Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Lie of a Simple Benefit Program

I close my eyes to sleep and still see the faces of those 21 men on their knees, all with black-clad captors standing erect at their backs.  The orange of their prison jumpsuits is just so jarring in the monochrome beach setting with its calming ebb and flow of the white foamed surf.

The tide keeps coming in, going out.  The sun continues to rise and set as the news story sinks further down the page in Google, as if the world is just business as usual, as if nothing had changed.  And yet, for these Egyptian Christians, time has stopped and eternity begun.

When I tell my Wednesday night class the story of Moses and the Israelites in Egypt, I pause at the thought of the first Passover when all across the land of Egypt, mothers and fathers lost their firstborn sons to the angel of death passing over their houses.  The circumstances today are entirely different, but I can't help but think the land of Egypt is mourning once again, all the same.

I can't.  Won't.  Watch the video.  It is heart crushing enough just to know without sight.  Twenty one more martyrs in a civilized world.  Civilized.....

The Western world rocks itself to sleep at night in the comforting belief that this is over there, not here.  A wall of endless water separates ISIS from America. And yet, in our hearts, we know that is a lie.  The falling Twin Towers on 9/11 should have shattered that bedtime story,  but still it remains to wrap round us in intentional, sanity-saving ignorance. 

In those countries like mine not yet truly touched by life-threatening persecution such as this, we aren't counting the cost of Christianity.  Instead, we spend our days selling a Salvation Benefit Program where if you confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior, all will be right in your life--no money worries, health problems, marriage woes...

It's as if we fear that telling people the truth of the gospel will send them running.  And so, we sell salvation as a benefits package, much like fire insurance.  The result is a sea of people who claim Christianity because they "signed up" for the program, mentally confessed Jesus as Lord and acknowledged themselves sinners, but never demonstrated a true, saving faith in their lives because their hearts remained unchanged by this false gospel. 

Jesus' own disciples feared the gospel He preached was too difficult. They, too, wanted him to dumb it down so more people would become His disciples, not understanding Jesus' message that if a person's life didn't radically change by doing a complete 180, it wasn't possible to be His disciple.

In Luke, Jesus spoke difficult messages, saying, "If anyone comes to me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple" (Lk. 14:26-27).

Salvation through Jesus meant giving up everything to follow Him, and so He warned people to "calculate the cost" before choosing to follow Him (v. 28).  That cost, for Jesus, was a road of suffering that led to the cross; that cost for each man and woman who chose to follow Him would also be suffering and a daily taking up of his cross.

Jesus continued to teach how much a person must be willing to suffer for His sake: "Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me" (Jn. 6:53-57).  

Though strange, Jesus' words emphasized the seriousness of salvation.  He was inviting them into a covenant with Him, an eternally binding covenant where the person would pass through Jesus' body, itself, as the sacrifice, would eat the shared meal, and would lay down his individual desires in commitment to his covenant partner.  This was no program to sign up for and then discard.  This was a life altering commitment.

Jesus' disciples replied, "“This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”" (v. 60).  In reply, Scripture says, "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him" (v. 66).

When told the truth about what it meant to follow Jesus, many did choose to say "no" to His plan of salvation.  But those who chose to stay did so having been made aware of the cost, the truth of what it meant to follow Jesus and enter into His salvation.

The days of an easy salvation benefit program where all it takes is a prayer must end. If we wish to truly lead a person to Christ, we cannot do so under the pretense that all will be well on this earthly plane, that it is a simple decision.

As hard as it is to speak or write the words, we must communicate a true gospel of sacrifice where we may likewise be called upon to kneel in the sand and spill our life's blood in devotion to Jesus Christ.

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