Christian apologist and author Lee Strobel tells about a police officer who pulled over a car that was traveling at a strangely low speed. As the officer approached the driver’s window he noticed that the car was full of elderly people, with the driver being a very old man. The officer asked the man, “Sir, why were you driving so slowly?” The man answered, “Because I saw a sign that read “20” and figured I’d better kept it under that speed.” The officer chuckled and said, “Sir, you misunderstood. “20” is the number of the highway – not the speed limit.” Then the officer happened to notice that all the other passengers had faces that were pale white. He said, “Is everyone alright in here? You’all look scared to death. Don’t worry, I’m not going to write a ticket.” That’s when an elderly man in the back seat said, “You’re not the reason we’re scared, officer. We just got off highway “121″!”
Just as an easy-to-read highway sign can be taken two different ways by two different people, a Bible verse can as well. For example, John 3:16 says: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Okay, got it – salvation comes by believing in Jesus. But hold on. Ephesians 2:8 says: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. So, are belief and faith the same thing?
And then there is John 1:12, which says: But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. Great, now we are adding into the mix the idea of receiving Jesus. But then comes Romans 10:13, which says: For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Wow, so now we’ve got to believe, show faith, receive, and call on the Lord’s name to get saved. Whew, that’s a lot.
Oh, but we’re not done. Acts 2:38 says: Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” So, let me get this straight – in order to be saved we’ve got to: believe, show faith, receive, call on the Lord’s name, repent, and be baptized. Is that right?
No, that’s not all. 1 Timothy 4:10 says we must “trust in the living God.” Well, put trust on the list. And then there is Revelation 3:20, which says we must “open the door” and let Jesus “come in to us.” Man, this whole salvation thing is getting really convoluted.
You see, it’s stuff like this, not just in regards to the topic of salvation but in regards to dozens of other Bible topics, that has created all the denominations, divisions, schisms, factions, and splinter-groups in Christianity. Some preacher like Russell Mckinney will say that belief in Jesus and faith in Jesus are synonymous when it comes to salvation. He’ll say that receiving Jesus is just another way to describe that moment of belief or faith. He’ll say that calling on the Lord’s name is still yet another way of describing that moment. And he’ll say that trusting in the living God and opening the door to Jesus and letting Him come in to you are even more ways of describing that moment.
Likewise, Russell will say that coming to Jesus inevitably has to involve a certain degree of repentance (turning from sin) because Jesus and the lost person’s sins are never going in the same direction. And he’ll say that Peter specifically asked those Jews to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ because the nation of Israel that had worked so hard to get Jesus crucified just a few weeks earlier needed a publicly radical display of disassociation with that sin and a new, open, unabashed alignment with Jesus.
Okay, sure, all that makes sense. But, of course, that’s just one preacher’s interpretation, right? That’s just Russell Mckinney’s way of understanding the road signs “20” and “121.” Another preacher and another Christian might understand them differently.
What am I saying? I’m saying that the Bible is an incredibly rich, diverse, and downright complicated book, and understanding it correctly involves serious time and work. When Christians know more about the upcoming elections than they do the Bible, that’s a problem. When they know more about ballgames than they do the Bible, that’s a problem. When they know more about the latest reality-t.v. series or the latest music and movies, that’s a problem. And when they’ve mastered the art of “cherry picking” certain verses here and there to fit what they want to believe, that’s a problem. That’s how you end up going either too slow or too fast.
Unfortunately, that’s what is happening today among not only individual Christians but also churches. We’re all reading God’s signs, but some of us are going too slow while others are going too fast. For that matter, some of us have pulled over and stopped altogether. Christian, I don’t know where you find yourself out there on the highway today, but my advice to you is to devote yourself more fully to Bible study. That’s the only way you’ll ever be able to understand the signs correctly and run the speed that God wants you to run.