Bad Heir Day

(Originally printed in the May/June 1996 Issue of the MCOI Journal)

In the our last issue , we made the case that salvation is a free gift, not of works. We discussed the cultic view that “faith plus works = salvation.” Under cultic belief systems, faith in Christ is not enough to gain eternal life; faith is just the starting point, and only gives you the opportunity to save yourself through a system of prescribed works. There are do’s and don’ts . . . you must do this and refrain at all costs from doing that. DO wear the holy underwear, attend all meetings, knock on doors; DON’T break God’s laws (Biblical sin), or sport a beard (manmade sin), or tell a lie (possible sin, depending upon whether its a “real lie” or “theocratic war strategy”)…

Let’s hope that all of us now understand that “keeping the rules” does not justify us before God, that doing good works cannot in any way contribute to our eternal salvation. Now what? Where does a Christian stand after salvation in regards to good works? Once we have been saved, what role, if any, does our behavior, good or bad, play in our eternal destiny? Can we lose our salvation by our performance or our failure to perform? And, if we cannot lose our salvation, does that mean we can just live any way we please?

Well, there are several different views on this subject. I will lay them out for you before explaining what I believe is the Biblical position on the issue. There is …

1. The “no-assurance” crowd: Faith alone = salvation…BUT, you must hold on tight, keep God’s laws, make sure your sin confession is up to date, etc… Bottom line; you could end up in hell. Scary.

2. The Catch 22 “Lordship salvation” position: Faith alone = salvation, and you cannot lose your salvation. Phew! That is GOOD NHWS, isn’t it?! Now for the “catch”… If Jesus cannot be sufficiently shown by the life you lead as a Christian, to be the absolute Lord of your life, why, you were never really saved in the first place. If, at the point of your salvation, you did not make Him Lord as well as Savior, He is not your Savior either. God is not mocked… If Jesus is not Lord of all, He’s not Lord at all. No real assurance here either, is there?

3. The “I’m saved, let’s party” view: Faith alone = salvation, and you cannot lose your salvation. As far as your Christian life goes, it really doesn’t matter how you live. Sinful living isn’t much of a problem: “legalism” is the only enemy. Happiness and fulfillment in this life is what counts the most. You have to love yourself before you can love others… Gag me.

I feel that views one and two are somewhat of a reaction to number three (and, perhaps, vice versa). Let’s see if I can clarify my meaning here. People know that grace can be abused. And we all know believers who are abusing God’s grace, who have accepted God’s gift and are not working to further His kingdom. With some “not working” would be an understatement. These folks can he a major irritant to the folks that are giving much, as well us an unfortunate impediment, a stumbling block, to those outside looking in. This is a problem. Have you ever had the unpleasant experience of having one of these “party girls/boys” thrown in your face by someone you were attempting to witness to? Have you seen the mileage that Watchtower* magazine and other cult publications get from condemning the lilestyle of professing Christians?

SAINTS YET SINNERS

Of course, there are many people the world over who are nominal “Christians,” people who call themselves Christian but have had no true conversion experience. But can true Christians, those who have actually received Christ, those who have trusted Him for their eternal life, live their lives in such a way as to cause shame and disgrace to the cause of Christ? Yes, they can, and many do. How convenient it would be to label as mere “professors” alt those who do not meet our minimum standards for what a Christian should do and be. But I don’t think it’s that simple.

What is the status of such a person regarding their eternal destiny? Have they lost their salvation {view #1), or is it probable that he or she just wasn’t truly saved in the first place (view #2)? It would be tempting to give an accusing inquirer the explanation that each and every party boy or lazy Susan is not a true believer, and never has been. But what does that response do to the gospel? It muddies the water, does it not? We are saved by grace and, after salvation, we stand in it. Grace, as I have said many times before, is unmerited favor. If we mix merit into the bargain, it is NOT grace (Rom. 11:6).

Nobody, including me, enjoys having to “answer” for a fellow believer’s shallow attitude or sinful life. But, I have to admit, I’m grateful for the fact that grace is grace is grace when I take note of the evidence that my own sinful nature is still alive and kicking. Knowing well my own sinful heart, and being an honest sinner at least, on what basis can I judge someone else as “not fit”? Who is fit? The late radio Bible teacher, J. Vernon McGee, put it something like this: “If you knew J. Vernon McGee like I know J. Vernon McGee, you wouldn’t be sitting here listening to him preach… But don’t get up; if I knew you like you know you, I wouldn’t be speaking to you!” So true. Yet even knowing ourselves the way we do, we, like the Pharisees of Jesus day, think we can judge interior purity by the exterior whitewash on the tomb (Mt. 23:27-28).

It is so easy to succumb to a “black hat/white hat” mentality… our group is made up of the good guys and, if you point out a bad guy, he was never really one of us! But, of course, that’s not true. Christians do not become saved or stay saved because they are white hats, while “outsiders” are the evil villians. I can say this for two very good reasons. First, I have seen Christians wearing black hats, and have one myself that jumps right up onto my head at some very-inopportune moments!!! I hate it when that happens… And secondly, I dearly love some of those “villainous” Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs), Mormons, etc., and I don’t think they are, as individuals, anymore of a bad guy/girl than I am. Here is what I feel is the Biblical position, view #4.

4. The “free grace” position: Faith alone = salvation, AND it matters very much how you live!

Does this seem like a contradiction? It isn’t a contradiction at all. Your ticket to eternal life is a gift of God, totally free, but gaining eternal life isn’t all there is to consider! People think in terms of “going to heaven” versus “going to hell” but it is very foolish to stop there. If I were planning to go to Hawaii, I would not just concern myself with “getting there.” It is true that “getting there” is the first and most important consideration, so I would first make sure I have my ticket. But there are other important considerations for vacation planning. What do I want to do when I get to Hawaii? Will I want traveler’s checks? How about a swimming suit or a rental car? I could go to Hawaii and get off the plane with just the clothes on my back, but I probably would find my stay more enjoyable if I had planned ahead. What about our ultimate destination? What kind of an eternal life do you want? What do you think we’ll be doing forever? Sitting on a cloud, strumming a harp??? Sounds pretty boring… But maybe you will be doing just that if you haven’t invested in your future, planned for your “retirement.” You can’t take it with you, but Jesus made it very clear that you can send it on ahead (Mt. 6:19-21)!! (Incidentally, Rev. 21:2 teaches us that the New Jerusalem, the holy city with the streets of gold and pearly gates that many people think of as “heaven,” will be coming down out of heaven, so it might be a good idea to rethink the harp lessons.)

So when a child of God asks if it matters how they live, the response should be, “Matters for WHAT”? Did it matter how the prodigal son lived his life (Luke 15:11-32)? Did it matter that he squandered his inheritance on a sinful lifestyle? Of course, it mattered! What was lost was lost. Inheritance was lost, possessions were lost, time was lost, self respect was lost, opportunities were lost, but the son himself was not lost! He was just as much a son as ever when he returned.

We are hard on the older brother of the prodigal. But think for a moment what his rebellious brother’s “bad heir day” cost him. He watched as his younger brother treated their good father with the utmost of contempt. The family name was dragged through the mud; their good reputation wound up in a pig sty. Imagine his chagrin when the little brat comes home, and dad welcomes him back with open arms! He vented his outraged sense of justice on his brother’s well-received return. Did the father rebuke the faithful son? No. He gently explained to him that family is family, and nothing ever changes that. But what of justice? He assured his older son that his faithfulness, his work, his loyalty would be rewarded. What did he say? “All that I have is yours.” His inheritance was intact (Luke 15:31).

DIFFERENT LEGACIES

The idea that our future rewards and the fullness of our inheritance depends upon how we live our earthly lives seems to make us uncomfortable as Christians. It gets lost in the confusion regarding free grace versus works for salvation. We think it only fair that everyone would have the exact same reward in heaven and we assume that, because we as God’s adopted children are all heirs, our inheritance will be equal. But the Bible does not teach this idea of inheritance. The sons of Jacob received very different legacies dependent upon the lives they had lived (Genesis 49:1 -28). Verse 28 states that he blessed his sons each one “with the blessing appropriate to him.”

Contrary to our cultural views on “fairness,” for all God’s children to receive the same inheritance and blessing would be decidedly UNJUST to the more faithful among us. The prodigal son had received his share of his father’s wealth and had blown it. What if, upon the rebel son’s return, the father had taken the older brother’s share of the inheritance and split that with the younger son? That would have been injustice, but the father did not do that.

There will be a day of reckoning even for Christians. It is the judgment seat of Christ. Like the prodigal son, there are “bad heirs” who have squandered their inheritance in this life. These are the sons and/or daughters whose Christian “works” don’t amount to a hill of beans. Biblically speaking, they built on their “salvation foundation” with trash: wood, hay and stubble, which will go up in smoke, yet they themselves will be saved (ICor. 3:8-15). Each Christian will receive his own reward according to his own labor. The foundation is Christ, and then each person is responsible for how he builds upon that foundation. Some will be standing upon that foundation alone come rewards time, and their underwear will be smokin’! The extent of our inheritance is dependent upon our own actions after we are adopted.

This is a very neglected teaching in the church today; that the fullness of our inheritance is based upon our works. It seems foreign to our knowledge that salvation is by God’s grace alone. This is where the problem comes in. The two are confused. Just because salvation (the adoption into God’s family) is FREE, completely free with no strings, does NOT mean that God does not reward His children according to their deeds. The Bible teaches that He does! Rev. 22:12, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me, to render to every man according to what he has done,” Good works are rewarded It does matter very much how we live!

The reward teaching somehow smacks of self interest, and we have become conditioned to believe that self interest is unspiritual. NOT SO! Faith is not giving up our self interest. Faith is the quality that allows us to delay gratification, for a future gratification not yet seen. Faith is the ability to recognize that our self interest lies in laying up treasures in heaven, that will not rust or get lost, rather than pursuing the material rewards of this life which will all perish away. Every day we are bombarded with the message that we should live for today, look out for number one, grab all the gusto, but that is FOOLISHNESS from a Godly point of view!!! The wise son and daughter will be looking out for his inheritance, building his heavenly portfolio.

Will all be judged alike? Of course not. Much will be required of the person to whom much was given. We have not all been given the same raw materials. We will be judged according to what we did with what time, talents, and material resources we had at our disposal.

Am I saying that looking out for rewards is the best or only motivation for kingdom service? No. But I believe it is the best perspective on the “bad heir” issue, to understand that we don’t need purgatory or some convoluted Lordship salvation view to even the score. God will judge his sons and daughters fairly and reward them accordingly. And, since God is the one who sets up the reward system, there cannot be anything inherently wrong or unspiritual about it. We are running a race, we are striving for the prize, whether we know it or not, and I think there will be genuine and terrible regret awaiting those who squander their inheritance in this life.

WANT A SPANKING?

What about discipline here and now as a motivator? There is a healthy fear of God that should motivate us to watch our behavior and our lifestyles. The fear that I am speaking of is not at all like fear of a monster out to hurt us, but very like fear of the discipline of a loving Father, looking out for our best interests. Would a good father be complacent about his children’s character development? So, this may not be a very happy thought to most of us, but God gives spankings to His children, I should know. Ouch.

But for myself, the thing that spurred me to get involved in God’s work was quite different from both of these. I did not understand the concept of eternal rewards when I decided to serve God. I was taught that the only rewards Christians would receive would be crowns, which we would toss at Jesus’ feet in any case. I had never considered Jesus’ word that He would be handing out responsibilities and privileges based upon our actions here (Luke 19:11-27). My view was, at the time, more like the Lordship salvation one, and I was plugging along in a state of free floating anxiety as to whether I was truly saved or not, based on the obvious fact that I was still a sinner. How much of a sinner could one be and still be saved? How much Lordship was required? Salvation is free, I was told, but it will cost you everything… How spiritual that sounded! How illogical and absurd when you think about it. If it’s free, it costs you nothing; if it costs you everything, it’s NOT FREE! Joy’s rule: Just because you heard it in church, doesn’t mean it isn’t really dumb!

So what happened to motivate me? Love happened to me. I met some girls on a bowling league that I really cared about who happened to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. I didn’t join a bowling league to care about lost souls… I just wanted to show everyone that I was the very best bowler in the western world, or at least in our town, but God grabbed ahold of my heart. He infected me with this “crazy love,” and my life has never been the same. I made a list of these JWs, and added on to that many other wonderful non-Christians, and began to pray diligently for them every day. I can honestly say that I had not the slightest idea of what an adventure God was going to lead me into for the sake of the lovely folks on that list. They became fairly soon my dear JWs, my people.

Do you have a list? Make one. It really gives you an attitude-adjustment about what is ultimately important in life. The more you pray, the more you care, and the more you care, the more you give, and the more you give, the more you love, and the more you love, the more you study, and the more you study, the more you learn, and the more you learn, the more opportunities to teach, and the more you teach, the longer your list gets, and the more you give, and the more you love and the more you pray, and the more you study, and the more… Until finally you’ll notice that your bowling has really taken a tumble and you note with surprise that you just don’t care very much about that anymore. Surprise, surprise.

LOVE IS THE KEY

Hebrews 10:24 asks us to: “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. ” Love, not fear, is the key to the transformed life. Joy’s revised pithy saying: Salvation is free, but love might just cost you everything. JWs, Mormons, and other cults accomplish much out of rear. The Christian way is to do it for love. Love gives you the courage to do things you never thought you’d be able to do. Love opens the wallet, and finds the time. Love will give you a real concern for holiness, that fear can only mimic, once you properly view your faults as impediments to your witness. You will love the unlovely, forgive the unforgivable. Why? For the sake of the loved ones on the list…

One film that really had an effect on me in the recent past was Schindler’s List. For those who did not see it, it was about the Holocaust, and one man’s inner journey in reaction to it. It was the story of an ordinary man trying to live his ordinary “looking-out-for-number-one” life in an extraordinarily evil time and place. Oscar Schindler did not want to save Jews. He just wanted to get rich, and as a by-product of his obsession with obtaining the good life, he incidentally saved Jews in Nazi Germany by putting them to work in his factory. The movie is about the change that came over that man, and how his heart expanded and he allowed himself to see the valuable humanity of his workers. He came to realize that through his work in his factory. UK movie is about the change that came over that man, and how his heart expanded and he allowed himself to see the valuable humanity of his workers. He came to realize that his workers were more than just “furniture” in his life; these were little girls and boys, old folks, men and women, precious souls whose lives were being savagely destroyed by the evil menace of racial hatred.

He eventually was able to save the lives of over 1,100 people, but he had to purchase them from the Nazis in order to accomplish this. What did he use to purchase them? The money he had made in the factory, and the good life that went with it. Do you see the irony? Hle started out seeing people as nothing more than a means to acquire money and material things, but ended up seeing that the true wealth was in the people, and realized that the money was merely the means to acquire people, who are infinitely more valuable than things. He made a list, and he expended everything he had to buy his workers, and provide them with a place of safety, he went completely broke. Yet, at the end of the movie, as he contemplated the number of lives he had saved, all he could think of was that he could have saved even more lives if he had only been a little less selfish still. He looked at his expensive car, and he cried in anguish, “I could’ve gotten two more people for that two more people I didn’t do enough‘.” “No, no, you did so much,” was the reply.

That is the very transformation that can come to you and me as we let God shed His love abroad in our hearts. Don’t you want to hear that some day, that you have done so much? Do you have a list? Is it worth it to you to spend your money, your talents, your time, and your prayers, to bring your people to a place of safety? What’s a Mormon worth to you? Enough to take the time to meet with him? What would you give for a JW? Can you see any value in an agnostic? Please Christian, I beg you not to waste your opportunity to take part in the only truly great venture this world has to offer. The choice is yours. Your salvation is not at stake if you live selfishly. But so much is. Work for the reward that will never perish .

Love to all,

Joy

* Watchtower – The bi-weekly magazine of Jehovah’s Witnesses

 


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