The Center Fellowship
The Center Fellowship

What Must I Do To Be Saved?

Richard: And what we’re doing right now is just considering some common questions, that I received that people struggle with. But really challenged the orthodox teaching of the Bible. And last week we looked at the exclusivity of Christianity. That it claims to be exclusive. Remembering that every other world religion also claims to be exclusive; to have the exclusive truth. Of course we have this recorded, if you weren’t here, and would like to see it. And we closed by talking about the issue of fairness. Those who’ve never heard. That’s how we end it.

And I did not get to read to you, this piece that comes from J. I. Packer and it originated in the book that I wrote 23 years ago, about remembering the forgotten God. I want to just read it real quick and then I want to move on to the second issue. We’re going to think we’ll have the time to do this today. Right out of the book. Someone believe that God can reveal himself to people through general revelation which is the light that is obvious to every human being. Gary brought this up last week. And consequently, over time evoke repentance and faith. Though the person may have never heard of Jesus, or they may have a missionary come and tell him about Jesus. But he says that those who take this position pretend that the uninformed will have their sins forgiven and they support their position with Peter’s statement in Acts 10:35, “And every nation, the man who fears him and does what is right has welcomed him.” J. I. Packer, the noted author and theologian has declared that this very well may be true. He says, “If ever it is true, such worshippers will learn in heaven that they were saved by Christ’s death and that their hearts were renewed by the Holy Spirit. He says, “Christians since the second century, have hoped that this might be true.

And perhaps Socrates and Plato in this happy state even now. But who knows. And then he says this. And this is kind of how he ended it. He says we have no warrant to expect that God will act less in any single case, where the Gospel is not known or understood, but if we are wise, we shall not spend much time mulling over this notion. Dealing with these people, is God’s business. He is just. He is merciful, and when we learn as one day we shall, how he has treated him, then we shall have no cause to complain. Now, the second issue that I want to talk about. I’ve been encountering this a lot lately. And that is the idea that at the end of time, whenever that might be, that God is going to open his arms wide and gather all the people in his arms and give this massive blanket pardon to all humanity. He’s going to rescue everybody in the end. As one man put it to me, he said, “You know, I just can’t believe in the end that God is going to let everybody just perish eternally. He says, “No father is going to let his children eternally perish.” And this guy had four kids and he’s a really good father and that’s kind of where he’s coming from. And so, two responses to that statement is; first and foremost that he is making this statement based on his subjective feeling as a father.

Remember we talked last week about how we perceive reality. That you have the subjective realm. That is based on your opinion, your feelings, your taste, your preference. And we look at the objective realm which is not subject to opinion, which is not subject to feelings. It’s external. It’s outside of feelings. When it comes [Inaudible 00:04:10.03] last week. And the second response to him is that anybody is not God’s child. So many people don’t get this. They think that God regards all of humanity as his children. But throughout the scripture you see very clearly that to be God’s child, he offers each of us the ability to be adopted. The option to be adopted into his family. And as we would save him, says in Galatians 4, “He sends forth his spirit into our hearts and we are able to call him Abba Father.” And we become heirs at that time. And I want to keep going because I want to lay this out and then I want to share a response and then I do want to hear from you as well.

But I know of two separate youth directors in this town, two separate churches. In fact, one of them I think has retired. I’ve had a conversation with this guy. Currently, he’s a youth pastor of the [Inaudible 00:05:36.00], they both teach and have taught universalism with their youth, with a very, very heavy emphasis on God’s love and God’s grace. And again universalism [Inaudible 00:05:58.05] for me with that term is the idea that God in the end is going to save everybody; just going to blanket forgiveness for everybody. And I will say this. They do believe it will happen through Jesus’ death on the cross that because Jesus went and died on the cross; the whole world is given forgiveness. I want to share with you. I want you to think about this. I want to share with you one of the arguments made by one of these youth directors to see how it can happen. I got this from the parents of a young man who heard this talk [Inaudible 00:06:40.05] he was attending this youth group at the time. And what you’re going to see, how easy it is for someone to take one verse and build an argument on one verse. And what this youth director did, was in one sense build up a whole theology of one Scripture and completely neglected the entire rest of the Bible. And this why we need to have a good knowledge of the Scriptures and these issues. Because you never know when you going [Inaudible 00:07:24.01]. I had a man who…I don’t know him that well. He’s a really fine guy. He’s an attorney here in Birmingham. And my wife and I, we’re waiting on a table to have dinner and this guy sees me and comes up [Inaudible 00:07:39.1] and just as he begins to tell me that this conclusion that universalism [Inaudible 00:07:44.07]. And I’m sitting there ready to go have dinner, I had no time to really respond [Inaudible 00:07:52.02]. He knew [Inaudible 00:07:52.7] nice about it. But I want to go back and share with you the Scripture that there’s [Inaudible 00:08:05.05] used to make his argument and it really impacted the young man. And probably all the kids in that group. Actually the father of this young man showed him in the Scripture, how the [Inaudible 00:08:21.7] difficult to do. Turn to John chapter 3 and in verse 17 and while we’re doing that do you have any comments or questions? [Inaudible 00:08:29.01]. All right go down to John 3 and go down to verse 17. Anybody there? Harry [Inaudible 00:08:54:09] how about reading that for me


Speaker 1: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.”


Richard: God did not send his son into the world to judge the world. He sent his son in the world to save it. It’s a good one. [Inaudible 00:09:15.4] Truth. But if you’re son or your daughter came to you and said, “Dad I heard this teaching, basically everyone is going to receive this blanket pardon because Jesus didn’t come to judge the world, he came to save it. Is he right dad? What would you say? What would be your response?


Speaker 2: Be the next work.


Richard: (laughs) We got a sharp group this morning. Go back to the verse [Inaudible 00:09:51.06] and read the verse after it. I mean the verse before it John 3:16. Everybody knows. Now, if you think about it. If universalism is true how should verse 16 read? It should read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that we would all have eternal life.” But that’s not what it says. That’s not how it reads. It has these critical words that whosoever believes in him will not perish. Universalism says no response is necessary; you’re pardoned for salvation. John 3:16 says, “You have to believe.” So does verse 18 as Bill pointed out. Then go to John 5:24. It says it even, I think more clearly, where it said, “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life and does not come into judgment. But is passed out of death into life.” Now, just real briefly because I’m not sure all of you have been in here, we talked about what does it really mean to believe. And it’s the Greek word that was used in the Bible as the words “pisteu” which means to trust in, to cling to, rely upon. It means literally to entrust yourself to someone. Now, many of you heard this illustration but I’ll just share it real briefly just to really point out what pisteu means. The English word “believe” does not do it justice. Believe is kind of a nice friendly word. We believe in a lot of different things but pisteu means there’s so much more depth to it.

Imagine you go to the doctor because you know that there’s something terribly wrong with you. The doctor runs a battery of tests and then comes back and says I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is you have a form of cancer, and if it goes untreated within six months you will be dead. But the good news is we can do surgery, we can remove the cancer. Now we have a new drug that we can administer. The bottom line is we can make you good as new; completely eradicate the cancer. Now it’s necessary that you believe the doctor. That you believe what he said is true. But it’s also necessary for you to say to the doctor, “I put my life completely in your hands to do whatever is necessary to get rid of the cancer? It’s really kind of like a surrendering of yourself to the doctor, to his care. And this is why a true belief always involves repentance, surrendering. In fact you see this, in Mark chapter 1 verses 14 and 15. So if you would turn to that real quick Mark 1, 14 & 15. So when a person has true belief his faith, his relationship with God becomes the core of who he is. It has a transforming influence because at the heart of belief is the surrendering. You’re turning from self to him and the Holy Spirit literally comes into your life and begins to do a work in your life. But universalism doesn’t get this. What did John say to Nicodemus, said we talked about the Holy Spirit. He says, “Nicodemus, unless you’re born again, you cannot enter the kingdom of God. In Luke 18:17. Jesus said, “If you don’t respond to the Gospel as a little child you will not enter into the Kingdom of God. The universalists it’s as if these verses don’t even exist. Comments or questions, anybody?


Speaker 1: What I’m hearing you say is basically about, the belief that universal belief, if I believe that my behavior has no longer has any impact or influence.


Richard: And I know a guy, I remember years ago, having a conversation. This guy was wealthy. He had a beautiful wife, great kids. He had a major drinking problem. And he went to his pastor of his church; was a Universalist. And he said, “I loved his theology. My passion is his theology,” because basically he said, I can live however I want to live.” And today he’s lost everything. We are designed by God, in fact this is what I tell people sometimes is that, when they want to argue with me about we’re all God’s children. I got the Scripture to point at it, that I can point out but we are all his creatures. And we are created in his image. And so we do have great value. Basically God is everybody’s creator. And one day he will be our judge, but he’s not everybody’s Heavenly Father. That’s something that you have got to choose, basically as we said by faith, by believing. That’s a great point. Immediately God set in place, a plan for redemption. Immediately. I’m reading Genesis.


Speaker 2: Not that immediately. (laughs)

Richard: Let me read to you what CS Lewis says in his book “The Problem of Pain” [Inaudible 00:16:31.7] has gone hell. He says bottom line some will not be redeemed. “He says, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity to this if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and especially of our Lord’s own words, it has been held by christendom. And it also has the support of reason. He says, “If the happiness and if the salvation of a creature, lies in self-surrender, repentance. He says no one can make that surrender but himself. And he may refuse. He says, “I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully, all will be saved, but my reason retorts without their will or with it. If I say without their will I won’t receive a contradiction. How can the supreme voluntary act of self-surrender, of repentance be involuntary? If I say, “With their will” my reason replies, “How if they will not give in, if they will not surrender?” What you see here, on the one hand, you see his subjective side saying, “If I could remove it I would.” That’s based on how his feelings and compassion.

But then he comes back and objectively says, when you look through the Scriptures objectively you see what it teaches. It teaches that universalism is not true. And later in the chapter he says, and you can tell Lewis has given this a whole lot of thought. He says, “But forgiveness needs to be accepted as well as offered, if it is to be complete and a man who admits no guilt can accept no forgiveness. And then he closes out the chapter of his book with these words. He says, “In the long run, the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question. This is really a great thought. He says, “So what are you asking God to do. Are you asking him to wipe out all their past sins and at all costs give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help?” He said, “But he’s done that at Calvary. To forgive them they will not be forgiven. To leave them alone kind of what you’re just saying; to leave them alone. Alas, I’m afraid that is what he has done. Now guys, I mean let’s acknowledge, some of you may not agree with this, but this a tough issue.

Let’s [Inaudible 00:19:34.07] CS Lewis [Inaudible 00:19:36:04] but it is very scriptural. In fact Jesus speaks more about hell than heaven. So to deny its existence is to deny Christ’s clear teaching. But it’s still very difficult to accept, and it seems to me, much more difficult for modern people to accept it, than people who lived 50, 70 and 100 years ago. I want to read to you two quotes. The first comes from a Dr Gene Edward Veith. He is a very prolific author. He’s written some great books. And he’s Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College. And he says this, “Today even conservative and evangelical ministers seldom mention “Hell”. I mean do you hear Hell mentioned [Inaudible 00:20:35.09] scare them away. It’s what these pastors would say. But people have never liked to hear about hell.

The difference is that today unlike any other time in History many people aren’t willing to believe what they do not like or enjoy. [Inaudible 00:21:00.00]. They don’t [Inaudible 00:21:03.09]. That’s subjected them [Inaudible 00:21:07.09] at its best. And Dr J.P Moreland, who’s a philosophy professor who teaches at Talbot Theological Seminary, Talbot Theological School, excuse me. He’s written a very famous book. You might want to consider getting it. I have not read it. It’s called, “Beyond Death: Exploring the evidence for immortality. And Moreland says this, “It’s wrong to think God is simply a loving being. Especially if you mean loving in the sense that most Americans use that word today. Yes, God is compassionate. But he’s also a just [Inaudible 00:21:56.04] being.” So God’s decisions are not based on modern American sentimentalism. This is one of the reasons why people have never had a difficult time with the idea of hell until modern times. He says people today tend to care only for the softer virtues, like God’s love and God’s tenderness, which are there. You see in Jesus. He says, “What’s happened is they’ve forgotten the hard virtues and kind of want to leave them out. And the hard virtues are holiness, and righteousness and justice.” I think this is the core issue. This is the problem.

Speaker 3: Is that when they get…?

Richard: Well first of all you have two thieves, if you think about it. One of them kind of blasts Jesus and said, “Why don’t you…If you save yourself, get us out of this ordeal as well.” And Jesus doesn’t respond to him. The other you see a contriteness and says, “We’re getting what we deserve,” and he says, “Remember me when you come…” and He says, “Today you’ll be with me in paradise.” He didn’t say it to the other guy. This really goes back to last week. And that is what is your spiritual authority. Because if it’s your feeling and if it’s your sentiment, I can see how you would believe this. But you have to pair that up against the authority of Scripture.

You see I’m convinced that all the major issues that the church struggles with today, ultimately boils down to the authority of Scripture. That’s why I wrote the book, “Reliable truth because that’s what people questioned. Because when Scripture is set against the position taken by the culture, who you’re going to side with. Now what’s happening today is more and more people, when you side with Scripture, boy you’re unpopular. And it wasn’t that way 50 years ago. But what strikes me powerfully and this gets back to something Forrest said a minute ago. It is…well not quite yet but I’m jumping ahead of myself. But I do think this needs to be pointed out. The fact that God sent his beloved son to the cross demonstrates the seriousness of hell. That he would be willing to go to such great lengths to rescue us. That’s what Paul says in Colossians 1. “He rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved son.” And the fact that he had to come rescue us implies that humanity is in big trouble. And so he comes [Inaudible 00:25:11.00 ] with this great rescue plan, this great plan of salvation for us and many people just say no. And this is basically this is such a serious issue and yet, the modern people even the modern church seems so unconcerned. And if you believe that he’s going to eventually pardon everyone, [Inaudible 00:25:33.03] then there’s nothing to worry about. Anything. And even Jimbo pointed out.

What you do with your life, what you believe, really doesn’t matter. It’s not an issue. Now I want to come back to what Forrest said. And I’ve given this a lot of thought and I think this is the core issue. Ultimately man does not want God. In their heart of hearts, man don’t want him nor women. John 3:19 says the true life. “Jesus was the true life, he’s come into the world but men love the darkness instead of the light.” But I think to me personally a key verse to what I’m saying, is in Romans chapter 2. So if you would turn to Romans 2. I think this hits the nail right on the head, because I know that this was true of my life, for about 20 years. It’s Romans chapter 2 verses 5. [Inaudible 00:26:52.02]. I mean that says and that’s just the problem. God offers the world, this great rescue plan, but because of our stubborn and unrepented hearts we say no. And he says “For that reason, your story unwraps for yourself.”

But I love the little story that Scott Peck tells about that woman Charlene. Now if you didn’t read it he talks about this women – it was a patient of his, and he was a psychiatrist. He had a patient whose name was Charlene. And she was a church going lady, she believed in God and she had faith, but she was depressed and found life to be so meaningless. And so at some point Peck suggests, “Have you thought about how you might look to your faith to help you with this issue, to help you with your struggle?” And after he says it there’s a pause. And then she kind of explodes with this incredible admission. And this is what she says, “I cannot do it. There’s no room for me in that. That would be my death. I don’t want to live for God. I will not. I want to live for me, for my sake.” Now guys that to me is a picture of the human condition, of the human heart. “I don’t want to live for God; I want to live for me.

But I want to close, these are actually powerful words. And this comes from CS Lewis and this is really kind of what Gary was referring to earlier. Lewis ultimately concludes that God does not send people to hell, they choose it. Now, that’s an interesting thought. But I think he’s right. He says it on two separate occasions; the first he says that there are… in the end there are really just two types of people. There are those who bow their knees before God and say to him, “Thy will be done.” In other words, “Lord I want your will done in my life.” It’s the repentance. And then he says, “And then and there are those who refuse him as God and he turns and says to them, “Thy will be done” I’m going to let you do your way. And to fully understand this, Lewis goes on to say, “Hell is the greatest monument to human freedom.” He says, “As Roman 1:24 says, “God gave them over to their desires.” And what he is saying there is Paul’s saying is, “God lets them go their way. We all have that freedom to go our own way.” He says, “All, God does in the end with people is give them what they want most, including freedom from himself.” And then he says, “What could be more fair than that?”


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