Tag Archives: Heaven

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.

Advertisements

A Most Misinterpreted Bible Passage.

Throughout His ministry Jesus often used metaphors and parables to convey eternal truths. This was especially true when discussing topics His disciples would not fully understand until after His death (e.g. His reference to raising the Temple three days after it was destroyed). More often than not, though, He spoke in plain terms, particularly when sharing a truth His listeners might easily misinterpret.

One Bible passage, however, consistently confuses most Christians despite Jesus’ clear and unambiguous language. Even church leaders often fail to grasp the simple idea communicated and instead teach an interpretation that, at best, weakens Jesus’ message and, at worst, undermines it altogether. It is the passage immediately following Jesus’ dialogue with a rich young ruler about eternal life.

In that discourse Jesus directs the young man to the law in his quest for eternity and reminds him of six commands in particular. The young man assures Jesus he has kept the commandments, at which point Jesus tells him to go, sell his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Him. Upon hearing this, Scripture tells us, the man “went away grieved, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22, NKJV). His response to Jesus revealed that his love for the world exceeded his love for God.

As the man walks away, Jesus turns to His disciples and says something remarkable: “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23, NKJV). It is such a surprising statement that Scripture says, “The disciples were astonished at His words.”

I suspect many of us are astonished by His words as well and share the disciples’ view that Jesus can’t possibly mean what He said. We tell ourselves that His plain words must have a subtler, more nuanced meaning than what appears on the surface. Sensing the disciples’ incredulity (and ours), Jesus reiterates His point.

Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:24b-25, NKJV).

It is these verses (and the corresponding passages in Luke 18 and Matthew 19) that many misinterpret and which often lead to an unbiblical perspective on wealth and worldly possessions. The trouble begins when we go to great lengths to explain why Jesus’ plain words are not what they appear. Instead of focusing on what He is saying and gleaning insights from those words, we concentrate on what He is not saying:

1] Jesus is not saying it’s wrong to be rich.

2] Jesus is not telling us to sell our possessions to follow Him.

3] Jesus is not issuing a specific warning to the rich.

The problem with directing our attention to what is not being said is that it tends to undermine what Jesus did say. We turn Jesus’ powerful warning about the dangers of accumulating wealth and possessions into a toothless remark with plenty of caveats. We need not examine our lives through the lens of Jesus’ admonition because He does not mean what He says.

Even worse, many pastors adopt a similar approach when preaching from this text. But by ignoring Jesus’ penetrating counsel to the rich young ruler and instead preaching on what Jesus did not say, pastors proclaim their congregations free from the sin that plagued the young man. Parishioners need not examine their hearts for the presence of an idolatrous relationship with riches or the practice of poor stewardship. By focusing on what was not said, preachers reinforce the misperception many Christians have that the pursuit of wealth and accumulation of possessions align nicely with the call of Christ.

Another common misinterpretation insists that Jesus’ advice is not directed at the wealthy, per se, but instead represents a broader commentary for everyone. This view suggests that Jesus’ was articulating three big ideas:

1] Don’t allow anything in this world to become your god.

2] Don’t place your trust in material riches.

3] Nothing is impossible for God.

While all three of these points are biblically sound, they miss the most crucial point: that it is difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. In fact, that point is so critical Jesus mentioned it twice. He knew people would assume they had misheard Him or that He had misspoken. So to remove any ambiguity, He repeated Himself. And then, to prevent any misunderstanding of what ‘difficult’ means, He equated a rich man entering heaven with a camel walking through the eye of a needle.

Jesus directs His message squarely at those who possess the things of this world and almost certainly targets most of us living in this country. The difficulty lies not in the path required of the wealthy (for salvation is a gift of God, not of works) but rather in the fact that this world so easily distracts us from worshipping, loving, and serving God. And when we are entrenched in the things of this world they quickly supplant Jesus as the object of our worship, love, and service. Of course, even the poor can make material things a god and they, too, must exercise caution to avoid committing spiritual idolatry, but the danger is especially acute for those with financial means.

I wonder how many of us unknowingly mirror the rich young ruler. Like him, how many of us are confident in our eternal destination? He assumed (wrongly) that he had kept the law and therefore would spend eternity with God. How many of us (wrongly?) assume we have genuinely embraced Jesus as Lord and committed our lives to Him? How many of us, like the rich young ruler, have deceived ourselves so thoroughly that we are completely unaware of our spiritual blind spots?

In contrast with his spiritual self-assessment, the rich young ruler was far removed from God. Instead of being a spiritual giant, he was spiritually dead. His condition evidenced by his violation of the most important commandment, the one that forms a foundation for all others: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, NKJV).

With one challenge Jesus revealed the dramatic disconnect between the rich young ruler’s perception of his spiritual condition and reality. With one challenge Jesus exposed the truth that he didn’t love the Lord at all despite his assertion to the contrary. With one challenge Jesus showed that someone could embrace a false god and not know it. I wonder how many of us would walk away and refuse to give our possessions to the poor if Christ presented us with the same challenge?

While it is true that all things are possible with God, that we ought not place our trust in riches, and we should never idolize anything in this world, none of those represent the underlying truth Jesus was communicating. This passage is first and foremost a warning about how wealth, possessions, and the lures of this world can quickly and easily corrupt our hearts and replace Jesus as Lord of our lives.

It is a message particularly pertinent for our nation, both within and without the church. It is a message courageous pastors must deliver to their congregations without diluting Jesus’ clear and unambiguous message. It is a message we must ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us. And it is a message that, when embraced, will produce an outpouring of repentance, a reexamination of resource allocation, a significant shift in stewardship, and a revitalized relationship with God.

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?

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.

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.