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Sanctification & Growth

Is “Praying the Prayer” Biblical?

One of my concerns over the years is the popular idea of encouraging people to “pray a prayer to accept Jesus into their hearts”. According the new International Mission Board President, David Platt, doing this is superstitious and dangerous.

I took a class on World Religions when I was at UNC-Chapel Hill. Obviously, this class was not taught from a “Christian perspective”. And that was a good thing. It was good to hear an academic description of the major world religions because it gave me an idea as to how lost people look at the world.

One day, our professor began to explain Pure Land Buddhism. As he described the concept of “salvation”/”achieving enlightenment”, I began to feel chills creep up my spine. According to that religion, all you need to ensure your “salvation” was to speak a particular phrase. You could live your life however you wanted before and after speaking these words and you were still guaranteed “salvation”.

So why did I get chills? Because there’s not much difference between that religion’s concept of “salvation” and much of our evangelistic training and mindset!

Let me ask… When you think about when you became a Christian, do you believe it happened because you prayed a prayer, or walked down an aisle? If one must do any or all of these things, then why don’t we see either of those things mentioned in the entire New Testament? Or in the writings of the Church Fathers? Or in the writings of the Reformers? Even baptism — as important as it is — isn’t given as being essential to salvation. In fact, such easy believe-ism is completely counter to everything we read in the New Testament, and the writings of the Church Fathers and the Reformers.

The concept of praying a sinner’s prayer is a modern convention, perhaps shaped by the Western mindset of “being a soul-winner”, similar to being a successful salesman who always presses for the decision and closes the deal. I even remember some of my evangelism training including asking the prospective convert if he/she could think of any reason why they shouldn’t pray the prayer and if not, they should bow and pray.

As Dr. Pratt says in the video above, doing this is dangerous, and even damning.

How many people will stand before God on Judgment Day, claiming that they should be granted access to eternity in heaven because they prayed a prayer, walked down an aisle, shook a pastor’s hand or were baptized?

The prospect of that Day scares me! And it should scare you, too! Jesus took it a step farther, saying that on that Day, many will claim that they had done some pretty spectacular things, but would still wouldn’t enter heaven because He never knew them. (Matthew 7:21-23)

Biblical salvation is more than just praying a prayer, walking an aisle, and being baptized. Salvation is receiving eternal life and eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3). Salvation begins when we exchange our life (all of our sin) for Jesus’ life (all of His righteousness) in order to be put in a right relationship with our Creator and King, against Whom we have all committed High Treason. Without accepting that free exchange, we are all worthy of nothing better than an eternity in hell and separation from God. Salvation continues as we live according to that new standing as adopted children. And salvation is fully realized when we cross over to the other side of eternity.

Does praying a prayer save you? No. Prayer is a natural response to receiving the New Life in exchange for our Old life and being accepted into a new family by a loving Father. And prayer can express our repentance as we turn from our sin and toward God.

What are your thoughts?

 

Propitiation, Jealousy, and the Providence of God

Call it coincidence or the providence of God, but I have found myself reading a couple of books which remarkably parallel each other, my daily through-the-Bible reading plan and my preparation for a sermon series on the Ten Commandments at church. I think this is the third time that I have read JI Packer’s Knowing God. I have also been reading DA Carson’s The God Who Is There. My Bible reading plan is currently taking me through Leviticus. Today and yesterday’s readings from Knowing God was on God’s jealousy and propitiation. Today’s reading from The God Who Is There was, “The God Who Legislates”.

What’s amazing to me is that through these books and my own Bible reading, He is confirming the same thing. What God has given me a deeper understanding of His righteousness as revealed in the Old Testament Law. Maybe I’m just a little slow in my understanding. Or maybe God is revealing yet, another layer of Himself. Or exposing another layer of myself.

 

God is Jealous

Jealousy is a negative character trait for people. Or so we think. But what if a husband wants a mistress in addition to his wife. Wouldn’t his wife be jealous? Wouldn’t she do whatever she could to fight for her marriage?

That’s a picture of God’s jealousy. He so wants a relationship with his people (the church is the bride of Christ [2 Corinthians 11:2]), that He will do whatever it takes to woo them and protect them for Himself. That’s why He said He name is Jealous (Exodus 34:14) and why He prohibited His people from worshiping other gods. He loved them too much to share them with anybody or anything else. God’s jealousy shows the exclusivity of God (Carson, p. 61).

I’m sure this point will come out in the coming weeks as we look at the Ten Commandments at Center Point Baptist Church [gratuitous invitation to join us].

 

Expiation/Propitiation

Most often when we think of the gospel message, we think of Jesus’ death as covering our sin so we can be saved and go to heaven. That is correct (partly) and can be described by the word expiation. However, propitiation – the word used in the Bible referring to what happened in the death of Jesus – goes much further than simple expiation. So what do those words mean? They aren’t words we use every day.

Expiation describes the ancient pagan custom of offering something of value to appease the gods in order to provide some kind of blessing or protection. Jim Dennison (my seminary Philosophy of Religion professor) calls this “transactional religion”. You give the pagan god something and it gives something to you. None of the various gods were omnipotent; each had their own quirks and special interests and would be offended by a small offering or if you gave another god a bigger offering.  The ultimate offering was human sacrifice. In connection with human sacrifice, the Bible mentions the god Molech in Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5.

According to Packer, “Expiation is an action that has sin as its object; it denotes the covering, putting away or rubbing out of sin so that it no longer constitutes a barrier to friendly, fellowship between man and God. Propitiation, however, in the Bible, denotes all that expiation means, and the pacifying of the wrath of God thereby.” (p. 182)

The point I’m trying to make is that when we look at the gospel, we often look only at the expiation part of propitiation. We see Jesus’ blood as covering our sin, but we neglect the other problem of our separation from God in our fallen condition: God’s wrath. We think that God’s wrath is no longer an issue since we’re under the New Covenant. God in the New Testament is the God of love, not wrath, we tell ourselves and the people we seek to evangelize.

In seeing God in this light, we overlook the fact that God doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6, Romans 1:18). The God of the New Testament is the same God as the God of the Old Testament. God as the Righteous Judge has a wrathful punishment that must be dealt with if He is to be truly Just/Righteous. To merely overlook our sin, pretending it isn’t there, would invalidate His justice.

Under the Old Covenant, the people’s sin was covered by the annual Day of Atonement sacrifice and God’s wrath was put off for another year. But they had to do the same thing year after year after year to keep delaying His just wrathful punishment.

In Jesus’ death, God poured out all of His wrath on Jesus in our place. All of it. Hence, as Jesus hung on the cross He cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus took our place in receiving the just, wrathful punishment for our sin.

 

Application

Jesus took your place as His Father poured out His wrathful punishment on himself. That’s the “good news” of the Gospel Message! Today, ask God to give you a fresh taste of the relief you enjoy as one of His children.

 

 

Accepting Christ

I had an “aha” moment as I read a chapter from JI Packer’s “Knowing God“.

Salvation comes, not as someone comes to “accept Christ”, but rather as someone comes to be accepted by Him.

This turns on its head a lot of our evangelism training by showing our need for being accepted, rather than being in a position to accept Him.

That may not seem like much to you, but it was eye-opening to me just now.

 

Scripture Memory

Last week, I talked about the importance of reading the Bible in 2014. I hope you took to heart my encouragement to get started with a Bible Reading Plan. But as important as it is to read the Bible, it isn’t enough. We must also spend time thinking about what we’re reading. That’s the purpose of memorizing Scripture.

“But I have a bad memory and I can’t memorize things.”

Sure you can! What is your address? What’s your phone number? What’s your social security number? What’s your birth date? What’s your anniversary date? What are the lyrics of your favorite song?

The reason we memorize these things is that we attach a value to remembering them. In other words, we remember those things we deem to be important. At the risk of being blunt, the reason you don’t think you can memorize Scripture is you don’t think it’s important. Ouch!

OK, I’m not talking about memorizing entire chapters or even books of the Bible – though there are many people who have done that! As a matter of fact, the first Bible passage I ever memorized was the 23rd Psalm; we did it in Sunday School when I was eight years old. And I remember it today – all of it. Why? Because our Sunday School teacher told us she would give us a trinket if we would do it; and we valued the trinket. I don’t remember the teacher’s name because it’s been 30-something years since I last saw her. But I do remember the chapter because I often will recall the verses in times of need.

How to Memorize Scripture

Memorizing Scripture is no different than memorizing anything else. Seriously! All you do is find a verse or two that you want to remember such as John 3:16. Read it in several translations and choose one. Begin reading the words slowly. Write the words down on a piece of paper, including the verse reference (think of the chapter and verse numbers as the verse’s “home address”). Write the words and reference on a sticky note or an index card. Post the note on your bathroom mirror where you will see it when you brush and floss your teeth. (You may remember that I compared the importance of dental hygiene and reading the Bible last week). Twice a day, look at the card and read the reference. Then read the verse and read the reference again. Do this the entire time you’re brushing and flossing. If you do this twice a day and include flossing, you will spend about five minutes a day running the verse and reference through your mind. Periodically go back through the verses you have memorized in the past. The result? You will be absolutely amazed at how many verses you can remember over the course of a week, month, year, and a lifetime! Encourage your family and friends to ask you what verse you’re currently memorizing. And ask them the same thing!

So, where are you going to start?

May I suggest a few?
John 3:16-17
Romans 3:23
Romans 6:23
Romans 5:8
Romans 10:9-10

 

How to Read Through the Bible in 2014

Yesterday I suggested that we approach our Bible reading as a means of growing our relationship with God, rather than looking at it as something we’re supposed to do like eating our veggies and flossing daily. Yesterday, we looked at the right “why” of reading the Bible

Today, I want to look at the “how” of reading the Bible in 2014.

Assuming you have the right approach, knowing that you are eager to hear from your loving Father, how can you go about reading through the Bible in a year? Given the fact that there are about 775,000 words in the Bible and most people read about 200-250 words per minute, you can read the whole Bible in about ten minutes a day. Just saying, “I’m going to read the Bible for ten minutes a day.” may not be enough planning for everybody. So what is one to do?

Which Bible Reading Plan?

There are many ways to read through the Bible and none is the “best”. It comes down to asking what do you want to accomplish? Do you want to read through the Bible straight through from Genesis to Revelation? Do you want to read the Old and New Testaments together each day? Do you want to read the Bible in a more chronological way? Do you want to just read the New Testament? If you want to read just the New Testament, do you want to include readings from Psalms and Proverbs?

A few years ago, our church read through the Bible using a plan developed by the 19th Century pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne. The plan had four readings from roughly two chapters from the Old Testament and two chapters from the New Testament. M’Cheyne’s plan is tried-and-true, but many of us found it to be a bit disconnected and lacked continuity as we read a little bit from four different Bible books each day. You may want to try this plan; if you do, you might want to check out Donald Carson’s “For the Love of God” blog which adds a devotional commentary to the daily readings.

The next year, I chose the Blue Letter Bible’s reading plan that covered readings from the Old and New Testaments. We found it to be much easier to follow.

Last year, I thought it might be better to get a chronological view of the Bible, so we went with Dr. George Guthrie’s plan based on his book, Read The Bible For Life. I used YouVersion’s free Bible App (works with iOS, Android and web) because it keeps track of where I am in my readings. I found the plan to be ideal and will use it again next year, however the Bible Eater Plan looks interesting.

For other thoughts about Bible reading plans, I highly recommend you take a look at Justin Taylor’s very helpful blog post. and you can find even more Bible reading plans at your favorite online Bible resources.

Though I think most people underestimate what they’re capable of, there’s always The Bible Reading Plan for Shirkers and Slackers.

Once you have chosen a plan, you need to choose a Bible. Some Bibles come with their own reading plans built in, such as the hugely-popular One Year Bible.

 

Which Bible Translation?

People used to be able to say that they couldn’t understand the Bible because they don’t understand all the thee’s and thou’s. Through its 400-year history, many believers have benefited from the King James translation of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. I don’t know about you, but I don’t speak Elizabethan English like William Shakespeare did, and I have as many issues trying to understand the King James Bible as the next guy! I have briefly discussed modern Bible translations elsewhere on this blog.

Since you’re reading this on a computer connected to the Internet, you have access to many Bible translations in your native language on numerous websites, including YouVersion, Biblia, and BibleGateway to name a few.

So how do you know which one to use?

That depends on what do you want to get out of it. If you want to get the general “feel” of the message from the Scriptures, you may want to use the New Living Translation or the New International Version. If you want to get more specific about the words used to convey the message, you may want to use the English Standard Version.

 

Now what?

You know that the reason to read the Bible is to grow in a relationship with God. You know that there are many plans and translations to choose from. But please don’t let yourself get overwhelmed with all the choices. And don’t run out and spend a bunch of money on a fancy Bible. Ask God to guide you and then “get after it!”

This time next year, you’ll be glad you did; you’ll have a better understanding of who God is and how He works to bring people into a relationship with Him.

 

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