In the early hours of Christmas morning 2011, as partygoers left a teen club, shots were fired and a total of 9 were wounded. Discussions became heated as the community discovered that the teen club was actually considered an outreach ministry of a local church. The church defended its approach of ministering to urban youth by hosting parties with hard-core rappers using explicit lyrics, at times allowing the sale of alcohol to adults in the venue, and presenting scantily clad females posing on advertisements, by saying that they “would do anything to be relevant.”
Time would fail me to fully respond to the post-modern quest for relevance, and the point is not to offer detailed response to this particular incident. But it certainly got me thinking – once again – about authentic faith, salvation, and a world of sinners in search of life’s meaning. I will simply say that the Word of God is always relevant. It is powerful, and believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit and equipped with the Word, will also be relevant. The popular saying is, “Methods change but the message does not.” The message is timeless, and only the true, unadulterated message of Jesus Christ can be effectual.
Methods change, but we must remember that this is only related to the presentation of the message. No matter how many people you “expose” to your ministry name or facility, they will never experience salvation until they are taught the Word of God and how to take responsibility for their own spiritual growth through the spiritual disciplines. Methods that draw crowds but don’t present the message are pointless. Worse yet, they can send conflicting messages and increase barriers to effective witness. The Seeker Sensitive approach, and arguably even Bill Hybels’ own words acknowledging the error of the approach, are the greatest real-life examples of this point.
People are still seeking. What got me thinking even further about authenticity in faith and salvation is the attitude of many of my students where I serve as School Resource Officer. Through many conversations at school and beyond, there seems to be a cultural misnomer that if one “got saved,” “got baptized,” or prays to God on occasion, then that person will go to Heaven…regardless of the manner of life lived or death died. I see a clear connection between going to the church club on Saturday and playing club church on Sunday (if at all).
Then again, these misnomers are characteristic of society in general, and yes, even cops. As I conversed with a student recently, God led me to Luke 13:27 (and the parallel passage in Matthew 7) where Jesus tells those who ate with him, used his name, and even did good works to get away because he didn’t know who they were or where they were from. He knew “the real” them. As I read and studied Luke 13, I found several practical truths interwoven through the passage that I have coined “The Real Word on Salvation.” For the sake of time and space, I’ll let you read the chapter rather than posting it.
Luke 13:1-5 – I think there’s truth to the fact that the Jews thought suffering came because of sin. Just read the book of Job. But what stands out is that Jesus says twice, “Unless YOU repent, YOU will also perish.” Many times we compare our lives to others. I have heard people say, “If that person is a Christian, then I know I’m good.” But that’s not how salvation works. Each person, with comparison only to the Word of God, must repent (turn away from a sinful lifestyle that is offensive to God and turn to God in truth and sincerity of heart) or be eternally lost.
Luke 13:6-9 – Jesus then tells about a fig tree that doesn’t produce fruit after three years. The gardener asks the owner not to cut it down, but give him a chance to fertilize and see if it will produce. If it doesn’t produce fruit that year, it will be cut down. True repentance and salvation are about change. We cannot say we are saved, and continue without fruit – evidence – of our salvation. Our lives must demonstrate a change of heart and life that aligns with Scripture and is ever-increasingly like Jesus, which comes from being fertilized by reading Scripture, prayer, and fellowship with other believers. Otherwise, we are just taking up space. Rest assured, Jesus has and will give us many chances, but there is coming a day when those who are not saved will be “cut down.” We may look like the real thing, but only the real thing will produce. The Scriptures are replete with examples of the chaff being burned, that which can be shaken will be shaken, and so on.
Luke 13:10-17 – Jesus then heals a woman who had been disabled for over 18 years. Many in the crowd became angry that he healed on the Sabbath, but Jesus’ explanation quickly left them quiet and humiliated. Even the oxen and work animals were released from the yoke, their bondage, on the Sabbath so that they could drink, rest, and be refreshed. Those living in sin are truly crippled by the bondage of sin. Jesus is the only one who can release us from bondage so that we can experience “the rest that remains for God’s people.” In previous verses Jesus teaches that we must repent and demonstrate true life change. Here, he points out that those things can only be accomplished in, by, and through him. Others in the crowd rejoiced at his teaching. Perhaps they were the ones who had experienced freedom as well. Authentic faith and salvation is about healing our disabilities, forgiving our sins, filling us with the fruits of righteousness, and a change that others will notice.
Luke 13:18-21 – Jesus then offers two more parables to further explain the way of salvation. He says the Kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a great tree in which birds nest. For lack of better terminology, salvation starts small – as a seed that is planted in our hearts. At first we are babies, and we must grow up into maturity. As the Word of God and the experience of salvation grows in our lives, we become strong, mature, productive believers that can then provide refuge, direction, and stability for others.
He continues by saying the Kingdom of God is like a small amount of yeast that is mixed in with 50 pounds of flour until it spreads throughout. Again, it starts small, but must and will eventually permeate every aspect of our lives. Yes, one may come as they are – in sin with hurts, habits, hang-ups, and the like…but they won’t stay that way. No, we won’t make you clean up and make all sorts of legalistic rules. But we will encourage and expect growth and change to occur. How can anyone exposed to the love of Christ and the truth of God’s Word not experience change in their lives? True salvation is “lived out” on a journey that leads us to maturity and final consummation in the Kingdom of God at Christ’s return.
Luke 13:22-30 – Jesus then proceeds to the section that was brought to my mind at first. He says we must make every effort to enter into the narrow door of salvation, because many will try without success. When they respond that they ate and drank with Jesus, and listened to his teachings, he will respond by leaving them outside. The account in Matthew 7 says that they even call him “Lord,” cast out devils in his name, and did many other works. Even still, they are told to depart because he does not know them.
In talking to my student, I used the illustration of marriage. Imagine two individuals who go to the altar or courthouse, say “I do,” and then never really spend time together. The man (or woman) goes out, has affairs with other people, lives a lifestyle in obvious offense to his spouse, and only speaks in passing. Are they married? Perhaps technically they are, but not really. They don’t have a marriage relationship. Just because they had a one-time altar experience or converse on occasion does not mean that they know one another. The woman may claim her marriage, or even use her husband’s name, but she is in no way going to experience the true benefit and blessing of marriage.
Likewise, there are many who have had some sort of “altar” experience, may pray on occasion, or even claim the name of Christ, but they are not really in relationship with him. They live in blatant and intentional disregard for his law and word, and live a life that is an offense to his love and holiness. They are deceived, and unless they change, they will be in a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
After prophesying his death that would provide for salvation (verses 31-33), Jesus then laments (verses 34-35) over those who were not willing to be held close under the shelter of his saving grace through that death. Jesus was not condemning them. He was telling them the truth so that they could be truly saved and set free. Now that’s a relevant message.
Our loving God does not want anyone to experience eternal damnation apart from his presence (read How Could a Loving God Send Anyone to Hell?). Each one of us – without comparison to others – must repent and turn from our sins, allow Jesus through his Spirit and Word to change us, live a life of faith that produces fruit, grow into spiritual maturity, and truly experience the joy of salvation.
If you would like to know more about salvation, read Experience Salvation. I encourage you to fully commit to serving Jesus Christ today, and pray that you are blessed beyond comprehension in this year!