Tag Archives: Salvation

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The Right Answer… for the Right Reason

Know why you picked “A”…

If you’ve read this blog much this year, you know I’m hoping to take and pass a 16-hour engineering exam later this year. Needless to say, it’s on my mind a lot as I’ve been doing a lot of studying this year. Working through some practice problems the other day, I got the answer right, but for the wrong reason, and it got me thinking. In the actual test, I might not mind if I get an answer right in spite of a mistake in my calculations, or misreading the question. But when preparing for the test, the importance of understanding the why behind the answer is critical. If I get the answer right on the test by accident, then I may still get credit (at least in the multiple-choice morning session of the exam). But if I get the answer right by accident when I’m practicing for the test, and don’t verify my reasoning against a worked-out solution, then I’ll go into the real exam with a false confidence, thinking I know how to solve a problem type that I really don’t. Besides the potential repercussions at the test, there are consequences in my daily work, since the SE exam is, after all, a test of an engineer’s competence in actual structural design. For instance, suppose I find a clever shortcut for masonry shearwall design that will save me time on the exam, but I don’t realize that it only works for the particular scenario in the practice problem, and not for all cases. If I don’t understand why it worked there, then I may not understand why it doesn’t work on the exam, or why it doesn’t the next time I’m trying to meet a deadline and have a real-life shearwall to design. It’s all fun and games until real people’s lives are depending on your work being right. But… what does any of this have to do with the Christian faith? Let’s work through that today.

Don’t be content that you know the right answer; study to understand why it’s the right answer. Did you come to Christ because your parents were Christians and that’s what you grew up with? I’m glad for the end result of salvation, but, honestly, that’s a terrible reason for believing in Jesus. That’s no different than a Hindu in India, a Muslim in Saudi Arabia, or an atheist in China. Did you become a Christian because it makes you feel good? Again, if genuinely saved and that was your entry point, I rejoice at the end result, but believing anything because of how it makes you feel is also a terrible reason to believe it. Did you become a Christian because you’d hit rock-bottom and needed rescue? If that’s what it took for God to get your attention, then I’m thankful you turned to Him before it was too late. As Spurgeon said, “Happy storm that wrecks a man on such a rock as this! O blessed hurricane that drives a man to God and God alone!”[1] However, we all need rescue, whether we’re a homeless drug addict or a billionaire with a dozen mansions, and Christianity isn’t merely a self-help program for the down and out.

What is a good reason to become a Christian? Simply this: because Christianity is true. No amount of cultural acceptance or warm fuzzy feelings or self-improvement can make up for its falsity if it’s not true. But likewise, no amount of opposition can overcome it if it is true. But supposing it’s true, why should you repent of sin and confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior [Ro 10:9-10]? Is it because you need a little “helping hand”, a crutch, a nudge in the right direction? Hardly! That is like the pilot of a plane telling the passengers, as they hurtle earthward in a steep dive, on fire, the plane breaking apart from the speed of the descent, with seconds left to live before the inevitable crater and fireball, that they are experiencing some engine difficulties, and to make sure their seat belts are fastened and that they… “breathe normally”. The situation for them and us is far more dire!

You see, we are sinners. We tend to not like the condemnation that comes with that title, but it’s true, even if you were a “good kid” who’s grown up to be a model adult. Even on your best day, you still can’t say you’re perfect; none of us can. But it gets worse: when the Bible says we have all “fallen short of the glory of God” [Ro 3:23], it’s not just talking about what we’ve actively done against God, but what we haven’t done for Him. For instance, a child can be disobedient to his parents both by doing what they told him not to do, and by not doing what they told him to do. But God is the perfectly just judge who can’t be bribed, who won’t play favorites, and who will enforce a requirement for perfection in order to pass His exam. That’s pretty bad news for all of us. Can you see why a “little help” doesn’t cut it? This is why the Bible repeatedly explains that our good works won’t save us – can’t save us [Ep 2:8-9, Ti 3:5-7, Ro 11:5-6, Ga 2:16, 2Ti 1:9]. Salvation is a one-sided deal that has to come from God if it’s going to succeed.

Is it then just “fire insurance”? A “Get Out of-Hell Free” card in this Monopoly game of life? Hardly! The situation is far better than that simplistic (and frankly, selfish) view can even recognize. You see – incredibly – God actually loves us [Jn 3:16, Ro 5:8], and desires that no one perish [Ezk 33:11, 2Pe 3:9], such that He would send His Son to pay the penalty for our sins. That God would lavish such kindness and love and mercy on me is staggering! How could I reject that? And having accepted the free gift [Ro 6:23], how then could I see His gift as something to take advantage of and move on like nothing happened? No, thankfulness and worship of God are the only legitimate responses. And in fact, He created us to glorify Him, the only one truly and self-sufficiently worthy of glory [Is 43:7, 11, 48:11]. And from that gratitude and love to Him who first loved us, we give our lives in humble service to Him as our Lord [Jn 14:15].

As Christians, we are told to share what we know with a world in dire need of the Good News we have received, but may we never share false information that steers people down the wrong path. There have been far too many cases of people rejecting Christianity in response to a mere caricature of it, and often a poor one at that! As Christians who are “ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us” [2Co 5:20], we need to take that responsibility seriously. As C.H. Spurgeon once said, “Salvation is a theme for which I would fain enlist every holy tongue. I am greedy after witnesses for the glorious gospel of the blessed God. Oh, that Christ crucified were the universal burden of men of God.”[2] May we be faithful to our calling.


[1] C.H. Spurgeon, “Morning & Evening”, Aug 31.
[2] Spurgeon, “Lectures to my Students” (Hendrickson: Peabody, MA, 2014), Vol 1, Lecture 5, p.83.

The Need for Self-Examination

The Apostle Paul, by Rembrandt, 1657.

Some people take a Friday off to enjoy a 3-day weekend or go somewhere interesting. I used a vacation day this past Friday to spend Friday and Saturday taking a 16-hour long “practice exam”. Am I just a glutton for punishment? Too nerdy for my own good? Extremely bored with poor taste in recreational activities? Those may be distinct possibilities, but I also have a real test like that coming up in a couple of months, and the practice exam showed me areas where I was deficient and need to focus my studies. I think there’s a spiritual lesson here for Christians and non-Christians alike, so let’s work through that today.

The apostle Paul had instructed his Thessalonian readers to “test everything; hold fast to that which is good.” [1Th 5:21] when it came to doctrine they were hearing. But when he wrote to the Corinthian church, he urged the Christians there to not just examine truth claims critically, but themselves as well. “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” [2Co 13:5] Why should they be so concerned with self-examination?

  • The stakes are high. Albert Barnes wrote in his 19th century commentary on this passage: “So important are the interests at stake, and so liable are the best to deceive themselves, that all Christians should be often induced to examine the foundation of their hope of eternal salvation.” Eternity makes for high stakes indeed. As the author of Hebrews writes, “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” [Heb 9:27]. Just like with my upcoming test, it is far better to examine yourself ahead of time and find out that you are not meeting the standard while there is still time to do something about it.
  • We won’t be the ones doing the grading on Judgment Day. On my practice exam, I did better in areas like steel and wood design that I have more experience in, and worse in masonry and concrete that I have less experience in. But passing the SE exam is not based on my subjective standard, but rather on an independent standard. I can’t appeal a failing grade by saying “but look at how well I did on steel design!” I have to make sure I’m meeting the test standard, not my own. Sadly, many assume they will be able to justify themselves before God because they met their own standard rather than His.
  • t’s not a team event. Studying together is good, and encouraging each other is good, but the choices I make in the engineering exam are on me, so I need to understand what I’m doing. My colleagues can’t help me there. Likewise, it doesn’t matter if your parents were Christians, or that you have a friend “on the other side that can vouch for you”.
  • No retakes. With my test, as much as I would rather not, I can retake it next year if I don’t pass it this year. But failing the ultimate exam, with God as your examiner, will not be something you can afford to fail; all grades are final – no retakes or appeals. You can hopefully see why Paul urged believers to examine themselves.

How do we examine ourselves? Obviously, if you don’t believe God exists and/or have never trusted Jesus Christ for your salvation, then you are not “in the faith” as Paul would say, and you will not pass that final exam on Judgment Day. But perhaps you’re not that type, and you’ve actually grown up in the church and attended your whole life. Does that count? Not for salvation. Many have gone through the motions of the Christian religion without the saving benefit of Christ. One of the more sobering passages in the Bible is where Jesus says that many will say to Him “Lord, Lord…” and His response will be “I never knew you.” [Matt 7:22-23] It seems there is more to being a Christian than simply self-identifying as one. In fact, Jesus said we could differentiate between the “wolves in sheep’s clothing” and genuine followers by their actions: “you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” [Matt 7:20-21] Similarly, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” [Jn 14:15].

So is it in doing good works that we earn our salvation, like every man-made religion? Hardly, for it is “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” [Eph 2:8-9] But notice the very next verse: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” [Eph 2:10] We aren’t saved by our good works, but rather for them. Ellicott, in his commentary on this verse, describes good works as “an inseparable characteristic of the regenerate life”, which dovetails well with James’ statement about the relationship of works and faith: “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? … faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” [Jam 2:14,17] Passages like John 15:8, 1 Peter 2:12, and Matthew 5:16 all highlight that our conduct as Christ followers should cause other people to glorify God, whether here on earth or at the final judgment.

That conduct – our actions – flows from our thoughts. And the Bible informs us that “those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” [Rom 8:5], and that the Christian is to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” [Rom 12:2], for we are a “new creation” in Christ [2 Co 5:17]. In fact, without God’s Holy Spirit indwelling us, our minds are “hostile toward God” and we “cannot please God” [Rom 8:7-8]. This contrast between the inclination of our old unredeemed nature and our new nature in Christ then provides a “practice test” for examining ourselves. Do I yearn for God, and to be conformed to the image of His Son [Rom 8:29], or are the things of God a chore and a drudgery to be endured? The answer to that question is telling. Of course, desire doesn’t always translate into action. Christians may still fail, even grievously, as King David, the “man after God’s heart” [Ac 13:22] still managed to do. But, as John MacArthur says in his commentary on Romans 8, “their basic orientation and innermost concerns have to do with the things of the Spirit”[1]. He continues, “A test of saving faith is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. ‘You can be certain of your salvation,’ Paul is saying, ‘if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you'”[2]. Whether I’m celebrating when I get my results back, roughly 3 months after my exam, or gearing up to retake it next year, the fact that “I know whom I have believed” [2Ti 1:12] is something to celebrate every day from here into eternity! Blessings, y’all.


[1] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 1-8 (Chicago: Moody, 1991), p.417.
[2] ibid., p.420.

Exceeding Expectations

The Entry into Jerusalem – Giotto, 1305

Oftentimes as an engineer, my solution to a client’s problem isn’t what they wanted to hear: a building owner (or his architect) may have a daring, grand, idealistic vision of their building that the laws of physics simply won’t permit. And so structural engineers sometimes have to be the bearers of bad news. Of course, in the long run, their building not falling down and killing them is actually pretty good news, in my humble opinion. Occasionally, clients have much more realistic expectations, and I get the opportunity to exceed those expectations. They’re hoping for a bearable solution to one problem, and I get to help solve multiple problems. Those are good times that remind me of what I love about engineering.

The Jews had a similar “down to earth” expectation of what their Messiah would be. If you’re not familiar with Church lingo, “Messiah” comes from the Hebrew word for “Anointed One”. And while many think of the word “Christ” as being part of Jesus’ name, it’s actually just the Greek word for that same title. Christ and Messiah are synonymous. Now, to be clear, it’s not so much that the Jews had low expectations, per se – they just didn’t didn’t have high enough expectations. God’s plan was so much bigger than anything they were anticipating, that many didn’t even recognize it. Even with the clarity of hindsight, many today still don’t. The Jews were looking for a bold, triumphant solution to one problem – oppression of their nation (by the Romans at that point) – while Jesus brought the bolder, but humbler, solution for the problem of all humanity. They wanted the conquering hero riding in to Jerusalem on a war horse, not the sacrificial “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”, riding in on the foal of a donkey [Jn 1:29, Mt 21:6-11]. Even Jesus’ disciples, after the resurrection, were still stuck on this idea of restoring the kingdom of Israel rather than the Kingdom of God [Act 1:6]. How sad it would be for all of us Gentiles (non-Jews) if God had given them the merely localized, national  salvation they wanted. But instead, He sent Jesus to free all who will receive Him: Jew and Greek, men and women, citizens and slaves, kings and peasants – even Americans like me! And this freedom is not some temporary thing that can be taken away by the next empire to rise up; Christians from the catacombs of ancient Rome to the prison camps of modern North Korea have experienced this freedom, even in their bondage. Rather than a divine King “dwelling” with His people like when God led the Israelites out of Egypt, we have the Holy Spirit residing in each Christian believer [1 Cor 6:19-20].

However, God’s good news of salvation can sometimes sound like bad news to our sin-plugged ears. Like the building owner or contractor who wants the project engineer to say “yes” to some requested deviation from the plans, we don’t like the idea of submission or obedience, or limitations on our supposed freedoms by God. We think, in our insecurity, that we’ll be cheated by God. And yet, He takes our “freedom” that is actually nothing more than enslavement to sin, and gives us true freedom [Jn 8:32,36]: freedom from fear of our circumstances[Ps 56:11]; freedom from the fear of death now, and ultimately from death itself [1Cor 15:54-57]; freedom to love and serve God as we simply could not do on our own [1Cor 2:14, Heb 11:6]; but most importantly, freedom to bring glory to God, which is actually what we were designed to do. As long as we run from our Creator and His solution to our problem, we will always be falling short of our true, ultimate purpose in life.

But we can trust the omniscient One who “sees the end from the beginning” [Is 46:9-10]. In spite of the temptation to think (in our arrogant finitude) that “if I were God, I would do such-and-such”, His ways really are better. I can’t really fault Israel for underestimating God: it seems pretentious to hope for as much as God has lavished on us. As Paul wrote, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” [Ro 11:33] Indeed, understanding that His perfect plan will far exceed our expectations, we can truthfully say with Paul, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” [Eph 3:20]

Have there been times in your life where you’ve only seen how God was working in hindsight? Have you gone through bleak trials and come out on the other side knowing that the trial, though unwanted, was the best thing for you in the end? It’s been said that God desires our holiness rather than our comfort, and that getting us there may be an uncomfortable, though necessary, process. Have you gone through that molding process and, looking back, realized the wisdom of God’s ways over ours? Something to chew on this this week. 🙂

The Design of Salvation, Part 2

“Christ with Thorns”, by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1865-1879.

Last week, we looked at some other ways God could’ve designed our salvation, although none of them really seemed adequate. We started off confirming that we really do need salvation; but then saw that we can’t buy eternal life, or be born into it, or get it by title or position, or earn it through good deeds, or pass a test to get it. And God’s perfect justice prohibits Him just ignoring our rebellious condition and rewarding us anyway. That’s the bad news. But this week, let’s dig into the beautiful distinction that separates Christianity from all the man-made religions of the world, and what makes the gospel truly… “good news”.

What is that distinction? Grace. “What does that even mean?” Glad you asked!  God’s grace can be defined as His “goodness toward those who deserve only punishment.” [1] Salvation is a free gift of God [Rom 6:23, Eph 2:8-9], for that’s really the only way we could get it. God is never obligated to show us this favor, and the fact that He does makes faith (or trust) in Him the only reasonable response on our part.[1] Like any gift, it has to be accepted to be effective. If it’s the dead of winter, and I’m homeless and freezing, and someone gives me a big down jacket, but I don’t accept it and actually put it on, I still freeze to death!

A gift is, by definition, free to the recipient. And while God’s grace is free, it isn’t cheap. How so? As Herman Bavinck puts it, “God must punish the wrong. God is love, indeed, but this glorious confession comes into its own when love in the Divine being is understood as being a holy love in perfect harmony with justice. There is room for the grace of God only if the justice of God is first fully established.”[2] And how is that perfect justice satisfied? Jesus, the second person of the Triune Godhead, became as one of us, but lived the perfect life we never could, and then died in our place, paying the penalty we all deserved. [Rom 5:8] We each sin, and the penalty for sin before a perfect and just God is eternal separation from Him. But Jesus became our proxy, our representative, our substitute. And while I could never pay off the penalty for my sin (hence the eternal aspect of it), Jesus’ sacrifice was a sufficient and complete payment. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus, this gift offered to us freely cost more than the worth of the whole universe.

And what is this gift? And how do I accept it? This is none other than the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. If you read last week’s post and understood that you don’t meet God’s perfect standard and that He doesn’t grade on a curve, then you understand that you are, like every other human ever born, a sinner. And as mentioned above, the penalty for sin is severe: death and eternal separation from God. As AA would say, admitting you have a problem is the first step; but that’s not enough. Repentance is more than just acknowledgment of a problem or even remorse over it. It is a renouncing of sin and commitment to forsake it. But we are enslaved by sin, and only Jesus can break its power over us. [Rom 6:6,22, Jn 8:34,36] We must turn from sin and to Christ, looking to Him alone, and trusting in His work to make us acceptable to God. [Heb 12:2] This trust is also called faith. Paul wrote to the Romans that if one confessed with the mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believed in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, they would be saved. [Rom 10:9-11] It’s two sides of the same coin: the sincere heartfelt trust in Jesus’ saving work (which was proven sufficient by His being raised from the dead), combined with genuine repentance of past sin and commitment to follow Christ wholeheartedly (summarized in confessing that He is Lord of your life), will save you. You can’t have Him as Savior and not as Lord. [Jn 8:31,14:23]

Why would God do any  of this? The answer is… love. That word has been watered down a lot in recent years. People say they love a lot of things these days – food, their favorite sports team, a hobby, and on and on. But love isn’t simply a feeling of enjoyment or a momentary attraction. Emotions come and go, and are often quite selfish in origin, but love is a willful giving of oneself to another. Paul writes to the Romans that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Love in word only isn’t really love, for love necessarily results in action, as God’s love for us certainly did.

In the end, God’s way of doing thing really is the best choice among the alternatives for accomplishing His purpose in saving mankind from its rebellion, reconciling us to Him, redeeming us and repairing our brokenness, and ultimately, bringing glory to Himself, for He is worthy of it. Despite the “armchair quarterbacking” of skeptics, the gospel message really is the best way to balance sovereignty and free will, and allow the maximum number of people to voluntarily take part in God’s redemption.  Only God’s grace walks that fine line between love and justice, making God “the just and the justifier”, as Paul wrote. [Rom 3:26] Only God’s grace makes the ground level at the foot of the cross for men and women of every nation to come with open hands to receive what they could never earn, whether rich or poor, old or young, powerful or destitute, educated or ignorant. Only grace could meet all God’s design parameters and accomplish His purpose with such elegance and faithfulness to His perfect nature.


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), pp. 200-1.
[2] Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith (Grand Rapids Eerdmans, 1956) p. 260.

The Design of Salvation, Part 1

“Golgota” by Mihaly Munkacsy, 1884

There are many critics of how the Bible describes God’s plan to save the human race, but it’s far easier to criticize someone else’s design than to work through what’s actually the best choice to accomplish a particular goal yourself. If you had the job of providing a means of salvation to a stubborn and rebellious people – many of whom don’t even think they need to be saved from anything  and want to actively resist any rescue attempt – how would you do it? How would you design salvation?  Let’s look at some alternatives and see whether those criticisms are really justified or not.

First off, is salvation even necessary? In case you haven’t read the newspaper, watched the news on TV, or gotten on the internet in a while, it’s pretty obvious that the world is a messed-up place. People are messed up. We like to think we’re not as bad as _____. Just fill in the blank with the person or group you tend to look down upon, because we all do that. Comparison comes naturally to us. But the fact is, none of us are perfect. A lot of times that doesn’t bother us because we assume that God grades on a curve. “Nobody’s perfect, but my saintly old grandma would surely get bumped up to a high A. I may not be as good as her, but I’ll certainly still pass, probably with a high B, or maybe even a low A. People like Hitler will obviously get an F. That guy that cut me me off on the highway the other day may be a borderline C, but God certainly wouldn’t fail me – I’m a good person.” Right? Well, God doesn’t grade on a curve, and there’s only 1 passing score: perfection. That’s bad news for all of us. Turns out, we’re in the same boat as Hitler and all the “really bad” people  that we feel so superior to according to our subjective grading curve. We have a serious problem, and need a serious solution. What are some options?

  • Would you make salvation dependent on earthly power? Is eternal life a gift not to be wasted on the masses? Are only the movers and shakers – the Pharaohs and Caesars of world history – worthy of it? Most of us are in that category of “the masses”, and probably wouldn’t pick that option. But historically, those in power wouldn’t have minded rigging the system to favor the powerful. However, power can actually be a hindrance in that it tends to blind us to our real needs that only God can meet. [Mk 8:36] Thankfully, God makes salvation available to the leaders of superpowers and the untouchable outcasts in the filthiest slums, and everyone in between.
  • Would you make salvation dependent on wealth? How much should tickets to Heaven cost? What value do you place on eternal life?  Judging by how much people will spend on surgery to try to retain the fleeting looks of youth, I imagine eternal life could fetch quite a price – maybe enough to price most of us out of the bidding.  There are many people with prideful hearts that would love to simply throw some money at God to purchase life eternal rather than pay the costlier price of submitting themselves to Him. “$100 to go to Heaven when I die, and I can live however I want until then? I’m in!” But what about when the price is $10,000?  $1 million? $1 billion? Even if it’s only a few dollars, any price you could come up with would be out of reach for somebody. Of course, there’s also the question of whether you would really enjoy Heaven if you just bought your entrance guarantee and spent the rest of your life living like the devil. Yet God makes salvation available to all, from the richest fat cat to the most destitute, bankrupt beggar.
  • Would you make salvation dependent on knowledge? Would people need to pass an exam, or be some type of Illuminati? Would you have a bridgekeeper asking obscure trivia like in Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail?[1] The Gnostics believed one needed “secret knowledge” beyond what the ignorant masses could ever hope for. I remember struggling in certain classes in college, and the frustration of being the student that just didn’t understand what everyone else seemed to grasp so easily. It was frustrating then, and it was just a class grade on the line, not eternity! So as much as I appreciate knowledge and enjoy learning new things, I thank God He didn’t make my salvation dependent on how much I know. On a related note, what if I’m in a car accident and suffer brain trauma and have amnesia and mental retardation as a result, or if I develop Alzheimer’s and can’t even remember what I learned the day before? Would my loss of knowledge put my salvation at risk? Thankfully, it’s not our IQ or our learning that saves us, for God makes salvation available to the genius and the dunce alike, to the scholar with a string of letters after his name and the illiterate orphan.
  • Would you make salvation dependent on race or ethnicity? The idea of one group of people being intrinsically more valuable than others is generally reprehensible to us now, but preference for those like us still creeps in to our thoughts, it seems. I can’t help but notice (and be amused at) how very white and European Jesus – a Jew from the Middle East – has typically been portrayed by Western artists in the centuries since. Yet God is no respecter of such shallow traits like nationality or skin color. He makes salvation available to the Jew and the German, the Russian and the American, and every other nationality there is. Likewise for every skin color: “red, brown, yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight”, as the old children’s song goes.
  • Would you make salvation unconditional? Everybody goes to heaven/paradise/eternal bliss in the end? That sounds very loving and good at first. But it seems like it might be a little awkward if you were an innocent victim brutally beaten to death, and you meet your very unrepentant murderer in heaven. Might you feel a little slighted? Might you wonder where justice is when the victim and the laughing victimizer get the same reward? We have to minimize the justice of God for this option to appear feasible. Yet God offers salvation lovingly while still being just.
  • Would you make salvation dependent on good deeds? That is the probably the most common approach in man-made religions. And I get it: we understand the need for justice, and so we naturally think good should be rewarded and bad punished. But what about the one who realizes the error of his ways late in life? What good can he possibly do at the end to offset a life of selfishness, greed, dishonesty, theft, or murder? What hope is there for him? Or what of the child who gets hit by a car before she has much opportunity to earn credits in her “account”? But even with a long life of good behavior, it’s still not perfect behavior, and so it still falls short.  Works appeals to us because we do understand working and earning benefits, but also because we don’t understand the hole we’re actually in. So we think it is something we can work our way out of. In reality, if it’s on us to get ourselves out, the situation truly is hopeless.

I have to say, I’m not very impressed with any of the alternatives above. Are there other alternatives to what God did that you can think of that might’ve worked better? I don’t think there are, but I’d love to hear if you think I’ve missed something. It’s easy to criticize a plan without actually having a better option. But it’s when we work through the problems and consequences of alternatives, that we see the superiority of a plan we might’ve dismissed at first. Design is all about making choices to accomplish a specified purpose, and now that we’ve eliminated some alternative choices, join me next week for Part 2, where I’ll look at God’s actual choice for offering salvation, how it accomplishes His purpose, and why it really is the best design for rescuing us from our desperate situation.


[1] If you don’t know what I’m talking about there, your life is incomplete. Watch that scene from Monty Python on YouTube to catch up: https://youtu.be/Wpx6XnankZ8

More than a Label

A couple of weeks ago, my church hosted J. Warner Wallace for a weekend of great presentations on the objective nature of truth and the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts. If you’re not familiar with Jim, he was a cold-case homicide detective in California who has racked up an impressive number of convictions in long-unsolved murder cases. In fact, you might even recognize him from the TV show “Dateline”, as they’ve documented several of his cases. He was also an ardent atheist until he decided to investigate a really old “cold-case” of a different type: the case of what happened to Jesus of Nazareth. To hear “the rest of the story”, as Paul Harvey would say, check out his links below [1]. But now on to what he said that got me thinking. In his closing prayer, he said something to the effect of Christianity being “more than a label” for us.

We identify ourselves with lots of labels – political ones, religious ones, cultural ones – but does that self-identification actually make us those things? Not necessarily. Of course, political partisans will often talk about someone in their party being one “in name only”, such as a RINO, or Republican In Name Only, for example. The idea is that though this person calls themselves a fill-in-the-blank, they aren’t actually; they’re a poser. It is, in effect, a charge of hypocrisy, that the person is saying one thing and doing another. A similar thing happens in engineering, although with potentially more life-threatening consequences.

All of the states I’m licensed in as a professional engineer put out newsletters that include summaries of disciplinary actions taken against individuals. Most of these are against practicing engineers who did things like practicing after their license had expired, maybe because they forgot to renew it. Some aren’t so justifiable, and are serious ethics violations. But occasionally, action is taken against a person who pretended to be an engineer when they weren’t. They’ve claimed the title, or label, but have never done the hard work to acquire the book-learning and mentored training, pass the long arduous tests, and get the license. Some even have enough familiarity with engineering to keep up that charade for several years. But are they professional engineers even when they achieve similar results to engineers? No. They haven’t been granted that title by one having authority to grant it.

What about calling myself a Christian? Can I take that label for myself just because? No. My actions need to match the claim or I’m a hypocrite. I can’t go stealing and lying and murdering and call myself a Christian. But even if I don’t do those things, does acting the part make me a Christian? No, actually. I can be an incredibly nice person, and do lots of wonderful deeds, and call myself a Christian, but even that doesn’t make it so. Consider that Jesus said that the way leading to life was narrow, and that few found it, while the path to destruction was broad and crowded [Matt 7:13-14]. Moreover, many would come to Him saying that they had done all kinds of good things in His name, even working miracles. His response? “Depart from Me, I never knew you.” [Matt 7:21-23] That should be a sobering warning. The apostle John told his audience that  there were those that had gone out from them that had never been part of them [1 Jn 2:19]. They played the Christian game for a while, but eventually moved on. Jesus also talked about letting the wheat and the tares (i.e. saints and sinners) grow together until the harvest, when they would be separated out [Matt 13:24-30]. As Matthew Henry commented on this passage, “It is not possible for any man infallibly to distinguish between tares and wheat,” and, “The tares, if continued under the means of grace, may become good corn; therefore have patience with them.”[2]

So who is a Christian? The Christian is that one whom God has saved. How? They have called out to Jesus Christ, for there is salvation in no one else [Acts 4:12]. How? They have repented of their sins [Acts 3:19, 17:30, Rom 2:4], acknowledged that Jesus Christ is Lord, and believed that God raised Him from the dead [Rom 10:9-10]. That title of “Lord” entails obedience to Him, not just lip service. As Wayne Grudem says in his Systematic Theology, it is “contrary to the New Testament to speak about the possibility of someone accepting Christ ‘as Savior’ but not ‘as Lord,’ if that means simply depending on Him for salvation but not committing oneself to forsake sin and to be obedient to Christ from that point on.” [3] God doesn’t command us to get our lives “straightened out” before He will accept us, for we could never meet His perfect standard in our own strength. But He does command repentance: that godly grief over our sin and the decision to turn away from it and toward Him that leads to salvation [2 Cor7:9-10]. And when we turn to Him, we put our trust in Jesus Christ, the only one who could meet that perfect standard of righteousness [2 Cor 5:21]. A changed life then is the fruit of that repentance.

Being a Christian is not simply a label we claim, or a title we earn, or degree we obtain, but rather an eternal relationship with our Creator. If you are a follower of Christ, may “Christian” be so much more than a mere label for you. And if you’re not a disciple of Christ yet, may you not be deceived and turned away by those for whom it is just a label. Til next time, may God richly bless you in your search to find truth, and in so seeking, find Him. “Seek and ye shall find.”

S.D.G.


[1] Find more of Jim’s work at www.coldcasechristianity.com, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/j.warnerwallace, or Twitter at @jwarnerwallace. Or find his books on Amazon (3rd one drops May 1st).
[2] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary in One Volume (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1961), p.1272.
[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) p. 714.

“Now Hiring: Evangelists”

St. Paul Preaching at Athens - by Raphael
St. Paul Preaching at Athens – by Raphael

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a trend among product vendors to label their marketing as “evangelism”. Autodesk, producer of the Revit software I use (along with I don’t know how many other programs) has “Technical Evangelist” as an actual job title. These are the people usually doing the blogs and seminars and webinars, telling us design professionals how their product will be so incredibly helpful to us in our day to day jobs. And while dictionaries may describe this type of evangelist as “someone who talks about something with great enthusiasm,”[1]  I’d like to suggest that there’s more to these companies’ choice of job titles than just their employee’s attitude. But for that, we have to look back at the origins of the word.

Now maybe you’re familiar with evangelists as preachers. Maybe you’re cynical toward Christianity because of televangelists you’ve seen on TV: maudlin, maybe a little crazy, but like clockwork when it came to asking for money. I understand. But set aside those impressions for a moment, and come back with me to a time before the word was sullied with such behavior. If we dig into the Bible, we’ll find the following statement in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved…”[2]  The noun “gospel” above is εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion) in the Greek. Likewise, the verb phrase “preached to you” (or “proclaimed” in other translations) is εὐηγγελισάμην (euēngelisamēn). Remember that in it’s transition from Greek to Latin to English, the “u” became a “v”, and you can then see the root of our word evangelist or evangelism in both of these. But the “eu” at the beginning of both of these words is why companies sometimes call their marketers evangelists: “eu” means good in Greek. The other root, ἄγγελος (aggelos) means a messenger. This is the same word we get “angel” from, for angels serve as messengers of God. Put together, an evangelist is a messenger proclaiming good news or tidings. So when a vendor sends a technical evangelist to talk to me, they’re hoping to deliver a “gospel” of sorts (i.e. good news). And if their product really does work the wonders they promise –  well then, that would be good news!  The key point is, it’s not enthusiasm, but the content of their message that (hopefully) justifies the job title. “Good news” is at the very heart of the word evangelist, by definition. If it’s not good news to the audience, then evangelist may not be the most appropriate job title. But if it really is good news for the people you’re going to, then there’s also a reason to talk about it “with great enthusiasm”.  It’s not just an act then.

Now, what of the original evangelists? Does the Christian gospel actually bring good news? Indeed! Paul’s statement above speaks of the gospel (or good news) “by which also you are saved.” Many see the news that we are all sinners, worthy of condemnation by a just and holy God as bad news – even offensive news – and stop there. But is that part really “news”? When you look at the nightly news, or read the papers or look back through history books, can you honestly say humans are not fallen creatures? In spite of all our scientific and cultural advances, overall, we excel at finding better, more efficient ways to destroy and kill. We tend to be like the classic arch-villian of comics and movies – so much potential for good, yet so often choosing evil. In our heart, in those quiet times of reflection, we recognize that something is wrong at the core of us. And no amount of cultural progress or species evolution could ever fix it. Christianity not only explains our potential for good (we were created in the image of the one truly good God), but also our actual failure to realize that potential (we have all inherited a terminal disease called sin, that is, rebellion against our good Creator). Christianity recognizes the depressing problem that we can’t “fix” ourselves no matter how hard we try, but also proclaims the rest of the story – the amazing solution that God has intervened to do what we never could! Now that’s news.

Allow me to illustrate our trying hard to be good, but still failing. I never learned to swim until high school, when I took swimming lessons. After getting chided by my coach for doing something incorrectly, I flippantly remarked, “Oh well, practice makes perfect”, at which she snapped back, “No! Perfect practice makes perfect!” She was right. Practicing swimming strokes wrong will never make you a better swimmer, no matter how sincerely or devotedly you practice. Religious devotion or trying to lead a “good life” (by whose standard, anyway?) can likewise never succeed. That’s because the standard to meet is perfection. But, as the old sayings go, “to err is human,” and “nobody’s perfect.” In every other religion, you must earn salvation. Only Christianity proclaims this supreme unfairness, that God, in the person of Jesus, perfect and without sin, would become a human like us, to offer Himself as a sacrifice in our place, taking the punishment we justly deserved, that we might be justified and acceptable before God despite our utter inability to ever “measure up.” That’s not just good news – that’s GREAT news! And with news like that, how could we not proclaim it?


[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/evangelist, accessed 8/8/2016.
[2] 1 Corinthians 15:1, NASB.