Absolute Certainty About Jesus AND…

This article was featured on the Baptist Convention of New England blog.

To be a Christian in today’s cultural context takes courage and commitment. When we are talking with friends, relatives, and neighbors about something as personal as what will happen to them after they die, it can sound strange and offensive to them that Jesus is the only way to Heaven.

But it will help us hold firm to our convictions if we remember that they and us trust that other people in our lives have absolute certainty about life or death situations all of the time.

  • A pharmacist better have absolute certainty about the pills that he or she is dispensing. I have a severe penicillin allergy, and a pharmacist giving me the wrong medicine could not only hospitalize me, it could cost me my life.
  • An engineer must have absolute certainty about every centimeter of a bridge that he or she is planning. A bridge on an interstate over a large river near where we used to live collapsed due to an engineering error. Two cars plunged into the river, cars piled up as they slammed on their brakes to avoid going in the water, and several people almost died.
  • A surgeon must have absolute certainty of what they are doing, especially before he or she operates on a vital organ like your heart! Can you imagine going ahead with surgery if your doctor explained, “I think that I know how to do this heart surgery. It just feels right–to me, anyway.”
  • An explosives expert in the army who is deployed in the Middle East must have absolute certainty about which wires to cut!

Given that we have no problem understanding that people need to have certainty in these life or death situations, we should not be surprised that Jesus says that He is THE way, THE truth, and THE life, and no one comes to the Father but through him (John 14:6). Since Jesus claims to be the God-man come from Heaven to bring us eternal life, it makes sense that he is certain about who he is and clear that he is the only way to Heaven.

If you can trust your heart surgeon, you can have absolute certainty in the Son of God.

As Christians, we need to be clear that we have absolute certainty about who Jesus is and what he claims to have done for us if we will trust him. Of course we still love our friends and family if they reject Jesus for themselves, but may they at least always be able to say that they know we have absolute certainty about Jesus being the only Savior. It’s the very least we can do for them.

The examples I gave that everybody in our society accepts as people who need to be certain about their jobs are not even as clear of a parallel as our certainty about Jesus because we know that pharmacists, engineers, surgeons, and explosive experts do sometimes make mistakes. They are only human. But Jesus is not only human.

We can have absolute confidence in him both for our eternal salvation and as the only hope for our yet unbelieving family and friends. As John the Apostle explained, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” (1 John 5:20)

The Big Picture of the Bible in Four Movements

Just as in a great symphony there are different movements that make up the entire masterpiece, in the Bible there are four great movements or stories that make up the whole.  Creation.  Fall.  Cross.  New Creation.  Put together, these four themes can give us the big picture of the entire Bible.  Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees, and we simply need to step back and take in what God has done and is doing.  I hope that this will help you rejoice in His amazing and sovereign plan that is for our salvation and His glory!

Creation.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen. 1:1) are such familiar words as almost every English version of the Bible translates this first verse the exact same way.  God created all things, showing both ownership and care for what He had made.  His great plan had begun!

Fall.  The Bible wastes no time in presenting the great predicament that mankind has found himself in since the beginning.  At the start of Genesis chapter 3 Adam and Eve are already presented with an opportunity to sin, and they turn from God to sin and death.  So do we: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Rom. 5:12).

Cross.  God’s solution to His creation turning from Him and the fact of their spiritual and physical death is effected in His Son, through His death on the cross.  The One promised from the moment of the Fall (Gen. 3:15) came as the God-man who alone could atone for our sin.  “And you, who were dead in your trespasses…God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Col. 2:13-14)  Christ and His work on the cross is looked forward to throughout the Old Testament and looked back upon throughout the New Testament.

New Creation.  The last “event” in all of history as we know it will be the New Creation, when God will consummate all things by abolishing sin, evil, and death.  Those who are in Christ will enjoy a New Heaven and New Earth in new bodies that will never be tainted by sin or its’ effects.  God will be worshiped and we will enjoy Him and His creation forever with joy that we can only imagine now.  God’s plan for our salvation and His glory will have been realized as He exclaims at the end of the Bible: “It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” (Rev. 21:6b)

May we respond to the big picture of the Bible as John did at the end of Revelation: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)

God Crushed His Son for Our Good & His Glory

A few weeks ago my wife and I were in the kitchen when we heard a terrifying sound: a huge crash coming from our son’s room and then screams of fear and pain.  I ran into his room to see the most frightening scene I have witnessed in my life yet: my 4 year old son was crushed under his dresser that had completely fallen on top of him.  He had pulled all of the drawers out as he was putting something away and it toppled onto him.  All I remember in the seconds between seeing what happened and lifting it off of him was his body crushed, and his head sticking out from underneath the top of the dresser with a look of terror and “help” in his eyes as he screamed.  We are so thankful that he was fine. The Doctor said he just needed to take it easy for a few days, and as I write this he is happily playing energetically as he normally does.

Maybe because our pastor is preaching through Isaiah 53, the next day I thought of the verse speaking of Christ that says, “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush Him…” (Is. 53:10). It is no wonder that Christ cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46b). When Christ was bearing sin on the cross and taking the full brunt of God’s wrath against sin, it is not just as if God saw His Son crushed “under the dresser” (sin) and turned away, but rather that it was actually His will for Him to be crushed. This is why some “Christian theologians” have so mistakingly called substitutionary atonement “divine child abuse.” They have a completely unbiblical view of the fact that Christ was both man and God and came into the world for this plan of salvation that had been in the works since before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). In His humanity Christ cried out as He was crushed by sin and His very Father’s wrath as He bore our sins: “But He was wounded for our trangressions; He was crushed for our iniquities…” (Is. 53:5). In His deity, Christ was resolute: “…And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” (John 12:27b-28a).

When we think of Christ’s sin-bearing from the perspective of God pouring out His wrath on His beloved Son, it can be shocking and seem “scandalous.” But when we think of it from the perspective of Christ bearing our sin, we praise the One who did this for our good and His glory. Thank you Lord for this truth: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

What is the Gospel?

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There is way too much confusion about the Gospel.  If we as Christians are basing our entire lives on the truth of the Gospel, should it not be crystal clear in our minds?  I am embarrassed to tell you one of my moments of un-clarity regarding the Gospel:  the Pastor that I worked with in New Mexico asked me one day how I would share the Gospel with somebody that I was sitting next to in an airplane if the plane was going to crash.  I had been in full-time ministry for over 3 years at that point and let me tell you, I was hoping that imaginary airplane was flying high at cruising altitude when the engines failed!  I was able to share it biblically faithfully as I had many times when the Lord gave me opportunities, but not concisely.

How about you?  When you have only a few minutes but a clear opportunity or even someone asking you to share the Gospel, do you know where to start and finish?  What are the non-negotiables that they need to know in order to truly be saved?  Are you teaching the Gospel to your children constantly?  Do you thank God regularly for what He has done for you in Christ because it is often on your mind?  We need the Gospel to be emblazoned upon our hearts and ready on our lips!

When I recently attended the Shepherd’s Conference at Grace Community Church where we are members, I had a list of several kinds of books that I was looking for at the Conference Book Store.  At the top of my list was a book about the Gospel.  I knew that after 4 1/2 years of studying more than I thought possible to be as equipped as I could be for full-time ministry, that I needed to step back and see the big picture.  I also knew that I want to be laser-sharp on what the Gospel is in my ministries now and as I look ahead to full-time ministry.  If I could go back and change only one thing in the almost 6 wonderful years of being a Youth Pastor before seminary, it would be to preach and explain the Gospel more often and more clearly.  Paul the Apostle taught the whole counsel of God, and yet there was a sense in which he could say to the Corinthians, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

I found exactly the book that I was looking for in the little book What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert.  So, what IS the Gospel??  This is the most important question that you will ever ask, as well as the most important question that you will ever answer.  I agree with Gilbert as he shows that Scripture breaks it into 4 basic truths:

1) God.  We are accountable to the God who created us.  He is both Creator, and holy and righteous (Genesis 1:1, Psalm 24:1, Matthew 5:48).

2) Man.  We have sinned against that God and will be judged (Romans 3:10, 6:23; Isaiah 59:2).

3) Christ.  But God has acted in Jesus Christ to save us.  God sent Christ as both fully God and fully man, and as God’s perfect Son He died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin and then rose from the dead (Colossians 2:9, Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Corinthians 15:4).

4) Response.  We take hold of that salvation by repentance from sin and faith in Jesus (Isaiah 55:7, Luke 9:23, Romans 10:9, Acts 17:30).

Look at all 4 principles laid out clearly in Romans 3:23-25a, “…for all have sinned and fall short [man] of the glory of God [God], and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus , whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood [Christ], to be received by faith [response]…”

It was said in many different ways all throughout God’s Word.  Sometimes it was assumed that part of it was already believed, such as that God was Creator and Judge to a Jewish audience.  But these 4 basic principles are always in the background or in the forefront of a complete Gospel presentation.

As Gilbert points out, another way of looking at these 4 truths is how they answer 4 crucial questions that Paul lays out in Romans 1-4:

“1) Who made us, and to whom are we accountable? [God]

2) What is our problem?  In other words, are we in trouble and why? [Man]

3) What is God’s solution to that problem?  How has he acted to save us from it? [Christ]

4) How do I–myself, right here, right now–how do I come to be included in that salvation?  What makes this good news for me and not just for someone else? [Response]”

As I look at the precious and glorious answers to those four questions, I am reminded of the simplicity of the Gospel and yet its’ profundity.  The Good News of Jesus Christ is simple enough for a child to understand, and yet complex enough to write a doctoral dissertation on each of these points and still not plumb the depths!

It is also easy to notice that the Gospel is made up of both bad news AND good news.  In our society of “whatever you believe is true, is true for you” philosophy, and generous tolerance of any belief except for Christianity, I am afraid that we are too ready to soften the parts about us being accountable to God the Creator, the depth of our sin, or the fact that our King was crucified on a wooden Roman instrument of torture over two thousand years ago and then actually rose from the dead.  It is especially hard for people who have been taught all of their lives that man is essentially good to understand what they need to be saved from.  It is equally hard in our day to explain to those who have a “Santa Claus” view of God that He is not only a God of unfathomable love but also unfathomable holiness, and their Judge.  Yet that is exactly what people need to hear.  The whole, simple, profound, true, cutting, crushing, revealing, surprising, loving, saving, and gracious Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Let’s take note of Gilbert’s alarm: “Indeed I believe one of the greatest dangers the body of Christ faces today is the temptation to rethink and rearticulate the gospel in a way that makes its’ center something other than the death of Jesus on the cross in the place of sinners.”

If you teach Sunday School, if you have children, if you preach, if you have neighbors or co-workers or relatives who need to hear the Gospel (we all do), or if you just need to think clearly and deeply about the Gospel (we all do), I encourage you to read this book, and soon!  I know that you will devour it as I did, and that it will result in more praise to Jesus Christ.  As Gilbert explains, “An emaciated gospel leads to emaciated worship.  It lowers our eyes from God to self and cheapens what God has accomplished for us in Christ.  The biblical gospel, by contrast, is like fuel in the furnace of worship.”  I am thankful for this book, because having a precise and lucid understanding of the biblical Gospel “calls us forward to that final day when heaven will be filled with the roaring noise of millions upon millions of forgiven voices hailing him as crucified Savior and risen King.”