Tag Archives: redemption

What’s the Point?

To be clear, the point of everything now and forevermore is Jesus Christ.  In Peterson’s modern translation of the Bible, The Message, he interprets God’s prophetic description of His Son thusly: Take a good look at my servant.  I’m backing him to the hilt.  He’s the one I chose, and I couldn’t be more pleased with him.  I’ve bathed him with my spirit, my life.  He’ll set everything right among the nations.  He won’t call attention to what he does with loud speeches or gaudy parades.  He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant, but he’ll steadily and firmly set things right.  He won’t tire out and quit.  He won’t be stopped until he’s finished his work – to set things right on earth.  …Take note: The earlier predictions of judgment have been fulfilled.  I’m announcing the new salvation work.  Before it bursts on the scene, I’m telling you all about it (from Isaiah 42).  Anyone can read the New Testament for themselves to find out what God meant by “the new salvation work” ushered in by Jesus.  The main thing to notice is that the redemption Christ provided wasn’t limited to the members of God’s chosen race.  Because of Jesus no particular group of people has an exclusive corner on God’s blessings.  While the nation of Israel played a pivotal and unique role in God’s plan for thousands of years, once the Messiah arrived on the scene humanity as a whole became God’s focus in this planet’s history.  Remember, God gave His only begotten Son to the world because of His unfathomably deep love for the world.  And His gracious, merciful love is the immovable foundation of our hope.

 

However, when one honestly assesses the sorry shape mankind has gotten itself in these days it’s difficult to imagine how God can possibly turn our sour lemons into sweet lemonade.  The Bible tells us we have a glorious future to look forward to but things do appear pretty bleak right now so how’s God going to pull the proverbial rabbit out of this filthy hat?  For believers the answer’s quite simple.  Nothing is impossible for our God to accomplish.  We must never underestimate His ability.  We’re taught via the Scriptures that the Triune Godhead oversees and controls all of the grand Creation it brought into being.  Not only that, but each and every one of us is treasured beyond measure by our Heavenly Father.  He’s not a kind of God and He’s not some sort of indescribable force.  He’s a person whom we can know and enjoy developing an intimate relationship with.  If someone wants to learn what God’s really like they need look no further than Jesus.  He is Emmanuel, a name that literally means “God with us”.  As our Lord told His disciple Philip, The person who has seen me has seen the Father! (John 14:9).  The death and resurrection of our Savior changed everything.  Dallas Willard wrote, “Human history is then no longer a human affair.  It’s Someone Else’s project.  Similarly for the individual human life: we’re not puppets, either on the group or the individual level.  But what’s really going on is not, after all, what we are doing.  …Instead of being the main show, we are of significance only as a – very important – part of an immense struggle between immense forces of good and evil.”  In other words, a new era dawned in the universe almost 2,000 years ago and it’s still unfolding regardless of how aware we are of it.

 

How easy it is to regard terra firma and what goes on here as being all that’s relevant to our lives!  We get seduced by our own scientific discoveries and breakthroughs into thinking we’ve got it all figured out.  Take quantum physics, for example.  Once we detected the existence of quarks we assumed we’d found the building block of all matter.  Maybe so.  Yet nothing about a quark indicates it’s dependent only upon itself.  It’s not sentient.  It doesn’t make decisions.  It doesn’t govern, it’s governed and that governor will forever be God.  There’s no alternative.  God is the sole instigator.  Einstein spent most of his life pursuing what he called a “unified field theory” in vain because there likely isn’t one to be discovered.  Somewhat akin to what I said about quarks, the laws of science can’t thoroughly explain anything in and of itself because those laws don’t have a rock solid “starting point” from which they can move forward.  Physical laws don’t explain the raw basics of what motivates matter.  Much less what existence actually is.  Therefore existence is essentially the fat rhino in the kitchen, so to speak.  It won’t budge so secular scientists have to do their best to work around it.  It makes for close quarters.

 

Here’s a related quotation from Geisler and Turek’s thought-provoking book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist:  “…While the age of the universe is certainly an interesting theological question, the more important point isn’t when the universe was created but that it was created.  …The universe exploded into being out of nothing, and it’s been precisely tweaked to support life on earth.  Since this universe had a beginning – including the entire time-space continuum – it required a Beginner no matter how long ago that beginning was.  Likewise, since this universe is designed, it required a Designer no matter how long ago it was designed.  We can debate how long the days in Genesis were but when we do, we must be sure not to obscure the larger point that this creation requires a Creator.”  While most intelligent people concede that behind every effect there has to be a cause, some refuse to apply that indisputable fact to the origin of the universe.

 

Belief in a Trinitarian-run universe answers a lot of questions because it contains the requisite logic needed.  The conclusion that everything was conceived and created by a coordinated, cooperative trio of divine persons isn’t only sensible but entirely sane.  And to accept that God is also personal isn’t too much of a stretch because we’re made in His image and we’re obviously personal beings.  We see in the Bible that God repeatedly revealed Himself to humankind by personally approaching various men and women and getting involved in their lives.  It’s right there in black and white for all to read but some folks just flat out refuse to do that.  They’ll bow down to and worship almost anything except the God of Abraham and go so far as to revere their fake idols (money, prestige, etc.) as the ultimate reference points for their lives and actions.  Little wonder hope’s in such short supply within their ranks.  In fact, they feel emboldened to label Christians as the ones who are most hopeless of all because they opine we trust in nothing more than an elaborate fairy tale.  But Paul addressed our situation exactly as it is.  He wrote, For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.  For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly but because of God who subjected it – in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.  For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now (Romans 8:18-22).  Christ-followers aren’t a bunch of starry-eyed, “let’s pretend everything’s hunky dory” dreamers.  What we are is a spiritual collective that believes God’s plan will prevail simply because He is, in every aspect, the one true God.  There is no other.

 

Willard once made a remarkable statement.  He said God is really knowable only through the redeemed community.  And what better way is there for the unified body of Christ to present our Father God to the world than by our maintaining a steadfast, unwavering belief that He is unfailingly good all the time and that what He pronounces good He’ll bring to pass?  Few things are as vital for the church to do as to honestly display God’s eternal goodness to the world.  The sanctuary doors are open to all who seek refuge from this cruel world.  Listen to what Paul explained to the Gentiles (the folks the snooty Jewish religious leaders considered “deplorables”): So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).  Nobody is barred from entering God’s kingdom!  God’s intent seems to be to bring out of the mass of humankind a sanctified community of souls that were formerly viewed by high society as being of no consequence; as just a bunch of “run-of-the-mill Joes and Janes.”  An atheist will ask “Okay, but why?  What’s the point?”  At that juncture a Christian can only answer with “Because God loves us.  We’re what He desires most.”  It’s doubtful that response will satisfy them but nevertheless it’s the unavoidable truth of the matter.  And God’s immeasurable love was made manifest when He “…gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

 

For much of my life I was constantly engaged in a futile search for meaning.  (I’m positive I wasn’t alone in that quest.  Lots of us “boomers” did the same.)  Fact is, if we find meaning at all it’s after particular happenings have taken place, not necessarily while we’re in the midst of going through them.  This is true not only in our own life but, on a much larger scale, with events that significantly affect the whole wide world.  Needless to say I was somewhat frustrated most of the time.  But then eight years ago I rededicated my life to Jesus and He provided me with the ultimate point – God and His glorious kingdom – both of which give meaning not only to our lives but the entire history of our planet which we are an irreplaceable part of.  Willard wrote, “We’re greatly strengthened for life in the kingdom now by an understanding of what our future holds, and especially of how that future relates to our present experience.  For only then do we really understand what our current life is and are we able to make choices that agree with reality.”  Sadly and somewhat inexplicably I rarely, if ever, hear sermons about how individual Christians fit into the present and coming kingdom of God and what our function/role is and will be in it.  But, thanks to God’s Holy Word, I’ve gained some insights.

 

First, it’s evident our souls survive their mortal phase.  John Hick wrote, “If we trust what Jesus said out of His own direct consciousness of God, we’ll share His belief in the future life.  This belief is supported by the reasoning that a God of infinite love wouldn’t create finite persons and then drop them out of existence when the potentialities of their nature, including their awareness of Himself, have only just begun to be realized.”  We’re also informed we’re of undeniable, intrinsic worth to God.  He’s invested eons of time and energy in seeing to it mankind doesn’t render itself extinct so He obviously thinks we’re “to die for.”  As I stated earlier, we’ll continue to exist because it pleases God we do so.  Our souls are much more than simply a random conglomeration of matter.  We’ll outlast the universe.  By the way, God isn’t dependent on matter.  Matter depends on Him.  He was the great I AM before there was a physical universe.  He is spirit.  Thus God doesn’t need a brain for He’s the absolute epitome of unimpeded, omniscient consciousness.  So, since we’re formed in His image, we’ll continue to exist sans body and brain.  We’ll be spiritual beings, freed from the restraints of the flesh.

 

Those who summarily dismiss even the idea of an afterlife are to be pitied.  Some of them claim they think that way because they don’t want to be disappointed but that’s pure foolishness.  If they fail to survive mortal death they surely won’t be disappointed.  They’ll be gone with the wind.  However, if they do survive they’ll find themselves totally unprepared.  Thus the only way they could possibly feel disappointment is if they do awaken on “the other side.”  In other words, if death’s comparable to a lightbulb burning out they won’t know anything anyway.  I hesitate to say it but that’s the coward’s way of thinking.  It takes courage to live with eternity in mind.  The most depressing thing I can imagine is to think that all of this amounts to nothing whatsoever; that our planet and its inhabitants are no more than a cosmic anomaly.  On the contrary, the Bible stresses that each one of us will never cease to exist and that our timelessness is beyond our ability to do anything about.  I suspect many weary souls ache for what the poet Swinburne called “the sleep eternal in eternal night”.  Sadly, they’re destined to find unconscious sleep won’t come no matter how many sheep they count.  I shudder at the thought of a soul discovering they’re separated from the source of all that’s good, all that’s lovely, all that’s wondrous – God – forevermore.  Me?  I yearn to be in His presence.  I look forward to heaven.

 

So the answer to the question of “What’s the point?” always directs us like a compass needle to Jesus.  He is the answer.  Hick wrote, “Jesus used symbols pointing to eternal life as limitlessly enhanced life, as a state of being more intensely alive in an existence which is both perfect fulfillment and yet also endless activity and newness.  If death leads eventually to that, then although we’ll still think of it with trembling awe and apprehension, it will not evoke terror or despair; for beyond death we will not be less alive but more alive than we are now.”  Christ never gave any indication otherwise.  He implied those who believe in Him in this life won’t find their eternal existence in the heavenly kingdom of God to be anything short of absolutely amazing.  To envision it’ll be anything less than spectacular, invigorating and enjoyable is to limit our Father’s unconditional love for us, the love Jesus gave His own life to make known to all.  When it comes to what eternity’s going to be like, no other religion comes close to what Christianity says is ours for the taking.  All we have to do is believe in Jesus.  He’s the point.

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The 2,000 Year Old “New Way”

Annually, on December 25th, we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Nobody else’s birthday garners worldwide attention because nobody else comes close to having the impact on civilization Christ did and continues to have.  His miraculous incarnation as a human being on this planet changed everything.  He came for many reasons, one of which was to inform us the old way of living had served its purpose and was now officially terminated.  The long-prophesized Messiah brought with Him the good news of a new way to live.  Alas, not everyone was thrilled.  The Jewish leaders certainly didn’t welcome it because it was a direct affront to the “establishment” they’d worked so diligently to maintain.  The occupying Romans didn’t like it because they were paranoid about anything that threatened their dynasty.  Satan didn’t like the messenger or His message because the power they wielded was something he couldn’t match.  All three of those entities devoted their energy and resources to combating the Son of God by attempting to render Him and His new way impotent.  History shows they failed miserably.

 

For the average Joe or Jane on the street, however, Jesus’ announcement of a new way to live was nothing less than scandalous.  They’d been brought up to rigidly believe what the Jewish priests and scholars had hammered into their heads from when they were babies – obey every single one of their hundreds of laws (the ten God gave to Moses plus the boatload they’d added) and the great I AM will bless you.  Break just one and He won’t.  They’d preach, “Y’all want hope?  Here’s a tip.  Be as holy and righteous as we are and maybe you’ll get a fancy robe to wear and a cool title.  Do A, get B.  Guaranteed.  Trust in us, not the God of Abraham.  He’s the one who put us in charge and then skedaddled for parts unknown.”  So here comes Jesus strolling into their towns dressed like a commoner, eating the same bland food and drinking the same weak wine they were yet able to perform miracles none of the big wigs could pull off on their best day.  On top of that He taught with authority, telling them the stress-creating “pressure to perform” that had so dominated their existence was no longer necessary because The Messiah they’d been anticipating was the one speaking to them.  He wasn’t into anarchy or instigating a riotous rebellion.  Not at all.  Jesus said to them, Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).  Things were going to be different from now on because of Him.  Why?  Because He and God were the same!  Wow!

 

That was then, this is now.  Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father where He remains today.  He sent the Holy Spirit to continue introducing Christians to the new way.  How does a follower of Jesus know if they’re living the new way?  We know by what we produce.  “…The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.  Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25).  If you’ve been living the old way but ready to embrace the new way don’t put it off another minute.  Larry Crabb wrote, “It begins with thinking.  We’re transformed by renewing our minds, not our circumstances; we’re changed not by rearranging blessings in our lives or strategizing to make life work a little better or overcoming our low self-esteem and troubling emotions, but by renewing the way we think about this life.  How we come to God doesn’t guarantee how God will come to us or when He’ll let us feel His presence with us.  Nothing we do makes anything happen.  But since the New Covenant is now in place, drawing near to God does guarantee that He’ll draw near to us, in His own time and in His own way, not because of the merit of our coming, but because of His gracious promise to draw near to us if we draw near to Him.”  Knowing the Father is the new way Jesus introduced to the world 20 centuries ago.  The Scriptures confirm it.  Draw near to God and he will draw near to you (James 4:8).  Forget about earning blessings already.  Focus on leaning on, trusting in and knowing God better every day.

 

Because I’m a leader in my local Celebrate Recovery ministry I eagerly recommend it to everyone without hesitation.  The 12 steps and 8 principles it promotes helps folks of all races and ages live the new way.  But perhaps there’s not a CR near you or your work schedule prevents you from attending the weekly meetings.  There are things you can do to adhere to the new way of thinking.  I’m assuming you read your Bible daily, you’re an active member of a church and you pray for divine guidance, strength and courage as often as you can.  Otherwise you first need to establish those vital things as the foundation of your faith before any serious changes can occur.  If they’re in place then the next thing to do is to figure out exactly where you are.  In CR it’s step #4: “We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”  It’s backed by Lamentations 3:40, Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD.”  (The great advantage CR offers is having a sworn-to-secrecy sponsor who’ll help you along as you write out your inventory.)  It’s also the step where a lotta folks drop out of the program because it involves coming to grips with how selfish and sinful we can be.  Taking an honest look at our past actions, attitudes and thoughts is not a particularly pleasant exercise but it’s a necessary one, nonetheless.  We can’t know where we are unless we acknowledge where we’ve been.  Crabb wrote, “It’s the failure to discover where we are at any moment that keeps us from realizing where we most want to go.  Until we face an inner brokenness that no blessing in this life can mend, we’ll be drawn irresistibly to the old way.”  The irony is that what we find most evident in our moral inventory is a glaring lack of effort in seeking God.  We find we’ve struggled through rough phases in our life that made us feel unhappy, unfulfilled and incomplete because we were yearning for God’s blessings instead of God Himself.  It was all about us.

 

That’s where the Israelites were at in Isaiah’s time.  They’d all gravitated towards living their lives by the method that made the most sense to them.  They figured if they did the best they could God would surely reward them with the “good life.”  It didn’t work because they couldn’t obey God’s laws.  Their best wasn’t near good enough.  Isaiah described the mess they’d gotten themselves into.  From the soles of your feet to your head, there is no spot that is unharmed.  There are only bruises, cuts and open wounds (Isaiah 1:6).  Where the Israelites were back then is where a lot of modern Christians are now.  God’s offering His adopted sons and daughters everything they need to have abundant joy, contentment and peace in their hearts but too many just don’t get the gist.  All too frequently we’re like toddlers who turn down a thousand-dollar bill in favor of a shiny dime.  It’s not enough that our sins are forgiven and heaven awaits, we want God to bless us with a better car, a bigger house or a more prestigious career.  That’s the old way beckoning us.  The reality is that to live the new way is to essentially buck the system.  When we make knowing God our primary goal 24/7 we open ourselves up to ridicule and derision.  Even some fellow believers will think we’ve “gone mental”.  That’s the kind of sway the old way has on this world.  Contentment can look like stupidity.  Remember, many thought Jesus was off His rocker, too.

 

I like what Dallas Willard said about Christ’s new way message.  He wrote, “Jesus’ good news about the kingdom can be an effective guide for our lives only if we share His view of the world in which we live.  To His eyes this is a God-bathed and God-permeated world.  It’s a world filled with a glorious reality, where every component is within the range of God’s direct knowledge and control – though He obviously permits some of it, for good reasons, to be for a while otherwise than as He wishes.  It’s a world that’s inconceivably beautiful and good because of God and because God is always in it.  It’s a world in which God is continually at play and over which He constantly rejoices.  Until our thoughts of God have found every visible thing and event glorious with his presence, the word of Jesus has not yet fully seized us.”  Can you imagine the astounding difference the Christian community could make across the entire globe if we were to live the new way of the Spirit and let the life-enhancing instructions of our Lord “fully seize us”?  We could literally move mountains.  True dat.

 

Another adjustment one can make to get on and stay on the road of the new way is to be aware that we stand at a crossroads every day.  We talk a lot about that in Celebrate Recovery.  A whole lesson is devoted to it because there are several aspects to consider.  In the context of the new way of living Christ made possible it’s choosing to continue forward or to take a right or left turn that leads to the “tried but never true” old way mindset.  Crabb used an illustration.  He wrote, “How do parents of a suffering daughter cope?  Every day they’re faced with her condition, knowing it will not change.  There’s no cure.  Nothing would be more cruel than to suggest that if they only believed, she would be healed.  That is linear thinking at its most evil.  To believe she could be healed and to pray for it, fervently, is Christian; to believe she would be healed if enough people with enough faith prayed is anti-Christian.  It’s the old way.  It’s demonic.  It elevates our blessings above God’s glory.”  Please understand what Crabb is conveying.  Jesus wants us to trust in the Heavenly Father’s perfect will as much as He Himself did.  Recall Thomas’ stubborn doubt.  He didn’t give a flip the other disciples were so adamant they’d seen, hugged and visited with their risen Master.  He demanded proof he could physically touch.  Eight days later Christ showed up again.  This time Thomas was in the room.  Jesus went out of His way to assure His skeptical friend that the others hadn’t been lying, exaggerating or hallucinating.   “…He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and examine my hands.  Extend your hand and put it into my side.  Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe.’  Thomas replied to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’  Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed’ (John 20:27-29).  I imagine Thomas was more than a tad humbled.  He probably wanted to go hide in a closet.  The new way is believing when it’s the most difficult thing to do.

 

The new way is also radical.  It takes guts to live our life as Jesus lived His but in time we’ll discover it’s the most rewarding way to live.  Previously we used God in hopes He’d make our life run smoother.  In so doing we were placing our will above His.  We insisted we be blessed in proportion to our “admirable devotion.”  We weren’t hoping for blessings, we were expecting them as if they were some kind of divine Christmas bonus.  We were depending on God’s generosity to elevate our happiness level.  God wasn’t our ultimate treasure, His favors were.  As for His only begotten Son we’d conveniently demoted Him to just being the ticket-collector on the glory train we’ll ride into paradise someday.  We’d forgotten He was the smartest, wisest and most well-informed human being ever to trod terra firma.  Willard commented, “Far too often He is regarded as hardly conscious.  He’s looked on as a mere icon, a wraithlike semblance of a man, fit for the role of sacrificial lamb or alienated social critic, but little more.”  And the indwelling Holy Spirit?  Fuggitaboudit.  We’d stopped counting on His counsel to be of any practical value long ago.  We weren’t listening anymore.  That is until some unexpected cataclysmic or heartbreaking event happened that made us realize our intricate, self-designed plans had shattered like cheap glass and God was all we had left.  In our devastated state we finally heard the Spirit whispering, “There’s a better way to live.  The 2,000 year-old new way.  Let Christ lead you out of this darkness.  Draw closer to the Father and He’ll draw closer to you.  That’s a promise that, unlike your dreams of God’s bestowing the ‘good life’ upon you, will never be broken.”

 

All Christians arrive at a crossroads when we rise from our bed to kick off another day of life on earth.  We have an important decision to make daily.  Are we going to ask God to kindly remove all obstacles and clear the road so we won’t have to deal with any troubles, be they minor or major?  Or are we going to welcome whatever God has in store for us, for better or for worse, so we’ll have been even more dependent on Him when we lay our head down on the pillow again?  That’s the challenge to each of us who follow Jesus.  Do we go the old way or the new way?  The former is, in a manner of speaking, safer.  Less risky.  The latter involves vulnerability, something we try to avoid like the flu bug.  It requires we own up to our weaknesses and that’s always a serious blow to our pride.  But once we come clean the Holy Spirit will lead us to repent.  He’ll encourage us to do what Christ told the adulteress whom He mercifully spared from a vicious stoning to do, Go, and from now on do not sin any more (John 8:11).  When we sincerely repent it’ll become crystal clear we need to discard all our misguided notions of being entitled to receive blessings.  We’ll surrender our ego and put all our trust in God’s perfect will.  Surprisingly, we’ll be rewarded with an inner confidence that He, indeed, is working all things together for good and that we’ll never have to spend a single second without God having our back.  At that juncture we’ll experience the freedom the Lord has graced us with to unhesitatingly release the love in our heart and give it away to everyone we encounter.  People will not only notice but be influenced by our display of unabashed faith in Christ.  That’s when we’ll know we’re living the new way.

 

This doesn’t mean God’s Law is no longer our rock-solid standard for living righteously.  Willard wrote, “…Confidence in the Christ is, correctly understood, inseparable from the fulfilling of the law.”  Note that in Mark 10 when the wealthy young man asked Jesus what he had to do to gain eternal life, our Lord listed the “don’ts” of the Ten Commandments and said, essentially, “obey those laws.”  With that in mind Willard opined, “What we’re looking at in the contemporary Western world is precisely what He [Jesus] himself foretold.  We have heard Him.  For almost two millennia we’ve heard Him.  But we have chosen to not do what He said.  …How to combine faith with obedience is surely the essential task of the church [in] the twenty-first century.”  Christians must never think that if it’s our aim to obey the commandments God gave to Moses we’re living the old way.  There’s still no better blueprint for living as our Creator intended us to.  What we have to avoid, though, is thinking if we’re at least somewhat obedient, God is (for some imagined reason) obliged to bless us with what we want.  Look, Jesus lived a pristine life yet He ended up being tortured to death.  The new way our Savior introduced to the world is accepting whatever comes our way without fear or trepidation because, through constantly striving to draw closer to God, He’s drawn closer to us.  Thus, we have God.  We need nothing more.

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The Flaming Sword

It’s amazing how many “open-minded” individuals are defiantly “closed-minded” when it comes to discussing God’s Holy Word. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Nothing, I sometimes think, so proves the truth of the biblical teaching as the way in which men and women refuse to consider it.” Of course, the Scriptures reveal the underlying cause of their intolerant attitude – they’re spiritually blind. They see only what’s visible and refuse to believe there’s anything else to see. Yet many of them will readily say angels exist and that it’s possible there might be other dimensions we aren’t aware of. If you tell them they’re being contradictory they’ll shrug and snarl, “So?” To them angels and parallel worlds are about as vital to their daily routine as comic book superheroes. They deem the Bible and its talk of a spiritual realm a useless distraction from the real problems they’re constantly striving to solve. The tragic irony is the answers they seek are in the very book they insist on ignoring. Methinks it scares the devil out of them! Fact is, the Scriptures address directly the two fundamental questions people most often pose concerning the ills of the world: What’s the diagnosis and what’s the cure? However, the majority want to skip the first query altogether and get right to the second. But the Bible says we mustn’t put the cart before the pony and that infuriates them. Still, common sense tells us if we’re suffering a debilitating condition and consult a physician about it, he/she won’t be able to do anything until they’ve figured out what’s the matter with us. Non-believers detest the Bible because they suspect it’ll identify them as being part of the problem so they don’t give a darn about hearing God’s diagnosis, they just want a fast-acting remedy. Taking time to ponder the analysis God provided in Genesis 3 isn’t on their agenda. They’ve got things to do and places to go, don’t cha know?

 

“…The LORD God said, ‘Now that the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not be allowed to stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ So the LORD God expelled him from the orchard in Eden to cultivate the ground from which he had been taken. When he drove the man out, he placed on the eastern side of the orchard in Eden angelic sentries who used the flame of a whirling sword to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24). How easy it is to correlate Adam & Eve’s conundrum to our own in today’s world. They were expelled from paradise with no way back inside. They were confused, frustrated and terrified because they were no longer protected by God from predators, starvation, injuries and diseases. They now had to fend for themselves for everything. Isn’t that the ongoing human predicament? People sense the whole of civilization is up a creek without a paddle. Nothing gets better. The best of intentions fall flat and everyone feels something’s horribly amiss. What we need’s an honest diagnosis and an effective treatment for our collective malady. God supplies both in His Holy Word but too many folks demand a second or third opinion before submitting to the only cure there is – Jesus Christ.

 

Genesis 3 informs us the human species is in disarray because the first man and woman refused to accept who and what they were and tried to be something they weren’t and were never meant to be. In the garden Adam & Eve strolled along Easy Street. They weren’t in want of anything. Everything was provided by their Creator. But that wasn’t enough. They desired more “say so” and Satan not only recognized their festering sense of entitlement but also how to exploit it to the max. Regarding the off-limits tree he told them, God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good from evil (3:5) and they went all in. The idea they could attain equal status with God Almighty sounded like the greatest opportunity ever to them. They’d call the shots from here on out. No more of this “Yes, Lord” business. Free at last! They ate. God said, “Fine. Y’all can have it your way. But not in my garden. You’re outa here. Go make your own paradise and good luck with that.” They promptly got booted from Eden. Permanently.

 

There’s the world’s problem in a nutshell, spelled out in Genesis 3 for all to read. The principal trouble with men and women was (and still is) our unwarranted conceit. In light of that, ponder what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters. Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were born to a privileged position. But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, so that no one can boast in his presence.” Then, in verse 31, Paul punctuates his point with a quote from the Old Testament, Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord (Isaiah 64:4). The gist is this: God’s way of salvation entails total abandonment of intellectual pride and becoming humbled by and subservient to His majestic universal sovereignty. But our pride is belligerently arrogant. It doesn’t want to accept we only exist in the magnificent mind of the great I AM. Pride wants to rule the roost.

 

Every day mankind collectively further convinces itself it’s getting smarter and more self-sufficient. Therefore, there’s less need for a Supreme Being. The public consensus is that we can manufacture our own Eden, thank you very much. They opine the Bible’s outdated I AM is being systematically usurped by modern advances in technology and science. How ridiculous humanity is! We stupidly overlook our own history that shows us over and over in Technicolor that no scheme we’ve ever come up with has turned out the way we were so dang sure it would. Notice in Genesis 3:22 that Adam & Eve did gain knowledge of good and evil but the tasty apple they gobbled contained a slimy worm. Keep in mind they’d never experienced evil before. Up till then they’d only known God’s blessings of uninterrupted peace, harmony with nature and blissful contentment. But the serpent led them to believe God was holding out on them and they deliberately disobeyed His law in order to find out what it was they were being deprived of. Lloyd-Jones wrote, “So man gained the knowledge of evil. Yes, but he discovered the knowledge of evil he obtained was not the knowledge of evil that God has. God looks upon both good and evil from the outside, objectively. But alas for poor man, his knowledge wasn’t objective. The knowledge he obtained was subjective. And what was that knowledge? It was the knowledge of the fact that the moment he ate that prohibited fruit, he became the slave of evil; he was under the power of evil, under the domination of Satan and sin.” Paul was well aware of how evil corrupts. He wrote, For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! …But I see a different law in my members waging war against the law of my mind (Romans 7:18-19, 23). Adam & Eve ingested the knowledge of evil and now we’ve all inherited it. Every Christian is aware of the war our sinful nature wages incessantly in our heart and mind and how that never-ending conflict discourages us so.

 

Evil comes with a lot of nasty baggage. One is punishment. Because of evil, man got evicted from paradise and exiled to the wilderness where he was forced to embrace the toil of stalking game and working the land just to provide food for his family. Man had to learn the hard way that sin has consequences. Another foul piece of luggage evil drags along is remorse. You know, that feeling you’re an idiot because you keep committing the same sin repeatedly even though it never ceases to cause more personal train wrecks. The resulting shame turns into depression and/or self-loathing over your inability to change. But the bulkiest trunk of trouble evil lugs with it is the unavoidable specter of death. It’s logical to conclude if Adam & Eve had managed to obey God they’d still be around. They would’ve been able to eat the fruit of the tree of life – and death would be an alien concept to Earthlings. As my pastor commented recently, “Things’d be a lot different, I betcha.” But the point’s moot. We’ll never know because the first couple took the law into their own hands and they brought the curse God warned them of raining down on us all. “…You must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die (Genesis 2:17). Ever since the fall of man, death has been a fact of life. It looms on everyone’s horizon. You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody intelligent who’ll deny evil is the parent of punishment, remorse and death. Yet billions of folks will turn to anything and everything else before they’ll turn to the God of Abraham for salvation. They’ll insist that as long as we keep coming up with “new and improved” gadgets, drugs and philosophies we’ll eventually figure out a way to save ourselves. Ain’t gonna happen.

 

Another interesting line in Genesis 3:22 is where God says “…the man has become like one of us…” (A statement that also reaffirms the doctrine of the Holy Trinity). It’s obvious God isn’t addressing an angel or a human so He must be conversing with God the Son and God the Spirit concerning what Adam & Eve will now do with their illegally-acquired “knowledge.” Since God created them both He was no doubt keenly aware they’d attempt to evade the consequences of their rebellious act. So expulsion from Eden was imperative. Else they’d do everything in their power to get to the tree of life, eat of it and thereby avoid becoming better acquainted with the ghastly new kid in town, Death. They left God no choice. They had to get the boot. And there, preserved for posterity in Genesis 3, is the explanation for why civilization keeps on spinning its wheels in a bog of futility. But, hey, don’t take my word for it. Or the Bible’s, either. Check out any secular history book. You’ll read of mighty dynasties, hostile conquests, kings and emperors, great minds and their schools of thought, various types of utopian governments that were anything but, etc. You’ll eventually agree with King Solomon: ’Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Everything is meaningless!’ (Ecclesiastes 1:2). What you’ll see is man repeatedly trying to sneak back into Eden to pick fruit from the tree of life so he can prove to the heavens he can live happily ever after without God’s help. What nonsensical foolishness! For verse 24 states, When he [God] drove the man out, he placed on the eastern side of the orchard in Eden angelic sentries [cherubim] who used the flame of a whirling sword to guard the way to the tree of life.” There’s no going back on our own. Period.

 

What we must conclude is that this explains the screwed-up state the world’s in. We’re still on the outside of paradise, looking in. Why? Because God’s angelic sentries and a flaming sword blocks the entrance. Some’ll scoff and say that’s a children’s story. I beg to differ. The Bible says cherubim represent the omnipotent power and awesome glory of God. For example, the Lord commanded two golden cherubim replicas be crafted and placed on top of the lid of the sacred ark of the covenant and anyone who dared tamper with it came to rue the day they did. Thus the fact God stationed two of the real McCoy to prevent all of mankind’s defiant attempts to enter the Garden is ominously significant. And then there’s the intimidating sword; a lethal weapon that represents the wrath of God against sin. Its presence means if a person wants a life that includes happiness, peace and joy, a life everlasting Satan can’t defile, they must deal with the flaming sword. In Genesis 3 God says we can’t have that beautiful kind of life until we’ve somehow gotten past His impenetrable road block. However, history reveals every assault humans have mustered against it have failed to make even a dent.

 

Does this mean we’re doomed? Condemned? Is lasting peace and joy unattainable? The New Testament emphatically says “No.” We can get back into Eden but there’s only one way. “…Brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain that is his flesh… we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water(Hebrews 10:19-20, 22). This is the Good News our Heavenly Father wants us to understand and accept. The cherubim and the flaming sword represent God’s power and glory. There’s but one person who could successfully get through those imposing, divine obstacles. He’s the Son of God. He voluntarily became a flesh and blood man and joined us in our banishment from Eden. And what He did for us out of His unconditional love for us is far beyond our ability to fathom. As Lloyd-Jones put it, “The Son of God advanced against the flaming sword, and it smote Him, and it killed Him. It broke His body, and in breaking His body, it broke itself. Now the way is opened into the paradise of God, to the tree of life, to salvation and all its indescribable blessings.” If you’re a Christian and that statement doesn’t invigorate you then you’d better check your pulse right away. According to the above passage from Hebrews, Jesus approached the fiery sword and it cut Him down. In that moment the curse was lifted. Because of His sacrifice it’s now possible for you and me to enter Eden again. We can eat from the tree of life. When we take Communion the wafer signifies His broken body and the wine His spilled blood. It’s not just a solemn, respectful ritual, it’s a figurative reenactment of what Christ did for us on the cross. Christ is the only way to avoid the wrath of God and return to His perfect realm where sin and evil don’t exist. If Jesus hadn’t experienced the agonizing death inflicted by the flaming sword in our place there’d be no hope for us. We’d be forever banned from the Garden.

 

It wasn’t sufficient for Christ to be born as a human being. His mission involved more than living a pristine life and teaching us how to behave in a manner pleasing to our Father. He came to open the gates of heaven to us. The flaming sword had to fulfill its justified purpose and, once it had, Jesus said, It is finished! (John 19:30). The ancient prophecies came true. He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed (Isaiah 53:5). Eternal life spent basking in the love and glory of God is no longer out of reach for men and women. The barriers are down for good. By submitting our hearts, minds and souls to Jesus Christ and becoming born again we’ll be allowed to worship God in person. Not due to anything we’ve done ourselves. We could never merit such a sublime privilege. Our cleanest thoughts and acts are but filthy rags in the sight of our Father. But if we’re washed in the blood of our precious Savior we’re as spotless as freshly-fallen snow in His eyes. We won’t be in heaven because of our obedience, but because of Christ’s. He alone kept God’s law flawlessly, not only for Himself, but for all who choose to believe and trust in Him. As Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6). Search other avenues all you want. There’s no other way.

2

 

Are we guilty of “trying” to be Christians?

Billy Graham related a story of a man who attended a large revival meeting. He was somewhat agnostic but open-minded and curious. The sermon he heard touched his heart because for the first time in his life he heard the gospel message presented simply and authoritatively. At the end the preacher invited those who wanted to know more about Christ to come forward. Despite the crowd that gathered the man was able to have a short chat with the evangelist but he still had a lot of questions. He hung around a while, then headed for the exit. As he neared the door a man motioned him over and asked if he was a Christian. The man thought it a strange thing to ask considering where they were but he smiled warmly and said, “Oh yes, I think so.” The non-threatening stranger asked him the same question again. By now the man was becoming leery so he decided to humor the inquisitive guy and get away from him ASAP. He answered, “Well, I’m trying to be.” The stranger then asked, “Ever try to be an elephant?” The man was so caught off guard he could only respond with a quizzical look. The stranger grinned, gently took him by the arm and led him to a nearby bench where they could talk. The man listened as his new friend explained that no amount of trying could ever transform a person into a Christian any more than trying to grow a trunk could turn them into an elephant. He said Jesus had already died in his place, thereby paying the full penalty His sins demanded. Plus, because of the Resurrection, Christ was offering him the power to lead the kind of fulfilling life he’d always considered out of reach. His point was this: We’re not saved because we try to be. You’re saved by grace or you’re not. No in-between. It’s like there are humans and apes. Despite what schoolbooks teach there’s no evidence a half-man, half-chimp “missing link” ever existed. With Christ you’re either for Him or against Him. What the man finally realized was he didn’t have to try to earn his salvation because Jesus had already taken care of it. Applying the same reasoning, all we have to do to be saved is believe.

When that confused man in the story “let go and let God” he became born again. His life did a turnabout. He’d thought about trying Christianity but he’d never made a total commitment to the Lord because he lacked childlike trust. Jesus took the trying out of being justified before God. His ultimate sacrifice made redemption easy to attain but sometimes we mistakenly make it out to be as complicated as calculus. Christ spoke to people from all walks of life in short sentences using everyday words, illustrating his teachings with simple parables and tales. When the Philippian jailer asked what he must do to be saved Paul taught him all he needed to know with five words, Believe in the Lord Jesus…”(Acts 16:31). How can something so significant, containing implications stretching into eternity be so easily obtained? Because God loves us with what Brennan Manning lovingly called a “furious longing” and wants us to enjoy life with Him forevermore. The irony is that nowadays when the gospel message – especially in America – is broadcast on a host of 24-hour satellite networks and radio stations, gets preached from a plethora of pulpits every Sunday and is expanded upon in thousands of thoughtfully-written books the remarkable lack of difficulty involved in getting one’s soul saved is too often overlooked. All a person has to do to be born again is repent of their sins and believe in Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. Belief and repentance are inseparable. Yet an individual doesn’t have to wash up, change outfits, repair what’s wrong with them or straighten up their act before surrendering. They’re welcome exactly “as is.” David Crowder’s song, “Come as You Are,” expresses it well. “Come out of sadness from wherever you’ve been/Come broken hearted let rescue begin/Come find your mercy, oh sinner, come kneel/Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal/So lay down your burdens, lay down your shame/All who are broken, lift up your face/Oh wanderer come home, you’re not too far/So lay down your hurt, lay down your heart/Come as you are…” There’s a lotta hope in those beautiful lyrics.

Too many get caught up in or scared off by the commandment to repent. It’s not a dirty word. Look, salvation is what Jesus made available free of charge. Repentance is what we do in return. Some disagree. In Acts 3:19-20 Peter says, Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and so that he may send the Messiah appointed for you – that is, Jesus.” If one plucks that verse out of context one might assume we need to do something before we put our faith in Christ in order to be saved. The fact is, a human being can’t turn to God to repent, or even to believe, without God’s help. God does the turning. God removes the blindfold. We ask and then let Him do it. The King James translation of Jeremiah 31:18 reads, Turn thou me, and I shall be turned, for thou art the Lord my God.” One problem with using the word repentance is it’s been purged from the modern vernacular due to it connoting a concept old-fashioned and irrelevant. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. Graham wrote, “…repentance is one of the two vital elements in conversion and simply means recognition of what we are, and a willingness to change our minds toward sin, self and God.” For me to have fully grasped a comprehensive knowledge of the agony Jesus suffered for my sake and then refuse to change my way of thinking about sin would be an oxymoron bordering on blasphemy. Repentance is stepping out of denial about our sinful nature and admitting we’re sinners who deserve to be found guilty of crimes against God. If doing so results in morose self-loathing we’ve missed the point. Repentance indicates we see ourselves as God sees us and humbly asking, as did the tax collector in one of Jesus’ parables, “…God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am! (Luke 18:13). It has nothing to do with apologizing for the evil and wickedness running rampant in the world’s institutions or populations. It’s acknowledging our own iniquities perpetrated against the great I AM and asking that He forgive us our trespasses.

The Bible teaches that sometime around the age of ten or eleven – what’s termed the “age of accountability” – God considers us full-grown adults who are now held responsible for the moral and spiritual decisions we make. Since that’s the case I was doomed several times over by the time I hit twelve! I suspect I’m not alone, though. The Scriptures make it clear that each one of us is guilty of committing sin because we’re born with an irresistible tendency to gravitate towards it. At some juncture we begin to act on that powerful tendency and deliberately choose to sin. If we allow that self-centered mindset to dominate us there’s hell to pay. “…Each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death.  Do not be led astray, my dear brothers and sisters (James 1:14-16). When the author writes “don’t be led astray” he means “don’t think for a nanosecond you’re immune to this stuff.” Romans 3:22-23 states succinctly, “…there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All means all. Thus everyone from one pole of the planet to the other – no matter their race, color, language or culture – needs to be born again. “Nobody’s perfect” is one of the most accurate sayings we have because there’s no exception to that truism. We’re all sinners by nature, rebelling against God’s laws. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we do it every day. Sin’s a disease that entered our communal bloodstream back in Eden when Adam and Eve bought into Satan’s lie and disobeyed God’s explicit instructions and it still courses through our genes into every successive generation. It’s mankind’s fatal illness – sin – that Christ provided a permanent cure for on the cross.

Since historical records are accessible to anyone with a computer these days there’s been a renewed interest in delving into one’s ancestry. Sometimes finding out about our “roots” provides delightful surprises. But sometimes we discover things we’d rather not know about. The same thing applies to our individual and corporate hearts in that if we look closely we’ll discover a core flaw in there that’s the source of all our problems. The nefarious “sin virus” that’s infected every single one of us can only be removed by the blood of Christ. In the Old Testament the lifeblood of an innocent animal stained many an altar and those who sacrificed them looked forward to the day when the promised messiah would come and be “…the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Because of His unfathomable love for us Jesus voluntarily became the fall guy for mankind. He took all our sins, large and small, onto His flesh & bone shoulders so our Heavenly Father could forgive us and still remain altogether holy at the same time. Christ’s death and resurrection also paved the way for the Holy Spirit to enter and infuse new life into every believer. If we stand back and take in the whole picture of what it took to redeem us – the pain, the suffering and the horror of the crucifixion – it becomes obvious our sinful nature is the ugliest thing in all of God’s creation. The Apostle Peter knew he continued to sin and harbor unrighteous thoughts but he also recognized the cause of those sins wasn’t just his own physical and mental weaknesses. He understood there was something inherently wrong deep inside. That’s why he cried out in despair to his Master, “…Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man! (Luke 5:8). Notice he didn’t say, “I’ve sinned,” but that he was a “sinful man.” Big difference. Job lashed out in sarcastic rage against God. God responded by revealing Himself in all His glory. When the humbled Job compared his self-touted “goodness” to God’s he became ashamed of his “I don’t deserve this” attitude. He said, I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye has seen you. Therefore I despise myself, and I repent in dust and ashes! (Job 42:5-6). He finally stopped comparing himself to others and addressed his sinful nature. He repented.

Repentance isn’t just mumbling “My bad, Lord.” It involves experiencing genuine, gut-wrenching sorrow for sin. Sorrow’s a basic emotion everybody has inside them but the degree to which we let ourselves feel it varies. If we repent of our sins against God and don’t let sorrow engulf us then our repentance is probably hollow. In 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 Paul wrote, Now I rejoice, not because you were made sad, but because you were made sad to the point of repentance. For you were made sad as God intended, so that you were not harmed in any way by us. For sadness as intended by God produces a repentance that leads to salvation, leaving no regret, but worldly sadness brings about death.” Those of us who’ve raised kids know what Paul is on about. A gritted-teeth apology from one sibling to another won’t cut it. How often did we have to demand an encore with the admonition, “…and this time say it like you mean it!” Worldly sadness is only skin-deep. What God requires of us is a spiritual sorrow over our sins that involves our whole being. We can fool each other but we can’t fool Him.

We’ll know if we’ve truly repented because the inner change it initiates will manifest itself in an improved attitude, behavior and frame of mind. Only God could make that happen. Graham wrote, “If we had to repent without God’s help we’d be almost helpless.” The Bible stresses that we’re dead in our sins and corpses can’t do anything to alter their lifelessness, much less repent. Frequently our repentance can only be proven real by making restitution. The 6th principle of Celebrate Recovery reads, “Evaluate all my relationships. Offer forgiveness to those who’ve hurt me and make amends for harm I’ve done to others, except when to do so would harm them or others.” Making it up to people is a key component of our salvation process. Jesus said, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God(Matthew 5:9). I know a person who actually stated, “I’ve completed all the 12 steps of AA, but I’m still working on steps 8 and 9.” Since both steps involve making amends to those she’s inflicted damage upon (something she hasn’t even attempted to do yet) it makes her claim of completion a lie and casts serious doubts on her sincerity. The Bible says if we’ve stolen anything from someone we must pay them back. If we’ve ruined their reputation through gossip or our being vindictive we must go out of our way to tell them we profoundly regret our actions. We know what we’ve done and we also know what needs to take place to put things right. If you ask Him, God will open doors to allow you to make your amends. Here’s an example from my own journey: When I was 18 I was frustrated about my virgin status so I took advantage of a willing girl of legal age to alleviate that situation. Having got what I wanted I left her apartment and never contacted her again. 43 years later I listed that sin in my moral inventory but figured there was no possibility I’d ever get an opportunity to say “I’m sorry for the way I used you.” Soon after, out of the blue and without my initiating anything, she contacted me via Facebook and I apologized profusely. Only God could’ve arranged that encounter. He will if you’re willing.

As in everything concerning one’s relationship with the Father in heaven, surrendering one’s will is crucial. Thus the essence of repentance is consenting to be changed. J. I. Packer wrote, “Self-assertion and stubbornness come naturally to everyone and W. H. Auden’s line, ‘We would rather be ruined than changed,’ is too true to be good. But willingness to be changed by Christ (which is not a natural state of mind, but a gift of grace) remains the fundamental element in all genuine Christian practice.” God insists we repent. If we don’t, hypocrisy will creep into our spiritual life and nurture doubt. We’ll start questioning the Holy Word’s validity. The exhilarating fire that blazed up when we first converted to Christianity will become a pile of smoldering coals. Our trust will get corrupted by skepticism and we’ll start bargaining with the indwelling Holy Spirit over what God wants from us and what we want for ourselves. Failing to repent puts us on a broad, traffic-free eight-lane highway that leads straight to our own destruction. That’s why repentance is so important in our walk with Christ. While we can’t “try” to be saved (or be an elephant), we can certainly “try” our best daily to be remorseful for our sins and ask God to forgive us and change our hearts. If we don’t repent our pride, our ego and our guilt will keep us chained to this world run by Satan, the fallen angel who seeks only to destroy us and all of God’s magnificent creation. Therefore repentance tops the list of things we have to do to comply with our Lord and Savior’s plan for our ongoing salvation.

Like so many things about becoming a follower of Christ, we make repentance harder than it has to be. It’s not something we should dread. Frederick Buechner wrote, “To repent is to come to your senses. It’s not so much something you do as something that happens. True repentance spends less time looking at the past and saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ than to the future and saying, ‘Wow!’” It’s merely honestly acknowledging what we are before God (sinners who constantly fall short of His glory), expressing genuine sorrow for our sins against Him and becoming entirely ready to let Him make sin look so repulsive we don’t want to go anywhere near it.

5

If I’m “Not Guilty” why don’t I feel like it?

The Bible teaches that, because I’m a Christ-follower, when I appear one day in God’s courtroom I’ll be found innocent of committing a single sin. Since I still do bad things and entertain less-than-holy thoughts, having that verdict handed down seems impossible. Yet with God nothing is impossible so, by faith, I must accept my sins were atoned for by the blood of Jesus. And there’s plenty of evidence to verify that fact, starting with the cross itself. There we have indisputable proof of mankind’s undeniable guilt. There sin’s abject ugliness was revealed for all to see. Some opine mankind has made tremendous strides since then due to advances in psychiatry, technology and science in general. So much so they surmise if Christ returned today the world would welcome Him with open arms and minds instead of cruelly killing Him as before. I don’t believe that for a second. His message of there not being another path to redemption in the eyes of the Heavenly Father except through believing exclusively in His deity alone would be enough to make folks want to string Him up all over again. Just like 2,000 years ago, people still can’t stand being told they’re wrong about anything. Pride and selfishness rules their hearts and they’ll lash out against anyone who dares point that out.

The cross also clearly demonstrates God despises sin with a passion and, due to His pristine holiness, will only welcome righteous souls into His kingdom. Through His Holy Word He’s informed us people will experience eternal death unless they’re forgiven their many trespasses against Him. That huge accumulated debt must be paid through sacrifice. Hebrews 9:22 states, “…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” One can say that’s unfair all they want but, as the moral judge of the entire universe, God can’t compromise and remain just. Without immutable laws and the strict upholding of them anarchy reigns. We’ve seen it happen repeatedly here on earth. “No justice, no peace.” Yet there are those who oppose imposing harsh penalties on lawbreakers. They argue most criminals aren’t really at fault for their behavior. Lousy parents, a hostile environment, an inefficient government, etc. are to blame. But God says we’ll be held accountable for our own actions and we won’t be able to claim we didn’t know how severe the punishment for sin would be. We need only take one look at the cross to realize how drastically God deals with sin. He didn’t hide its horrible consequence from us. Indeed, he …did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all (Romans 8:32). God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God(2 Corinthians 5:21).

A few weeks ago I expressed I could never bring myself to sacrifice either of my children for another person. I still stand by that. It started me thinking, though. When people read John 3:16, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” do some discount that statement because God was involved? Do some mentally place an asterisk next to that verse because Jesus didn’t stay dead in the tomb all that long? God knew He’d resurrect His Son three days later and so did Christ who, referring to Himself, flat out told the Jewish leaders, “…destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again (John 2:19). Thus, when Jesus prayed in Gethsemane “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me(Matthew 26:39) the cup he referred to couldn’t have been mere death because He knew full well it would be a temporary condition. If God came to me and said, “Rollie, I have something wonderful in mind but it’ll require you to sacrifice the life of your daughter for a few days only and then I promise I’ll bring her back to the land of the living, good as new” I wouldn’t like it one bit but His assurances that she’d soon live again might lessen my anxiety. Yet if He told me she’d be brutally, mercilessly and inhumanely tortured to death in place of another I wouldn’t allow it. No way. I’d insist it be done to me and for Him to leave her alone. But God did the unthinkable. He didn’t just give his one and only Son for our sake, He watched as we wretched human beings barbarically tortured Him to death. Jesus wasn’t administered a compassionate, relatively painless lethal injection that made His heart stop beating within minutes. No, He was forced to endure unimaginable physical suffering and sheer agony for hours on end until He couldn’t breathe anymore. Oh, God did more than give His Son.

Mel Gibson’s 2004 film, “The Passion of the Christ,” caused some to faint or get sick because, perhaps for the first time, they were confronted with the unflinching hideousness of the crucifixion. But what they were seeing in the movie was just professional makeup, special effects and convincing acting. What Jesus subjected himself to was real. So when we tell an unbeliever Christ died for their sins it may not faze them much. But if we say He was slowly and deliberately tortured to death so they could have eternal life it’s bound to have a bigger impact. You see, Jesus didn’t fear dying. He’s God and He’ll never really die. Furthermore, what He dreaded was not so much the despicable abuse that lay ahead but having the grand total of all the sins every person who lived, lives and will live on this planet piled on His shoulders at once. That was much more excruciating. And unprecedented. What He willingly did for us is something only a loving, gracious God could do. I must never allow myself to take what Jesus did for granted. God did for me what I could never do for someone else – sacrifice one of my own. I must conclude that if the Heavenly Father had to let His only Son be tortured to death to pay for my sins, then sin must be unfathomably abhorrent to Him, indeed.

Yet, instead of resenting us for making the grisly crucifixion necessary, God lavishes us with love! He drenches us in Jesus’ righteousness. We’re clothed, covered, protected and shielded by the “…righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness (Philippians 3:9). In addition, He’s sent His Holy Spirit to live in us and transform our inner character to match that of His Son. 1 Peter 2:24 declares, He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness.” For the life of me, I can’t comprehend how God could possibly love me, a lowly sinner, that much. Through grace God declares me “not guilty” but I can’t fool myself. I observe myself sinning every day. Pitifully I too often compare my sins to the sins of others and think mine are less offensive to God. That’s a fantasy on my part because every one of my “little sins” was another sharp-edged shard on the whip that tore the flesh off my Savior’s ravaged back. It humbles me in shame to think about it.

At Celebrate Recovery meetings we frequently say “God never wastes a hurt.” The cross is the best example of that truism. Because of what happened on Calvary Hill the formation of an authentic, life-affirming brother/sisterhood of human beings is within our grasp. What was once unachievable because of Satan’s interference became a palpable possibility when Jesus defeated him on the cross. All men and women are now invited to freely join the family of adopted sons and daughters of the Living God just by surrendering their life to Christ. Jesus, through His death, made a way for us all to live in harmony. There’s no other road to peace than the one that goes through Him. Understand that, while God as our Creator is our figurative Father, He doesn’t become our spiritual Father until we’re “born again.” Terra firma would be a much better place if all its inhabitants would make Christ the King of their life. Ephesians 2:14-16 says, For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed.” Billy Graham wrote, “Outside the work of the cross we see bitterness, intolerance, hatred, prejudice, lust and greed. Within the powerful working of the cross grow love, new life and new brotherhood. The only human hope for peace lies at the cross of Christ, where all men, no matter their nationality or race, can become a new brotherhood.”

Many will call what Graham refers to a pipe dream. But if all humans were to adopt a Christian mindset it would transform the world. What happened recently in Charleston, South Carolina demonstrates it. A hate-filled 21 year old racist walked into the Eternal African Methodist Episcopal church there and opened fire, executing nine people who had come to worship and pray. It was a heinous crime that shook the entire nation. With tensions already running high between whites and blacks it couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time. Those who lost family members and loved ones in the tragedy were brought before the cameras and microphones to issue their statements. What everyone expected was for them to curse, condemn and vilify the unapologetic murderer as well as the Caucasian race he belongs to. But what they did was to faithfully imitate Christ, forgiving the perpetrator for his inexcusable act. In doing so they extinguished the lit fuse of the powder keg. They pulled the rug out from those anxious to riot and set the town ablaze out of anger. And the secular media didn’t know how to handle it! They were stupefied. Forgiveness deflates the billows of outrage and retaliatory vengeance. It certainly doesn’t make for a sensational lead story on the evening news broadcast. So they turned their focus to inanimate things like confederate battle flags and statues of civil war generals in order to keep the fires of discord burning. The love of Christ is scandalous. It’s utterly incomprehensible to those who don’t know Him. But His power is the only hope we have of overcoming bias, discrimination and mistrust. They just don’t get it. Even when they see it.

Back to this essay’s main question: “If I’m saved by grace and deemed innocent in the eyes of God why do I still sin and feel so guilty about it? Why can’t I get my act together and behave like my Savior?” I know I’m a born again Christian and, therefore, a “new creation,” so why doesn’t the “old me” go jump in a lake already? Why does he come barging into my consciousness like a stinkin’ drunk unruly cousin, bossing me around like he owns the place? I pray faithfully, read my Bible every day, volunteer at church, give my testimony about how Jesus changed my life whenever asked and try to conduct myself as a God-respecting husband, father, grandpa and friend. Yet despite my lofty intentions to keep the “old me” in quarantine I turn around and suddenly he’s right in my face, laughing at my attempts to keep him sequestered. I feel guilty because I know I often leave my mind’s backdoor ajar on purpose. It’s like there’s a jail in my brain. Before my recommitment to Christ, Satan had me on permanent lockdown. Then Jesus came along and opened the cell door. It can never be shut again. But sometimes I go sit in that dank hole rather than walk freely in His marvelous light. There are times when I feel more comfortable in the darkness. And that disgusts me. It’s as Jesus said in John 3:19, This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” Considering all I’ve learned about my Lord it’s little wonder I feel guilty.

The problem is I continue to think handing the wheel over to Christ was supposed to cure all that ails me. I know I’m not the only one who thinks that way even though the Scriptures never promote that idea. What the Bible does confirm is that I don’t have to fight my battles alone. God is continually by my side. Graham wrote, “There is always a price to being a person; part of that price is pain and problems, but we have the promise Christ made that He will always be with us.” The remedy is for me to call on His name when I’m being tempted instead of just giving in to the devil. In Psalm 34 David addressed it three times. This oppressed man cried out and the LORD heard; he saved him from all his troubles(v.6), The godly cry out and the LORD hears; he saves them from all their troubles(v.17) and The godly face many dangers, but the LORD saves them from each one of them(v.19). Instead of “crying out” to Jesus for help I try to resist Satan’s lures on my own but I’m not strong enough. No one is. Christ isn’t a way out but a way through life. I don’t need more guilt. I need more resolve.

Guilt accomplishes nothing positive. It’s a debilitating emotion that erodes our attitude towards life, destroys our relationships and hampers our ability to serve God. Guilt makes it hard for us to forgive ourselves. It feeds our self-loathing. In Celebrate Recovery we find it’s often a person’s inability to forgive themselves for the harm they’ve done to others that becomes their biggest hurdle to overcome on the trail to freedom. Many psychiatrists say a large percentage of patients in mental hospitals would be released if they could only come to grips with forgiveness. (On the other side of the coin, too many folks don’t think they need to be forgiven because everything is always someone else’s fault. Always.) But forgiving yourself for past sins is essential to moving forward in faith. Clinging to guilt dishonors God. Since He’s forgiven you via the shed blood of His Own Son, to continue to balk at forgiving yourself is to place your own opinion of you above that of your Heavenly Father. When I do accept His all-encompassing forgiveness I receive relief from the pangs of guilt. I just need to ask for and accept it more often.

At CR we find guilt dissolves when it’s openly aired out in the presence of other believers. 1 John 1:9 states, But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.” Some skeptics may scoff and say “Nothing’s that easy” but the truth is that it is! When others are being transparent about their shortcomings and character defects more often than not they help me understand myself and my sinful nature better. That’s why God intends for His children to meet together and share their victories and defeats. When we confess our missteps, our relapses and our mistakes to God and our brothers/sisters in Christ He’ll then make something good come out of those sins being exposed to His light. Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose…” I believe that statement to be the rock-solid truth because I’ve seen it happen so many times. Someone summons up the courage to come clean about a particular sin they’ve been committing or indulging in and something they say causes a light bulb to come on in another’s noggin. Suddenly the Holy Spirit reveals to them a hurt, hang-up or habit that’s keeping them from enjoying a closer walk with the Lord and they sense a pressing need to repent of it and work on improving that area of their life. We don’t have to completely savvy how small miracles and spiritual revelations such as that happen. All we need to know is we’ve been exonerated, forgiven and set free. We must accept it on faith or guilt will hound us to the grave. Graham reminded us: “Christ never said, ‘Only understand.’ He said, ‘Only believe.’”

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What becomes of the uninformed?

Nobody who dies, awakens in the next world, is confronted with the inescapable fact that there is, after all, an omniscient, omnipresent and all-powerful God who created them can rightly protest they had no clue He existed. Paul expressed it well in Romans 1:20-25 when he wrote: For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools… For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! The Apostle was simply stating everyone everywhere is granted at the very least some jaw-dropping eyefuls of God’s glorious existence during their lifetime. In my last essay I pointed out that people instinctively seek a religion they can latch onto as the genuine truth. All individuals are born with an undeniable urge to find and know God. That fundamental yearning has spawned a myriad of religions. But here’s the bottom line: No matter how well-intentioned, peaceful, generous, profound or attractive a humanly-conceived religion might appear to be, all of them are essentially hollow substitutes for God’s revelation if they don’t have Christ at the center of their beliefs. This raises the inevitable question, though, “What happens to the pagans who never hear about Jesus?”

That query was brought up during a Bible study I attended a few years back. Rather than try to answer the questioner with some kind of cliché rubberstamp response, pastor Kirk Shelton proposed we dedicate a couple of our upcoming meetings to exploring that subject. Ten weeks later we were still wrestling with and arguing over difficult-to-grasp concepts like predestination, election and universal reconciliation. It seemed like every door the Scriptures allowed us to open led us into the foyer of another mansion full of more dimly-lit corridors that would potentially take us who knows where. Ironically, when we finished the series we still didn’t have a definitive answer to the original question. We had plenty of opinions, attitudes and a couple of bruised egos but no definitive answer. And because there’s no definitive answer many non-Christians feel entitled to treat our faith with an “I thought you guys were supposed to have all the answers” brand of cynicism. Yet we can tell them what we do know. And one of those things we’re sure about is that everybody must someday account for the light God revealed to them. The question presents a conundrum nonetheless. On one hand 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 reads, …Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. Since every one of us has, at some point, been at least a little bit greedy then none of us can stroll through the pearly gates. What Paul’s saying is we’re all sinners underserving of spending a nanosecond in the presence of God Almighty. Thus, without being clothed in the righteousness of Christ we’re all doomed.

On the other hand we know from the Bible and from what our Savior taught us, the Father in heaven is infallibly just, patient, merciful and forgiving. Genesis 18:25 states, Will not the judge of the whole earth do what is right? While most of us have learned the hard way that life isn’t fair, God always is. There are lots of Scripture verses to back that statement up with. Here’s a few. Deuteronomy 4:29 avows, “But if you seek the Lord your God… you will find him, if, indeed, you seek him with all your heart and soul.” In Proverbs 8:17 God proclaims, “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.” And in Luke 11:10 Jesus said, “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” I take those quotes to mean exactly what they imply. Nothing can block the path between someone and the great I AM if they sincerely want to know Him. Having a Bible on your bookshelf won’t save your soul. Long before the invention of the printing press millions of men and women gave their lives over to Christ without the benefit of ever holding in their hands a copy of the Holy Word. God revealed Himself to them through means other than reading about Him. Billy Graham wrote, “God’s nature will bear witness of a divine power and person to whom everyone will answer. On the other side, God’s justice will be exhibited against those who fail to live up to the light He’s given them.”

In the 50s the Billy Graham Crusade went to India. One man who’d never heard the Gospel message walked over 120 miles to attend because he ached with all his heart to know the true and living God. He’d heard rumors that a renowned “guru” from America would be speaking in Madras and he felt compelled to go and find out what he could learn from him. Eight months later a catholic bishop visited the man’s hometown and found that not only had the man surrendered to Christ after hearing the Good News, he’d gone back and converted his entire village to Christianity! During another India mission in ’72 Graham was informed that whole families had walked for up to ten days to get there from Nepal, Sikkim and Burma. Most of the sojourners had no knowledge of Jesus whatsoever. All they knew was a religious gathering was being held and they were seeking to know the truth about God no matter what it took to gain it. Thousands of souls were saved. Dr. Graham comments, “I’m convinced that when a person sincerely searches for God with all their heart, God will reveal Himself in some way. A person, a Bible or some experience with believers will be used by God to reach the one who seeks.” My wife and I have had intense discussions about what’ll befall a soul who spends their whole life isolated from civilization and never hears about Jesus. Are they damned by default? I confess I just don’t know because the Bible never gets that micro specific. However, I do refuse to put limits on what God’s capable of doing. I do know the last will be first. And I do know the Heavenly Father loves all His children, even the illiterate aborigine, so I’ll leave it to Him to do what’s right. I’m not privy to all of God’s methods and I’m comfortable with that. God overcomes all obstacles.

Those who consciously and deliberately reject God’s truth are another story altogether. If they develop or adopt humanistic or “natural” religions they’re usually offended by the notion the Bible is the authoritative source of truth and that only the blood of Christ can cleanse us from the ugly stains of our iniquities. I’m not talking about devil worshiping. Most of these “alternative” spiritual movements or sects contain just enough truth to present a pleasant front to the public. They revere certain elements of the truth and advocate high ethical standards. In other words, they seem harmless and benign. Thomas Paine wrote, “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.” Sounds noble enough, right? And that outlook may have impressed his family, friends and neighbors no end. But those lofty aspirations and valorous intentions will never impress God or enable a person to meet His moral demands. You see, there’s a remarkably skilled deceiver who can adapt himself to any culture and can even con faithful Christians at times. Satan doesn’t show up dressed as a red monster with a pitchfork and pointy tail. Rather, he can appear to be a charming “angel of light.” He can trick people into thinking that just by attending church regularly they’re riding on the escalator to paradise even though they’ve never been born again. He’s fooled them into trusting that, by participating in certain religious ceremonies, doing good works, tithing, volunteering for charitable causes or protesting against social injustice, they’ll earn gold stars in God’s ledger. He’s blinded them to the grandeur of the forest by getting them to focus on the trees. If what we do as Christians doesn’t glorify the Father in heaven nothing we accomplish is worth a cow patty. It’s not about us and what we do. It’s always been about Him and what He does.

A couple years back a close family member who’s agnostic said to me, “So you’re saying if I don’t believe exactly as you do I’m going to hell? How dare you be so conceited!” That’s a tough corner to be painted into. First of all, I don’t expect anyone to agree with me on everything. I’m just a ragamuffin sinner struggling to live for Christ one day at a time, not a degreed scholar. Secondly, though, there’s no getting around the core fact that if a person rejects the atonement that Jesus provided on the cross for the acts of their sinful nature they’ll spend eternity separated from the source of all love, goodness and joy. (Hell? I imagine it’s the worst thing I can imagine so I’ll leave it at that.) The temptation I danced with as I prepared to respond to her accusation was to compromise the truth so she wouldn’t be offended by it. I was more concerned about her considering me a self-righteous ass than informing her of the consequences her unbelief will bring. I fear that’s what’s happening to the Christian message in general these days. We’re watering it down because of the reaction it elicits from those who are liberal and permissive when it comes to God’s laws. Cable channels are filled with documentaries that belittle the Bible. One atheist said, “The virgin birth, the raising of Lazarus and even the Old Testament miracles, all are freely used for religious propaganda, and are very effective with an audience of unsophisticates and children.” Another wrote, “Christian theism must be rejected by any person with even a shred of respect for reason.” Hogwash like this is being propagated non-stop in the media despite the fact that archaeologists still have yet to uncover anything that disproves the Scriptures. When confronted with this, skeptics usually retreat to the position of allowing the Bible to be considered somewhat accurate but only in a “historical” sense. That way they can pick and choose what they deem relevant spiritually. And some of the worst culprits are priests and ministers! C.S. Lewis commented about one pastor whom, “after swallowing the camel of Resurrection, strains at such gnats as the feeding of the multitudes.” We Christians must put our trust in the infallibility of God’s Holy Word and stand on it even in the face of ridicule and scorn. All other ground is sinking sand.

We live in a world where all the available data on any subject can be accessed by the click of a mouse. We start thinking we don’t need to rely on faith and that’s dangerous. That attitude opens the gate for all sorts of wolves costumed as sheep to waltz in and distract us with their “revised revelations” of truth. But none of these attacks are new nor do they come as a surprise to God. Christ warned in Matthew 24:24, For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Remember, I have told you ahead of time.” Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:14, So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.Peter chimed in, too. But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves. And many will follow their debauched lifestyles. Because of these false teachers, the way of the truth will be slandered. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation pronounced long ago is not sitting idly by; their destruction is not asleep(2 Peter 2:1-3). It’s all happening just as predicted. Those who aim to distill the truth about our Lord will usually not come right out and blatantly condemn Christianity. They’ve found the subtle approach much more effective. They’ll present words like peace, love, tolerance and mercy in a different context to rob them of their spiritual significance. They’ll assign alternate meanings to Biblical terms like messiah, redemption, genesis, conversion, salvation, disciple, savior and even rebirth. The Apostle Paul saw right through that ploy. In 1 Timothy 4:1-2 he wrote, Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings, influenced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared.” We can never let down our guard.

So what does all this have to do with the profound question of “What becomes of the uninformed?” A lot. God has clearly expressed that if anyone truly seeks Him He’ll provide a way for them to find Him. How God goes about doing that really isn’t our business. What should be our business is how God’ll use us as the means by which an individual gets introduced to the Gospel. If we don’t know the truth and abide by it in our daily living how can we possibly be a useful witness to God’s amazing grace? We need to be able to explain why Christianity is not like all the other religions and in what ways. We must be ready to defend our faith in the face of what unbelievers may regard as inconsistencies or downright cruelty on God’s part. For example, someone may bring up Cain and Abel and opine it was totally bogus of God to be “…pleased with Abel and his offering, but with Cain and his offering he was not pleased (Genesis 4:5). They’ll gripe that poor Cain was only doing what he thought was right. We gotta be ready to reply with the truth of the matter. That incident with the brothers is in God’s Word to teach us there’s a right way and a wrong way to make contact with God. Cain’s worship was nothing but empty religiosity based on his wanting things on his terms, not God’s. And his actions following God’s rebuke revealed the darkness infecting his heart. He refused to repent and, instead, became so resentful he committed murder against his own flesh and blood. He spent the rest of his days playing the victim card, declaring, My punishment is too great to bear(Genesis 4:13). Cain may have been quasi-sincere when offering his sacrifice but he was still very, very wrong to go against God’s precise instructions.

However closed-minded, outdated or intolerant people may accuse Christians of being, it’s imperative we present to folks God’s truth and nothing but. If we don’t do it no one will and they’ll opt to go with a false religion that better suits their preferences instead. It’s always been that way. Immediately after God led his people out of slavery and was delivering the Ten Commandments to Moses up on Mount Sinai false religion erupted among the Israelites. Even reliable old Aaron went along with the crowd’s demands and had a calf fashioned out of gold to parade around. The rabble then exclaimed, These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt(Exodus 32:4). Hard to fathom their insolence, is it not? But what it tells us is that none of us are immune from being misled. There will always be alternatives available to the biblical way of approaching the great I AM. Yet we haven’t been and never will be abandoned by our Father in heaven. If we pray for His guidance and strength, if we rely on the indwelling Holy Spirit to be the fountain of truth and expose everything we see and hear to the litmus test that is the Scriptures we will not be deceived. As Dr. Graham said, “For the person who searches, the answers are available.”

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