Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Defining Salvation: Faith and Surrender

Does surrender save you?

I realize that question might have startled you, because it's rather upfront and to the point. Recently I had the privilege of spending time with someone who was struggling with this question. 

She had prayed to receive Christ rather recently. In the time since she'd done that, she had heard the phrase, "surrender your life to Christ" in reference to salvation. 

"I don't know if I'm going to heaven," she said to me with a look of fear on her face, "because I don't know that I've given Jesus everything." 

My heart went out to her... Was it possible that she wasn't saved? I went over the plan of salvation with her based on what the bible says:

The Gospel:
1. Every person on earth is born a sinner (Romans 3:23)
2. Our sin is separating us from God forever, and the punishment is death in hell. (Romans 6:23)
3. There is nothing that we can do to earn salvation. (Is. 64:6; Rom. 4:5)
4. Jesus Christ died in our place when He died on the cross and rose from the dead to give us new life and to prove He is victorious over death (Romans 5:8)
5. All God wants us to do to be saved is to realize that our sin is separating us from God and repent(change your mind), stop believing in other things/methods and just believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, resting in His finished work, and call upon His name to save us! We are simply to accept what Christ did on the cross to be enough to reconcile us to God! (Jn 3:15,16; 1 John 5:10-12)

After I went through that with her, I asked, "Have you accepted Christ as your personal Savior? Are you trusting only Him and not your works to save you?" 

"Yes," she answered. 

"Well then you're going to heaven!" I showed her 1 John 5:12: "Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God's Son does not have life." 

It is simple! Not complicated! Surrender doesn't save you. It is Jesus! If you have Jesus, then you have eternal life! "In Him was life..." (John 1:4)

What does believing on Christ mean?

In the Greek the word "Believe" means to "entrust". It has the idea of placing all of your hope in Christ and in nothing else, because you are hopeless apart from Him. It is realizing that there is no other way but Jesus, no other truth but Jesus, no other life, but that which is found in JESUS.

When you place your faith in Christ, it goes a step farther than just saying, "Oh yeah, that's true," it is believing it to be true and putting all your dependence upon it with no backup plan, no "plan B." It isn't Christ PLUS good works. JUST Christ alone, that saves you. 

Are Christians perfect?

If Christians are supposed to live perfect lives, then there isn't one single Christian on the face of this earth. Find the most godly person you know and go home with them and live with them every moment of every day, and pretty soon you will find flaws you didn't think that person had!

The Christian life is meant to be a life of progress, not perfection! We are to continually seek to be transformed! (Romans 12:2)

Are Christians always fully surrendered?

Many days in my life have I woke up in the morning wanting to live the day for me, and many days have I carried out that desire, to my shame. (That is the opposite of surrender.) If you've lived every single day, and every single moment for Christ since the day you were saved, I'd like to get with you and find out your secret! I haven't found a perfect Christian yet who's never lived out one single moment for something other than Christ! 

Or what about things like your money, your possessions, and your friends? Do you always check with God before using "His" money? Or do you even think about your possessions as "His" all the time? What about your friends? Do you treat your time with them as "God's" time?

Ouch.

If this is what is required of us in order to go to heaven, then we aren't going! I haven't found one single Christian who is able to live their life every moment and every day fully surrendered to Christ. 

Those who have been saved ought to practice surrender...

Jesus said, "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." (Mark 8:34)

"I beseech you, therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind..." (Romans 12:1-2) 

"Then He said to them all, 'If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." (Luke 9:23)

It's a plea from Christ to those who have accepted Him and are His. Denying oneself and taking up one's cross is not a one time thing. It's a daily thing. If these verses were in reference to salvation, you and I would be constantly losing and regaining our salvation! 

Can you lose your salvation?

Jesus said, "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand." (John 10:28-29) 

If you can't be snatched from the Father's hand, then you can't be lost once found. Simple. Salvation is a gift that, once given, is never taken away.

If you've never trusted in Christ as your Savior, simply call upon His name, placing your trust in Him alone. He is the only hope of salvation, and His blood is the only thing that can wash away the stain of our sin!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"Oh God, do you even love me?"

"Oh God, do you even love me?" The question escaped my lips before I could even begin to think how "unchristian" it was.

The darkness seemed to envelop my vision and I could not see the One I was speaking to... was He even there? How could He be when I felt so far from Him? 

...No, He couldn't be. Desperately, I looked around me, looking for solace, but the wind kept blowing, the waves kept beating against me, threatening to knock me down. 

"What is He doing?" I asked myself. 

I desperately searched my surroundings, but all I could hear were whispers saying, "He doesn't care about you. All those promises He made to you -He won't keep them. He has cast you aside and won't notice you now!" 

I knew that what I was hearing was a lie, yet now, in the middle of the harsh circumstances I was in, it seemed far too true. 

"I thought You'd promised me joy, God... And yet, I have none." Tears streamed down my face as the realization of what I was saying began to sink in. I was doubting my God, the very One I'd trusted in and upon whom my whole life depended.

If He couldn't help me, no one could... I sank to my knees amid the gale, a feeling of hopelessness overwhelming me. Was I truly alone? "God, please, help me!" I buried my head in my hands, weeping. How could He hear me? What little faith I had that He could...

Suddenly, I felt a gentle touch, and heard a comforting whisper. "He promised... Make your requests known." For a brief moment, I felt calm. Would He answer?

I remembered His promise: "The Holy Spirit helpeth our infirmities, for we know not what we should pray for as we ought. But He intercedeth with groanings that cannot be uttered." (Romans 8)

"Oh, Holy Spirit, help me to pray!" 

With a gentle tug on my hand, He pulled me to my feet and took me step by step down the corridor of faith towards the Throne of Grace. He whispered again a gentle whisper in my ear: "Make your request known." 

Suddenly, I realized where I was and before whom I knelt. Jesus sat at the right hand of the Father, smiling a kind, welcoming smile. The One on the throne leaned forward, compassion etched in His face as He knew the deep agony I felt. Father and Son together, waiting patiently for me to speak, already aware that something was wrong. The Holy Spirit was at my side, encouraging me with His presence that all would be ok. It was a holy place that inspired silence, yet somehow I knew they wanted to hear me speak.

I faltered for the words... "God... I've been doubting You... I'm tired of the storm in my life! All I can see is the wind and the waves and I've lost sight of what really matters... I've lost sight of You." I paused, trying to fight back the tears, but it was no use. I felt the gentle touch again, and I knew this was a safe place. He didn't want me to say all the right things. He wanted me to ask Him for the thing I was needing most at that moment.

I took a deep breath. "I just want what You promised to be true in me... I just want the peace You said You'd give to those who pray with supplication and thanksgiving to You... I don't care how you bring it about, and I don't even care if the storm itself doesn't stop... But do whatever it takes to restore in me that peace that glorifies You. Thank you for your promise."

Soon after, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that He'd already begun to answer me. He quieted the raging seas, stopped the wind from blowing... The confusion was silenced, the lying whispers gone. No longer did I doubt He loved me. No longer did I wonder where He was. 

All He'd been waiting for was a bold request made in humility by one who was aware of who He is and what He is capable of doing; a request made for His glory...

"Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Heb 4:16)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

When You Feel It's Icy Grip...

Uncertainty hangs thickly in the air. Perhaps it's uncertainty of the future, perhaps it's uncertainty about something going on right now. Maybe life isn't as promising as it used to be. The once young, ambitious Christian who has now gotten older in years has become cautious and unwilling to step out onto the wings of faith in the midst of a storm.

That uncertainty is often so thick that one can't see through it. Threatening voices whisper, "It won't be ok! Everything is going to fall apart!" And the eyes of the Christian dart every which way, looking at his storms, gripped by one very powerful vice of the enemy ...that being fear.

Ever felt it's icy grip on your life? It paralyzes every person in it's grasp.

Fear is what caused Peter to sink into the powerful waves of the sea after he'd taken a few steps on top of them. Fear is what kept him from admitting that he was Jesus' follower on the night of Jesus' arrest. Fear is what keeps Christians from speaking out for the Christ they claim to follow.

Fear is what keeps the mom of teenagers awake late at night, afraid she will lose them to the dangers that constantly lurk about in this world. Fear is what keeps the dad who has little up at night, hoping, wishing he could afford to provide more for his family, afraid he will lose what little he has. Fear is what causes the child to look in the closet and under the bed to make sure nothing is lurking in the darkness. It causes us to avoid dark hallways, keep quiet when we should speak up, stay away from uncomfortable situations... It prevents us from stepping out and trying new endeavors.

Those that are under its spell lose sight of their purpose and try to do everything they can to prevent whatever they fear from happening. They grasp at whatever is nearby, hoping it will grant them solace, aching for the fears to subside, but to no avail. They seek the place out in which they were comfortable, but find the fears threatening them even there...

Why don't these things help?

The other morning, I was reading in the Psalms and one verse struck me: "I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears." (Psalm 34:4) 


Do you know what delivered him from his fears? It wasn't some scheme to get out of whatever he feared. He sought the Lord, and was delivered from all his fears. 

Dear Christian, your deliverance does not lie in your friends, in your schemes, in your plans, in some magnificent thing you decide to do, it lies in your Deliverer, and it only comes when you seek Him, not what He gives, not what He will do, just Him.

Do you trust Him? It is not that you should never feel fear, or if you have fear something is wrong with you, it is that you must respond to the fear you feel by seeking your Deliverer. Run to Him, dear Christian. He never fails. He is the One who will give you that peace you so desperately long for.

"Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your request be made known unto God; and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7)

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Feeling of Our Infirmities...

"For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities..." (Heb. 4:15)

When I do not understand myself, Jesus still understands me.
When I am hurt, He longs to heal me.
When I am at a loss for words, He sees my heart and knows what I am thinking.
When I feel fear, He seeks to show me that He is protecting me.
When I can't walk any farther, He steadies me, takes me by the hand, and leads me.
When I fall, He picks me up.
When my soul is dying of thirst, He seeks to satisfy me.
When I am hungry, He fills me with His goodness.
When I feel lost and don't know what to do, He lights up my pathway and shows me His wisdom.
When everything around me is falling to pieces, He is my Rock, in whom I can trust.
When my soul is at war and there seems to be no rest, He is my Hiding Place, my Song in the night, offering sweet peace...
When I feel confused and cannot wrap my mind around the situations in my life, He is there, the Author of Order, the Light in my darkness, seeking to comfort me.
When my hope is all gone, He gently comes beside me and shows me He is my hope and there is none other.
When I feel all alone, even then, He is there beside me, encircling me in His presence, placing His hand of blessing on my head.
When my life never seems to tire of dealing blow after blow of discouragement, He never leaves my side, never gives up on me, and never stops offering His words of encouragement that He knows I need.
When I cannot stop from weeping, He weeps with me, He understands why I hurt, He holds me close to His heart as a Shepherd carries a lamb.
When I feel there is no purpose, no point anymore, He gently reminds me that He makes no mistakes, that all things work together for good, and that I am indeed called according to His purpose. His heart for me is good and only good....

No, dear Christian, our High Priest is not like any other, for He knows us, and His heart is for us, and He chooses never to leave us or to stop encouraging us! We have no one who is more reliable, unchangeable, full of mercy and grace, than Him! He is the one who is constantly making intercession for us, for He knows our weakness, because He too was here on this earth, experiencing all of the same pain, all of the same hurts, all the same temptations as we experience, and yet He did not sin.

Let us trust Him wholeheartedly, because it is He alone that will never change and never fail us. Oh, what a kind Savior we have and are privileged to know!
"Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace."  (Hymn: Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus) 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

It's No Secret

"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before His eyes, and He is the One to whom we are accountable." -Hebrews 4:13

Think about it.

You are always before His eyes. He searches and knows you. There are are many things you may be able to hide from others, but there is nothing you can hide from Him.

He's seen you at your worst.
He's watched as you compromised the very things you said you believed in. He's listened as you whispered hateful words towards another human being. He's watched as you turned on your computer and browsed page after page on the internet. He's watched as you welcomed thoughts and ideas that you knew were wrong into your mind.

He was there in those times when you doubted Him, when you asked yourself why you even believed in Him, when you considered trading Him for something else that you thought was worth more. Yes, even then, He was watching.

Oh, but not only that, your secret feelings, your innermost desires, the things you dwell on when nobody is around -those things- He sees them too.

He listens in when you sit around with your friends and slander others. He weighs your words when you tell those "little white lies". He watches as you defraud your sisters or brothers in Christ, dear Christian. Those "little things" you can get away with, He notices them too.

Not only does He know everything you do, feel, want, think, and say, but He also knows the reason why...

"...Everything is naked and exposed before His eyes..." 

He knows the deepest yearning of your heart, the thing that motivates you to do what you do. He knows why it is or isn't Him. He knows if you have truly chosen Him with all of your heart.

...Why am I telling you this?
I'm not trying to scare you, but as I contemplated what it means when it says God knows and sees everything -yes, and that means everything- about me, it brought tears to my eyes. Here is what struck me:

He knows how often I fail Him, and He sees every mistake I make, and YET, He loves me! 

This holy, perfect God, whose requirement for heaven is that we be perfect, knows how horribly imperfect we are, and yet He still loves us and provided for us a way to have His perfection marked upon us through His Son, Jesus... How incredible! It baffles me to think of it!

And one day, everything that He sees, we will see too, and we will be asked to give an account.

Does that thought bother you? Are you living in such a way that you won't be ashamed when you see Him? Dear Christian, everything you are doing right now is not a secret to God. If you think it is, you are fooling yourself. And one day, He's going to ask you to give an account. Why not live your life sold out for Christ?

If you find that your life is not glorifying God, it's not too late!

Confess sin to God: "But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness." (1 John 1:9)

Be honest about yourself to God, yourself, and others: "But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:7)

Confess faults to others and get accountability: "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results." (James 5:16)

...If God offers us so much grace, then why not take it?
Let us take hold of that grace He offers us, and walk in the victory Jesus Christ alone can give, knowing that -yes- He sees us, but He also wants to help us and has given us all we need to live a life that brings pleasure to Him! His love is everlasting!


Sunday, January 19, 2014

What do you want?

"Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. Whosoever will save his life shall lose it, but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it."
I have been studying this passage for the past week or so, and one thing that I didn't notice at first glance completely changed my perspective on the verse when I finally saw it. It is found in a phrase that occurs twice: "Whosoever will."

Both times, "whosoever will" in the Greek means, whoever wants to or purposes to. 

It's not enough! 
"Whosoever will come after me..."

In our American church, it's easy to become introspective and look for a desire in yourself to come after Jesus. You might be asked, "do you want to live for Jesus?" and you say "Yes." Somehow that answer is enough, and we need not worry further as to our spiritual state.

But Jesus is saying here, "It's not enough to just want to follow me. You have to take the next step!" Here's what He says to do:

1. Deny yourself - Set aside your personal desires, and the many things in your life that bring you pleasure. Be willing to give them up at any time. Live surrendered to Christ.

2. Take up your cross - Choose to die daily, to live selfless, unrelentingly for Jesus. Have the attitude of John, who said, "He must increase, I must decrease." (John 1)

3. Follow Jesus - Choose to live your life like Jesus. (i.e. become a friend of sinners, love unconditionally, give of yourself, risk your reputation, your future, your goals, and even your life for the sake of the truth, etc.) More so, choose to live your life with Jesus. Abide in Him and let Him influence you!

You can't live for Jesus unless you are with Him, dear Christian. He is the source of power, strength, joy, wisdom, and everything you and I need!

A desire that makes you useless
"Whosoever will save his life..."

In contrast to the first occurrence, this desire brings about one terrible consequence. Jesus says that if you want to save your life, you will lose it.

When I first read that phrase, "save his life", the picture that instantly comes to mind is being rescued from danger. But the Greek goes deeper than that! Save also means to keep safe and sound. Life can mean not just physical life, but the seat of your feelings and affections- your soul. And that word lose has the idea of rendering useless and being ruined, being put out of the way entirely.

So if your desire is to protect yourself from being hurt, you make yourself useless for God.

That desire for safety, for never leaving your comfort zone to serve Jesus, that desire to make sure you are "comfortable" in your life, to never take a risk, is a debilitating desire, because when God directs you to do something that would bring Him glory, your response will be disobedience.

So, what do you do with a desire like that?

"Whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it."
Set yourself aside. Don't take thought for your life. Whether you will be hurt or not, whether people will treat you well or not -set aside that fear of man- the promise is God will protect you. He becomes the one who comforts you when you're hurt, who protects your very life from danger, He becomes the Upholder of your soul.
Jesus said, "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." (Mt. 6:33)
It is not that your life doesn't matter, dear Christian, it is that God wants to be the One to take care of it, so that you can be free to serve Him! Give Him your all, and walk in surrender to Him. Let Him be your one desire. Give all of your natural desires to Him and let Him transform them into godly desires!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Difficult Death to Die

Today, I want to talk about death... 
Many of you read that, and whoever was sitting nearest you heard a sharp intake of breath. 

No, I am not talking about physical death. 

I'm talking about a different kind of death. I alluded to it in my last post, but I must talk more specifically about it, since I myself have been meditating on it more in depth, and praying about it, and seeking to apply it to my own life over the past week. 

Let me bring up the passage again 
Jesus said this: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; but he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him shall my Father honour." (John 12:24-26)
Whenever I first read this, I found the idea burdensome...  Do you? Dying means that you must disregard all personal interests and enjoyments, you must deny yourself. Each day, as I sought to study it out, I found more and more that Jesus wants us to not just be his disciple, but forsake all others in the process.

Forsaking all others...
"He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross and followeth after me, is not worthy of me." (Mt. 10:37-38)
"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Mt. 16:24)
Jesus said this over and over. He wasn't naming it as merely an option, but something that is mandatory for anyone who belongs to Him. Sometimes, He would say it to test the intensity of a man or woman's desire to be his disciple. Other times, he said it to emphasize that fact that it was no small thing to be His follower.

Jesus is our example...
He said, "But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister: And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Mt. 20:26-28)
When telling a parable, he said, "Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them." (Lk. 12:37)
Do you think stepping down from His throne and becoming a man was easy? What about the fact that He knew He would die? Was it easy for Him to do menial service like a slave, rather than receive service from a king as he deserved?

And yet this whole idea of dying to ourselves, of giving up our own desires to serve One who deserves to have our whole heart and undivided loyalty makes us cringe!

God has not changed!
Why do we not trust Him? Perhaps we doubt He is the same as He was in the bible, capable of doing mighty, amazing, awe-striking works in the lives of humankind? Perhaps we think his promises are a thing of the past, that they don't apply to us today?
"God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?" (Num. 23:9)
Since He doesn't change, then why do we doubt he can handle -or wants to handle- our lives? He wants to do great things through you!

God never intended for this kind of death to be burdensome...
This morning I realized that I felt weighed down. I knew God wanted me to die to myself, and I have sensed Him helping me to come to that place where total surrender is not something I do out of necessity, but because I want to.

But as I prayed, He reminded me of something else Jesus said...
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Mt. 11:28-30)
God doesn't intend for us to be burdened down to the point of being unable to walk. He doesn't want us to feel like slaves that are being forced to obey. He never intended for us to be pressured into making decisions that we think might glorify him, while all the while, we wish we were doing something different.

Can I tell you something? He wants your heart! He is gentle, and any burden you carry at this moment, whether it is large or small, any thing you find is pulling your heart away from him -whether you enjoy it or not- He wants to carry it for you and prove to you that He is better.

Ah, what a relief to be reminded of this! He is no taskmaster, but a gentle Shepherd that desires to clear the noise so you and I can hear His voice and follow Him.

Are you at rest in your soul? Perhaps you haven't died to yourself and given Him your burdens. Are you void of joy? Perhaps your heart isn't in His hands. Have you given Him all? Have you died to yourself and given Him a chance to show you what real, abundant life is?

Once you and I surrender our own hearts to Him and let Him carry our burdens so we can learn of Jesus without any reserves, He will give rest unto our souls. It's a promise. Don't miss out on this!