Sola Gratia

What is the goal of life, the thing most worth striving for? I strive to sit before the throne of God and hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

This doesn’t mean that I have a works mentality. Truthfully, I don’t believe my works will get me to heaven. I believe in my faith will get me to heaven. I’m justified by my faith.

But I believe that the works I perform are the result of the life I try to live every day. You can boil my whole theology down to one concept: discipleship. I try to live the lifestyle of Jesus.

We don’t have to resolve the works/faith “issue,” because when we live the lifestyle of Jesus, there is no issue. That’s what you see in James. He said, “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18)

Some people say that James and Paul were having a disagreement, but they weren’t. They were talking about two different things. When Paul said that you aren’t saved by works, he meant that works alone will not get you into heaven. Paul said, “Look, you’re not going to be able to just do good things and expect to get to heaven.” In my belief, that’s true. But James is talking about a whole different idea. James is talking about the believers, the ones that have already given up their souls to God. When James said, “I will show you my faith by my works,” he was talking about the lifestyle that you live when you’re a believer.

Once you confess that Jesus died for your sins, you are saved. But then what? Nothing? Do you say, “Oh, now I can just sit around and do whatever. My salvation is all about grace and I can just live my life however I want to live it.”

Here’s what James and the other disciples said to that: No! They said, “Live like Jesus!” They didn’t say, “Look, I’ve hung out with Jesus! Now I can just sit around and do whatever.”

The proof is in the persecution they endured. Doing whatever they wanted to do is not what got them persecuted. It was their lifestyle – the lifestyle of Jesus – that got them in trouble. It was a lifestyle that got them crucified upside down. It was a lifestyle that got them thrown into prison. It was a lifestyle that got them stoned to death. The apostles were living a lifestyle that shook people up, man. They were going into pagan Greece and pagan Rome. They walked into the temples of a ton of different Gods. They walked into places where people were having orgies. They walked into these places and said, “No! No! This is not the lifestyle you are supposed to be living! It’s unfulfilling.”

The disciples showed us how to live. They challenged people’s worldviews. That was their lifestyle. And that’s what James is saying. Show me a believer that lives the lifestyle of Jesus. That’s Christianity. But what if you show me a lifestyle that is without works, a lifestyle where you don’t do anything? What is that?

You say you have faith. Let’s see it!

See you Thursday.

Called to the Disciple’s Life

We’re here on this planet for the simplest of reasons: to love our neighbors as ourselves.

When we love our neighbors, we’re happy! That’s because loving your neighbor as yourself is fulfilling.

Last time, I promised to say something about the mentality of discipleship. As we discussed, some people will think that all you have to do is accept Christ. After that, you can sit around and wait for the Second Coming.

That’s not quite right. Saying the words just isn’t enough, not if you want to see your life transformed by the Spirit. You have to live your salvation, and living your salvation is living the lifestyle of Jesus. It’s having the discipleship mentality.

I truly, truly, truly, believe this. Salvation is not the whole story. It is fundamental, sure. It’s the key. It’s the beginning. You have to be saved. You have to recognize what Jesus Christ did. You have to know that He died on that cross. He took your sins. He took the blame. He took it all.

But He also taught us to pray for God’s kingdom on earth. He discipled us. He called us to live the life that He lived.

And that’s simple. Love your neighbor as yourself. Whether you’re rich or poor or in between, your joy will come from the way you use the gifts you’ve been given.

How are we supposed to use the gifts we’ve been given? Use them to live the lifestyle of Jesus! This is what I teach my children. Life isn’t about how much money you make. It’s not about fame, either. It’s not about what you can get. Life is about what you can do. What can you do? Love your neighbor as yourself!

Loving my neighbor as myself is the concept that I’ve built my life around. When I use my gifts to love my neighbor, I feel like I’m fulfilling my life’s goal. It’s fulfilling to do something good. It’s really fulfilling to do something good for somebody else, with no thought of a return. Do something good. Do it simply because you love humanity. It feels great!

Do you believe in Jesus? If so, then how do you use your gifts? Do you use them to love others? Then congratulations! You’re on the course of discipleship. You are living the lifestyle of Jesus.

See you Monday.

Our Salvation Transforms Us

Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Galatians 3:2-4

Last week, I wrote about the self-righteousness of the Sadducees. The Sadducees believed that it was their own actions that made them holy and righteous. We are holy and righteous children of God, yes, but we get no credit for it. We can’t make ourselves holy and righteous. It’s impossible! We live in flesh! It’s only through the blood of Jesus that we are adopted into God’s family and God’s kingdom.

A couple of readers challenged me on this. Am I saying that all you have to do is accept Jesus as your savior, and you’re done? Are we dangerously leading false converts with this message? This is awesome dialogue!

I believe a confession needs to be made. I truly believe that Jesus died for you. You must confess that Jesus is Lord in order to be saved. There has to be an admission there, and it has to be real. And like the Bible says, when we respond to God’s Message, a new life begins.

Imagine a guy who goes to a big conference, and while he is there, someone hits on something in a message that really touches him. It hits him hard. Maybe he’s been having a difficult time, or maybe the conference is allowing him to experience an emotional high. And then someone says, “Do you want to believe in Jesus? Do you want to be saved? Then come forward!” He goes forward. He says the prayers. And he is saved!

Imagine someone who goes through a really emotional time in her life. She meets a Christian who says something that touches her. She makes the confession. Jesus is Lord! She is saved!

But sometimes this isn’t enough. A person goes home after being saved and nothing changes. Their struggles continue. They’ve come from a time of high emotion, and they’ve said the words. But they only said them because it was the right thing to do at the time. They don’t go on to live out their newly found salvation in the lifestyle of Jesus.

If you want to really understand Jesus in your life, you have to live in the mentality of discipleship. You won’t understand it if you don’t live it. You won’t understand it if you just say some words. Mere words don’t substitute for infinite passion. They can’t substitute for a relationship with your Creator and Savior. It has to be relationship, and it has to be heartfelt.

The Bible says you must make a confession with your mouth that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9). Good people aren’t saved in the absence of this confession. They may do good things, but the key to salvation is the acknowledgment and confession of who Jesus is.

But I also believe a lot of people say “Jesus is Lord” and they don’t mean it. It needs to be a heart commitment, not just a verbal acknowledgement. In the wake of salvation, you’ll see a lifestyle change. Saved by the Spirit, you will live by the Spirit. (Romans 8:13)

Salvation is not just words. If you’ve been saved but you feel unfulfilled, just try a little discipleship mentality.

And I’ll tell you about that next week!

The Discipleship Lifestyle

The Bible tells us to live and love like Jesus, and it shows us how to do it, by showing us how He lived and loved. Last time, I told you what I think it’s all about.

Now I’ll tell you what living like Jesus is not about. It’s not about health, wealth, and prosperity. These are things that God chooses to bless us with as He sees fit. Living like Jesus is also not about your “best life now.” Not all the time. I know some Christians say that once you’re saved, everything’s going to be hunky dory. But that’s a tactic they use to get you saved. And it works! People hear a promise like that, and of course they get saved. They think they’re going to become rich!

But then when they don’t become rich, they say there is no God.

We get into this salvation mentality. We think we just have to get people saved, and then once we do that, we think we’re done. I truly don’t believe that’s where it ends. I truly believe that salvation is just the beginning. It’s the beginning of a life of discipleship. It’s living out an understanding of what the Gospel means.

What is the Good News? I mean, what is the Jesus Gospel? That you have to accept Christ or rot in hell? There are people out there who are seriously claiming that a threat like that is “good news.” I’m sorry, but that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

The lifestyle of Jesus, the one He lived and taught us to live, is good news. The discipleship lifestyle is the Gospel. Salvation and justification are part of it. They are our beginning, but we’re called to live it.

You hear people ask, “Did Jesus speak the Gospel?” And some people will say He didn’t. They will say He couldn’t have. They will say the Gospel didn’t come until after Jesus died.

That’s a little mind-boggling to me! I mean, Jesus is the Gospel! Jesus is the good news! Whatever Jesus did was the good news. He was IT! Of course He preached the Gospel, because He did the Gospel! But people don’t think like that.

That just shows me where we’re at. We’re stuck in this salvation mentality. We focus everything on Jesus’ death. We think we’re done being Christians when we acknowledge His death for our sins. But what about His life? How can we ignore that, when the Bible contains a detailed account of all the things He did and all the things He said, and all the instructions He gave to everyone who wanted to be His disciple?

Sometimes I ask myself why I live the way I live, and that nails what I’m saying here. Why do I live the way I live? I don’t ask myself why I am the way I am. I know the answer to that. I’m saved. I’m justified by Christ. But I don’t assume that means I’m good. I’m not necessarily good. I’m not necessarily right. I’m not necessarily on the right path. I examine the way I live, because I want to be His disciple.

Do I mess up? Yes. Am I always good? No. Am I always on the right path? No. But when I get off on the wrong path, I ask the Spirit to lead me back. And I believe that the Spirit does, because I want the discipleship lifestyle. I want to be deeper, I want to go further, I want to be on His path. How do I know when I’m on His path? I’m there when I’m fulfilled, when I’m happy, and when I’m full of joy. How about you?

See you Thursday.

Giving Jesus Something to Eat

In a recent post about youth participation in our Something to Eat program, I wrote:

It really feels good to see people getting excited about feeding the hungry. The Gospel of Jesus Christ feels good. Our community is finding fulfillment because with every meal we package, we feed Jesus Christ Himself. Last weekend we packaged 175,000 meals. We fed Jesus Christ 175,000 times! Think about that!

I hope you’ve had a chance to think about that. I think about it a lot. Here’s part of what Jesus says in Matthew 25:

sheep from goatsWhen the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:31-40)

You see? When you feed somebody who’s hungry, when you clothe somebody in need, when you visit somebody in prison, or help the hurting,or  the dying, or people in pain, Jesus says, “You have done that to Me, because they are a part of Me. Whether they are living for Me or not, they’re still a part of Me. I created them.”

God created man and woman in His own image. When He did that it was as if He said, “I’ve created you with Me in you.”

You have a spirit of God inside of you. When you were in your mother’s womb, God said, “I created you in my own image. You are part of me. And though you may sin, and though you may fail, you will be fulfilled in me.”

Now think about that. If something you created or something that’s a part of you is under attack, you would feel attacked. If you attacked my son, I would feel like you were attacking a part of me. If you attacked my wife, you’d be attacking a part of me. And if you go up to my son and give him a hug and show him love and care, then that’s how you feel about me.

Since we are creations of the Almighty God, I think He feels the same way. We are sons and daughters of Zion. We are a part of His family. So when He sees someone that is hungry, He’s hungry. And when you feed someone who is hungry, you feed Him.

That’s what He means when He says, “If you do this for the least of these, then you’ve done this for Me.” You can donate one meal, or gather your friends together to donate more. Either way, you will do something amazingly fulfilling. You’ll feed Jesus Christ Himself. I’m telling you: the Gospel of Jesus Christ feels really good!

See you Monday.

Abundant Life

I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. John 10:10

Abundant life! What does that mean? Well, abundant life is a life that is not in need. It doesn’t mean you have millions of dollars. It means you don’t need to find food, because you have food. You don’t need to find water, because you have water. You don’t need to find a place to live, because you live somewhere. You don’t need to find a job, because you have a job. If you have enough, and you have extra, then you live in abundance.

If you could go around the world and ask people, “What does abundance mean to you,” a lot of them will tell you, “You know when I have abundance? It’s when I’ve got a home. I don’t care if it’s a 600 square foot home. It’s a home. Even in a small home, my family doesn’t have to live on the streets. Abundance is when we’ve got a well to get fresh water, so my kids aren’t dying of dysentery. Abundance is when I’ve got a job so that my kids are going to school and we’ve got food on the table. That’s abundance. I know what it’s like not to have those things. When I have them? And my family’s safe? That’s abundance.”

Sometimes Americans have trouble grasping just how much we have. We’re so accustomed to abundance that we don’t recognize it! Instead we define abundance by how much we can buy. But consumerism can actually kill people. We can get caught up in buying more stuff, and people that need our help can die.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have anything. It comes down to what you have in your heart. We have to have it in our hearts to help those in need. I’m not saying that you should never buy anything for yourself. I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that if our drive, our heart, our focus, is simply to make sure we have what we need, then we have the wrong heart. If we’re always saying, “I want this and I want that, and I know I could live without it but I’m going to get it and I’m going to get that too,” and we don’t have a thought for anybody else, then we have the wrong mindset.

An abundant lifestyle is so much more than having a lot of consumer goods. We think “abundance” and we see dollar signs. I think that’s America. But abundance can mean something really different in other parts of the world. Let’s learn to think about abundance in a new way. Let’s say that abundance is having enough, plus some for somebody else.

Jesus said He came so that we may have life and life abundantly. He gave us the message, He gave us the example, and He gave us that quality of life when He was on earth. These things didn’t leave with Him when He left! He gave them so that we’d live by them. As Christians, we’re ambassadors for Christ! It’s our awesome calling to represent Him.

How do you know when you have enough? This is where reverential fear can help you. More on this next time. See you Thursday.

Judgment and Blessings

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Luke 6:37-38

There’s Jesus telling us not to judge, but judgment is such a basic part of being human. Baseball is full of judgments. The media illustrates that better than anything. If you’re doing well, the media tells you you’re great. And if you’re not doing well, the media tells you that too. Not only do they tell you you’re bad, they tell you why you’re bad. They tell you why you shouldn’t be there, and why you should be traded. They even question why the GM signed you!

Every baseball player is paid based on a judgment. I’m paid based on a positive judgment. And if they make a negative judgment, I don’t get re-signed. We’re full of these judgments. It’s a normal human thing. Continue reading