Monday, February 27, 2017

The Scariest Verse in the Bible

There are plenty of verses in the Bible that can cause fear in our hearts: verses about war, judgment, future calamity, and so on.  But to me, those verses pale in comparison to Luke 6.46: "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord' and not do what I tell you?"  I admit that this verse doesn't seem very scary on its face, but it terrifies me, and I'm not just being hyperbolic.

In Hebrew language and culture, repeating someone's name or title was an expression of intimacy and closeness.  For instance, when Abraham was about to slay Isaac on Mount Moriah, God said to him, "Abraham, Abraham..."  And when God spoke to Moses through the burning bush, he said, "Moses, Moses..."  When Jesus wept over the sinfulness of the city of Jerusalem, he said, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem..."  And as Jesus hung on the cross, he said, "My God, my God..."  One way of expressing a deep, emotional intimacy or closeness with a person was to repeat his or her name.  Jesus clearly says in Luke 6.46 that there are people who call him "Lord, Lord."  In other words, there are many people who feel a deep closeness or intimacy with Jesus.  They are so close to him, in fact, that they feel free to call him "Lord, Lord."

The scary part is what Jesus says next: "...and not do what I tell you?"  To me, that is terrifying because it means that there are people who believe themselves to have an intimate and close relationship with Jesus, but in reality they have nothing of the sort, and this is demonstrated by the fact that they do not do what he says.  They are thoroughly convinced that they are genuine believers following after Jesus, but in reality they are no such thing.  In other words, they are self-deceived.  They are able to trick everyone around them that they are Christians - even themselves - but they do not do what God tells them to do.  They are not genuine believers.

That, to me, is terrifying.

Think of Judas Iscariot.  At the last supper, Jesus said to his disciples, "One of you will betray me tonight."  Naturally, all of the disciples said, "Well, yeah, we know that was coming.  It's obviously Judas.  That guy's corrupt.  He's faking it.  He's obviously the one who's going to betray you, Jesus."

No.  None of them said that.  Instead, they all said, "Is it I?"  None of the disciples suspected that Judas would betray Jesus because Judas had them all fooled.  He called Jesus "Lord, Lord," but he did not believe and respond to the truth that Jesus proclaimed.  So if one of the men who walked with Jesus could deceive others into thinking that he was a real Christian, how much easier would it be for us to be so deceptive?

The reason I say that this idea is terrifying is that if there were people in Jesus' day who were faking it and didn't even realize it, then that means that there are people today - potentially even in our church - who are calling Jesus "Lord, Lord," who believe themselves to be Christians, but aren't in reality.  They have deceived themselves into thinking that they are Christians when they are not.  To make things even more disturbing, ask yourself this question: "How do I know that I am not self-deceived?  Do I call Jesus 'Lord, Lord' but not have saving faith?  That is a scary thought.

Thankfully, Jesus gives us two ways of determining whether or not we are actually in the faith.

1. Examine the treasure of your heart (Luke 6.45)
We are all born with sinful hearts.  We are born into sin, and in sin did our mothers conceive us.  We all have hearts that do not naturally seek God, seek understanding, or seek after honoring God.  Instead, the thoughts of our hearts are only evil, continually.  We couldn't be good if we tried.  There are no naturally good people or hearts that overflow with goodness.

But at conversion, when the Holy Spirit gives us the grace to turn from our sin and place our trust in Jesus, God gives us a new heart.  He removes the heart of stone that we once had and gives us a heart of flesh - a heart that is sensitive to God's leading and comes under conviction through his word.  It's a heart filled with new loves and desires.  Instead of desiring and treasuring sin and our own way, we begin to treasure righteousness and obedience to the will of God.

Does your heart treasure obedience to God?  Do you have a desire to do the good works that God has prepared for you (Eph. 2.10)?  If so, it's a sign that God has given you a new heart with new desires, and that you are actually a Christian.  Some people call Jesus "Lord, Lord" and have a sincere desire to do what God says to do.  And some people call Jesus "Lord, Lord" but have no intention of doing what God says to do, even though they think they're a Christian.  One way that you can know which group you're in is to examine the treasure of your heart: what do you treasure - obedience, or sin?

2. Examine the fruit of your life (Luke 6.43-44)
Another way to tell if you actually belong to Jesus is to see if what you profess to believe is being manifested in your life through actions.  You may not realize it, but everything you do in life is based on your faith.  Even atheists live their lives according to their belief that there is not God.  Everything in your life is a manifestation of what you believe.  Or, as Jesus says, "...out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."

Our beliefs translate into words and actions.  If you have a heart of flesh that has been given to you by God, that will be made manifest by how you live.  And if you have a heart of stone that is corrupted by your sinful nature, that will likewise be made manifest by how you live.  All of your obedience comes from faith, and all of your disobedience comes from faith - just not faith in God.  The way that you can tell whether or not you are calling Jesus "Lord, Lord" in truth is by examining the fruit of what you believe.  The "good fruit" of our lives is the product of putting Jesus' words into practice.  Those who have heard the word of God, who have believed it, and who are living produce good fruit.  Those who have not, however, produce bad fruit - even while calling Jesus "Lord, Lord."

So another way that we can know that we are not self-deceived and that we truly do trust in Jesus is to examine the fruit of our lives.  When God gives us a new heart, that new heart translates into new attitudes, actions, and behaviors.  Do you see those attitudes, actions, and behaviors in your own life?  If you are calling Jesus "Lord, Lord," does your life exhibit the reality that he really is your Lord?   One way that you can tell is by examining the fruit in your life.

If you go through this process and discover that you are simply calling Jesus "Lord, Lord" but have never acted on his words in faith, I have good news: you can remedy that situation.  Jesus came for people who are faking it; Jesus came for hypocrites and for those whose fruit is rotten and worm-infested.  He is able to save you.  He has told you to turn from your sin and to trust in the work of his perfect life and perfect death on your behalf.  If you will do this, you will be saved.  Jesus will give you a new heart that treasures obedience to God's will, and new desires and attitudes and actions and behaviors that will allow you to produce good fruit.  If you are genuinely trusting in Jesus there is no need to be afraid - no need to worry about faking it.  He's done it all, and we can rest securely in him.