Being rescued (saved) from death and to eternal life

In Mixtec the word used for “salvation” is a word that basically means “rescue.”  Before the Gospel came, it was commonly used when someone was rescued from danger, like drowning.

As a Christian, I am thankful that I have been “saved”, rescued from the deserved penalty for my sins as a result of what Jesus did on the cross, and to eternal life. One summer a number of years ago, I learned what is was like to be rescued from drowning.

During the summer of 1999 we were at my wife Judith’s mom and dad’s home on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina. Going to the beach was our main reason for being there.  However, because of rip tides, swimming was not allowed most days at the life guarded beach. We usually went to this beach because of the children.

When we went to the beach on that July 5th, the “No Swimming” signs had been taken down.  We were planning to leave the next day and I decided to take a last swim. Seven days before, I had swum out rather far and found a sand bank, where the water was only up to my knees.

This time, however, I couldn’t find it. I swam around for quite a while, but never did locate it because of the constant shifting of the sand on the ocean floor. I finally decided to swim back to shore, already a bit tired. It seemed the more I swam, the farther I got from the shore. Something in my mind sensed I was in danger and I began hyperventilating, though I didn’t feel that much fear. I tried to float on my back for a while so I could rest and slow down my breathing, but the waves kept washing over me and filling my mouth with saltwater. I again tried to swim towards shore, but began to get more desperate as I never got any closer and I was now completely exhausted and gasping for air.  The harder I swan, the farther from shore I seemed to be getting.

I finally waved for the lifeguard, but since I could hardly see him, I couldn’t tell if he saw me or not. I realized I no longer had the strength to tread water much longer, and went under several times. Forcing myself to stay above water, I began thinking about my family, and how, if I drowned, Judith would be a widow (Should I hope she never marries again?) and my kids would have no father. I prayed to the Lord, saying, “God, I’m in Your hands. If You want to take me, here I am.”


The Lifeguard

Just as I felt I was going down under the water for the last time, the lifeguard arrived and pulled me to safety. He told me I had been caught in a rip tide. My dad was there and had seen me wave. He raced to the shore, but the lifeguard beat him to it.

Getting to shore, I thanked the Lord for saving me, and giving me more time to be here on earth. I am thankful to the LORD for rescuing me once again.  The first time He saved me, I gained eternal life.  Because of not drowning, I could continue life and by His help keep serving Him and the Mixtec people. I was also thankful that Judith had insisted that, because of the children, we only swim at a beach with a lifeguard.

Salvation implies one of two things (or sometimes both); that we are saved from something or for something. In the ocean, I was saved from drowning and death, and to life. In the Mixtec translation of the Scriptures, the word salvation (dakaki meaning rescue) is many times made complete by adding saved/rescued “from our sins” or “from the path of evil and wrongdoing,” or the more explicit meaning, saved “from the just punishment we deserve for sinning”.  In other contexts, being saved from hell is the focus.  But in Scripture, many times the idea of being saved focuses on the positive effect. We are saved for good works. We are saved so we can have eternal life. We are saved for God’s glory. It is His good will and pleasure to do it.

In Mixtec, and even in most languages, such as English, if you think about it, just saying “I’ve been saved” has very little meaning unless you are already “versed” in Christian lingo and beliefs. “I’m saved” implies many of the things just mentioned, and more. There is the major implied information that Jesus is the One who saved me. Even then, you need further implied information that God is holy, we are sinful and we cannot enter into His presence unless we too are holy.  Therefore Jesus came into the world 2000 years ago, lived a perfect life, died in our place (here it helps to know about the Old Testament sacrificial system) and because I accept what Jesus did, have repented of my sins and am born anew; I am saved.  Saved from the punishment I deserve from a holy God, saved from a life of sin, and saved to serve Him and receive eternal life.

Since the Mixtec people usually do not have all this background information, plus the fact that the grammar of the language itself requires saying what you were either saved from or to, it is necessary to say something, and it depends on the context of the verse in question.

It is the same for something like faith. In Mixtec you cannot just say, “I have faith.” I suppose you “can” but the idea is incomplete. Faith in what?  So I suppose you “can” say, “I am saved” in Mixtec but the idea is incomplete. Saved/rescued from what or for what, or to what.

So when we think about salvation (or faith or other such concepts), and especially when we are sharing with others about it, it is good to not just use the Christian “lingo” but to really share what God has saved us, rescued us from, and what He has saved, rescued us to. It will help the people we are sharing with understand better and it will help us understand things better too.

That is one of the cool things about working in Bible translation. You really have to think about these things and really get a handle on them in order to help others translate them in a natural, understandable and impactful way in their language.

The account of my almost drowning is a slightly edited version of the telling found in my book, The Just Friends Syndrome, pages 217-218.


Who, or what, is really our G/god? What we can learn from what Jesus said to the rich young ruler


Who, or what, is really our G/god?  If we are a follower of the One True God, the Creator of the world, I AM WHO I AM, we would probably say that He is our God. He is our first love. We say we only worship Him.

There is a very interesting account in the Bible of Jesus having an encounter with a young Jewish fellow, apparently a ruler. Before this encounter I’m sure he would have claimed vigorously that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was his God, that he only worshiped Him. But after talking with Jesus, he may have had second thoughts about this.

Let us set the scene of the account we find in Mark 10.  Jesus was near the Jordan, and by this time His fame was reaching a high point. He had fed 5000, then four thousand with just a small amount of food. He had healed people from many types of sicknesses, and had shown His power over the evil spirits. He had even raised people from the dead. Besides all the never-before-done miracles, His teaching was completely different from the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Teachers of the Law, etc. He taught with an authority and power and reason which was far above anything they taught.  Therefore a number of people are recorded as asking him hard questions. Some to test him, others to find the truth.

At the beginning of chapter 10, the question of divorce comes up, and the answer Jesus gives points out the weakness of the teaching on this subject by the teachers of the Law. Next He compares the trustfulness of children to those who submit to the rule of God in their lives. Then this happens: “As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (10:17).

You can just feel the enthusiasm of this man. The text states that he runs up to Jesus, and then, drops to his knees.  Luke says that he is a ruler. It is also stated that he is rich. But despite his apparent high social status, he humbles himself before Jesus, drops to his knees, addresses Him in a respectful way, and asks Him a question he felt that, from listening to Jesus’ amazing teaching, he could get an answer for. The man could obviously tell there was something special about Jesus, something he had never seen in another person or teacher before. So he asks Him the ultimate question, maybe the most important thing one can ever know, how to receive/inherit eternal life.

However Jesus did not immediately answer the man’s question, as He did, for example, when someone asked Him what the greatest commandment was.  Jesus first addresses the respectful greeting, “good teacher” by responding in what many have seen is a puzzling way. A way which some have taken to mean that He is implying that He is not God, for the text says: “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone” (vs.18).

Is Jesus really implying here that He is not good nor God?  No, what He is doing is trying to help the man realize with whom he is speaking. As the blind man in John 9 said in response to the Pharisees questioning him about what he thought about the man who had healed him: “No one has ever before healed a man born blind. If He is not from God, then He could not have done such an impossible miracle.”

Now we have this man kneeling before Jesus. Maybe the act of kneeling itself shows he knows he is in the presence of Someone worthy of honor. This man had apparently heard Jesus teach. Mostly likely he had seen Jesus do miracles. But the man still did not realize with whom he was speaking. Peter had a revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the Promised One come from God, but this man had not yet come to that point.  He did not realize that he was talking to the Word Who had become flesh, the one John proclaims as the One who was with God and who is God. In fact, no one on earth fully understood this, even the disciples who lived closely with Jesus for three years, until after the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.  So Jesus gently corrects this man, a man who thinks he is speaking to another man, a “good” teacher, yet still just a man. Jesus is basically saying: “Don’t call me good until you come to the point of knowing who I really am, that I am God in the flesh, realizing that if you have seen Me you have seen the Father. Only God is good, so don’t call Me a good teacher until you know that I am God, and thus am truly The Good Teacher.”

This is important because, firstly, the man did not realize that he was asking about eternal life from the One from whom all life springs, the One who is the Way the Truth and the Life, and no one comes to the Father but through Him. It is also important because in a few moments Jesus is going to ask the man to do something that He could only ask if He is either God or one sent directly from God.

Though this man does not realize with who he is speaking, Jesus knows this man through and through. He knows his heart. He knows his life. He knows the importance of the Law in the life of this Jewish person. He knows what God requires of people. He knows the two greatest commandments. With this in mind, Jesus says the following: “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother” (vs. 19).

The commandments listed here are key. Some have said it is just a random list of commandments, but that is far from the truth. As I mentioned before, Jesus knows this man’s heart. He knows this man has done pretty well keeping the “love thy neighbor” commands, which together are known as the second command.  This man has not killed anyone. He has not committed adultery, which is saying something. He has not stolen. He has not lied. Wow. He has defrauded no one and he loves his Mom and Dad.  Now that is what we would call an upstanding citizen. A model for society.

The fact that he is rich and can say, with apparent sincerity, “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy” (vs. 20), is absolutely amazing. Which of us can say this and be 100% sincere?  We get another clue that he is sincere when Mark adds, “Jesus looked at him and loved him” (vs. 21a). Jesus was not thinking that this guy was a fraud or a liar. He knows the fellow had done all he could to keep these commandments.

But there is a big detail here that sometimes gets lost when this account is talked about. The list Jesus gives contains only half the commands.  I think by now you know which ones He left off this list. 1) Do not have any other God before me. 2) Do not make any graven images. 3) Do not take the name of God in vain. 4) Keep the Sabbath holy. The big 4 which epitomize loving God with all your heart, you soul, your mind and your strength. Now why did Jesus leave these out when He asked the man about his obedience to the commands of God? And what about that other one, usually cited as number 10, You shall not covet?

What Jesus says next helps us answer this question. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Vs. 21b).

Ouch. Jesus says he lacks just “one” thing. But what “one” thing it is! This man is rich.  Just sell all you have, give it all away. Once you do that one thing, then you must do what I call all others to do, Come, follow me.  Jesus looks into the man’s heart and sees the thing that is deeply negatively affecting his relationship with God. In fact, it has become his god. The man’s money and possessions, though apparently gained in an honest way, are his real god, the real love in this man’s life. Will he be willing to give them up if the True God tells him to?  Or will he “covet” them so much, love them so much, that they will keep him from taking that first big step which, once he follows Jesus, will lead to eternal life, which was the question he came running to Jesus to find out about in the first place?

What follows is one of the saddest verses in the Bible. “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth” (vs. 22). The man who had run up to Jesus and knelt before him, who had come to Him with so much enthusiasm and hope, goes away in sorrow. He was probably in shock. The belief at that time was that people were rich because God favored and blessed above all others. That is partly why the disciples were so confused a few verses later when Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to submit himself to God’s rule.  So the rich man could not quite understand why he had to get rid of this blessing from God. So in the end, the man probably came to believe that Jesus really was not a good teacher, that He did not speak the words of God.  For if he did think Jesus was from God, and still walked away, what a big god his riches were in his life that he rejected eternal life, rejected following Jesus, just so that he could keep his stuff.

Now, another question comes up. Is that all this passage is about? Riches? Or can we apply it to anything that, when Jesus looks deep into our hearts, He sees is the god of our life? Who or what is our true love? I believe we do this passage a great disservice if we only apply it to rich people. Yes, riches was this man’s issue. But the universal truth of what Jesus is saying boils down to the question of who is our G/god.

We know so much more about Jesus than this man did. We know the whole counsel of God. We have all four Gospels, we have Paul’s explanation of all that Jesus has done, and how He makes us right with God and provides us with eternal life. We can read Revelation and know that in the end God wins! We should know that Jesus is truly God in the flesh, the Almighty Prince of Peace, The Everlasting Father, etc., But despite all this, do we still, at least in our hearts, turn our back on Jesus in favor of all the little gods in our life that we do not want to let go of? Is it money? Is it pride? Is it not fully submitting to God for fear of what it might cost us? Do we not go where we feel God is leading us for whatever reason?  Are we fearful of denying ourselves, taking up that cross and following him? Do we put our children ahead of him? Our sex lives? Our work? Our entertainment?  Our comfort? Our relationships? Inappropriate relationships? Our body image? Our happiness? Our being able to say, “I did it my way”?  If we, like this young man, were to come before Jesus, what “one” thing would He say that we lack?  And when He calls us to give it up and follow Him, will we count the cost and still follow Him, or will we try and hang on to it. Or just turn our back on Him and keep following our trivial, worthless gods?

Let us examine our hearts. Let us acknowledge that He is who He is. And may God help us to give up anything in our lives that is or is becoming more important to us than Him.  In our own power we are weak, but in Him, and through the power of His Holy Spirit, we can make that commitment to serve and love Him with our whole heart, to truly make Him our first love, the God of our hearts and lives, and to follow Him in all that we do.

The Powerlessness of Religiosity: A new look at Romans 7

Romans 7:7-24 has been interpreted in a number of different ways over the centuries. Some have seen Paul’s treatise on his struggles with sin, wanting to do good but then doing what is bad too much, as 1) the normal Christian life, b) describing a back-slidden Christian, or 3) someone who is not a Christian. The struggle to understand what he means is compounded by his use of “I” and the present tense. So is Paul describing the norm for his life after he became a Christian?  Is he describing his day to day struggles? Or was this just how he felt when he did sin? Or is it how he felt before he became a Christian?  And whichever it is, how do we apply it to our own lives today?

I believe a key to understanding this section begins with looking at how he begins talking about it. Romans 7:7-8 says: “What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead.”

To follow what Paul is driving at here, it is important to have a correct view of the law. We know that the law is good, as Paul says in vs. 12: “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good”  Then in vs. 14: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” The law is good, but we are sinful. The law was given by God in part to show us how holy He is and how sinful we are. This is the theme of the book of Galatians.  We need a savior because we simply cannot, with our own strength, obey the law as God wants.

So what happens when we do try and follow the law with our own strength? I believe this is what Paul is describing in Romans 7:7-24. It leads to real frustration when you have a person, like Paul, a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee, who studied the law under the famed teacher Gamaliel, who in his heart wanted to do what the law said, but as a sinner simply could not even come close to its standard of holiness. Vs. 21-23 describe his frustration point blank: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.”

The majority of the Jewish people did seem to try and follow the law, but they could not keep it. God already knew this would be the case, and that is why He set up the sacrificial system, which in itself was actually pointing to the need for a better sacrifice, a perfect sacrifice, who is Jesus. This is the message of the book of Hebrews.

Too many times when we think of the law we think of the Pharisees Jesus spoke about, who seemed to try and keep the law mostly for show, but as Jesus said, their hearts were far from God. I think they were the exception, for many, like Paul were good-hearted, including the Jewish people in Rome reading this letter. They wanted to do what God wanted, but they failed more than they succeeded.

teachreadTo get more to the point, when Paul is using “me” and “I” throughout this passage, I believe that he is focusing on his Jewishness, and how he felt before his heart was transformed by Jesus. He was “religious”, he wanted to be a good Pharisee, a good Jew, he wanted to do what was right, but his own sinful nature got in the way, his “best” was just not good enough.  The Jewish people who did not yet have Jesus in their lives are on Paul’s heart. He knows his people, and he knows their frustration in trying to serve God, but failing miserably to live up to the impossibly high standard of the law. He therefore uses his own “before Jesus” experience to relate to their frustration.

But he has good news for the religious Jews. He comes to the end of the section, in vs. 24 and 25 and reveals the only way to change this path of frustration: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  Here is the real point. Paul could not live up to the law’s standard on his own. But Jesus bridges the gap. He becomes Paul’s perfection and transformed his life, as he expands on in chapter 8.

Paul continues his great conclusion of how the Jews, and all people, are to become right before God. It is not the ability to obey the law perfectly, but the answer is in Jesus. 8:1-2 says: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”  Trying to keep the law perfectly is impossible, so if that is your only way to God, you will fail and it will lead to death. But through Jesus, the condemnation of the law over us for not being able to keep it perfectly is wiped out. We are made clean through the blood of Jesus, the perfect sacrifice.

Paul is saying to the Jews, and to all religious people: “I know how you feel. I felt it for most of my life. I loved God, I wanted to do His will, but I just couldn’t do it on my own. But through His power I am no longer under condemnation. I have experienced the transforming work of Jesus, the Holy Spirit is living within me. I am now sinless before God because of the sacrifice of Jesus and now have the power to live a life pleasing to Him.” As 8:5 says: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” The law is good, but it does not change our heart. Jesus, and the Holy Spirit living within us, is what changes us through and through.

So in conclusion, the way we can apply this is to know that no matter how “religious” we are, if we have not given our lives to Jesus, we will find ourselves living a psychotic, bi-polar life which Paul describes in chapter 7; wanting to do good but simply unable to do it with any consistency. We do not need to be more “religious”, we need the transforming power of Jesus in our lives and in our hearts.

You may be a Christian and sometimes feel the same way. The Bible deals with this as well, and so we can apply, in regards to this part of Scripture, chapter 8 to our lives when we are failing even though we are a Christian. Chapter 8 says that through the power of the Spirit we can overcome sin. The Bible talks a lot about how to redirect our lives, and I’m sure we have heard lot of sermons on the importance of daily personal devotions, prayer, counsel of fellow Christians, regular fellowship, filling our minds with Godly things in the middle of all the “trash” we are bombarded with in this world, etc. It is a daily battle, but the most important thing is to not to try and fight it on our own. Let us surrender our lives to Jesus and let His Spirit direct us. Without this, we have no chance.