The other day someone emailed me a photo of a sign that said “My boss told me to change the sign, so I did”. Okay… Too funny.
While driving around town, I like to read signs. Church signs especially catch my attention. But some of the things I’ve seen on church signs amazingly look like they may have been taken directly from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. I know ~ I shouldn’t really be surprised now, should I? Although January is nearly over, the sign I saw on a Baptist church today said, “Is your priority to be more like Jesus in 2006?”
What kind of question is that? Is my priority….. to be more like Jesus….. ? That sounds like quite a feat! Is that possible? Something to aspire to, I suppose. Do I really need to be like Jesus? Why? Yeah, a sign like that might look good to someone driving by about 50 miles an hour in casual passing on their way to work . But what does it really mean? And why do churches put messages on their signs anyway? Is it for the people inside the building, or those outside on the street just driving by, like me? Either way, it sounds like I need to walk the straight and narrow, maybe even try to be perfect. And what do I get for being more like Jesus?
The real problem with a sign like this is that it suggests that by merely making it my priority, I can achieve being like Jesus. Secondly, there is no grace in it ~ it’s all law. It’s just like asking, “Is it your priority to keep the ten commandments in 2006?“ We call this way of thinking “decision theology“. The driving force behind decision theology is the idea that man can bring himself into God’s plan of salvation through the right and good exercising of his own free will. But there is an error in this way of thinking. Mankind’s free will has been corrupted from the moment Satan seduced Adam and Eve to use their “free will” to sin against God by eating of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. They believed the devil’s lie that their “choice” (disobedience) would make them equal to God. The first time mankind exercised the use of his own free will sin entered into the world and the human race for all eternity. The consequence for all of us is physical death and spiritual death by separation from God in hell, a place of punishment created for the devil and his angels. And it cannot be undone by the human will. Likewise, mankind cannot bring himself into salvation by his own free will. We cannot be any more like Jesus than we can keep the ten commandments. Jesus is the perfect Lamb without spot or blemish; he is True Man and True God. He is without sin.
Our free will, which is part of our inborn human nature, is contrary to (against) God in every way. We see it from birth. Yes, little babies are born with a sinful rebellious spirit that is against God. We might not find the sins of infants as blatantly rebellious as that of a convicted murderer, but it is there nonetheless. We tend to see infants as innocent and pure. Untainted by the ways of the world, maybe, but not innocent, pure, or sinless by any means. Anyone who has raised a child can testify to that. Why do you think they call it “the terrible two’s”? Because at about two years of age a child realizes that he is his own person, so he exercises his own free will to be contrary by saying “no”. If babies are not sinful, why do they hear “no” so much from their parents? “No, no, no!” And why do they throw temper tantrums when they don’t get what they immediately want? Because they are rebellious against the God-given authority of their parents, which by the way is a breach of the 4th Commandment, and rebellion against God. So what does an infant who is not able to “prioritize” anything do for salvation? Children are not granted a lesser degree of guilt from sin just because they lack the ability to rationalize or verbalize it. This is why infant baptism is so important. For in Baptism an infant is brought into salvation through God’s grace and receives the Holy Spirit who works faith in him. Contrary to what mainstream Protestantism teaches, the Holy Spirit can work faith in infants. The work of the Holy Spirit in an infant’s life is not invalidated by the child’s inability to speak of it. God has the same set of rules for all mankind, infants and adults alike. He would not be a just God if he did not. Rather, he would be a God of double standards. So you see why infants need Baptism just as much, even more, than anyone. Believing in an “age of accountability” in essence is saying that mankind is not born with sin, but rather has no sin until he is old enough to know it. It’s like having a cancerous mole between your eyes. You can’t see it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Psalms 51:5 says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” We were sinful from the moment of conception. I John 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Likewise, I John 1:10 says, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” All have sinned ~ even infants. Romans 3:23 & 24 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
So where does this faith in Jesus come from? As Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” And again, in Ephesians 2:8 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” So faith comes through hearing, hearing through the word of Christ, and it is nothing that we can do for ourselves. God creates faith in us through his grace. But how? By the work of the Holy Spirit through the word of Christ. Not unlike what the Holy Spirit worked in Mary at the conception of Christ. Mary had nothing to do with it. We don’t know how Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit, but she did. Likewise, we cannot rely upon our own human understanding in this because it is beyond our earthly comprehension. Further, Galatians 3:2 says, “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” Our will has no part in our salvation. We do not receive the Holy Spirit by our own doing, by our own invitation, or by our own will. If we believe we must will ourselves into God’s grace then is it really grace? If we believe our salvation depends upon our own decisions then aren’t we making ourselves greater than God? If we are able to save ourselves by our own choice, then why did Christ die? The Holy Spirit alone works faith in our hearts. He descends upon us like he did on Jesus at his Baptism, on Mary at her conception, and on Elizabeth and her unborn baby, John. And we cannot trust our will to do anything good.
Just as we do, the apostle Paul struggled with human will, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18 & 19). So desiring to do what is right does not work because we do not possess the ability to carry it out! This is a hard thing for some people to accept. Human nature wants to feel in control of things. But the truth is that when we are in control, everything goes wrong because we are filled with sin – and that’s the best we can do! Romans 8:7 & 8 says, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Thank God for his free gift of grace that has nothing to do with our choice-making: “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3 & 4).
The belief that our salvation depends on what choices we make puts us in a perpetual state of uncertainty about our salvation. This is because the choices we make are based on human feelings, reason, and logic. None of these things are reliable or trustworthy.
I think some churches use their signs as fish hooks. Maybe they think some “catchy” little phrase might draw in visitors or lure seekers. Anyone can make it their priority to be like Jesus. Some people might think Buddha or the Dalai Lama are like Jesus. But thankfully, our salvation has nothing to do with our being like Jesus. Faith does not follow works – rather works are a natural byproduct of faith. An apple tree doesn’t groan to bear banannas, but naturally produces apples. Prioritize as you will, it is not enough. We can look only to God for our salvation. What a relief, huh?