How do you know if you are ‘saved’?

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Assurance of Salvation

1 Cor 1:18 – For the message about the cross is nonsense to those who are being destroyed, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved.

I understand that it is a very unsettling place to be, not to know for sure if you are going to spend eternity with God or away from Him.

I am writing this post to simplify the issue and to communicate that if you want to know whether you can count on heaven with the Biblical God, there is ample written evidence from God to settle that issue, once and for all.

It seems to me that there are several categories of people:

  • those who give no thought to life after the expected 70+ years (Psalm 90:10 The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years….)
  • those who are adherents of false religions that teach and encourage practitioners to DO THIS or THAT to reach heaven
  • those who are true Biblical Christians but still live with uncertainty about their ultimate destination
  • those who are NOT Christians but think they are and might assume they are headed for heaven
  • those who are Christians and anticipate with growing desire and delight their future in God’s favorable presence in the renewed creation

Marraige Supper of the Lamb

In truth, there are only 2 categories of people: those God has elected and those He has not.  There are no degrees of election or a pathway TO election from non-election. You’re either ALL in or ALL out.

If God doesn’t plant within us new, unnatural desires, we will never understand Him or see Him as beautiful and valuable.

Here’s the simplest way to know if you are a true Christian (and it has nothing to do with how ‘good’ you are or what you do):

Do you see the Biblical Jesus and how one is saved from God’s wrath as an amazing gift? as treasure beyond imagination?

Or do you see Jesus and His teachings as stupid and boring, even to the point of being non-sensical? 

The key, though, is to know and understand the REAL Jesus, as the Bible presents.  Be warned!  Many self-proclaimed Christians, as well as atheists, share a mythical, made-up idea of God.  They invent a Father God and a God-Man Jesus to their liking, for whatever reasons.  I suppose it follows that if you INVENT God, then you can CREATE the pathway to heaven.

John 8:31-32   He said to the Jews who believed, “If you keep and obey My Word, then you are My followers for sure. You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.

Stay within the boundaries of God’s Word; understand the text, given its style (poetry, narrative, history, parables, advice for living)  and context.  The Bible is written so that even uneducated people can be taught Truth.

And if what the text says and means doesn’t make sense to you, then pray to God and ask for His help.  He promises to give light and understanding to all who seek Him earnestly, sincerely. Pray also for those around you, that God would kindly open their eyes to His nature, what is at stake and His offer of forgiveness.

ASK

The Good News – two parts

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How do you share the Gospel?  It’s a very intimidating subject.  Maybe I should ask, “Do you share the Gospel?” and if so, what do you say?  I’ve been obsessed with this question for a while.  I feel both a conviction and desire to be out and about giving real hope in a fragile, fleeting world, yet I am afraid of both rejection and falling on my face.

I grew up in the Episcopal Church.  Their approach to sharing the Gospel, at least during the ‘so called’ Decade of Evangelism (the 1990s) was meant to take away any fear or threat of pushback.  They taught “All you have to do is tell your story – no one can criticize you for telling your story!”

It took me years finally to realize that while one’s story might interest SOME people, that’s actually NOT the gospel.  Your story features and highlights YOU as the main character.  On the other hand, the Gospel is God’s story; His rescue operation of lost sinners unable to save themselves. That’s why it’s good news for everyone. And it’s not just wishful thinking.  We can point to a particular historical event as a basis for this saving operation.

So for the past two years, having studied the content of the good news as objective historical fact – what Christ accomplished on our behalf, I have stayed away from including anything personal.  But recently I’ve been reading that it is perfectly legitimate to add a personal dimension, the details of how that ‘good’ news has changed your life.

These two aspects of the Gospel – the objective side and the affective side seem like they would make for a much more complete presentation.  Taking two weeks, I will first pick up and look at the content of the actual gospel.  And next week, God-willing, I will write about how that event has changed my life.  In doing so, I think that my readiness to share the full story will be honed.  Maybe this will prompt you to practice articulating what the Gospel is.  After all, we are charged to be ready always to give a defense, an apologia for what and why we believe (1 Pet 3:15).

The good news, the Gospel, is an account of something that took place outside of us.  It’s anchored in an historical event, the crucifixion.   God the Son came into our world as a human to reconcile us to God the Father by accomplishing two goals.  The first goal was to pay off our debt against God.  The second goal was to transfer a perfectly obedient life to our account.  By doing both, we are then counted and considered as adopted sons of the Father, having full rights of inheritance with our older brother Jesus.  It’s an incredible accomplishment given our status beforehand.

As always, in order to understand why this is GOOD news, we have to acknowledge reality before Jesus.  Yes, God did create us in His image and He was pleased with His handiwork.  But in the interests of creating us with the capacity to love as free agents, part of our nature included the ability to reject God.  And right from the beginning our Uncle Adam and Aunt Eve did that.

We all know that no man is an island unto himself and that our actions do indeed impact others.  Well Adam and Eve’s desire to be autonomous, to be their own gods and decision makers got transferred to us.  And that default has been wired into our very nature, to our harm.

Every time we decide to make much of ourselves or of something in creation, we rob God of His rightful glory.  Those actions add up to a staggering record against us.  They prevent us from having a peaceable relationship with God our Father.  We are out of sorts with Him because of all this wrongdoing lying between us.  The record is huge, because it keeps accumulating each day, day after day.  It is an insurmountable obstacle to a loving relationship with God.  In fact because of this mountain of sin, we deserve death.

Yet God…..!!! (Great words)  Because He is just and righteous, He doesn’t turn a blind eye to sin. But because His loving-kindness is beyond our imagining, He doesn’t leave us without hope. Instead, He provided a way to pay off that debt forever. He chose to die in our place.  Had WE been writing the story, never in a million years would we have imagined that ending.  But the Trinity in a Holy Plan created this very rescue mission.  God as Father, Holy Spirit and Son decided to save a group of humans to be His children forever.  Jesus, the son, left His privileged place in the family God-head to face the eventual separation when He took on our sins.

All this glorious work and inheritance gets to be ours when we face the fact that without God’s active intervention, we would have no way out. We can’t save ourselves. But oh, what a savior!  We can humbly and gratefully accept His offer of pardon and full restitution. That’s it – we open our hands and accept the gift and our status is immediately changed.  We no longer face eternal condemnation and a horrible future.

Instead we can look forward to a mind-boggling, staggering inheritance, packed with an infinity of implications.  But why do I hesitate to let others in on this amazing plan?   Why do I stall, dreaming up ‘easy’ ways to approach people?   I hold imaginary conversations

  • So, are you a spiritual person?
  • Do you ever feel guilty?
  • What are you going to do with your guilt when you die?
  • Do you ever think about life after death?
  • What do you think happens to people when they die?

I think I have the content down.  I just am afraid to open up, unless someone asks me a leading question.

What about you?  What has your experience been like?  How do you communicate God’s story?

(**Next week, I’ll post about why being rescued by God has changed my life in the here and now.)

Openers – how to fish

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« ……Always be prepared….. »   a fragment of 1 Pet 3 :15

My fear is that I miss opportunities to witness.

“How are you?” comes the greeting from a colleague at school, or the butcher at Kroger, or the owner of two dogs I pass every morning at 5:45.  And nothing God-exalting leaves my mouth.

“Let all who love His salvation ALWAYS say, ‘the Lord be exalted!  Great is the Lord’”   Psalm 40 is convicting.  I do love his salvation…but my mouth freezes when I ponder what to say.  There’s never enough time. (Hint – that’s why Peter counsels us to be like a boy scout)

Don’t think that I don’t TRY to have something at hand.  Often I make an attempt to concoct catchy openings.  Sunday morning I was out walking, rehearsing my memory verses (Psalm 40). Steve and beagle approached.  Banally I intoned, “Cold this morning, isn’t it” – not really a question, just a passing comment.  Blew it again!  How lame can one get!  My continued promenade out I struggled to come up with something that would test the waters – in 3 seconds.  I wanted something that I could say to Steve when our paths crossed on our respective return trips. “So, where do you & your wife worship Jesus on Sundays?”  (too long and pointed).  Nothing seemed natural.  Another complication was that it was Super Bowl Sunday.  (“Say, Steve, who do you think God is rooting for in today’s big game?” )    Fortunately Steve had already turned into his neighborhood and wasn’t subjected to my bungling attempts.  But there is next time.

This morning I was drawn back to one of my favorite OT words “esher/asher”.  Yes, it’s the name of one of Jacob’s sons.  It means blessed, happy, literally –  blissful.  As you can imagine, it is used OFTEN in the OT and also in the NT.

What a great adjective!  I could substitute THAT for ‘fine’ when someone inquires about my well-being.  “Hi Maria, how are you?  – my short response – “Blissful, and you?” With one word, I could ‘fish’.  If this particular fish were enticed by that kind of bait, then a God-exalting conversation might ensue.  If the fish was not into godly bliss, than nothing lost.  He/she would just think I’m a bit weird in my choice of words.

I should not FEEL anxious about fishing.  After all, catching fish for Christ is not our task.  We are called to be ‘fishers of men’.  Offer the Gospel (in parts or whole) and then trust God for the results, the ‘catch’.  But we do have to do our part.  Fish don’t just jump into the boat.

This theme of winsome, strategic conversation is a Biblical theme.    In another passage Paul counsels the Colossians and us to “be wise in the way (we) act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity….(our) conversation (should) be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that (we) may know how to answer everyone.”  Col 4:5-7

Please pray that I may REMEMBER and OBEY God in this first step of fulfilling the Great Commission day by day.

An Experience in Sharing the Gospel

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Colossians 4:5-6 Be wise in the way you act with outsiders, make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt so that you may know how to answer everyone.

I clobbered my mother-in-law with doctrine.  I wrote her a letter outlining my concerns about her spiritual life.  I shared some basics about sin, repentance, the Good News of what Jesus has done for us and how to grow in the love & knowledge of God.  But I overwhelmed her with my intensity. And I have irrevocably moved our relationship into a new territory where neither of us knows how to maneuver.  All of this – 2 weeks before our youngest son’s wedding when family will gather.

My mother-in-law is 81.  She grew up in the Catholic Church, switched to the Episcopal Church in college, met & married a seminarian and shared the life of an Episcopal priest & bishop for almost 59 years.   Thus has the Episcopal Church been the center of her life.

My concerns for the state of her soul were cumulative over many years as my husband and I were graciously drawn out of the kingdom of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of light.  Looking back on our past, Mike & I recall how we truly THOUGHT we were Christians all the years we were faithful church-goers and served in different ministries.  Indignation and denial most likely would have been our reaction had someone confronted us with the state of our souls.  So I understand how it must seem puzzling to someone living a ‘religious’ life, that it might be possible not even to belong to Christ.  “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”  Matt 7:21

As we discovered truth and life, we wanted to share this joy and the assurance of salvation with those closest to us.  My mother was a believer, yet died before I was regenerated.  I failed to share the Gospel with my father.  I tried, but was not equipped and backed off many times when he didn’t want to talk.  Out of that experience, my husband and I approached his parents.  Our concerns for their spiritual well-being intensified over the past months as my father-in-law was dying.  We prayed for opportunities to have authentic discussions about the reality of Christian hope.  But we could do no more than skirt the periphery of religiosity.

I don’t understand people’s boundaries.  To my discredit, it is very difficult to imagine or empathize, and therefore yield to limits and walls friends and family erect to protect emotions or comfortable routines of looking at life.  (Why wouldn’t you want to talk about the most important topic in life? – your future after you die?  Don’t you want to know if what you have staked your life on is valid?  Don’t you want to even know WHAT it is you believe?) My grown children and husband consider me intense.  But I can’t see that:  I am what I am.  Is a fish aware that he breathes in through gills?

So returning from my father-in-law’s funeral I wrote my mother-in-law THE letter and launched her on a roller-coaster of emotions of anger, shame, indignation and horror.

Here is what I have learned from this experience:

(1)   – Patience is not something I practice naturally, so just as a pilot must intentionally crab into a wind to keep her flight path straight, so must I wait longer than I think is necessary.  I composed THE letter on a Friday and sent it to two people whose opinion I value.  I received a green light from one, but did not wait long enough to hear back from the other person before mailing it off.  She replied 3 ½ days later and suggested restraint.  But I had already mailed off the letter. To my ‘partial credit’ I had slept on it and prayerfully revised it over a 3-day period.  Yet I should have waited for this second person’s wisdom, since I had explicitly asked for it.

(2)   Offhand remarks I wrote that were not even my main point were received poorly.  This really surprised me.  I should have considered every sentence.  When I closed the letter to my dear mother-in-law with the reassurance that her grandsons would be praying along with me for her, I thought that would encourage her.  Instead she was horrified that I had shared something ‘negative’ and had ‘misrepresented her’ to the boys.  I never would have anticipated that reaction.

(3)   Less is more.  I dumped TOO much on her (14 pagesL).  The quantity had two negative effects: a) she missed some important parts because it was too much to take in all at once and b) she felt bludgeoned by the sheer amount of what I wrote.

I failed to SEASON my written conversation with her; I just dumped out the whole blue container of Morton’s iodized salt.

So, I am trusting God now to work my blundering efforts for her good and for mine.  I am praying that we can sort out a way of relating that is safe and comfortable for her when she arrives next week for the wedding.  I am sorry that she will feel self-conscious around her grandsons and us.  That was not my intention.  But I don’t regret that I initiated the discussion.  I could never have said some of what I wrote face to face.  I will continue to share the Gospel with others when appropriate and will trust the Holy Spirit to let me know His timing and the proper words.

Be prepared!

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Col 4 : 5-6  Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

My prayer every day is that God will give me the opportunity to share a portion of the Gospel.  That implies that I need to be prepped, ready.  That means that I need to be meditating all the time on why the Gospel is such GOOD NEWS.  That means I have to be preaching to myself, encouraging myself.

What is all that good news? And how do I boil it all down to a 5 second sound-bite that would be salty enough to cause someone to want to talk to me?

My challenge is that I live in a family of believers (a blessing) and I teach in a Christian school.  So my contact with the outside world, the ‘gentiles’ of my day, is limited to encounters at the gym, on neighborhood walks, at the grocery store and in emails to relatives or other friends from my past.

What line will be the best incentive to encourage someone to engage in a conversation?  That’s all I want.  At the grocery check-out line, I usually ask the cashier, ‘How are you’ and she/he responds ‘fine’ and you?  That’s my cue for the 5 second line.   Here’s what I have thought about the past few days:

  • Great!  I’m meditating on the secret of life (go into how there IS purpose in life, both here on earth and in heaven)
  • Great !  God’s goodness is so apparent this time of year (beauties of Spring)
  • Great!  I’ve been thinking about heaven and how cool it’s going to be (new body – appealing to an elderly person)
  • Great!  I’ve been thinking about man’s greatest problem and what the solution is  (God’s wrath against us – and how Jesus takes care of that)

A good line will suffice to prompt a discussion if the other person wants one, or it can be easily ignored/ dropped by the other person.  My job is to fish.

But I find that I have to be prepared always.  I have to remind myself of the story –and its component parts:

a)   The truth about God – He is loving, perfect and holy

b)   The truth about humans – i.e. the good news AND the bad news which leads to THE PROBLEM

c)    God’s solution to the problem – Jesus

d)   What awaits us – when Jesus comes back – our AMAZING inheritance

What works for you?  I get discouraged that I don’t have MORE of these conversations.

**

If you need to get a glimpse of what awaits us, then I would recommend John Piper’s sermon from 18 April 2010 – it’s all about how much God loves us.  Here is the link to the audio, video and print.

http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2010/4581_How_Much_Does_God_Love_This_Church/

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