Salvation & Discipleship: Two Halves to a Whole Faith

Irrespective of your age, ethnicity, citizenship, upbringing, wealth, or social status, you’ve likely given some thought to God and wondered what happens after you die. And if you’re like most people you’ve probably invested time reflecting on whether heaven exists and what requirements, if any, God demands from those who want to spend eternity with Him.

In your search for answers you may have studied various religions and spiritual texts to understand what God wants from you. Your research may have concluded that securing a place in heaven requires adherence to strict rules, being a moral person, or ensuring your good deeds outweigh your bad. You likely learned that most religions teach that you must earn your way to heaven and work hard to receive God’s mercy. Fortunately, none of this is true.

The fact is we cannot earn salvation. No matter how good our deeds, how holy our lives, or how hard we try, we will never do enough to merit eternal life. Why? Because God has established a standard of perfection to enter heaven. A single sin, then, separates us from God and operates as a barrier to eternal life.

Don’t despair, though, all is not lost. It turns out the truth is much better than having to work your way to heaven. God offers His love, mercy, and forgiveness (as well as eternal life) to anyone who wants it, irrespective of who they are, what they’ve done, or where they’re from. Best of all, God offers salvation without condition – it is a free gift. Scripture explains it like this: “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 2:8-9, NKJV).

However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a cost. On the contrary, the cost is quite high. How is that possible? To comprehend this apparent dichotomy we need to understand the relationship between the gift of salvation and the cost of discipleship. They are not mutually exclusive concepts but rather two-halves to a whole and healthy faith. Let’s examine what God’s word says about both to discern how these truths co-exist in the Christian faith.

Basics of Salvation:

1] Repent. Repentance represents the first step to a renewed relationship with God. Both Jesus and John the Baptist initiated their ministries with a call to repentance, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2 and 4:17, NKJV). Repentance requires confessing our sins and asking for God’s forgiveness.

2] Place your faith in Jesus. Only the blood of Jesus removes the stain of sin from our lives and only His sacrificial death on the cross fulfills the requirement of the law. Jesus died that we might live for eternity. In fact, Scripture states, “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NLT). Jesus removed any doubt about the singular path to salvation when he exclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6, NKJV). Later, after Jesus’ resurrection, the apostle Peter explained that Jesus “is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in Him will have their sins forgiven through His name” (Acts 10:43, NLT).

3] Confess and Believe. Embrace Jesus as Lord of your life. The apostle Paul tells us how: “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved” (Romans 10:9-10, NLT).

We must believe and proclaim Jesus is Lord, and that belief must flow from the heart. This is critical because only then will we readily embrace all of Jesus’ teachings and pursue with joy the basics of discipleship outlined below. If our belief is limited to our intellect or emotions, we will reject Jesus’ claim on our lives.

4] Surrender your life to Christ. This is as critical an element of faith as any above, yet for some reason preachers, pastors, and priests often neglect it. Certainly the gift of salvation resonates with more people if we ignore this component of authentic faith. But to do so is to undermine the message of the cross. Besides, if we really believe with our heart that Jesus is Lord then we will enthusiastically surrender our lives to Him – knowing that He first surrendered His life for us.

The apostle Paul provided a clear articulation of this principle and how it relates to faith and grace in his letter to the church at Philippi. After outlining the many advantages he enjoyed before his conversion (wealth, status, power, education, and zeal) he asserts:

“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11, NKJV).

Paul captures beautifully the truth described earlier, that salvation is free but costs everything. On experiencing the saving grace of Christ, Paul chooses to count all things as loss. He does this not to earn salvation or God’s favor but that He might know Christ more intimately. He wants to remove all distractions and impediments from growing close to the Lord. Because his faith is genuine, he refuses to allow anything in this world to undermine it.

When we embrace Jesus as Lord with all our heart, we gladly echo Paul’s words to the church at Galatia: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, NKJV).

Once you profess faith in Christ, embrace Him as Lord, and surrender your life to Him, it is time to get about the business of growing as His disciple. This involves a number of principles, many of which we have discussed in detail previously on this blog. I encourage you to review previous entries to learn more about what it means to live as Jesus’ follower. To get you started, here is a brief overview of what living as Jesus’ disciple involves.

Basics of Discipleship:

1] Cultivate your relationship with Christ. Nothing is as important to the condition of your faith as investing time nurturing a healthy, mature, intimate relationship with the Lord. Carve out time in your schedule to study the Bible, pray to God, and seek His presence on a regular basis. Create opportunities to worship and praise Him in private. Develop the habit of pursuing Him daily and make an effort to increase your time with Him as your faith matures.

2] Adopt Christ’s attributes. Embrace His standards of holiness in your speech, your conduct, your thoughts, and your relationships. Allow the Holy Spirit to transform you from someone focused on the things of this world and the desires of the flesh into someone focused on heavenly things and the desires of the Spirit. Allow Him to replace your pride with humility, your deceit with honesty, your rebellion with submission, your anger with gentleness, and your infidelity with faithfulness. Study the person of Jesus as revealed in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and follow His example in all areas of your life.

3] Treat people as Jesus did. Demonstrate the love, mercy, kindness, gentleness, patience, selflessness, forgiveness and generosity of God to the world. Many will never know God unless they see Him exhibited in our lives on a daily basis. Represent the person of Christ in a way that honors Him by caring for the hurting, the depressed, the poor, the refugee, and the rejected.

4] Evangelize and disciple others. While walking the walk is critical, it is also important to identify opportunities to verbally share the good news of Jesus with others and help them grow in their faith. Ask God to provide you opportunities each week to make known His redemptive sacrifice and unconditional love for everyone, and then capitalize on those openings – even if it costs you your friends, short-circuits your career, or jeopardizes your safety.

If you have yet to repent, trust Jesus as Lord, and surrender your life to Him, I encourage you to consider making that decision today. If you have already committed your life to Christ and are unsure how to grow in your faith, I encourage you to begin incorporating into your life the principles and practices outlined above, especially as it relates to building a robust relationship with Jesus and living as His disciple. He is calling you to follow Him, how will you respond?

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Casual, Cultural Christianity is Corroding the Church

Polls consistently find an overwhelming majority of Americans refer to themselves as Christians. Those results seem surprisingly high against the backdrop of news stories splashed across the paper each morning and reported on by news anchors each night. Acts of greed, arrogance, hate, selfishness, violence, and debauchery appear to grow exponentially, and often in increasingly brazen ways, while acts of mercy, love, forgiveness, selflessness, humility, and self-restraint seem to occur with less and less frequency. And while the media certainly emphasizes the former while ignoring the latter, that doesn’t dismiss the fact that, as a nation and as individuals, we appear to pursue with growing regularity behaviors, attitudes, priorities, passions, and worldviews that collide head-on with God’s standards as outlined in the Bible.

How is it possible for a country to profess fidelity to Christ, claim to follow Him, and insist He is Lord, and yet find itself hurtling down a path of destruction littered with escalating amounts of sin? How can we reconcile the explosion of immorality crippling the nation with findings that two-thirds or more of Americans embrace Christianity? The answer lies in the type of Christianity much of the nation pursues. Many chase a casual, cultural Christianity that comports with societal standards instead of a fervent faith rooted in Scripture and aligned with Jesus’ example. The two expressions of Christianity have nothing in common, yield followers with dramatically different lifestyles, and lead to very different eternal destinations.

So what does casual, cultural Christianity look like and why does it thrive in our country? And what guidance does the Bible offer, to help us identify characteristics of this faux-faith so we can avoid embracing its dangerous doctrine? Fortunately, Scripture frequently addresses the subject of counterfeit faith and reveals its shortcomings in unambiguous terms – to keep us from falling victim to it. Does your faith mirror any of the attributes of artificial Christianity outlined below? If so, repent and ask God to restore you into a proper and healthy relationship with Him.

1] Casual, cultural Christianity focuses on self instead of God. It concerns itself with what it can get rather than what it can give. It desires (and demands) all the benefits God offers His people but dismisses His expectations and standards for them. It says yes to God’s mercy, healing, forgiveness, salvation, and material blessings but shouts no to obedience, trials, sacrifice, holiness, worship, and surrender.

Casual, cultural Christians proudly proclaim their faith but only when it drives more customers to their business, enhances their standing in the community, allows them to influence others, provides ‘cover’ to pursue secret sins, or furnishes power they can wield to advance their own agendas. In contrast, authentic believers publically profess Christ as Lord even when it costs them their job or financial security, soils their reputation in the community, results in the loss of freedom, subjects them to persecution or discrimination, or compromises their safety.

2] Casual, cultural Christians excel at talking about religion, attending church, and flattering the pastor and church leaders. But they refuse to answer God’s call on their lives and fail to follow His ways. We see an example of this in the Old Testament with God’s people, the Israelites. They happily encouraged each other to “come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord” (Ezekiel 33:30b, NKJV), publically expressing an interest in knowing God and His word and regularly attending temple services.

But God informed the prophet Ezekiel that the Israelites “sit before you as My people, and hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not do them” (Ezekiel 33:31-32, NKJV).

The Israelites said all the right things, voicing love for Ezekiel and God. But their outward enthusiasm was not matched by inward obedience. They had no intention of following God and obeying His message. Instead, they planned to pursue personal agendas predicated on selfish gain. Similarly, many of us verbalize love for Jesus in the public square but harbor ulterior motivations grounded in greed and selfishness. Emphasizing outward appearance while leaving the heart fallow has consequences, however. Like the Israelites more than two millennia ago, judgment and ruin awaits those who feign faith in Jesus.

3] Jesus confronted this disconnect directly during his discourse with the Pharisees. In response to their assertion that His disciples transgressed tradition by not washing their hands before they ate, Jesus exclaimed: “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Mark 7:6-7, NKJV).

Casual, cultural Christianity sounds authentic because it honors God with the lips. What makes it faux-faith, however, is that it proceeds from a heart filled with rebellion and ruled by self (the flesh). Casual Christians never surrender their heart, soul, and lives to God, never express genuine repentance, and never undergo a life transformation by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They simply go through the motions of the Christian faith, play church, and act religious.

Consequently, Jesus explains that whatever worship they exercise toward Him is in vain; it is worthless. They might as well not even waste their time. Unless we worship and honor God with our hearts, and not just our lips, we face the same rebuke. How do we know the difference? If we embrace as doctrine the commands of men instead of scriptural truth, then our hearts have not engaged Jesus. Unless we offer to Him our lives and not just our words, we are not truly His.

4] The ancient church of Laodicea struggled with casual Christianity. They lived compromised lives that produced diluted faith that was barren and bore no spiritual fruit. More than that, they were so far from God they failed to understand their spiritual condition. They mistook their material prosperity as a sign God was pleased with them and approved of their faith. But Jesus issued a harsh warning to them, correcting that misperception.

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked … As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore, be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:15-17, 19-20; NKJV).

In many ways the American church mirrors the Laodicean church. Too many of us possess lukewarm faith that is neither on-fire for the Lord nor offers cold refreshment to the lost and hopeless. We, too, have misinterpreted our wealth and self-sufficiency as a signal that God is pleased with us and approves of our faith. Little do we know how “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” we are in our faith.

Like the Laodicean church, we must repent and open the door of our heart to Christ and invite Him in. Then, let us take up the call of Christ and follow Him as passionate disciples. Only then will the casual, cultural Christianity that plagues the church be replaced by a healthy, energetic, and powerful faith that not only transforms our lives but also transforms the culture around us. What could be more fulfilling?

Is Jesus’ Return Imminent?

For two millennia Christians have been waiting for Christ to return to earth and establish His kingdom. And for just as long His followers have viewed His second coming as very near – either on the doorstep or just around the corner. Yet time and again those expectations have been disproved with the passage of time – as the Lord remains in heaven.

But the repeated failure of earlier prognosticators hasn’t discouraged a new generation of voices from issuing their own proclamations about Jesus’ imminent return. In fact, there exists a growing consensus among many Christian leaders that the Lord is on the cusp of returning. And nothing can dampen their enthusiasm for broadcasting this fait accompli to all who would listen.

This current crop of self-styled seers avoids identifying a specific date for Jesus’ return. Instead, they employ language that asserts authoritatively that Jesus’ second coming will occur within a specific window of time, saying things like:

  • Jesus will return in my lifetime.
  • The current generation will see Jesus descend from the heavens.
  • This generation will usher in Jesus’ millennial rule.

This view has become widespread across much of Christendom. Not only are a growing number of voices with national platforms professing this perspective, more and more pastors and parishioners are embracing it as well. It has become a sort of Zeitgeist within the church. The frequency with which the topic arises during casual conversation with believers seems to grow every week.

Evidence of this trend is borne out in the marketplace. Go to any Christian bookstore and you’ll quickly realize few topics generate as much attention. The growth in resources, Bible studies, and novels focused on end times reflect an escalating interest in the subject. Indeed, a veritable cottage industry has sprung up on the subject with an increasing number of Christians claiming expertise on the topic.

Not surprisingly, a great many men and women earn a great deal of income capitalizing on this interest by marketing themselves as authorities on the subject. But whenever a subject generates substantial fame and fortune for those who set themselves up as experts, the risk of false teaching increases exponentially.

What, then, can we say with absolute certainty about Jesus’ return? What counsel does the Bible offer us about the end times? More importantly, what truths about the topic will stimulate and strengthen our faith? Let’s examine four.

1] He is coming back. Jesus alluded to His return in numerous parables and spoke of it specifically on many occasions. His lengthiest discourse on the subject occurred shortly before His crucifixion (see Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21). These passages offer a smorgasbord of insights and warnings about His return and we would do well to anchor our eschatology to them.

In the book of Revelation Jesus informs us, “Behold, I am coming quickly.” He shares this truth three times with the apostle John to emphasize its importance and give us urgency in our lives (see Revelation 22:7, 12, 20). Jesus reiterates the point to remove any doubt about whether He will return. And that great news is worth sharing with everyone. Is there someone you know who needs to hear it?

2] No one knows the date or time. Knowing that false prophets/pastors/priests would attempt to deceive people and accumulate power by claiming to know the mystery of His return, Jesus declares, “of that day and hour no one knows; neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is” (Mark 13:32-33, NKJV).

Many of the voices proclaiming Christ’s imminent return avoid identifying a specific date but categorically insist it will happen in this generation. But Jesus warns against those types of pronouncements as well. “Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying … ‘The time has drawn near’. Do not follow them” (Luke 21:8, NKJV).

Some argue that Jesus provided signs to indicate when the end days are near. And indeed He did. But He provided those as reminders His return might occur at any moment, so we remain alert and vigilant, not as hints to solve the mystery of ‘when’.

3] Be prepared. Jesus communicated several parables that warned of the dangers of being unprepared for His return. Each lesson highlighted individuals who thought they would enjoy eternity with Christ but were instead cast into outer darkness.

In one parable the unprepared come to Jesus on His return, saying, “Lord! Lord! Open the door for us!” They want into the kingdom of heaven despite their unpreparedness. Jesus answers them, “Believe Me, I don’t know you!” (Matthew 25:11-12, NLT). Despite confessing Him Lord, these individuals are refused entry into heaven. Why? They never knew Jesus. Their hearts did not align with their words; their lives revealed the fiction of their claim.

Let’s consider that for a moment. How could someone who claims Jesus as Lord later learn He never knew them? Jesus provides a succinct explanation that also serves as an admonition. “Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly” (Luke 21:34, NKJV). Their words professed Jesus Lord but their lives revealed the truth: the world and its pleasures were what they truly desired. How we live says far more about our faith than our words.

Don’t presume your salvation simply because you claim ‘Jesus is Lord’ with your lips. Look at your life, your priorities, and how you invest your time. If they do not align with God’s word and reflect the model of discipleship He taught, you may find yourself unprepared for His return.

4] Redeem the time. Irrespective of when the Lord returns, we need to maximize our time here. We accomplish this by following the model Jesus provided during His brief life. His first priority was always time with the Father. Over and over we see that in the Scriptures:

Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed” (Mark 1:35, NKJV).

And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on a mountain by Himself to pray” (Matthew 14:23, NKJV).

Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12, NKJV).

So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed” (Luke 5:16, NKJV).

Though Jesus’ days were packed from start to finish (serving, healing, teaching, forgiving, casting out demons, and rebuking religious leaders) He always carved out significant blocks of time for prayer. Maintaining a healthy, vibrant relationship with the Father was paramount to redeeming His time on earth.

We ought to take a cue from Jesus and follow His example. Regardless of how busy we are or how much good we want to accomplish with our time, our first priority must always be cultivating a relationship with Christ, nurturing our love for Him, and offering Him the praise and worship He deserves. Absent that, nothing else matters.

Second, we need to understand what Jesus said about His purpose on earth.

My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34, NKJV).

For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38, NKJV).

I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4, NKJV).

We should adopt a similar focus in our lives by pursuing God’s will, implementing His agenda, and advancing His kingdom. Since details of carrying out His mission will vary by person, we need to draw near to Him on a regular basis – for only as we spend time alone with God will our ears be trained to hear His voice clearly.

So next time you hear someone exclaim how little time exists before the Lord returns, take a moment to rejoice in the good news that Jesus will indeed return. Then remind them to be about the business of redeeming their time on earth and ensuring they are properly prepared, “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:27, NKJV).

In Matters of Faith, Motivations Matter.

Students of either Church or Medieval history might recall the captivating story of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162-1170. Having served as Chancellor for King Henry II (a role he excels at by helping the king consolidate power from the church), the crown appoints Becket to the role of Archbishop. No doubt the monarch expected Becket the Archbishop to operate in a manner similar to Becket the Chancellor, and subject both himself and the church to the king’s authority.

As Archbishop, however, Thomas proved loyal to the Church. He resisted all efforts by the king to curb ecclesiastical power and submit to the sovereign, insisting instead on a substantive separation of church and state. Not surprisingly, this infuriated Henry II and led to a serious fracture in their relationship, eventually resulting in the Archbishop fleeing to France in late 1164.

A fragile compromise eventually allowed Becket to return from exile six years later and resume his residence in Canterbury. But the tension between the crown and the cloth exploded on his return when Becket refused to reinstate three bishops excommunicated for their support of the king. On learning of this, the king erupted in anger and unleashed a vindictive diatribe that inspired four of his knights to find and assassinate Becket.

In his celebrated work, Murder in the Cathedral, Nobel Prize Laureate T.S. Elliot recounts this assassination. In his drama the writer describes four temptations that challenge Becket, each offering something of value in exchange for his willful disobedience of the Lord. The confrontation mirrors Satan’s temptation of Christ following forty days in the desert.

The last temptation encourages the Archbishop to pursue martyrdom, for which he will receive glory and admiration. While recognizing that outcome likely awaits him, Becket also understands an intentional pursuit of that ending to his life would be improper. So he rejects that final temptation, declaring: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” With that statement, Elliot’s ecclesiastical character captures one of the great truths of Scripture: motivations matter.

God emphasizes this point through His prophet, Zechariah. Following their return to Jerusalem, the post-exilic Jews tired of fasting and mourning, and sought God’s release from those duties. They sent a delegation of men to the house of God “to seek the Lord’s favor” and “ask this question of the prophets and the priests … ‘Should we continue to mourn and fast each summer on the anniversary of the Temple’s destruction, as we have done for so many years?’” (Zechariah 7:2-3, NLT). They had hoped these emissaries might secure permission from the Lord to discontinue these religious practices.

Rather than respond directly to their petition, God poses a question: “Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me – for Me?’” (Zechariah 7:5, NKJV). The Lord cuts to the heart of the issue: for whom did they complete those activities? His concern went beyond their ritualistic performance of religious rites. He wanted their focus on Him. He desired a properly motivated people who displayed the right heart.

Instead, the Israelites fulfilled God’s requirements begrudgingly – their hearts were not in it. They exhibited no joy of the Lord and no passion for Him. It was strictly (religious) business for them. God reveals their improper motivation when He rhetorically asks: “When you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink for yourselves?” (Zechariah 7:6, NKJV). As soon as they finished their religious duties they resumed living for themselves. They had no interest in pursuing God and His ways in all areas of their lives.

I wonder how many of us fall into a similar routine? Like the Israelites, we compartmentalize our lives in such a way to avoid giving God complete control. We perform whatever religious acts we believe He requires of us and then go about the business of living for ourselves.

But this approach to faith rarely leads to lives of joy, peace, and fulfillment. Instead, like the Israelites, we find ourselves complaining about God’s standards and expectations, insisting they are overly onerous and too restrictive. We decline to follow Jesus down difficult paths and only embrace His words when they are convenient.

Take a moment to consider your motivations for each activity you perform for the Lord. Do you really perform them for God’s glory or do you instead harbor a selfish motivation? Motivations are especially important for those serving in a leadership role or position of authority within the church.

Listen as the Lord poses to you a similar question to the one He raised with the people of Judah:

> Do you really sing in the choir for Me – for Me?

> Do you really serve at the homeless shelter for Me – for Me?

> Do you really participate in a weekly Bible study for Me – for Me?

> Do you really attend church services for Me – for Me?

> Do you really help with the children’s ministry for Me – for Me?

> Do you really minister to prison inmates for Me – for Me?

> Do you really tithe for Me – for Me?

> Are you really taking that mission trip for Me – for Me?

> Are your prayers really for Me – for Me?

Our motivation matters in everything we do. Our most sacrificial acts are of little consequence if performed to draw glory to ourselves. Our acts of service have no eternal value if done to burnish our reputations within the church and the community. Our worship, prayers, and praise are impotent if offered out of obligation or to appear religious.

So how do we know whether the manifestations of our faith spring from pure or impure motivations? First, consider your attitude. Do you perform acts of service, worship, and ministry with a spirit of joy or out of begrudging obligation? Proper motivations genuinely produce appropriate attitudes in serving God and others.

Second, do you seek recognition and the approval of others when living out your faith? Do you gravitate to acts of service, worship, and ministry that are largely in public view? Those with improper or impure motives often pursue roles and activities in the church that provide them a platform of prominence and that call attention to themselves. While corporate worship and service is important, it should never overshadow the time we spend alone with God, praising, worshipping, and giving Him glory. Does your private time with God pale in comparison to your public demonstrations of faith?

As you go through the week, reflect on your motivations. Ask the Lord to reveal any actions done with an impure heart. Ensure your faith produces spiritual fruit, celebrates Jesus, and testifies of His greatness, rather than draws credit to yourself and pursues recognition from others. Remember: The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.

Are You Planning for the Right Retirement?

Every quarter I receive a newsletter that encourages me to review my retirement strategy to ensure I have the funds needed when I retire. While the articles vary, the message remains the same: retirement is not cheap; healthcare costs are skyrocketing; lifestyles rarely change in retirement. Invariably, a litany of charts follow, reinforcing the narrative and explaining how much I need in my accounts based on several factors: how long I plan to live (not sure how much input I get in that variable), my current income, and inflation, to name a few.

Like hundreds of similar investment documents published each month, the newsletter emphasizes the need to plan now so I am not caught unprepared for the future. One common theme highlights those adults who assume they’ll have enough for retirement but never bother to do the math to validate their hypothesis. Almost always, we are told, those assumptions prove false. As a result, they fail to plan properly and must delay retirement, reduce their standard of living, or forgo retirement altogether.

Sadly, many Americans adopt a similar approach with respect to eternity. They assume they are going to heaven or that no afterlife exists. Either way, they neglect to invest any time or effort investigating the question of everlasting life and the existence of God. Instead, they prefer to trust their instincts – convinced that whatever reality they embrace will be revealed as truth once they pass from this world.

Of course, as Christians we recognize the danger with that worldview and ought to explore opportunities to share our faith and Jesus’ teachings with those who hold that opinion. He had much to say on the topic of eternal life and His message of mercy, grace, and salvation is one society desperately needs to hear and observe these days. Like the newsletters, we ought to inform and warn, prod and challenge those around us to prepare for eternity and not ignore such a critical decision.

Similarly, Jesus’ teachings also provide a powerful reminder to those of us in the church – that we, too, ought to prepare for heaven while still in this world. Too often we conclude that once we check the salvation box, all is good. But that view contradicts the truth shared by Jesus and the apostles. Let’s examine a few important verses that should shape how we prepare for eternity.

First, we need to remember we are not citizens of this world; rather, our citizenship is in heaven (see Philippians 3:20). Consequently, we are (in the words of Peter in his first epistle) pilgrims and sojourners in this world – here to serve as Christ’s ambassadors (see 2 Corinthians 5:20). As with any ambassador, our assignment is temporary – until the Lord calls us home – and requires us to reflect in speech and in conduct the one we serve.

That conviction is critical if we are to redeem our time on earth (see Ephesians 5:16) and live according to God’s will. Otherwise, we fall into a common trap: the belief that God wants us here to eat, drink, and be merry. In other words, our pleasure is His desire.

While God definitely wants us filled with joy, hope, and contentment, it is His pleasure that ought to be our desire, and not vice versa. When we lose track of that distinction, we risk becoming ensconced in the world, falling prey to its distractions, and adopting its priorities. In the process we cease to represent Christ and begin to reflect the world.

So how do we remain in the world without being of the world? By abiding in Christ. Any ambassador, to properly fulfill his or her role, must maintain frequent and substantive contact with the president. The same is true with us. As our relationship with Christ matures and our passion for Him deepens, we become a more accurate reflection of Him and ours ways align more closely to His.

As that happens, we focus more on things with genuine value (the eternal) and less on things with no lasting value (the temporal). That transformative shift in perspective equips us to handle the trials and tribulations that result from our faith in Jesus. Paul explains this in his second epistle to the church at Corinth. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18, NKJV).

So as we consider retirement, what would Jesus have us do as His ambassadors? Should we adopt the world’s perspective and save lots of money in a retirement account so we can maintain our current lifestyles until we die? Should we work extra hours now so we can retire early and get a head start on the pleasures and comfort of retirement? Should we wind down our Christian service as we wind down our careers? Of course not.

Why do so many of us assume God makes no claim on our retirement – that we can pursue the same retirement strategy as our non-believing friends and colleagues? Do we cease to be the Lord’s when we retire? Does retiring from our career correspond to our retirement as Christ’s ambassador? Not at all. On the contrary, retiring from our career ought to serve as a catalyst for us to redouble our efforts to redeem the time as God’s representatives – and usher in a new season of serving Him with renewed vigor and focus.

For those on the verge of retiring or already in that stage of life, I encourage you to consider the possibility that retirement is an opportunity to finalize God’s call on your life. Resist the temptation to embrace the worldview that you’ve earned a restful retirement and deserve to enjoy the good life as you sail into the sunset. Instead, ask the Lord to reveal His retirement plan for you, what community you might serve on His behalf, and how you might fulfill the Great Commission. It might be quite different then your original plans – and much more satisfying.

For those still many years away from retirement, consider these words from Jesus as you craft your career and ascertain how best to invest your resources. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; rather, lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21, NKJV).

Unfortunately, too many Christians focus entirely, or primarily, on acquiring treasures on earth, building a legacy with the world, and pursuing temporal success. But Jesus informs us in unambiguous terms that such endeavors are a fool’s errand. They produce nothing of eternal value. Worse, they risk corroding, or even severing, our relationship with God.

Don’t be that seed that fell among thorns: those who hear the word of God and briefly trust Jesus but “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19, NKJV). Those who chase worldly accomplishments, recognition, and treasure enter into a Faustian bargain. And when eternity begins they will have nothing to show for all the time and effort they invested in this world. And they will have had very little time to enjoy the fruits of those worldly labors – even if they live to be a hundred.

Instead, invest in true treasure: the souls and lives of those around you. In doing so you will deposit into an eternal retirement account a value that exceeds exponentially everything the world has to offer. Nothing is as sound an investment for your time and resources. And that truth is something you can take to the bank.

Just Released My Latest Thriller, An Absence of Justice.

I just released my latest novel, An Absence of Justice, in September 2015.

With first-rate writing, credible dialogue, and a riveting plot, it makes an exceptional read for any fan of suspense. Throw in a couple unforgettable characters, several bombshells, and plenty of heart-pounding action and you have one of the year’s best thrillers.

Critics say:

“A complex, international thriller … that will hold the reader’s attention from the first page to the last … [It is] too good to put down and will leave you on the edge of your seat … With any luck, Cyr has already started working on a sequel.” (San Francisco Book Review).

“Highly Recommended … A highly satisfying novel you soon won’t forget … When you turn the last page you’ll be begging Cyr to focus an entire series around the truly memorable protagonist.” (BestThrillers.com).

“Thriller-aficionados will unite in praise for An Absence of Justice … A compelling, satisfying thrill ride [that] has it all; suspense, intrigue, surprises, and depth of plot.” (Portland Book Review).

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Synopsis: As one of the world’s leading authorities on technology, Malcolm Fitzpatrick uses his expertise to identify a unique brand of criminal: the privileged killer. These über-successful men sacrifice innocent lives in their pursuit of wealth, power, and greatness. Alarmed by their growing presence in Europe and the courts’ unwillingness to hold them accountable, Malcolm decides to intervene personally.

In Paris, meanwhile, investigative journalist Camille Chevalier has written an incendiary story detailing despicable acts committed by three prominent Parisians. Before it goes to press, however, her editor leaks the story to one of the perpetrators, placing her life in imminent danger. To survive, Camille goes underground where she encounters an unlikely benefactor, Malcolm.

Together they devise a plan to ensure the men identified in her story never harm anyone again. The ensuing cat-and-mouse chase crisscrosses Europe through Monte Carlo, Cannes, Geneva, and, finally, Paris, where an explosive, nail-biting finale occurs.

It is available in paperback at Amazon and Barnes & Noble online. It is also available in a variety of e-reader formats (see links below). I encourage you to pick up a copy today. And don’t forget to recommend it to a friend and post a review on your favorite book review website.

For a paperback, click here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1516853458

For the Nook version, click here:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/an-absence-of-justice-roderick-cyr/1122628847?ean=2940152339154

For the Kindle version, click here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B015EHPTS6

The Church’s Most Dangerous Doctrine.

If one of the Church’s primary purposes is to fulfill God’s plan by leading a fallen world into right relationship with Him, then any doctrine that undermines that objective poses a danger to not only the Church’s mission but also to the world that so desperately needs God’s love. And while any Church teaching that contravenes Scripture is both deceitful and heresy, the most dangerous are those that send adherents down a path that leads to eternal suffering and separation from God.

Applying that standard, the most dangerous doctrine taught by many churches is that of ‘Easy Believism’. It offers all the benefits of salvation without requiring any of the costs of discipleship, asserting that eternal salvation is available to anyone who recites a handful of words proclaiming Jesus as Lord and imploring God’s forgiveness. Especially popular in evangelical churches and referred to as ‘The Sinner’s Prayer’ in other circles, this teaching insists that when individuals make a verbal profession of faith they immediately guarantee their place in heaven and nothing can ever compromise that eternal destination.

While that teaching enjoys broad appeal and a significant following among those who claim Christianity as their religion, it has no foundation in Scripture. On the contrary, it disregards the explicit truths Jesus frequently proclaimed about eternal life. Whereas Jesus taught that the path leading to eternal life is difficult (see Matthew 7:14), that only those who persevere enjoy salvation (Matthew 24:13), and that following Him has a considerable cost (Luke 9:57-62), ‘Easy Believism’ teaches the exact opposite. It insists that embracing Jesus as Lord need not disrupt our lives, does not demand we endure, and imposes no cost.

Before going any further, we ought to examine closely what Jesus taught about eternal life and His expectations for those who proclaim Him Lord. After all, as the Son of God and the Savior of the world, His word is final on the matter. What we learn from careful study is that Jesus often described faith in terms of discipleship (following Him) and was unequivocal as to what that involved.

To His disciples and a crowd of potential followers, Jesus said: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34b, NKJV). To follow Christ is to deny ourselves. We set aside our hopes, plans, interests, and goals, and replace them with Jesus’. That may sound extreme, as if Christ were calling us to give up our very lives for Him. And in fact He is. In the very next verse Jesus says as much. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35, NKJV).

While losing our life for Jesus does not necessarily mean physically dying for Him (though sometimes it might), it does mean putting to death ‘self’ and all it represents: our greed, arrogance, selfishness, debauchery, materialism, and idolatry. That expectation causes many would-be followers to bristle. They want to proclaim Jesus their Lord but retain the rights to their lives, careers, pursuits, passions, and resources. In other words, they want to limit Jesus’ lordship to a verbal profession rather than make it a substantive, exhaustive, and ongoing commitment.

Jesus anticipated many of us trying to have it both ways – wanting to declare Him Lord without actually evidencing it in our decisions, our priorities, our time, our relationships, and our lives. That is why He advises potential followers to count the cost first (see Luke 14:25-32), because the cost of discipleship is high and ought not be entered into lightly or without knowledge of His expectations. He summarizes those expectations in very succinct and unambiguous terms: “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33, NKJV).

Forsaking all sounds comprehensive because it is. Like all of Jesus’ teachings about discipleship it requires sacrifice, which Jesus modeled for us in His life and in His death. Sacrifice was why the widow’s tiny tithe was heralded as the most generous – because she gave all. Similarly, the merchant in Jesus’ parable about the kingdom of heaven gave all to secure the pearl of great price (see Matthew 13:45).

Genuine faith compels us to put God first and adopt His agenda as our own, not carve out and dedicate parts of our lives for His use and glory while retaining other parts for ourselves. Jesus addressed that duplicitous approach to faith and warned that those who embrace it have no faith at all. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches” (Matthew 6:24, NKJV). Nor can you serve ‘self’ and Christ. All who try reveal that their true loyalty lies with the flesh and with the world.

‘Easy Believism’ also damages the souls of men and women by suggesting that no ongoing faithfulness to Jesus is required for salvation – that He does not demand we endure to the end. That could not be further from the truth.

When Jesus sent the twelve out He warned them of the trials and challenges they would face, explaining that they would be hated and persecuted for His sake. As an encouragement He reminded them: “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22b, NKJV). Years later, as he described the end times, he repeated these words to His disciples (see Matthew 24:13). In addition, He gave that message to each of the seven churches He counseled in Revelation – those who endure and overcome will eat from the tree of life and not be hurt by the second death.

The parable of the sower communicated a similar message (see Mark 4:13-20). Of those who hear the good news about Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice, few receive it and then bear fruit for the kingdom of God. Most wither in their faith and do not endure. They are unfruitful. That may seem an insignificant detail except that Jesus later tells us that everyone who abides in Him bears much fruit and those who do not bear fruit are not His and are cast out and burned in the fire (see John 15:1-6).

Despite the clarity of Jesus’ teachings about faith and His expectations for those who would call Him Lord (and there are many more Bible passages that reinforce the verses above), many refuse to accept His truths. They insist that the call of Christ imposes no demands on them, does not require they remain faithful, and that they can decide what areas to consecrate to Him and which ones they can keep for themselves.

Sadly, many pastors, deacons, and church leaders reject Jesus’ message for fear it will chase people from their congregations and result in people forsaking their faith. What they fail to understand, though, is that those who practice ‘Easy Believism’ have no genuine faith to forsake – they follow a faux-faith created out of whole cloth by spiritual wolves. Churches teaching that salvation and discipleship are unrelated are leading parishioners astray because Jesus never made such a distinction. For Him, discipleship and salvation were intrinsically linked.

Why, then, do millions of people fall for such deceit? Why do so many discard the clear word of God and embrace a false gospel instead? Because ‘Easy Believism’ tickles our ears and tells us what we want to hear. It appeals to our flesh, which refuses to be inconvenienced or removed from its throne in our hearts. We want it to be true and refuse to study Scripture to learn if it actually is.

Do you desire to make Jesus your Lord and receive His forgiveness? If so, search the Scriptures to understand what He expects of you as His disciple. Start with the verses above and then read through each of the four gospel accounts found in the New Testament. You may find that what Jesus taught about faith, discipleship, and eternal life is different than what your pastor, priest, or shepherd teaches. And eternity is too long, heaven too exciting, and Jesus’ presence too awe-inspiring for you to leave your faith in the hands of someone who may be more motivated by church attendance and donations than your eternal soul.

Make it a priority this week to get right with God, commit your life fully to Him, and begin building that intimate relationship with Jesus that costs everything but yields an eternity of joy, peace, and love with the Maker of heaven and earth.

Commentary: Faith, Politics, Culture, and Bible Prophecy.