There is no other name but Jesus whereby we must be saved. Welcome to my blog: In Him Only. I hope you will be encouraged by what you read.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Salt, Light, and Eternity, Part two

 

Many years ago, while I was on active duty with the Navy, I attended combat training exercises at Camp Pendleton in California. Part of that training took place in the fields at night. The Marine Corps sergeant was telling us about what is called ‘light integrity’ – and why it’s important to maintain black-out conditions in a war zone. To emphasize his point, he turned off his flashlight and told all of us to do the same. It was now pitch dark. The only light we had came from the slice of a crescent moon. The sergeant turned our attention to a hilltop some two or three miles toward the east. He whispered a few words into his radio and then suddenly a small light exploded in the distant darkness. His partner in the hills had lit a match. And the point about light integrity settled over all of us. In the darkness, the smallest light can be seen for miles.

 

Our text today follows closely with last week’s from chapter five and verses 14-16. We start at verse 13 for context: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

 

We saw last week that Jesus told us we are the salt of the earth. He has given us the magnificent privilege to be a preserving agent to the culture, to also enhance the lives of those in our sphere of influence, and as a means of preventing the spread of sin’s infection through our society.

 

And Jesus also calls us the light of the world as we reflect the light of Christ, who IS the Light of the world – much the same way as the moon has no light in itself but reflects the light of the sun.

 

The Lord talks in today’s text about letting our light shine in such a way that men and women will see our good works – not for the purpose of self-glorification, but for the sole purpose of bringing glory, honor, praise, and exaltation to our Father in heaven. So, let’s first focus our attention of what it might mean for us to perform good works – not that our good works save us or keep us saved, but because our Father CREATED us for good works, as He tells us in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians at Ephesus:

 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

 

So, while our works do not save us, they DO help to both demonstrate our relationship with Christ, and to point others to the Father. Now let me be quick to say this is not at all to diminish the importance of good works. This is not to give us excuse to sit back and be content with going to simply going to church and tithing each week. No, not at all. This is a good time to remind ourselves of what the Lord Jesus warned will happen at the judgment to lazy so-called Christians when He separates the sheep from the goats:

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

 

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:34-46)

So, let’s put away from ourselves the idea that we can go through life, helping only ourselves and a few others, and not be prepared to help strangers in need of what resources we can easily – and sometimes not so easily – provide.

 

Doesn’t that dovetail with what the Lord Jesus told us about loving our neighbor as we love ourselves? Of course, it does. And, oh, by the way, speaking of loving our neighbor – we should take a moment to examine what God means when He tells us to walk in love, and in so doing, we will demonstrate love for our neighbor.

 

Every Christian knows instinctively what it means to walk in love because the Holy Spirit, who LIVES in each believer, tells us how to walk in love. And it matters not a whit if the person is an hour old in the Lord or 50 years walking with Christ. One of the roles of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus told us, is to guide us into truth. It is just as true to say the Holy Spirit guides us AWAY from error.

 

Now, certainly a brand-new Christian will not have the well-formed conscience of a mature Christian, but when it comes to areas of morality – well, as Scripture repeatedly tells us, no one who is born of God can sin without the Holy Spirit nudging him or her in the right direction. Every Christian – new in Christ or a long time in Christ – every Christian will know when something is morally wrong or right. A Christian might dismiss the Holy Spirit’s whisper because he or she doesn’t want to do what God is telling them at the moment, but every true Christian – whether born again five minutes ago or 50 years ago, will know the right thing to do in any circumstance related to morality. We can count on that.

 

Therefore, every Christian knows intuitively what it means to walk in love because the Holy Spirit always guides us into truth. And it is important to remind ourselves that walking in love does not compromise God's truth. Walking in love does NOT mean adopting an attitude of “I’m okay, you’re okay’ if the “You’re okay” means affirming either by word or by action, a lifestyle of sin. Neither does walking in love mean we should participate in events that celebrate their sin. That is NOT love. It is nothing less than the misuse of God's word and the mockery of His calling us salt and light in a world infected with sin and walking in darkness.

Give me one example in all of Scripture where the godly attended events celebrating sin. You cannot find it. Give me one example in which Jesus attended an event to celebrate someone’s sin. You cannot find it. And so, if Christians are to be light in a world perverted and infected by sin and living in darkness, then we must reflect the light of Christ.

So, now let’s return to the first part of this text in which Jesus tells us, “You are the light of the world.” As I prepared this message, I thought about a song many of you might know. It’s called, The Lighthouse. Here are the lyrics:

 

There's a lighthouse on the hillside that overlooks life's sea.
When I'm tossed it sends out a light that I might see.
And the light that shines in darkness now will safely lead me home,
If it wasn't for the lighthouse, my ship would sail no more.

 

And I thank God for The Lighthouse, I owe my life to Him/Jesus is The Lighthouse and from the rocks of sin/He has shown the light around me, so that I might clearly see/If it wasn't for The Lighthouse, Where would this ship be?

 

Everyone that lives around us, says tear that old lighthouse down./The big ships don't sail this way anymore, ain't no use in it standing round/But then my mind goes back to that stormy night, when just in time I saw the light
With the light from that old lighthouse, that stands there on the hill.

 

And I thank God for The Lighthouse, I owe my life to Him/Jesus is The Lighthouse and from the rocks of sin/He has shown the light around me, so that I might clearly see/If it wasn't for The Lighthouse, Where would this ship be?

 

Christian, let me make this confession to you: If it were not for that Lighthouse, I would have shipwrecked decades ago on those rocks of sin. And I can easily extrapolate –deduce – what kind of man I would be today – if even I would be alive today – I can extrapolate what I would be today were it not for Jesus’ light that guided me to safe shores. And I suspect for most of you, if you think back to your own past, you also can conclude with reasonable accuracy what kind of person you’d be today if you’d not seen and followed the light of Christ.

 

Don’t you think one reason the Lord tells us we are lights on a hilltop is so we can help others avoid shipwreck, or, to guide those already floundering in the churning waves the way to safe shores? Of course, that’s one reason. God doesn’t only love YOU and me. He loves all those with whom we come into contact and all those in our spheres of influence.

 

Do you remember this text from the fourth chapter of Matthew – “The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a Light dawned”? (Matthew 4:16)

 

Listen! People all around us are walking in darkness. How else can anyone reasonable explain the evil rampaging through our culture? Watching the television news is like reading this text from St Paul’s pen to Timothy: “For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (See 2 Timothy 3:2-5)

 

Watching the television news is like reading the apostle’s ancient warning to those who choose today to live ungodly lives – whether they sit in the pews each week or they are never in the pews: They “became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools. . . .  For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due . . . .being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful.” (See Romans 1:22-31)

 

Listen, Christian! THAT is why Jesus made us to be lights in the world, that we may reflect Christ by OUR lifestyles and by our words to shine in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom [we] appear as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15-16)

Christian, please hear this: Being salt and light are not only our responsibility before God, but it is also our PRIVILEGE to be a co-laborer with Christ. Just think of that for a moment: The almighty God, the Creator of the universe, gives flesh and blood – and sinners at that, sinners who’ve been redeemed by the blood of Jesus – God give us the unspeakable honor and opportunity of working with Him to bring souls to Himself AND to mitigate some of the effects of sin in this world.

God give us the privilege – and I will say it again – God gives us the RESPONSIBILTY to work with Him.

Christian, in this late hour, we need to be serious about walking with Jesus. We need to be serious about being salt and light. We need to be serious about practicing a life of holiness. We need to be serious about what we see and what we watch. And know this: There’s a huge difference between seeing and watching. As Martin Luther said, “We can’t stop the birds from flying over our heads, but we CAN stop them from building a nest in our hair.”

 

Likewise, we often cannot stop seeing something, but we do not have to sit and WATCH whatever it is that we should not be watching. As Jesus warned us in Matthew 6:22-23; “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

 

Please consider what I am saying, and the Holy Spirit will give us each wisdom in these things.

 

When I was with that group of men and women during those field exercises at Camp Pendleton, the SMALLEST light became visible from miles away. And so it always will be with our supernatural God who can use even the smallest of things we do for Him – things we might consider insignificant and useless – God is able to use whatever we do for Him to illuminate those around us – lighting their way through their darkness to a life of spiritual abundance now, and eternal life tomorrow.

 

May God ever help us to let our lights shine for Jesus.

 

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Salt, Light, and Eternity (Part One)

Sermon September 25

Salt, Light – and Eternity, Part One

 We continue our series of messages through the gospel of Matthew. We are in chapter five of the so-called “Sermon on the Mount’ – the sermon extends through chapter seven. Here are verses 13 through 16 of chapter five:

 

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)

 

Salt was an important commodity in the days of Christ. Among its varied uses, people used salt to preserve food, especially meat, which quickly spoiled in hot environment. Salt was used then, as now, to enhance the flavor of foods. And it was used to prevent infection from developing or spreading. Salt was so valuable that Roman soldiers often received their wages in salt. You’ve probably heard the expression, “He’s not worth his salt.” Well, that might be where the expression originates.

 

In Jesus’ day, most of the salt (chemically, sodium chloride) came from the Dead Sea. But much of it was often mixed with other chemical compounds which diluted the useful properties of the salt. That’s why the Lord’s audience would have immediately understood His reference to salt in this passage: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? So, in other words, if the salt loses it ‘saltiness’, “It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

 

So, Christian – how is your salt? And I ask the same question of myself. Jesus created us to be salt, so that through our words and our life and our lifestyle He might use us to preserve others from being spoiled by the surrounding godless culture, to enhance the ‘flavor’ of true Christian faith, and to prevent the spread of sin’s infection through the culture and perhaps especially its spread through people in our circle of influence.

 

That is why I need to make sure – and YOU need to make sure – that our saltiness is not diluted by the culture or by false and godless teaching within the culture and even within a growing number of churches. As St Paul wrote, these are those who hold “to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. (2 Timothy 3:5). And as the Lord Jesus said, we are IN the world, but we are not OF the world.

 

So, what kinds of things can dilute our saltiness? One answer is that when our beliefs about the infallibility, inerrancy, and full inspiration of God's word are at variance with what the prophets, apostles, and all the other writers of Scripture say about Scripture. That is one thing that distinguishes true Christianity from false Christianity, often called cults. ANY group that denies the full authority and inspiration and infallibility of Scripture is teaching falsehood and heresy.

 

Now, one might call that circular reasoning – we believe the bible is God's infallible, inerrant, and inspired word because the bible says it is. And were it not for the many historical evidences of Christian faith, such an argument would be quite valid and unassailable. BUT – of all the events that have occurred in history that prove to the honest seeker that the Scriptures are the very words of God, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the supreme evidence of the infallibility, inerrancy, and inspiration of the Bible.

 

If Jesus did not rise from death on that third day, then NOTHING He said about the full inspiration of Scripture, or anything else He said about faith and morals, can be relied on.

 

But because He did rise from death, then what the sinless Son of God said about the scriptures, about life, death, heaven, hell, sin, and judgment must be considered fully and inerrantly true.

 

For the sake of time, here are only two examples of how the Lord Jesus understood the Scriptures: John 10:35 -- Jesus told the religious leaders the Scriptures ‘cannot be broken’ (annulled, dissolved, done away with) (John 10:35). And in His so-called ‘High Priestly Prayer’ He asked the Father, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). In other words, the Lord Jesus told His apostles – and us in 2022 – God's Word is truth. In other words, the second Person of the Holy Trinity said God’s Word equals truth. And it is only by that truth that anyone can be sanctified – set apart by God for service to Him.

 

Put yet another way, it is only through belief in, obedience to, and the proclamation that God's word EQUALS truth that we retain our saltiness.

 

But as one should expect, Satan, knowing the absolute critical nature of our belief in the complete inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, Satan has always – even from the Garden of Eden – introduced destructive heresies that cut at the heart of that truth. Remember his temptation of Eve in the Garden? He seduced her, introducing the poisonous seed of doubt: “Hath God said?”

 

There are several similar dictionary definitions of the word ‘heresy.’ Essentially, heresy is a teaching which runs counter to Biblical truths and which, if believed, will lead the person to eternal damnation.

 

Church history is replete with damnable heretical beliefs such as Gnosticism, Arianism, Marcionism, Docetism, and others. We cannot take the time during this message to examine them. If you are interested, a simple internet search will pull up pages and pages of early church heresies. But let’s focus attention on some modern heresies which if believed, will lead a person to eternal damnation.

Heresy number one: The Bible is infallible only when it speaks of morality and faith. It is not infallible when it speaks of history, or geography, or astronomy, or biology, or whatever else. In other words, God doesn't know as much about those subjects as we now know.

 

Heresy number two: This heresy goes by the names of Restorationism, or Universalism. This heresy claims that all people will be saved, or that we may ‘reasonably hope’ that all people will be saved. Why? Because God is a God of love, and He will not send anyone to an eternal lake of fire. But proponents of this heresy – and there are a growing number of such false teachers and preachers promoting this heresy – proponents must answer the questions, “Why did Jesus have to die? Why did the apostles die martyr’s deaths because they proclaimed in Jesus humanity’s only hope of eternal life?  Why did Jesus warn so often about hell?”

 

Heresy number three: Jesus is a created being, which is a heresy adhered to by Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the original Mormons. This heresy that Jesus is a created being first appeared in full form in the 4th century, promoted by a renegade bishop names Arius.  But here are some recent statistics about modern Arianism which ought to grab our attention.

 

According to recent surveys of self-professed evangelical Christians, 88% believe that Jesus is fully human and fully God. BUT, said another way, 12% do not believe that fundamental doctrine of faith. Furthermore, 22% said God the Father is more divine than Jesus. Nine percent weren’t sure.

 

Sixteen percent believe Jesus was the first creature created by God. Eleven percent of evangelicals ‘were unsure.’

 

As for the Holy Spirit, more than half of self-identified evangelicals believe the Holy Spirit is a ‘force,’ and not a Person. Seven percent weren’t sure. Nine percent said the Holy Spirit is less divine than God the Father and Jesus. Another 9% answered “not sure.” Bottom line: Only 42 percent affirmed that the Holy Spirit is a Person.

 

All of this means that an overwhelming majority of EVENGELICAL Christians are Arians in their theology about the nature of God.

 

Heresy number four: According to another study, 36% of self-identified evangelicals believed that we partly contribute to EARNING our place in heaven by doing good deeds. This is exactly what St Paul railed against in his letter to the church at Galatia, and what he wrote to the Christians in Ephesus that we were all “dead in our trespasses and sins,” God, in His love, “made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:1-5).

 

Do you see how our salt can lose its saltiness and become useless for Christ and His work through us? If we accept any of these heretical positions, then where shall we stop? The resurrection of Jesus? His substitutionary atonement for our sins? The wages of sin? Is ANY of it true? And we wonder why Jesus was what some would call ‘harsh’ to say that those who have diluted the Truth will be cast out to be trampled underfoot by others?

 

And there is yet another common pattern many Christians follow that result in a loss of saltiness. What is that? By consistently failing to match our walk with our talk.

 

If we compromise what we know are God's commandments for a holy lifestyle, if our walk does not match our talk, then we dilute the message of the gospel. And when we dilute God's message, then we might be better off not saying anything about our faith. When our lifestyle consistently does not match our talk, we give the nonbeliever reason to mock Christ and Christian faith.

Here is how St. Paul wrote about that point to the Christians at Rome: “But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God . . . you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:17, 21-24)

Every Christian – Catholic and Protestant – would do well to pay heed to what Pope Paul VI wrote in 1965: "Believers can thus have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. [When they] are careless about their . . . faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they … .conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of [Christian faith].

 

I’ve known people – and I suspect so have you – who attended church regularly but lived with someone outside of the marriage commitment. I’ve known those who attend church regularly and who have had an abortion – or two – and have never repented of their damnable sin. I know of those who regularly attend church but who vote for politicians who support and promote abortion. I know those who regularly attend church and who support so-called ‘gay marriage’ and all sorts of other sexual sins.

 

And they then dare to call Jesus their Lord and, in so doing, make a mockery of the bloody sacrifice He made for them – for us – on Calvary.

In the same Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave what is a very ominous warning to all who persistently live lifestyles that belie the gospel message:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21-23)

I will always remember an incident that happened to me nearly 50 years ago. Fifty. It seems like it occurred last week. My friends and I went to a nearby cafeteria for breakfast. When someone distracted the cashier at the front door, I sneaked by and hurried to the food line. I still don’t know why I did it. I had very recently become a Christian, but easily fell back into old patterns. As I piled food onto my tray, I dismissed my nagging guilt. When my friends joined me a few minutes later at our table, I bowed my head and silently gave thanks to God for my food. That’s when Tom snickered, “Look at Maffeo. He sneaks in without paying, and then thanks God.” They laughed with sarcasm. But I wanted to crawl under the table.

 

So, that’s all the bad news. But there is GOOD news available to all of us, even and perhaps ESPECIALLY to those who have lost their saltiness.

The things that are impossible for men and women – making diluted salt salty again – is possible for our God.

 

What is the remedy to the bad news? How can the crooked be made straight again? How can even the most seriously compromised Christian be made right again in God's eyes?

 

I hope we all know the answer to those questions. Confession of our sins to God, repentance, and a purposeful and consistent turning away from the crooked path and toward the straight one.

 

Here from Ezekiel: “But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live. Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:21-23)

 

And from 1 John 1:8-10 – “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

 

God is serious about sin. He is serious about His judgment of sin and the sinner. He is serious about saltiness. We will see next week He is serious about our light in a dark world.

 

BUT He is JUST AS SERIOUS about His superabundant willingness to forgive the penitent and to purge every molecule of sin’s stain from his or her record. God wants so much to reconcile you and me with Himself that He gave us His Son as our sacrificial substitution on that cross. The Father cursed Jesus so He would not have to curse us (Galatians 3:13; Deuteronomy 21:23; Matthew 27:46). The Father made Jesus OUR SIN, so that He could then make us the very righteousness of God Himself (2 Corinthians 5:21)

 

Why would anyone linger to come to God, to repent of their past sins and to turn away from what they are doing wrong today?

 

Come to Jesus. Now. If you have never repented of your past or of your present sins, come to Jesus, now. Pray this prayer from your heart and then talk with me after the service.

 

My God and Father, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do right, I have sinned against You Whom I should love above all things. For Christ’s sake, who gave His life for me, please, be gracious to me according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a faithful spirit within me. I firmly intend, with Your help, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. My Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for me, and so I ask these things in His holy Name. Amen