The Other Side

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:8-10

These words are, without a doubt, one of the most clear and concise descriptions of the gospel found in the NT.  Perhaps that’s one reason why the first couple sentences in this text are among the most well-known, well-loved, and oft-quoted by evangelical Christians.  But notice what I said?  The first two sentences… basically that’s vv. 8-9.  I almost never hear Christians quote v. 10.  But v. 10 is just as much a part of the gospel as are vv. 8-9, and our over-emphasis on vv. 8-9 has resulted in the preaching of an anemic gospel that has little if any impact in many who accept it and “convert.”  Let me explain.

Americans are extremely individualistic.  We believe in ourselves, our rights, our freedoms, our happiness, our pleasure, our own ability to make our own path by our own sweat, our own authority over our own lives, etc.  This rugged individualism has waylaid American Christianity so that it has become an individualized, personalized, privatized religion that often only preaches, understands, and accepts half the gospel.

In many American churches, we limit the gospel to individual, personal forgiveness of sins.  We tell people that they are justified when they believe in Jesus and accept him as their “personal Lord and Savior.”  Now, this is true and I believe it.  But this is not the whole gospel.  The bulk of Jesus’ teaching and preaching was not about personal forgiveness of sins (although he did talk about that).  Rather, what Jesus spent the majority of his time proclaiming was the Kingdom of God.  The gospel Jesus preached was a gospel of the Kingdom (see Mark 1:15).  But, the “gospel” we often limit our preaching to is a “gospel” of individual, personal forgiveness of sins… less the Kingdom part.

In other words, we love to talk about what we’re saved from.  But it’s not as popular to talk about what we’re saved to.  And when we do talk about that, we often narrow it once again to individual, personal morality.  The gospel is not only that you are saved from your sin; it is also that you are saved to good works–and those good works do not only include personal morality; they also include using your life to create glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven here and now.

Yes, personal forgiveness of sin is central to the message of the gospel.  It’s through accepting the forgiveness of Christ and surrendering your life to him that you enter into his Kingdom.  But when God saves you, he means for you to live as a citizen of that Kingdom.  Following Christ means living like he lived, and if Jesus did anything, he used his life to create a foretaste, a glimpse, of Heaven on Earth.  At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus spoke these words from the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Luke 4:18-19

Jesus literally brought the Kingdom of God into human history.  And when he saves us, he calls us to a life of creating Kingdom glimpses, just like he did.  But so many American Christians have never heard anything beyond, “Jesus died to save you from your sins.”  They’ve never heard that the other side of the gospel is living your life as a citizen of the Kingdom.  The other side of the gospel is bringing a foretaste of Heaven into the world around you.  The other side of the gospel is living like Jesus, giving your life to feed the hungry, care for the hurting, love the unlovely, encourage the discouraged, comfort the sick, and stand for those who have no other advocate.  The other side of the gospel is fighting for the rights of the oppressed.  It is using that raise you just got to help the poor.  It is using that spare time you have to volunteer at a local shelter.  It is going toe-to-toe with injustice.  It is not being okay with the fact that millions of children will die this year because they don’t have clean water.

“What?!?” you say.  “That’s not what I signed up for when I prayed that little prayer!”

You only heard and accepted half the gospel?  Join the club.  But I challenge you to read through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and see what Jesus spends most of his time doing and talking about.  I think you’ll discover there’s another side to the gospel.  And once you do, what are you going to do about it?

Integrity: Be Who You Are

Sermon delivered at Pontiac Bible Church on June 21, 2015.

This message was part of our summer series through Proverbs, Keep Calm and Be Wise.  Integrity has become a relic of the past in our society. News anchors lie, athletes cheat, few people are honest unless of course, it’s convenient. But, God designed us to live with integrity, and living the way God designed you to live is the very definition of wisdom. In this message, we’ll see what integrity really is, and how we can walk in it.

How Can Only One Religion Be True?

Sermon delivered at Pontiac Bible Church on 5/3/2015.

It is arrogant and intolerant to insist that your religion is right and try to convert others to it.

This statement is widely accepted in our culture, and Christians who choose not to be converted to this way of thinking are not tolerated by many in our society. But, can’t we admit that religion is, by its very nature, exclusive? Religion creates an “in-group” of people who know the “truth,” live the “right” way, and who are “loved” by God. Anyone not belonging to that religion is in the “out-group.” They don’t know the truth, they don’t live the right way, and therefore God doesn’t love them. They’re infidels that need to be converted, killed, or at least marginalized. Surely, we must acknowledge the divisiveness, bigotry, persecution and war that religion has caused! This is the religious problem. Religion is exclusive; it rejects tolerance in the name of truth.

But, non-religion isn’t much better. It rejects truth in the name of tolerance. Popular arguments against religious exclusivity abound in our society. Some believe that all religions are equally valid and basically teach the same things. This is not true, however. Christians say Jesus is God, but Muslims say Jesus is not God. Both religions cannot be equally true, nor do they teach the same things, especially about who God is.

Others say that every religion is false, none see the whole truth, and/or God doesn’t actually exist. But if you are going to make these claims, you must also claim that you, alone, possess all knowledge and truth. How do you know that no religion is true, unless you know what is true? And how do you know that God doesn’t exist outside of your knowledge, unless you possess all knowledge? Thus, you are claiming that every religious claim throughout thousands of years of human history has been wrong, except the claim that you are making. And that you are smarter than every one of the billions of people who have believed (and currently believe) in God (a list of names that include some of the most brilliant people who have ever lived). In the end, this is a pretty arrogant and intolerant position, just like the religious problem it seeks to fix!

So, religion rejects tolerance in the name of truth, and non-religion rejects truth in the name of tolerance. But is it possible to have both truth and tolerance? Is it possible to believe something is exclusively true, and also treat people who disagree with respect and love? I suggest that Christianity gives us the ability to believe in exclusive truth while being an inclusive people.

Christians believe that every human being, even one who is not a Christian, is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Thus, every person is infinitely valuable and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of the color of their skin, the amount of money in their bank account, their religious beliefs, or their sexual orientation.

Christians also believe that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, and not by anything good we do (Ephesians 2:1-10). This means we cannot think that we are better than others because we are Christians. We’re not Christians because we’re good, or because we’re smart, or because we’re talented. If Jesus hadn’t died on the cross to save us, we’d be lost, enemies of God, and destined to eternal death. We have nothing to boast about except how amazing Jesus is!

Christianity is the most inclusive religious movement in history! It isn’t bound to a nationality, a gender, a socioeconomic class, or a single people group. Anyone and everyone can come to Christ and receive grace, forgiveness, mercy and eternal life. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past, what addictions you have, what your struggles are, how much money you have, what talents you possess, what you have to offer, who you vote for, how you dress, what music you listen to, or what your last name is. None of these things earns salvation. Jesus offers that freely to all who come to him.