Five Absolutely Vital Questions

question mark

Socrates long ago said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Yet tragically most people simply glide through life without any serious self-examination or intense introspection. Too many people keep themselves occupied with entertainment and trivial pursuits instead.

Not many people actually take a bit of time out of their busy schedules to reflect, to ponder, and to ask some hard questions. And there are plenty of these sorts of questions worth asking ourselves. The great pity is that so many folks may not get around to such questions until it is too late.

Some of the most important questions you will ever hear come from the Bible. It is incumbent upon every one of us to not only consider them, but also to answer them carefully. How we respond to these questions will impact on how we live, not only in this life, but in the life to come.

There certainly are a lot of very powerful questions that can be found in Scripture. But let me here just highlight five of them. The first two come from the Old Testament, while the last three come from the Gospels.

One. “Who is on the Lord’s side?” Exodus 32:26
This is the question Moses asks of the Israelites at the golden calf episode. I have used the KJV here which puts it in the form of a question, but you will notice that other translations have it more in the form of an invitation or command. But the meaning remains the same. Here is how the NIV puts it in context (vv. 25-26):

“Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, ‘Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.’ And all the Levites rallied to him.”

With hard core sin in the camp, and Yahweh’s just judgment about to be unleashed, Moses issues an ultimatum here: ‘You are either for the Lord, or you are against him. Take your pick.’ Jesus of course offered a similar stark contrast: “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matt. 12:30; Mark 9:40; Luke 11:23).

And that will forever be the case. We are either on the Lord’s side or we are not. And if we are not, that means we are actually against the Lord. We all need to ask ourselves whose side we are on. Our eternal destiny depends on it.

Two.“How long will you halt between two opinions?” 1 Kings 18:21
The immediate context for this is vv. 20-21: “So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him’.”

Here we have the famous contest between Elijah and the Baalists; between Yahweh and Baal. Like the previous question we considered, we once again have a clear choice being offered. And once again there is no middle ground, and no third option.

We either follow the one true living God, or we follow a false god. There is nothing more than these two options. So what will it be? Will you follow the true God, or a god of your own devices? We all must choose very carefully here.

Three. “What is truth?” John 18:38
Here we have one of the most important questions ever asked, and it was asked of the most important person who ever lived. Verses 37-38 offer the fuller context: “‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’ ‘What is truth?’ retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, ‘I find no basis for a charge against him’.”

The amazing thing about this is that it seems that Pilate did not even stick around to follow up on this absolutely crucial question. The great philosophers of the world would likely have died for such a meeting, but not Pilate. Talk about a wasted opportunity.

Regardless of his lack of concern for an answer, this is no mere rhetorical question, but a fundamental question that impacts all of us. We all should be seekers of truth, and when you have someone claiming to be ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ you had better stand up and take notice.

Four. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Luke 18:18
Wow, talk about an absolutely vital question. The full verse says this: “A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” In this famous encounter (vv. 18-30) we learn about how the rich man was not really interested in getting his question answered.

Jesus lists some of the Ten Commandments, and the wealthy ruler says he has kept all those. Then Jesus zeros in on his real need in vv. 22-23: “When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.”

Jesus made it clear that the cost of being his disciple was everything. If you were not willing to leave all for his sake, then you could be none of his. Just like in the first two questions above, a genuine choice was required. And once again there was no half-hearted approach allowed: it was either all or nothing to be on God’s side.

Five. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Mark 8:36
This question by Jesus is another important question which can be asked of every single one of us. The context of this one is vv. 34-38:

“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels’.”

Once again we have a question featuring a very stark contrast: we either live for self, or we live for Christ, but we can’t do both. To live selfishly and only look after Number One means we are not a disciple of Christ. He made it clear that the renunciation of self is the key to being his true follower.

This is a similar word to what was given to the rich ruler. In both cases Jesus makes it crystal clear that we must ask ourselves, what is really important in life? What is our real priority in life? So four out of five of these penetrating questions have to do with taking sides, with making a commitment either to God or to self.

Any one of these questions should be asked by all of us. The five together make for a powerful biblical and spiritual check-up. Now that you have read these five questions, a further question arises: Will you just ignore them, and go on living an unexamined life, or will you pause and take the required time to deal with what are some of the most important questions you will ever encounter?

The choice is up to you.

by Bill Muehlenberg

When We Get What We Earned

Romans 14:7-9

Have you ever been around people who adamantly refuse to accept any help whatsoever? Perhaps you have heard them balk, “I don’t need your charity!” or, “I can do this by myself!” On some level, we respect people like this, because of their commitment to earn their own way in life. However, when this work ethic gets too far out of balance, serious spiritual problems can result.

In his allegorical look at eternity, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis describes a character who wants nothing more than “his rights.” That is, he wants only what he deserves—no more, no less.

On the surface, this appears to be an act of humility. However, such an attitude is often the fruit of false humility and is actually motivated by pride. If we are determined to solve problems on our own, refusing every offer of help, then we will fail miserably when we try to solve the problem of sin.

Sin is everyone’s problem. Scripture makes it clear that there’s no escaping it: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). So, what is the price that is to be paid for sinning? Romans 6:23 reveals that “the wages of sin is death.”

If we, like Lewis’s proud man, accept only “our rights,” then sin and death will reign in our lives. We can overcome the burden of sin only when we relinquish our pride and humbly accept what we did not deserve—the loving sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf. Thank Him today for providing what we could not achieve on our own: our very salvation.

Christ Our Substitute

“So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” (Hebrews 9:28)

There are two specific references in the New Testament to Christ “bearing” our sins as He died on the cross. In addition to our text above, the other is 1 Peter 2:24: “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.”

However, the same word (Greek anaphero) is also used with a similar thrust in Hebrews 7:27, where it is translated “offer up”: “Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.”

When Christ died, He died as a substitutionary sacrifice, “offering up” our sins for judgment and punishment by a holy God, as He simultaneously “offered up” Himself as the One who would submit to that judgment and bear that punishment. He was able to do this because He was both the infinite Creator and the one sinless man, who needed not to offer a sacrifice for His own sins. He was willing to do this because He loved us and wanted to save us.

This doctrine of substitutionary sacrifice is central to the gospel of salvation, and therefore precious to the saint. But its central importance likewise means that it is profoundly offensive to the natural man. Many acclaim Him as a great martyr or a great teacher, but deny either His deity or His humanity, and certainly deny the universal efficacy of His shed blood in substitutionary sacrifice for the sin of a lost world.

Nevertheless, He did bear the sins of “the many,” and He did completely settle our account with God. In both Hebrews 7:27 and 9:28 (as cited above), the word “once” means, literally, “once for all.” He did have to die once—but only once—as our sin-bearing substitute. Thus, when He comes again, it will be “without sin unto salvation.” HMM

If God Answers Prayer

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. —James 1:17

Why does God answer prayer? Let’s not imagine that it’s because somebody was good. We Protestants think we don’t believe in saints, but we do. We canonize them: we have Saint George Mueller, Saint C.H. Spurgeon, Saint D.L. Moody and Saint A.B. Simpson. We get the idea that God answered prayer for them because they were really good. They would deny that fervently if they were here.

Nobody ever got anything from God on the grounds that he deserved it. Having fallen, man deserves only punishment and death. So if God answers prayer it’s because God is good. From His goodness, His loving-kindness, His good-natured benevolence, God does it! That’s the source of everything.

Thank You, God, that You are indeed good, You are faithful, You are gracious, You are full of loving-kindness and benevolence. Thank You that You do in fact answer prayer! Amen.

We Do Not Despise God, given Emotions

But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad…. Matthew 9:36

Our emotions are neither to be feared nor despised, for they are a normal part of us as God made us in the first place. Indeed, the full human life would be impossible without them!

A feeling of pity would never arise in the human breast unless aroused by a mental picture of others’ distress, and without the emotional bump to set off the will there would be no act of mercy. That is the way we are constituted and what I am saying here is nothing new. Every mother, every statesmen, every leader of men, every preacher of the Word of God knows that a mental picture must be presented to the listener before he can be moved to act, even though it be for his own advantage!

God intended that truth should move us to moral action. The mind receives ideas, mental pictures of things as they are. These excite the feelings and these in turn move the will to act in accordance with the truth. That is the way it should be, and would be had not sin entered and wrought injury to our inner life. Because of sin, the simple sequence of truth—feeling—action may break down in any of its three parts.

The Christian who gazes too long on the carnal pleasures of this world cannot escape a certain feeling of sympathy with them, and that feeling will inevitably lead to behavior that is worldly.To expose our hearts to truth and consistently or neglect to obey the impulses it arouses is to stymie the motions of life within us, and if persisted in, to grieve the Holy Spirit into silence.

Spiritual Testing

Do therefore as the LORD your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. DEUTERONOMY 5:32

In the scriptural accounts, there are many examples of men and women being tested, and I think it is plain that the Holy Spirit rarely tells a believer that he is about to be tested.

Abraham was being tested when the Lord asked him to take his only son up into the mountain. He thought he was being ordered. He did not know he was being tested.

Peter was unconsciously tested. Paul was tested and tried. There does come a time when we have heard enough truth and the Holy Spirit says, “Today this disciple is going to be tested.”

The people of Israel in their time of testing came to Kadesh Barnea, and instead of crossing into the promised land, they said, “We will not go over!” God simply let them make their own test, and they flunked it!

Are there any among us who have an honest desire to be Christlike? We should all be aware that every day is a day of testing. Some come to their own Kadesh Barnea and turn back.

What a solemn thought: Many of the persons whom God is testing will flunk the test!

Lord, tutor me by Your Spirit and help me successfully “pass” Your times of testing. I can’t do it by myself.