Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘how can i be saved’

It’s Not What you Know….

What you believe about Jesus Christ is vital.  If you believe he is obligated to reward your faith with riches, perfect health, and a Hollywood lifestyle, you will be bitterly disappointed.  If you imagine him angrily firing spiritual darts at sinful people 24/7, you will tend to be harsh and too critical of other people.  And if you are convinced Christ is so cool and chill that he doesn’t really care how anybody lives on a day to day basis, you will most likely be an enabler, quietly encouraging others to delay in seeking the Lord.

So please make no mistake: good theology is essential for healthy Christian living.  But sometimes we overlook the simple biblical truth that we are not saved by the facts we believe.  Over the years I’ve known at least a couple of miserable church members who were quite well versed in the Bible.  Both could quote Bible verses, but both were angry, critical, caustic individuals who hated others because of church politics.  Their theology sounded right, but their lives made the Church of Jesus Christ look angry, corrupt, petty, unforgiving, and unloving.  They could quote the words of Jesus, but clearly knew nothing of his Spirit or his transforming power.  How does that happen?

In Mark 5:28 a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years comes to Jesus Christ for help.  She knows little about him- almost entirely what she’s heard from others.  She has concluded that if she simply touches the hem of his garment, she will be healed.  Such an outcome is promised in neither the Law nor the Prophets.  So it’s clear there’s a certain amount of superstition in what this suffering woman believes about Jesus Christ.  But the power of that amazing Messiah reverses her illness and instantly restores her to health.

In John 9:17 Christ heals a man who was born blind.  When the man is later asked his opinion about Christ, he replies, “I think he must be a prophet.”  That’s not true.  Christ is much more than a prophet- he is the long awaited Messiah.  But this healthy man will be able to unpack all that theology over years of faith and study.  When he first comes to Christ, he knows little more than the fact that he is a sinner and Jesus is a Savior.  That’s what he’s counting on.  The rest he will learn through the Spirit.

Sometimes we reach the strange conclusion that we are saved by the wonderful things we believe- about the people in the Bible, about the death of Christ, about the miracles of the New Testament.  We accept all those things as facts, but – needless to say- Satan knows all those things are true.  Believing the facts about God hasn’t helped the Devil at all!  Why should it help you and me?  Being able to embody the truth of Christ only happens when I meet Jesus Christ and he sends His spirit into my life.

True faith, childlike faith, is about trusting Christ so completely that we must go after him.  I am so convinced that He is the Truth that I reach out to him, count on him, rise or fall by trusting him.  I became a believer when I was five years old.  All these years later, I have read the Bible through many times and have gained tons of insight into what God is like, what is true, and what is important for human life.  I have a fuller and more complete theology than I could ever have imagined when I was five years old, but I was just as saved then as I am today.

Ideas are powerful, but they’re not powerful enough to pay for your sins.  Only Jesus could do that.  When we put our faith in Him, he will lead us to all truth and wisdom (John 16:13.)   But when we first begin, it’s not about facts.  It’s about faith in a particular person.  A grain of that kind of faith even the size of a mustard seed can cast mountains into the sea and get sinners into the Kingdom of Heaven.  The faith isn’t that great but the Savior is.

Lift up the Cross!

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The Search for the Prodigal

Why is it that prodigal daughters never come home?  In fact, they actually do.  Pastor Jim Cymbala recalls the night when months of tearful prayers were answered through a phone call from his long lost daughter.  She did indeed come home to her dad and eventually her heavenly father, but she was never called prodigal.  That’s because we only use the term for rebellious young males.  What’s more, we most commonly use the word incorrectly!

Not long ago, I read a review of the popular motion picture, Warrior.  The article explained that the martial arts film “tells the familiar story of a prodigal son.”  How would you define that term?  Most of us would reply that it’s a lad who rebels and leaves home, only to return later to make peace with his family and start anew.  Right? Wrong.

This common mistake serves to illustrate the amazing power of God’s Word.  We all know the term prodigal son only because of the familiar story in the Gospel of Luke.  An ungrateful young adult insults his father and demands his inheritance in advance.  When his kindly dad gives him his way, the young man takes all that wealth to a distant land where he squanders it all in decadence and immorality.  Waking up one day to discover he is friendless, penniless, and hopeless, he comes to his senses and returns home.  There he begs his father’s forgiveness, insisting that he is no longer worthy to be called a son, and asks only that his father might hire him and pay him as a servant.

Hence, almost everyone in the Western world and many far beyond have come to assume that prodigal has something to do with a young man who runs away, realizes his error, and finally returns home to his father.  That’s not what the word means.  Our word prodigal goes back to the Latin term prodigus.  It doesn’t mean rebellious or wayward or even repentant.  It means wasteful or excessively extravagant!  The prodigal son earned his title when he blew his entire fortune overnight.  The full account is found in Luke 15: 11-32.

But here’s another funny little fact.  The word prodigal is never found in the parable.  Luke simply refers to the wastrel as the younger son.  The term prodigal is only found in captions and headings dating back to the earliest English translation of the Bible.  Some suggest it is first found in the Douay-Rheims Bible from 1582.  A few scholars believe it goes back to the Latin Vulgate, where it would have been expressed filius prodigus.  So while Luke never included the word prodigal, our mistaken assumption comes from the caption added later.

That’s how deeply the Bible is imbedded in the subconscious of most Western men and women.  Even those who never read the Word of God find its words and ideas are mentally  imported through stories and conversation from culture and conversation.  For instance, Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is full of terms from the Bible.  Over a year ago, I had the privilege of sharing the Gospel with a friend who had grown up in Japan just after World War II.  Although she was raised as a Buddhist, her parents had sent her to a Catholic School as a child so that she could enjoy the advantage of speaking English.  Many of the English texts she learned to read were from the Holy Bible.  She grew up, married, and remained a Buddhist for most of her adult life.  After her Christian husband passed away, she came to my office and asked how she, too, could become a believer.  And as I began to share verses from the Bible, I noticed her lips moving quietly, reciting the words with me.  She hadn’t thought about them for decades but they had been there since elementary school, deeply rooted and waiting to bear fruit.

Our mistaken notion of that odd word prodigal reminds us that the Bible is still a defining voice in the lives of secular Americans.  One day the Holy Spirit will fan revival into flames and we will see those kernels of truth popping open and bringing faith and righteousness, fluffy and white and salty, into lives we had thought were lost forever.

Go back and read Luke 15 again.  And lift up the cross!

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