Being There vs. Being

There were three men who lived in a small mountain town in western Colorado. One of the three friends liked to spend his days in the ski lodges around the town.

"Why do you spend so much time in the ski lodges?" asked his two friends.

"Because spending so much time among skiers has made me a skier as well."

His friends were doubtful, but he began to speak at length about skiing, using ski-related words like "slalom", "shoosh" and "herringbone".

One of his friends decided to apply the same strategy to break into a new carreer. He began hanging out at the dog pound. Within two months, he had turned into a St. Bernard.

The other one was less careful. He began hanging around the Dunkin' Donuts. The good news is that since becoming a donut, he has found a satisfying career in law enforcement.

I'm sure you'll all agree that while this story is cute and fun, it is also patently absurd. You don't become a skier by going to the ski lodge. You become a skier by getting out on the slopes and skiing. You don't become a dog by hanging around the dog pound. You become one by messing around with the stuff in the TCW prop room.

But there are many, many people who believe that since they go to church, they are Christians. I know that there are some here who believe this. My goal is not to offend anyone, but to shine the light of truth from God's word and help you to understand it. The truth of the matter is that there is a difference between going to church and being a child of God. It's a difference that needs to be addressed sooner or later.

As we read in verse 21 of Matthew 7, not everyone who calls God "Lord" will be saved. They may act like Christians. They may even do the work of a Christian. But they are rejected by God because they never had a relationship, even if they think they did. So what was missing?

Let's step sideways for a moment and look at a related picture. Picture a couple of lovebirds. Literal birds, if you like. We'll call them Bill and Becca. Bill and Becca are madly in love. They plan to spend the rest of their lives together. Bill buys an expensive diamond ring and proposes to Becca. Becca responds by saying "But Bill, we're already in love. We don't need to take any silly vows." Bill is crushed. He wants to marry his girlfriend, but she refuses. Yet they stay together and continue dating. Several more times he proposes, and every time, Becca says no.

After a while, Bill and Becca drift apart. Having come to the realization that Becca will not marry him, Bill looks elsewhere for a mate. He falls in love with a sparrow. Soon, he proposes and she gladly accepts. They have a lovely wedding with Pastor Raven presiding and a choir of nightingales tweeting the wedding march. But the mood of the ceremony is spoiled when Becca storms in and shouts that he cannot marry this sparrow because SHE is Bill's wife.

Bill is indignant. "I gave you your chance." he says. "You refused to be married to me. You have no right to claim to be my wife because we were never married!" With that, Bill waves his wing and a burly condor picks Becca up and chucks her out of the chapel.

Have you ever wondered why we have wedding ceremonies? Only humans do. Even among those animals who form meaningful monogamous relationships, only humans have that one moment in which they pledge themselves to one another. It may be different in diverse cultures. In ancient Israel, it was at the moment of engagement. In western society, it is done with the words "I do." But whatever the method, there is always a moment when two officially become one married couple. Why?

One very important reason is because marriage is a picture of the Christian's relationship with God. Beasts do not have this because the illustration is not meant for them. Being unable to fathom the concepts of right and wrong, they are not capable of sin, and therefore have no need to enter into a relationship with God as we do. We have it because God wants us to understand that simply hanging around together does not constitute a relationship. There must be a moment at which adoption occurs or it never actually happens.

So what are we supposed to do?

According to the calvinists, you're supposed to stand around and wait for God to pick you... or something like that. I do know that the webmaster over at westboro baptist (and I say "baptist" laughingly) says that the idea of being saved by accepting Christ as your savior is works-based salvation.

Uh... no. It isn't. works-based salvation is trying to get to Heaven on your own merit. One of the most basic tenants of the Christian religion is to realize that you can't do that. WE can never be good enough. Imagine a criminal standing in a courtroom, freshly convicted of murder. He reminds the judge that he has given millions to starving children. He's good to his wife and kids. He's built homeless shelters in every major city. He has funded programs for improving the quality of life for the poor through medicine and introducing plumbing and power and improved farming practices. He's even been on the building crew for "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition". The judge is going to look at him and say "That's wonderful. You are to be commended for your humanitarian work. But you're still guilty." But let's suppose the judge says "Your life is highly valued by your friend, who has offered to take your punishment in your place. Do you accept this substitution?" His acceptance has done nothing to make him any less guilty or more innocent. It is merely the key to allowing the substitutiary punishment to take place. He is not made innocent by his own works. He is justified by the action of his friend.

This is why it is so vitally important to have that moment of acceptance. God respects our free will and does not act without our permission. So again, how do we accept the substitution and permit Jesus' sacrifice to save us?

Romans 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
Is there some magic in the words "Jesus is Lord"? No. No more than there is magic in the words "I do". It is not the words which bind a bride and groom together. It is what is in their hearts which creates a marriage. But the words "I do" are what define that attitude of the heart. If Bill the bird were never to say "I do" to his sparrow bride, she would never know that he had made the decision to take her as his wife. The preacher wouldn't know. The guests wouldn't know. The clerk down at city hall wouldn't know. If Bill makes the decision and keeps it bottled up in his heart, it has no effect.

This goes back to that eternal truth- "faith without works is dead." It is not to say that faith relies on works to exist. Quite the contrary. But think of it this way... all living creatures with eyelids blink. Look at the person sitting next to you. (in your imaginations, of course.) They're blinking. They blink because they are alive. That life does not depend on blinking, but if they should stop doing it, you'll have sufficient grounds to wonder if they are still alive, as living folks blink. Blinking is an expression of life. One who is alive but not blinking, unless he is a snake, is probably comatose. While he is in fact alive, for all intents and purposes, he may as well be dead.

So faith, if it is not expressed by words and actions, is useless. If you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that he rose from the dead, you have done well, but it's not going to save you. The demons believe that and they're scared to death of Jesus. That belief is useless until you take that all-important step of asking Jesus to be your personal Lord and Savior and proclaiming Him as such.

So what is the value of binding oneself to a body of believers? (That is, going to church.) While it's not going to save you, never let it be said that I told you it wasn't important. I could preach an entire sermon on the importance of going to church (and I have) but I'll just say briefly- The purpose of the church when it is together is to build one another up. To encourage, to foster growth, to share joy, to declare our allegience and to take a personal part in God's work. It's purpose when apart is to spread the message of the gospel- that Jesus died for each one of us.

1 John 2:2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (Take that, calvinism!)
All we have to do is accept.

Now that we know that it is important to accept Christ as savior, WHY it is important, and how it is done, here are my challenges for you this week.

If you have not yet formally invited Jesus into your heart to be your own Lord and savior, I invite you to do so right now. You can do so privately, though we would be honored to share in the moment. In either case, we would like you to tell us of your decision.

If you have, then you can rest in the knowledge that you are in fact a child of God- not just in that He is your creator, but because you have entered into a permanent relationship with Him. Your responsibility now is to help others who are seeking to find God and tell them the way of salvation. If you're not confident doing it yourself, bring them here and we'll tell them. You'll still get full marks. (wink)

There is one more item I would like to address. Currently, this church has only four members, we being the board of elders. I would like to invite everyone who has accepted Christ as their savior and who agrees with our statement of faith to become a member of this body. You don't have to leave your local church. You don't have to send money. We'd simply like you to be an official part of this family so that we can further strengthen each other, we can all share the credit for the work going on here at St. Fred's, and because it is an expression of love and unity, pleasing to the Lord.

Being a conservative baptist preacher, I don't normally do altar calls, but this week, we're going to do things a little differently. I would like anyone who has made a decision for the Lord, whether to accept Christ, or to petition for membership, or for any other thing, to come forward at this time. You may do so openly, or you may speak privately with myself or any of the elders here.

Pastor Oren Otter
February 18, 2006

Today's reading Matthew 7: 13-23

13 "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.
14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
15 "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.
16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.
19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'
23 Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'