ILLUSTRATION: Dog carrying a piece of meat

preview.aesops_dogSuppose there’s a dog carrying a piece of meat in his mouth as he walks alongside a lake. He turns to look at the lake’s surface, and he sees the reflection of the meat in the water. He opens his mouth and snaps at the reflection of the meat, losing both the meat and the reflection in the process.

In order to become a Christian, one needs to cling to ‘what Jesus has done’, just as the dog clings to the meat. And if they do, it will be reflected in their life, just as the meat was reflected in the lake.

However many misunderstand the message of Christianity, and rather than cling only to ‘what Jesus has done’ (the meat), they feel the need to cling also to their ‘good works’ (the reflection). And by trying to place their faith in ‘what Jesus had done’ as well as their ‘good works’, they lose both ‘what Jesus has done’ and their ‘good works’.

The key to becoming a Christian is to cling only to ‘what Jesus has done’ on our behalf. If we do, the Holy Spirit will come into our life and transform us from the inside out. So that when others see us they will see a reflection of Jesus.

(Based on an explanation by Martin Luther in his book ‘The Freedom of a Christian’. The story of the dog is one of Aesop’s Fables and is numbered 133 in the Perry Index)

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FAQ: Can I lose my salvation?

There are three main positions that people take on this issue…

POSITION #1 – YOU CAN LOSE YOUR SALVATION BY NOT BEING FAITHFUL

Some people would argue that we can lose our salvation if we fail to walk closely with God. Sometimes Christians refer to this as ‘backsliding’. People who hold this position would argue that if we continue to ‘backslide’ and embrace a life of sin, then we will eventually destroy our relationship with God and we will no longer be saved.

POSITION #2 – YOU CAN ONLY LOSE YOUR SALVATION IF YOU STOP HAVING FAITH

Others would argue that we can never ‘backslide’ our way out of heaven. They believe that we were saved by grace, through faith, and that we remain saved by grace, through faith. As a result, it is impossible to ‘sin our way out of heaven’, just as it was impossible to ‘do enough good works to get into heaven’.

However, just as it was necessary to place our faith in Jesus in order to be saved, they believe that it’s necessary to keep our faith in Jesus in order to remain saved. We don’t have to walk closely with Jesus in order to remain saved, but we do need to keep our faith in Jesus in order to remain saved.

POSITION #3 – YOU CAN NEVER LOSE YOUR SALVATION

Many others believe that we cannot lose our salvation under any circumstance.

We cannot ‘backslide’ our way out of heaven’. They, like those who hold to ‘Position #2’, believe that it’s impossible to ‘sin our way out of heaven’, just as it was impossible to ‘do enough good works to get into heaven’.

Nor can we lose our salvation by losing our faith. They argue that it is actually impossible for a true Christian to ever lose their faith. That faith is a gift from God. And that God has promised to continue to work in and through our lives until we get to heaven. If a person once claimed to be a Christian, but now no longer has faith in Jesus, they would argue that they were never really a Christian in the first place.

SUMMARY

Can you lose your salvation table

‘Position #1’ is clearly not correct because it contradicts the message of grace…
It relies on what we continue to do, rather than Jesus’ finished work on the cross. People who hold to this view have most likely never trusted in Jesus to save them.

‘Position #2’ and ‘Position #3’ are both possibilities…
Similarities:
(a) Both can argued from the Bible.
(b) Both have to deal with certain ‘difficult Bible passages’ in order to maintain their case.
(c) Both can point to respected Christian leaders who hold to their view.
(d) Both believe that our salvation is secure because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross, not because of our ability to stay close to Jesus
(e) Both believe that those who remain saved continue to have faith in Jesus.

Difference:
The main difference is that according to ‘Position #2’, it is possible to disown Jesus and completely stop believing, whereas according to ‘Position #3’, a true Christian can never disown Jesus and stop believing because faith is a gift from God, and God has promised to continue His work in us until we get to heaven.

ILLUSTRATION
One way to think about this is to consider a mother carrying her baby as she walks across a busy street…

Position #1 says:  If the child lets go of the mother, the mother will let go of the child.

Position #2 says: If the child lets go of the mother, the mother will continue to hold onto the child. But it is possible for the child to kick and scream enough till eventually he pries his way out of his mother’s arms.

Position #3 says: If the child lets go of the mother, the mother will continue to hold onto the child. And no amount of kicking and screaming will make it possible for the child to pry himself out of his mother’s arms.

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ILLUSTRATION: Why should God let you into heaven?

Heaven-Hell2Suppose that you were to die today and stand before God and he were to say to you, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” what would you say? *

Many of us would probably appeal to our good works. We’d talk about how we’ve tried to live a good life by treating others well, working hard, and being a responsible citizen of society.

Others of us who would appeal to our religious practices. We’d bring up times when we were baptized, took communion, attended church, prayed, and read the Bible.

Another group again would appeal to our commitment to Jesus. Knowing full well that our good works and religious practices are not enough, we would begin talking about the commitment we made to live for Jesus. We’d explain how we always tried to be faithful. We consistently obeyed the Bible. Everything we did was done with a heart to please God.

Essentially all three of these approaches are about ‘WHAT I HAVE DONE’. They rely upon my good works, my religious practices, or my commitment to Jesus.

But the Bible teaches that there is another way. That Jesus is the one who paid the price for us to get into heaven. He lived the perfect life that we could not live. He died the death that we should have died.

The person who gets into heaven is the person who says: “I am a sinner. My good works, my religious practices, and my commitment to Jesus mean nothing before a Holy God. All that matters is what Jesus did on my behalf. I am not relying upon ‘WHAT I HAVE DONE’. I am trusting solely in the finished work of Christ. I am betting my eternity on ‘WHAT JESUS HAS DONE'”.

(* This extremly helpful opening question is taken from Evangelism Explosion)

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ILLUSTRATION: Demon Possession

demonic-possessionIf you have ever seen a movie where someone gets demon possessed, you would have noticed a battle going on between the demon, who wants to take control of the person to make them do evil, and the person, who want’s their life back. Sometimes the demon possessed person is controlled by the demon. Sometimes the person is in control of their own body. Sometimes it’s a combination of both.

Although it sounds a little strange, something similar happens to a person when they become a Christian.

The Bible teaches that when a person places their life and eternity into Jesus hands, the Holy Spirit comes into their life to wage war against their sinful nature. In a sense, they get ‘Holy Spirit Possessed’. From that moment on, there is a battle that rages within between the Holy Spirit, who wants to take control of the person to make them more like Jesus, and the person’s sinful nature, which loves sin and craves sin. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is in control. Sometimes the sinful nature is in control. Sometimes it’s a combination of both.

This is why when you meet a Christian, you can definitely expect to see evidence that the Holy Spirit has come into their life. The Bible describes this as ‘fruit of the Spirit’: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

But this is also why you will unfortunately continue to see evidence of their sinful nature: selfishness, gossip, lust, greed, complaining, unforgiveness, bitterness, envy, etc.

Galatians 5:17
“The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want”

FAQ: Does the Bible teach that homosexuals will go to hell?

Regardless of whether or not you believe the Bible is true, it is worth investigating what it actually says about homosexuality. There are many issues that could be addressed, but for the sake of simplicity we will focus on just two questions:

QUESTION #1
DOES THE BIBLE TEACH THAT HOMOSEXUALITY IS SINFUL?

ANSWER #1
THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT HOMOSEXUALITY IS SINFUL…

The Old Testament, which is predominantly about God’s plan for the Israelites, describes homosexuality as sinful. Leviticus 18:22 says: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable”. A similar command is repeated in Leviticus 20:13, which says, “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable”.

Now the question is, do these commands still apply today?

The New Testament, which was written to Christians, also describes homosexuality as sinful. Romans 1:26-27 says: “God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error”.

So both the Old Testament and New Testament teach that Homosexuality is sinful.

BUT IT ALSO TEACHES THAT MANY OTHER ACTIONS ARE JUST AS SINFUL…

The Romans passage continues by saying: “Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy” (Romans 1:28-30).

Here we find that homosexuality is listed alongside many other sins, including several which would be considered quite socially acceptable within Christian communities.

This occurs again in 1 Timothy 1:9-11 which says: “The law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers”.

So although homosexuality is clearly being described as sinful, it is not described as being more sinful than any other particular sin.

QUESTION #2
DOES THE BIBLE TEACH THAT ALL HOMOSEXUALS GO TO HELL?

ANSWER #2
THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT HOMOSEXUALS, ALONG WITH MANY OTHER SINNERS, WILL NOT INHERIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD…churchkisssign

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says: “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God”. This is obviously disturbing for homosexuals. But it is just as disturbing for everyone else.

We are all guilty of adultery. Jesus said that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery” (Matthew 5:28). We are guilty of greed. It’s almost impossible to live in the west and not struggle with materialism. We are all guilty of slander. We engage in it every time we turn on the news and hear gossip or some kind of slanderous remark about a celebrity or a politician.

So based on this passage, no one will inherit the kingdom of God.

UNLESS THEY PLACE THEIR FAITH IN JESUS…

The First Corinthians passage goes onto say: “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Here we discover that this passage is not about condemning us all to hell. Rather it is explaining that anyone who places their faith in Jesus to save them will no longer be judged according to their sin.

When a person becomes a Christian, they are ‘washed’. They are ‘sanctified’, which simply means that they are ‘set apart as God’s people’. They are ‘justified’, which means that they are ‘declared righteous’, even though they are not righteous.

So the Bible doesn’t teach that all homosexuals go to hell, any more than it teaches that all sinners go to hell. Rather it teaches that anyone who places their faith in Jesus to save them will be washed, sanctified, justified, and inherit the kingdom of God.

THE SIN OF HOMOSEXUALITY DOESN’T PROHIBIT PEOPLE FROM COMING TO JESUS. SIN IS THE REASON THAT PEOPLE COME TO JESUS

“You don’t go to Hell for being a homosexual… heterosexuality doesn’t get you to heaven. So, how in the world could homosexuality send you to Hell?… What sends you to Hell is self-righteousness – thinking that you can be your own savior and lord. What sends you to heaven is getting a connection with Christ because you realize you’re a sinner and you need intervention from outside” – Timothy Keller

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ILLUSTRATION: Concentric Circles

NOT EVERYTHING IN CHRISTIANITY IS OF EQUAL IMPORTANCE…

When Jesus was asked to explain the greatest commandment, He replied by saying: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt 22:36-40).

When the Apostle Paul was speaking about doctrine, he explained that some doctrines are of first importance, implying that others are of less importance: “Brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:1-3).

When the Apostle John was writing his biography of Jesus, not everything could be included. He was forced to leave our some of the less important information. In his closing statement he says: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25).

ONE WAY TO THINK ABOUT THE DIFFERENT DOCTRINES OF CHRISTIANITY IS TO DRAW A NUMBER OF CONCENTRIC CIRCLES…Urantia_three-concentric-blue-circles-on-white_symbol.svg

The inner circle contains those doctrines which a person must absolutely believe in order to be a Christian. These would include:
> The deity of Jesus
> Jesus dying on the cross to pay for our sin
> The resurrection
> That we are sinners who are saved by grace through faith in Jesus

The second circle contains those doctrines which a person may not have to believe to actually be a Christian, but they are so significant that if we mess with them there would be serious implications. One example of this might be the authority of the Bible. A person could come to place their faith in Jesus to save them without actually believing that the whole Bible is true. So in that sense, it’s not an ‘inner circle doctrine’. But the implications for not believing the Bible are huge, both individually and corporately as a church community.

The third circle contains those doctrines which typically divide denominations. These might include:
> Baptism
> Communion
> Speaking in Tongues
> Predestination
> Church Leadership Structures
> …etc

The outer circle contains those doctrines which Christians might discuss, and perhaps even hold an opinion on, but even within different Christian denominations there are varying beliefs.

WHY THIS IS HELPFUL…

Firstly, a person doesn’t need to believe absolutely everything Christianity teaches in order to become a Christian.

Secondly, the objections or questions a person has about Christianity may not be as big a problem as we might expect. Some people figure out all their questions before they become a Christian. But most people become Christians even though they have not had all their questions answered.

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ILLUSTRATION: House

Floor_PlanImagine that your life is like a house, and each room of the house represents a different part of your life. One room represents your family. Another room represents your work. Another your finances. Another your church community. There are probably 10 or 15 significant areas of your life, each repesented by a different room.

Now when a person becomes a Christian, it’s as if the Holy Spirit comes in and begins to renovate the different rooms of your house.

Some wrongly assume that the Holy Spirit will complete the renovation instantantly. They believe that we can be perfect this side of heaven. But the Bible teaches that we still have a sinful nature which resists the Holy Spirit’s work in our life.

Some also wrongly assume that the Hoy Spirit will be active in every room of the house. But if we’re honest, there are some rooms that we would rather not have the Holy Spirit walk in to. This is evidenced by the fact that many Christians have blind spots. The Holy Spirit might have driven them to forgive those who’ve hurt them, but has not yet turned them into a generous and sacrificial giver. Another Christian might find the Holy Spirit giving them a huge passion for overseas mission, yet at the same time they find it difficult to share their faith with their friends and family.

So how do we know that we have received the Holy Spirit? If there are unrenovated rooms in our life, should we be questioning whether or not we are truly a Christian?

Perhaps the best question to ask is this: “WHO OWNS THE HOUSE?”

Five times in the New Testament we are told that “we belong to God”. The Bible teaches that we are no longer our own, and that we have been bought at a price.

One of the key differences between a Christian and a non-Christian is that Christians recognize that the deed of their house has been given to God. And although at times they may resist the Holy Spirit’s attempt to renovate the different rooms of their house, they know in their heart that the Holy Spirit has a right to do whatever He wants.

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ILLUSTRATION: Woman who can’t stop having an affair

affair2There was once a woman who realized that there was something missing in her life. So she decided to go to the local church and find out more about Christianity. Upon arriving she met the pastor and began asking questions. For the next six weeks, the woman and the pastor met to discuss the Christian faith. At the end of the six weeks, the pastor asked the woman if she would like to become a Christian. The woman said that she would love to, but there was one major problem. The woman had been cheating on her husband for last two years and had not been able to stop.

The pastor’s initial reaction was to tell the woman that she would need to give up the affair before she could become a Christian. But just before the words came out of his mouth, he realized how terribly wrong he was. The woman did not have to give up her sin before coming to faith. For one thing, she was not able to. She had tried and tried and tried but continued to fail. Secondly, if it was a requirement for her to give up this particular sin, how many more sins would she have to give up before she qualified for Christianity.

So the pastor rightly said to her: “You don’t need to stop sinning before becoming a Christian. Jesus came for sinners. He came for people stuck in adultery. He came for people who are addicted to sin. Jesus can save you just as you are. He will give you the Holy Spirit who can empower you to overcome your sin”.

So in that moment, the woman simply confessed that she was a sinner, unable to save herself, and unable to change herself. She asked Jesus to pay for the consequences of her sin, and asked the Holy Spirit to give her the power to overcome her sin.

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FAQ: Do we have to wait until we die to find out if we’re going to heaven?

The Problem…

Many of us assume that we can’t be sure. As a result, we end up living in fear of God. We never experience His love and intimacy because we’re not sure if He’s going to condemn us to hell. We do good works, but they can all too easily be motivated by a desire to go to heaven rather than a grateful heart.

The good news is that we can be sure.

We can be sure now because God wants us to be sure now…

When Jesus was on the cross, he hung between two criminals. One of them acknowledged his sin, and then placed his life and eternity into Jesus’ hands by saying: “remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Jesus turned back and said: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus didn’t grant the criminal eternal life and then keep it a secret. Rather He made sure the criminal knew for sure that he had a place in heaven before he died. 

The Apostle John concludes one of his letters by saying: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Again we see that God doesn’t just want us to have eternal life, He wants us to ‘know’ that we have eternal life.

We can be sure now because eternal life starts now…

Jesus made it clear that eternal life is not something we receive when we die, it’s something we receive the moment we become a Christian: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). 

Perhaps the best way to think about this is to consider the crossover between our physical life and our spiritual life. Just as we enter into this physical life through a physical birth, the Bible teaches that we enter into eternal life through a spiritual birth. This spiritual birth takes place when a person becomes a Christian.

In this moment, the person crosses over from eternal death to eternal life. Though their physical life will come to an end, their life with God will live on for all of eternity.

Eternal Life Starts now

Conclusion

We can be sure now because God wants us to be sure now, and because eternal life starts now.

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ILLUSTRATION: Adam vs Jesus

Adam vs JesusMany of us believe that where we spend eternity will be determined by how we live our lives. But the Bible teaches that where we spend eternity is actually determined by how someone else lived their life.

One way to think about this is to picture two lines of people. The first line – the line we are born into – has Adam at the front. The second line – the line that we move into when we become a Christian – has Jesus at the front. Now suppose both these lines are standing before God. How does he determine who gets into heaven?

The Bible teaches that God will judge us based on who is at the front of our line. If we stay in Adam’s line, God will judge us by Adam’s one act of disobedience (eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil). If we stay in Jesus’ line, God will judge us by Jesus’ one act of obedience (dying on the cross to pay for our sin).

Neither our good works nor our sin matter at all. All that gets looked at is Adam’s one act of disobedience, and Jesus’ one act of obedience. We either stay in Adam’s line, and get judged according to what Adam has done. Or we place our life and eternity into Jesus’ hands and move into His line, and get judged according to what Jesus has done.

“Just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18-19).

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