Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Christian Exclusiveness

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6, ESV).

At the outset the church experienced two things: phenomenal growth and violent opposition. Three thousand responded to the first sermon (Acts 2:41). Before long the church had grown to five thousand (Acts 4:4). But alongside this growth there was also persecution. Somehow the message the apostles preached seemed to inspire extreme reactions. People either embraced it wholeheartedly or rejected it completely.

This dichotomy was also experienced in the recent past. Fifty years ago the message we preached was embraced by many, but despised by still more. Yes, the church was growing fast, but at the cost of being derided, belittled and despised. "They think they are the only ones going to heaven. How narrow-minded!"

We have learned to temper our message so that it will not give such offense; but oddly, doing so has not led to growth. Now we are rarely belittled, but at the cost of being little noticed.

The fundamental claim of Christ is exclusive. He is not "a way", he is "the way." "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12, ESV). Jesus did not come from heaven to earth, he was not laid in a manger, he was not nailed to a cross so that he could be one of many ways of approaching God. He accepted the cup of suffering because there was no other way to reconcile sinful humans with their creator. If there had been another way the cup of suffering would have passed from him (Mt 26:39).

If we affirm this exclusive claim we will be called narrow-minded. But if we fail to affirm it we will not make ourselves more popular; we will make ourselves irrelevant. We will not convert more with the softer, more open approach. We will convert none. For without the exclusiveness of Christianity there is no Christianity at all. Without that exclusive claim there is no offense in the gospel for there is no gospel to give either offense or salvation.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Follow Your Heart?

[Thanks to Joe Slater for permission to use his article on this important subject]

It sounds so good – so right – "Follow your heart!" In everything from romance to religion, subjective feelings reign supreme. What should you do in a given situation? Modern responses seldom include objective reasoning about what is right or wrong. Instead, we hear on TV, learn from songs, and read from books, "What does your heart tell you? Look inside yourself, and you will find the right answer!"

I hate to burst anyone's balloon, but God says otherwise. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9). If you are simply looking inside yourself or "listening to your heart," I guarantee you are headed for trouble. Maybe you've already arrived! "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 16:25).

The problem with the "follow your heart" advice is that it assumes something patently false! It assumes that people are basically good by nature, when, in fact, we have corrupted ourselves with sin. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Because of our sin, our hearts are incapable of guiding us safely. "O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23).

When the lawyer asked Jesus what to do to inherit eternal life, the Lord did not tell him to look inside himself, or to follow whatever his heart told him was right. Rather, since they were living under the Old Covenant, Jesus asked, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?" (Luke 10:26). Since we live under the New Testament, we ought to be studying and following it with all diligence.

God's inspired word, not the ever-changing subjective feelings of the corrupt human heart, will lead us safely home.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What John Doe Saw In Heaven

There are a number of books that claim to tell us what the author experienced in heaven. What is a Christian to make of these claims?

The Bible recounts several cases of people being raised from the dead. In the Old Testament, Elijah and Elisha are said to have raised someone. In the New Testament, our Lord raised the widow’s son at Nain, the daughter of Jairus, and Lazarus. Acts tells us that Peter raised Dorcas and that Paul raised Eutychus. Not one of these biblical returns from the dead includes an account of what was experienced when the spirit of these people was absent from this world. Not a single word of description is given by any of them.

In 2 Corinthians the Apostle mentions, but does not describe, his experience of being caught up into the “third heaven.” He tells us that it happened, but he concludes that it is not lawful for him to tell what he heard while there.

Is there a message for us in these facts? I think that there is. Our desire to “go to heaven” ought rather to be a desire to be with and to please our Lord. The sights and sounds of the world to come ought not to be a major concern.

There is a brief description in the Revelation of the New Jerusalem. That is as close as we come to a description of the afterlife of Christians. We are given no inventory of the mansions. We are not told what we will feel, hear, or experience, beyond the fact that we will stand in awe of our Lord and praise him.

I prefer the thoughts of the dying Samuel Rutherford to the claims of those who say they have been to heaven – for Rutherford’s thoughts were based on a solid knowledge of scripture and a love of his Lord that was greater than his love of the things that heaven might contain.

“The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear bridegroom’s face. I will not gaze on glory, but on my King of grace. Not at the crown he giveth, but on his pierced hand. The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.”