Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Economics of Christ’s Salvation

by Pastor Paul Wolff

Money bag for helping your neighbor

Jesus said, “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 bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27)

If you listen too much to what the world says about Jesus, and don’t know your Bible very well, then you might be surprised to hear Jesus say that you cannot be His disciple unless you hate your father & mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even your own life!

Even those who are ignorant of the Bible, if they know anything at all about Jesus, they know that He said, “Love your neighbor.” Of course, the world (and even some unbelievers in the church) would then go on to define “love” to mean whatever they want it to mean, including some things which the Scriptures and Jesus clearly forbid and condemn, such as any kind of lust and adultery, including pre-marital intimacy, sexual promisquity, and homosexual activity.

Jesus taught the Scriptures
in a Nazareth Synagogue

Although the world doesn’t have a clue how to properly read the Bible, Christians should be aware that any interpretation which contradicts the Holy Scriptures is false. You can’t play one Scripture passage against another, so as to say, “Well, there Jesus says to love, and here he says to hate, so I guess I get to choose which one I will follow today. Tomorrow I may choose the other, but it’s my choice.” That is false, and you are always going to fall into sin if you do that.

It is also a sin to view this as a contradiction, and without trying to resolve the apparent contradiction, say, “Since the Bible seems to contradict itself, then it is not the infallible word of God and cannot be trusted, so I can go do what I want and you can’t say anything against me.” Now, if the Bible really did contradict itself, then it could not be trusted, but the Holy Scriptures truly are the Word of God and they do not contradict one another at all! What seems like contradictions in the Bible are only apparent contradictions, and they can easily be resolved and you can still maintain both sides as being true in every case.

In this case, the proper question must be, “How can you hate your neighbor (in a godly way), and still love him at the same time?” This isn’t that hard, really. Remember that the Scriptures say that all people are sinners from the time we are conceived (Psalm 51:5) so we can hate the sinfulness both in our neighbor, and in ourselves, and we can still love them as those for whom Christ died to redeem (even if they don’t acknowledge Christ’s saving work.) We can also acknowledge that Jesus is using hyperbole (or exaggeration) to make the point that you should love Him so much that it seems like you hate everyone else. This is not to say that we should hate as if we would wish our neighbor were dead, but that we should love God above all else and despise sin in ourselves and our neighbor.

The Sower sowing his seed

This is how it works in practice: I have heard of situations where an elderly person comes to the faith, but then has doubts in regard to a loved one. It could be a beloved husband or wife, a child or a parent, or a sibling. But some people actually lose their faith and say, “If my beloved is not in heaven then I don’t want to go there.” This kind of person is what Jesus was talking about in the Parable of the Sower. He is like the seed which falls on the unfit soil. This person quickly loses the faith that could have saved them. It is tragic arrogance to think that you are more righteous than God Himself. Do people really think that they are a better judge than the all-knowing God? Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep, and will never let even one go astray without going out and bringing him or her back into the flock. Also, don’t think that anyone will find any friends in hell. There is no love in hell, and those who may have loved you earth will only hate you and torment you in hell. While our loved ones are still alive we may try to lead them to find their salvation in Jesus, but once they have died we must leave their fate to the mercy of God and trust that Christ’s Judgment is always just and merciful. This is what Jesus is warning us about in Luke 14. Count the cost.

There is a cost to being a Christian. Don’t be fooled by the false teachers of our age who promise that being a Christian is all about unfailing success and prosperity. That doesn’t get you too far when a Jihadist puts a knife to your throat and asks you if you are a Christian. Martyrdom is not part of the prosperity gospel, but it can be part of the Christian life. Martyrdom is an extreme cost, and not all Christians are murdered because of their confession of Christ, but there is a cost to being a Christian.

Symbols representing Saints Peter, James & John

Revelation 7:14 calls the Christian life a “great tribulation” which recognizes the Christian life as a battle or a war. The Christian life is a battle because we must fight against sin and temptation. The pagan life is not a battle in the same way because the unbeliever sees no need to resist temptation. In some ways it is easier to be an unbeliever because they don’t have to fight against their own sinful flesh. They may indulge any sinful desire and not worry about any consequences. There are consequences and costs to the pagan life, too, but I will get to that shortly. Proverbs 8:13 says, “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.” So Christians also hate evil and fight against temptation, even when our own flesh says, “I want to do wrong. I need to do that sin. I will die if I don’t do that sin.” Yes, the sinful flesh is a drama queen, but temptation can be compelling to our weak flesh. That is why we must fight against temptation. It hurts to deny the flesh its sinful desires, but that is one of the costs of being a Christian.

Think of the Beatitudes. Jesus doesn’t say, “Blessed are the rich and powerful who always get their way and are happy all the time.” It is only the heretics who say that! Jesus says: 

  • Blessed are the poor in Spirit
  • Blessed are those who mourn
  • Blessed are the meek
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • Blessed are the merciful
  • Blessed are the pure in heart
  • Blessed are the peacemakers
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake
  • Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of (Jesus).

Christians aren’t blessed because they mourn or are meek, or do any of the other things. They are blessed because Christ gives them good gifts which rescue them and make up for their sorrow and pain in this sinful life.

Job's suffering
(window from Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Detroit)

So Jesus says, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Remember that when Jesus said this, the cross was not a gold or silver-plated piece of jewelry that you proudly wear around your neck to proclaim your forgiveness and salvation in Christ. When Jesus said this the cross was the most shameful method of torture and death used to shame and humiliate the most despised criminals. So to take up your cross and follow Jesus is to recognize that you are a sinner and only deserve death, so you count your life and possessions as forfeited for Christ’s sake and look to Him to save you from sin and death, as He has promised to do.

That leads us to the other part of counting the cost – the benefits! You should also add the benefits when you count the cost. The benefits of being a Christian include: 1) complete forgiveness of all your sins – through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus; 2) reconciliation with God, the Father, and with that – adoption as His beloved child; 3) Sanctification by God the Holy Spirit; 4) resurrection to everlasting life; and 5) an eternity of joy with all the countless brothers and sisters in Christ who are likewise redeemed. These benefits are worth more than the whole world. That is why St. Paul could say in Philippians 3:7-9, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”

Jesus paid the price for your sin

You should also know that although your forgiveness and salvation is free to you as a gift from God, it was not won without its own cost. In fact, your salvation was only won at a very high cost: which was the entire life and the innocent suffering and death of Jesus. When God was planning your salvation in eternity before the creation, the Son of God also had to consider the cost. Although God created the first people perfect, and without sin; yet, Adam and Eve soon rebelled against God and brought His condemnation upon themselves and their children. Yet despite their rebelliousness and lack of gratitude for all that God had given them, the Son of God loved them enough to take their punishment on Himself and was willing to endure the indignity and pain of crucifixion and also to endure the Father’s wrath of a world full of sinners.

Yes, there is a cost to being a Christian, but the cost is very small in relation to the benefits. What would you do? Would you rather indulge the pleasures of the sinful flesh for a short time (and suffer all the temporal consequences of that wickedness), and then suffer an eternity of torment with no hope of relief? Or would you rather deny yourself the guilty pleasures of sin and live in the hope and confidence of God’s love for you in Christ Jesus, and then enjoy an eternity of pleasures of God’s gracious gift of life and salvation? St. Paul wrote, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) No one likes to suffer. Even Jesus wasn’t all too thrilled with the prospect of suffering and death (see Matthew 26:36-46), but out of love for God and for you, He willingly suffered and died to save you.

There is a cost to being a Christian, but God did not ask you to pay the price for your sin. Instead, God sent His own Son to pay the terrible price for your sin to redeem you and adopt you as His child to give you an eternity of life with Him in Paradise. It is only because of Jesus that we can live in this wicked world with hope of life and salvation. So we also join with St. Paul and all the saints and say, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

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