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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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Hell

Things Christians Just SHOULD NOT DO!

Christians do a great job of judging the state of other people’s souls. We’re mind readers, really. We know the condition of your life just by looking at the things you do. If we like the things you do, you’re obviously heaven-bound. If you do things we don’t approve of…well, you’re headed the other way. Some of things that reveal the state of your salvation? Well:stop-1077973_1920

  • you like beer? You’re not really saved.
  • you like R-rated movies? You’re not really saved.
  • you struggle with addiction? You’re not really saved.
  • you have tattoos? You’re not really saved.
  • you got pregnant out of wedlock? You’re not really saved.
  • you got divorced? You’re not really saved.
  • you voted Democrat? You’re not really saved.
  • you don’t read the King James Bible? You’re not really saved.
  • you smoke cigarettes? You’re not really saved.

The list of taboo things can go on and on. But in reality, most of the list really comes down to this:

You disagree with how I interpret the Bible and live a Christian life? You’re not really saved.

And that’s a shame. The Bible is actually not as black-and-white about all of these side issues as Christians are. Salvation really comes down to faith in Jesus. Can you smoke weed and have a saving faith in Jesus? Can you vote a certain political party and have a saving faith in Jesus?

I think so.

In the end the “You’re not really saved” lists that we all have come down to us – what we dislike or disapprove of. Don’t get me wrong – the Bible does talk about sin and Christian behavior. But we seem to add a lot of things to the lists. Look at the Mark 7:

Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

That’s pretty powerful. Jesus tells these upstanding religious elite that they’re holding on to human traditions and letting go of God’s commandments. Won’t we be surprised when we reach eternity and find people who didn’t live the way we wanted them to live?

Might we have some good ideas about how to life a righteous life? Sure. You might have your own list of things that you feel you need to do to stay in right standing before God. There is nothing wrong with that. The Holy Spirit works in each of us at different times, convicting us of some things and freeing us to do other things. But our personal conviction, even if it’s from God, doesn’t mean that it’s supposed to be imposed on EVERYONE. Even within Christianity, there is a lot of room for Christian freedom.

Don’t get me wrong – some things are downright forbidden. Adultery is always wrong in God’s eyes. Murder is always wrong. Idolatry is always wrong. The Bible does relay to us concrete do’s and do not’s. But if it’s not specifically spelled out in the Bible, God gives us a lot of latitude to work within our consciences. It doesn’t make you less of a Christian. It doesn’t make you a better Christian.

This is actually a call to unity. We are unified as believers, even if we disagree on some of the peripheral issues. How we live out our faith on these other issues shouldn’t cause us to break fellowship with people. Our Christianity is bigger than these issues – we are united in our faith in Christ and it’s time to let go of our pet issues.

If you’ve ever had your salvation doubted because of this or other issues – I’m sorry. Christians mean well (usually) but we have a horrible way of judging anything that doesn’t fit our mold. And if you’ve ever doubted or questioned the salvation of someone else because of some behavior you disapproved of it’s time to repent.

The condition of someone’s salvation is really up to God.

When God Turns His Back on You

God Lightning

In the last week I’ve had a couple of distinct conversations with individuals about the Christian understanding of “salvation” and the idea of losing it and/or needing to be saved again.

Salvation is the Christian concept that deals with human brokenness. We are broken people in a broken world and, left to ourselves, we get worse – not better. That’s why we can do some pretty crappy things to each other. We’re all broken in some way. Like all broken things, there’s a cost to fix what is broken. The cost to fix human brokenness and return to a right standing before God is a higher price than we could EVER pay.

Enter Jesus.

He comes along and says, “Your brokenness comes with a steep price tag. You can’t afford to pay for it, so I’ll pay it instead.”

That’s what the cross is all about.

Saint Peter once preached:

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

One time when the Apostle Paul and his ministry sidekick Silas were in prison, God shook the foundation of the earth and flung the doors open. The jailer, fearing his own punishment (death) and family shame, was about to kill himself when he thought the prisoners escaped. Paul cries out, “Don’t harm yourself, we’re all here!” The jailer realizes that their God is the true God and asks, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul answers:

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household. (Acts 16:31)

No special incantation. No hoops to jump through. Just a belief in the one true God and what He is doing through Jesus.

I don’t want to launch a debate with the once saved always saved crowd, but I don’t think people can “lose” salvation. Salvation is a free gift of God. You can’t lose what he keeps giving. I do believe people can turn their backs and stomp on God’s gift, but you can’t lose it.

If you care about your relationship with God to the point where you ever worry about losing salvation that would indicate to me that you’re not turning your back on him, so I wouldn’t be concerned about “losing” anything. 🙂

God loves you more than you can fathom, and he will not turn his back on you. Even when we go through the darkest parts of life and we FEEL abandoned He still cares. He still walks beside us. You’ve lost nothing, and you can rest easy knowing that He continues to hold you close.

Crippled Christians and Religious Fanatics

Japanese FansPeople get really passionate about some things, don’t they?

I’m talking about C.R.A.Z.Y. passionate.

Like these guys…

 

 

Or this guy…

Ghana Fan

 

 

 

 

And, just so you don’t think it’s only foreigners who are crazy, what about this guy?

Bears fan

When we are really and truly passionate about something we go to great lengths to embrace that passion. We don’t care what others say. We don’t care what others think. All we know is, “This is my passion and nothing will stand in my way.”

This is the kind of thing Jesus is talking about in Mark 9. When you’re passionate and dedicated to something, you will go to any length to support it.

Jesus said:

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’

How aggressively do you attack the obstacles that stand in your way? When a person is diagnosed with cancer, doctors sometimes have what they call “aggressive treatment.” They hit the cancer hard and fast and with everything they’ve got. This is the very attitude Jesus talks about here. How hard and fast will you hit the sin areas in your life? What will you chop off so that you can avoid the danger of eternal separation from God?

I’m not sure how many of us even think about our eternal destiny. We go through life and can get so bogged down in the daily grind that we take our eyes off of eternity. One of my favorite movies is the movie Gladiator. There’s a scene where the Roman general Maximus is inspiring his soldiers to fight well and he tells them, “What we do in life echoes in eternity.”

Do you hear what Jesus is saying? What we do in life echoes in eternity. So make sure that your behavior here is not creating echoes you never want to hear in the next life. Because separation from God is no joke. Many people have been caught up in the book and movie, “Heaven is for Real.” But God is clear that hell is for real, too. The image Jesus uses for hell is Gehenna.

Gehenna was a real place, a valley south of Jerusalem. In the ancient days of Israel, Gehenna was the location of a wicked cult that practiced passing children through fire. It came to be a metaphor, to represent the Jewish idea of hell. Jesus is not trying to give us a literal vision of hell but trying to help us understand how bad it is to be eternally separated from God. The worms that eat them do not die means that the flesh is forever rotting. Once the flesh is all gone from a corpse there is nothing left there for maggots. They die. But these maggots feed eternally, and the flames burn forever. Not a place you want to go. What’s it worth to you to be in the presence of God? Jesus says, it should be worth giving up your very limbs. Whatever in your life tempts you to drift away from God, discard it decisively – aggressively.

My hand is causing me to sin. Whack! My eye is causing me to sin. Spoink! My television is causing me to sin. Whoosh! My tongue is causing me to sin. Cu I ou! My mind is causing me to sin. Lobotomy!

Get the picture?

Jesus isn’t really telling us to mutilate ourselves. He’s using vivid imagery to make a point. Our eternal destiny is so important that we ought to be aggressive and intentional about making sure we stay away from the things that separate us from God. Take a moment and reflect. Let me ask you to think on this: What is something you did this week you know God wouldn’t want you to do? You can’t help it – almost all of us thought of something. There are no perfect people on earth. 🙂

Now – to what lengths will you go to get that out of your life?

Why You’re Going to Hell: Part II

Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In Part I we looked at how a person isn’t saved by reciting magic words – it’s a matter of faith. While saying the Sinner’s Prayer is a great way to express one’s faith, it is faith that saves and not the prayer.

We also talked about what Christians mean when we use the word “saved.” It’s an understanding of the condition of your soul in relation to eternity. Life as we know it is merely one part of our journey. Death does not stop the journey but continues it.

Those who are “saved” (i.e. have faith in Jesus) will be spending eternity in the presence of God – this is heaven. To be totally honest the Bible doesn’t give explicit details about the nature of heaven. There is a lot of symbolism and imagery when people describe it (streets of gold, etc.), but no solid, “This is what heaven is like.” The most we can say about heaven is that it is the opposite of hell – it is the presence of God and a place that is wonderful, enjoyable, and the place where we are free from any problem, care, or worry.

Those who are “lost” (i.e. have no faith in Jesus) will be spending eternity outside the presence of God – this is hell. And, again, to be totally honest, the contemporary image of hell is not from the Bible as much as it is from the imaginations of writers, artists, etc. The most we can say about hell is that it is the opposite of heaven – the absence of the presence of God and a place that is generally unpleasant, uncomfortable, and not a place you want to be 😉

But the question I hear most frequently from non-Christians is:

Why would a loving God send people to hell?

People have a hard time hearing the message that God loves them when we simultaneously send the message that God will punish them if they don’t become part of the faith. While some Christians do send that message, the Bible does not. The Bible is clear:

God is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

The verse speaks for itself – God doesn’t CHOOSE to send people out of his presence. He wants everyone to be in His presence (heaven). So then…who goes to hell?

Hell is for those who do not choose God. He doesn’t send – we decide. The Bible says:

The works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar, about which I tell you in advance-as I told you before-that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

For know and recognize this: no sexually immoral person or impure or greedy person, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of the Messiah and of God. (Ephesians 5:5).

Hear me out – I’m not God, and the Bible doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty of a lot of these. The point is, though, that certain behaviors and actions are not acceptable to be in the presence of a Holy God (holy means set apart or different).

It comes down to love and punishment. I think about it as a parent. I love my kids. But I have certain standards for their behavior. There are some things that are not acceptable. Because they are human individuals they are going to choose to do things with which I disagree.

Sometimes their behavior warrants being put in time-out. What is time-out? It’s removing the child from the family system – they cannot be part of the family system because of the choices they made to behave the way they did.

My children want to live by their own rules (or lack thereof). Then they’re always surprised when they go to time-out. Adults are no different. We want the freedom to live our own lives the way we want and then complain when we are told that there are eternal consequences for our behavior.

The Bible says:

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

Ultimately, we all deserve the BIG TIMEOUT (hell). But Jesus paid the price for our brokenness. Now we can once again be in the presence of God. But we can only approach him through faith and repentance.

When all is said and done, God is the one to judge our hearts and behavior. Not me. Not you. Not any human. I fully believe there will be people in heaven that will completely surprise us. Similarly, there will NOT be people in heaven that we always expected to be there.

In the meantime, we do our best in this life to live the life He has called us to live.
That means I may not do some things I want to do because it goes against what he wants me to do.

Because his way is supposed to come before my way.

Related Posts:
Why You’re Going to Hell: Part I

Why You’re Going to Hell: Part I

Image courtesy of bandrat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of bandrat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The other day I had an interesting conversation with a young youth pastor. For the record, it was not the youth pastor at my church. He made the statement:

“The sinner’s prayer has sent more people to hell than any one thing in our time.”

If you’re not familiar with the Sinner’s Prayer you can read about it here.

In a nutshell, it’s a prayer that Christians (usually pastors or evangelists) walk non-Christians through on the path to following Christ. Billy Graham’s version went like this:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name, Amen.

What?!? How on earth could such a prayer send people to hell? The youth pastor is a young man, and young men tend to be very fiery in their speech. His point, though, was that repeating a few sentences after a pastor does not save you.

Time out.

What’s all this talk about saving? If you haven’t been in the church your whole life you may be wondering what on earth we’re talking about. Simply put, this life is not the end of existence – it is only temporary. Upon death we leave this life and begin the next. Depending on your spiritual condition you’ll be “saved” and in eternity with God or “lost” and in eternity apart from God.

Now, back to the prayer. The young minister was trying to express the fact that reciting words does not mean that one is saved. It’s not a magical incantation. Many people believe that if they simply say the words then they are guaranteed salvation and eternity in heaven.

But the Bible never says that you have to say magic words to get to heaven. The Bible does say:

– To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12)

– Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

– 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. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The Bible is clear that there is only one way to eternity with God, and that is through faith in Jesus. It’s not about Mohammad. It’s not about Buddha. It’s not about doing or saying the right things (works). It’s about our faith in Jesus. The youth pastor I was talking to was frustrated that too many people say the magic words, think they’re saved, and then stay exactly the same they always were.

Authentic, saving faith goes beyond reciting words – it’s about faith and the condition of our hearts, and that saving faith results in a changed life. Jesus once said:

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)

Pastors, evangelists, and churches do a good thing to share the truth about eternity and salvation with people. It is a good thing to bring people to an understanding and a saving faith. Then the Sinner’s Prayer becomes a useful tool for expressing that faith.

If you’ve ever said the “magic words” for fear of going to hell, saying the words won’t save you – you’ll still end up in hell if all you have is mere words.

The prayer itself doesn’t save.  Our faith does.

Stay tuned…in Part II we’ll look at why a loving God will send sinners to hell.

Related Posts:
Why You’re Going to Hell: Part II

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