Christianity is offensive, and two claims in particular. If you are not killed in the streets for the first, you will be stoned in the temple because of the second.
This is partially why it is said, “Unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.”1
What are these two offensive claims?
First, Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life. There are not many paths, nor are there other gods capable of saving. He is the way…no one comes to the Father except through Him and through a belief in His claim as the Son of God, living a perfect life, dying an atoning death in our place, having a literal burial and then experiencing an actual resurrection, “so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers.”2
There is no other way to be born again, to be reconciled to God, or to enter into eternal life, than by faith in Christ. As it is written, “By grace you have been saved through faith.”3
And even more clearly spoken by Peter in Acts chapter 4:
“‘Let it be known to you all…that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’”4
This is incredibly offensive because it leaves no middle ground.
There will be a call to unify around a world religion, one that acts for the good of all, seeks peace, and finds commonality rather than division, but it will not be Christianity. Christianity is far too exclusive in its claims to be able to participate in such a religion.
There is a second offensive claim, and one that is less often talked about.
Many who profess to believe in Jesus do not have true faith and are in fact not born again. They have a form of godliness but deny the power. They perform many acts in His name, but have yet to know Him or be known by Him. Of these it can be said, “These people worship Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.”
Isaiah was the first to speak these words, which were then echoed by Christ in Matthew 15. Tracing back to Isaiah’s full prophecy, he continues, “For the wisdom of wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden…For shall the thing made say of him who made it, ‘He did not make me’? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?”
How do the ideas of false conversion, inauthentic worship, and rebelling against God’s created order go together?
Because in all these things we set ourselves above God. We seek not His word, nor do we submit to it, but instead we fashion for ourselves tools of iron, idols in our image, and adopt the practices of the day in order to make things happen, make room for everyone and cover all the bases.
This is how it can be said, “Their fear of Me is taught by the commandment of men,” rather than having a true fear of the Lord, that is ever, “before you, so that you may not sin.”5
And this lack of a true fear of the Lord is only one way in which, “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.”6
Why do you have such and such practice? Or from where did you get the instruction and authority to take this or that approach? If we begin to examine our lives through this lens we will see that much of what is done in the name of spirituality is actually done in the strength and reasoning of the flesh. And unless we have forgotten, “The flesh profits nothing.”7
Let us come back to our offensive claim - many who profess to believe in Jesus do not have true faith and are in fact not born again. If this is true, then what are the signs of a false conversion, a “believer” who worships in form only but has no regeneration of the heart?
The book of 1 John answers this question in detail, yet for today’s letter, I will offer a short explanation through a series of probing questions. Read this list and meditate upon them. How would you answer? You are most likely familiar with the words, but do you know of the reality of what is being spoken about? Give yourself time to truly consider. For as Peter encouraged us, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure.” 2 Peter 1:10
What questions do we ask ourselves, either about ourselves or about others or the world in general? Are they centered on Christ, everything through the lens of the priority of Christ, the preeminence of Christ, the mindset of Christ? Is He above and at the center of both these questions and their answers?
Where do our thoughts turn when they are idle? Are they about God and His right now but not yet Kingdom? What thoughts do we think about God? How about His authority? Do we place ourselves under it willingly, giving up those things which He calls unholy, no longer seeking to push the boundary lines or compromise on the non-negotiables? Or have we found a way to make room for them?
What does it mean to delight ourselves in the Lord? Do we know what it is to trust Him, commit our ways to Him, dwell with Him and feed on His faithfulness? Do the Scriptures come alive when we read them and have our interests shifted to have an appetite for righteousness and the knowledge of God?
Let us look now at our motivations. The internal, intrinsic motivators that hold us back or compel us forward, regardless of the consequence, regardless of who is looking. External motivation comes from the fear of punishment or the potential of reward. The internal motivation of a changed heart, an actual new heart, is different. It’s a standard we impose upon ourselves, regardless of reward or punishment. This is lasting and powerful, but few have found it. Have we found it? Do we know of these new desires? Or do we continue to perform well before men but still secretly delight in doing evil when no one is looking?
And lastly, a final word of encouragement from an Iain Murray sermon, as he reflected upon the stories of those who lamented the loss of such preaching as was done by men like George Whitefield in 1740:
“The old preaching that had wrought such devastation in the kingdom of darkness. That preaching which had seemed to vanish as John Owen said in 1674, where nobody seemed to be under conviction of sin, where preachers were men-pleasers, when they sowed pillows on men’s elbows, where they preached peace when there was no peace.”
Have we yet sat under such preaching which brings conviction of sin? “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Have we heard the word of God and His Gospel unto salvation - that we are a people in need of a Savior?
Do you remember being confronted by your sin, your inability to save yourself, and feeling the weight of that penalty upon your own shoulders? And then do you remember the moment when you repented, turned from your wicked ways, trusted in Christ, and felt that burden lift as you cast your cares upon Him? And then, in that moment, can you recall as you experienced, and understood for the first time, the love of God, for not only the world but also for your individual soul?
Brothers and sisters, this is certainly offensive writing, but necessary at the same time - let us not shy away from it. Instead, I pray that we examine ourselves today, “as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” Until you can certainly answer the question, “Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?”8
As Jesus is seen coming toward John the Baptist, John cries out, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
To behold - a forceful command to look upon, requiring an unavoidable confrontation as we take our eyes from one thing and place them squarely upon another, the One who alone takes away the sin of the world.
Have we looked upon Him in this way? The spotless lamb of God, led to the slaughter, silent while we mocked, slain on a cross, becoming sin and bearing the punishment of sin on our behalf, so that He could take away the sin of the world? That we who believe might become the righteousness of God, children of God, and at peace with God, our Father in heaven. Have we looked upon this Jesus? Have we beheld Him? And have our eyes been opened to see Him as lovely, worthy, and beautiful? Or do we still see Him in darkness, with scorn, indifference, contempt, calling His sacrifice worthless or beneath our consideration.
Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life –
I know that it is finished.9
Let us behold Him today, perhaps for the first time. Let us see Him as the light who has come into the world and as the light who alone is the life of men.
Matthew 24:22, Mark 13:20
1 Corinthians 13:5
“How deep the Father’s love for us” Stuart Townend Copyright © 1995