Unconditional Salvation (Part 3)

Part 2

The previous posts will be hard to believe for some because they want a part to play in their salvation, to have something that they can claim they did to get themselves saved, some condition that they had personally fulfilled. Thus you hear people say things like “I chose God,” “I found God,” “I put my faith in God,”  “I believed the Gospel,” or “I asked Jesus to come into my heart.”

But the good news is the exact opposite of these things!

You didn’t choose God; God chose you.

You didn’t find God; God found You! You were the lost sheep in Jesus’ parable, and he’s the shepherd who searched for and found you.

Your faith doesn’t save you; Jesus’ faith does. Or do you really think that the difference between those who get to spend eternity with Jesus and those who don’t is that the former made superior choices? In that case, we really are saved by our own righteous acts after all!

You didn’t believe the Gospel. You couldn’t; it’s too good to be fully believed. Jesus believed it for you.

You might have asked Jesus to come into your heart, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t there until you did so. Indeed, he was there all along, waiting for you to realize it.

From His point of view we were found before we were lost – He found us in Christ before He lost us in Adam. We were given grace before the fall. He was simply waiting for the opportune time in which to appear – in which to reveal what has always been: the reality of our salvation in Christ Jesus. – Andre Rabe

Salvation is always God’s initiative, not people’s, which is religion. Religion will tell you what you must do to achieve salvation, enlightenment, heaven, perfection, happiness, etc., but the Gospel declares what God has done for us to achieve it on our behalf.

The salvation of God is unconditional.

Your efforts are not needed.

“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).

“So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Romans 9:16).

Being “born again” is a term used synonymously with being saved. Once again, it is not anything we do that gets us born again; it was caused by Christ’s resurrection. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3, emphasis mine). Think about it – who ever made any kind of contribution to their own birth? Nobody. The work fully belongs to the mother.

“Even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:5). We were saved when we were dead in our transgressions, not when we decided to turn to God. That is precisely why we were saved by grace (i.e. by what we could never earn and is only according to God’s unmerited favor).

Reconciliation took place when we were still enemies; “…while we were enemies we were reconciled to God…” (Romans 5:10). God didn’t reconcile us after we had chosen to become buddies with him. Even after we were reconciled, we remained enemies (in our own minds) until we realized that God was never our enemy. So reconciliation must have taken place for all humanity (unless you would like to hold to a theory of limited atonement, where God reconciled only those he knew would believe later).

We do not accept Christ into our lives; He has already accepted us into His! Any accepting done on our part is simply accepting the fact that He has already accepted us. – Christian Erickson

If you reject Him, He will reject your rejection of Him. – Andre Rabe

You can exclude yourself, but you can’t stop him from including you. – John Crowder

The New Testament generally credits even repentance (2 Timothy 2:25), faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), and belief (Acts 13:48) to the work of God within.

You have no part to play in the actualization of your salvation.

You do, however, have a part in the experience of your salvation. Indeed, it is you who experiences it. It is you and your choices that determine when and how you experience the salvation that Jesus has made fully available to you. Salvation is objectively real independent of us, but subjectively real (i.e. experienced) only through our participation by faith.

…Salvation – or happiness… – is by faith and not by works. Since the repair job is already done, all you have to do is believe – to trust that it’s done – and you’re home free; because except for your unbelief, you were home free already. – Robert Capon

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Also see:

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The “Great Commission” is Complete

The Great Commission Matthew 28:16-20

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Did you know that the so-called “great commission” (the verses above) was completed a long time ago?

In Matthew 24:14 Jesus told the disciples that the Gospel would be preached as a testimony to “all nations” (the same phrase as in the great commission) in all the oikoumenē, which means “the inhabited earth,” that is the portion of the earth inhabited by the Greeks. Jesus wasn’t referring to the whole world, all of planet earth (which there was a different Greek word for, namely kosmos). And indeed, the apostles did preach the good news throughout all of the oikoume

Also consider that this command was never given to us; it was only given to the original eleven (minus Judas) disciples. Yes, we are also disciples. But we are not those disciples that received the command. Just because the command they received was written down doesn’t mean it applies to us also. Just because Jesus gives a command to someone doesn’t mean he gives it to everyone. So why assume we have the same mission the apostles did in their day and age?

My point is not to try and get you to stop spreading the Gospel. Rather, it is to point out that, if you need an abstract and indirect command to be motivated enough to tell people the good news, is what you believe is the good news really that good? If it is really that good, shouldn’t that and the love you have for others be good enough reason to share it? Further, have you personally talked with Jesus about the direction and aim of your life, or have you merely wrapped it up in a command that Jesus gave not to you but to some dudes you don’t even know personally?

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Also see:

An in-depth look at scriptures related to this topic
http://www.preteristarchive.com/Modern/2003_demar_all-the-world.html

The Harmony of Enjoying and Glorifying God

Another story of Jesus revealing his goodness to me.

When I was a Sophomore in college, I encountered and struggled with this question: “Am I doing everything for God’s glory? Am I living this life purely out of a motivation to serve him with none of myself in the equation?”

The more I thought about this question the more I realized that the answer was no. There was some kind of motivation to please myself behind everything that I did “for God,” whether that was getting personal satisfaction or a promised future reward.

I can’t tell you how guilty this made me feel. I saw myself as selfish and inclined to evil, desiring what was contrary to God’s heart. I tried to suppress and ignore my thoughts and emotions and focused on obeying God simply because that was the right thing to do. I wanted to live out of a devotion unadulterated by my own desires, but it seemed impossible. How could I get rid of motivation rooted in myself?

Unfortunately, I never stopped to ask some simple questions.

What brings God glory? What pleases him? 

One day I was browsing through my college’s library when I stumbled upon a book called “Desiring God” by John Piper. Piper recounted how he had gone through the same struggle I myself was going through at that time – and it was during college for him too! I read with wide-eyed excitement as I sought his answer to our dilemma.

Piper writes, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever…God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

Oh my God! Oh my God!…Oh my God! I had no other words. This was simply too good to be true.

desirelessAt that moment I realized that God designed me to be a pleasure seeker and that God himself was the ultimate satisfaction of my desires. It was okay for me to want God for the joy to be found in him.

God wasn’t looking for me to clean up my motives or work hard at self-denial. He was looking to be glorified precisely by my enjoying him.

I was mind blown. I was heart melted. I was utterly blissed.

The happy message of the Gospel is that the glory of God and the joy of mankind are not in opposition but rather are in harmony. 

I had tried to suppress my God-given nature as a pleasure seeker but failed. “To the extent we try to abandon the pursuit of our own pleasure, we fail to honor God and love people,” writes Piper.

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. … The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves. – Blaise Pascal

What I really needed was to make sure I was drinking from the most pleasurable source: Christ. Only he satisfies. And he indeed does satisfy, completely. “But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life” (John 4:14).

This is why it’s important to happily repent (i.e. change our minds). It’s not about striving to quit seeking pleasure; it’s about reconsidering what is and isn’t pleasurable, ultimately realizing that God himself is the greatest delight.

crowder

“The longing to be happy is a universal human experience, and it is good, not sinful,” writes Piper. “We should never try to deny or resist our longing to be happy, as though it were a bad impulse. Instead we should seek to intensify this longing and nourish it with whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction. The deepest and most enduring happiness is found only in God.”

God wants a people addicted to His pleasure – a people who serve him for no other reason than the delight they take in Him. This is the very heart of true worship. It is not self-centered. It is putting God at the very center of self, so that self cannot possibly be satisfied without Him. – John Crowder

“Eden” literally means “pleasure.” God gave Adam the job of tending the garden of pleasure. This is what we were created for.

God is that good.

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(If you want to see a fuller scriptural basis for this idea, check out The Ecstasy of Loving God  by John Crowder.)

The “Hard Hearts” of Japanese People – A Lousy Excuse

japan

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(I wrote this for those who are interested in seeing Japan transformed by the good news about Jesus.)

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Have you ever heard a believer talk like this: “Japan is a difficult country to evangelize because the Japanese people have hard hearts. It is extremely hard to find fertile soil for God’s word because the Japanese people remain stubbornly resistant to embracing the Gospel”? I’ve heard people say things like this all my life. If you have spent time in Japan, then I bet you have too. I remember asking a bunch of high schoolers last year if they had heard similar things before and almost all hands shot up.

But is this really an accurate belief and mindset to have? Is it appropriate for believers to talk like this?

What causes missionaries in Japan and Japanese Christians to think like this anyways?

It certainly doesn’t originate in the Bible. The Bible does not speak of entire countries or individuals being “more difficult” to evangelize than others. There are examples of whole cities rejecting Jesus or Paul, but those happened because Jesus did something crazy (e.g. Mark 5:10-20) or a rabble rouser stirred people up (Acts 19), not because the people had hard hearts.

When the phrase “hard heart” or similar is used in the bible, in the vast majority of cases it is in reference to people who claimed to know God but actually didn’t (e.g. Pharisees). Thus it is not biblical to speak of people who don’t claim to know God as hard hearted. They are just uninformed. If anyone, it is people who call themselves Christians who might be hard hearted. If the Japanese people were truly hard hearted, they would be openly persecuting Christians like many Jews did.

Of course people who reject the Gospel exist, but no one can make a generalization of hard heartedness to the people of an entire nation (in fact no one should judge another’s heart, as if people’s motives are obvious). This is especially true when we consider how most Japanese people don’t even know what the Gospel is! (And, might I add, whose responsibility and privilege is that?)

So if it’s not the scriptures, what is making people say that the Japanese people are hard hearted?

I believe the only one truly reasonable explanation left is experience. Let me explain.

Most people who do or have done ministry in Japan have not seen much fruit, both quantitatively and qualitatively (at least compared to what we see in the bible and also compared to a good part of the rest of the world). Judging from the minimal growth of the Christian population since Christianity became legal in Japan, this is not only a phenomenon of our generation but an intergenerational pattern of stagnancy. Naturally, people try to find reasons for what is causing their experiences in order to understand them. I propose that the “hard hearts” theory has become a common reason people use to explain the small spread and slow growth of the Gospel in Japan.

But small spread and growth are not acceptable to believers; the Kingdom of God is not described in that way, nor is the Church recorded to have experienced such trends in the Scriptures. Quite the opposite, in fact. Jesus described the Kingdom as growing in and spreading to all possible places (Matthew 13:31-33), and Acts records explosive multiplication of the Church body (Acts 2:41, 4:4, 5:14).

gossipThe effects of this negative mindset are diverse. First and foremost it provides low expectations of how people will respond to the Good News of the Gospel. When we think people’s hearts are hard we also think they will probably not accept Jesus. When we think people will not accept Jesus we are much less likely to tell people about him. If you believe someone has a 99% chance of being saved when you tell them about God, would you? I bet you would! (At least I sure hope you would.) How about if you thought there was only a 0.01% chance? Most people would be much less inclined to do so. Notice that it is not anything about reality or the other person that is affecting our decision, but only our thoughts in the form of expectations.

The mindset also makes room for excuses. We can say, “I’m a Christian so what I’m doing is right. Therefore they must be doing something wrong, namely rejecting Jesus. If they’re not accepting the Gospel, it’s their fault.” But I repeat – most Japanese people do not even know what the Gospel is, and therefore they cannot be rejecting Jesus. The Japanese people are just people. In terms of receiving good news, they are no different than people of other countries. Seriously, quit blaming them.

We also cannot blame God as if he is holding back his blessing and power. We don’t need to pray to try to make God do something; He’s already completely willing. He’s the one waiting on us. Begging God to do something he has told us to do and has also promised to back us up in is unbelief.

Suppose for the sake of argument that Japanese people indeed do have harder hearts than the people of other countries. I then pose this question – who is the one who softens those hard hearts? You? I for one am not going to attempt that feat. I plan on simply sharing good news and letting Jesus do the heart part. Let me further inquire; is it harder for God to soften some hearts than others? If we believe in God’s omnipotence, then the answer is no; to God there are no “levels of difficulty” of performing actions. God is not wringing his hands and breaking a sweat trying to figure out how to save people. He has a plan, and that plan is us, his body. (And if you are discouraged over some hard hearted individual, I encourage you to be encouraged by considering the case of Paul.)

There is nothing about Japan that makes missions harder compared to other countries.

Hard hearts are merely excuses for a lack of fruit.

Missions in Japan only seem hard when we have our eyes set on ourselves. God doesn’t feel that his job is difficult. He doesn’t even need our help! Yet he has chosen the Church as the primary means through which he ministers his grace to the world; we are co-laborers with Christ. When we have negative mindsets that God doesn’t have it affects his movement in the world because we fail to move with him. God wants to harvest with us, not despite us (Mark 16:20; Acts 14:27; 1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 6:1). The number of unsaved people is the number of people who can get saved. That means the fewer saved people there are, the more opportunity there is to see salvation! The harvest is plentiful, but we will not experience that harvest and the laborers will remain few if we continue to propagate the false message that the harvest is not plentiful due to hardened hearts (John 4:35; Matthew 9:37).

stubbornAs for me, I’ve decided to abandon this language of unbelief. Instead, I talk about my excitement for all that God is doing in Japan right now. He wants the lost people saved. All of them! He wants to do more than I can think, hope, or imagine. And no hard heart can stop him from what he has planned!

But the facts should not simply be ignored – it is true that missions in Japan have not seen tremendous fruit, especially when compared with countries that have seen people come to Christ in droves and their churches continually grow in numbers and in maturity (e.g. India, China, Africa). What is different about missions in countries such as these that have resulted in such remarkable results?

I’ll point out the two that are most obvious to me.

One is the lack of power in ministry. Where is the healing of sicknesses? Where is the casting out of demons? Where is the raising of the dead? Where are the gifts of Holy Spirit? Where are the signs, wonders, and miracles that we see all throughout the New Testament? Jesus said that we would do the same works he did and even greater works (John 14:12), and Paul considered “fully preaching the Gospel” as not mere words but also including tangible demonstrations of its reality (Romans 15:19, 1 Thessalonians 1:5).

The other is the preaching on an inaccurate gospel. We know whether a gospel is the true one by the kind of people it produces; we know a tree by its fruit. The true Gospel will always produce people who bear the fruits of Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, besides holding different beliefs and attending a service on Sundays, in general the church in Japan does not look significantly different from the people around it. I know this because it is the testimony of unbelievers themselves.

Are you manifesting the power of God? Are you preaching the right Gospel?

The Gospel has no difficulty spreading in Japan. But spreading a powerless and only partially true gospel, which is really no gospel at all, is really hard!

Interestingly, when hardness of heart shows up in the bible, it is most often related to unbelief. Unbelief is often among those who think they already believe the right things (e.g. Pharisees). As Kris Vallotton points out, “the nature of deception is that you don’t know that you are deceived.”

Perhaps it is time for a reexamination.

If the Kingdom of God isn’t manifesting in my life and ministry like the bible says it should, I assume that I am the one who is doing something wrong, not the people who don’t have a relationship with God. I want to begin to take personal responsibility for what is my privilege and stop blaming unbelievers for a lack of fruit.

It’s about time we destroy the lie that Japan is difficult to evangelize, and not just by talking about it but by demonstrating the heart of our Daddy.

This is not to condemn anyone for what they are or are not doing. This is good news. This is to let everyone know that there are greater things for us.

I’m going to see this nation change. I won’t fail, because the Kingdom doesn’t fail. Jesus is the desire of the nations, and regardless of whether Japan knows it or not, he is their desire.

Hard hearts do not arouse doubt or fear in my heart in the least. All I see is Jesus. The Gospel that I believe in is so good that it will spread effortlessly. People will accept it wholeheartedly as they realize it’s what they’ve been looking for all their life.

I’m not going to spend hours asking God to bring revival. I have the fullness of God living in me. I am revival.

So are you.

Boys and girls, let’s do this.

Cheers!