Monday, October 21, 2013

"Catholic, Christian, Religion and Jesus ... "

"Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.  Anyone who does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because He has not believed the testimony God has given about His Son.  And this is the testimony:  God has GIVEN US eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life" (I John 5:10-13).

It's Monday morning and my mind is going in a hundred different directions.  As a pastor I think back over yesterday's worship and the message God led me to bring from His Word to His people, and I pray that God will bring forth fruit for His glory in the lives of all who heard the Gospel of God's grace in Jesus Christ.  I think of some of the things that I know are going on in the lives of the people of Lighthouse, people I love and care for.  I pray for wisdom, for strength, for endurance and perseverance, and I pray for opportunities to share the love and grace of Jesus with others, at home, at work, at school and elsewhere ... "being ready always to give an answer to everyone who asks the reason for the hope that we have"  (I Peter 3:15).

Then I look ahead and see what meetings are scheduled for the week and contacts I need to make and begin to consider the passage before me for the message next Sunday.  Like everyone else, there is a lot to think about.  But as I think and pray and work, there is often a nagging feeling that arises within me that I am not doing enough to proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by all the possible means available to me.  More and more often there is the conviction that people are being deceived and I feel helpless to do anything about it ... except to keep doing what I'm doing - proclaiming the truth of God's Word concerning Jesus and the way of salvation.

It's not as though God has not made the way clear.  Jesus Himself said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).  As the apostles (the "sent ones") went out preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they called people to repent and believe:  "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved" (Acts 16:31).  To the Romans, Paul wrote, "We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law" (Romans 4:28) and to the Galatians, "We know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified" (Galatians 2:15-16).

The true message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, revealed throughout God's Word, is that God's gift of eternal life must be received by faith in Jesus Christ ... period.  "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).  God sent Jesus as the payment (the "atoning sacrifice") for our sins.  The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross satisfied God's justice.  He took our place.  My sins were laid on Him and by faith in Jesus God credits Jesus' perfect righteousness to my account (Romans 4 and II Corinthians 5:18-21). "The wages of sin is death, but the GIFT of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).  There is no other Gospel.  "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes:  first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last ..." (Romans 1:16-17).  Good works, be they "religious works" or any other kind of good deed, earn us nothing.  We are saved from God's judgment against our sin by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  That is the message of the Gospel found in God's unchanging Word.

But that is NOT the message being preached by so many today ... and people are being deceived by the millions.  The passage that I quoted at the beginning of this blog, from I John 5:10-13, weighs heavily on my mind and heart, along with the whole testimony of God's Word.  The "testimony" of the Holy Spirit in the heart of every true believer is this:  "God has GIVEN us eternal life, and this life is in His Son."   Therefore, every true believer can and should KNOW that they HAVE eternal life ... NO DOUBTS!  Did you hear what John wrote in verse 10?  "Anyone who does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because He has not believed the testimony God has given about His Son."

God says that Jesus paid the perfect sacrifice for all who will believe.  Even the popular verse, John 3:16, declares, "God so loved the world that He GAVE His one and only Son; that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life!"  Every person who believes that Jesus suffered and died on the cross to bear God's judgment against their sins, and who is then moved by the Holy Spirit to confess Jesus as their only Savior and the Lord of their life IS SAVED!  God's testimony points to the sufficiency of Jesus to accomplish what only He could do:  satisfy the justice of God.  As true man and true God He was the perfect "Lamb" and all who believe HAVE BEEN redeemed by His blood, once and for all.  Now, NOTHING can separate me from my Father's love ... not even death!  (Romans 8:37-39).

So, why do people listen to anything else ... to any other message?  Having proclaimed this Gospel to so many, Paul wrote to the Galatians, "Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!  As we have already said, so now I say again:  If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!" (Galatians 1:8-9).  Then he adds, "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?  Or am I trying to please men?  If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10).  There is ONE true Gospel:  Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, suffered God's judgment in the place of sinful man on the cross, and whoever believes in Him ... whoever trusts totally and completely in the sacrifice of Jesus as the ONLY thing that brings forgiveness and life to those who believe ... these, and ONLY these are saved.

So why do people listen to anything else?  Deception.  I titled this post "Catholic, Christian, Religion and Jesus ..." because so many people around the world equate being "Christian" with being "Catholic."  The "Religion" section of our local newspaper in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this week had four or five articles about the Catholic Church, Catholics or the Pope, one on Buddhism and another on Jews.  Once in a while there is something about another  "Christian" church, but the goal is clearly to place all religious thought of any kind together under one umbrella:  "religion."  Sadly, most people are OK with this, whether they are Catholic or Jews or "Christians" ...  but no true Christian should approve of being lumped together with those who "preach another gospel."  And that's what is happening.

It's nothing new.  The Popes and the Catholic Church have been preaching for centuries that while Jesus died for our sins, it is only through participation in the sacraments and other rites of the "church" that one can hope to be saved.  Even then, most people will have to pass through the "fires" of purgatory and will pass into heaven only by receiving merits from the saints or through the prayers and gifts of others to the church.  This is "another gospel" and it should be condemned.  Others in the "church" are preaching that God loves everybody and even those who don't know Jesus or believe in Jesus or confess Jesus will still be saved.  This is "another gospel" and it should be condemned.  Talking about Jesus and believing Jesus lived a long time ago is NOT "believing" in Jesus.  Those who say it is "good enough" are preaching "another gospel" and it should be condemned.

But who dares say such a thing?  Am I condemning Catholics?  Am I condemning others who are preaching "about" Jesus?  I am not condemning anyone ... GOD says they are condemned who teach any other message that is contrary to the true Gospel and God will judge those who BELIEVE any other message than the true Gospel.  "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?  Or am I trying to please men?  If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10).  Much of the "Christian" church today is preaching a different gospel, a gospel of prosperity, or a social gospel that declares that our main task is meeting people's physical needs (we are to do that, too, but people need to HEAR the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in order to have forgiveness, hope and peace with God that brings true and lasting HOPE!).

I have heard preacher after preacher interviewed and asked, "Are you saying that those who do not believe in Jesus Christ will go to hell?"  And I have witnessed one after another give a politically correct answer:  "Well, it's not for me to judge" ... or "It's my job just to tell people about Jesus and God will sort all of that out" or  ... "  Are we not called to declare God's truth and to warn people of the coming judgment of God?  If we see people being deceived, are we not called to love them enough to tell them the truth, and THEN to leave it in God's hands?  It is unbelief that condemns people ... and that includes believing the wrong things about Jesus and about God and His love and His grace and His holiness and His justice.  Belief in "something" and yes, even belief in some "Jesus" who lived a long time ago will not save you.  FAITH is TRUST based on knowledge and it brings certainty!

More and more people are being deceived through what most consider to be the "Christian" church.  I was told last week that someone who used to attend Lighthouse was going somewhere else because they preferred a more "upbeat, feel-good" (their words) message.  I thought about that yesterday as I preached from Romans 4 that God in His grace has "credited righteousness" to those who believe in Jesus.  If you want to feel good, this is the most awesome message ever known to man:  God sees me as perfect, as righteous in His sight through faith in Jesus Christ!!  What is so great about being told that you have to keep on trying to be a "better Christian" in order to get right with God?  What is so great about thinking that all religions have "some" truth, but that none of them are completely true?  Since you need a lifeline, don't you want one that you are SURE will hold you?

Which takes us back to I John 5:10-13.  The testimony in the heart of every true believer is this:  "God has GIVEN me eternal life.  I believe in Jesus Christ.  He is my Savior and my Lord.  He suffered and died for ME, and by God's grace I receive Him as my Mediator, through whom I have access to the very presence of my Father in heaven.  I KNOW I am saved.  I KNOW God is with me now, and I KNOW I have eternal life ... because GOD says so."  Remember, anyone who does not believe God's testimony is calling HIM a liar!

Are YOU calling God a liar today?  Are you declaring that faith in Jesus isn't enough?  True believers will live lives of thanksgiving to God that include worship, prayer, study and service, to the glory of God, but they will do this because God has given them a new heart and a new mind and a new will and their desire is to serve Jesus.  They will know that nothing they do can add to what Jesus has done in their place and they will trust totally, completely in the finished work of Christ on the cross ... period.  Deception comes in many packages.  In the first thirty to forty years following Jesus' ascension into heaven the true believers were being bombarded with false teaching, so the apostles warned them:  "Such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.  It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness.  Their end will be what their actions deserve" (II Corinthians 11:13-15).

Deception is deception because it is not obvious to most.  It deceives because people do not know the truth and so cannot compare the lies they are being told with the truth of God's Word.  The Apostle Paul wrote of the coming of the Antichrist in II Thessalonians 2:9-10:  "The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing.  They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved."  The TRUTH is found only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of salvation by grace through faith.  Nothing more ... nothing less ... my hope is sure and certain because my hope is in the shed blood of the perfect Lamb of God.  "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1).

Are YOU sure today?  Whether you claim to be Catholic, Christian or go by some other label, do you believe in Jesus?  That means, do you believe that He suffered and died in your place and that by God's grace, through faith, HIS perfect righteousness has been credited to your account and you stand before God clothed in that beautiful garment of Christ's making?  If THAT is your confession, then you must KNOW today that you are one of God's children and you will live a life of thanksgiving for His GIFT of love every day, knowing He is with you and that if your life should end today, you will enter into His marvelous and glorious presence, without fear and with great joy!  We have many people coming to Lighthouse from a lot of different backgrounds.  When they come we tell them that the ONLY identity they have as a believe is in Christ Jesus.  No other label is necessary ... no other label matters.  "I trust in Jesus Christ alone for my salvation and I know that I am His by grace through faith."

Jesus said that His sheep hear HIS voice (through the Gospel) and that not one of His sheep would be lost.  Jesus always tells the truth!  So let me finish with the benediction from Jude, where he calls believers to "contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" because false teachers had already slipped in among them.  He closes with these words:  "To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy - to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!  Amen" (Jude 24-25).

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