Limited Atonement

Our understanding of the purpose and value of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross is a bone of contention in Christianity.  Basically, we have three choices: 1. Christ died for all people whether they believed in Him as their Savior or not. Theologians call this belief Universal Atonement. 2. Christ died for all, but only those who confessed a belief in Him are saved. This belief is called Hypothetical Atonement. 3. Christ died only for the elect, the true believers God has given to Him to save.  This is belief is called Limited or Particular Atonement; it is what Calvinists believe.  Hypothetical Atonement is what those who follow the tenets of Jacob Arminius, a 16th century Dutch theologian, believe. Arminianism was rejected at the Synod of Dort in 1618, but ironically, it is what Catholics of today believe.  How can we know the truth?  Christianity is a religion of the book, the Holy Bible, and, as with every aspect of the Christian doctrine, we should go to Scripture for our answers.  So then, what does the Bible say about the value of Christ’s one time sacrifice for our sin?

Arminians base their belief in hypothetical atonement by referring to the oft-quoted John 3:16 which uses the word “world” as in “God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever should believe in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” Arminians interpret the word “world” to mean every person who ever existed on earth. Calvinists believe that for this verse to be consistent with the many verses in the Bible that clearly state that Christ died only for the elect, the word “world” in John 3:16 must refer only to the elect in Christ all over the world. The premise, of course, is that God is not a God of contradiction, and we must therefore use the more clear verses in the Bible to explain the meaning of the less clear verses Arminians utilize to support their heretical belief.  When the Pharisees say “Behold, the world has gone after Him” as recorded in John 12:19, they are clearly referring only to those who have followed Christ. Regarding John 3:16’s support for Christ’s death only making it possible for people to be saved, Jesus makes it clear that this choice to be saved is not up to us, but our salvation is determined by God. The choice is His, and only those who have been given to Christ by the Father are saved by his atoning sacrifice. See John 6:37-40, 10:14-18 and 17:9).

Arminians also refer to John 1:29 where John the Baptizer proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of this world” (ESV) as support for their belief in hypothetical atonement. Since we know though from John 10:15 that Christ, the Good Shepherd lays down His life only for His sheep, the elect God has given to Him to save, John the Baptizer must be referring to Christ saving the sin of all believers in this world and salvation is not limited to this particular time and place.

Arminians also quote 2 Peter 3:9 (ESV)”The Lord is not willing that anyone should perish but that all should reach repentance,” to prove that Christ died for all people because that’s what our merciful and loving God wishes; but, when we understand the context of this verse in the light of who Peter is writing to, we must interpret Peter is referring only to the elect. In 2 Peter 1:1, he addresses “those who have obtained equal standing with ours by righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”the precious faith with us.” It is therefore not appropriate for Arminians to wrest this particular from its context to support their belief in hypothetical atonement.  This not what we do in interpreting Scripture.

Arminians are believers who want to have some part to play in their salvation, and go in search of Bible verses that can be stretched or taken out of context to support their need to believe in the Arminian doctrine. Calvinists accept what the Bible clearly tells us about how God’s plan of salvation actually works, and are thankful for what He has done for us; we do not focus on what we think we can do for Him.

 

The Credibility of the Gospel Accounts

I often challenge unbelievers to “take up and read,” as Augustine once proclaimed. On one such occasion, an atheist told me he believed in the historical accounts presented in the Old Testament, enjoyed reading the Song of Solomon and the Psalms for their literary appeal and the Proverbs for words of wisdom, but, when it came to the gospel accounts and the epistles from the apostles that followed up in forming a church allegedly founded by a man who they believed to be God, he didn’t accept them as credible accounts. In short, he believed the writers of the gospels saw an opportunity in Jesus Christ’s life to create an image of the long-awaited messiah referenced in the Old Testament and commit their wishful thoughts to the written word to produce the four gospels. He speculated that John, Luke, and Matthew got together and conspired to follow up on what John Mark (inspired by Peter) had written in 50AD, and embellished on his story to create the legend of Jesus Christ.

I’m no Bible expert, but I do know the four gospels were written over several decades so it isn’t as though these four people met together to come up with some fictional non-fiction story about a man they believed to be God and ran with it. Unbelievers speculate, believers educate so I presumed it was my responsibility to set the record straight.

I presented him with a series of questions that professional historians use to evaluate the validity and credibility of any historical document. He conceded that the man Jesus Christ did actually exist in history. First century historians record that historical fact. So then, here we have these authors who were with Christ and in a position to report accurately what Jesus said; in fact, they were actual eyewitnesses to what they observed in Christ’s word and deed. They were very familiar with the subject of their writings.

So they had the means and the opportunity to write about Jesus, but what about motive? I asked my friend to tell me why these men would want to make up a story about what Jesus said? Why would they believe it necessary to make Christ into something they didn’t really believe he was? The style of writing non-fiction-fiction wasn’t even developed until seventeen hundred years later. So then, what would these men have to gain? What was their motive?

The unbeliever told me man wants to worship something and Christ provided them with the opportunity to create their own messiah based on the descriptions of Moses, Micah, David, Malachi and Isaiah in the Old Testament.  I said I wasn’t a Bible expert, but my hobby is cinematography, and I told him that I’ve never seen a fictional screenplay written by geniuses like Spielberg that didn’t have some hole or holes in it, and, although the Bible has been the most analyzed book in history, there are no holes in the gospel accounts. There is a consistent coherence of truth in each of them, and in the epistles to follow. There aren’t those exaggerations in the stories told by these four men that you would certainly expect to see that if they were stories passed on and retold many times. They aren’t “fish stories” that get bigger and bigger as the story is retold over and over again.  And besides, men who write fiction aren’t willing to be martyrs to their cause, and the majority of the apostles were persecuted; in fact, most of them were executed for proclaiming their belief. Story tellers don’t do that. People who revere the truth do.

I finished up by asking him if he was aware of any other first century author who offered an opposing opinion to any of the gospel accounts or the letters of any of the apostles which questioned the validity of what these four men wrote. We would certainly expect that to happen if there was any question of their credibility. We know of no such opposing opinion.

We ended our discussion with my challenge to him to examine his own motive for rejecting the validity of the gospel accounts before even reading them for himself. This is the question to pose to every unbeliever who is critical of the Bible’s credibility and authenticity.  It’s not so much about our motive for believing the gospel is true as it is about why a person would categorically reject them as being true without reading them. Even unbelievers acknowledge the one-of-a-kind uniqueness of the most incredible book ever written, and I appeal to man’s natural curiosity to at least accept my challenge to “take up and read.”

 

Christianity’s Unique Claim

According to theology professor, Michael Berg, Christianity is the only religion that claims it can be proved false. Paul said this in his first letter to the Corinthians when he wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” In other words, he was saying that if Christ’s dead body could have been proven to exist, he would not believe in Christianity and neither should we. No other religion makes this claim. No other religion offers a way to invalidate its own teachings through its sacred texts. Berg asks, “Why would they?”

Christ’s resurrection was a historical event recorded by eyewitnesses. The historical reality is that these eyewitnesses proclaimed the tomb was empty; there was no body to be found there or anywhere else. When eyewitnesses reported seeing the resurrected Christ, they were verifying the truth of what Christ had promised when he said He was indeed “the resurrection and the life.”

Berg concludes that Christianity’s connection with historical fact is one of the fundamental differences between our religion and other religions. “Christianity is concerned with reality. It is not a religion of mere morality, useful myth, or personal enlightenment. It is a religion of history.”

The facts of history remain true whether we are a believer or not. Our faith is not a blind faith; the truth of our salvation is “not based on our our feelings but rather on the historical fact of the resurrection and the promises of the Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith.”

We Christians therefore can share Paul’s confidence in the resurrection. Paul is challenging people to “Go ahead and investigate. I am so confident in these facts that I will even give you a way to debunk my faith. I know for sure that Jesus actually rose from the dead,” and we should feel confident and content in our faith in Christ as our Savior who has guaranteed we too will be resurrected one day. Our baptism should remind us of that reality.

 

Hypocrisy

The sacred, unbiblically traditions of Catholicism can leave them open to attack by proponents of LGBTQ people who focus on the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church.

The Rev. James Martin, an editor-at-large for the Jesuit magazine “America,” has written extensively on the way the Catholic church treats people who are gay and has urged the church to change its practices. Martin doesn’t believe homosexuality is a sin because Jesus never commented on it, one way or the other. He believes the Catholic church selectively enforces rules against gay Catholics while it chooses to overlook things that straight parishioners and employees do like teachers who are divorced and remarried, use birth control, have become pregnant through in vitro fertilization, have treated someone badly, told a lie or didn’t help someone in need. He claims that none of those things line up with Catholic teaching.

A Louisville newspaper columnist including what Martin said in an article he wrote trying to make his point that the Catholic Church was being selectively hypocritical and homophobic in overlooking these other sins and focusing only on homosexuality. He has a point in saying that the Catholic Church does consider birth control and in-vitro fertilization, and divorce sins. Protestants don’t agree with them (divorce is permissible when adultery is involved, birth control is not a sin) but all Christians do consider lying and behaving badly sins. The Catholic Church does expose itself to hypocrisy when it allows people who use birth control, for example, but doesn’t allow gay marriage and that is Martin’s point of attack.

We protestants don’t offer Martin as convenient a target because we don’t consider any of these behavior patterns Martin lists to be sins except behaving badly and being uncharitable but we don’t have a problems with that if the person recognizes this is sinful behavior and repents; it’s the unrepentant sinner who draws God’s wrath.

Martin’s credibility to speak for any Christian denomination is destroyed when he also claims that homosexuality isn’t a sin, mentioning that Christ never referred to it as such. Well, like our Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ, we do believe homosexuality is a sin (it’s in God’s word regardless of whether Christ specifically singled it out or not. Moses included in in Leviticus and Paul certainly referred to it several times in his epistles).

The point is that, with us Christians, it’s all about the repentance. When we knowingly violate God’s law, we need to confess that sin and repent of it. God forgives our sin, but not when we don’t repent of it. If the Catholic Church or any protestant church accepts homosexuality by recognize gay marriage, that’s not homophobic, that’s Christian.

What is wrong with Congress?

Congress is grid-locked. We appear to be approaching another government shutdown over funding for “Trump’s Wall.” Here we go again. What’s the problem with our Congress? Why can’t politicians do their job and legislate like they used to by compromise and get the deal done?

Some pundits claim that it’s a battle between conservatives and liberals and it’s personal. I agree. Since the Democratic Party and liberals have been so strongly influenced by the Left, it has necessarily become personal; and then there are the “never-Trumpers” whose personal dislike of the man’s character trumps (excuse the pun) any thought about what needs to be done for the good of the country.

Politics just doesn’t seem to work like it used to work when Tip O’Neal and Ronald Reagan were in office. Tip correctly understood that a  conservative like Reagan really wasn’t so different ideologically than he was, and that, for this reason, they could work together to do what was good for America. Back in the early eighties, conservatives sought to conserve our liberal way of life and constitution, and in fact, at least in this regard, conservatives could be thought of as liberals. Now, the liberalism of O’Neal, Kennedy, and FDR is a dim memory; it has slowly but surely been moving more left over the past 20 years, and, as a result,  politics has become personal and more about ideology than about  what government is supposed to be doing for its citizens. We are beginning to see how this has created the situation we now find ourselves in with this grid-locked Congress.

Leftist liberals have literally turned the political spectrum backwards. This has been by design. It began to happen  at the turn of the 20th century when the Soviets were described as leftists. That is when leftism in America took root. Historically, it always begins as an ideology; in its full bloom, it becomes a totalitarian socialist regime that we will not be able to rid ourselves of if we just stand by and let it happen.

To give you an idea of why leftism is dangerous, Hitler was highly celebrated by the leftists and Time Magazine was infatuated with this dreadful regime. Interestingly enough, in a way, we have Hitler to thank for telling us in Mein Kampf that every government utilizes the “big lie.” As Reagan once joked, “Trust me, I’m your government and I’m here to help.” This lie is so big that the liars deny it exists because recognition of it would motivate rebellion against the government.

Based on what we’ve seen happening in Congress (or not happening) over the past several months in their debate over funding for “Trump’s Wall,” we should be aware that something ominous is behind this nonsense; we are seeing what happens to a country that is being influenced by an implementation of the leftist agenda. Conservatives of course are very sensitive to what is happening, but liberals who don’t accept the leftist agenda, should be sensitive to what’s going on too. Some of the liberals I’ve talked to won’t even admit that there is such a thing as a leftist agenda. There most assuredly is, and it bears no resemblance to what liberalism is about.

What is the leftist agenda? The leftist objective takes its lead from the Saul Alinsky model as presented in his book, Rules for Radicals. The ends of this objective is to create chaos; the means to that ends is to oppose any solution to any problem America faces today. Chaos must first occur to create the need for a government solution to the chaos, and this is how leftists hope to establish socialism in America.

We need look no further for an example of how this agenda is being displayed than observing what is happening in Congress now that the Democrats have taken back the House. Liberals who used to favor building the wall now oppose it. Whatever Trump favors, they oppose, even if they once favored what he wants and even when it’s good for America. Democrats don’t seem to have a plan of their own; and, even if they did, Republicans seem to unwittingly be playing a role in supporting the leftist agenda by  blocking whatever Democrats have proposed. A plan, any plan, that both parties can agree on is required by citizens of America. That’s supposed to be their job. That’s what we hired them to do for us.

What can the average voter do when their legislators don’t do anything but show up for work and sit o their hands all day? We must hold them all accountable and tell them just that by writing to them. We must also remember which ones were part of the solution and which ones were part of the problem when we go to the polls next time around.

Term limits, anyone?

 

 

Liberal or Leftist?

I have identified as a conservative, Christian Republican. I believe in the authority of a central government and share other beliefs expressed by liberals who follow liberalism in the classical sense of a JFK and an FDR. Ironically, although I identify myself as a conservative, Christian Republican, I seem to believe in an ideology closer to this old liberalism than many of my Facebook friends who claim to be liberals, but, by their comments to my posts, indicate they are really leftists. I don’t know when their liberalism transitioned into the ideology of the New Left, but, from my experience and my reading, this is indeed today’s trend, and, in fact, political pundits recognize that the Democratic Party is leaning more and more to the Left.  Let’s look at the difference in ideology between classic liberalism and the leftists.

A liberal, in the classical sense believed in the West’s moral, philosophy, artistic, musical and literary achievements and understood the need to protect Western culture and civilization. Leftists, on the other hand, view Western culture as dominated by white supremacy. Liberals defend our right to free speech, but today we are obviously experiencing some widespread suppression of free speech. Leftists claim that they are only against hate speech, but, as demonstrated in the Antifa movement, their definition of what constitutes hate speech seems to encompass any speech addressing an issue they oppose.

Liberals celebrate America. They understand we are an imperfect people but believe as Lincoln did that “America is the last best hope of earth.” Liberals oppose the creation of a welfare mentality (JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”). I’m sure I’m not the only person who has recognized that the leftist represents a changed attitude towards America. This began in the sixties but became more obvious during the Obama administration where our president’s foreign policy reflected an apologetic view towards other nations, even those nations opposed to our very existence. Of course, it’s no secret that Hollywood has transitioned to the Left and now considers it chic to portray America as a racist, sexist, homophobic and imperialistic nation. Liberals like JFK and FDR believed in a nation state and in protecting our borders (which Clinton also believed in), whereas leftists believe in globalism, seeing themselves as citizens of the world as they advocate for open borders and belittle patriotic nationalism as the road to fascism.

True liberals understand that free enterprise and capitalism represent the economic system most able to lift the masses out of poverty; Leftists oppose capitalism and advocate socialism, a failed economic system that has never worked in any nation throughout history. Venezuela is the latest example of this failure.

Liberals believe in racial integration, whereas leftists divide along racial lines whenever possible with such notions as safe spaces on college campuses for specific minority groups only with no whites being allowed. Leftists also embrace a worldview that racist, white Christian fundamentalists arrived here from Europe, systematically committed genocide against Native Americans, enslaved and segregated black people, denied women, gays and other minorities their rights and used capitalism and a rigged legal system in a deliberate effort to oppress poor people for centuries.

True liberals realize the Founding Fathers were visionaries who made difficult choices and compromises to provide us with a system of government unlike any other government the civilized world has ever known. Leftists oppose strict interpretation of the very Constitution which documented and maintains this government.

So, I say again, when I review all the comments made by those who have claimed to be liberals, they express view points that are really leftist. They offer evidence that, over the past five decades,  what used to be considered liberalism is now leftism. I didn’t vote for JFK, but when an old conservative dog like me now considers himself to be more of a classic liberal than those who say they still are liberals, this is significant evidence we are being challenged by a movement that will serve to eventually destroy America as we know it, and as we hope it will always be: a country (though flawed) that still serves as the bastion of hope and liberty for the world, a country consisting of a people who are proud to call themselves Americans and wish to see the unity we experienced after the 911 disaster restored.

 

 

How certain can we be of what we believe?

Aristotle listed five different degrees of certainty. He listed them in order from highest degree to lowest degree. The strongest evidence we can have for believing something to be true is the knowledge that is self-evident. These are the truths that include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These truths are their own evidence and most objective of the five listed. This is why Aristotle recognized them as the only kind of knowledge that is really knowledge in the strictest sense of the world. The other four kinds are increasingly more subjective. They are based on evidence obtained from the well-established opinions of mathematics, the conclusions of scientific investigation, the philosophical opinions that are based on our common experience and common sense from philosophical reflection, and finally, the opinions of historians which can be supported by historical and scientific research.

With the exception of true atheists who are in denial, the majority of people on the planet accept the premise that a creator exists because of the logic of cause and effect. We experience this creation with our five senses, and logic tells us that someone or something caused that creation to happen. This truth is self-evident. The belief that our creator is personal to us, however, is not self-evident. When we Christians examine why we believe in the triune God of the Bible, we have to concede that the most appropriate class of certainty of the five listed that applies to us in our belief is the last one, the historical evidence presented in the Bible. Yes, God communicates to us through our conscience, but that is even more subjective evidence than the historical evidence.

Historical evidence is the most subjective of the five because so much of it is based on eye-witness accounts, and we recognize how unreliable witnesses can be. But we also know that the majority of what we think we know we’ve learned from reading what someone else has to say about whatever it is we think we know; in fact, most of what we know is based on the historical evidence, so we have no choice but to  give it much weight in our search for knowledge.  Yes, it has its limitations, but so do the other sources Aristotle listed.

Unbelievers of course concentrate their attack on Christianity by attacking the credibility of our historical evidence, the Bible. They claim their unbelief is better supported because they rely on reason and scientific evidence, a more objective source of knowledge than history. But reason has its limitations too. All belief systems have to utilize a certain degree of faith in their beliefs because we just don’t know all the answers. Life is a mystery to all of us, and it will remain so until the day we die. I might point out here that unbelievers don’t even concede to know the questions much less the answers. As atheist philosopher Albert Camus once said, “We don’t aim so high.”

The Bible is the most analyzed book in history. Even unbelievers concede there has never been a book written in the history of mankind like the Holy Bible. Much of its account of the early history of the Middle East has been supported by the archeological evidence. The 40 or so writers were inspired by God to tell His story of our salvation. The 66 books included in the canon present us with a consistency of message and purpose unlike any other books every written. C. S. Lewis concluded that if the authority of any other historical source of information were attacked in the same way people question the authority of the eye-witness accounts presented in the New Testament, we would have to be content to know nothing at all of this life. We have no choice but to accept historical evidence as fact when it has met the test of credibility as the Bible has, time and time again. But, just because we understand what we are reading doesn’t mean we believe it to be true. This is where the degree of certainty is appropriately applied.

Christians concede that our evidence for belief in the gospel is weaker and more subjective than the evidence for unbelief, but those of us who accept the Bible as the very Word of God have been enabled by our God through faith to believe what Scripture tells us. For us who possess the faith God gave us to believe in the Bible as truly His Word, we believe what this book tells us. We believe this book that Lewis tells us has a “mythical radiance” is the truth, the only truth. For us, our faith is the strongest, most reliable indication of the truth with the highest degree of certainty; and, even if that faith is as small as a mustard seed, it is sufficient for our salvation.

 

Are you “religious?”

When I tell people I’m a Christian, some will tell me they believe Jesus Christ was a good man and a good moral model, but they aren’t “religious”  as though being religious is not a good thing to be. When I ask them what they mean by using this term, they tell me they believe in God and consider themselves to be spiritual but do not subscribe to any organized religion. For them, “religious” has a negative connotation because they see religious people as being “churchy”, arrogant and judgmental “Bible-thumpers.”

I surprise them by telling them I agree with them. Being religious can have that connotation, and some people who claim to be Christians and go to church on a regular basis indeed act this way. This is why theologian Karl Barth once said that religious was not good in itself. If a person was just focused on being religious in acting out a belief which is disconnected from what God tells us in His Word, that is not a good thing. Barth even went so far as to conclude that indeed religion can be the enemy of faith because it can represent man’s attempt to enter into communion with God on his own terms.

What does God have to tell us about being religious? Here’s what the Apostle Paul had to say: “I urge you (religious people) to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit though the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-7.

When we understand that this is what being “religious” is supposed to be, we should be pleased to call ourselves religious, and we should encourage others who are being religious in the arrogant, judgmental way to examine their witness in light of God’s Word and make sure it is not acting like an enemy of faith. Only in our true witness of the Word can being “religious” be a very good thing. That’s the kind of “religious” person we all should want to be, and we can be pleased to identify with those religious people who use the Bible as a guide in living a life that represents the Christ within us. Only in this way will those who do not share our Christian belief understand that being “religious” can be a very good thing indeed.

What is justice?

Donald K. McKim, in his Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, defines justice as “the concept of each person receiving what is due. ” He relates justice to love and grace.

Science fiction author, Robert A. Heinlein, in his book Job: A Comedy of Justice, tells us that justice is not a divine concept; it is a human illusion.  “The very basis of the Judeo-Christian code is injustice, the scapegoat system. The scapegoat sacrifice runs through the Old Testament, then it reaches its height in the New Testament with the notion of the Martyred Redeemer. How can justice possibly be served by loading your sins on another? Whether it be a lamb having its throat cut ritually, or a Messiah nailed to a cross and ‘dying for your sins.” Somebody should tell all of Yahweh’s followers, Jews and Christians, that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Or maybe there is. Being in that catatonic condition called ‘grace’ at the exact moment of death, or at the Final Trump, will get you into Heaven. Right?  A long and wicked life followed by five minutes of perfect grace gets you into Heaven. An equally long life of decent living and good works followed by one outburst of taking the name of the Lord in vain, then have a heart attack at that moment and be damned for eternity…It’s God’s world, His rules, His doing. His rules are exact and anyone can follow them and reap the reward. But ‘just’ they are not.'”

In putting these words in the mouth of one of his characters in his book, Heinlein demonstrates that he has been fed a counterfeit gospel. He did know about the Old Testament sacrificial system as portrayed by Evangelicals, but he didn’t understand that a scapegoat wasn’t sacrificed; a scapegoat symbolically received the sins of the people of Israel and was driven into the wilderness to carry the sins away on the Jewish Day of Atonement. He did not know that blood sacrifice in the Old Testament represents cleansing or thanksgiving, but not payment for forgiveness of sin. He did understand the Evangelical teaching that Jesus’ death finally fulfilled the blood-for-sin paradigm upon which Penal-Substitutionary Atonement is based. But he did not apparently realize this theory of atonement is at best a small part of the purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Heinlein is right when he implies we can’t avoid God’s justice by following his rules, but he cannot accept as fair how God’s grace works to save us while we are still sinners. Martin Luther marveled at how God does this, but Heinlein is frustrated by God bestowing his saving grace on a person who has sinned all his life and is seemingly saved at the last moment by God’s grace. Heinlein believes there should be no free lunch, and that implies he believes we should have to earn that grace by doing good. That’s the way man understands justice from our perspective; but, we need to understand justice from God’s perspective. As Heinlein says, “It’s God’s world, His rules, His doing.” God is determined to save those whom he has enabled to believe in his Son, Jesus Christ and his intentions cannot be thwarted.

So, what is justice like from God’s perspective? God tells us in his Word that he is just; that is one of his characteristics. Scripture also tells us we all have sinned, and God’s divine justice requires that all of us receive what’s coming to us: eternal condemnation for our sin. We know we cannot put ourselves in a right position with God to merit our salvation by doing good works.

Christians who have a true faith in Christ as our Savior know that God has determined to save us before we were even born. Extending his grace to us is not some whimsical act on his part. Yes, as Heinlein mocks, “Being in that catatonic condition called ‘grace’ at the exact moment of death, or at the Final Trump, will get you into Heaven, right?”  Yes, it will, but the thief on the cross wasn’t saved just before he died; he had been destined to be saved before he was born. Jesus merely connected God’s rendering of justice with his grace and love when he told the man he would be with him in paradise because of his faith.

Heinlein’s misunderstanding of the gospel should motivate us to think about how we  understand the gospel. Do we understand divine justice from God’s perspective? Do we understand the need for that justice to be met and how this has been done for those of us who believe in God’s grace which has been extended to us through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ?

The cost and reward of discipleship

“At first, Christianity is welcome to all who have no special reason for opposing it: at this stage he who is not against it is for it. What men notice is the difference from those aspects of the World which they already dislike. But, later on, as the real meaning of the Christian claim becomes apparent, its demand for total surrender, the sheer chasm between Nature and Supernature, men are increasingly offended. Dislike, terror, and finally hatred succeed: none who will not give it what it asks (and it asks all) can endure it: all who are not with are against it.” C. S. Lewis from Mere Christianity.

Christians are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ. McKim’s Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, defines the term as a person “who follows and learns from another as a pupil. It is used specifically for those who follow Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:1).”

Being a disciple of Christ means we are to put aside our instinctive focus on self and center our thoughts and actions on the person and teachings of a man who is like no other human being who ever walked this earth. Even unbelievers acknowledge Christ’s uniqueness of character and moral teaching. But, as Lewis said, when they recognize that we are to follow Christ in a way that we follow no one else, they turn away from Christianity.

Reverend Adriel Sanchez, the pastor of North Park Presbyterian Church in San Diego, states that “You cannot follow Jesus and be devoted to others in the same way you’re devoted to Him.  This type of exclusivity is especially difficult in societies like ours, where non-Christians are happy to include Jesus among the great religious teachers but not above them. Yet, Jesus won’t share the stage with anyone else, and He demands that our love for Him be unique.”

Jesus told his disciples that following him wouldn’t be easy. “The comfort and glory we often want for ourselves are antithetical to the cross.” John Calvin said that Christ’s followers “ought to prepare themselves for a hard, toilsome and unquiet life crammed with very many and various kinds of evil.” This is why Jesus urges those he chose to follow him to seriously consider the cost of following him. But it’s important to also understand the reward of discipleship.  It’s critical we understand that while discipleship will cost us everything, what we gain is so much greater than what we think we lose.

Peter asked Jesus if there was a reward in forsaking everything to follow him. Jesus answer is recorded in Luke 18:29-30. “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time…and in the age to come eternal life.”

Reverend Brad Waller, pastor of Grace Church of the Islands in Savannah, Georgia, states that “Discipleship is costly. Jesus promised persecutions. But the narrow way leads to expansive joys.” He quotes Jim Elliot, the missionary who was killed in Ecuador: “He is no fool to give up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Of course to believe what Elliot says is to connect with the supernatural element of Christianity.  We have to believe through faith that when we give up the bird in the hand by becoming a disciple of Christ’s and focusing solely on him instead of the world, through the grace of God, we will receive the two birds in the bush which is to enjoy unity with Christ in this world and in the world to come. We should therefore “rejoice and be glad for our reward is great.”