The Right Religion

coincidenceAre you able to accept the fact that, had you grown up in a Muslim family, you would most likely be a Muslim now (and similarly for any other belief system)? You would be knowledgable of the scriptures, teachings, and apologetics of Islam, have had experiences that confirm the reality of your belief system (because you would be conditioned to interpret them in such a way), and be as ignorant as you are now of most other religions (except, perhaps, for their broadest details).

If not, you are likely ignorant of or downplaying the significance that your upbringing has on your beliefs (that is, you mistakenly think that your beliefs are relatively free from the influence of the limited languages, experiences, information, people, etc. you were exposed to growing up, thinking that the conclusions you have drawn are for the most part rationally based).

(Just consider the fact that almost no one believes in a religion they’ve never heard of (except for those who start their own). You might object, “well if they don’t know about it, then of course they can’t!” This demonstrates, however, that belief systems are generally not fundamentally rational but rather experiential. For if they were fundamentally rational, people should be able to arrive at belief systems deductively.)

If you are able to accept that fact, however, how is it reasonable for a god to expect human beings to get their beliefs exactly right (and punish them otherwise)? In particular, why do the gods of Western religions seem so obsessed with right belief, anyway? As expounded by the psychological theory situationism, it is not even clear that the person plays a more influential role in determining their behavior than the situation that person is in (in other words, what if beliefs are influenced more by external, situational factors rather than internal traits or motivations?).

Everybody wants to think that, by the grace of God, they happened to be born in a family that believed the “one and only truth” and belonged to the “right faith.” What often happens as a result is that people subscribe to whatever criteria for determining truth set forth by the group they belong to. The internally self-perpetuating cycle of self-validation of the group is thus continued.

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Immortality Now!

immortal

It is one of the most remarkable things that in all of the biological sciences there is no clue as to the necessity of death. If you say we want to make perpetual motion, we have discovered enough laws as we studied physics to see that it is either absolutely impossible or else the laws are wrong. But there is nothing in biology yet found that indicates the inevitability of death. This suggests to me that it is not at all inevitable. – Richard Feynmen, Noble Prize, 1965

People are raised to think that everyone must physically die.

They therefore think, “death is something I must experience.”

They never even stop to consider any alternatives.

“Duh, of course everyone will eventually die.”

The fact that I am even writing this will probably cause suspicion to arise in some of you concerning my sanity.

But isn’t it insane to hold to an assumption without even allowing oneself to entertain other possibilities?

Have you considered any alternatives, ever?

Or is the general pattern of people dying throughout history too much for you to be able to ask, “what if death is not necessary?”

Just sayin.

What if?

What if dying is something we choose to do by faith? That is, what if we die by believing that we have to die? What if we are the ones bringing death upon ourselves?

What if death is a disease? What if it’s not natural, not “the way things are supposed to be”?

No, I’m not in denial.

No, I’m not scared of death.

Yes, I understand that death is not the end of people.

But what would happen if a whole generation taught their children that they never have to die?

What if people began manifesting immortality?

What if?

If you think that such an idea did not exist among the early church fathers, think again.

Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. – Athanasius

For this end did the Lord suffer the ointment to be poured upon His head, that He might breathe immortality into His Church. Be not ye anointed with the bad odor of the doctrine of the prince of this world; let him not lead you away captive from the life which is set before you. And why are we not all prudent, since we have received the knowledge of God, which is Jesus Christ? Why do we foolishly perish, not recognizing the gift which the Lord has of a truth sent to us? – Syrian Ignatius of Antioch

Let nothing exist among you that may divide you; but be ye united with your bishop, and those that preside over you, as a type and evidence of your immortality. – Syrian Ignatius of Antioch

But as my discourse is not intended to touch on this point, but to prove to you that the Holy Ghost reproaches men because they were made like God, free from suffering and death, provided that they kept His commandments, and were deemed deserving of the name of His sons, and yet they, becoming like Adam and Eve, work out death for themselves; let the interpretation of the Psalm be held just as you wish, yet thereby it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming “gods,” and of having power to become sons of the Highest; and shall be each by himself judged and condemned like Adam and Eve. – Justin the apologist

The ante-Nicene period, which covers the Apostolic, Apologists and Anti-heretical Fathers from the second to the fourth century…tend more to speak of salvation in terms of immortality and incorruption, yet they paved the way to the deification as they seem to trace this immortality and incorruption not only after death, but already on earth, a potential immortality, through imitation of God. – Angel Francisco Sanchez-Escobar

The whole idea seems whacko to us who have grown up with the concept of the necessity of death as a fundamental principle of what it means to be human. Yeah, that includes me too.

All I know is that the scriptures have some crazy things to say about immortality.

Think, for example, of Enoch and Elijah, who never tasted death and are still alive today even after thousands of years. Granted, they didn’t remain on earth. But perhaps they were foreshadowing a greater reality that was to come.

I know we have all been born into cultures that give us the preconception that we must die, and thus your reading of the following verses will inevitably be biased. That is, you will try to read it in such a way as to fit your paradigm of reality. But as you read the following verses, I’d encourage you to be aware of assumptions you might hold as much as possible and try reading them as plainly as possible without trying to allegorize or spiritualize them (extra credit: read the verses in context). I’m confident that if you do this, it will be clear that in one way or another these passages say something along the lines of we do not have to physically die.

“Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:26).

“But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone… Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:9, 14-15).

“It has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel”  (2 Timothy 1:10).

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever…Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:51,58).

“In the way of righteousness there is life; along that path is immortality” (Proverbs 12:28).

“Here is a secret truth for you: not all of us are to die but all of us are to be changed…for this perishing body must be invested with the imperishable, and this mortal body invested with immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:51,53).

On second thought, is this actually surprising? After all, when God created us, death was never a part of his intentions anyways, right?

I myself haven’t come to any hard conclusions on this. But I have gotten rid of the mindset that I must die, and I am willing to continue considering the possibility of immortality and dream of its reality.

*****

Also see:

Saved by Your Faith or by Christ’s Faith?

Have you ever been told that if you believe in Jesus then you will be saved?

During the Reformation in the 15th century, an emphasis was placed on Martin Luther’s doctrine of sola fide (by faith alone). This taught that we are justified by faith in Christ (in contrast to Roman Catholic practices and doctrines at that time, such as indulgences).

Luther rightly discerned that, contrary to what was promulgated as truth during his time, our works do not justify us. But there is another reformation sweeping through the body of Christ in which our own faith is also being recognized as a recipe for failure. It is still accepted that justification is by faith alone, but it is acknowledged that it is not our own fickle faith in Christ that justifies us but Christ’s faith on behalf of humanity, the only reliable faith.

One of the most significant debates going on in biblical scholarship is whether certain verses should be translated “in Christ” or “of Christ” (both are valid renderings in the Greek, and the context does not always clearly show which would be superior; see link at bottom for more details). Here’s what some familiar passages of scripture would read when “of” is chosen over “in.”

“Even the righteousness of God which comes through the faith of Jesus Christ for all those who believe, for there is no distinction” (Romans 3:22).

“For the demonstration of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who is of the faith of Jesus” (Romans 3:26).

“Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith of Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16).

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).

“But the Scripture has shut up all me under sin, that the promise by the faith of Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22).

“Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through His faith” (Ephesians 3:11-12).

“Not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:9).

The word “faith” is sometimes used as a synonym for “religion” or a certain set of beliefs. “What faith are you of?” The scriptures don’t use it in this sense when it says that there is “one faith” (Ephesians 4:5) or refers to “the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). It’s not pointing to the “christian religion.” It means it isn’t our faith but Jesus’ faith, and this faith is found in Christ (1 Timothy 1:14, 2 Timothy 3:15).

This entails an enormous shift in the role of faith.

Some say you have to at least believe to be “saved.” It’s the one work they require of people in order to obtain salvation.

Of course, no one ever calls it a work because they also like to say that “we’re not saved by works.” But that’s precisely what it is! Anything you have to do is a work, and any salvation that requires you to do something in order to achieve it is salvation by works.

“No, brother, Jesus’ works save you, not your own.”

But it’s up to us to generate faith to make stuff happen? It’s up to us to believe within the time limit of this life?

It doesn’t matter that Jesus is the savior, the one who made salvation potentially possible. In the end it is up to you and whether you will do that one good work in order to actualize salvation.

Some will try to gloss over the attempt include just a teeny tiny bit of our own efforts of faith by saying how easy a thing it is. “All you gotta do is believe!” But law + grace = law. Add any of your own works to the finished work of the cross and you end up with the hamster wheel of religion. It doesn’t matter how few requirements of self-effort are given. Even if the only step to inclusion is conjuring up faith to believe, you have stepped out of the realm of grace.

What this way of thinking ultimately says is this that it’s up to us to save ourselves.

If it is our own faith that saves us, then our salvation boils down to our ability to make good decisions. But how is this any different from righteousness by the Law? Sure, it reduces the requirements we must fulfill to just one (namely believe in Jesus), but it is still based on our own effort to follow that one law in order to gain righteousness. There is no essential difference.

Let me return to the idea that it is the faith of Christ that saves us.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Our participation in Christ’s perfect faith is purely a gift; we have no part to play in trying to create or maintain it.

Taking credit for a work you did not author is called plagiarism. Hebrews 12:2 is clear, Jesus is both the author and the finisher of our faith! It does not begin with us, nor is it ours to complete. From beginning to end, faith is all God! Don’t be a spiritual plagiarist! Faith is not yours, but God’s. It is a work that you did not, and cannot author on your own. Rest in the fact that Christ is both the “once upon a time”, and the “happily ever after” of your faith! – Jeff Turner

You didn’t choose him; he chose you (John 15:16). Your choice doesn’t save you; God’s choice did. God elected Christthe representative for all humanity, and thereby reconciled the world to himself.

And we [believers], too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men. – Clement of Rome

It’s not about somebody believing in Jesus, it’s about Jesus believing in humanity.

Your works don’t save you and neither does your faith. Jesus saved you.

It isn’t up to humanity to save itself. Jesus finished the job.

Many people fight against the Calvinistic notion of limited atonement in which Christ died only for a select group of individuals and not for the whole world. Yet many of these same people fail to realize that restricting the efficacy of Christ’s work to a select group is also a form of limited atonement; it is limited by human will power, our own ability to believe.

Let me clarify that believing matters. I have been saying that it doesn’t cause salvation. It does, however, recognize salvation and thereby allows us to experience it.

Faith is like an eye. It doesn’t create what it sees; it simply sees what is there. And in the same way, your faith didn’t create your salvation or your union with God. Your faith was you just opening up your eyes to see that you were already saved and already in union with God. Faith is the taking off of the wrapping paper to see the gift hidden inside of you. – Christian Erickson

I want to emphasize again that our faith doesn’t save us. It is simply an acknowledgement of reality, an aligning of ourselves to what is already true.

Faith creates nothing; it simply reckons upon that which is already there. – A. W. Tozer

Faith doesn’t do anything; it simply enables us to relate ourselves to someone else who has already done whatever needs doing…Faith, therefore, is not a gadget by which I can work wonders. It is just trust in a person who actually can work them – and who has promised me he already has. – Robert Capon

Remember, the Gospel is good news. Telling people that they have to do something in order for God to do something for them is bad news; it is the message that they are currently in a bad spot (and most people don’t need to be told that to know it). But telling people that God did it all for them is really good news (and most people have no clue about this).

As Andre Rabe says, “The gospel does not demand faith; it supplies it.”

Faith isn’t about trying to muster up your own perfect beliefs but trusting the sufficiency of Jesus’ beliefs. It’s not about what you have to believe about God; the Good News is what God believes about you

Jesus believed and still believes in you!

Don’t try to put your faith in God. Partake of Jesus’ faith in God. Dump your own faith and enjoy Jesus’ instead. Let faith effortlessly flow out from its author and perfecter within you.

Don’t rely on your own beliefs, convictions, or self-persuasion. Even if we fail in these areas, we have nothing to worry about. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).

You can make your own efforts to believe, or you can trust that Jesus’ faith was enough.

Rest in his faith.

*****

Also see:

The Faith of Christ – C. Baxter Kruger
http://baxterkruger.blogspot.jp/2008/11/way-back-in-50s-debate-started.html

A Simple Test of Faith

In the next paragraph I will ask you a question. Take some time to think about it before reading on; otherwise this test will be pointless. Ready?

Where would you end up if you dropped dead right now?

This little exercise reveals where you are placing your faith.

When you pondered your answer to this question, did you think of what you’ve done in your life or what Jesus did for you during his life on earth?

Is your faith in what you do or what Jesus did?

If you thought about what you did when pondering your answer to that question, you need to change the way you think. I’m guessing that most of you probably did.

“I hope I did enough good works in my lifetime.”

“I wonder if this thing I am struggling with right now will keep me from going to be with Jesus?”

Legalistic thoughts. Religious thoughts. Ridiculous thoughts.

But I don’t blame those of you who did. I used to think such thoughts myself. There’s too many churches that make your actions the focus rather than Jesus’. They try to treat your behavior without addressing its cause.

In essence, they preach the Law.

“You need to stop doing this.”

“You need to do more of this.”

But we know from Paul that the Law only makes us sin more (Romans 5:207:5).

Back to this issue of where our faith is.

The good news is that Jesus did a good enough job saving you.

Welcome to the New Covenant.

Yeah, I know most of you have heard this before, perhaps more than you want to. But are you really getting it? Because if you do, the answer to that question I asked at the beginning will jack you up with ridiculous amounts of joy.

And this is why: In terms of salvation, what you do doesn’t matter.

Even your faith in Jesus or your choosing him doesn’t save you. 

Now if you actually have a desire to “unsave” yourself, that’s another story. You can choose to reject the reality that Jesus already saved you, act like God isn’t with you, believe that he’s angry with you, and live in an illusion. Hope that’s not you. It certainly isn’t most people, especially when they know that God is madly in love with them, overflowing with grace, and the most fun guy to be around.

But, again, what you do doesn’t change the fact that Jesus saved you.

Bye bye Old Covenant.