Tag Archives: Jesus

Did Jesus get it wrong?

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In a world that worships power, pleasure, possessions, beauty, intelligence, talent, and fame, I am continually struck by the profoundly counter-cultural nature of the Christian faith. Jesus reverses the field in almost every arena in which human beings naturally hope and long for.

Jesus got it wrong if He was trying to make everyone love and serve Him in an overwhelmingly impressive or subtly coercive sort of way.  Instead, He quietly came to live in the Galilean backwater village of Nazareth and lose His perfect life on a simple wooden cross, so that we could gain his life and be reconciled to God.  That is a love that breaks the mold of all our expectations and confounds the wise, the strong, the powerful, and the rich, so that even the fools, the weak, the insignificant, and the poor could actually inherent the earth and live forever.

In short, Jesus loves the unlovely, the unloving, and the unlovable.  He makes the poor rich and the rich poor.  He exalts the lowly and humbles the exalted.  He makes the simple wise and makes simpletons of the wise.  He makes the strong weak and the weak strong. He makes losers out of winners and winners out of losers.  He asks His followers to lose everything in order to gain everything.

It doesn’t make for much of a marketing campaign to invite all who wish to follow Him to come suffer and die.  That sounds more like a cult for masochists.  But here is where the great irony of God’s economy in Christ comes into play: Those who suffer are blessed and will be comforted; those who die in Him will rise and live forever.

Of course, the opposite is also true: Those who are unrepentant and comfortable in this life will wind up uncomfortable in the next; those who hold tightly onto to things will lose them all; those who try to save their own life now will lose it for all eternity.

No, Jesus did not get it wrong, but we do—constantly.  Instead of loving people and using things, we love things and use people.  Instead of loving righteousness and spurning wickedness, we hate the good and love what is evil.  Instead of giving thanks to God for His goodness and wisdom and patience, we ignore, defy, and spurn Him—and then blame and rage against Him when our lives fall apart.

Despite our magnificent insignificance, overweening pride, and astounding indifference toward the One who created and sustains us, He still loves us with an everlasting love. He patiently and persistently offers forgiveness, grace, and eternal life in Christ for all who will believe and trust in Him.  He, and He alone, can take our every wrong and forever make us whole and right again.

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Who am I trying to please?

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I want to be popular. Most people do.  Only masochists want to be reviled, ridiculed, and rejected.  I put on a good show and try to appear like I don’t care what others think about me, but deep down inside, I desperately want to be liked and respected.

Before my time, people tried to be “hip” and “groovy.”  Growing up, the goal was to be “cool.”  Years later, everyone wanted to be “bad.”  About that time, I lost track of (as well as significant interest in) the ever-evolving latest term for being “relevant,” “popular,” and one of the “in crowd.”

Once upon a time in America, being a Christian did not automatically disqualify you from being acceptable to others.  There were enough people around who thought Christians weren’t so bad, even if they weren’t Christians themselves.  Many of the social norms and expectations revolved around some of the basic moral (but often distorted) teachings of the Bible.  People were not afraid to identify themselves as Christians, even if their understanding of that term was nominal at best.

These days, it’s not so easy to identify as a genuine Christ-follower.  It’s no longer “cool” to defend and promote a traditional view of marriage (for example) or to suggest that sincere faith in Jesus Christ is the exclusive and only means to know and spend eternity with God.

Almost 2,000 years ago, it was not popular to identify oneself as a follower of Jesus either. It was much easier to “go with the flow” and not cause trouble by condemning sexual immorality or refusing to syncretize and compromise one’s religious faith.  In fact, refusing to follow the crowd could even get you imprisoned or killed. It was not an easy time to claim and proclaim the name of Jesus Christ.

In this respect, contemporary attitudes toward certain aspects of our faith place us in a long and storied history of being ridiculed and rejected for believing in Jesus.  And this should come as no surprise.  The Bible never said it would be easy or fun to follow hard after Christ.  God never assured us that we would be loved and accepted by others for following Him. Instead, 2 Timothy 3:12 provides us with this precious and magnificent promise: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

And 1 Peter 4:1 reminds us that since Christ suffered, as his followers, we should be ready to suffer as well.  Peter goes on to say we should not be surprised when we suffer for our faith, but rather, we should “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. . . .  If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”

Jesus makes a similar promise in Luke 6:22-23 when He states, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.”

Paul also reminds us in Galatians 1:10 that our goal in life is not to be accepted and well-liked by everyone around us.  Rather, we are to seek to please God by fearlessly and single-mindedly serving Christ.

Of course, we do not intentionally seek to be odd or offensive for Christ.  But the goal of our lives is not to be cool, but to be clear, clear about the sometimes offensive simplicity of the gospel—that Jesus died to save sinners like you and like me, and that apart from Him, there is no hope of salvation in this life or the next.  If we face suffering for saying so and living our lives in light of it, we can rejoice, just as the disciples did in Acts 5:41, and thank God that He counts us worthy to suffer shame for His name.

Betting on Jesus

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The older I get, the more I see family and friends facing their mortality.  We are not as young and healthy as we once were.  And since I’m unlikely to live beyond 100, well over half my life is already passed.  The many doors of opportunity that stood wide open in my youth are either shut or quickly closing.

And yet, of all possible lives I might have lived, the one I am in is infinitely better and more interesting than I could ever have dreamed of or imagined.  I am also well aware that many people my age cannot say that about their lives.  Instead, they feel regret, disappointment, bitterness, and pain.  Of course, I have done plenty of things to make me feel these ways, but overall, the forgiving and magnificent grace of God, alongside the indescribable life He has given, have been nothing short of fantastic.

Pascal speaks of making a wager.  He notes that in view of the possible eternal benefits, believing in God is wiser than the alternatives.  Many have criticized his wager as being foolish and naïve.  We should, after all, only believe what is true, no matter how bitter or discouraging that reality might prove to be.

However, while marveling at the grand adventure of my life, it strikes me full in the face: even if none of it is true, even if there is no God and at death I simply ceased to exist and fall into “the big sleep,” I would prefer this life to any other I might have lived.  Seeking after and following Jesus has been one incredible and undeserved adventure after another.  It has been so much richer and better than anything I might have conceived of, sought after, or accomplished on my own.  I am overcome by a profound and immense sense of gratitude.

Don’t get me wrong.  There have been many tough times and bitter disappointments along the way.  Life is hard, no matter which path you choose.  But I would not choose a different life, even if promised the world in exchange.  The money, things, fame, pleasure, and comfort that so looked so enticing in my youth now seem increasingly petty, fleeting, and insubstantial.  Life with Jesus really is better than anything or anyone else.

I also want to say that I have thoroughly and repeatedly investigated and examined the overwhelming evidences for the truth of Christianity and am more convinced than ever God is real, and that Jesus really did die for my sins and rise again.  I have experienced rich and undeniable intimacies with Him at numerous times in life, and am utterly confident that because of Christ’s righteousness, I will one day stand in God’s presence holy and blameless, with great joy.  But even if, on some incredible fluke of reality, Christianity turns out to be false, my life lived within it has been indescribably better than any other possible lifestyle or viewpoint.

Pascal was right.  There are eternal benefits for betting on Jesus. But beyond this great hope, living for Him now will produce the grandest and most incredible adventure you could ever imagine.  That’s bet worth making for this life and the next.

Would I suffer and die for Jesus Christ?

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Worldwide, many contemporary Christians are experiencing persecution and even death for their faith. I have listened with sadness and admiration to accounts of those who risked their livelihoods, lives, and families by refusing to deny their faith in Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:29 makes it clear that as believers, it has been granted to us to suffer for Jesus’ sake. It is, in fact, a gift.  And while we don’t always want every gift we receive, in God’s wisdom, He knows exactly how to give us what we need.  Suffering is a dreadful but necessary grace.

While preparing to teach church history, I read some older accounts of Christian martyrdom and persecution from the first three centuries of the church.  As a result, several things struck me, but two stand out the most.

First, it’s easy to admire the courage of these Christians with an abstract appreciation for their faith in the face of torture and death.  It’s far harder to picture myself and fellow family members standing before the examiner and facing the choice between forsaking Jesus or suffering torture and death.

When I first started walking closely with the Lord, I was convinced I would die for Him.  Thirty-plus years later, I am much more acutely aware of and honest about my cowardice and strong attachments to the things and consolations of this life.  For all my prior blustering braggadocio about being willing to “sacrifice it all for Jesus,” I now have to admit, I want a tranquil and comfortable life.

Would I really suffer and die for Jesus if offered the choice?  With all of my heart I want to say yes, but I’m also honest enough to admit it would not be easy.

In the end, I suspect I could only do so if the Lord granted grace if and when the moment arrived.  Meanwhile, I am still trusting God to help divest myself of inappropriate and inordinate affections for anything and anyone other than the Lord Jesus Christ.  Perhaps that is an admission of faithlessness, but I hope it is more a recognition of weakness and desperate need for His everlasting mercy and grace.

The second thing that struck me is closely related.  It occurred to me how grossly unprepared most professing Christians—myself included—are to suffer for their faith in any serious way.  Most (but certainly not all) Christians I know have been led extremely sheltered and comfortable lives compared to the hardships of many contemporary and historical Christians.  I certainly have.

Of course, if this has been the case, it is not necessarily something for which we should be ashamed. It is a privilege to be able to turn our freedoms and resources into opportunities to serve and care for others for God’s greater glory.  And many have done just that.  Lord, let us be legion!

But those who have lived in relative safety and ease of comfort should pause to consider: If life ever became much more difficult precisely because we are Christ-followers, would we, like the believers of yesterday and today, be willing to suffer and even die for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? Would you?  Would I?  God grant us the grace to live humbly and boldly for Your glory, whether in life or in death.

What about those who’ve never heard of Jesus? Part Three

In this three-part series, we have been exploring the controversial question concerning the destiny of those who have never heard of Jesus Christ.  In part one we looked at the holiness of God and sinfulness of humanity.  In part two we examined the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as the only sufficient payment for God’s demands for justice against sin and rebellion.

In this concluding post, we will consider our responsibility as believers in the light of these truths.  We begin by emphasizing this: if Christ really is the only way to have a right relationship with God, then we have to realize how important our task is!  As representatives and ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), we have the only message (and know the only person) that can save anyone at all.  All the philosophies, all the religions and good behavior, all the money and fame, all the trends and fads, will never deliver what they promise, because they simply cannot save us from our most basic problem—sin.  Only Jesus can and will deliver!

Romans 10:13-15 says, “for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  How then can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can they preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”  We must take the message out to the world because without it, people cannot call on the name of the Lord and be saved.  And this acts as something of an indictment against Christians who have kept their faith to themselves and failed to follow Jesus’ clear command to take the gospel to the ends of earth (Matthew 28:18-20).

But now that we have seen the fact that apart from Jesus no one can be saved, what can we tell someone whom we are sharing the gospel with who asks about those who have never heard of Jesus?

Here are some things to keep in mind: First, the question is often a smoke screen by the individual to avoid the real issue they are currently being confronted with.  You need to realize that they may be doing one of two things: They may be pointing away from their own personal accountability before God.  If so, it is a good idea to say to them: “What about you now that you have this information?  How will you personally respond?”

But in all fairness, the person who raises this question may have a genuine concern for the lost.  If so, then they need to better understand the basic truths of the gospel message.  All people need Jesus because all have sinned; God requires perfection, and only Jesus was adequate to die for sin’s penalty because He alone was and is perfect.  And this death of Christ expresses God’s great love since He very easily could have left us all to die in our state of alienation from Him.  The fact that there is just one person in heaven with a holy God is reason enough to say that God is an incredibly gracious and loving God!

We must also keep in mind that God is fair and will judge and punish people according to what they know and do, as Romans 2:6-11 seems to suggest.  But again, we must also remember that Paul goes on to suggest in the same book that as believers, we have a solemn and sacred responsibility to boldly and continuously share the gospel with anyone and everyone who will listen.

You can also ask this of the one you are sharing with: “On the basis of what has been talked about, can you really say that you have done everything right?  What does that make you?  What does God require?  Why do you need Jesus then?”  Don’t forget to remind them that there are Christians and missionaries in virtually every country on this earth, and the reason they are there is because they truly believe that without Jesus, people are condemned.

Also, remind them that you did not make the exclusive claim.  Jesus Christ did (John 14:6)!  But again, why did He make this claim?  How did He back up such an outrageous claim?  He did so by His death and resurrection!  Tell them that if a person truly seeks God, He will send someone—even an angel or Jesus Himself—to tell them about Jesus.  He is a big enough God to do that!  But are there any examples of this?  YES!  Here is just one among a myriad:

In 1989, in Maltos of the Northern Bihar mountains, a vision of a grieving man appeared walking on the mountains after a missionary and his son died of a strange disease.  A few days later, the Jesus Film (a film about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection) was shown there.  Amazingly, the whole village recognized that the man in the vision was the Jesus in the film!  Hundreds came to Christ as a result.  For many more examples of this, I direct you to Don Richardson’s book, Eternity in Their Hearts.  But keep in mind that in every instance we know about, God brought someone into the people group to tell them about Jesus.  God first prepared them and then the missionary came and reaped the rewards of being obedient.

What about those who never heard?  It is likely they never had the humility to genuinely seek after God as He really is and on His own terms.  And you can say to those you are sharing Christ with that you really believe that this message of Christ is the only way.  That’s why you’re telling them about it!  Tell them that you want them to know the God of the universe through Jesus Christ the way you know Him—as a perfect God, but also as a loving God who demonstrated His love by sending Jesus into the world to die for sinners like you and me (John 3:16).

In 1940, a man named Warrasa Wange, a member of the Gedeo people in Ethiopia, prayed to Magano, the benevolent creator of all things, to reveal Himself to the Gedeo people.  He immediately had a vision of two white-skinned strangers setting up flimsy structures under a large Sycamore tree in his village of Dilla.  Eight years later, in December 1948, two Canadians, Albert Brant and Glen Cain came to the Gedeo people to begin a missionary work among the people.  Guess where they chose to pitch their tents?  Under a large Sycamore in the village of Dilla!  The response to the gospel, including Warrasa Wange, was phenomenal!  God had sent this honest seeker the truth found only in Jesus.

Perhaps by going or giving or praying or sending, you will be an important part of bringing such an exciting message to one of the thousands of ethnic groups still unreached with the gospel.  These are people who have not heard about Jesus, but desperately need to.  Perhaps you will be one of those who is a part of creating and telling exciting stories yet to be told about how God advances the message of salvation in His son Jesus Christ into all the kingdoms and peoples of the earth!

What about those who’ve never heard of Jesus? Part Two

We learned in part one of this series that the God of the Bible is a God who is perfect and holy, who demands that kind of perfection from all who would be in His presence.

God’s holiness explains why Jesus is so centrally important to the way of salvation.  Jesus fulfills the perfect standard of God.  And moreover, He was (and is) the only one who did or ever will!  Some biblical passages showing this might help at this point.  Consider the following examples:

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father but through me.”  In Acts 4:12 Peter states that there is salvation from sin in “no other name,” than Jesus’, for there is no other name (not Buddha, not Mohammed, not Confucius, not my own) given among humanity by which we can be saved.  In 1 Timothy 2:5-6 we read that, “There is one God and one mediator also between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom” for sin’s penalty of eternal separation from God.  And as we read in 2 Corinthians 5:21, God made Jesus Christ, who was perfect and “knew no sin,” to become a sin offering in our place so “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  In short, God took Jesus’ perfect holiness and righteousness and credited it to our account, simply because He loves us and wants to have a relationship with us (John 3:16).

Having said this, what can we do with all this information then?  Although some of the following will not be easy to hear, several conclusions can and must be drawn.  First, all people do have some information about God, but unfortunately, Romans 1:20 tells us they suppress, corrupt, and/or ignore it.

Second, we can affirm that God is always fair.  According to Romans 2:1-3, He judges people according to what they know and do not know, what they do and do not do, as well as by their own standards of right and wrong.

Third, we must admit that in view of Romans 3:23, no one—ourselves, most of all—is or can become perfect on our own.  Because God is holy and requires perfection (Matthew 5:20; 1 Peter 1:15-16; 2 Corinthians 5:21), all men deserve the just punishment of hell.  Thus, some people get what they deserve—namely justice—while others get what they don’t deserve—namely mercy.  However, no one gets injustice.

You must ask yourself honestly, “Do I really deserve to go to heaven?”  Who, then, does?  Can you point to someone who actually deserves to go to heaven, who earned enough “points” to please a perfectly and eternally holy and righteous God?  Chances are if you can, then your standard of holiness and righteousness is far different than God’s.  This is also called idolatry, creating God in our own image, rather than recognizing and worshiping God for who He truly is.

The fact is, Jesus Christ is God’s extreme and ultimately final expression of mercy to a lost and dying world.  Only Christ is both fully God and fully man, so only He could pay the eternal penalty for humanity’s profoundly radical sin problem.

One thing that could be brought up at this point is this fair question: Why are there so many other world religions and so many other people who adhere to high moral standards, some that appear to surpass the ethical lifestyles of Christians?  Two things can be said in response.  First, we must understand human nature made in the image of God, and second, we must understand the reality of an adversary called the devil who is doing everything he can to lure people away from the God who loves and wants to know them.

The multitude of world religions suggests a couple of things about humanity.  First, it suggests that we have an incurably religious nature that is constantly seeking to reach out to the transcendent unknown, to the immaterial realm of the spirit.  And I think that this is due to the image of God in man.  This image reaches beyond itself and looks for the divine.  Paul points this out in Acts 17, verse 27.  The result of this search, this extending beyond oneself, has been a myriad of religious perspectives.  But that only tells half of this sad story.

The fact is, human beings, because of the reality of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin (chronicled in Genesis 3), are no longer able to have an unblemished and unadulterated picture of who God really is and how a person can know and relate to Him.  Thus, God provided a special communication to us concerning Himself through what we call the Bible, and supremely through the person of Jesus Christ.  But while many know and embrace this special communication, not everyone believes in or has access to it.  Some are ignorant, some choose to ignore it, some choose to refute and destroy it, and some choose to twist and rewrite it.

All of this highlights the fact that Satan is a real threat to humanity’s ability to understand and know God.  The adversary delights in deceiving and drawing people away from God and His truth (see 2 Corinthians 11:3 and John 8:44, for example).  Thus, we would expect to find—and in fact do find—a multitude of counterfeits in the religious communities of the world.

The things I have just shared are potentially hard truths to face.  In part three, we will conclude with some encouragements and recommendations concerning the Christian’s responsibility given the fact that people can be saved through Jesus Christ alone.

Sometimes I see what the word of God says and struggle with it emotionally.  But as a Christian, I think it’s important to ask, am I willing to face this?  Am I willing to do something unpopular and stand up and say to the world that there is only one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ?

What about those who’ve never heard of Jesus? Part One

In the present-day perspective of religious pluralism and the widespread acceptance of ideological inclusivism, is it really desirable—or even possible—to talk about those who have never heard about Jesus?  For a variety of reasons, I believe that it is not only desirable and possible, but also vitally necessary to understanding the meaning and importance of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But how?  How can the question concerning those who have never heard about Jesus be answered?  In many ways, the answer to this issue ultimately comes down to just a few basic things.  If we understand:

  • The nature of God,
  • The nature of ourselves and our sin, and
  • The nature of Christ’s identity and mission,

then an adequate answer can be given to the question.  But by using the word “adequate” here, does not necessarily mean “emotionally satisfying.”  While the answer shared will existentially satisfy some, it may well disturb and anger others.  And that, unfortunately, is sometimes unavoidable.  In a society which disdains certain central aspects of the Christian faith, some level of offense is an inevitable by-product of discussing the truth of its message.

Christ’s gospel sometimes does insult and offend some of our basic assumptions about life, truth, and religion.  When the apostle Paul noted that the gospel was, “a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness to the Greeks,” he was well aware that some people would hate and misunderstand the message for what it was, no matter how reasonably, gently, or compellingly it was presented.

In this first part, we are going to approach an answer by looking at what the Bible says about this, and then later in parts two and three, we are going to discuss how we can answer individuals who are asking us the question when we are sharing Christ with them.

Romans chapter 1, beginning in verse 18 says that God gave all human beings a witness of Himself through what theologians have come to call “general revelation.”

The argument runs as follows: Even people who have never heard of Christ are without excuse before God for their rejection of Him because they have enough information to know there is a God, but they do not acknowledge Him as truly being God.  In fact, in the verses that follow, Paul continues to explain the ungodly results of this rejection, concluding in verse 32 that the things these people do are “worthy of death.”

It seems clear that at least for people practicing idolatry, sexual immorality, etc., the verdict is not promising.  But what about the average people of the world, those who have never done anything that bad or that evil?  Does God also condemn them?  If we continue reading in Romans 2, we see that for those people who have never heard of Jesus, God will judge them by their own standards.  Whenever they make a moral judgment, God considers that a moral standard that they must also keep themselves.

But herein lies the problem: who lives up to their own standards?  Who can honestly say, “I am not a hypocrite?”  And according to Romans 2:17ff, even the Jews who had the Old Testament Law and the Ten Commandments couldn’t and didn’t fulfill the righteous and holy demands of a perfect God.

Paul concludes his reflections on the state of humanity in Romans 3:10, when he states categorically that, “there is none righteous, not even one.”  Why?  “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (verse 23).  What does this mean?  It means just this: God is holy and He demands holiness (perfection) from those who would be in His presence (1 Peter 1:16).  He simply doesn’t grade on a curve.  You either get a perfect score of 100% or you fail completely (cf., James 2:10).

And when you really think about it, who wants a God who “fudges” and lets basically anyone into heaven?  That kind of God isn’t worthy of worship.  That’s a God who is just like us!  And it would make heaven a place just like earth, which is not the kind of heaven I—or anyone else—would want to spend all eternity in.

All of this begins to answer the first question raised above.  When we get a clearer picture of who God really is, who we are, and what He requires of us, we begin to see a very different picture than the one we may have painted of God and ourselves before.  The God of the Bible is a God who is perfect and holy, who demands that kind of perfection from all who would be in His presence.

Consequently, we will see in part two why it is so centrally important for everyone on earth to have an opportunity to hear and respond to the person of Jesus Christ.