Do you belong to Christ? Are you really His? I ask this not to frighten you or cause you to doubt your salvation–because Jesus will certainly never lose any of His own–but to urge you to honestly “examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine…” (2 Corinthians 13:5 NLT), as God Himself urges us to do in His Word.
“But God’s truth stands firm like a foundation stone with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and ‘All who belong to the Lord must turn away from evil.'” (2 Timothy 2:19 NLT)
Heaven seems free these days. For generations now we have had preachers literally begging people on the street corners and in the pulpits to “accept Jesus,” yet our world seems to be becoming more secular, and the distinctions between churched and unchurched lesser–to the degree that in many cases those who claim Christian beliefs poll indistinguishably from those who do not. What is the problem? Why is it that claimed faith in Christ seems to have too little bearing on their everyday life for so many people?
I believe part of the reason is because–in our desire to evangelize and bring into the Kingdom as many as possible–we have emphasized certain doctrinal truths while neglecting others. We have, for example, lauded wonderful verses such as “…Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31 NIV), and “If you declare 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 NIV), while perhaps failing to explain that the Greek word translated into the English word “believe” implies such a belief as generates genuinely changed behavior. We have, on the other hand, skimmed over less comfortable passages, such as Hebrews chapters 3 and 4, which equate belief with obedience, and unbelief with disobedience.
So does this mean we earn our way into God’s good graces, and ultimately into heaven? No, of course not; salvation is through Jesus Christ’s finished work of salvation on the cross. And it does involve our believing in Him, but the belief God requires of us is of a far deeper and more genuine caliber than most of us imagine.
It is the kind of belief that Jesus Himself referred to when He said, “…Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with his angels, and then He will reward each person according to what they have done.” (Matthew 16:24-27 NIV)
These are very uncomfortable words, because if most of us are honest, we must admit that we have become very comfortable with our lives here, and would be hard pressed if we had to genuinely forfeit them–or even any little bit of our comfort or pleasure within them–for Christ. Yet, this is the faith those in nations hostile to the gospel of Christ know, because for them, gaining Christ frequently does involve losing all.
And yet, Jesus gives us multiple opportunities to confess Him or deny Him in our daily lives–opportunities that might cost us if we are bold, if we confess Him openly. Maybe we won’t be stoned or have our property taken away or be imprisoned, but there might be social or professional repercussions. Yet even this is too much for many of us–there are times we aren’t willing to sacrifice even this little for the One we claim to have given up all to follow–for the One who gave up all to gain salvation for us.
All of this should cause us to remember Jesus’ words: “Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in His glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26 NIV)
We are indistinguishable statistically from the unchurched all too frequently because we fail to correctly understand the path of following Christ as one of self-denial rather than self-indulgence, as one that does lead to glory, but through the doorway of Calvary first.“…unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves Me.” (John 12:24-26 NIV)
God gives no suggestions; He gives truth. It is our non-optional game-plan–the only game-plan–for obtaining eternal life. True faith sacrifices all for Christ.
This, in fact, is our biggest mistake: not recognizing that gaining Christ and being found in Him will cost us. Jesus’ parables are full of this truth–He repeated it multiple times in multiple ways. No, we do not earn it–Jesus earned our salvation for us. But it will cost us–why else would He have counseled us to consider how much we will have to sacrifice to follow Him?
“If anyone comes to Me but loves his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, or sisters—or even life—more than Me, he cannot be My follower. Whoever is not willing to carry his cross and follow Me cannot be my follower. If you want to build a tower, you first sit down and decide how much it will cost, to see if you have enough money to finish the job. If you don’t, you might lay the foundation, but you would not be able to finish. Then all who would see it would make fun of you, saying, ‘This person began to build but was not able to finish.’ If a king is going to fight another king, first he will sit down and plan. He will decide if he and his ten thousand soldiers can defeat the other king who has twenty thousand soldiers. If he can’t, then while the other king is still far away, he will send some people to speak to him and ask for peace. In the same way, you must give up everything you have to be My follower.” (Luke 14:26-33 NCV)
The Old Testament prophets understood this–they were rejected and persecuted. The early Christians understood this–they were lit up as human torches and saw their children killed off in front of them. Christians in other countries understand this–conversion for them typically means loosing family and friends, and even their life. But do we? I suspect once we do, we will no longer be indistinguishable from those who do not know Christ.
Dear Lord Jesus,
Help me be worthy of You! Amen.