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.
We don’t “accept” Jesus, He redeems and then accepts us.
Jesus doesn’t enter our heart, the Holy Spirit does.
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.
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.
Joan Osborne once inanely crooned the question, “What if God was one of us?” She sang this as though it had never been answered. Well, if God was one of us, He would have come full of grace and truth (John 1:14), speaking the truth in love. He would have been a perfect, exact image of the Invisible God (Col 1:15). In our blindness we would have rejected Him (John 1:11, Colossians 1:21). Yet in His grace, He would have reconciled all things to Him through His blood on a cross and made peace between a rebellious people and a Holy God (Col 1:20). He would have done this to make us sinless, spotless, and blameless (Col 1:22). In fact, he would have gone so far as to give us the privilege to be call ourselves the children of a God against whom we had once rebelled (John 1:12). He would have, once and for all, delivered us from darkness to light (Col 1:13). He would have taught us what our Heavenly Father was like (John 1:18) because he has been with Him since eternity past (John 1:1).
How do I know all this? Because God was one of us! God did come down to earth. Because Joan Osborne’s question was answered almost 2 thousand years before she was ever born. Joan Osborne opens her song by asking, “If God had a name what would it be?” If God were one of us, His name would be Jesus. And, although He was equal with God the Father, he humbled Himself and became a servant (Philippians 2:6-7). He lived the life we were supposed to, paid the penalty we earned, conquered the death we deserved, rose from the grave by which we were imprisoned, and now grants us a gift we could never purchase: reconciliation and peace with God. And one day, every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11).
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14).
We have taken the infinitely glorious Son of God, who endured the infinitely terrible wrath of God and who now reigns as the infinitely worthy Lord of all, and we have reduced him to a poor, puny Savior who is just begging for us to accept him. Accept him? Do we really think Jesus needs our acceptance? Don’t we need him?
God used a 9-year old boy and my dog to teach me something. A few days ago, one of the boys in our neighborhood was petting Petunia, our 25 lb mutt. Kids love her and she does a great job of tolerating all the attention. However, much to their dismay, Petunia is usually more interested in smelling her environment; she’s part hound, so she experiences the world primarily through her nose. Because she kept wandering off, Jadon, the young boy, kept calling her back. “Come, Petunia, come here!”
He tried every variation of a dog call he could think of. Petunia wasn’t listening at all, so finally, in an exasperated and comically desperate manner he asked, “What will make her come?” To which I simply replied, “My voice.”—
At that point, I said, “Petunia, come” and she ran over to us happily and rolled on her back so we could pet her. Which got me thinking…
Doesn’t Jesus say something about His voice? In John 10:4, Jesus-while describing Himself as the Good Shepard and us as his flock-says that “the sheep follow him [Jesus], for they know his voice.” I couldn’t help but wonder how often I fail to faithfully follow the voice of God. It also made me consider how patient God is with me when I repeatedly fail to hear His voice or, even worse, when I simply ignore it completely! Like Petunia, I’m far too easily distracted by my environment (TV, books, hunger, people, etc.) and it’s easy for me to wander. But Jesus is our Good Shepherd, going out ahead of us and leading us.
Do you realize that Jesus knows and calls you by name? I find this to be pretty amazing! Jesus knows me, Jesus leads me, Jesus calls me by name. In fact, Andreas J. Kostenberger says “there is evidence that Palestinian shepherds used to give nicknames to some of their sheep. (John – Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)” The idea of Jesus knowing me well enough to give me a nickname-and to call me by name- inspires me to trust His voice (Jn 10:14). The image of Him going out ahead to lead me inspires me to follow His example (Jn 10:3. The reality that He laid down His life for me inspires me submit to His Lordship (Jn 10:11, 15, 17, 18).
Amen! May you be inspired by the Good Shepherd to trust, follow, and submit to the Good Shepherd.
(A friend of mine named Aaron Gray originally posted this quote and it came up with Connie in a recent conversation. It’s one of my favorite illustrations of why Christianity is not a religion. In fact, one of the charges brought against Christians, by the Romans, was atheism! Anywho, I thought this was far too awesome of a quote not to share here also. Hope you enjoy!)
“In a sermon Dick Lucas once preached, he recounted an imaginary conversation between an early Christian and her neighbor in Rome.
“Ah,” the neighbor says. “I hear you are religious! Great! Religion is a good thing. Where is your temple or holy place?”
“We don’t have a temple,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our temple.”
“No temple? But where do your priests work and do their ritual?”
“We don’t have priests to mediate the presence of God,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our priest.”
“No priests? But where do you offer your sacrifices to acquire the favor of your God?”
“We don’t need a sacrifice,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our sacrifice.”
“What kind of religion is this?” sputters the pagan neighbor.
And the answer is, it’s no kind of religion at all.”
(This is an unplanned follow-up to a post I did about this passage earlier this week.)
“I was in that boat.”
Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up and had to go to the bathroom. Don’t you hate when that happens? I usually try not to think about anything when I wake up so as not to get my mind going because then I have trouble falling back asleep. I checked the time: 2:30. I realized I was thirsty so I poured myself a glass of water and suddenly a realization dawned on me about the storms of life and specifically about this passage.
I felt God gently whisper something to me: “I was in that boat.”
Think about it for a minute! The disciples were never actually alone; Jesus was with them in the boat. Similarly, don’t I have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside me? So am I ever actually alone when the storms come? Never!
Our suffering pales in comparison to that of our Savior!
Jesus promised that He will be with us. One of my favorite Bible verses (Heb 4:15) says that Jesus, because He has experienced being human, is able to sympathize with us! But that verse doesn’t say that Jesus is able to sympathize with just the good parts of human life; it’s talking specifically about suffering. Jesus is able to sympathize with our weakness. Earlier, in Hebrews 2:18, the author states that Jesus is able to help us when we suffer because He has suffered Himself.
In fact, it’s doubtful that anyone has suffered to the degree that Jesus has. On the cross, Jesus absorbed God’s full wrath for the sins of all mankind (Mt 27:46). Our suffering pales in comparison to that of our Savior! He is infinitely more familiar with suffering than we are.
And that is one of the most beautiful parts of the Gospel. It means that, no matter how dark the storm clouds, Jesus is always able to help us walk through. This is because, as Jesus promised in John 16:7, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside us. We have God dwelling inside us!
So my encouragement to you is the same as that of the author of Hebrews: look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured more suffering than we can ever hope to imagine on the cross and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:2, paraphrase). Look to Jesus not only for an example, but also for hope and empathy!