness to all generations.” This basically means His truth endures. Because His truth endures, because He is faithful and forever will be, the Bible says, “And without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Because God always has been, and forever will be, faithful, we can believe Him. Abraham did, and the Bible says, “It was credited to Him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). Sarah believed because, “she considered Him faithful who had promised” (Heb. 11:11). This is the Word of the Lord!
I do not know what is transpiring in your life right now. I only know what is going on in my own. But this much I do know—God always has been, and forever will be, faithful! When God told Joshua to meditate upon His Word (Joshua 1:8), He was basically charging Joshua to meditate upon His faithfulness. Joshua was about to embark on the greatest challenge of His life—leading the children of Israel into the Promise Land. He needed to be assured of God’s faithfulness. The Psalmist wrote, “Oh how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97). Only those who love the Word of God and endeavor to meditate upon and obey it will believe God. And only those who meditate upon God’s faithfulness can face the uncertainties, challenges, and circumstances that life throws our way. Remember, no matter what happens in this life, God is faithful—He always has been, and He forever will be, faithful! No changes on this earth can cast a shadow on the unchanging Father of lights. “In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us” (Heb. 6:17-20).
"And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death" (Revelation 12:11). As we near the end of the age, persecution and even martyrdom of Christians will increase dramatically. Those of us living in the United States won’t be exempt. In fact, we are already witnessing an increase in persecution. The time to prepare for this eventual reality is now. Make sure you are thoroughly grounded in the faith. Make sure you know what you believe and why you believe it. Make sure you are truly of the faith. Make sure you are an overcomer! Otherwise, when persecution comes—particularly persecution with the threat of death—you will run the risk of denying and bringing shame to the name of Christ. Such denial may indicate another reality—that you do not belong to Christ. Therefore, it is imperative that we understand what the Bible says about those who overcome. Revelation 12:11 give us three marks of an overcomer. All three are true in the life of one who has truly been saved by the grace of God through faith in the Son of God.
John writes, "And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb." In a previous article I pointed out the Greek word for overcame is the word nikao, meaning "to come off victorious." True Christians are, by nature, overcomers. But we don’t overcome in our own strength and energy. We overcome "because of the blood of the Lamb." Satan is our accuser. Yet, because of the blood of the Lamb, his accusations cannot stand. Paul wrote, "Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies" (Rom. 8:33). We are justified through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The blood emphasizes the death of Jesus. He died so that we might live. We are forgiven because of His shed blood. No accusation can stand against those whose sins have been forgiven! Because Christ was victorious, His victory is our victory. So the first defining mark of an overcomer is that they belong to Christ, having been washed by the blood of the Lamb. Secondly, John writes that we overcome the enemy, "because of the word of [our] testimony." My testimony is not walking a church aisle and praying to receive Christ. My testimony is the fact that I have been born again by grace through faith and that I continue to walk in newness of life. In other words, my testimony is a changed life! I no longer embrace my sin, but rather, I embrace Christ! Your testimony overcomes Satan’s deception. Paul could write, "I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day" (2 Tim. 1:12). The writer of Hebrews echoed that truth by writing, "Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25). The King James says it this way: "He is able also to save them to the uttermost." We are saved to the uttermost! This is the testimony of the believer and it is this testimony we share with others and is the living evidence of a changed life. I cannot emphasize this changed life enough! Finally, John says we overcome because, "[we do] not love [our] life even when faced with death." Overcomers are willing to make any sacrifice, including death. Jesus said, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me" (Luke 9:23). Willingly dying for the cause of Christ is the ultimate in self-denial. Like Christ, we should all be willing to be "obedient to the point of death" (Phil. 2:8). However, self-denial begins with repenting of my sin and turning to Christ. It is an ongoing condition and lifestyle whereby I choose Christ over all else—especially self. Such a life is not easy but it is eternally rewarding. If we refuse to cling to our earthly lives, then there really is no threat Satan can bring against us. If the enemy kills you because of your faith in Christ, what else can they do (see Luke 12:4)?
To sum it all up, overcomers are first of all, saved. Secondly, they have a consistent testimony of a changed life. Finally, they would readily welcome death rather than to deny their Lord. So, the question is, are you an overcomer? Does your life give evidence of a changed life? Are you truly saved? If so, take hope in knowing that God will preserve you to the end—He is able and has saved you to the uttermost! If you are not saved, now is the time to give your life to Christ, receiving His free gift of forgiveness and eternal life. The Bible says, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Heb. 2:3) God has provided "so great a salvation," so that through Christ we can overcome Satan, the flesh, and the world system. But it begins by simple faith in the crucified, risen, ascended, and soon returning Lord. "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name" (John 1:12).
"Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places" (Habakkuk 3:17-19). Like this passage, Dennis Jernigan’s lyrics to "You are My All in All," capture the essence of what it means to treasure Christ above all. "You are my strength when I am weak, You are the treasure that I seek, You are my all in all. I’m seeking You like a precious jewel, Lord, to give up I’d be a fool. You are my all in all… Taking my cross, my sin, my shame, raising again I praise Your name; You are my all in all. When I fall down You pick me up, when I run dry you fill my cup; You are my all in all…" Sadly, many today treasure anything and everything rather than Christ. Equally as sad is the number of so called ministers who stand in pulpits across this land and preach a blasphemous message of health, wealth, and prosperity, rather than the greatest treasure of all—Jesus Christ. Jernigan says it well—I’d be a fool to seek anything other than Christ. Indeed, He is the treasure that I seek and pray you seek as well.
The prophet Habakkuk gives us one of many reasons found within Scripture to treasure Christ above all. He concludes his short book (only 3 chapters) with an "If everything goes south I will still trust in the Lord" scenario. This is a far cry from much of what we hear coming out of Christendom today. Much of what is being taught today says God wants you to be rich. He wants you to feel good about yourself. He wants you to live a life of ease, comfort, and pleasure. He wants you to own expensive cars, big houses, and maybe even a yacht and airplane. The problem with such thinking is twofold. First of all, it simply is not true. Secondly, when one treasures such temporal things and the bottom does drop out, their faith (if they even had any to start with) will spiral out of control, leaving them bitter and disillusioned. But when Christ is my treasure, "Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines…, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation." Habakkuk’s point is this—Treasure Christ above all! If everything collapses and I lose it all, I will still rejoice in and desire Christ. This is true hope and security. Such is not based on temporal blessings—stuff—but on the Lord Himself. This is the essence of treasuring Christ. Indeed, He is My all in All! If my focus is living by faith in the crucified, risen, ascended, and soon returning Lord—treasuring Christ above all—then I can say, "The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places." My faith in the Lord will enable me to endure difficulty, suffering, and even loss—tremendous pain and loss at that.
"I’m seeking You like a precious jewel, Lord, to give up I’d be a fool." I see a lot of fools these days and I’m not talking about "fools for Christ’s sake" (1 Cor. 4:10). I’m talking about those who seek earthly treasures over Christ. What treasure do you seek? Paul wrote, "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil. 3:8). Do you consider all things loss, your sin included, for the sake of knowing and treasuring Christ? Is Christ more important to you than life itself? "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21). The Psalmist wrote, "Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise you" (Ps. 63:3). What’s the point of all this? It is simple, really. Jesus is the goal. He is the prize. He is the treasure that we seek. Sadly however, many seek after that which will not satisfy. My heart grieves for those who follow after false prophets, false religious systems, and pseudo-Christianity thinking such things will bring them joy and guarantee eternal life. Furthermore, my heart breaks over those whom I know and care about who are seeking happiness by embracing sin rather than Christ. Jesus said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:34). If you treasure things your heart will be in things. If you treasure sin, your heart will be consumed with sin. If you treasure wealth, your heart will long for more and more. But if you treasure Christ, your heart will be satisfied with nothing less than Christ and Christ alone. Treasuring Christ guarantees satisfaction here and an eternal joy that simply cannot be described this side of heaven—"But just as it is written, things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who [treasure] Him" (1 Cor. 2:9). "You are the treasure that I seek, You are my all in all…to give up I’d be a fool."
“For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame…But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation” (Hebrews 6:4-6, 9). As a Southern Baptist Chaplain, I must admit, the title I have chosen for this article is a little misleading. After all, Southern Baptist are not historically known for bestowing false hope. We are better known as “People of The Book,” and as a missions minded group committed to reaching the whole world for Jesus Christ with a sure hope—Jesus Christ! By Bestowing False Hope, I am referring to a time-honored Southern Baptist tradition that I have come to detest—the altar call. As I have studied the Gospel message in the New Testament and the issue of altar calls—or walking the aisle to receive Christ—I have concluded it is a Southern Baptist distinctive not worth keeping. I know many of my SBC brethren will disagree with me on this and that’s okay. But when we consider the ever increasing numbers of people who previously walked a church aisle but are now fallen away, or backslidden as we like to call it, one can only conclude these folks were given a false hope based on their response of walking the aisle at the end of a church service and “praying to receive Christ.”
One would be pained to find any biblical evidence that the traditional altar call—or invitation—was a part of the worship of the early church. There is not one single verse of Scripture that shows the church issuing an altar call for hearers to come forward to receive Christ. In fact, I am convinced the altar call confuses the physical act of walking the church aisle with the spiritual act of conversion. Walking a church aisle is not required for salvation. Repentance and faith are (Mark 1:15). To suggest one must respond via an altar call confuses and deceives people about their spiritual state. I know several people who responded to the preaching of the Gospel by walking forward at the end of the service but whose lives now give ample evidence that conversion did not take place. Oh, they may have prayed to receive Christ. Many even followed through in “Believer’s Baptism.” But the sad reality is there is no evidence of a changed life—the one key indicator the New Testament teaches one can expect to see if conversion has indeed taken place—“things that accompany salvation.” This “Southern Baptist Distinctive” is often how people are deceived into thinking they are Christians when in fact they are not. Any message that fails to demand repentance and belief is no Gospel message at all! Coming forward at the end of a church service to “accept Jesus” and then being encouraged on that basis to feel assured of salvation without repentance and faith accompanied by evidence of a changed life is tantamount to bestowing false hope. It results in people who are “enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,” but who do not possess this heavenly gift or the Holy Spirit. They may have an intellectual perception but understanding the gospel is not the equivalent of regeneration and conversion. It is amazing that some can see and hear the amazing truth of the Gospel, respond positively and yet remain eternally lost. It saddens me as a Southern Baptist to know that my own convention has been guilty of bestowing false hope. Therefore, may all of us who claim Christ be careful how we invite others so that both our message and the required response are clear, biblically sound and straight-laced!
Now, for those of us who were saved as a result of walking forward at the end of a church service, do not fear! It is not the walking forward and praying to receive Christ that saves. It is repentance and faith—not a onetime decision but an ongoing condition. This ongoing condition is faith in action. It is the ongoing evidence that I possess new life in Christ. It is demonstrated fully in a changed life—no longer do I embrace my sin but I now embrace Christ. It is a faith that forsakes sin and continues with Christ, no matter how hard! I still sin. And sometimes I may sin grievously. But the key indicator is that I do not continue in sin. Paul wrote, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). By “work out your own salvation,” Paul means we are to constantly evaluate our lives to see if God is indeed working in us, “to will and to work for His good pleasure.” The absence of such working should cause one to seriously consider the very real possibility they may not be truly born again—no matter what church they are a member of, how many church aisles they walked down, or how many times they may have been baptized.
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Striving to glorify God by becoming more like Jesus.
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