Friday, March 9, 2018

What Must I Do?

One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. A fireman stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to the boy, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As you can imagine, he was afraid to leave the roof. The fireman kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, “I can't see you." The fireman replied, "But I can see you, and that's all that matters."

In life, each one of us finds ourselves in the same situation as the young boy on the roof.  We will be destroyed unless we do something.  If we stay in our current situation, we will be destroyed by fire.  The biggest question in our lives is, what must I do to be saved. In the little boy’s situation, the answer was; jump. What is the answer in your life?

Let’s start by looking at a story in the life of Paul.  Paul and Silas had been in Philippi for some time now, staying with Lydia, the woman he met at the place of prayer down by the river. They had been moving around Philippi preaching and teaching about Jesus. Following them around day after day is a slave woman whose owner made a profit off of her gift of clairvoyance, for it was believed she could tell fortunes and predict the future. This woman was shouting out to Paul and Silas saying, “These men are slaves of the Most High God.”

Initially, her shouts probably worked to Paul’s advantage, helping him gather a crowd, but after some days, he had had enough. Paul turns to the woman, in exasperation one day, without ever speaking to her directly, tells the spirit to come out of her, which it does.

The woman’s owners become outraged at their loss of potential revenue and haul Paul and Silas into court. They do not charge them with the loss of value to their property; rather they bring charges of disturbing the peace and advocating Jewish customs which are contrary to Roman law.

The crowd gets into it, the magistrates make an example of the men by stripping and having them whipped; and then jailed in the innermost cell with their feet placed in stocks.

While in prison, Paul and Silas begin to sing hymns and pray.  The singing and praying are interrupted by an earthquake; the cells are shaken, the doors opened, the chains fall off. The jailer runs to the scene, and is about to do himself in since he is responsible for keeping the prisoners in their cells when Paul calls out – we’re all still here; All are still here – the other prisoners, Silas, Paul. They have been freed, but they remain in their cells.

Let’s turn to the story in Acts 16:25-30. "But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake so that the foundations of the prison were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”

Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

There is that all important question.  What must I do to be saved?

In verse 31 Paul and Silas give the answer, “So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Believe in Jesus. There is the answer. It seems so simple. Just believe. Is there more to it than that? It seems that we as humans are always trying to add more to the answer. It has to be more difficult than that. Before we dig a little deeper into the subject, I want us to go back to the illustration of the little boy on the roof. All he had to do to be saved was believe in the fireman. But it couldn’t be words alone – He couldn’t just say I believe you can catch me. He had to jump.

Let’s look at another story in the Bible where the question, what must I do to be saved, is asked. Turn to Matthew 19:16-22, “Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and your mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”

Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions."

This wealthy man asked the all-important question: What must I do to be saved?  But notice how he asked the question. The way he worded the question tells us a lot about him. What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life? I think that many of us can relate to this man. I’m leading a pretty good life. What other good thing do I need to do to be saved? When we read the story, we like the answer that Jesus gave at first. Keep the commandments. The wealthy man wants to know which ones. Even after confirming that he has kept them all he asks, “What do I still lack?'

Jesus said, “Well if you are really serious about this whole business and you really want to be perfect, why don’t you go out and sell what you have and fully serve your neighbor.”

The young ruler wasn’t expecting that kind of an answer. He liked the “limited realm” of righteousness where people stop doing things. He was good at it. He stepped back when Jesus pointed him to the “continuous realm” of righteousness where there is no limit and no end of really caring for other people.

Jesus had pointed beyond the negative ten, to the positive law of love. That, of course, was more than the young ruler was ready to commit himself to. He felt relatively comfortable with the negative law.
He was good at not doing this and that, but he was not ready for the unlimited reach of God’s law into every area of his life.

Many of us are very uncomfortable with this whole concept of being a Christian as Jesus explained it. We tend to be Pharisees by nature. We are very happy with negative approaches to law because we like to know where the limits are.

We feel more comfortable when we can see the extent of our obligations. Jesus wants us to see that his true followers aren’t trying to see what the limits of their obligations are. He taught this lesson to Peter in Matthew 18. Peter was concerned about how many times he should forgive his neighbor.  In Matthew 18:21 we read, “Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Peter knew what the rabbis had to say on the topic. They had concluded that the Lord forgives three times, and the fourth time He lets sinners have it. Well, rabbinic logic suggested that you cannot be more generous than God. Therefore, they concluded, three times should be the limit of human forgiveness. Peter thought that surely seven times was more than enough. Jesus saw things differently. "Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”  Matthew 18:22. Once again, Jesus points out that his true followers aren’t trying to see what the limits of their obligations are.

In actuality Peter was not asking “How much can I love my neighbor?” But he wanted to know, “When can I stop loving my neighbor?” That’s a very human question. I like that question. When can I stop loving my neighbor? That is where we are as natural people.

When can I stop all this niceness and give people what they deserve? I don’t like grace. Grace is giving people what they don’t deserve. I don’t mind getting it, but I don’t really like passing grace on to others.

Jesus then goes on to tell a story to illustrate his point. While settling his account with his servants, a man was brought before the king. He owed the king 10,000 talents. When it was decreed that he and his wife and children were to be sold for the debt, he begged for patience and promised to pay the debt. The king forgave his debt and released him.

The servant then went out and found a fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii and demanded payment. The man begged for patience and promised to pay the debt, but the servant had him thrown in prison. When the king found out what the servant had done, he told him, “shouldn't you have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you”?

The point of the story is that sinners, who have been forgiven an impossible debt, must pass on God’s mercy to their fellow humans, just as God has had mercy on them.

Jesus taught Peter that there is never a time when he could stop loving his neighbor or stop passing on God’s grace. Jesus taught that there is no limit to Christian love.

Like Peter, we are much more comfortable with the negative than the positive approach to law. We want to know when we have fulfilled our quota of goodness so we can relax and be our normal selves.

Focusing on the negative limits the scope of righteousness and makes it humanly manageable and achievable. Legalists focus on the “thou shalt not’s” and the “small sins,” because with that focus they feel they can achieve perfection.

Legalists love to talk about negative and minute behaviors. Dr. George Knight writes about a conversation he had. He was together with some friends after an afternoon seminar, and they were discussing the sin of David, when one of them said, “Well, some people have that sin to overcome. Mine is eating granola between meals.” From the friends perspective, he had almost arrived at perfection. Unfortunately, that negative approach to law falls far short of the ideal that Jesus taught.

There is a type of righteousness that picks on smaller and smaller units of action. Jesus taught the reverse. The Christian way is the endless righteousness expressed in caring for God and humanity that one finds summarized in the two great commandments. Matthew 22:36-39  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”  Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

It was that very ideal that drove the rich young ruler (with his smaller-and-smaller mentality) away from Christ in utter frustration.

We, like the rich young ruler, like to define sin as some small negative action, because anybody can overcome a habit if he or she tries hard enough. On the other hand, I have an impossible time loving all my neighbors all the time.

I can get the victory over cheese, peanut butter, or “granola between meals” any old time, but it takes God’s grace for me to love all my neighbors all the time, particularly when my neighbor is defined by Jesus in a manner that includes enemies.

So we want to know the limits of love and Christian living so that we can know when we have arrived. Human perverseness loves the negative approach to law because it limits the scope of righteousness.

It makes perfection humanly achievable. Strangely, many think that an emphasis on the two great commandments is a watering down of the demands laid upon the Christian in daily living. Christ repeatedly demonstrated the opposite to be true.

No one can ever be saved or become perfect by not working on Sabbath or avoiding theft or not committing adultery. In fact, no one will ever be saved because of what he or she has not done.
Ellen White wrote, “We should not make self the center and indulge anxiety and fear as to whether we shall be saved. All this turns the soul away from the Source of our strength. Commit the keeping of your soul to God, and trust in Him. Talk and think of Jesus. Let self be lost in Him. Put away all doubt; dismiss your fears. Say with the apostle Paul, “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20. Rest in God. He is able to keep that which you have committed to Him.”

Christianity is a positive, not a negative.  Whether we like it or not (and the Pharisees of old certainly did not like it), Jesus put the standard of righteousness higher than people care to reach.  Most of us much prefer a standard based on definitely quantifiable things like diet, dress, Sabbath keeping, tithing, etc. In fact, it is our emphasis on human accomplishment that proves that we have merely shifted our pride from human accomplishment in worldly endeavors to human accomplishment in spiritual things.

The predicament of outward obedience accompanied by a lack of inward Christianity is one of the most spiritually dangerous situations we can be in. People who are deceived in this point may feel quite satisfied with themselves spiritually because they are doing what is right. I refer to this as spiritual arrogance.

That was the problem with the Pharisees of old. Never forget that they sincerely kept the law but put Christ on the cross. There has traditionally been a spirit of meanness among those who focus on laws rather than God’s character.

That meanness is especially aimed at those who disagree with them theologically and who may not be as zealous as they are on particular laws or rules or regulations. God’s plea is for us to get our priorities right. He wants us to believe in Him and surrender our will to Him so that we can truly keep His laws. The order is essential and crucial. The correct order keeps us away from a legalistic bookkeeping approach to salvation that recreates God into the image of a first-century Pharisee. Why would we as Christians want to emulate the Pharisees?

The point to remember is that if we are safe in Jesus, He will live out His life in us. That means that not only will our love be refocused from our self to God and others, but it means that God’s love will be the basis for our every action.

Christianity is not just an improvement on the old life. It is a total transformation of a person’s way of thinking, acting, and living. The Christian is not only in Christ, but Christ is in him or her through the softening power of the Holy Spirit.

How I treat my neighbor is the acid test of Christianity. For too long, Christians have applied John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” to the Ten Commandments. Read John 13, 14, and 15, and see what the context is. “I command you,” Jesus says over and over in these chapters, “to love one another.

Out of that principle and only out of it comes a meaningful keeping of God’s laws.
• Because I love my neighbor, I will not covet my neighbor’s car, house, wife, or husband.
• Because I love my neighbor, I cannot use him or her as a sexual object for my pleasure.
• Because I love my neighbor, I will not take things that belong to him.
• Because I love my neighbor, I will not kill or even hate him.

Love to God and neighbor is the centerpiece of Christianity. “By this,” said Jesus, “all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Let’s go back to the story of the boy on the roof. One night a house caught fire, and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. A fireman stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to the boy, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As you can imagine, he was afraid to leave the roof. The fireman kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, “I can't see you." The fireman replied, "But I can see you, and that's all that matters."

What must I do to be saved?  I need to trust Jesus so much that I will jump into his arms. He can’t save me if I don’t trust him enough to jump. He can’t save me if I am busy trying to save myself. It’s time for us to really believe in the Lord Jesus Christ: Believe enough to surrender our will and jump into his arms. Will you jump with me today?

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