Friday, September 19, 2008

Can A Christian Be Confident About Salvation?

Let's be clear right up front.  Many Christians are very insecure about their salvation.  Some have the idea that salvation is something in a constant flux, moving from something one possesses, to something one loses.  Most of this insecurity is base on the performance level of the particular individual.  The thinking is that if one is "faithful" (usually meaning something like performing at a level near or at perfection), then one is saved.  But if one's performance level dips, even a slight bit, then salvation is lost.

This may not make a lot of sense to those who accept the idea of "once saved, always saved."  But it will resonate with a great many people who struggle with their faith, with a less than perfect performance level, and who wonder daily about their stand with God.  In fact, it is quite possible that the conflict over the "once saved, always saved" idea has produced this terribly insecure mindset.  I believe we need to recover the assurance of salvation.

It is not my intent to present a full discussion about "falling from grace."  However, let's be clear about something.  When Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia, he said in Gal. 5:4 that some Christians had done just that - fallen from grace.  There is little reason to argue about the possibility, but there is good reason to discuss what it means.

An even more strongly stated passage is found in Hebrews 6:4-6.  There, the writer said that it's impossible to renew to repentance those who have fallen away.  We might not like these statements, and we might think they are insensitive or inconsistent with the prevailing modern theology, but they are there in scripture and deserve both attention and consideration.

The question, however, is this:  do these passages support the flimsy and insecure salvation that plagues so many Christians?  I have heard some people express the opinion that should one live in a saved condition, and suddenly find themselves headed toward a horrible car crash, and a fleeting evil thought flashes through their minds a split second before they wrapped themselves around a tree trunk, they would be lost.  I guess the thinking is that since the last thought was evil, and death took away the ability to repent, then that person's salvation is lost.  Personally, I think that's not only wrong, but a serious misunderstanding of the warnings found in scripture.

Here's what we need to consider.  The Hebrew writer spoke of a situation in which it was impossible for a person to be renewed to repentance.  The key word here is "impossible."  This is not a matter of sin because a person can always repent of a sin.  It's not a matter of being wrong on a doctrinal issue because a person can repent of an error.  The problem addressed by the Hebrew writer was abandoning Jesus, turning away from the faith, rejecting the only one who can save.

Something similar was under consideration in Galatians.  Read carefully the one verse most often quoted to prove that a person can fall from grace and you'll discover that we are also told exactly what those people did to fall from grace.  They were leaving God's salvation system of grace and instead were trying to be justified by law.  In other words, they were not looking to the sacrifice of Jesus to cleanse imperfect people.  Instead, they were putting their own efforts forth, depending on their own performance abilities, to be justified in the sight of God.

I will agree with the car-wreck example above to this extent:  if one is hoping that his or her performance abilities will achieve justification, then that last evil thought right before wrapping around the tree trunk will, indeed, result in being lost.  But that is not what Christian faith is, it does not accurately reflect the object of our faith, and it does not correctly explain our confidence in the promise of salvation.

The fact is we are not under a system of law that puts the demand of perfection on us.  Perfection, by the way, is exactly the kind of law that the New Testament constantly opposes.  If you're going to insist on the keeping of one command of law to be right with God, then you're going to have to keep the whole law.  The 10 Commandments is a good example.  God never said, "Hey, all you have to do is get a passing grade of 7 out of 10."  The only way to keep the 10 Commandments is to keep all ten of the commands.  Anything less is failure.  But grace is a system that provides forgiveness and justification for less than perfect people. Grace is the only system that provides for imperfect people what they cannot achieve for themselves.

Actually, two problems arise when we practice a performance-based faith.  The first is the one I've been addressing - a terrible insecurity.  This is because most of us recognize our failings, and we suspect there are many failings we don't even know about.  Those failures mean we know we are not living up to the standard, and if salvation means living up to the standard, then we become convinced that salvation is not secure.

The other problem is denial.  I've actually heard people make the claim that they just didn't have any sins!  They have to take that position because if they admitted to the presence of sin in their lives, they would have to admit to this horrible insecurity.  Desperately not wanting to suffer that insecure place with God, it's easier for them to just deny the presence of sin.  This is a very dangerous thing to do.  1 John 1:8-10 tells us that this kind of denial leaves us devoid of the truth.  If we want to be forgiven, we must be able to recognize and confess our sins.  But the great promise of this passage and others is that forgiveness is available!

The argument of some is that if we accept the idea I'm presenting here, then it will lead to a carelessness about sin, and people will be encouraged to live less holy lives.  All I can say to that is that the Bible itself takes the position I'm presenting here.  Is there the possibility that someone may play fast and loose with sin?  Sure, but so do those who end up in denial about the presence of sin in their lives.  There will always be someone who does that.  For the rest of us, we're much more interested in finding and doing the will of God.  But we know we're not perfect, even when we try.  Faithfulness isn't perfectness.  Faith is what imperfect people place in the One who was perfect.  Faith is trust, and trust leads to obeying.  The issue isn't our perfection.  The issue is that Jesus was perfect, his sacrifice was perfect, his blood is powerful enough to cleanse us, and keep on cleansing us.  That is the kind of effective saving we all need.

You want to be confident of your salvation?  Get it thoroughly in your head that you are not going to achieve it by your own performance level.  You will be saved by putting your faith in Jesus Christ.  Keep your faith in Jesus.  Always recognize your failings.  Confess those sins and repent of them.  Trust the Lord to keep his promise to save you.  You're not ever going to get everything perfect.  No problem.  The perfect God, sent his perfect Son, who gave a perfect sacrifice, all to save imperfect people.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lessons From Football

I am not a football expert.  There, the disclaimer is firmly in place.  That said, I want you to know that I am "Nutts" about Ole Miss football.  I'm sorry, but that is an inside joke, and I suspect you'll only understand it if you are also an Ole Miss fan (or possibly an Arkansas fan - am I giving it away here?).

I did play a little football.  When I was a kid, we used to huddle outside the fence around the Ole Miss practice field hoping an errant football would get itself kicked our way.  I still had one of those practice balls until I was almost 30 years old.  We didn't buy footballs, we played with absconded Ole Miss practice balls.  Those unorganized kid teams were a lot of fun.  No coaches, nor referees, but lots of fun.  I played some in high school.  Would have played more, but I also had to work, and work often conflicted with games.  When I served in the U.S. Air Force, I played flag football.  Roughest game on earth, but it was the best team sport I've ever played.  Best team too, as we took our league championship, dominating other Air Force and Army teams.  In the championship game, we put up not only a winning score, but more than 500 yards of offense.  None of that makes me an expert.  It does make me, like millions of other guys, somebody with a love of the game, great memories, and at least a few heartbreaking disappointments.

Speaking of heartbreaks, I'll relate one.  When I was a senior at Oxford High School in Oxford, MS, we were running neck and neck with Starkville High School for the conference lead.  We played the game in Starkville that year.  We were losing the game, but I recovered a fumble close to Starkville's end zone.  A field goal would put us ahead.  You guessed it, didn't you.  We missed.  Unbelievable.  We lost the game.  Heartbreak.  Actually, I think the heartbreak was greater because a win would have made that fumble recovery a key play.  The loss makes that fumble recovery insignificant.

Mostly, though, football was great.  It's fun, it can be rough, but overall, there is little wonder that American football is the greatest sport in the world (all you soccer fans can just save your comments).  It's a game that offers up some great lessons for life.  I'll share a few that are meaningful to me, and invite anyone to offer others in the comment section.

1.  There is a reason you practice until you can't move.  It makes the actual game much easier.

2.  If you get knocked down, remember it's part of the game.  You're supposed to either get knocked down or knock somebody else down.  Get up.  The next play is about to begin.

3.  In a real game, the score means something.

4.  In football, there is room for some really big, strong guys and there is room for some scrawny, fast guys.  Whichever you are, play where you are needed most.

5.  You will not win every game.  You may not win most of your games.  There have been some teams that didn't win any games.  But there are never any teams that win that do not play the game at all.

6.  You will probably win some games you didn't deserve to win.  You will probably lose some games you didn't deserve to lose.  Deserving isn't the point.

7.  There will almost always be someone who is better at your position than you are.

8.  There will almost always be some team better than yours.

9.  Football is a game.  Repeat.  Football is a game.  This is an important revelation to both winners and losers.

10.  Football should be fun.  If it ever becomes something other than fun, you have lost the real essence of the game.

11.  On a football team, there is no such thing as an unimportant position or player.

12.  The best teams almost always have a great coach.

13.  Great players are best when they remember they are part of a team.  No great quarterback achieved greatness without others to run or catch the ball.  No great running back ever did it without big guys knocking other people down for them.

14.  A football does funny things in the wind, bouncing on the ground, or sometimes while you're holding it in your hands or arms.

15.  If you play on a team, play to win.  If you are a fan, support your team.  Do these things whether your team is winning or losing.

16.  If you win, be a good sport.  If you lose, be a good sport.

17.  If you are a player, you might make some outstanding plays.  You might also make some really dumb mistakes.  A lot of wins are made up of plays somewhere between the two extremes.

18.  Football can be frustrating.  Sometimes, nothing seems to work.  You must learn how to live through frustrations, otherwise, football will never be fun.

19.  Old football players usually have some great stories and outstanding advice for younger players.

20.  Cocky, arrogant players can sometimes back up their claims.  Sometimes they can't.  Listen less to cocky, arrogant talk and pay more attention to how they play the game.

21.  Football is a sport that teaches a lot about living life.  Pay attention and make some applications where needed.  Regardless of your football record, your life will benefit.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

I'm Excited

I'm not usually excitable. The key word here is "usually." I can certainly get worked up about some things. Sometimes that's good, and sometimes it's not! But I doubt if most people think of me as an "excitable" person. For a change, I'm excited!

Let me explain. I think we've experienced a kind of "weeding" process in our church. It's taken us three or four years for this to happen. Unlike what sometimes happens, this has not been one of those negative things. It's been positive for the most part. That doesn't mean everything has gone like I wished, but it does mean some really good things have happened.

Let me explain further. In the past year or so, we have had several people, both men and women, who have stepped up and accepted responsibilities that are big, significant, and future-changing in nature. It's the kind of thing every small church hopes for, and it is the kind of thing that will lead to growth. Much of that growth will be spiritual, but some of it will also be numerical. It's just a matter of time.

We have young couples who have dedicated themselves to the very hard task of working with our young people. I can't tell you how vital this is. To have people willing to sacrifice their time and energy focusing on youth is just terrific. Whether it's getting the kids into Bible study, or taking them to events and activities that will broaden their experiences and shape their lives, or just being there for them when trouble hits (and it will), it's going to help these young people in ways they can't imagine right now. The full results are years away, but it will be huge when it happens.

We have several men who stepped into roles as "Life Group" leaders. They went through training, still weren't sure of what they were doing, took the job anyway, and now in another week they will begin their second year leading our small group ministry. They have taken on enormous responsibility. I can't tell you how proud I am of these men. They are still learning, but they are showing concern, leadership, and personal responsibility. Not every one of the guys who went through our Life Group leader training ended up a group leader. Some just didn't want it. Was that a bad thing? No! We ended up with the right guys. These men are going to make a great difference in the lives of those who attend their small groups. They don't know it yet, but they are filling what is currently the most important roles in our congregation. They are doing an outstanding job, too. Do I sound like I'm proud of them? You bet I am!

I'm proud of our ladies, too. The women in our church are so good, so responsible, so self-motivated it's amazing. There are many things that happen like meals to the sick, meals for families who have lost a loved one, showers of all kinds, and many other things that happen almost automatically. The are so organized when it comes to these things that you just never have to worry about it. But some of them are into other things as well. They are part of the jail ministry, they put together special events and teaching opportunities like "Ladies Days," and they have specialized ministries to children. They started a wonderful ministry to the hurting called "Friends Listening Ministry." Got a problem, they'll help you wrestle with it. They "man" ("woman") the nursery, Children's Church, fix communion, feed hungry folks at pot-luck dinners, and so much more! And you watch what I'm saying, they will provide the life-blood of our Life Group ministry. Does it sound like I'm proud of them? You bet I am!

Have you heard our singers? You should. They are outstanding. I've been in Grenada at Southside for six years now. For all that time, when I meet someone from our community and tell them which church I'm with, I often hear, "Oh, that's the church with the "a cappella" singing group! They're great!" Let me tell you, I'd rather Southside be known for it's singing group than it's preacher! Because we've got such a good singing group, they help the whole church, especially when it comes to new songs or ones we don't know quite as well as others. Singing is a big deal at Southside, and if you don't believe it, come and listen.

So, I'm excited. Good things, big things, great things, positive things are in our future. It's because of our people! What a blessing to be a part of what's going on. If you live in the Grenada area, come join us. You'll be in for a treat. If you live far away you have two options. First, visit us if you travel through. Second, pack up and move here. Seriously.