SELFWILL – The Pilgrim’s Progress

Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. [2 Corinthians 13:5 (NLT)]

strawflowersJesus clearly promises forgiveness of our sins but some people treat this gift as little more than a Monopoly game’s “Get Out of Jail Free” card. The pilgrims Honest and Great Heart meet such a person in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Motivated by God’s promise of “eternal security,” Mr. Selfwill feels free to live any way he wants. Since David committed adultery, Rahab lied, and Jacob deceived, he believes he can do those things, as well. He thinks anyone who believes that Jesus has forgiven his sins has the freedom to sin willfully as long as he has some virtues to go along with his sins. Assuming his good deeds cancel out his bad ones, Selfwill deliberately sins.

Because we are sinners, all Christians will struggle with sin and it is not until we see Jesus face to face that we’ll be completely free from sin. Nevertheless, Christ didn’t die on the cross so mankind would continue to sin! Honest and Great Heart point out that falling into sin and deliberately committing it are not the same things. There is a difference between a stumble into the mud puddle and an eager and deliberate leap into the muck so one can wallow in it!

Selfwill has the attitude of, “Since I’m saved and all my sins are forgiven, I can keep sinning.” While a genuine believer won’t lose his share in Christ’s salvation when he sins and repents, Selfwill isn’t a genuine believer. Confident that he can’t lose his salvation when he eagerly and intentionally sins, Selfwill doesn’t realize he’s never been saved! Believing that Jesus died for our sins is the correct doctrine but believing in a doctrine is not what saves us. We are saved when we believe in and give our lives to the right person: Jesus Christ (a distinction Selfwill missed). Forgiveness is not something to be taken lightly and, for the true believer, willfully continuing to sin is not an option. Rather than deliberately committing a sin, the true believer wants to be delivered from his sins.

If we are living a life that is indistinguishable from that of an unbeliever, it’s time to look in a mirror and examine ourselves. Have we truly received Christ as our Lord and Savior? Mr. Selfwill (like Misters Formality, Talkative, Hypocrisy, Ignorance, and Moneylove) didn’t come to the Way through the narrow Gate: Jesus. Unfortunately, when these men come to the Celestial City, they will find the door locked and not gain admittance.

You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. … Not everyone who calls out to me, “Lord! Lord!” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, “Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.” But I will reply, “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.” [Matthew 7: 13-14, 21-23 (NLT)]

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LIVING THE WORD – Father’s Day 2019

A righteous man who walks in his integrity—blessed are his sons after him! [Proverbs 20:7 (RSV)]

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. [Proverbs 22:6 (RSV)]

Yesterday, when writing about various translations of Scripture, I was reminded of a story about four ministers who were discussing their preferred Bible translations. The first pastor said he favored the King James because, in spite of the archaic language, its words conveyed divine power with their elegance and majesty. The second pastor noted that he preferred the Amplified Bible because its alternate readings helped clarify and broaden the meaning of the original text. Explaining that his church was made up of new believers, the third pastor said he liked the Living Bible because its modern paraphrase of traditional Scripture was easily understood by his congregation. The three men then turned to the fourth minister and asked what Bible version he favored. The man answered that his favorite translation was his father. “You see,” he explained, “He put God’s word into practice which is the best translation of Scripture that I’ve ever seen!”

Shortly before our pastor’s first mission trip, his grandfather gave him a book about ministerial ethics and morals. Although he still has that book, I think he had an even better book in the examples of both his grandfather (a man who truly served “the least of these”) and his evangelist/pastor father. Both men’s lives witnessed the truth of the Gospel message. Some of us were blessed with fathers or grandfathers like his: godly men, the salt of the earth, men who embody the message of God’s word in their daily walk. Sadly, others may not have been so fortunate. Nevertheless, through the power of the Holy Spirit, every one of us can translate God’s word into practice. A popular saying is, “You may be the only Bible some people read.” Indeed, we may be the only glimpse of Jesus seen by some.

Sunday is Father’s Day, a day when we honor the men who raised us. Let’s remember to honor our spiritual fathers, as well: those men we’ve know who didn’t just profess their faith but truly lived it. The best way to honor any of them isn’t with t-shirts, books, baseball caps, or after shave. It’s by living the way our Father in heaven wants us to live: with faith, generosity, joy, love, mercy, fairness, gentleness, compassion, honesty, wisdom, forgiveness, peace, humility, patience, kindness, and self-control. In honor of God the Father, let us all be faithful translations of His holy word.

There are five Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Christian—but most people never read the first four. [Rodney “Gypsy” Smith]

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (RSV)]

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LIKE IT OR NOT

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. [John 3:16-18 (NLT)]

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. [John 14:6 (NLT)]

monarch butterflyLast week, in That Was God, I wrote these words: “For those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior, death means punishment and eternal separation from God,” but reminded readers that the exclusive truths of Christianity don’t mean that we are exclusive in our love; everyone is our neighbor and a person to be loved! Finding the devotion thought provoking, a friend forwarded it to the members of his small group. One man found the message contradictory and responded this way: “In other words, if you weren’t lucky enough to be born a Christian, you’re screwed. But, we still love you, neighbor!”

In actuality, none of us are born Christian; it is when we accept Christ that we are reborn as Christians. Salvation is not a birthright. Moreover, all are welcome in Christ’s Church. After all, the early church was made up entirely of converts!

Granted, it’s far easier to be a Christian in the US than in nations like North Korea, Sudan, or India. Nevertheless, in spite of facing great persecution, there are Christian converts in all of those countries. Jesus never promised His way would be easy; in fact, He said it would be difficult! Open Doors reports that eleven Christians lose their lives every day because of their faith. With John being the only Apostle not martyred, it wasn’t easy for the early Christians either; yet, look at how rapidly the Church grew!

I have no doubt that God loves all of His children. Jesus told us that God so “loved the world…” and continued with the promise that “everyone who believes” would have eternal life. He didn’t say God only loved some of the world or just the Jews, Romans or Greeks. God’s gift of His son was for everyone and for all time. As the Holy Spirit moves throughout the world drawing people to Christ, God has revealed Himself to people in ways we can’t understand.

In Matthew 7:7, we are told, “Ask and it will be given…seek and you will find…” Mark Mittleberg points out that anyone who genuinely seeks God will be led to Him. When people sincerely seek the truth, they will find it only in Christ. In his book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi sought the truth about Mohammed; instead, he found Jesus! When skeptics Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and David Limbaugh went looking for the truth, they also found it in Jesus. God will reveal Himself to those who want to find Him.

“What about those who didn’t have the opportunity to hear about Jesus?” is one of those questions no Christian wants to be asked. Admittedly, not everyone has equal access to the gospel. Luke 12:48 tells us that from the one given much, much will be demanded. The inverse must also be true: from the one given little, little will be asked. We each are responsible for following whatever light God has given us.

When I think of infants like my nephew who never lived long enough to know his mother (let alone Jesus) or those people completely unreached by the Gospel, I am as disturbed as the man who didn’t like my words. Nevertheless, Jesus didn’t leave much in the way of wiggle room when He said He was “the way” rather than “one of the ways” to the Father. While contrary beliefs are possible, contrary truths are not and there seem to be some undeniably exclusive truths in Scripture as to salvation and eternal life. Like them or not, we are neither to add nor subtract from God’s Word. It’s not a buffet where we can pick and choose only the things we like nor is it a potluck where we get to bring in concepts that make it more palatable. At some point, everyone will answer to God and He will separate the sheep from the goats. Scripture doesn’t elaborate on how that will happen but I’m sure our loving and merciful God has it worked out in a way that only He can understand.

And a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn’t prepared and doesn’t carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required. [Luke 12:47-48 (NLT)]

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GUARD YOUR GATES [THE HOLY WAR – Part 1]

He burned down the Temple of the Lord, the royal palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem. He destroyed all the important buildings in the city. Then he supervised the entire Babylonian army as they tore down the walls of Jerusalem on every side. [2 Kings 25:9-10 (NLT)]

Schoonhoven - city gate

Jerusalem was heavily fortified and completely protected by walls over thirty-nine feet high and eight feet thick. In 586 BC, the Babylonian forces of King Nebuchadnezzar breached those seemingly impregnable walls and Jerusalem was burned, the city’s walls torn down, and the people taken captive. The city’s walls were rebuilt by Nehemiah 141 years later but they were again breached in 70 AD by the Romans who destroyed the city, demolished the second Temple, and massacred much of the population.

Published in 1682, John Bunyan’s allegory The Holy War tells of another fortified city’s fall. Bunyan’s walled city of Mansoul had five gates: Eye-gate, Ear-gate, Mouth-gate, Nose-gate and Feel-gate. Rather than Babylonians or Romans, Mansoul’s enemy was Diabolus. Unlike Jerusalem’s, Mansoul’s gates could not be breached or opened from the outside. They could only be forced if someone within the city allowed it. In short, sin could only enter if someone permitted its entrance. Diabolus and his then invisible army sat down in front of Ear-gate and assaulted it with fraud, guile, and hypocrisy. With the deaths of Captain Resistance and Lord Innocence, the townspeople looked at the tree of forbidden fruit, tasted it, forgot their good King Shaddai, opened both Ear and Eye-gate, and Mansoul came under the rule of Diabolus.

The Holy War is a none too subtle allegory that makes its point: walled cities can fall and city gates can be breached, if not from the outside, then from within. Like the city of Mansoul, sin will tempt and try to seduce us but it can’t force its way into our lives; it only enters by invitation. We alone are the ones who determine what we look at, hear, touch, feel, smell, say and do. Satan didn’t force Eve to eat that fruit, Cain to kill Abel, Jacob to deceive his father, the Israelites to worship a golden calf, Samson to dally with Delilah, David to take Bathsheba, Jonah to run away from Nineveh, King Ahaz to sacrifice his son, Herod to decapitate John, Judas to betray Jesus, or Peter to deny Him. These people freely opened their gates to temptation and allowed sin entrance into their lives.

An inevitable part of life, temptation is not a sin; it is a trial of faith. Mansoul’s sin was not in hearing the lies of Diabolous—it lay in believing and acting upon them. Sin happens when we drop our guard, open our gates, and allow it into our lives. God has given us a conscience, self-discipline, His word, and the Holy Spirit to defend our gates; whether or not we open ourselves to sin always remains our choice. Let us be cautious as to who and what enters our gates!

Temptation is the devil looking through the keyhole. Yielding is opening the door and inviting him in. [Billy Sunday]

But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation. [1 Thessalonians 5:8 (NLT)]

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TALKATIVE

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. [1 Corinthians 4:20 (NLT)]

maccawWhen John Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress, he was concerned both with the godless unbeliever and the casual and superficial believer: the nominal or counterfeit Christian. We all know them: people who may look and talk a lot like Christians but don’t live like one. Without even realizing it, we may even be one!

When Christian and Faithful encounter Mr. Talkative, Faithful initially considers the man a fine companion; he’s enthusiastic, speaks well and knows his Scripture. Christian, who knew Talkative in his hometown, warns Faithful that, “Religion has no place in his heart, or house, or lifestyle. The man’s religion is found only in his tongue rather than in him.”  Known as a saint abroad and a devil at home, Christian says Talkative is the sort of man who’s better looking from a distance. Although he can talk about faith, repentance, being reborn, and prayer, like the Pharisees, he doesn’t practice what he preaches. Christian then points out that Talkative isn’t even aware of the difference between speaking and being; he’s deceived himself into thinking that hearing and talking are all he needs to be a good Christian. “Knowing is a thing that pleases talkers and boasters, but doing is the thing that pleases God,” agrees Faithful.

Testing his new companion and cautioning him not to give an answer to which God would not give an “Amen!” Faithful asks Talkative, ”Does your religion exist in word or tongue and not in deed and truth?” Balking at giving a reply, Talkative leaves the men. After Christian points out, “Just as a body without the soul is dead, so talking by itself is but a dead carcass,” Faithful promises that he’ll pay closer attention to the distinction between talking and doing in the future.

Faithful observes that just as a prostitute is a shame to all women, a man like Talkative is a shame to all true believers. Christian adds that the number of people whose religion is in their words rather than their life is the reason religion stinks in the nostrils of so many men. We don’t have to be well-known evangelists caught in financial or sexual improprieties to give Christianity a bad name. We just have to be like Talkative: people whose religion is found only in their words rather than their hearts and actions.

I wondered at my answer to Faithful’s question; does my religion exist in word or tongue (or, in my case, web page) and not in deed and truth? What would be your answer to Faithful’s question? More important, would God shout a loud ”Amen!” in agreement to our answers? Let us always remember that faith without works is dead and it takes far more than words to be Christ’s witnesses.

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. [Kevin Max]

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? … Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” … Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works. [James 2:14,18,26 (NLT)]

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PROPERTY LAWS

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. [Romans 3:23-24 (NLT)]

toddlerAlthough my husband attended law school, there is one law he never knew until he became a father: the Toddler Property Law. Starting out with the basic premise of “What’s mine is mine!” it then defines exactly what is meant by “mine.” The toddler defines “mine” as the following: it’s mine if I like it; if I think it’s mine, it is; if it’s yours, it’s mine; if I can take it from you, it’s mine; if I had it but put it down, it’s still mine; if you had it but put it down, then it’s mine; and, if it is broken, it’s yours.

If we ever doubted the existence of original sin, we only need to watch a few toddlers at play to see that we are born into this world with sinful natures. Granted, the toddler doesn’t exhibit vanity or pride or practice sorcery, watch porn, get drunk and disorderly or commit adultery, but he sure knows a lot about greed, selfishness, coveting, hitting, defiance, anger, and the attachment to worldly goods (especially if made by Fisher-Price or Melissa & Doug).

Since I have difficulty following the various theological arguments and isms regarding original sin, I’m not going to define it or expound on how it came to be. Nevertheless, I don’t need a theologian to tell me that it’s not necessary to teach a toddler how to be a selfish grabby little beast but we do have to teach him how to share. I don’t think we’re born defective; after all, we were created in God’s image. Nevertheless, we were given that troublesome thing called free will which means we have the capacity to choose between right and wrong. Simply put, we sin because we can.

C.S. Lewis posits that Satan gave Adam and Eve the idea that “they could be like gods” and “be their own masters.” Without the theology, that’s pretty much the toddler mind set; he thinks he’s the master of the universe, the world revolves around him, and all that he wants is his. Sadly, some of us never grow out of thinking that way.

I don’t think God is holding me responsible for Adam and Eve’s poor choices; He doesn’t have to! Long ago, I started making plenty of my own poor decisions. If we didn’t have a tendency or predisposition to sin, you’d think someone (other than Jesus) could have remained sinless in all of this time! One reading of Scripture, however, tells us no one seems to have been able to keep perfectly the moral standards and precepts set by God. For example, Abraham, a man who walked with God, was a liar and a coward and David, said to be “a man after God’s own heart,” was an adulterer and murderer. Under mankind’s own power, we don’t appear to have the ability to stop sinning even when we want to do so.

Christianity tells us that we are unable to overcome the power of sin without the power of the Holy Spirit. That power comes by turning to Christ and relying on his sacrifice to atone for our sins. It’s only when we admit that we are helpless in the face of sin and that our sin has separated us from God, that we see the need for a savior and understand why Jesus (the perfect sacrifice) died for us. It is only through God’s grace that we finally have the power to renounce the sin of the world.

The beautiful thing about God’s grace is that when we sin (and try as we might not to do so, we will), God has enough grace to shower us with His undeserved mercy again and again. He gives us yet another chance to grow in godliness and His Spirit will empower us to do just that.

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous. [Romans 5:18-19 (NLT)]

He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. [Titus 2: 14 (NLT)]

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