To Be Known and to Fully Know God is the Great Purpose of Our Lives

To whom does God say, “Depart from me. I never knew you?”

Have you ever wondered who are the people to whom God may say, “I never knew you; depart from me”?[1] If you are like me, those words ring ominously. We might be tempted to gloss over them, because they are uncomfortable to consider, but there they are.

These words contrast with the verse that inspires this article, which informs the title to this blog piece. But first, I want to focus briefly on people whom God never knew. Jesus described them for us.

They are people who prayed to God, “Lord, Lord.” They are people who prophesied in God’s name. They are people who cast out demons and even did “mighty works” in God’s name. They are highly religious people, but they didn’t “do the will of the Father who is in heaven”. (Matt. 7:23)

What does that mean?

For starters, it means that religiosity is not a ticket to heaven. Public piety is not anything that impresses God; if anything, it may even be repulsive to Him.[2]

Power and influence and doing things that amaze people, even if done in God’s name, are not keys to heaven.  An eloquent speaker who can bring people to tears and repentance is not, thereby, assured of any place in God’s kingdom. The prophet and the teacher who speak the very word of God are not, by virtue of the gift of prophecy or knowledge, assured of eternity with God.

In the “Love Chapter” of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13), Paul says,

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

These realities are at once sobering and liberating. Nothing we can “practice” or do will propel us into God’s heaven. We are saved by grace, though faith, of course (Eph. 2:8-9), but even faith that can move mountains is of no gain to us by itself.

And here is the kicker – not even sacrifice, not even the sacrifice of our own bodies, by itself gains us anything.

David knew this when he said, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.” (Ps. 51:16)

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Laying one’s life down might be considered a sacrifice, yes; but it done out of love it is more than merely a sacrifice. It isn’t the act itself that is important, but the motivation, the inspiration, the desire behind the act that matters.

Jesus is the ultimate example of love. When he sacrificed himself for our sakes, he didn’t do it to earn some heavenly brownie points. He gave himself for us out of love for us. He gave himself to us for our benefit. This is love, which focuses not one the benefit of the sacrifice to himself, but on the benefit for other another.

“For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor. 3:6) Legalism and fundamentalism and dogmatism and doctrine and theology can never save a person. It doesn’t matter how much we do, or how much we know, or how accurate our understanding is when we have not love.

God, who we are to worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24), is love.[3] All the Law and the Prophets are summarized in this one statement: Love God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself. (Matt. 22:40) Thus, Paul says,

But if anyone loves[4] God, he is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8:3 ESV

This is the verse that got me thinking about these things today. If you love God, you are known by God. The people of whom God will say, “Depart from Me; I never knew you”, are people who don’t really love God. Their motivation was wrong.

Continue reading “To Be Known and to Fully Know God is the Great Purpose of Our Lives”

Don’t Wonder at the Saying, “You Must Be Born Again”

Being born of the Spirit is being awakened to a reality that is greater than the physical reality we presently know

A couple of stories in the Gospel of John illustrate the dichotomy of the natural world and the spiritual world. These are two of the most iconic stories in the New Testament, and they happened in close proximity in time to each other: the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, and the story of Nicodemus.

In this blog post, I want to focus on the encounter of Jesus with and Nicodemus, the Pharisee. Nicodemus was a religious leader of some prominence in the community. Many religious leaders of the time felt threatened by Jesus, but not Nicodemus.

He sought Jesus out to ask him some questions, going to Jesus at night, which suggests that his visit might not have been viewed favorably by his fellow Pharisees. He acknowledged the “credentials” Jesus demonstrated, the miracles that he had done, indicating an openness to what Jesus would say. Without waiting for a question, Jesus initiated the following dialogue:

“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’  Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?'”

(John 3:1‭-‬4 ESV)

I think was an honest question. The context suggests that Nicodemus wasn’t challenging what Jesus said. He just wasn’t following.

We see by his approach to Jesus that he was open, but he didn’t understand what Jesus was getting at. “What was Jesus trying to say?”

It’s ironic, perhaps, that some Christians who say they take the Bible literally, don’t recognize the ubiquitous use of figurative (non-literal) language and ideas in the Bible. We can’t approach Scripture in a wooden way and hope to understand the depth of it.

If you have wondered what it means to be born again, let’s take a look at what Jesus said to Nicodemus and how Paul applies those concepts after the death and resurrection of Jesus. But first, Jesus continued:

“[U]nless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.'”

John 3:5-6

Jesus obviously didn’t mean that a man must re-enter his mother’s womb and be physically born again. He also doesn’t literally mean that man must be born of water, like out of a lake or something. He does seem to be saying literally, though, that man must be born (again) of Spirit or he cannot enter the kingdom of God, so let’s dig into it and try to flesh out what he means.

Continue reading “Don’t Wonder at the Saying, “You Must Be Born Again””

What Near Death Experiences Prove, and What They Do Not Prove

What if reality consists of more than the natural, physical world?


I am interested in peoples’ stories. I can trace my interest in personal stories to my own experience of becoming a Christian and my own spiritual journey. I have found much common ground with other people who have had similar experiences. The story of spiritual journey (a “testimony”) is part of the fabric of the evangelical Christian tradition. The testimony is a test of sorts of the authenticity of the journey, of a real encounter with God that we call being “born again”.

A testimony is the most personal evidence for the existence of God for the person who claims to be a Christian, but it isn’t evidence in a scientific sense. It’s evidence that is easily discounted by the naturalist who relies only on science and empirical, measurable and falsifiable evidence.

It can also be problematic for the Christian community. There is a certain social, group pressure that isn’t intentional or even conscious for every Christian to have “a testimony”. The more dramatic the better. The person who was “always a Christian” may feel a tinge of self doubt. The person whose story does not line up with more “typical” testimonies may feel on the outs.

Personal stories are subjective, and the subjective nature of them engenders some natural and warranted skepticism.

Don’t get me wrong. The intimate and private nature of a personal experience with God is exactly the most compelling thing about it. Like the woman at the well who told everyone of her encounter with Jesus, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did!” (John 4:4-30) the intimate and highly personal nature of the experience is what makes it so meaningful and convincing.

But personal encounter, ultimately, is most meaningful and convincing to the one who experiences it. It can’t be empirically verified, and it doesn’t carry the same weight with other people who can’t appreciate the intimate, personal details.

Personal experiences are not bound by logical, rational or empirical factors. If we rely on personal experiences, especially to the exclusion of more “scientific” analyses, the highly subjective and personal nature of personal experiences can led a person down some questionable rabbit holes. We probably all know people who have been so influenced by their own personal experiences which, unchecked by some objective analysis, have led them down some strange and questionable paths.

For the Christian, that objective analysis is Scripture, doctrine and tradition. For each religion, that objective analysis is some combination of that religion’s scripture, doctrinal corpus and tradition, and for the naturalist, that objective analysis is empirical evidence, proven theory and scientific analysis.

This is where NDEs get interesting. Continue reading “What Near Death Experiences Prove, and What They Do Not Prove”

Some Thoughts by a Fellow Blogger with Mine Mixed in: On Apostasy and Genuine Faith

Depositphotos_31624721_s-2019_DesignPicsInc

Over the past month, two rather prominent Evangelical Christians have publicly announced that they are walking away from Christianity. First there is Josh Harris. Back in 1997, a 21-year-old Harris wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye and became an instant celebrity within Evangelicalism. The book advocated courtship over dating, stressed sexual purity and abstinence before marriage,…

via Josh Harris, Marty Sampson: Why Some Christians Walk Away (…and why others, like Ken Ham, insist they have all the answers) — resurrecting orthodoxy

This is a thoughtful piece on the recent public “deconversions” of Marty Sampson and Joshua Harris. Most people (probably) (me included) didn’t know either name until they recently. They have become more highly visible in loosing their faith than they ever were in keeping it (so it seems anyway).

Before getting into the meat of the piece I am reblogging, I note that both men stepped into prominence in the Christian world at very young ages. Like childhood actors, that seems to me to be a recipe for difficulty. They might have been mature 21-year olds (I don’t know), but 21-year olds don’t have the life experience and perspective of, say, a 60 year old. There is a difference.

Maybe we shouldn’t be so eager to thrust influence on people so young. Just a thought. Talent for writing or singing doesn’t necessarily mean spiritual maturity. That’s another thing: we do tend to idolize the naturally gifted. But these aren’t really the points of this piece.

Joel Anderson, the blogger whose piece is the subject of this article, observes some things about the Christian culture that I think are worth examining. He says,

“Now, if you were an unbeliever who became a Christian, the external signs are obviously going to be pretty obvious: your life is going to look considerably different.
But sometimes it’s tricky if you grew up going to church and grew up in a decidedly Christian subculture. You’re already living among all the trappings of what it looks like to be Christian: you already go to church, go to youth group, etc. What do you do if you’ve grown up with all that, but then you’re faced with the clear Gospel message that to follow Jesus, one must repent and ‘crucify the old man’? What does that look like if you’ve always grown up in a very Christian environment?”

I grew up Catholic. I didn’t know I had an “old man” inside of me. I did know I was a sinner, something was wrong, but I saw nothing of any relevance to me in the church with its staid ritual. When God drew me and awakened a new spiritual reality to me, it was largely through evangelical Christians.

When I came to identify with being born again, it was a real experience. It wasn’t a doctrine taught to me in Sunday school. To that extent, it’s hard for me to imagine what it must be like to grew up in evangelical Christianity where being born again is “normal”.

But, I have noted that people who grow up with evangelical Christianity have similar experiences to what I experienced in the Catholic church. They get just enough of the “virus” to inoculate the from the real thing. Not that I see evangelical Christianity as a virus: the point is that mere familiarity with Christian “doctrines” without personalizing them and having a real faith experience can prevent the gospel from ever taking firm root.

Birth happens with pain, tension and angst. Perhaps, new birth must also occur in the same way. I don’t know. I wouldn’t make doctrine out of it, but there might be some truth to the idea. Joel continues:

“I remember growing up, both in church and at my Christian high school, there was just this unspoken assumption that said, ‘Well, we are obviously all Christians; we’ve already said the sinner’s prayer when we were 8 (or whenever), got baptized when we were 12 (or whenever), and now have all the answers right in this book (i.e. the Bible). So, are you doing all the right things and saying the right answers? You’d better—they’re clear, everything is clear. Don’t be a compromiser, here are the right answers you are supposed to give. It’s easy. Just stick to the script and everything will be okay.’ Nobody purposely pushed that, mind you. It was just the feeling that permeated everything.”

I often hear people blame the church for what Joel describes here, but I don’t think we should necessarily blame the church. The church is a place where we can encounter God with other believers, but the church can’t make a person a Christian. A person isn’t a Christian just because they go to church.

(Remember the car in a garage analogy? Just because you park yourself in a garage doesn’t make you a car.)

The reality of faith most be born in each person. Each person must be born again. We don’t inherit faith from our parents, grandparents, ancestors or culture. God has no grandchildren; God only has children.

That means the experience and the reality of faith must be personal… to each of us. We can’t ride anyone’s coat tails into the kingdom of God. We have to find our own way and encounter God for ourselves. Joel continuances:

Now, even though I grew up in a Christian home, went to church every Sunday and Wednesday night, and went to a Christian high school (and in a sense have been a Christian my whole life), it wasn’t until the summer after my junior year in high school that, after reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity that Christianity really started to challenge me and make sense. But that was also the same time that realized I no longer felt at home in the particular Evangelical trappings of my church and school. Sting’s song, ‘Consider Me Gone’ was my personal song for my senior year. When I came to Christ and made Christianity my own, a part of me died to, indeed repented of, the Evangelical Christian type culture in which I had grown up.”

What Joel says here may be hard to swallow for many evangelicals. Just like my leaving the Catholic church was difficult for my parents and my priest, no doubt. But I identify with him in what he says. Hear me out.

I embraced evangelicalism when I become born again. I found my home there, so I don’t say these things lightly. I still consider myself an evangelical, but I have learned that we have to be careful with the degree to which we identify with anything other than Jesus and the Gospel.

It’s axiomatic, and certainly true, that there is no perfect church. There is no perfect denomination. There are no perfect pastors, no perfect parents… no perfect people, period. This reality should give us pause to be humble.

It should also give us pause to be slow to try to control the journey for someone else. A lot can go wrong when we insinuate too much of ourselves and try too much to control outcomes for other people.

I am rambling a bit now, so forgive me, please. I see a lot of things wrong with evangelicalism today, though I still identify as an evangelical. But that’s true of every Christian stripe, every denomination and every church. To the extent that these labels are all human constructs and our corporate and individual attempts at maintaining “the body of Christ”, they are going to fall short.

Jesus said the tares will grow up with the wheat. God won’t destroy the tares now for fear of taking the wheat with them, but the tares will be separated from the wheat in the end. In the meantime, we should be mindful that God sees the difference. We might not accurately be able to identify the difference, but God knows.

The Father knows His children. The Father knows who is connected into His body through Christ. Many will say, “Lord, Lord!”, but the Father will say, “I never knew you.”

The “apostasy” of a couple of somewhat prominent men in Christian culture may (more not) create a crisis of faith in some. If a person is wrestling with a crisis of faith as a result, maybe that’s a good thing. If our faith is grounded only in the people we see as our spiritual guides, maybe we aren’t following Jesus as closely as we should.

Our faith must be genuine and rooted in Christ in a personal way to be real. While there is a corporate element to faith, we must be personally born again. The change (and there should be a noticeable change of some sort) should be real, personal and deep seated in the life of each individual who professes faith in Jesus. 

We don’t maintain that personal connection merely by going to church, identifying as a Christian, or through any other ritual or pronouncement. That connection is maintained between us, individually, and God.

Until we realize, as David did, that we can’t go anywhere that God isn’t present, that we can’t think a thought or say a word, that God doesn’t already know it, we may be tempted to think that God is only in our church, our labels, our rituals and our doctrines. These things can all be shaken. Even our understanding of the Word of God can be shaken.

When I went through a crisis of faith of sorts after leaving a “perfect” church with “perfect” leaders, I leaned heavily on Paul’s statement to the Romans: Let God be true, always, though every man be a liar. (My paraphrasing) When that “perfect” church crumbled, self-destructed and disintegrated, and some of the leaders walked away from the faith, I had to cling to God.

And, I’ve learned that clinging to God is the best place to be.

The Lord Waits to Be Gracious to You

Having sought the holistic promise of Buddhism for most of her adult life, Madelena found that God was waiting for her all of her life.


I have written a number of times on the subject of Buddhism as compared to Christianity. Buddhism attracted me as a young college student seeking truth. It lured me with the promise of harmony with the world and oneness with myself and reality. I was searching for meaning and purpose, and Buddhism promised a journey into a much larger universal reality.

Listening to the testimonies of ex-Buddhists is interesting to me. I could have gone down that road. I started tentatively down that road at one point in my life, testing the waters. When I found the Living Water, Jesus Christ, however, I didn’t need anything else to quench my thirst. I found what my soul was looking for.

As I listened to the testimony of a woman identified only as Madelena, I realized that part of the allure of Buddhism for her was just a mirage. She left the Eastern Orthodox Church she knew as a child to become a Buddhist, and she lived it for many years. The promise of losing oneself in some kind of cosmic oneness is the mirage she exposes in her testimony.

Madelena’s father was a priest in the Eastern Orthodox church. She described it as “intense”, but the religiosity turned her off. She knew what it was to fear God, but she didn’t know the love of God.

When her father separated from her mother, she and her mother were left without support from the church, feeling disconnected. A time of searching and experiences with depression and disconnection from family support led her to embrace Buddhism.

Continue reading “The Lord Waits to Be Gracious to You”