Tag Archives: Christianity

Spiritual Adultery: An Explosive Epidemic Wrecking the Church.

When President Trump nominated a number of prominent evangelicals to lead various departments of the federal government following his inauguration, I viewed it as a tremendous opportunity. These men and women could demonstrate to the nation that those who follow Jesus govern much differently than those driven by other motivations. Their leadership would be marked by humility, diligence, and most of all integrity. Scandals that rocked prior administrations would not surface at agencies led by those committed to Christ.

Sadly, some of these ‘Christian’ leaders betrayed the trust of the American people. Even worse, their behavior dishonored the Lord. Not only did they fail to establish a high-water mark in government ethics and maintain the highest standards of integrity, they left a trail of corruption and financial malfeasance in their wake.

Federal officials are investigating one of these men for violating anti-corruption laws surrounding efforts to leverage his government position for personal gain, using public funds for personal travel (in first-class no less), having employees perform personal tasks, and demanding a personal security team that cost millions of dollars.

Another cabinet official resigned after reports revealed he regularly traveled on private charter and military jets at taxpayer expense rather than travel on commercial flights that would have saved nearly a million dollars. Compounding his graft was the hypocrisy behind it. As a congressman he regularly railed against government waste and demanded more accountability from profligate bureaucrats.

Of course, senior Trump officials aren’t the only Christian politicians who have besmirched the name of Jesus in recent years. It also includes multiple pro-life congressmen who, despite their public policy positions, insisted their mistresses obtain an abortion after they became pregnant. In contrast to the conservative political platforms these men supported – predicated on family values and Christian principles – they pursued extra-marital relationships and then demanded the murder of a life they helped create. Such hypocrisy nauseates those already cynical of Christianity.

What’s more, each of these officials denied all wrongdoing, insisting he had crossed no criminal, ethical, or spiritual lines. Perhaps that’s not surprising. The ‘Christian’ motivated by self-interest and personal gratification rarely cares about confessing his sin and repenting.

Sadly, the tarnishing of Christianity isn’t limited to prominent and powerful people. It includes celebrated churches and popular pastors as well. For example, last August one of Houston’s mega-churches refused to open its facilities to those left homeless from the historical flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. Despite the massive size of the sanctuary (which seats nearly 17,000) and an enormous church campus, the pastor ordered the doors locked. Apparently there was no room in the inn for those in desperate need of compassion.

It was an act of incomprehensible selfishness. How could a pastor worth upwards of $40 million (and who owns multiple homes including a $10 million estate) and a church that spent nearly $100 million on renovations turn away the needy from its doors? The response stands in stark contrast to Jesus’ expectations for His followers, as illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The pastor’s explanation merely compounded the problem. He insisted the church was inaccessible to outsiders because of flooding in and around its property. When photographs surfaced online refuting that claim, he quickly backtracked and opened the church doors.

But the damage was done. In the midst of one of the worst natural disasters in America’s history, the nation watched a prominent evangelical church and its pastor model behavior marked by greed, selfishness, and dishonesty instead of generosity, sacrifice, and integrity. What it learned was that the Church too often reflects the values of the world instead of the teachings of Christ.

More recently a highly esteemed evangelical pastor at a renowned suburban Illinois church resigned amid reports that he met in private with female leaders and congregants at hotels, in his summer home, on his yacht, and inside his private jet. He claimed that nothing inappropriate happened with these women; his actions simply reflected bad judgment. But according to the allegations of a half dozen women it wasn’t for lack of trying on his part that nothing happened.

That one of the nation’s most respected evangelical pastors could have a pattern of pursuing women that goes back decades is disturbing enough. But at least church leadership eventually intervened and secured his immediate resignation. They recognized that the pastor’s behavior violated biblical standards of holiness and purity. They understood that keeping him on staff would sully the reputation of the church and dishonor Christ.

What makes this story even more alarming, however, is that these same church elders found no issue with the pastor owning a second home on the lake, a yacht, and a personal jet. It never occurred to them that such ownership constituted a troubling misunderstanding of biblical stewardship and revealed an unbridled love for worldly possessions. (Click here for a detailed discussion on stewardship). Their indifference to the greed and selfishness evidenced by such misuse of the Lord’s resources signaled an astonishing message to society: Evangelicals believe such behavior is not sinful. In fact, it is to be celebrated as a sign of God’s blessing. God gives some Christians (including pastors) exorbitant sums of money to lavish themselves with luxuries, while other believers suffer in extreme poverty.

Unfortunately, these are not isolated or infrequent incidents; they simply reflect the most extreme and egregious examples of a dangerous condition gripping the heart of the Church. American Christianity increasingly ignores the growing greed, selfishness, materialism, and covetousness that has taken root and is flourishing in thousands of churches across the country, especially inside evangelical congregations. American Christians increasingly exhibit the same insatiable appetite for worldly treasure, power, and popularity desired by society as a whole.

What we fail to realize is that such behavior is more than a minor blemish on the Christian community. It has fully disfigured the body of Christ. Our unabashed embrace of this world is an affront to Jesus and mirrors the idolatry practiced by Israel in the Old Testament.

It ignores Jesus’ repeated statements on the subject and His numerous warnings to avoid pursuing the things of this world, and it reveals a willful and rebellious rejection of Scripture. Worse, it signifies a willful and rebellious rejection of Jesus Christ.

How could American Christianity – especially evangelicalism with its emphasis on orthodox doctrine, a personal relationship with Christ, and salvation by grace – enter into such an adulterous relationship with the world?

Obviously, it didn’t happen over night. Like most adulterous relationships, it happened over time. Initially, Christians and the Church simply flirted with the world. Over time that seemingly innocuous relationship grew to include secret kisses, which then evolved into heavy petting, and eventually morphed into full-blown adultery. Of course, like most adulterers the Church attempts to maintain the appearance of a healthy marriage with its betrothed (Jesus) and tries to hide its clandestine affair with the world.

Oddly, it largely succeeds in keeping its adultery hidden in plain sight (though it’s glaringly obvious to independent observers), because an overwhelming number of American Christians have bought into this grotesque expression of faith, ignoring Jesus admonition that “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, NLT).

It continues to thrive and spread throughout the Church in part because pastors are unwilling to confront this issue with their congregations since their lives and lifestyles evidence the same adulterous relationship with the world. This pattern of adulterous behavior continues to escalate in intensity and frequency among churchgoers because they have no interest in learning the truth. Of such people Paul says, “They follow their own desires and look for teachers who tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They reject truth and chase myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

This ongoing and blossoming affair does more than discredit the name of Christ and undermine the mission of the church; it consigns millions of churchgoers and would-be believers to eternal darkness by sanctioning an abominable sin and selling the souls of parishioners in exchange for this world’s momentary pleasures.

So what’s the solution? How does the Church exit this adulterous affair and renew its commitment to Christ? How does American Christianity return to its first love and extinguish its self-destructive love for the world?

Ideally, God sends a few prophets to preach a message of repentance and burdens thousands of prayer warriors to pray for national revival under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

If this fails to galvanize the Church and Christian community to return to the Lord, then it’s likely God will intervene by removing the object of our affections from our lives: our prosperity, comfort, and security.

I hope and pray we quickly and wholeheartedly turn back to Him before it comes to that. Or worse, it becomes too late.

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Ordinary Believers – Extraordinary Faith.

Throughout Scripture God places His people in situations that require them to put their faith into action. Often these tests lead in a direction society considers irrational and may seem illogical to those around us. But when we trust God in these circumstances and obey His will, our faith matures. With each act of obedience we learn more about God’s faithfulness and understand more clearly His ways.

Most of these Bible stories involve ordinary people like you and me, not spiritual giants with extraordinary spiritual gifts. In fact, the only thing preventing many of us from experiencing God in similarly powerful and dramatic ways is a single step of faith. When we act on our trust in Him, amazing things happen in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

Let’s explore a couple of these ‘faith in action’ stories. Our first story takes place in Zarephath, where God has just sent the prophet Elijah. As he arrives in the city he encounters a widow with whom he has this interesting exchange.

Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink.” And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” Then she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.’ So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days. The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke by Elijah” (1 Kings 17:10b-16, NKJV).

What a remarkable story. Despite her desperate circumstances, the woman agrees to this radical (some might say ‘ridiculous’) proposal from the prophet. He asks her to prioritize his needs above her and her son’s; that she extend his life (a stranger) at the (potential) expense of their lives. As if their deaths weren’t imminent enough, Elijah’s request would seal their fate more quickly – unless of course his assertion were true that God would prevent the flour and oil from running out.

Using hindsight, we may be tempted to conclude the widow did nothing special. After all, we might argue, what did she have to lose? She was going to die anyway, so why not take a risk and agree to the prophet’s offer? But that ignores several critical facts.

First, the woman was not a Jew and did not share Elijah’s faith in the God of Israel. She knew nothing of the Lord and had no basis to trust Him or His messenger.

Second, as any parent will tell you, the idea of sacrificing your child’s life to save the life of a stranger runs counter to every parental instinct. Good parents do everything they can to protect and care for their children, not put their lives at risk to help others, no matter how noble the cause.

Third, the content of Elijah’s proposal is absolutely preposterous from the world’s perspective. It defies logic. The widow must exchange common sense for an embrace of God’s supernatural power – a God she never believed in until that moment.

In our second story, God sends Gideon to save Israel from the Midianites, a people who were “as numerous as locusts.” Against such an overwhelming force you might imagine the need for Israel to send an army of comparable size. If Israel were unable to muster such a military presence, then you would expect them to have a superior arsenal of weapons. Without one or the other, an Israeli victory would seem impossible.

Yet God ignores military convention and tells Gideon that the thirty-two thousand men he has assembled for battle are too numerous in number, “lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘my own hand has saved me.’” So God uses several methods to whittle that number down to three hundred men. He then informs Gideon, “By these three hundred men I will save Israel, and deliver the Midianites into your hand.”

You need not have attended West Point to understand the lunacy of this military strategy. Reducing an already inadequate force down to several hundred men is illogical when confronting an indomitable opponent. Yet that is precisely what God calls Gideon and the people of Israel to do. For it is in that act of seeming madness that they will demonstrate their trust and faith in God and He will reveal Himself to them.

As if that insanity weren’t enough, however, God then declares that instead of using weapons of war to win the battle He wants Gideon and his men to blow trumpets instead. In doing so God makes an already impossible victory beyond hopeless. The men must have wondered if their commander had lost his mind since his strategy was void of all rational military science. Surely Gideon was leading them to a massacre, like lambs led to slaughter.

But an astounding thing happens when Gideon and his men reject sound military strategy in favor of obedience to God. They win! The opposition turns on each other and is handily defeated. In perhaps the greatest military victory of all time, God uses a small squadron of men to conquer an overpowering adversary – with trumpets no less. Not because they executed a superior strategy, fought harder, or employed more advanced weaponry, but rather because they trusted and obeyed God.

Once again, hindsight may lead us to conclude that trusting God in that situation was a no-brainer for Gideon and the Israelites. Despite the irrationality of God’s plan, it was obvious He would liberate His people and ensure victory. They could embrace with certainty His promise because God always delivers on His commitments.

And yet, how many of us hesitate to follow God down an equally preposterous path in our own lives? We delay obedience and resist His call on our lives because the direction He is leading makes no sense. From a societal perspective, it is sheer madness. Only a crazy person would follow God down a road as irrational as the one He is calling us to pursue. If you are among those struggling to obey God because His plan seems illogical, recall God’s reasoning to Gideon for using such circumstances. Difficult challenges and overwhelming odds ensure that only He gets the glory.

How is God calling you to boldly demonstrate your faith today? What act has He asked of you that defies common sense and will earn the derision of those around you? Is God leading you down a path that seems irrational from the world’s perspective? If so, find inspiration from the Zarephath widow and Gideon’s army of three hundred.

God often puts us in circumstances that stretch and mature our faith. Resist the temptation to follow the easy path of rational thought and common sense when the Spirit is leading you elsewhere. Maybe it’s time to trust the Lord with that radical decision you’ve been postponing for too long. As you take that step of faith, you will experience God in an amazing and fresh way.

Feasting at the Faith Buffet.

Recently I ate at a restaurant that offered a lunch buffet. Buffets appeal to many of us for two reasons. First, we choose only the food that interests us. We’re under no obligation to eat vegetables, quiche, fruit salad or anything dainty unless it interests us. And second, we’re allowed to eat as much as we want of anything that makes our mouths salivate – no need for moderation or restraint. In other words, nothing makes it onto the plate unless you like it; and if you do, then pile it on.

Many of us adopt a similar approach with the Christian faith, treating it as a spiritual buffet. We select Scripture and principles that appeal to us, and ignore those with which we disagree. Unfortunately, by establishing a faith foundation imbedded in only those biblical truths we find palatable and ignoring any we find difficult to digest, we create a personalized faith that often bears little resemblance to what Christ taught and God’s Word reveals.

Does God’s mercy interest you? Then add a helping to your faith. Yearn for Jesus’ forgiveness? Then incorporate that into your beliefs. Care for God to bless you? Take a double portion. Desire God’s love? Feast on as much as you need, since it never ends.

Incessant demand exists for this side of the faith buffet, which includes God’s grace, hope, joy, peace, and strength. No surprise we emphasize those elements of the Christian faith since they comfort, console, and even encourage us. And because each represents a gift from God, we can embrace them with confidence, knowing they represent God’s promise to every believer. For that we can be grateful.

Too often, however, our faith begins and ends with such gifts. Our spiritual palates never develop and we never dine on the other side of the faith buffet. We remain content feasting on spiritual benefits, ensconced in a view that implies the Christian faith is all about us. Meanwhile, we tend to ignore Scripture when it contradicts our plans, inconveniences us, or disrupts our lives. As a result, we frequently fail to integrate into our faith truths from the accountability and responsibility side of the spiritual buffet. In particular, Jesus’ instruction on discipleship often falls on deaf ears.

Let’s briefly examine one remarkably relevant passage in Scripture.

Jesus told His disciples, “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, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?’” (Matthew 16:24-25, NKJV).

In that brief passage Jesus provides a succinct definition of discipleship and reveals several important truths. It behooves us to study and unpack this powerful and compelling message, which not only aligns with what Christ consistently taught throughout His ministry but also challenges us to reconsider our understanding of what it means to follow Christ.

Many of us find Jesus’ words alarming. We want to embrace Jesus enough to secure salvation but have little interest in denying ourselves. And we certainly have no desire to lose our lives, substantively or metaphorically. So how could Jesus be so callous as to make such severe demands of us? How could He imply we are to set aside our agenda and adopt His in its place?

The passage is so unsettling that many of us choose to ignore it, explain it away (Jesus could not have possibly meant what His plain language suggests), dismiss it as legalistic (hey, we’re no longer under the law), or decide that Jesus’ counsel simply represents a recommendation not a command (therefore we are free to accept or reject it as the Spirit leads).

In the process, we redefine what it means to follow Jesus. We decide that embracing Christ involves little sacrifice, service, or surrender because those behaviors afflict our souls and sour our disposition. And since Jesus wants us filled to the full with His joy, He can’t possibly want us to pursue a lifestyle that leaves us miserable (you might be surprised how many churchgoers make that argument).

And yet, His words appear straightforward and his message unambiguous: “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, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

I encourage you not to ignore, dismiss, or compromise those words. To do so is to place your faith in peril. Instead, take time over the next couple days to meditate on the passage and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance as you consider the following questions:

  1. How is God calling you to deny yourself as His disciple?
  2. In what ways does He want you to lose your life for His sake?
  3. Are there areas in your life you have prioritized over your relationship with Jesus – and in effect exchanged your soul for?

As God begins to reveal the application of those verses for your life, you may find yourself heading in a decidedly different direction and experiencing a whole new level of trust and faith in the Lord. I can’t imagine anything more exciting.

Eternal Life: Bible’s Specifics About Salvation May Surprise You.

Scripture says a great deal about salvation and describes in detail the requirements for sharing eternity with God. And while the Bible illuminates a clear path to eternal life, over time the church has distilled the Gospel message to a dangerous degree. Specifics have been oversimplified (and mangled) to such an extent that many churchgoers now embrace a neutered version of what Scripture teaches. While the church’s motivation may have been (mostly) pure – to attract more people to the Lord and bolster church attendance – the results likely have produced an unprecedented spiritual disaster. So severe is this distortion of foundational, biblical doctrine it risks jeopardizing the eternal destination of many would-be believers.

To fully grasp the issue we need look no further than the most recognized verse in all of Scripture, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness are on full display in those twenty-five words, proclaiming salvation for all who believe. Sounds simple doesn’t it? On the surface, there doesn’t appear any room for ambiguity.

Of course, the crux of this truth hinges on the word ‘believe.’ How we define and interpret that word is critical to our understanding of the Gospel and the prerequisite to ‘everlasting life.’ Many churches teach that ‘belief’ is evidenced by a public profession of faith in Christ, by verbalizing one’s trust in Him, or by reciting some version of a sinner’s prayer. Representing a broad compendium of denominations, traditions, and doctrine, these churches share the view that salvation occurs the moment one orally articulates his or her acceptance of Jesus as Savior, irrespective of whether any life transformation occurs or any evidence of faith is subsequently manifested.

Scripture, however, adopts a decidedly different view on what it means to believe. The apostle Paul articulates a succinct but substantive definition in his letter to the Roman church. “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. For with the heart one believes to righteousness and with the mouth confession is made to salvation” (Romans 10:9-10, NKJV, emphasis mine).

Paul declares that the faith that leads to salvation involves two distinct components: professing Jesus as Lord with your mouth and believing with your heart that He is the risen Savior. Belief limited to an intellectual assent of Jesus’ lordship is insufficient. Authentic belief always flows from the heart.

This may sound like a distinction without a difference. What does it matter, some may wonder. Head or heart, it’s all the same isn’t it? The answer, of course, is that they are not at all the same. The distinction is absolutely critical; one yields a transformed life while the other produces only outward change (if any at all) and a religious veneer. The former leads to eternal life, the latter to utter destruction and ruin.

God’s Word highlights this distinction over and over again, from Genesis to Revelation. The Pharisees embodied the attitude of those who verbally proclaim faith in God but do not believe with their heart. Jesus called them hypocrites, noting “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9, NKJV).

Steeped in religion, they commanded respect within the Jewish community. They said all the rights things and appeared to behave in a manner consistent with God’s commands. But they possessed an inauthentic faith, and Jesus quickly rebuked them for the spiritual frauds they were. He informed them that their faith was futile because it was manifested in words without a surrendering of the heart.

On the day of reckoning, Christ will engage fraudulent Christians in a similar manner. These are churchgoers who, like the Pharisees, say the right things and appear religious but have never abandoned themselves fully to Jesus. Despite their claims to the contrary, they don’t possess a genuine faith because they’ve never submitted to Jesus as Lord. The totality of their faith is limited to religious acts and Christian-esque language. In short, they excel at playing church.

This may strike some as judgmental on my part, suggesting that some churchgoers have an inauthentic faith. But the view is not mine, it is Jesus’. He said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from Me you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23, NKJV).

Like the Pharisees two thousand years ago, Jesus sees beneath the façade of faux-Christians and exposes them as religious charlatans. They have no place in God’s kingdom because they choose to follow a false gospel – one limited to verbal professions and religious antics but never rooted in the heart.

So what does faith look like when it flows from the heart? What evidence can we expect to uncover if we follow the advice of the apostle Paul, who challenged us to, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5, NKJV). The short answer is: our lives will look a lot like what we see in Jesus’ followers as captured in the New Testament: flawed men and women who love God, desire His presence, and share the Good News of Jesus with others.

But if that response is too vague and not particularly enlightening, let’s consider a few specific points to help us determine if our faith parallels that of the disciples or that of the Pharisees. Again, these are just a few indicators of authentic faith, according to Scripture. There are others, to be sure, but these will help facilitate some healthy internal reflection.

1] Your treasure reflects the things of God. Jesus informed His followers, “Wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Genuine faith that springs from the heart stores up treasure in heaven by pursuing God’s will, advancing His agenda, embracing His priorities, and submitting to His leadership. It influences how we invest our time, direct our resources, and spend our income.

It is insufficient to simply say we treasure the things of God; the evidence ought to support our claim. This verse, then, represents a critical truth. It asserts that the one true love radiating from our heart is easily identified, because our heart and our treasure are domiciled together. Ask yourself what you treasure in life: the temporal things of this world or the eternal things of God’s Kingdom. What does the evidence show?

2] Authentic faith bears spiritual fruit. Jesus declared, “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit” (John 15:5, NKJV). The form of that fruit will vary widely by individual and may include leading others to faith in Christ, discipling new believers, sowing a seed of faith in unbelievers, watering that seed, or restoring one who has fallen away from faith. Notice that Jesus indicates His disciples will not only bear fruit for His kingdom, they will bear ‘much’ fruit. Is your life marked by production of much spiritual fruit? If not, what does the above verse suggest about your relationship with Christ?

3] Believers obey Jesus’ commands. Those who possess real faith observe God’s commandments and they are not burdensome or a source of resentment. Jesus proclaimed, “If you love Me, keep My commandments… He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me… If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (John 14:15, 21, 23, NKJV). Do you desire to keep God’s commands? Is your obedience limited to those commands that don’t inconvenience you or disrupt your lifestyle? Do you pursue Jesus’ words with joy in your heart or begrudgingly, out of a sense of obligation? While we will never perfectly follow all God’s commands, our heart ought to yearn for victory over every area of sin in our lives. Moreover, we ought to observe sure and steady progress over time in becoming more like Christ in our obedience (the process of sanctification).

4] Genuine faith produces good works. While it is true we cannot earn salvation with good works, it is equally true that the absence of good works reveals the absence of genuine faith. In his epistle, James tells us, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead … For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:17, 26, NKJV). The apostle Paul echoes this perspective in his epistle to the church in Ephesus, “For by grace we have been saved, through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NKJV).

Do you see the relationship between grace, salvation, and works? God’s grace alone saves us, but if we are indeed saved then we pursue the good works God prepared for us from the foundation of the world. Though the substance of those works will vary by believer (just as the spiritual fruit did above), they will adhere broadly to the principles outlined in the parable of the Good Samaritan and in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse (see Luke 10:25-37, and Matthew 25:31-46). Are you pursuing works of mercy, generosity, compassion, sacrifice, and love that help others and bring God glory?

5] A surrendered life manifests true faith. This is no mere throwaway concept but is foundational to authentic Christianity. Jesus communicated this truth on numerous occasions during His ministry and its essence is grounded in substance not superficiality.

He does not call us to express a willingness to surrender our lives or merely claim to do so. Rather, He calls us to actually and substantively yield our lives fully to Him – every nook and cranny, every thought, every dream, every act, every decision. The breadth of Jesus’ expectation in this regard perturbs many churchgoers and flat-out offends others. But Jesus does not make this demand optional for His followers.

He informs us, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it produces much fruit. For whoever loves his life will lose it, but he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25). Jesus’ metaphor is clear. We must set aside our own interests, desires, and dreams, and embrace His instead. Absent an abdication of our rights we cannot begin to fulfill the plans He has for us. Without surrender there is no salvation.

The above verses and biblical truths hardly scratch the surface of what Jesus taught about salvation and discipleship. But hopefully they rebuff the misperception that eternal life awaits those who merely verbalize faith in Christ in a single moment of time, no matter how insincere that commitment becomes. Hopefully the passages illustrate Jesus’ expectations for those who claim Him as Lord and profess their fidelity to Him. Hopefully they reveal that authentic belief flows from the heart and necessarily transforms the life of anyone who professes such faith.

Let me conclude with two critical points. First, the above elements are not requirements for salvation. In another words, God does not demand we bear spiritual fruit, keep His commands, or perform good works to secure salvation. Rather, those behaviors reveal the presence of authentic faith in our hearts, not just on our lips or in our minds. So although they do not precede salvation, they absolutely do proceed from salvation.

Second, don’t assume your salvation is sure and your faith real without looking at the evidence. What is at stake is far too important to trust to casual conjecture. Your heart may try to convince you that ‘you’re good with God’ and dismiss as poppycock the notion that any evidence will be made manifest in the life of a genuine believer. Resist that argument. Scripture makes clear that there will be overwhelming evidence of a transformed life in every believer. Remember, the Bible tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9, NKJV). It is better to trust what Jesus taught and what Scripture communicates than to trust our own deceptive heart on the issue of faith and eternal life.

No topic is of more importance. I hope the evidence in your life supports your claim that Jesus is Lord. If it does not, or you have never surrendered your life to Him, take a moment to do so now. Admit you are a sinner and ask for His mercy and forgiveness. Ask Him to wash away your sin and fill you with the Holy Spirit. Let Him know of your desire to love Him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Place your entire life in His control to be used for His purposes. Inform Him of your desire to begin a lifelong relationship with Him and begin to develop that relationship by spending time with Him in prayer and studying His word. Finally, ask Him to direct you to a local church you can attend regularly and get baptized as soon as possible.

May God bless your decision and commitment to Him.

The Call of Christ.

In reading the gospel accounts of Christ’s life and ministry, have you ever noticed how often Jesus declares that those who follow Him will face challenges, trials, and difficulty? He succinctly summarized this truth during His sermon on the mount, proclaiming: “Difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14, NKJV). It is interesting to note that Jesus links the difficulty of discipleship with the scarcity of those who find salvation. Since most people reject the former (discipleship), they never truly embrace the latter (salvation).

Of course, Jesus is not suggesting works play a role in our salvation – that is entirely a product of God’s grace and mercy. What He is saying, and makes clear over and over again throughout His ministry, is that anyone who genuinely embraces Him as Lord and Savior will necessarily follow Him as a disciple. You cannot have salvation in the absence of discipleship. To confess Him as Savior is to pursue Him as Lord.

The manifestation of that pursuit, however, will be as diverse as the entire body of believers. Nevertheless, despite that variation, some commonalities exist in every model of discipleship. A few are revealed in three brief encounters Jesus had with a trio of would-be disciples. Luke describes it like this:

As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ But Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’ He said to another person, ‘Come, follow me.’ The man agreed, but said, ‘Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.’ But Jesus told him, ‘Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach the Kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.’ But Jesus told him, ‘Anyone who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:57-62, NLT).

We learn several important insights about discipleship in these encounters. First, it requires sacrifice. We must put to death our own agenda and replace it with God’s. This is an unpopular view with many Christians because it inconveniences us and disrupts the lifestyle we want to live. We would prefer Jesus simply adopt our agenda as His and pepper His blessing on our plans.

But Jesus leaves no room for ambiguity as to what He expects of those who want eternal life. We are to lay our lives down for Him just as He laid down His life for us. As He told His disciples, “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, NKJV).

The linkage between discipleship and denying ourselves could not be clearer. We must die (to self) before we can live (for Him). Sadly, this is one of the most ignored truths in many churches today. It is also one of the most resisted truths by those who profess Jesus as Lord, because our sin nature refuses to abdicate its place on the throne of our heart. It readily allows us to proclaim with our mouths that Jesus is Lord as long as that proclamation does not translate into our abdicating full control of our plans, decisions, and lives to Him. But once our faith in Jesus begins to inconvenience, discomfort, or disrupt our lives, our flesh (sin-nature) adopts a posture of virulent resistance, knowing its very survival is at stake. It will inform us how unreasonable, extreme, and ridiculous it is to follow Jesus when such obedience infringes on our desires and dreams.

That’s why Jesus’ encounter with the three would-be disciples is so instructive. It demonstrates in no uncertain terms that following Jesus often requires we live in a manner that flies in the face of social convention. Society places expectations on people, as does the church, and too often we allow those standards to dictate the degree to which we follow and obey Jesus. But in the passage above Jesus makes clear that obeying Him sometimes require we ignore the demands of society (and even the church). When facing such situations we must remain faithful to God and not the voices around us.

Additionally, there will be instances when family and friends make demands of us that seem sensible but contravene the timing, decision, or action God has communicated to us. In Luke’s passage above the third would-be disciple wanted to say goodbye to his family before following Christ. Jesus’ response seems severe. We wonder, ‘why can’t the young man take a day or two to bid his family farewell before embarking on his journey with Christ?’ It makes no sense, we tell ourselves. Surely Jesus does not intend for us to make similar choices in our lives. Surely faith does not require such irrational acts of obedience.

And yet, it does. Jesus interaction with each of the three potential disciples makes clear that the call of Christ supplants the desires of the flesh, however reasonable. Discipleship requires we prioritize obedience to Jesus above the seemingly sensible requests of friends and family. Though the path Christ calls us to pursue will vary by individual, each path will involve an element of sacrifice and denial of self. When the Lord leads us down one fraught with difficulty and inconvenience, we must resist the temptation to yield to moderation, social convention, worldly logic, and the demands of loves ones. It is the least we can do for the Savior who sacrificed so much for us.

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.