I think these words of Jesus are the scariest I’ve ever heard:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’
“And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'” (Matt. 7:21–23).
Check out the résumé of these people to whom Jesus will refuse entrance into heaven:
They claim that Jesus is their Lord, the One who rules their lives.
They publicly teach about Jesus with passion and authority.
They cast out demons in Jesus’ name (something I definitely haven’t done!).
They do miracles—actual miracles—all in Jesus’ name.
Jesus says people will be shocked when He’ll ask, “Who are you? I never knew you.”
News flash: hell is for good people, too. People like you; people like me.
Tell me, do you:
Read your Bible?
Volunteer at the soup kitchen?
Tell people about Jesus?
Rescue helpless animals?
Go on mission trips?
Help in the church nursery?
If so, you’re good enough to go to hell.
You’re headed to heaven not because you were good enough, but because Jesus was good enough for you.
But if good people go to hell, then who on earth is good enough for heaven?!
And if your hope is in being good enough to get into heaven, you’re headed straight to hell.
I’ve heard Mark Vroegop say it like this: “Works don’t work.” Check out Romans 4:5 to see what he means:
To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.
In case “does not work” sounds like a permission slip for a lifelong vacation, let me clarify. In 2 Peter 1:5–7 we’re told:
Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
“The gospel is not opposed to effort but [it is opposed] to earning,” the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible explains.
There’s nothing wrong with good works—as long as they flow out of gratitude for the grace you’ve been shown by Jesus. You’re headed to heaven not because you were good enough, but because Jesus was good enough for you. He bore God’s wrath toward your filthy and your “good” works, and He gave you the record of always having been 100 percent good.
If you recognize that you’re good enough to go to hell, please, oh, please, would you stop counting on your “good works” to earn you a spot in heaven? Turn to and trust in the only One good enough to secure eternal salvation for you—Jesus.
Not only are there enemies against you out there (Satan and the world), there’s an enemy within you—your very Self or “flesh.”
Self is made up of your passions and desires that are opposed to God and His ways. At one time, all of us were slaves to Self, willingly bowing to its every whim and demand:
We all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph. 2:3).
You can hear the defeat in this message I received from someone recently who’s experiencing slavery to Self:
I read some of your recent posts, and it sounds like you’re able to do the one thing I struggle with most—filling my time with heavenly thoughts instead of thinking of my sexual needs! The worst part about it is that I sometimes feed those needs! We’re all sinners! AAAAAGGGHHH!
What this person doesn’t realize is that they’re not sexual needs; they’re sexual desires. And Self’s desires can be beat. How? Not by self-effort! As Andrew Murray says, “Self can never cast out self.”
You can’t rescue yourself from Self, but there’s a Savior who can! God wants to save you—not only from His wrath against your sin—but from slavery to your sinful desires. If and when you put all your faith and trust and hope in Jesus’ sacrifice for your sin, your old self was put to death with Jesus:
We know that our old self was crucified with him [Jesus] in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin (Rom. 6:6).
Galatians 5:24 tells us,
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Do you belong to Jesus Christ? If so, consider yourself dead to sin and dead to Self. Then rely on the powerful Spirit of Jesus Christ who lives in you in order to defeat Self on a moment-by-moment basis.
You used to have just one way of living—it was always and only life in the flesh. Life controlled by your natural, sinful desires and drives. Now, though, if Jesus has made you a brand-new person with brand-new desires and power to do right, you can “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). Each day, each moment, you have two choices. You can either:
1. Operate in the flesh.
2. Operate in the Spirit
At any given point, only the flesh or the Spirit will be in charge. Just as you can’t run backward and forward at the same time, you can’t live in the flesh and the Spirit. Galatians 5:17 says:
The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other.
Until God gives you an eternal, sinless body, you are going to experience an ongoing fight between the flesh and the Spirit. You will decide whom you allow to gain the upper hand by the choices you make. Which is more evident in your life, the works of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit?
We’re profiling our enemies in this blog series (click here for your first enemy). Your next enemy might come as a surprise to you. It’s . . . the world.
When you think of the world, you might think of exploring Paris and New Zealand and the Ivory Coast (how exciting does that sound?!). The world seems like a neutral space full of endless possibilities for adventure. It is . . . right?
It all depends on what you mean by “world.”
The World as It First Was I love the poem in Proverbs 8:22–31 where Wisdom is personified as a woman remembering the time long ago when she had a front-row seat as God handcrafted the physical world. I can just hear her excitement as she leans forward, a sparkle in her eye, and recounts,
“I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man” (v. 31).
After Wisdom watched God create the first dust of the world and the earth with its fields and the first man and the first woman, she saw Him put them in a beautiful garden. Then she watched as He talked and walked with the man and his wife (Gen. 3:8).
Unfortunately, she was also there when our first parents turned their backs on Wisdom and chose instead to rebel against God. The whole world was placed under a curse (Rom. 8:20–22).
The World as It Now Is
The sad fact is, you’re not living in an environment that’s for you, like a tomato plant in a sunny greenhouse. Your life in this world is more like a tomato plant that’s been thrown into a pitch-black furnace room in the bowels of a factory.
Satan is the major influence on the ideals, opinions, goals, hopes, and views of the majority of people. His influence also encompasses the world’s philosophies, education, and commerce. The thoughts, ideas, speculations, and false religions of the world are under his control and have sprung from his lies and deceptions.
So while God’s created world is still good, the whole world system is not. First John 2:16 warns us,
All that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.
If you want to learn more about what this means, check out John Piper’s sermon on this verse. Here’s a little taste:
Love for the world pushes out love for God, and love for God pushes out love for the world. . . . If your love for God is cool this morning it’s because love for the world has begun to take over your heart and choke your love for God. The love of the world and the love of the Father cannot coexist.
The World as It Soon Will Be The next verse in 1 John gives us another reason not to love the world:
The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (2:17).
Did you catch that? This world that feels so solid is really just temporary. It’s going out of fashion. God is going to judge the world (Acts 17:31), and then He’s going to make it brand-sparkling new!
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:1–4).
How can you be sure that you won’t be judged with this present world but will live in the new world with God? John 1:9–13 explains:
The true light, which gives light to everyone [Jesus], was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Have you “received” Jesus? Or is your love for this present world keeping you from loving Him? Will you repent and ask God to help you love Him more than this world system?
I am in-between both of those characteristics: Adam and Christ. Some days I give into the world, other days I live my life for Christ. It is a never-ending battle.
Here’s the thing: Being in Christ is less about your experience and more about your position in Christ. There isn’t any in-between. You’re either all the way “in Adam” or all the way “in Christ.”
The fact is, all of us were born “in Adam,” but if and when we put our trust in Jesus to be our righteousness, we are born again “in Christ.” We are one with Him now. It’s a fact. A true one.
Paul begins Romans 6 by asking should we keep sinning ’cause we’ve been shown such crazy extravagant grace in Jesus? NO WAY! he bursts in on himself. We’ve died to sin! We died and were buried with Jesus, and now we, too, have brand-new resurrection life. We have power over sin.
Our job—to believeit to be so,
You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11).
As you begin to operate out of who you are (dead to sin, alive to God, and in Christ Jesus), it will drastically change what you do.
My whole life I’d struggled to defeat the power of sin—with no success. But now I was reading startling truths I’d never grasped.
It wasn’t just Jesus who had died—I’d died with Him. It wasn’t just Jesus who had been buried—my old self, packed with sin, had been buried with Him, too. And when Jesus burst out of that tomb with brand-new resurrection life, I, too, was given new life! Galatians 2:20 sums it up well:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but
Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by
faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
For the first time, I understood that Jesus didn’t die to forgive me of my sin but leave me in it. He died to forgive and to free me from the power of sin. Suddenly I realized I didn’t have to be jealous of that pretty girl. I didn’t have to covet every guy I saw. I didn’t have to hate that guy for not liking me. I wasn’t powerless anymore.
In fact, in Christ I was no longer that helpless, hopeless, boy-crazy girl. I had a new identity now: I was dead to sin, alive to God, and in Christ Jesus. My only job? Believing it to be so and living in light of that truth.
From that point on, I saw God begin to change not only my outward behavior but even the hidden desires of my heart. Whether I actually became a Christian at this time or not, I can’t say. I asked Jesus to save me at about age four, but this was the first time I really understood why the Good News was such good news!
This was the beginning of my whole new life.
Notice I said “the beginning.” It’s not like I was instantly transformed. But as I remembered, believed, and personalized these truths, my overwhelming despair ebbed away and was gradually replaced by hope. I stopped trying so hard and just started dying. Or rather, I started believing that I had already died with Christ. I gave up control and let Jesus take over.
How about you? Have you repented of your sin and put all your faith in Christ’s righteousness instead of your own? If so, you are now dead to sin, alive to God, and in Christ Jesus. Regardless of how you lived yesterday (or today!), this is true of you. Now, begin to thank God for this truth. Wear it. Remember it. Relish it. Live from it.
I don’t know you personally, but I can narrow the most influential man in your life down to one of two men. I don’t have a glass ball, and I haven’t stalked your Twitter account, but I know because these two men have been the two most important men in my life, too.
The crazy thing is, no two men have been more impactful in your story, either. No, I’m not talking about your dad or your crush (important as they are!). I’m talking about Adam and Jesus Christ.
How Adam Shaped Your Story
Adam lived thousands of years ago. You probably already know he was the first man God created! You can read the highs and lows of Adam’s story here. You might think a man who lived so long ago has nothing to do with your life today, but you’d be dead wrong about that. Romans 5:12 shares how even now Adam impacts your life:
Just as sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.
If you want to throw tomatoes at Adam right about now ’cause he blew your chances at a sinless life, think again. The end of Romans 5:12 makes it clear that “all sinned.” Romans 3:23 confirms it: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
There’s no doubt that Adam was the most influential man in your life. His story shaped your story. The question is . . . is Adam still the most influential man in your life or is Jesus Christ.
How Christ Can Transform Your Story
Romans 5:15–19 shares some amazing news:
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s [Adam’s] trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. . . . For as by the one man’s [Adam’s] disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s [Jesus’] obedience the many will be made righteous.
It’s true that Adam’s story was your story. But Christ Jesus wants to transform your story by giving you new life—His life!
When you are born again in Christ, you receive a brand-new identity. Everything changes—everything becomes new—beginning with you.
Your identity is not volleyball captain or sci-fi nerd or piano prodigy. Your identity is either wrapped up “in Adam” or “in Christ.” And the implications of that identity are huge. Eternal. Forever.
A well-known pastor says it better than I can:
In Adam there is defeat, but in Christ there is victory.
In Adam there is condemnation, but in Christ there is salvation.
In Adam we receive a sin nature, but in Christ we receive a new nature.
In Adam we are cursed, but in Christ we are blessed.
In Adam there is wrath and death, but in Christ there is love and life.
Which man has been—and is—most influential in your life? Are you in Adam or in Christ?
To hear how this truth of being in Christ began to free me from my boy-crazy struggle, answer the question above. I’ll choose one of you at random on Monday, October 7, to receive a copy of Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl: On Her Journey from Neediness to Freedom.
Visions of cheesy pizza, crunchy Sour Cream ‘n Onion chips, and gooey chocolate brownies dance through your mind. All else fades except that repetitive thought: FOOD. RIGHT. NOW. FOOD. RIGHT. NOW. Rumblings crescendo from the lower regions of your belly and before you know it, you’re just desperate to satisfy that craving. You are officially hungry.
Jesus points to our hunger pangs to reveal the secret to our search for true satisfaction:
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6).
Cheesy pizza, gooey brownies: yum. But righteousness? That’s one rare food that’s not typically found in my fridge. What is righteousness?
Pastor John Piper describes it this way based on the context of Matthew 5:6:
The first four beatitudes describe the broken, grieving, quiet person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness. And the next four beatitudes describe the merciful, pure peacemaker who gets persecuted for his righteousness. Doesn’t this structure, then, give us the definition of righteousness? If we were hungering for righteousness in verse 6 because we were empty, and then we get persecuted for righteousness in verse 10 because we’ve been filled, isn’t it proper to define righteousness as that with which we have been filled—namely, mercy, purity, and peacemaking?
Righteousness is showing mercy to other people; and righteousness is being pure in heart before God who alone can see the heart; and righteousness is the effort to make peace. Now there may be much more to it than that. But that seems to be the focus of these verses and this chapter.
So how do you know when you’re hungry and thirsty—really hungry and thirsty—for righteousness? Well, as we’ve talked about in the last few blog posts on being poor in heart, mourning over sin, and being meek, you can’t hunger and thirst after righteousness until:
1. You’re not impressed—not at all—with your “righteousness.” A lady I met this weekend matter-of-factly described herself as “spiritual.” From the context of our conversation, my guess is that she meant she attended church, prayed, and was hospitable and friendly.
Never mind that Isaiah 64:6 says, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” in God’s eyes.
What are you secretly (or not so secretly) most proud of spiritually? What makes you feel better than other people? Are these areas where you’re trusting in your own righteousness?
2. You trust solidly and solely in Jesus’ righteousness on your behalf. You’re not impressed with your own spiritual résumé, so you turn to Jesus to receive the free gift of His righteousness. When you do, He instantly gives it to you:
To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (Rom. 4:5).
At that moment, God justifies you. He sees you just as if you’d never sinned, just as if you’d always obeyed. The barrier of sin and guilt between you and God is bulldozed to nothing. You are given Jesus’ full and complete righteousness.
So does that mean you never hunger after righteousness again? No. God’s Holy Spirit keeps stirring up hunger pangs in you so you desire to keep growing into who you already are.
3. You want to run from everything that is not righteous. This week I watched a coworker jerk away when they realized they were sitting next to someone who was sick. Do you run from or revel in things that aren’t righteous? Do you even avoid things that might spoil your spiritual appetite? As you do, you realize that you need spiritual food.
4. You soak up time with those who are righteous. I just talked to a woman who doesn’t go to church because “I don’t have to go in order to believe in Jesus.” While that’s true, it seems a bit like saying, “I love hockey, but that doesn’t mean I have to go to hockey games.” If you’re hungry for righteousness, you want to be with other hungry people. You want to spend time reading your Bible and talking to God. But you don’t stop there.
5. You move out into the world as a representative of God’s righteousness. (More on this in the next four weeks!) For now, I’ll leave you with a quote from Pastor John Piper: “Deep and lasting satisfaction for our souls comes not from the delights of the world nor from a merely religious or vertical relationship with God. Satisfaction comes from God to those whose passion in life is to know him in the struggle to be like him in the world.”
So what if you’re just not hungry for righteousness? Find where you are in this list and honestly confess your lack of desperation for God’s righteousness to Him. Then put your faith and trust in Jesus’ righteousness alone. Ask Him to give you starvation for His righteousness.
When you do, you will find not only true happiness (“Blessed are those who . . .”) but satisfaction (“for they shall be satisfied”). You’ll be completely full and content like you feel after stuffing your face with pizza, chips, and brownies—without the bloating, of course.
So how about it? Are you officially, desperately hungry for His righteousness?
Jennifer cussed the chaplain out when she arrived at prison to serve her sixteen-year sentence. But in the privacy of her cell, she repeatedly beat her head against the concrete wall until it bled. Without drugs, she knew no other way to mask the anger and bitterness she had known from childhood.
For most of her twenty-two years, Jennifer’s parents said she was a mistake—that she was supposed to be a boy. So, Jennifer believed that God makes mistakes.
At ten, a nineteen-year-old from church began molesting Jennifer. At this point, Jennifer wanted nothing to do with God.
She started drinking at age eleven to make the pain go away. By twelve, she was cutting, participating in criminal activity, and abusing drugs. By seventeen, she was a “mule,” trafficking drugs from Tulsa to Memphis.
One night, wondering how her life had turned out the way it had, Jennifer breathed a simple prayer, “Help. If You’re listening, help.”
She didn’t think about that prayer again until twenty-seven days later, when she saw six squad cars in her rearview mirror. As Jennifer was slammed to the pavement and cuffed, a load lifted from her. While she didn’t know what it would look like, she was certain life as she knew it was over.
After arriving at prison, Jennifer mocked the inmates in the Christian program. But she watched them. Their joy haunted her because it was something she had never known.
So she caved and joined them. For ten weeks, she heard things she’d never heard before: Forgiveness equals freedom; God uses authority for direction, provision, and protection for our lives. And, if she would believe in Jesus’ sacrifice for her sins, He would give her a new identity.
Ten weeks came and went, and the chaplain asked Jennifer to stay ten more. She couldn’t understand why—after the trouble she’d caused—but Jennifer agreed.
And on December 21, 2000, God’s Spirit interacted with her through His Word for the first time in her life. When that class ended, Jennifer got on her knees and told God if He could salvage what was left of her life, it was His.
And it has been, ever since.
“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17)
PS: Jennifer got out of prison on May 31, 2011, only to go back in . . . this time as a denominational chaplain. God is now using her mightily to help salvage other bitter, broken lives.