Friday, March 29, 2013

The Exclusivity of Christianity: Easter

I have heard over and over that Christianity and all of the church gatherings that it contains is supposed to be the most inclusive system in the world. Inclusive of all people in all nations. My response? This is absolutely true if all of these people believe the exclusive message of the cross.

Inclusivism is oftentimes propagated with the phrase “Come as you are”, but then there is less of a push to be changed from what you are to something holier and pure. Everyone who has come to believe in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection had to come as they were, so to speak, but then the Holy Spirit regenerated us into life, from a dead state of spirituality.

Paul told the Ephesians more than once, “You were dead in sin.” He told the Colossians more than once, “You were dead in your sin.” We are born this way. Spiritually dead. (Eph. 2 & Col. 2)

Now, don’t let the word “spiritually” throw this whole concept out of the window for you. Spirituality is as real as mentality and reality itself. In fact, our spiritual state determines our eternal reality and drives our current mentality. Think about this.

You may not consider yourself spiritual, but indeed you are. You have a spirit. The question is: Is it dead? The answer is: We’re born with a dead spirit that has been passed along to us in a sinful world. It started when Adam first sinned with Eve in the Garden of Eden and then as they procreated, they could only reproduce more sinful human beings. Sin begets sin. It cannot produce righteousness.

In a world where many believe that non-life can somehow produce life in a natural, evolutionary way and without God’s help, it is no wonder that many also believe that people can manifest in themselves some form of genuine spiritual life without the powerful touch of the living God.

This is where the exclusivity of Christ comes into play. This is where historical, biblical Christianity is elevated above all other religions that claim to have spiritual life and a method to salvation. Have you ever wondered what the main differences were in all of the religions and the sects, therein? What is it about Christianity?

Let me tell you. Only Christianity, as laid out in the Bible (God’s inspired words) claims the following: That Jesus Christ is the Son of God, so he is God, and he is the only way to salvation.

Jehovah’s Witness’, Mormon’s, Muslim’s, even the Roman Catholic doctrine cannot uphold the claim that only by believing in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection can you be completely forgiven of sins and inherit eternal life once and for all. Every other religion has some form of works involved. Some form of perpetual need for justification.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says that it is “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

What is it again that we must place our faith in to be saved by this grace? Welcome to Easter.

The prophet Isaiah said, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:5-6).

You see, with the sinful state that we begin in this life, we need a Savior. We are headed to Hell when left to our own devices. This is exactly why Jesus, the Messiah (the Christ), came! He doesn’t want anyone to perish without him. The wrath of God is a just wrath. We all deserve it. This is why the love of God provided an atonement that we never could have provided for ourselves.

“Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22).

“No one is righteous, no, not one…” (Rom. 3:10)

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom. 3:23)

But wait!

Verse 24 continues… “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.”

The apostle Paul is writing this to the Romans and he goes on to explain what he just said: “This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

The same God who we will suffer from His wrath if we do not believe is the same God that will freely justify us and forgive us if we believe in and put our faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice that took our place.

Jesus Christ was no ordinary man. Though he was flesh and blood, he was also fully God. This is something else that almost all religions differ on. Some say he was a prophet, or a good teacher, or even the brother of Satan! Listen to when Jesus asked his own disciples what they thought in Matthew 16:

Jesus: Who do people say that the Son of Man is?

Disciples: Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

Jesus: But who do you say that I am?

Peter: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Jesus: Blessed are you Peter! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

This is foundational and necessary to the Gospel message. If Jesus was not the Son of God then he would not be a fitting sacrifice for our sins because he would not be pure and spotless, or blameless. This would change everything! 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that “he made him to be [like] sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Peter made the great confession that every Christian makes: Jesus is the Son of God. Even the centurion helping to oversee the crucifixion of Jesus, after seeing the darkness and commotion with Jesus breathing his last breath, stated, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” We would hope that this man’s evident devastating realization would have led him to place his faith in the man he just crucified.

The exclusive claim of Christianity is that Jesus is the Son of God, so he is God.

Finally, the ultimate capstone to all Christian doctrine and joy is the resurrection of Jesus! This is what we celebrate on Easter Sunday.

Jesus warned his disciples on numerous occasions that he would be killed, but that he would also then be brought back to life. In Matthew 16:21 it says “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

Again in Matthew 17:22-13: “As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.’ And they were greatly distressed.

Finally, in chapter 20, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

This actually happened.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians again with passion, said, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures […]” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

People, this was it! It was finished. Christ came for us to believe in him for eternal life. To submit to his lordship as the Son of God and believe in his sacrifice as sufficient for covering all of our sin. We submit to Him in obedience to His commands, which is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, then as Paul said in 1 Cor. 15:17 & 19, our faith would be futile and we would still be lost in our sins. Of all people, we would be the most to be pitied!

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 56).

I urge you…be reconciled to God. Our sin is real. The penalty of God’s wrath and eternal Hell is real. It is real fire and real anguish, but we have the way out of our sin and its penalty, which is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ! Praise God for his love and mercy to offer this to us.

All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

The exclusive claim of Christ’s message is that no one can get to the Father, except through him (John 14:6). Not some spiritual Christ consciousness that false spiritual gurus are perpetuating. Not some Jesus who was just a prophet and teacher that other religions claim. Not some Jesus who needs Mary’s intervention to be convinced to forgive us over and over. No…Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, is born of God (1 Jn. 5:1). Whoever repents of their sin and believes in Christ’s death and resurrection as the satisfaction for our sins’ penalty will not perish, but have eternal life.

As you consider on this Friday, the agony and weight of God’s wrath that Christ bore for us, let us bow in humility to our Lord in thanks and awe. If we have not believed in Him yet, let us not delay, for the day is coming when we will all give an account of this very decision to repent and believe. Let us also anticipate Sunday because it is coming!

“The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said’ (Matt. 28:5-6).

Happy Easter everyone!

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Study of the Full Sovereignty of God, Part 1

Webster’s definition: Supreme power or authority; Supreme excellence; Freedom from external control.
Webster gave a decent definition of the word, but it falls short of all that it encompasses when speaking of our Holy, living God. 
Scripture beautifully articulates Jesus’ deity, sovereignty and preeminence in Colossians 1:15-20:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

Why this?
Why study the sovereignty of God?
Is it necessary to believe in?
What would the implications on our faith be either way?
Could God be sovereign over some, or most, things, but not all things?
If the Bible makes one thing unmistakably clear from beginning to end, it is that God is sovereign. The belief or disbelief in the sovereignty of God can easily be the one thing that makes or breaks our understanding of God and our faith as a whole. Whether or not we believe it will have vast implications on everything we do and say. As believers, dedicated to the Word of God, we must believe in this crucial aspect of God, or else the conviction will be sucked right out of us in a world full of trials, tribulations and man-centered philosophies that are so prevalent, even in evangelicalism today.
Put another way, our belief or disbelief in God’s sovereignty will determine whether or not we have a high view of God, or a low view of God. The implications of our belief will be either glorious, or disastrous.
A.W. Tozer once said,
“So necessary to the church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.”

What this study will hopefully do for you is raise your view of God even more. If it is already high, then hopefully you will have even more reason to worship God with what we will study in this setting. No matter what, our view of God could never be too high.
The Breadth of God’s Sovereignty

What we will do in this study is take a comprehensive look at what the Bible teaches about the doctrine of election and predestination as well as seeing if there is anything to help us with the seeming paradox of free will. The answers are in the text of Scripture and it is important that we know it and teach it because it will determine whether or not we believe everything Scripture says and whether or not we have a high or low view of God.

Hopefully, this will spark the age old questions in your mind that are worth discussing and in fact answering from Scripture:

-What about free will, or human responsibility? How can we be liable to sin?
-Does God predestine people to Hell?
-Are we robots with no real influence?
-If God chooses, then why evangelize?

These questions are crucial for you and I to know. These are some of the first questions that non-believers sometimes ask and they are certainly always asked by people within the Church. The amazing thing is that they can all be answered in the pages of Scripture, so there is no reason for us not to learn them and be changed by them. They are in there for a reason.

Current Events
God’s sovereign rule extends to more than just the Church’s salvation. He orchestrates even the secular current events according to his pleasure and purpose, creating times of peace as well as times of disaster. He sets rulers in their throne as we read in Colossians 1:15-20, whether good or bad, in accordance to his will. Dictators, monarchs, presidents and prime ministers are all within his sovereign rule, being placed in their prominent positions for a reason.

We may often think that bad rulers are proof of where God is not working, but while these rulers may be evil and acting in ways that God will one day judge them for, they are still sovereignly placed and they will still give an account for everything they did on the Day of Judgment. The Antichrist is a perfect example of this.

Through Isaiah the prophet, God gives a summary statement of this when he says, “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord who does all these things” (45:9).

-Why would God allow an atheist to rule a country?
-Isn’t God good and loving? Why would he allow or cause a natural disaster to kill people?
-What about Christian persecution? Would God really allow that?
These questions and more will be answered in Scripture regarding the sovereignty of God in current events as well as all past events. Understanding this aspect of God’s sovereignty will change our lives in how we view hardships and trials that are normally viewed as too much to handle. This part by itself will be one of the most incredible ways to have peace in all situations and circumstances that could possibly come your way.
Personal Plans
Another way we could break down the breadth of God’s sovereignty is in recognizing that He accomplishes His will by determining where we will live and what kind of business we will go about doing. Times and places of individuals are not outside of God’s sovereign control.
While the Bible continually emphasizes that we will be responsible for every careless word we speak (Matt. 12:36) and that we are to manage ourselves appropriately (1 Pet. 2:12), we would be wrong to assume that we are acting completely free from the divine work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Even for unbelievers, we would be wrong to assume that they are living completely free of God’s control and ability to manage even them.
We will see just what the Bible says about God’s rule in our daily lives and year to year progression through time, again, reconciling the fact that we are creatures given a responsibility to be good stewards with what we have, implying an accountability that goes along with our choices. In our personal lives, we exercise a type of freedom that is still not so free as to be independent of the working of God.
The Aspects of God’s Sovereignty
There are a number of specific aspects of God’s sovereignty that sum up just how supreme and preeminent He is. While words could never do justice to his utter holiness and power, we can still articulate the basic truth of His divine and sovereign nature by breaking it down to some logical pieces. In this study we will look at these aspects and discuss what the implications of them are to our faith.
We will be looking at the following realities of God’s sovereignty:
-Omnipotence (All powerful)
-Omnipresence (All present)
-Omniscience (All knowing)
-Immutability (Unchangeable)
If we come to a firm understanding of these truths about God, then our view of Him will become so much higher than it has before and it will illicit true heartfelt worship since our response to His word will be grounded in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23). Consequently, if we refuse to believe these truths about God, then many more implications arise about our understanding of God and our faith in Him. Consistency and conviction will be sucked right out of us if we do not believe in God’s sovereignty.
Allowing Scripture to Work
Let us not shy away from these glorious revelations of our Lord of the Church that is found in Scripture, but embrace them aggressively. Let us not allow the past condemnations and denials of people we know who reject God’s sovereignty to scare us into thinking this topic is not worth broaching. Learning about God’s sovereign nature will change us and everything we do. Our view of God will be immensely higher and our worship will be more profound and deep.
Scripture is always the first place we should go to find motivation, conviction, exhortation and truth. It is the one thing that will change us, through the working of the Holy Spirit. Let’s look at God’s revelation about Himself to understand Him better, shall we? This will affect how we do everything:
-The way we run a church
-The way we preach
-The way we evangelize
-The way we react to events and circumstances
-The way we study Scripture
-The way we worship, or lead worship
-The way we walk with the Lord each day
Tozer sums up my own heartfelt conviction about this beautiful and life-changing study:
“I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.”

In His Sovereign Grip,


Follow up with Part 2a: "God's Immutability"