Is Christianity Exclusive?

By James L. Morrisson
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Everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." (Matthew 7:8).

 

I. INTRODUCTION

We often hear it said that Christianity is exclusive, bigoted, narrow-minded, intolerant, and the like. The assumption seems to be that all ideas are of equal value and should be tolerated equally, and that a religion should make no demands on its followers. I believe that assumption is false. I also believe that there is much misunderstanding about this whole subject. I hope, in this paper, to clear away at least some of that misunderstanding.

Is Christianity exclusive? I believe the answer to the question is both "no" and "yes".

The gospel of Jesus Christ contains many "very great and precious promises" (2 Peter 1:3). There is the promise of a future life in heaven with God. There are also many promises of a rich and full life here on earth. (Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are to the New International Version and any emphasis is my own.)

These promises are available to all who want them. Anyone may receive them. It does not matter what your race, nationality, sex or social status is. It does not matter what you may have done in the past. You do not have to earn them. They cannot be earned. They are a free gift. God wants everyone to have them. In this sense Christianity is non-exclusive, it is open to everyone.

But, as is the case with many gifts, you can accept them only on the giver's terms. To receive them, you must do certain things. Anyone is capable of doing them. But you must do them to receive the gifts. In this sense Christianity can be said to be exclusive. It is open only to those who are willing to accept its gifts on the giver's terms.

Generally, in human affairs, we understand that someone who gives a gift is entitled to set the terms on which he will give it. If I choose to give $500 to everyone who refrains from smoking for a year, then only those who meet the condition - who do refrain from smoking for a year - will receive the gift. It's my money, and I'm entitled to dispose of it as I choose, and on whatever conditions I choose. God is not bound by human rules. But if he chooses to give his promises only on certain conditions, I suggest we should be thankful for the gifts and not complain about the conditions. Indeed, I hope to show that the nature of the gifts is such that the conditions God has placed on them are necessary They are the only conditions on which such gifts could be given or received.

In what follows I shall set forth what the Bible says on these matters. As one who for most of my life was a sceptic and agnostic, I have come in my later years to believe that the Bible is true, that it is authoritative, and that it is our only reliable source of spiritual truth. I have tried to explain my reasons for this conclusion in my paper, "The Authority of Scripture". The promises of the Christian gospel are the promises set forth in Scripture. They can be accepted and received only on the conditions set forth in Scripture. If we would receive the promises, we must receive them on the terms in which they are set forth.

 

II. THE PROMISES OF THE CHRISTIAN GOSPEL

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him."
(1 Corinthians 2:9).

The promises of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are "very great and precious" (2 Peter 1:3). They exceed any list, catalog or description that man could make. God "is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" (Ephesians 3:20). "My God will meet all your needs, according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).

Nevertheless, I shall try to sketch out the scope of these promises, not as a comprehensive description, but rather as a suggestion of the riches that are available to those who truly seek the Lord.

First, however, I want to make one observation. We do not see these promises fully realized in all Christians. Part of the reason is that some who claim to be Christians do not really believe in the Jesus Christ of the gospel; they are not really Christians. Others, who are truly believers in Jesus Christ, still have much to do in maturing to the fullness of their faith. The fact that we do not always see these promises fully realized does not mean that the promises are not valid; it simply means that those who seek them have more to do before they can see them fully realized.

The Christian life is, or should be, a continuing process of growth into maturity (see, for example, Ephesians 4:13; 2 Peter 1:5-11). Near the end of his life Paul did not yet feel that he had arrived at this maturity (Philippians 3:12-14). Most Christians are at various stages in this maturing process, and hence are at various stages in the process of receiving and demonstrating the gifts which God has promised. We need to keep this in mind in considering the promises.

What are some of these "very great and precious promises"?

The gospel (the good news) of Jesus Christ promises eternal life with God to those who believe in Jesus Christ. It also promises that those who follow Jesus will have life "more abundantly" here on earth (John 10:10 KJV). The two are interrelated. Neither can be fully understood without understanding the other. Both are comprised in what we call "salvation". (See my paper entitled, "Some Thoughts About Salvation.") A "salvation" which does not result in a changed life here on earth is not a true salvation. And seeming improvements in one's life on earth which do not lead to eternal life of the spirit with God are also not true salvation.

1. Eternal life with God.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). This promise is repeated over and over in Scripture in various forms.

Scripture does not tell us much about the future life with God that is promised to those who accept the gospel, probably because it is indescribable in human words. We know there will be great glory. Jesus speaks of the "glory I had with you [God] before the world began" (John 17:5). Revelation gives us an extraordinary description of the throne of God (Revelation chapter 4). We know also that there will be constant praise of God (Revelation chapters 4 and 5). We are told that in the New Jerusalem "there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain" (Revelation 21:4).

Scripture also tells us clearly that the alternative to this eternal life with God is "eternal punishment" (Matthew 25:46). The punishment is variously described as being thrown "into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 13:42, 50), cast into "hell, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched'" (Mark 9:47-48), cast "outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 8:12). Jesus described one who died and "was in torment", "in agony in this fire" (Luke 16:23,24). It will be horrible beyond our imagination.

I find no support in Scripture for the popular image of the saved endlessly sitting on clouds playing on harps, or for the other image of the saved having "eternal rest", if by rest is meant inactivity. Rather, I picture life in heaven as one of great activity. Jesus said that "at the resurrection" men and women will be "like the angels in heaven" (Matthew 23:30), and the angels we see in Scripture are quite busy carrying out God's instructions. Scripture speaks of those who are to come back with Jesus to rule the earth for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:4-6); I'm sure they will be busy. It also tells us that our knowledge and understanding will increase greatly. Now we see as a poor reflection in a mirror; "then we shall see face to face". Now we know in part; then we shall "know fully" (1 Corinthians 13:12). Perhaps all this happens in a flash of revelation, but I picture it rather as a continuing process of growth and discovery. Eternal life is to "know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3). I picture life in heaven as a continuing process of coming to know a God who is so great that he can never be completely known.

We cannot know fully what this promise of eternal life will mean, but we know that the One who promises it is good and that his plans for us are good. And so we can believe that it will be better than anything we could imagine.

Let us turn now to the promises of a more abundant life here on earth. They have many aspects. I can only touch on some of them.

2. Children of God.

"To all who received him [Jesus Christ], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12). "The Spirit himself testifies with our Spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children we are also heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:16-17). John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved", expresses his astonishment at this: "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" (1 John 3:1).

Under the Old Testament covenant God declared that Israel was his people. "Obey me and do everything I command you, and you will be my people, and I will be your God" (Jeremiah 11:4). But now, with the coming of Jesus Christ, God has declared that everyone who accepts and believes in Jesus will be, not just his people, but his children. As his children we can pray to him, "Our Father"; we can say to him "Abba, Father" - the Hebrew equivalent of "Daddy". We can have an intimate, personal, loving relationship with the Creator of the universe!

3. God in us.

Paul spoke of the "glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). He said, "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). Jesus told us to "abide" in him and he would "abide" in us (John 15:4 KJV). God has given us his Holy Spirit "to be with you forever"; the Holy Spirit "lives with you and will be in you" (John 14:16, 17). "God's Spirit lives in you" (1 Corinthians 3:16). "Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God (1 Corinthians 6:19). God "lives in us" by his Holy Spirit (1 John 3:24). God works in us (Philippians 2;13; Ephesians 3:20; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). (In this paragraph I assume, as I believe the Christian gospel teaches, that the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit are all God. I discuss the deity of Jesus Christ later in this paper.)

This is extraordinary. Most religions think of God as remote and inaccessible. But the promise of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God is in each believer. He is in us to guide, teach, direct, counsel, encourage, strengthen, and protect us. We can hear him, and be led and guided by him, because he is in us. (See my paper on "Hearing from God").

Let me make one thing clear. There are teachings today that would have us assert that "I am God". These teachings have nothing to do with the Christian gospel. The Christian gospel does not speak of exalting the self to become a "god". It speaks of letting the one true God enter into us and then submitting our self to that one true God. Perhaps this will become clearer later in this paper when I speak of submission to God.

4. Power.

Jesus told his disciples, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you" (Acts 1:8). Power, dunamis, includes the power to do miracles. Jesus ministered "in the power of the Spirit" (Luke 4:14). After referring to the miracles he had done, he told his disciples that "anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these" (John 14:12). (See my paper on "Doing the Things Jesus Did".)

When we are acting in accordance with the purposes of God, we can call on the power of an omnipotent God. "We are God's fellow workers" (1 Corinthians 3:9). We are yoked with him (Matthew 11:29).We can "be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power" (Ephesians 6:10). We have weapons that have "divine power to demolish strongholds" (2 Corinthians 10:4). He that is in us (God) is greater than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4). "Nothing will be impossible" for the one who has faith (Matthew 17:20). Hence Paul was able to say, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13).

Because of the power of God in us we can say that "we are more than conquerors" (Romans 8:37). "Everyone born of God overcomes the world" (1 John 5:4).

We do not see this power being exercised by many Christian believers. The reason is, not that the promises are ineffective, but that too many of those who profess to believe in Jesus Christ have not claimed and appropriated the promises and have not acted on them in faith.

5. Be transformed.

"Be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). The Greek word is metamorphoo. Paul is speaking of a metamorphosis comparable to that of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Whatever God tells us to do, he empowers us to do.

Scripture describes this transformation in a variety of ways. We are born again from above (John 3:5,7). We become "a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17). We "put off your old self" and "put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-23; see Colossians 3:9-10; Romans 6:6). We become "transformed into [God's] likeness with ever-increasing glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18). (See my paper on "Be Transformed").

This transformation is a gradual process. It is possible only because of the power of the Holy Spirit within us, and can occur only if we submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. I think the reason it is not evident in many who call themselves Christians is that they have not yielded themselves to the Holy Spirit and allowed him to work in them as he desires to.

6. Freedom.

Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching ("continue in my word" KJV), you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32). Free from what?

Free from the power of sin. Because of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross we have been "set free from sin" (Romans 6:18). We are "controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you" (Romans 8:9). This does not mean that we never sin. But we are no longer controlled by sin. We have the power to become free of sin. Something which we could not do ourselves, God did by sending his son to die on the Cross (Romans 8:3).

Free from mindsets, habits, addictions and attitudes that hamper us. We are able to "demolish strongholds" and "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). We can "throw off everything that hinders" (Hebrews 12:1). Many, who have accepted Jesus Christ, have been enabled to overcome addictions to drugs, alcohol, sex and the like; to get rid of unforgiveness, bitterness, self-condemnation and other negative thought patterns; to see themselves as "God's workmanship" (Ephesians 2: 10), valued and loved by God; and to find a new freedom and joy.

We also are no longer at the mercy of the circumstances around us. We can see trials and difficulties as experiences from which we can learn and grow (James 1:2; 1 Peter 1:6-7; Romans 5:3-5). (See my paper on "Pain and Suffering"). We can "give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We can stand on the promise that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). We can "fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen" (2 Corinthians 4:18). And so, with Paul, we can learn "to be content whatever the circumstances" (Philippians 4:11). Our confidence is based on a God who does not change, and not on the changing circumstances of our life.

7. Fruit of the Spirit.

"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:20). Everyone who has the Holy Spirit living in him can have these qualities if he will "live by the Spirit" (Galatians 5;16) and be "controlled by the Spirit" (Romans 8:6). (See my paper on "The Fruit of the Spirit").

 

III. GOD'S GIFTS ARE OPEN TO ANYONE

"God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:4).

Scripture makes it clear that salvation (which makes possible all the gifts I have spoken of) is available to anyone. "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Acts 2:21). God "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). God does not want "anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus said, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). "To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12). Jesus said, "Everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened" (Matthew 7:8). God has promised that "you will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jeremiah (29:13). The gifts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are available to "everyone", "all", "whoever" - to everyone who truly seeks them.

Jesus did say, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44). This does not mean that God sits in heaven arbitrarily deciding, "This one will be saved; this one won't". That would be contrary to the character of a God who loves all that he created and who wants all men to be saved. What it means, I believe, is that we cannot find the faith for salvation in our own strength. Our saving faith is a gift from God. God draws all men to him. If we respond to that drawing he will give us the faith necessary to be saved. If we ignore it or resist it, we shall not find that saving faith.

There are those who assert that only some people - the "elect" - can be saved while others are predestined for eternal damnation. I find nothing in Scripture that says anyone is predestined to eternal damnation. The Scriptures cited in the first paragraph of this section contradict any such idea, and I believe it is contrary to God's character.

 

IV. THE CONDITIONS FOR RECEIVING THE PROMISES

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

This simple and familiar passage contains in it, I believe, all the necessary conditions for our Christian faith. We must "believe", and we need to understand just what Scripture means by that important word. And we must know very clearly in whom we believe. These two themes are interwoven in everything I shall say under this heading.

Christianity is a belief in a person. Not in a set of doctrines, a creed, or other statement of beliefs. Not in a liturgy or ritual. Not in an institution. Not in a program. Not even in Scripture, important though Scripture is. All these have their value. But the essential foundation of Christianity is belief in the person of Jesus Christ. It is those who believe "in him" - that is, in Jesus Christ, God's one and only Son - who receive eternal life. Paul wrote, "I know whom I have believed" (2 Timothy 1:12). "Whom," not "what". A person, not a thing. Jesus said, "This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3). Hence it is essential that we be very clear as to just who Jesus Christ is and who his Father is. If we wish to receive a gift from John Jones, it will do us no good to ask Richard Smith for it. We must put our faith in the right person.

How do we know who "the only true God" is, and who his Son Jesus Christ is? The Bible is our primary source of information and understanding. It contains the information that God has chosen to give us about himself and his Son. It is the standard to which anything else we may think we know about them must conform. Moreover, since the Bible is our source for knowing the promises of the gospel, it must also be our source for knowing the conditions which we must meet if we are to claim those promises. But the Bible needs to be read in the light of the understanding which the Holy Spirit gives. And what the Bible tells us can be supplemented by what we learn by experiencing Jesus in our own lives. If Jesus is, to us, only a person we have read about in a book, then we do not really know him. To know about him is not to know him. To know Jesus is to experience him, to have a personal relationship with him.

1. There is only one true God.

Jesus declared that the one whom he called Father is "the only true God" (John 17:3). God repeatedly told his people that he is the only true God. "I am the first and I am the last. Apart from me there is no God" (Isaiah 44:6). "I am God and there is no other" (Isaiah 46:9; see also Isaiah 45:18, 21). Paul wrote, "there is only one God" (Romans 3:30), "There is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live, and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live" (1 Corinthians 8:6; see also James 4:12).

I want to be absolutely clear here. Many today assert that all "gods" are really the same, so that it does not matter in which you say you believe. Scripture categorically denies this. It says that there is one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God whom Jesus called Father, and that any other purported "god" is false, an idol, a demon. This one true God is not Allah, or Buddha, or any of the Hindu gods, or the "gods" of the New Age movement, or "the goddess" of the feminist movement, or some impersonal force or consciousness. It is the Father of Jesus, and him only, whom we must acknowledge, worship and serve if we would claim the promises of the gospel. He requires our exclusive worship. He will not share it with any other so-called "gods".

Let me also be clear that the God whom Jesus called Father, and the God about whom we read in the Bible, is a person. He is a "he", not an "it". He is not some abstract universal force or consciousness or awareness. He is a person, who has feelings of love, joy, sorrow, and wrath. He speaks, and sometimes converses at length. He acts in the affairs of men.

God is very explicit about all this. He warned his people, over and over, to have nothing to do with other so-called "gods". He told them not to worship other gods and not to listen to anyone who tells them to worship other gods (Deuteronomy chapter 13). He told them not to set any pagan image alongside his altar (Deuteronomy 16:21). He told them not to worship him in a pagan way (Deuteronomy 12:4). The whole thrust of the Mosaic law is that the worship of the one true God was not to be contaminated by any pagan elements. Much of the Old Testament history is related to God's insistence that his people should worship him and him alone. Ultimately the ten northern tribes of Israel were conquered and dispersed because "they worshiped other gods" (2 Kings 17:7).

Paul expressed the same concern. Speaking of the whole range of "gods" whom the non-Christians worshiped in his day - Greek and Roman gods, Egyptian and Persian gods, and various "mystery" religions - he wrote, "The sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons" (1 Corinthians 10:20-21).

God's concern is vividly expressed in the following passage from the prophet Jeremiah,

"'Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols. Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great horror,' declares the Lord. 'My people have committed two sins. They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water'" (Jeremiah 2:11-13).

God is declaring clearly that any so-called "god" other than himself is no god at all, and that any such "god' is "worthless, and like a broken jar that cannot hold water. And he is appalled that his people have left him to follow after such false and worthless things. I believe that those, today, who assert that all gods are the same and all religions are the same are doing just what this passage describes. They are forsaking the spring of living waters and digging broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

Scripture sometimes speaks of God as a "jealous" God (Exodus 20:5). This does not mean that he is envious of, or feels threatened by, other so-called "gods". Rather it means that he is "zealous" (another meaning of the same Hebrew word), he is intensely concerned, to protect his people from going down a path that will lead to their destruction, much as a mother would be zealous to make sure that her young child does not run out into a busy street.

2. Jesus Christ is God.

Scripture makes it clear that Jesus Christ is God. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). (As verse 14 makes clear, "the Word" is Jesus Christ.) Jesus Christ, "being in very nature God" (Philippians 2:6) came to earth in human form. He became Immanuel, "God with us" (Matthew 1:23). When Thomas called him "My Lord and my God", Jesus commended him (John 20:28-29).

Like the Father, Jesus is eternal. He was with God "in the beginning", "before the world began" (John 17:5). He lives for ever (Hebrews 13:8, 7:25). The physical universe was created through him and for him (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2), and he sustains it by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17). "In Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form" (Colossians 2:9; see also Colossians 1:19). He will judge all men (John 5:22-30; Matthew 25:31-46; Matthew 13:40-43). He is "far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come" (Ephesians 1:21). (See my paper on "Who did Jesus say he is")

These and other Scriptures make it clear that admiration of Jesus as a human teacher, philosopher or prophet, or as one of many "ascended masters", is not saving faith. The faith that is required for salvation and for the other promises of the gospel is a faith in Jesus as God. Nothing less will suffice.

The Trinity is a difficult concept for men to understand because we have nothing in our experience to compare it with. This should not surprise us, since the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all unique. "To whom, then, will you compare God?" (Isaiah 40:18). But the fact that our limited human minds have difficulty understanding all the ramifications of the Trinity does not warrant us in ignoring the clear message of Scripture that Jesus Christ is God.

3. Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father.

"There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men" (1 Timothy 2:5). Jesus declared, "I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Using the image of a sheepfold, he said, "I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved" (John 10:9).

We find this principle stated over and over through Scripture. "God was pleased... through [Jesus] to reconcile to himself all things" (Colossians 1:19-20). "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which they must be saved" (Acts 4:12). "No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:11).

Jesus Christ is our Savior and our Redeemer. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15). The essence of the gospel is that "Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures" and was buried and raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-8; see also Philippians 2:5-11). Only Jesus could do this, because he is the "one and only Son" of the Father; he is God who took on human form. "Christ died for the ungodly" and we are "justified by his blood" (Romans 5:6,9). We have been "reconciled to [God] through the death of his Son" (Romans 5:10). "Through the obedience of the one man [Jesus Christ] the many will be made righteous" (Romans 5:19). It is "through Christ Jesus" that we have been set free from the law of sin (Romans 8:2-3). It is "through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" that we have been made holy and have been redeemed from sin (Hebrews 10:10). "Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people" (Hebrews 9:27). And so it is Jesus Christ, and he only, who is the "mediator of a new covenant" (Hebrews 9:15, 12:24).

Any teaching which bypasses Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our salvation, and all the promises that come with it, rest totally on Jesus Christ and on his crucifixion and resurrection.

4. To believe in Jesus Christ requires total submission to him

I have discussed elsewhere what Scripture means by "believe" (See my paper entitled, "Some Thoughts About Salvation".) In a nutshell, to believe, in the Biblical sense, means much more than intellectual acceptance. It means to commit one's self, to entrust one's self, and to obey. Faith that does not result in action is not real faith. And one of the actions which most clearly evidences our faith is obedience. Without obedience there can be no real faith. (See my paper entitled, "The Importance of Obedience").

To believe also means to continue to believe. We have been reconciled to God by Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, but only "if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the Gospel" (Colossians 1:23). Our obedience must be a continuing obedience.

Scripture speaks in many ways of the crucial importance of submission and obedience. It says that "Jesus became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him" (Hebrews 5:9). Paul described his entire ministry as that of calling the Gentiles (non-Jews) "to the obedience that comes from faith" (Romans 1:5). Peter addressed his first letter to those who had been called "for obedience to Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:2). Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). We do not even know God unless we obey him "We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says 'I know him' but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him." (1 John 2:3-4). God's wrath is coming to those who "do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 1:8).

To be submitted to God means that we seek in all things to find and to do God's will. Our guiding principle is "your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). It is "not as I will, but as you will" (Matthew 26:39). Our primary desire is to please God, not to please other men. Scripture speaks of those who "loved praise from men more than praise from God" (John 12:43). It declares, "Who are you that you fear mortal men, the sons of men who are but grass, that you forget the Lord your Maker?" (Isaiah 51:12). Jesus even said , "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets" (Luke 6:26). One of the great sources of weakness in the body of Christ today is that we have not taken seriously the command, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world" (Romans 12:2). We have too often taught what people want to hear rather than what God wants them to hear.

The term most commonly applied to Jesus Christ in Scripture is "Lord", kurios. If Jesus is not Lord of our lives, then he is not our Savior. To be saved, we must accept the Lordship of Jesus. "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord', and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9). But a mere verbal commitment is not enough. Jesus said, "Why do you call me , 'Lord, Lord' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46). "Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). We show our obedience by our actions.

To accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ means that we allow God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to control every aspect of our lives, we live in total submission to him. Several passages in Scripture suggest how complete is the submission that is called for. "In [God] we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). "Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness" (Colossians 2:6). Paul said "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).

When we accept Jesus as our Lord, God transfers us from "the dominion of darkness" to "the kingdom of the Son he loves" (Colossians 1:13). We have a change of allegiance. We owe our obedience, no longer to the devil, but to Jesus Christ our Lord.

As I have said earlier, the Holy Spirit dwells in us. To accept Jesus as Lord means to allow the Holy Spirit to control every aspect of our lives. Paul tells us to "live by the Spirit" (Galatians 5:16). "The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:8). He tells us to be "controlled by the Spirit" (Romans 8:6). "If you live according to the sinful nature you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Romans 8:13-14).

Paul tells us that we have a choice. We can be "slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness" (Romans 6:16). "Offer yourselves to God" (Romans 6:13). "Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship" (Romans 12:1). James tells us, "Submit yourselves, then, to God" (James 4:7).

 

V. WARNINGS AGAINST FALSITY

The world today would have us think that it doesn't really matter what you believe. All religions are the same, all roads lead to the same mountaintop, all truth is relative. It would have us believe that the most important quality in men is "tolerance", acceptance of every opinion and every viewpoint. Scripture totally disagrees with this viewpoint. It asserts that there is truth and there is falsity; there is good and there is evil. We must not confuse the two. "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness" (Isaiah 5:20). "What do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial [satan]... What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?" (2 Corinthians 6:14-16)

Jesus is "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6) He is the only way, the only truth, and the only life. If we hold to Jesus' teachings we will know the truth (John 8:31-32). God "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2;4). God's word is truth (John 17:17).

Scripture warns against false teachings. It tells us that the devil is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). His purpose is to deceive (Revelation 20:3,86). Paul warned against accepting "a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are trying to throw you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ" (Galatians 1:6-7). He spoke of those who are "infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming" (Ephesians 4:14). He warned. "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ" (Colossians 2:8). He warned that "in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons" (1 Timothy 4:1). He warned that "The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

In speaking of the "end times" (which I believe we are either in or closely approaching) Jesus said "watch out that no one deceives you." He said that many would come in his name, claiming to be the Christ. "False Christs and false prophets" would appear and deceive many. But "he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:4-25).

Scripture warns us to be careful to "continue in your faith" (Colossians 1:23; see Romans 10:22), to "persevere" (1 Timothy 4:15-16). It tells us to be careful not to be "carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position" (Peter 4:17) It is full of warnings against turning away or falling away, or even drifting away, from the true faith (see, for example, Hebrews 2:1-3, 3:6, 3:12-14, 4:1, 4:14, 6:4-6, 10:12, 10:26-31, 10:35-39, 12:15, 12:25-28, 13:9).

There are those today who, while professing to be Christians, would add to their Christian beliefs features of other spiritual beliefs. (I have dealt with one example of this in my paper entitled "Is Reincarnation Scriptural?") I believe such attempts are very dangerous. God has specifically warned us against worshiping pagan "gods" or images along with our worship of the true God, and against worshiping the true God in a pagan manner. (Deuteronomy 16:21, 12:4). Paul dealt with one aspect of this in his letter to the Colossians; his reply, in a nutshell, was that Jesus Christ is all we need, he is our sufficiency, and we are on dangerous ground if we tried to add anything to what he has given us. If we seek the promises of the Christian gospel, we need to stay within the terms of that gospel .

In view of these and other warnings in Scripture I think it is very important to be quite clear about whom we believe and what we believe.

 

VI. CONCLUSION

Let me try to sum up what I have been saying.

The gospel of Jesus Christ contains many extraordinary promises - promises of a future life with God and of a new and more abundant life here on earth. Those promises are available to anyone. Scripture uses terms like "everyone", "all", "whoever". No one is excluded or disqualified. But the promises can be received only on the terms on which they are offered. They are offered to all who believe in Jesus Christ. To receive them we must believe in the God of Scripture as "the only true God" and in Jesus Christ his one and only Son, who is himself God, who came to earth in human form, who died to redeem us from our sins, and who is the only way to God. We must not only accept these truths intellectually, but we must submit our lives to God the Father and to Jesus Christ.

It is not for us to judge the conditions that God has placed on his promises. He is God and his thoughts and ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). But, even by human reasoning, I think we can see that his conditions are reasonable and necessary. We cannot expect that God will grant his extraordinary promises - promises of eternal life with him, of adoption as sons, of a transformed life on earth, of forgiveness of sins, and the like - to any who do not believe in and submit themselves to him as the only true God or who do not accept his Son as the only way to God. If we reject God's way and want to do things our way, why should we expect that God will give us his gifts?

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     08/19/2007