Tag Archives: Jesus

Do You Love God? Examine the Evidence.

At its foundation the Bible is, essentially, a love story. From Genesis to Revelation we learn of God’s deep love for humanity and desire for sinful mankind to be reconciled with Him. Embedded in every passage, every anecdote, every historical account is the message of God’s love.

And while secondary themes exist, they always reinforce the overarching idea that God loves people. The apostle John articulated this simple truth with three simple words: “God is love.” (1 John 4:8, 16; NKJV).

Fortunately, His love is not something we must earn. The apostle Paul tells us “God demonstrated His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NKJV). God does not condition His love on our becoming good people first. Instead, He extends His love to us while we are slaves to sin.

Experiencing that love only requires we place our trust in Jesus Christ and surrender our lives to Him. That simple yet comprehensive act of faith yields eternal life with God. But it also produces the responsibility to follow God’s example of love.

When asked to identify the most important commandment in all of Scripture, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31, NKJV).

Jesus’ response should not surprise us. God expects us to love Him and those around us even as He loves us and every other person in the world. And we are to imitate God and Jesus in our expression of love.

What does that mean in substantive terms? Well first of all, we must understand that God’s love is demonstrated in action not verbalized in words. God doesn’t tell us about His love, He reveals it to us on a daily basis. Likewise, we demonstrate our love for God and others by our behavior and deeds, each and every day.

Second, Jesus takes great care to explain one critical piece of evidence exhibited in the lives of those who love Him:

If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15, NKJV).

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me” (John 14:21a, NKJV).

If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (John 14:23a, NKJV).

Jesus’ words are unmistakable. If you love Him you will obey His commandments. Not just those that are easy to follow, or those that do not disrupt your lifestyle, or those with which you agree. You will follow ALL his commands.

If that sounds like a herculean task, well it is. In fact, it’s impossible. But under the leadership of the Holy Spirit we can begin to live a life of increased obedience. And while we will never live perfect lives on this side of heaven, God does expect us to cultivate a lifestyle of holiness and more closely resemble Jesus as our faith matures.

However, our obedience does more than just evidence our love for God; it reveals genuine faith. The apostle John emphasizes this correlation in his first epistle. “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4, NKJV). To eliminate any confusion or misunderstanding, John reiterates this point to his audience. “He who keeps God’s commandments abides in Him, and God in him” (1 John 3:24a, NKJV).

John connects obedience with knowing God in a real and meaningful way. Remember that at its core the Christian faith involves an intimate and personal relationship between believer and Jesus Christ. He abides in us as we abide in Him. So in that sense it is unlike any religion in the world – because it is no religion at all. It is a relationship.

John, then, is not suggesting that obedience precedes salvation. Rather, he is saying that faith produces obedience; that the call of Christ demands the passionate pursuit of holiness from would-be followers.

The above verses clearly establish a linkage between our love for and faith in Jesus with our obedience to God and Christ. An absence of obedience exposes an absence of faith and love.

Now, one might wonder, ‘What commands must I obey?’ And the simple answer is, ‘All of them.’ Every commandment captured in Scripture, from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament.

If that doesn’t sound daunting enough, consider this statement from John. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3, NKJV). In other words, we are not just to obey God’s commands, we are to do so joyfully and with gratitude, not begrudgingly or with resentment.

Many readers will protest at this point and claim that all this sounds a little too legalistic. They will insist that God’s love does not require obedience nor is our salvation preconditioned on it. And they’re correct. That’s true.

But these verses aren’t about God’s love for us, which exists regardless of whether we obey Him. They are about our love for Him and our faith in Christ. And if those are real, we will desire to obey God’s commands and thirst for His will, even when His commands and plans require we relinquish control of our lives and put to death our self-interests.

All of which would be difficult enough if God’s commands were few and easy. But they’re not. They are abundant in number and often quite demanding. Consider those below, for example.

1) “Study the [Bible] continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything in it” (Joshua 1:8, NLT).

2) “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV).

3) “What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, NKJV).

4) “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33a, NKJV).

5) “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39b, NKJV).

6) “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28, 19-20a, NKJV).

7) “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant” (Mark 10:43, NKJV).

8) “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24, NKJV).

9) “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciples” (Luke 14:33, NKJV).

10) “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2, NKJV).

11) “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5a, NKJV).

12) “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16, NKJV).

13) “Seek those things which are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3, NKJV).

14) “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17, NKJV).

15) “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11, NKJV).

16) “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2, NKJV).

17) “Encourage one another daily, while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13, NKJV).

18) “Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8, NKJV).

19) “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15, NKJV).

20) “Keep yourself in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 1:21, NKJV).

Only when we love God, pursue His presence regularly, and submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit can we hope to partially fulfill these commands. But for those in a genuine relationship with Christ, that hope can transform into reality over time.

And as we obey God’s commands we begin to reflect Him more clearly in our lives and in our treatment of others. And we begin to understand what John means when he says, “By this we know love, because Jesus laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16, NKJV).

We realize that Christ sacrificed His life for us, as an expression of love. And He calls us to do surrender our lives to Him as an expression of love. And when we do, we experience Him and His love in a far more meaningful and powerful way than we ever imagined.

Jesus Offers Eternal Life – Not Condemnation.

Ask ten Americans to describe Jesus and you’re likely to get ten different answers. Teacher. Healer. Prophet. Good. Wise. Redeemer. The list goes on. Some have a favorable view of Him, others not so much. Some hold an accurate depiction, others a flawed one. And that’s unfortunate because an erroneous understanding of Christ represents one of the biggest barriers to people placing their hope and trust in Him.

One common misunderstanding about Jesus is particularly treacherous: the belief that He came into the world to condemn mankind. This distorted view paints Jesus as a stern authoritarian who scrutinizes the world for sinners and castigates them for the slightest misstep or infraction. He gleefully administers judgment against those who fail to meet God’s standards and secretly roots against them. It is an austere and inaccurate portrait of Jesus. Fortunately, none of it is true.

Scripture tells us this: “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17, NKJV). Jesus didn’t come to condemn mankind; He came to provide salvation. That’s glorious news, but it gets better. The eternal life Christ offers is available to every person and only requires belief. It cannot be earned.

That truth confounds the world. How can a holy God allow people into heaven without working for it? The staggering simplicity of grace seems too easy, too risky, and too good to be true. But God’s word does not equivocate. John 3:15 says, “Everyone who believes in Jesus will have eternal life.” Perhaps anticipating the world’s skepticism the next verse reiterates the point. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”

That’s not to say that a steep price isn’t paid for salvation. It is. But Jesus paid that price on the cross. He offered His perfect life as a sacrifice for sin. All sin. Yours, and mine. Peter’s first epistle tells us that Jesus bore our sins in His body while on the cross and that by His wounds we are healed. His physical death gives spiritual life to all who believe.

Are you working feverishly to earn God’s favor, hoping to merit a place in heaven? Do you feel trapped in a religion that demands you work your way into paradise? Have your efforts to find God left you unfulfilled and racked with despair?

Then stop relying on yourself. No amount of good deeds will secure you a place in heaven. God’s grace, through faith in Christ, is the only path to salvation. For there is no other name under heaven, by which we are saved, than the name of Jesus.

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.

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.

Orthodox Mouths – Fallow Hearts.

Surveys generally estimate that the number of Christians in America exceeds half the population, and more than a third of those self-identify as born-again believers. Numerically, that translates into tens of millions of believers across the nation.

Attend any of our churches on any given Sunday and you will likely discover a congregation proficient at articulating biblically sound doctrine on the topic of salvation. We rightfully affirm that we are saved by faith alone and not of works. We emphasize the importance of having a personal relationship with Christ and proudly proclaim Him Lord and Savior. We have invited Jesus into our lives and insist we love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Yet for an alarming number of us a surprising lack of evidence exists to support our claims. A careful examination of our lives exposes an unsettling disconnect between professed faith and practiced faith. Too many of us expound on matters of faith using sound doctrine while our lives mirror the world’s more than Christ’s. We have orthodox lips but fallow hearts, and honor God with our words while chasing selfish pursuits. Jesus criticized this form of Christianity as inauthentic and lukewarm; the kind that leads down the path of destruction, not to eternal life.

This disturbing contradiction does more than undermine the church’s effectiveness. It risks leaving millions of churchgoers facing eternal darkness. Why? Because God could care less how orthodox our doctrine is if our lives remain rooted in the flesh. Jesus repeatedly warned against falling into the trap of the Pharisees, who drew near to God with their mouths but whose hearts were far from Him. Their faith was a religious exercise that appeared vibrant and healthy on the outside but inside was full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Consequently, they worshiped God in vain.

If we genuinely love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and truly trust Christ as Savior and believe in our heart He is Lord, then a growing collection of evidence will corroborate those claims. Otherwise we are simply modern-day Pharisees, echoing churchy language and orthodox doctrine like it’s some magic mantra with the power to save.

Take time this week to examine your life and ask yourself a few questions.

1] Do I spend more time on entertainment and leisure than I do pursuing Christ?

2] Do I invest more of my income satisfying my desires than on furthering God’s agenda and advancing His will?

3] Has my heart undergone a total transformation so that my life looks increasingly like Christ’s or are the changes in my life largely superficial?

These are critical questions that deserve careful and thoughtful consideration. Ask God to reveal the truth and avoid answering the questions affirmatively to avoid the bigger issue: that an absence of compelling evidence may reveal an absence of authentic faith.

Sharing Christ in Face of Opposition.

A friend recently shared the story of a local college coach having a profound impact on campus by sharing the gospel with many of the students he encounters each day. On hearing this, another friend expressed surprise the school’s administration hadn’t prohibited the man from sharing his faith with others or manufactured an excuse to terminate him, since their hostility to Christianity was well established. I couldn’t help recall a sequence of events in Jesus’ ministry that demonstrated why leadership at this college had failed to prevent the spread of the gospel.

The apostle John tells us that after Christ healed a crippled man, “The Pharisees persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. Then Jesus answered them, ‘My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.’ Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:16-18, NKJV).

A short time later Jesus upbraids the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and declares Himself sent from God, infuriating the Pharisees so much “They sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him.” Despite their visceral hatred for Christ and desire to slaughter Him, the Pharisees do nothing, as if prevented by a hidden hand.

On another occasion these religious charlatans are enraged by the crowd’s reaction to Jesus who “believed in Him, and said, ‘When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?’” (John 7:30-31). Their response prompted immediate action from Jewish leaders. John explains. “When the Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these things concerning Christ, they and the chief priests sent officers to take Him” (verse 32). But nothing came of their effort. “The officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, and said to them, ‘Why have you not brought Him?’ The officers answered, ‘No man ever spoke like this Man’” (John 7:45-46).

After another encounter in which Jesus announced that “before Abraham was, I AM,” the Jews “took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by” (John 8:58b-59, NKJV).

A short time later Jewish leaders demand of Jesus, “If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” In response, He informs them, “I give My followers eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one” (John 10:28-29, NKJV).

That He claimed to offer eternal life was bad enough for the Pharisees and priests, but His assertion that He and God were one was outright blasphemy. John notes that the Jews sought to seize and stone Him but He managed to evade their evil intentions. (See John 8:22-39).

Time and again this pattern is repeated throughout His ministry. Jesus speaks the truth about Himself, the Pharisees take offense and try to harm or detain Him, and Christ escapes unscathed. How is this possible? How could the chief priests constantly fail in their efforts to eliminate Jesus and end His burgeoning ministry?

John offers this insight: “His hour had not yet come” (John 7:30). God had established a time for Jesus’ life to end and His earthly ministry to come to a close. Until that time arrived, nothing could prevent Him from fulfilling His purpose. No amount of scheming or intimidation could undermine His work. All efforts to arrest, incarcerate, or harm Him were destined to fail. Until, that is, His hour arrived. At that time the Jewish leaders would succeed in stopping His ministry and ending His life.

Have those antagonistic to the gospel ever threatened you harm? Ever encountered hostility when sharing Jesus’ good news with others? Do those in positions of power try to terrorize, bully, or shame you into silence about Christ’s love? Has vitriolic opposition to biblical truth paralyzed you from speaking boldly for Christ?

If so, take heart that such efforts will never come to fruition outside of God’s timing. God will prevent the wicked from undermining the fruitfulness of your obedience until your hour has come. Armed with that confidence, I encourage you to preach, proclaim, and share the truth and love of Christ with boldness and conviction.

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 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.

Are Evangelicals Modern-Day Pharisees?

Jesus’ teaching on love, mercy, and forgiveness has drawn people to Him for two millennia and enjoys universal appeal both within and without the Christian community. His message of hope, peace and joy has comforted those awash in despair, victimized by conflict, and burdened by suffering. But not everyone in Jesus’ day agreed with His revolutionary ideas. His most strident opponents, the Pharisees, were self-proclaimed guardians of religious law who pontificated right and wrong. They demanded the masses follow their directives or risk God’s wrath.

Not surprisingly, Jesus employed fiery rhetoric to excoriate these religious frauds and pulled no linguistic punches. He addressed the sin embedded in their lives and unveiled the hypocrisy of their faith. He exposed them as caretakers of a religious scam perpetrated on a public desperate to know God.

It is tempting for modern Christians and, especially, leaders in the evangelical community to ignore potential similarities between us and the Pharisees. Too often we refuse to consider the possibility that we practice faith in a way that mirrors how those religious imposters practiced theirs. We believe ourselves exempt from the lessons of Jesus’ scathing attacks on religious phonies because we view our faith through a self-righteous lens. Jesus’ insight on the subject applies to others but not us, we tell ourselves. Our faith is beyond reproach. Such dismissive treatment of Jesus’ words, however, proves how much we resemble the Pharisees. We disregard this likeness at our own peril.

While a thorough and detailed examination of this topic requires a treatise, this blog aims to identify several areas in which modern evangelicals often mirror First Century Pharisees. Please keep in mind the topic is addressed out of love for the church and concern for its spiritual health. I encourage readers to heed Paul’s words to “examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5, NKJV). The Pharisees were certain they possessed genuine faith but did not.

One of the defining attributes of the Pharisees’ faith was hypocrisy. They insisted others follow a rigid set of rules but refused to cleanse their hearts from wickedness. Jesus said they “outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28, NKJV). This inconsistency between outward appearance and inward holiness destroys ministries, corrodes faith, impedes the work of the church, and leads to spiritual darkness. God is far more concerned with the condition of our hearts than any verbal profession of faith we make. The Pharisees prayed long, eloquent prayers in public, could quote the Torah with ease, and possessed impeccable religious credentials. Yet Jesus quoted Isaiah in describing them as people who worshipped God in vain because their hearts were far from Him.

Jesus explained that the heart defines a person’s faith not what proceeds from his or her mouth. Hypocrites honor God with their lips alone while true believers honor Him with the heart as well. What flows from your heart? Do deceit, materialism, hate, jealousy, adultery, and gossip reside there and rule your thoughts? If so, ask the Lord to remove those desires and replace them with the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23).

The Pharisees also reveled in proclaiming judgment on others. John captures an excellent example of this in his gospel account. The Pharisees bring to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery. Her guilt is certain. Witnesses will testify of her sin. Mosaic Law required death, by stoning. They gleefully want her condemned. She is wicked, contemptible, and worthless they believe. Surely Jesus will agree. But He doesn’t. He tells them the one without sin should throw the first stone and the entire group disperses, aware of their sin. Jesus shows the woman mercy, reveals Himself to her and refuses to condemn her. That is the pattern for us as we interact with a fallen world, instead of rushing to judgment, pointing fingers of condemnation, and proclaiming “Sinner” to those practicing ungodly behavior.

That’s an important lesson for evangelicals and church leaders who insist on decrying the wickedness of Hollywood, public school curriculum, gays, abortion providers, and illegal aliens. Like the Pharisees, many are quick to proclaim the sin of people and want to remind them of God’s pending judgment for their conduct. In the process they forget about Jesus’ example. If we followed His model I suspect we would impact the nation more powerfully. We need to extend mercy, build relationships, and share Christ’s love with folks. Over time we earn the right to speak candidly about Scripture and what it says about specific topics and behaviors. Also, our voice carries far more weight when spoken as a caring friend than as a judgmental stranger. The Pharisees adopted the approach of the judgmental stranger and secured Jesus’ rebuke as a result.

Finally, pride marked the Pharisees’ lives. Consumed with self-righteousness, they demanded the best of everything, insisted on respect, and basked in prestige. In doing so they revealed the condition of their hearts. They desired the things of the world as much as the secularist. But instead of pursuing such lusts via commerce, academia, or government, they used religion as the means to achieve their objectives. Religion was an avenue to secure the status, lifestyle, comfort, and esteem that appealed to them. Rather than pursue genuine humility they exalted themselves. Instead of living selfless lives serving others they required others serve them.

Sadly, a segment of the evangelical community suffers the same fatal flaw. Pride is endemic within the church, perhaps more than any other sin. More than just tolerated it is often celebrated. Increasingly, Christians toot their religious horns. We love to proclaim the depth of our relationship with God, emphasize how He is at work in our lives, and inform others that He revealed some insight to us during a devotional. We neglect Jesus’ counsel to avoid calling attention to our spiritual growth and instead declare it to Christian peers, often in exaggerated terms. Pride prevented the Pharisees from recognizing Jesus as the Messiah and having an authentic relationship with God. Similarly, it prevents us from hearing the still, small voice of God and enjoying genuine faith in Christ.

Take time to examine your heart. Do you demonstrate a Pharisaical heart? Do your thoughts and desires reflect the faith you profess or does an inconsistency exist between the two? Are you quick to condemn others and denounce sinners or do you build relationships with them predicated on love, mercy and compassion? Do you exalt your faith before others or is it grounded in humility?

The Pharisees were convinced they were closer to God than others. They were certain of God’s favor on them; that He was well pleased with their faith. In reality they were further from God than anyone because of the hardness of their hearts. Anyone confident he or she bears no resemblance to the Pharisees is likely the one most similar. Pride deceives such individuals.

Take a moment to ask God to show the true condition of your heart. As He does, repent from any sin He reveals. Pray He removes any hypocrisy crippling your faith and any pride corroding your relationship with Him. Request He replace any judgmental attitude with a spirit of gentleness. If you do, He will answer your prayer and you will experience revitalized faith.