Thursday, January 11, 2018

Only By Grace Are We Saved

It is human nature to think we somehow must earn our way into heaven. Even for those of us who believe we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone, many have at one time or another had a tendency to determine one's eternal destiny based on actions alone. Oftentimes we do this subconsciously and may not even recognize it.

I believe all of us (on some level) must re-train our way of thinking in regards to salvation. For example, how can we shed the idea that grace alone cannot save us because it would encourage disobedience and create a "license to sin" mentality? To do this, we must put aside our feelings and human understanding by trusting in God. Notice what Jesus said:

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-19) NIV

What does this mean? People who do not fully obey God will still make it heaven. Even some Christians in a position of authority who teach others a lie regarding God's Law will still make it to heaven. The Lord is clear our level of obedience will have an effect on our reward in Heaven, but it will not disqualify us from salvation.

How can this be? On the surface, this Scripture can be hard for us to accept. But if we dig deeper, it really makes perfect sense and aligns perfectly with God's plan for our lives. If we are honest then we already know about our own imperfections; not only the character flaws but our actions. Once we acknowledge this truth, it becomes easier to accept salvation by grace. Since none of us are perfect and everyone makes mistakes on a daily basis, it becomes easier to realize people who have a genuine faith in Christ cannot lose their salvation because of those mistakes. We know this is true because if it were not, none of us would make it to Heaven.

If I condone my sin by using the grace of God, then it is no longer grace; rather, I have believed a lie in order to justify my love for evil. But if I truly want to stop sinning and live a holy lifestyle, and along the way I slip up because of my weakness or ignorance, the grace of Jesus Christ (made possible by the shedding of His blood on the cross) says I am still righteous. This is because my righteousness is not my own; it is Christ's righteousness substituted in its place. My mistakes cannot nullify the gift of salvation, if I have truly received Jesus in my heart and been transformed from death unto life.

Therefore, the grace of God can never be used as a "license to sin." If we are using faith in Christ as a justification for our sins, then this faith was never real to begin with. Those who truly want and receive Jesus in their hearts, do so because they wish to stop sinning and to change their lifestyle. They turn to Him because they acknowledge their sinful desires and inability to resist them.

Because our sinful flesh is weak and we are unable to attain the perfection required to make it to heaven, God sent His Son to do what we could not. Jesus lived a perfect life on earth; not only that, He paid the price for everyone's sin so we could be freed from the weight of guilt that results from our own weakness and sin.

Notice what the Apostle Paul said regarding the certainty of our salvation in Christ:

"Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

(Romans 5:9-11) NIV

The Word of God is very clear: Salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross for our sins. Also, if we are trusting in Him for our forgiveness, we can rest assured this gift of grace cannot be lost because of our mistakes and weaknesses. Since it is impossible for you and I to make it to Heaven based on our own works (good and bad), this is great news indeed! By trusting in the One who is perfect, we can have our imperfections washed away and be judged on what He did, rather than on our own actions. In a nutshell, this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the message of salvation.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Just For You

As Christians, we believe Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world. We believe He came down from heaven and suffered unspeakable torture on the cross, to pay the price for our sin. Shortly before His death on that cross, Jesus cried out to the Father wondering why He had been forsaken. 

What does that mean? The bible tells us Jesus not only died for our sin but He became sin for us. Once this happened, God had to temporarily turn His back on Jesus. In the same way sin separates us from God, it also separated Jesus from the Father during His ordeal on the cross.

Can you imagine what this must have been like for our Lord? Not only was He suffering more pain than any human could possibly endure, He had also been separated from the love of God. Never before had He experienced this, since He and the Father have always been One.

When Jesus could no longer perceive the love of our Father in His heart, how did He find the strength to finish His work on the cross? I believe He found strength by thinking of everyone who would be saved through His tremendous act of love and courage. When He was drowning in darkness and unbelievable pain, I believe Jesus remembered each one of us; those who had passed and those not yet born yet, who would receive His gift of salvation, made possible because of His sacrifice. 

Millions of Christians owe their salvation to Jesus...but I am convinced that even if only one person would have been saved, our Lord still would have endured everything He did. That's because even though He is Lord to many, He is also Lord to one. Each and everyone of us has a unique relationship with Him. He knows how to reach us individually, but in different ways. He is God to all but He is also your God right here and now.

So to you who is reading this right now, I am convinced Jesus thought of you when He was suffering on the cross. Our Lord knew if He could just endure a little longer and complete His mission, it would mean you could be saved from hellfire and the chains of sin. His love for you helped motivate Him to victory over death, which shattered its hold over your life.

The love our King has for you is great and cannot be measured! For this reason, let's not forget to take time out of each day to spend time with Him alone and thank Him. 

(Scripture references: Isaiah 53, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Matthew 27:46) 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Lord Our God

When we are struggling financially and have exhausted everything we can to fix the problem; when there is nobody to help us, to whom will we turn?

Who gives strength to the one who upholds the truth and does what is right, even in the face of persecution, loss of income or even the threat of physical pain?

Who is a friend to those that are friendless and rejected by everyone they know?

Who is a Father to the person who grew up without one? Where can we find wisdom when we cannot find it from family members or people around us?

If we are bombarded with selfish feelings that try to rob us of those we love...when we are flooded by sinful desires which tempt our inner, sinful flesh...when we are alone and in danger of being overcome by these things, who will come to our rescue?

When we try so hard to remain innocent and pure, but are consumed by frustration because of everything that is shameful in this world, who will give us rest?

The Lord our God!

For those who have received the Lord Jesus into their hearts, they know this experience is much more than just following religious rules. All who accept Christ are changed on the inside. Everyone that continues to follow Him after their spiritual rebirth knows about the transformation they experience on a daily basis.

Nobody else knows our hidden thoughts, actions and secrets. Each person who has been transformed from death to life by Jesus Christ knows what they were before and what they have become in Him. Those hidden, shameful things we indulged in before are like a distant memory. The Lord our God has washed us clean and separated us from our sin, as far as the East is from the West.
For this reason I will bow only to Him; no man or false god is worthy of my worship or adoration. Because He answered my cry for help, even when I had turned my back on Him, I have and will submit my whole heart to God. 

When I was lost in darkness, He gave me light to see. When I was weak and unable to resist evil, He gave me strength to overcome the enemy. When I was ashamed of the Gospel, He was patient and gave me insight into why others hate it.

The Lord our God shined a light inside my heart to reveal my weaknesses. Rather than condemn me, one by one He has addressed them and helped me to overcome. Though I am still a work in progress, Jesus Christ has given me the ability to stand tall in His presence and not feel ashamed.

Who is coming again, to rid the world of evil forever and establish a kingdom on earth where love, truth and innocence rule in it's place? Who will one day take away all pain and wipe the tears from our eyes? The Lord our God!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

He Loves Us

Today I was looking at an old picture of my boys from when they were 4 and 2 years old. I became overwhelmed with emotion as I remembered when they were so little. They were so cute and innocent, so dependent upon us for everything.

Soon I began to think about God and our relationship with Him. I was reminded that He sees us all as beautiful little children, dependent upon Him for our every need. Also, as much love that I felt for my boys while looking at their picture, I know our heavenly Father loves us even more.

In this life, there are so many distractions hiding us from God. For this reason, I believe it is important we all remember just how much He loves us. It can be easy to forget we depend upon Him for everything; but it is His infinite love for us that serves as a Rock for our soul on which to stand. Our hearts can find comfort knowing that God supplies our every need, through good times and bad.

My prayer is for all of us to remember what Jesus did on the cross. When we receive His gift of salvation, all the animosity that existed between us and our God is washed away. What is left is an overwhelming flood of love and grace, crashing down upon our hearts. Thank you Lord for loving us so much.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

What Is Christianity?

I would like to give my interpretation and answer to this very important question, because I believe the Christianity we see in this world is often watered down at best and at worst, blatantly inaccurate.

Let's start with some examples of what I believe Christianity is not: Faith in Christ is not a membership to a select group of people who have become perfect. Despite what the bible says about this topic, many Christians have taken it upon themselves to think their faith gives them a moral superiority over those who do not believe in Christ. As a result of this cold behavior, many unbelievers are reluctant to become a Christian because they associate it with being mean and judgmental toward others. Honestly, who can blame them? If that is what it meant to be Christian, I would also reject it.

People who claim to have a moral superiority over others are only fooling themselves. Everyone who feels this way has not taken an honest evaluation of their own heart. When we do this, we learn it is impossible to become perfect or without blame. Once we realize this truth, we also realize our only hope is to trust in the mercy of God through Christ. Following rules or doing good deeds to "cancel" our bad deeds does nothing to change our hearts from death unto life. Only the acceptance of Jesus into our hearts can accomplish this miracle. 

Christianity is not a "get out of jail free" card. Some Christians have this idea that, because we believe in Christ, somehow everything will work out perfectly in life. Some feel Jesus is like a shield against every kind of suffering. Ironically, the bible is clear the exact opposite is true. Yes, God promises He will protect us from evil and be a shelter in our time of need...but this is meant to help us overcome adversity, not necessarily to avoid it.

Jesus is clear that believers will find trouble in this world. Why? Because the world is filled with evil and hypocrisy. They persecuted and killed Jesus, who was perfect; it is therefore logical to assume they would try and do the same to us, if we accurately reflect the nature of Christ. And let us not forget, God sometimes allows us to suffer so we can find spiritual growth. Looking back, I can see how many of my own trials in life have made me stronger and brought me closer to God. 

Christianity is not a rulebook to follow in order to earn eternal life. Our redemption is not a scoreboard where God keeps track of our good deeds versus our bad deeds. The bible is very clear about this topic: Salvation is by faith in Christ alone. It is about admitting we have a sinful nature, and then asking Jesus Christ into our hearts to make us new. A genuine faith in Christ is one where we acknowledge our weakness to Him and ask for help to change our behavior.

The bible is clear: That which is sinful will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Our Lord's death on the cross makes it possible for us to shed our inherited, sinful nature and receive His righteousness in its place. Those who accept Christ are judged by what He did; however, those who reject Christ are judged based on what they did. Needless to say, every person on this earth has sinned against God and what is right. If we try and stand on our own merit, we will fall short of redemption and salvation. Only when we trust in the One who is perfect can we be justified before God and His righteous judgment. 

To summarize, Christianity is not a club for people who want to feel superior to others. The truth is, nobody will ever be perfect, including Christians. To be a Christian means admitting your faults to God and receiving the gift of salvation, found only in Christ. It's a desire to shed our inherited, sinful nature so we can become holy like Jesus. It is important to note this transformation does not happen overnight; and no matter how hard we try, we can never become exactly like Christ. But it is our persistent quest to reach perfection in Him that changes us for the better. This lifelong journey and relationship with Jesus is the essence of Christianity.

(Scripture references: Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 2:1-11, 1Peter 4:12-16, 1John 3:11-15, John 15:18-25, Ephesians 2:1-10) 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Why Do We Believe In Christ?

How would you answer this question? Are you a Christian simply because you were raised that way? Or do you believe in God because it's the right thing to do? Maybe you're just being prudent and saving yourself from going to hell. All of these are valid reasons to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of our souls.

Maybe you are like me and your faith goes a little deeper. Perhaps you struggled with behavior you knew was wrong but couldn't stop. You knew something was not right inside your heart and wanted to change. Maybe you took a look around this world and realized the selfish pleasures in this life could not satisfy your hunger for true love. And when all of these weights came crashing down on your spirit, perhaps you cried out to God for help, in hopes He might prove Himself to be real and rescue you from your helpless state. 

The bible says people of this world think faith in Christ is foolish. In fact, they cannot even recognize the Spirit of God because they themselves lack God in their hearts. I know this Scripture is true because I myself fell into that category many years ago. When I was engrossed in my selfish lifestyle, I was blind to the existence of God. It wasn't until I began to embrace an unselfish and faithful way to love that I started to find truth.

Because of this, I know from experience what it's like to be on both sides of the equation. Later in life and as I sit here now writing this, I realize God allowed me to go through darkness so I would learn from it. Though I wouldn't ever want to go back, what I have learned has strengthened my faith in God and has allowed me to relate to and perhaps help those who are going down a similar path.

I have also learned the spell of deception that engulfs this world is very powerful and deceptive. If my faith were simply choosing to believe words in a book because of my upbringing, it would not survive. Thankfully, my faith has withstood this deceitful world because the words of the bible have come alive in my heart. The reason is, I have become a new creature in Christ and have received the Holy Spirit of God. What I could not see before I now see very clearly; so much so that even when my own feelings and what I see around me betray my faith in God, I can still overcome in Christ by remembering what I've learned.

The bible says anybody who loves the world is an enemy to God. It also says we must live in this world as ambassadors for Christ in a strange land. It took me a long time to really understand what this meant. Why? Because I was too much like the world. 

Deep inside my heart, I originally accepted Christ because of a desire for something more than what I saw around me; and yet, for years I did not fully submit myself to God, choosing (rather foolishly) to hold onto to some of the chains around my heart. Now that I have further distanced myself from the world, I can see why God has declared it as His enemy. But until my eyes were opened it was hidden from me.

The motivation for my belief in Christ was to stop sinning; I cried out to a God I wasn't sure was real in search of help. Because the motivation for my search was genuine, I found what I was looking for. Jesus Christ answered my cry for help and made me new on the inside, making it possible to resist sin, since I was no longer a slave to it. 

If you believe in Jesus Christ, do you know why? If you do then you know what a blessing this is! If you're not quite sure why, there is no reason to despair; all of us have been there. The good news is, any doubts or uncertainties we might have can eventually fade away, if we completely submit our hearts to the One we believe in. May we all strive to give more of ourselves to God, so that we can be confident of the salvation promised to us in Jesus Christ.

(Scripture references: 2Corinthians 5:16-21, 2Corinthians 2:4, 1Corinthians 1:18, 1Corinthains 2:6-16) NIV


Friday, November 3, 2017

The Gospel Of Grace

Those who are redeemed and have given their life to Christ; those who truly have spiritual rebirth from death unto life, cannot lose their salvation because of imperfections, weaknesses or mistakes. Salvation comes only by faith in Jesus Christ; it cannot be earned. This can be a hard concept to grasp, because on the surface it seems to be a "license to sin."  

For those who gave their life to Jesus so they could have help to stop sinning, God's grace is not a license to sin. Instead, it gives those who sincerely want to become holy the freedom to grow in the Lord, without fear of punishment when we make mistakes.

If the gift of salvation could be forfeited because of our bad choices, none of us would be saved. Those who think otherwise are being deceived. We must be careful not to look at our salvation as a scale of good and bad works. Some believe as long as our good deeds outweigh the bad ones, we're alright with God. The truth is, our sin is way too heavy to be outweighed by any amount of good deeds.

This is why Jesus died on the cross; only He could do a work that could outweigh and overcome the weight of our sin. Otherwise, why did Jesus have to die for us? Didn't we have the Jewish religion before He came to earth? If doing works in obedience to their laws was sufficient, Christ would never have to die. But since our works were insufficient to overcome sin, we needed Jesus (who is perfect and knew no sin) to do a work of redemption in our place.

If we are focused on earning our redemption, it is inevitable we will judge those around us. This is because our hearts are in the wrong place. Once we accept the truth, that all of us will never be good enough to make up for our sin, now we become focused on God's grace toward us. When our hearts are in this place of love and forgiveness we are more compassionate to others, since we ourselves recognize our faults and weaknesses. In spite of these God still loves and accepts us, which makes it easier to the same to others, in spite of their faults and weaknesses.

Sin is still bad and must be avoided. However, for most of us it is not always that easy. If I am losing my battle with sin in a particular area, does this mean I am not going to Heaven when I die? Of course not, since all of us in some ways fall short of the glory of God. None of us would be saved if salvation was based on our works. This is precisely why Jesus died in our place, so we could have the freedom to grow and learn from our mistakes, without the fear of punishment or relinquishing our redemption.

The key is, we must not accept excuses that justify our sinful lifestyle. No matter how many times we succumb to temptation, we must admit our guilt and get right back in the fight. We must run to Jesus instead of hiding from Him because of guilt. If we trust in Him to give us victory over the demons which have tormented us for so long, and keep fighting the good fight of faith while never giving up, eventually we will overcome.Take it from me, these words are true. I can testify of this because it has happened to me.

If I had died while I was in the middle of this struggle, having not yet attained victory, would I have gone to hell? Of course not! Not if I remained in Christ and He in me. And even when I did temporarily turn my back on God, He didn't give up on me. He waited patiently until I was ready, willing and able to become completely obedient to His will. Only God knows our hearts; I received grace because He knew I would eventually turn from sin.

The bottom line is this: None of us can ever earn redemption for sin and a place in Heaven. Only by accepting the gift of grace through Jesus' work on the cross can we be counted as righteous. That is because we ourselves can never do enough to pay the price for sin. But if we accept Jesus' gift of salvation in our hearts, God doesn't see our unrighteousness and disobedience anymore. Rather, he sees the righteousness and obedience of Christ in its place.

The Gospel of Grace is not a license to sin; it only appears to be when our hearts are in the wrong place. We should be concerned with our own life...but if someone is so worried about others, rest assured that God will not be mocked. Those who believe God's grace is a license to sin do not desire the rebirth found in Christ, therefore their faith is not genuine. They just want an excuse to justify their love for sin. But those who truly have Jesus in their hearts do so because they wanted to STOP sinning. God knows the difference and we will all be judged accordingly. 

In light of this, let us all be focused more on our own hearts instead of worrying somebody else might "get away with something." We need to make sure we don't fall into the trap of becoming like the Prodigal Son's brother. The Gospel of Grace allows us to redeemed and to grow in His love and guidance, all without fear of losing His love for us. It is the greatest gift ever given to mankind.

(Scripture references: Ephesians 2:8-10, Colossians 2:16-23) NIV