Accept Jesus into your heart

I can’t tell you how many times—especially growing up in the Bible Belt—I heard that I needed to accept Jesus into my heart. Over the last few years, and especially lately, I’ve been convicted of a couple problems with that phrase.

  1. We don’t “accept” Jesus, He redeems and then accepts us.
  2. Jesus doesn’t enter our heart, the Holy Spirit does.
  3. I don’t invited Jesus into my life, He invites me into His.

First, there is nothing more arrogant than for us to assume that Jesus must earn or receive our “acceptance.” The truth is, “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7). In fact, “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” Romans 8:8). The truth is, you are either in the flesh or in the Spirit (Romans 8:5). There’s a direct contrast between the two, so to tell someone—anyone—that they have the capability to accept something to which they are hostile is foolish. It would be like telling the darkness to accept the light or a decaying corpse to accept life. It cannot. The miraculous truth is that God accepts us because of the finished work of Christ. The only option we have is to bow down in humble worship and gratitude because we have been accepted (Colossians 1:13-14).

Second, Jesus doesn’t enter your heart. I have two big, big problems with this claim. Of greatest concern is that it doesn’t say this anywhere in the Bible. Sure, Jesus is “with us always (Matthew 28:20),” but no where in the Bible does it say that Jesus lives “in our heart.” Actually, the Scriptures tell us that after resurrecting, Jesus physically ascended up to heaven (Acts 1:9) and is seated at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2; Revelation 4:2, 9-10, 5:1, 7, etc.). Jesus is not in your heart, Jesus is seated on a throne. Why is this important? Because it shows that Jesus’ work is finished (John 19:30). The other reason I dislike this phrase is because it doesn’t make any sense. As Christians, don’t we believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ? How, then, does He fit in our hearts? Sounds absurd right? That’s because it is. Once again, Jesus is seated on a throne. The Holy Spirit dwells within us, not Jesus (Romans 8:9-11—now, I realize that in vs. 10 of that passage it says “if Christ is in you” but vs. 11 clarifies this by describing the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead.” The idea here is that, because of the 3-in-1 nature of the Trinity, there is some overlap with regards to who is your heart, but the specific role of dwelling within believers falls to the Holy Spirit. See John 16:4-15 for further clarification.).

Finally, something my pastor has been saying recently that has really resounded with me is this: “When I became a Christian I didn’t invite Jesus into my life, He invited me into His.” Jesus doesn’t join your life, your plans, and your purposes. You join Jesus’ life, plans, and purposes. The point is simply that you do not attach Jesus to what you already have going on as though He’s a simple accessory to be added to your wardrobe. Instead, we reorient our entire lives around Him. Jesus becomes our True North. Instead of living for ourselves, we lay down our old lives and live for Christ.

Rick Warren on being a Christian but not attending a church

Only in our culture of idolatrous individualism do believers think they can follow Jesus without belonging to His Body.

Rick Warren

Book Review: Christ Formed in You

I can honestly say this is the best book I read in 2011. If you only have time to read one book this year, this is the one I recommend. In fact I loved it so much I bought it for two people as Christmas presents. This is a book I hope to read annually.

After reading Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change by Brian G. Hedges, I have to say I’m very disappointed I haven’t heard more preaching on some of the topics this book covers. Most specifically, I’ve never heard anyone preach a sermon about mortification or vivification; yet these seem like some of the basics that every Christian should know. I’ve read the epistles a dozen times but only once have I heard someone else talk about the putting off/putting on that Paul describes. (The only other book I’ve read that covers this is God without Religion by Andrew Farley.) I felt as though, after reading Christ Formed in You, that this is the meat and potatoes of our involvement in progressive sanctification. I feel like these are essential topics that need to get taught more in our churches.

Of greatest importance is Hedges’ insistence that we never “move on” from the Gospel; instead we are to be rooted and established in the Gospel; it is the soil from which we grow. This is something that I had to learn early on when I started taking theology classes. After a couple semesters my studies became a detached, sterile exercise and my relationship with God started to suffer significantly. I took a few semesters off (during a deployment) and managed to recover the Gospel for myself, but it would have been easier if I had known much of what is covered in Christ Formed in You.

If book publications are any indicator, it seems as though there is a revival in “Gospel awareness” among influential pastors. I feel as though we will see a huge movement of “Gospel-centered” preaching, teaching, and ministry arise from the next generation of church leaders. I’m excited to be a part of it and certainly want to learn more about how to apply the Gospel to my daily life.

Overall, I think this was an excellent, refreshing book that covers many of the basics of Christian living. Ideally, I would recommend that young Christians read it so as to start their spiritual formation on a solid foundation. It’s a great book with lots of solid, applicable teaching.

John Piper on conducting grace to others

No man is complete unless he is conducting grace (like electricity) between God & another person.

John Piper, Desiring God, Revised Edition: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2011), 210.

A sobering warning

Ary Scheffer - The Temptation of Christ (1854)

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone,  but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ”

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

I’m sure that, like me, you’ve heard a sermon or two through this text. The fact that Satan tests Jesus three times lends itself to a nice, tidy 3-point sermon. The fact that Jesus is in the desert and passes tests of faith hearkens back to Israel’s testing and subsequent failure during their time in the desert. The fact that Jesus succeeds where the Israelites failed demonstrates that Jesus has come to fulfill a mission that was originally Israel’s. Then there’s the nature of the three tests: one physical, one spiritual, and one that’s a little bit of both. There’s lot to be learned from this passage, but there’s one thing I’ve never heard anyone say about it.

I’m really careful in my interpretations of the Bible, and this passage recently spoke to me in a new, startling, and sobering way. I’ve heard some people point out that, in his second test, Satan quotes Scripture against Jesus. Satan tries to fight fire with fire, in a sense. In fact, this is exactly what He did in the Garden of Eden with Eve. He asked, “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1). Satan is quick to take God’s Word and twist it…not a lot, mind you. Satan will intentionally twist God’s Word just enough to cause others to stumble. But Jesus is quick to counter Satan’s verses with some other verses. It’s a case of verses versus verses, really. I’ve heard this almost casually mentioned as part of sermons covering this section as thought it’s just one more thing that Satan has in his arsenal. But has Satan ever appeared to you and misused Bible verses to your face? Me neither! So, what else can we learn from Satan’s tactic?

It’s this: whether we mean to or not, if we twist God’s Word, we are satanic. Any misinterpretation or misrepresentation of the Bible, whether intentional or unintentional, is satanic. Even if we’re unintentionally misinterpreting the Bible, that only means we’re unintentionally being satanic.

Ask yourself, “Is my biblical interpretation satanic?”

I’m becoming more and more convinced that just “knowing your Bible” is utterly insufficient. Satan knows the Bible! If there’s nothing separating us from Satan in our Biblical knowledge then we’re in big, big trouble. Telling people they just need to know their Bible is like saying you should just “buy a gun” for home defense. I wouldn’t tell anyone to buy a gun if they didn’t know how to handle it! I think that’s why Paul tells Timothy to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). We can logically assume that this means there is a way to wrongly handle the word of truth. That’s what Satan did while testing Jesus and that’s how he still operates today.

It’s not enough to just know your Bible, you have to also know how to rightly handle your Bible. Peter says there are two types of people who twist Scripture:  the ignorant and the unstable (2 Peter 3:16). Ignorant here describes one who has not acquired a formal education (which is funny to see, coming from a fisherman); and the word unstable refers to someone who has the tendency to change and waver in one’s views and attitudes (which is also funny to see from someone as rash and unpredictable as Peter was in his youth). So the sobering point is, if you’re going to tell people they need to buy a gun for home defense, it’s just as important that you teach them how to rightly handle their firearm, otherwise they’re a danger to themselves and everyone around them.

This should be very sobering to all of us. We must handle the Word of God with the greatest of care and humility. We must depend on the Holy Spirit to reveal its meaning and we must test that interpretation against the whole of Scripture. This is another reason it is so important for us to be involved in a local church; we must seek the wisdom of other believers to make sure that we’re not missing the meaning of the Bible–whether intentionally or unintentionally. If something is 99% truth, and 1% lie, it’s still a lie and this is precisely how we see Satan twisting the words of God.

At this point, the last thing you should do is instantly think of how this applies to other people. Notice I still said that is a thing you should do? I’m just saying it’s the last thing you should do. The first thing you should do is make sure this doesn’t apply to you. This requires humility, but we have to make sure we’re rightly handling the Word before we approach others. The point of all this is to push us towards greater humility as we approach the Scripture and greater dependance upon the Holy Spirit. Consider the plank in your eye and then, after you have made sure your eyes are clear, confront your brother about the plank in his! (Matthew 7:5)

So where to go from here? Well in the past I’ve written a few blogs that I called Bible Study 101. I’ve outlined several great possibilities in there. Another option is to read a book; I would recommend How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth, but there are many other options available, some of which are free. For a list of free resources that will help you understand God’s word more clearly, take a look here. Take heart and realize that, although the Bible requires a lifetime of study, it provides an eternity of benefit. I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth (John 16:13), that we will rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), and that we will never twist the word of God.

Related Links:

Healing through serving

People discover personal healing through helping others.

Dino Rizzo, Servolution: Starting a Church Revolution through Serving(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 43.

Icons and Character

There’s something that has fascinated people for centuries about the creation account in Genesis. It says that Adam was made in the image of God:

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

I had a hunch about something, so I did a little research into the Greek version of the Old Testament because that’s what the New Testament author of Hebrews quotes. (It’s called the Septuagint or abbreviated as “LXX”.) It turns out that in the Septuagint, the word used in this passage of Genesis is “eikón,” which is where we get our English word, “icon.” An icon is defined as “An image; a representation.” Adam was made as an icon of God, and he was meant to have children, exercise dominion over the animals, and, strangely enough, eat vegetables (Genesis 1:28-29). I have no clue what the vegetables part means, but either way something went terribly wrong and here we are still living in the consequences of Adam’s fall (Romans 5:12).

So why did I bother looking all that up? It’s because of a special word that only shows up once in the entire New Testament and it’s used to describe Christ. In Hebrews 1:3, we read that Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of God’s nature. I was especially interested in the “exact imprint” part. For some reason, it caught my attention, it jumped off the page at me! As it turns out, this Greek word is not eikón, but instead it’s “charaktér.” Look familiar? It’s were we get the English word “character,” which is defined as “The combination of qualities or features that distinguishes one person, group, or thing from another.”

If Adam was an icon that represented God, Jesus fully and flawlessly embodied God’s character, His nature! And where Adam failed to image God, Christ served as a perfect representation of God’s character. Perhaps it means nothing, but I find it interesting that the author of Hebrews quotes the Septuagint quite frequently, but chose to use a different word to describe Christ.