Many people are not interested in heaven, caring only about their present happiness. But have they compared the lights of their liking to the true light of God’s Son? There is no light other than Jesus that can lead to true joy now or to eternal life in days to come: not money, adventure, or success; not the pride of morality; not the pleasure of sin. The only true light is Jesus Christ, and God in His grace sent Him into this world to be our Savior. What will happen to those who reject Him? How will God respond if they do not receive His Son, bowing the knee and opening their hearts to believe and be saved? As John declared, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).
This weekend a big stink was kicked up about the trailer and marketing copy of Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Indeed, the brouhaha led to Bell’s name trending on Twitter!
So as you can imagine, this thing is causing quite the commotion among Christians on the interwebs.
The issue came onto my radar yesterday when I saw Emily had been reading this post from Justin Taylor. I read the marketing copy, which after some fairly heavy-handed selling of Bell’s credentials, we get to the heart of the controversy:
Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.
The accompanying video doesn’t help much:
In his previous books and tours, Bell has often been… squishy regarding his take on the wrath of God (even going so far as to reinterpret God’s wrath as a feeling of grief mixed with a desire to reconnect and restore). Indeed, he’s been so ambiguous that it’s caused a great many pastors and theologians to ask the question: Is he a universalist?
With this book it seems we might have an answer, in much the same way Brian McLaren dropped his pretence of trying to remain orthodox in A New Kind of Christianity.
However, I don’t know if it’s safe to say that for certain because, well, the book hasn’t been released yet. Because the material is in Bell’s typically ambiguous style so it can be taken one of two ways:
- He is playing “Devil’s Advocate” (oh, how I loathe that term) and presenting legitimate questions
- The trajectory he’s been on for years has reached it’s destination and he’s outright abandoned the gospel
My hope would be the former. But if I had to be honest, my expectation is the latter. And this is not something I find delightful or comforting.
Here’s what I would hate to see: If it turns out that he has indeed abandoned the gospel and embraced universalism (“Christian” or otherwise), that is cause to weep. Rob Bell’s influence is enormous and, if he does indeed advocate for universalism, then he will be preaching people straight into hell.
We can’t get away from the reality of hell. The Bible is clear that there will be eternal punishment for those who do not repent and turn to Jesus for salvation.
And love doesn’t win unless there’s something from which to flee.
(Thanks to Erik from J.C. Ryle Quotes for the title of the post.)
A helpful breakdown of 20 things that God does when He saves you, courtesy of Norm Millar, Senior Pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel London.
When God saves you, He…
- Regenerates you, moving you from spiritual death to life. (John 3:1-8)
- Redeems you, buying you out of slavery to sin. (1 Peter 1:18-19)
- Justifies you, declaring you innocent in His sight. (Romans 5:1-9)
- Sanctifies you, setting you apart as holy. (1 Cor 1:2,30)
- Forgives you of all your sins. (Ephesians 1:7)
- Cleanses you, removing from you the stain of sin. (Hebrews 9:14)
- Reconciles you to Himself. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)
- Seals you with His Spirit as a guarantee of your future hope. (Ephesians 1:13)
- Indwells you, sending the Holy Spirit to live in you. (Romans 8:9)
- Adopts you, making you His child. (Romans 8:14-17)
- Baptizes you into Christ’s body, the Church. (1 Corinthians 12:3)
- Illuminates your mind so you can understand the Scriptures. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)
- Makes you a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
- Reveals you as one of His elect. (Ephesians 1:4, Romans 8:29-30)
- Grants you eternal life. (John 11:25-27, 1 John 5:11-13)
- Names you an heir with Christ. (Romans 8:17)
- Grants you an inheritance. (1 Peter 1:3-4)
- Declares you a saint. (Romans 1:7, Colossians 1:2)
- Grants you new citizenship, making your home heaven rather than this world. (Philippians 3:20)
- Makes you a slave of Christ, a slave with the greatest, most glorious Master that any could ask for. (1 Corinthians 7:22-23)
Praise God for the assurance that comes from these great truths.
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”—Isaiah 9:6
Well, now I have all but done, but give your solemn, very solemn attention, while I come to my last head—if it is not so, what then?
Dear hearer, I cannot tell where thou art—but wherever thou mayst be in this hall, the eyes of my heart are looking for thee, that when they have seen thee, they may weep over thee. Ah, miserable wretch, without a hope, without Christ, without God. Unto thee there is no Christmas mirth, for thee no child is born; to thee no Son is given.
Sad is the story of the poor men and women, who during the week before last fell down dead in our streets through cruel hunger and bitter cold. But far more pitiable is thy lot, far more terrible shall be thy condition in the day when thou shalt cry for a drop of water to cool thy burning tongue, and it shall be denied thee; when thou shalt seek for death, for grim cold death—seek for him as for a friend, and yet thou shalt not find him. For the fire of hell shall not consume thee, nor its terrors devour thee. Thou shalt long to die, yet shalt thou linger in eternal death—dying every hour, yet never receiving the much coveted boon of death. What shall I say to thee this morning? Oh! Master, help me to speak a word in season, now.
I beseech thee, my hearer, if Christ is not thine this morning, may God the Spirit help thee to do what I now command thee to do.
First of all, confess thy sins; not into my ear, nor into the ear of any living man. Go to thy chamber and confess that thou art vile. Tell him thou art a wretch undone without his sovereign grace. But do not think there is any merit in confession. There is none. All your confession cannot merit forgiveness, though God has promised to pardon the man who confesses his sin and forsakes it. . . . It is the least that you can do, to acknowledge your sin; and though there be no merit in the confession, yet true to his promise, God will give you pardon through Christ. That is one piece of advice. I pray you take it… [Read more…]
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
In this passage of Ephesians, Paul shows his readers a picture of the triune God initiating and accomplishing the reconciliation and redemption of His people all for the praise of His infinite glory. It’s one of the most beautiful passages of the entire Bible.
And in the Greek text, it’s one, long, elegant sentence.
It’s the run-on sentence to end all run-on sentences—one that some commentators call a monster!
So what would cause Paul to create a “monster” sentence like this, detailing the story of redemption on such an epic scale? Why would he, in the middle of writing a letter, break out into what almost seems to be a spontaneous fit of praise?
It’s that he has a God-sized gospel. I really appreciated reading Fred Sanders’ insights into this passage in The Deep Things of God. Take a look and ask yourself: Is my gospel too small?
On the basis of Ephesians 1:3-14, nobody can accuse Paul of having a gospel that is too small. There is an abundance here bordering on excessiveness. And Paul’s sentence has that character precisely because, as Scripture breathed out by God, it faithfully corresponds to the character of the reality it points to: a gospel of salvation tha tis the work of the untamable holy Trinity. Like all Scripture, this passage is the word fo God and has within itself the life, activity, and incisiveness we would expect in an almighty speech-act through which God does his work (Heb. 4:12). It is an effective word, and one of its effects here is to snatch its listeners out of their own lives and drop them into Christ. It immediately takes the reader to the heavenlies, to the world of the Spirit, and from that vantage point invites us to join in blessing God for the blessing he blessed us with…
All of us think from our own point of view, starting from a center in ourselves and how things look to us. This is unavoidable, since everyone has to start from where they are. . . . The only way to escape this tendency is to be drawn out of ourselves into the bewilderingly large and complex gospel of God. . . . What we need is the miracle of being able to see our own situation from an infinitely higher point of view. We need to start our thinking from a center in God, not in ourselves. . . . Paul invites us to an ecstatic gospel: the good news of standing outside (ek-stasis) of ourselves. (pp. 101-102)
…then why does God save anyone?
That’s been the question my review of Max Lucado’s latest book has been raising over at Amazon.
One commenter wrote,
I disagree with the view that “There isn’t anything in us particularly worth saving.” There is something in us worth saving. That is why he saves us. He sees his image. That is what he saw in Peter. That is what he saw in the adulterous woman. That is what he saw in John and the thief on the cross. We need Jesus because we have destroyed that image. He loves us greatly. He does see something in us.
How sad for you that you don’t believe Jesus sees anything in you worth saving. If we are so completely worthless, why does He bother? For kicks? Just to show off His power? Of course not. He does it because He loves us and because we are ALL worth saving.
These two commenters—like all who would hold to that position—are obviously very sincere in their belief that Jesus saves because we’re worth it somehow. Maybe God sees Himself in us, so He feels He has to intervene, or we’ve got something good in us…
Now here’s the thing. I appreciate the sincerity of their belief; I also get why it irks them so much—it’s an incredibly offensive thing to say that none of us are worth saving in God’s eyes.
However, as sincerely held as this belief might be, it’s also sincerely wrong.
Nowhere in the entirety of Scripture are we told that God saves us because we’re worth saving. We’re actually told the opposite. [Read more…]
We are not orphans, for “the Lord is risen indeed.”
The orphan has a sharp sorrow springing out of the death of his parent, namely, that he is left alone. He cannot now make appeals to the wisdom of the parent who could direct him. He cannot run, as once he did, when he was weary, to climb the paternal knee. He cannot lean his aching head upon the parental bosom. “Father,” he may say, but no voice gives an answer. “Mother,” he may cry, but that fond title, which would awaken the mother if she slept, cannot arouse her from the bed of death.
The child is alone, alone as to those two hearts which were its best companions…
But we are not so; we are not orphans.
…There is one point in which the orphan is often sorrowfully reminded of his orphanhood, namely, in lacking a defender.
It is so natural in little children, when some big boy molests them, to say, “I’ll tell my father!” How often did we use to say so, and how often have we heard from the little ones since, “I’ll tell mother!”
Sometimes, the not being able to do this is a much severer loss than we can guess. Unkind and cruel men have snatched away from orphans the little which a father’s love had left behind; and in the court of law there has been no defender to protect the orphan’s goods. Had the father been there, the child would have had its rights, scarcely would any have dared to infringe them; but, in the absence of the father, the orphan is eaten up like bread, and the wicked of the earth devour his estate.
In this sense, the saints are not orphans.
The devil would rob us of our heritage if he could, but there is an Advocate with the Father who pleads for us. Satan would snatch from us every promise, and tear from us all the comforts of the covenant; but we are not orphans, and when he brings a suit-at-law against us, and thinks that we are the only defendants in the case, he is mistaken, for we have an Advocate on high. Christ comes in and pleads, as the sinners’ Friend, for us; and when He pleads at the bar of justice, there is no fear but that His plea will be of effect, and our inheritance shall be safe. He has not left us orphans.
Now I want, without saying many words, to get you who love the Master to feel what a very precious thought this is, that you are not alone in this world; that, if you have no earthly friends, if you have none to whom you can take your cares, if you are quite lonely so far as outward friends are concerned, yet Jesus is with you, is really with you, practically with you, able to help you, and ready to do so, and that you have a good and kind Protector close at hand at this present moment, for Christ has said it:
“I will not leave you orphans.”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Believer Not an Orphan (Published in Till He Come)
Something I’ve been praying for, fairly consistently, is the opportunity to share our faith with our family. A while back, we used to hope for kind of an “afterschool special” moment; that one day, Emily’s parents or my parents would sit us down and say, “Gee, you’re really different. Why is that?” And then we could share our story, present the gospel and see them get saved. That day.
Too lofty a goal? Maybe.
Anyway, as I’ve been praying, occasionally little opportunities to put something out there pop up. Sometimes I end up taking them, but… a lot of the time, I hesitate or I misread the situation.
Sunday afternoon, for example, I realized in hindsight that there was a prime opportunity and I dropped the ball. My mother-in-law asked me how my preaching went last weekend, which gave me an opening that—I didn’t take.
But I should have, I realized as we were driving home.
I talked a bit about how it went, but didn’t get into the content of the message too much. While she might not have been all that interested (and even though I’ve sent a link to the audio), I totally blew that opportunity.
What I’m realizing in this is that I’m kind of evangelistically challenged, at least when it comes to family.
I think there’s still a part of me that wants to think that pure “relational evangelism”—that somehow, people are going to ask, “Gee, Aaron, I’ve noticed you don’t drink; could you tell me how to get saved?”—that that’s actually going to work.
But I’m sure, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we know that it just doesn’t.
Paul writes in Romans 10:14-17:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Getting over being evangelistically challenged means being willing to speak up, even at the risk of offending someone with the truth.
I guess the question for me is, am I willing to get over myself to do it?
On Sunday, July 11th, I once again had the opportunity to preach at Poplar Hill Christian Church in Poplar Hill, Ontario. The message is from Romans 1:18-25, True and False Worship.
The abbreviated transcript follows for those who need/prefer:
The last time I was here, I spoke on obedience and how obedience—to God’s Word, for His Glory—is the evidence of the Christian life. That message has weighed heavily on me since I was last here and as I’ve examined my own life in light of it, I’ve been left with a question: If obedience is the evidence of what we worship, who or what am I worshipping? Is it God or something else?
What we’re going to discover together is this:
Because God is the only One worthy of our praise, we must examine our lives and discover who or what we truly worship.
Turn with me to Romans chapter 1; this is where we’re going to be spending the bulk of our time today.
Starting in verse eighteen:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
We are all Worshippers
At the end of June, I went to Honduras with Compassion Canada. We saw the projects at work, visited homes, played with kids, and it was amazing. While we were there, we also had the opportunity to visit the Copan Ruins and the remnants of the Mayan temples.
Our tour guide took us through the ruins, teaching us about the culture of the Mayans as we went. There were idols everywhere.
Images of iguanas symbolizing fertility; macaw birds representing their sun god… It was everywhere. But the thing that stood out to me the most was listening to him describe the after parties from a sports event.
Basically what would happen is that athletes would compete against each other, passing the ball around with the goal of hitting one of the six stone macaw heads on the sidelines of the court. And you had to do it without using your hands.
These games were a big deal—the religious leaders, the chieftains and all the people would fill the stadium. Now, after the game was won and a winner was proclaimed, there’d be a celebration in his honor.
Can you guess the prize for the winner? Sacrificed to the gods.
Doesn’t really make you want to win the game, does it?
Human sacrifice was all too common in this area of Honduras. People would throw themselves off the cliffs into the temple courts as a sacrifice, hoping to appease the gods.
As I learned about the culture, as impressive as the architecture is and as breathtaking as the ruins are, I was disgusted by the idolatry.
I started thinking about our own culture… is it really that different?
Sure, we don’t (normally) worship birds or practice human sacrifice as a reward for a game well-played; but as I’ve been looking around since I came home, one inescapable truth has become more apparent than ever:
We are all worshippers.
This is the way God has made us.
He’s not made us to worship, or to be worshippers; He’s made us worshipping.
Harold Best in his book Unceasing Worship describes it this way:
We were created continuously outpouring. Note that I did not say we were created to be continuous outpourers. Nor can I dare imply that we were created to worship. This would suggest that God is an incomplete person whose need for something outside himself (worship) completes his sense of himself. It might not even be safe to say that we were created for worship, because the inference can be drawn that worship is a capacity that can be separated out and eventually relegated to one of several categories of being. I believe it is strategically important, therefore, to say that we were created continuously outpouring—we were created in that condition, at that instant, imago Dei.
What Best is telling us is that our identity as worshippers is tied to God’s nature and our being created in His image.
Back in Genesis 1, we’re told that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formless and void and the Spirit of God hovered over the depths.
So in the beginning, there was God.
And that’s it.
Some will speculate that God created the world and humanity because He was lonely. He needed something to pour out His love upon. But that’s not what Scripture says. The Bible says that God lacks nothing. If he lacked, then He would cease to be God.
This is where the doctrine of the Trinity is so important. Because God is one God in three persons—God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit—He lives in perfect, eternal, joyful, community, unceasingly outpouring His love on Himself.
And we were created out of an overflow of this, not of need, but out of joy to share His glory with others. And because we were created in His image, we do likewise—unceasingly worshipping, intended to reflect His glory in all creation.
Paul understands this. That’s why he doesn’t say, “In the past, some of you didn’t worship anything at all.” He says, “All of you have worshipped created things instead of the Creator.”
We are all always worshipping something. And more often than not, it’s not our Creator.
Our Lives Show Us Who We Worship
We’re continuously worshipping, but there’s something else we need to understand:
Our lives show us who we worship.
The hard thing for all of us is discovering what it is we worship—why? Because we’re blind to it. We’re blind to it because we have, as Paul wrote, exchanged the truth about God for a lie.
We’ve made created things—sometimes good things—our god, worshipping them instead of our Creator.
Let me give you a couple of practical examples:
Every day, men and women across the country congregate in one of the dozens of temples that are on nearly every street corner in Canada to worship as we roll up a rim.
This past winter, we had the Olympics; do you remember the fervor that surrounded Men’s Hockey?
How about the last few weeks with the World Cup going on?
And what about all the silliness with Lebron James and Chris Bosch joining the Miami Heat?
I know a few people who were cussing out Bosch, but James… They were burning his jersey in Cleveland this week!
Because the god they worshipped had let them down.
He left to play for a different team.
And the idol was crushed.
We are all worshippers; we’re always worshipping something—and our lives will reveal who or what we worship.
Maybe there’s something coming to your mind right now—your job, your spouse, your kids, your car, your computer, candy…
We think that these things will make us happy. That they’ll satisfy and save us. But anything but God will always fail.
But we don’t believe it. We don’t believe it because we’ve exchanged the truth for a lie.
False Worship Suppresses the Truth
“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth,” writes Paul in verse 18.
When we sin, when we behave in a manner contrary to God’s commands and His character, we “suppress the truth” about God.
False worship suppresses the truth.
When we put anything in place of God in our lives, we suppress the truth.
This is a damning indictment!
To suppress the truth about God—to deny His authority, His majesty, His power—is to commit an act of cosmic treason.
Why? Here’s what Paul says on this. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
Do you realize that every day, the evidence of God’s existence and His power are manifest? What can be known about God is plain to us because God has shown it to us.
Where does He show it?
In all of creation.
This is what the theologians call general revelation. That is, that we can know that there is a God and we can know something of who He is through natural means.
Speaking to this point, Acts 14:17 says,
[H]e [God] did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”
What we see here is that God gives us rain and allows our crops to grow, and our livestock to thrive, in a display of His power and character. He “satisfies our hearts with food and gladness.”
In short, a great steak can bear witness to God’s existence.
And in Acts 17:24-27 we read,
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him…”
Practically, this means for us that everything—science, art, music, nature… everything reveals God’s eternal power and divine nature to the degree that we cannot with integrity deny God’s existence.
We are, Paul says, without excuse in acknowledging Him.
But consistently we fail to do exactly that. Instead, we suppress the truth about God in our unrighteousness.
False worship makes us fools
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
What Paul says here is that we have failed to honor God, to acknowledge and worship Him. In our sin, we have suppressed the truth about God.
And because we’ve suppressed the truth, we have come futile in our thinking. “[Our] foolish hearts [are] darkened.”
This is idolatry’s second effect:
When we fail to honor God, we become fools bent on stealing His glory.
When we refuse to honor God or give thanks to Him, we become fools, says Paul. In other words: Idolatry is stupid.
The prophet Isaiah communicated this well when he wrote,
The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”
So basically, a man cuts down a tree—and one half he uses for firewood. The other he worships. We rob God of His glory… and give it to a piece of kindling.
Does that even make sense?
In our foolishness we start to think that God doesn’t really see what we’re doing. That because our false god doesn’t speak or think or see or hear, we’re in the clear.
But, Isaiah 47:10 says, God always knows:
You felt secure in your wickedness, you said, “No one sees me”; your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart, “I am, and there is no one besides me.”
Paul writes that as those who suppressed the truth claimed to be wise, “they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”
Again, it comes back to the truth that we are without excuse for acknowledging our Creator.
It’s why the “new atheism” movement is so bizarre. The whole point of books by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and several others is basically to say this:
There is no God… And I hate Him.
It’s intellectually dishonest. How can you hate someone you don’t believe exists?
If God doesn’t exist, shouldn’t you not care?
Instead, what do we see?
Dozens of books, documentaries and magazine articles attempting to debunk the idea of God… and in particular the God of the Bible.
Why? Why is so much energy spent debunking Christianity?
Why do we see more books trying to do this entering the bestseller lists every year?
Why is there such a need to find the gospel—that God the Son, Jesus Christ, became a man, lived the perfect life, died in our place for our sins and rose again to give us new life and reconcile us to God the Father—to be a sham?
Because deep down, we all know it’s true. We all know He’s real.
And it terrifies us.
Because we stand naked before Him—and without His intervention, we—have—no—hope.
Here’s the thing: Every other religion, every other belief system, in the end, revolves around the same thing—You.
It’s all about what you do, about how you must earn your way into God’s favor, how you must become one with the divine or with the universe. All is one. God is a part of the system or God doesn’t exist.
But if all is one, God is none.
It’s the lie that we’ve exchanged the truth for. It’s a foolish act meant to rob God of His glory.
It’s the serpent’s lie from Genesis three: “When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Understand—Buddha, Krishna, Allah… There is no hope. There is no life. They have no power.
But Jesus Christ does.
That’s why the gospel is so offensive—it’s not about what we do, it’s about what Jesus HAS already done!
He saved us when we could not save ourselves! He took the punishment that we so richly deserved.
And we show ourselves to be fools when we deny His power, authority and majesty—when we rob Him of His glory and deny Him the worship that is His due.
And it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.
False Worship Reveals of the Wrath of God
Going back to verse eighteen, we read, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…”
All of what we’ve just talked about—that we continually worshipping, that in our rebellion against God we’ve suppressed the truth and exchanged His glory for created things—Because of all these things, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.
When we talk about wrath, we have to understand that there are two basic kinds that we’re talking about.
The first is God’s active wrath.
Active wrath is a tangible demonstration of God’s judgment over sinners.
When we read of the conquest of the Promised Land and the command to kill ALL the Canaanites—that was the active wrath of God.
When Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead because they lied about how much they were giving in Acts 5—THAT was the active wrath of God.
When we look toward the Day of the Lord when He will execute final judgment on all of creation—THAT is the active wrath of God…
God’s active wrath is offensive to so many people; it’s the cause of ideas about there being two different kinds of God depicted in the Bible—the hot-tempered God of the Old Testament and gentle Jesus, meek and mild. The reason for this is that we have difficulty understanding God’s perfect justice and holiness.
But there’s something even more terrifying than God’s active wrath, as we’re about to see. Listen to what Paul says in verse 24:
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
What Paul describes here is the passive wrath of God.
What this means is that we’re so bent on our sin—we’re consumed with doing what we want, rather than obeying Him—God says, “Okay, go get’em tiger.”
He gives us over to a “debased” or depraved mind says in verse 28. Second Thessalonians 2:11 says that, “God sends a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false.”
And truth be told, there’s little more terrifying to me than this.
If God’s passive wrath is upon me, it means He’s letting me do what I want. It means my conscience has become so hard that I don’t want to respond.
Because I love my sin.
I want my idols.
And God says, “Have at it.”
Before God sent the flood in one of the most magnificent displays of His active wrath, He looked down at all of creation and “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
Man was given over to a depraved mind. The passive wrath of God was upon Him.
And the active wrath was coming.
We Must Recover True Worship
Verse 25 says that we’ve exchanged the truth about God for a lie, worshiping and serving created things rather than the Creator.
In order for us to be saved we must recover true worship.
Left to our own devices, we’re utterly incapable of doing this.
Fortunately, God has made a way for us.
In Romans 12:1-2 Paul writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
That, friends, is the secret. That is how we are able to recover true worship:
We must apply the gospel to our worship.
Because of Christ’s death on the cross, our sins are paid for when we put our faith in Him. Elsewhere, Scripture says that we are made new creations in Christ—and because it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us, we are given new desires to serve Him and worship Him as He deserves.
We must apply the gospel to our worship. And that begins with repentance.
Why is repentance important?
Repentance is the heart of the Christian life. The first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, which ultimately resulted in the explosion of the Protestant Reformation, says, “All of life is one of repentance.” Repentance is not a one and done action—it’s a lifestyle.
A Christian cannot live an unrepentant life. Dr. J.I. Packer, one of the most brilliant theologians of the last 100 years has been quoted as saying, “All you need to do to become a heretic is to stop repenting or fail to call others to repentance.” It’s become contentious to call anyone to repentance in our day, even on issues where Scripture is clear—be it sexuality, gossip, gluttony, slander, malice… but here’s the thing: whenever we come up against one of these issues, we have to remember what the real question is—it’s not, “can one be a homosexual, an adulterer, a liar, a gossip, and be a Christian?” The question is—Can one be unrepentant and be a Christian?
Repentance is a process. Repentance isn’t being sorry that we got caught, or feeling bad or even acknowledging our sins. It’s much deeper.
- Repentance begins with conviction from the Holy Spirit. Our sin is revealed to us through prayer, through our conscience, through Scripture or through the preaching of God’s Word.
- Conviction leads to confession—we name our sin and agree with God, acknowledging our idol.
- Confession leads to true repentance—it demands the death of our idols, which comes as we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.
- This leads to restitution—we seek to make right whatever we’ve done wrong in our pursuit of our idols. So if we’ve cheated on our taxes, we put it right. If we’ve stolen from work, we return it. If we’ve broken something, we replace it
- The final step is reconciliation. Repentance—true repentance—restores relationships with God first and foremost and other people as we are able.
Repentance allows us to worship in freedom. Through repentance, we are no longer slaves to our idols, but free to worship God as He would have us—to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice,” as Paul wrote in Romans 12:1. As we trust God, study His Word, obey Him and worship Him, we are “no longer conformed to this patterns of this world, but transformed by the renewal of our minds.” Our desires change. Our attitudes change. Our habits change. All to the glory of God.
A few questions and we’ll close:
- What idols exist in my life?
- What created thing is robbing God of His glory?
- If that thing is revealed to me, will I repent?
- Will I take that first step today?
This is Fanny. She’s 46, married and has five children. The youngest is in the sponsorship program. Her husband sells eggs from their home.
Her four-year-old son is registered in Compassion’s program at The Ark of Salvation Church down the street.
We came to her home to ask a few questions about how having her son in the program has affected her life. She and her oldest daughter are Christians, and she is glad that her son is now going to a church.
as we talked, we asked her if there was anything we could pray with her about. Her answer was simple:
“I just want my husband to be saved.”
And we did.
First Corinthians 7:14 says that “the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife.” Because of her influence and consistent Christian lifestyle, there’s every chance that his heart would soften to the gospel and he would be saved. It would be amazing to see this happen.
To see this family united in Christ.
I believe it can happen.
“I just want my husband to be saved,” Fanny told us.
I want that, too.
John Piper offers a thoughtful response to this question. The edited transcript follows:
A friend thinks allowing men free will, and yet still achieving his purposes, shows a greater view of God’s sovereignty. What are your thoughts on this?
Let me define the term first, and then I’ll respond. I’m going to assume that by “free will” he means something really controversial, not something obvious. What I’m going to assume the term means is “real, ultimate self-determination,” because that’s the only kind of free will that is controversial. [Read more…]
The above is a powerful excerpt from John Piper’s final sermon before beginning his eight-month sabbatical, Consider Your Calling from 1 Cor. 1: 26-31:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
I would highly recommend you listen to the whole thing as it’s quite moving and encouraging.
The following text is from the sermon’s transcript:
“For consider your calling, brothers.” What is Paul referring to? Their job? Being a carpenter? Homemaker? Teacher? No. He is referring to the work of God in calling them to himself out of darkness into light, out of death into life. You can see the meaning pretty clearly in verses 22-24:
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. [Read more…]
Title: Once an Arafat Man
Authors: Tass Saada with Dean Merrill
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Tass Saada was born in Gaza City in 1951. He was born in a tent. His family one of the many groups of refugees moved out of Palestine.
Moving from Palestine to Saudi Arabia and eventually to Jordan, Saada grew to be a young man characterized by rage. He found a channel for it: He joined the PLO and was trained as a sniper.
He became a murderer. And he trained others—including children—to be the same.
Eventually, Saada left the PLO and came to America. He married, had a family, a successful career… but his life was a wreck. He was a terrible husband, a worse father. While he didn’t actively practice the Muslim faith of his youth, he still identified with it.
Then, his friend Charlie told him about Jesus, and his life was changed forever.
Saada’s story as told in Once an Arafat Man, is powerful. He’s very transparent about his past, how he relished in the death and destruction he caused, his selfish motives for marrying his wife, Karen, and his unfaithfulness to her… Saada makes it very plain that he was a very bad man. He’s not a man deserving of God’s grace, and he knows it. That, in large part, is what makes his story so powerful. God had no need to save Saada, yet He did. The same is true for you, if you’re a Christian, and me.
A Dangerous Decision
Converting from Islam to Christianity is a dangerous thing, far more dangerous than I think most of us would realize. To do so brings dishonor to the family, a crime punishable by death. [Read more…]