One Way

www.bible.com/1713/jhn.3.18.csb

The Authority of the Universe has declared there is only One Way to Him. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The narrow way offered by Christ is the only way God has offered as a way to come to Him. Now you may remember there was another way through the Jews, but with Christ that way was completed and abrogated in favor of this One Way.

Is God unfair? Shouldn’t He offer at least an alternative? As a matter of fact, He does, but you aren’t going to like it. There is one alternative hinted at throughout Scripture, and it is based on the idea of “age of accountability” or the idea that one has to mature sufficiently to be able to have faith in God. We know there is an age when children grow up and can grasp abstract concepts like faith, God, sin, and sacrifice. There is the suggestion in Scripture that children who die before this age, or people who never attain this kind of abstract reasoning (i.e, the invalid, the incompetent, the mentally challenged) are all excused. We reason this out because we believe God is a gracious God and would extend grace to those who cannot accept Him by faith.

Of course, this flies in the face of those who insist on original sin. To some extent, we all receive the consequences of sin from our parents, as our bodies are still able to die, even in utero. Even Jesus, who knew no sin, still died on the cross. But I also believe in original grace. I don’t believe God sends someone to hell who never consciously and willingly sinned against Him. So the alternative suggested by theology and the Scriptures to belief in Jesus as the one way to Heaven is to have never been able to believe in Him and thus be excused from this requirement. I imagine all of my readers have passed this point.

So that leaves faith in Jesus (and baptism in Him) as the only way to be free from condemnation and enjoy everlasting life with God.

This is the point I hear about the “what about’s”, those possible exceptions to the rule that people have come up with over the years. The most popular by far is the scenario where someone in “deepest darkest Africa” (it’s usually Africa, but it could be anywhere) has never heard about Jesus. What about him? Would he still need Jesus to get into heaven? The short answer is “Yes.” But how could God judge him if he never heard about Jesus? The answer is that God judges everyone based on the Law. For the Jews, it was the law of Moses. For everyone else, it is the Law of their own conscience. Within everyone is written a set of laws, written deep down in their soul’s code, that prohibits certain behaviors. For example, everyone, regardless of culture, upbringing, or social history, knows it is wrong to murder another human being in cold blood. Everyone knows, regardless of where they live, knows it is wrong to steal another person’s property. We usually recognize something is wrong when we have to practice secrecy or concealment to do it. Some cultures do stretch the limits on each of what we usually refer to as the Ten Commandments (refer to my Source Code series for more info about this), but every culture at some level knows these things are wrong. And this is the basis for God’s judgment. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3)

So what is the man in darkest Africa to do? Travel five miles to the nearest missionary? Honestly, there are few places in this world where the gospel, at the very least the basics of the gospel story, has not reached. The people groups who have not yet been reached are still significant, but fewer now than they were. And the work is still ongoing. I encourage you if you are interested to pursue this topic as you can. There is still much work to do. For if you care about that man in darkest Africa, you will make every effort to see that he receives the gospel and that he’s not just a hypothetical exception for you. For if anyone is to be saved from judgment, even by their own conscience, it is only through Jesus Christ. Only Jesus saves us from the unbearable burden of our own sins.

Another stated exception to this rule, one which I still struggle with, is the number of people who lived after the resurrection who still died, but long before the gospel could ever reach them. My son and I were talking about this a few months ago. What about the person who died in China in AD 33 mere minutes after the Resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem? Was that person subject to the New Covenant rules? Did that person need salvation through the name of Jesus, because he just happened to die a few minutes after Jesus rose again? This is more of an historical take on the hypothetical noted before. But I believe it is far less hypothetical. It took some time for the gospel to reach the known world, maybe about 40 years. What about the world outside the Roman Empire? What about your African soul in AD 40? What if the gospel had not reached you yet, and you still died?

This is why I struggle with this second one: I have both a gracious God and a holy God. He extends grace through His Son Christ Jesus, but He is also holy, and will not tolerate any sin in His presence. Our souls need to be covered in the blood of Jesus to be able to stand in God’s presence in heaven. We cannot get there on our own. All of us have sinned. That’s an axiom in Scripture. All of us need Jesus. That too is a constant. So how do we consider both God’s grace and God’s holiness in the interim between Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem in AD 30 and the time it takes for the gospel to reach the ears of men and women all over the world?

I wish I knew the answer to this question. I know God’s nature hasn’t changed, and He still judges people based on the Law He has imprinted in their souls. But I have to think God still engages in the same process we see illustrated in Acts 10, where Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, has a dream about going and getting Peter so that Peter can tell him the gospel. I believe people in far-off people groups, if they have responded in faith to what they have already received (the testimony of Natural Revelation, i.e., the world around them) that there is a God and He cares about them, then God sends them a similar dream or vision or motivation to seek out His missionaries because, in the end, the gospel is only transmitted through the lips of His people (both past, the Bible, and present, Christians). We are His ambassadors, not the trees or the earth or the universe. God is far more creative and inventive than we are. I give Him the credit to come up with ways of inviting people to His truth that we would never come up with.

I hope this has been helpful. Don’t give up praying, because often stories of people in far-off people groups coming to faith in Jesus has been coupled with stories of faithful Christians praying for them. If you care whether Timbuktu receives the gospel, then be praying today for those people. God made them too. He loves them. As he said to Jonah, “Shouldn’t I care for those people in Nineveh?”

Heavenly Father, though I have not been very good at mission work and spreading the gospel outside my humble place here, I know You are working even now on some lost soul in a place I’ve never heard of. Father, I pray for that man or woman even now who has an inkling of faith, a mustard seed-sized faith that there is a God who loves them. I pray that a way is found that the gospel finds its way to them so that they can be saved and rescued from death. Please, Lord, I pray this in the name of Jesus, Amen.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE

www.bible.com/1713/mat.19.26.csb

Let me add some valuable context and clarification for this verse. If there has been any drawbacks to verifying the Bible, it is this: allowing for single verses to be quoted without any context narrowing and defining their meaning. In context, Jesus is talking to His disciples about the “rich young ruler” who had just turned away, “because he had much riches”, though he had expressed a desire to follow Jesus’ instructions about gaining eternal life. Jesus responded to him by saying that though he had followed the Law, he would also need to seek his possessions and follow Jesus. The man was grieved, “because he had much possessions.”

The disciples are aghast, wondering how anyone could possibly be saved? Remember that for them, a man with much riches was obviously blessed by God. Riches meant spiritual blessing. So in their minds, this man was a saint. Jesus corrects their thinking with what is a New Testament concept, that physically riches are not a sign of spiritual wealth. So for the disciples, they are thinking that if such a man can’t get into heaven, no one can. Jesus corrects them by saying, (Matt 19:23-24) “it will be hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven! … it is easier to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter into the Kingdom of God.”

So what is Jesus saying here? Are riches wrong? No, Jesus isn’t condemning riches, but what happens when a person becomes wealthy. If it is impossible to please God without faith, then you must have faith to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Faith in God can be clouded or obscured when you put your faith in your possessions. When you see your possessions as more important than following Jesus, which this young man did. He had put his security and hope in his possessions. He felt that without his possessions, he was nothing, and worthless. What we discover is that a life that is based and founded in Jesus is far better than holding riches and wealth. Would God give us riches to bless us? Certainly, but we also remember that any riches we receive are not our own, but given to us to manage for the Kingdom. The reason God gives us riches is to use them for His glory. That is why it is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, because he is afraid of losing his wealth for the sake of the Kingdom.

So what does Jesus mean by this enigmatic “with God all things are possible”? He means it is possible for the rich man to be saved. As far as the man himself is concerned, he cannot save himself. That is impossible. But for God, it is possible to save him, because God can do this act of salvation (through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ). The disciples were thinking that it was great blessing (signified by the man’s wealth) that was a sure guarantee of salvation. Jesus corrected them by saying it was not man’s effort (obvious by the man’s ability in business to create wealth) but God’s effort that saves. Within context, that is the meaning of this passage.

I might also use this passage to give hope to the hopeless. To someone who believes they are hopelessly lost. They may see themselves as lost with no hope of redemption, to which I might say, “for man this is impossible, but all things are possible with God.” A man cannot save himself. But God can save him. There is no sin so great committed by an unbeliever that God cannot save him. And that is saying a lot. But let that be hope for you as well. There is nothing you have done in your limited mortality that God is not so offended that He can’t love you any more.

Dear God, may I come before you humble of heart and soul. The things I have done I am certain have offended you and caused anger in you. Yet Father I have no where else to turn. Though I be the greatest sinner of all men, to You alone can I turn for my redemption. I cannot ask this lightly or flippantly, because my sin has been against You. And when I read Your book and hear Your words, I know I am dust. When I see myself through Your eyes, I know my worth and my sin. Lord I repent of my sins. I can do not other. I have offended the King of Heaven, to whom else can I go? Lord I pray for your forgiveness, not because of my righteousness, but because of the righteousness of the Son of God, who confessed His love for me by shedding His blood on the cross. May I claim that forgiveness for my own and receive undeserved righteousness in place of my wickedness? May He lay His blood upon me and cleanse me from my sin? My Savior and my God? I pray these things in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Saved by the Name

www.bible.com/1713/act.2.21.csb

On the contrary, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. I will even pour out My Spirit on My male and female slaves in those days, and they will prophesy. I will display wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below: blood and fire and a cloud of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and remarkable Day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
(Act 2:16-21, HCSB)

The verse of the day from Youversion was a good one, but incomplete. If I were to take that single verse and make it the conditions for salvation, I would be offering a false teaching. In fact, the context of this verse isn’t offering a plan of salvation at all. It is a quote from Joel 2:32.

After this I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions. I will even pour out My Spirit on the male and female slaves in those days. I will display wonders in the heavens and on the earth: blood, fire, and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and awe-inspiring Day of the LORD comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved, for there will be an escape for those on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, as the LORD promised, among the survivors the LORD calls.
(Joe 2:28-32, HCSB)

Joel himself localized salvation only for those on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem. But Peter expands that idea to include all who follow the Lord in faith and upon whom the Spirit falls. Note that in context, Peter quotes this on the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit fell upon many who then spoke in tongues.

Paul also uses this passage in Romans 10.

Now the Scripture says, Everyone who believes on Him will not be put to shame, for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, since the same Lord of all is rich to all who call on Him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
(Rom 10:11-13, HCSB)

So both Peter and Paul use Joel 2:32 to emphasize what they know to be true in the Christian dispensation. Only by the name of the Lord can anyone could be saved. The sign of the Spirit falling in Jerusalem was Peter’s sign to the people. Paul expanded this even more to say the promise isn’t just to the Jews but also to all who put their faith in Jesus Christ. Their emphasis isn’t upon the plan of salvation, for they explain that elsewhere (Peter in Acts 2:32 and Paul in Romans 6). but they are both certain that salvation comes only through the Name of the Lord.

Jesus tells us about this Name in Matthew 28:18-20. He says we are to be baptized in the one Name which is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Joel says this name is Yahweh. Jesus says that the Name, which the ancients transcribed as “Lord” instead of the Divine Name is the Name of Triunity of God in His three Persons.

As I’ve mentioned before, we become a little tone deaf when it comes to salvation, since we often aren’t sure what the salvation is from. Our physical situation does not change. We remain the same person we were. Our name doesn’t change. In fact, the only change we feel is entirely subjective. When we “call on the Name of the Lord” by faith through baptism, we feel different. Our ability to endure challenges and even suffering changes. We are more directed, more hopeful, more possessed of purpose and meaning than we were before. These may not be changes we were expecting, but these are evidence of a new Presence living in us, the Presence of the Holy Spirit, the seal of our inheritance and the hope of heaven resting upon us.

Salvation is found in no on else but in the Name of the Lord. If this is something you want today, I encourage you to make that decision and become apart of your local church. If you don’t have a local church, I encourage you to find one or found one. Don’t try to go this alone. Let this hope and this salvation be yours today.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Repent of your sins and confess them before Him in prayer.

Confess the Name fo Jesus before others as witnesses to your Faith that, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God! He is my Lord and my Savior!”

Offer yourself to Christian baptism by allowing yourself to be immersed in water so that you may receive 1) cleansing from and the forgiveness of the eternal penalty of sins, 2) the free gift of eternal and abundant life, and 3) the most important gift of all, the Person of the Holy Spirit to take up residence in you.

If this is something you would desire today, call a local church or at the very least leave a comment here and I would gladly help in any way that I can. God bless you on your decision to follow Jesus!

 

In the Name of Jesus Alone

www.bible.com/1713/act.4.12.csb

At the risk of being exclusivist, the name of Jesus alone is the only way anyone can be saved. Now it is important to remember what kind of salvation we are talking about here. Because some people will get the wrong idea.

Some years ago I worked with a young man at chicken hatchery plant. He and I spent hours talking about religion and matters of the day, because I was in my first ministry and was still feeling out what that was like. Yes, I was both working part-time in ministry and working for a local chicken company. That was life then.

One thing that my young co-worker struggled with was his relationship to his girlfriend, that he said lately had run aground. He said they weren’t getting along and as an older, married man, wanted to know if I had any advice for him. So we talked about Jesus. He was not a Christian, but was curious if Jesus could help him in his dilemma. He really loved this girl, but she just didn’t like some of the things he was doing. We talked about faith in Christ and the kinds of changes it could and would bring into his life. He liked what he heard. After several discussions, he agreed he needed to be baptized, and he was the first and only baptism I had in that ministry. After his baptism, I never heard from his again, as he moved on and I left the position at the hatchery.

Something that has always bothered me about his conversion was his motivation. I was certain at the time he possessed saving faith and so I encouraged his baptism. But did this motivation come from a genuine desire to be saved from his sins and serve the Risen Savior, or to get back in good with his girlfriend, a far more immediate need? I hope I will get to meet him again, especially in heaven, so I can ask him.

Salvation is not a panacea. You cannot make it mean whatever you want it to mean. I preached a message a few years ago based on an issue I had with Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” film, in which she depicted her father coming to faith in Christ at their country church because he didn’t want to die and not be with his family. I made the point then that we cling to what brings us to Jesus. If it is something as fickle as the preacher who preached to us the gospel, will we still be Christians if the preacher moves on to a different church? Would Dolly’s father still be a Christian if there is a rift in the family and he stops going to church? If we are led to faith by a girlfriend or wife, and then stop dating that person or we end up divorced, are we still in love with Jesus?

Salvation is not a cure-all for domestic issues, problem family members and the like. Salvation doesn’t take the pain away from childhood abuse, or family trauma. Salvation in Jesus isn’t salvation from poverty or challenging circumstances. Salvation in Jesus is salvation from sin and the renewal of the heart. It is the equipping ministry of the Holy Spirit to help us deal with challenging circumstances. It is the promise and guarantee of eternal life beyond this one, where all of our struggles and tribulations will be repaid in glory. We cannot expect or demand that salvation in Jesus will solve all of our problems. But it helps.

For my young friend above, I hope that even if things did not work out with your girlfriend, you found in Jesus a greater friend above all, so that when you met the next girl she found you to be a godly man. My hope for Dolly’s father was his growing faith in Jesus Christ led to a transformation of his whole family. Seeing a father making Jesus a priority is transformative, so that when the next crisis hits, he doesn’t hit the bottle but he falls to his knees.

Salvation in the Name of Jesus is a tool, but it is the most powerful tool we possess to engage in the struggles of life. Through Him we have hope, that even in the midst of crisis, we know the best is yet to come. We know this is not all there is. We know we have a heavenly Father who lives and exists to teach us and guide us and show us wisdom and order in the midst of chaos. We are not alone.

May I encourage you today to seek this salvation for yourself. Don’t be “married” to a religion or to a physical person or an ideology. These will not save you. Only the Name of Jesus, faith in His life-saving power, His resurrection glory, His surpassing authority, His love for us, all that we could ever hope for, the cross, the burial and the resurrection, the touchstones of our faith in Him, only He can save us truly.

Dear Lord, forgive me where I have failed You, failed to broadcast the wholeness of Your truth and power to others. Father where I have encouraged some to salvation in Christ based on lesser goals, based on lesser needs, please forgive me. For You alone Jesus are enough. You are sufficient for all my needs, all I could ever want. Anything else I have today in relationships and blessings are given only because You love me and know me better than I know myself. Please afford me the grace and mercy today that I may improve my calling and reach out to more who need You. In Your Name I pray, Amen.

I Have Been Crucified

www.bible.com/1713/gal.2.20.csb

I once was dead, but now I am alive. I once was lost, but now I’m found. I once had no purpose, no direction, and no point to my life, until I met Jesus. In Him is life, a better life than anything that I could have ever imagined. I owe it all to Christ, who gave His life for me. Since I have been crucified with Christ, I have also risen with Him. Since I have been baptized in Christ, I have been raised with Him. Though I may live in my flesh, I live by faith. I live by hope. I live by the promise of the Son who rose that I too will rise again when my flesh is no more.

Do you know what it’s like to feel loved like that? To be loved so much that someone is willing to give their whole life for you? Paul makes it personal in this verse. He does not remark “He died for us,” but “He died for me.” Paul knew what Jesus was like. He had met Him. Though some debate it, I believe Paul and Jesus had long conversations together outside of Damascus for three years, with Jesus teaching him personally. I believe Paul applied a unique understanding to this education through his vast intellect and education in the rabbinic schools. Of all the disciples, only Paul possessed this kind of education. It was because of this education that he became a zealot for persecution, and this was also his greatest shame. Like Peter before him, Paul needed that extra measure of time and attention from Jesus (“Peter, do you love Me?”)  to turn his soul around. I see Jesus taking the necessary time to transform Saul to Paul, the raging anti-Christian zealot to the devoted follower of Jesus. Imagine the contrast Paul must have seen between the forgiving Christ and the Church he met in Jerusalem. They didn’t want him and were afraid of him. But he had seen and known Jesus. He loved and eventually overcame their insecurities to become a powerful evangelist and missionary due in part to Barnabas’ patience.

If you have ever been in need of motivation, I want you to take some encouragement from the Apostle Paul. Paul made it personal because it is personal. Jesus died for you. He died for all but He also died for you. Jesus made it personal when He came in the flesh and we discovered His name, Jesus. He was no longer the “Word” of God. He was God in flesh, flesh just like mine. He lived and breathed. He had a real human voice. He did this for me. He loves me so much, He not only had prophets predict His coming, but Apostles to ensure that His story would reach my ears. This is the love of a God who loves me above everything else. This is the God who saves, and saves me, even such a one as me.

It is helpful sometimes to consider that Jesus saves me, because sometimes I don’t feel very useful or important. But Christian don’t hold onto this as if it’s your very own, and only your own. This is a message that needs to be spread to all people, all the “me’s” out there who are desperate for purpose, for mission, for direction in their lives. Savor the personal nature of salvation, but don’t hold onto it. Share it! Savor it, but spread it! Let it motivate you to become a spokesman to someone else. Let the love of Christ so overflow the banks of your own heart as to fill someone else. The flow you receive will only grow stronger when it goes out to others.

Lord Jesus, help me to practice this faith, in my life and in my home. I need you today more than ever. Show me those today for whom I can pray and share my faith. Grant me the discernment not to throw my pearls before swine, but for hearts that have been prepared for Your message this day. For this I pray. Amen.

Renew Your Life

www.bible.com/1713/psa.19.7.csb

In case you are feeling old, the word of God has the potential to make you feel new again. Don’t believe me? Try it. Within the word of God is life. Jesus said He came to bring life, and that more abundantly. Jesus is the Word, the enlivening and enthusing Word of God scent to us to create within us that new life.

Feeling old and worn-out is a symptom of sin, and the creeping of death. Though our bodies waste away, we are being renewed inwardly day by day. Our God is a god of life, or death. So when He calls is to life in Christ, eternal life, it isn’t just about the quantity, it’s the quality. It is life that transcends our day to day. It is life that allows us to see past our stunted vision to the glory of our created world, the order reflective of God’s superlative ability to form and shape and call into being that which was nothing. Feeling old is natural, but this life is supernatural.

Heavenly Father, help me to see the life You have set for me, more than drudgery, more than the glories of physical wealth or natural beauty. Help me to see Your world with Your eyes, so that I may crave that life that only comes from you. Thank you Jesus for coming I to this world and offering this life to us all, so that we may be rescued from death and sin. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Those With Whom God is Pleased

www.bible.com/1713/luk.2.14.csb

You know you are in pretty rare company if you are among those with whom God is pleased. You probably already know that God is pleased with only a few, and those are His who follow Him. Which means that this grand declaration on the night Jesus was born didn’t necessarily apply to all men and women, but to those few who answer this message in faith and follow the Messiah of whom they declare. Upon you is conferred this precious grace.

God knows upon whom His favor rests. Unto all He offers the grand invitation. Come unto Me. Come let us reason together. This message is for you and for all who afar off. Christ came in the flesh that He might live as one of us, to die our death, so that all might come unto Him and be saved. The invitation is offered to all. It is accepted by those upon whom His favor rests. Will it be you?

This is no lottery, where you have a chance of winning. This is like shooting fish in a barrel. All you have to do to win is to play. But the price of entry is your soul. But why not exchange what you cannot keep for something you cannot lose? The price is too high? Can you tell me what amazing things you have done with your life that you can’t afford to give it away? You may give your life to him, even your rags and filth, and He will give you a better life, far more abundant than you can imagine. He doesn’t take your life to keep, but to purify, to cleanse, to make whole again. He wants you to fulfill your purpose, but you must do it His way. You win by playing by His rules.

Give glory to God. If you have submitted to Him and His grace, then you win! his favor rests upon you. Now make today a day for Him! This is a season of joy, not just temporary happiness. Bring joy to your world. Glorify God, because you have already received the best gift ever because of Christmas.

God bless you today.