Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Matthew 7:21-23

How can I know that I'm saved? Is it because I feel saved? Or because I remember praying to "ask Jesus into my heart"? Is it even possible that anything that I've said or done has effected any part of salvation to my account? God's Word does not tell me that I can be assured of my salvation because I feel it or because I've completed of some kind of checklist of rituals or religious activity. Instead, scripture tells us to "examine yourselves to see whether you're in the faith. Test yourselves" (2 Corinthians 13:5). There are several passages of scripture wherein we can study to help us examine ourselves, but here is just one that really got me thinking along those lines.

Jesus tells us this in Matthew 7:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'

And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'
(Matthew 7:21-23)

Notice three things in that passage.
  1. They said, 'Lord, Lord'. In other words, they were professing Jesus Christ as their Lord. Many people profess to be Christians.
  2. They did many mighty works. They believed that their works in His name qualified them to enter heaven. Many people believe that being good and doing religious activities will earn them a place in heaven.
  3. Who is the only one that will enter the kingdom of heaven? The one that does the will of the Father.

How sad that so many of us calling ourselves Christians today might be described like this:
You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: "'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.'"
(Matthew 15:7-9)

And the Lord said: "Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men

(Isaiah 29:13)

Profession


"Not everyone" implies that some will say, "Lord, Lord", and will enter heaven. But talking the talk is not enough, if we are not walking the walk.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise...
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
(Ephesians 5:15, 17)
There are those that will counter with, "but Romans 10:9 says that if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, we will be saved!" Truly, it does say that, but not only that.
because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
Confession is one part - belief is the other. And belief is made evident in how you live your life. How so? Well, I could say that I believe that my house is on fire, but if you don't see me trying to get out of the burning house, wouldn't you discern that I must not really believe it? Professing belief in something, and acting on that belief are two different things.


Works


This is a confusing thing to get into, this matter of "works". You can point to proof texts all day that, when read out of context, can build a convincing foundation in either camp. One side holds that works are a necessary component to saving faith, the other side holds that justification and salvation are entirely separated from works.

Might I be so bold as to suggest that it may be as simple as understanding this: our works can not, do not, will not earn our salvation or justification in the eyes of God; yet good works are a visible sign of a true and living faith, a distinguishing mark of genuine conversion.

I believe this is the only explanation that can seamlessly unify the following passages:
  • James 2:17-18 - So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
  • Ephesians 2:8-9 - For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Where we tend to go astray is trying to draw an inference from the text that isn't there.

Consider the following statement:
{faith in addition to works causes or produces genuine salvation}
Is this biblical? I do not believe so. This wording seems to suggest that faith and works are two required components needed to manufacture salvation (or presented as a "coupon" proving that God owes you). This would violate the explicit teaching of Scripture in Romans 3:28, "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law."

Therefore, it is crucial that we understand the difference between the previous statement and this one:
{true faith causes or produces good works that validates genuine salvation}.
Do you think this statement expresses a more accurate picture of genuine saving faith than the preceding one?

Important: Let us not forget the more important part of all of this: grace.
"For by grace you have been saved through faith..."
Grace is the active agent, faith is the conduit. Salvation is by means of the grace of God, our faith is the conduit through which that salvation is effected.
"...it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."
The "it" = "the gift of God"; "it" = "salvation by grace". By definition, grace cannot be merited or earned; it is free. But, it is received through faith in Christ as our Lord and Savior. And we cannot even take credit for that faith. We did not effect that faith of our own accord.
"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17)
Simply put, when once we have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached to us, and it is received as truth from the Word of God (Romans 10:14), God works a miracle by regenerating a spiritually dead heart, breathing life into us and imparting that necessary spark of faith. Unless we've actually heard the true gospel preached, it is not possible to believe.
"When it is said that faith cometh by hearing, it is not meant that all who hear actually believe, for that is not true; but that faith does not exist unless there is a message, or report, to be heard or believed. It cannot come otherwise than by such a message; in other words, unless there is something made known to be believed. And this shows us at once the importance of the message, and the fact that people are converted by the instrumentality of truth, and of truth only." (Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible)
On what would we be believing if we have not heard the true Gospel? I'd venture to say that, if anything, it'd be in a "make-believe god" that we create with our own mind, one that we choose to conjur up, one that fits with our world view. We may be so set in what we're willing to accept about our god, that we simply refuse to accept the God presented to us in the Bible. At that point, we reject Him and create one from our own acceptable mold; one that allows us to feel good about our lifestyle decisions, and one that doesn't require us to admit the sin in our life. This is the gist of what is being communicated when someone says, "My god wouldn't send people to a place like Hell, my god is a "god of love", my god doesn't hate" or "My god would/wouldn't do <insert whatever here>, I don't think <some part of the Bible> is relevant for today."



The Will of the Father

Lastly, Jesus says in v.21 that the one who will enter the kingdom of heaven is "the one who does the will of my Father". Thankfully, God's Word reveals to us very clearly what His will is:
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
(John 6:40)
For this is the will of God, your sanctification...
(1 Thessalonians 4:3)
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
(1 Peter 2:15-16)

So, understanding these things a little better now, how does God's Word tell us that we can know that we have eternal life? Well, Scripture tells us: examine yourselves, to test yourselves.
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
(2 Corinthians 13:5)
No where in the Bible do we read that we are to trust our feelings or to ask our local preacher/elder/Sunday School teacher if we are saved. In fact, Scripture tells us that our heart is not be trusted, that it is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), and we are not to trust in our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).

If we cannot trust our feelings, if we cannot get assurance of salvation from our preacher or our church, to where or to whom are we to turn? Who or what can we trust in for our salvation?

Jesus Christ is the only man to ever live a perfectly sinless life. He alone is the spotless Lamb, who was sacrificed on the cross in order to take our place under the wrath of Almighty God. Through His death He purchased our atonement, paying the necessary price for our sin, and that "price" is death.

You see, God is a Holy God and His Holiness demands that justice be served for the rebellion (our sin) against His Law. There is no way that we can cover that cost ourselves (aside from an eternity in hell). The point is that there is no way we can earn a place of justification before God - the debt is just too huge. The atrocity of only one, single sin to an Infinite God is infinitely atrocious and merits His Infinite Judgment.

But here is the Good News!! Jesus Christ, being God in the flesh, was able to cover that debt. So, the ONLY way we can be justified before a Holy God is by placing all of our trust in the One that paid our fine. We sign over our life to Him, trusting Him and Him alone to be our Savior. This isn't "trust Jesus + good things I do" or anything like that. Ever heard the phrase, "only to the cross I cling, nothing in my hands I bring"? Trusting entirely in Jesus Christ and the atoning sacrifice He made on the cross is the only thing that can make us right with God.

And this involves not just saying that you accept Jesus and accept His taking the payment for your sins, but believing that He really died and that He was raised from the dead by God. It's in His resurrection that we see His power over death, and it's in our placing our life in His hands that we have no fear of death.

Jesus died, and His death satisfied the required penalty for our sin. That's all that's required - to die once. He paid that, and then He rose from the dead. And He's alive today in heaven with God. That is the hope that we have that we can be made right with God, to be made sons and daughters of the Almighty God. Only in Jesus. Trust in Jesus alone, and not on anyone or anything else.

John 14:6 - Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. "
John 14:21 - Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.



Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe." John 4:48

Morning & Evening by C.H. Spurgeon

"Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe." - John 4:48

A craving after marvels was a symptom of the sickly state of men's minds in our Lord's day. They refused solid nourishment, and pined after mere wonder. The gospel which they so greatly needed they would not have, instead, they eagerly demanded the miracles which Jesus did not always choose to give.

Even today, many must see signs and wonders, or they refuse to believe. Some have said in their heart, "I must feel a deep moving in my soul, or I never will believe in Jesus." But what if you never should feel it, as is probably the case? Will you go to hell out of spite against God, because He will not treat you like another?

One has said to himself, "If I had a dream, or if I could feel a sudden shock of I know not what, then I would believe." Therefore, you undeserving mortals think that the Lord is to be dictated to by you! There you are, beggars at His gate, asking for His mercy, and you dare to draw up rules and regulations as to how He shall give that mercy? You really think that He will submit to this? My Master is of a generous spirit, but He has a right royal heart, He spurns all dictation, and maintains His sovereignty of action.

Why, dear reader, if such be your case, do you crave for signs and wonders? Is not the gospel its own sign and wonder? Is not this a miracle of miracles, that "God so A)">loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life"? Surely that precious word, "let the one who wishes take the D)">water of life without cost" and that solemn promise, "the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out," are better than signs and wonders!

A truthful Savior ought to be believed. He is truth itself. Why will you ask proof of the veracity of One who cannot lie? The demons themselves declared Him to be the Son of God; will you mistrust Him?


[Derived from Charles Spurgeon's Daily Devotionals; edited only in attempt to reflect modern English]