Accepting Christ–Repenting and Believing

When I was growing up, I heard one word over and over again in discussions about how to be saved. People who taught me and shared the gospel with me encouraged me to “accept” Christ as my Lord and Savior. The funny thing was, as a child and even as a young man, I really barely understood what they meant.

I’m grateful to God for those who shared Christ with me. I’m grateful for those who called me to be saved. I want to be clear that God used those preachers and friends to bring me to himself. But I have to say that I do not think that the word “accept” was the most helpful word, the most biblical word, they could have used.

With the word “accept,” those who taught me were, I believe, trying to communicate to me a couple of significant concepts. Sadly, that word, left to itself, is too small and too unspecific. They wanted to tell me to accept, in the world of faith, that Jesus is who the Bible says he is and that he did what the Bible says he did. But also, in the hearts of the more faithful, the word accept had to also be including the concept of my yielding to Jesus’ lordship, his mastery and authority over my life. Thus, in that word, my dear pastors and friends were calling me to faith and repentance.

Isaiah 55:6-7

6 “Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
7 let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

When Isaiah called on the nation to return to the Lord, note his language. There was an urgency, as the time for salvation was limited. The people could miss it. This fits the urgency of any evangelism. People need to come to Jesus before they face the judgment of God.

Look then at verse 7. We see the concepts needed for salvation. One includes the wicked forsaking his way. A person who is to be forgiven by God must forsake his or her wickedness. That does not mean that the person cleans himself or herself up before bowing to the Lord and seeking salvation. But it is understood that a choice to follow God by definition includes a choice to no longer follow one’s own sinful desires.

Perhaps I can illustrate that with marriage. To choose one person as a spouse is to, by definition, forsake all others. Similarly, to come to God as Savior demands a turning away from choices of rebellion against God. To come to Christ to be saved is to say that you will no longer be the lord and master of your own life. It is repentance, or as my dear former pastors and deacons called accepting Jesus as your Lord.

But next, God talks about the person returning to the Lord who will have compassion and who will pardon. that is more than just turning from sin. This concept is one of believing something. In Isaiah it is believing that God will have that compassion. In the New Testament, it is better defined. To come to the Lord is to have genuine faith in Jesus. It is to believe that Jesus is who the Bible declares him to be and did what the Bible says he did. Jesus is God the Son who became a man, lived a perfect life, died to pay the price for our sins, and rose from the grave to live eternally. Thus, accepting Christ is also to believe in him, accepting the truth of what the Bible says about him.

Honestly, I would not use the term “accept” Christ as the best term for what it means to be saved. I think we communicate more clearly when we use the Bible’s language of repenting of sin and believing in Jesus for salvation. But, I am grateful to God that men of God, men who did not pretend to be scholars, used the best word they knew to help me to see the truth that I needed to accept Jesus, believing in him and his finished work even as I bow to him as my Master.

No Jesus, No God, Know Jesus, Know God

Sometimes the word of God is complicated. Sometimes it is simple. This is one of those simple days, and we must not miss it.

What I want to remind us of today is not a complicated truth. Nor is what I want to remind us of today a politically correct sentiment. But it is exactly what the Bible teaches.

Let us remember that the Bible is clear and unchanging. The Bible is the word of God. The Bible reveals to us God’s truth, not the socially constructed truths of our generation.

OK, here is the simple truth, claimed clearly from Scripture.

1 John 2:23 – No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.

What do these two sentences say? If you deny Jesus, you do not have a relationship with God the Father. If you have Jesus, you have a relationship with God, the whole God of the Bible—Father, Son, and Spirit.

Again, super simple, right? Of course it is. But it is also foundational to Christianity. We cannot look at that verse and soften the claims to fit the desires of our society. True Christians are bound to the Scripture.

So, what do we do in a world that rejects this claim? First, we continue to believe it. If you say no to Jesus, you say no to God. If you know Jesus, you know God.

Second, we continue to love and show kindness to the world around us, even that world which rejects the Savior. Why? Some would say that we do this in order to persuade others to believe. God certainly wants us to continue to share Jesus with others. But I would suggest that we show goodness and kindness to others because all people have been made in the image of God. That means all people have value, Christian or not. Christians do not assault, attack, or otherwise act cruelly toward those with whom they disagree. But Christians do not let go of biblical truth simply because it is no longer socially popular.

So, I suppose the two sentences above lead us to some important questions. Do you know Jesus? Have you repented of your sin and entrusted your entire life to him? Have you yielded to Jesus in faith and committed all of who you are to him, his commands, and his glory? Do you have his grace? If so, then you have life. Keep following him.

If you have not come to Jesus, know that the Bible says that you are choosing to stand in opposition to God. There is no other way to put it. The sentences above are too simple and clear. You can freely decide that you do not care. You can decide that you will not submit to the Lord. You can decide that you reject all of the Bible. Or you can, by the grace of God, turn, reject sin, believe in Jesus, and be saved.

Anger Turned To Love

Do you remember the way many gospel presentations used to begin? So often, people would start a presentation of the plan of salvation with the statement, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Of course, when that statement was made in the 1950s, people in the U.S. had a general understanding of who God is and that we all have failed to live up to his standard. Thus, the statement of God’s love came as a relief and a light of hope for those who might have thought themselves beyond the reach of the grace of God.

When we discuss issues of salvation with people who are outside of the faith, often our path will be to focus on the love of God. Of course, this is good, as God is gloriously loving. But, if we are not careful, that presentation of love today can paint a false picture of the actual situation between humanity and God.

What do I mean? When all we let people know is that God loves them and really wishes they would be a part of his family, we do not paint a true and biblical picture. Instead, we paint a picture of desperation. We make God look like a guy who really wishes the sweet girl would go with him to the dance. And such has never been the biblical portrayal of our Lord.

Isaiah 12:1

You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
that you might comfort me.

I think we gain something beautiful to remember about the gospel and about our own experience with the Lord from Isaiah 12:1. This in no way takes the loving nature from the picture of God, but it does clearly portray our position before the Lord.

The Lord tells the people how they will sing of him. He was angry with them. But he turned his own anger away that he might comfort them. Anger turned to favor is the glorious gospel picture.

The theological word for this is propitiation. The concept is that of God having righteous anger against us for our sin. But God, by means of a sacrifice, satisfies his anger so that he can now look upon us with favor.

Now consider the difference. IF I start the gospel presentation with a soft and sappy love of God, I miss some very important truths. God is holy. God is rightly, perfectly, terrifyingly angry over my sin. He should be. And I have earned his wrath. But God, by his choice first, decided to satisfy his anger by means of presenting God the Son as the perfect sacrifice for my sins so that two things can be true. On the one hand, God can look upon me with love and kindness because of what Jesus has done. At the same time, God can be clearly seen as perfectly just, as my sin is perfectly punished.

That is a bigger gospel than is a gospel of a lonely, longing, deity who just deeply wishes you would consent to have him as yours. Yes, God loves, but his love is far deeper than all that. God’s love is based on God’s perfectly turning from his righteous anger and providing the only sacrifice that could ever work so that he might look at us with favor.

Now, is that the picture painted in the Scripture? Yes, Isaiah 12:1 looks that way. But is that the gospel picture?

Romans 3:23-26

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Jesus is our propitiation, put forth by God himself. Jesus is the sacrifice who turns the anger of God into his favor on us. And God did this to prove his justice. This is the gospel, and it is better news than God loving me and having a wonderful plan for my life. IN fact, God does love me and have a wonderful plan for my life, but that comes toward the end of the gospel, not at the beginning. The gospel begins with the holiness of the infinitely perfect God, his choice to turn his own anger away, and my eternal benefit at his gracious hand.

Meeting God Is Terrifying

One of the effects of poor proclamation of the gospel is that people no longer fear the presence of God. Of course the gospel does much to soothe our fears as we find ourselves under the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians have been given the freedom to approach the Lord as his children.

The problem is that, as many present what they would call the gospel, there is no element of fear in it at all. Many preachers and many who follow those preachers have bought into something far less than the gospel. These folks are genuinely concerned for the eternity of their hearers. They deeply want to see people saved, as do all faithful Christians. But their desire for the salvation of the lost has led them to a place where they focus more on the lost person than they focus on the glory and holiness of the God to whom they are supposed to be calling the lost. They paint a picture of God as a sad, desperate, weepy character who so wants those people just to give him a try. They present a God who will compromise any standard so long as the lost will give him a nod so he can save them.

But, such a picture is not a picture of the true God of the Bible. Yes, God is gloriously gracious. God is loving beyond our wildest dreams. God’s grace is overwhelming. But he is not willing to compromise his character even an ounce to bend to our will.

Consider the ending of Amos 4. In that chapter, God had been pointing out that the people of the nation of Israel were cruel, nasty to the needy, selfish, idolatrous, and faithless. Those people had been refusing to repent of their sin even though they were experiencing God’s chastening.

Amos 4:11-13

11 “I overthrew some of you,

as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,

and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning;

yet you did not return to me,”

declares the Lord.

12 “Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel;

because I will do this to you,

prepare to meet your God, O Israel!”

13 For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,

and declares to man what is his thought,

who makes the morning darkness,

and treads on the heights of the earth—

the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!

Stop, go back, read that slowly, and tell me if it makes you tremble. “Prepare to meet your god, O Israel!“ God tells these people that he has pointed out their sin. He has shown them what is required for their repentance. He has commanded. They have disobeyed. And now his judgment is coming. And the most frightening thing of all that the Lord could say to a rebellious people is “Prepare to meet your God!”

This is not, by the way, God saying he is going to kill them. It is far scarier than that. God is telling them that, in times past, he has been sending judgments to call them to repentance. Now, he is coming. Now he, the Holy One, will do the work himself. Now the Lord will come, and there is no one in creation who has the power to stay his hand.

Such a scene should be a part of a faithful gospel presentation and understanding. A presentation of the gospel that only has softness and pleading is less than biblical. A true gospel presentation includes the love and grace of the Lord, but it must also include the fact that, should any person turn his or her back on the Lord and his ways, they are in danger at a level they do not understand. They are called to repent. They are called to get under the love of Jesus. They are called to mercy. But if they will not come to that call, the only remaining element is, “Prepare to meet your God!” And they must understand, a faithful presentation must help them see, that meeting their God while unprepared is utterly terrifying.

Please do not hear me deemphasizing the love of God or his mercy here. ON the contrary, we only grasp the greatness of grace when we see the infinite judgment we deserve. Salvation means something when you have something to be saved from.

A Brief Look at Total Inability

Calvinism is often represented by the acronym T. U. L. I. P. Those five letters stand for five points which are the five doctrines that opponents of Calvin’s teachings could not tolerate, but which students taught by Calvin proclaimed to be biblical and thus true. They are by no means the only things Calvin taught. They are, instead, the points of controversy related to the doctrines of grace, of salvation.

The T in TULIP  stands for total depravity, or sometimes total inability. The point of the doctrine is that mankind, without God enacting a change in the sinfully dead heart will never desire God. The doctrine states that, apart from a supernatural work done by God on the heart of a person, that person will never desire to come to God, they will not want God.

One passage that speaks to this doctrine is one I read this morning in my daily reading. In Romans 8, Paul says a few things that show us that lost man does not come to God on his own.

Romans 8:7–9 –  7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

Notice three things in this little section. First, what does the word of God say about how a person will desire to come to or know God? The heart set on the flesh is hostile to God. An unconverted heart is by its very nature hostile to God. This is not God pushing the unconverted person away. It is the person rejecting God and running from him because their desire is the flesh, an all-encompassing term for the sinful life. The lost heart desires not God but what opposes God.

Second, notice that the mind set on the flesh will not submit to the law of God. Why not? Paul says that it cannot. Cannot here is a word that clearly indicates a lack of ability. This is not because God is commanding the impossible. It is not as if the Lord is telling a man to leap over the Grand Canyon. Instead, it is a total lack of ability to submit to God because the unconverted person quite clearly does not desire to do so.

Thirdly, and this is the part that I think is often skipped in this discussion, note what is required for a person to have this inability, this hostility to God that leads to them not even being able to want him, changed. It is the Spirit of God that is required to make this change. Paul points out that those who are not described by the inability of verse 7 and 8 are changed, not because they changed themselves, but because of the work of the Spirit of God. It is the supernatural work of God’s Spirit that moves a person from hostility against God, from inability to submit to God, to a desire for God, for salvation, and for the things of God. The cause of this change is God, not the man who cannot desire such a change because of his enslavement to sin and hostility to the Lord.

Do not be confused by the term total depravity. That phrase does not mean that men who do not know God are as totally evil as they could be. What the phrase means is what the Bible teaches us here. When we are unconverted, we are in the flesh. Our hearts are hostile to the things of God so that we cannot submit to him. Why can we not submit? We cannot submit to him because, as we already saw, our fleshly hearts are hostile to him and his ways. We cannot submit because of our own choice of sin. For that to change, a work of the Spirit of God must bring to life a dead heart, turning our desires from being hostile to God to desiring God. And then, when the Spirit does that work, when he moves our hearts to wanting God, we will come to the Lord because of the new desire he has given us just as surely as we could not submit to him earlier because of our old desires against him.

A Resurrection Focus

It seems that, in modern church culture, we focus much on the sacrifice of Jesus, maybe on his life, and seldom on his resurrection. When I hear gospel presentations or apologetic discourses, I hear a good deal about Jesus’ claims and his crucifixion, I even hear a good deal about the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled in his life, but it seems that those are often followed up with the resurrection as an, “O, by the way…,” afterthought.

But the writers of Scripture, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, are most certainly focused on the resurrection. It is the fact that Jesus walked out of the tomb that is the key to their being convinced of the true identity of Jesus and the fact of his promises.

Look here at Paul’s greeting in Romans.

Romans 1:3-4 – 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

How does Paul know that Jesus really is who he says he is? Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power through his resurrection. The fact that Jesus rose from the grave proves that all the other claims about Jesus are true. The fact of the resurrection is at the core of our belief.

 

I wonder, then, why we do not spend more of our energy in modern discussions talking about the resurrection. I have debated with people the morality of predestination, the righteousness of God’s commands, the philosophical rationale for belief in a Creator, the significance of the age of the universe, the historical reasoning for the reliability of Scripture, and so many other things. And in general, I believe those discussions to be good things. But at the end of the day, whether talking to a struggling believer or a disinterested agnostic, there is really one truth that is at the center of our belief. The important question is, “Did Jesus rise from the dead?”

 

Did Jesus rise from the dead? If he did, then what do you do with him? If Jesus walked out of the tomb, then he is different than any other human being. In fact, if Jesus walked out of the tomb, he is the very God he claims to be. If Jesus walked out of the tomb, he is the Son of God who gave his life as a sacrifice for the sins of God’s children. If Jesus gave his life as the only sacrifice for sins that can make a person right with God, then we are responsible to get under that grace or be lost. We are responsible to obey God’s command to repent of sin and believe in Jesus. We are responsible to call Jesus our Lord and find our life in him.

 

Perhaps, the next time a friend or family member wants to debate religion with you, it would be good to start with the question of the resurrection. Ask them what they do with the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. The resurrection is the proof of Jesus’ identity and authority. 

A Warning from Judges

When my annual Bible reading plan takes me through Judges, I cannot say I am excited. This book is dark and painful to read. WE watch as the nation of Israel turns their back on God time and time again. No matter how great are his warnings, the people keep fighting against him.

What hit me, as I began this reading for this year, is the fact that this dark feeling, this pressing warning, is just as much for us today as it was for the people who originally read it. No, I do not expect that we should think a lot about the land promises discussed in the book. But we are to live as the people of God and be careful not to turn from him.

Judges 2:10-13 – 10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.

11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.

It was only 1 generation after Joshua when the people abandoned God and began to worship idols. IT took only one generation for those who should have followed the Lord to turn their backs. One generation, and the people provoked the Lord.

Before we take this and try to make some sort of political statement about our nation, how about we take this and see in it the need for intense warnings in our own families. Our children will worship someone or something. That is simply true. And it is wise for us as parents to help them to see that the only acceptable way to worship is to worship the Lord. The only way to worship the Lord is to come to him in faith and repentance, believing in Jesus and turning our backs on our sin in this life. We must trust Jesus and yield ourselves to him.

And we should warn our families that, to turn away from Jesus and ignore him is really the very same thing we see in Judges. To turn against Jesus is to bow to one idol or another. This is to provoke the Lord and to dishonor his name.

I don’t know if I’m getting across the depth of emotion that needs to come here. We either worship the Lord, or we bow to Baal, figuratively speaking. We either surrender to Jesus, or we do war against the Lord our God. This is an extremely significant truth, and I wonder if, in our desire to be kind and gentle and to appear open-minded, we might be softening the blow of this hard truth. May we not do so. May we find the grace of Jesus, a sweet Savior and gentle Master. May we not instead turn against him and find him the holy Judge.