Monday, November 25, 2013

The Forgotten Ministry of Repentance

When many people think of the gospel, they relate it to Jesus' death on the cross and his sacrifice for our sin. But it's interesting that the gospel was preached by Jesus and his disciples even while he was alive. What were they preaching exactly if the Lamb of God had not died yet?
So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. (Mark 6:12)
Jesus and his disciples were preaching the gospel of repentance not much unlike that of John the Baptist, telling the Jews to turn from their sin because the kingdom of God was near or even in their midst. The Messiah's disciples baptized people unto repentance in much the same way John's disciples did (John 4:1-2). Similarly the Messiah himself warned "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish." in Luke 13:3

The Greek word translated into repentance is metanoia which means a change of mind, or a conviction to live another way. Some churches stress that we only need to confess our sins and then we will be forgiven. However the bible is clear that confession without a commitment to repent by forsaking sin does not result in forgiveness. Hebrews 10:26-29 unequivocally states that Jesus' sacrifice will no longer cover our iniquity if we continue in sin after having received the gospel. If we don't repent we will still face the wrath of God, whether or not we call ourselves believers. Many Christians focus on the Lord's sacrifice and finished work on the cross without realizing that their own obedience unto repentance is required. Churches who ignore repentance contradict themselves by claiming to be ministers of the higher truths of the New Covenant when they've skipped over the basics of John's ministry of repentance. In straining a gnat, they swallow whole Camels.

In 1 Samuel 15:22, God states a theme that is repeated throughout the bible. "I desire obedience, not sacrifice." Many Christians are eager to focus on sacrifice because it's easy and does not involve our hearts, but forget the most important part which is obedience.

There is a teaching popular among Christians from dispensational background that we are all just sinners and we are saved by his grace. Christ died for sinners, however no where in the New Testament does it say we are supposed to stay sinners. Apostle Paul never addresses his letters to sinners but to saints! Jesus didn't die just to forgive our sins but to take sin away from us. Romans 6 states that we've been united with Jesus in his death, so we too can die to sin just as he died. Only after we die to sin, will we be saved by the resurrection life of Jesus who will come and make his home in our heart.
For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10)
Jesus replied, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (John 14:23)
“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. (Acts 26:19-20)
"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." (John 3:36)
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11)

Note that we are not advocating a sinless perfection doctrine which is a heresy per 1 John 1:8. Like any runner, those of us running the Christian race will stumble in various ways (James 3:2), but we will get back up and keep running until we finish the race. So we're just saying don't run backwards towards the door that leads to hell which you do when your flesh control the way you live (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Instead Jesus teaches us to take the cross which we can do by crucifying the desires of our flesh on the cross. If you don't then according to Galatians 5:24 and Matthew 10:38 you don't belong to Jesus!
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24) 
Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. (Luke 17:33) 
And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:38)
If you grew up with free grace theology, a teaching that says we're forgiven regardless of practicing sin, please read for what we believe is a more biblical view of salvation and grace.

Our Flesh is a Monster

The flesh always opposes the spirit and vice versa. The more we feed our flesh, the more it will grow like a monster and hunger for carnal things. When you stop feeding it, it will bother you because it's hungry. Resist long enough and eventually the monster will starve to death. Many who struggle addiction and sin may just need to hold out longer and not cave in to temptation (James 4:7) and feed their spirit instead.

Our spirit works the same way, the more we feed it, the more it will grow and we will hunger for spiritual things. Furthermore when we sow according to the spirit we will reap spiritual blessings, most important of which is eternal life (Galatians 6:8). Jesus said my food is to do the will of my Father for good reason (John 4:34).

This is important because many believers who are still living according to their flesh are putting their eternities at stake. Romans 8:1 (KJV) says:
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
We have to become a people that live according to the Spirit in order to escape condemnation. John 3:36 as well as many other scripture echoes this:
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

If Jesus says few are saved - How do you make sure you're saved?

The disciples once asked Jesus: 
"Lord, are only a few are saved?"
Perhaps they were hoping Jesus would respond:
 "Relax, it's not that few" 
instead he answered:
"Make every effort to enter in through the narrow gate for many I tell you will strive to enter but not be able to." 
Is it really that hard to be saved? The gospels are filled with hard words from Jesus such as these. Perhaps the saddest chapter in all of the bible is Matthew 7 when Jesus talks about heaven.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Here, Jesus is refusing entrance into heaven those who performed the very works that he commanded his disciples to do (Mark 16:17) -- how can this be?

Two billion people on earth today identify themselves as christian. Of those two billion, not even half attend church regularly. The people Jesus are describing here are not even these nominal or lukewarm Christians. They're the people you think would be saved, those that are actively involved in ministry and they would probably self-identify as Spirit filled christians. Instead of sitting at home on their computers (such as myself as I'm writing this blog post haha), they're out there on the streets doing many mighty works using Jesus' name. These are the ones who are striving to enter through the narrow door, but they fail to enter!

If these people aren't saved what makes us so sure we're saved?

No one did more for Christianity outside of Jesus than the Apostle Paul, yet he wasn't sure he was okay until the moment before his death in second Timothy. Outside of that Paul mentioned that he was working out his salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).

How can this be? How can so few be saved? How can we stay on the narrow path that leads to life? This is a question I've been asking the Lord over and over again recently and I think He finally gave me the answer by pointing me to Proverbs 4:23:
Guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.
Many in church have used this verse to warn youth against dating relationships. The inevitable breakup from dating always results in a broken heart. This verse does apply well here, but the Lord made me realize it's much, much broader than that!

God is the source of all life and it's our heart that connects us to him. When you take away God who is source of everything good  (all good things come from God, Psalms 127, James 1:17), you are left with hell which is the result of being separated from God.

Who does our heart belong to? The bible says we have been bought with a price, we are not our own (1 Cor 6:19-20). So our heart belongs to God. Yet God doesn't force himself on us, but he gives us a choice. 

If we choose to give our heart to things other than God we will ultimately serve whatever we give our heart to. Why is this so serious?

Jesus taught that a servant cannot serve two masters (Matt 6:24), so we only have one master we serve in this life-- and that's determined by who has our heart!

In describing the relationship between servant and master Jesus said 'A servant is not greater than his master, as they persecuted me they will also persecute you' (John 15:20) . So we are never greater than the master whom we serve. 

Many people today don't believe in God, but they ultimately serve a god whether they like it or not. These can be gods of money, entertainment, lust, fame, knowledge etc. What is the end of people who serve the things of the world?

Jesus said "heaven and earth will pass away but my words never will" (Luke 21:33). So if the fate of everything in this world is destruction and if we choose to be mastered by the things of this world, how can we expect to deserve a better fate than destruction? Because a servant is not greater than his master, the fallen angels who served Satan deserve no less of a punishment than Satan himself who is thrown into the lake of fire in Revelation 20.

In the same way, would you like to share in the same fate as Jesus by making him your master? Jesus died, but he overcame death! Not only that but he ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven and he will rule and reign for eternity. How's that for a destiny compared to eternal destruction? Of course because a servant is not greater than his master, we can't expect to sit at the right hand of the Father, but the bible does say we will rule and reign with him for eternity.

So how do we make sure Jesus is our master? It's by guarding our heart and making sure it belongs to Jesus so that he can live in our heart and restore it. Looked at in another way, Jesus said a corrupt tree produces bad fruit but a good tree always produces good fruit (Luke 6:43). In John 15 Jesus likens believers to branches, and only the branches that bear fruit are kept alive, the rest are thrown into the fire. So if we want to live for eternity we have to produce good fruit and we do that by taking care of our tree, which is our heart.

1st Peter likens Satan to a roaring lion that is seeking people to devour. So Jesus tells us to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves (Matt 10:16). The Apostle Paul also writes that we should be aware of Satan's schemes. Because Satan wants to take as many souls with him to hell, he knows the best way to do so is by corrupting the human heart, or stealing it away for things other than God. Our heart is the prize that both Satan and God are after!

After I understood this, I had the answer to another question to God. If the door is so narrow that leads to life, how can Jesus say his yoke is easy and his burden is light? The answer is all of us has control over who we give our heart to. Jesus says if we give our heart to him he'll come and live inside of us-- we're not the ones working out our salvation, but Jesus is, through us!

Nowadays many people in church including parents try to discipline youth by restricting sinful behavior when they really should be focusing on their heart-- but it's hard to blame them! Galatians 5:19-21 says
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Paul gives a list of things that if practiced will deny you entrance to heaven. Just to make it clear to the Galatians, he says "I warn you, as I did before" as if to drive home a message to ones who thought they could be saved while involved in sin. Pretty much everyone on earth fails the test that Paul gives in these verses, as he does also in Ephesians 5. And this is why the road is so narrow! If you give this list of things not to do to the average person, it will seem like a *huge* burden? Who can follow it?

Perhaps over 95% of adult males with internet access look at pornography-- boom! you could have just stopped at 'sexual immorality' and most of all men would already end up in hell. Or take envy or self ambition -- aren't many guilty of this even in church?

But if we realize all we have to do is change our heart and give it to Jesus and guard it from idols, that demand seems like it's within everyone's reach, and we can accept that ultimately we do have control and it's not a big burden to follow Jesus. Unfortunately, this is also why everyone will be without excuse on judgement day, keeping in mind that the Holy Spirit is there to help us repent, so we are not alone.

The blood of Jesus has freed us from obeying sin (Romans 6) and serving the elementary lust of this world, and all we have to do is guard our heart from idols and give it to Jesus and he'll do everything for us! If our heart is right, we won't be living in sin and obeying its desires but we'll be producing the good fruits of the Holy Spirit.

This is why Jesus could tell the thief next to him "Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" but damn the Pharisees who had tried to serve God all their life in vain, because one had the right heart, but the others had filthy ones.

This is also why Apostle Paul encourages the whole church to pursue the gift of prophecy. Prophecy is the best gift because it allows us to see into people's hearts so we can minister to them.

In summary, the answer to how can we make sure we're saved is: take care of your heart!
This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. - Jeremiah 31:33
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. - Matt 5:8