I believe in diffusing tense situations with humor, as if you couldn't tell that by what I've already written in this blog. It works in my life. Rarely is a situation so dire that it can't be lightened up in some way, just a *leeeetle* bit, right?
But a few weeks ago during a Bible study I ran across a passage that absolutely terrified me, and has haunted me ever since. Try as I might, I cannot lighten this message up, which tells me that perhaps it isn't meant to be made light of. My husband and I have been discussing this passage on our runs, trying to find some interpretation other than the painfully obvious. No luck. I'm afraid Jesus's words here are crystal clear. The passage is 1 Cor. 6:9-11:
"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sancitifed, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God."
Ouch. Now, I don't know what crowd you run with, but at least three words in that list aptly describe my past, and I'm not talking only on Saturday nights! Then I was washed and sanctified and now my sins are as far as the east is from the west. And how thankful I am for that I can't even begin to tell you, because, well, I had some sin in my life. Some nasty sin. Some sin for which I thought God could never forgive me.
And He wouldn't have forgiven me if I hadn't taken Him up on the best deal in town! The disciple John wrote, "[f]or God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16. Did you catch it? The secret was right in there in one of the most well known verses in the Bible: whoever BELIEVES in Him! That's it! You have to believe in Him. And once you believe in Him, you have "redemption through His blood" and "forgiveness of your trespasses." Eph. 1:7. It sounds quite easy, does it not?
There's a lot at stake here; namely, eternal salvation. It's not something we tend to think too much about during our everyday activities. Heaven, the world's end, death, they all seem pretty far away while we're waiting on line in the grocery store, picking up the dry cleaning, and riding the train or bus to work. But the importance can't be underestimated. If you've never seriously thought about where you, or your family and friends, will spend eternity, why not? Consider this scenario.
I was at a funeral for a friend recently, someone with whom I had frequent, but casual, contact. I mentioned my church attendance and Bible studies, but never encouraged her to join me. I spoke frequently about my love for Jesus, but never offered to introduce her to my Lord and Savior. For her part, well, I'm pretty sure she never knew Him. And so during the eulogy her family spoke endearing words about her life on earth and promised they would see her again in heaven, and that stung. As lovely a person as she was, I had some real doubts that she was going to heaven unless either she had accepted Jesus Christ on her death bed in some silent, last chance confrontation known only to those who pass over that threshold, or everything the Bible says about receiving salvation is wrong, and I highly doubt that.
I think this is called "moralism," the widespread belief these days that as long as you're a "good" person you'll go to heaven. You can get there believing in a happy mixture of religions and doctrines so as not to offend anyone. Buddahism seems cool, so you might keep some of those fat little statues around and rub their bellies for good luck. Yoga might inspire some interest in Hinduiusm so you might start to consider the divinity within yourself as well as the divinity within the trees outside your window. And your coffee cup. And how about getting some tickets to see the Pope say mass at Giants Stadium the next time he travels to the United States?
This is not what John means when he talks about "believing" in God. Jesus Himself tells us "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow ME." Not "ME" and a fat round little man with a big belly, or "ME" and a totally vegan diet, or "ME" and a seamonster in the Pacific Ocean. Just "ME." It continues, "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." Matt. 16:25-26.
Let me acknowledge right off the bat that there are a few words in that passage that aren't entirely appealing. For example, Jesus tells us to "deny" ourselves. Hmmmmmmm. "Deny." That right there sounds more difficult than trying to be really nice to people. And that bit about taking up a cross? That's troubling. The first thing that comes to my mind is that Jesus was crucified on one of those.
The truth is, from all I've learned through my years of informal Bible study, following Jesus can be pretty difficult. To my original point, according to 1 Cor. 6:9-11, when we follow Jesus we don't engage in adultery, drunkeness, idol worship, nor even covet what our neighbors have. Makes you stop and think about your reaction when you saw the new Mercedes Benz parked in your neighbor's driveway, doesn't it? We have to live as He would want us to live, and that includes not feeling envy because the diamond in your sister in law's engagement ring is bigger.
According to the Bible, the easiest way to avoid these feelings is to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and be guided by the Holy Spirit. In the earliest days of my sobriety, when I still had shakes, people who had accumulated some clean time told me to pray for the obsession to use drugs to be lifted. So I did. Pretty inartfully, but I mumbled something like "God please don't let me use drugs today." And I remember pretty early into it, one day I noticed that it was already the afternoon and I hadn't once thought about drinking. It got better from there. Soon, days would pass without feeling the desire to drink. God had taken that away from me. I'm certain of it. Something felt different. I wasn't using willpower. I just simply didn't need to drink. The change had occurred on the inside.
A miracle! A real, true miracle! I started to do this all the time. Whenever I found myself falling into a sinful thought pattern (in "the rooms" we called it "stinkin' thinkin'), I prayed for God to take those feelings away. It didn't always happen overnight, but it always happened.
Romans Chapter 8 talks about how when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside of us and guides us to make some better decisions for ourselves. We can turn things around. Life doesn't have to be a struggle, or a trainwreck, or a rut. It's all easier when we choose to follow God and live in daily fellowship with Him.
Walking with Jesus, to the extent it requires putting down the bottle or doing any of the other things we do that we wish we didn't do, may not sound easy, or even appealing, at first. That's okay. If we are sincere and want to take up our cross and follow Him, He'll help us. He'll give us the strength to walk away from bad habits, addictions, materialistic lifestyles, and anything else that will keep us from taking our place with Him in heaven. Because as pleasing as these things seem here on earth, God promises us that they result in eternal death. I'd rather skip them in the short run, and inherit the kingdom of God for eternity!