Posts Tagged ‘Salvation’

One of the dangers of being a teacher of the Bible as ones profession is that the Bible can easily become something to dissect, study, analyze, and disseminate to others. Every reading of the Bible can turn into an exercise of the mind and never the heart. Aware of that danger I have made a point of having time in the Bible that is just for me, to let it speak to me, challenge me, comfort me. An important way that works in my life is to journal about the passage in front of me. Recently I dove back into the Psalms for just that purpose. After all, what better place to go to have one’s heart placed open before the Lord than in this most personal and honest of books.

But because I am also a teacher at heart it became clear that I should not keep those insights to myself. As a result I am offering a brief reflection on each Psalm in the hopes that God’s Word will accomplish in your life all that He desires. These are not exhaustive by any stretch and will generally only cover one major point that the Lord is making to me through the Psalm.

Sola Deo Gloria,


Psalm 1:1-3

Blessed is the man who walks not in the council of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. In all he does he prospers.

I love the grace of God. It is a gift beyond measure, to be loved, forgiven, afforded mercy, and countless opportunities to reset after failure. I love the freedom that comes in Christ. I love the message of the Gospel that a sinner like me, who was on a greased pole to hell could be rescued but the sacrifice of God-in-the flesh, Jesus Christ, who though He was in very nature God, did not cling to that position in a stingy way, but rather emptied Himself to become a servant to the point of death for me and for my salvation. I am all about grace.

David’s words in Psalm 1 seem to run 180 degrees counter to grace. David loves the law, he meditates on it day and night. He feeds his very soul on the law and is delighted by it. Clearly David was an extremely high J on the Myers-Briggs personality profile. Or was he? Maybe David saw something in the Law that points to God in ways that I miss when I focus only on grace. Wasn’t it Martin Luther who said we need the law to fully experience grace? Wasn’t it Paul who in essence said he would have never known the seriousness of his sin and need for grace, if not for the law? David is on to something when he says, “the law of the Lord”. It is not human rules of religion, by which we seek to prove our worthiness to God that David speaks of. It is the law of the Lord, the way of life that is delightful and restorative and freeing. Yes freeing. The law of the Lord is not meant to bind me and make me a slave but rather it is intended to show me the parameters of an abundant life. The law it like the steel fence at the edge of a vast meadow that keep one from falling off the hundred foot cliff and being crushed to death by the fall onto the rocks below. That fence, that law, is designed to show me the dangers of proceeding further and turn me around to enjoy the vast wonders of the glorious meadow behind me.

What freedom there is in such law. That law brings me life. Far from being a burden and a heavy weight that pins me to the ground and keeps me from experiencing life, the law of the Lord is life-giving. To be sure, obedience to it does not gain me salvation. That is by grace and one reason I so love grace. But obedience to the law, meditating on the law, delighting in the law, that gives me freedom to live a life worthy of the calling I have in Christ Jesus. A life saved by grace and protected by the law of the Lord.

For years John 3:16 had a seemingly constant presence and American sporting events, especially in the end zones of football games. The ubiquitous man with the rainbow-colored Afro held up his sign for all the world to see, week after week, game after game. Clearly it is the most famous citation of any passage in the Bible.

 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16

My personal love for the passage extends to it being the verse that got me admitted back into The United States after a mission trip many years ago. I had taken a group of high school student into the mountains south of Mexico City for two weeks. By the time we returned and were coming immigration, my hair was even longer than normal and my full beard was well, full. It didn’t help that I was wearing old jeans and a rough cotton homespun hoodie when the immigration officer asked me what I did for a living. “I’m a pastor” I replied. Silence from the immigration officer as he looked at my hair, my beard, my hoodie and my jeans then my hoodie, my beard, and my hair again. At which point I heard, “quote John 3:16”. I did so flawlessly and with a sigh of relief that he didn’t ask for something like 2nd Chronicles 8:12. I rather enjoyed the puzzled look on his face so I let him know I was a youth pastor and all these teenagers behind me were the youth returning from a mission trip. His face lit up with a smile and he said, “that’s wonderful, welcome back kids” and he quickly stamped fourteen more passports and let us through.

But let’s not be lulled into a shallow view of this verse. It is far more than a cliché at sporting events or an easy ticket back into The United States. It is one of the most profound statements in the Bible. The first thing to notice about this verse, and something that most people miss, Jesus is the one who says this. These are not the words of a narrator telling us something about Jesus. These are the words of Jesus himself telling us something profound about himself, his mission, and his Father. Recognizing that little bit of information gives a much deeper and personal meaning to the words.

Think if it this way, in this short sentence Jesus is making it abundantly clear that he came into the world for one purpose. His mission was to come and die in order to open the door to eternal life for anyone who would put their trust in him. That is really what he means when he says “whoever believes in him”. Belief from a biblical point of view is all about trust. Putting your faith in Jesus is about trusting him, trusting that he is in fact God come in the flesh, that he is the savior, that he did rise from the dead, and that he will fulfill his promise to give eternal life to all who believe in him.

Certainly the message that God loves the world is a comforting one. But don’t stop there. Don’t breath a deep sigh of relief as if that somehow makes everything perfect and safe. That God loves the world is not a particularly provocative statement in our day. Most people only think of God in terms of his being loving. What is really provocative is the exclusionary nature of the second part of the verse. Jesus does not say that he came to give his life and the result would be that no one in the world would perish but that everyone would have eternal life. Rather he says that anyone who believes, trusts in him, would not perish but have eternal life. That is not something that most people find comforting in our day. Most people skip right passed that part of Jesus declaration. It is just too discomforting to ponder the implications. If eternal life is given only to those who trust Jesus, then it is not given to those who do not trust him. In the western world that is one of the worst possible things a person could say and believe. It is considered intolerant beyond measure. The theology of our day in the west is that all roads to God are equally valid. Pick whichever road feels best to you. It will eventually get you to God and be sure that along the way you never dare to tell someone else they are on the wrong road.

But it is Jesus himself who says that only those who trust and believe in him, who truly follow him, will have eternal life. He makes that clear in John 3:16 and in numerous other verses where he separates those who follow him and welcomes them to eternal life and those who don’t who he consigns to condemnation. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, is also the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who will one day return to this world he died for and he will bring with him his judgment. Consider what Jesus says just two verses later in John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. Those are certainly words to shake us out of our spiritual doldrums and ask if we are truly trusting and following Jesus or if we are taking false hope in “For God so loved the world”.

The love God has for you must be combined with the reality that God is also just and that eventually, one way or another, sin must be judged and condemned. This is where the most provocative piece of this verse comes in. God so loved the world that he came into the world through the incarnation of Jesus and willingly went to the cross in order to pay the price for your sin. That is what is contained in the seemingly innocuous words “gave His only Son”.  The Father gave His only son over to the hands of wicked men so they would torture him to death. That death was the price to be paid for sin and rebellion against God. God made that clear to Adam and Eve from the start. Jesus paid the price of that death so that those who do believe would be assured that they will truly live for eternity. You and I have sinned against God and deserve whatever punishment comes our way. Yet in His love, the Father has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him. The resurrection of Jesus from the grave and his ascension to the Father’s right hand validate his death and vindicate him before his accusers. They are also part of the assurance his followers have that they too will be raised up on the last day.

One final thought for those who are already followers of Jesus. This verse should motivate you to love your neighbor with a reckless abandon. It should move you to sacrifice for them so that they would experience the love of God and turn to follow Jesus. It should motivate you with the realization that they may not be on the right road and the road they are on may lead to perdition. Do not rest in the comfort of knowing that God loves the world without owning the truth that not all the world loves God and that you are an ambassador on His behalf, calling people to their only true hope, to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.

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.

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.