Witness Well

Witness Well

How Christians and Mormons view perfection differently

The Bible could define Christianity or a believer in Christ as one who is perfect in Christ.  The standard for going to heaven is perfection as the Bible states, “Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly father is perfect.”  It is Christ’s substitute on the cross for us that Christians can consider themselves already perfect.  Faith alone receives this gift from God.  Mormonism, on the other hand, would change one key word.  Instead of “be” perfect, Mormons will say that a Christian must “become” perfect.  One thing about Mormonism is that they have lowered the standards for obedience.  You don’t necessarily have to be perfect as the Bible commands.

I share this post in reference to a Bible verse given in a recent comment by a Mormon on this blog site.  In it he uses Hebrews 8:9.  If I may also include verse 8, here is the following verse.

Hebrews 5:8-9: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.. “  (NIV)

I agree this is a great verse for it gives us insight on the miracle of the incarnation — God’s Son taking on human form and suffers.  Jesus has to be perfect in order to carry out God’s plan to deal with our sins. Jesus became the author of our salvation (Heb. 2:10) by his perfection. His suffering was the cost and his obedience to go the cross as our perfect substitute was carried out during his time in the garden and the wilderness.  And “for all who obey him” matches the thought of Christ’s obedience when we see 1 John 3:22-23 explain, “We obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ.”  Faith is obedience to God.

There are other verses Mormons will use to justify their own theology that salvation is faith AND works.  I would like to take a look at them.

“to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”  (Eph. 4:12)  This verse talks about how God equips believers with spiritual gifts for the sole purpose of building up a body of believers. God calls on us to exercise our faith by doing so. These works gives evidence of a living and active faith, but does not justify us nor is a requirement for salvation.  Christians, those with saving faith, are saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone.

Luke 13:32 reads, “He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.'” (NIV) This is Jesus talking and he was referring that his life had a predetermined plan that would be carried out and no harm would come to him until his purpose was accomplished (see Luke 4:43 and 9:22). That third day was ofcourse, Christ’s resurrection which is paramount to the Christian faith.

“Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God.  (Hebrews 6:1) This verse was a response to those Christians who were not taking steps of maturity in the faith. In fact, they had becoming spiritually sluggish and lazy which is a great danger for one can lose their faith. The only way to mature in the faith is by being in God’s Word. Repentance is turning away from sin. And it is coupled with faith in God. “Acts that lead to death” reminds them of their former unbelief in that they were dead in their sins (Eph. 2:1) and deserving of the wages of sin (Rom 6:23) which was death. Faith alone saves but faith is never alone.

And Phil 3:12 “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”    Paul is talking about how our Christian lives is all about growing in Christ. Our living for him ought to be a constant striving for perfection or holiness, with the goal and prize of eternal life always kept before our eyes of faith. Here is possibly where Christians and Mormons differ. We are sinners on earth corrupted by sin. On earth, we will never be perfect in our bodies. However, spiritually speaking, which is of the most importance, we have been made perfect because of Christ’s sacrifice.

Consider Heb. 10:10 “And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Also Heb 10:14 “because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

So those who have placed their trust in Christ, and his completed work on the cross, are striving to be holy in our condition of sinful flesh, to have a faith that is living and active by remaining in God’s Word, since our status as believers has been secured by Christ. Since perfection is required for eternal salvation, Christ has made us perfect through His obedience and we are to remain diligent to keep that faith.

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus , and you will be saved — you and your household.” Acts 16:31

The Christian and the Mormon view on the parable of the sheep and the goats

In an ongoing dialogue I have with those of the Mormon faith and how it is dramatically different that what is taught in the Christian faith, there is a sharp disagreement on what is required for salvation. Mormons will reference to the story of the sheep and the goats found in Matthew 25:31-46 as proof that a person will be judged by their works in order to enter into heaven. I would like to take a further look into that passage.

In the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus is continuing to talk to his disciples about the end of the age. He tells them three stories or parables for the purpose of teaching central truths. The parables of the foolish virgins and unfaithful servants sets the stage for the story of the sheep and the goats. In the first two parables, we find out that 1) we need to be prepared and 2) we need to have a faithful use of our talents.

These parables tell us that not everybody is going to heaven. There will be a separation also known as the “great divorce”. Man will be separated from God forever. Earlier in Matthew, Jesus tell us that “for wide is the gate, and broad is the road that leads to destruction..” (7:13) This verse certainly suggests that there will be more who enter hell than those who go to heaven.

The Bible says that it is by faith that one enters heaven and in the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus tells us what saving faith looks like. A saving faith will feed the hungry, care for the sick and visit those in prison. These are things that are not impossible to do for most everyone has the capability to care for others in this way. Jesus is telling us that those who receive grace, become gracious. Those who have been given the gift of faith become faithful. As a healthy fruit tree can’t help but to grow fruit (John 15), a man or woman of saving faith can’t help but to carry out good works. They are distinguishing marks or evidences of a saving faith that carry these works out without any thought of receiving a reward in return.

To review, these parables tell us that an end time is coming when Jesus returns and that we need to be prepared, by not losing our faith, and at the same time, display examples of a sincere faith by fully exercising our talents and help those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Without evidences of faithfulness, than true faith does not exist.

The question remains, can a person enter into heaven based on the amount of works they do? If this is true, then one has reconcile that position with several other passages that teach something quite different. There are numerous passages in the Bible that clear state that salvation is not by works in any way. By following the law and commandments, we cannot be justified before God. (See Romans 3:24, 11:6, 3:20, 3:27-28; 4:2, 2 Timothy 1:9, Ephesians 2:8-10 et al…) Grace, the free gift given to people who are undeserving or unworthy, really wouldn’t be grace if there was something we need to do to receive it.

So, when we combine these two teachings of the parable of the sheep and goats and by faith only are we saved, than we must come to the following conclusions: 1. By faith, we receive the full forgiveness of sins. Our works play no part in being justified before God and to receive full forgiveness. 2. Works accompany faith as evidence or signs of a saving faith. God performs the impossible (salvation) by granting us faith thereby allowing us to do the possible (works) that are well-pleasing to Him. By sharing this sharp contrast with Mormons, the discussion can continue as we take a look at key theological terms taught in Mormonism and what is taught in the Bible. As Mormons continue to claim that they are Christians, it is important to expose the truth that even thought Mormons appear Christian, they are far from the truth of the gospel message found in the New Testament.

Why does Christianity claim the Bible as the only true holy book?

We currently live in a culture where all truth is relative.  Absolute truth is dismissed as being intolerant or antiquated.  The result is a growing interest not only in other religions, but also invites boldness among those who either deny the existence of God or an impersonal higher being.

Polls have suggested that a large amount of people in American believe that all religions are basically the same.  Even though it may be true that other religions have teachings that model good behavior or other spiritual kernels of truth, but their definitions of a god and the way to find a god only attempts to soothe human reasoning.  The Christian faith is entirely based on the truth found only in Jesus Christ.  The truth is founded on the authority of the Bible and its transforming power to bring people to faith and be declared righteous before God.  Based on these fundamental points of the Christian faith, there becomes an obvious contradiction with other religions.  Both cannot be right.  Therefore, we must make the conclusion that other holy books or prophetic writings cannot be considered the Word of God.

How do we know which holy book is true?  The inherent interest of religious thought points to the fact that people are hungry for the truth.  Other religions point to what we can do to achieve inner peace, better our future life or how to please God.  It is only the Christian faith that boldly proclaims in the Bible what has already been done for us.  Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the promised Son of God, we are declared right or perfect in the eyes of God.  Our eternal future of peace and paradise is secured.

When you test and compare all claims of revelation, along with the historical fact that Christ was resurrected from the dead, the Bible stands alone as the definitive “Word of God.”  All other works may have wonderful literary and philosophical insights, but do not communicate the true way to salvation which is found only in Christ Jesus.

For more on this point, please check out www.gregboyd.org.

Today’s Christian Worldview: False Optimism or Fatalism

The new year is upon us and we can only wonder what 2010 will bring.  Last year at this time, the nation welcomed a new president.  There was optimism and hope that a new man with new ideas will finally be an answer.  It’s a year later, and people are already questioning his ideas and his leadership.  Was the general public too optimistic?  We’re they expecting too much?  More importantly, based on what we read from the Bible, how should a Christian respond?

Throughout 2009, there were many events in our nation and our world that ought to cause each person some concern and alarm.  The rising influx of terrorism, the economic downturns, and the noticeable rise of secularism within American borders causes concern for most Christians.  History records and is backed up by Old Testament records of the ancient Israelites, that when a nation turns its back on God, God in turn will allow a nation to go its own way.  And what happens?  A dissolution and scattering of a nation.  Europe has turned its back on God and there is a quite invasion of Islam that is a generation away from achieving dominance.  America is starting to turn away from God and is a generation away from being a dominant world power.  How should a Christian respond.

I like what Marvin Olasky of WORLD Magazine wrote in the latest issue.  He alludes to Jeremiah 8 as two wrong ways for a Chrisitan to respond.  False Optimism says “peace, peace” when there is no peace — it keeps us from seeking healing.  On the other hand, it is wrong to say, “We are doomed to perish as punishment from God!”  Fatalism keeps us from asking for mercy and repentance.

A Christian response is that when we turn away from fatalism or false optimism, we are in a sense, turning to God.  And He will deliver.  We don’t place our trust on things of this world.  We don’t place our trust in horses, castles and kings as the Bible states.  But, we place our trust in the Lord Almighty, who delivers and endures forever.  This is not to say that bad things will not happen.  There could be a time of suffering.  And that’s okay.  Because the Bible says that we can still rejoice in our sufferings because of the great benefits that suffering can produce — repentance, endurance, character and hope.  Those are the treasures of heaven that Jesus alludes to, not treasures that earth provides.

A proper, Biblical response for Christians this year is to not worry, and place our full trust in the Lord.  Have a willing and sincere heart to following Him and His way — not matter what.  Take each day at a time, for tomorrow has enough concerns and worries of its own.  And ask the Lord to create a new heart within us — so that the joy of our salvation is renewed.  Then, and only then, can we tackle this world, and all its challenges, with an attitude of praise.

Handel’s Messiah: magnificently written by a broken man

It’s funny how God greatest accomplishments usually come from broken men.

The story behind the composer, George Frideric Handel, in regards to the masterpiece, “Messiah” comes from the hands of a man who at the time was broken financially, physically and emotionally.  This came to the light in a recent article by Marvin Olasky entitled “God’s Hand is in it” in the recent WORLD magazine.  The article is based on an interview with Lauren Green, an accomplished pianist and religion editor for FOX news.

Since reading the article, I did a Google search on the life of Handel and found it be interesting and inspiring.  Handel was a very famous composer in his time.  He attempted to make his mark Italian opera, but struggled both with the music and with his opera company.  On the brink of disaster, Handel applied his genius and creativity in writing oratorios.  During this time of painful transition, Handel composed the “Messiah”.  Upon completion of writing the amazing “Hallelujah” chorus, the article quotes Handel as saying, “I do believe I’ve seen the gates of Heaven.”  Handel went on to find great success while living in London until his death.

Great things are done by broken man.  That seems to be a recurring theme throughout Paul’s epistles.  When we are weak, then we are strong.  It is at man’s depths, that we are exposed for what we really are — sinful, inherited flesh who amounts to nothing and anything we feel that we do accomplish is nothing but dust in the wind.  The hard realities of life leads us one of two courses — abuses and addictions for the purpose of distraction or just pure laziness.  A life given up on.  Or, there is another way.  To truly see our purpose through the words and promises of God.  We are no longer defined by what the world sees us, but renewed by the status given us — a child of God.  An heir of royalty.

As we celebrate Christmas with loved ones, we can reflect on the King who was born in a manger.  A king who would suffer and die for the purpose of taking our place of sin, so we can be receive all glory from above.  That thought alone can bring the Merry back to Christmas.

Being a Spiritual Leader in Today’s World

God is looking for a few good men.

This popular phrase is used by Marine recruiters to reach out to young men who desire to grasp a hold of adventure, a dynamic purpose beyond themselves, a rewarding goal that only a few dare to attempt. Could not the same phrase be used for today’s Christian church? We need a few good men who dare to go against the tide of secular consumerism, the entanglement of competing truths, and amnesia to the great commission.

Several years ago, I came across an excellent article written by a pastor who specialized in Biblical leadership. Through careful study of leaders in the Bible, most notably Nehemiah, he offered some sound instruction and guidance.

“God is serious about the spiritual life of those who lead his people. People with superior skills but no prayer life can’t lead in Christ’s Church. Men who have a wealth of experience in administration but no experience with Scripture don’t get God’s call.”

“Spiritual leaders take the state of the church personally, agonize over it, and pray repeatedly about it. It is not the eloquence of a perfunctory prayer that opens a meeting at the church, but the passion of his private prayers that measures a leader.”

“Spiritual leaders don’t use policies or public relations to fix problems in the church; they use repentance.”

“Leaders serious about God’s work are in continuous consultation with God. Perhaps that would be more apparent if there were more prayers in the middle of meetings at church, not just at the beginning and the end. What we do when we’re stuck, how we deal with disagreement, where we turn for a decision– that is what defines spiritual difference.”

“Spiritual leaders care and dare to get angry at what opposes God, in and outside the church.”

“Spiritual leaders have a bigger agenda than building church walls. Like Nehemiah, they help people rebuild their lives with God.”

“The mark of a spiritual leader is integrity– walking the talk, modeling God’s truth and love. …It meant consistently living out what God’s Word had put into his heart.”

“Christian leaders who understand God’s Word and seek God’s will have God’s direction. It isn’t mystical, and they don’t manipulate people with it. But spiritual leaders know what God wants them to do, and they trust God to show others.”

These excellent points came from the article “Doing God’s Thing, God’s Way: Christian leaders who understand God’s Word and seek God’s will have God’s Direction” by Rev. Paul Kelm.

Religious but not committed

A MacArthur Foundation survey found that large majorities of Americans say they’re religious and think spirituality is important, but that doesn’t translate into commitment to a single religion or house of worship. A USA Today article reported that more than seven out of 10 Americans surveyed said they are religious and consider spirituality to be an important part of their lives. However, about half attend religious services less than once a month or never. The findings also suggest that people are equally divided on whether it is best to explore different teachings or to follow one faith.

“Spirituality in the U.S. is a mile wide and an inch deep,” said David Kinnaman of the Barna Research Group. There is an all-time high in interest in spirituality, he said. “But people are beginning to develop a hybrid personal faith that integrates different perspectives from different religions that may even be contradictory. . . That doesn’t bother them.”

The lack of loyalty is found in other new research that shows about 40 to 45 percent of those attending Protestant churches on a given Sunday were raised in that denomination, said Nancy Ammerman, a sociologist at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

Cultural anthropologist Elizabeth Bird said a “pressure to declare a belief” may account for the high percentages of people who declare that they are religious.

My generation of those between 45-55 belongs to a cultural group that declares an attachment to a particular religious group, but don’t take it too seriously. This is largely due to the pressure of not what society, places upon them, but the pressure placed on them from parents. Church membership is more of a loyalty than a heart issue. And now a new generation is coming up which do not feel the pressure from grandparents to remain loyal to a religious group or denomination. They are saying, “forget this!” and are either staying home or finding their own means of spirituality. In other words, they are being honest. And after growing up homes where there has been a lack of honesty in regards to religion – whereupon actions are not backing up words – who can blame them?

I think this proves that tradition is not a lasting when it comes to spirituality. For those who look upon religion and attend a church as a safety-net, meaning that if I go to church and appear religious and respectful to God, then I have a much better chance of going to heaven if I stay home. This no longer translates into the next generation where they are questioning beliefs, traditions and social norms. They want answers and are not afraid to ask questions, even if it appears disrespectful or anti-authority. And the question I pose for Christians is, “Are you prepared to give an answer? Are you backing up your answers with real living that consistently pattern of what is being taught in church?” We have run out of excuses and as a result, we live in a society where the salt of biblical truth is losing its saltiness. And like it says in the Bible, un-salty Christianity is no longer good for anything and is tossed along the side of the road.

We are entering into a new age where only the courageous Christians can dwell. Who is willing to stand up for what orthodox biblical Christianity – not only in words, but also in actions? In a climate of competing truths, who has the courage to stand up and state what is absolute? As the clouds of the gospel truth begin to drift away from North America, I wonder what history will record in the next twenty years?

Why does God need our prayers?

The real reason for praying has little to do with asking for things. We pray simply because God wants us to pray. Prayer is talking to God.

Does He really need our prayers? No, God doesn’t need our prayers to bless us. The bigger question is, “Why does God want me to pray in the first place?”

Prayer is a means for us to build a faith-filled, loving relationship with our Creator. Asking for things is just one minor aspect of our relationship with God. He is already as good, concerned, informed and powerful as He can be. But since a loving relationship with Him is His highest concern for us, God constructs the order of things so that a loving relationship with him will be facilitated.

Because of this, God ordains that some things will only be done through prayer.

If God doesn’t need our prayers, then is prayer truly effective?

God commands us to pray for several reasons.

1. Prayer is a constant reminder that God is the only source for help and strength.
When we truly slow down and examine our lives, during good times and bad, it is God that receives all credit and glory.

2. We need to remember our relationship with God in our present fallen condition.
We have all heard studies and testimonies on the healing power of prayer, but God does not act like a cosmic vending machine. A person does not make a request, pull a lever, and have our request granted. People are miraculously healed and people tragically die. What’s the difference?  What didn’t work?

There are billions of variables that go into God’s moment by moment interaction with the world. There is His overall plan for humankind and for the universe. There is His plan for each individual. There is the strategy of the spiritual battle with which He is involved. There is the degree to which He has ordained our prayer to have consequences in the world.

To understand all of this would be like walking into a theater in the middle of a movie. Would you be able to explain the whole movie after only one minute of viewing? Or, would you be able to teach a chemistry class after reading one page of a textbook?

Prayer is a means to give us confidence and peace that God is working out all things for good, even when he says no to our prayer. Faith and trust becomes the critical element of being sure in what we hope and pray for and certain of what we do not see.

Thoughts from this article came from www.gregboyd.org.