In short, so much of what I believed was a either a half-truth or an outright lie!
Of course, I didn't know any better at the time, but that certainly didn't excuse me from the error of my ways and the sinful false convert they turned me into.
Thanks be to God things are different now -- extremely different! I can't take any credit whatsoever for all the glory is God's and His alone by His mercy and grace.
For instance, one such Bible passage that this former Evangelical used to absolutely love to beat other believers over the head with was Luke 13:22-30.
Luke 13:22-30 (ESV) He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?" And he said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' then he will answer you, 'I do not know where you come from.' Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.' But he will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!' In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."
Now, I'm sure everyone's quite familiar with those words.
However, I used to deploy them often to create a MASSIVE GUILT TRIP in people who I thought were the "goats" and the "tares" or the "false converts" of the faith let's say.
"Deploy" is the perfect word for me to use to describe myself too, because I was under the impression that the minute you became a "True Christian" you also had to immediately become "A Soldier For Christ" and that meant that you fought not to save souls by confessing the Gospel, but fought to destroy "False Christians" by burying them under the Law until they broke completely.
Ironically, and quite sadly I might add, I never even realized that I was a false teacher myself whose gross misunderstanding of these words from Scripture was doing nothing to exalt Christ, but everything to burden other consciences with the Law, the Law, and more of the Law.
Lord, have mercy! Lord, please forgive me!
Even more ironic?
The very passage I was using to make others feel bad about not examining themselves is the very passage I should have been using to preach to myself the importance of self-examination!
There we see that Jesus directs His followers' attention away from the plight of others and toward an honest self-appraisal and spiritual housecleaning.
As we know, Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation as all other hopes are misplaced and He tells us as much even more directly just a short while later in John 14:6 when He says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
Then we transition from a "narrow door" to a "shut" door emphasizing that the time to repent and receive the Lord is fleeting.
Accordingly, people need to make entry into God's kingdom their first priority before the door to life suddenly slams shut. This is why mere acquaintance with Jesus and His teachings will not avail on Judgment Day, because a wholehearted trust is needed.
For even though you know that He is God's Son, that He died and rose again, and that He sits at the right hand of the Father, you have not yet learned to know Christ aright ... [until you also] believe that He did all this for your sake, in order to help you.
-- Luther's Works 30:30
Once I would get to Luke 13:27 and come across the words "you workers of evil!" I would use them to encourage others to do better and to do more good works in Jesus' name without realizing that what Christ is actually saying here is that without faith in Jesus Christ, it is impossible to produce works that please God (Hebrews 11:6).
I'd come to Luke 13:30 and simply skip over it. The words are strikingly beautiful though since we're told that outsiders and people from the dregs of society (repentant sinners, tax collectors, and Gentiles) will be saved, while supposed insiders and important people (the self-righteous religious and civil/political leaders) will lose out.
The determining factor is faith in Jesus, not wealth or social status, and definitely not any amount of "good works" done in service to the Lord either.
Here's a proper Biblical understanding of the text, as found in an excerpt from an old sermon from Rev. Charles Henrickson, which accomplishes the goal of properly distinguishing between Law and Gospel for our eternal benefit...
It’s not that we contribute anything to our salvation by our striving. No, it’s a free gift. But as we come to Christ and enter through that narrow door, it will involve a struggle. There will be much agonizing along the way.
You know that, you feel that, that agonizing aspect of the Christian life. It’s not easy. There are all these forces pulling against us, trying to keep us from entering through the narrow door. You’ve got the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh working against you. It’s like a tag-team wrestling match, and those three are on the other side, tagging in and out, each taking a turn to see if they can defeat you and pin you to the mat. So it is a struggle.
The devil, the world, and the sinful flesh -- that’s who we’re agonizing against. The devil will assault you and assail you. He will lure you with temptations. He’ll whisper in your ear in the midst of your adversities, saying, "God doesn’t love you. Look at what’s happening to you! Give up."
Then there’s the world tagging in. Listen to the lies of our culture: "There is no such thing as sin anymore. Everything is OK. You don’t need to repent. Who knows if there’s even a God out there anyway? As long as you’re a good person, that’s what counts."
And if the devil and the world aren’t enough, you’ve got your own sinful flesh to contend with: "I know what I want, and I’m going to get it. I won’t listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice telling me otherwise. No, I want to make my own decisions. And if I’m going into sin, and I know it -- well, I’ll just repent later on, I suppose. This way I can keep doing what I want, and I can rationalize it all away."
So you see what we’re up against. It is indeed a struggle, an agonizing, to live as a Christian and to keep the faith. It’s like St. Paul says in Acts 14, "that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." Being a Christian is not easy. It does call for a constant striving, and so Jesus says here, "Strive to enter through the narrow door."
And then there’s this "narrow door" business. What does Jesus mean by that? To say that the door is "narrow" is to say that there’s just one way in. There are not many doors. There are not many roads that lead to heaven. Just one. It’s through Jesus, through faith in him alone, and in nothing else. Jesus says in John 14, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Or again, in John 10, "I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved." There is the narrow door for you! It’s Jesus!
This door is narrow, meaning it’s the only one, but this door is indeed wide open! Jesus has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Trust in him, and you will be saved. This is all because of that "journey to Jerusalem" Jesus was on. There, in Jerusalem, Jesus’ "arms’ length" extended far and wide when he stretched out his arms on the wood of the cross. Those arms, those arms of Jesus, took in all the sins of the world, including yours. Whatever you have done wrong, your sins against God and man, the ways you have disobeyed God and hurt the people around you -- all these are paid for, paid in full, by Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, dying sacrificially for you, so that you now are forgiven.
And having done this, Jesus rose from the dead, showing you what is in store for you through faith in Him. Life. Resurrection life. Eternal life. Jesus’ arms are now extended to embrace you and to welcome you as a brother or sister in God’s kingdom. The door is open. Enter in.
There is a great feast waiting for you there. And you will be joining many, reclining at table at the wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end -- with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and a whole multitude coming from the east and the west, the north and the south. Will you be there, seated with them at the feast of salvation? If we had to answer on the basis of our works or merit, we’d have to say no. But Jesus turns the question around in a good way and answers with a great big yes! He is your tag-team partner in the agonizing wrestling match you’re engaged in. In fact, he is your champion. He wins the victory for you.
"Strive to enter through the narrow door." Today one door is open, and it is open wide. Enter through Jesus, and you will be saved.
This is most certainly true.
See, instead, I was using this very same passage to preach another gospel. That gospel?
True Gospel = Christ Crucified, Died, And Resurrected For The Sins of All Mankind
False Gospel = Jesus Christ + Anything Else ("Good Works" We Do In His Name)
I think about my past and cringe and shudder knowing that I did not take James 3:1 to heart at all.
I think about how self-righteous I was and how I played God by deciding who was pious enough through their own "good works" to get into heaven and who wasn't all while I was C-E-R-T-A-I-N that I was a-ok myself.
I think about all of this and it's enough to drive a man like me to tears. It's definitely kept me up late and given me some sleepless nights from time-to-time.
Thankfully, God's grace is limitless to those who are repentant and sorrowful over their sins both past and present, His kingdom is available to anyone and everyone on the planet, and His free gift of salvation is not limited by my own limited and perverted understanding of His Word from my past.
Consequently, any discussion and study of this "narrow" door leads me to think about 2 Peter 3:9 too. It's another verse that many of us are quite familiar with I'm sure.
2 Peter 3:9 (ESV) The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
Lengthy papers and entire books have been written about the truth that this key verse expresses (see the Christian Book of Concord for specifics) so I'm not going to get carried away and add a whole lot to this piece to make it even longer than it already is.
At the same time, I think it's fascinating to consider the connection between these two sections of God's Word, especially if you're like I once was or still feel like everything that was shared above about Luke 13:22-30 is more Law than Gospel (even though both were present).
Here are just a few truths to think about pertaining to 2 Peter 3:9 and its relationship to Luke 13:22-30...
From the Lutheran Study Bible: Repentance leading to faith and salvation is the issue for the Lord, not times or timing. He is patient, wanting all to come to salvation. Repentance consists of contrition (godly sorrow over one's sins) and faith (trusting in the divine promise of forgiveness through faith in Christ). Knowing that this world will not last, we are to "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). Sadly, we are often distracted by "the cares of the world" (Matthew 13:22). Despite our many failures, the Lord graciously works through Word and Sacrament to forgive our sins and to renew us in the faith. He will preserve us to the end. O Lord, keep me with Jesus Christ in the one true faith, that I may wait for the coming of the day of the Lord, when You will raise me and all the dead and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. Amen.
From the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord XI 32: God, who has called us, is faithful. So when He has begun the good work in us, He will also preserve it to the end and perfect it, if we ourselves do not turn from Him, but firmly hold on to the work begun to the end. He has promised His grace for this very purpose.
From Rev. Jordan Cooper: God’s salvation and election are freely granted; God’s grace is given without condition. Yet, God’s grace is not limited to a particular group. God’s saving will embraces all of His creation. This text explains that it is God’s sincere will that none should perish. Thus, God has a saving will which encapsulates all of humanity. It is His desire that all reach repentance. (Source: "2 Peter 3:9 Does Not Teach Particular Redemption")
How might we begin to wrap this up?
What can we say that hasn't been said already?
How can we say it even more clearly than we have so far?
People can enter God's kingdom only through Jesus Christ. Moreover, the time for every human being -- and indeed the world -- is quickly slipping away, and soon the door will slam shut. Accordingly, the Lord beseeches one and all to come into the great wedding banquet of His Son, without cost and without delay. "Today Your gate is open, And all who enter in Shall find a Father's welcome And pardon for their sin. The past shall be forgotten, A present joy be giv'n, A future grace be promised, A glorious crown in heav'n." Amen. (LSB 915:2) [Source: Lutheran Study Bible]
As Christians, while the world continues to be apoplectic over bathroom doors, I humbly suggest we fix our eyes on the narrow door instead.
In a Lutheran layman's terms, yes, the door is narrow, but at least it's wide open so repent and be saved!
NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Corporate Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. As another Christian Blogger once wrote, "Please do not see this blog as me attempting to 'publicly teach' the faith, but view it as an informal Public Journal of sorts about my own experiences and journey, and if any of my notes here help you in any way at all, then I say, 'Praise the Lord!' but please do double check them against the Word of God and with your own Pastor." To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm a relatively new convert to Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 3 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier/older pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category (and they don't have a disclaimer like this) since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because I now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse footnotes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained under-shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!