Kingdom Liberty

Introduction

 

We’ve been progressing through the Chronological Bible this year. We spent a long time in the Old Testament and I feel like we just arrived in the New Testament, and there are only 6 weeks left to wrap up our one-year journey.

The Old Testament had many rules, and until this year it never struck me how much man deserved all those rules. The rules God put in place were to prevent man from self-destructing. In the Garden of Eden, there was only one rule.   Of course, we broke it. There was no need for Ten Commandments when we couldn’t follow One Commandment.

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Soon after, Cain slew Abel. Abel didn’t last very long. He was first mentioned in Genesis 4:2 and by verse 8 he was gone. He only lasted 6 verses. The sanctity of life through the ages is clear in our studies, and God said that Abel’s blood called out to Him from the ground.

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So God gave us more rules to protect us. The Ten Commandments included, “Thou shalt not murder.” And then ten commandments grew into hundreds of rules and laws as we read in the book of Leviticus.

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And then came the New Testament. And many feel that the New Testament rules on top of all the Old Testament rules are overwhelming.

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I used to think that #1 rule for Christians was to attend church every week. You know what I learned after I started going to church every week? The church meets throughout the week, too. Many churches have bible study on Wednesday nights. If you want to be a good Christian, you must go to church on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday. Sometimes there are bible studies on Tuesdays and Thursdays.   Friday nights often have church sponsored socials, those are mandatory, and don’t forget Saturday evening service.

There never seems to be anything scheduled on Mondays, though. Weird.

And different churches have different rules, so if you want to be saved, you must follow all the rules. If you go to a Pentecostal church, you must speak in tongues. If you go to a Baptist church, no dancing or drinking is allowed. And if you go to a Catholic Church, you can drink and dance but you can’t speak in tongues. It’s complicated, being a devout Christian.

 

Paul & Peter, Gentile & Jew

 

We are in Galatians 2 and we are going to focus on verse 11 following. Paul is in Jerusalem and writing to the church of Galatia and he’s dealing with the “Judaizers”. These were former Jews who claimed now to be Christians, and these Jews wanted the gentiles that converted from Paganism to Christianity to also submit to Jewish law. After all, there are a lot of rules if you want to be a Christian. These Jews were essentially proclaiming a “Jesus Plus Moses” doctrine. Yes, believe in Christ, plus do all these things Moses taught.

I’m going to read verses 11-13 from The Living Bible. Paul is telling the Galatians about a discussion Paul had with Peter at Antioch:

But when Peter came to Antioch I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong. For when he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians who don’t bother with circumcision and the many other Jewish laws. But afterwards, when some Jewish friends of James came, he wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these Jewish legalists, who insisted that circumcision was necessary for salvation, would say; and then all the other Jewish Christians and even Barnabas became hypocrites too, following Peter’s example, though they certainly knew better.

These “Judaizers,” these “Jesus plus Moses” Jews in the Christian Church were so persuasive that the apostle Peter changed his behavior, then Barnabas, then apparently many others in the church. There are rules for being a Christian, you know. Apparently even who you eat with will determine your salvation!

Paul both confronts Peter and identifies with Pater. After all, they are both Jews by birth and for their entire lives followed Jewish Law. They heard Jesus admonish the Pharisees for all their strict rules and regulations that not even the Pharisees could follow. And both Paul and Peter know that, even if they could follow the Law perfectly – which they could not, nobody can – obedience to the Law would not save them from their sins. Here is Paul’s message to Peter in verses 14-15 –

When I saw what was happening and that they weren’t being honest about what they really believed and weren’t following the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Though you are a Jew by birth, you have long since discarded the Jewish laws; so why, all of a sudden, are you trying to make these Gentiles obey them? You and I are Jews by birth, not mere Gentile sinners, and yet we Jewish Christians know very well that we cannot become right with God by obeying our Jewish laws but only by faith in Jesus Christ to take away our sins.”

Paul calls Peter a hypocrite because Peter feared men more than he feared God. In the first century the Greek word for hypocrite, “hypokritḗs” was used to describe an actor’s mask. Off stage he was one person, but when he stepped on stage to be seen by others, he would put on a mask and be another person.

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The word for hypocrisy reaches back even further, though, to 400BC. Hippocrates was one of the most influential men in medical history. Doctors today who practice medicine swear in by the Hippocratic Oath.   Hippocrates is famous for practicing medicine in the ancient world under what is now known as the tree of Hippocrates in Kos, Greece.

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The tree is massive, with branches that reach far out. All around the tree there is scaffolding used to uphold its branches.   On the outside we see the structure of the tree but here is the strange thing: the tree is hollow. On the inside, there is no substance. The tree appears healthy, but underneath the surface there is nothing.

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Slide11.JPGThe Apostle Paul is telling us, that those who are hypocritical may have an outward appearance of godliness but inwardly they have hollow faith. They have the structural appearance of being healthy, but they lack the substance.

Peter presented himself as an adopted Gentile to one group and as a Law-keeping Jew to another group. If we are honest, we are all guilty of the same sort of hypocrisy. We present ourselves one way at church but can act another way at work. We sing loud praises to God in Sunday Worship, but as soon as we get in our car after Church and get in Houston traffic, what comes out of our mouth is most certainly not praising God. We read scripture about how to love one another, then we ignore or insult people than annoy us. We believe Jesus loves the whole world, but we refuse to love those who are different than us.

Then Paul tells Peter that the very Jewish Law that Peter is pretending to follow wouldn’t save him anyway. It’s not the Law that saves. Paul says in Galatians 2:16,

“And so we, too, have trusted Jesus Christ, that we might be accepted by God because of faith—and not because we have obeyed the Jewish laws. For no one will ever be saved by obeying them.”

Paul’s argument throughout the book of Galatians can be summarized by this one verse. He tells us repeatedly we are not saved by works, but by faith in Jesus Christ. Remember, there were false teachers in the church in Galatia with the view that they were justified with God because they both believed in Jesus and kept the Law. They were teaching a “Jesus Plus Moses” doctrine so that their works under the Law would give them salvation.

Paul’s emphasis is that we are not declared righteous by keeping the Law. Our level of righteousness in God’s eyes is not upheld by our good works. Instead, our righteousness in God’s eyes is upheld by Jesus’ work: Jesus’ death on the cross for us.

We do not need to uphold the dietary restrictions that the Old Testament prescribes in order to be declared righteous. We will not be deemed unclean if we wear clothes with mixed fabrics as declared in Leviticus 19:19. And even if you boiled a baby goat in its mother’s milk in the past month or so as prohibited by Exodus 23:19, you are still saved.

Remember, this letter was to the Church, to believers. It is a reminder that we cannot earn our way into God’s presence by being at every Bible Study and small group. We do not earn favor with God because we prayed today. We do not earn favor with God because we memorized three Bible verses this week.   We do not even earn favor with God by listening to Christian radio, although KJIC 90.5 Country Christian Radio comes pretty close.

In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’   Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

This is obviously true, because Jesus said it. “Only the one who does the will of my Father.” So is Jesus saying that works can save us? But then the rest of the verse says that even people doing the will of Jesus will be told to leave because Jesus didn’t know them.

What is the will of the Father? It is for all of His children to place their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. He doesn’t ask us to drive out demons.   He just asks us to trust in Jesus. By faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

Nothing we do, except for our faith, saves us, and even the faith we have has been given to us.   Two verses in Ephesians 2 makes it clear, verses 4-9,

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. It’s all about Jesus and it’s never about what we do or don’t do. God made us alive when we were dead. We have nothing to do with raising ourselves to life.

And that’s exactly what Paul is pointing out to Peter in his letter to the Galatians:

You and I are Jews by birth, not mere Gentile sinners, and yet we Jewish Christians know very well that we cannot become right with God by obeying our Jewish laws but only by faith in Jesus Christ to take away our sins.

What does it take to be saved? Faith alone, and that faith has been given to us by God’s grace. We have been freed from the bondage of performance slavery.   Jesus liberated us from believing that religious practices and rites save us. As a Pharisee and member of the straight-edge religious elite of Judaism Paul knew what it was like to struggle with trying to earn God’s approval with his behavior. He found rest in the Gospel that the only thing that makes us righteous is faith in God. Whether you are a son or daughter with good behavior or bad, nevertheless you are still a son or daughter of God.

 

Misconceptions About Salvation

 

There are many misconceptions about what it means to be saved. As Christians, we probably cause that confusion. We might have heard the phrase “Jesus Plus Nothing” but we have such a hard time practicing it. Let’s discuss a few of them.

      • Ask Jesus into your heart.

Do you have to do this to be saved? I read a testimony from an evangelist who had shared the gospel and told his student he would be saved if he invited Jesus into their heart. But later the student was mad when he found out scripture said Jesus was the only way to God. The student was a follower of eastern religions that believed there were many prophets that could point to God, and to cover his bases, he had invited Jesus into his heart along with all the other prophets. This phrase, “ask Jesus into your heart,” is confusing and incomplete.

It’s usually based on this scripture from Revelation 3:19-20 –

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

The key to understanding scripture is location, location, location. In this verse, Jesus isn’t speaking to nonbelievers.   These are not instructions on how to be saved. Jesus is speaking to the church of Laodicea, and He is speaking to followers of Christ who already believe. He is instructing believers how to have a closer relationship with Him.

Likewise from Ephesians 3:16-17,

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

Is this teaching that you must ask Jesus into your heart? Again, Paul is teaching believers here. Christ does indeed dwell in the hearts of believers, but it is a result *of* salvation, not a requirement *for* salvation. “Ask Jesus into your heart” is not anti-biblical, it’s just naturally what happens when you believe. It is the belief, it is the faith through God’s grace, that saves.

      • Be sorry for your sins.

Should we Christians beat ourselves up for all the bad things we did before we became Christian, and to be honest, for all the things we continue to do? Do we have to have regret to be saved? Let’s look at a couple of pieces of scripture. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul says,

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

But again, Paul is talking to believers that sin against the Lord. Such Godly sorrow leads one to turn from sin and leaves no regret. In other words, every Christian has a past. So just leave it there. There’s no reason to drag it around with you everywhere you go.

What about non-Christians? Should they feel sorry in order to be saved? This verse says “Godly sorrow.” How in the world are non-believers supposed to have Godly sorrow when they do not have the Holy Spirit inside them? No, feeling sorry for your sins doesn’t save us. If it did, this corrupted version of John 3:16 would read this way–

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever feels really bad about what they’ve done should not perish, but have everlasting life.

That certainly isn’t right. It’s whosoever *believes* in Him. I am saved by faith alone through Christ alone by grace alone.

      • Give up your sins.

This is probably one of the most difficult misconceptions to explain. We just covered a little while ago that bible studies and church attendance doesn’t save us. But what about repenting of our sins? After all, the bible is full of calls to repentance, isn’t it?

“Repentance” is indeed required for salvation. But I’ve discovered that the definition of “repentance” has been distorted through the years. Sometimes we define it as “turning away from evil and toward God.” Those are indeed things Christians should do, but are they required for salvation?

Well, let’s look at the word translated as “repent,” the Greek word is “metanoeō,” and it is defined as “to change one’s mind, to think differently, to reconsider.”

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In other words, change your mind about Jesus. Change your mind about God. That sort of repentance leads to salvation, a trust in faith through Christ that He died for our sins. The gospel of John mentions the word “believe” 85 times in order to be saved without ever mentioning the word “repent” a single time. The word “repent” does not mean “change your behavior,” though that often follows from changing one’s mind first.

So, is giving up our sins a sign we are a believer? If we are a follower of Christ and we are listening to the Holy Spirit dwelling within, repenting of sins is important for spiritual growth.   In this case, we are repenting, we are changing our mind, we are saying, “I am going to stop arguing with God.   I am going to agree with God about my sins,” and then giving up your sins and winning the spiritual battle over the flesh is what we are called to do. But that is after we are saved, not before. Jesus accepts us for who we are, where we are, in all of our filthy clothes. Thank the Lord we don’t have to clean up our act first before we are saved. Jesus cleans up our act after. Romans 5:6-8,

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

We do not have to clean up our act before accepting Christ or to be saved. We are saved through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

      • Pray a prayer.

All we have to do is say the sinner’s prayer and be saved, right?       After all, Romans 10:13 says,

“Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Let me put it this way: Can you say a prayer out loud while silently not placing your faith in Jesus? You’re thinking to yourself, I’m saying this but I’m not going to do it. The prayer itself has no power.

But can you place your faith in Jesus silently, without a prayer? Of course you can. There’s nothing wrong with the prayer itself, but it can lead one to a false sense of security that if they prayed correctly, then they are saved.   It is not the prayer that saves, is it the faith behind the prayer. I am saved through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

      • Give your life to Jesus.

Do you have to give your life to Jesus to be saved?       I can give you one major example of somebody who gave their life to Christ and yet was not saved:       Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Devoting your life to Jesus clearly doesn’t save you.

What does save you?   Acts 16:31,

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

What all of these misconceptions have in common is that they are works of man. And we know that we can never be good enough, to work hard enough, to assure our place in heaven. How would we ever know it’s been enough? No, to be saved, we have to change our mind about who Jesus is, to place our faith in Christ. By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. Nothing else.

 

Christ Did It All

 

Let’s turn back to our scripture in Galatians 2 and see what Paul says to Peter next, verse 17-21,

But what if we trust Christ to save us and then find that we are wrong and that we cannot be saved without being circumcised and obeying all the other Jewish laws? Wouldn’t we need to say that faith in Christ had ruined us? God forbid that anyone should dare to think such things about our Lord.   Rather, we are sinners if we start rebuilding the old systems I have been destroying of trying to be saved by keeping Jewish laws, for it was through reading the Scripture that I came to realize that I could never find God’s favor by trying—and failing—to obey the laws. I came to realize that acceptance with God comes by believing in Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not one of those who treats Christ’s death as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping Jewish laws, then there was no need for Christ to die.

What Paul is saying is that we keep trying to add things to Christ in order to be saved.   The Jews were promoting Jesus plus Moses. In effect, they were saying, Yes, Jesus came to fulfill the law, but *we* still have to fulfill the law, too.

That is not trusting in Christ. Paul says that if we could obey the law and be saved, then what was the purpose of Jesus?   What are we putting our trust in?   Our own ability to be good, or the sacrifice of God? Or maybe we’re hedging our bets. Sure, let’s trust in Christ, but to be on the safe side, let’s do all these other things, too. Circumcision, abstain from unclean animals like pork, mixing different types of fabrics in our clothes. Why don’t we obey all of those rules with a “Jesus Plus Moses” attitude?

Perhaps I should ask instead what “Jesus Plus” attitude is still prevalent today. We impose a great many rules for others – not for us, really, rules are for other people. Attending church once, twice, or even three times a week. Or attending church at Christmas and Easter.   Attending bible study. Walking the aisle when giving one’s life to Christ.

Let’s consider baptism. Is it required to be saved? Some Pentecostal churches believe that not only baptism is required, but when you come out of the water, you must speak in tongues. If you don’t speak in tongues, back into the water you go. I suppose this is repeated over and over again like some sort of loving Christian waterboarding.

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Let’s be clear about this distinction: I believe baptism is mandatory for believers. I believe it is a demonstration of our willingness to follow the Lord and it is almost always our first act of obedience… *after* we are saved. It is not a requirement *to* be saved. It is not required for salvation, it *is* required for spiritual growth. If you are Christian and haven’t been baptized, I think it’s time to put aside your resistance, call Jesus Christ your Lord and ask him to lead you to baptism.

But we are not saved by good works. We are saved for good works.

Let’s consider a light bulb. It’s wired up, and when the switch is flipped, it brings light to the room.   If we don’t flip the switch, though, is it still a light bulb? Of course it is. It’s just not a useful lightbulb. And if we have accepted Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us power, and we are asked to shine the light of Christ for others to see. We can refuse and stay dark, but we’re still saved. We’re just not useful.

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But are we saved?   Remember: By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. There is nothing we can add to that without taking it away from Christ.

 

The Simplicity of Christ

 

I know first-hand that living as a Christian has challenges. I also know those challenges have purposes ordained by God to train me in His way, to increase my faith and trust in Him, to encourage my spiritual gifts to be developed. There are a great many things I must do to grow as a man of God.

But there’s nothing that I must do to be saved. Christ did that for me, because I could not do it for myself. And my response to His sacrifice is to worship and praise a mighty God that loves me enough to die for me so that I may live.

While there are many challenges to living as a Christian, becoming a Christian is the easiest thing in the world. All we have to do is accept what has been done, and our eternal salvation is secure, firmly held in the palm of His hand, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and no one can snatch us out of His hand. It’s not that some of the work has been done for us, or most of the work has been done for us. All of the work has been done for us. We don’t have to say, “Hey, thanks for picking up dinner, let me pay for the tip.”

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There is simplicity in being in Christ. I know, because the bible says so in 2nd Corinthians 11:3,

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

The story of the bible is not what we do for God. It is what God has done for us.

 

Conclusion

 

It’s not “Jesus Plus Moses.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Church Attendance.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Feeling Guilty.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Anything.”

It’s just Jesus.   By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone.

That is the simplicity of being in Christ.

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To God be the glory.   Amen.

With Perseverance

I. Introduction

In our recent study of the Book of Galatians, Galatians taught us a lot about what it takes to become a believer, and all the misconceptions that people may have about what it takes to get into heaven.  It’s not following certain rules, it’s not performing certain rituals, it’s not anything we do.  All God asks of us is to believe in Christ Jesus, and even that ability to believe comes from God.  Remember, it is faith alone, through Christ alone, by Grace alone.  Nothing else.
We’re starting the book of James today and much of James talks about what is expected of us as Christians.  In fact, it is so much about works that you may begin to wonder what our study of Galatians was all about.  Are we contradicting ourselves, first by saying “faith alone” and then talking about works?
So before we actually start the book of James, let’s see if we can understand some of the differences between these books.  Galatians, addressed to the church of ….
… that’s right, Galatia.  Man, we are one smart group today.  In Galatians, Paul was talking primarily to the Judaizers, those teaching a “Jesus plus Moses” philosophy.  In other words, the Galatians were teaching that Jesus had done 95% of the work and we have to chip in the other 5%.  We are saved, but we still have to be circumcised, follow Jewish festivals, follow all the Jewish rules, etc.  These requirements were obstacles to new believers, and Paul was saying that circumcision, festivals and rules had nothing to do with obtaining salvation.  Jesus did it all, 100%.  Faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone.
The book of James is written to different audience – believers that are already saved.  James 1:2 begins,
Consider it all joy, my brethren
Who are the brethren?  Right, believers in the church, brothers and sisters in Christ.  And James is talking to believers about the spiritual walk, how to understand trials and tribulations, how to grow closer to God.

II. Salvation vs Sanctification

So I want to bring this chart back up, I showed it briefly a few weeks back:
Phase Justification
(a one time event)
Sanctification
(or progressive sanctification, spiritual walk, a process)
Glorification
(immediately after death or rapture)
Tense Past
(I have been saved)
Present
(I am being saved)
Not sinless, but sinning less.
Future
(I will be saved)
Saved from sin’s: Penalty Power Presence
Scripture Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5 Philip 2:12 Rom 5:10
When we say, “faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone,” we are talking about what it means to be saved.  It is a one time event at the moment we trust in Christ, with ongoing effect.  But once we are a Christian, we become aware of God’s purpose for us, and aligning ourselves to that purpose is our spiritual walk.  We grow in Christ.  And this process continues until we die or are raptured.  I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.  All three tenses are true.  And James is focusing in today’s lesson on our progressive sanctification and understanding the events in our lives.
The book of James contains 50 different commands for Christians, “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not.”  Are these things we must do to be saved?  It depends on which definition of “saved” we are talking about.  It has nothing to do with going to heaven and spending eternity with Jesus, but it has everything to do with understanding the loving God that created us and how we as believers are to live our lives.
So with all that behind us, let’s begin.

III. Purpose of Testing

So far we nearly finished studying 6 words in James, so let’s look at them again,
Consider it all joy, my brethren
Of the 50 commands to Christians in the book of James, we’ve already discovered the first one.  The word “consider” is an imperative, something we are commanded to do.  Let’s read the entirety of our verses for today, and then go back and study them individually.  James 1:2-15,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.  For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.  Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
Whew.  Ok, this looks easy.  James is teaching us about the purpose of trials in the life of a Christian.

A. Joyful Attitude

First of all, we are to have a joyful attitude.  Verse 2,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials
Various trials are hard to define.  Is James talking about running out of money?  Getting sick?  Dealing with people that mistreat you?  And the answer to all of that is yes.  Specifically, the Greek word for “trials” is peirasmós,
πειρασμός peirasmós, pi-ras-mos’; a putting to proof (by experiment (of good), experience (of evil), solicitation, discipline or provocation); by implication, adversity:—temptation, × try.
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Basically, anything with the potential to be drawn toward sin and away from God.  While I was contemplating this and thinking of an example, I could hear my wife in the next room bawling her eyes out.  She was ok, but she was watching a NOVA special on organ transplants, and an especially touching event where a mother had to let her son, traumatized by a brain injury, be released for organ transplant.  The mother, obviously a Christian believer, was holding her son’s hand as they were wheeling him away so that his organs could be harvested to save somebody else’s life, and she was crying out, “I’ll see you soon!”
I can’t even imagine what this mother was going through.  And is this verse from James telling her to be happy about it?
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials
How does one “consider it all joy?”  First by understanding that “all joy” is not the same thing as happiness.  James isn’t a masochist.  James is telling us to continually seek the mind of God and how God will be able to use the trial for His purpose.  If we understand God is all good and in charge of all things, then all trials accomplish His purpose.  And if we know that the trials are accomplishing the will of God, then we can have an attitude of joy even in the midst of pain or suffering.  Chuck Swindoll put it this way –
“We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”
― Charles R. Swindoll
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We are to live our lives for the things that matter most.  If we get to thinking that our suffering is more than others endure, or more than seems fair, we can remember our savior on the cross.  Did Christ suffer pain?  Yet Hebrews 12:2 says,
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
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If Jesus can have joy during His crucifixion, perhaps we can find joy in our trials.

B. Endurance

How do we find this joy?  By seeking God’s purpose.  Let’s continue with verse 3,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
We are to know that God has a purpose to our trials.  God always tests our faith.  It doesn’t way “if” we encounter trials, but “when.”  Christians are not sheltered and pampered.  Some trials come because we are human – sickness, accidents, disappointments.  Some trials come because we live in a fallen world – earthquakes, hurricanes, floods.  And some just because we are Christians.
These trials work for us, not against us.  Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:17,
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
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We tend to think trials are inflicted upon us, but this scripture says even the worst trials we endure are fulfilling a purpose that brings glory to God.  Satan tempts us to bring out our worst, but God tests our faith to bring out our best.  James says it produces endurance in us.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Endurance leads to perfection?  We’re to be perfect?
Trials help us mature.  It’s easier to trust in God when things are going great, but I’m not sure that’s really trust.  It’s when times are tough that we learn if our faith is genuine.  Paul says the same thing in Romans 5:3-4,
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Perseverance.  Endurance.  Patience.  Waiting on God.  Patience is a foundation of our spiritual journey.  Patience is the key to receiving God’s blessings.  God told Abraham to be patient and God would give him a child.  At some point, Abraham and Sarah decided God needed help, so Abraham produced a son with Hagar.  It brought great difficulties in Abraham’s life, difficulties that have endured through the ages and affect us today.  Eventually, Abraham and Sarah had a son of their own.  How much more blessed their life would have been if they had been patient, endured, persevered.
Impatient children never learn, never mature.  They want it now.  And patience can only be learned by waiting.
Patience has been a hard lesson for me to learn, and I’m pretty sure it’s because of my pride.  I thought I was patient.  Meeting somebody at a restaurant and they’re an hour late?  I can do that.  Waiting for my birthday to arrive and it is months away?  I can do that.  Waiting on the Lord to answer prayers for my wife’s health or for salvation to come to some members of my family?  What is taking Him so long?
But patience isn’t a specific length of time.  Patience is waiting.  Why hasn’t the rapture come yet?  2 Peter 3:8-9 says it’s because the Lord is patient –
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
The Lord is patient for as long as it takes.  I have prayers in my life I’ve been praying for decades.  Unanswered prayers teach me what real patience is.  So I keep praying, and I’m learning patience, perseverance, endurance.  And there’s a purpose to learning this, James 1:4,
And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
To make me perfect.  I certainly don’t feel perfect.  But “perfect” here doesn’t mean without any flaws.  The Greek phrase “perfect and complete” means one who fulfills the purpose for which God created him or her and are fully attaining their higher calling.  In other words, we are content to be in Christ, we are fulfilling Christ’s will for our lives, and we need nothing else.

C. Wisdom

Am I perfect and complete?  I don’t think so.  I’m at the point in my life, though, where I see more and more how my own will for me sometimes stands in opposition to God.  God wants me to have joy, patience, endurance, produce fruit in accordance with His will.  But I want a boat.
See, my will for myself continually misdirects me from what God wants for me.  I want a boat, I want to win an argument, I want to watch television, I want a raise, I want I want I want.  If I am to be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing, then I want what God wants.  How do I figure out what that is?
James 1: 5-7,
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
I can trust in this promise.  Believers in Christ, if they ask for wisdom, they will receive wisdom.
I don’t think God is satisfied with the unfinished Christian.  He has a purpose for us that starts with our character which is perfected through our joy in our trials, endurance through our patience, and wisdom through prayer and study of His Word.
Unanswered prayers teach us so much besides patience and endurance.  God desires for us to trust in Him alone.  What do we do when a prayer is unanswered?  Are we patient and do we endure as God asks us to do?
I’ve experienced this in my life first-hand.  When I was going through a particularly rough patch in my life, I felt like maybe God didn’t hear me.  I listened, I waited, and there was no answer.  And I decided on my own that I didn’t need to wait on God, I could fix the problem on my own.  I could choose a course of action that I felt was best for me.
And I remembered how Abraham and Sarah didn’t wait on the Lord.  They, too, felt the Lord had forgotten His promise.
James says that if we aren’t patient and trust in the Lord’s promises, we get only the reward of our own effort.  Trusting in the Lord gave me a foundation of solid stone.  Trusting in myself gave me a foundation of shifting sand.
I still wrestle with this, trying to do things on my own instead of relying on God.  And I learned that when I do things on my own, I fail.  But when I rely on God, He never fails.  I learn through these trials to endure, be patient, ask for wisdom, and listen for His still small voice.  And every time I listed to Him instead of me, I know that He is perfecting me for His glory.
Why does God want all of this for us?  God wants to build our Christian character so that He can use us according to His purpose.  God works in us before He works through us.  And at the end of the trials, what then?  Let’s look at James 1:12.

IV. Crown of Life

James 1:12,
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
I mentioned a few months back about the 5 crowns available to believers, and I hope you will indulge a few minutes of exploring in more detail these crowns.
The Crown of Life is mentioned here as a reward to those who endure trials and are perfected by God.  This same crown is also mentioned in Revelation 2:10 when Jesus talks to the church at Smyrna–
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.  Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
There are 5 crowns available to believers, each one as a reward for different aspects of the Christian character –
Scripture’s Five Crowns
Crown Scripture Purpose
Life James 1:12; Rev. 2:10 Enduring trials
Incorruptible 1 Cor. 9:24-27 Gaining mastery over the flesh
Rejoicing 1 Thess. 2:19-20 Winning Souls
Glory 1 Pet. 5:2-4 Shepherding God’s people
Righteousness 2 Tim. 4:8 Longing for His appearing

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  • The Crown of Life.  Joy in our trials, knowing that God has a plan.  Spiritual growth through our adversity.
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  • The incorruptible Crown.  We have eternal life that can never be destroyed, we have life forever in Christ Jesus.  Believers that endure to the end and pursue God-given ministry and triumph over sin are given an imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:25-27).
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  • The Crown of Rejoicing and Exultation.   These crowns come from others we minister to in this life; those believers believer become “our glory and joy” before the Lord.  We rejoice in heaven upon seeing and talking with our loved ones who we shared our spiritual growth.  (1 Thess. 2:18-20)
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  • The Crown of Glory.  Jesus promises that those who leave everything to follow Him receive a hundredfold reward in addition to eternal life.  As Christ is our Great Shepherd, those who shepherd His flock while waiting for His return are given the Crown of Glory.  (1 Peter 5:2-4, Mark 10:29-31)
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  • The Crown of Righteousness. The reward for living righteously and giving Christ the glory when facing temptation or hardship. (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
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In heaven, what will we do with the crowns God has given us? We will cast them before Jesus’ feet (Revelation 4:10), laying them down as a tribute to the One who saved us, gifted us, equipped us, and lived in us. Everything good and right comes to us through the Lord, so He deserves our crowns.

V. Conclusion

So
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
Life is hard.  It’s full of trials and difficulties.  There’s pain and persecution and loss and suffering.  But God has a purpose for each of us, and it starts with our sanctification, our spiritual walk.  We can consider it all joy knowing that God is in control and He has a plan.  Romans 8:28,
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
We can’t understand everything that God is doing, but He promises to provide wisdom if we trust in Him and pray to understand.  In other words, when life is too hard to stand, then kneel.
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To God be the glory.  Amen.

True Grace

 

I.   Introduction

 

It is so difficult to become a Christian. There are so many rules.

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I used to think that rule #1 was to attend church every week. You know what I learned after I started going to church every week?   The church meets throughout the week, too. Turns out, Wednesday nights are mandatory, too. Some churches have bible study on Wednesday nights. We have Outreach here. If you want to be a good Christian, Sunday morning isn’t enough.   You need the Sunday evening service, too. Then the Wednesday service. Also, there are bible studies on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Friday nights often have church sponsored socials, those are mandatory, and don’t forget Saturday evening service.

There never seems to be anything scheduled on Mondays, though. Weird.

And different churches have different rules, so if you want to be saved, you must follow all the rules. If you go to a Pentecostal church, you must speak in tongues. If you go to a Baptist church, no dancing or drinking is allowed. And if you go to a Catholic Church, you may only to a Catholic church. At the Catholic Church, you can drink and dance but you can’t speak in tongues. It’s complicated, being a devout Christian.

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And when you come to church, there’s a mandatory dress code. For men, coat and tie. I wore a coat and tie for a while this year, but then the summer came. It just shows how spiritually weak I am, not to wear a coat and tie when it’s 105 °F outside.

For women, well, I’m not an expert on women’s clothing. I just know that you’re doing it wrong.

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And then there’s the tithing. Whatever you’re giving, it’s not enough. You might think the rule is 10%, but that’s so Old Testament. In the New Testament, we give with joy. We keep increasing our giving until it hurts, and that’s where we learned we’re not as full of joy as we thought. We are supposed to be filled with joy, so if we find giving hurts, we’re not joyful. Give more, God’s working on you.

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And quiet time is mandatory. The first hour of every day should be spent in quiet time with the Lord, followed by an additional hour to reflect on the conversation in the first hour. And then quiet time again in the evening.   Amateur believers like us limit ourselves to just these three hours of quiet time every day. But if you want to go to heaven, three hours probably isn’t enough.

And all these rules are for other people to follow. If somebody askes us if we spend 3 hours in quiet time, we are to mumble a vague answer and let them think we do, because, hey who has time for all that, but I still want them to think I’m a Christian.

Man, it’s complicated being a Christian.

 

II.  Paul & Peter, Gentile & Jew

 

We are in Galatians 2 and we are going to focus on verse 11 following. Paul is in Jerusalem and writing to the church of Galatia and he’s dealing with the “Judaizers”. These were former Jews who claimed to be Christians, and these Jews wanted the gentiles that converted from Paganism to Christianity to also submit to Jewish law. After all, there are a lot of rules if you want to be a Christian. These Jews were essentially proclaiming a “Jesus Plus Moses” doctrine. Yes, believe in Christ, plus do all these things Moses taught.

I’m going to read verses 11-13 from The Living Bible. Paul is telling the Galatians about a discussion Paul had with Peter at Antioch:

But when Peter came to Antioch I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong. For when he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians who don’t bother with circumcision and the many other Jewish laws. But afterwards, when some Jewish friends of James came, he wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these Jewish legalists, who insisted that circumcision was necessary for salvation, would say; and then all the other Jewish Christians and even Barnabas became hypocrites too, following Peter’s example, though they certainly knew better.

These “Judaizers,” these “Jesus plus Moses” Jews in the Christian Church were so persuasive that the apostle Peter changed his behavior, then Barnabas, then apparently many others in the church. There are rules for being a Christian, you know. Rules, I tell you! Church attendance, clothing, tithing, and even who you eat with will determine your salvation!

Paul both confronts Peter and identifies with Pater. After all, they are both Jews by birth and followed Jewish Law. They heard Jesus admonish the Pharisees for all their strict rules and regulations that not even the Pharisees could follow.   And both Paul and Peter know that, even if they could follow the Law perfectly – which they could not, nobody can – obedience to the Law would not save them from their sins. Here is Paul’s message to Peter in verses 14-16 –

When I saw what was happening and that they weren’t being honest about what they really believed and weren’t following the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Though you are a Jew by birth, you have long since discarded the Jewish laws; so why, all of a sudden, are you trying to make these Gentiles obey them? You and I are Jews by birth, not mere Gentile sinners, and yet we Jewish Christians know very well that we cannot become right with God by obeying our Jewish laws but only by faith in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And so we, too, have trusted Jesus Christ, that we might be accepted by God because of faith—and not because we have obeyed the Jewish laws. For no one will ever be saved by obeying them.”

Have you ever heard of the doctrine of Lordship Salvation? In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’   Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Obviously true, because Jesus said it. Some churches teach that this verse says that obeying Jesus is necessary for salvation.

In context, Jesus has been talking about false prophets in the church that say one thing and do another, and we can know they are false prophets by their deeds.   Even if they can perform miracles in Jesus’s name, if they do not trust in Jesus, they are not saved.

In the doctrine of Lordship Salvation, one can recognize true believers by their changed lives. In the doctrine of Lordship Salvation, you demonstrate that you are a believer by making Jesus your Lord. In the doctrine of Lordship Salvation, one must both receive Christ as Savior and cease from sin (or at least be willing to cease from sin) in order to be saved.   If you do not have a changed life, you may not be a true believer.

There’s a lot of truth in Lordship doctrine when it comes to the life of a Christian. To truly grow in faith, to be sanctified, to regenerate as a new believer, then indeed one must turn from sin and surrender to Jesus. But those works are for spiritual growth, not for salvation. What is required to be saved? Faith alone. Nothing we do, except for our faith, saves us, and even the faith we have has been given to us. Two verse in Ephesians 8 makes it clear in verses 4-9,

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. It’s all about Jesus and it’s never about what we do or don’t do. God made us alive when we were dead. We have nothing to do with raising ourselves to life.

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I like to think of it flipping a light switch. Flip a switch, the light comes on. Practically simultaneously. But the electricity comes first, and instantly there is light. The Holy Spirit is like that electricity and gives us light and as Christians we shine in this dark world. But to expect that light to shine first makes no sense.   All salvation comes as a gift from God and not ourselves.

And that’s exactly what Paul is pointing out to Peter in his letter to the Galatians.

You and I are Jews by birth, not mere Gentile sinners, and yet we Jewish Christians know very well that we cannot become right with God by obeying our Jewish laws but only by faith in Jesus Christ to take away our sins.

What does it take to be saved? Faith alone, and that faith has been given to us by God’s grace.

 

III.  Misconceptions About Salvation

 

There are many misconceptions about what it means to be saved. As Christians, we probably cause that confusion. We might have heard the phrase “Jesus Plus Nothing” but we have such a hard time practicing it. Let’s discuss a few of them.

A.  Ask Jesus into your heart.

Do you have to do this to be saved? I read a testimony from an evangelist who had shared the gospel and told the student to invite Jesus into their heart.

But later the student was mad when he found out scripture said Jesus was the only way to God. The student disagreed, he was a follower of eastern religions that believed there were many prophets that could point to God, and to cover his bases, he had invited Jesus in with all the other prophets. This phrase, “ask Jesus into your heart,” is confusing and incomplete.

It’s usually based on this scripture from Revelation 3:19-20 –

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

The key to understanding scripture is location, location, location. Jesus isn’t speaking to nonbelievers, these are not instructions on how to be saved. Jesus is speaking to the church of Laodicea, He is speaking to followers of Christ who already believe. He is instructing believers how to have a closer relationship with Him. Likewise from Ephesians 3:16-17,

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

Paul is teaching believers again. Christ does indeed dwell in the hearts of believers, but it is a result *of* salvation, not a requirement *for* salvation. “Ask Jesus into your heart” is not anti-biblical, it’s just what happens when you believe. It is the belief, it is the faith through God’s grace, that saves.

B.  Be sorry for your sins.

Should you beat yourself up for all the bad things you did before you became and Christian, and to be honest, for all the things you continue to do? Do you have to regret what you’ve done to be saved? Let’s look at a couple of pieces of scripture. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul says,

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

But again, Paul is talking to believers that sin against the Lord. Such Godly sorrow leads one to turn from sin and leaves no regret. No regrets!   In other words, every Christian has a past. Leave it there.

What about non-Christians? Should they feel sorry in order to be saved? How in the world are they supposed to have Godly sorrow when they do not have the Holy Spirit inside them? No, feeling sorry for your sins doesn’t save us. Let’s try this version of John 3:16 –

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever feels really bad about what they’ve done should not perish, but have everlasting life.

That certainly isn’t right. It’s whosoever believes in Him. I am saved by faith alone through Christ alone by grace alone.

C.  Give up your sins.

This is probably one of the most difficult misconceptions to explain. After all, we preach repentance, do we not?

I know I myself have taught this incorrectly in the past. “Repentance” is indeed required for salvation. But I’ve discovered that the definition of “repentance” has been distorted through the years. Sometimes we define it as “turning away from evil and toward God.” Those are indeed things Christians should do, but are they required for salvation?

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Well, let’s look at the word translated as “repent,” the Greek word is “metanoeō,” and it is defined as “to change one’s mind, to think differently, to reconsider.”   Sometimes indeed when the word “metanoeō” is used in scripture, it means “to turn from sin,” or more accurately, “to change one’s mind about sin,” but when used that way, the word “repent” is not connected to salvation. But in Acts 11:18b, it says,

God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.

In other words, change your mind about Jesus. Change your mind about God. That sort of repentance leads to salvation, a trust in faith through Christ that He died for our sins. The gospel of John mentions the word “believe” 85 times in order to be saved without ever mentioning the word repent a single time. To believe is to change one’s mind about God, to repent.   The word “repent” does not mean “change your behavior,” though changing one’s behavior often follows from changing one’s mind first.

So, give up the sins? If we are a follower of Christ and we are listening to the Holy Spirit dwelling within, repenting of sins is important for spiritual growth. In this case, we are repenting, we are changing our mind, we are saying, “I am going to agree with God about my sins,” and then giving up your sins and winning the spiritual battle over the flesh is what we are called to do. But that is after we are saved, not before. Jesus accepts us for who we are, where we are, in all of our filthy clothes. We don’t have to clean up our act first before we are saved, that comes after.   Romans 5:6-8,

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Thank God I didn’t have to clean up my act first. That burden of cleaning me up I give thanks to Jesus *after* I became a believer. I am saved through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

D.  Pray a prayer.

All you have to do is say the sinner’s prayer and be saved, right? Romans 10:13 says,

“Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Let me put it this way: can you say a prayer while silently not placing your faith in Jesus? If the answer is yes, then the prayer itself has no power.

But can you place your faith in Jesus silently? Of course you can. There’s nothing wrong with the prayer itself, but it can lead one to a false sense of security that if they prayed correctly, then they are saved. It is not the prayer that saves, is it the faith behind the prayer. I am saved through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

E.  Give your life to Jesus.

Do you have to give your life to Jesus to be saved?       I can give you one major example of somebody who gave their life to Christ and yet was not saved:  Judas Iscariot.  Devoting your life to Jesus clearly doesn’t save you.

What does save you?   Acts 16:31,

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

To be saved, you have to change your mind about who Jesus is, to place your faith in Christ.   By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. Nothing else.

 

IV.  Christ Did It All

 

Let’s turn back to our scripture in Galatians 2 and see what Paul says to Peter next, verse 17-21,

But what if we trust Christ to save us and then find that we are wrong and that we cannot be saved without being circumcised and obeying all the other Jewish laws? Wouldn’t we need to say that faith in Christ had ruined us? God forbid that anyone should dare to think such things about our Lord.   Rather, we are sinners if we start rebuilding the old systems I have been destroying of trying to be saved by keeping Jewish laws, for it was through reading the Scripture that I came to realize that I could never find God’s favor by trying—and failing—to obey the laws. I came to realize that acceptance with God comes by believing in Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not one of those who treats Christ’s death as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping Jewish laws, then there was no need for Christ to die.

What Paul is saying is that we keep trying to add things to Christ in order to be saved.   The Jews were promoting Jesus plus Moses. In effect, they were saying, Yes, Jesus came to fulfill the law, but *you* still have to fulfill the law, too.

That is not trusting in Christ. Paul says that if we could obey the law and be saved, then what was the purpose of Jesus?   What are we putting our trust in?   Our own ability to be good, or the sacrifice of God? Or maybe we’re hedging our bets. Sure, let’s trust in Christ, but to be on the safe side, let’s do all these other things, too. Circumcision, abstain from unclean animals like pork, mixing different types of fabrics in our clothes. Why don’t we abstain from all of those with a “Jesus Plus Moses” attitude?

Perhaps I should ask instead what “Jesus Plus” attitude is still prevalent today. We impose a great many rules for others – not for us, really, rules are for other people. Attending church once, twice, or even three times a week. Or attending church at Christmas and Easter.   Attending bible study. Walking the aisle when giving one’s life to Christ.   And still to this day we have our ideas about what clothing is acceptable to wear to church and what is not.

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Let’s consider baptism. Is it required to be saved? Some Pentecostal churches believe that not only baptism is required, but when you come out of the water, you must speak in tongues. If you don’t speak in tongues, back into the water you go. I suppose this is repeated over and over again like some sort of loving Christian waterboarding.

Let’s be clear about this distinction: I believe baptism is mandatory. I believe it is a demonstration of our willingness to follow the Lord and it is almost always our first act of obedience… *after* we are saved. It is not a requirement *to* be saved. It is not required for salvation, it *is* required for spiritual growth. If you are Christian and haven’t been baptized, I think it’s time to put aside your resistance, call Jesus “Lord” and ask him to lead you to baptism.

We are not saved by good works. We are saved for good works.

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Let’s use that analogy about the light bulb again: You’ve accepted Christ, the electricity has been applied, and you’re asked to shine your light for others. You can refuse and stay dark. Or you can follow Christ and shine His light. But either way, the electricity has been applied and we are saved.

Or consider this:   you’ve given your best friend a present because you love them. Which response from them would you prefer:

      • Thank you. I love you.
      • Let me pay you back.

Remember: By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. There is nothing we can add to that without taking it away from Christ.

 

V.  The Simplicity of Christ

 

I know first-hand that living as a Christian has challenges. I also know those challenges have purposes ordained by God to train me in His way, to increase my faith and trust in Him, to encourage my spiritual gifts to be developed. There are a great many things I must do to grow as a man of God.

But nothing that I must do to be saved. Christ did that for me, because I could not do it for myself. And my response to His sacrifice is to worship and praise a mighty God that loves me enough to die for me so that I may live.

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While there are many challenges to living as a Christian, becoming a Christian is the easiest thing in the world. All we have to do is accept what has been done, and our eternal salvation is secure, firmly held in the palm of His hand, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and no one can snatch us out of His hand. It’s not that some of the work has been done for us, or most of the work has been done for us. All of the work has been done for us. We don’t have to say, “Hey, thanks for picking up dinner, let me pay for the tip.”

There is simplicity in being in Christ. I know, because the bible says so in 2nd Corinthians 11:3,

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

The story of the bible is not what we do for God. It is what God has done for us.

 

VI.  Conclusion

 

It’s not “Jesus Plus Moses.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Church Attendance.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Feeling Guilty.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Anything.”

It’s just Jesus.   By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone.

That is the simplicity of being in Christ.

To God be the glory.   Amen.

Offered to All

             I.      Introduction – The Parable

You probably cry at weddings.  Statistics show that 86% of all women cry at weddings, 36% of all men do, and over 77% of all statistics are made up.

The last wedding I attended was between two antennae.  The wedding was ok, I suppose, but the reception was amazing.Slide1

Last week when Chris taught from Matthew 21, he spoke on two parables, first the Two Sons and then the Wicked Tenants, and he explained how the two parables were related, the second being “salt on the wound” to the Pharisees and the “nail in the coffin.  In the very next verse in Matthew 22 is a third related parable directly related to the parables Chris taught about, so let’s keep in mind that the Pharisees are being condemned with the words of Isaiah, who claim obedience to God but reject His messengers, again and again and again.

Today’s scripture is all about a wedding reception, so open your bibles to Matthew 22 and let’s read verses 1-14.

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.  The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.  The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.  So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.  He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Slide5The parables of Jesus are interesting – sometimes they are easy to understand, sometimes difficult.  Sometimes seemingly impossible.  And sometimes the easy ones have a deeper meaning than we realize, like today’s parable.  God seemed to pour out His message to me this week, and we’re going to start with the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah, Daniel and Amos, then discuss what the coming Kingdom of God and Heaven means, then discuss our wedding feast parable, and finally end up in Revelation 19.  Are you ready?

Why a parable?  The mysteries of God’s purposes are revealed to those who seek His wisdom.  Jesus answer the question about parables in Matthew 13:10-17,

The disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.  Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.  This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.  For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

Slide9Whoever has ears, let them hear.  It’s interesting to me that these verses from Isaiah perfectly illustrate the parable of the Wedding Feast.  Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah when He speaks in parables, and illustrates that while the words in the bible are available to everyone, the understanding is available only to those who seek.  It’s ok that parts of the bible are hard to understand; listen and trust in the words you do understand, and God will open your eyes to more understanding in His perfect timing.

Speaking of fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, we’re going to visit Isaiah in a little bit, but let’s first go back to today’s scripture to see who Jesus is speaking to.  Context is important; the top three things to look for in understanding scripture is location, location, location.

Today’s scripture begins in Matthew 22:1,

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:

Slide10Who is Jesus speaking to?  Jesus is speaking to Pharisees, legalistic Jewish scholars that were more interested in obeying the Law and making sure others obeyed the Law than making sure their own hearts were aligned with the will of God.

          II.      Old Testament – The Coming Kingdom

We continue in verse 2,

The kingdom of heaven is like…

Slide11This little phrase can be several weeks of bible study, because the kingdom of heaven is a complex issue.  I’m going to list just a few observations to consider –

Jesus is king, He is our savior.  Jesus brings a personal message of salvation to each and every one of us.  But that’s not what the Jews were expecting, they were expecting a theocratic kingdom on earth.  I used to believe the Pharisees were mistaken on this point, but I’ve come to realize they were correct in expecting a theocratic kingdom.  There are a great many verses that prophesy this, way too many to review today, so I’m just going to pick two of them.  First is Exodus 19:3-6,

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

As part of the Mosaic Covenant was a condition, a big “if” statement.  If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then Jerusalem will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  This is the theocratic kingdom of God on earth that the Messiah would deliver.

The flipside to this “if” statement can be found beginning in Deuteronomy 28:15,

However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:

You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.

Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed.

The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.

You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.

These curses go on for many, many more verses and describe oppression, madness, sexual immorality, confusion, more madness, plagues and ruin.  For another 50 verses these punishments are listed, but let’s skip almost to the end to Deuteronomy 28:62-64,

You who were as numerous as the stars in the sky will be left but few in number, because you did not obey the Lord your God.  Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess.

Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other.

So the Old Testament prophets told of a Messiah that would come to make Jerusalem the center of God’s Kingdom on earth, Isaiah 11:10-11,

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.  In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean.

There are a great many other verses we could consider and we can’t get into them all, but here is a list of verses describing God’s theocratic kingdom on earth as described by Old Testament prophets:

Established by God Daniel 2:44
Eternal Daniel 7:27
The Messiah will rule directly Zechariah 9:9-10 (verse 9 describes Christ’s 1st Coming, verse 10 describes His 2nd Coming)
Earthly Zechariah 14:9, Job 19:25, Revelation 5:10
Land promises to Abraham fulfilled Genesis 15:18-21, Ezekiel 47:13-23, Joel 3, Ezekiel 31, Jeremiah 30:3
Israel’s preeminence Isaiah 49:22-23, Zechariah 8:23, Isaiah 2:2-3, Zechariah 14:16-18, Isaiah 14:2
Millennial Temple Ezekiel 40-46
Of the line of David Jeremiah 30:9
Righteousness Isaiah 9:6-7
Curses curtailed Isaiah 65:20-22
Peace in the Kingdom Isaiah 2:4
Prosperity Amos 9:13-14, Isaiah 65:22
Topographical Changes Ezekiel 47:1-12
Immediate Answers to Prayer Isaiah 65:24

All the people of Israel had to do was be obedient and welcome the Messiah when He came.

       III.      New Testamant – The King Rejected

Then the King arrived.  John the Baptist was fulfillment of prophecy, announcing the arrival of the Messiah, Matthew 3:1-3,

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,  and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord;

Make His paths straight.’”

Notice that John is saying the Kingdom of Heaven is “at hand” or “has come near.”  This is the announcement all of Israel had been waiting for, their Messiah had come.  But remember the big “if” given to Moses?  Israel had to be obedient, love the Lord, and welcome their Messiah.  And for understanding our parable today of the wedding feast, it’s important to realize that this offer was good only to Israel.

When Jesus arrived, He took His message to Israel alone as God’s chosen people, Matthew 10:5-8,

These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans.  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.”

Notice two important things here in the early days of Jesus’ ministry; he tells the original twelve apostles only to go to the Jews and not any Gentiles, and also that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  Jesus is the Messiah that Israel has been expecting.  All they had to do is be obedient and accept their savior.

          IV.      The Postponed Kingdom

But Israel did not accept their savior, and they were not obedient.  They crucified their Messiah and rejected their king.  In accordance with prophecy, the theocratic kingdom of God was now postponed.  The kingdom would now be offered, not to Israel, but to the Church.  Jesus once told Israel the Kingdom of God is at hand, but now says in Matthew 24:36,

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Jesus once says the kingdom was imminent, but now He doesn’t know when it is coming.  And where once Jesus brought His message only to Israel, now He brings it to all who accept, Matthew 28:18-20,

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Paul summarizes all of this in Romans 11, that Israel’s rejection led to salvation of the Gentiles, but also that the Gentiles owe their salvation to Israel.  When Israel accepts the return of Christ, how much more glory will that bring!  Romans 11:11-12,

I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.  Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!

So, that’s the background to our parable today.  Once a theocratic kingdom was promised to Israel if they would turn their hearts toward God and be obedient.  Instead, Israel rejected God’s will and crucified their Messiah.  The Church Age begins, as Chris mentioned the end of the dispensation of the Age of The Law and the beginning of the new Dispensation, the Age of Grace.  Gentiles are now called to worship the one true God, and the kingdom of heaven on earth would be postponed, and God is not slow about keeping His promise, not wanting anyone who would come to repentance to perish, and in His perfect timing, Christ will come again.

             V.      The Wedding Feast, the Church as the Bride

We started with a parable, so let’s return to that parable, and with this background I think we’ll have a great deal more understanding.  Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who are about to reject Christ and crucify Him.  Matthew 22,

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:  “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.”

We will come back to the wedding banquet.  The eyes of the Pharisees were closed and they did not understand the parables of Jesus, but as Christians, we do understand.  Who is the king but the Lord God Almighty?  And who is the Son but Jesus Christ our savior?

“He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.”

Who doesn’t want to go to a Wedding Banquet?  Food and celebration for the wedding guests?  Or to put it another way, who declines a free offer of salvation?  The Lord God through the passage of time sent His prophets to tell His chosen people that the kingdom of heaven is at hand and it was time for the celebration to begin.  Israel was a stiff-necked people, though, and rejected the message.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.  The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.”

Israel killed the prophets.  They killed John the Baptist.  Israel would soon kill the King of the Jews.

In Matthew 23:37 through Matthew 24:2, Jesus prays for Jerusalem and says the temple of Jerusalem would be destroyed,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!  See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”

Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple.  And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

Slide25Back to our parable,

The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

In 70 AD, Romans legions surrounded the city of Jerusalem, destroyed the city and overturned the stones of the temple.

I’m starting to think this is less and less of a parable, and more like a straightforward prophecy.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.  So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

Because of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah, God invited all who would believe in the Messiah and our Lord Jesus Christ.  The bad and the good, the sinners and the saints, are all invited.  And they may have a seat at the wedding banquet under one condition.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.  He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

          VI.      Conclusion, Clothed in Righteousness

You and I are invited.  The good and the bad are invited.  Everybody is invited, including God’s firstfruits, the nation of Israel.

And we are all welcome under one condition, that we are properly dressed for the wedding feast.  The wedding banquet is reminiscent of the marriage supper of the Lamb which occurs after the rapture and before Christ’s second coming, a celebration of the marriage between the Lamb of God and His bride, the church.  In Revelation 19:6-9,

And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!  Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”  And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”

Let us clothe ourselves in righteousness that comes only from the shed blood of Christ Jesus who cleanses us all from all unrighteousness and who rules the Kingdom of God as Israel always believed He would.  We finish with the rest of Revelation 19:11-16,

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.  His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns.  He had a name written that no one knew except Himself.  He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.  And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.  Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron.  He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.  And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:

KING OF KINGS AND

LORD OF LORDS.

Slide32

To God be the glory.  Amen.

Once Saved, Always Saved

We’re going return to the New Testament for the next 3 months and work through 1st and 2nd Peter, written by the apostle Peter approximately 30 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. In the 30 years since Peter denied Jesus three times, Peter has grown a lot. Within two years of writing 1st and 2nd Peter, Peter was martyred, proclaiming the glory of Christ till the very end.

I’d love to spend a lot more time discussing who Peter was, how he grew from a fisherman, and in Acts he was described as “unlearned and ignorant,” to the man who wrote these letters. Peter is a perfect illustration of 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Peter was in Rome when Rome burned; Nero, who “fiddled while Rome burned,” blamed the fire on Christians and martyred both Peter and Paul during this time. So you can see how much history is wrapped up in Peter’s life, but we need to delve right into 1 Peter and see what this apostle has to say to us. So let’s get started and see what the Holy Spirit has to say through this man of Christ and perhaps have hope that we, too, may become this unlearned and ignorant. So take out your bibles and turn to 1st Peter and let’s dig in. 1 Peter 1:1-2 :

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

“Strangers in the world” is also sometimes translated as “temporary residents” or “aliens residing in a foreign land.” Believers in Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit inside, soon find that their moral values are different from the world. We become new creations that don’t seem to fit with the old world anymore. We turn from partying to service, we turn from selfish behavior to loving our neighbor. We become strangers in the world. Peter defines a whole bunch of characteristics of Christians in a single sentence –

  • God’s elect, chosen according to the foreknowledge of God. God knows all, including knowing who will choose Him. It doesn’t say God makes us choose Him, we have the gift of free will He gave us. But God knows all.
  • Through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. When we accept Christ, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who turbocharges our conscience and begins the lifelong process of sanctification.
  • Obedience to Jesus Christ. To love our Lord, we seek to find His will in our lives.
  • Sprinkling of His blood. This is a also a gift given to us, and nothing we did to earn it. Christ died for us.
  • Grace and peace be yours in abundance. Two more gifts given to Christians; as we allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify us, God’s grace and the peace from Christ lives in us. In abundance, too.

Wow. No wonder we’re going to go through the books of Peter slowly. That’s five descriptions of Christians and we’re not out of the first paragraph yet, and each description we could devote a complete study. Not today, though, we’re going to study 1 Peter 1:3-9 instead. I’d like to read this together as a class, and to make sure we’re all reading the same version, I’ve provided a handout with these verses:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Peter tells us so much here, about how to have inexpressible and glorious joy, how our faith is protected by God’s power, how we suffer so that our faith may be proved genuine. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Once saved, always saved?” I confess that before I started studying this week, I had some doubts about that. No more, no more doubts. And absolutely knowing that there’s not a thing I can do to mess that up brings me this peace and inexpressible and glorious joy. The salvation of my soul is secure, kept in heaven for me and shielded by God’s power. There’s a lot of comfort in that. Peter tells us that through Jesus we have come into an inheritance that can never, spoil or fade, that this inheritance is kept in heaven and protected by the all powerful God.

Are you pretty sure you’re going to heaven? Unless something goes horribly wrong, there’s a good chance you’re going to heaven? Or do you absolutely know, without a doubt, 100% guarantee, that you’re going to heaven? God wants you to know and be absolutely confident, because there is joy and peace in this knowledge. Let’s see if there’s any other scripture that talks about this confidence.

1 John 5:13:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may *know* that you have eternal life.

It doesn’t say “think” we have eternal life. So that we may *know* we have eternal life. It’s not arrogance to say that I know I will go to heaven. It’s confidence, not in my ability, but in Christ’s sacrifice. Once a person places their trust in Jesus, God immediately and irrevocably grants that person eternal life and salvation and a guaranteed place in Heaven that can never be lost, regardless of what they do or what they don’t do. It’s not based on you, never was. It’s entirely based on what Jesus did.

John 5:24, Jesus says,

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.

Jesus uses certain Greek tenses of verbs here to make His point. When He says, “has” eternal life, Jesus uses the present tense. Then He switches to future tense, “will not be condemned”. Jesus says believers have it! And if that wasn’t clear enough, Jesus says the believer “has crossed over from death to life.” Jesus switches present tense to perfect tense, and is saying that the believer has already crossed, always will be crossed over from death to life. We are new creations already, we don’t become new creations after we die. We *have already* crossed over, we *have* eternal life, and *will not be* condemned. Past, present and future.

John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son *has* eternal life.” John 6:47, “I tell you the truth, he who believes *has* everlasting life.” It’s an irrevocable contract Jesus makes with us when we confess Him as our Lord, written here in the Good Book for us to read the fine print anytime we wish. What does Jesus promise to do for us as our Lord? Well, here’s the fine print of the contract.

  • Hebrews 10:17, God says, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” You and I can’t forget, as hard as we try, but God will remember no more. Poof, it’s as if they never happened. With the blood covering from Jesus, we become pure in God’s sight.
  • Philippians 4, our names are inscribed in the Book of Life. Again, not *will be* inscribed. They *are* inscribed.
  • Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Now. No condemnation. Freedom.
  • Micah 7:19, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Deeper than the Titanic, our sins are buried in the sea.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” The Holy Spirit lives in us, takes up residence, and gives our conscience a kick-start.
  • Galatians 4:6, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” We become adopted by God, we are His children, His heirs. We are no longer slave to sin and the death that comes with it.
  • Romans 8:31-33, God has chosen us, we are God’s elect, and if God is for us, who can be against us?
  • Ephesians 1:13-14, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” Marked, sealed, identified, stamped. Seems like every translation I read used a different word here. Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours. We are indelibly branded, permanently stamped, and guaranteed our inheritance.
  • John 10:27-28, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus becomes our shepherd, we becomes His sheep, He gives us eternal life, we will never perish, and no one can change that.
  • Any loopholes left in this contract? Romans 8:38, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Looks like an absolutely iron clad contract to me, how about you?

This salvation we already have. This eternal life we already have. Heaven is a destination where we go when our mortal chores are through, but our place there is already guaranteed. Peter says praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that our inheritance awaits us and to rejoice. Rejoice! Again I say, rejoice! I rejoice because I know if I could do something to lose my salvation, I’d have done it already. I’ve messed up so many times and if I was given a second chance, I’d just lose it again. Sometimes I can go for 6 or 8 hours in a row without sinning, but then I wake up and have to get out of bed. This is great news, knowing we’re eternally saved. In order for us to lose our salvation,

  • somebody would have to find some sort of loophole in the contract that isn’t up or down, present or future, angel or demon, and convince Christ not to love us anymore,
  • change us from Christ’s sheep into a toad,
  • remove the brand He sealed onto us,
  • snatch us right out of the hand of Jesus even though He chose us,
  • cancel God’s adoption papers and write us out of the will,
  • evict the Holy Spirit out of His home in our heart and tell him to find someplace else to live,
  • dive to the very bottom of the ocean and dredge our sins back up,
  • remind God of all the things He’s promised to remember no more,
  • and make God into a liar for putting all these promises down in writing.

Ya know, I just don’t see any of that happening.

So what about all those difficult questions about “Once saved, always saved?” What if I claim to be a Christian, but don’t seem to be living a Christian lifestyle? I party and drink and do drugs and sleep around and so forth – Am I still going to heaven? And what if I say I’m a Christian and I know I’m going to heaven, does that mean I can do anything I want? Lie cheat and steal, take candy from babies or be a serial killer? Am I still going to heaven? How about if I say I’m Christian, but then I curse God to His face, turn my back on Jesus and says I want nothing do with those uptight religious freaks anymore? Am I still going to heaven? And what about when I hurt or when I’m depressed and I just don’t feel like getting up and going to church anymore? Am I still going to heaven?

Great questions. I hope somebody here can answer them, I ran out of time studying.

No seriously, they are great questions, and the answers are in this same Good Book.

Number 1. What if somebody claims to be a Christian, but doesn’t seem to be living a Christian lifestyle? Partying and drinking and so forth? I think it’s important to remember that eternal salvation is granted when you confess with all your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord. God does the rest. If we think our actions before God are better than somebody else’s actions, we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what Jesus did for us. Romans 3:20 says, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.” No one, no matter how good we try to be, is good enough for God. Any righteousness we have comes not from ourselves but from accepting the blood covering of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” It has nothing to do with what we do. We don’t gain eternal life because of our good performance, and we don’t lose eternal life because of our bad performance. It’s Jesus plus nothing; it’s a gift. The church of Galatia thought the same thing, and Paul gave them a dressing down. In Galatians 3 Paul writes, “You foolish Galatians! […] After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” 2 Timothy 2:13 Paul says, “if we are faithless, He will remain faithful.” Getting into heaven has nothing to do with our human performance and everything to do with God’s grace. We don’t sing Amazing Human Performance in worship for a reason, we sing Amazing Grace. So if somebody has truly accepted Jesus Christ but doesn’t seem to be living a Christian life, they still have an invitation to God’s Grand Afterlife Party.

Number 2. If our salvation is secure, does that mean we can do whatever we want? If I’m going to heaven no matter what I do, why does it matter what I do? Why not lie, cheat and steal? Why not cheat on my spouse? Why not party like it’s 1999? I’m going to heaven! Well, there’s a serious problem with this. You may have that invitation to God’s Grand Afterlife Party and you are guaranteed entry, but what you do in this life has everything to do with what kind of reception you’ll get when you get there. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 says

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames

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The foundation is Christ, and with our mortal lives we build on that foundation. We can build on it with long lasting stuff – obedience, servant hood, prayer, humility, or we can build on it with disobedience, arrogance, and selfishness. The choice is up to us. But there will come a day of Judgement where we stand before Christ, and all our earthly deeds will be exposed for what they are. Everything bad or worthless will be burned away, and if there’s anything left, there’s a reward. What kind of reward? I don’t know – I’m guessing something made of chocolate. All I know if there’s a line forming to collect a reward from the almighty God, I want to be in that line. What if your building is all gone? Well, you don’t get any chocolate, but you yourself will be saved. You’re not in heaven because of the building, you’re in heaven because of the foundation.

Another problem with living a sinful, selfish life, the Holy Spirit is inside doing a number on our conscience. We will feel guilty. Things we could get away with before accepting Christ, we feel bad when we do them now. David writes in Psalm 32 that when he kept silent about his sins, not confessing, not repenting, his bones wasted away and he groaned all day long. When we accept Christ as our savior, we become more focused on pleasing God.

Number 3. What if somebody turns their back on Jesus, renounces God, becomes an atheist. Are they still going to heaven? Let me tell you a story about Robert Robinson, a young teen who lived in London from 1735 to 1790. He was a delinquent teen, but at 17 took his gang to an open air revival service where George Whitfield was preaching to “laugh at the poor deluded Methodists.” Two and a half years later, Robert Robinson gave his life to Christ. He felt the call to preach, was appointed by John Wesley to pastor the Calvinist Methodist Chapel in Norfolk England, writing powerful sermons and hymns, and at the age of 23 wrote this powerful hymn:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Beautiful hymn, and 250 years later we still praise our Lord with these words. But these words were a spiritual, prophetic autobiography. Robert Robinson did not stay in the fold of Christianity, eventually dismissed by the church and he returned to his sinful ways, eventually turning his back on Christianity and became Unitarian who do not believe Jesus was the only Son of the Father. In his later years, while taking a stagecoach ride, and in a non-Christian condition, a female passenger offered to share a poem with him, that it might help him as it had helped her, and she began to read “Come Thou Fount” to him, and when she got to the third stanza,

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.

Robert Robinson broke down and cried and said, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” Robert Robinson never did return to Christianity, and died denying the deity of Christ.

So what happened? We can’t know for sure, can we, because we can’t ever know Robert Robinson’s heart. But we do know this – if he ever truly trusted Christ, then yes, Robert Robinson is in heaven. Even if we are faithless, God is faithful. In Matthew 21:18-19, Jesus tells us what happens to people like this.

Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

In order to produce fruit, you have to be connected to the sap of the Holy Spirit. If you’re not connected, the best you can produce is leaves, and Jesus says if you’re not connected to the sap of the Holy Spirit, the sap of the church of a body of believers, you wither. You become bitter and angry. I’ve never met a person who has accepted Christ and then turned his back on him that was a joy to be around. They’re hurtful, mean, selfish people. But when you’re connected to the sap, you produce fruit. So when you meet a person like this, either they never truly gave their heart to Jesus, or they did give their heart, but through circumstance, weakness, persecution, suffering, whatever, they turned their back on Jesus. It’s not for us to determine, but the Lord knows their heart, and if they truly gave their heart, they’re in heaven. But not in the chocolate line, they’re in the … carob line.

Number 4. What if I just don’t feel saved? What if I don’t feel connected to the Holy Spirit, or connected to the church. Am I still going to heaven? One of Satan’s tricks in our materialistic secular humanistic society is the “do what feels good” philosophy. Feel bad about debt? Go shopping until you feel good. Feel bad about weight? Eat until you feel better. Don’t like your spouse? Get a divorce. And you look at our society and see what happens to us when we let our feelings determine our direction. When our feelings are at the wheel, we don’t have any idea what direction we’re headed.

I know exactly first hand what happens when you let feelings rule. I left my wife because of feelings and my feelings drove me right off a cliff. But you know what? Christ caught me. Now instead of trying to get happy and going in whatever direction I wanted to, I let Christ take the wheel and let Him determine the direction, and I ended up far happier than when I was trying to be happy. Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Feelings aren’t supposed to be driving your around; feelings are supposed to be in the passenger seat.

So do your feelings determine whether you’re going to heaven? Does John 3:16 read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” as long as he feels like it? John 5:24 says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” How do your feelings change that? John 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Unless, of course, they’re unhappy? Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Where do feelings come into play? Your feelings are something you do, and nothing you do will gain your salvation. I think we try to make this complicated, but it’s almost too simple to believe. God gives us the gift of salvation, and we say “thanks.” That’s it, and nothing we do or feel or say will change that. No performance evaluation, no report card. Just grace. Your destiny is already safe, already secure, you are already an eternal being. When you’re not afraid to die, then you’re not afraid to live.

So you don’t have to get up every week and walk down the aisle every single week and give your life to Christ, Meredith. You already belong to him and nothing, not death nor life, not angels nor demons, not the present nor the future, nor any powers, not height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to change that one teeny bit. Your destiny is safe. And that’s why Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:8-9, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Once Saved, Always Saved? It really is that simple. Don’t complicate it with man-made judgments and opinions. Salvation is a gift through Jesus that is eternally secure. To receive it, all we have to do is ask. And all we have to do to keep it is… nothing.

* due credit goes to Lon Solomon of the McLean Bible Church and his sermon series on Bible bootcamp for the ideas and scripture references behind the “fine print of the contract” above.