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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

There Is No ‘Plan B’

I have a friend who regularly sends me emails full of ‘Christian’ content. They’re generally the type of cookie-cutter platitudes or cheesy, sentimental anecdotes that you’ve probably encountered on the internet from time to time yourself. One or two have actually been pretty decent. I have no idea where he finds them all.

I assume he sends them my way because he knows I’m a Christian and expects that they’d be of interest to me in the same way that, say, NHL trade rumours interest a hockey fan, or an article on Jeff Tweedy may interest a fan of the band Wilco. It’s a nice gesture on his part.

When I think about it, though, I’ve never heard my friend say flat-out that he’s a Christian. He believes in God. He’s been to church, even the sort of odd little local churches I frequent. I know he’s had the salvation “full-court press” from former in-laws. He knows all the terminology and he knows the issues.

Unless someone is comfortable with discussing his or her beliefs freely, distinguishing between a believer who is untaught and a decent-living, ethical unbeliever who knows how to speak the language of Christendom can be a little tricky. Especially when one talks at length infrequently. If life is generally going along well for both of you, it may be difficult to bring the conversation around to the things of God and keep it there for more than a few seconds without employing the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

But my friend is also struggling with a number of tough situations in his life currently, struggles in which it is starting to become clear that, whatever he believes, it is not getting the job done for him.

I’ve made reference to this verse once or twice recently in connection with understanding the character of God:
“... he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
That someone who comes to God must believe that he exists is understood. I do not go to, for instance, 12 Southridge Crescent, ring the doorbell and say, “May I speak with James, please”, if James is merely a character in the detective novel I happen to be reading or someone I dreamed about last night. I go because I have some reason to anticipate that James is as real as I am, and that he may come to his door to greet me if he so chooses. Likewise, the one who comes to God must believe that he is.

That the one who comes to God must believe that there is some benefit in coming is also abundantly clear. The Lord illustrated it himself, didn’t he. In the kingdom parable of the talents, he tells the story of a man about to go on a journey for a long time who entrusts his possessions unequally to three servants. The first servant receives five talents. (A talent was an ancient unit of measurement; in the case of gold or silver, a measure of weight.) Through shrewd trading, he turns five talents into ten. The second servant receives two talents, and with them earns another two.

The third servant digs a hole in the ground and buries the money.

Why? Clearly not because he hates capitalism or doesn’t know how to trade. We’re told exactly why. It’s because he fails to correctly understand the character of his master. He says, “I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed”. The servant, lazy and wicked by nature, naturally assumes his master is of the same character, so there will be nothing in it for him.

But he’s wrong. His master is a rewarder. Servants One and Two, for their diligence, receive significant promotions and an invitation to enter into the “joy” of their master.

Thus it is necessary that we believe certain things about God’s character or we will never approach him in the first place.

But it isn’t believing the right things about God that saves. Demons are monotheists that fear God and are thoroughly convinced of their own inevitable judgement. They believe Jesus is God’s son and will be their judge. 

There may be belief without salvation.

All kinds of people believe God exists. Lots of them even think well of him and speak well of him. Some are very knowledgeable indeed about him. Some embrace a largely Christian worldview.

These things don’t save. Believing things about God, even very good things, has no merit in and of itself. There are two things in Hebrews 11:6 that you need to believe, but a third thing that needs to be done.

You have to come.

Our verse says “He who comes to God ...”. Jesus himself declared, “the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out”, and promised “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest”.

In the language of Scripture, that means “believing in” or “believing on”, not “believing about”.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies” and “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’ ”. Paul confirms “The one who believes in him will never be put to shame”.

To come to Christ requires more than just believing about him. It requires putting my trust in him, which necessitates that I withdraw my trust from everything else. It’s not a rite you perform as one step in a series of spiritual moves whereby you cover all your religious bases. He said, “I am THE way ...”, not “I am one possible way ...”.

In coming to Christ — in really coming to Christ — all other possible ways of “coming” are discarded forever. There is no ‘Plan B’.

Forgive me if I belabour what to some may seem childishly obvious. If it’s obvious to you, that’s something to be excited about. Because I can assure you it is not obvious to everyone.

I watched an old Irish Catholic character on a TV show  last night mouth bromides that I’ve heard or read dozens of times in TV, movies and books, and more than a handful of times from people I know. Speaking of his expectation of dying and going to heaven, he explained that while he had done some bad things in his life, the good he had done most definitely outweighed the bad.

It wasn’t obvious to him, and he is far from alone.

Untold millions of people believe this. People who go to church, read the Bible and use the name of Christ, even reverently. People who can hear the words “Jesus” and “Saviour” in the same sentence without perceiving that there is any contradiction between the words of Scripture and their own beliefs. But those who say such things do not believe in Christ.

They believe in themselves, which means they have never truly “come to God”.

1 comment :

  1. I like that though...not because it's easy to accept, but because it's the straightforward truth. Whatever it may demand of us, at least plain dealing tells us where we really are and gives us a chance to make the right choice. Palatable lies, or even the truth pitched too softly, do not give us that chance.

    As D.G. Barnhouse has suggested, when we stand in front of God, were He to ask us what right we have to being received by Him, there can be only one answer: "None at all: but Jesus Christ died for me, and I come to You in Him." "Sola Christi:" only Christ.

    What we have to understand is that if that answer does not work, we're going to Hell.

    No Plan B. If you try another answer, and it's already guaranteed not to work. No Plan [A + B] either,... Mix it with any other answer, and that second answer destroys the truth of the first answer -- you're not trusting in Christ alone anymore.

    So the question for me is, "Is that the answer I'm trusting in?" In fact, am I prepared to be lost for all eternity if Plan A doesn't work? Or am I carrying around in my head a "fall-back" plan?

    That's how I know I'm really trusting in Christ.

    I.C.

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