Wednesday, October 29, 2014

            There’s a question that routinely arises when discussing faith and salvation.  Because we’re saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus, people often wonder: What about good people of other faiths?
            This question is understandable.  Many of us know or have known people of other faiths.  And they’re absolutely wonderful people.  We value them and their friendship, so we can’t imagine them going to hell.  We have trouble believing that they’ll miss out on salvation because they lack faith in Christ.
            It’s also understandable because, as we’ve gotten to know people of other faiths, we’ve noticed that many of them are very devout.  In fact, they seem to be better than most Christians we know.  They are a very moral people and live out their faith in a way that most Christians do not.
            Considering this, it hardly seems fair that they would miss out on salvation.  It doesn’t seem just that they would be denied entrance into heaven while we’re accepted.  And this makes us think that God will make exceptions for these people.
            However, this question with which we struggle is a loaded question.  It’s based on a false premise.  The question itself implies something that is not true, leading us to a false assumption.  The problem lies in the words “good people.”
            The problem with this question is that, according to Scripture, there are no good people.  We can see this in numerous places.  One of the most clear is Romans 3:10-12 which says: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."
            Paul, quoting from several Old Testament passages, tells us that no one is righteous.  He tells us that no one does good.  And later on in this chapter, in verse 23, he tells us that all have sinned.  He tells us that everyone has fallen short of the glory of God.
            Because all people are sinful, because no one does good, no one is deserving of salvation.  In fact, every one of us are deserving of nothing other than his wrath.  God could send every one of us to hell at this very moment, and he would be perfectly just in doing so. 
However, in spite of the punishment we deserve, God sent his Son into the world.  He sent Jesus to give his life on the cross, paying the penalty of our sin, that we might receive salvation.    And this salvation, which is available to all people, is received through faith in Jesus. 
In John 14:6 Jesus clearly tells us that he’s the only way of salvation.  In this verse, he says: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It’s clear, then, that those of other faiths cannot receive this blessing.  No matter what we want to believe, there is no Scriptural evidence to support the idea that people can be saved through any other faith.  Any such idea completely contradicts the message of the gospel.
However, this is our motivation to go to these people.  If they could be saved in another way, there would be no reason to go.  But since, apart from Christ, they are lost, we are driven to share with them the gospel.  We’re motivated to share with them the way of salvation that God has provided. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Yesterday, I delivered the final message of our series, "The Nature of Faith."  In it, we saw that A Little Goes a Long Way.  The recording was started a couple of minutes late, but the bulk of the message is here.  To stream or download the audio file, please click on the link.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

            “It is finished.” These are the words spoken by Jesus on the cross, in John 19, right before he died.  And this tells us that Jesus had fulfilled the will of the Father.  It tells us that his work of atonement was now complete.
            Because this is true, have you ever wondered why we’re still here?  If Jesus has atoned for our sins, why are we still living in this world?  If our salvation is complete, why must we continue to live in a world of sin?  If our sins have been cleansed, why can’t we go to paradise now? 
            I think this is addressed well in 2 Peter 3:9, where he writes: The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
            We see in this passage that God is patient.  And, although we might like to experience his eternal kingdom sooner rather than later, this is yet another demonstration of God’s grace.  He’s patient because he does not want any to perish.  He’s patient because he wants all to reach repentance.
            In displaying his patience, God is giving people the opportunity to turn from their sin.  He’s giving them the opportunity to receive the salvation he’s provided for them.  And this is where the role of the church ties in.  This is where we see the purpose of missions.
            As the church, we’ve been called by God to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation (Mark 16:15).  We’ve been called by God to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20).  As those who have received the grace of God, we’re to share his heart.  We too are to desire the salvation of all.  And we’re to make the most of every moment that others might have the opportunity to hear the gospel and trust in Jesus.
            The question for us, then, is this: Do we share the heart of God?  Do we truly desire the salvation of all people?  Are we making the most of every moment, that others might have the opportunity to receive his salvation?
            I, for one, am eternally thankful for the patience of God.  Were he not patient, I would not share in his blessings.  However, because he is long-suffering, I was given the opportunity to hear the gospel and to trust in him.
            I now want others to have the same opportunity.  Even though it would be wonderful to live in the presence of God right at this very moment, even though it would be delightful were I now free from this world of sin, I desire that others receive the same blessing.  I am willing to endure what I must that others might not perish. 

            I pray that, as a church, this would be a desire shared by us all.  I pray that, because of the great blessing we’ve received, we’ll patiently endure.  I pray that we’ll endure that we might carry out the call entrusted to us by our Lord.  And I pray that, in this way, he’ll use us to draw many to faith that they also might share in the blessings he’s provided.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Yesterday, we heard part 7 of our series: The Nature of Faith.  We learned that having faith means Submitting to Jesus' Purpose.  To stream or download the audio file, please click on the link.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
(Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

            We saw, in last week’s post, that God draws us to faith through the preaching of the Word.  He sends people to proclaim the gospel that we might hear, believe, call on the name of the Lord, and receive his salvation.  And this makes clear to us the importance of evangelism.
            As I look back, I can see how this played itself out in my own life.  I remember how, as my fourth grade Sunday School teacher shared the gospel, I saw my need for salvation.  I remember how I was brought to the understanding of what Jesus had done for me.  And I desired the blessing he’d provided by his sacrifice.  It was at this point in my life when I was brought to faith in him.
            The same is likely true of you.  And this is true whether you came to faith as a child or as an adult.  Even if you can’t pinpoint the exact day or moment, you likely remember those who proclaimed to you the Word of God.  You likely realize that it was in this way that you were brought to faith.  It may have been your parents, your pastor, a Sunday School teacher, or a family friend.  But someone brought to you the Word of God, giving you the opportunity to hear, believe, and receive salvation.
            We find in Scripture that God has called us, as his people, to carry the gospel to all men.  We see in the above passage that we’re called to make disciples of all nations.  We see in Mark 16 that we’re called to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  And this tells us that we are those, sent by God to preach his Word, that others might hear and believe.
            I think you’ll agree that this is a high calling.  And because it’s a high calling, it’s something that we must not take lightly.  If we fail in this task, we’re denying mankind the opportunity to hear, believe, and call on the name of the Lord. 
            Most of us recognize that this is God’s calling on our life.  However, few of us are faithful to this call.  We go about our day to day lives, keeping our faith to ourselves.  No matter how involved we are in the activities of the church, we’re unwilling to establish relationships with unbelievers and to share with them the good news of Jesus.
            We don’t want to believe that, by our failure to reach out to the lost, we’re denying them the opportunity to receive salvation.  We insist that God can use others to accomplish this purpose.  We insist that others are more gifted in evangelism.  We do everything we can to shift this responsibility from ourselves and to place it on others.
            While it’s true that some do have the gift of evangelism, this doesn’t remove the responsibility from the rest of us.  This is a calling that Jesus gave to not just a few.  It’s a calling he’s given to his church.  And, as the church, we must carry it out. 
We also insist that God can work in other ways to draw people to faith.  And we do, sometimes, hear accounts of God revealing himself to people in miraculous ways.  We’re reminded of the way that Jesus appeared to Saul as he was on the road to Damascus and, ultimately, brought him to faith.  However, this is the exception and not the norm. 
            We are God’s plan for reaching the world for Christ.  We are the ones who are called to proclaim his Word, that he might draw them to faith.  And, as those who understand our need for Jesus, as those who have received the grace of Christ, it only makes sense that we would share the heart of God for the lost.  It only makes sense that, like God, we would desire the salvation of all people.  It only makes sense that we would want them to receive the same blessing God has given us. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Yesterday we heard part 6 of our series, "The Nature of Faith." We saw that faith is not simply a one time thing.  It's not something we believe at one moment in time.  Faith is A Continual Trust.  The first few minutes of this message were lost because the record button was hit a bit late.  However, you can stream or download it by clicking on the link.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I apologize for getting this audio file up so late.  I was out of town on personal business for part of the week.  However, on last Sunday, we continued our look at The Nature of Faith.  As we looked at the account of three healings performed by Jesus, we learned that faith is The Hand That Receives.  To stream or download this file, click on the link.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

           How Does God Bring Us to Faith?

            In my last post, I brought out the fact that, just as salvation is a gift of God, so too is faith.  Faith isn’t something at which we arrive on our own.  It’s not a decision that we make.  It’s something that the Lord bestows upon us.  And this naturally leads us to ask: How does God do it?  How does he bring people to faith?
            A passage which addresses this question very clearly is Romans 10, starting in verse 11, which says: For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame."  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!"”
            The apostle Paul is very clear that salvation is available to all people.  It will be received by all who call on the name of the Lord.  He then goes on to describe, by way of a series of rhetorical questions, how this takes place.
            He starts off by asking how they can call on him in whom they have not believed.  In other words, if they don’t first believe in Jesus, how are they to call on him and to receive his salvation?  His point is that they can’t.  Apart from faith, apart from a belief in Jesus, people cannot call on him.
            Next, he asks how they can believe in him of whom they’ve never heard.  And, again, the answer is obvious.  Unless they hear of Jesus, they’re unable to believe in him, to call on him, and to be saved.
            He then asks how they can hear without someone preaching.  Unless someone preaches the gospel, unless someone preaches the good news of Jesus, they will not hear.  And, because they cannot hear, they cannot believe, call on the Lord, and be saved.
            He ends by asking how they’re to preach unless they are sent.  No one can preach the gospel unless they’ve been sent by the Lord himself.  And, as believers, we have been sent.  We’ve received from Jesus the Great Commission, by which we’re called to proclaim the gospel to all nations, by which we’re called to make disciples of all nations.
            So what we find in this passage is that we are brought to faith through the Word of God.  God sends his followers to proclaim his Word, giving people the opportunity to hear, to believe, and to be saved.
            As we saw last week, the Spirit of God is involved throughout this process.  He’s the one who calls to us through the message of the gospel and enables us to believe.  So it’s through the Word and the Spirit of God that we are drawn to faith.
            As Martin Luther states in his explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him; but the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the true faith; in like manner he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in one true faith; in which Christian Church he daily forgives abundantly all my sins and the sins of all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will grant everlasting life to me and to all who believe in Christ.  This is most certainly true.”

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Faith – The Gift of God

                The focus of our messages, this past month, has been on faith.  We’ve been looking at what it means to have faith, primarily from the words of Jesus, found in the gospel of Matthew.  This focus brings up many issues that are important for us to address, which we’ll look at in these posts over the next several weeks.  The first question that comes to mind, as we think about faith, is this: How does a person come to faith in Jesus?                
There’s a tendency in today’s church to think of faith as an intellectual pursuit.  We often think that we can convince people to come to faith in Jesus.  Although apologetics is a very important area of study, and even though it interests me a great deal, this is often an improper use of this field. 
We believe that, if we can convince others on a scientific basis that creation is plausible, they will place their faith in Jesus.  We think that, if we can verify the resurrection of Jesus from an intellectual perspective, people will certainly trust in Christ.  We think that, if we can explain the Christian faith from a purely rational perspective, this will draw the masses to salvation.
We fail to remember what Paul says in 1 Corinthians.  In the first chapter of this book, he tells us that the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.  He says that the message of the cross is a stumbling block to Jews and Gentiles alike, who are seeking miraculous signs and wisdom.  So, even though the gospel makes perfect sense to us, it’s foolishness to unbelievers.  It doesn’t make sense to them in the least.
We also tend to think of faith as a decision that we make.  We think that, at some point, we choose to place our faith in Jesus.  We think that, at some point, we make a decision for Christ.  However, this idea is directly opposed to the teaching of Scripture.
According to the Bible, faith is a gift of God.  It isn’t a choice that we make by our own power and wisdom.  The only reason we come to the Lord is because God himself draws us.  Left to ourselves, this would never happen.  As Jesus says, in John 6:44: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”  
In 1 Corinthians 12:3, the apostle Paul writes: “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus is accursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except in the Holy Spirit.” So, according to Paul, our very ability to profess faith in Jesus is empowered by the Spirit of God.  It’s not something we can say on our own.
When he says this, he’s talking about a sincere confession of faith.  After all, anyone can utter the words “Jesus is Lord” in a meaningless way.  But if we’re to believe it, if we’re to genuinely confess it, this has been empowered by the Holy Spirit.
We see a similar idea expressed in John 1, starting in verse 12.  John writes: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Through faith in Jesus, we’re empowered to become God’s children.  It’s a right that’s given to us as we trust in him.  And John’s careful to point out that this happened exclusively as a gift of God. 
He says that we’re born as God’s children not of blood.  In other words, our position in Christ has nothing to do with our heritage.  We’re born as God’s children not of the will of the flesh.  It’s not something that we decided or chose by our own power or wisdom.  And we’re born as God’s children not by the will of man.  Just as we didn’t make this choice for ourselves, neither did anyone else make it for us. 
This tells us that, just as we must give credit to the Lord for our redemption, so must we give him the credit for our faith.  Had he not worked in our life, we would not believe, and we would not be saved.  We can’t even credit our decision as the reason we’re saved.
The only decision we can make, as God works in our life, is to walk away.  We can choose to reject him and the salvation he brings.  This is something we can do by our own power and wisdom.
This, of course, raises still other questions.  For one: How does the Lord bring us to faith?  And that will be the topic of my next post.