“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name
under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Acts 4:12 (ESV)
There are many roads to failure in this life. There are fewer roads to success, but there is still more than one way to get there. But what about the path leading away from this physical life and into eternity? How many roads lead to Jesus?
Recently, a video surfaced of Pope Francis comforting a small boy whose father, an atheist, had died. The young man simply asked the Pope if his father was in Heaven. Even though his father was an atheist, he was a good man, and he had taken the time to have his children baptized. Now he had departed this life, and the mind of his young son was suddenly focused on thoughts of eternity.
Upon the death of a precious loved one, we all find great comfort in imagining them walking into the loving arms of Jesus. Many begin to examine the life of the departed from the standpoint of their good works. As people gather around the casket, stories are exchanged and tears are shed. We find great solace in reminiscing the good times, because they often bring about smiles and laughter…enough to cover the grief and tears of the moment. But, there’s always the question, and it’s a question that may never be voiced aloud, but it should be.
It’s the very same question that troubled the aforementioned young boy…”where is my loved one now?” “Are they with Jesus?” Certainly no one would appreciate a negative answer to this question at the graveside…and so, the emotion of the moment, and the quest to show compassion and comfort, outweighs further inquiry into whether or not the departed really had a genuine relationship with the Lord that was evident. The desire to feel good about the moment trumps the desire to know the truth, and it reinforces in culture a false narrative that God would never send a good person to Hell.
When someone we love dies, many will often loosen their theological perspective to allow room for emotions to buffer the pain of what my remain unspoken but still staggeringly obvious. Here, I’m referring to a person who has died and who has never evidenced a genuine, life changing faith and relationship with Jesus.
If “dad” was a true atheist, and if he lived his entire life personally rejecting the existence of God, then it is doubtful that he had a genuine relationship with the Lord. If his words and actions are the evidence of his real beliefs, then “dad” is not in the presence of God upon his death; instead, he is awaiting a final judgment which will eternally separate him from God. It’s a hard truth, but it’s a truth that should be spoken aloud for others to hear and understand.
Often the death of a loved one is all that will focus people on the question of eternal security, because the weight of that question has just hit them in the face. Yet, we often hide Jesus, the one true way to Heaven, behind softly spoken assurances that the good life of the deceased has done its job and swept them into the arms of Jesus…regardless of the evidence of Lordship.
Many embrace religions that entertain multiple paths to salvation. Many of these would factor in our works and good deeds as pivotal to our “attainment” of a place in Heaven. Sadly, many of these religions are loosely based around the Bible, and the followers of these religions would identify themselves as “Christians.”
God’s Word is very clear as to the number of roads that lead to Heaven. There can ever only be one, and His name is Jesus.
John 14:6 says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
I Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…”
John 10:9 says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved…”
I John 5:11-12 says, "And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
There’s no room for comforting ambiguity in these verses. Scripture is not vague or obscure in defining for us the one pathway to Heaven. It is man who alters the criteria, often for the sake of compassion or pity. Possibly, we just don’t want to offend others, so we water down the reality of God’s Word, redefining the very nature of salvation, while cheapening the blood of Jesus into something that may not actually be required for an eternity in God’s presence.
Salvation is not “granted” by weighing out the good deeds a man has performed over the course of his life. It is not “acquired” by examining the culmination of our knowledge or wisdom at the end of our days. It is not “given” to us by the demands of a culture that is convinced that a quality life, full of virtue, morals and character, will lead them to Heaven.
Back to the young boy whose father had died…
There’s varying opinions on what Pope Francis meant in his answer to this distressed young child, and I will not debate the theories here. I will say this, if we speak “Heavenly assurances” to someone concerning the eternal destination of their loved one, and that loved one was an atheist who denied God, we perpetuate a great untruth. The only eternal comfort to others in the death of a loved one who did not know the Lord is the realization that, for those who remain, Jesus is still waiting, and very much longing, to save them. There’s still time for them to make a decision to follow Christ.
Replacing truth for comfort is dangerous. The words of Scripture cannot be bent around emotion. The Words of God are not meant to console the grieving as much as they are meant to bring a recognition of the truth. So, it’s important to understand that not all of Scripture is intended to comfort…a great deal of it is there to warn. Death is coming; Heaven is real, and, my friends, Hell is also real…and it will have residents.
In times of death, be compassionate, but do not fail to see the consequences of a life lived in rebellion towards God. When dealing with those who believe that there are multiple paths to Heaven, again, be compassionate, but do not fail to speak the truth. Forever, there has only been one way to Heaven, and that one way is Jesus Christ.
“Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” – Hebrews 7:25 (ESV)
How much patience we show while enduring the trials of life is the marker which uncovers the true depth of our trust in God, a trust that is only developed through real relationship. The speaking of great faith and trust in God is quite different from a life that manifests those traits in patience and restraint. The outward manifestation always shows the reality of the inner condition.
Scripture’s call is for us to be like Jesus. I John 2:6 is clear when it tells us that "whoever says he abides in Him (Jesus) ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” Jesus walked in great faith and trust in God the Father; He walked full of love and compassion, and He walked in tremendous patience and restraint.
As our Savior walked this earth, He was certainly not invited to be a part of the “good ole’ boys club” of the day. Jesus walked outside the circles of influence within the modern and organized religion of His time, relentlessly pursued by the sarcasm and scorn of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the recognized standard bearers of the assault upon Christ. He never lost a verbal confrontation with them, but He still showed great restraint. He could have done much more than turn their tricky questions into teaching opportunities. He could have simply ended their existence upon this earth with only a word.
Christ’s greatest example of restraint would certainly be the time surrounding His crucifixion. Being ridiculed, scourged, and nailed to a tree… He could have ended that little charade of human strength at any moment, but, instead, He chose to endure it to completion. Because of His great love for us, Jesus knew that sin must be dealt with, and He knew that His own body was the instrument of our redemption. His suffering of the trial of the cross was the road that He knew must be traveled, and His death, at the hands of those He came to redeem, must precede the ultimate victory of His resurrection. God’s plan was flawless…but, God’s plan wasn’t easy, not even for His own Son.
This brings me to my point…
Life is hard. We are often set upon a path which leads us to a place where we fully recognize that we have no authority or control. We must understand that these storms are purposed for us. God alone knows the road that we must travel down, a road that leads to His perfect will. Again, God’s plan is flawless, but it’s not always easy, and it’s not always painless.
In our pursuit of God, or quite possibly His pursuit of us, we will experience purposed storms, we will be thoroughly tested, and we will most assuredly leave these interactions with scars. It’s at the point of trial, as those scars are being formed, where our trust in God should lead us to an enduring patience and restraint.
If we really want to find the calm of God within the storms of life, we must show the purposed restraint of Christ. We must trust through adversity, and we must allow that flawless plan of God to unfold before eyes that are focused on His sovereignty and not on our schemes to relieve the pressure of a painful situation through our own means.
What must we endure to be within the will of God? The Bible promises trials. We’ve been warned. We should be prepared.
James 1:2-8 tells us…
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
The ESV uses the word “steadfastness” in this verse. It simply means "dutifully firm and unwavering.” I would add that it implies an aspect of “trusting restraint" in the plan and methods of God to move us from one level of relationship to another level, a level that is deeper and more profound. The plan and methods of God may be painful at times, but they are flawless in every respect. It’s hard to see that truth in the middle of the storm, but a relevant relationship with God should reveal to us His strength, which, in turn, should enable in us an unshakeable trust…even when we’re unsure of what He’s doing or where He’s taking us.
The testing of our faith should be a catalyst for restraint, and, as stated in the verse above, in it’s full effect, that restraint (trusting and waiting on God) will leave us “perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” But, so often, we must go through the storm to harvest these wonderful promises.
When the storms of life present themselves, we should possibly only pray for God to “present” Himself. Instead of getting caught up in asking God to “fix it” our way, maybe we should just pray that we could have a recognition of God’s presence as the waves toss the boat? And, our prayers to God should be from a heart that is doubtless and full of faith, even if it’s God’s will that the storm should continue for a season, as often it is.
God isn’t “blowing our boat” in a random direction. He’s driving it, often with hard winds and mighty waves, directly to a planned destination where we will have a sincere recognition of His will and sovereignty, and where we can see a profound and very clear depiction of His glory. Sometimes we have to wait out the storm, trusting and restrained under the perfect protection of His might hand.
If we really want the calm of God in the middle of adversity, we should plan to exercise a trusting restraint, a manifestation of our real and growing relationship with a God who is willing to lead us far beyond the predetermined walls of our comfort zone, to find the glory of His will…a real glory that may only be found by us in situations where our feet can no longer touch the bottom.
Regardless of the persona we seek to display to those around us, we are a fragile people, ill-equipped to fight almost any battle in our own strength. It doesn’t take much of storm to completely uproot us from all stability, whether it be spiritual, emotional, relational, etc…
The Fragile Children of an All-Powerful God...
Paul tells the church in Corinth: "We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)
Paul is defining for us the true weakness of our flesh, as well as our greatest need, which is God. This is why we discussed examining our ‘real’ relationship with Him in my last blog. If we’re looking for the calm of God, then it starts with real relationship, the foundation on which our exploration of the wonders of God begin. It is only in that real relationship that we will personally uncover the depth of our incredible power, rooted deeply in intimate association with God Himself. This is important because of what is coming…
The Promise of Calm-Shattering Storms...
Paul continues: “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).
We are weak, but the previous verse reveals the great strength of God working in the life of His true child. It is only through our suffering where we truly realize the depth of our need for the strength and presence of God. Possibly, it should give us clearer focus of what Christ suffered for us?
Trouble and hardship have been a natural part of this life since sin entered the equation in the Garden of Eden. Trouble is coming. Expect it. And, know that, even through the most brutal of situations, there can be calm in the life of a genuine and focused child of God.
The Master of the Storms...
We serve a powerful God, One who can call out to the storm, and it must obey. Whether this is a storm of nature, a storm of emotion, a storm of confusion, or a storm of faith…God is the master of all storms, both internal and external.
Psalm 107:29 tells us that Jesus “stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.”
Scared and faith-rattled disciples were anticipating disaster on the boat as the storm violently churned around them. The boat began to fill up with water. It would have been a frantic scene, to say the least. Although Jesus was on this very boat with them, calmly sleeping through the chaos that so frightened the disciples, they still knew where to run for help at the point of their need. They brought their situation directly to Jesus. They sought His face, because they had a growing relationship with Him.
Their simple knowledge of Jesus, and their claim of faith, did not calm them, and it certainly didn’t calm the storm. It was only when they engaged with Him, through their growing relationship with the Savior, that things began to turn around. They knew that religion would not save them. Thinking good thoughts didn’t numb the feeling of the water rising around their ankles. Only Jesus could bring calm, and He did it by harnessing the fury of nature itself. What an awesome God we serve...a God to whom the storms bow! He’s worthy of our trust and attention.
The waters of life will most assuredly not always remain calm, but the child of God, the authentic child, the one who seeks a deep relationship with Him, can always find perfect calm in the midst of even the mightiest of storms. The reason…they know that whatever the storm may be, they need only find God in it.
The strength behind the calm is God. When you have found God, you have found the answer to your distress and fear. Let the storms rage, but find God. He will either calm the waves or calm His child.
Next: When the Storms Continue to Rage: A God of Great Restraint
In the past, I’ve written many blogs about the storms that life so freely offers to its participants. Today is no different, and the expected results probably remain the same for most readers…
We encounter a storm - We seek God - He brings calm and peace to the situation.
That sounds easy, right?
But not everyone finds the genuine calm of God in their storms…often, not even His own children. Today, I want to start this series of posts with no new information, only a reminder about who can really find the genuine calm of God…because, in the absence of change, not everyone can.
Life can be hazardous. Without notice, it can all change. Often that change brings us to a painful and unwelcome reevaluation of the status quo, and we must establish the parameters of a new normal, which is undoubtedly less than what we had initially hoped. Hope for the future can be crushed, and our next step is unclear, clouded by a fear and doubt that is too great to be dismissed. We are not calm; we are distraught and frenzied, possibly inconsolable.
It seems that storms come with a degree of almost predictable consistency. Never welcomed, they always seem to make it through the door, and their visit is disruptive, abusive, and undeniably messy. But, why are often so pitifully unprepared to meet them?
Storms can be so hostile to our life that those who claim no faith in God at all are often compelled to pray to Him for relief. Those who do claim faith in God most certainly pray for relief. But, there’s another category of individual that we should discuss here, and that is the person who holds a deep, intimate, and growing relationship with the Lord. These are people who do far more than simply “claim faith;” these are people who, on a daily basis, broaden and deepen their relationship with the Lord…on purpose and with diligence. These are the people who are prepared to face whatever storms life may offer up.
– Genuine Relationship Always Supersedes Claims of Faith
Their faith is not entirely built on what is taught in church, what is passed down through legacy stories of grandma’s great faith, or the information contained in glossy devotion books. Instead, their faith is primarily built on what is taught directly to them by the Holy Spirit of God, working through their planned and purposed times of personal and intimate engagement with Him, as they seek the true beauty found only in the daily pursuit of close association and interaction with God Almighty.
These are people who diligently search the Scriptures, not for out-of-context promises or specific answers to escape the problems of life, but, instead, these are people who search the Scriptures to find the true face of God Himself. These are people who really want to know God as He is. They want Him full-on at face value. They are not satisfied to limit their understanding of Him to the teachings of other well intentioned, but often flawed, followers of what may only be religion. Instead, they want (in the words of a great worship song) to “sit at His feet, drink from the cup in His Hand, and hear His heart beat.” They have moved their attention from the corporate move of mainstream religion, which may teach literally anything, and focused instead on building a real relationship with God…one on one...as it was intended.
Let me be clear…I’m not saying to bypass church or doubt the teachings of legitimate and devoted men and women of the faith. What I am saying is that, in our walk with God, we should venture away from the consumerism of shiny streamlined religion and become self-feeders. Not only that, we should become voracious self-feeders, relentlessly pursuing the knowledge of God from a level of one-on-one intimacy with Him. This level of intimacy begins and ends daily in a quiet room with an open Bible and a prayerful heart, a heart that is genuinely ready to listen. It is here where our real friendship with God begins. It is here where we are transparent, and it is here where we genuinely talk with God, one-on-one.
Back to this third category of individuals…
They do not open God’s Word to find the way to more material wealth, nor do they open it seek out the easier climb up the ladder of their life. Instead, these are individuals who open God’s Word specifically to find the "road less traveled”…the steep and narrow route…the only way to peace…the only real way home.
While those who claim no faith, and those who do claim faith, are desperately praying for relief from the storm, as that relief (or removal) can become their only marker for answered prayer, those who hold a deep and intimate relationship with God are simply praying to find God within the storm itself. They may certainly be praying for the storm to subside, but they are first and foremost trying to find God within the fury. They are not necessarily trying to find relief through the removal of the storm. They are just trying to find God. They understand that “relief” is not defined as the absence of the storm; “relief” is defined by their recognition of God’s presence, storm or no storm…come what may.
It is the recognition of God’s presence where real calm can begin. This is often a place far beyond the faith of many who claim Christ as Lord, because the foundation of that faith is not measured by their church attendance or their copious transcription of sermon notes once a week; instead, the foundation of their faith can only be measured by the depth and relevance of their genuine daily walk with the Lord.
How can we find the real calm of God? We should start by examining the unadulterated truth about our relationship with Him.
Next... Part 2: The Strength Behind the Calm
How easy is it to find the real truth? If it’s easy, it may not be true…
Early this morning, my pastor sent me an email with a link to this article. It reveals a flawed trait of our technologically-minded culture, a trait that leads us away from a real and methodical search for genuine facts. The real truth is often hidden, and purposely so. What so often emerges as real truth in our culture can sadly be a whitewashed compilation of editorialized opinions devoid of the collaboration of actual facts. They can be written with a narrative built to drive a specific thought process that leads us away from reality and into a world of fantasy. When evaluated with just a “touch” of common sense, much of this fact-free jargon can easily be identified as false, as it is often presented without the foundation of genuine reason.
Those who promote falsehoods as truth expect the masses to devour their lies “intuition-free,” and the masses do not disappoint. Vincent D’Onofrio said, “The search for truth is not for the faint-hearted,” and he was right. Real truth is often ugly, and it may not reflect the sterling veneer of political correctness which seems to be a requirement for validity in the present culture. Real truth may not allow room for the plush comforts that can so often only be found when one enjoys the warmth of being wrapped in ideological ignorance. And real truth screams real facts, facts that may be hard to uncover, but facts that need to be uncovered…simply because they exist to expose reality.
What are we ingesting as truth? Whose facts do we take at face value and believe? There can be a lack of open sourcing in our search, whether it’s because we’re lazy or we’ve surrendered our intellect to a search engine. I think it’s becoming more common that where our search begins is often where it ends…Google. Beware.
Take a moment and read the article below...
The Google Minded
Few would be surprised to learn that Google handles 90% of all internet searches. What would be news to many is that – according to journalist Jack Nicas – the internet giant is increasingly “presenting itself as the authority on truth by promoting a single search result as the answer.”
And those results are often wrong.
For example, to the question “Does money buy happiness?” Google recently highlighted a result that stated: “There is enough scientific research to prove it.”
To “Who are the worst CEOs of all time?” Google answered with the names and photos of 11 chief executives, including Gordon Bethune of Continental Airlines and Robert Nardelli of Home Depot.
To “Should abortion be legal?” Google cited a South African news site saying, “It is not the place of government to legislate against women’s choices.”
These are “promoted answers” or “featured snippets” outlined in boxes above other results and presented in larger type, often with images.
And they are believed, by many, to be the definitive answer. Surveys show people “consider search engines their most-trusted source of information, over traditional media or social media.” This is why Google’s featured answers “are feeding a raging global debate about the ability of Silicon Valley companies to influence society... the power of their products and their vulnerability to bias or manipulation.”
This is larger than the criticism directed at Facebook over the spread of “fake news” during the 2016 presidential election. It’s about a new day when the dominant source of information is not simply divorced from truth, but the recipients are divorced from wisdom. And this is the curse of our day: almost unlimited access to information and virtually no wisdom by which to parse it.
When a Google spokesperson said the company’s goal isn’t to do the thinking for users but “to help you find relevant information quickly and easily… [and to] encourage users to understand the full context by clicking through to the source,” I couldn’t help but think back on a similar statement by film director Oliver Stone.
In a speech given at American University, responding to the distortions and factual errors pointed out in his film JFK (presented as a faux-documentary on the Kennedy assassination), Stone said that films shouldn’t be the end-all for what is true and that people “have a responsibility to read a book.”
He went on to say, “[No one is] going to sit through a three-hour movie and say, ‘That’s that.’”
He’s wrong. That is exactly what people do.
Or, as University of North Carolina professor Zeynep Tufekci who studies technology’s effect on society said,
“This is how people learn about the world.”
Yes, it is.
So when the featured answer to the query, “Why are Komodo dragons endangered?” is volcanoes, fire and tourism, there is a problem. Particularly when you find the source was a Canadian elementary school student’s report that was posted online, and that Komodo dragons aren’t endangered at all.
But people who actually know this, or bother to find out,
James Emery White
Jack Nicas, “Google Has Already Picked an Answer for You—Too Bad It’s Often Wrong,” The Wall Street Journal, November 16, 2017, read online.
See also James Emery White, A Mind for God (InterVarsity Press).
About the Author...
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.
Wars are ugly, but they are often necessary. The purposed action of violence against opposing forces and ideals weave a common thread throughout our history, from Chedorlaomer, the king of Elam, leading the first recorded conflict in Scripture (Genesis 14) to the continuing war against terror today, war has always been. We can be confident that, on this earth, war will always be. And, out of necessity, war requires a great sacrifice; however, that sacrifice seldom comes from those who so adamantly oppose such conflict; the sacrifice is firmly planted on the shoulders of those who, through extraordinary bravery, step boldly into the path of harm to perform the bidding of others, so often for the well-being and freedom of a nation that may remain ignorant of the true cost.
English philosopher, John Stuart Mill, wrote in 1862:
“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feelings which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice; a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice, is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminate their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.” – John Stuart Mill
As an American, I can look out upon the vast expanse of a great nation that has remained free, not because of those who stand in opposition to war, but because of those who chose to do what was necessary for the sake of a people, a nation, and a freedom that has too often required the blood of the brave. I am certainly not advocating that war is good, but it has often been required. And, where it has been required, the American solider has stepped forward, leaving being their families, to serve in defense of a cause that they identified to be greater than themselves.
Politicians and tyrannical ideologies are the true instigators of most conflict; consequently, it is not their blood that will carry them through to victory; it is the blood of the solider. I believe that most soldiers engage in warfare with a profound hesitancy to carry out the brutal acts of violence they have been trained to perform, but they carry on all the same. We are graced to be in the presence of men and women who are willing to engage their very life in the defense of our own, and the memories of those who have died performing this service for us should stand out as a stark reminder that our freedom is not free; it never has been, and it never will be.
On this Veterans Day, let me express my eternal gratitude to those who choose to live a life in the service and defense of the United States of America. Politicians have not made us great, nor have they made us free. That honor lies solely with the American solider. No medal, pinned to their chest, is worthy to denote their sacrifice. No monument to the fallen adequately portraits the true cost paid by those whose names are inscribed. Americans owe a debt to the U.S. solider that we cannot repay. Thankfully, soldiers continue to serve, not because of the monetary rewards or the medals and ribbons awarded, but because they are driven to defend the distinct call to freedom contained within our founding documents…a call that is constantly challenged, often from within the borders of the very nation they are impassioned to defend.
Let us take time to remember the American solider, their families, and those who have died in defense of our great nation, fighting wars they did not start, defending the honor of a nation that may not always be appreciative, and preserving a freedom that has proven to endure only at the great cost of the few who have had the courage and integrity to defend it. With immense gratitude, I salute our veterans. I thank God for you. We should all thank God for you.
When I’m watching the Georgia Bulldogs (or, for the UGA purist, “Bulldawgs”), I am focused. I’m intently watching the clock, the play, considering the down and the amount of yards needed, thinking ahead to the possibilities, etc… Sadly, my sterling armchair coaching (and, it is sterling!) is never even heard, but I’m focused-in either way. Football holds my attention; it excites me, and it reallocates my focus and defines my mental energies.
Does our walk with Christ profit from the same intense focus that we give other things in life…like football…or does it operate on a frequent deficit of our attention?
Sadly, I’m fairly certain that if we all answered honestly, we would have to admit that our walk with Christ doesn’t always ramp-up as high as it should on our list of priorities. There’s too many “other” things pressing on our attention. Our pride, our priorities, our preferences, and our problems…just to name a few. I’m also fairly certainly that we could probably all admit to a relationship-straining lack of focus in our walk with God…at least from time to time. Satan is distracting; he’s really good at it, and, honestly, we often swallow the bait.
We humans are quite easily distracted, and, invariably, our prioritization is often circumstantial. Something can often only be important at the moment we need it, and when we need it, it is of utmost importance. When it’s needed no longer, it can apathetically and unapologetically be taken for granted, or completely disregarded altogether. Am I wrong? The air in our tires isn’t even a thought in the mind of most drivers…until it’s not there; however, when we’re stranded on the roadside, waiting 2 hours for AAA to come rescue us, it becomes a definite priority. (FYI...my timeframe of 2 hours is an example of "grace." It can longer...)
Our relationship with God, through Christ, should hold the highest place on our personalized list of priorities. God’s call to repentance from our “old way” of life, our changing of mind and direction involving sin, and our relentless pursuit of God in our “new self” should become much more than “just important”…it should become the imperative. And, it is where we should reallocate the wealth of our focus.
1 Chronicles 22:19 says, “Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord your God.”
Isaiah 55:6 tells us, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.”
Matthew 6:33 instructs, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
The call to seek God is clear, and it’s a call for the reallocation of our focus from the temporal and evil things of this world to the righteous and holy things of God. Remember the words of Colossians…
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” – Colossians 3:5-6 (NIV)
Yet, we often do the exact opposite...
It is because of the alluring qualities of these things mentioned in Colossians that our sin nature rebels against God’s instruction…pulling our eyes off of the majesty and glory of God, and dragging us deep into the gutter of sin…but, so often, it doesn’t drag us off kicking and screaming. To often, we go willingly…unapologetically surrendering, and becoming subservient to the sinful things of this world…inattentive to the God of the universe…pulled away from repentance by our attraction to a world of lesser things.
Sin is seductive and sexy (can I say sexy in a Christian blog?), and it’s something we find easy to focus our energies on, because it offers to us an immediate return upon our time and energy investment. Sinning directly lines up with the humanistic worldview of culture…the embrace of satisfying our own will and desires at our discretion. And, in the moment, sinning becomes the real God, because it is, “in the moment” of that sin, where we have removed God as the head of our life and replaced him with a circumstantial and temporal lordship. Our focus has be redirected; it’s be reallocated, and it’s now working against God’s will to subvert the lordship of Christ in the life of His child, the child Christ died to save.
Satan is a liar, a competent and very reliable enemy. We can always trust him to become the adversary in any given situation. Remember his little tree-side chat with Eve in Genesis…a chat that is still boldly resonating after-shocks into our world to this very day…
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 (NIV)
What Satan was really saying is this…
“Eve, look at me. Take your focus off of God, because He’s lied to you. Look over here at this wonderful opportunity to become like God. This is a great time for you to become more enlightened. It will involve a little rebellion against God, but such is life. He'll forgive you. Focus your mind on what this “sin” can do in your life in this pivotal moment…the immediate enjoyment and knowledge that it will bring into your world. Don’t look at God, look at me…look at the immediate personal prosperity that is at your fingertips. Don't miss this opportunity, because it may never come again! Reallocate your thoughts here, and don’t worry about God.”
All the while, Jesus is screaming to us from His place on a sideline of our choosing…”Stop, and look at the glories I have promised you. Trust in me and not in the sin nature that only offers temporary satisfaction leading to destruction. Look upon my sacrifice, and find true peace…a peace grounded in an intensely focused relationship with the One who took your place on the cross of your sin.”
Yet our focus is often consumed with the temporal things of this earth, the debilitating offerings of sin, and the exchange of the eternal glories of God for the earthly guarantee of fleeting satisfaction. How can we be so naive?
This is the final installment of my blogs on repentance. I could certainly do more, but I feel that the real message to be learned is that our repentance requires focus. It’s a focus on God, a fixation with the true cost of our salvation and the worth of the blood of Jesus in our life. In a world of sinful temptation and deception, is our faith and relationship with God strong enough to sustain itself when the “serpent” tries to convince us that God’s commands are not as important as His Word tells us they are? Are we willing to substitute some temporary satisfaction in the place of God's best for His child? Are we willing to purposely cause a chasm in our relationship with God?
The path to a real, relevant, and growing relationship with God means a constant walk down the road of repentance. It's a road of daily self-evaluation. That road requires our attention, our focus, and the moment-by-moment sacrifice of our sin nature. Give it up! Sin is a road to nowhere. Although sin may bring about a temporary satisfaction, the end result is always destruction. Real repentance always leads to an increase in our walk with a God who never disappoints.
2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
Let our lives be lived with a repentant heart, so that we my find the wealth of intimacy and power found only in real relationship with Christ, the Son of God, who died for our right to be heirs of an eternal glory with Almighty God!
We’ve discussed that Satan’s goal in pursuing us is to create a chasm in our intimate walk with God, a distance or separation from personal and spiritual growth in our relationship with the Creator. Satan wants us to return to drink from the well of our sin nature, a nature that unapologetically distracts us from all things holy. Sadly, Satan has a world full of evil resources to aid him in his quest. But he really only needs one…
Who or What is to Blame?
It’s easy, and very convenient, to just blame Satan for our sin problem, and it makes us feel good, because, after all, it removes some of the blame from our own hands. We could all agree that there’s nothing quite as liberating as the complete surrender of all personal responsibility…it’s refreshing, but it’s certainly not smart. Let’s be sure to understand that Satan provokes sin in our life, but, sadly, we can’t lay it all on him…not even close.
You will hear people blame almost anything and anyone for the sin in their life…Satan, the internet, technology, politics, hypocritical Christians, troublesome people, bad traffic, long drive-thru lines at Chic-Fil-A, and so the list continues… There’s a multitude of things that contribute and provoke our revisitation of sin, but, as I mentioned before, Satan really only needs one to do the job well.
Satan’s most effective resource in his pursuit of us is already in place in our life, and it’s our profoundly unrepentant sin nature itself. It is native to who we are, and in it we find the greatest threat to our growth in relationship with Almighty God. It is our sin nature that Satan seeks to partner with, entertain, compliment, encourage, and diligently feed. It is his greatest ally and his most powerful resource in bringing about distraction, confusion, disillusionment, and lack of trust into our personal walk with God.
The primary problem with our sin nature, and what makes it such a tremendously successful resource to Satan’s schemes, is that we often just fail to see it as a problem…if we even really see it at all. It is so engrained into our life that it becomes natural, possibly comfortable, maybe even enjoyable, and certainly, at times, we think, justifiable. You see, we can often be easily convinced to stop the embrace and pursuit of the “new self” that is mentioned in Ephesians 4…
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” – Ephesians 4:22-24 (NIV)
The more that we listen to Satan, embrace the old self, revisit sin, and remain unrepentant, the easier it will be for us to tolerate and establish a friendship with a life of deviant, relationship-distracting unrighteousness. It’s a life that, at first, delicately leads us to look away from God for a moment to entertain a little sin. In the end, it can be a life lived in the complete rebellion of God’s will…guided, not by God, but, instead, by a ravenous and overfed sin nature.
The Apostle Paul had some legitimate concerns for the Church at Corinth. He expressed them this way…
“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.”
– 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 (NIV)
Let the last seven words of that passage sink into our souls, “…you put up with it easily enough.”
Our sin nature, when it’s well entertained, is just simply fun to hang out with. We can tolerate a little sin, if it’s enjoyable…right? The more we hang out with sin, the more comfortable we feel around it. The more comfortable we feel, the less purposed control we tend to exercise over our behavior. And, the purposed liberalization of our behavior can quickly turn us into a person who is not just “putting up with sin,” but a person who is “seeking sin out.” All the while, we’re replacing the pursuit of intimacy with God for the insanity of allowing sin to rule the day. This is the antithesis of God’s will…a point often lost on the distracted mind of a struggling disciple of Christ. It’s so hard to hear God over the screams of our sin nature and its hunger pains. A determined lack of repentance, catalyzed by our enjoyment of sin, and a little nudge into the darkness by Satan is often all that is required for the chasm to develop. And we would love to blame Satan, but Satan didn’t cause us to sin; he just pointed out the opportunity.
Our sin nature is Satan’s greatest resource on this earth, for it is the involvement of our sin nature that can demolish almost anything into a pile of unrighteous trash. It doesn’t matter what it may be, if we introduce it to our sin nature, our sin nature will find a way to corrupt it. For example, many love to blame the internet for their sin. Technology itself is not evil. Where the internet is concerned, it is the sin nature of the porn addict that bypasses everything wholesome online in the pursuit of feeding sexual lust. Satan didn’t make them do it; he just suggested the direction of their search.
The call on our life is to “repent” and make Christ Lord. The lordship of Christ involves growth towards the things of God, and the revisitation of sin inhibits that growth. Again, Satan has tremendous resources in his pursuit of all things unholy, but Satan’s greatest resource is the sin nature found inside the heart of those Christ died to save. Controlling our sin nature requires a determined focus on Christ, and a daily and sincere effort to grow deeper in our relationship with God. The focus of our “old self” was firmly on the temporal, but God is calling for a immediate reallocation of that focus…and, we’ll discuss that next!
Next: Defying Satan Power in the Journey – Part 3: The Reallocation of Our Focus
If growing closer in our relationship with God is the goal, then repenting and combating our sin nature is our highest priority, because it was sin that originally separated us from God, and it is sin that still stands in obstruction to our growth in God, even after salvation. Sin is a powerful persuasion, and it has a powerful promoter in Satan himself. If repentance is important, and it certainly is, then learning to repel Satan, and defying his power in our life is crucial.
But why does Satan pursue?
For the true follower of Christ, Satan’s goal is to separate us from a real intimacy with God through a vital and growing relationship. He’s already lost the battle for our eternal soul, so he can now focus his efforts on our daily walk with Christ, attempting to render it distracted, distant, and worthless. If Satan can keep us out relevant time spent in God’s Word, off our knees in real communication and prayer, and busy with life, then he’s winning the fight.
I believe that Satan loves religion, because the bells and whistles of religion are steeped in habitual tradition, often devoid of meaningful spiritual depth. Too often, Christians plan their spiritual life and work around a church calendar, instead of around the individual call that God has placed on their life. Sermons and podcasts become a substitution for Bible study, and intimacy with God is replaced with the simple practice of organized religion. Again, for the Christian, if Satan can get us wrapped-up in the activities of modern day religion, then he may be able to convince us that we’re “doing just fine” in our walk with God.
Religion versus Relationship
Satan would love to see us doubt God. He would love to see us renounce our Christian walk and thoroughly and completely embrace a life of constant sin and consistent rebellion. However, Satan may not be successful to that end. Consequently, we should be aware that all Satan really has to do in order to accomplish his goal is create a chasm in our walk with the Lord…a separation in our personal intimacy with God. He knows that the chasm doesn’t necessarily have to be deep, it just needs to exist. The chasm can form and never really affect our church calendar activities. It can form as we relish our perfect attendance in Sunday School and worship, and no one may ever know, because our “religion” is still intact…while our “relationship” with God suffers. It can become increasingly distant and meaningless. Frankly, it can die altogether.
Satan pursues us relentlessly. He touts the attractiveness of sin and the “good times” of our “old self"…compelling us to constantly revisit our sin nature. His quest is to lead us away from a repentant life. Satan wants to feed our sin nature and fuel the flames of our flesh until God is unrecognizable to us from the inside, because the small chasm he initiated in our relationship with God in the beginning has now grown much larger. If he can fill our mind and heart with sin, there will be no compulsion for growth toward the glorious things of God. And, where there is no growth, death quickly comes. This is not necessarily a physical death, but instead, it’s a death of our passion for Christ, a death of our close walk with Him, and a death of us walking out God’s will in our life. Satan wants us to lead a life consisting of the deliberate embrace of sin, a life devoid of repentance. And, his resources to do this are immense…
Next: Defy Satan Power in the Journey– Part 1: The Resources of His Pursuit
I made the case in my last blog that we may be embracing sin, because we think we can control our sin nature. This is an idea not lost on Satan, our adversary, whose primary goal is keeping us separated from a real and life-transforming relationship with Almighty God. Today, I want to address some of the instruction of Scripture regarding repentance, words from the very heart of a loving God who loves us but despises our sin.
When we accept Christ as the Lord of our life, Scripture tells us that there is a change in our life, that we have been made new. However, Scripture doesn't promise the "removal" of our sin nature...nor the charming nature it possesses that so easily lures us to refocus our attention away from God's commands. God’s Word gives us some pretty clear instruction on how to keep the momentum of our new life in Christ surging forward towards the "new self" or the "new creation" that our Lord desires.
It all has to do with the focus of our heart…
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things… Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” – Colossians 3:1,2 and 5-10 (NIV)
This is pretty succinct direction from a God who pulls no punches in addressing the things that He knows will trip us up in our walk towards Him and with Him. The idea of “setting our heart on things above” is the very first step toward a repentant life. We’re probably not willing to walk away from the sinful things that we think make this life so “enjoyable” until we realize just how remarkable our God really is! We give up nothing of value when we surrender our life of sin to the perfect will of God; however, we give up much when we unrepentantly embrace sin over righteousness. When thoroughly examined, the trade-off should be an easy one.
Isaiah 61:3 gives us a brief hint as to what God offers those who seek Him. It says, “…he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.”
Our instruction is to fully concentrate on the beauty found in living a life holy and set apart for God’s use…a life of determined repentance of the sin that contaminates our life and destroys everything it touches. Notice that we are not told to revisit sin on occasion; instead, we are instructed to “put to death” the things that belong to our sinful nature, and some of them are named: immorality, lust, greed, idolatry, anger, malice, slander, lies…basically, the very things that we see prevailing in today’s society...the very things that mark the condition of the world before the return of Christ.
The passage in Colossians tells us that “we must rid ourselves of all such things.” We certainly don’t rid ourselves of any sin by the revisitation of it, nor do we rid ourselves of sin by “asking forgiveness for it.” Feeling convicted about sin, crying tears, or confessing sin doesn’t rid us of the problem either. It is only through true repentance, a changing of our mind and a redirection of our course, that sin can truly be addressed and cast away from the equation of our life.
Next: Repentance: Defying Satan Power in the Journey
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!