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Friday, December 14, 2007

The Almost Christian

REALLY good article!

The Almost Christian
by Steve Camp

What is then the true gospel and what are its components? What did Jesus really mean when He said, "Follow me!"? (Matthew 28:19). This is one of the crucial issues facing the evangelical community in our day. Contrary to popular opinion it is not materialism; it is not communism, it is not Marxism, narcissism, or hedonism. The issue today is the reverence for and the purity of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. That alone is the rudder that guides the church - it is the nexus of the matter.

Take away the truth of the gospel and the church turns into a religious bar serving up whatever mixture of intoxicant faith that will be imbibed by those who are drunk on their own righteousness never desiring to be awakened from their stupor. And the lamentable thing is that they think they are saved. That is precisely why I am a firm believer that many people attending our churches week after week have made some sort of emotional verbal assent to Christ, but are not truly regenerated. They enjoy all the niceties of worship, fellowship, music, service, communion, etc, but have never been confronted with the reality of their sin, their need for a Savior, the eternal consequences of rejecting Christ, the awfulness of the wrath of God, the necessity for submission to the Lordship of Christ, the complete atoning work that Jesus accomplished on the cross, what His grace entails, and so crucially, what kind of faith is saving faith. Otherwise their epitaph will read, "They did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved" (2 Thessalonians 2:10b).

I am utterly convinced, that one of the greatest mission fields in the United States today is the local church.

Walking an Aisle--the Narrow Road that Leads to Heaven?

Have you ever attended an evangelistic outreach service at a concert, missions conference, church meeting, etc..., where you heard gospel altar calls or appeals such as, "accept Jesus in your heart today"; "just lift up you hand and walk this aisle and you are saved"; "say this sinners prayer with me and if you do you're a Christian"; "make Jesus Lord of your life"; "there's a God-size hole in your heart and He alone can fill it"; or "just be bananas over Jesus"?

As familiar sounding as these phrases are, it may surprise you that not one of them is even remotely biblical or associated to the gospel according to Jesus. He does not want your hand raised, beloved, He wants your life surrendered! (Matthew 7:21). He doesn't desire you to be bananas over Him, but He does desire that you are obedient to Him (John 14:15, 15:14-16). There is not a hole in your heart to be filled but your entire life to be transformed (Colossians 1:10-14). You don't make Jesus Lord of your life - He is Lord... period. The question is will you submit to Him as Lord and honor Him for who He is and all He claimed to be (Hebrews 1:-8; John 1:14, 8:58; 14:5-9)?

No Cheap Grace Allowed

Have you considered the cost of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ... to follow Him? The content of the gospel is confessing Christ as Lord and believing in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9-10); believing on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (John 1:12, 3:15-18); that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4); for by grace you have been saved by faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). Here we have a glimpse of the saving work of Jesus Christ. It requires believing, confession, trusting in His complete work from the cross to the resurrection, it is by God's grace and His enabling faith, and it is His gift to you - you can't earn it no matter what.

Notice that coupled with God's loving grace, is the call for our conformity and submission to all He commands. Though we do not participate in our salvation; we do participate in our sanctification--and yet, it is still all of grace (John 15:5). This is a mystery beloved: God's sovereignty and man's obedience woven together in our sanctification--ouyr daily growth and conformity to Christlikeness (Titus 2:11-12).

Let's look at three essential commands of the Lord to become His disciple: that you deny yourself; take up your cross; and follow Him (Matthew 16:24).

What Does It Mean To Follow Jesus Christ?

To deny yourself means to come to the end of yourself; to be done with yourself; to see yourself as bankrupt from any ability to save yourself; to not place any trust whatsoever within yourself to be saved. The Lord did not come to "complete us" or to help us "get in touch with ourselves." Far from it. The Lord is calling for us to be finished with ourselves: our desires; our goals; our ways; our own truths; our agendas; our self-made religious whims, ceremonies or inventions. We must "deny" ourselves to be His disciple. John Calvin says it this way: "the sum of the Christian life is the denial of self"- and I thoroughly agree with him. We must come to Christ not putting our confidence in our own "goodness", because we have none (Romans 3:10), but solely in what Jesus has done for us. The prophet Isaiah brings us to the end of our own righteousness by affirming, "All our righteous deeds are like filthy garments" (Isaiah 64:6). I recognize this is a hard way, for our entire culture shouts at you to trust in yourself, you control your own destiny, it is personal power and self esteem that will set you free. The most flamboyant, bold, misguided, foolish example of this is the recent fascination with psychic power. Out of all the religions in this world, and there are thousands of them, there are really only two kinds; the religion of human achievement; and the religion of divine accomplishment. The religion of human achievement says that man is good, man can save himself, man can earn his way to heaven through good works, etc...

Christianity on the other hand says man is totally depraved, completely sinful, by nature children of wrath, sons of disobedience, none are good, and, in fact, no one does what is good (Roms. 3:10-18). Christianity says human achievement cannot save and that to have salvation someone must have divinely accomplished what man could never do. Jesus Christ fulfilled on the cross what no man or manmade religion could ever do - satisfy God's wrath against all sin and abolish the penalty of sin. He "died once for all, for all time" (Hebrews 10:12). His sacrifice is complete not requiring any additional word. When Jesus cried out on the cross "It is finished!" He was proclaiming that He had achieved the atonement as the Captain of our Salvation (Hebrews 2:10). When any man embraces, surrenders and submits to Jesus Christ, by grace, as Lord and Savior of his life (2 Corinthians 4:5), he then has as Paul says, "peace with God" (Romans 5:1). In other words, the war is over. "If God is for us who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). The answer is clear... no one. And the converse is also true, if God is against you who can be for you? The New Age movement? Buddha, Mohammad, or Krishna? No. Sun Young Moon, J.Z. Knight or Shirley McClain? No. Can praying on your rosary or trusting in the Pope in Rome? No. You must deny yourself; jettison all confidence in your own ability to save yourself and cling to Christ alone.

That is why Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by Me" (John 14:6). Jesus is absolutely exclusive in His claim. He is the only living and true way! There is no other way to heaven no matter how noble, good, or satisfying it may seem. You must be bankrupt of human achievement, and place your belief only in Christ for your redemption (John 3:16).

All people in the world have one thing in common - a sin nature. We are all born into this life with sin in our heart that needs divine healing. It's difficult for us to imagine this when we see little new-born babies who are so pure, gentle, sweet and innocent. Scripture tells us though that we are "by nature children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3); "behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me" (Psalms 51:5); and again the Psalmist affirms this reality when he says, "the wicked are estranged from the womb; those who speak lies go astray from birth" (Psalms 58:3). That is why our "old man"; our "old self"; our sin nature needs to be dealt with. We need a new nature that is not rooted in sin but rooted in righteousness! (read Ephesians 2:1-10). Two natures cannot co-exist with each other (read Romans 6) and that is why in order to receive a new nature the old one must be brought to Calvary and crucified!

The Apostle Paul was proclaiming this truth when he explodes with this amazing statement in Galatians 2:20. "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ Jesus lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me." And again in Romans 6:6 he says, "knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin." When we come and place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished at Calvary, at that moment we are crucified with Him. Our old self or nature is executed, put to death, and we are made alive unto creations in Christ Jesus our Lord! That is painful for the old man doesn't want to die, but live. Oh friend, but we must come the way of the cross if we desire to have eternal life in Jesus Christ.

Last but not least, we must follow Him. I can't think of a better definition of a Christian than one who follows Him--who obeys the Lord and His Word. The masses would come from miles around to hear our Lord preach, see Him perform miracles and acts of healing. However, Jesus said to the onlookers that they would have "to eat His flesh and drink His blood" if they wanted to be His disciples (John 6:37ff). What did He mean by this? Every time Jesus said follow Me, He was headed to the cross. He was meaning to partake of the crucified life. As my friend, John MacArthur, so susinctly says, "to give all that you are for all that Jesus is." This means that we must love Him more than all other loves - father, mother, brother, sister, son and daughter. Jesus isn't saying "hate your families." But what He is saying is, that He must be first love of your life. (read Luke 14:26-27; Rev. 2:4). The gospel is Jesus Christ and Him crucified, buried and risen bodily on the third day. It is good news that there is eternal life in Christ, victory over sin, hope beyond the grave for those who place their faith and trust in Him. Oh my dear friend, consider the cost.

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