Biblical Salvation

Recently I celebrated the 40th anniversary of the day that I repented of my sins and became a born again Christian. It was a quiet celebration but one that I mark each year because it totally changed my life. As I celebrated I gave some though to this whole concept of salvation and what the Bible has to say about it.

Often we say, “I was saved on such and such a night” – in my case November 9, 1976. But this is not the whole truth and may even be a bit misleading to those who are disciples of Jesus as well as to non-believers.By stating the date of our initial encounter with the Living God we seem to imply that salvation is an event. It is – but it isn’t. In reality it is a process. The Bible talks about salvation in all three primary tenses: past, present, and future.

When we put our faith in Jesus, we were saved. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). That’s past tense. It’s done. It’s accomplished. And it happened in a moment.

But we are also being saved. Present tense. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). That speaks about the process of change, of growth, of depth.

And then there’s a future element to salvation. We will be saved. “This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:4-5).

We were saved, we are being saved, we will be saved. There’s no doubt about it. Walking with God is a lifelong experience. And beyond.

Yes, we are already forgiven. We will never be more forgiven than we are right now. We’ll never be more loved than we are right now. We’ve already arrived, and we’re already accepted. But at the same time, it’s going to be a process, because we are being changed and transformed each day. And the process will not be complete until we see Christ face-to-face, when he again changes us and makes us just like He is.

Amazing…

 

An Alternate Lifestyle

Society is shifting. The way we see things is changing. What once was seen as proper is no longer important. What was taboo 20 years ago is now acceptable behaviour. There is a shift in the culture that the Church needs to recognize and respond to. The days of getting up on Sunday morning, putting on your special “Sunday go to church clothes,” and heading to a nearby church service has ended and the shift to a new way of living life and understanding reality is here. We are living in an age of no absolutes and a very fluid flow of norms and what is now acceptable behaviour.

Our culture, through public education, media, the courts, and popular opinion, is embracing personal redefinitions of identity from grade school up, and becoming increasing intolerant of biblical ethics or behaviour defined by the Church. We need to recognize that, in our world, church life is now an alternate lifestyle. And, many ways of living that once were viewed as an “alternative lifestyle” and unacceptable have now become normalized.

Regretfully, as a result of this shift, the true Christian Church is now often seen as an adversary to acceptable behaviour. We have earned this reputation by spending so much time and effort condemning those who lived in a way that was once an alternative lifestyle and no longer is. We were busy yelling at the “darkness” – judging and condemning – where we should have been shining a light instead.

So, now we are the alternate lifestyle – the unacceptable. This is not altogether bad news though. Being different from the prevailing culture is the native ground of the Church, and it’s exciting to think about what God might do.

In the early Church the Christians were most certainly #1 alternative lifestyle. And, the other acceptable lifestyles were very much similar to the options available to us today. And, in the midst of these adverse circumstances the Church thrived and grew on a daily basis. People in the acceptable lifestyles could see that those belonging to “the Way,” as the faith was once called, were different. They had a peace that others did not have. They were overflowing with true love when others were not. They cared, they encouraged, they gave. They had direction and meaning in life. This was missing in the lives of the non-believers. The same is true today.

So, it is good to be THE alternative lifestyle in society today. And, like other once alternative lifestyles, we need to speak up, stand up, and let people know what we believe and why we believe it. We need to let others see our lifestyle – putting it and God on public display (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). We need to be militant as other former alternative styles were … so that they will know we are here and we are not going away.

Society has changed. Let’s not hide from the obvious and the inevitable. Let’s embrace the challenge and become the Church that Jesus is building.

Love Yourself As Jesus Loves You

Jesus loves us. He did not come into the world to condemn us but to save us – often from ourselves, always from sin. Like the woman who was caught in the act of adultery Jesus does not condemn us when we fail. He stands in front of us forgiving and pouring out His love upon us. Embrace Him.

Unlike the woman caught in adultery (see yesterday’s blog) who had no one left to accuse her (John 8) we often do have an accuser – ourselves. We are often our own worst enemy. We fail, we sin, we fall short of our expectations, and we give up on ourselves. We accept the labels and limits and lids that our past and our present failures seem to require…I am sinful, I am unfaithful, I am addicted, I am disgraceful, I am unworthy, I am a failure.

But, in Christ, as a born again believer, your accusers are gone. And the one whose opinion matters most stands before you, a smile on His face and tenderness in His eyes. He tells you, if you are listening with your heart, that there is hope. There is a future. You can live a different kind of life. You can become the person He meant for you to be.

Look at how Jesus treated people in the pages of your Bible. And then apply this Jesus to your circumstances and your current reality. Let God’s love, which is personified in Jesus, fill your inner life – your heart and your soul. Learn to look at yourself through His eyes. Filter your self-definitions and self-evaluations through the lenses of God’s mercy, goodness, and power. Let Him decide what qualifies you. Find out what He thinks of you. And, Jesus never labels or limits who we can become and what we can accomplish with Him. In doing this you will come to love yourself – and thus will then be able to “love your neighbour as you love yourself.” This is, of course, the second and great commandment.

Seeing ourselves as God sees us without our self-imposed labels is the start of a real adventure with God. An adventure of God-discovery that leads to self-discovery. You cannot discover the fullness of who you are and what God has called you to accomplish for Him until you first discover God in His fullness. And, to discover God, your Heavenly Father, you need to come to deeply know Jesus who came to reveal the Father to us. Only by embracing who Jesus really is – His fullness – can we then enter this journey of a lifetime and truly know the Father and then ourselves thus entering into His future plans for our lives.

As Simon, one of Jesus’ disciples, followed Him he discovered the fullness of Jesus. He cried out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” He embraced this revelation of who Jesus is. And, as a result Simon entered into the journey of self-discovery that took him from Simon to Peter. Knowing who Jesus really is and embracing Him fully as peter did is the start of changing who you are and how you see and treat yourself.

So, read the Gospels and discover Jesus, the real Jesus. Throw away your ‘good old plastic, religious Jesus’ and embrace the true Son. Enter fully into His life and receive life maybe for the first time. And, your world will change as will you. You will discover who you really are and begin to truly walk in the plans and purposes of God for your unique life as the new you is revealed and embraced.

Labels

Remember the woman caught in adults and brought to the feet of Jesus for judgment? It’s found in John, Chapter 8. Somehow a few religious leaders caught this woman in the act of sin, in the very definition of immorality. They decided that they would make an example of her. They would expose her failures publicly in order to trap Jesus.

So the religious leaders dragged her before Jesus and asked him what should be done. Should they stone her as the Law required? Or let her go and simply ignore God’s Law and proper justice?

Jesus does not condemn her. If anything, he condemned her condemners. He pointed out that, in reality, they were not any holier than the woman. They needed grace and mercy and hope and forgiveness just as much as she did. So, one by one they slunk away in silent shame.

Here’s the important part. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declares. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:10-11)

You can’t overestimate the significance of Jesus’s treatment of this woman and her sin. It was the polar opposite of how the Jews expected God to act. To them, God was a God of holiness, of righteousness, and of judgment. He was a perfect God who cared about the finest details of the Law. That was the message the Pharisees hammered into the people.

Again, this understanding is built on elements of truth: God is a holy God, and sin is an affront to His nature. Sin separates mankind from God, and it deserves punishment and death. This is precisely why Jesus came to the planet. He was not here to judge the woman. He was her to save her. He wasn’t her persecutor. He was her defence lawyer. So he let her go.

Was justice mocked? No, because ultimately He knew He would bear the punishment for the sin she was guilt of committing as well as every sin committed by every human throughout history. Including mine. Including yours.

How does Jesus react to our sin? The same way He reacted in this instance. He defends us. He protects. He dispels our accusers. And He gives us hope that we can live differently in the future.

What is fascinating to me about this woman is we don’t even knower name. We always call her “the woman caught in adultery.” Talk about a label. She is forever defined by her biggest blunder. At least to us. But that’s not how Jesus saw her that day. It’s not what God named her.

I think that when we get to Heaven, we will ask to meet this person named The Woman Caught In Adultery. And people will say, “Who? There is no one here by that name. Oh wait … Do you mean the person named The Woman Who Wasn’t Judged for Her Adultery? The one who’s known around here as The Woman Jesus Forgave? The person we like to call The Woman who Went and Sinned No More? She’s right over there. She goes by a different name now.”

Maybe it should be called “The Story of the Men Caught Throwing Stones.”

Maybe we should stop labeling people and thus pigeonholing them so we don’t have to deal with their uniqueness and difference. Instead, maybe we should simply love, accept, and forgive as Jesus did.

 

Process

I face most things in life as a project. That’s okay because we live in a project-oriented culture. We love goals, we make resolutions, and we love to measure results. There is really nothing wrong with this approach. Often it is necessary. However, we tend, as a result, to take that approach with the Christian faith.

We have a set list if “to do” daily events that indicate whether we are doing it right. We have this Christian “to do” list that includes, reading the Bible, praying, praying in tongues, maybe meditating, and on the list could and does go. And, if we accomplish the list then it is a good day and we are good with God. But, if we fail to complete the “to do” list then we feel guilty and begin to condemn ourselves wondering when we will ever master this thing we can the Christian faith. When will we ever be mature and spiritual like we are suppose to be? Like others are?

This is entirely the wrong approach. This approach says we can “arrive” and that there is a “destination” to be reached so we can say we are good with God, that we have arrived, and that we are mature as believers. But, the Christian life is not a destination – it is a journey. So, when we have ‘destination disease’ we miss the whole point of the faith that we have in Jesus and who He is.

The Christian walk is a process and not a destination. The Christian walk is not a finish line. It is not a goal or an achievement. It is an ongoing relationship with Jesus. So, all these activities that we have on our “to do” list are simply tools to help us develop and build this relationship we have with Jesus. But, we have turned the ‘tools’ into ‘rules’ and thus lose the benefit of reading, praying, fasting, and meditating. And so, we leave the faith and enter into realm of religion once again. We have put Jesus into a box and have these things we do so as to please Him. However, the Bible clearly states that if we want to please Him we simply need to have faith in Him (Hebrews 11:6). Faith that allows us to follow Him and obey Him because of who He is – God incarnate (born in the flesh).

So, we are on a journey with Jesus. The Christian life is a process and not a destination. It’s not a goal or something that we achieve. It is simply an ongoing and ever changing personal love relationship with Jesus. So, it means growing and changing, embracing and replacing, listening and living out what He speaks to us. It is a journey that will last the rest of our lives. Following Jesus is an on-going, ever-evolving experience. An adventure to be embraced and enjoyed.

A number of years ago I was beginning my summer schedule of ministry that allows for more time at home and thus more time to read and study my Bible. However, day after day as I sat and read God’s Word it was lifeless. Now, I understood that the problem was in me and not in the Word. Jesus said that His Word was spirit and life (John 6:63). But, at that time in my journey, there was simply no life. So, I asked God what I should do. And He instructed me to put the Bible aside and go for a long walk in the park that is near my home.

So, every day, twice a day, I would take my dog and we would go for a long walk. Often we would sit under a specific tree and watch the beaver at work building his house. Other times we would watch the ducks taking care of their young as they learned to swim, eat, and follow their parent. It was an amazing time each day as my soul relaxed, stepped off the performance treadmill, put away the “to do” list, and got in touch with itself and with God. Three months later summer ended and I picked my Bible once again and the words were once again filled with life. It was the best three months of my life … and God showed me and taught me so, so much.

Be careful that you have not settled for a destination instead of a journey. Be careful that you are not simply holding to a born again religion with all the “to do” lists to please God – the key element of all religions. We are followers of the Christian faith, not a religion, and it is a journey with many turns and changes as we follow Jesus. And, it is never boring or dead … it is a process taking us from life to more life to abundant life.

Settle for nothing less!

 

Church As Seen in the Bible

Last time I had the honour of teaching you from God’s Word we talked about “CHURCH ACCORDING TO JESUS”

We saw that everything about the Church begins with Jesus because He is building HIS Church

So, to understand the Church we need to personally answer the question:

“Who do you say that I am?” >> Because our understanding of Jesus is foundational to the way we view church Read more

Jeremy Wachtel

This is a testimony from Jeremy (Ohio who travelled to four nations with Ralph) about his experience with the Baptism in the Holy Spirit …

My name is Jeremy Wachtel. I currently work in a small, local business. I have helped with a few church plants and I am co-leading a ministry training school through my local church. I believe fully in doing what Jesus did while He was on earth: teaching, evangelizing, healing, deliverance, and I believe it is only really possible through the power of the Spirit. For believers to walk out their calling and fulfill the Great Commission we must be born again and baptized in the Spirit. This is the story of my journey to being baptized with the Holy Spirit and how I have come to understand the Holy Spirit baptism biblically.

Read more

The Journey With Jesus

Christians need to realize that the faith we confess and live is more than something we believe in our heads. It is a life-changing, heart-altering, perspective-changing journey with Jesus. It is a journey where we are constantly discovering and then accepting who we are right now while becoming who God means for us to become.

There is a word for all that: process

The Christian walk is not a finish line. It’s not a goal or an achievement. It’s an ongoing, ever-changing, relationship with Jesus. it’s a progression of GROWING and CHANGING, of EMBRACING and REPLACING, of LISTENING to God’s voice and LIVING out who He says we are.

It’s a process and a journey, and it will last the rest of our lives.

Following Jesus is an ongoing, ever-evolving experience. And the sooner we realize that it is not a destination, that we never “arrive” or totally “make it” the better. And, when we accept this fact then we can actually enjoy the journey.

The writer to the Hebrews tells us that it is a race. “… let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1b). As I have been thinking about the race that I am on personally I have determined that I will do everything possible to finish well and not just dribble over the finish line or miss the finish line totally.

The Holy Spirit goes on to say that to run with endurance and change today so we can become all God wants us to be tomorrow requires:

1> That we “lay aside” (Hebrews 12:1) every weight, worry, anxiety, and sin that clings so closely and occupies so much of our time, attention and energy. We need to recognize that He is God and that He is in control of all aspects of our life and thus we do not need to feel or even actually be weighed down by unnecessarily concern and worry, sin or sickness. We have been set free and we need to walk in that freedom on a daily basis.

2> That we “look to Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2) as he is the Perfecter and Founder of our faith. He is our example as He ran His race and finished well. He has lived as we live – with temptations and pain – and understands what we are going through. He finished His race well and thus set an example for us; an example that we should “look to.” As we do, we will find strength and encouragement to keep running the race that He has determined we are to run personally.

3> And, thirdly, we are to “consider Jesus” (Hebrews 12:3) so we don’t grow weary or fainthearted as the race continues day after day after day. It is a long race and will take endurance (a fruit of the Spirit – Galatians 5:22-23). And, as Jesus ran His race successfully by constantly looking to His Father so we will run our race successfully by “considering Jesus” and looking to His example – His life and ministry, His attitude and approach, His strength and grace.

So, we must not stop ‘becoming.’ We must continue to move forward. We must ‘run’ the race that He has set before us. We must endure. We must follow Jesus’ example. And, we must look to Him daily for His encouragement and help. We must never succumb to “destination disease” thinking that we have arrived. We never do.