Tag Archives: Faith

Jesus’ Message to the American Church.

It is tempting, when considering the state of American Christianity, to assume that all is well, on both a corporate and individual level. Certainly the American Church displays a number of strengths inside its walls, within the local community, and in the political arena, as do the vast majority of churchgoers. So perhaps it’s no surprise the overwhelming view among Christians is that American Christianity offers a robust and faithful portrayal of Jesus’ teachings.

The reality, however, is much less sanguine. In fact, the American Church is in a far more perilous position than we imagine; a state of spiritual slumber so severe it undermines our relationship with Jesus and jeopardizes our eternal destination. So deep is this spiritual sleep that Christian leaders and churchgoers alike are almost entirely unaware of our condition. We mistakenly believe the Church is on the verge of revival. In fact, it is barely alive.

However, the Lord is steadfast in His desire to awaken the Church from its comatose condition. He wants us to open our hearts to His words and reject any teaching that contradicts them. He calls us to cast aside the veil of deceit that blinds us and reject the apostasy that so easily ensnares us.

Fortunately, we needn’t look far to discover Christ’s words for the American Church. The Bible captures them in clear and unmistakable language. Though His words are difficult to digest, we must accept and apply them in our lives if we truly believe and trust Him.

We must resist the temptation to dismiss His words as nonsense or inapplicable to our individual lives. Such resistance reveals their relevance more than ever, and exposes our religious hypocrisy. In fact, those most in need of hearing these truths are likely the same folks who reject them quickest and most fervently. Similarly, those closest to the Lord and in least need of hearing His words are likely the same people who’ll experience the greatest conviction and respond the most urgently.

Jesus’ message of sacrifice, selflessness, and surrender is as unpopular with the Church today as it was with His audiences two thousand years ago. No doubt many find it as unsettling as they do unpalatable. Certainly it is not for the faint of heart, which is why Christ warns potential followers to ‘count the cost’ before expressing faith in Him. For if the American Church is to experience real revival, we must meditate on and accept the Lord’s message – and transform our lives accordingly.

Here, then, is the message of Jesus Christ to the American Church. (Note: all verses are from the New King James version).

1] “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4). Jesus is referring to Himself, of course. We have abandoned Him who we once claimed to love with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. While we may have committed and surrendered our lives to Him at one time, our lives no longer reflect that faithfulness. We profess our love for Him but our lives reveal that other passions and priorities have supplanted our devotion to Him. The treasures and lures of this world gained a foothold in our lives and captured our hearts in the process. By any reasonable metric – how we spend our time, how we invest our income, how we allocate our resources, the plans we pursue – Jesus is not our first love. And for many of us, a love for Christ no longer remains at all. It is that diminished (or non-existent) love for Christ that, more than anything, explains our current spiritual state. Absent a repentant return to Him, the Church will never undergo revival and awaken from its spiritual slumber.

2] “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1b). Jesus spoke these words to the church at Sardis, which had a reputation for spiritual vitality. Underneath its religious veneer, however, was an unfruitful and unfaithful church. Much of the American Church struggles with the same dichotomy. We have cultivated a reputation of righteousness, love, and devotion to Jesus. We are very religious and greatly esteemed within church circles. But we have never crucified the flesh or surrendered ourselves fully to Christ. Our shallow commitment to Him rarely extends beyond our comfort, convenience, and personal agendas. We regularly refuse to follow Christ when it disrupts our lifestyle, forces us to deny ourselves, or makes demands we believe unreasonable. Such a casual, half-hearted faith is no faith at all. It is dead.

3] “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 spew 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” (Revelation 3:15-17). When a church loses its first love (Jesus) and focuses more on its outward appearance than on the condition of the heart, it becomes lukewarm. Add immense wealth and a self-sufficient spirit, and you create a church that fails to further the gospel and advance the agenda of Christ. The American Church shares these attributes that Jesus used to describe the church at Laodicea. Our enormous prosperity and pride (masquerading as self-confidence) have concealed our current spiritual condition: lukewarm churchgoers who lack the fundamentals of faith. Unless we repent quickly we will suffer the same fate as the Laodicean Church.

4] “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). Jesus’ warning couldn’t be clearer. But it falls on deaf ears in America, where covetousness consumes the Church. No amount of protest, however adamant, erases that truth. Evidence of our greed and materialism can be found in our homes, garages, closets, and basements. Despite Jesus’ admonition, we pursue and possess an abundance of things that momentarily fulfill our ravenous craving for earthly treasure – revealing a spirit of rebellion, defiance, and selfishness. It also demonstrates a distorted view of biblical stewardship and ignores Jesus’ example of sacrificial love. In short, our unbridled materialism indicates a lack of love for Christ and utter disregard for His teaching.

5] “And the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). Jesus identifies two primary dangers of accumulating worldly treasure. First, like the cares of this world, riches prevent the Word of God from taking root in our hearts, distracting us from Jesus. Consequently, we become spiritually unfruitful and our faith flounders. Second, covetousness deceives us, leading us to adopt biblically unsound doctrine, such as the compatibility of the American Dream with the call of Christ. Those two worldviews are diametrically opposed to each other and cannot co-exist. Yet somehow the Church has reconciled them into a single hybrid quasi-religion that resonates with worldly-minded churchgoers but bares little resemblance to Jesus’ teachings. Until we dismantle this doctrinal abomination and cast it out of the Church, American Christianity will not experience a reawakening.

6] “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). We cannot simultaneously love the world and Jesus. We cannot pursue both worldly treasure and Jesus’ agenda. We cannot chase ‘the good life’ and faithfully follow Christ. Jesus leaves no room for ambiguity. And yet the American Church believes and teaches that loving the world and all it offers (leisure, luxury, comfort, entertainment, pleasure) does not compromise our ability to fulfill the call of Christ and live as His disciples. Jesus warns us that view is heresy. Those who practice it prove their allegiance to the world and confirm their infidelity to Christ.

7] “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33). Jesus provides the antidote to materialism, covetousness, selfishness, and self-sufficiency. Forsake all. Surrender our lives fully to Him. That represents a fundamental requirement of following Him. It is not optional. And yet how often does the American Church teach that unvarnished truth? Rarely. Instead the Church suggests that Jesus’ statement is not compulsory; that Christians need only be ‘willing’ to forsake all without having to actually forsake anything. That message is as astonishing as it is dishonest, and sends millions of churchgoers down a path that leads to darkness. This must stop. We must quit sanitizing and distorting Jesus’ difficult statements and instead start incorporating them into our sermons more often. Only then will the Church fulfill its duty to Christ and the lost.

8] “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. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26). Jesus gave His life so we could enjoy eternity with Him. In return, He expects us to give our lives in service to Him. To do so, we must learn to deny ourselves, set aside our selfish interests, and count as loss anything that prevents us from fulfilling God’s will. Unfortunately, many in the church believe this passage reeks of legalism and somehow replaces God’s grace with ‘good deeds’ as the source of salvation. Consequently, they either explain away Jesus’ words or ignore them altogether. We must stop invoking legalism as an argument against Jesus’ teaching on discipleship, obedience, and sacrificial living. Yes, salvation comes by faith alone, through God’s grace. But authentic faith crucifies the flesh, yielding a surrendered life, a sacrificial spirit, and a submissive heart to the Lord who saves us. We must teach that truth and quit misrepresenting Jesus’ demands on our lives as believers.

9] “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall 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). This scenario ought to gravely concern all who reject or disregard those difficult teachings of Jesus with which they disagree. He states unequivocally that entering heaven requires an individual to have a personal relationship with Him and to do God’s will. It is not enough to call Jesus ‘Lord.’ It is not enough to be religious or commit good deeds with selfish motivations. Examine your life. Has faith transformed your life so dramatically you no longer blend in with society? Or have you conformed to the world, leaving little difference between you and your secular neighbors, friends, and colleagues (except, perhaps, for an hour on Sunday)?

10] “These people draw near to Me with their mouths, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me, and in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9). The Old Testament is replete with anecdotes of people who verbalize their commitment and devotion to God but who fail to surrender their hearts to Him. Similarly, many in the Church today sound religious, use Christian language, and worship God every Sunday. But they retain ownership over their lives and refuse to submit to Jesus’ lordship in any meaningful way. Christ states such faith is fraudulent and useless. It is exercised in vain.

11] “Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28). Jesus reiterates the importance of aligning our hearts with God’s will. Having a veneer of righteousness or earning the approval of church leaders is worthless. What matters is an ongoing, transformative relationship with Christ. That is the essence of Christianity, and the truest expression of faith.

12] “But why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). When we truly believe Jesus and trust Him as Lord we keep His commands and fulfill His will. This is not legalism or works-based salvation. It is basic, fundamental Christianity. Our obedience demonstrates our love for Him and reveals genuine faith.

13] “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in my vineyard.’ The son answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then the father came to the second and said likewise. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” (Matthew 21:28-30). Jesus has no interest in your words if they are not backed up with action. Professing our unwavering love for Him is meaningless if unaccompanied by an equally resolute pursuit of His will, regardless of the cost to ourselves. Asserting our faith in Christ is of no value if that faith does not manifest itself in radical sacrifice and extreme generosity. Verbalizing belief in Jesus means nothing if we do not passionately pursue His presence in prayer, silent meditation, and by studying the Scriptures. Jesus wants our words linked with substantive action. Otherwise we’re just offering lip service. And Jesus abhors lip service.

14] “Take heed that no one deceives you. [For] many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Matthew 24:4, 11). By and large the American Church preaches a sterilized gospel today. We have scrubbed away the rough edges, the difficult truths, and the demanding requirements of Christ and replaced them with a casual, comfortable message that emphasizes religious appearance over a contrite heart, and affirms our profession of faith regardless of any contradictory evidence no matter how overwhelming. The Church refuses to confront our zeal for leisure, comfort, and entertainment, which frequently reaches idolatrous levels, and our fervent pursuit of worldly pleasure and treasure, which often constitutes spiritual adultery. We have embraced a faith that yields all the benefits Jesus promised but few, if any, of the demanding obligations. We have been deceived by leaders, preachers, and teachers more focused on popularity, prosperity, and success than on the faithful preaching of the whole gospel. We would do well to diligently search the Scriptures and ensure our faith fully reflects the words and lifestyle of Jesus, not a distorted imitation of His gospel.

— Useless vs. Fruitful — Two Competing Faiths. Which One Is Yours?

Two millennia ago Jesus’ sacrificial death established faith as the determining factor in whether an individual spends eternal life in heaven. It is a seismic distinction from other religions, which place the burden on man to earn salvation through some combination of good works, obedience, and holy behavior. But with Christ’s ascension from the grave, belief in Him as Lord and Savior was suddenly wholly sufficient to avoid sin’s consequences (that is, eternal darkness and suffering in hell).

In the years that followed, however, most of Christendom reverted back to emphasizing works as an integral part of salvation. That unbiblical view survived for hundreds of years, taught by a church intent on using such heresy to acquire wealth and power. Thankfully, the Reformation arrived in the early 1500’s to counter this false teaching. In time, faith regained its proper place in Church doctrine as the defining element of salvation.

Unfortunately, in recent decades a different but equally dangerous doctrine has emerged inside the Church. This one sits at the opposite end of the theological continuum and teaches that anyone who verbalizes belief in Christ instantaneously secures his or her salvation, irrespective of how they live in the future. A profession of faith in Christ as Savior guarantees eternal life, regardless of whether any evidence exists to support the claim.

Scripture, however, clearly teaches that this version of Christianity is as heretical as ‘salvation by works.’ Its fatal flaw is its failure to recognize that not everyone who expresses a belief in Christ truly believes. Many who claim faith in Jesus continue to place their trust elsewhere. They simply deceive themselves.

The apostle Paul understood this. He notes that some inside the Church are “corrupt and unbelieving” and “such people claim they know God, but they deny Him by the way they live.” (Titus 1:16a, NLT). These people willingly, even enthusiastically, declare Jesus Lord and insist they knew Him personally. So how could anyone argue that such people possess a counterfeit faith?

Paul could, and did, on the basis of their lifestyles, which denied Christ. His insight is critically important to understanding the Christian faith. Those who possess genuine faith in Christ live lives modeled after His example. Their lives profess Him Lord as loudly as their words.

This truth may cause some to cringe. Doesn’t that suggest good works play a role in salvation, they wonder. Does that mean eternally life rests as much on effort as it does on faith, they ask.

The answer to both questions is an emphatic, ‘No!’

Paul explained the proper relationship between faith and works in his powerful letter to the church at Ephesus. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is a 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, emphasis mine).

As in his other epistles, Paul affirms the truth that salvation is by faith alone. We cannot earn God’s mercy and play no role in working our way into heaven.

That said, Paul immediately reminds his readers that God created us to advance His agenda and further His kingdom. We do this by practicing good works and committing ourselves to the lifestyle He prepared for us from the foundation of the world.

Our works and lifestyles have no impact on our salvation. They are not part of the equation. But they do represent essential evidence of our faith. Without them we have no assurance of our salvation. In fact, without good works we can be certain our faith is inauthentic.

James, one of Jesus’ brothers, provides an excellent exposition of the significance of good works in the life of a believer. He begins with a rhetorical question. “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?” (James 2:14, NLT). After providing a couple examples that highlight his point (failing to feed and clothe believers who are hungry and naked), he declares, “Faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” (James 2:17, emphasis mine).

James uses powerful language to communicate his point. He actually states that faith without works is both dead and useless. It is fraudulent and serves no purpose. The person who practices such faith possesses no faith at all. Genuine faith always produces good works.

He continues, “Now someone may argue, ‘some people have faith; others have good deeds.’ But I say, ‘How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” (James 2:18).

James dismantles the argument that faith and good works can operate independent of one another. He shows that good works reveal faith. In their absence faith does not exist.

This leads to a very important question. What constitutes good works? Specifically, what type of good works evidence genuine faith?

James gives us two insightful examples: Abraham and Rahab.

He tells us, “Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar. You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete… So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.” (James 2:21-22, 24).

Abraham exhibited good works by surrendering to God the one thing most important to him, his only son Isaac. Abraham loved him dearly. Nothing would cause him as much pain as boy’s death. And yet, this is what God required. And so Abraham obeyed. Though God eventually spared Isaac’s life at the last second, Abraham proved his faith by his act of sacrificial obedience.

And so it is with us. God expects us to live sacrificially for Him. At various times in our lives God will test our faith. He will require us to place on the altar something of great value to us. He will ask us to crucify it to faithfully carry out his will. Maybe He will ask us to leave a lucrative job; or move to an unfamiliar country; or sell our house and donate the proceeds to further His Kingdom; or give up a hobby entirely and invest the time in spreading the Gospel. Maybe He will ask us to do all of these.

Whatever the case, we can be sure the decision will require significant sacrifice. And it will be difficult to obey; impossible, in fact, without the Holy Spirit’s strength. Moreover, we can be sure His call to sacrifice will occur more than once. In fact, it will occur throughout our lives. Each instance will be an opportunity to grow in faith and demonstrate our trust in Christ.

In his second example, James tells us Rahab, “was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.” (James 2:25-26).

You may recall that Rahab was a prostitute who lived near Jericho. She housed the scouts Joshua had sent to investigate the land and hid them when the king’s guards came in search of them. On orders from the king, the guards demanded she bring the men outside. Instead, she informed the guards that the two men already had left the city and told them the route the scouts had taken. After the guards departed, Rahab sent the two men on their way in the opposite direction.

Rahab demonstrated good works by risking her life to do God’s will. Acting in faith, she protected the scouts and sent the guards on a wild goose chase. She not only jeopardized her life and freedom (the king likely would have imprisoned or executed her if he had learned the truth), she jeopardized the life and freedom of her family. Her faith compelled her to trust God – not the circumstances.

And so it is with us. God often calls us to put our faith into practice by setting aside our best interests, our freedom, and perhaps even our life. Once again, our faith matures as a result and we grow closer to Christ. Obeying God in such instances is never easy. Our flesh demands we look out for ourselves. Our friends will likely tell us we are fools to obey God when such an existential risk exists. At times like these, then, we must remind ourselves what James said. “Faith by itself is not enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.”

All of this may sound a little too extreme. Some of us might decide to follow the less radical version of Christianity. Unfortunately, a less extreme form of Christianity does not exist. While the specifics of how God calls us to live in obedience will differ from person to person, there are some commonalities.

  • God will test our faith.
  • He will do so by calling us to take action that substantively demonstrates our trust in Him.
  • He will ask us to surrender those things most important and dear to us.
  • He will send us on assignments that jeopardize our safety, reputation, and/or freedom.
  • He will give us tasks that, to some degree, disrupt our comfortable and organized lives.

As you live this vibrant expression of faith under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, you will draw closer to the Lord and more clearly understand His plans for you.

What an exciting way to spend the rest of your life!!

Follow God – not fear.

How many of us allow fear to influence our understanding of God’s will and dictate the extent to which we serve and obey Him? When the Holy Spirit prompts us in a direction we don’t want to go how many of us use a rational response to explain our disobedience?

  • I can’t move to that neighborhood, Lord. It’s too dangerous and I don’t want to put my family’s safety at risk.
  • I can’t go on a mission trip there, Lord. It’s too hostile to Christianity. They might put me in jail if they learn I’m a believer.
  • I can’t leave my job to work at a non-profit, Lord. The reduction in salary would force me to work another ten years before I retire.
  • I can’t tell people at work about my faith, Lord. That’ll jeopardize my career and sabotage my next promotion.
  • I can’t give generously to the church, Lord. That’ll undermine my 401k and diminish my quality of life in retirement.

Whenever we use logic and commonsense to refute God’s call and justify our disobedience we demonstrate a lack of trust. Such actions reveal doubt and a failure to exhibit the courage of our convictions. We may want to follow God down whatever path He lays out but fear paralyzes us.

To overcome that paralysis we need a reminder that God’s omnipotence does not require favorable circumstances to emerge victorious. He can accomplish anything through anyone. In fact, He is far more likely to use the weak and unqualified to achieve the remarkable and miraculous, then He is to use the powerful and competent to accomplish the ordinary.

We must remember that God often assigns endeavors that appear impossible, sends us on journeys that look perilous, and instructs us to pursue objectives that seem overwhelming. And He does so for several reasons. First, it forces us to rely entirely on Him. It is only in the crucible of total helplessness that our trust in God truly flourishes. After all, if we can accomplish God’s will on our own strength than we learn only self-reliance not God-reliance.

Second, it refines and matures our relationship with Christ. In situations where our focus must remain on God constantly, our understanding of Him and His character develops and deepens. We come to know Him more intimately, and we become more like Him in every detail.

Finally, it prepares us for a new mission. As we respond obediently to God’s direction today, He equips and prepares us for our next assignment tomorrow. In time our baby-steps of faith grow into giant leaps of faith.

Take some time today to ask God for an assignment that strengthens your faith, fuels your trust, and draws you closer to Him. And make that a prayer habit moving forward.

God’s Ways vs. Our Ways.

As Jesus’ ministry neared its end Scripture tells us “He began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again on the third day” (Matthew 16:21, NKJV).

It is a shocking revelation to those who have followed Him since the beginning of His ministry. They expect Jesus to establish His kingdom on earth soon, not die and disappear into the clouds. His pronouncement is inconsistent with everything they believe about Him. In fact, Peter had just identified Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Surely a glorious and powerful empire is more appropriate for God’s Son than a brutal and horrifying death – honor and authority more fitting than indignity and weakness.

Peter is certain Jesus is disoriented; that He has experienced a moment of confusion, and has misspoken. He decides to set Him straight and remind Him that His destiny lies in greatness not brokenness, in splendor not infamy. So Peter pulls him aside. Steeped in confidence from Jesus’ recent praise, Peter rebukes the Lord saying, “Far be it from you, Lord; this will never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22 NKJV).

Imagine Peter’s surprise when Jesus chastises him. “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23, NKJV). The reprimand catches the attention of the disciples. For the first time they understand that God’s plan for Jesus is remarkably different than their expectations. He is going to die an ignoble death, not lead a revolution.

Perhaps even more unsettling is what it means for them. They must wrestle with the reality that God’s plan for them is also remarkably different than their expectations. Jesus will not install them as leaders of His kingdom in the immediate future. Instead their commitment to Him will have perilous consequences.

To their credit they do not abandon the Lord at that moment, though they understand that Jesus’ life and death serve as a model for them, and now realize they too must surrender their lives to God – and that doing so changes everything.

I wonder how many of us are like Peter? We are certain our ambitions represent God’s will. And if the Lord disagrees then we need only correct Him. How many of us, like Peter, are mindful of the things of men but not of God; are mindful of the things of this world but not of the world to come?

As you contemplate God’s plan for your life and the possibility that it may diverge dramatically from your own plans, consider this verse from Isaiah. “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8, NIV).

How do you adopt the Lord’s thoughts as you own? By studying His word and watching how Christ interacted with those around Him. Notice who he invests His life in and how He serves them. Listen to what He teaches and the priorities He exemplifies. As you read Scripture ask God to reveal His ways to you through the lifestyle model Jesus provides. It is only as we become more like Christ that our thoughts and ways mirror God’s.

What it Means to Believe

One of Christianity’s foundational doctrines asserts that a belief in Jesus is necessary for eternal life. Which raises a crucial question: what does it mean to believe? Many of us think it’s nothing more than cognitive acquiescence – if we say we believe, then we believe. We are convinced that on Judgment Day God will simply ask whether we believe in His Son, and if we respond affirmatively then we are whisked away to enjoy eternity in heaven.

Imagine that approach playing out at your local courthouse. The bailiff brings a defendant before the judge and reads the charges. The judge asks the defendant how he pleads and whether he committed the crime. If the defendant replies ‘not guilty’ and affirms his innocence then the judge sets him free. No trial takes place. No evidence is presented. The judge requires no corroborating proof to support the defendant’s claim of innocence.

We scoff at the absurdity of such a scenario and express relief that courts issue verdicts only after a rigorous examination of the evidence rather than simply trusting the defendant’s plea. And so it is with God. He doesn’t ask if we believe and then ignore any evidence to the contrary. Instead, he examines our lives in great detail – every thought, word, and deed. Not to determine whether we are worthy and have earned a place in heaven. None of us are worthy and heaven cannot be earned.

But our thoughts, words, and actions do evidence what we really believe. Authentic belief transforms our hearts and our souls. That’s why the apostle Paul encourages us to, ‘Examine ourselves as to whether we are in the faith,” and to “Prove ourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). He tells us that unless evidence supports our claim of belief then we have become disqualified – Christ does not abide in us.

James addresses this issue with the early church declaring, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble” (James 2:19, NKJV). The demons not only believe in God but tremble in fear of Him. But none of them will spend eternity in heaven. James is not suggesting that belief in Christ is insufficient. We know that by faith alone we are saved.

What James asserts is this: “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17, NKJV). Godly works, thoughts, and words always accompany genuine faith. In their absence a fraudulent faith exists – one that cannot withstand God’s scrutiny. James summarizes that view with this rhetorical question, “If someone says he has faith but does not have works, can that kind of faith save him?” (2:14). The obvious answer, of course, is no.

Take time this week to examine your life. Does a growing body of evidence support your claim that you believe? Is your life increasingly marked by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? If not, ask God for authentic faith that transforms your heart and every facet of your life.

Too Busy for God.

I wonder how many of us fail to follow God’s plan for our lives because we convince ourselves that in the absence of egregious sin, any morally neutral activity or ambition enjoys God’s approval. As long as our pursuits don’t violate explicit biblical commands we assume God allows us enough latitude to do what we want. This thinking drives many of us to spend our days enjoying hobbies and chasing pleasures that do not directly contravene God’s Word.

However, avoiding obvious disobedience does not necessarily indicate actual obedience. Often the reasonable and adequate diverge as much from God’s plan as the scandalous and perverse. The Parable of the Great Supper illuminates this truth. In it those invited to enjoy the great supper (a metaphor for heaven) decline to attend.

One guest explains, “I have bought a piece of ground and must go and see it.” Another says, “I have bought five oxen and am going to test them.” A third excuses himself with good news. “I have married a wife and therefore cannot come.”

Most of us would agree that these explanations are reasonable. There is nothing morally defective about surveying your investments or validating the value of a purchase. And wanting to spend time with your new bride seems rather admirable. Yet on hearing their excuses the host proclaims that none of those invited would enjoy the feast. Why? Because they prioritized reasonable and admirable activities over something of greater importance: fellowship with the host.

So it is with us. When we allow good and practical pursuits to consume us then they become distractions from our primary purpose in life: developing a vibrant relationship with Christ. A lifetime neglecting that purpose (or just giving it lip service) jeopardizes our seat at the table of the marriage supper of the Lamb. We simply won’t recognize Christ when He returns. Worse, He won’t recognize us.

That theme emerges again when Jesus chastises a pair of potential disciples for delaying their obedience to His call, despite legitimate motives: one wants to bury his deceased father and the other wants to say goodbye to his family. No rational person would consider those explanations unreasonable. Yet Christ does. Not because those things are bad or inappropriate, but because they preempted faithfulness to Christ’s call. The men prioritized family commitments above immediate obedience to the Lord.

Take time this week to read these passages from the ninth and fourteenth chapters of Luke. Ask God to reveal their application in your life and reveal what good or practical pursuit you’ve allowed to displace your relationship with Christ, and what reasonable activity or ambition has distracted you from immediate obedience to the Lord. Then take steps to put those disruptive undertakings in their proper place.

Considering Christ? Count the Cost First.

One of the great tragedies of modern Christianity is our failure to explain to the spiritually lost what coming to Christ entails. Perhaps spurred by an eagerness to see our friends and loved ones join the family of faith we often neglect to share Jesus’ expectations for those who choose to embrace him as Savior. Instead we tend to emphasize the benefits of calling Christ Lord and ignore the considerable cost of doing so.

That silence, however, does a great disservice to those considering Christ. Not only does it appeal to a potential believer’s self-interest – the ultimate foundation of sand that will eventually collapse – it contradicts Jesus’ specific teaching. He told a large crowd that followed him, “If you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost” (Luke 14:27-28a, NLT).

That must have seemed an odd instruction to those in the crowd (even as it does to us). So Jesus explained his rationale by comparing the journey of faith to a contractor who calculates the full cost of building a structure before he begins construction. “Otherwise,” Jesus says, “he might complete only the foundation before running out of money.”

His point? Those who fail to understand the cost of coming to Christ risk abandoning their faith when persecution arises or God tests them. And they’re much less likely to persevere when circumstances grow difficult. So while countless benefits accrue to those who surrender their lives to Christ, that path involves many challenges as well. Jesus even told his disciples, “difficult is the path that leads to life and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14).

Few find it because it is not the well-trod path. It is the difficult path because committing ourselves to Christ costs everything. That may surprise those who have bought into the disastrous and deadly lie that Christ makes no demands of his disciples. But Jesus paints a very different reality to that crowd of potential followers, as He tells them, “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33, NLT). To avoid any confusion Jesus’ states his expectation in remarkably clear and unambiguous language.

Some readers will bristle at that verse. They will insist that Jesus does not require His disciples to forsake anything, let alone everything. They will perform all manner of linguistic gymnastics to explain away Jesus’ plain meaning. Such people refuse to count the cost. They count only the blessings; and in the process pursue the broad path of destruction rather than the narrow path of eternal life.

I encourage those considering Christ to count the cost first. Not to discourage you from embracing Jesus as Lord but so you enter into that relationship with your eyes wide open. He does indeed offer a multitude of promises and blessings to those who surrender their lives to Him, both in this world and in the one to come. But that commitment sends you down a difficult path and imposes a steep cost. If it didn’t, Jesus would not have said as much – and He would not have advised us to count the cost.