Jesus is for Losers

… Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
– Mark 2:17

“I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
– Luke 15:7

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
– Romans 3:23

The only ones who will receive the benefit of Jesus’ payment on the cross are those who are humble enough to admit they need a savior. If you refuse to believe you need a savior, or believe you can earn your way to Heaven by being a good person, then Jesus is not for you. You will be judged on your “good works” rather than Jesus’ good works. And how can you possibly compare to Christ? Humble yourself and cling to Christ. Become a loser for Jesus and live forever.

[Note: The title of this blog post was inspired/stolen from the song “Jesus is for Losers” by Steve Taylor.]

How Good do You Have to be to Enter Heaven?

Have you ever done something blatantly wrong, and then performed some good deed to make up for it? Maybe you talked badly about someone behind her back, then in an effort to make up for it, you treated her extra nicely the next time you crossed paths. Or maybe you disrespected your parents, and a religious leader told you to recite a prayer twenty times or make a difficult journey to someplace in order to “pay” for your sin.

As humans, we desire to be self-reliant and autonomous. But when we hurt someone else, we have feelings of guilt that don’t coincide with our autonomous lifestyle. Why do we care whether or not we’ve harmed someone? It’s survival of the fittest, right? We just need to look out for ourselves. Right?

The fact is, we all feel a sense of guilt when we harm other people. This is not a product of our environment and upbringing. We have guilt, because each one of us is imprinted with a moral code and a conscience that notifies us when we’ve broken that code. The moral code is written in our hearts. And it was written by God.

No one can claim that murder, rape, and hatred are neutral actions. We all know they are wrong. We are all aware of the difference between good and evil.

When we break the moral law written in our hearts, we rightly feel guilty. If we continue to ignore our conscience, eventually it will wear out and cease to notify us of our transgression. The Bible calls this the hardening of the heart. Sociopaths and serial killers fall into this category. Hitler would fall into this category. These are people whose hearts are so hardened that they no longer view their obvious sins as wrong. In fact, anyone who lives unrepentantly contrary to God’s moral law would fall into this category. You probably know someone who does this. You may even be one.

So, what do we do with our guilt? We’ve all broken the moral code within us, as well as the expressly written code of conduct in the Bible. No one is guiltless in the matter of sin. Anyone who claims to be without sin only needs to examine the 10 Commandments to find himself guilty of breaking God’s laws.

Ultimately, the question we have to ask ourselves is how can a sinner like me enter Heaven? How good do you have to be to enter Heaven?

Well, here’s the bad news… You have to be perfect.

“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
– Matthew 5:48

“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
– Matthew 5:20

“There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God.”
– Romans 3:10-11

God is holy, and we are not. God demands holiness, and we can never be holy on our own. No amount of prayers, penance, or praise-worthy actions will ever make up for the fact that you are not perfect. Just one sin keeps us from ever living up to the perfect standard of God.

So, if you have to be perfect to get to Heaven, who could possibly get there?

Well, here’s the good news… Jesus was perfect.

“And having been made perfect, He [Jesus] became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.”
– Hebrews 5:9

“For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”
– Hebrews 10:14

You see, we will never be perfect on our own. But Jesus lived a perfect life for our benefit, and it’s only with Him as our representative that we can be seen as perfect in God’s eyes. We don’t deserve to go to Heaven, but because Jesus was perfect and paid for our sins, God no longer sees our sins as ours, but as Jesus’. God punished Jesus on the cross for all of our sins – past, present, and future – so that we could escape punishment. That is why we are now seen by God as perfect.

It’s through Jesus’ perfect life, punishment, death, and resurrection that we have attained perfection. It’s not our own perfection, but Jesus’ that will get us into Heaven.

So, if you’re looking to make up for your sins by doing good deeds, stop it. You can never make up for your sins. Instead, trust in Jesus’ payment for your sins to remove your guilt and provide you with the necessary perfect status before God.

This was a free gift from God – not something you earn. If you try to earn it, you lose it. The only way you can get to Heaven is through Jesus Christ’s perfection.

“But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
– Romans 4:5

How to Make Yourself Righteous in 5 Easy Steps!

…That was basically the theme of a sermon I heard this morning. The speaker defined righteousness as “good people doing good work.” And here I thought “none is righteous, no, not one” and that any righteousness Christians have is solely due to the imputed righteousness of Christ. The only reason we can be considered righteous is because God gave us this righteousness, and it’s not of ourselves. There’s nothing we can do to gain righteousness. Compared to God’s law, our “righteousness” is like filthy rags.

The speaker insinuated that we could attain righteousness through our own efforts. That through training and discipline, we could become righteous and live lives full of joy and peace.

Whatever this ideal life is, it’s certainly clear that people like the Apostle Paul never attained it. Paul clearly wrestled with his fallen nature and never suggested anyone could live a righteous life through their own power.

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

– Romans 7:18-20

Today’s speaker didn’t mention anything about the limitations of our fallen natures and our total reliance on Christ to sanctify and redeem our lives to prepare us for good works. Want to be righteous? There are no tips and tricks. Ask God to make you righteous. All of your unrighteous living is due to an unrighteous heart and your fallen nature. There’s nothing you can do to change those. You need God to do it for you.

So, instead of telling people that they can affect their righteousness through behavior-modification, you should be driving people to their knees, asking God to make them more Christ-like by changing their hearts, and thus enabling them to do good works and live “righteous” lives. Instead of depending on ourselves, we should be depending on God.

And you shouldn’t set the expectation that people can attain totally righteous lives in a fallen body and a fallen world. That’s not possible. We won’t be capable of that until Christ returns and we have new, righteous bodies.

Like Paul, we should expect to fight a constant battle between our desires to serve God and the desires of our flesh. We will never overcome this until Heaven.

Thank God our righteousness is not based on our own behavior, but is solely based on Christ’s behavior. His perfect righteousness is ours by faith alone. When you find yourself sinning and in the midst of guilt, just have faith in Christ’s righteousness and be grateful that you will always be considered righteous in God’s eyes, because of what Christ did for you.

90 Days

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
– Matthew 11:28-30

The next 90 days will be a lonely time for me. Not to say the past four years haven’t been. But to be so close to having godly companionship in recent weeks makes its imminent absence all the more potent.

I will be forsaking dating for the next three months. Not by choice, but by necessity. And while the prospect of going it alone is disappointing, I am encouraged by the fact that I’ve so recently flourished during a 4-month abstinence of worldly pleasures and can only hope this 3-month time of solitude will yield similar results.

I don’t believe God is done working with me. I think the circumstance I find myself in today is just another test of faith He’s placed in my life this year.

Since May, He has tested my commitment in many areas of life… my material possessions, my finances, my time, my church attendance/membership, my accountability to and fellowship with members of the Church, my struggle with lust and covetousness, my vocation, and my daily communion with God through Bible reading and prayer. One of the last areas in my life that has not been under the authority of Christ has been my dating life. And that seems to be the next step.

Like Abraham, God provided me with my heart’s desire after much prayer and sacrifice. But it was only to show me how He could bless me, if I made Him lord over everything in my life. Today, when He asked me to forsake the very thing I desired most for a season, I felt like Abraham did, when God told him to sacrifice his one and only son, Isaac — the one thing Abraham loved most.

I can only hope that I’ll show the same faith Abraham did, when he trusted God and was willing to sacrifice his son in obedience to God. I believe the next 90 days is my time to sacrifice my hopes and dreams and trust God that, in the end, he will provide.

It may seem today like the next three months will be a lonely time for me. But looking at the past year, I’m confident God is eager to use this time to sanctify and shape me into a more effective servant. After stripping away all the distractions in my life, I am forced to turn completely towards God. I have no other option but to spend time in prayer and reading His Word. He’s left me with nothing else.

If I can focus on God, I’m confident He’ll have something abundantly greater than I could have hoped or dreamed for on the other side of these 90 days.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
– Ephesians 3:20-21

Who are the true Christians?

I had a conversation with a friend last night about whether or not she believed a close friend was saved. She said he claimed to be saved, but wanted nothing to do with God — that he was already saved, so he didn’t need to change his life to follow Jesus or subject himself to God’s law or Jesus’ lordship. While I certainly can’t see into a person’s heart, the Bible for sure provides guidance in evaluating the state of your own heart and those of others. Far be it from me to judge another’s heart. I’ll let the Bible do that for me…

For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. – Luke 6:43-44a

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. – Galatians 5:19-23a

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. – James 2:17

Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. … As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. – Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. – 1 John 1:19

If you love Me, you will keep my commandments. – John 14:15

Go, and sell all that you have…

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” … Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Matthew 19:16-22

 


 

In this passage, Jesus comes across a rich young ruler, who is enthusiastic about “earning” his salvation by doing some great task. Jesus asks him if he’s kept all the commandments, to which he replies, “perfectly.” Then Jesus says good, just sell everything you own and give the money to the poor and follow me. To this, the young man turned away sad.

Basically, what Jesus did was show how the man had not even kept the first commandment — You shall have no other gods before me. To the rich man, his wealth and possessions were his god — more important to him than following Christ.

Jesus later warns that it is very difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven for this very reason — rich men tend to put their faith and trust in their wealth and material goods. Which is a distraction from the faith and trust they must have in Christ’s sacrifice alone to save them.

Salvation isn’t gained from any task we must perform — as we will never be able to keep every commandment of God perfectly. And since perfection is required for salvation, no one will every achieve salvation by following the law. It’s a fool’s quest.

Instead, our only hope is in the perfection of Christ. If Christ’s sacrifice paid for our sins, then we are considered perfect in God’s eyes. So, the question is, how do we get Christ’s death to apply to us? That’s easy… Faith. Believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and that his death is the only way you can be saved. That’s it. Just believe it. Then cling to Christ and follow him from now on.

There’s no task you can do. Just believe.

 


 

I’ve always had a problem with this story in the Bible. From childhood, I’ve been a collector of every possible thing I could collect. I was a pack-rat of sorts, determined to get every item in a series, whether it be comic books, music CDs, or Blu-ray discs.

I’ve always struggled with materialism. So, when I read of the rich young ruler in the Bible, I have great sympathy for his dilemma. If I was ever asked to sell all I had and follow Christ, I don’t think I would be able to do it. For all of my 33 years of life on this earth, I never thought I could do it.

Then last month, I felt compelled (or called) to do just that. Sell everything I was collecting. Every possible collection had to go.

First, I started selling off all the books and DVDs I didn’t want. Surely, that would be enough. But after getting rid of a few thing, I noticed I felt like I didn’t need some of the stuff that was left. Wave after wave, I sold off everything except my “must haves.” Then when that was through, I trimmed more, and so on.

Pretty soon, I had sold all but a handful of Blu-ray discs, CDs, and books. I had gotten rid of 3/4 of my possessions — not stopping with collectible media. I sold all three of my video game systems (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii), several of my cameras, and every single comic book I still owned (I donated those to a friend).

At this point, my condo looks very modest. Yet I am still compelled to sell or give away more. Who knows where this will end?

But the benefit of having done all this is that I now enter my home and have a completely blank slate of how I wish to spend my time. No longer is there an unwatched Netflix movie, or an unread book, or a hot new video game demanding my attention. I come in, sit down, and have absolute freedom.

Now I can turn my attention where it belongs… to Christ. My life is now structured in such a way that I can easily find time to pray, read the Bible, and write down my thoughts. It’s perfect. I may even find time to make exercise a regular part of my day.

I couldn’t do that before. With all the junk that was squeezing shut my days. I’ve cut out almost everything in my life and am wary to add anything back in.

Things are different now. And I’m excited to see what Christ has in store for me, as I begin to follow him wherever he wants me to go.

Creation and science

Genesis 1

Did God create the universe in 6 days? Or is a “day” a metaphor for a much longer time period. I don’t doubt that God did, indeed, create the universe. But I’m not totally convinced that He did it in literally six 24-hour days. Not that I doubt He has the power to. It’s just that science (which is the analysis of God-created nature) suggests that the Earth’s age is millions of years old, and that there were much larger time-frames between when certain things existed on the Earth. So, if the analysis of God’s creation shows that the Earth’s origin happened over long periods of time, why not believe that was so? No one’s saying God is any less powerful. Just that He chose to create the Earth in that manner. But He still created it.

I don’t believe science and God are mutually exclusive. If God created the universe, then he also created the laws of nature, and therefore the laws of science. There is a way Creationism and carbon dating can be explained without contradiction. So, with our limited knowledge of science, why not assume that the language of the Bible is metaphoric, when talking about creation? Does it hurt to allow science to educate our interpretation of the Scriptures?

To me, the time in which creation took place is much less important than the fact that God was in fact the Creator.

On another note, God clearly gives man the authority to have dominion over all the animals, plants, and living things on the Earth. This chapter makes no mention of abusing this authority — just that man does have authority. Animals do not have the same “rights” as humans.