I DON’T WANT TO CHANGE RELIGIONS

When I was walking toward a small Mexican town in my late teens, I first heard this question, “Hey, Ministro, what church saves?” This person was looking to start an argument. What he wanted me to say was, “The Baptist Church saves.” Then he would have argued that the Catholic Church saves. And he was looking to engage me in a fight over religions and churches.

That question shows a misunderstanding about salvation. Another question is very similar to that is, “Which religion saves?” Here the understanding is that membership in a certain church or a certain religion is essential to be saved.

My answer to that man on the Mexican border surprised him. I said, “No church saves. Only Jesus saves.” Over the years as I have shared the Christian faith with many people all over the earth, I hear the statement: “I don’t want to change religions.” Again, the person who says this thinks that salvation is dependent upon belonging to a church, an organization, or a religion.

Jesus never told us that we needed a change of religion; he said we needed a change of heart. A leading religious leader of the Jewish faith came to Christ one night. The story is found in John 3. A man named Nicodemus was talking with Christ about his signs that showed he was a teacher come from God. Instantly Jesus got the point. “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) notice that Jesus did not say, “Nicodemus, you need a new religion.” Jesus told him he needed a new birth. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)

One objection I hear often today is that a person is born into a certain religion in a certain country or culture, and therefore, they do not want to change their religion. They view it as a rejection of their culture or their family. They say, “you have your religion. I have mine.” So, it comes back to the argument of which religion saves, or which church saves?” Still the answer is, “No church saves. Only Jesus saves.”

Today people view religion as any other commodity. In I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, authors Geisler and Turek say that truth in religion is like selecting ice cream flavors. Some will say, “You like chocolate. I like vanilla” (Crossway Books, 2004 p. 21). As if it is just a matter of personal taste. “You like Christianity. I like Islam.” It is not trying to find a religion that suits us.

Jesus never said that we had to pick the right religion. Jesus never said that one religion was better than another. He never said his religion was superior to others, in fact, he never said he was coming to bring a new religion. He said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).

Jesus did not come to establish a new religion. He did not even come to reform Judaism. He came to be the fulfillment of all the prophecies and sacrifices from the Old Testament. Those sacrifices were a foreshadowing of his sacrifice on the cross.

He said in the same passage where he spoke to Nicodemus in 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.” He did not say, “whoever joins my religion,” but “whoever believes in him shall…have eternal life.”

Do not let clinging to a religion or an experience rob you of being born again. To be born again, you must trust in Christ alone for your salvation. Joining a church, a religion or an organization can never save you.

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Do You Have “the Gift”?

Part of my role as pastor is to teach my people how to do evangelism. Many times, they respond by telling me that they do not have the gift of evangelism. They feel as though that excuses them from doing “the work of the evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5).

Not long ago, a vocational evangelist asked me if I had “the gift.” He said that if I had the gift, I would not be content to be just a pastor, but that I would have found a way to speak in front of crowds at crusades. I told him that God had not opened those doors for me.  If I really had “the gift,” he reasoned, I would make a way.

Similarly, I have been told that I do not have “the calling.” A little more than twenty years ago, I was the pastor of a small, struggling church in south Texas. Because the church was not growing very much, one of the deacons implied that I did not have “the calling.” If I did, he reasoned, then the church would be growing. Since the church was not actively growing, apparently I was not called to the ministry.

At an Evangelism Conference of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico in Albuquerque in 2011, one of the speakers addressed the group of pastors. He said, “Pastor, if you can’t get at least one person to walk down the aisle of your church and get baptized each year, you should question your calling.” It did not matter what kind of spiritual climate your church may be in, you are only effective if you are producing numbers.

Obviously, the gift is evaluated numerically. If your church is growing, and people are coming in (especially if they are getting baptized) and your church budget is expanding, then you must have “the calling.” If you speak at crusades and large numbers of people make decisions, then you have “the gift.” In some denominations, it is also called the “anointing.” You will hear church members say, “My, that sermon sure was anointed,” or “had the anointing on it.”

So, how do you know if you have “the gift?” Most would say that if you are not producing numbers, i.e. new converts, new church members, or dollars, you are not called, gifted or anointed. Biblically, none of these factors indicates calling, gifting or anointing.

Look at some of the Old Testament prophets, for example. Jeremiah did not have a large following. He found himself at the bottom of a cistern, and ultimately in exile. Isaiah had a dramatic encounter with God. God definitely called him for service, but in Isaiah 6, he asked God how long it would be as the people would not listen. Even God’s response sounds like a lament. God answered Isaiah’s question: “Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant, The houses are without a man, The land is utterly desolate, The Lord has removed men far away, And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. But yet a tenth will be in it, And will return and be for consuming, As a terebinth tree or as an oak, Whose stump remains when it is cut down. So the holy seed shall be its stump.” (Isaiah 6:11-13). God had promised that the people’s hearts would be dull and their ears deaf, certainly not the testimony of a widespread revival in the land. Yet God did not say that Isaiah was not “called” because he did not produce large numbers of converts.

At Christ’s ascension, he only had 11 followers with him. Judas was gone and Mathias had not yet replaced Judas as one of the Apostles. If Jesus had tried to build his church today, the sending agency would have given him three years to make it. They would have evaluated the effectiveness of his ministry by looking at the numbers. They would have said, “Well, we have funded you for three years, with a decrease in funding each year, hoping you would become self-sustaining. It has been three years, and you have only made eleven converts, so we are going to de-fund you.” That is modern church planting, so, apparently, Christ did not have the calling, the gift or the anointing.

A quick search of the scripture will not reveal the phrase of the gift of evangelism. The Bible refers to the gift of the evangelist in Ephesians 4:11, but the gift of evangelism. All believers are commissioned to be disciple-makers, which involves the task of evangelism. Paul commanded Timothy to do the work of the evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5). He did not say, “Don’t worry about it, Timothy, you don’t have the gift.”

While we may not have the “gift, the calling or the anointing,” we all have the task of evangelism. Christ commissioned all his followers in Matthew 28:18-20, among others, to do that job. Do your task and leave the numbers to God.

 

 

 

Living the Christian Life

 

One of the misconceptions about eternal life and going to heaven is the belief that somehow, when a person is judged, their good deeds will outweigh their bad deeds. Many believe that one day God will open the books and look at all the things we have done. He will place all the bad deeds on one side of a balance and all our good deeds on the other side. If the good outweighs the bad, we feel as though we deserve to go to heaven.

When I have talked to people about their need to repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ, I often get the response, “I will just try to live the Christian life to make up for it.”

Dennis Rader was an active member and the president of the church council in a local church of his city, and was a Boy Scout Troop leader upon his arrest in February, 2005. Church members were shocked to discover that this man they had known for years was also known as the BTK killer. Between 1974 and 1991, Rader bound, tortured, and killed ten victims, some multiple members of a family. No one knows why he ended his murderous spree in 1991.

In the years following his crimes, he became an active church member and leader. He began to live the Christian life. For fourteen years, he became a Christian example. Surely during those fourteen years after the murders, he did many good deeds.

On June 27, 2005, he pled guilty to all the charges. During the trial he gave many horrifying details about the crimes he had committed. Today he is serving 10 life sentences in a Kansas prison. What if the judge treated his case the way many people feel that God, the most Righteous Judge, will treat their cases? What if Rader had told the judge, “Your Honor, I know that the jury has found me guilty of torturing and killing all those innocent people, but look at all the years I didn’t kill. Look at all the good work I did as a Scout leader. Look at the way I have lived a committed Christian life and served at church”? Then, what if the judge said, “You’re right. I can see how you performed more good deeds than the ten murders you committed, so I am going to pardon you”? We would think that is a miscarriage of justice. We would be outraged.

You may be thinking to yourself, “I am not that bad. I have never murdered anyone.” Haven’t you? First John 3:15 says, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” Have you ever hated a brother or a sister? Then you have committed murder. What about adultery? Have you ever lusted for someone? Then you have committed adultery. The truth is that we have committed more sins than we probably even realize.

So why didn’t the judge let the BTK killer go after living the Christian life for fourteen years after the murders? Think of all the boys’ lives he had affected as a Scout leader. Think of all the people whom he didn’t murder by serving as president of the church council. Living the Christian life does not atone for the sins already committed. No matter how you live after sin, it does not make up for the sin you committed.

If a police officer catches you running a stop sign and you ask, “What if I promise never to do it again? What if I stop ten more times to make up for the time I didn’t stop?” Will that get you out of the ticket? No, you have broken the law and you must pay the penalty. When it comes to sin, we have all broken the law, and not just one or two of them. James 2:10 says, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” We are guilty of breaking all of God’s laws, even murder. God is just and must punish sin. Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. God doesn’t simply forgive our sins because he loves us. That would be unjust. Someone has to pay for our sin. Either we pay the penalty ourselves, for the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), or we accept Christ’s atoning death in our place. There is no other way to satisfy both the love and righteousness of God. Your living the Christian life won’t do it.

First, repent of your sin. The only hope is to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Romans 13:14). After you have done that, you begin to live the Christian life because you are Christian. Living the Christian life will never save you. You can only live the Christian life once you are saved.

 

 

Right For You?

Listening to ads on the radio or seeing them on television, you will hear the repeated phrase, “right for you.” When you see an ad for medication, it tells you to ask your doctor if that medicine is “right for you.” Another one involving eye surgery encourages you to ask your doctor if such eye surgery is “right for you.” It is not about just medical issues as well. There is a luxury car company that encourages you to ask if owning such a luxury car is “right for you.”

The underlying philosophy is that you are unique, different from everyone else. Somehow what may be good for others is just not right for you. This caters to our individual pride. Some may say, “That may be right for you, but it is not right for me.” Or it may be true for you, but not true for me as though truth changes for different people.

While it is true that people react differently to medications and medical procedures, there is a limit to this philosophy. You usually hear it referring to morality or truth. We live in an age of moral relativism. (That’s YOUR truth, but it’s not MY truth). That means a moral choice that you make may be right for you, but it is not right for everybody, so you should not try to impose your truth or your morality on anyone else. Critics of morality say that the concept of absolute morality is impractical. How can a moral decision be right for everybody? So, if I want to live my life as a moral reprobate, who can judge me? Morality may be right for you, but it is not right for me. I will choose to go another path.

Now apply that reasoning to physics. Remember, there are no absolutes. Michael Edwards wrote Gravity: True for You, But Not for Me. The tongue-in-cheek title points out the futility of applying relativism to gravity. The cover of the book shows someone jumping off a cliff while a group of others looks on. (https://www.amazon.com/Gravity-True-You-But-Not-ebook/dp/B006XG0ID4/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480565212&sr=1-1&keywords=gravity+true+for+you+but+not+for+me)

Imagine saying to someone that you believe gravity is true for some people, but that it cannot be universally applied to all people. At that point, you step off a cliff. No matter what you believe, you will experience the results of defying the law of gravity. You will come crashing down on the consequences of your beliefs. Edwards quotes Paul Copan, “‘Truth is true— even if no one knows it. Truth is true— even if no one admits it. Truth is true— even if no one agrees what it is. Truth is true— even if no one follows it. Truth is true— even if no one but God grasps it fully.’ Paul Copan, Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University, author, True For You But Not For Me.” (Edwards, Michael. Gravity True For You But Not For Me (Kindle Locations 83-86). Kindle Edition.)

Liberal theology might say that they believe in God, but they do not accept what the Bible says about moral issues. After all, we must be on the “right side of History” to be relevant. The rationale then would follow that God would change his stance and accept things that the Bible calls an abomination. The question is, why would God create universal, unchanging physical laws to govern the physical universe (such as gravity), but create moral laws that vacillate with time?

The idea of drifting morality or truth has invaded our society and even our churches. Casting off absolutes is like a ship casting off its anchor and drifting aimlessly. Many churches today do not hold to moral absolutes or truth claims.

The result is that we are forced to say that all religions teach the same things, so people should have the freedom to choose a religion just like they choose a flavor of ice cream. We are taught that “All men are created equal,” and we extrapolate that to mean that all ideas and philosophies are equal as well. Anyone who disagrees is said to be judgmental or on the wrong side of history.

Today people would rather ask a pastor which religion is right for them than ask, “What is truth?” The night before Christ’s horrible crucifixion, he prayed to God in the garden. He said, “Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17). Anything that contradicts God’s word is contradicting the truth, otherwise there was no truth in Jesus’ words. Two contradictions cannot both be true at the same time. This is what Edwards refers to as the Law of Non-Contradiction. He gives the example of the shape of the earth. Some people even today believe that the earth is flat. Others believe that it is round. Both views cannot be correct. One contradicts the other.

However in today’s relativistic terms, one could claim that we cannot know truth, therefore we cannot determine if the earth is round or flat. You see the dilemma? In the same way relativism would lead to scientific absurdity, the concept is hailed as noble when it pertains to morality or truth claims. In fact, people disdain anyone who claims to have an absolute truth claim. They perceive it as arrogance. Today you will not hear many television preachers taking an absolute stand against sin of any kind because they fear offending someone.

The problem is that the cross is an offense to those who are perishing. It is foolishness to them (1 Corinthians 1:18). The cross means that we are sinful and that we cannot save ourselves through our own efforts, such as prayer, Bible reading, Church attendance, or rituals. That offends modern culture. They do not want to hear that Jesus is “the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through [him]” (John 14:6). Nor do they want to hear. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). That is truth for me. Is it truth for you?

 

 

 

Is Hell Eternal? Part 2

The last time we looked at this question, we discovered that the passage in Ezekiel 18 referred to in an article has nothing to do with the state of the soul after death. That passage deals with personal responsibility for one’s own sin. No person was to die for the sins of his or her parents. Each person must answer for his or her own actions.

Often, people take Bible passages out of context. If they do not like particular doctrine, such as the doctrine of hell, they look for verses to explain it away, or to lessen its severity. That process is called eisegesis, or in other words, reading something into a text that it does not say. Whereas another practice is completely ignoring a straightforward reading and understanding of a text.

For example, in Revelation 14:9-11, the Bible explicitly says that those who worship the Beast will suffer an eternity in hell. Verse 10 says that they will drink “the wine of God’s fury.” And they will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of God and his angels. Verse 11 says that the smoke of their torment will arise forever and ever, and that there is no rest day or night for the wicked.

If, as we saw last time, the wicked are annihilated, that would mean they are resting from torment. This passage does not indicate that they cease to exist. It clearly states they will suffer day and night.

A similar passage is also found in the book of Revelation. In chapter 20, we find an angel capturing Satan and throwing him into the Abyss for a thousand years. This period is called the Millennium when Christ will reign on earth during those thousand years. Notice that just before in Revelation 19:20, the Beast and the False Prophet were cast alive into the “fiery lake of burning sulfur.” This is the same place mentioned in chapter 14.

Now let’s return to Satan’s story. In Revelation 20:7. We see that after the Millennium, Satan is released from his prison, and he gathers the world’s armies one last time to fight against God again. Of course this is doomed to failure as he is captured again and thrown into the fiery lake where the Beast and the False Prophet already were. Revelation 20:10 says, “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Notice the Beast and the False Prophet had already been there for a thousand years while Satan was in the Abyss. They had already been burning and suffering torment for a thousand years. They had not been annihilated. They had not been purged of their sin. Then God adds Satan to the mix, and “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (verse 10). This passage says nothing about annihilation. It speaks of eternal torment.

The article in Signs of the Times magazine speaks of Revelation 20:14 as the “final annihilation.” That is circular reasoning. The author of that article holds a particular view as to what death means. Because he believes death means annihilation, then the second death must mean the final annihilation. His argument does not prove his point. Death does not mean cessation of existence. It means separation. It is a separation of the spirit from the body. I will have to deal with this topic in another column.

The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16 gives a clearer view of what hell is like. Many who do not like the concept of hell say this is simply a parable, that it is not reality. My question then is, “what is this parable teaching?” If it is not about the conscious existence of the soul after death in either a place of comfort for torment, what was Jesus trying to say? In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells the story about an unnamed rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. Jesus never used actual names of people in the rest of his parables, so this must’ve been important. The fact is both of these men died, the rich man was buried (verse 22), and angels carried the poor man to Abraham’s side. They did not carry the poor man’s body so it must’ve been the spirit, which did not become annihilated at death. The rich man left his body in the tomb, and his soul was not annihilated, but rather went to hell (Gr. Hades). In that place, the rich man was conscious of Lazarus’ existence, he remembered his own brothers, and experienced extreme torment. He was not in a state of soul sleep; nor was he annihilated. He did not cease to exist. His body was in the tomb. His spirit was in Hades. This parable teaches a conscious existence of the person after the death, or separation of the spirit from the body. It does not teach nor support the idea of annihilation.

It’s also important to note that Abraham said no one could cross over from Hades either to paradise or return to the earth from Hades. This rules out the idea of purgatory. There is no period of suffering temporarily until one is purged of sin, and then can enter into paradise.

If death meant the cessation of existence, and there is no suffering in hell forever, why would Jesus die? What is there to save us from? On the contrary, saying that Jesus died for us so we could live forever with him puts the focus on mankind rather than God. Why not just let all human beings die and cease to exist? If the wage of sin is simply physical death, why not just let people die for their own sin? Once they die, just resurrect them or just leave them out of existence for eternity.

The reality is that Hell is such a terrible place, created for Satan and his angels (Matthew 25:41), that God did not want mankind to go there. Jesus stated that hell consisted of eternal fire prepared for Satan and his angels, not mankind. However, if you choose not to follow Jesus, you are, by default, choosing to follow Satan and his angels. Where they end up, you too will end up.

God does not want anyone to go there. He will not force you to follow Christ. It is up to you. Do you want to repent of your sin and follow Christ, or will you continue on your way and be separated from God forever?

WWJHO?

By Mike McGuire

Several years ago bracelets with the letters WWJD appeared on the wrists of youth everywhere. The letters stood for “What would Jesus do?” The purpose was for people to stop and ask themselves that question when contemplating a particular course of action.

I would like to propose a new phrase: WWJHO? “Where would Jesus hang out?” Maybe you think that Jesus would hang out a lot at church. After all He seemed like a pretty religious guy. We find Him in the Temple at age twelve discussing religious matters with the elders. He called the Temple “His Father’s House.” One would think that He would hang out a lot there. If we are to be followers of Christ, then maybe we should spend a lot of time at church.

While Jesus did spend a considerable amount of time there, perhaps the greatest discourse of all time was not delivered at the Temple or within any other building. Rather it was given on a mountainside. Some of the most often quoted passages in literature come from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

He sat among the common people of His day. In fact he was one of them. He was a carpenter by trade. Speaking of His teaching, some of His critics asked, “Where did this man get these things? (Matthew 13:56). He was neither a religious scholar, nor a trained Rabbi, but He spoke with the authority that neither of them had (Mark 1:22).

At other times He proclaimed messages to the people from the bow of a fishing vessel, not because the people were recreating at the lake, but because that was where they were working. He told stories of farmers and landowners, fields and vineyards, because that was what he was familiar with.

He called fishermen and tax collectors to surround Him. He touched lepers and healed them. He touched prostitutes and freed them. He would hang out with the working people, but the religious hypocrites He turned away.

If we want to make a difference in our world, then we must do what Jesus did. We must hang out where Jesus did. We must touch whom Jesus touched. If we do, we may incur the same wrath that Jesus faced. It was not the tax collectors and prostitutes that made Jesus angry. It was not the demon possessed that He chastised. They were not the ones who crucified Him, but self-righteous religious hypocrites who cared more about their religious status quo than the people they were supposed to serve.

As we leave our churches after services, let us go out and touch the world as Jesus did. Let us hang out where He would if He were physically here today. After all, the church is His body. Learn what your spiritual gifts are at church. Develop them there and then put them into practice where Jesus would hang out.

Mike McGuire is the pastor of Belvue Baptist Church, Hobbs, NM, where the SON always shines. There is always room for you.