Why are you a Christian? This is David Wheaton with The Christian Worldview Radio Program.
We often ask another believer how he/she became a Christian, but asking why may be an even better question to discern someone’s true motivation for believing in Christ.
Responses such as, “I wanted to be on the same page as my spouse” or “I needed a change in my life” are results of genuine salvation, but tragically don’t lead to it.
The foremost reason why we need to become Christians is because we are dead in our sins and have no way of being forgiven and reconciled to God apart from Jesus Christ’s work on the cross.
Every faith story should recognize our sinfulness and the turn to Christ in repentance and faith.
This weekend we’ll discuss why the world doesn’t understand Islamic barbarism.
published with permission from Kevin DeYoung
And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” (Mark 14:32)
Sometimes we picture Jesus far too serene. We imagine him in the garden praying rather stoically, “Not my will, but yours be done.” But the mood at Gethsemane was anything but tranquil. Mark 14:33 says Jesus began to be greatly distressed and troubled. Verse 34 says his soul was sorrowful unto death. And in verse 35 Jesus fell flat on the ground. Here is a man with the weight of the world, and heaven and hell, on his shoulders.
Never has a man prayed facing more temptation than Jesus faced in the garden. Never has a man prayed awaiting so much suffering. Never has a man prayed with such emotion and anguish. Luke records that “being in agony he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat become like great drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). It’s called hematidrosis: under intense pressure or fear, the blood vessels around the sweat glands contract and then dilate violently, causing them to rupture. Blood then enters the glands and is secreted through the pores of the skin. The endocrine system knew what was coming.
It is impossible to exaggerate the depth of Jesus’ anguish in the garden. Imagine knowing your child would die later today or that the planes were going to crash into the Twin Towers or that you’ll have a terrible car accident next Friday. That’s what Jesus knew was coming, only terribly and eternally worse. Jesus was facing more than death or sadness. He was facing God-forsakeness.
Jesus stared at the worst drink a man could drink–the cup of God’s wrath. He gazed into its bitter poison. He thought of draining it down to the dregs. And hoped for another way.
But there was no other way. Upon making his request three times–”Remove this cup from me”–Jesus was not set free from the suffering before him. Just the opposite. After praying in the garden, his closest friends disappoint him (Mark 14:36-41), one of his disciples betray him (14:42-49), and all his companions desert him (14:50).
This is dark Gethsemane where Jesus Christ–the perfectly obedient, perfectly faithful Son of God in perfect relationship with his Father–did not get his request granted. At least not his first one. The cup was not taken from him. The wrath would not be assuaged another way. Jesus could not avoid his infinitely grievous dark weekend of the soul. God’s will would be done. Not the way Jesus had hoped. But the way he was willing for it to be.
For us. For joy. For glory.
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
It is impossible to deny that a 24-year-old football quarterback has sparked a national conversation. Maybe “furor” or “mania” would be better words to describe it. Not since Billy Graham has one Christian struck such a nerve in this country with his life, words, and works.
Discussion about Tim Tebow crops up everywhere. He is polled as the most popular athlete in America. Republican presidential candidates want his endorsement. Nearly 50 million people watched him lead the Denver Broncos to a startling victory last Sunday over the Pittsburgh Steelers and most likely even more will tune in Saturday evening as the Broncos face the vaunted New England Patriots and their star quarterback, Tom Brady. It really is “Tebow Time” in America.
One of the common questions people are asking is, “What is driving Tebow mania?” Of course it has something to do with his “miraculous” football victories, but the way Tebow “wears his faith on his sleeve” also elicits huge reaction, both positive and negative. He prays openly during games and thanks “my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” in post-game interviews, win or lose. His charitable foundation pays for sick children to attend his games and also builds hospitals and health care facilities in the Philippines and America. Tim Tebow is unabashedly public with his faith in Christ.
The question we will discuss this Saturday on The Christian Worldview is “how much should Christians wear their faith on their sleeves?” For example, Jesus says in Matthew 5 that Christians should be “salt and light” in this world and then in Matthew 6 says Christians should “pray in secret”. So how public should we be with our faith? Tune in this weekend to find out!
Tim Tebow’s Role Model
Poll Finds 43 Percent Of People Believe God Helps Tebow Win
Tebow: The man behind the mania
Tim Tebow takes time to meet families in crisis amid hoopla of playoffs
Dragged Kicking and Screaming into the Modern Age? Lessons from Piers Morgan’s Interview with Joel Osteen
An interview that begins with a statement like, “Well, Piers, to me, faith is all about learning to be happy where you are,” is probably not going to end well. Piers Morgan’s interview with Joel and Victoria Osteen Tuesday night was very revealing about the Osteens — but little Christian truth was revealed. At the same time, the interview deserves closer attention than you might expect.
After introducing the Osteens, Morgan let Joel talk about his latest book, Every Day A Friday, How To Be Happier 7 Days a Week. Like the book itself, Joel’s presentation could be reduced to his own brand of highly therapeutic prosperity theology. For Joel Osteen, it’s not a theology that is reducible to money alone. Instead, his focus is more on individual happiness and self-fulfillment. In his rendering, God might not want everyone to be rich, but he does want his creatures to experience every day as . . . a Friday?
Then, the conversation shifted to issues in the news, such as abortion and capital punishment. On both topics, Piers Morgan pressed Joel to speak clearly, which he was clearly reluctant to do. On both topics, Osteen steered clear of disaster by saying as little as possible, in what can only be described as a garble.
On capital punishment: “You know, it’s a complicated issue, Piers. I haven’t thought a whole lot about it but, of course, you know, and I’m for second chances and mercy, yet, the flip side is there’s consequences for what we’ve done and, so, I — I don’t know what my total stance is . . . ”
On a moral link between abortion and capital punishment: “Well, I think there could be when you say may or may not. You know, that’s the troublesome thing, if we don’t know for sure and, you know.”
There, that clears it all up nicely. The saddest thing about Joel Osteen’s incoherence on all this is the fact that he seems to be totally unaware that Christians have been engaging these issues seriously for centuries. When even Piers Morgan chided Osteen for his fuzziness and lack of an answer to questions, saying to Osteen, “you need to be more definitive,” Osteen responded: “Yes. Well, if I could I would but I’d have to — let me study it and I’ll come back with a great answer someday for you.” Not exactly a “here I stand” moment, to say the very least.
But, with all that as prelude, the interview really got interesting when Morgan turned the conversation to the issue of same-sex marriage. Morgan replayed a clip from Osteen’s appearance earlier this year, when Osteen gave Morgan this statement on homosexuality: “Yes, I’ve always believed, Piers, the scriptures shows that it’s a sin, but, you know, I’m not one of those that are out there to bash homosexuals and tell them that they’re terrible people and all that.” That statement, as Morgan indicated, made headlines.
When pressed, Osteen affirmed his statement: “You know, Piers, it really never changes because mine was — mine’s based out of the scripture. That’s what I believe that the scripture says that — that homosexuality is a sin. So, it — you know, I believed it before and I still believe it now. Again, I would just reiterate what I said, I’m not after — I’m not mad at anybody. I don’t dislike anybody. But, you know, you know, respecting my faith and believing, you know, in — in what the scripture says, that’s the best way I can interpret it.”
But the host’s real intention was to steer Osteen toward the same-sex marriage issue. Would Osteen perform a same-sex marriage?
His answer: “Well, you know what, I’m going to respect the law and I’m going to respect gay people like I do now, you know, have plenty of people that come to our church and friends, I would call, that are gay so I’m going to respect that. I think where it puts a difficult situation is me being a Christian pastor believing the scripture, you know, it would be against my faith to marry two gay people.” Later, he added: “No, it would be against what I believe the scripture teaches and, so, that’s where I think the rub comes in with people like myself. It’s not that I’m against anybody or, you know, if people want to live together, that’s up to them. But, my faith, when we say marriage, I mean, I think about it, Piers, and all through the Bible there are, you know, hundreds of marriages but none of them are shown as between, you know, the same sex. And, again, I’m not against anything but I just believe that’s what the Bible teaches . . .”
Morgan would not let the topic drop, clearly sensing an opportunity to find a crack in Osteen’s position. The host then asked the Osteens if they would attend a same-sex marriage ceremony. Joel Osteen said that he would, if the individuals were friends.
Morgan pressed further. How does this fit within Osteen’s previous statement: “Well, I haven’t been to many weddings lately to begin with and I’m talking about somebody that was, you know, dear to us. I’m not going to disrespect somebody that’s dear to us and say, you know what, you’re not good enough for us or something like that. That’s the way that I would see it. Now, I’m not going to just run off and go attend, you know, certain marriages just to make a statement because that’s not who I am and that’s not what I stand for and, again, I don’t look down on those people.”
In other words, Joel Osteen sees homosexuality as a sin and same-sex marriage to be contrary to God’s will. He cannot perform same-sex marriage ceremonies or endorse same-sex marriage, because he is bound by Scripture. On the other hand, he can attend a same-sex ceremony, if the participants are friends, and thus endorse by his presence the credibility of the ceremony itself and join in the celebration of what he believes, or says he believes, is sin.
This is beyond mere incoherence. It is moral and theological nonsense. More than that, it is a massive statement of ministerial malpractice. Piers Morgan had the sense to see that much. You cannot celebrate what you say you know to be sin. You cannot honestly say that same-sex marriage defies the law of God, and then join in the celebration of that ceremony.
Joel Osteen should know better, but you can add that to the things that someone like Joel Osteen should know, if indeed he is to present himself as a Christian preacher and leader.
The larger problem is that many evangelical Christians would follow Joel Osteen’s logic without a second thought, or without even what the psychologists would describe as “cognitive dissonance.” They say they believe that homosexuality is a sin, and that same-sex marriage is contrary to God’s will. But they allow personal relationships and social pressure to override their (evidently) lightly-held convictions.
The hypothetical case Piers Morgan invented for his interview with Joel and Victoria Osteen is precisely the reality many American Christians will face — or have already faced — with the legalization of same-sex marriage. Unless convictions are deeply held, they will melt away in the face of cultural pressure.
Oh, one final and very significant statement from the interview demands attention. Piers Morgan looked at Joel Osteen and asked the million-dollar question:
But, I mean, shouldn’t the scripture be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern age. I mean, we were talking before the break about the issue about eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, not everything in the scriptures, really, is, in my view, conducive to modern life. I mean, like everything else, doesn’t it have to move with the times and isn’t it down again to people like you to interpret it in a way that evolves when you’re known as a very progressive preacher?
Shouldn’t the Bible be “dragged kicking and screaming into the modern age”? There you have the modernist worldview reduced to a single question. The Bible will simply have to give way to modern moral authorities, and have to be interpreted “in a way that evolves.”
To his credit, Joel Osteen tried to stand his ground. To his discredit, he didn’t stand very well, and he seemed to lack all of the vital faculties for holding theological traction. We can only hope that other pastors — and other Christians — will do better. Sadly, without developing deeper biblical commitments and without drawing from the full wealth of Christian conviction, that is not going to happen.
Sadly, without a deep, humble, and faithful commitment to Christ, the Gospel, the Bible, and the structures of Christian thought, both the church and the Bible will be, to use Piers Morgan’s unforgettable phrase, “dragged kicking and screaming into the modern age” — and we know exactly what that means.
I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/AlbertMohler
Transcript, Piers Morgan Tonight, CNN, Tuesday, October 4, 2011.
“For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).
This may be cultural Christianity’s gospel but it is not the true biblical gospel. The Bible says there is something more beyond faith to being a genuine Christian. And what is that? Works.
So how do we reconcile what James says, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24) with what Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9)?
We’ll discuss how works integrates with faith this weekend on the radio program and introduce you to a brand new aspect of The Christian Worldview called the “FaithWorks Initiative” where you will have the opportunity to put your FAITH to WORK by helping and encouraging our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. Exciting program … don’t miss it!
We consider this page to be the most important page on our site, for there is nothing, absolutely nothing, more important than being right with God. That is what the first section of this page details.
Further down in the second section, you can read the short story of how David Wheaton (the host and editor of The Christian Worldview) was made right with God.
“What must I do to be saved?” This question was asked to one of the followers of Jesus Christ nearly 2000 years ago and is still just as important and relevant of a question for you today. Have you ever thought about this question? Do you know the answer to the question?
I would like you to seriously consider this question today because your response will determine how you will live your life and where you will spend eternity after you die. So please, read this column carefully in its entirety.
“What must I do to be saved?” Here is how the follower of Jesus answered the question: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
It is a simple response, but what exactly does it mean to “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ”? And from what do you need to be “saved”? Let’s answer the latter question first.
SAVED FROM WHAT?
The Bible, which claims to be the inspired word of God (2 Timothy 3:16) and entirely truthful (John 17:17; Psalm 119:160), gives a straightforward answer to what you need to be saved from: you need to saved from God Himself.
The Bible says that God created and sustains everything in the universe (Genesis 1:1; Job 38:1-41) … including you (Psalm 139:13-16). It is He who established the unchanging laws of nature and morality. It is He who has ultimate authority over His creation. It is He who desires for you to be in a right relationship with Him (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
In addition to being the Creator, God has another title — Judge. He has established good and righteous laws for our benefit, but sadly you (and I and everyone else) have disobeyed His laws in one way or another: by lying, lusting, gossiping, slandering, envying, coveting, stealing, cheating, using God’s or Jesus’ name as a curse word, or loving someone or something more than God. Some of God’s laws that we’ve broken are listed in Exodus 20:1-17 (The 10 Commandments) or in Matthew 5 (Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount). If your violations of God’s laws aren’t resolved on His terms, you will stand before Him as Judge someday.
There will be no injustice in God’s court; no one will get away with any crime against Him; God has seen and recorded in His “books” every single sin ever committed and He will be completely just in pronouncing His sentence.
That is what you need to be saved from: God’s judgment and wrath. Or to put it the terrifying way one of the final chapters of the Bible does, you need to be saved from God “throwing” you into the “lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).
While it is certainly true that God is loving, forgiving, merciful, and gracious — as will be shown in the following sections — the Bible also presents God as being full of wrath against those who break His laws and reject His offer of reconciliation.
While many people wrongly conclude that hell isn’t an actual place, “and if it is, a loving God certainly wouldn’t send anyone there,” the Bible states clearly that God, the just Judge of the universe, has the authority, the power, and the intention of sending all those who reject His Son Jesus Christ there. Consider the following passages from the Bible:
“He who believes in the Son [Jesus Christ] has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him [God] who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15).
“God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man [Jesus Christ] whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
The concept of God sending those who reject His Son to a literal hell may seem unlikely, unfair, or even crazy to you. Yet the Bible plainly and consistently speaks of its reality (Luke 16:19-31; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10) which leaves two options: either hell is real or hell is not real. Since nothing else in the Bible has ever been proven false — historical events, places, people, prophecies — it would be wise to take the Bible at its word — hell is real.
Being separated from God and punished in hell for eternity should cause everyone to ask, “What can I do to be saved from God sending me there? The answer is clear: “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
What does that mean though? Does that simply mean that you believe Jesus existed like some other historical figure, like Plato, Napolean, George Washington, or Alexander the Great, or is there something more to belief than that?
To “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” is much more than intellectual assent to the fact that He existed; it means that you place your trust, your faith, your expectant hope for being saved in who Jesus is and what He did for you.
WHO IS JESUS CHRIST?
Jesus Christ is without question the most significant person in the history of the world. The Bible says much about Jesus — that He was born of a virgin woman, that He performed supernatural acts like healing people of diseases and turning water into wine, that He was crucified on a cross and rose from the dead. Here are a few more things the Bible says about Jesus:
Jesus is the Son of God:
“And the Word [Jesus] became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Jesus is equal with God:
“In the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). “I and the Father are one” – Jesus (John 10:30).
Jesus is the only way to God:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” – Jesus (John 14:6).
“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
WHAT DID JESUS DO FOR YOU?
Jesus is all of the above and much more. So what did He do for you that He is calling you to believe in?
Jesus lived a perfect life so that He could offer Himself on the cross in your place as the only sacrifice that would satisfy God’s justice for your sin:
“He [God] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
“The next day he [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
Jesus died so that God could demonstrate His love for sinners and so that God’s just punishment for sin could be placed on Jesus and not on you:
“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (Romans 5:8-9).
“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [i.e. satisfying God’s justice] for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
“And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
Jesus rose from the grave and appeared to hundreds of people so that you would have a living Savior and Lord:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
Therefore, to “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” means to place your trust, your faith, your hope in the person and work of Jesus Christ, whose sinless life and sacrificial death are alone able to reconcile the broken relationship you have created with God as a result of your sins against Him.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
So let’s go back to the very first question and put it all together: What must you do to be saved?
1. You must agree with God that you have sinned against Him and that you deserve judgment for it. If your offenses against God aren’t settled on His terms, you will have to pay the awful penalty yourself — eternal separation from God in hell.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
“If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
2. You must repent of your sin, which means that you turn in a new direction away from your sin and commit to following God, relying on Him for the strength to do so.
“Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’ [literally, the good news about Jesus Christ] (Mark 1:14-15).
“God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man [Jesus Christ] whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
3. You must respond to and receive God’s merciful and gracious offer to save you and place your faith, hope, trust, belief in Jesus Christ’s righteousness and His perfect sacrifice of Himself on the cross as the only payment God will accept for the sin debt you have accrued against Him and the only means of your being reconciled to Him.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:16-21).
“The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart — that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “whoever believes on Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek [Gentile]; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:8-13).
4. You must reject any and all of your own supposed good works as completely ineffective to save yourself and mend your separation from God — church attendance, religious activities like communion, baptism, or prayer, charitable giving, personal goodness and kindness, helping the poor and disadvantaged, good intentions, etc.
“Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5).
5. You must follow Jesus Christ as your Lord (master) by obeying Him and His Words — this is the evidence of one who is saved.
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation [one who satisfies God’s justice] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:1-6).
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Every human being has sinned and thus created a conflict with God — you, me, Mother Theresa, the Pope, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, the apostle Paul, everyone. You have only two choices in dealing with your sin:
1.) You can choose to accept God’s gracious offer of reconciliation by repenting of your sin and placing your faith in Jesus Christ’s sinless life and atoning death on your behalf as the only way that God’s justice can be satisfied for your sin.
2.) You can choose to pay the penalty for your sin yourself by ignoring or rejecting or altering God’s offer of reconciliation through Jesus Christ which will result in someday your being judged guilty by God and sentenced to hell for eternity.
AND FORGET BEING GOOD, YOU MUST BE PERFECT … OR MORE PRECISELY, DECLARED SO BY GOD
No matter how good of a person you think you are right now or how good of a person you plan to be in the future, you can never be good enough to go to heaven because God’s standard is perfect righteousness and you have already failed that standard (and will again).
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10).
“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” – Jesus (Matthew 5:48).
“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees [those who were thought to be righteous], you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” – Jesus (Matthew 5:20).
How can anyone ever be perfectly righteous? No one can … except if God declares you so.
To be forgiven and spend eternity with a sinless God in a sinless place (heaven), you will need to be declared righteous (justified) by God, even though you haven’t been righteous and never will be. That can only occur when God declares that your past, present, and future sin be credited to Jesus’ account and Jesus’ perfect righteousness be credited to your account. This “swap” (your sin paid for by Christ and His righteousness credited to you) is how God can judicially declare you righteous and allow you into heaven.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
“For if by the transgression of the one [Adam, the first sinner], death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression [Adam’s] there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness [Christ’s] there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:17-19).
A BEFORE AND AFTER PICTURE
The following passage from the New Testament letter to the Ephesians gives a before and after picture of one who believes in Jesus Christ and is saved.
Before picture: dead in sin
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
God changes the picture…
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
After picture: saved through faith for good works
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:1-10).
This passage gives the complete picture: you are dead in sin, God intervenes to save you because of His love and mercy (not giving you what you do deserve – judgment), He brings your salvation to pass by His grace (giving you what you don’t deserve – Christ’s righteousness), and you are called to receive this offer of reconciliation with God by faith alone, not trusting in any righteousness of your own. Good works will be the evidence — not the means — of your salvation (James 2:26)
Being “saved” or “born again” (John 3:1-8) doesn’t mean your life will become easier. In fact, you can count on being misunderstood, ostracized, persecuted, and maybe even killed for your faith in Christ. If the unbelieving world hated Christ, it follows that they will hate His followers (John 15:18-25). You need to count the cost of being a follower of Jesus.
But having your sins forgiven, being declared righteous, fulfilling the purpose for which you were created (to serve and glorify God), experiencing joy in the midst of turmoil, and inheriting eternal life in heaven far outweigh any temporal trouble.
Now you know the answer to the question: “What must I do to be saved?” The final question for you is: Will you respond to God’s call in your heart today and receive his loving, merciful, and gracious offer to save you?
Remember, you are sinful and stand condemned before God, the just Judge. Yet God loves you and desires to save you through His Son Jesus Christ, who is the only One who can mediate the dispute you have created with God. I’m pleading with you: be reconciled to God today through repenting of your sin and placing your faith for salvation in Jesus Christ. When you do, God will forgive your sin, He will credit you with Christ’s righteousness, He will indwell you with His Holy Spirit, and He will give you eternal life in heaven. What could be better and more important than that?!
“Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).
Genuine saving faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to be right with God. If by God’s grace you have received this gift of faith, you must now spend the rest of your life striving to become more like your Savior and Lord Jesus Christ in thought, word, and deed (Romans 8:28-30). That may sound like a daunting task — and it is — but God promises to give you the power and desire to do so (Philippians 2:12-13) as you draw near to God in prayer and studying His Word. It will also be important that you become a part of a fellowship of other believers (a church) where God is reverently worshiped and His Word faithfully taught.
Please call or email us with any questions or comments you might have or to share with us your new faith in Jesus Christ. We would look forward to talking with you more about such things as believer’s baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit, finding a Bible-teaching church, and a plan to help you grow in your new life following Christ.
All for God’s glory,
The Christian Worldview
Phone: 1-888-646-2233 toll-free
————– David Wheaton’s Faith Story ————
A passage in the Bible perfectly describes the before and after picture of my life:
Before: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
After: But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:1-9).
Speaking of before and after pictures, this picture of me before I became a follower of Jesus Christ is worth a thousand words.
There I am on the cover of Minnesota Monthly. “David Wheaton: A Smashing Success.
What more could a 22 year-old ask for? There they are: fame, fortune, success.
But what makes this magazine cover really interesting is the actual photograph. It can be viewed a number of ways, all perfectly representative of my life at that time:
I appear to be a prisoner behind my racquet. I’m holding a mask in front of my face. The broken strings represent my relationships with God and others. There is no joy in my countenance.
That was me before I came to know Jesus Christ: outward success, but inward conflict.
But why? How could a young man be so internally conflicted and empty when he had already attained what most people in this world seek after?
At the Grand Slam Cup in Munich, Germany in 1991, I experienced an overdose of fame, fortune, and success. I had just won the largest prize money check in tennis history in one of the biggest tournaments of the year and my success was being broadcast all over the world.
But within 15 minutes after one of the biggest moments of my life, all 12,000 fans filed right out of the stadium. I vividly remember experiencing an incredible letdown and thinking how quickly it all came to an end.
I had spent my whole childhood and teenage years practicing tennis, I had played hundreds of matches in junior, collegiate and professional tournaments, I had worked so hard just to qualify for and win this tournament, and now everyone just gets up and leaves. For the first time in my life, the brevity of earthly success hit me hard.
Yes, that week in ‘91 changed my life, but one thing is for certain: I didn’t become a happier person as a result of my big win. As a matter of fact, my life continued to become more filled with internal strife, relationship conflicts with my parents and others, and an emptiness caused by a misguided life purpose. Instead of contentment brought by fame, fortune, and success, deep down I was unhappy and unsettled.
Growing up as the youngest of four children in a close, church-going Christian family, I was clearly taught the Bible and Christian values by my parents. I knew the right way to live, but I felt like I was somehow missing out on what the world had to offer: pursuits that I later learned resulted in a guilty conscience, regret, and spiritually unhealthy relationships.
I may have thought I had a faith of my own, but my life bore very little resemblance to one who knows Jesus Christ. Cultivating a relationship with God through reading the Bible and praying, honoring my parents, and living a holy life were not characteristics of my life. My inner conflict stemmed from knowing God’s way, but living another way according to my own desires.
In the midst of my outward success and inner conflict, God allowed two things to occur in my life:
- He let me experience the emptiness and vanity of what the world seeks.
- He brought me to the low point of understanding my own sinfulness and need for a Savior.
A couple years after my big win, I began to earnestly read the Bible and study some of the biblical principles presented in a Christian seminar I had attended that year. Finally, the rose-colored glasses came off my eyes and I saw my own sinfulness.
During this time of intense study and soul searching, I confessed and repented of my sin to God and trusted in His Son, Jesus Christ as both the Savior and Lord of my life.
My life began to change immediately, though not easily. Difficult choices needed to be made between my old way of living versus God’s way. Previously, I could not reform myself from my sinful thoughts, actions, and relationships. Now, these sinful habits were being overcome through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit reminding me to obey God’s Word.
God was changing me from the inside out. These positive changes in my life gave me great motivation to continue following Jesus Christ.
During the last twelve years, a few practical things have helped nurture and deepen my relationship with Jesus Christ:
- A daily time with God reading the Bible and praying.
- Honoring the God-given authorities in my life.
- Spending time with like-minded Christian friends.
- Avoiding anything that would offend my Savior.
Please don’t get the idea that I’m perfect or sinless. But God’s goal for every Christian is that they become more like His Son, Jesus Christ. I try to keep this as my calling.
These last ten years of being a committed believer in Jesus Christ have given me the most important thing in life—something fame, fortune, success and the “passing pleasures of sin” could never offer: a sense of joy and contentment to be in a right relationship with the God of the universe when I put my head on the pillow each night. That is truly priceless.
As someone once said: “Life without Christ is a hopeless end; life with Christ is an endless hope.”
Lisa Miller of Newsweek begins her article with what would seem to be a statement beyond dispute: “It doesn’t take a degree from Harvard to see that in today’s world, a person needs to know something about religion.” Note that she does not make any specific religious or theological claims, and that her horizon of concern is decidedly this-worldly. She simply makes the common sense observation that a knowledge of religion is important in these times. This would make perfect sense to any journalist, and to just about any other person of intelligence and curiosity.
Nevertheless, that opening sentence about it not taking “a degree from Harvard” to see all this is filled with intentional irony, for Lisa Miller is taking Harvard University to task for its “crisis of faith” — which amounts to a crisis in its curriculum for undergraduates. As Miller explains, “the Harvard faculty cannot cope with religion.”
As she looks around the globe, Miller sees religion as a driving force of world events. In her words:
The conflicts between the Israelis and the Palestinians; between Christians, Muslims, and animists in Africa; between religious conservatives and progressives at home over abortion and gay marriage—all these relate, if indirectly, to what rival groups believe about God and scripture. Any resolution of these conflicts will have to come from people who understand how religious belief and practice influence our world: why, in particular, believers see some things as worth fighting and dying for.
But a 2006 proposal to require Harvard undergraduates to take at least one course in religion was flattened by faculty opposition. In that year, Harvard was considering a revised curriculum for undergraduates. Louis Menand, an influential English professor, and Steven Pinker, a well-known evolutionary psychologist, locked horns in a battle that went public, but ended with no religion requirement. Pinker argued that the modern university should be a completely secular space, where reason, and not faith, was the only legitimate concern.
In the end, Menand & Co. backed down, and the matter never made it to a vote. A more brutal fight was put off for another day. But that’s a pity—for Harvard, its students, and the rest of us who need leaders better informed about faith and the motivations of the faithful. Harvard may or may not be the pinnacle of higher learning in the world, but because it is Harvard, it reflects—for better or worse—the priorities of the nation’s intellectual set. To decline to grapple head-on with the role of religion in a liberal-arts education, even as debates over faith and reason rage on blogs, and as publishers churn out books defending and attacking religious belief, is at best timid and at worst self-defeating.
In the midst of that fight, Pinker wrote a column for The Harvard Crimson that roiled the waters at Harvard. In that column he chided Menand and other colleagues for even contemplating a “faith and reason” component of a Harvard undergraduate education. First, he suggested that “faith” is just a code-word for religion. Then, he added:
Second, the juxtaposition of the two words makes it sound like “faith” and “reason” are parallel and equivalent ways of knowing, and we have to help students navigate between them. But universities are about reason, pure and simple. Faith—believing something without good reasons to do so—has no place in anything but a religious institution, and our society has no shortage of these. Imagine if we had a requirement for “Astronomy and Astrology” or “Psychology and Parapsychology.” It may be true that more people are knowledgeable about astrology than about astronomy, and it may be true that astrology deserves study as a significant historical and sociological phenomenon. But it would be a terrible mistake to juxtapose it with astronomy, if only for the false appearance of symmetry.
In other words, even the use of “faith and reason” is illegitimate for Harvard (or for any other university) because faith has no place at all in the secular space of modern academia.
Miller recognizes the awkwardness of this claim, given Harvard’s history. “Harvard’s distaste for engaging with religion as an academic subject is particularly ironic, given that it was founded in 1636 as a training ground for Christian ministers,” Miller notes. “According to the office of the president, Veritas was only officially adopted as its motto in 1843; until then it had been Christo et Ecclesiae (“For Christ and the Church”).”
She also notes that other major universities, including schools such as the University of Texas, Arizona State, and Indiana University, do include religion in the undergraduate curriculum and enroll a considerable number of majors.
Peter Gomes, Harvard’s chaplain, told Miller, “My colleagues fear that taking religion seriously would undermine everything a great university stands for . . . . I think that’s unfounded, but there it is.”
The secularization of the modern university is one of the most significant intellectual developments of the past century. The most elite institutions of high education have, by and large, been the most ardent secularizers. Many of these, like Harvard, were established on explicitly Christian beliefs and for the purpose of educating future ministers. To professors like Steven Pinker, this is an embarrassment.
Pinker’s evolutionary psychology, well documented in his many writings, is one of the most reductionistic models of thought to be found. He reduces the human being and all human experience to the merely physical — everything experienced or imagined by the human being is nothing more than the work ofbiochemicals and physical entities that emerged out of the evolutionary process. Nevertheless, Pinker’s insistence on keeping Harvard free of any noteworthy study of religion at the undergraduate level prevailed.
Lisa Miller is perplexed by the Harvard faculty’s “anxiety about religion.” She is rightly distressed that students “can graduate from Harvard without having to grapple directly with questions about a world in which people define themselves and their histories according to their views of God.” Idolizing reason, the university has become unreasonable.
By now, evangelical Christians are well aware of the secularization of modern academia. Nevertheless, the secular extremism of faculty members like Steven Pinker — who won the battle at Harvard, after all — is unknown to many outside the modern university.
Lisa Miller is right to call this ideological secularism “unreasonable.” It is more than that, of course. It is a clean and undeniable example of what might best be described as secular fundamentalism.
Journalist Franz-Olivier Giesbert spent untold hours with the late French President Francois Mitterand, and many of these hours were devoted to discussions about death. After serving two seven-year terms as the French President, Mitterand revealed that he had been fighting prostate cancer throughout his years in the Elysee Palace.
Born into a Roman Catholic family, Mitterand became an ardent agnostic. In Dying without God: Francois Mitterand’s Meditations on Living and Dying, Giesbert sheds considerable light on Mitterand’s understanding of what it meant to die without any belief in God.
Giesbert describes Mitterand as “a Nietzschean until his dying day.” He described himself as a mystic with the mind of a rationalist. He did not deny that form of transcendence might exist, but he described the idea that his spirit might survive his death as “embarrassing.” He was fond of paraphrasing Celine: “Eternity must be very long, especially toward the end.”
Mitterand lived by a moral code that matched his worldview. Giesbert described Mitterand’s hands as made to strangle men and to seduce women. At his funeral, his mistress and their daughter sat close to Mitterand’s wife and their children. As a Nietzchean, he was committed above all to the acquisition and retention of power.
In the end, he died, as he had lived, without God.
Mitterand’s secular view of life and death represented an entire generation of European intellectuals and political figures. Deeply committed to atheism, agnosticism, existentialism, or Marxism, these intellectuals simply left no place for God in their worldview. They died without fear of God and without faith in God.
Death forces the most significant questions of life. To consider death — particularly one’s own death — is to face the question of God, of the meaning of life, the question of life after death.
Even as America has grown increasingly secular over the last seven decades, death has been accompanied and marked, in the main, by some form of religious ritual or ceremony. If at no other stage of life, death prompts some reference to God. That may be changing.
The American Religious Identification Survey [ARIS], just updated, reveals that over a quarter of all Americans expect no religious ceremony to mark their death. According to the report, 27% of Americans expect a secular funeral.
The report describes this phenomenon as “probably the most revealing of social trends today.” In the words of the researchers:
Funerals and interments are important if one has personal concerns about salvation and the immortality of the soul. It appears that over one-fourth of contemporary Americans are unconcerned with such religious ideas.
The researchers are surely right to see this trend as related to a decline in “personal concerns about salvation.” If anyone needed proof that many Americans now operate out of a secular worldview, this single data point should suffice. There can be little doubt that when 27% of Americans “do not expect a religious funeral at their death,” this does indicate an absence of religious concern at the point of death. Millions of Americans expect to die without God.
Of course, the power of cultural Christianity explains why so many others expect a Christian funeral even as they show no evidence of Christian commitment. The disappearance of this expectation marks the erosion of cultural Christianity.
Authentic Christianity sets the issues in bold relief. The Good Friday service in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer famously includes this prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray you to set your passion, cross, and death between your judgment and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Give mercy and grace to the living; pardon and rest to the dead; to your holy Church peace and concord; and to us sinners everlasting life and glory; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and forever. Amen.
“Now and in the hour of our death.” To be human is to contemplate death. To think of death without thinking of God is to inhabit an almost purely secular world of meaning. The fact that 27% of Americans expect a secular funeral should tell us that millions of Americans are distanced from Christianity by a huge gap of understanding and meaning.
To die without belief in God is to die without fear of judgment and without hope of resurrection. To die without God is to die utterly alone. To die without even the expectation of a religious funeral of any form is to die in the stark admission of unbelief.
Perhaps this new phenomenon will remind the believing church of just what is at stake in this matter. When cultural Christianity recedes, the mission field comes into a much clearer and more honest focus.
Looking at data from a massive survey taken in 1990, Barry Kosmin argued that many Americans saw religious beliefs as “a personal hobby.” Now, with fresh data in hand, he asserts that contemporary Americans increasingly see religious faith as “more like a fashion statement, not a deep personal commitment.”
Barry Kosmin is director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. His study, known as the American Religious Identification Study [ARIS], is one of the largest and most significant surveys of the American religious scene ever conducted. The bottom line? “The American population still self-identifies as predominantly Christian but Americans are slowly becoming less Christian.”
By any measure, the study reveals an increasing secularization of the society. The percentage of Americans identifying as unaffiliated with any religious group or denomination has risen sharply (from 8% in 1990 to 15% in 2008). In fact, the unaffiliated now outnumber all but Catholics and Baptists.
One significant trend detailed in the report is a weakening of all denominational ties. The study points to a generalized loss of clear convictions and Christian self-identification. As Kosmin and his colleagues conclude, “The challenge to Christianity in the U.S. does not come from other religions but rather from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.”
Back in 1990, fully 86% of Americans identified themselves as Christians. Now, only 76% do — a loss of ten percentage points in less than two decades. Interestingly, Kosmin’s mid-term research indicates that the greatest loss of such identification took place in the 1990s, rather than since 2000.
The study paints an interesting and sometimes surprising picture of American religious life. Catholic populations are shifting from the Northeast and Midwest to the Sun Belt. Mainline Protestant denominations continue to lose members. As the report states, ” The historic Mainline Christian Churches have consistently lost market share since the 1950s, but since 2001 there has been a significant fall in numbers.” This is particularly true of Methodists and Episcopalians.
Baptists did experience growth, which according to the researchers indicates “a measurable reassertion of a Baptist identity among the population.” Nevertheless, Baptist growth did not keep up with the growth of the population.
For the last several decades, America has experienced a growing divide between Christian and secular citizens. This pattern has emerged as a factor in politics, cultural controversies, education, and demographics. Now, these researchers argue that the numbers of Americans represented by those who identify as “Born Again” Christians (34%) and those who reject the existence of any personal God (25-30%) are now almost even — a major new reality in our times. As the report states, “These questions on belief reveal the cultural polarization between the pious and non-religious portions of the population, which are now roughly similar in size.”
As noted already, the growth of the “nones” is most significant:
The most significant influence on American religious geography over time has been the increase in the Nones, or No Religion bloc. As noted earlier, nationally the Nones more than doubled in numbers from 1990 to 2008 and almost doubled their share of the adult population, from 8% in 1990 to 15% in 2008. Moreover, the Nones increased in numbers and proportion in every state, Census Division and Region of the country from 1990 to 2008. No other religious bloc has kept such a pace in every state.
This analysis is basically in line with what other studies, including the Pew Forum’s “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey” have detected.
Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA TODAY accurately summarized the report and its findings:
The percentage of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% in a generation. The faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: The Bible Belt is less Baptist. The Rust Belt is less Catholic. And everywhere, more people are exploring spiritual frontiers — or falling off the faith map completely.
On the one hand, this new data and analysis paints a daunting portrait of our nation as an increasingly secular mission field. Resistance to all forms of organized religion and increasing secularity mean that many of our neighbors are growing increasingly distant from contact with Christianity and the Gospel of Christ.
On the other hand, this also represents a challenging and promising new day in terms of evangelism within the United States. The fact that millions of Americans no longer identify themselves as Christians of any description means that these millions know that they are not Christians — as distinct from millions of other Americans who think they are Christians simply by family identification or other superficial consideration.
Evangelism takes on a new urgency in an age marked by people who see faith as little more than a “fashion statement.”
In any event, the ARIS report draws our attention to one great and undeniable fact — we are living in the midst of a vast mission field for the Gospel. Of course, we should have known that all along.