Posts tagged personal testimony
Stop Hating on Sanctification!

When I was a soldier I met a guy named Kenny. He smoked, drank, slept with different women all the time and got kicked out of the Army for doing drugs. However, according to Kenny, he was saved because four years before he had prayed a prayer at a youth rally. He didn’t do anything to earn his salvation, and he certainly wasn’t doing anything to keep his salvation. But is this what it means to be saved?

Kenny had bought into the popular gospel known as “once saved always saved.” The gospel which I have come to refer to as the “ticket version.” For him, Jesus was a ticket and nothing more. His salvation was simply a judge granting him irrevocable access to heaven regardless of how he continued to live his life. No faith was necessary. No trust or obedience. You said yes, and wallah! You are set for life. And why not? After all, we are saved apart from our works and we are preserved apart from our works as well. If works have nothing to do with our qualifying for heaven then why fuss over them? The Bible answers this question in the same passage we have been looking at. The NIV puts it this way:
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
The Greek word for workmanship is “poiema” which literally means, “a work” but it also carries with it the connotation of an artist. In other words, we are Gods art-work. When you give your life to Jesus He begins to do a work of art within you. He begins to change you and transform you. The amazing thing is that when Paul used the word “poiema” it simply meant a work. But over time it became the root of our English word poem. A poet is someone who makes a poem. However, the poet works on the poem until it is exactly what he wants it to be. His first draft is rarely his last. Instead he returns to the poem and edits it. He fixes grammatical errors, changes words, clauses, and at times even entire sentences and paragraphs. He artfully molds the poem until it becomes exactly what he wants it to be. This is what God does with us. When we accept Christ we are saved, but God is not finished yet. He doesn’t leave us broken like He found us. He works in us and through us and for us and turns us into a beautiful poem. He then reads this poem before the universe, a demonstration of his artistic finesse, and shows both men and angels that his love is powerful enough to turn the ugly into the beautiful, the ogre into the prince, and the selfish into the loving. Thus, we are changed into his image, grow into holiness, metamorphose into Christ-likeness, and translate into his love-language not as the basis for our acceptance with God, but as the inevitable result of looking unto Jesus and being filled with his love.

Works cannot save us and works cannot keep us, but anyone who claims to be saved and does not increasingly reflect the love of God is self-deceived at best. And there is a pervading ideology infecting our hearts that salvation is all about having a “ticket” for heaven. We churn at the thought of a God who demands. We roll our eyes at the word sanctification, as though it were a sour ingredient in the salvation dish. Perhaps, due to our legalistic backgrounds, we are so eager to experience the safety and joy of grace that we actually miss what grace is. And maybe, in some secret way, we envy those who believe in “once saved always saved” and try desperately to align our faith with theirs as much as possible. The end result is the “ticket” version of salvation. We talk about a relationship with Jesus, but we don’t even believe what we are saying because at the end of the day, a relationship demands a person not a ticket. And a personal relationship is either always growing, always ascending, always advancing or it becomes stagnant, cold, and dysfunctional. Billy Graham said it best when he stated,
It should not be surprising if people believe easily in a God who makes no demands, but this is not the God of the Bible. Satan has cleverly misled people by whispering that they can believe in Jesus Christ without being changed, but this is the Devil’s lie. To those who say you can have Christ without giving anything up, Satan is deceiving you.
God never leaves us the same. He never leaves us broken. He never leaves us enslaved. He never leaves us addicted. And while he doesn’t always deliver overnight, the promise of salvation is not only a new life in heaven but a new life here. A life that is characterized by radical love and other-centeredness. 

Andrew Farley, in his book The Naked Gospel, got it right he wrote that any gospel that fails to lead to a radical transformation of the life is “a half baked gospel.” And any person who says “I am saved by grace” while continuing to live in perpetual disharmony with the law of love demonstrates that he is still living in rebellion against God and has either never truly been saved, or thrown his salvation in the garbage bin either intentionally or through persistent neglect. A true understanding of the gospel comes when we embrace the paradoxical nature of grace and works. Such a paradox is very difficult to express in human language, and yet it is there. We are not saved by works or preserved by works, but nevertheless we are not once saved always saved. Salvation is a free gift but it must be enjoyed, not spurned. And when we enjoy our salvation, when we celebrate it and daily dance to its rhythm we will be changed, not as the basis for our salvation, but as the inevitable result of inhaling it’s fragrance.

And herein lies the joy of obedience. The joy of works. The joy of sanctification. We don’t have to obey to be saved as if salvation was earned by obedience. We don’t have to work to stay saved as if grace only covered our past, leaving our present and future status dependent on our performance. But when we are saved we will obey because obedience, good works, and sanctification are the natural result of being saved. You can distinguish between grace and works, but you cannot separate them. They come together – one as the qualifier for heaven (justification) and the other as the inevitable result of that experience (sanctification) which fits us for heaven.

I love the following illustration: Suppose you invited me to a meeting at Star Bucks and I arrived a half hour late. When I arrived I said, “Sorry for being late man. I was driving here and my car ran out of gas so I had to pull over. I then had to cross the street and when I did I was hit by a truck travelling 65 mph and it ran me over. And yeah, that’s why I’m late.” What would you think about my story? It would have to be one of three options. Either 1) I am joking, 2) I am lying, or 3) I am crazy. There is simply no way I am telling the truth because there is simply no way that I can come into contact with something as big as a truck and not be changed (i.e. splattered into a million tiny pieces). But isn’t God bigger than a truck? You cannot encounter Him and not be changed. It simply is not possible.

We are saved by grace and preserved by grace, but make no mistake, grace is not just pardon – it is power. Power to change. Power to transform. Power to deliver. Power to transpose. Power to redeem. You cannot have it and remain unchanged for the natural result of receiving grace is an experientially life altering divine metamorphosis. And its beautiful.

When I came to Christ I was broken because of my addictions and sinful habits. Controlled by my passions and tendencies. Corrupted by my DNA and corrupted even more by my own choices and misplaced allegiances. And I am so thankful today that Jesus didn’t just forgive me. I am thankful that he also changed me and set me free from the power of sin that was ruining my life. Am I still a sinner? Of course, but grace enables me to daily transcend my carnal self and live a life of integrity and purity before God and man. Am I perfect? Not by a long shot. But this I can say: When I look at my past I don’t like what I see. When I look at my present I don’t like what I see. But when I look at my future all I can see is the promise “that he who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). Praise God! I am forgiven. I don’t have to continue a slave to the garbage that enslaved me. I am free from sins guilt and free from its power and I cannot wait until the day when I will be free of its presence – and that day is nearly here.

So what is the best way to summarise the only gospel? Here it is: What Jesus did. Period. What Jesus does. Period. Or to shorten the formula: Jesus-only. He pardons. He transforms. He erases. He re-writes. He uproots. He plants anew. He demolishes. He rebuilds. He puts to death. He rebirths. He is the author of our faith and he is its finisher. He wrote the first word in your salvation story and he will write the last. And what is your role in all of this? Simple. Just dance. Dance with Jesus. Or to put it in plain English, enjoy your relationship with him. Grow into him. Abide in him. Lose yourself in his love. Allow your soul to be swept into his presence. Fall deeper in love with him. Is it easy? No. Is it passive? No. Is it intentional? Yes. Is it a battle? Yes. But it is always, at all times and in all circumstances, a response to his grace made possible by his grace. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I began this series by saying that the book of Ephesians outlines Gods secret weapon to defeat evil. That weapon is the church – a community made up of evil, wicked, perverted, selfish people who have been redeemed. They are no longer evil, perverted, or selfish. Grace had pardoned. Grace had changed. Thus Paul could say,
As for you, don’t you remember how you used to just exist? Corpses, dead in life, buried by transgressions, wandering the course of this perverse world. You were the offspring of the prince of the power of air—oh, how he owned you, just as he still controls those living in disobedience. I’m not talking about the outsiders alone; we were all guilty of falling headlong for the persuasive passions of this world; we all have had our fill of indulging the flesh and mind, obeying impulses to follow perverse thoughts motivated by dark powers. As a result, our natural inclinations led us to be children of wrath, just like the rest of humankind.
But God, with the unfathomable richness of His love and mercy focused on us, united us with the Anointed One and infused our lifeless souls with life—even though we were buried under mountains of sin—and saved us by His grace. He raised us up with Him and seated us in the heavenly realms with our beloved Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King. He did this for a reason: so that for all eternity we will stand as a living testimony to the incredible riches of His grace and kindness that He freely gives to us by uniting us with Jesus the Anointed. For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing. For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago.

photo credit: Pat McDonald via photopin cc
Salvation is not a "Zero Down" Deal

In my last post I went over the four most common versions of salvation in the world and in the church. In the end I concluded all of them were pretty lame. However, I also proposed that the Bible teaches a fifth version, or better put the only version, and that is our topic today. So What is this only version? Look at it here in Ephesians:

For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing.

The  salvation story that dominated most of my experience was the “but” version that I wrote about last week. In fact, that is the version that dominates many conservative Adventists. For some reason, many of us have embraced a Catholic/ Mormon view of salvation that teaches a “faith + works = heaven” theology, but nothing could be further from the truth. According to the Bible, salvation is a free gift that we receive apart from works. But what use would that gift be if once we had it we would have to “work” in order to keep it? A free gift that you have to earn the right to keep is not truly free. It is a product with a price tag that comes after you receive the product. Its like those deals you see on TV: “Take it Home for zero down!” But “Payments begin in 60 days.” No one considers the “zero down” deal a gift. It is still a product for sale because you are not able to keep it unless you begin to pay at the allotted time. And yet, this was the gospel to me. Not a gift, but a “zero down” option. “You don’t have to be perfect, just accept Christ and you are saved! It’s a free gift, apart from works! No one can earn salvation, just believe and its yours!” But once I accepted Christ, the message came, “Payments begin now.” Salvation was free, but only for the moment. I got it for zero down, but now I had to begin the payments. “Keep the Sabbath, change your diet, don’t do this or that or the other. Oh and by the way, here is a list of Ellen White quotes (out of context of course) on how everything you enjoy is evil and will keep you out of heaven. So stop doing it because you have to be perfect, without blemish or spot, or else you wont make it through the judgment.”

Now, let me be clear. No one actually used those words, but this is the picture my mind began to paint as I listened to sermons, read books, and spoke with other Adventists in my faith community. In many ways, I was oblivious to what I actually believed. It wasn’t until I was confronted with the true gospel that I realized that I believed a false gospel. The light shone on the darkness, and how great was the darkness! I saw for the first time, the scales fell from my eyes, and there I was – stunned beyond belief. When truth came, the lie was exposed in its ugliness and this was it: Salvation is free, but only for acceptance. Once you have it, you have to start making some payments or else you will lose it. And just to be clear on how serious God is about his law, even if you make lots of payments, they won’t do you any good unless you attain a spotless character. If you fail to do that then you can’t be saved.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this is why anytime someone spoke about the grace of God I felt compelled to say “yes, Gods grace is wonderful but that’s no excuse for sin! You still have to be obedient! That doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want!” And so on and so forth. Was there something wrong with my “but” statements? Theologically, no. But the real problem lay in the fact that grace frightened me and because it frightened me I couldn’t enjoy it for what it was. Somehow, I thought grace would open the floodgates of sin and so I couldn’t simply sit back and say “amazing grace, how sweet the sound” because the moment I did I felt it was too good to be true. There just had to be something for me to add. There just had to be something I had to do in order to enter heaven. A gift was too free, too good, or dare I say, too “gracious.”

Nevertheless, the bible is clear. Salvation “is God’s gift.” It is not a “zero down” deal. It is not a, “take it home now pay later” offer. It is a gift. It is free to receive and free to retain. This is the only salvation story the Bible tells. You are saved as a free gift apart from works and are preserved in Christ as a free gift apart from works. This means that you don’t have to do anything in order to be saved or stay saved. You just have to receive the gift though faith and through the same faith that you receive it you also retain it. This is the foundation of Christianity. We are saved by grace through faith from beginning to middle to end. No if’s, no and’s, and certainly no but’s. It’s all a gift of God.

And the crazy thing is that God gives this gift to evil people, not to good people. Grace is for the sinner not the saint. The more wicked you are the more you qualify! Look at verse five. It says,

[God] infused our lifeless souls with life—even though we were buried under mountains of sin—and saved us by His grace.

It is when we were dead in sin that Jesus offered us salvation. It is when we were lifeless, buried under mountains of pride, lust, and addictions, dead in our selfishness and depravity, that Jesus came to give us life. Works cannot save us and works cannot keep us. It has to be a gift of grace from beginning to end. This is the only way. You can’t be vegetarian enough, or know enough Bible verses, or behave well enough for God to accept you. The gift of salvation is not offered to you when you are good. It’s offered to you when you are evil. You did not receive the gift because you were good. You received it because God loved you despite your sin. And you do not keep the gift because you are good. You keep it because God loves you despite your imperfections. Salvation is a gift. It is given without merit. And the end result of this free gift is that no one can “go around bragging that [they] must have done something amazing.”

So do you qualify for salvation? I suppose that depends on whether you are a sinner. If you are then you qualify. And all you have to do is say yes to the gift that God has brought to you. The moment you do, it is yours without any “but’s”. I want to invite you to say yes to God’s finished work. If you have never experienced the forgiveness he offers or if you have been trying to earn his grace or keep his grace, it’s time to let go. Salvation is a gift for those who are sinners. It is not “What Jesus did + What I do = Salvation.” It is “What Jesus did. Period.” So accept the gift and rejoice.

Each one of you may know for yourself that you have a living Saviour, that he is your helper and your God. You need not stand where you say, “I do not know whether I am saved.” Do you believe in Christ as your personal Saviour? If you do, then rejoice. – Ellen White (GCB April 10, 1901, par. 14).
A Night with the Counterfeits

 Some time ago I wrote a blog titled "Do You Qualify For Salvation?" In the past few months I have taken that singular blog post and expanded it for a series at presented by the same title. Because the expansion proved to be a real joy and blessing for me as I wrote it, and also for others who read it, I have decided to share it here. However, because I already have a blog titled "Do You Qualify for Salvation?" I will give each of these posts a different title. Below is the first one titled, "A Night with the Counterfeits". For some, this series may be nothing more than a repetition of what you have read on this blog for the last few years. For others it may be a breath of fresh air. Whatever your experience, I pray you are blessed.

A Night with the Counterfeits. 

There is a true story told of an Indian missionary. The young man was in India during a great festival in which all of the Hindus travel to the river Ganges to wash themselves for the forgiveness of sins. Thousands of Hindus traveled for miles to wash themselves in this river. The story goes that this missionary was crossing a bridge over the river when he saw a woman weeping uncontrollably. He approached her to see what was wrong.

She told him that her husband was unable to work. They had no money to provide for the family. She told him that her sins were so many that no one knew about. She was burdened with guilt and shame. She needed forgiveness and blessings. In order to receive the blessing and forgiveness of the goddess Ganges, she said, “I have given her the most valuable offering I could give her. My six month old baby boy. I just threw him into the river.” The missionary proceeded to explain the gospel to her. To tell her that she didn’t have to kill her son. God had sent his son in order to save mankind. When he was done the woman looked at him. “Why didn’t you come a half hour sooner?” She asked. “I didn’t have to kill my son.” And with that she began weeping again. She’s not the only one you know. There are thousands. Millions are crying out “why?” Longing and searching for an answer to the void in their heart. Looking for forgiveness and salvation. Their religion tells them that salvation can only be gained by working hard to earn Gods favor. Their religion tells them that they have to climb, struggle, work, sweat, bleed, and suffer in order to enter the Kingdom. But the Bible says something else. In Ephesians 2:8-9 it says,

“For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing.”[i]

The Bible teaches that it’s not what we do that saves us, but what God has done. In other words, this whole salvation thing is never about what we do; it’s about what He did. But what exactly does that mean? Before I explain it, I want to back track a bit. The book of Ephesians, which I just quoted, reveals God’s mysterious purpose for what we call “church.” Now, what does church have to do with salvation? Well, lets find out. Paul, the author of the book, paints a picture of a secret weapon that God had planned from the beginning of time in order to defeat evil. That secret weapon is the church. Why church? I mean. Isn’t church boring? Irrelevant? Hasn’t the church caused more evil than good in history? How could this be God’s secret weapon to defeat evil? That answer is found in Ephesians 1:22-23. Here Paul says,

“God has placed all things beneath His [Jesus'] feet and anointed Him as the head over all things for His church. This church is His body, the fullness of the One who fills all in all.”

According to this verse, Christ is the head of the church which is his body. However, there is something powerful here. The Greek word for church is “ekklesia” which means congregation or assembly. According to the Bible “church” is not a building, it’s a community of people. So God’s secret weapon to defeat evil is a community of people. But what kind of people? Ephesians 2:1-2 answers that question. It says,

“As for you, don’t you remember how you used to just exist? Corpses, dead in life, buried by transgressions, wandering the course of this perverse world. You were the offspring of the prince of the power of air—oh, how he owned you, just as he still controls those living in disobedience.

Did you catch it? God’s secret anti-evil weapon from the beginning of time was a community of people. But not good people. Bad people! People who were rebellious, wicked, and selfish. People who were slaves to sin. God’s mystery of the church is that He was going to get these “evil people” and use them to defeat evil. However, in order for God to do this He would have to get these people to be on His side. But how? The answer is found in the story the Bible tells about salvation.

Now of course, there are many different versions of this story floating around. Even though the Bible only tells one salvation story, this story has been retold in countless ways. However, we can boil down all of those countless versions into four. 1) The most common is that you are saved by works. This means you have to be good and if you are good enough you are allowed into heaven. This is the version that forms the foundation of paganism. I call it the “performance” version of salvation. 2) The second is that you are saved by grace, but in order to stay saved you have to work. In other words, Jesus covers your past sins but your future is uncertain. You are saved, but not really. There is still something you have to do in order to earn the right to stay saved and enter heaven at last. This is the foundation of religions such as Catholicism and Mormonism. I call this the “but” version of salvation (you will soon see why). 3) The third is that salvation is a ticket to heaven and nothing more. No change takes place in the life. But because you once believed you now have a ticket that guarantees you access into eternal bliss. This is the foundation for some (though certainly not all) evangelical churches and is often referred to as “once saved, always saved”.[ii] I call it the “ticket” version of salvation. Being raised Adventist, I was too smart to fall for the “performance” version (most Christians are). However, that didn’t make me immune to being duped by “but” and “ticket” versions. For many years I viewed the salvation story though those two lenses. The “ticket” was useless. While I didn’t have any anxiety over my eternal security, I had no victory over sin. Since I knew I was going to heaven, I had no rush to find victory. But I was depressed, always feeling defeated and filthy, and eventually my sin caught up with me and the consequences were extremely painful. If only Jesus had set me free from sin I wouldn’t have had to go through those dark nights of shame and guilt that nearly choked out my life. But Jesus wasn’t the problem. The problem was I had come to view Him, not as a savior, but as a ticket and tickets have no power.

From there I fell into the “but” version of the salvation story. This is the version that teaches that Jesus forgives and saves but in order to stay saved you have to perform at a certain level or else you are out.  This version was instrumental in showing me that victory over sin was possible, but as time went on I found this to be nothing more than a baptized version of the “performance” model. Even though I was saved by grace I always felt I hadn’t done enough to stay saved and that I had to do more. I had to be a vegetarian or else I would lose my salvation. I had to keep the Sabbath perfectly and be nice to people and do everything right or else I would lose the free gift of salvation. And I was miserable. I call this the “but” version of salvation. Why? Because anytime someone spoke about the grace of Christ, I always felt the need to add “but” at the end of their conversation. “We are saved by grace!” They would shout. “But!” I would shout back, “don’t forget you still have to do A, B and C!” For some reason I couldn’t just enjoy the grace of God for what it was. Instead, I always had to add the “but” at the end just to make sure everyone knew what the requirements were. During this time I knew some of rest that is to be found in Jesus, but there was always a voice in the back of my mind that prevented me from having full assurance. I experienced spiritual growth and victory over sins that had long controlled my life, but something was missing.  However, I refused to admit there was a problem with my salvation story because in my mind, the only alternative was the “ticket” version and I sure wasn’t going back to that.

4) Eventually, the “but” version of salvation led me to the fourth version of the gospel. It is a subcategory of “but” known as the “light switch” version of the gospel. The light switch version nearly killed me. This version (which was nothing more than the logical result of the “but” version) teaches that a person is justified freely by Gods grace but must, from then on, continue to perform well enough to keep their salvation. That’s pretty much what the “but” version is, only in the “light switch” version every time you sin you lose your salvation until you confess and repent and then you are saved again. It’s as if God is in heaven flipping a “light switch.” Every time you sin, the light switch goes off (you have lost your salvation), and every time you confess and repent the light switch goes back on (you are saved again). When I believed in “light switch” I was always worried about whether I had sinned or not and often times found myself debating myself over whether or not I had just sinned, almost just sinned, or thought I just sinned but hadn’t really. The situation was worse when I felt that God wouldn’t forgive me for a sin I committed if it involved another person. I would suffer for weeks and months over a supposed sin that I needed to confess to someone else and at times found myself confessing things that were not only unnecessary but ridiculous. But I did it anyways because I wanted to make sure that God wouldn’t have any reason to not let me into heaven. I was daily and hourly tortured by my conscience and became so hypersensitive that I eventually found myself at a counselors office diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. God was my enemy desperately trying to keep me out of heaven. And I was responsible for changing his mind, but no matter how hard I tried one plaguing accusation remained: “Never good enough.”

Negative as this experience may have been I do thank God for it because if it weren’t for my hopelessness and despair I would never have turned to him for answers. I would never have studied and researched and explored. I would never have asked those deep, gut wrenching questions that many people never think to ask. My defeat paved the way for my victory and though I have much to learn I eventually discovered that none of those previous versions were the true salvation story. When I did in fact discover the Biblical story of salvation my entire soul was enraptured with a joy and conviction I have never before experienced. I was free! The 4 versions were false, but there was a fifth. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it the fifth. Instead, I prefer to call it the only. The true. The genuine. All the others were counterfeits, but I had finally discovered the beauty of the gospel and the overwhelming joy it brings.

But more on that next time.

[i] All Bible verses quoted from The Voice.

[ii] Contrary to what I believed growing up “once saved always saved” is not a universally accepted teaching in the evangelical world. Adventists are in the company of Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Free-Will Baptists (also Pentecostal) and others in denying this teaching. Most Protestants who embrace the theology of Martin Luther, Jacobus Arminius, or John Wesley are likely to also reject the concept of “once saved always saved”.