Follower of Christ

A couple disclaimers for this post:

  1.  I refer to homosexuality in my video and in this blog as sin, not because I believe this, but because it is mirroring the context of those who believe it is a sin.  The goal of this post is not to argue this view’s merits, but to focus on how the Bible describes how we should respond to sin….specifically in reference to the noted meme.
  2. While I say in my video that I am a Christian, I actually refer to myself as being a Follower of Christ.  Unfortunately, the label “Christian” has been hijacked by a loud and hurtful segment of the American religious community that is often hard for me to recognize.  You may see it differently, but I hold more firmly to Jesus than the dogma that is portrayed often in my culture.

This is the final installment for this meme I came across that was posted by a family member.  It is my most direct response to it.  Again, this involves my interpretation of scripture that is also backed up by many studied theologians.  I will ask, if your only response to this is to insist I am not a Christian or other choice words, that is not a productive conversation and therefore I would ask that you refrain (just as I will refrain from finding reasons why YOU are not a Christian).  However, if you’d like to share your interpretations of the specific scriptures involved in this, I’m all ears.

Before I get into the theological aspects of this post, I want to emphasize that memes such as this create very dangerous scenarios for LGBTQ+ people.  In today’s aggressive and even hateful rhetoric, people are actually empowered to physically harm LGBT people because of messages like this.  Also, young people struggling with the realization of their sexuality can very easily lose all hope and go as far as take their own lives.  Words have power, which is a Biblical truth, and I encourage everyone (but especially Christians) to let their words/memes be “always full of grace”.  (Taken from Colossians)

First of all, many of my previous highlights regarding how many Christians today view things through a different filter today is related to Lordship Salvation.  This branch of religion adds our requirements to salvation, sanctification, and emphasizes works over everything.  Proponents of Lordship Salvation define it this way, “The doctrine of lordship salvation teaches that submitting to Christ as Lord goes hand-in-hand with trusting in Christ as Savior. Lordship salvation is the opposite of what is sometimes called easy-believism or the teaching that salvation comes through an acknowledgement of a certain set of facts.” Quote link.  Opponents say this, “As defined by its own advocates, Lordship Salvation could more properly be called “Commitment Salvation,” “Surrender Salvation,” or “Submission Salvation” since in actuality the debate is not over the Lordship of Christ, but the response of a person to the gospel and the conditions which must be met for salvation.” Quote link

To me, and to summarize – Lordship Salvation is the unsupportable and unbiblical belief that the PERFORMANCE of good works, the PROMISE of good works, or the EVIDENCE of good works MUST accompany faith in Christ in order to establish, or provide evidence, that such faith has resulted in eternal life.  While the Bible definitely outlines parameters to assist us in being disciples of Christ, it does not say that any of these man-made conditions are necessary for salvation. However, many Protestant Evangelical churches, ministries, and pastors (especially in America) teach that concept as foundational today.  Which is super ironic to me, because many of these same believers of these “truths” claim Catholics are not Christians because they are too focused on man-made efforts. In any case, I believe this approach and belief system was behind the creation of this meme.  Further, I’d like to acknowledge that if you Google “Lordship Salvation believer’s favorite scriptures to condemn”, 100% of the noted scriptures will be listed (and not just for gays, but for ANYONE they determine have not met the additional criteria of works to be truly saved).

So, enough of my thoughts on this (though I think it is important to understand), let’s see what the scriptures indicate.  Remember, they were referenced specifically to prove that I cannot be a Christian because I am gay.

1 Cor 6:9-11

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. 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.

First of all, I am MUCH MORE condemned for being an adulterer if I took this at face value, for Jesus Himself said, “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Matthew 19:9. I would argue that, because of these red letter words, at least 50% of the Evangelical Church would be in hell with me!  But again, the context of this meme is about BEING GAY, so I suppose they wanted me to ignore the adultery part and focus on the “who practice homosexuality” part.  I won’t get into the etymology of the word “homosexuality” in the script for today, but note this is a more recent translation and heavily disputed.

I surmise that the person who created the meme as well as the one who shared it believe that people who commit serious sins (especially those filthy homos!), or whose lives have a pattern of serious sin, won’t go to heaven. They probably also believe that “true believers” won’t commit these sins, or at least that they won’t have a pattern of any of these sins in their lives – hence the “can’t be a Christian” tag for us gays.

However, this is NOT what this scripture is saying!  This passage means that people who are not in Christ (that is, who have never trusted in Christ as Savior, aka “the unrighteous”) will not get into heaven. They are condemned because they have never believed in Jesus, not because they have committed these sins. Christ paid for all of our sins, past, present, and future, including the ones listed in this passage.  Remember when we accepted Christ He put HIS righteousness over us?  We are no longer unrighteous because of the free gift Jesus gave to us.

2 Cor 5:17

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Many Christians (but especially those who follow – even unknowingly – Lordship Salvation) believe this means that whoever has believed in Christ as Savior will have an instantaneous change, that their mind will instantly be focused only on holy topics, their will will be subdued and directly to God’s, and their affections will be completely changed from love of sin and self to that of love of holiness and God.  Because of that, sin cannot truly continue – or especially pervasive and ongoing sin – because if it does, they can’t really have accepted Christ or have been saved.

But we all just have to be honest and look in our mirrors to understand that was not the case in any of our lives or our walk with Christ.  The affections of a saved person are not automatically changed from a love of sin and self to a love of holiness and God. Changing our way of thinking to line up with God’s way of thinking takes our cooperation, as Romans 12:2 makes so clear:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

2 Corinthians 5:17 means that whoever has received eternal life through faith in Christ has been regenerated, resulting in the creation of a new human who is a sinless, incorruptible child of God.  This new human is a result of the second birth, a spiritual birth, which all who possess eternal life have undergone. The flesh nature, which is neither good, nor righteous, does not go away when we are born again. That results in a conflict between the flesh and the spirit, which will continue until we die, or are raptured.   We are instructed to walk in the newness of life (Romans 6:4), to put on the new man (Ephesians 4:24), and to walk in the spirit (Galatians 5:16 and 25) so that we can manifest the fruits of the spirit (which are good things) and not the works of the flesh (which are evil).  This scripture has nothing to do with salvation, but a promise that we will not be forsaken and we hold a new position as a child of God that was given to us despite our position in sin.

Gal 5:24

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

To really get the context of this scripture, I am expanding it to include Gal 5:19-23

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Again, this scripture was used to prove that I am not a Christian because I am gay.  Does this show that people who commit these sins will not get into heaven?

No. This passage teaches that these works of the flesh will be manifested in the lives of Christians if they choose to not walk in the Spirit.  Not walking in the spirit is one thing, but it doesn’t mean one has not accepted Christ nor does it cancel salvation, which was a gift to begin with.  The people referred to as “they” in this passage are unbelievers. They will not inherit the kingdom of God (go to heaven), because they have not believed in Jesus as Savior.  People who are not Christians cannot walk in the Spirit, because they have never received the Spirit.

Further, also in Galatians, Paul rebukes the Jewish Christians for demanding that Gentile Christian men be circumcised to truly be a follower of Christ. 

Claiming the Promise puts it this way:

Paul refuted the troublemakers by referring the gentile converts to Christianity to God’s early promise in Genesis. God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have heirs and be the ancestors of a multitude of nations (Genesis 15:4-5; 17:4, 15-16). Those descendants were Gentiles as well as Jews. Paul referred to that early promise in order to prove from scripture that it is not God’s law but God’s promise that defines God’s relationship (covenant) with humankind. The law didn’t come until long after Abraham and Sarah had received the promise and believed (Galatians 3:17-18). Though Gentiles were never under the Jewish law, they clearly were part of God’s covenant. They did not need to be circumcised or to follow other Jewish practices.

“Those of us who are lesbian and gay Christians,” some of us observe, “are the Gentiles of modern Christianity who are being asked wrongly to renounce their/our sexual identity and live under the law of heterosexuality in order to be included in God’s covenant.  That demand is a gospel that is not really a gospel at all.”  Link to Quote, Pg. 11

1 John 3:7-10

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.  Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

So again, the premise of the meme being that I can’t be a Christian because I am gay, I surmise these scriptures were used to point out that because I continue to sin (live as a lesbian each day), I am not practicing righteousness and am instead sinning.  Therefore, I am not of God.  Is that what this scripture is saying?

No. When we love God, we will love those born of God. Loving God and loving others is not automatic in the life of a believer. If it were, we would not be exhorted to love God with our whole heart and to love one another.  But more importantly, we need to take the entire context of 1 John into account.  Go backwards and look at 1 John 2:1. There John is writing that children of God can and do still sin. Paul in the book of Romans 7:14-25, tells us that indwelling sin remains within us. Our sin nature is dead, but indwelling sin is still active.  The key to it all is understanding our identity in Christ; we have been declared righteous, however we will still sin after we have been saved. As we grow in Christ, we will learn to hate sin more and more, just as God hates sin.

Many still believe that we can lose our salvation or that because we still sin, we must not be a child of God. Remember who is declaring us justified – God Himself.  And the Bible is clear that we are not justified by works.  As such, our failure at works also do not disqualify us. So, the Bible is clear we sin as children of God, and we’d be more clear ourselves if we were more honest. Jesus has covered ALL of our sins; our will and self-effort cannot save us or keep us saved. Finding my identity in Christ has provided me freedom from bondage, and it was given to me as a gift from Christ Himself.

Rom 6:1-7

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.

This is a complex area, especially since many Bible translations (including the older versions of the NIV) create the “sin nature” argument instead of sticking to “flesh”.  These verses are often used to condemn groups of people that are viewed as sinful, thus labeling them “Not Christian”.  See Andrew Farley’s article here for expanded details

Look also at Romans 7:21 that puts the above verses into full context; our flesh so wants to contribute to our holiness. That is the flesh of self-effort or trying to will ourselves into a state of righteousness. That cheapens what Christ did on the cross! Saying that only some of our sins were forgiven (the ones leading up to our asking God to forgive our sins), would mean Christ only died for some of our sins. If He died for only some of our sins, then the cross isn’t finished, and He would need to go back on it each day to die for more sins and future sins. This is not to call out those of us who sin (which, hello, is all of us Christians) to expose us as fake, or any other focus – but to remind us that we are crucified with Christ and we need to stop acting like we used to when we tried to offset this with our own actions.  Or even worse, deny we are sinning while condemning others who sin.

1 Tim 1:8-10

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine

Again, based on the meme, I am to understand that – because I am sexually immoral – I can’t be a Christian.  But what is Paul really saying to Timothy with these verses?  Paul White says this:

Now Paul wants to make sure that no one thinks that he is against the law, so he says that it is good, “if a man use it lawfully” (verse 8). Wait a minute! If there is a lawful way to use the law, then there must be an unlawful way to use the law. Paul says, “Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane…” (verse 9). In light of this instruction, why is the law so frequently used against Christians? When a saint fails, we often hear the same condemnatory remarks used, citing the Law of God, as we do against the sinner. Instead, we should edify the believer, reminding them of who they are in Christ. Only the grace of God is going to teach them how to live righteous in this present world (Titus 2:11, 12).

In other words, the Apostle Paul was saying the law is for the list of sinners.  We are not under the law, we are under grace.  Paul White goes on to say, “Saint, receive no condemnation today. Let the love of God and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son silence the voice of condemnation in your spirit. God’s Law is just, holy and good and it shows people their sins. You are clean in Jesus, so see His grace and favor, and walk therein.”  Link to article.

Conclusion

The Bible does not give us a litmus test to check if someone else is or is not a Christian.  As I’ve shared in previous posts, the fruits of the spirit can and are manifested in non-Christians as well – even Satan displayed them per the Bible!  Jesus said others would know we follow Him by the love we show.  I think the Apostle Paul’s answer would be fairly straightforward: a Christian is someone who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ”, he writes in Romans 8:9. Then, two verses later: “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” So if someone has the Spirit, they will be raised, and if someone does not have the Spirit, then they don’t belong to Christ. That sounds about as close to a definition of what makes a Christian as we’re likely to find. And for what it’s worth, I think the story of Cornelius indicates that Peter and the other Jerusalem apostles would agree (Acts 10:47; 11:17-18).

The problem is, then, how can we tell who has the Holy Spirit?  Admittedly, this doesn’t give us a cut-and-dried test we can apply to others. It is, after all, not always easy to be sure who has the Spirit and who doesn’t, but that may not be such a bad thing. If God had wanted us to know for certain whether a particular church leader, or presidential candidate, or an LGBT person was a Christian, he’d have given us a secret password which only true believers could say. But he didn’t.  So maybe we’re supposed to have assurance of our own salvation, but leave the final answers about the salvation of others with God.  And, I contend, that it is MORE IMPORTANT to love……Christians, non-Christians, sinners, even our enemies.

Reverend Dr. Kari Tolppanen put it this way:

With respect to the debate about gay marriage, people in opposite camps have shown very little real love for each other.  It is sad to see how few Christians have shown any desire to see the issue from the perspective of homosexuals.  They do not want to explore the subject or to know any gay people (GMR or show love and compassion to family members they do know).  The only thing that homosexuals hear from the mouths of these people is condemnation and disapproval.  These Christians are today’s Pharisees who cling to their view of the Bible’s teaching, but forget what is most important in the law: mercy, justice and faithfulness (Matt. 23:23).  They tie up heavy loads and put them on homosexuals’ shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them (Matt. 23:4).  They believe they know what is best for homosexuals even though they may not know any homosexual people personally.  I constantly hear stories about how cruel some Christians are towards homosexuals.  Some parents abandon their gay children and many churches kick out gay people.  No wonder many homosexuals have a very hostile attitude towards Christians and regard them as the worst kind of Pharisees. Link to article.

If you believe LGBT cannot be Christians, that is your right.  Even if you’ve read this blog, seen my other blogs, and stick to that view, that is your right.  But memes such as these are not loving.  They do not share “good news” as the gospel does, but it closes the door to relationships.  Where there is judgment, there is no love.  And, I encourage you to ask yourself, is it more important to condemn others than to love them and have a relationship with them?  Is your way better than the steps Jesus took with the sinners around Him?  Do you honestly believe that, unless someone is perfect in your moral measurement, they can’t be Christian?

I contend we are called to love.  Love our neighbors, love our enemies, and love is to have a relationship with them where they are.  And I will NEVER say someone is not a Christian because I cannot tell with any surety that they have the Holy Spirit in them.

But to those who DO know me, I would hope that you see the love I share.  I cling very heavily to the Holy Spirit to assist me in this, because I am the one being told my sincere faith is not true and I am not changed.  I rest in Christ and I know without fear that I am His, no matter that others would rather spend their time insisting I am going to hell.

Peace.

The Fruits

Recently, I saw a meme on Facebook and, as part of the LGBT community, it hurt me.  I posted two installments explaining my view of the Gospel, and now I want to address another Christian concept that blurs the truth of how many of us view each other in Christ.  I feel this is another area that is important to understand before I specifically address the meme.

Many of these thoughts and explanations were derived from the book, Religion vs Jesus Do vs Done by Preston Greene, though I also recommend checking out books by Andrew Farley.

Too often, we Christians go through motions to help us decide if another person is a Christian or not.  We look for “proof” that they are saved, and if we don’t see it, we decide they really CAN’T be a Christian.  This concept gets a little murky when “life” gets in the way.  For example, one might say “no one who breaks the law can be a Christian”, but when you point out that speeding is breaking the law, the explanation is often further refined to mean “when you break IMPORTANT laws”.  We also often hear the phrase, “to be a REAL Christian, your life needs to produce fruit”, or “the fruits of your life will show if you’re a Christian.”  Today, we will talk about fruit and its place in our salvation.

The Fruit of the Spirit is detailed in Galatians 5:22-23

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Many religious people look for these as proof that a person is a Christian.  If they believe the fruit is not present, they often decide the person is not REALLY a Christian!  They might also go to Matthew 7:15-20 and John 15:6 and take it a step further – not only are you not a Christian, but YOU ARE GOING TO HELL!  (I suppose that’s one and the same, but you get my drift.)  If they aren’t producing these fruits, then they must be going to hell.   I am here today to share, I believe these views are wrong.

Preston Greene in his book asks some questions before breaking down the scripture in Matthew and John.  These views are based on the Christian belief of salvation through Jesus as being saved.

1. Can an unsaved person show love?

2. Can an unsaved person show joy?

3. Can an unsaved person show longsuffering towards humanity (through charity)?

4. Can unsaved people promote peace (Gandhi)?

If you are honest, the obvious answer is yes to all the questions. Let’s take this a step further, shall we?

1. Do Jehovah’s Witnesses show these fruits? (If you didn’t know, they don’t believe that Jesus was God in the flesh and think you have to earn salvation).

2. How about Mormons? Do they show fruits of the Spirit?

3. Do peace loving Muslims show any of these fruits?

The truth of this is ALL of the above show the fruit of the spirit as listed in Galatians.  It’s hard to deny it even if you’re trying to insist that showing fruit is the true measurement of proving salvation in Christ.  If this were not true, why would Matthew 7:15 warn against “wolves in sheep’s clothing”?  1 Cor 11:13-14 tells us that anyone can act like they’re a Christian by displaying this fruit, heck, even Satan appeared to be an angel of light!  The fact remains that these attributes can be manifested by people who are not Christians.

But what about Christians?  Is there something in the Bible that shows that Christians always show these fruits once they receive Christ?  In truth, they show the exact opposite.  Preston Greene said it this way (emphasis mine),

“The church at Corinth was carnal, but were babes in Christ (1 Cor 3:1-3). They were a saved church; sanctified (1:2). However, they were sinning all over the place. Some of their sins were envying, strife, and divisions (3:3). A believer has relations with his stepmother (1 Cor 5:5), there were lawsuits among the believers (1 Cor 6:7) there was fornication (1 Cor 7:2), there was drunkenness at the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:21). How many fruits of the Spirit were they showing? Not many, but they were saved.

With reason and scripture we can conclude that fruits of the Spirit are not evidence of salvation. If the unsaved can do them without the Holy Spirit and saved people can all but ignore them, why do the religious insist it is mandatory that they should be exhibited? Because that’s what the “religious” do. Their mantra of “do” for salvation exceeds Jesus’s “done”.”

But what about Matthew 7:15-20 and John 15:6?  Let’s break it down.

Matthew 7:15-20

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

Preston Greene responds with this:

From a first look at this passage, it appears that if one does not produce fruit, he or she is going to hell. First, this passage is about false prophets (verse 15), not the born-again believer. Verse 16 reads, “You will know them (false prophets) by their fruits.” Well, this is not referring to fruits of the Spirit, as Satan presents himself as an angel of light. Notice verse 18: “a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit”. Do you sin? Then guess what, you are not a good tree. The only good tree is Jesus. Jesus said, “Why callest me thou good? There is none good but God” (Luke 18:19). Then we get to verse 20, which reads, “Wherefore by their fruits you will know them.” Well, if false apostles transform themselves into apostles of Christ and Satan presents himself as an angel of light, what does “fruit” mean? The answer is in Luke, which talks about the SAME thing.

For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart HIS MOUTH SPEAKETH. (Luke 6:43-45)

This is what fruit means in this passage. It is doctrine and what that doctrine produces (fruit). There are only two ways to see false prophets. One, if they prophesy something and it does not come to pass then they are not from God (Duet 18:22). The second area is “what is coming out of their mouths”. If you study your Bible and learn, you can tell someone is false by the words they speak. Bad doctrine, or false doctrine, will not produce for the kingdom. For example, what type of fruit were the Pharisees producing? What does Scripture teach us?

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Matt 23:15).

Their fruit was to proclaim salvation by the works of the law to their disciples, to root their disciples in that doctrine that they became more a child of hell then their teachers! This was the “fruit” of the Pharisees (ClearGospel.org). As a result, we need to abide in Jesus (correct doctrine) to produce fruit (converts) for the kingdom.

John 15:6

“If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

Preston Greene responds:

Jesus said to believe (trust) in Him for salvation. IF you have done this, you have abided in Jesus to do what was needed to have everlasting life. Remember, Jesus promised not to cast you out; He will never lose you and nothing will pluck you out of His hand (John 6:39 and John 10:28). Jesus CANNOT contradict Himself. Second, Jesus is talking to believers (disciples). Look what he says starting in verse 3.

John 15:3-5

“Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

You can read Preston’s book explaining the reference to fire, but note the MEANING of the fruit as noted in his book (emphasis mine):

Jesus uses this as an “idiom” or metaphor. IF one does not abide in him, he or she is “useless”. Useless branches are tossed away. This does not mean saved people can go to hell. That would contradict so many passages of scripture. Jesus is just saying that if you don’t abide in him (to bear fruit), then you are as useless as a branch bearing no fruit and will be set aside. In other words “God won’t use you”. Can a believer produce no fruit and go to heaven? YES. The Bible is clear. Salvation is by grace through faith in the gospel of Jesus. In 1 Cor 3:11-15 we read how we, as born again believers, will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, where our works will be tested for reward. Some will have all their works burnt up, but they themselves will be saved. If they had “borne fruit”, that fruit would not have been burnt up, but rewarded. We conclude with verse 8, which tells us the context of the passage. Salvation is NOT in view here. Discipleship is in view here: “so shall ye be my disciples”. Salvation and discipleship— always keep them separate.

For salvation, Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30). For discipleship (service) Jesus said “pick up your cross and follow me”. Discipleship is NOT easy with a light burden. They are talking about two different things. The religious confuse salvation and discipleship; please don’t make the same mistake. Salvation is FREE. Discipleship is costly, BUT will be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ. If you abide in Him, you can bear much fruit! Are you in the doctrine of Jesus or the doctrine of the Pharisees (religion)?

In summary, we cannot know man’s heart and it is very dangerous to declare that someone is not a Christian based on your view of their works, or fruits. Their salvation has nothing to do with their works, as their salvation is by faith alone in Jesus Christ. Please don’t confuse salvation with discipleship.

Peace!

The Gospel – Part 2

This is the second part of my “review” of the Gospel.  Since the Gospel is so important, there will be more info provided before I get into the “meat” of this topic related to the meme.

Colossians 2:13-14 says, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

So, Jesus took care of all the work to remove our sin and provide us a means to enter heaven.  The only thing we need to do is accept His actions (sacrifice) and acknowledge His death and resurrection that conquered death (or sin).

It seems very clear to me that the only reason we are righteous, holy, or can enter into heaven is because we believe and trust that the death and resurrection of Jesus saves us.  Nothing we have done or will do can accomplish this amazing feat.

Galatians 2:16 says, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

John 3:16 says, “for God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

You’ll notice that these scriptures do not add anything to the list to require justification.  In fact, it clearly says that works, or actions we attempt to offer to God, do not justify us.  So we cannot act holy, we cannot be a better Christian or even a better person by doing ANYTHING as it relates to our righteousness and holiness.  That also means that things that we do on earth do not negate the blood of Christ, because we have nothing to do with the process in the first place.

Grace is a FREE GIFT that Jesus gave us even though we didn’t deserve it.  If I gave you a gift for your birthday and then handed you a list of things you must do to DESERVE that gift, you’d think I was crazy.  Jesus did not give us a list of things we must do to be saved, and it is crazy when we add conditions to people to “prove” they are saved when their salvation is 100% a gift provided for each of us.  It can be argued that when we humans insist that we must take part in our salvation and add criteria (works or actions) to REALLY be saved, we haven’t really and truly accepted the Grace (free gift) of Jesus, but instead rely on our own efforts for salvation.

Romans 11:6 says, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”

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.”

To be saved, we must trust in Jesus and repent.  Here I’ve taken the wording directly from the article linked below:

WHAT SAVING REPENTANCE IS NOT:

1. Saving repentance is not being sorry for your sins.

2. Saving repentance is not turning from your sins or reforming your life.

3. Saving repentance is not the willingness to turn your life over to God so that He can direct your path.

Saving repentance has absolutely nothing to do with regretting your sins or resolving to turn from them. God is willing to save you just the way you are. The Bible says:

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

WHAT SAVING REPENTANCE IS:

Saving repentance is to stop trusting in gaining eternal life through religion, religious rituals, or obedience to God’s laws.  The word “repent” comes from the Greek word which means “to change one’s mind.” Those who believe that eternal life can be earned through good works are commanded in Scripture to change their mind or “repent.” They are told to stop trusting in their works, and come to God on the basis of grace through faith alone.

When we’ve trusted in Jesus and repented from our own effort, we receive real assurance that we are saved – we are Christians!  We know when we die, we will go to heaven.

John 5:24 says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

Again, this scripture does not go on to say “and go to church, and refrain from using foul language, separate from sinners, etc.”  Because, that would mean our efforts really control our salvation and that is absolutely not the Gospel.

Additionally, if any of us sin after receiving the free gift from Jesus (and if we are honest, we realize we all continue to sin), we are still secure in Christ.  The blood of Christ finished ALL sin; past, present, and future.

Hebrews 10:10-12, 14 says, “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.  For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

Before I end this, I want to emphasize that I am NOT saying, nor do I believe, this means we can continue to sin and run around doing anything we want.  There are real and painful consequences to our sin on the earth.  Relationship can be broken, lives can be lost, we can absolutely fill our lives with pain, and we will not be very good ambassadors for our Lord.  God wants more from us, and His Holy Spirit that is in us will help us to grow in Him to become more like Him.  But even as we sin, because of the free gift of Grace, nothing can separate us from God.  That is the Truth.

I welcome any comments on this and will base subsequent posts/vlogs based on this foundation. The article I used to help explain the Biblical Truth of Grace can be accessed here.

The Gospel – Part 1

This is the first part of my “review” of the Gospel; the vlog was a bit long so cut it down some.  Even still, this vlog is longer than I’d like – I promise I will work on that!  Since the Gospel is so important, there will be more info provided before I get into the “meat” of this topic.

Recently, I saw this meme on Facebook and, as part of the LGBT community, it hurt me.  But more than that, knowing it was from a family member who has known me most of my life and (I thought) had seen the fruits of my relationship with Jesus, being “told” I was not a Christian broke my heart.  I wish I could say that I didn’t turn that hurt into anger, but I rode that rollercoaster as well.  But in the days following seeing that meme, other aspects of the message it portrayed bothered me as well.  And today I want to share with you some thoughts, not to defend my position in Christ so much as to defend the Gospel…..and to encourage you as you traverse your faith with the present climate too often presented to LGBTQAI+ today.

Before I get started, I also want to emphasize that these are my beliefs based on my years of reading the Word and having a relationship with Christ.  As such, I will not demand or insist that MY views are right, though I hold that very strongly.  In that vein, I pray that others who hold different views act accordingly and do not insist on their own way, which should be avoided as per 1 Cor 13.  My beliefs, which are constantly being refined by the Holy Spirit, are to guide my life……not yours.  Your beliefs are to guide your life, not mine – though I don’t mind sharing thoughts and speaking with others who have different views.  Also, at the end of this post is a link to a document that I referenced for this post and I encourage you to check it out.

This segment is to first establish what THE GOSPEL means to me, and to share my understanding of its definition based on the Bible.  It is foundational for establishing our position in Christ and no discussion can really move on until you, my readers, know the foundation I am coming from.

The Gospel means “good news”; it allows us to have a loving, meaningful relationship with God.  It also assures us that ALL who believe in the saving work of Jesus will spend eternity with Him in heaven.  The Bible is clear that we all have sinned and therefore are not qualified to enter into heaven.

Romans 3:23 says “ for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

Ephesians 2:5 says, “…..we were dead in our trespasses….”

Because of our sin, we were separated from God because He cannot abide sin – sin created an unbreakable barrier for each of us.  I don’t dispute this at all – our sin definitely put us in a place where we could not enter into a meaningful relationship with God and certainly caused us to not be able to go to heaven.  For thousands of years, people tried to address the sin in their lives by trying to be better; they tried to follow the Ten Commandments, went to church (or temple), tried to love their neighbors, prayed, got baptized……even today our lists are long in our own attempts to become holy.  But the fact is, 100% of our own efforts do not get the job done.

Isaiah 64:6 says, “….all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment”

Our efforts don’t do much – it is like mopping the floor with a muddy rag.  Our efforts may be absolutely sincere, but they have never worked and never will.  Our efforts will never erase the sin in our lives or break the barrier that keeps us from God.

That’s where Jesus came in, as described in the good news of the Gospel. 

1 Corinthians 15:1-4 says, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

It is only because of the death and resurrection of Jesus that the barrier created by our sin has been broken.  He alone provided a means for us to have a relationship with God and the ability to enter heaven (or be saved).  This is a hugely important concept, because it gives credit where credit is due.  And because of this action, all sin (past, present, and future) was placed onto Christ.  All the guilt and punishment caused by our sins were imputed on Christ and he bore all of it in our place.

Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Jesus literally was punished for our sin (past, present, and future); the wrath of God was poured out on Christ as He hung on the cross and finally died.

Isaiah 53:5 says, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

Matthew 27:46 says, “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus’ death paid for our sin COMPLETELY.  God’s justice was completely satisfied, removing sin’s stain once and for all.

Isaiah 53:10-11 says, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.  Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”

John 19:30 says, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

The phrase “It is finished” was actually an expression used in Rome in the time of Christ when a debt had been paid in full.  When Jesus shouted this just before He died, He was indicating that He had made a perfect, complete and final payment for sin.

Here is the link to the article I referenced in this post.

Our American Ethos

Having just celebrated the USA’s 243rd birthday, combined with the fact I just finished two weeks in Europe, I have been thinking much about what makes my country of birth great. Our constitution is pretty amazing, for sure. The freedoms it promises I often take for granted and explaining differences abroad to the kids made me feel proud. The diversity we have also makes me smile, especially when I consider the bulk of my life was spent in Southern California where dozens of countries were represented with my neighbors alone. And, as much as I love pasta, it’s nice that within 20 minutes of my home I can eat at least 6 different ethnic meals. The list could go on and on.

However, being abroad also made me see outside of my “normal” in many different ways. Throughout my life, but most especially in the last few years, living in the US has started to expose our collective need to separate, to divide while also highlighting a patriotism that seems like a stranger to me. In sometimes tacit fashion, the definition for a “true American” has become blurred to me. We have all seen the viral videos of white Americans confronting others who are not speaking English (here is one such incident but there are many, many more https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/412647-woman-demands-to-see-passports-of-spanish-speaking-family-at). Many of us are either decrying the “dangerous people storming our borders”, or are watching in pain as hundreds of children are being held for weeks at a time without basic necessities such as water, toothbrushes, and compassion. But that is another post in itself.

In our country, there is this “rule” that you must speak English to be truly American, at least it feels that way. While no language has been designated as official for this country, most agree that English is needed for success in this land. In the 1980’s, a push was made to make English the official language, originally so that federal funds could be allocated for language classes for immigrants so that they’d have an easier time getting work and establishing themselves in American society. Shortly thereafter, it was morphed from that to a way to “keep America great” but assuring that English (aka “white Americans”) would retain its place in this country. That push was influenced by Nationalists (some of the racist bent, but not all). It went from a way to help immigrants to succeed to forcing immigrants to turn their backs on their heritage and, yes, even give room for English-speaking Americans to confront and belittle anyone who dared to speak another language on our sacred soil. Had I read that information a few years ago, I’d have scoffed. But the reality is, today that is abundantly true.

So it is with great disappointment that I’d like to share that this American Ethos is quite literally BS. Not only because I believe our country was meant to be an amazing experiment in democracy and DIVERSITY, but because it is extremely hypocritical. In the last two weeks, I have been to Paris, Florence, Pompeii, Positano, and Rome. THE MAJORITY of every person I interacted with spoke at least some English. Deana and I tend to avoid tourist stops when shopping and eating, and we were often off the “beaten path”. You’d think that we’d encounter people who did not speak English. We were surprised. Even years ago in a small town about 8 hours from Moscow, we met many people who could converse with us in English. Our own ability to speak the local language recently and in Russia was horrible, at best.

I’ve even met some people at my work’s Buenos Aires location that have never been to England or the USA who speak English. When I am there, I try my best to speak Spanish, but let’s be real – had the tables been turned and I moved there to work, I am confident that if I spoke to my family in English I would not be confronted or ridiculed.

Some of you reading this might be thinking, “well, the USA is important so it makes sense that the world speaks our language.” I don’t disagree with you. But what I AM trying to say is, we are a lazy bunch. Somehow we’ve moved from patriotism to Nationalism. Nationalism is ” identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations.” In doing so, we want everyone to bow to us (or our language, our preferences, our definition of anything) while we also expect to be accepted “as is” when we enter into other nations. We don’t put our own requirements on ourselves and hold onto our language of birth in arrogance and maybe even defiance. We want to say we are better than others because of where we were born while paying big bucks to visit other countries for vacation. We often don’t even invest much of our time to learn other languages and just expect them to be able to meet our needs on our terms when we are there.

This was a humbling lesson to experience in real time, to discuss with our youngest kids, and to remember that all humans have a right to live in this world. I am a Proud American, but that does not mean pride is exclusive to me and mine. We are better than that people!

Peace.