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Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Process of Salvation

By Edward F. Lundwall

Have you ever known someone who has professed to be a Christian stating, “I went forward at an altar call” or “I have prayed the sinner’s prayer,” but whose life shows no or little change? Have you heard them maintain that no matter which sins they commit their salvation is permanent because they have taken that step? Perhaps you have even hear the reasoning, “I know that the scripture says do not do this, but I can, because…after all God has and will forgive me.”

When they are questioned, these individuals hold to what they have been told by the evangelist who urged them forward---that they are “born again” and in a state of permanent forgiveness before God. They mistakenly presume this condition, based on a phrase, taken out of context, “whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). The context (Romans 10:10) says, “…for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness” emphasizing that the call to salvation must include enough trust (not just mental assent, social pressure, or emotional release) to produce a progressing, transforming life experience.

The Lord Jesus Christ made it clear that a prayer without a change in lifestyle, does not save a person. He said: “’Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you: depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.”’ (Matthew 7:21-23) and “I tell you, no but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).

The word “repent” means to “willingly turn your back on one direction, and start earnestly in a new direction.” It is not an apology to God; it is not expressing a regret to God. It is completely agreeing with a Holy God that you are a sinner and willfully committing one’s self and the rest of one’s life to following God’s direction. As Paul wrote, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

To avoid vain religious practices, the Lord Jesus instructs that one’s life must be reoriented as a disciple---a life-long learner---who builds his life upon the solid foundation of the precepts of His Word. Assurance of real salvation is dependent upon faith enough to produce victory over one’s practice of sin as a lifestyle: So Jesus was saying to those who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."

The Jews to whom he was speaking, answered Him, " We are Abraham's descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, 'You will become free'?"

Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.’” (John 8:31-36).

In Romans 7 and 8, the Apostle Paul relates how the experience of full victory over enslavement to sin can be overcome by a faith dependent process of trusting and dependence on the Lord Jesus. This ongoing deliverance from sin is the process that develops a lifestyle in the believer that displays the character and teachings of Christ. This is the saving process leading to “distinctive discipleship.”

Related reading: The Grammar of Salvation

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Grammar of Discipleship – Part I

The following reflection on the nature of Christian discipleship comes from a seminarian who also is an English teacher. She draws on the teachings of the Rev. Tommy Hinson, Rector of Church of the Advent, Washington, DC.

By Hope Ellen Rapson

“You are…so do this!”

Consider how Jesus’ grammatical use of verb tenses was modelled to the the people with whom he interacted. For example, to the woman caught in adultery by religious leaders preparing to stone her, He affirms first the accusers by saying, “He among you who is sinless, cast the first stone.” They leave from the oldest to the youngest dropping their stones as they go. Jesus affirms their spiritual reality; they are all sinners and deserve death.

Understanding this, the religious leaders examine their own lives. Are they not guilty also? Do they not live with a bent toward sin? Are they so righteous, that they can take the place of God in condemning someone who has sinned as they have? Because of Jesus’ indirect, negatively stated challenge they do exactly as Jesus wants them to do: leave the woman alone; allow the True Judge to deal with her sin.

Turning to the accused adulteress, Jesus likewise affirms who she is, then gives her the challenge to act accordingly. “Where are your accusers?” he asks.

She replies, “There are none.”

Jesus then says, “Neither do I condemn you. Your sins are forgiven; go, and sin no more.”

The Lord Jesus affirms the sinful state of the woman and then as Emmanuel…God with us…expresses her value as a person by saying, “Neither do I accuse you; you are forgiven,” a statement of indicative position. However, Jesus follows this is an imperative. He commands her to renounce her immoral lifestyle from that point and continuing into the future, “Go, and sin no more.” (John 8:1-11)

The present indicative tense followed by the imperative future tense is the key to faithful discipleship. The indicative expresses the reality of who we are in God’s sight here and now. “You are...” The imperative future tense challenges us to embrace tranformative grace; to change our present condition proceeding forward to that state for which God designed us. “So do this!” This is the pattern of discipleship, the experience of every follower of Christ.

At his "Last Supper" with his disciples, Jesus clearly teaches: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) The indicative statement is expressed “If you are loving me,” and the imperative future tense is expressed “from this point seek to practice what I have instructed you to do."  

In the Epistle of James, first leader/bishop of the Jerusalem church and probable half-brother of Jesus, one finds the same language pattern. James describes the hearer in terms of a man who looks into the mirror and recognizes who he is and what he looks like. However, when he walks away from the mirror, he forgets who he is and does as he pleases. James is describing the person who receives the “You are...” but refuses to address the “…so do this!”  Such a person is not a true disciple. His professed belief is assent to the truth, not trust in the God of truth. James go so far as to say such a person’s belief is “dead” (KJV) or “worthless” (NASB) because it produces no change (James 1:23-25). The hearer refuses to take up the challenge to change. He resists James exhortation to “Be doers of the Word, not hearers only.” The imperative is an essential element of true discipleship.

Let us look into our mirrors and see ourselves as we really are…sinners forgiven by the grace of God through faith in Christ.  Let us go forward in faith, taking up the challenges God gives us. Let us live grammatically as disciples: “You are…So do this!”

Related reading: The Grammar of Salvation

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Grammar of Salvation

By Edward F. Lundwall, Jr. Retired Army Chaplain, in collaboration with Hope Ellen Rapson, English Faculty

When a convict leaves prison, unless he understands the levels of his release, he will live in uncertainty. Until he experiences full forgiveness, he still lives with some kind of guilt and/or shame. If he is given the status of a parolee, he is still bound to some degree of punishment and loss of privilege. He cannot yet experience full forgiveness or freedom. Only if and when he can restore or completely pay the cost of his crimes can he be considered truly forgiven, and only then can he feel forgiven, enjoy being free from prison, and receive the acceptance and comforts found in society.

In a similar way, the Old Testament clearly records the difference that forgiveness makes when Israel repented of their waywardness and received forgiveness again and again. The book of Judges illustrates a cycle of faithfulness to God, a falling away from God, an acceptance of idolatry and a lifestyle of sin, punishment by way of the consequences of that idolatry and sin, a repentance or turning back to God for forgiveness, a restoration of worship of God, and the blessings of fellowship with God that result. The many prophetic writings in the Old Testament are calls to repentance and revival and restoration as the nation of Israel continues to follow this same cyclical pattern, always turning away from faith and then coming back to faithfulness. Isaiah 40:1, 2 well describes the blessedness of being fully forgiven:

"Comfort, O comfort My people," says your God.
Speak kindly to Jerusalem;
And call out to her, that her warfare has ended,
That her iniquity has been removed,
That she has received of the LORD'S hand
Double for all her sins."

In the New Testament, the parable of the prodigal son best illustrates the blessedness of full forgiveness (Luke 15:11-32). He was restored to the positional and legal place of being a son, after rejection that position, and taking his legal inheritance early, precluding any further attachment to either his father and family or future possibility of inheritance. Yet when he truly repents, willing to simply be a hired servant to those he had rejected, he finds the gracious forgiveness of his father. First comes the embrace of the loving, accepting father; then the clothes and sandals of family privilege are given to him. Finally, the ring signifying the restoration of his full legal rights position and inheritance of in the family is bestowed. What amazement and humility this young man must have sensed, he knew that he was loved, his sin was forgiven, and he was fully restored to the place he had once rejected. Indeed, he was fully free to enjoy himself and celebrate with his friends and family.

In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, salvation is a continuous process of repentance, forgiveness, and restoration in the state of one’s relationship with God. The effects and application of salvation are described in three tenses through scripture. The past tense of salvation focusing on forgiveness of the penalty of sin. The present tense of salvation has to do with overcoming sin as a practice. Finally, the future tense of salvation refers to the complete separation from sin when individuals pass into eternity. The grammatical basis of “being saved,” therefore, indicates an ongoing or interaction within the relationship God and the sinner.

This “grammar of salvation” has deep ramifications when considering the evangelistic approach, that once a person has prayed the “Sinner’s Prayer,” he is then automatically and permanently “saved.” It may be that individual’s start on his spiritual journey, but unless that person continues traveling through his life as a “disciple,” a learner, it is simply a vain religious practice. In Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9) indicates that the relationship of receptivity to the ministry of God’s Word changes one’s character and the level of forgiveness and reward which one experiences in his/her relationship with God. To be blessed with full forgiveness is dependent upon the degree of faith and obedience that actually occurs within the fellowship of others who are professing Christ and practicing his teachings.

One must ask oneself, “Am I still living like a prisoner…with the guilt and punishment of my sin? Or have I moved on in my journey with God, to experience consistent repentance, renewal and restoration of my attitudes and actions in accordance to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures? Am I finding acceptance and comfort in a community of those to love, trust, and obey Him feeling fully forgiven? Am I experiencing the past and present of salvation in Christ? Am I a distinctive disciple who is looking forward to eternal salvation?”

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Praying Hebrews 4:5-8

By Edward F. Lundwall, Jr.

“For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage, “They shall not enter my rest.” Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day. “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken of another day after that. So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. (Hebrews 4:5-8)

Thank you, Lord, for your patient love for us. I know that you heart laments over those who resist to be persuaded in the face of overwhelming evidence that Jesus is indeed the Christ I know too that you suffer simply because You are our Designer. As Creator God, you know for what purpose each one of us is made, yet we refuse to believe the significance of Jesus as the Christ and his redemptive work to restore us to be what and to do what you originally planned…to live in fellowship with You, our Maker. Instead we ignore you, harden our hearts against you, and proceed to live our lives as we desire, outside of your unique design for us.

Give me a heart, Lord, that is easily persuaded by You, and persists to live out your plans for me; help me to joyfully express your call for redemption and restoration to my family, my friends, and all those within my sphere of influence who are not fully persuaded to trust you and/or choose not to honor You as the God who desires to renew and rule our every thought, word, or act for the sake of your undeserved lovingkindness while there is still time and opportunity to know Christ and make Him known. The will be a time, “a day” when the full number who will choose to place their faith in Jesus will be met. On “that day, “Jesus will come for His own in great glory and they will experience full fellowship with You and the full measure of the riches of Your Grace! (Ephesians 2:7) Our Sabbath Rest! Hallelujah!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Praying Hebrews 4:1-3

By Edward F. Lundwall, Jr.

“Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the words they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. 3 For we, who have believed, enter that rest, just as He has said, “As I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter my rest” although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.”’

O Lord, I thank and praise you for whatever means you used bring me to faith in the Lord Jesus and the good news (Gospel) of eternal life’s availability through his sacrifice on the cross. You are the Creator of all things, and your divine creativity uses as many different things to bring people to you as there are different people. All are unique.

In my case, I thank you for parents that believed, my father’s consistent witness of your reality, and for the conviction that the Holy Bible is your infallible Word. I thank you for faithful pastors like Pastor Bennegier who preached sermons that persuaded me to believe the Gospel as a historical reality making it possible to trust in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection as the means of my salvation. I am so grateful this happened while I was still a thirteen-year old still with a child’s heart to believe (Matthew 18:3). I saw your salvation through Christ as an open door. I praise you for the Holy Spirit’s prompting me and guiding me and others to walk through that open door to experience the peace (rest) of living in your presence (Revelation 3:10; John 10:9)

Father, I thank You for the substance and essence of my rest in the Person and work of Your Son. What greater security can there be when Jesus is the revelation of Almighty God in human flesh. Oh, the wonder of the value of His sacrifice for us. For as Immanuel (God with us) He is of infinite value. So the rest you offer through Him is of infinite value. I rejoice in a complete rest in Him, for not only what was death by decree and volition, but how your plan came to its glorious completion with the empty tomb. Thank you, Heavenly Father, that Jesus intercedes and is preparing a place in the new heavenly Jerusalem for all who belong to You. How glorious to anticipate and rest in the persuasive promises of this from Christ himself (John 14:1-3).

Almighty God, thank you for being the all-powerful Interactive Creator set in motion the plan of redemption before the history of man. You called me through the circumstances of my life into an eternal rest through faith in Christ. You still seek to grant this great salvation to whoever will come and enter the Door to receive the precious promises you offer. May they come, Lord. May they enter your rest.

Related reading: Praying Hebrews 3:6-19

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Post-Resurrection Question

A Preference or Power?

By Edward F. Lundwall, Jr.

According to the Apostle John the church and those who profess to be Christians in the days before Risen Lord Jesus comes again will have material prosperity coupled with being spiritually lukewarm (Rev. 3:16, 17). In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, the Apostle Paul prophesied the same: “This know also, that in the last days, perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous... traitors, heady high minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” Therefore, everyone who associates themselves with Christianity needs to ask: “Do I have a form, a preference of religion only, or do I experience the power and the reality of eternal life?”

Throughout the scripture, even those who have had inconsistent spiritual lives, are admonished: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Corinthians 13:5) How then can we examine ourselves? How can we prove we are in the faith or not, whether or not we have eternal life?

Life is an experience. How do we identify what species an animal is? Each species is identified by appearance and lifestyle; kittens meow; dogs bark; babies cry; artist paint; lawyers argue; preachers preach. “Eternal life” is not the same as “life after death.” The distinctive of Christ’s disciples is the experience a new kind of life in relationship with God that gives them desire and power to remain in his Word so they will know the truth, discover how to love and serve, and find spiritual freedom with God in the ongoing present which then continues through eternity after death (John 8:31-32). Those who have a mere preference (form) of religion “…walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart…” (Ephesians 4:17-18). Those who have a vital spiritual life, love Jesus, know His Word, and seek to practice it (John 14:21, 23).

People are known by their lifestyles. How would you describe ours? By your job, money, and accomplishments? By your continuing relationship with Jesus? By your career, or your spiritual growth? By your amusements, or knowing and acting upon the will of God? By your sex life, or your serving life? By your alliance with those of this world, or you loyal abiding in Christ and bearing much fruit for him? (John 15:8)

“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4) Again which do you have: a form (a preference) of religion, or the power of eternal life, the Risen Christ through the Holy Spirit living within you? To those who take up the distinctive disciple’s cross of denying himself and following Christ, exchanging an old life or an ever-being renewed one (Luke 9:2-15), He gives every assurance (John 6:37).

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me; And I give to them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” (John 10:27.28) The power of eternal life is Christ living in one’s life by faith: “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ live within me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me? (Galatians 2:20) “And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him (Jesus) which died for them, and rose again.” (2 Corinthians 5:15) Which do you have? The preference or the power?