Wednesday, January 21, 2015

You Think You’re A Christian?

Do you remember years ago when those 3D picture books were widely published? They contained pictures that at first glance looked like repeated smears in a tiled pattern. But, when you looked at them in a certain way, a clear 3D image would emerge that some people were simply unable to see. These pictures are called stereograms. The artist arranges certain lines of a 3D image in certain locations in the repeated tiled pattern, such that if you adjust your focus as if directly inches behind the picture, your vision of the picture blurs in the foreground thereby merging the tiles together in a uniform way so as to bring the points of the 3D image together to create the 3D image in your closer blurred vision. Your normal vision (inches behind the photo) is perfect. But, your vision at the lesser distance of the photo is blurred. But, it is only in this condtion that you can actually see the amazingly crisp 3D image arise from the blur. Some people are capable of seeing the images and some are not. This disparity between different peoples' visual capabilities reminds me of similar disparity in the area of spiritual vision.

In Matthew 13, when Jesus was explaining the “parable of the sower” He elaborated on the identity of the soil on the “path” from which the birds devoured the seed. Jesus revealed that, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.” Hearing without understanding is not too dissimilar from the person today who looks at a stereogram but can’t see the 3D image. Interestingly, before Jesus' parable explanation, He informed His disciples as to why He often spoke in parables instead of more direct communication. To show the intent of His communication style, He repeated the sobering words of Isaiah 6, “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.” In other words, on our own, we are self-blinded from the truth of God’s Kingdom until God removes the blinders we placed on ourselves.

Notice also that Jesus closes this interaction with His disciples by saying “blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” They are “blessed” because God has blessed them with sight by removing their self-imposed blinders. They are from then on like those who look at a stereogram and can see the 3D image. The others who heard Jesus’ words but did not understand were not so blessed. And, while they received Jesus’ words initially absent understanding them, their reception of Jesus’ words would likely not endure like a student not remembering a lesson that they never grasped. Later, in Matthew 24:13 Jesus went further to say regarding the last days, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” In other words, of the numerous shades of faith, enduring faith is the only saving faith. By indirect implication, those who hear the gospel, receive it, but do not endure were probably never “saved.” They heard the gospel but never understood it. That should be a very sobering thought for those who think they are Christians but are not. So, how do you know that you understand the Gospel?

We will help answer that question in a moment because this post is primarily directed at those who refer to themselves as a Christian but might be fooling themselves. If you have heard the gospel but do not understand it, this post is for your primary benefit. After all, hearing the gospel without living it probably means you never understood it. And, your faith is that which by life confession has not endured. I will share some more diagnostic questions for you later. But for now, if you question the notion of enduring faith being the only shade of faith that saves, meditate on the following verses and choose to agree with God:

  • Hebrews 3:12-14 addresses those already inside the Church, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
  • Romans 11:19-22 also addresses those already in the Church, “Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.
  •  In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Those four words of Jesus (bolded) will shock many who believe themselves to be Christians.
  • Hebrews 10:32-39 says, “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, ‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”

For clarification, these passages do not support the concept that one can lose their salvation. The Bible is clear that nothing can remove us from God’s hand (John 10:27-29, among others). The more appropriate application is that not all shades of faith are effective at placing us in God’s hand to begin with. All that is required is as small as a "mustard seed." But, not any old seed will do. Only enduring faith that does not “shrink back” is effective at placing us in God's hand. And, the only way for a finite man to attempt to measure whether his faith is enduring is for that faith to pass the test of time. Keep in mind that, unlike us, God measures/determines our faith with foresight before the beginning of time . Only we are limited to hindsight. To that end, the best forward looking barometer of enduring faith is the faith marked with choosing to love Jesus unconditionally until death and beyond, as He has so promised to love us (albeit in our sinful and wretched state).

For those defending the gospel, you must first understand it and receive it. Understanding will generate unconditional love for Jesus and boundless hope. Then, from the foundation of hope that this understanding germinates, defend and clarify this simple and clear gospel with others in gentleness and respect. 

Now for some diagnostic questions for those intrigued: Are you one of those who “shrinks back?” Have you heard the gospel without understanding it? Can you explain the gospel to someone else? Can you describe the simple message of the gospel in a way that is consistent with the Bible? Has the gospel altered any area of your life in a significant way? Is the gospel continuing to alter areas of your life in significant ways? Would Jesus agree with the gospel that your life centrally demonstrates? Do people see your life and think more clearly about Jesus? Do you love Jesus? I mean, do you choose to love Jesus above all and no matter what? Do you love Jesus above yourself? Have you committed to love Jesus until your dying breath? Do you really understand His gospel? If you answer poorly to any of these yes/no questions, then you are probably one who does not understand the gospel. If so, then for now you are probably like the soil on the path. You have heard and probably don't understand. You are probably one who the Bible refers to as having fallen away. Unfortunately, you are probably not a Christian except possibly in name only (only God will be the judge of this - not you or me).

However, being a Christian in name only is not enough. The Christian life is a race that never stops as long as we have breath in our lungs. It is a race that we must run with the endurance of a lifetime of marathons. This is a race that consumes our entire life. And, it is a race run with supreme joy and fulfillment that only our loving Creator can supply. It is a race that is deliberately run. It is a race that if you are running, you know that you are. If you don’t know you are running this race consider the gospel anew and receive the free gift of eternal forgiveness and royal adoption. Click HERE to learn more about this awesome gospel.

You can purchase the book "Reason If You Will - How To Answer Questions Regarding Faith" by clicking HERE. You can also follow @ReasonIfYouWill on Twitter.