Fight for Joy! Blog
Where Jesus Changes Everything
“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified… and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:2, 4-5). Gainesville, Florida pastor Terry Jones has made news recently for his on again off again plans to burn copies of the Koran on the ninth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks on our country. His plans have created a firestorm of protest worldwide. Political and religious leaders have expressed their concern. Many adherents to Islam the world over have staged protests in response. It was even reported that some churches in the Gainesville, Florida community would read from the Koran as part of their worship services to protest Jones’ plans—a huge mistake if you ask me. But, this article is not about the wisdom of incorporating the Koran into Christian worship services. My question is this: Is it ever right for a Christian—one who names the name of Christ—to burn or otherwise desecrate the sacred texts of other religions even though those religions are nothing more than false religious systems that lead people away from the true Christ of Holy Scripture? I think the answer is definitely no! Destroying the sacred texts of a false religious system serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever.
When Paul came to Corinth, the Bible tells us he came for one purpose, “to declare the testimony of God” (1 Cor. 2:1). He could have come with his superior intellect and his God-given ability to reason and debate persuasively. I would imagine he could have even hosted a scroll burning event. After all, the city of Corinth was known for its rampant immorality and paganism. But Paul chose not to waste all his energy by attacking all things Corinthian. He wrote, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The worddetermined, taken from the Greek word κρίνω (krino), here means to resolve. Paul resolved to focus on the gospel—preaching Christ—rather than “persuasive words of wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:4). If we are not careful, we can get in the way of the gospel instead of being a servant or minister of the gospel. Any other approach is dangerous indeed. Burning books, especially the sacred texts of false religious systems, obscures Jesus Christ. But the Holy Spirit anointed preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ does just the opposite. It frees God to demonstrate His power to save. When that happens, “Your faith rests not on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5). No one will ever be persuaded into the Kingdom of God via man’s wisdom. But when the “demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” is involved, people are saved and lives are changed. “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” This is the Word of the Lord!
Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) was an American Baptist missionary who spent almost 40 years in Burma (today known as Myanmar). He translated the Bible into Burmese. He planted more than 100 churches, and led more than 8,000 to faith in Jesus Christ. What was his secret? He preached Jesus, not anti-Buddhism. Pastor Jones could learn a lot from the Apostle Paul and from Adoniram Judson. We all can. The answer is never book burning but Holy Spirit anointed, Gospel-centered, repentance filled preaching. May we all resolve to preach Jesus—in word and deed—to all whom the Lord will grant us opportunity. Who knows, maybe long after we’re gone from this world it will be said about us, he (or she) led over 8,000 to faith in Jesus Christ. Don’t waste your energy on desecrating the sacred texts of another. Just preach Jesus and God will take care of the rest. “Jesus answered and said, … And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32).
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Every year about this time, political correctness reaches its annual pinnacle of stupidity. Is it a Christmas Tree Lighting or Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony? Should we say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? These questions, and others like them, are asked under the guise of not wanting to offend anyone. But the reality is the god of this world—the Devil—desires to remove any vestige of the Christ of the Bible from the public square—thus removing any thought of Him from the minds of men and women everywhere. When it comes to what I believe, I try not to worry too much about offending others. As I tactfully informed a friend recently, “What I believe is what I believe and I don’t care what anyone else thinks about it!” At the height of what I believe is Scripture’s most profound reality. Christians call it Christmas, theologians call it the Incarnation but the Bible simply says, “And the Word became flesh.” These are simple words but their meaning is profound. John MacArthur says these words indicate “that the infinite became finite; the Eternal was conformed to time; the Invisible became visible; the supernatural One reduced Himself to the natural.” This means the second person of the Godhead—the Lord Jesus Christ—also known as the Son, and here the Word, “became flesh.” In other words, Jesus did not cease to be God but became God in human flesh—two natures, the Divine and human, joined together (not mixed) as one person—undiminished deity in human form. The human mind simply cannot wrap itself around such an amazing truth! Think about it. The Creator became the created. This miraculous event happened when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. This has always boggled my mind, the reason being, Mary was a sinner in need of salvation just as you and I are. Yet, the sinless Son of God allowed Himself to be conceived within her womb.
Christmas is Scripture’s most profound reality. It lays the foundation for the entire Gospel message, the rejection of which results in eternal damnation. One must believe the truth about Jesus—who He is and what He accomplished. Any belief system that departs from this very basic yet profound reality is heretical in nature. This would include Docetism, which teaches that Jesus was a divine being that took on human appearance but not flesh (see 1 John 4:2). It includes Areianism, a teaching which states that Christ was a created being (sounds a lot like the Watchtower doesn’t it?). It includes Nestorianism, which says that the Son of God and the man, Jesus, shared the same body but retained two separate natures. And finally, it includes Oneness Pentecostalism which teaches that there is one God, a singular spirit who manifests Himself in many different ways, including as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This stands in sharp contrast to the biblical doctrine of the three distinct and eternal "persons" of the Triune God. Indeed, Christmas is much more than the giving of gifts, discussions about tree lighting ceremonies or greetings. It is the direct intervention into human history by the Creator of history Himself—God “became flesh, and dwelt among us,” in the person of Jesus Christ. Try and wrap your mind around that!
Christmas teaches us that God came once to this earth. But it also assures us that He “will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him” (Heb. 9:28). When Christ appears at His second coming, it will be confirmation that the Father has been fully satisfied with His sacrifice on behalf of all believers. As we approach another Christmas season, all indications are Christ’s return for His Church is very near. He is coming a “second time.” He came once to pay your and my sin debt in full. He came once to provide for the forgiveness of your sins and mine. He is coming again—soon, very soon—to snatch away all those who have, by faith, placed their trust in Him for the forgiveness of their sins. As far as it concerns you, what will you celebrate in the days ahead—holidays or Christmas? Will you celebrate Scripture’s most profound reality or get caught up in the stupidity of political correctness, all of which is designed by Satan to draw men’s hearts away from the truth and further into the bondage of sin leading to eternal damnation? “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:3)
“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:5-6). Words are the primary way we communicate to each other. Each time we open our mouths to speak to someone, whether to an individual or a group, we convey our thoughts, feelings, emotions, intentions, and attitudes. We do this not only by what we say but also how we say it. Words are a powerful force. It’s no wonder James wrote, “The tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire” (James 3:5). Whether we realize it or not, others—unbelievers especially—are watching, even listening to us to see if we truly live out that which we say we believe. This is why Paul wrote, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders.” For this reason, he says, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt.” This means we are to speak only what is spiritual, wholesome, fitting, kind, sensitive, complimentary, gentle, truthful, loving, and thoughtful. Our speech should result in God being glorified and others being blessed. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
I will be the first to admit that my speech is not always gracious. This would include speech in my head before it ever reaches my tongue. It is a constant struggle. It is part of the “good fight of faith” that Paul wrote about to young Timothy (see 1 Tim. 6:12). It is the primary reason the Bible repeatedly reminds us of the importance of holding the tongue before speaking. Psalm 39:1 says, “I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue. I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle while the wicked are in my presence.” Sounds a lot like Colossians 4:5-6, doesn’t it? I was recently reminded of this ongoing struggle when I learned of some unnecessary and unkind words that were said about me by a fellow believer. My first reaction was “speech in my head” that was neither gracious nor edifying. This response, although natural, was clearly sinful on my part, as even our thought life is to honor Christ. But my second response I would like to think was a little more righteous. It was a two-fold response. I was angry because the words that were said were said in the company of people that included those Paul would describe as “outsiders.” Such speech sets a very poor example for those outside the body of Christ. But I was also reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthian believers, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Cor. 6:7) His point is clear—forgive, forget, and move on. And, based on Colossians 4:3, we might add an additional point—pray. Paul writes, “Praying at the same time for us as well, […], so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ.” Based on all that the Bible says about speech, I have concluded the purpose for Christian speech is threefold: (1) to edify others, (2) to praise God, and (3) to proclaim the Gospel. If what we say or think about saying doesn’t fall within the purview of those three statements, then it’s best to keep our mouths shut. That’s good advice for us all!
An Eighth Century Irish proverb says, “A person should not speak evil of, or harshly reproach another, nor should he put anyone to the blush. Never should he violently rebuke anyone or carry on a conversation with a boorish person, and his speech at all times should be noted for his lack of boastfulness.” That’s just another way of saying, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” The Lord is going to return soon for His Church. There are a lot of outsiders, all of whom will be left behind to face the terrors of God’s wrath. I would hate to think that my speech might be the reason some of these “outsiders” ultimately choose to turn a deaf ear to the Gospel message. Therefore, may our speech be edifying and Christ-honoring, so that it may serve to advance the Gospel to those who are outside the body of Christ. “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). Let all of us who name the name of Christ determine to always speak with grace as together, we “fight the good fight of faith.”
“For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died… Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come… Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God”(2 Corinthians 5:14-20). As Christians, we have the greatest message anyone will ever hear. Unfortunately, most of those who hear it will reject it. "We are ambassadors for Christ," meaning we represent the King of heaven with the His glorious Gospel. In his first letter to the Corinthian believers, Paul referred to this glorious Gospel as "the word of the cross," a foolish message to those who remain lost, yet the power of God to those of us who are being saved (see 1 Cor. 1:18). It is this foolish message we proclaim, "as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." Every time I share the Gospel with another, every time I stand in the pulpit to preach, every time I open the Bible to teach, I have this message in mind and my goal is always the same—to clearly and concisely preach Jesus, "namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself."
Why do I do this? "For the love of Christ controls [me]." The word translated "controls" is the Greek word, συνέχω (synechō), which basically means "to hold together, confine, secure, to hold fast." Its use throughout the New Testament is interesting. For example, it is used to describe the effect of the Word of God upon Paul in Acts 18:5: "Paul began devoting [synechō] himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ." In Acts 7:57, it is used to describe the response of those who refused to listen to the truth of the Gospel message preached by Stephen: "But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered [synechō] their ears and rushed at him with one impulse." In 2 Cor. 5:14, it refers to the effect the love of God has on those of us who believe, meaning the love of Christ keeps us within bounds and compels us to preach the Gospel. This is the "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 7:18) and it sums up the Gospel message in that "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). This statement is the heart of the Gospel—Jesus Christ, the sinless Savior has taken our sins that through Him we might be forgiven and have His righteousness. God accomplished this "in Christ" and offers this righteousness to all those who will ever be saved. This is the "ministry of reconciliation" whereby believers proclaim the Gospel, God speaks through them ("as though God were making an appeal through us, we beg of you…be reconciled to God") thus urging unbelievers to come to Christ in faith and believe the Gospel. This means repent of your sins and believe on Jesus! This is the essence of reconciliation—a changed relationship where our sins are no longer counted against us. No religion in the world offers this. It comes only through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and is offered freely to everyone who believes. This "belief" isn’t mere head knowledge but a heart knowledge that results in a changed life!
So my question to you is this: Which use of the word "controls" will you choose for yourself? Will it be the positive use whereby you allow the Word of God and the love of Christ to control you, thus resulting in salvation by grace through faith and a compelling desire to preach Jesus to others? Or, will it be the negative use, whereby you hear the Gospel message yet refuse to listen to it, turning a deaf ear to the one message that can change your life for all eternity? Paul wrote, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." To be "in Christ" means that I was at one time without Christ. In other words, I was lost and by nature a sinner. But thanks to God’s grace I am now "in Christ," forgiven of my sin, and the recipient of a new nature, one of being a saint—a radical change wrought by the Gospel . It also means I have the promise of being with Christ in glory when He returns for His saints or calls me home to be with Him. All of this the Bible says is made a reality by faith. I must believe God—"And without faith it is impossible to please Him" (Heb. 11:6). Therefore, "[I] beg you, be reconciled to God."
“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.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God…And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation”(Romans 5:1-11). A major theme of the book of Romans is righteousness from God. It appears more than 30 times in one form or another and describes the state or condition of perfectly conforming to God’s perfect law and holiness—a standard man falls woefully short of according to Romans 3:23: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But the true Gospel of Jesus Christ reveals that on the basis of faith—and faith alone—God will give His righteousness to ungodly sinners. Furthermore, Paul argues in Romans 5:1-11 that not only does God justify sinners on the basis of faith alone, but they are eternally bound to Christ, kept by His power and not by any human effort. Churches and groups that add to salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone—and there are a lot of them—are nothing more than false religious systems dispensing false hope, which is really no hope at all. According to Dr. J.C. Ryle, one of these so called churches, that boast more than a billion followers, is nothing more than “a huge organized idolatry.” Speaking of this same false religious system, Dr. John MacArthur describes it as, “a pseudo-Christianity…the best front for the kingdom of Satan.” I could not agree more!
With so much deception in the world today, one might rightfully wonder how to determine a false religious system from the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). The Corinthian believers faced the same danger many face today—falling prey to satanic lies, thus abandoning simple devotion to Jesus Christ in favor of the sophisticated errors of false teachers and religious systems. A church that departs from the simplicity of the Gospel is no church at all but a false religious system that enslaves its followers, leading them straight down the “broad road that leads to destruction” (Matt. 7:13). Dr. Loraine Boettner, speaking of this same so called church that boasts more than a billion followers says, “The [miserable] evidence of [this church’s] steadily increasing departure from the simplicity of the Gospel, a departure so radical and far-reaching at the present time (1965) that it has produced a drastically anti-evangelical church. It is clear beyond possibility of doubt that [this religion] as now practiced is the outgrowth of centuries of error. Human inventions have been substituted for Bible truth and practice, [so that now, a false gospel is preached].” It is no wonder Paul wrote, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really no gospel at all” (Gal. 1:6-7). In other words, a false hope is no hope at all!
So the question is this: Are you trusting in Christ alone for your salvation or are you trusting in your church membership, your participation in your church, your confirmation, your baptism, communion, anything other than grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? Any church or religious system that goes beyond the simplicity of the Gospel message—grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone—is so far from what Scripture teaches that it is garbage, or to use the Greek word Paul uses in Philippians 3:7, it is “dung”. So my appeal to you is simple. If you are in a church that teaches you must do something in addition to believing, don’t just walk, but run as quickly as you can away from that church. It is a false religious system that will leave you eternally lost. Only by believing the true Gospel can one be saved and have the assurance of eternal life with Christ. Only faith alone in Christ Jesus yields true hope. Anything else is a false hope that will never satisfy. Paul wrote, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). This is not a simple acknowledgment that He is God but a deep personal conviction, without reservation, that Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). This “simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” is that which results in justification by faith (Rom. 5:1)—a one-time legal declaration by God with continuing results. In other words, God declares the sinner no longer guilty but now righteous in His sight. This is the essence of reconciliation (Rom. 5:11) between God and sinners. So again, are you trusting in Christ alone for your salvation? If the answer is no, then you are still lost and facing an eternity separated from Christ and the joys of heaven—no matter what church you attend. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).
"There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death"(Proverbs 14:12). A popular Country and Western song from the early 80’s, entitled, "How Can it Be Wrong When it Feels So Right," encapsulates the thinking of most today when it comes to truth. It seems most people are content to determine truth based on how they feel rather than on what God says. But such foolishness and short-sightedness is extremely dangerous, not only in this life, but the life to come. What we do on this earth—the decisions we make, the things we embrace, that which we treasure—has eternal consequences that will result in either reward or misery. Now don’t misunderstand. It is not the things we do that determine our eternal destiny. But they do demonstrate whether or not we belong to the King! Following Christ is not easy. In fact, it can be extremely difficult. This is why Paul writes, "Fight the good fight of faith" (2 Tim. 6:12). Salvation calls for knowledge of the truth, repentance, submission to Christ as Lord, and a willingness to obey His will and Word. We must choose wisely! As the writer of Proverbs says, "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death."
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus concludes His "Sermon on the Mount" with a Gospel application—He presents two gates, two ways, two destinations, two groups of people, two kinds of trees, and two kinds of fruit; two groups at the judgment, and two kinds of builders, building on two kinds of foundations. John MacArthur, commenting on this says, "[Jesus] is drawing the line as clearly as possible between the way that leads to destruction and the way that leads to life." So the warning is pretty clear—some ways might appear to be a smooth, obstacle free, rose lined pathway—but in the end, it is the way of death! The way leading to destruction is not normally marked by a huge neon sign that identifies it as the way of death. That is why we need a standard by which to measure life and make wise choices. God has given us such a standard—the Bible. The Bible is truth. Every single word from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is truth. Not only that, but Jesus Christ is the very embodiment of truth. After all, He did claim to be "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). Since the Bible has proven itself to be of Divine origin and true in every respect, there really is no debate when it comes to truth. There is however, a choice. One may be completely convinced that a certain thing is right. They may feel its "rightness" with all their heart. The tragedy lies in that "its end is the way of death." Death here means not just physical death which we all will one day experience, but spiritual death and separation from God and the joys of heaven. Its end is an eternal misery and suffering that the mind of man cannot even begin to fathom—"But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Rev. 21:8).
I was looking at a certain group’s website recently. I’m not going to lend credence to this group by naming them here. But I will say they claim to be a fellowship of believers although they deny the truth of God’s Word. On their website is an article entitled, "Reading the Bible with New Eyes." What it ought to be called is, "Reading the Bible with Blind Eyes." Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." Satan has been so successful in blinding many to the truth that they cannot see and understand that they have chosen the way of death—that they are right now, this very moment, perishing! And it all started in the beginning, when he asked the woman, "Has God said?" He followed that question up with a blatant lie, "You surely shall not die!" The stakes are indeed high. The consequences of our decisions in this life are infinitely eternal, and time is quickly running out. Which way will you choose? "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Prov. 14:12).
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith’”(Romans 1:16-17). We live in an age of remarkable theological and biblical confusion. It amazes me the number of professing Christians I meet who cannot articulate the Gospel as presented in the Scriptures. It seems everyone has an opinion as to how one comes to be in a right relationship with God. Sadly, a majority of these folks have missed the mark when it comes to believing the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Notice I used the words, “true Gospel.” That is because it is imperative that one believes the true Gospel of Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Anything less will result in eternal separation from God. I write often on the true Gospel and the exclusivity of the true Gospel. This is because, like Paul, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.” I understand and believe that it and it alone “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” So the question remains: Are you sure that you believe the true Gospel of Jesus Christ? I ask that question in the present tense because “believe,” when used of salvation, almost always occurs in the present tense, meaning that faith is not simply a one-time event, but an ongoing condition.
The true Gospel of Jesus Christ is exclusive. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). This is an astounding statement. John MacArthur, speaking of this says, “Both the narrow gate and the wide gate are assumed to provide entrance to God’s kingdom. Two ways are offered to people. The narrow gate is by faith, only through Christ, constricted and precise. It represents true salvation in God’s way that leads to life eternal. The wide gate includes all religions of works and self-righteousness, with no single way, but it leads to hell, not heaven.” This is why the true Gospel is unique, distinct, and exclusive. The reality of this Gospel is that “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” This is why Paul was “eager to preach the gospel” (Romans 1:15). And it is why I write so often on this subject—so many are confused and deceived when it comes to matters of salvation. What a tragedy it must be for a person to live his or her entire life convinced that they are on their way to heaven because of the church they attend, the confirmation certificate they hold, the Communion they partake of, the money they give, or the so called good works they perform. I tremble when I consider the utter darkness that many are in as a result of their enslavement to any number of the false religious systems we find in the world today. Oh, that those of us who truly believe would be “eager to preach the gospel.”
The Gospel, which means “good news,” refers to the good news about Jesus Christ. In the technical sense, it is “the power of God to salvation to all who believe.” But how does the Gospel save? Or to put it another way, what does it mean to believe? The Gospel does not announce that everyone will be saved because of what Jesus has done. That would be Universalism. The Gospel is only effective for those who believe it. The Bible mentions no other condition for eternal salvation other than believing the Gospel. The New Testament teaches, in more than 160 instances, that eternal life comes as a result of faith alone in Christ alone. But what precisely must one believe about the Gospel in order to be saved? The key is the content, not quality of faith. It is not believing in and of itself that saves. It is believing the right thing! Believing that Jesus is the Son of God, died on a cross, rose again, is a member of the Trinity, and saves, does not necessarily result in salvation. I must understand the Gospel and the truth about Christ. This is known as knowledge. This would include the historic facts about the person and work of Christ (see Romans 10:14-17). Secondly, I must be convinced that these historic facts (knowledge) about Christ are true. I must believe that Jesus is able to do what He said he could do – forgive sins and guarantee eternal life! This is known as assent to Christ and might be described as the emotional element (see Romans 6:17). Finally, I must whole-heartedly commit myself to Jesus Christ. This is known as commitment or volition (see Romans 4:3). So, to put it another way, I must believe I am a sinner in need of a Savior. I must believe that Jesus Christ alone paid the debt of my sin by His death and resurrection. I must trust Him alone to forgive my sin and give me the free gift of eternal life. And finally, my life must give evidence that I have been saved, as genuine faith will always produce authentic obedience. In other words, I must forsake my sin. Are you sure of your salvation? “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we are saved” (Acts 4:12).
“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). We are saved by grace through faith (see Eph. 2:8). We are secured by the sovereign purpose of God and the continual, faithful intercession of our great High Priest—the Lord Jesus Christ (see Heb. 7:25 and Jude 24). We are admonished to, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” But wait a minute! Salvation is a free gift of God’s grace received through faith and guaranteed by Christ Himself. What’s all this talk about working out your salvation? Well, let me say up front that Paul is not teaching salvation by works. It’s not Christ plus works but Christ plus nothing! His point is simple—make sure you are indeed counted among the redeemed. Don’t base your salvation on anything other than true faith in the crucified, risen, ascended, and soon to return Savior. And true faith—the kind that appropriates salvation—gives evidence of not only having occurred at a point in time, but by continuing day-by-day. In other words, true faith produces a changed life. It gives evidence of its reality through “good works” (see Eph. 2:10). These good works are really “God working in you to act according to His good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). So, as you work out your salvation with fear and trembling, ask yourself, “Do I see God at work in and through my life? Does my life give evidence that I am truly saved?”
One question to ask yourself is do you enjoy sweet fellowship with Christ and His people? Many people claim to be saved but never attend church. They have little, if any, interest in spiritual things. How can one be born again and not enjoy spending time in God’s Word in fellowship with the risen Lord? John wrote, “Whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected” (1 John 2:5). The Psalmist wrote, “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). Clearly those who belong to Christ love Him and His Word. But not only that, they enjoy regular, consistent fellowship with God’s people. In other words, they go to church. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25). Attending church and hanging out with God’s people certainly doesn’t guarantee salvation. There’s no such thing as salvation by osmosis. But, when you were saved the Bible says you entered into fellowship with Jesus Christ and the redeemed. If you enjoy sharing in the prayers, praises, and fellowship of God’s people, that’s an indication you belong to Him! Furthermore, if you find yourself willingly and joyfully making sacrifices for other believers, even better. John wrote, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:14). A few verses later he writes, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:16-17). There are a lot of self-centered, stingy folks around these days—but Christians must not be counted among them. A sure sign you belong to Christ is that you are constantly looking for ways to help others.
Another marker of a changed life is that of being able to discern between truth and error. This really grows out of love for God’s Word and faithful church attendance. As you spend time in serious Bible study and sit under faithful preaching and teaching, you develop discernment. Discernment is the ability to distinguish truth from error, truth that is oftentimes obscure. John wrote, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 John 4:1-6). The ability to discern truth from error guarantees you will not be “carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14), and is yet another sign you belong to Christ.
“Test yourselves to see if you are of the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians. 13:5). My wife pointed out last week that my article, “Are You Sure of Your Salvation,” might be received in one of two ways. She suggested some might misunderstand and conclude I am teaching a works oriented salvation—nothing could be further from the truth! Then she suggested others might believe I am teaching one can be saved and then lost—a biblical impossibility. Maybe you concluded something different. But the truth is I purposely left out any application from the previous article in order to cause you to stop, think about and evaluate your own life, and determine if indeed you are counted among the redeemed. My reasoning is that there is no more as important an issue than that of one’s eternal destiny. A lot of things in this life we can get wrong—but not this. So I will ask you again, are you sure of your salvation? And I will follow up with this question—how do you know? How can you be sure of your salvation? Paul wrote, “Test yourselves to see if you are of the faith.” I believe the Bible teaches several ways we can test ourselves to see if we are of the faith. Some of these ways are objective, others subjective. I will discuss three in this article, others in future articles.
First of all, does the Holy Spirit bear witness with your spirit that you belong to God? In other words, do you experience the internal work of the Holy Spirit? Paul wrote, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16). John wrote, “We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (1 John 3:24). He later wrote, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit” (1 John 4:13). The first thing that happens to us at salvation is the Holy Spirit indwells us, forever sealing us as children of God (see Eph. 1:13-14). Elsewhere, the Bible refers to this indwelling, occurring at the moment of salvation, as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 11:16; 1 Cor. 12:13). This baptism of the Holy Spirit is not some “second blessing” that comes later but is something that occurs at the very moment of salvation, when one believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. The fact that believers have the Holy Spirit indwelling them gives evidence of salvation. So, does the Holy Spirit bear witness with your spirit that you belong to God? Paul wrote, “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).
Secondly, do you believe and obey God’s Word? I do not know how many professing Christians I have met that express doubt in God’s Word or only give it lip service. One of the primary identifying marks that you are a true born again believer in Christ Jesus is that you believe God’s Word and obey it. John wrote, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected” (1 John 2:3-5). I cannot help but think about some people I know who believe because they walked a church aisle and prayed the “sinner’s prayer” they are saved—never mind they do not believe and obey God’s Word. Notice John said, “By this we know Him.” It is by our faith in and obedience to God’s Word that we know we belong to God.
A third way of testing yourself to see if you are of the faith is that of being sensitive to your sin. Do you have a continual sensitivity to the sin in your life or do you just live any way you want to live, assuming you will go to heaven when you die? A true believer is sensitive to the sin in his or her life. John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10). If you are able to sin against God in a continual, habitual way then it is highly possible and quite probable you do not know Him—or worse, He does not know you. This is the case with many so called believers who think they are right with God because they walked a church aisle or prayed the “sinner’s prayer”, were baptized or had some charismatic experience but do not give evidence of a changed life. About these, John wrote, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). “Test yourselves to see if you are of the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5).
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