time to turn right
“There are only two kinds of people in this world. Those taking a right turn at eternity’s door and those taking a left.”
Letter to austin
“The grounds of your justification are the perfect works of Jesus Christ. We’re saved by works, but they are not our own.”
~ R.C. Sproul
“We can never fathom the agony in Gethsemane, but at least we need not misunderstand it.”
~ Oswald Chambers
When we had lunch the other day, I mentioned the simple fact that, if I had the instant, painless cure for prostate cancer and kept it to myself when you were going through your ordeal, I would certainly qualify for the world’s biggest %$@#*. I promise I won’t pummel you to death with this, but you see why I must speak up.
I will do my best, prayerfully, to get to the point, not my natural tendency. I’ll focus on the boiled-down, straight-forward claims rather than rambling too long—necessitating multiple breathers for the reader. One direction or approach is to simply suggest that Christ is unique. We briefly talked about this. Yes, there are all sorts of perspectives, philosophies (isms), and ideologies out there. But the most important is epistemology. What? Epistemology is essentially the study of knowledge. How do we know? Can we know? The number one pursuit in life, our number one priority, is to live according to what is true. Agreed? Living according to falsehood, a lie, would be the epitome of foolishness. I want to know if the traffic light is red or green. I want to know (if possible) if I have cancer or not. One of my favorite New Testament passages occurs in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). He is saying that if Christianity is essentially a spiritual narcotic but ultimately not true (when you’re dead, you’re dead—poof gone), then forget it. But our faith, the testimony of scripture, the gospel message, is true—a truth you can wager not only this life on but, more importantly, the one after.
Jesus Christ is unique for a very elementary reason. He was (is) God incarnate. As scripture declares: He is Immanuel, “God with us” (Isa. 7:14). We cannot live the perfect (better, holy) life God requires. We inherited a sinful nature from our parents in the garden, so, if reconciliation is going to be possible, it must come from Him. And this costs us nothing. Cost Him everything. He lived a perfect life and yet, rather than being applauded and worshipped, is murdered by us, the very people he came to rescue. Kind of crazy. Taken from a legal or historical perspective, the case for Christ or the truth claims of scripture are iron clad. Apologetics: the rational defense of the Christian faith. Also, now biblical scholars argue the 9s (99 or 99.9%) when the accuracy of our modern-day Bible translations are debated. Our understanding of the original languages improves as time goes on, which increases our confidence in our modern-day interpretations.
In general, Conservative Biblical Christianity (CBC), separates itself from every world religion and cult by essentially two major elements. First, this Christ we claim as Savior was, and is, truly God. He is the only God-Man that ever existed. He came back from the dead and was seen by many eye-witnesses. See 1 Cor. 15:6, “After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” The disciples later (eleven out of twelve, most likely), were martyred because they knew beyond a doubt that Christ did indeed rise from the dead. Why die for a lie? Second, we are saved (saved from God’s justifiable wrath) by faith alone. Faith alone. This is where everybody else (all world religions and cults) disagree vehemently. Religion is essentially man desperately trying to impress God with our goodness, works, performance, or worthiness. Our attempt at earning a ticket to heaven. I talked (well, it was a friendly debate) with a couple Mormon gentlemen at my home in Plano one evening many years ago. There isn’t a darn (I cleaned it up) thing we can do to impress God. We add or bring nothing of value to the covenant agreement. I don’t like the concept of total depravity. In fact, it sucks. That being said, it is what it is. We just have to get over it and see the world and ourselves through God’s eyes.
Another perspective: you die. Rumors are this will happen someday to all of us. We never know when. Maybe sooner than we think. We approach the Pearly Gates, bang on the door, and say “Let me in.” When Porter Peter, Paul, or Mary (is that a group from the sixties?) opens the window above the Gate and asks who is there and why they should let you in, I hope you are not planning on saying your name and the fact that you are a nice guy, certainly better than your neighbor who is a real jerk. Unlike us, God doesn’t (He cannot) grade on a curve. He cannot because He is holy. In fact, the Bible says, “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Isa. 6:3, Rev. 4:8). When God says something once, it is important. Twice, very important. Three times, well, you get it. A back bedroom that has no windows is really dark. When you switch on the twelve recessed lights in the ceiling, the darkness has no chance. That is another way to look at it. God is holy and we are not. We are sinners. I “wish” it were different, but Carvalho doesn’t make up the rules of the universe. You don’t either. God does.
But here’s the good news, God’s infinite love and grace in action. As Christians, when we pull up to the Pearly Gates an absolutely amazing thing happens. Since we accepted the gift Christ offers and we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (a very brief sampling of Jonathan Edwards in a moment), then the Porter actually sees the Holy Spirit. Put another way, in a case of “mistaken identity,” the Porter sees us as Christ. The Holy Spirit (3rd person of the trinity) = Jesus Christ (the 2nd person). This is incredible. Similarly, we get in because we live there. We have been adopted into the family of God. We are co-heirs with Christ. Not by anything we have done. No matter how “great” we are. It is by grace.
Say you are sitting at the dining room table with your wife and kids and someone knocking nearly brings down your front door. You open the door, hesitantly, but you have a locked storm door, so you are somewhat protected. Standing (barely standing) on your front porch is a guy, and, bless his heart, he is seriously hurting. He reminds you of Jack Nicolson in The Shining. Crazy look in his eyes, obviously high on something. Then a gun and knife fall out of his coat pockets. Okay, how are things going? He looks at you and yells, “I am coming in. I am going to live with you!” Do you gladly open the door and welcome him into your home? Of course not. Let’s talk perspective or scaling. The difference in personal soundness, ability, or value, between you and the guy on your doorstep seems enormous only when viewed from our perspective. Whatever that so-called difference would be, compared to a Holy, righteous, perfect God it is miniscule—not worth debating. I think all of us, as sinners with an even rudimentary understanding of the concept of holiness, can see that. So, if people wouldn’t let the guy on their doorstep in to live with them, what leads us to believe the Porter in Heaven would let us in when the disparity between us and our God is of infinitely greater magnitude?
One day at Bible study, we had a bit of fun populating a worksheet and graph with people and their apparent value. Obviously, individuals like Mother Teresa were at the top, and those like Hitler and Stalin were at the bottom. Fair enough? So, then we evaluated everyone in the room. Again, we had fun ranking everyone. Clearly the Bible study guy should score higher than most (smile), an engineer in the middle, and an attorney just barely above the bad guys. We filled in the worksheet and viewed the chart. Then we added God to the data set. When his value factor was imposed on us mortals the obvious happened. There was essentially zero difference between the earth dwellers. We were straight-lined. All of us. Not a lot of difference between any of us. I only make this point to suggest that all of us, when compared to a Holy God, fall very short.
That’s the bad news. We are doomed. Well, toast. Given this predicament, God could easily have said, “Oh well.” But knowing we could never do anything to close the gap, bridge the chasm, ravine, or valley between us, He chose to make the rescue. He entered into human time and space a couple thousand years ago. You know the rest of the story.
And while we are here: we focus on the physical agony of the crucifixion, the cross of Christ. It can be acknowledged justifiably that the emotional and, in a sense, spiritual pain far outweighed the physical. This is nearly impossible to contemplate given our human lack of understanding but also the fact that we are easily overwhelmed by the physical when we see the horror of the crucifixion. Since Christ died on his own, by his own choice and time, he suffered beyond anything man could ever suffer due to the fact that we would have fainted and succumbed. He did not. But carrying or being charged for the sins of the world and then, as a necessary extension, being forsaken by the Father is beyond our comprehension. We see horrible things in the world today and ask, “Why Lord—why?” One way to think through the apparent lack of a clear answer is to look back two-thousand years to the most painful tragedy and greatest injustice ever to occur. Only God’s love could allow us to murder His only Son. Only love. The question is not how much more the Lord could (should) do for us, but: How much more could He do? He died the most agonizing death in history for us. What more can we demand? Luke 13:1-5 and R.C. Sproul’s article are worth reading. Go to the Ligonier Ministry website, then search for When Towers Fall.
I ramble, but this stuff is of ultimate importance. The bottom line is scripture is truth and verifiable. It is inerrant in the original manuscript. We allow for some errors due to copying and rendering. The various translations can carry words or terms that are still debated by well-meaning biblical scholars. But these instances always deal with very minor issues. The major doctrine or foundations of the faith are never debated, never in question. Christianity is in many ways complex, deep, difficult. What would you expect from a God who can speak the universe into existence? But in other ways it is incredibly uncomplicated, and anyone can understand its essence. Recall the thief on the cross. As it goes in Luke 23:42-43, “Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” Most likely the thief was not a giant in Old Testament studies, yet he made the right decision to trust Christ for his eternal destiny. Have you? If not, why not? Do not wait another minute. There are only two kinds of people in the world: those taking a right turn at eternity’s door and those taking a left. Follow Christ to the right. Eternity is a long time to either enjoy the presence of God in paradise or not.
Suggest serious Bible reading and study. What is more important? There are books galore that I can help you find. Try the New International Version (NIV) Study Bible and start with the book of John. John emphasizes the deity of Christ, a logical place to start. Besides, if you start with Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, you will get a headache reading the “begats.”
Jonathan Edwards: a brief explanation of his thoughts on the trinity. I can only follow about twenty percent of this. God thinks of Himself. Wait, let’s start with: you think of yourself. Our thoughts of ourselves are seldom correct. You can certainly see that you and the thought (image?) of yourself are two different things and wrong. Well, God thinks of Himself, so the thought (logos, reason, mind, Word, expression) is both different than Himself and for God, perfect—the same as Himself. A perfect duplicate. Not theologically correct terminology, but hopefully the point is made. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Then two persons—or more, in fact—come together in relationship. This flow of love and joy is a third entity. What we commonly call a spirit. In God’s case, of course: the Holy Spirit, a Person. We can see this in our lives as a basketball team, a band, marriage, family, work, the rock-climbing club. Weak analogies for sure but essentially similar. When we accept Christ, when we turn ourselves away from sin (rebellion), and follow Christ, we partake in the “Spirit” or relationship between the Father and the Son. Pretty cool.
PS … did I mention that Jesus fulfilled over 300 prophesies in the Old Testament? That in itself could start and finish the story of redemption. For more information please take a look at the According to the Scriptures website.