"Have You Understood?" August 2011
“Jesus saith unto them, Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord.” (Matthew 13:51) If you go back and read the whole chapter you will discover that Jesus is talking to His disciples in parables about spiritual matters and the Kingdom of Heaven. Then He asked them if they understood what He had told them. Their answer was that they did. Recently, I was asked to be the guest speaker one night at a revival that was being held in a local church. What I want to share with you is from the message that I shared with them. I believe that the Lord has laid it on my heart to share it with you because it is not a message for one church only. It is a message that I believe pertains to many of us who call ourselves Christians. I believe that the Lord is asking this same question to His present day “disciples” that He asked to those disciples who were with Him that day. “Have you understood all these things?”
I believe I can answer the question for most of those who call themselves Christians- “No, we don’t; although we think we do.” I don’t believe that we understand spiritual principles and matters that deal with the Kingdom-- even the basics, for the most part. I am primarily addressing the Western, postmodern, American church on this matter because I don’t think we really understand what true Biblical Christianity is all about.
There are four main areas that I want to address (although these are not the only ones) where I believe we “don’t understand” when it comes to spiritual matters.
1) I don’t believe we fully understand what salvation is- what it means to be saved and how do we become saved. Here in America we tend to equate Christianity and salvation to “church”. We believe that just because we go to church that makes us Christians. When I ask people about their salvation, the first thing they usually tell me is what church they attend or what denomination they have their church membership with. The majority of “confessing” Christians believe that church membership or attendance and salvation are the same thing. Just because you sit in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in McDonalds makes you a Big Mac! Granted, if you are a Christian you should want to be in church because that is your Father’s house and your love for Him compels you to attend and assemble yourself with other believers. But church membership or attendance does not save you or mean that you are saved.
Not only do people tell me about their church attendance when I ask about their salvation, some tell me they are saved because they are a “good person”. They think that just because they have never beat their wife, cheated on their taxes, stolen anything, or any list of other things that we consider “good” that this means they are a Christian. That is not true. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5) What this verse means is that you can do all kinds of “religious” acts and deeds- give tithes and offerings, play the piano in church, sing in the choir, teach Sunday School, be a deacon and even go on missions trips- and still not be saved. Righteous acts don’t make a person righteous.
There is a story of a young man in the Bible whose way of thinking about salvation is so parallel to the belief that I see in the church in America. This young man didn’t understand salvation either. “And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:18-22) He thought it was about being “good enough”. Jesus quickly corrected him by letting him know that “no one is good except God”. Then he thought that just because he kept a set of religious laws and commandments that he would be saved. Jesus corrected him there also. Although he kept the ones that pertained to his relationship with man, he did not keep the ones that pertained to his relationship with God. This was evident when Jesus told him to sell all he had, give it to the poor and follow Him. “And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.” (Luke 18:23) He broke the very first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) His riches were his god and he wasn’t willing to give it up. If you are going to try to be good enough to earn your salvation by keeping the commandments (which you can’t), then you are going to have to keep all of them. We are told in the Book of James that if we break only one but keep the rest, we are still guilty of breaking them all. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10)
“Have you understood all these things?” Until we understand the truth about salvation we will never be saved. The truth about salvation is that it is not about works, righteous deeds or being good enough. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9) Salvation is a free gift. A gift is not earned. A gift is something that is paid for by someone else with the intention to give it to another. Our salvation was bought and paid for by Jesus when He gave His life at the cross. “Ye are bought with a price.” (1 Corinthians 7:23a) “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Salvation comes only through faith in Jesus Christ’s finished work at the cross. When He said it was finished, He meant that everything needed for us to be saved was taken care of. Every debt of sin was paid in full. Nothing else could be added to it.
What I believe we don’t understand is that salvation is not about being in the church, it is about being in Christ. The only way we become “in Christ” is through faith in what He did for us by taking our punishment for sin and paying for the gift of eternal life through His death. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
2) I don’t believe that we understand that being a Christian means that we are to “follow Jesus”. We think that salvation is the “end”. Once we go to an altar and receive Jesus as Savior we think that that is all it is to it. It is not, it is only the beginning. The first public message Jesus taught was, ”Repent”, then immediately He called His disciples and His first words to them were, “follow Me”. “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:17-19) His message to His disciples hasn’t changed. We are still called to “follow Him”. “And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
“And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (Acts 16:31) Too many misinterpret this scripture to mean that all we have to do is have a “belief” in Jesus- like we believe the sky is blue, rain is wet and trees are made of wood. That is not the case because even the devils believe in Him and tremble. “The devils also believe, and tremble.” (James 2:19B) They even recognize Jesus and His authority. “And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God.” (Mark 3:11) “And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time? And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding. So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine.” (Matthew 8:28-31) But the devils don’t love, serve or worship Him; they are in rebellion against Him. So knowing about Him doesn’t mean you are following Him. The word “believe” in Acts means to be persuade of, to think to be true. Which implies that there will be action involved with one’s belief. For example, let’s say you were in a building and the fire alarm began to go off. If you really believe that the building was on fire, you would not just sit down and stay in it doing nothing. You would put action behind your belief and look for the nearest exit trying to get out. If you put your belief in Jesus as your Savior, there will be some action in your life that backs up your faith in Him. That action translates into “following Him”. This is some of what James was talking about when he said, “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:20b)
We talked about the rich young ruler earlier, let’s look at him again for a moment. The last recorded words of Jesus to him were, “Come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22) Once He told the young man how to receive salvation/eternal life, He then told him what the next step was. First step is: believe- put faith in Jesus as Savior and make Him your God. Second step is: believe- put faith behind your belief in Him as Savior by following Him as Lord.
“Have you understood all these things?” I think we are lacking in our understanding that Christianity is not a one time trip to the altar; it is not “fire insurance” so we can go our “merry way” through life and not have to worry about going to hell; just something that is an attachment to our lives; it is not an acknowledgment based on “head knowledge” of who Jesus is; but a life and lifestyle that follows Jesus wherever He goes and wherever He leads us.
3) I don’t believe that we understand that our Christianity is not to remain behind the four walls of the church. It seems to me that we have become more of a “social club” or “subculture” than a witness in this world. This was never God's intention for His church. Jesus commissioned us to "go into the world and preach the gospel"- not stay in the church. In the Book of Acts we are told that once we receive Holy Spirit's empowerment, it's so that we can be "witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world"- not just witnesses in the church. Jesus said that we are the "light of the world"- not the light of the church- and the "salt of the earth"- not the salt in the church. The church doesn’t need the light, they already have it. The world is what is in darkness and needs to see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ. “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16)
The early church went to the temple and from house to house having fellowship with each other- until persecution arose which forced them to be "scattered abroad". God's plan was/is for the church to take the message of salvation out into the world. They were not doing that- so persecution came that would force them into His true plan. Will it take the same for this modern day church to get out there and fulfill His Great Commission? Jesus called us "fishers of men". How will we ever catch "fish" if we don't go to the "pond" where the fish are? “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.” (Acts 2:42, 44-46) “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.” (Acts 8:1)
“Have you understood all these things?” Have we understood that what we have freely received (this wonderful, free gift of eternal life) we should be freely giving, so that others can receive it as well? “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:13,14)
4) I don’t believe that we understand that spiritual growth is our personal responsibility. As I said earlier, I shared much of this same message at a revival service. I love revivals. I always leave feeling refreshed, revived and with a new zeal and determination to serve the Lord better, get closer to Him and share my faith with others. But how many can attest to the fact that once the revival services are over, it isn’t long before we are feeling “spiritually dry” again and need “recharging”. We make the mistake of thinking that what we get in church, in revival services, at conferences or Bible study classes is enough. The little we get in church once a week, or in revivals and conferences once a year, is not enough to keep us “spiritually charged”. We need it build our faith and inner man everyday. That’s what the scripture means when it says to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. (Philippians 2:12b) You have a part in it. You have to daily open God’s word and read it for yourself. You have to hide it in your heart so that you won’t sin against God. (Psalm 119:11) You have to let it bathe your spirit man. You have to build up your most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit. (Jude 1:20) You have to pray and touch the hem of His garment for yourself. You can’t wait for and depend upon others to do it for you. When the children of Israel were in the wilderness, the Lord fed them with manna every day. Do you remember His command concerning gathering it? He told them not to leave any over until the next morning, but to eat it all that day. “Let no man leave of it till the morning.” (Numbers 16:19b) We have to have fresh “manna” (fresh “spiritual” food) everyday too. We can’t live on yesterday’s “leftovers”.
“Have you understood all these things?” I wonder if we truly do understand that it is up to us individually to do those things that we need to do to keep ourselves strong in our faith. We live in a society with a welfare mentality. We think it is everyone else’s responsibility to “take care of us”. That will never work where our faith is concerned. The Lord has blessed us and equipped us with His word, with ministers that preach and teach, and with wonderful resources of all sorts, but the bottom line is that it is our own responsibility to “gather our own manna”.
The things that we have discussed in this newsletter are pretty basic principles of Christianity. They are not real deep spiritual revelations, but more elementary. But if we don’t get them right, we can suffer personal eternal consequences. If we don’t get them right how can we lead others in the right way? So hopefully, if you had any doubt or question about the subjects we discussed, after you read this newsletter you will be able to say with the disciples that answered Jesus’ question that day, “Have you understood all these things?”... YES!.