by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
Something that continues to trouble me is the perverse and pious tampering of the of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; particularly when it comes to the experience of what it truly is to be born again. Once the truth of the Gospel is soaked in religious dogma it bleeds self-righteous condemnation.
Perverse? What do I mean by that? The perversion of a thing is the alteration of something from its original course, meaning, or state to a distortion, misrepresentation, misinterpretation, or corruption of what was initially intended. Perversion is a twisting, misuse, and particularly in this case, the misapplication of its original truth. It involves the detracting of something intended to be good… pure. Perversion robs a thing of its essence… its virtue.
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:1-8 (NKJV)
I recently read about the Christian testimony of United States Senator, Marco Rubio. I watched some video on You Tube of Senator Rubio delivering his testimony. I checked out some of the comments posted by Christians in response to what they heard from him about his affiliation with the Catholic Church. Some deemed him suspect concerning his confession of repentance and faith, requiring more to affirm that he is authentic in his belief that Jesus Christ is his Savior and Lord.
“It’s a misunderstanding that somehow Catholics believe you can earn salvation. You cannot earn it. It’s a free gift. What Catholics do believe, however, is that true faith bears fruit and that the fruits of that faith are important. If your faith is not bearing fruit then it’s not a true faith. So it’s not that you can earn your salvation through work. You have to accept that the gift of salvation—which is a free gift offered to all of us by His death and resurrection. But your faith is known by the fruit that it bears and so certainly we are commanded.”
“Born again” is something that happens to us when we enter into relationship with God by faith in His Son. It is not something we do when we pray THE PRAYER. Jesus said believe in my name and be saved. Scripture tells us that God desires that none perish; that all who call on Him will be saved. Jesus stated emphatically that His purpose for coming to us in the flesh was not to condemn but to save; a rescue mission; as though He is pulling as many as He can from the flames of a house burning to the ground (John 3:16-17).
Folks tried not to bother Jesus with the children who didn’t know any better; kids that didn’t have a clue about theology or sound doctrine. These kids were too young and “innocent” to need religion. Jesus went out of His way to be sure the children were included in the mission of restoration through salvation. The thief on the cross next to Jesus did not know much about theology or doctrine. In fact, Scripture indicates that he admitted he was a sinner that deserved to die, and then uttered two words to Jesus… “Remember me.” (For the record, “… when you enter your kingdom” was an addition by translators and is most likely not what the man said.) The mission of redemption and restoration through a born again experience into relationship with God is hardly exclusive, but most inclusive. All who believe are included.
So then, of course, there is always someone that says, “Well, even Satan believes.” Let me say that Satan has first-hand, first-person knowledge of Jesus, but does NOT believe in the reality of trusting that Jesus is the Christ, his redeemer. The devil has experienced Jesus fully man and he has experienced Jesus fully God in ways that you and I don’t have any idea. Yet Satan refuses to acknowledge Jesus as his redeemer and Savior.
“You can make an argument… a logical argument for the truth of Christianity. So for me, I’ve always been interested in the depth of that theology. It brings me into greater understanding. What fascinates me so much—not just about the Bible but about Christianity—is how deep it is. If you spent 80 years pondering, you still wouldn’t fully understand its depth and its scope and how it virtually has answers to every challenge and every circumstance in life.”
Anyone… ANYONE who believes Jesus to be the source of forgiveness for their sin is saved—born again… PERIOD! Then there is the matter of Lordship, and what that even means every moment of everyday of our lives. Here is the rub… Any time I willingly act in selfishness, whether I realize it or not, have I surrendered to Christ’s Lordship as master of my life in that moment when I chose and behave sinfully? Who’s call is that to make? Is it mine? Is it yours? It’s His! Only God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—has the sovereign authority to make that call. And thank God for that. So when it comes to the salvation of anyone… ANYONE… only God gets to make that call.
When we decide and judge that someone is not saved because of a religious technicality, we are out of our element. We should certainly pray for those, and most certainly minister to those who appear to have not recognized their need for the Savior, Jesus Christ. We can certainly state the facts that life apart from relationship with Christ as Savior is separation from the Father. Where we tend to err is when we act as judge and eternal executioner as our weapon of choice for reaching someone for the kingdom. We call it tough love. It isn’t love. It isn’t compassion. Jesus did go hard after the Pharisees in the temple. He went hard after those who denigrated what ought to be a house of prayer. But while in Zacchaeus’s house, as slimy and grimy and egotistical as the man was, Jesus loved the guy. It was love that touched the heart of Zacchaeus; not judgment.
“There will be a new heaven and a new earth and we will live with our Creator for all eternity, in the way that it was supposed to be originally before man brought and introduced sin into the world… They have an opportunity to accept Christ into their heart and into their lives, and to begin a new life that will forever be transformed.”
I know Mormons and Jehovah Witness’s who profess that only Jesus saves them from their sin. They have confessed of their sin to Christ and repent of it. Are they going to hell because of religious doctrine or theology about whether or not Jesus is on a level with God as God? Perhaps you emphatically declare, “Yes.” God sacrificed His only Son to die for sin. Jesus, fully God, humbled Himself to nothing to pay the ransom for our sin. Why? Because God loves us and can’t stand that a single soul perishes. Does Jesus then condemn the soul to hell of the one that doesn’t get it that they walked into the office of God when they approach Jesus? If your child—who you know depends on you for shelter, security, and provision—is rebellious and is challenging your sovereign authority as mom or dad, do you throw him or her out and kick them to the curb… out of the family?
I counseled men in prison who call God Allah. They are committed to Muslim faith, read the Quran, and pray daily. Some of these men like to quote from the Quran passages that mirror Scripture from the Bible. Many of these men have found “salvation” (the word actually means redemption and recovery) from their criminal mindsets. Many of them, through their “faith in God” (as they often say) are some of the kindest, generous people I have ever met in my life. Their faces come to my mind as I write this. They know what their “bible” says about violence, and they know what my Old Testament says about violence and the killing of infidels (those who worship other gods… idols), including women and children.
I am not naive to clear distinctions between their faith and mine. So I pray for them, while I celebrate the transformation in how they are now thinking about their lives of faith and what they so often call “righteousness”. They talk about a sincere desire to be changed, empowered by faith in God. They talk about their commitment to family and doing right in their community. They talk from prison about loving their brother there.
Are they and I talking about the same God? Do we worship the same God when they call Him Allah and I call Him Jesus? I suspect not, but who am I to think I know for sure. Can a devout Muslim, or any other person of faith for that matter, whose life genuinely produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, be as born again as the Christian whose life bears the fruit of the Spirit? The Bible declares that there is no law against these things… with an exclamation point. Who am I to judge? Instead, I am called to pray for them and love them with godly love through godly intentions and actions. I better. A whole bunch of them are praying for me.
“I view us all as ambassadors of the faith. Oftentimes there are many people out there that have either been disconnected—or never connected at all to their faith. Evangelizing, in many ways, is the way that you behave toward them or the way they see you conduct yourself. It’s important for all of us to do that.”
Why all that? All I am saying is this: let’s not fall into the trap of getting religious (legalistic) about what it truly is to be in right relationship with God by way of His Son, Jesus Christ. And more than that, let’s not play God about it. How will they know we are Christ followers… Christians, saved by grace? They will know because we love each other, and because we love them. Does my life bear fruit? Is my testimony reflected in how I love and live my life? Am I a taker or am I a giver?
“We’re called to spread the gospel. Now obviously you can spread the gospel in different ways. Some of it is verbal, especially if someone is curious and asks. We should never be shy about sharing our testimony. Oftentimes it’s just in the way we treat others. That, sometimes, is the best way to bring someone to the faith is first [and] foremost by how you treat them. [For] many people, their image of Christianity will be formed by how they interact with Christians and how Christians treat them—or how Christians behave.”
Jesus came not to condemn us but to save us. Jesus did not call us to religion but to relationship. If someone calls Him “Mary” but deep in their heart they are reaching out to touch the hem of His garment, is Jesus resistant to him or her, or is He sensitive… compassionate… to the heart of the one calling out in their distress? If it was one of your kids lost and trying to find you, what would you do? Would you turn them away because they didn’t identify you by the right name or title?
I am not saying here that God by any name is God (even though we in ‘the faith’ call Him Yahweh, YWHA, Jehovah, Jira, Elohim, Adonai, El Shaddai, Rapha, Emmanuel, Jesus Immanuel, Holy Spirit, Holy Ghost, the Almighty, and so many more names). I am not suggesting that everyone is saved, or born again, because they had at some point an epiphany, or revelation of some kind, that there has to be something more than there is. I am not suggesting that because someone says they believe in God—even Jesus—that they are born again. Please do not draw that conclusion. There is only God in the persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There must be redemption through confession and repentance, reflected in a life of conviction that produces fruit, motivated by relationship with God.
“We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Luke 23:41 (NLT)
“And we indeed justly… receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:41-43 (NKJV)
Luke 23:42 NU-Text reads And he said, “Jesus, remember me.”
We have this need for a “sinner’s prayer” to have all of the central ingredients to authenticate repentance into salvation. But only God knows the condition of a person’s heart. The Scripture above having to do with the thief on the cross reveals something incredible. Upon the man’s confession of behavior, he goes to Jesus with two words: “Remember me.” It’s only later manuscripts that added to what the man actually said. He didn’t even confess his sin to God or Jesus directly. He “confessed” to the other guy on the cross on the other side of Jesus. He didn’t know it to be a confession of some kind. What did the know about any of that? The man merely stated the facts regarding the problem that led them into the predicament they were in.
What I am saying is that only God knows who has in their hearts and minds are aligned with Him. Only He knows what relationship between Himself and anyone else looks like. What I’m saying is that we who declare ourselves to be His, best not discourage someone from wanting in because they cannot recite the secret code to get into the club.
Pray for them and for their salvation if you suspect it necessary, but don’t be the one to judge them. Only God knows their heart. Who knows, maybe someone is praying for me, and praying for you, because of the things they see in us that appear suspect. My calling is to communicate to anyone who will listen (and I pray is receptive) that there is a direct path into the best there is in relationship with God in the person of Jesus Christ. How they relate to God and how He relates to them is in their hands… theirs, and His. If they are lost and will seek, He will direct their steps into His best (what the Bible refers to as righteousness). He is living water. He is the bread of life. God will love them… loves them.
3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, 4 and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. 5 And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.
6 So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. 7 These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.
8 You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. 9 The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls. I Peter 1:3-9 (NLT)
And that’s all there is to it. We best not fog up their lenses and make it more difficult for them; whoever they happen to be.
Only God knows. He knows who is His… who’s born again as He sees it.
“Well I think no matter what you’re called to do, you are called to use your opportunities and the gifts to bring glory to God. That doesn’t always mean sermons. Oftentimes that just means where your priorities are, how you treat others, or how you conduct yourself. If I’m someone who is alive in the Spirit, and conduct myself in that way in everything that I do, that I somehow will be someone who’s attractive to people—perhaps inspiring people’s curiosity about my faith to learn more and maybe to bring them to Christ.” —All quotes courtesy of Marco Rubio, United States Senator (Florida), Roman Catholic… no doubt saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
The source of these quotes from Marco Rubio’s testimony are taken from an interview he did with Ed Stetzer, writing for Christianity Today.
Please note that my comments about those of Muslim faith are not in any way intended to be political or motivated on any level as sympathetic to those wanting to kill and in fact are killing those who oppose their twisted religious extremism. They are hostile to the cause and purpose of Christ and believers of the Gospel. They are in my opinion enemies of good and no doubt will be judged accordingly by a just God who will not be mocked or put to the test.