Cheap Grace

Now, I’m a Protestant Christian by default, but we live in a Protestant ‘get saved quick’ culture whereby someone may be told to say a silent and unbiblical ‘sinner’s prayer’ to avoid hell and go to heaven. There’s often an invitation to invite Jesus ‘in’ instead of an outward devotion of all we are and have to the King (e.g., Matthew 22:37; Romans 10:9-10). Few understand the cost of a relationship with God, so that’s where things usually stall. For about 85% of people who ‘get saved,’ there’s no discipleship, disciple-making, or charitable activity. This grace is one-sided and cheap, and it devalues our ransom paid by Christ. The Bible tells of costly grace, though—something about which Dietrich Bonhoeffer addressed in his book, The Cost of Discipleship:

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. . . . Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.

What about the ‘get saved’ history? It was never a thing until after the formal Protestant Reformation. From the beginning of Christian history until then, converts were either part of the universal Church or not. They responded appropriately to God’s call through Christ and lived transformed lives within their communities until they died, or they didn’t. The idea of an instant and permanent one-sided passive salvation wasn’t, and still isn’t, a thing in many Christian circles, including Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faiths. “So, Ron—then how do I become part of Christ’s universal Church?” Good question!

There’s nothing ‘quick’ about entering God’s rest now and rescuing from His wrath at the end of this world. The lifelong process appears to be: (1) become equipped for decision-making through things such as Scriptures and evangelism (e.g., John 20:30-31), (2) decide to respond to God’s call through devotion, love, and discipleship (Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 10:9-10), and (3) remain in the relationship (John chapter 15). In other words, understand well, choose well, and then stay and grow spiritually, no matter the cost.

What’s next? Well, I’m an end-of-the-world guy (Finding the End of the World, 2011) and recently ate some fig bars on a mini vacation. So, I’m motivated to write about Fig Trees & The End of The World. See you next week!

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

What’s in Your Wallet??

A wise man once prayed something like: “God – please provide enough for my family and me so that I’m not tempted to steal, and not so much that I forget what it’s like to be in need.” I like the prayer because it shuns gluttony but seeks ‘daily bread.’ It begs remembrance of the poor and hungry so that the one praying will then feed, house, and clothe the less fortunate, just as Jesus commanded.

The Son of God summarized the Old Covenant laws and prophecies with two statements from the ancient Jewish Torah: treat God appropriately and people charitably (Matthew 22:35-40). Do you know that we’ll be judged at the end of this age on whether we obeyed those commandments (Matthew 25:31-46)?

We often see two extremes when it comes to our treasures: those who give generously for their fellow humans and those who love wealth. In the first group, we find Jesus and other servants who have given their lives for people they often don’t know. They may have also given generously to help feed, clothe, or house others. These people reflect the face of our God who created the spirit within us; their focus isn’t on self and material things.

What about the other group? There, you’ll find people who horde resources despite the suffering around them. They love money and stuff and entertainment, and that’s their focus. Perhaps they’ll give a few dollars here and there for charity but then spend thousands on a new shiny bobble or the latest electronic thing. These people reflect not the face of our creator but passion and self-serving nature.

If we want to look more like the first group, we need to be content with what we have, avoiding the love of money, which is the “root of all sorts of evil” (1Timothy 6:6-11; Hebrews 13:5). If possible, stay out of debt to avoid becoming a slave (Proverbs 22:7) and don’t store up treasures on earth. Be charitable. In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus also reminds us that “where our treasure is, there our heart will also be.” Where’s your heart? What’s in your wallet? Is it money earmarked to help the hungry or less fortunate? Or would we discover bountiful plastic or lots of cash destined for food, drink, entertainment, and the latest shiny thing?

What about next week? Let’s explore some of the challenges of our ‘get saved quick’ Protestant Christian culture in Cheap Grace.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

Wacky Zaccy!

Nearly 2,000 years ago, a short guy got up into a tree to see and hear Jesus teach and then did something remarkable after being called out. Here’s what Luke reports about that guy and time (Luke 19:1-8):

He [Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”

Luke tells us that Zacchaeus was a Chief Tax Collector. Is that important to the story? Yep! He was a Jewish man who collected taxes from his people for the Roman government. Think of it as the ancient IRS! So, you can imagine that Zacchaeus wasn’t very popular with the townspeople! Strike one! Here’s the rub: tax collectors could collect as much as they wanted as long as the Romans received a certain amount. Collectors were to keep a small portion for their trouble. Anyway, the problem was that many kept more than was reasonable. Strike two!

Why did Zaccy’s homies think he was a sinner? It’s because he likely stole from them by keeping more than he should’ve. He all but admits to the defrauding in the final verse above. But what appears to be a story about a short guy and a tree is a beautiful lesson in true repentance—a change of behavior that came about because of a new heart. Zacchaeus could’ve, like many of us, just said something like, “Well, I’m sorry!” But he didn’t stop there, volunteering to give back more than he stole.

As a result, Zaccy is likely someone who stands tall in God’s Kingdom. How can we do the same? To start, we must turn “I’m sorry” into something useful by changing our behavior and making things right, as Zacchaeus did. Then, we learn about God’s ways and do them consistently! What about next week? Well, I think we’ll test our priorities in What’s in Your Wallet?

God’s blessings and peace to you,

Dr. Ron Braley

Godly Obedience

It’s July 8, 1741, in Enfield, Connecticut. Reformation preacher Jonathan Edwards turns the hearts of hundreds of listeners as he explains that their disobedience to God’s commandments [to honor Him and love people] has put them in a precarious position:

Your  Wickedness  makes  you  as  it  were  heavy  as  Lead, and to tend downwards with great Weight and Pressure towards Hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend & plunge into the bottomless Gulf, and your healthy Constitution, and your own Care and Prudence, and best Contrivance, and all your Righteousness, would have no more Influence to uphold you and keep you out of Hell, than a Spider’s Web would have to stop a falling Rock.

Don’t worry—this week’s article isn’t fire-and-brimstone teaching; however, there’s certainly great value in simple instruction about the consequences of obedience or disobedience to God’s commandments. But what are the commandments? Do we really need to do them?

Jesus reiterated two overarching commands from the Torah (the first few books of the Old Testament): Honor God with all we are and have, and love people (cf., Matthew 22:34-40). He stated that everything taught about God’s ways can be wrapped up in those two commands. He went on to say that:

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. (John 14:15)

Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” (John 14:23-24)

Seems simple—right? Not really. If it were, we wouldn’t continually mess up, treat people horribly, and speed down that highway to hell so-to-speak. Here are a few abbreviated tips I pulled from the Bible that may help you obey, stay in the relationship with Father and Son, and inherit the Kingdom of God:

  • they love is pointless and deadly (James 2:14-26). So, help others; feed the hungry; be slow to speak and quick to listen; be slow to respond as you give reconciliation a chance (Matthew 5:39).

What about next week? Well, I think I’ll tell you about the short guy (not me!) who stands tall in the Kingdom of God: Wacky Zaccy!

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

Citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven

“Hey, Ron – I just need to say that I believe in Jesus to go to Heaven, right?” Not exactly. Neither God our heavenly Father nor Son we call Jesus need or want our affirmation. They seek willing partners to introduce other people to the Kingdom of Heaven now and to join them in the age to come (2Corinthians 5:17-20, for instance). So, a better question might be: “Hey Ron – how do I become God’s partner?” Great question!

Anyone wishing to enter God’s Kingdom must be regenerated from above (a better rendering of the born again we find in John 3:1-15) through the Living Water Jesus offers and the Holy Spirit the Father gives in return for our devotion. Citizenship in God’s Kingdom begins with receiving the Living Water of Jesus by believing that He truly is the Son of God and then responding with complete dedication of self and resources. This is what ‘Jesus is Lord’ means. Devotion isn’t making God responsible for our choices or actions—it’s an offering to the King of Heaven of all we are and have. We are to put away our selfish nature—die to self (Luke 9:23-24; 1Corinthians 15:31). That requires obedience.

Obedience to what? In quoting the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:34-40), Jesus said that we must honor the Father with all we are and have. He continued by demanding that we love others as we love ourselves (see my earlier post on love). If we love Him, we’ll obey those commandments (John 15:12 & 14:15; 1John 3:14). Everything the Old Testament teaches about what God desires, including about how to treat others, could be done just by putting others first and treating them like we wish to be treated as we live as servants and yet partners with the King.

To sum up, so far, applying for citizenship in God’s Kingdom requires belief, complete devotion, and loving action. When we do this and engage in the things of God through study, discipleship, and prayer, we are changed—transformed. The path of citizenship may seem challenging, if not impossible. But we have help! The Spirit in the born-again conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus is the Spirit of God. He teaches and comforts us and is our partner in devotion to the Father and loving others.  He also helps us change from the inside out, from mind to behavior. The Spirit also makes it possible for us to remain—abide— as a citizen of Heaven (see John 15:1-10, for example).

Believe. Devote. Receive the Spirit of God and move where He leads you! Have you already done and are doing that? Then, welcome, citizen of Heaven! Next week, we’ll continue to consider God’s desires as we delve further into Godly Obedience.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

Playing With Fire!

God has always demanded allegiance and obedience. There’s no middle ground, no room for ‘fudging’ things, and no gray area. He commanded Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of a particular tree. They disobeyed, and we lost our access to the Tree of Life (but only until God returns creation to the perfection it once enjoyed!). Lot’s wife played with fire and lost her life for taking one last peek at her old lifestyle (Genesis 19). There are many other examples in the Bible of people who ‘pushed the envelope,’ testing God’s commandments. We do the same today.

God tells us to stay away from interaction with the spirits of the dead, but we engage mediums and psychics (Deuteronomy 18:10-13). We indulge in astrology, relying on created things to determine our fate instead of trusting the Creator. And testing God’s commands where sexuality is concerned is a vast area where many Christians play with fire (literally and figuratively)!

God is clear about the destination of those who practice sexual rebellion, such as adultery and homosexuality (1Corinthians 6:9-10). We are also warned to carefully choose what we listen to and observe (Matthew 6:22-23; Job 31:1; Philippians 4:8). Here’s an interesting fact: people wanting to become Christians in the first couple of centuries couldn’t if they, at the same time, participated in the theater because of the sensuality and immoralities it often portrayed (just like today!). Why must we take care of what we watch? Because the input helps map the pathways in our brain and can cause us to ‘boil the frog’ as we slowly allow or condone or ignore—become desensitized to—the things God hates. This is where watching pornography comes in.

Pornography (Greek porneia and graphe) is a compound ‘catch-all’ word representing all kinds of sexual immoralities. Indulging in anything sexually immoral, even just visually, tests God’s commands and His desires for our conduct; it won’t end well. Here’s a shortlist of other ways Christians play with fire where God is concerned:

  • We must tell the truth—especially where the welfare of others is concerned (Exodus 20:16). But lying has become pervasive.
  • We must not idolize (covet) things, but we do it all the time (stuff, sports, people, multimedia—anything but God’s ways) (Exodus 20:17; 1 John 2:15-17).
  • We are commanded to rest one day each week (for many reasons, including physical, spiritual, and mental health) (Exodus 20:10; Mark 2:27-28); however, few do this religiously.

Just because the proverbial lightning hasn’t struck us down as we rebel against God doesn’t mean that our playing with fire won’t result in judgment and destruction. So, if you’re playing with fire by doing anything God is against, please stop and change direction—fast! Next week, we’ll continue to consider God’s desires as I outline the requirements for Citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

Corroborating Apocalypses

What do you think of when you hear or read the word apocalypse? Nuclear war? Missiles, tanks, death, and other violent stuff? The basic form of the ancient word means “to reveal.” In the Revelation given by God to Jesus to give to John to pass on to the churches in Asia Minor (phew!) in about 90CE, Jesus revealed events to come later. That’s why Revelation is apocalyptic. But do you know that Jesus had already told much of the Revelation events or characteristics when He was on earth about 60 years earlier? It’s true!

During the week of His crucifixion, Jesus and perhaps several of His closest disciples walked from the Temple complex to the Mount of Olives. He had said that the Temple would eventually be destroyed and not one of its stones left in place (Matthew 24:1-2). On the Mount of Olives, His disciples asked several related questions: 1. When would this happen, 2. What will signal Jesus’ return to earth, and 3. When will be the end of the age (Matthew 24:3)?

Jesus answers their questions in Matthew chapters 24 and 25, which inform of the beginning of hard times (‘birth pains,’ according to Jesus (Matthew 24:5-8)) to the judgment at the end of this age (Matthew 25:31-46). He gave much more detail about the same timeframe in visions to John about 60 years later. Here’s a brief comparison of what Jesus revealed on earth to what He revealed to John in about 90CE:

  • False saviors (Christs):                                                                 Matthew 24:5 & Revelation 6:2
  • War/violence:                                                                                    Matthew 24:6-7a & Revelation 6:3-4
  • Famine/pestilence:                                                                         Matthew 24:7b & Revelation 6:5-6
  • Terrible time of trouble and persecution (Great Tribulation) by the Antichrist:   Matthew 24:10-13 & Revelation 6:7-12; 7:9-17; 12:17                                
  • Christ’s second coming (ending the Great Tribulation):                                Matthew 24:29-31 & Revelation 6:12-17
  • The Great Judgment:                                                                  Matthew 25:31-46 & Revelation 20:11-15

A final note about the False Christs of Matthew 24:5 and Revelation 6:2, which can seem confusing: The horse in Revelation is white and the rider wears a crown, which signifies righteousness and authority; however, his weapon is a bow, not a sword, which is the weapon of Christ (Matthew 10:34; Revelation 19:15 & 21).

In summary, Jesus, who came to earth to satisfy our debt to God, is the same Jesus who revealed end-times things again to John 60 years later. So, it makes sense that the information is related. It seems important! Shouldn’t we study the Bible and pray for illumination by God’s Spirit so that we can find out what God wants and do that before it’s too late??

Next week, we’ll leave the end-times and explore a dangerous practice by many Christians in Playing with Fire.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

The Mark of the Beast: Part II (What it means)

What exactly will the mark of the beast be? No one knows for sure, but there are a couple of things to consider:

1.                It will be a way of identifying someone who has intentionally aligned with the Antichrist or the authority (Revelation 13:18).

2.                It may be something physical on the right hand or forehead. Or it may instead indicate something you know (forehead analogy) and do in response (symbolized by the hand) (cf. Exodus 13:9 & 16, and Deuteronomy 6:8 & 11:18).

When trying to understand anything biblical, we must consider and compare all related Scriptures. The mark is no exception. God used the hand and forehead analogy when He gave the Israelites specific commandments after the exodus from Egypt (cf. Exodus 13:9 & 16 and Deuteronomy 6:8 & 11:18). For instance:

And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt. Therefore, you shall keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year. —Exodus 13:9-10.

He told them to remember how He’d saved the nation and to remember His commandments forever. God used the tangible and familiar “forehead” to represent the receiving and committing His commandments to memory. Likewise, He used the “hand” as an identifier for acting upon that knowledge. The learning, retaining, and acting upon God’s commandments would prove allegiance to Him. So, the significance of forehead and hand may be a pledge of allegiance through the learning, agreeing, and acting upon a particular set of commandments initiated by the Antichrist’s authority.  So, what about the number—666?

The number is that of a human, and this one will be one part of an unholy trinity: Satan, Antichrist, and False Prophet (see Revelation chapter 13). The number 6 historically represented a human, whereas the number 7 represents God, indicating perfection. Because of this and the unholy trinity mentioned above, I suggest the number 666 represents some identification or sign of allegiance that will come from the Antichrist (empowered by Satan) through the False Prophet.

An alliance with the unholy trinity may enable buying and selling during the time of the Great Tribulation, but it will bring personal destruction by God. Therefore, we must increase our faith by learning of God’s ways to avoid end-times deception and should, therefore, watch out for anything that may require ungodly allegiance.

Next week, we’ll continue our end-times journey by comparing what Jesus told His disciples on the Mount of Olives to what He revealed to John about 60 years later.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

The Mark of the Beast: Part I (What it is NOT)

We love chaos, the fantastic, and conspiracy theories! They generally make life seem more exciting than the usual boring truth. Yet, truth is what we must seek! This week, we’ll peel back the layers of the end-times ‘mark of the beast’ as we ditch conspiracy and emotion and replace them with truth in part one of a two-part series.

First, it’s essential to understand that no matter what form the ‘mark’ will take, it will indicate allegiance to the last-days Satan-empowered authority we call THE Antichrist (the Bible doesn’t label it this way). And, taking it will be no accident. Let’s start with Scripture related to the much-debated mark:

And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six. —Revelation 13:16-18 (NASB). (see also 14:9-11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4)

Pay particular attention to the right hand or forehead (it’ll be important later!). Another good thing to understand is the behind-the-scenes numerology: the number 7 often represents God; 6 represents humans.

Second, let’s peek at some falsehoods around the ‘mark of the beast.’ There are people, like this woman, who mistakenly believe they can accidentally take the mark: “Sometimes I panic and wonder if I’m already marked or if smartphones are the mark.” One end-times theory states that John cryptically referred to the Roman emperor Nero because, wrongly, the letters of his name equal 666. However, readers would’ve had to change the Greek rendering of Nero’s title and name to Hebrew just to get close to 666. So, first-century Nero as the Antichrist based on a 666 numbering, like many other theories, is incorrect.

 Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John, later proved that many Greek names equal 666. And the search for ruler names that, when converted to numbers, equal 666, has continued. Among the list of candidates are Ronald Regan, George Walker Bush Jr., and Hitler. People have bought into other impossible marks of the beast or conspiracies: Social Security Numbers, barcodes, RFID chips, cryptocurrency, COVID vaccine, REAL ID Act, Obamacare, and COVID-era masks.

So far, we’ve covered some examples of what the mark is not. Next week, we’ll continue our end-times journey by taking the mystery out of the mark of the beast in Part II: What It Means.

For a very comprehensive and detailed study of this crucial topic, feel free to read my 2011 book Finding the End of the World, available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You’ll find roughly 500 pages of building blocks to help you do your own complete and unbiased study based on the Bible and history!

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

The Wrath of Con!

Ask the average Christian in America about the end-times ‘Great Tribulation’, and, if anything, they’ll probably tell you it’s “seven years of horrible stuff from the Antichrist and God after Christians have been raptured!”

But study what the prophets, the apostles, and our Christ said about this ‘time like never seen before or will ever be seen again’ (e.g., Joel 2:2; Matthew 24:21), and you’ll find a more accurate and much more sobering version of this terrible time to come. Here are some critical facts about the coming Great Tribulation:

  • It will be no longer than 3.5 years and occur during the last half of a seven-year agreement between Israel and the Antichrist (e.g., Daniel 9:27). We know nothing about the first half of that period other than it will begin with an agreement. Whether we’ll know when it happens remains to be seen.
  • The period will be the time of the Antichrist’s wrath against God’s people—Israel and those who hold to the testimony of our Christ (Daniel 7:19-25; Matthew 24:15-21; Revelation 12:13-17). If possible, the Antichrist and his cohort will con God’s people through lies and deceit (e.g., Matthew 24:24; Revelation 13:12-14). How will this happen? Because of shallow or non-existent faith made possible through intentional ignorance (e.g., a lack of Bible study, discipleship, and spiritual formation necessary for building faith).
  • The time of the Antichrist’s con and wrath will be cut short by Christ’s appearance. His presence will earmark two important events identified as ‘harvests’ in the Bible: the gathering of Jesus’ followers (e.g., Matthew 24:29-31 and Revelation 14:12-16) and the beginning of God’s wrath against what and who remain on the earth afterward (e.g., Revelation 6:12-17 and 14:17-20).

So, the wrath of the one who will con will come in the form of the Great Tribulation. After nearly 3.5 years, the faithful will find relief (e.g., Matthew 24:22 and 29-31; Revelation 19:6-10). God’s great wrath against the earth and her inhabitants will end the Antichrist’s wrath and great con.

Would you be able to resist being conned by those who say you don’t have to worry about any of this or by the Antichrist and his cohort in the last days? If not, waste no time learning the truth that leads to salvation (life with God and rescue from His coming wrath)! For a very comprehensive and detailed study of this crucial topic, feel free to read my 2011 book Finding the End of the World, available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You’ll find roughly 500 pages of building blocks to help you do your own complete and unbiased study based on the Bible and history!

Next week, we’ll continue our end-times journey by exposing the truth about the ‘mark of the beast.’

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley