Gracious and Seasoned with Salt

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6) 

It’s no secret as to how Christians are to engage an unbelieving world. Having received grace, grace should always be the manner in which we approach anyone with the good news of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul was a staunch defender of the gospel. As a result, he had plenty of opposition. There were many false teachers who tried to corrupt, even in very subtle ways, the true gospel. Not falling prey to this false teaching was a primary emphasis of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. His desire was for them to “be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and to walk in a manner worthy of the call of Christ (Colossians 1:9-10). Ultimately, Paul’s goal was for them to know that to be accepted by God, all they needed was Christ.

Our goal in Christian ministry should always be to have people run to Christ, not from Him. Christians are to be the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). How we approach and engage an unbelieving world matters. It’s not that we have to deviate from the truth of the gospel or lessen the discussion around the issue of sin. Sin is what separates us from God, and no matter how much our culture might try to redefine it, sin is what God says it is. But as we do engage, we must first and foremost extend to others the grace God extended to us. You and I can’t know what someone else may going through or what may be causing their resistance to the gospel. We are simply called to lovingly share the message of Jesus. We’re to meet people where they are and interact with them in a way that would commend the gospel to them. We’re to be a vessel that God uses to draw people to Himself.

Always remember, those around you are watching. Do they know your story? Do they see Christ in you? You never know where people might be at a particular time. And you never know if your actions in a moment will be what God uses to extend His saving arms to those in need of His grace. That’s why you must make sure to always let your speech be gracious and seasoned with salt.

Deathbed Conversions

“And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he [Jesus] said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’” (Luke 23:42-43)

Sometimes we hear of conversions at the end of a person’s life and question their validity. This is particularly the case when that person has done horrible things and are now facing the consequences of their actions. We think that perhaps they’re looking for sympathy for having to suffer those consequences, maybe even hoping with enough sympathy they may even avoid the ultimate consequence, death itself. I guess it’s hard to know for sure if to claim Christ in that moment was genuine or not. Quite frankly, I find myself a little skeptical when I hear stories like this. Perhaps I shouldn’t because the truth is, we have no idea what means God may use to save a soul. And the story of the thief on the cross, I believe, illustrates that very point.

The gospel of Luke gives us the greatest detail about the crucifixion of Jesus. It is also the only gospel account that specifically tells of His interaction with the thief that hung beside Him. Jesus was crucified between two criminals. As people passed by, they mocked and railed against Jesus. One of the criminals joined in “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39). Jesus didn’t respond, but the other criminal rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40-41). He then turned to Jesus and said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus’ responded saying “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

What an amazing story of God’s grace. There’s so much we can learn from the story of the thief on the cross. The first is how gracious God is in spite of our sin. In the case of the thief on the cross, most likely, a lifetime of sin. Salvation for this man was Jesus’ gracious gift to him. It was free. His sins were forgiven because the One hanging next to him was bearing the penalty for it at that very moment. The second lesson is that we don’t have to have lived a perfect life to be saved. We can’t. For the thief on the cross, it was nothing more than a simple expression of faith at the end of his life. A final lesson from the story of the thief on the cross is that we should never give up on sharing the gospel. Just as God has ordained who will be saved, He has also ordained the means and the time of salvation. It was the reality of impending death that proved to be the event God used to save the thief on the cross. God’s timing is always perfect. Let’s not presume to know who is beyond His grace. Just be thankful that Christ has paid the penalty for your sin. Salvation doesn’t rest on a lifetime of goodness, but comes only by grace through faith in Christ. Let this be an encouragement to share that truth with those whose lives seem contrary to deserving the grace our God gives.

Eternally Secure

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39)

The lyrics go, “No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand; Till He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.” I love the song In Christ Alone. Not just these words, but the whole song is so rich with the truth of the gospel. It was Christ alone who paid the full penalty for our sin in order to make us right with God. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross atoned for the sin that separated us from God. As a result, there’s nothing that can ever separate us from the love of Christ. No passage in Scripture makes this truth more clear than does Romans 8:38-39.

There will always be aspects of God and His work in salvation that we’ll never be able to wrap our minds around. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and inscrutable (beyond finding out) His ways” (Romans 11:33). When people think of salvation, sometimes they have in their mind that God does His part and we do ours, but that’s not the testimony of Scripture. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “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.” It’s good for us that salvation is God’s gift and that it doesn’t depend on us, because if it did, we would surely lose it. Think about it, if we could earn salvation what would make us think we couldn’t lose it.

There’s another reason it’s beneficial that salvation comes by faith alone. Let’s face it; no matter our level of spiritual maturity, there are times in all of our lives when we don’t feel saved, times when we don’t feel like God is present. But just as feelings aren’t the basis of God’s truth, they aren’t the basis of our salvation either. Salvation is based solely on the objective reality of what God has done for us in Christ. To believe Jesus paid less than the fully penalty for sin for all time is to deny the truth of the gospel. There is no joy in that, there is no security in that, and lastly, there’s no God in that!

No Hope, Without God…But Now

“But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13)                                                                                                                                                  

In April, I began reading Ephesians. My plan has been to read the whole book every day for the month. The idea came from a friend who told me about an article written by John MacArthur on the topic of how to read the Bible for a deeper level of understanding. As I’ve been reading, Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 2:12-13 has been particularly meaningful. What the apostle is teaching in these verses is the unity and peace that exists in Christ. In context, he is teaching that the Jews and Gentiles are no longer two distinct groups, but are one “new man” in Christ. This is a pretty amazing considering the social and spiritual disadvantages the Gentiles had relative to the Jews. You see, the Gentiles weren’t part of the covenant community. They weren’t given a divine promise. They didn’t even recognize the true God. So, in fact, they were without hope and without God. But you know what, so were we.

Sometimes it’s easy to fall into a casual approach to reading God’s Word. It’s like we treat it as if it’s part of our “to do” list as opposed to an opportunity to meet with our heavenly Father. I believe this is particularly the case if we’ve studied the book or passage before. We assume there’s nothing more to be gained from it. It is true that a verse says and means only one thing, and it’s true that it says and means the same thing every time we read it. But it is equally true that the Holy Spirit is capable of taking God’s Word and impressing it upon our hearts in different ways at different times. That’s what’s happened as I’ve been reading through Ephesians this month. I’ve read Ephesians many times, but what has really struck me this time is that the Gentiles story is my story. And it’s also your story. All of us were without hope and without God. The Bible says we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). But then God intervened, and because of His mercy and grace, even when we were dead in our trespasses, He made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). Christ’s substitutionary death was not only for the Jew, but also for the Gentiles. It was for us as well. Christ’s death for us is the greatest expression of love ever known. It brought near those who were once far off. I believe the “But now” in each of our lives means even more when we realize our desperate condition apart from Christ. How can we truly appreciate grace if we’re oblivious to the degree with which we need it? God doesn’t love us because we’re lovable. He chooses to love us simply out of His own free will. The cross is the proof. Let us respond by loving Him in return.

Right in Our Own Eyes

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25)

This last verse of Judges pretty much sums it up. The people set the rules. Though Israel’s drift away from God had already begun, by the time of the judges, their turning away was pretty well complete. The book of Judges was written around 1043 B.C. just after Saul, Israel’s first king, began his reign and spans a period of about 350 years. It is one of the twelve “historical books” books of the Bible. Though its author is unknown, they are thought to be a loyal supporter of David.

“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the site of the LORD…” These words are written numerous times in the book of Judges (2:11; 3:7; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1). Israel was in both a moral and spiritual decline. Their disobedience was rampant. They refused to drive their enemies from the land, they committed idolatry, they refused to listen to the advice of the “judges” and they turned away from God after the particular judge’s death. The result of their disobedience was conflict and turmoil. God, however, was gracious, and when Israel expressed their desperation and acknowledged their sinfulness, He would send another judge to deliver them. This pattern played itself out over and over again during this period.

Too often we want to do what is right in our own eyes without proper concern for God’s will. This never gets us very far and it is only when we reap what we have sown that we acknowledge our sinfulness. The truth is we are not too different from Israel in that regard. But thankfully, our God is different and in the book of Judges we see His character on full display. Yes, God is righteous, wrathful and just. There were consequences that resulted from Israel’s disobedience. There are consequences that result from our disobedience as well. But our God is also a loving God. He is merciful and gracious, and just as He heard Israel’s cry, He also hears ours. And just as He delivered them from their failures time and time again, He stands ready to deliver us from ours. We will spend our lives learning more and more about God’s character. As we do, let us call on the power of the Holy Spirit to help us lead lives in submission to God’s will. Let us do what is right in His eyes only.

Being Christian

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

Mahatma Ghandi once said, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are not like your Christ”. When I first heard this quote, I was intrigued as to why Ghandi might have said this. What is it he doesn’t understand? The point the Apostle Paul is making in 1 Corinthians 2:14 is that non-Christians will never understand the message of the cross because it’s only the Holy Spirit that allows humans to comprehend its message.

Though Ghandi’s quote clearly lacks of a true understanding of what it is to be Christian, it does give pause for us as Christians to consider our witness to an unbelieving world. I think perhaps what he meant by his quote was that he sees no distinction between those who call themselves Christian and those who aren’t. Unfortunately, many have bought into the cultural definition of Christianity; a definition that has no expectation that a changed life follows a changed heart, a definition that fails to recognize that Jesus’ dealing with sin on the cross wasn’t so we would remain in it, a definition that expects God’s standards to conform to ours instead of ours to His. This definition not only falls short of the biblical one, it’s not even Christian.

On the other hand, it shouldn’t surprise us when non-Christians fail to understand or accept what it is to be Christian. They can’t. They may have their own misperceptions of what it means. They might even call it religion. Christianity has never been about the perfect Christian, but instead about trusting in the perfect Savior who made a perfect sacrifice for sin, Jesus. It’s about His faithfulness, not ours.

There will always be a disconnect between Christians and non-Christians. So don’t be shocked when you find the non-Christians comments to be antagonistic and their criticism great. We must minister as Paul urged Timothy when he wrote telling him to “not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting opponents with gentleness that God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to knowledge of the truth…” (2 Timothy 2:24-25). This may be a hard course, but it’s the right course. It doesn’t mean you deny biblical authority, compromise your beliefs or tolerate ungodliness. It simply means that you live out who God calls you to be, share the good news of Jesus Christ and rely on the Holy Spirit for the rest.

About Sin

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)

The fact that we are all sinners is clearly taught in Scripture. Speaking to both Jews and Gentiles, Paul spent the first two and a half chapters making the case that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Known as the Apostle Paul’s most theological letter, Romans spells out the whole of the gospel more than any other letter. It’s not an accident that in doing so, he began with sin.

There are two dangerous attitudes toward sin that we need to be cautioned against. The first is the attitude that shrugs off sin with words like, “I’m just a sinner; God knows that”. While we are sinners, and yes, God does know that, our attitude toward sin matters. God has commanded us to “be holy, for I am holy!” (1 Peter 1:16). A casual attitude toward sin never brings glory to God. A second dangerous attitude toward sin is an attitude that believes we are incapable of great sin. It is often manifested by judging someone else by saying something like, “I can’t believe what they did. I would never do that.” Be careful, we all have a sin nature and are capable of great sin. If you believe you’re not, you’ll be less likely to guard against it. The Christian life requires discipline. We must train ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7).

I once heard a sermon where a pastor in preaching to prospective pastors in seminary training said that if in their preaching they do not confront their congregation about sin, it not only brings into question their love for their congregation, but also their love for God. When your pastor confronts you with your sin, be grateful. He’s preaching the Bible. However, also know that the natural extension of confronting you with your sin is for him to tell you of its cure, Jesus Christ. It has been said that “the first act of faith is to believe what God says about sin”. It’s true. And what brings people to saving faith is what God did about it. He gave His Son to pay sin’s penalty. Have you placed your faith in that truth? Jesus really did pay it all. He paid it willingly, perfectly and for all time. After such a display of love, how could we be so casual about what Christ came to cure?

Walking in What?

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:5-6)

No one dealt more directly in their writing about what should be the character of a Christian than the apostle John. The Bible doesn’t teach that we should be in constant doubt of our salvation, but it also does not teach that a life devoid of obedience to the will of God is testimony of saving faith.

In the first chapter of 1 John, the apostle uses light and darkness to contrast those who are real versus those who aren’t. In Scripture, “light” refers to biblical truth whereas “darkness” signifies error.  When we walk in light (in truth and holiness), we affirm God’s work in us. When we walk in darkness (in sin), we affirm the opposite.

The apostle John doesn’t pull any punches in his letters. The truths about character and faith are ones we must confront. He was not alone in his teaching that sin cannot be the pattern of our lives if our testimonies are to be true. The apostle Paul spoke clearly on this issue as well (Romans 6:1-2). Though sin will be an ever present enemy and a tool Satan will use against us, our union with Christ and the Holy Spirit’s presence in us has broken its power. The Bible tells us that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). At the same time it says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Our pattern of life should always be consistent with our profession.

So, what is the pattern of your life? Are you moving more and more toward Christ? Though never perfect, is your heart set to do God’s will? Let us examine our lives to see if our practices line up with what we say we believe. And let our hearts long for obedience to the will of God in response to His magnificent grace.

No Matter What, They Can’t Put Jesus Back in the Grave

It’s not like we couldn’t see this coming. In previous opinions the Supreme Court had tipped its hand to what eventually took place yesterday. They re-defined marriage. Their previous decisions not to weigh in on the appeals from states where lower courts had found same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right was in effect, weighing in. At that time, in a response posted on his blog Moore to the Point, Russell Moore discussed the proper response to the court’s decision not to hear these appeals saying, “The Supreme Court can do many things, but they can’t get Jesus back in the grave.” He repeated that truth again after yesterday’s ruling.

When considering all that’s taking place in our society, as a Christian, it can be discouraging. The Supreme Court’s decision, the thought that a pro-life stance could be part of what is called a “war on woman”, an administration that promotes policies that stand contrary to not only the Constitution, but more importantly, biblical principles, and then we have members of both political parties who show neither leadership nor any core convictions as they shift their beliefs based on which way the political wind is blowing at the time. All the while, we ask God to bless our nation. Really!

Contrary to popular belief, man is not the measure of all things. God is. Even those who stand on the side of morality often fail to invoke the name of Jesus in their standing. Morality never saved a sole. It’s only a by-product of salvation that comes through Christ alone. Yes, there are many moral people who don’t name the name of Christ and we should be thankful for their moral stand. We should however pray that it would be motivated by what Christ has done on the cross. The belief that God graciously saved us so we could remain in our sin needs to be called what it is—a lie (see Romans 6:1-2). And I still can’t find the passage where Jesus said, “Go and sin more”. No, He took our sin for us. He put away our past by nailing it to the cross. That’s when love really won. Not yesterday. Our union with Christ has broken sin’s dominion in our lives. This doesn’t mean we all don’t sin; just that it is no longer the default position of our heart. A changed heart results in a changed life! It may be a progressive change but the progression is always more toward God’s will as opposed to our own. Thankfully, our God is a patient God. He is a good and kind God. His kindness and patience, however, are not to be mistaken for indifference toward sin, but instead meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Jesus wasn’t raised, that if we (Christ followers) have hope only in this life, then “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). In the next verse he says, “But Christ has been raised…” This is the hope we cling to. This is why instead of wishing judgment on those who stand contrary to Christian values, we are to pray for them and patiently share the message of the gospel. We must remember, those who oppose Christian values are not really our enemy, Satan is. They have only been captured by the devil to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26), or at the very least, been deceived into thinking God hasn’t spoken clearly on these issues. Our God is a saving God. There is no one beyond His grace. Having received it, we are to show it and desire it for others. However, this doesn’t mean we are not to take a stand and speak for what is right, not what’s right in our eyes, but in God’s alone.

I’m thankful for the men and women who work through legal or legislative means to preserve our Constitutional rights. I’m thankful for men and women who stand for morality in our nation. I’m thankful for people like Dr. Russell Moore who challenge us to always think biblically, who in everything they say invoke the name of Jesus and the message of the gospel. Jesus isn’t going back in the grave. Let us cling to that reality even when situations and circumstances make it appear otherwise. Let us cling to His Word. “This God—His way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him” (Psalm 18:30). God has spoken. No political solution will ever solve the issues our nation faces. Nor will a vote of the people or a Supreme Court ruling. In the end, it boils down to one issue, one person really. His name is Jesus. Now let us humble ourselves before Him.

“If my people who are called by name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Self-Determined Apart from God

“…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Romans 1:25)

When I first heard the quote, my mind immediately went to Romans 1:18-32 and quite frankly the state of our nation. Ravi Zacharias was preaching a series on Saul, Israel’s first king when he said, “When you are determined in going in a certain direction, it’s quite possible that God would step aside and second your motion”. The series was entitled A Life That Lost Its Focus. It seems hard to believe the extent to which our nation is ignoring God’s will. More and more, politicians from both parties support policies contrary to what God desires for our nation. One of our nation’s most polarizing debates is on the issue of same-sex marriage. It’s an issue in which God has spoken clearly.

Romans 1:18-32 confronts the issue of unrighteousness and the consequences that result from it. This passage may be a difficult part of Scripture, but it is a necessary part. In it, Paul spoke of judgment on the unrighteous, judgment that came because the truth about God had been perverted, the people had exchanged the truth about God for a lie. Three times in this section of Romans, Paul wrote that “God gave them up”. In essence, God seconded their motion, removed His restraining hand and allowed the unrighteous to continue in their sin only to suffer the consequences of it. This was God’s judgment.

Scripture repeatedly demonstrates the biblical principle that obedience brings blessing while disobedience brings judgment. Though we try, we can’t divide God in His attributes? We can’t elevate His mercy and grace above His holiness and righteousness. To accept one attribute as true is to accept them all as true. He is perfect in each of them.

In the book of Romans, Paul laid out the gospel in its clearest terms. He began with sin (Romans 1:18-3:20). Scripture is clear about sin, not only sexual sin, but all sin. God can’t look upon it. However, sometimes in order to not offend or hurt people’s feelings, sin is either downplayed or all together left out of the gospel presentation. When such is the case, the gospel has not been presented, just a false imitation. This doesn’t mean we should be anything less than gracious as we share the need for forgiveness of sin. We all share equally in that need.

We are at a crisis point in our nation. Our national leaders seem to have lost focus on doing God’s will on matters of public policy. For the most part, they stand for nothing. Equally unfortunate is that much of the electorate is either uninformed of this fact or simply does not care. We should. Our rights are not endowed by a president or legislature intoxicated by power, but by our Creator, and as such, we are to submit to His will. If we persist in going a way that is contrary to the will of God, there comes a point in which He will step aside, allow us to go our own way, pursue our sin and suffer the consequences as a result of it. Are we now at that place in our country? Have we lost our focus? Have you lost yours? As Christians, we believe what we do because the Bible says it. For all the noble arguments that form the basis of support for marriage being between one man and one woman, because the Bible says so is where the argument ends. Though unbelievers couldn’t care less about biblical authority, Christians must hold to it.

Thankfully for us, Paul didn’t stop at Romans 3:20, but under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, continued to write, showing us the magnificence of God’s grace through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. The “giving over” to sin and its judgment Paul spoke of in this passage was not eternal. One day His judgment will be. But today, judgment for sin is meant to drive us to seek God’s grace. And God is ready to give that grace. It comes at the cross. And it comes because of Jesus. He is our only hope! So, if you need to regain your focus, try focusing on Him.