Category Archives: Discipleship

What Must You Do to Go to Heaven?

Nearly all religions require their adherents to earn their way into heaven: reciting a prayer, performing a religious ritual, meditating daily, practicing good works, paying alms, adhering to a strict set of rules, or some combination thereof. While these actions may appear noble and earn the approval of religious peers, they do not bring you closer to God and His everlasting Kingdom.

The reality is that God demands none of these actions from those who seek eternal life. None of us can do anything to earn his or her way into heaven. No amount of hard work, devotion to God, obedience to religious requirements, or spiritual piety will bring us any closer to eternal life. What hope do we have, then? How can anyone enter heaven?

Jesus answers that question in this way. “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3). He is not talking about a physical rebirth, obviously. Instead, we must be born again spiritually. Again, Jesus explains how this happens. “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life” (John 3:5-6). Without spiritual rebirth there is no eternal life, and without the Holy Spirit there is no spiritual rebirth.

But how can one be born again by the Holy Spirit? The Bible tells us. “To all who believe Jesus and accept him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn” (John 1:12-13). Could the answer be anymore straightforward and clear? The Holy Spirit comes upon everyone who believes in Jesus and accepts him as the Lord of their life. No matter your race, ethnicity, economic status, or background, if you place your trust in Jesus and surrender your life to him, you will be filled with the Holy Spirit, who will give you spiritual life.

While those born again in Christ will spend eternity in heaven, those who reject Jesus will experience everlasting torment. The Bible expressly makes this distinction. “Whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already” (John 3:18). And again, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

So you see, Jesus offers (eternal) life whereas sin leads to death. This is what the Bible means when it says, “For you were dead (in sin), but now you have new life (in Christ)” (Romans 6:13). Those who place their faith in Jesus Christ have salvation because he died for their sins and bore the punishment for those sins. Those who do not believe in Christ have not been born again, do not have the Holy Spirit, and are condemned already. They will spend eternity in hell, suffering for their sins.

It is important to understand that the gifts of the Holy Spirit, salvation, and eternal life are just that, gifts. We cannot earn salvation. Nothing we do merits entry into the Kingdom of God. And nothing we do contributes to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. As Scripture proclaims, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by His great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

The apostle Paul offers a beautiful summary of all these truths. “When God our Savior revealed His kindness and love, He saved us; not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of His grace He made us right in His sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

In his epistle to the Ephesian church, Paul reinforces these points. ”God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sin, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9).

Now some may argue they are good enough to enter heaven on their own merit. But God makes it clear we do not meet His standard. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Even the holiest people are unrighteous in the eyes of God. “We are all infected and impure with sin. All our righteousness is like filthy rags”(Isaiah 64:6). Our only hope, then, is to believe in Jesus Christ.

But what does it mean to believe in Jesus? The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Notice that an authentic belief in Christ must spring from the heart. An intellectual belief in Christ is insufficient. And a belief manifested only by a verbal profession of faith (such as saying the sinner’s prayer) is equally inadequate.

So how do we know if our faith in Jesus is authentic? The presence of the Holy Spirit, who is poured out on those who genuinely believe in Christ, confirms our faith. The Holy Spirit is God’s seal on us. The Bible says, “When you believe in Christ, God identifies you as His own by giving you the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13).

And we know the Holy Spirit resides in us when our lives bear ‘the fruit of the Spirit,’ which the Bible says is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Our lives should also increasingly reflect the image of Christ, in holiness and obedience. The Holy Spirit will facilitate this transformation as we cultivate a relationship with Jesus and begin to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength” (Mark 12:30).

It is critical to remember that this transformation is a product of being born again. Holiness, obedience, and a deepening love for the Lord are evidence of a genuine faith in Jesus. Any attempt to acquire those behaviors/attributes on your own strength, however, is as useless as it is futile. And realize that this transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process called sanctification, and it is life-long.

Finally, it is important to understand that the call of Christ is not easy, as the vast majority of American pastors claim. Most of the commands Jesus gave for those who place their faith in him are quite difficult. Resist the temptation to ignore these commands, as many churchgoers do. Obedience to these commands will mature your faith, deepen your relationship with Christ, and provide assurance of your being born again.

Here are a few to familiarize yourself with.

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). This was Jesus’ first message and is also the first message we should respond to when we embrace Jesus as Lord. Ask God to forgive you for your sins, and ask the Holy Spirit for strength and discipline to stop practicing sin.

If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). When we receive and believe Jesus we become Christ-centered and cease to be self-centered. We prioritize God’s will and set aside our own agenda for every facet of our lives.

So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33). All who believe Jesus must surrender their lives to him. Not a portion of their lives. Everything. Their time, their income, their talents, their resources, their reputation, their future.

Do you believe in Jesus? Will you place your faith and trust in Him? Do you surrender your life to Him as Lord? If so, I encourage you to do three things now.

1) Get involved in a local, biblically sound church.

2) Read and study the Bible with regularity.

3) Pray daily. Ask the Lord to direct your steps and reveal His will.

And may God bless you with a steadfast and mature faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Responding to the Growing Spiritual Darkness.

Our nation and the world have witnessed an overwhelming amount of change the past couple months following the death of George Floyd. Many voices for change have been positive, such as the efforts by peaceful protestors to secure racial equality and justice for the African American community. Other voices, however, have adopted violence as their primary tool for change, evidenced by the devastating riots sweeping through many of our cities – creating chaos, social upheaval, and a trail of destruction. These agitators seem intent on hijacking the peaceful effort to end racism, and using the moment instead to create anarchy and fuel revolution. Many in the movement are especially hostile to the Church and God’s people.

Using social media and intimidation to eradicate dissent, these militants demand allegiance to their radical worldview. They are intolerant of those who disagree, insisting such people be fired from their jobs, suspended from their colleges, removed from their communities, and canceled from the culture. Their aggressive and threatening tactics have had a disturbing effect on people across the country.

Many now live in fear that something they say could cost them their career, their reputation, their safety, or their freedom. As a result, many have resorted to silence, self-censorship, or an outward embrace of an ideology they inwardly loathe. These acts of timidity and compromise are understandable when you consider the stakes.

Sadly, these feelings of fear and trembling have infected those inside the church as well. Feelings compounded by the growing effort by many elected officials to place restrictions on church attendance, Christian worship, home-based Bible studies, and obedience to our Lord. Afraid of the power wielded by these civic authorities and angry agitators, and intimidated by their threats and belligerent postures, many Christians have silently submitted to the state. Others have reluctantly conformed the expression of their faith to the rigid restrictions of elected officials, unelected militants, and self-appointed social media bullies.

As I considered this changing cultural landscape and reflected on what God would have His people do, a very relevant verse of Scripture came to mind.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT).

This verse, which no doubt many readers will be familiar with, is both encouraging and challenging. It draws a clear distinction between the spirit at work in the world and the Spirit that rests on God’s people, offering us a reminder that “He who is in us (the Holy Spirit) is greater than he who is in the world (the spirit of antichrist)” (1 John 4:4). The Spirit of God strengthens us to confront and respond to those who sow chaos, hate, and deceit; to those who seek to weaken and dismantle the church.

We must remember that we do not operate in a spirit of fear, cowardice, or timidity. The world, however, does because it is not empowered by the Holy Spirit and does not have the love of God in its heart. But God’s love does abide in us, and that “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18).

Some may disagree and say, “Look at the disciples who trembled in fear when a storm jeopardized their safety on the water. And what about, Peter? His fear of an angry mob caused him to lie about his relationship with Jesus the night before Christ’s death on the cross.”

It is true that Peter and the other disciples displayed fear and timidity during their time with Jesus. But all that happened before the Holy Spirit descended on them in Jerusalem. Post-Pentecost Peter, in contrast, boldly proclaims Christ wherever he goes, even when Jewish religious leaders threaten him and subject him to flogging.

Instead of being saddled by a spirit of fear and timidity, then, we are emboldened by the Holy Spirit. This is not the generic power of influential and mighty people. It is power infused by the Holy Spirit. “’Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit’ says the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6). We are supernaturally empowered to behave with boldness.

That supernatural boldness, in turn, is to be used for supernatural purposes. We are not empowered by the Holy Spirit to fulfill our worldly dreams, achieve worldly success, or satisfy our selfish ambitions. Instead, we use it to advance God’s agenda, do the Lord’s will, and proclaim the Good News of Christ to a dying world.

Holy Spirit power confronts evil, protects the oppressed, cares for the exploited, speaks for the voiceless, intervenes on behalf of the marginalized, defends the helpless, comforts the downtrodden, encourages the discouraged, opposes the wicked, extends hope to the hopeless, and stands for righteousness.

Perhaps most of all, Holy Spirit power speaks truth to a world engulfed by lies and deceit. When society lies, misrepresents, fabricates, distorts, and deceives, we must counter with truth. Truth grounded in Scripture: unvarnished, hope-restoring, soul-nourishing, sin-exposing, outlook-encouraging, purpose-giving, God-glorifying, biblical truth.

Truth points people back to God. Truth reveals the sin in our lives. Truth makes known the Creator. Truth unveils God’s love for us. Truth discloses our need for repentance. Truth communicates God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Truth speaks to our need for regeneration, redemption, justification, and sanctification. Truth informs us of God’s holiness and His desire that we pursue godliness, righteousness, and obedience. Truth shifts our focus away from ourselves and our circumstances, and reorients it towards God and His magnificence.

Truth exposes and refutes the relentless litany of lies the god of this age tells us: God is not real; God does not care; God did not create the heavens and the earth; God is not omnipotent; God is not worthy of our worship; Jesus was just a man; Jesus is one of many ways to God; Jesus did not live a perfect life; Jesus was not resurrected; Jesus is not coming back; We are good enough; We can earn our way to heaven; We can say the sinner’s prayer and keep living the same lives; We are the centrality of the gospel; We can ignore Scripture when it doesn’t appeal to us or it makes us uncomfortable; We control our own destinies; Absolute truth does not exist; Sin is a silly invention of man; Faith is foolish; Hell is a myth.

We could spend days listing the lies that Satan sells and tells. After all, he is the father of lies and there is no truth in him. And deception is one of the defining features of the end times and the antichrist who “through his cunning will cause deceit to prosper under his rule” (Daniel 8:25). The antichrist’s reign is built on lies crafted so cunningly that they deceive everyone in the world except those sealed by the Spirit of God. Billions of people will embrace and peddle his deceptions in the end, including the powerful, wealthy, intellectual, and elite – from politicians and business titans to cultural icons and celebrities.

Sadly, millions of churchgoers will renounce their faith and leave the church after falling for his falsehoods. These are those who claim Jesus as Lord with their lips but whose hearts are far from him. They pledge their fidelity to Christ as long as He makes them the center of His universe, gives them the worldly desires of their hearts, bequeaths them lives of comfort, leisure, success, and happiness, and makes no substantive demands of them. They proclaim Christ as long as it benefits them materially, socially, financially, and professionally. But as soon as their (faux) faith jeopardizes their career, their status, their safety, their prosperity, their reputation, their freedom, and their lives, then they repudiate Jesus and disown their faith. These are those prophesied by Hosea, God’s people who are destroyed for lack of knowledge (truth).

In addition to a Spirit of power to speak the truth boldly, the Lord gives us a Spirit of love. Love bestowed on us by the Spirit is supernatural, allowing us to love not as the world does but as Jesus loves. Unconditionally. Sacrificially. Selflessly. And not just love those who love us in return, but the stranger and enemy as well.

Love should also compel us to speak truth to those who have yet to surrender their lives to Jesus: friends, strangers, colleagues, neighbors, associates, and family alike. Refusing to share the Good News of Christ with those around us is the ultimate act of selfishness and reveals an absence of genuine love for those in our lives.

Keep in mind that a considerable cost exists for boldly proclaiming Christ, speaking truth, and sharing the Gospel. Jesus warned His followers: “You will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are My disciples. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other” (Matthew 24:9-10, NLT).

It seems that truth has never been as much a reality in America as it is now. Fortunately, God gives us a spirit of self-discipline (as Paul reminds us above in 2 Timothy 1:7). And as with Holy Spirit power and love, Holy Spirit self-discipline is supernatural. By the Spirit we will remain steadfast, faithful, and unshakeable in our faith irrespective of the hate, violence, and bullying that confronts us. When faced with incarceration, fines, criminal prosecution, and state-sponsored discrimination we will not compromise, soften, betray, or renounce our commitment to Christ.

Friends, the speed with which our society is devolving into a land of unbridled immorality is breathtaking. It appears we are hurtling towards the end of the age at an ever-increasing velocity. Witness the escalating violence, greed, idolatry, pride, perversion, and selfishness that define our nation and compare that with these words from the apostle Paul:

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, NKJV).

Regardless of how close we are to end times, though, we are definitely entering a season of deep spiritual darkness in this country. God appears to be withdrawing that which restrains sin (2 Thessalonians 2:7), allowing our nation to pursue its lusts and desires unfettered.

Which means things will get worse. Society will celebrate sin more unabashedly and condemn morality more harshly. Rebellion against God will increase in intensity. We will witness horrifying acts of wickedness on an almost daily basis. And rampant depravity will saturate society.

Brothers and sisters, we have a biblical mandate to confront this growing evil in society. But we must awake from our spiritual slumber. We must steadfastly stand in the gap, speak truth, and show love. And encourage others to do the same (encouragement is oh so important in these troubling times).

We must not fear the forces of evil. We cannot remain silent as the enemy attacks our faith. We must resist the temptation to timidly withdraw from the battle before us.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Where is God During a Pandemic?

As the Covid-19 virus continues to destroy lives, fuel fear, and dismantle the global economy, it is reasonable to ask where God is and why He hasn’t intervened to stop this plague. Doesn’t He care about our pain and suffering? What reason could He possibly have for allowing this pandemic to spread and upend our way of life?

These are good questions that God is not afraid to answer. In fact, He welcomes them. The prophet Habakkuk asked similar questions thousands of years ago when he observed the demise of his people on the horizon. He asked God, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help but you do not listen! Violence is everywhere, I cry, but you do not come to save” (Habakkuk 1:2, NLT). Many of us are probably asking God similar questions today.

In response, God informed Habakkuk that He was very much at work, influencing global events in a way that would bring salvation to His people and preserve them from destruction. He outlined His plan of salvation, recognizing that in doing so Habakkuk would raise more questions and express concern that God’s plan made no sense.

Similarly, God has a plan in the midst of the Covid-19 global pandemic. And like Habakkuk, we probably wouldn’t understand (or agree with) that plan if God were to reveal it to us. Why? Because He tells us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8, NKJV).

We are almost exclusively focused on the temporal – the here and now. We live our lives largely fixated on this world and our physical role in it. God, on the other hand, is as concerned about our eternal future as He is our present, and with our spiritual condition as He is our physical. Against that backdrop, it appears God is using the coronavirus pandemic to accomplish several things.

First, He is drawing a hurting world to Him. Often we have little interest in God until we reach a point of desperation in our lives. Despair, anxiety, and severe trials have a way of sending us in search of God – which a life of comfort, prosperity, and leisure rarely do. He is using the pandemic, then, to remind us of the importance of our spiritual lives. Encouraging us to explore a relationship with Him; and to place our faith in Him and not the world.

Second, He is removing many of the activities that separate us from Him. The lure of worldly distractions – such as entertainment, shopping, travel, sports, and hobbies – consumes our lives. Our lives, it seems, are oriented toward enjoying life and the pleasures of this world. For Christians, these diversions significantly diminish our time with the Lord and weaken our faith. Our focus on these pursuits has infected our hearts and damaged our relationship with God. As our love for worldly interests grows, our love for the Lord wanes. But in His mercy God is calling us back to Him. To kindle revival in our hearts and pursue Him with the same passion we have pursued the things of this world for so long.

Third, God is exposing the fraudulent worldview that man is the master of his fate and this world. Government leaders, the exceptionally wealthy, and the extraordinarily powerful all believe they alone control their destinies, as do many ordinary men and women. The Covid-19 virus lays bare the inaccuracy of this belief, and should produce in us a spirit of humility, recognizing that we are not in control of our lives. It should lead us to humbly seek God’s protection, guidance, and healing, and fully yield our lives to Him.

Fourth, God is revealing His peace, hope, and comfort in this turbulent time. The pandemic has produced alarming amounts of anxiety, fear, and despair. Many feel despondent over the risk of infection. Others watch in horror as their economic livelihoods collapse. Some are so scared they irrationally hoard toilet tissue and sanitary wipes. A degree of hopelessness hangs in the air.

If you are experiencing these emotions, consider the following verses: a) “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7); b) “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him” (Psalm 42:11); c) “The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God(2 Corinthians 3b-4).

Fifth, God is reminding us that life and faith are best expressed by acts of sacrifice. Thousands of medical personnel and first responders are sacrificing their safety (and in many cases their lives) to treat and care for those on the cusp of death. These selfless acts are an excellent reminder of how Christ calls His followers to live: to daily commit ourselves to serving others, caring for the downtrodden and marginalized, and loving others sacrificially, putting their well-being ahead of our own. And not just in times of a global pandemic or natural disaster, but every day.

Let me close by saying God created this world free of pain, suffering, and disease. But sin – man’s disobedience and rebellion against God – introduced those horrific conditions into this planetary paradise. However, the time is coming when God will create a new earth and establish His kingdom in it for all eternity. And those who place their faith in Jesus and surrender their lives to Him will live with God there.

The Bible describes eternity like this: “[God] will dwell with them, and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There will be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4, NKJV).

With that perfect world waiting for those who call on the name of Christ, I encourage you to turn to Him in this difficult time. Surrender your life to God and begin to build a foundation of faith during this chaotic global event.