ILLUSTRATION: Toothpaste

Toothpaste_and_brushSuppose Jack and Jill are work colleagues. They have very little in common other than the fact that neither of them have grown up using toothpaste to brush their teeth.

One day, Jack becomes convinced that he has a problem with his teeth, so he decides to give toothpaste a try. For the next 12 months he brushes morning, noon and night, never missing a day.

Now we would expect that if we were to compare Jack’s teeth to Jill’s teeth that Jack’s teeth would be much nicer.

But what if Jack comes from a family with a genetic disposition to having naturally bad teeth, while Jill comes from a family with a genetic disposition to having naturally good teeth? What if Jack lost a tooth after being hit while playing hockey when he was young, while Jill never even played sport? What if Jack had grown up drinking heaps of sugary drinks, while Jill had mostly drunk water?

It might very well be that Jack’s teeth are actually far worse than Jill’s teeth.

But just because Jack’s teeth are not better, doesn’t mean he hasn’t been using toothpaste, or that the toothpaste doesn’t work. Comparing Jack’s teeth with Jill’s teeth is pointless.

Rather a far better way to check if Jack has been using toothpaste is to compare Jack’s teeth at the start of the 12 months with his teeth at the end of the 12 months.

The same is true when it comes to Christianity… 

The best way to determine whether or not someone has received the Holy Spirit is not to compare them to others. Rather a far better way to check if the Holy Spirit is at work in someone’s life is to compare what they were like before becoming a Christian to what they are like now.

It might be that someone was born with a genetic disposition to alcoholism. Perhaps they grew up in a family full of alcoholics. Maybe they became addicted to alcohol from a young age. Unless God performs a miracle, it’s highly unlikely that they will ever be completely free of the desire to drink alcohol. It may not even be that likely that can stop getting drunk every day. But this doesn’t mean that God is not at work in their life. In fact, it might be that the activity of the Holy Spirit is stronger in the alcoholic’s life than it is in the life of the person who has never had a desire to get drunk in their life.

(Based on an illustration by C.S. Lewis from his book ‘Mere Christianity’)

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GUILT-FREE CHRISTIANITY: Why good people don’t go to heaven and bad people don’t go to hell

THE LADDERGuilt Free

Many people view practicing Christianity a little like trying to climb a ladder to get to God. They believe that it offers them a way to earn God’s forgiveness and earn their way to heaven.

Some try and climb by living a good life. They figure that as long as they treat people well and genuinely try and do the right thing throughout their life, then God will forgive them and let them into heaven.

Others try and climb by being committed to God. They’ve made a promise to obey Jesus and live for Him. They believe that as long as they stay close to God and always try to obey Him, then God will forgive them and let them into heaven.

Many people believe that they can climb the ladder by having the right heart. They know that they fail to obey God, but as long as they never deliberately sin, and are always repentant when they do, then they believe that God will forgive them and let them into heaven.

Some climb their way through religious rituals. Some do it by making radical sacrifices. Some even climb by trying to accumulate a number of spiritual experiences. Regardless, the one thing that all these approaches have in common is that they are never able to get us to the top of the ladder.

The problem with the ladder

Trying to climb the ladder is a nightmare. It will either turn you off Christianity, or it will create people who will turn you off Christianity.

It will turn you off Christianity by making you feel like you can never do enough. No matter how hard you try, no matter how committed, how consistent, how good your intentions, you always feel guilt and shame. The reason that so many people walk away from God and the church is because they are tired of climbing a ladder that can’t be climbed.

It will create people who will turn you off Christianity by producing self-righteous, judgemental people who feel like they’ve got a right to look down on others because they’ve made their way up a few rungs. According to the Barna Group, there’s an alarming number of church attenders who are still trying to climb the ladder. They work hard, they live good lives, they pray, they read the bible, they give generously. But they aren’t humble. They don’t have peace. They aren’t driven by joy. They don’t live the kind of lives that make you want to be a Christian.

Diagram 1

All this leads us to ask if there is some other way…

The real purpose of the ladder

It’s often been said that God would never ask us to do something we’re not able to do. But actually, the complete opposite is true. All throughout the Bible we find God calling people to do things that aren’t humanly possible. The same is true with God’s commands. We naturally assume that because God has given us a command, that He expects us to be able to obey. But what if there is something else going on? What if God knew from the beginning that we wouldn’t be able to climb high enough? What if God gave us commands for an entirely different reason?

The  Apostle Paul explains why God gave us the law… “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death” (Romans 7:7-11).

God never expected us to be able to climb the ladder. The law was never given to make us holy. Rather the law was given so that we would realize that we are unholy. The law was given to condemn us, not to save us. The more we try and climb the ladder, the more we slip and we fall, the more we realize that we are sinful, the more we realize that we need a saviour.

So when we look at the ladder, there are really three responses. The first is to keep climbing. The second is to walk away from God altogether. But the third is to go running to Jesus.

Diagram 2

What Jesus wants to do for you

Once a person stops trying to climb the ladder and runs to Jesus as their saviour, God is faced with two very significant problems…

PROBLEM #1: THE CONSEQUENCES OF SIN

God has to punish our sin, but does not want to punish us.

SOLUTION #1: THE CROSS

In order to solve the first problem, God had to figure out a way to punish our sin without punishing us. So 2,000 years ago, He sent His Son Jesus to die on a cross.

A lot of people believe that Jesus’ death serves as an example of sacrifice for us to follow. Others see the cross and a great demonstration of God’s love for people. Although both these perspectives are true, the reason Jesus died on the cross was to cop the punishment for our sin.

The Bible says that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (1 Corinthians 5:21).

All our past sin, present sin, future sin, accidental sin, and deliberate sin was cast upon Jesus while He was on the cross. God poured out His wrath upon Jesus. Jesus was condemned so that we can become uncondemnable.

At the same time, all of Jesus’ righteousness was cast upon us. So that every good thing that Jesus ever did is credited into our account. So although we are still sinful, God now treats us as if we live the perfect, holy, and pure lives.

Cross Diagram

For this reason, we can be 100% sure that we are forgiven. We can be 100% sure that we are going to heaven. Not because we are good, or committed or have good intentions, but because Jesus paid for all our sin in full.

Diagram 3

So the obvious question is this: Can we go on sinning and still go to heaven? This brings us to God’s second problem…

PROBLEM #2: THE POWER OF SIN

God wants us to do good works, but telling us to be good doesn’t work

SOLUTION #2: THE HOLY SPIRIT

In order to solve the second problem, God had to figure out a way to transform us from the inside out. So when a person runs to Jesus to save them, they don’t just get all their sin paid for, they also receive the Holy Spirit.

Bill Bright said: “The Christian life is not difficult – it is impossible… Only one person has ever lived the Christian life, and that was Jesus Christ. Today He desires to go on living His life through Christians whom He indwells”.

In other words, the Spirit of Jesus, also known as the Holy Spirit, comes and lives in us and through us.

So, spiritually speaking, there are really three kinds of people in the world…

1. Unbeliever

Here we find a person who has not placed their faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit (H.S.) is not in their life, and the person sits on the throne (or driver’s seat) of their life.
Holy Spirit Diagram 3

2. Spirit-Controlled Christian

Here we find a person who has placed their faith in Jesus. Their life is no longer their own. They now belong to God. The Holy Spirit (H.S.) has come into their life and is on the throne (or driver’s seat). He is giving them the motivation and power to live like Jesus. They still stuggle with sin, but they are no longer dominated by it.

Holy Spirit Diagram 4

3. Self-Controlled Christian

Here we find a person who has placed their faith in Jesus. Their life is no longer their own. They now belong to God. But they are not experiencing all that God wants to do in their life. Although the Holy Spirit (H.S.) has come into their life, they have placed themselves back on the throne (or driver’s seat). God is definitely at work in their life, but their life is still dominated by sin.

Holy Spirit Diagram 5

SUMMARY

So for those of us who have STOPPED TRYING TO CLIMB THE LADDER and have RUN TO JESUS to save them, we can be confident of two things…

1. Because Jesus died on THE CROSS to PAY FOR OUR SINS, we have ETERNAL LIFE

2. Because the HOLY SPIRIT gives us the POWER TO OVERCOME SIN, we have a NEW LIFE

Diagram 4

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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”

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: Fashion Designer

Fashion-Designer-2Suppose you dream from an early age that you want to become a fashion designer. You do the research, and pretty quickly realize that in order to be successful you’re going to need to move to Italy, the fashion capital of the world.

So during school, you work harder than everyone else. You make sure your grades are high. You get part-time work on the weekends. You save as much money as you possibly can. While everyone else is out partying, you’re working. Then you finally get to university. Again, you study harder than everyone else. You take part-time jobs and save your money.

By the time university is finished, you’ve got enough money to get to Italy and set yourself up for the first 12 months. You’re well on your way to becoming a world-class fashion designer.

Then the unthinkable happens. There’s a financial crises and you lose everything. All your savings are gone. Your hopes have been shattered. There is no possible way you can get to Italy.

About six months later, you are surfing the internet and you come across a site run by a wealthy business woman from Italy. She describes how much she loves Italy and how she would do anything to help others experience life in her country. So she puts out an offer: If anyone wants to come to Italy, she will pay for their flights, put them up in an apartment, and find them a job. It seems ridiculous. Too good to be true. This is obviously some kind of scam. But you’re desperate. So you take a risk. And you send off your details and to your surprise she contacts you the next day with the flight details.

You’re still not sure if this is legit or not. You’re half expecting something to go wrong. But you decided to step out in faith and rock up to the airport. To your surprise the ticket is valid. You jump on the plane, arrive in Italy, and meet this incredibly generous business woman. She welcomes you to Italy, gives you keys to an apartment, and introduces you to a guy who is happy to give you a job in the fashion industry.

Now what did it cost you to go to Italy?

It cost you nothing. You did nothing whatsoever to deserve it. It was absolutely a free, unconditional gift.

But it cost you everything. Your old life in your home country had to die. You had to give up your native language. You had to give up your customs. You had to give up living with your friends and family.

Going to Italy cost you nothing, except your old life.

The same is true for us when we become a Christian. It costs us nothing. Jesus has paid for our ‘ticket’ in full. He has promised to take care of us. He gives us a purpose in life. It is absolutely a free gift. We do nothing to deserve it. But at the same time, it costs us our old life. The moment we become a Christian, we receive the Holy Spirit who wages war against our sinful nature. Our life is no longer our own, we now belong to God.

Becoming a Christian cost us nothing, except our old life without the Holy Spirit.

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ILLUSTRATION: The Knight and the Princess

desktop_princess_dragon_knight_by_sarah_the_ninja_101-d37y8mkSuppose a princess has been locked up in a castle from the moment she was born. She’s being held captive there by an evil dragon. One day a knight in shining armor comes along. He risks his life to slay the dragon, and then offers to rescue the princess.

Now we’d naturally assume that the princess will jump at the chance to be rescued, but this is not necessarily the case. In order for the knight to rescue her, the princess needs to leave her old life in the castle behind, she needs to jump on the back of the horse, and she needs to entrust her entire life and future into the knight’s hands.

The same is true for us when it comes to Jesus.

We’ve been locked up in a prison of guilt and condemnation from the moment we were born. We’ve been held there by Satan, the most evil dragon of all. One day, our knight in shining armor, Jesus, comes along. He doesn’t just risk his life to slay Satan, He actually dies. Three days later He comes back to life and conquers death, conquers sin and conquers Satan. He does all of this in order to rescue us.

Now again, we would naturally assume that we will jump at the chance to be rescued. But in order to be rescued, we need to leave the prison of guilt and condemnation behind, we need to jump on the back of the horse and we need to entrust our entire life and eternity into Jesus’ hands.

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