Archive for the ‘Salvation’ Category

The headline reads “Episcopal Minister defrocked after becoming a Muslim”. I suppose it should not really come as a shock that someone would convert from one religion to another. It should not even be a shock that someone who was a minister in a Christian church would convert. It happens. What is incredible to me is that they would think that in converting from Christianity to Islam that they were really not making a change of any significance and that they thought they could still be a Christian minister and a Muslim.

Anne Holmes Redding was a minister in the Episcopal Church. Three years ago she attended an interfaith gathering and was struck by the humility of the Muslim Imam as he led chants, meditations and devotions. That started her on a journey the resulted in her conversion to Islam. You can read more about it http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/04/02/muslim.minister.defrocked/index.html For a couple of years she continued to be both a Christian minister and a practicing Muslim. For some incredible reason she saw no contradiction in this. “Both religions say there’s only one God,” Redding said, “and that God is the same God. It’s very clear we are talking about the same God! So I haven’t shifted my allegiance.” I’m sorry but this just flabbergasts me. Fortunately the Episcopal church was equally flabbergasted and required that she either recant being a Muslim or give up her ordination. She refused and was then removed as a minister.

I get it that many people think that all religions are ultimately the same and that they all worship the same god. But I also recognize that most people have never really bothered to look closely at various religions to see if this “cultural truism” is in fact true. But a minister in the Episcopal Church and most churches for that matter, has at least a Masters Degree that includes a heavy dose of Bible, Theology, and Comparative Religions.

In order to believe that she has not “changed allegiance” I can only assume that she never had an allegiance to Jesus to begin with. The understanding that Christians have of who Jesus is as Lord, fully God and fully man is in complete contradiction to what Islam teaches about Jesus.  To be a Muslim is to deny that Jesus is the Messiah. It is to deny that His death on the cross was a substitution for us and for our sins. In fact to be a Muslim is to deny that Jesus even died on the cross at all. It by implication also means that you have to deny that He rose from the grave. The Apostle Paul made it clear that without the resurrection of Jesus, we are to be pitied as people following a lie and are lying about God. (1 Corinthians 15:12-20)

Being a Christian means that you are a follower of Jesus. It is not about having a religion that meets some inner need for spiritual fulfillment through prayer and meditation. It is about an allegiance to Jesus above all else. It is a giving of your life completely and totally to Him. We can talk about God in a generic sense and people will rally around that as being a unifying idea. But we can never speak of God without making sure that we understand who that God is and that our faith is really all about Jesus. As Paul told the Philippians, it is at the name of Jesus that every knee will bow and every tongue confess, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Is there a lesson here? I think so. As followers of Christ we must be willing to stand fast on the truth of the supremacy of Jesus. It is the hill we die on. No one comes to the Father except through Him. Mohamed  is not “a way” to God. Neither for that matter is Buddha, or Krishna, or any other human being. Keep your eyes on Jesus. It is He who is the author and finisher of your faith.

Think of it this way. Right now is your relationship with Jesus characterized more by Him coming towards you, or you going towards Him? Is Jesus pursuing the relationship with you or are you pursuing the relationship with Him?

My contention is that most people would have to answer that the direction of the relationship is one of Jesus coming to them. It is best described as Jesus heading in their direction and not them going towards Jesus in His direction. I think our language about our relationship with Jesus shows this and the passive state of most Western Christianity proves it.

Certainly the initial direction is that Jesus comes towards us. He begins it all by becoming one of us. The Incarnation is the Biblical doctrine that Jesus being fully equal with the Father according to Philippians 2, was willing to come into the world in order to make salvation available to us. He came to us. He came seeking the lost in order to rescue them. But we need to see that a shift takes place. Jesus comes to us, comes in our direction and then says, “Come follow me”. He says, I have come near to you, come in your direction, so that you can come in my direction. It is a crucial pivot point in our relationship with Him. We all are running away from God, going in a direction opposite Him. Jesus comes chasing after us and calls out for us to turn around, (read repent here), and follow Him. We are to be actively striving after Jesus, doing all we can to follow after Him and be like Him.

Much of our language about our relationship with Jesus demonstrates that we really don’t think in terms of actively following Jesus. We certainly don’t think of actively pursuing Jesus with a burning passion to be like Him. Think about it. When we call people into a relationship with Jesus how often do we say that you are to “invite Jesus into your heart” or “ask Jesus into your life”. The image is of us being where we are and letting Jesus have a place in our lives. We give Him some room. We accommodate Him where we are. The only thought of going in another direction is that now you can be assured of going to heaven when you die instead of hell. Even our language of believing in Jesus can be nothing more than an intellectual assent that doesn’t bring about any real change in life. Lot’s of people “believe” in Jesus. Even the demons believe that He is the Lord. But they certainly don’t follow Him. They are not heading in a direction of pursuing a deeper relationship with Him.

Most if the time when Jesus comes to someone in the Gospels the language He uses to call them to a new life is the language of following. It is an active thing. We are to be taking steps towards Him. He initially comes to us but then says, “Hey, start walking in a new way. Start walking in the direction I am going. Follow me”. That following is intended to give us a new purpose, a new meaning for life. Asking Him into our hearts and staying passive seems to have the purpose of making our life more comfortable and secure. We pray a prayer of salvation and think life is complete because now we have Jesus in our hearts. Jesus said that He will make our life complete if we follow Him. He gives us purpose. Follow Him and He will make you a fisher of men. He will make you a changer of lives, a restorer of justice, a comforter of the poor, a visitor of the prisoner, a healer of the sick, a chef to the hungry, a clothier to the naked, and a host to the homeless.

If the relationship is simply one of believing in Jesus and having Him in your heart then there is really very little about your life that needs to change. He came and now hangs out like a polite guest. You like having Him there because it is a comfort and He really doesn’t ask much of you. Life goes on. You just feel better about yourself because you have Jesus with you. But if the relationship is of following Him, then it is a matter of become more and more like Him everyday. Romans 8:29 says that we are to be conformed into the image of Christ. In other words, we are to become more and more like Jesus all the time. In order for that to happen we must be heading in His direction, pursuing becoming like Him.

In the corporate world you are either moving up or moving down the corporate ladder. There is no sitting still. The people who supervise you see you either heading up, or not. If you are not, then you are already on your way down. You just may not know it yet. With Jesus you are either heading towards Him or away from Him. If you think you are simply maintaining then you are sadly mistaken because like Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, “Jesus is on the move”. That is why He says, follow me.

Paul says to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. The great comfort is that God has you in His grip and is working diligently in your life. The great challenge is that we are to do everything we can to pursue Jesus and become more like Him. Look to Jesus and run after Him with all your might. Don’t just sit and give Him space in your life. Run to Him and give Him your whole life as a follower, becoming like Him in all ways.

The Bible is not nearly as complicated as people make it out to be. Yet, what I have learned is that it is simple enough that the least astute child can understand it’s depths and deep enough that the most skilled of scholars can never fully grasp it’s implications. This verse from Philippians comes to mind as one of the verses that so perfectly fits that reality.

12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:12-13

On numerous occasions I have had people ask me about this verse and wondering if there is a contradiction here. People think that Paul is saying our salvation depends on our good works. They get the fear and trembling part because they usually start trembling when they realize they are not doing a very good job of it. But Paul is not saying that our good works, or being a good person is was gets you into heaven. The problem is, people usually read verse 12 and forget to read verse 13. The verse divisions are great for finding places in the Bible but terrible as a guide to understanding it. Verses 12 and 13 are a complete sentence. To read verse 12 by itself is to only read one half of the thought. We would never do that with any other piece of literature yet we do it with the Bible all the time. Not a good idea.

What Paul is saying is simply this, “When I was with you, you did a great job of living for Jesus. Keep doing this even though I am not there. Work hard at living out the salvation you have been given by God. Why, Because God is working in you and that should be made evident in the way you live.” Paul is NOT saying that you are saved by being a good person. He is perfectly clear in many other places that we are saved by God’s grace and the faith/trust we have in Jesus Christ. The life we live as followers of Christ does not save us, but it should be a life that is consistent with being a follower of Jesus who is saved by God’s grace.

Paul does not say, “work FOR your salvation” or “work AT your salvation” or “work TOWARD your salvation”. All of those would mean that in some way it is your efforts that gain you admission into eternal life. He says “work OUT your salvation”. In other words, live it out. Plan out your life, live out your life, work out your life in such a way that your salvation is obvious. And you need to be so committed to living out the Christ-like life that you are driven to it with an urgency that makes you tremble.

But why such urgency? Why such desperation to live out your salvation? Paul gives the reason, “For God is at work in you”. Why work out your salvation with fear and trembling? Because God is working in you, giving you the will to follow and obey Him. To fail to live out your life as a radical follower of Jesus is to actually work against what God is doing in you. That should cause fear and trembling in us. When we fail to love others in Jesus name, when we fail to be content with what God has given us, when we long for someone who is not our spouse, when we fail to love God with our entire being, we are not simply ignoring something that God has told us. We are actively opposing God and what He is doing.

To simply ignore God could be seen as a passive thing. It is like failing to exercise. We view that as passive. We are not actively trying to hurt our body, we are just not doing anything to actively help it. I think we often look at our Christian life that way. We are passive in it and think that this is somehow acceptable to God because at least we are not actively opposing God. What Paul is saying is that by NOT actively working at living for Jesus, we are by default, actively opposing what God is doing in our lives. In reality, failing to exercise means that you are actually actively working at getting fatter, weaker, and sicker. You have made a decision to do something that harms you. That something is whatever takes the place of healthy physical activity. The same is true of your spiritual well being. To fail to live a life that is committed to a radical love for God and neighbor is to actively oppose the work that God is doing in you. Every time I fail to love God with all I have and my neighbor as myself, I am actively fighting against what God is doing in me as He works to shape me into a more Christ-like follower.

The fact that God has worked in me to grant me grace and faith should motivate me to live for Him with all I am. The fact that God has worked in such as way as to pay the penalty for my sin should cause me to tremble before Him. The recognition that my sin is great but God’s love for me is greater, should cause me to work at living for Him like nothing else I have ever done in my life. I do it, not to earn salvation, but because I have salvation.

You can’t read the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats without being just a little bit nervous about your eternal destiny. Now without a doubt, the Bible teaches that we are saved by faith in Christ and even that is not our own doing but a gift from God. Ephesians 2:8-9 is about as clear on this as possible. We are not saved by our works. Yet, there is a incredibly important role that our good works play in relation to our salvation.

In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus tells of sheep and goats who are separated at the judgment. The sheep are welcomed into eternal life and the goats are sent to eternal punishment. When they ask why one group goes to heaven and one does not they are told that one group, the sheep, visited the sick, fed the hungry, clothed the naked. As a result, the really did those things for Jesus. The other group, the goats, failed to do so and as a result failed to do so for Jesus. What is amazing is that Jesus said to the goats, away from me, I never knew you. Incredibly, these goats called him Lord in the story. They claimed to know who he was, but he denied knowing them.

So what are we to make of this? Is Jesus teaching that we are saved by works? Is he saying that we can earn our way to heaven when other parts of the Bible clearly say otherwise? Is he saying that we can loose our salvation if we don’t do enough good works? The answer is going to be found in understanding the less clear parts of the Bible, in light of the perfectly clear parts. We have to use Scripture to understand Scripture.

We have already taken a look at Ephesians 2. The next place that will help us is James2:14. “What good is it brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” The answer that James gives is no, it can not. What we need to be clear about is this, James is talking about a certain kind of faith, not saving faith. In essence what he is saying is this, can a faith that does not manifest itself in a changed life, that shows no evidence of doing the works of God, that does not forgive people, serve people, love people as ourselves, really be a faith that saves? True saving faith will demonstrate itself by how we live or more precisely, how we LOVE. If we love God with all we have and all we are, we will love our neighbor. We will serve them and care for them. That is what Jesus says the sheep did. That kind of faith will save you. Faith that does not show up in loving others is really no faith at all. That kind of faith will not save you.

That is the issue with the sheep and the goats. The goats thought they had faith. They thought Jesus was their Lord. But their faith was pure lip service. It was not people service. They talked a good game. They did not walk the talk. What the Bible teaches is that if you have a faith that is guided by loving God and loving your neighbor, then you will show people your faith by how you serve them in their time of need. Those good works do not save you. They are evidence of the faith that you have that saves you. Failure to love your neighbor and love God would be an indication that saving faith is not present. People who show no evidence of loving God by serving others my be shocked to find out that Jesus does not know them as his sheep.

In an era that promotes tolerance as the highest of virtues and the idea that truth is relative, it is considered outrageous to claim that Jesus is the one and only, exclusive way, for people to attain eternal life. I have heard it more often than I can count; “What about all the people in the world who don’t believe in Jesus, who follow Buddha or Confucius or some other teacher?”. “How can you say that they won’t go to heaven?” Well there are a couple of reasons why I think we must say that. First and foremost among them is what Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Jesus made it very clear that the way to the Father and ultimately the way to eternal life in heaven is through a relationship of faith in Him. The rest of the New Testament affirms this over and over again. Just one example comes from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans: “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9 The only way to say that there are other ways to eternal life is to completely discount everything that the Bible teaches on the subject. In order to be certain of a place in eternity with God you must trust Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. You must believe that He died and rose again in order to pay the penalty for your sins and conquer death on your behalf.

Of course there are certainly some folks who would discount the Bible and decide that it only makes sense that if you are sincere in what you believe then you will live forever. The thought is that sincerity, not truth, is the higher of the two virtues. The supreme being who many believe is out there somewhere is seen as a being who is only gracious and compassionate and would never draw a line in the sand that has anything to do with truth or right and wrong. So the good, sincere Buddhist, or follower of Confucianism, or Taoist, or Hindu, will still go to Heaven.

The problem is, none of those faiths have as their ultimate goal, the kind of heaven and eternal life that most westerners have in mind. In fact, in most cases, they don’t even want to go to heaven. Take the Buddhist as an example. The Buddhist doctrine is that all of life is suffering and the goal is to end all suffering. That goal is something called Nirvana. It is a state of being absorbed, if you will, into the great nothingness of the cosmos. You no longer have an individual existence or awareness of yourself. For the Buddhist, the Christian idea of heaven and earth becoming one, and living forever in that state, would be seen as a step backwards. The Hindu faces a similar though slightly different path. For them, the cycle of death and reincarnation looks at life as being a giant wheel. It goes around and around every time you die and are reincarnated. The goal is to stop coming back, to stop the wheel of time from turning, and to become one with creation. It is another loss of self and identity. It is not heaven, but being absorbed into creation.

For the most part, it is only people raised in a western philosophical mindset who have a problem with the exclusivity of Jesus. It is only people raised in some sort of “Christian” culture who seem to be embarrassed by the claim of Jesus to be the only way to heaven. Oddly enough, most other religions try to incorporate this exclusive Jesus into their faith in some way. Muslims call him an honored prophet. Buddhists refer to him as a Bodhisattva, or an enlightened one who shows the path to other. Hindus think if him as an incarnation of Vishnu, one of their highest gods. I wonder if somewhere deep on our hearts, there isn’t that general revelation from God that points us to Jesus as in fact, The Way, The Truth, and The Life. As a result, even in religious systems that are opposed to what the Bible teaches, there is a need to honor Jesus.

There is no need for a follower of Jesus to be embarrassed by the the exclusive claims of Jesus. He is the Lord who rightly demands our allegiance. Our highest command is to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. It is Jesus who is the way to eternal life.