Friday, January 19, 2018

The Quantifiable Gospel

Little games present themselves on a popular social media site—one I’ll not name. It’s the site where some people scroll at length when they ought to have their face in a book instead. No, I’m not bashing social media. It offers valuable information, contact with friends, opportunities for marketing, videos of adorable animals, and glorious pictures displaying the splendor of our world. It also provides a platform to share our convictions, whatever they may be.

But back to those games—innocent little quizzes designed to help you learn more about yourself. They’re laughable and rarely accurate. Nobody’s gullible enough to take them seriously. I admit I’m more an observer than a participant, so I’ve never clicked on such a quiz. But I have been amused by the results quantified for some of my friends. Then I scroll on and snicker at a kitten smacking a Rottweiler’s nose. I don’t like Rottweilers.

Neither do I appreciate it when a simple game meant for entertainment perpetuates a common misunderstanding of the gospel. So, I wasn’t amused when I noticed a quiz titled, “Are you Going to Heaven or Hell?”

One of my online friends had taken the test and the results totaled about 120 deeds under “sins” and 500,000 or so “good deeds.” This meant my friend was well prepared for eternity. Good outweighed bad and the gates of Heaven were opened.

Promptly considering my own life, and the lives of the Christians in my real-world circles, I concluded 120 sins was probably a low number, and 500,000 good deeds seemed a stretch. Using these quantities, 4,166 good deeds were needed to cancel out one sin. Of course, it’s not to be taken to heart. Christians who know anything know their salvation is not based on works, but on the finished work of Christ. But that harmless little quiz might give somebody the idea their long-held belief that good people go to Heaven was right after all.

Before I’d moved past my indignation over the “Heaven or Hell” quiz, another post shared on social media muddied the matter even further. This one came from a teacher of the Word, from a supposedly trustworthy site aimed at Christian edification. The quiz—however misleading it might have been—was just for fun. But this devotional piece was meant to reach into the minds of God’s elect, the ones saved by grace.

The lesson of the day: your salvation is not assured. If you sin, you need to get saved again. Do we live a cycle of sin—repent—get saved—sin—get unsaved—repent— get saved—sin—get unsaved, and on and on until we die? If this is how to quantify the gospel, then on any given day I could get hit by a bus and go to Hell because I sinned just before stepping into the street and I didn’t get a chance to repent.

That’s not the gospel I know. It carries the same fallacy as the quiz. One suggests your good deeds will get you into Heaven. The other claims that even though you've been redeemed, your bad deeds might keep you out of Heaven. Both hang on the deeds of the one seeking salvation, rather than on the unmerited favor of the giver of salvation. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8,9

I’m not very good at math, so I’m sure I’d get it wrong if I tried to cancel out my bad deeds with good ones. And while I know when I’ve sinned it might take me a few minutes, or longer, to allow the kindness of God to lead me to repentance. And a bus might hit me. I’m glad the gospel is quantified in the simplest terms. The good deeds and the bad don’t figure into the equation. Neither does the up-to-date repentance ledger.

That doesn’t mean I can forget about good works and confession. It means my good works grow out of love for my savior. It means I confess with thanksgiving because the price for my sins was paid once and for all. To add to the gospel is to subtract from it until all you have is a knock-off. An imitation. Here’s a calculation shared among Christians who meet in the cyber world and in the church building, and if the gospel must be quantified, this is the only solution:

Jesus + nothing = everything.

Contemplate the good and the bad going on in your life. God cares and so should you. Repent of your sins as soon as you can. That’s what you’re supposed to do. But don’t give up your freedom in Christ to live in fear of not bringing enough to the equation, because there is nothing you can bring. If you’re His, He’s got you covered.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment,                                but has passed from death to life.” John 5:24

Friday, January 5, 2018

Happy New Year

I Am Not a Robot

No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, 
but the world as it will be.    Isaac Asimov

Asimov made this statement in reference to the constant and inevitable changes reshaping our existence. Based on the realities of science springing forth from fiction, he knew we were headed for a new world. Seeing that my own fiction reports the potential human upgrades of the near future, I understand. I agree with his assumption that the wonders of science fiction are becoming the everyday way of life.

A new world is coming. We may be surrounded by transhumans when it arrives. We may have computers in our brains. We may be living far past our current life expectancy. Some may even consider death a conquered foe, for the prospect of science preserving life will bring great hope. Here is where my agreement with Asimov’s statement negotiates a major shift. Despite the pseudo faith in the god of exponential progress, those of us who wait on the Lord must know we can no longer make decisions without taking into account the world as it will be. We who follow Christ abide as the world rushes into the greatest era of man’s accomplishments, some of us mildly entertained by the whole thing.  But…

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Philippians 3:20-21

No act committed in the science lab to usher in everlasting life can compare with the transformation brought by the One True Creator. He will rescue the redeemed from the perils of this world and present us glorified, ready to live forever by the only method that ever gave any real hope of living forever. Should we not take this into account when making decisions about how we live? How we spend our time? Our money? Our talents? Our conversations?

The great men and women of science will persist in trying to conquer death. I will continue, on some level, to admire them, find amusement in their efforts, and sit amazed by what is reported. I might even make up a story or two, or three, to peruse the progression. But within the core of the stories, I’ll not forget the foolishness of the meager mind of a scientist attempting to climb the tower to meet the mind of God. As for the already completed great accomplishment of God in conquering death, I stand amazed.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. Proverbs 19:21

In this new year, take into account the world as it will be. Not as an existence remodeled by the wonders of science, but as a creation held together by the strong force of God, who will soon bring more wondrous changes than Asimov ever imagined.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.                            2 Corinthians 5:17