No, We Don’t Preach “Easy Believism”

Baptists frequently get labeled with the accusation that we preach “easy believism.”  People say, “C’mon, there must be more to getting saved than praying a simple prayer in which you ask Jesus to be your Savior.” My response to that is, “No, there’s not more to the prayer itself, but there is a ton more to the decision that gets voiced by the prayer.”

I confess that over the years I’ve struggled to find illustrations that accurately depict the weight of the decision to trust in Christ (and Christ alone) for salvation. But I ran across a story recently that I thought did a pretty good job of it. See what you think.

In a northern town, a young woman was walking across the thick layer of ice atop a frozen pond. Everything seemed fine until suddenly, without warning, the ice broke and she fell into the bone-chilling water. As she hung there with her head barely out of the water and the rest of her body submerged, she clutched the ice around the hole with every ounce of strength she had in both hands. This allowed her to cry for help; and to her relief a man came running toward her.

The man grabbed both of her wrists and said, “I can’t pull you out as long as you are clutching the ice so hard. What I need you to do is let go of the ice and trust me to pull you up.” The logic made sense, but no way was the terrified woman going to let go of that ice. So, a standoff ensued for a few seconds as the man pleaded with her to let go and trust him. Finally, when the woman realized that she couldn’t hang there in that icy water any longer, she gave in and did as the man asked. He then immediately pulled her up to safety.

You see, what Jesus asks of each of us is that we stop clinging to the “ice” of good works, religion, spirituality, church, and anything else in regards to our salvation and simply place our full trust in Him. If we are going to get saved, we must let go completely and trust Him to pull us up to safety. The longer we wait to let go and trust Him, the worse our situation becomes.

Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches that salvation comes by grace (God’s undeserved favor) through faith (faith in Jesus). The passage also points out that salvation is a gift from God and as such cannot be earned as payment. If we could do something to earn it, we would have grounds to boast.

Getting back to the illustration, the young women had no reason whatsoever to boast that she saved herself. No, all she did was mess up and place herself in need of rescue. All the credit for the rescue had to go to the man who pulled her out of the water. And the same is true metaphorically of salvation. We sinners cannot save ourselves. All we can do is get ourselves into trouble. But when we let go of our own efforts and place our faith in Jesus to save us, He does the job that we can’t do.

Someone might ask, “But what about good works? Don’t they have something to do with salvation?” Yes, they do, but we must be sure to keep the order straight. The Bible offers an entire book, the book of James, to explain that once a person gets saved the salvation will produce good works. In other words, good works are the evidence of salvation, not the cause of it. Think of it this way: Good works cannot flow into salvation, but they will inevitably flow out of it.

So, summing up everything, salvation definitely isn’t easy. For one thing, it’s not easy to abandon the idea of saving yourself. Frankly, that’s a roadblock that some people just can’t get past. And then for another thing, it’s not easy to let Jesus change you in order to produce those good works that will evidence your salvation. Truth be told, some people really don’t want to change their ways, and so they want nothing to do with salvation.

And what becomes of all unsaved people? Tragically, they are left to hang in their precarious spiritual position for the duration of their lives until they slip on down into eternity to meet an even worse fate. Why? Is it because Jesus doesn’t love them or won’t save them? No, it’s because they don’t love Him and they won’t let Him save them.

Posted in Belief, Eternity, Faith, God's Love, God's Wrath, God's Mercy, Good Works, Grace, Heaven, Hell, Salvation, The Gospel, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How’s Your Perseverance These Days?

A boy saved up his money and bought himself a nice pair of ice skates. Not long afterward he had his mom drive him to the local skating rink so that he could learn to skate. The mother watched as time and time again the boy fell on the ice. Finally, she said to him, “Son, I think you should quit before you kill yourself.” To that the boy replied, “I didn’t buy these skates to learn how to quit. I bought them to learn how to skate.”

The Bible has a lot to say about the importance of perseverance. Here are some selected passages (all from the N.K.J.V.):

  1. Romans 5:3-4: And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.
  2. Hebrews 12:1: Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
  3. Ephesians 6:10: And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
  4. Hebrews 10:36: For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.
  5. Ephesians 6:17-18: And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints…

Notice several lessons from this list of passages. First, perseverance produces character (Romans 5:3-4). Second, we have trouble persevering in worthy causes because our sins trip us up so easily (Hebrews 12:1). Third, even if our sins don’t trip us up, we are still very susceptible to growing weary while doing good (Ephesians 6:10). Fourth, God’s promise can’t be realized until you have endured in doing that which is His will (Hebrews 10:36). Fifth, prayer is the secret to being able to persevere (Ephesians 6:17-18).

I don’t know where this post finds you today, but if you are somewhere in the middle of completing something that you know is God’s will, keep going. Whatever you do, don’t stop. Don’t fall short of the finish line. Don’t abort the mission. If you feel like quitting, then pray and persevere, pray and persevere, and pray and persevere some more until the assignment is completed. Remember, God’s promise doesn’t await the one who quits. It awaits the one who perseveres.

Posted in Adversity, Commitment, Disappointment, Doing Good, Faithfulness, God's Will, God's Work, Impatience, Obedience, Patience, Perseverance, Reward, Service, Trials, Waiting | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Heavenly Abodes

In John 14:1-3, we find some very well known words from Jesus. The old King James translation of those words reads:

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

This passage’s use of the word “mansions” is something that many people, especially many hymn writers, have put to great use. For example, the opening verse of the classic hymn “When We All Get To Heaven” says:

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus, Sing His mercy and His grace. In the mansions, bright and blessed, He’ll prepare for us a place.

“Victory in Jesus” is another example. The third verse of that song begins by saying:

I heard about a mansion he has built for me in glory…

There are, however, two things you need to know about the old King James translation’s use of the word “mansions.” First, John 14:2 is the translation’s one and only use of the word. Second, the Greek word the King James translates as “mansions” is mone and it literally means “a staying” or “an abiding.” As a matter of fact, in verse 23 of that same 14th chapter of John, the translation translates this exact same Greek word as “abode.” That verse says:

Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.

If you think about it, the idea that heaven has literally millions of mansions, one for each of history’s millions of Christians, does seem a bit odd. Is heaven nothing but row after row of mansions, all laid out in perfect grids like subdivisions on a map? Are some of the mansions bigger and nicer than others? Is the size and affluence of your mansion dependent upon how you served Jesus on earth? It’s this kind of thinking that has given rise to the wrong notion that each Christian’s mansion must be built from the materials the Christian sends on ahead as treasure in  heaven. I have to admit that I’ve never understood how faith, obedience, and service somehow equate to bricks, floor tiles, and mortar in heaven.

When you understand all this, you can understand why most translations of the Bible never use the word “mansions” in relation to heaven. For example, the New American Standard, the Holman Christian Standard, and the New Revised Standard all quote Jesus as saying, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places.” The English Standard Version makes the quote, “In My Father’s house are many rooms.” The New International Version puts it, “My Father’s house has many rooms…”

You say, “But Russell, I like the sound of “mansions” better than “dwelling places” or “rooms.” Well, you say that because you are still trying to envision heaven in terms of this world. You see, homes — whether they be mansions, townhouses, apartments, condominiums, shacks, or trailers — speak of isolation. One of the reasons I live in a house is because some people get on my nerves and I don’t want to be around them. If I have a house, I can go there, lock the doors, close the curtains, and not have to be bothered with anybody. Let’s face it, that is one of the great advantages of having an earthly home.

But in heaven we will all be fully rescued from the effects of the sinful flesh. This means that we won’t get on each others’ nerves the way we do now. We really will all be one big, happy family. There will be a perfect unity among the citizens of heaven, a unity we cannot fully fathom now. We won’t need a mansion to storm off to when we get upset with somebody, because we won’t get upset with anybody. We won’t need a mansion to hide out in when we are moody, because we will never be moody.

You ask, “Does this mean that when we get to heaven we are just going to wander around aimlessly, with no particular place to call our own?” No, I wouldn’t say that. After all, Jesus did promise, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places (rooms). I go to prepare a place for you.” That’s different than saying, “My Father’s house is one gigantic dwelling place (room).” What will these dwelling places be like? I don’t pretend to know. I’m simply saying that we shouldn’t envision them as “mansions” in the way we use that word.

Of course, whatever those dwelling places are like, I want one! Even more than that, I have the promise that Jesus has prepared one for me. How can I say that with such confidence? It’s because I have done what He said to do. In verse 1 of that same 14th chapter of John, He says:

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. (K.J.V.)

The Greek word translated there as “believe” is the same Greek word that is used in John 3:16, where Jesus says:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (K.J.V.)

I’m not perfect by any means, but I have believed in Jesus as my personal Savior. How about you? Have you seen yourself as a sinner in the eyes of holy God? Have you heard that Jesus (who is God the Son) voluntarily left heaven, was born to a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on a Roman cross for your sins, arose from the dead, and ascended back to heaven? And have you genuinely, legitimately, authentically believed in Him as your personal Savior?

If you have, then you have every right to fully expect that you will one day be welcomed into heaven. Never doubt that Jesus has prepared a dwelling place for you there, and never doubt that your heavenly inheritance is reserved, incorruptible, undefiled, and does not fade away (1 Peter 1:3-5). This, needless to say, should give you hope for your future, and in turn that hope should drive you to live all out for Jesus in the here and now.

Posted in Belief, Christ's Birth, Christ's Death, Christ's Resurrection, Comfort, Death, Encouragement, Eternity, Heaven, King James Only, Reward, Salvation | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Christian Verses” Podcast: Psalm 139:14

Would you believe that the mighty theory of evolution is now beginning to be questioned by a slew of reputable, even prominent, scientists? And would you also believe that many of these scientists aren’t even Bible-believing Christians? Dr. David Gelernter, a Yale Professor, is such a man. He recently created a bit of a stir in the scientific community when he went public with his doubts about the validity of Charles Darwin’s famous theory.

Join Malcolm Woody and I for a few minutes as we focus on Psalm 139:14 in the light of Dr. Gelernter’s recent comments. I myself find it wildly encouraging that the deeper science goes into exploring the human body, the more evidence they find for a Creator (an Architect, a Designer). Even if scientists such as Dr. Gelernter aren’t yet ready to embrace the idea of a Creator God, at least they are finally beginning to admit what has been evident to me and many others for a lot of years now: the theory of evolution is a crock that never has to produce the scientific evidence to support it. Actually, we ought to start calling the theory what it is at this point. It’s a religion that scientists choose because the alternative is to believe in the existence of a Creator God. Of course if I get started on that subject, I’ll be typing all day. So, let me just control myself and offer the link to the podcast. Here you go:

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The Vanity of Sports

For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23, N.K.J.V.)

Andrew Luck, the Indianapolis Colts all-pro quarterback, retired last week. He is 29 years old and had one of his best seasons last year. Between the contracts, contract extensions, and endorsement deals he would have enjoyed over the next decade or so, he left a ton of money on the table. One estimate put the possible overall total at a half a BILLION dollars.

So why did this relatively young superstar voluntarily quit the sport he had played since he was a little boy, the sport that had made him rich and famous and promised to make him more of both? His stated reason was that the constant injuries he received while playing professional football, coupled with the mental drain of the seemingly endless cycle of injury-rehab-injury-rehab-injury-rehab, had taken all the joy out of the sport. In case you are wondering, the list of injures Luck incurred while playing in the NFL reads as follows: torn cartilage in two ribs, a partially torn abdomen, a lacerated kidney, at least one concussion, a torn labrum that required surgery on his throwing shoulder, and a calf/ankle injury that is still currently plaguing him.

The day after Luck’s press conference another NFL superstar, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who retired at the age of 30 immediately following last season, commented on how he too had felt robbed of his joy by football. As for his injuries, he had no less than nine surgeries as a result of playing in the NFL, and that’s to say nothing of the multiple concussions and back-related issues he also experienced. It was pain, intense bodily pain, that forced Gronkowski to retire. That relentless pain was the byproduct of a wrecked body that could no longer endure the rigors of America’s most popular sport.

Now, I’m certainly not writing this post to get you to feel sorry for Andrew Luck or Rob Gronkowski. Both men are multimillionaires who, if they manage their money well, will never have to work another day in their lives. For decades to come they should be able to enjoy the good life that most of us can’t afford. No, I’m writing this post in the hopes that you will see what sports have become in America: taskmasters that demand your body, soul, mind, and spirit if you want to succeed at the highest levels.

I first experienced this with my two sons, Ryan and Royce. Each year both of them played three sports (football, basketball, and baseball) as part of their childhood. Ryan went on to play all three sports at the varsity level in high school and also played some college baseball. Royce played four years of baseball, two at the varsity level, in high school.

But those brief descriptions leave out all the gory details. They leave out the travel ball tournaments in basketball and baseball. They leave out the summer workouts in football. They leave out the personal instructors in baseball and basketball. They leave out the time and gas spent on getting the boys to all the practices and games. They leave out the the zillions of dollars spent on equipment. They leave out all the trips to Dick’s Sporting Goods. They leave out all the hotel rooms and meals at fast-food restaurants. And most importantly to me, they leave out all the times Tonya and I died a little (or oftentimes a lot) on the inside whenever either son didn’t get the playing time we felt he deserved.

Yes, we lived all that, and we did it just to get our boys a taste of athletic success at a small 1A high school. And you know what? That made us normal in the insane world of sports, players, parents, and coaches. Seriously, if you think that what I’ve described means that we were crazed parents who were totally delusional about our sons’ size, ability, and chances of playing pro ball, I’m sorry but you really don’t have a clue as to what passes for average in the realm of sports in 21st century America.

Long gone are the days when a kid with some athletic ability could just roll out of bed, show up for his school’s practice, and expect to make the team, let alone get playing time. If a kid tries that today, he or she is going to get passed over for the kid who has bettered his or her game by playing on travel teams (typically costing more than $2,000 per team), received personal instruction from a paid instructor (typically costing more than $50 per hour), and slavishly put in all the hours required for the workouts (typically more than three days a week). Yes, it takes all of that just to get to do the bare minimum of running with the herd these days.

Actually, Ryan and Royce were dinosaurs in that they played three sports. The trend now is to pick one sport early on and stick with it exclusively year round. Despite the fact that many experts bemoan this strategy and say that it produces not only lesser athletes but also lesser human beings, that’s little consolation to the kid who lost his playing time in football because he spent his summer playing baseball instead of playing his football team’s seven-on-sevens. In the eyes of most football coaches, a kid like that just isn’t willing to “buy in” enough to the football program.

This brings us back to Andrew Luck and Rob Gronkowski. I’ll guarantee you that at some point in their lives both of those players bought in lock, stock, and barrel to football. Even more than that, they were in the elite 1% that had the size and talent to make it to the big time. And that big time rewarded them with the best it has to offer: money, fame, accolades, magazine covers, fans wearing their replica jerseys, etc. Unfortunately for Luck and Gronkowski, however, it all came at the expense of their physical health, mental health, and the simple joy of playing a kid’s game.

King Solomon lived life to the fullest in a way that perhaps no other person ever has, and the book of Ecclesiastes reads like his personal diary concerning everything he tried. But what did he surmise about all his efforts? He summed them up as being “vanity.” The Hebrew word that is translated as “vanity” is hebel and it literally means “breath.” Since a person’s breath is such an transitory thing, hebel can rightly be translated as “emptiness,” “purposeless,” or “meaningless.” Solomon is saying, “I tried it all, and I’m telling you it all ends in an emptiness akin to a breath of air that is gone in a second.”

It sounds to me like the football playing of Andrew Luck and Rob Gronkowski ended in this kind of emptiness. Obviously, the emptiness didn’t apply to their bank accounts — for that matter, Solomon was richer than either of them — but it did apply to their joy account. That’s why both of them retired. They had reached the highest level of their chosen sport, but what it took to get them there and keep them there stole their joy to such a degree that it trumped everything else.

Let this be a lesson to all of us. Any pursuit that doesn’t have God as its front, center, and back is doomed to end in vanity. Am I saying that sports are inherently evil? No. What I’m saying is that sports have now reached a stage where the player is required to more or less sell his or her soul just to be pretty good. (Being great, of course, requires even more of a sacrifice). Just about every sport now demands a full “buy in” from the participant if that participant wants to get anywhere in the sport. Sadly, however, the problem with that kind of “buy in” is that it doesn’t leave much room for God. You see, that’s why the joy ends up missing in action. The deal is, no God, no joy. As Solomon says at the close of Ecclesiastes:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all. (Ecclesiastes 12:13, N.K.J.V.)

Here’s hoping that Andrew Luck and Rob Gronkowski can find their way to Jesus Christ and the inner artesian well of joy that He offers (John 7:37-39). This is the only way the two players will be able to experience spiritual healing to go with whatever physical healing their doctors can produce. As for football and all the other sports, business as usual will no doubt continue. To use the old cliche from football, the “next man up” mentality will prevail. And you can mark it down that there will always be a “next man up” who will step into the shoes of a Luck or a Gronkowski and gladly come under (at least for a while) the whip of the taskmaster that is the sport. Taskmasters are like that, you know. They don’t stop the work to mourn the fallen; they just keep laying into the new recruits and demand that production be not only met but increased.

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Secret Prayers

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him will I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2, N.K.J.V.)

George Truett was one of the most famous Baptist preachers America has ever produced. From 1897 to 1944, he served as the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. He was also the president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1927 to 1929.

Truett was raised on a farm in Hayesville, North Carolina, as part of a large family of boys. When his father and older brothers headed off in the mornings to work the farm, little George and his younger brother remained  with their mother at the house. On several occasions, George noticed his mother crying in the mornings. He would ask her, “Mother, why are you crying?” But the only answer she ever gave him was, “You are too young, my boy, to understand. Don’t worry about me.”

Every morning, however, after the breakfast dishes were cleaned and all the other little chores were done, George’s mother would step out of the house, stay gone for a while, and then come back either singing, smiling, or both. This aroused enough of a curiosity in George that he once took his brother along as he followed her to see where she went. She didn’t go far, just out to the orchard next to the house, and there she got down on her face and prayed.

George and his brother dared to get close enough to hear what she was saying. And what did they hear? They heard her pour out her heart to God in asking for guidance to raise her houseful of boys, She freely admitted that she could not be (in her own wisdom) the mother her boys needed, and that if God didn’t guide her the boys would surely end up what she called “shipwreck.”

When George grew older and became the preacher he became, he often referred to his mother as the greatest Christian he ever knew. He loved to tell the story of her secret prayer life and how it taught him the key to intimacy with Jesus. He once said to an audience, “It is when you and I tread the path of secret prayer that we find out about Jesus and are given to enter the secret of His presence.”

Christian, right now you would do well to dedicate yourself to finding a secret place of prayer where you can tell God your deepest thoughts. This is something that even Jesus felt compelled to do as He frequently went off by Himself to be alone and talk to His heavenly Father (Luke 5:16). Needless to say, if Jesus — who was God the Son — understood the importance of secret prayer, you and I should understand it as well. Dare I say that if we had more prayer warriors on par with George Truett’s mother, perhaps we would have more Christians on par with George Truett.

Posted in Children, Family, Intercessory Prayer, Motherhood, Parenting, Prayer, Prayer Requests, Trusting In God, Wisdom | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Christian Verses” Podcast: Philippians 4:13

The verse for this week’s “Christian Verses” podcast is Philippians 4:13. Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” But just exactly what “things” was he referring to? Join Malcolm Woody and me as we discuss some of the ways in which Paul’s great statement of empowerment gets ripped out of its context and thus misapplied. You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the link below:

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