What Does it Mean to Invite Jesus Into Your Heart?

This is the third message in our series “Think About It: Christian Cliches… what’s this even mean?” Other messages in the series include “It’s Not My Gift” and “Let Go, Let God.” 

I used to go to a Christian camp every summer when I was a kid. Almost every year I would be encouraged to “let Jesus into my heart.” I was already a Christian, so this invitation confused me. I know others who always felt pressured and guilty that maybe they sent the invitation to the wrong place or forgot the stamp? Maybe Jesus only visited their heart last year, and this year they hope he chooses to stay. It’s a confusing invitation: letting Jesus into your heart.

What’s that even mean, really? Is it a one-time invitation, and then we’re set for life? Or is it a habitual invitation that we need to keep on issueing so he doesn’t leave?

 

key with heart Continue reading

How Should Christians View the Old Testament?

I hate the word “old.” It makes it automatically seem like the thing that’s old isn’t any good anymore. If something’s old, maybe it’s still around for a reason – it’s worth keeping around!

Now look at your Bible and you’ll notice one binding. One book… all Scripture. 1 Timothy 3:16-17 famously declares, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” While this may be familiar, it’s important to remember the “Scripture” being referred to is what we call “the Old Testament.”

As Christians, we need to remember that the Old Testament is just as much authoritative Scripture as the New. The problem is, we don’t always know how to interpret the Old in light of the New. Here are some reminders that will serve you well.

Man in Church Continue reading

What is the Gospel?

Do you know the gospel? Ok, great! Let’s hear it. Right now, in under a minute. What if you had three minutes to explain the gospel to someone in a way that was understandable, biblical, and compelling? Could you do that?

Christians talk about the gospel a lot, but I think most of us are unprepared to actually share the gospel with people. Hopefully I’m wrong, but I’d be surprised. Here are three things that I am absolutely convinced need to be in any presentation of the gospel (whether you’re talking with a friend or preaching from a pulpit).

1. Sin & Judgment
Without talking about sin, there’s simply no need for a savior. If I’m fine and can handle life on my own by being better than the next guy, then I don’t really need God.

But if sin is real and judgment is coming, then sin is a big deal. We shouldn’t talk about judgment in a way that we are the ones doing the judging, but simply to ask the question, “What if there is a God and you’re called to stand before him to answer for your sin? What would you have to say for yourself?” Because, as much as we may argue against Christ, I think most people know that they’re more sinful than they would admit.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” Romans 3:23-24

The reality is we will all need to answer before God. The bad news is that we’re all guilty; the good news is Jesus came to declare us innocent.

2. Jesus’s Death and Resurrection
If Jesus is the doorway through which we enter, the cross and the empty tomb are the hinges. Much to my frustration, I have heard many “gospel presentations” at large evangelistic youth events where the cross and resurrection have been either completely absent or so briefly mentioned they merely got a head-nod.

Read through the book of Acts and see how the Apostles preached the gospel. They always emphasized the Person of Christ (who Jesus is) and the Work of Christ (what he did: especially on the cross and through the resurrection).

The gospel is not shared by merely asking, “Do you want to be a child of God” or “Do you want to be forgiven?” Those are great questions, and they may pave the road towards sharing the good news about who Jesus is and what he did, but they are not the gospel.

Our faith needs to be placed in Jesus Christ, for he alone is the giver of good news (which is what the word “gospel” means… “good news”). The gospel is the message of what Jesus did: he died as our substitute on the cross, taking upon himself the judgment that we deserve, and we claim his resurrection victory as our own by faith. Because of Jesus we have been reconciled, redeemed, and reunited with God. The rift that was torn between God and humanity has been restored. The wrath of God, which we earned because of our sinful rebellion against his sovereign reign, has been quenched by the cross. The sting of death has been defeated and given the death-sentence because of the resurrection.

The message of the gospel completely hinges upon who Jesus is (the Son of God) and what he did (took away the sin of the world through his death and resurrection). If you do not focus on Jesus you simply are not talking about the gospel.

3. Repentance
The only appropriate response to the gospel is repentance. When we recognize our sin, we see our need for a savior. When we believe in Jesus and place our faith in what he has done for us, we proclaim that our eternal destiny is completely dependent on him. If those two things are true of us, we need to understand repentance. Again, we look at the Apostles’ preaching to see the necessity of repentance,

I… declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” Acts 26:20

Technically, to “repent” means “to change your mind,” or “to turn around.” I like to explain it as doing an about-face. For more about repentance you can go here.

There are two main steps to repentance:

  1. Confessing that you are a sinner. Not just in a general sense, but to actually name your sins before God. “God, I’m proud. I want people to think I’m important and impressive and I tend to care more about their opinion than I care about your opinion.” Naming your sins before God doesn’t surprise him. Confession weakens your sin by staring it straight in the eye instead of playing pretend that you don’t have issues. If you can’t confess your sin, you cannot repent.
  2. Professing that God is better than your sin… and living like it. If you confess your pride but continue to live in it, then have you really admitted that it was wrong or did you simply pay lip-service to what you think was the “right thing” to pray? Confession leads to profession… saying that the joy of following God is greater than the happiness offered by sin. Simply put, this second step of repentance is “living it!” So you want to stop sinning? Great. Will you live differently?

Without repentance, faith is hollow and empty. We can claim to be Christians, and we can say that we believe in Jesus, but we are saying by our lives that we want eternal life with God but we want our independence right now.

Reminder: Jesus Wants to Make You New
If you are sharing the gospel with someone, be sure they realize that Jesus wants to make them new. New hope. New faith. New destiny. New freedom. New life.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

Forgiveness is “free” in the sense that we can’t earn it and we certainly don’t deserve it. Becoming a Christian will cost you something. Obviously, we don’t give up all our sinful habits in the moment we give ourselves to Jesus. The Christian life is a lifelong habit of repentance because we’re always finding something new to confess and because we routinely slip into our old habits of believing that sin can bring more joy than Jesus.

I love to remind people that Jesus wants to make them new. Not new in a way that is completely different from the old; but new in a way that is more complete than what was there before.

A Final Encouragement: Remember the Holy Spirit
Remember that you are not alone. God cares more about the lost than you do, the Holy Spirit is actively working in that persons life. Salvation is never the result of human effort, it is always the work of God. He will use you to accomplish that work, but do not go about it in a way that puts the results in your own hands. If the person believes, then praise God for his faithfulness! If the person still doubts, then pray that God would continue to work in his or her life in such a way that they would come to see the joy and hope and newness of life that comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

Thinking About Self-Righteousness

Don’t be this guy!

Self Righteousness… does anyone like it?  You know the type… those who walk around like they’re holier than thou, judging everyone else for not being as godly as they are.  That’s basically the stereotype that every Christian needs to fight against (see the above image!). 

But here’s the thing… you can’t be a Christian and be self-righteous.  

Self-Righteousness says:

  • “I am better than you are.”
  • “I am good enough to be acceptable to God.”
  • “You can’t judge me, only what I believe matters.” 
  • “You need to do and believe what I do and believe, because I’m the one who’s right.”

Those are things no Christian can say.  If you are a Christian and you say those things, then you have not understood the Gospel.  (Yes, I realize the irony here. Before you accuse me of being self-righteous, please finish reading this post.)

As Christians, we completely rely on Jesus’ righteousness, not our own.  The only thing my righteousness earns for me is judgment (Romans 3:23-24, 6:23).  The Gospel shouts, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8). 

The ironic thing about accusations of “Self-Righteousness” is that every religion other than Christian actually teaches self-righteousness.  I know that’s a huge claim to make, and I’m willing to be proven wrong in the comment section below, but I do think it’s true.  Only Christianity teaches that we are acceptable to God because of someone else’s righteousness; other religions and philosophies teach that you are required to improve yourself before God in order to “attain righteousness.”  

When we build our understanding of “truth” on our own interpretations or opinions then aren’t we defending our own self-righteousness by saying that we are the ultimate knower and determiner or what is real?  Instead, when we rely on what God has revealed through the Holy Scriptures and we seek to understand what God has spoken and how the Scriptures still speak today (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then we are again relying on the righteousness of the God who speaks rather than on ourselves.  

Ultimately, Christians, we must remember that we are not self-righteous… we fully rely on the righteousness of Jesus.  Let us live in such humble and faith-full way that the righteousness of Jesus would shine through us, and give glory to our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).  

I don’t want anyone else to be more like me!  I want them to be more like Jesus… because I want to be more like him too.

Three Things We Need to Know

Here are three things I think are very biblical and healthy for every Christian to know.  I also think they’re very useful for us to keep in mind for the sake of evangelism and sharing the Gospel with others.

1. Know Who God Is

  • God is Holy and Sovereign (Isaiah 6:1-5).  He is infinitely bigger than you could ever imagine.
  • God is the Creator (Gen. 1).  He made everything that exists… including you.  Not only did he make you, but he made you in his own image!  Whether you recognize it or not, you belong to God.
  • God is the Judge (Rev. 20:11-15).  It doesn’t take much more than a bit of honest humility to see that there’s something seriously broken in the world and in our own soul.  We will give account.
  • God is Love (1 John 4:7-10).  (which gets us to the next thing we need to know…)
    (obviously, there’s more that could be said here about who God is and what He’s like… you can go HERE for a fantastic chart that will help you explore this further)

2. Know What God Has Done

  • God never gave up on us (Gen. 3:15; Isaiah 53).  Even from the moment of humanity’s first sin he has always left a message of hope for us.  He sent prophets to tell us there would be a day when we would be freed the judgment we deserve and reconciled to God.
  • God did the unthinkable – He became one of us (John 1:14).  Think about it, God the Son (the second Person of the Trinity) really, historically, physically became a baby boy who ate, slept, and did other “things” babies do…
  • God died in order that you might live (John 3:16-17).  Yes, I wrote it that way on purpose – for that is who Jesus is.  He took your punishment, your judgment, your wrath, your sin upon himself so that you could be set free.  That’s love!
  • God has adopted you (Eph. 1:4-5).  Christian, He has made you his child by faith.  May it never be lost on you that the God described by #1 above chose to adopt you – not because you were worth it, but because of His grace and mercy and love.  (If this idea of God choosing you sounds repulsive, maybe this could help clarify what we do and do not mean by it?)
  • God has saved you (Rom. 8:1).  This is probably the simplest way to put it.

3. Know Who God is Calling to You to Be

  • God is calling you to be secure (Rom. 8:37-39).  Life is unpredictable and can get turned upside-down in a moment.  Because of Who God Is and What God Has Done, you can stand secure on the unchanging God.
  • God is calling you to live by faith (James 2:18-26).  This might sound simple (and it is simple, in some ways), but it certainly isn’t easy.  You can’t live by faith if you never do anything beyond your ability.  Will you really trust God, or just talk about how trustworthy he is?
  • God is calling you to be a light (Matt. 5:14-16).  A candle doesn’t need to be taught how to give off light and heat, it just needs to be lit.  When you submit yourself to God, He will change you day by day.  The more you simply trust him and grow in your love for him, the more brightly you will burn.  (note: This isn’t something you accomplish by trying to do it, it’s a byproduct of savoring the realities of knowing #1 and #2 above).

The Fatherhood of God: A Sermon Summary

How does your relationship with your father mirror and reflect your relationship with your Heavenly Father?  Maybe this is something you’ve thought about a lot, maybe it’s a new thought – but the more you think about it the more I’m convinced you’ll find many parallels.

The Big Question today is this: If I am painting a portrait of God for my children, what does He look like?  Is this portrait anywhere close to the one painted throughout Scripture.

I want us to look at the Fatherhood of God through three lenses: God’s Authority, God’s Provision, and God’s Love.  Fathers can faithfully reflect these characteristics of God, or they can greatly harm our view of God by abusing or neglecting these characteristics.

Before moving on, there are a few important qualifications that need to be made:

  1. Even if you aren’t a father, this sermon is for you because it is mostly about who your Heavenly Father is.
  2. If you aren’t married, let these characteristics of God guide you young men as you grow in biblical manhood, and let them guide you young women as you consider relationships and future marriage.
  3. If you compare your father to your Heavenly Father, guess who will come up short?  Don’t forget that as long as your father has breath in his lungs he will be a work in progress.  Give grace to your dad, and remember that you aren’t the perfect son/daughter either!
  4. If you have an absent or abusive father, You need to be assured of two things: First, God will never abandon you; and second, God will not abuse you.

God’s Authority
In the midst of his suffering, Job cried out in self-justification that God had treated him unfairly.  In response, God put Job in his place (Job 38:4-12), essentially saying, “Job, where were you when I created the world?  I didn’t see you there… on what authority are you judging me?”  God does not answer to me or to you.

It is good for my kids to have a healthy fear of me.  Not a fear that causes them to wonder if I will stop loving them or if I will reject them.  But what kind of portrait of God’s authority am I painting for them?  If I let my kids run the house, I am not pointing them to a Heavenly Father who has Authority, but to One who exists to do their bidding.

God’s Provision
One of the clearest ways that God has provided for his people is through Manna.  Imagine being among the Israelites in the exodus.  God has delivered you from slavery, sent the Ten Plagues and has now parted the Red Sea.  But then you start to wonder: Where do we go from here?  What are we going to eat?  How am I going to provide for my family?  The people started to grumble against Moses, and then we read Exodus 16:4-5

God literally made food rain from heaven.  Not just once, but every day (except for the Sabbath, but they were allowed to gather for the Sabbath ahead of time).  God loves to provide for his children (see, Matthew 7:9–11).

Will you trust God to provide, or do you give lip-service when you pray?  When you pray for daily bread, do you grumble and complain as if God was faithless when your food runs out at the end of the day?  When God’s will and your will are not the same, will you still pray, “Thy will be done?”  How I pray, how I make decisions, and how I spend my money will teach my kids whether or not they can rely on God to provide.

God’s Love
The story of Hosea might be the most beautiful portrayal of God’s love in Scripture, obviously excluding the Gospels.  While Hosea doesn’t give us a pattern to pursue in how God wants us to pick a spouse, his life is a clear picture of God’s faithful love for his children.  He marries a woman, Gomer, who time and time again is faithless to him, runs from him, gets herself in danger, and even sells herself into slavery.  But Hosea chases after her and refuses to give up on her, regardless of the cost or sacrifice to himself.  Hosea 3:1 provides a wonderful glimpse into Hosea’s story and its significance.

In the end, after relentlessly forsaking Hosea, Gomer receives Hosea’s love after she had done everything imaginable that could’ve caused him to hate her.  As the Apostle Paul would later write, “but God demonstrates his love for us in that, while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Tying it Together
At the cross we see God’s Authority, God’s Provision, and God’s Love at its finest hour.  (John 3:16–17)

 On the cross God’s authority overcame our sinful rebellion.  We had rejected his authority and put ourselves on his throne.  But God showed his power over sin through the resurrection.  The power of sin is death, and death could not hold him.

 On the cross God provided freedom from eternal judgment by taking the punishment we deserve upon himself.  He paid our debt, he took the punishment we deserved.

On the cross God’s love led him to adopt us as sons and daughters.  It was his love, not the nails, that held Jesus on the cross.  He had the authority to come down from the cross, but his love kept him there so you could be set free.

Regardless of what kind of father you are or what kind of father you have – God’s Fatherhood is perfectly marked by Authority, Provision, and Love.  Be thankful for every way your father has shown forth the faithfulness of your Heavenly Father.  Remember that despite every fault your human father has, your Heavenly Father is perfect.  This is most clearly seen through Jesus Christ on the cross, where we are adopted as children of God.

Rest in your identity as his child, and especially you fathers out there, be encouraged to live in such a way that the portrait of God you are painting for your children is faithful to the picture of God we seek through Scripture.

Remember Who You Are

Sermon Summary: Remember Who You Are
Galatians 4:21-31

WHO ARE YOU?
What we believe about who we are (identity) drives how we see the world (worldview) and how we live (lifestyle/morality). Paul is address this identity-issue in today’s passage: he’s reminding the Galatians church that as believers in Jesus Christ they are “Children of Promise.”

He compares the children of Hagar with the children of Sarah, making it clear that those who put themselves “Under the Law” are children of Hagar the slave. Instead, we who believe in Christ are born of the Spirit and are children of Sarah, we are children of promise.

WHY WOULD ANYONE DESIRE TO BE UNDER THE LAW?
It’s worth considering why anyone would desire to put himself under the law. There are three main reasons to consider.

  1. Putting yourself under the Law makes life clear-cut and simple. Under the Law, life is black-and-white and you only need to learn what God wants you to do and teach others to learn God’s Law too. The problem with this is that God’s Law never changes hearts, it shows the hearth’s guilt before a holy God, so life turns out to not be so simple and clear-cut afterall because we aren’t able to do what we know we should do.
  2. Putting yourself under the Law promotes Holiness. Holiness is a good thing, and we’re all called to pursue it. The Law is good and reflects God’s standard. Again, the problem with the Law is that it can’t bring about what it demands. Where the Law tells us to fly, the Gospel gives us wings.
  3. Putting ourselves under the Law is natural. We all want bad to be punished and good to be rewarded. Grace and mercy are, in many ways, unnatural. Since God is a good Judge, He upholds the Law; since God is loving He took the punishment we deserve.

As Children of Promise, we look forward to the coming of the New Jerusalem. We are people of faith, who live with God’s promises in mind. Although Jerusalem represents the holiest place on this earth, Paul is emphasizing that in comparison to the New Jerusalem (read Revelation 21) it looks like a landfill. In light of the great promise that lays ahead, the Old Jerusalem becomes like Hagar… a substitute that relies on the effort of man instead of the miraculous work of God.

ONLY GOD CAN CHANGE YOUR HEART
This couldn’t be more practical. We all know people who keep making a mess of their lives; really, who isn’t guilty of doing that to some degree or another! Bad decision after bad decision. Beer after beer. Needle after needle. Partner after partner. Website after website. Lie after lie. We command ourselves to stop, to be less addicted or proud or selfish or judgmental. We keep saying it’s going to be our last time… but it’s not.

Surely counselors and doctors and medicine are wonderful blessings that God has provided, so I’m not saying to avoid those, but we must recognize that they cannot change our hearts… only God can do that, and He does that through faith.

IDENTITY: CHILDREN OF PROMISE
Christian: Remember who you are… a child of promise… a person who walks by faith. Embrace grace – the grace the God has given you, and the grace He is calling you to give to others.

If you are not a Christian, please do this: Look deep within your heart and confess to yourself what you see, then ask yourself what you will do with your sin. How will you stand before a Holy God? How “good” is good enough?

The Great News of the Gospel is this: God loves sinners! He loves sinners so much He died for them, for you and for me, so that we could be forgiven, redeemed, and made innocent so we can stand before a Holy God.