Wednesday, November 5, 2014

#UAskIAnswer 8: Jesus and Judaism

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Jesus and Judaism
This question comes from a few weeks ago, when we talked about Jesus healing a handicapped man on the Sabbath. I spoke a little about the Jewish Sabbath, and how Jesus interacted with the Old Testament Law (which was the basis for the Jewish religion of His day). One of our inquisitive Bible-scholars-in-training, Annika, asked this:
“Why did Jesus do things that are a part of Jewish religion?”
Why indeed, Annika?
This question is a good one to ask, because of a couple of reasons.
First, didn’t Jesus come to start a new religion? And yet, during His ministry in Israel, He seems to be paying very close attention to the Jewish law and religion (Judaism). He preaches in the synagogues, He encourages tithing (giving ten percent of one’s income to God), and He constantly criticizes the religious elites of His day (the Pharisees and Sadducees, among others)–not for following the Jewish religion, but for not doing a good enough job of following itIt is clear that Jesus took Judaism very seriously. So why was that so, if Jesus came to start a new religion?
Second, if Jesus took Judaism seriously, then why aren’t Christians (His followers) all practicing Judaism today?Think about it. If Jesus was Jewish, and obeyed the Old Testament Law, then wouldn’t anyone who follows Jesus also follow what He followed? Why aren’t Christians Jewish?
To read more, go to:  http://theyouthroom.net/2014/11/05/uaskianswer-8-jesus-and-judaism/

#UAskIAnswer 7: If Salvation Is A Free Gift, Why Should Christians Be Good?

Today’s question comes from an anonymous student. It was handed in on a notecard at the end of one of my messages a few weeks back. And it’s a really good question:
We’ve been told many times that doing good things doesn’t affect out image in Gods [sic] eyes, but as the church we seem to do good things a lot; more than other people. [Do] we as Christians have the need to do good things? Why do we do good things more than others?
This question gets at the root of something that has been dealt with a lot in conversations between, say, Protestants and Roman Catholics or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Both of those faith systems say that it is necessary to do good works in order to earn justification (righteousness) before God.
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Note to self: the ladder of good works does NOT lead to heaven. Now… how do I get down from here?
Biblically-based Christianity, however, teaches that justification and salvation are completely free gifts. If God waited for us to do enough good works to merit justification, then we would never receive it. In short, God saves His people despite their having done nothing to earn or deserve it in any way.
Where members of other religions may object to this teaching, and I have seen this myself in conversations with people of other faiths, is this: “If God’s grace is free, and unearned, then what’s to stop people from just taking it and going off and sinning as much as they want?” In other words, the assumption is that, if we don’t have to earn justification, we’ll just take it for granted and live like terrible sinners.
If you think about it, both questions boil down to this: “Why should we be good?” (Or as this student seems to be asking, Why are Christians apparently so good?). I believe that the answer has two parts....
To read more, go to http://theyouthroom.net/2014/10/28/uaskianswer-7-why-be-good/.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Is death a good thing, because it prevents overpopulation?


Awhile ago, I received this question from a student: “Wasn’t the curse and death a good thing to keep the earth from being overpopulated?” Well, let’s talk about that. 
First of all, this question is basically wondering this:
  1. The Fall of Adam & Eve, when the first humans sinned for the first time,introduced death into the world (Romans 5:12)
  2. If Adam & Eve had not sinned, then no one would have ever died, but lived forever.
  3. If everyone lived forever, and kept reproducing, the world would soon fill up with people and become overpopulated.
  4. Overpopulation decreases quality of life (because of insufficient resources to supply everyone with what they need).
This is an intriguing question, and it can actually be answered pretty quickly. Check it out.
First of all, to solve this, you have to figure out how many people have ever lived. This is, of course, impossible. However, depending on when you think humanity began (that is, when the events of Genesis 1-3 took place), you can make a few estimates.
Sidebar: Right off the bat, I’m going to go ahead and eschew the notion that people have existed for millions of years, in any form. The population data just does not seem to support this. That is, if humanity really went back that far, given how fast people procreate (make babies), there would be way more people alive today. Okay, some think that the reason there are so few people today is because of natural disasters and such, which dramatically reduced the human population several times (think Noah’s flood-type cataclysms). But then, if that’s the case, where are all the bones? Sorry, but it just doesn’t seem to add up.
Having said that, the people who calculate this sort of thing start from two hypothetical starting dates for humanity. One’s about 6,000 years ago, and the other is about 50,000 years ago. The first one factor’s in Noah’s flood, while the second one doesn’t. Whichever one you pick, the numbers don’t change all that much. Adding up everyone who ever lived, you get a number somewhere between 86 billion and 108 billion people. So, let’s take the larger number....
To read the rest of this article, please go to http://theyouthroom.net/2014/09/15/uaskianswer-4-death-overpopulation/
*****
Joel Settecase is an apologetics blogger and the Associate Pastor for Youth & Evangelism at Grace Pointe Church in Plainfield, IL, located at 143rd St. and Route 30. Sunday worship service starts at 9AM, and you are invited. Email Joel at jsettecase@gracepointe.us.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Do humans have free will?

#UAskIAnswer is a new feature here on the blog, where I (Pastor Joel) answer questions submitted to me by the students of The Pointe & Momentum, Grace Pointe Church's student ministries. For the first two questions, click here and here.

Today's question is a good one, because it tries to make sense of a real difficulty in Scripture.

On the one hand, there are all these verses about predestination, God's sovereignly deciding in advance what is going to happen, and then carrying out his plan.

On the other hand, there are all these verses  implying that we can actually choose to obey God or disobey Him. So it really sounds like we have free will.

So which is it: is God in control of everything, or are we able to make real choices? Here's the answer: ... To read the rest of this article, please visit http://theyouthroom.net/2014/09/13/uaskianswer-3-do-we-have-free-will/.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Is Allah the Same God as Yahweh?


Today’s Question
#UAskIAnswer is a new feature over at The Youth Room (.net). I (Pastor Joel) am going to be answering your questions—especially those ones that require a little more work and research than I would be able to do in the spur of the moment, during youth group meetings. The first question we discussed was, “What are angels and what do they do?” Today, we are looking at the question, “How is God different from Allah?”

This question is a good one to address today, because it’s the anniversary of the attacks (by Muslim terrorists) of 9/11/01, and the matter of Muslim/Islamic terrorists has not gone away in the thirteen years since those attacks. In fact, if anything the threat has grown—just look at what’s happening in Iraq, where the villains of the Islamic State are destroying and subjugating Christians.

So Islam is a hot-button issue in our nation right now. Muslims (followers of Islam) believe in Allah, and Christians believe in the God of Israel, revealed as Yahweh or the I AM (or translated as “The LORD”). In the Qu’ran (Islam’s scripture), Muhammad (Islam’s founder and prophet) claims that Allah is the same God as the God of the Bible (Muslims are taught in the Qu’ran to say to Christians, “We believe in what was revealed to us and in what was revealed to you, and our god and your god is one and the same; to Him we are submitters” (Surah 29:46)).

But are Yahweh and Allah really the same being? Are we talking about two different names for the same person?

In the Qu’ran and the Bible, they both claim certain things about themselves, which can’t all be true if they are different beings (I mean, you can’t have two all-powerful creators of the world, can you?).

But then, if they’re the same, then why are they described so differently (and oh, they are described differently in the two books, as we’ll see). And why do their followers (Christians and Muslims) live and worship in such different ways? Who’s right and who’s wrong?

To read the rest of this article, go to http://theyouthroom.net/2014/09/11/uaskianswer-2-how-is-god-different-from-allah/

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What are angels?

I just wrote a new article over on www.theyouthroom.net (yes, aside from being the go-to apologist for literally ones of people, I am also a youth pastor--and that is my student ministry's website). Here's an excerpt:


#UAskIAnswer 1: What are Angels?


It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out (Proverbs 25:2).
Welcome to a new feature on The Youth Room, #UAskIAnswer, where I (Pastor Joel) answer questions raised by students. How did this come about? Well, I am doing it for two reasons.
First, the Q & A times we’ve done over the last year have been by far the most popular things about  Sunday youth group. Seriously, you guys will gladly put off playing games, singing songs, and even eating pizza (!) to get your questions answered about God, culture, the Bible, and the Christian life. If you ask me, that is awesome. Now of course, I can only answer a few questions at a time on a given Sunday night. So I want to extend that time out and answer a number of your questions that I haven’t gotten to on Sunday nights. And thanks to Kevin Yang’s list, that number is huge. Seriously, I have 38 questions sitting in front of me right now, and they’re all from Kevin. And they’re good. Well, most of them. 
Second, I want to do this because I am passionate about it. I’m going to be straight with you–I enjoy answering questions about God. In fact, I believe that is one of the top three things I do as your Student Ministries Pastor (as for the other two things, I’ll let you figure that out based on what we do on a given Sunday). 
So now, without further ado, here’s your first question: “What are angels and what do they do?” This question is from Kevin. Let’s get to it. 
To begin with, the word angel comes from a Greek word (ἄνγελος – angelos) that means “messenger.” So primarily, angels show up in Scripture as messengers from God. The one we hear the most about, Gabriel, shows up in the Old Testament book of Daniel. He brings the prophet Daniel a message from God which starts this way: “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding.” So there you have it. A messenger, from God, coming to do what godly messengers do–give wisdom and knowledge, and the ability to interpret that knowledge. And now that message...
To read the rest of this article, go to The Youth Room.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Is Christianity Exclusive? (Part Two)

...Christianity is Inclusive

Last time we talked about why Christianity is the most exclusive religion in the world.
Now, let’s look at why Christianity is actually the world’s most inclusivereligion. It is such because of who God brings into His kingdom.
The folks who get into God’s kingdom through Jesus (AKA Christians) are all sorts of the wrong kind of people. No Christian starts as a good person. I know this is true because no one ever starts out as a good person. Scripture teaches, and surely experience authenticates this, that “there is no one who is righteous” ( Romans 3:10). Not even one. Now, let’s work this out.
  1. God, the holy and righteous King, is not going to let anyone into His kingdom who is not holy and righteous.
  2. Everyone Jesus saves (every true Christian) has been brought into God’s kingdom.
  3. Every Christian is (at least functionally) holy and righteous.
  4. No human being is naturally holy and righteous.
  5. We can conclude that every Christian--everyone who repents of her sinful ways and fully trusts in Jesus Christ for salvation and as Lord--has something supernatural happen to her, in order to make her right before God.
So if the salvation Jesus accomplishes causes a supernatural change in everyone who believes, what does that mean? It means that there is nothing natural in us that can overcome that salvation. God’s salvation is possible for every sinner who believes--no matter how great or terrible you have lived up to this point. Christianity is not for good people. Jesus is for dirty sinners needing to be cleaned.
Let me make that even more explicit: There is nothing that you have done, ever, in your life, that disqualifies you for God’s kingdom.
This is possible because every member of God’s kingdom has left their former, sin-saturated ways, and has been washed of them. No, Christians are not actually perfect (this side of Heaven). But, the supernatural work of Jesus’ saving sacrifice, and the unstoppable power of God’s Holy Spirit (who indwells every Christian) transfers the Christian from slavery to sin, to the freedom of belonging to God. So sin has been effectively defeated in the Christian’s life.
And what sin! This is the part of the article I am most looking forward to. This is actually the reason I started writing part one--to get to this point:continued, unrepentant sin WILL keep you out of God’s kingdom. But you can be forgiven for any and all sins, and brought into God’s kingdom, no matter what you have done in the past.
Look with me at 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Go ahead, stop reading this for a minute, and go read that passage. Here’s a link.
Isn’t that incredible? Look at the kinds of sins that the Apostle Paul says will keep you out of God’s kingdom (I know, I just said that no sin can ultimately keep you out of God’s kingdom. But what Scripture teaches is that sin willkeep you out of God’s kingdom, but that He is powerful enough and gracious enough to erase your record of sin when you repent and trust in Jesus. Keep reading; I’ll try to explain). So here are the sins that will keep you out of God’s kingdom:
  1. Sexual immorality (yes porn and lustful thinking count--see Matthew 5:27-28)
  2. Idolators (trusting in created things rather than the Creator)
  3. Adulterers
  4. Men who practice homosexuality (this refers to passive and active engagement in homosexual acts)
  5. Thieves (ever stolen anything, or “borrowed without permission” or neglected to pay back a loan to a friend?)
  6. The greedy (we call this “ambition”)
  7. Drunkards
  8. Nor revilers (think of “Family Guy”-style entertainment, mocking the things of God)
  9. Nor swindlers
And then look what he says near the end: “And such were some of you.” The Church includes rotten sinners. I should know; much of that list describes me.
Sin is bad enough to exclude you from God’s kingdom. But Jesus is powerful enough to supernaturally overcome your sin and bring you in. And that is a message for everyone. Talk about inclusive.
*****
Email Joel Settecase at jsettecase@gracepointe.us

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Is Christianity Exclusive? (Part One)

Christianity is exclusive...

Christianity has been called the world’s most exclusive religion. After all, it presents a view of God, and God’s kingdom, that is completely centered and focused on a single requirement. Other religions offer a system of regulations and religious practices you can follow, beliefs to adhere to, and ways of life for you to carry out. The idea is that, as you try your hardest to do your best, God (or Allah, or Jehovah, or whoever) will see your heart and, perhaps, fill in the gaps in your flawed and imperfect obedience. There are any number of faith systems that offer this to you. The methods and the requirements vary, but the general gist is the same: do your best to obey, and you’ll most likely get in. We can’t guarantee it, but your odds are better than average.
Not so with Christianity (or, as the first adherents called it, “The Way”). There is one, single, unalterable and unbending requirement to get in “good with God” according to the Bible (the Bible is the source of Christian beliefs--as opposed to other pseudo-Christian faith systems, such as Roman Catholicism, which has a large body of church tradition that is held on equal footing with the Bible). There is just one requirement a person must meet in order to be forgiven of her sins and transferred from the status of “under wrath” to the status of “justified.” That requirement is this: Jesus has to save you.
Huh? Why did I make it seem like the requirement is something that Jesusdoes, rather than something that you need to do? The reason why is because that is what the Bible teaches. Contrary to what every single other religion teaches (that I know of, and I am a student of the religious philosophy, for what that’s worth), in Christianity there is nothing you can do--at all--to merit God’s favor. When it comes to salvation, you can doabsolutely nothing to earn it. It all totally, fully, completely rests on Jesus Christ’s work to save you. He lived the perfectly obedient life you never could. Yet he died like a murderer, taking the punishment sinners like us deserve. He pulled a cosmic switcharoo, effectively saving everyone who believes in Him. Only those who believe this, repent of their sins (because who wouldn’t, after seeing how much God loves them in sacrificing His own Son?), and trust in Jesus’ finished work will be saved.
Because of this, Christianity is exclusive. The world’s spiritual and religious landscape is rife with false doors that lead to dead ends, and Jesus is the only door that leads to God’s kingdom. Enter through Him, the self-proclaimed “narrow gate” ( Matthew 7:13), and you will be saved. Saved out of the kingdom of darkness, of sin, of destruction, of addiction, of crime, of rebellion against God, of living your life outside of God’s grace and goodness. Saved into God’s kingdom, full of forgiveness and mercy, kindness, purpose, and pleasure. And Jesus is the only way in. Period. Scripture could not be more clear on this.
That is why the first Christians were called “followers of the Way.” The “Way” is not a system; the Way is a Person. He is a human being, who is also God incarnate. Two natures (one human, one divine), one man, one perfect bridge between God and humanity. Jesus is the perfect person to bridge the otherwise uncrossable chasm between sinful people (yes, you are sinful--I am too--we’ll talk about that more in a second) and the holy and perfect God. So Christianity is exclusive. Any Christian who is honest will agree with that.
But God’s kingdom is also astonishingly inclusive. I don’t have space here, so I’ll explain why in part two of this article. Stay tuned.
*****
Joel Settecase is the Associate Pastor for Evangelism & Student Ministry at Grace Pointe Church in Plainfield, IL, located at the intersection of 143rd St. & Route 30 (behind Family Video). You are invited to GPP’s worship service, this Sunday at 9:00AM. Email Joel at jsettecase@gracepointe.us.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The joy of spiritual growth (sermon).

My latest sermon from Grace Pointe Church in Plainfield answers the question: what does it mean to grow spiritually? 

NB: it may be different than you think. 

http://bit.ly/1zDmJne

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Perfect Church: An Impossible Ideal?

What does it mean to live for God?

Did you grow up in a religious home? Did your parents take you to church or synagogue? If you grew up religious in Plainfield, then the odds are likely that you grew up Roman Catholic. And the odds are also high that you have given at least a little thought to what it means to live God's way. 

By now, you are older, and you have probably come to some sort of settled idea of what it means to live for God. Maybe you are living up to the standard you have in your mind, but probably not. If we are all honest with each other, we will admit that none of us fully actualizes the standard of good living which we think we ought to adhere to. But think for a moment about what activities you would include in your list of godly living. Go ahead and think about it. I'll wait. 

...

Did you give it some thought? Alright, now let's see what made the list. Can I guess? How about things like... 

Going to church services
Being kind to others
Donating money and time to charitable causes
Prayer (to God or possibly the "saints")
Religious rituals (if you grew up Catholic, you know about plenty of these). 

If you have been reading The Jesus Blog at all over the last several months, you can probably expect what we are going to do next. Let us take a look at what the Bible says about living for God. Now if you want a concise overview of godly living, the two best portions of Scripture I could recommend would be the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount (interestingly, both teachings were given by God on a mountain--one by Yahweh on Mount Sinai, and the other by Jesus on a hill near Jerusalem). However, this blog is about more than simply living for God on an individual basis. It is also about living for Him together as a community. And there is a passage of Scripture that speaks directly to that. 

Living for God together

Read 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24. The biblical book of 1 Thessalonians is an epistle (letter) which the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Thessaloniki. In this portion of the epistle, Paul instructs the Thessalonian Christians on living for God, together, in view of the fact that Jesus Christ will be returning soon, to take His people to be with Himself forever. So in these verses, Paul lays out how a Christian community looks. Here is the list: 

  1. Respect church leaders who labor on their behalf (verse 12)
  2. Live peacefully with each other (v. 13)
  3. Admonish (warn) those who are lazy and irresponsible (v. 14)
  4. Encourage the discouraged (v. 14)
  5. Help the weak (v. 14) 
  6. Be patient with all of the above (v. 14) 
  7. Be kind to enemies, to other Christians, and to everyone! (v. 15) 
  8. Rejoice always (v. 16) 
  9. Pray continuously (v. 17) 
  10. Give thanks in every situation (v. 18) 
  11. Do not stifle the Holy Spirit (v. 19)
  12. Do not despise prophecies
  13. Evaluate everything and hold on to what is good (vv. 20-21)
  14. Abstain from every form of evil (v. 22)

Wow, is that all? So the Christian community (as found in the local church) is intended to be respectful toward authority, peaceful, hard-working and productive, encouraging, helpful, patient, kind and good to all (even enemies), joyful, constantly praying, always thankful, filled with the Holy Spirit, attentive to prophecy, critically thinking, cherishing good things, and completely free of any and all evil. 

That seems like a tall order for any one individual. Certainly, a community of people living, working, and worshipping together while meeting this description would be nice--no, make that fantastic and wonderful--but how is it possible? Is this list nothing more than an unattainable ideal? We can be thankful that Paul gives us the answer in the next couple of verses. 

Only God can make it happen

Look at verse 23: "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ" (emphasis added). The "you" in that sentence is plural; Paul is talking about the Church as a community, not the individual Christian. 

This passage makes it clear that God desires more than religious ceremony and charity. He desires a sanctified Church (meaning one set apart from the world, by God for God, and transformed to live and act like Jesus), one that is actually guilt-free and faithful. If you have spent any time with any group of people at all, you now how unrealistic this sounds. In human terms, this requirement is impossible.

Yet note what Paul says in verse 23 and then in verse 24. In 23 he says, "May... God himself sanctify you..." and then in 24 he makes this amazing statement: "He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it." 

This is more than a requirement, it is more than a hope, and it is more than a command. This is a promise. God Himself, the God of the whole universe, the one who reigns sovereignly as King over everything, He will accomplish this purification of His Church. 

As followers of Jesus Christ, Christians wait hopefully for His second coming. That hope, which is rooted in the historical fact of His resurrection from the dead, motivates us to live together God's way. And God Himself--God the Holy Spirit--indwells His Church, enabling Christians to live together in a way that our selfish selves could never do without God's help. 

As one of the pastors of Grace Pointe Church, I have seen firsthand what God can do through a community of people--sinners in the process of being sanctified--who hope in Christ and are filled with the Holy Spirit. 

Incredibly, the more time I spend with God's saints, the more I see Paul's description of an ideal Christian community, not as an impossible ideal, but as an actual description of the community I am blessed to be a part of. Since Aliza and I have come to Grace Pointe, we have seen the kindness and generosity of God lived through the lives of His people in many, many ways. We have been floored by it. 

As a church, we certainly not totally finished yet, and we won't be until Jesus comes back or calls us home. But "He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it." We can see it, and we wait eagerly for it. 

If you want to know more about the Church of Jesus Christ at Grace Pointe Plainfield, shoot me an email (jsettecase@gracepointe.us) or hit me up on Twitter (@GracePointeJoel) or Facebook. 

*****
Joel Settecase is the Associate Pastor of Youth and Evangelism at Grace Pointe Plainfield, located at 143rd St. & Route 30, behind Family Video. Sunday worship service begins at 9 AM, and you are invited. Email Joel at jsettecase@gracepointe.us or read his blog at http://dontforgettothink.blogspot.com

Friday, May 16, 2014

Is Your Church Christian?

This post was originally posted on "The Jesus Blog" at the Plainfield Patch

Where to turn?

Just about fifty percent of Americans are affiliated with religious congregations. Thirty percent more claim to be religious in some way. That's a total of eighty percent of citizens of the United States who claim to be religious (the last stats I heard put twenty percent of us in the "unaffiliated" category).

Here in Plainfield, we are slightly more religious than the national average. Based on Will County Data, 54% of us are affiliated with some congregation. Of the devout, about three quarters are Roman Catholic. Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants are tied with thirteen percent, and two percent consider themselves "Other."

There are ten different flavors (AKA denominations) of Christianity represented here in Plainfield.

So pretend you were new in town. Say you wanted to attend a church--but not just any church. You want to spend your Sunday morning at a congregation who represents "authentic" Christianity. How would you know which one to choose? Are some denominations or congregations more "authentic" than others? And what is the standard for measuring them?

Although it might seem like it up to this point, this is not going to be a shameless booster post for my congregation (full disclosure: I am a pastor at Grace Pointe Plainfield). But it is an important question: what makes a Christian church?

Where to find the answer:

Over the last twenty centuries, people have answered that question different ways. Most of the disagreements have come concerning traditions which various denominations practice and accept (e.g. such as teaching surrounding the Virgin Mary, or the role of the pastor/priest). Historically, however, the underlying baseline for defining orthodox Christianity has always been the Bible.

Talk to a Mainline Protestant, an Evangelical, a Copt and a Roman Catholic, and they'll all tell you that truth can be found in the Bible (there are exceptions to this, especially in the last hundred and fifty years, in so-called Liberal Protestantism). So it stands to reason that the Bible would be the book to go to, in order to find a basic definition of what it means to be Christian.

The heart of the Bible's message is found in what is known as the Gospel. Meaning "Good News," the Gospel is the central message of God's plan of salvation for His people.

What is the Gospel?

The Gospel starts in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. In describing the history of the dawn of humanity--you know the story--Genesis recounts how Adam and Eve, the first people, sinned. They took the advice of a snake (thought to be Satan--a fallen angel and chief enemy of humanity) and disobeyed God. As a result, our first parents were driven out of Paradise. But before they were exiled, the Lord did something amazing.

First, He made a promise. Turning to the snake, the Lord said, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." This was the promise: that a human, male offspring born of a woman would crush the head of the serpent--defeat Satan and destroy his work--but that in the process he himself would be fatally "bitten" by the Devil.

Now look through the story of Ancient Israel, all through the Old Testament of the Bible. It is the story of God making good on this promise--to bring the prophesied Savior into the world.

If you have been reading this blog--or the Bible--you know what happened when Jesus showed up on the scene. He, the unique Son of God (John 3:16), destroyed the work of Satan by undoing the curse of sin and death for all who trust in Him.

How did Jesus accomplish this? He was tortured and died on the cross. At that time, the sin of God's people was put on Him. He "became sin" so that all who trust in Him would become the "righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Therefore Satan's work is destroyed in the lives of everyone who trusts in Jesus.

Those who accept this do more than merely believe a set of facts; we are trusting in a Person to save us and submitting to His authority (as Lord). We recognize that we are sinners, fallen short of God's glory (Romans 3:23) and rightfully earning death (Romans 6:23). We believe that Jesus is the promised Savior, and as such He is the rightful Lord, to whom we owe our allegiance. He has bought us with the costly price of His own life--now we owe him everything.

So then, this is the Gospel and the core of the Christian message: "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost" (1 Timothy 3:15-16).

Let me be really, really clear about this point, and echo what the Apostle Paul is saying in that previous verse: I am a sinner. I am a bad person. I know this from Scripture but also from my own life. I, Joel Settecase, have not in any way earned the favor of a perfectly holy God. And Scripture is clear that neither have you. You and I are both in desperate need of God's forgiveness.

God's grace for believers is a free gift--but it was not cheap. It cost God the death of His Son. That is His grace for his people. There is nothing we can do to accomplish this ourselves or add anything to that.

Picture a turtle flipped over onto its back. Flail its little legs as it might, there is no way it is going to turn itself back over. That is our condition in sin, apart from God's grace. It is God who "turns us over," makes us right with Himself (the Bible says God "justifies" us) and gives us the ability to live the way we're supposed to live.

What good is a turtle that is flipped onto its back? It can't very well do anything turtle-y like that, now can it? Neither can we live how God created us to live, apart from God turning us to Christ and saving us. And like the turtle, we will die if left in our current state. 

So which church is right? 

With all this being said, I am not going to answer the question for you--at least not specifically. In other words, I am not going to provide a list of all the churches here in Plainfield that "get it." But by now, we have a framework to think through which churches stay true to the Christian--that is, the biblical--message.

Is the Gospel all there is to it?

Now before you blow up the comment section with objections, let me say that there is much more to Christianity than simply believing the Gospel.

Over the centuries, creeds and catechisms have been written to outline all the beliefs of orthodox, biblical Christianity. Christians love, respect and cherish those texts. In fact I am in the process of catechizing my son using the New City Catechism. True Christianity embraces all that the Bible teaches, not just the teaching on the Gospel.

Then there are the rituals and sacraments, the charity, good works, practices and traditions that express God's truth in physical life. These are important expressions of faith and biblical as well--especially baptism and communion.

However, none of the creeds and traditions make sense apart from the understanding that God's salvation only comes by His free gift, through faith and the trustworthiness of Jesus Christ.

You can have all the external signs of religion, but without the Gospel it's empty inside. It is a beautiful, ornate mausoleum--beautiful on the outside with rotting death on the inside.

But a congregation that teaches and promotes the Gospel of free grace, purchased for believers at the precious price of the death of the Son of God Himself, is a great place to start. Not all churches agree with this. Sadly, some church leaders minimize the Gospel, or the Bible, or the importance of grace alone through faith alone. In doing so they try to add to God's word and make the message of Christianity something other than the beautiful truth of God's plan to save sinners like us. People like that need to read their Bibles.

*****
Joel Settecase is the Associate Pastor of Youth and Evangelism at Grace Pointe Plainfield, located at 143rd St. & Route 30. This Sunday, we will be having a baptism service. You are invited to join us and watch as believers in Christ make a public declaration of their faith and new life in God. Service starts at 9 AM.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Good With God, Part Six: The Answer


This concludes our study of Acts 10:34-43, answering the question, "How Can I get right with God?"

“Salvation.”

The final word, found in verses 42 and 43, is “Salvation.”

But before Peter gives us the good news, he gives us the terrifying news: Jesus is the Judge. Jesus is the Lord of all, twice qualified as judge. He was God the Son to start with, and he has now been vindicated and glorified by his Father by rising from the dead and going up into heaven. He exercises all authority. Notice that Peter says the judgment seat is “of Christ.” Jesus now has all of God’s authority, and all sins and offenses against God are now against Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is God, and we will answer to him as God. 2 Cor. 5:10 says we will all appear before Him to receive what we have done in the body, whether good or bad. John Piper says that, “Every person in this room will stand, individually, before the judge. And you will give an account of your life….” “Judgment Day” is fixed. It’s circled on God’s calendar. We don’t know when it will be, but God does know. And who can possibly stand on that day?
Spurgeon lists the types of people who will stand before Christ on that day. Here is a modified version of that list:

Everyone alive will stand before him: Presidents and CEOs, homeless people, self-proclaimed Christians, self-acknowledged sinners. Everyone who has died will stand before him: tyrants who have killed millions of people, serial killers, murderers, the Roman soldiers who executed him, the Jewish leaders who accused him, everyone who has persecuted his followers throughout history, modern-day mockers, atheists, and skeptics, Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Buddhists, Agnostics, Postmodernists, Catholics, Protestants, and the religiously ambiguous, every person who is being born today, or will be born in the future, and you.

You will individually stand before Jesus Christ and give an account for how you lived your life and the things you did. And everyone whose name is not found written in the Book of Life will be thrown into the Lake of Fire, to suffer forever under God’s wrath.

Here is the horrifying part: you will not, after this message, be able to say, ‘Well nobody ever told me that….’” There is now a record of this sermon in heaven. You have been told...  
That Jesus is the judge.

That Jesus is God’s peacemaker.

About the forgiveness of sins.

About everlasting torment, away from God’s presence and under his wrath.

The scariest thing about all this is that it is entirely fair. Every kingdom or nation has to have a judge. Piper invites us to imagine a nation in which there were no courts of law or prison system. It would be either complete anarchy or a perfect utopia. Look around. This is not a utopia. And since anarchy means “no ruler,” we don’t live in anarchy. There is a King, and his name is Jesus. And he is the judge who will evaluate your life.

What hope do you have?

Having understood all this, Peter gives Cornelius (and us) only one source of hope. But this hope is big enough, strong enough and broad enough to cover all the terror and uncertainty caused by the previous truth that Jesus is the Judge. In verse 43, he mercifully calls Jesus Forgiver.

The scope of God’s forgiveness

Peter says, “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” The Judge is also the Savior. Because of God’s tremendous mercy, he sends an ambassador to us to establish peace—and the one bringing forgiveness is the one we have been sinning against in the first place!

And in the same way that God sent Jesus into the world back then, God is sending Jesus to offer peace to you, right now, through this message. Jesus Christ alone has the authority to pardon anyone he chooses. And he is offering you that chance right now.

Let’s go over this astonishing truth one more time: anyone who believes in Jesus’ name receives forgiveness of sins. Anyone! Religious or non-religious. Catholic or Protestant. Black or white. Volleyball player, wrestler, swimmer, or Football-er. White collar, blue collar, or no collar. Everyone needs God’s grace, and everyone is offered God’s grace in Jesus.

Grace means a free gift. Everyone needs God’s free gift of forgiveness because, contrary to what you have heard, people are not basically good. Only God is “basically good.” And He is amazingly loving and kind. He send Jesus to die for sinners, not after we got our act cleaned up, but while we were still sinning. If you believe in Jesus, you will  be saved from his wrath. This is your only hope and mine. It is the most exclusive message, and the most inclusive message there is. There is only one way to be forgiven, and it is open to everyone who believes.

So what does it mean to believe?

Peter is talking about more than just believing in facts. It starts with agreeing with God about your own guilt. 1 John 1:9 says that God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins,” if we “confess our sins.” Confess and trust. Trust your life to Jesus as God’s peacemaker. Trust in Jesus as the judge and savior. Trust him to forgive you of your sin. This means you agree with God that you are a sinner. You agree with God that your sin is bad, and needs to be done away with.

Trust your life to Jesus as the Lord of all.

And just to be clear, all means all. Jesus must be the Lord of your money, work, relationships, school, goals, family, housing, recreation, entertainment, time, and activities. If you don’t accept Jesus as Lord of all, you don’t accept him as God offers him. You’ve created a false version of Jesus, who is only interested in certain areas of your life. That’s not true, and there is no hope for forgiveness in that. We need forgiveness and restoration in every area of life. Believe in Jesus to fix all of yours, or you don’t really believe in him.

Only Jesus can do this. Only he has full authority and capability. As both God and man, only he knows God’s law perfectly well—in order to fulfill it completely. Only he knows you better than you know yourself—in order to save you from sins you didn’t even know about! Only he had the ability to face down the full weight of your sin on the cross, to condemn that sin on your behalf, and to rise from the dead, spotless. 

And because he rose, only he can offer you the opportunity to live again, to be raised yourself when he returns. And because Jesus is the judge, only he can effectively declare you “not guilty.” He can do all this, and he will do it for you, if you believe in him as Savior and Lord.  

Cornelius needed to hear all this, because his own “goodness” and religion could not save him.
When you stand before Christ on Judgment day, saying you were a “pretty good” or “religious” person will not be enough. There will be a final exam, and it won’t be a theology test. It won’t be a Bible quiz. It won’t ask you to list all the good deeds you’ve done in your life. The one question that will matter is, “Did you trust Jesus your Lord and Savior?

Conclusion

So by now, you’ve seen your need to get right with God. You have seen that only Jesus can do this. And you have seen that belief or trust in him is the only way of accessing it. It’s not about what you do, it’s about what Jesus has done.

Peter’s sermon demands that we make a decision: do we believe in Jesus, or not?

You need to decide: is this something we will believe or not? “Will I trust in Jesus’ name?” It also gives us no excuse for not sharing this Good news with others. If you are here tonight, and this is a commitment you’ve made—if you are living for Jesus Christ tonight—then Peter has just given you a really clear and convincing way of sharing the Good News with others. So here’s your homework:

  1. Review these five words.

  2. Ask yourself, is this something I really believe? Do I know I am saved?

  3. Share this good news with your teammates, roommates, and friends. It’s a message way too good to be kept to yourself.