The Priceless Gift!
By Minister Raymond D. Sopp
This commentary was inspired by an Email I received from Alex who lives in Russia. I began to think about how Christianity is becoming just another religion, a social group promoting good morals, with Christianity's clear distinction from other religions becoming blurred. Have we, by preaching the prosperity gospel, emphasized the cares and worries of this world to the point where our eyes are so focused on "things" that we have blurred the true gospel which is -- Christ in you? Have we bandied the phrase "born-again" around so much that it has become little more than a cliché, and lost its preciousness -- its pricelessness? Sometimes we Christians will get so bold as to call Christianity a relationship with God, but in reality it is so much more. But I do digress -- back to the Email. The following is a paraphrase of the Email that I received from Russia and my response.
The Email I received today from Alex in Russia told me that I was being naive to think that the Russian people wanted my religion or faith -- they just want anything that they can get for free. For example, he just wanted my tapes to study English. Since Alex was just trying to be helpful, I decided to write back to him with the following response:
Dear Alex, Thank you for your Email and your concern. However, I am not naive; I do realize many will take advantage of this ministry's goodwill, but when it concerns eternal life, or eternal death in hell, it's worth the price. Some will ask for my tapes with evil motives and some with good but God's Word will not return void (Isaiah 55:10-11). You see, there is a God and He is in control even if you feel like He is not. It is not my faith, nor my religion I'm trying to give away -- it is God Himself. Most rejected Jesus when He was here on earth, yet knowing this in advance -- He still left heaven for us. God's only Son paid with His life that we may be with God, and in Him, have eternal life. Therefore, it is a small price for me to pay -- a few cassettes -- when God gave so much for us. Yes, as long as I have the funds I will mail my tapes (sermons) to those who ask, even if all laugh at me, because they also laughed at my Lord, and killed Him -- and He was God. I cannot make someone accept God's salvation; they can reject it to their own destruction, but if I tell them about Jesus -- then their blood will not be on my hands.
Alex, Christianity is real; it is not just a faith, or a religion. God is alive and Jesus did rise from the grave. Jesus' rising from the grave is very real and written history proves it, if you are willing to look at it with a sincere heart. I know it to be true because now God's Holy Spirit lives within me as a witness of the reality of God's salvation through His Son Jesus -- each and every day of my life. I can now look anyone in the eye and say from my heart -- once I was dead, but now I live. The gift of eternal life instead of hell is so priceless, I will spend all I will ever have, even if it saves just one person from hell and death in my lifetime of work. That is the priceless gift I wish to give away and all for the price of a few cassettes -- that's a good deal indeed! Yes, I will continue to give -- until I can give no more. God bless, Minister Raymond D. Sopp.
I must tell you from my heart that if Christianity was just a promoter of values, or just a kindly relationship with God, i.e., someone to tell your troubles to, I would not be sitting here in a basement alone, doing without -- spending what little I have -- working 80 hours a week; when all I would have to do is get you a pet. After all, you could have a great relationship with a pet, could you not? You can talk to your pet and your pet will always love you -- yes, just as you are. Have you ever heard that said before pertaining to God? And if I wanted to promote values all I would have to do is get a group together and constrain you by peer-pressure, and maybe even make a little money while I'm at it.
However, the Gospel is about so much more than a mere relationship with God or a promotion of values. If not, how then do you explain Peter, a fisherman who left everything, including his profession, to follow Jesus? And later he was so full of fear, he disavowed Jesus three times before Jesus' resurrection, but afterward, was also willing to be crucified for Christianity. How do you explain the change in this man?
How do you explain Paul, well educated -- an upcoming leader in a very moral group called the Pharisees, who also walked away from everything to follow Jesus? The Apostle Paul never looked back even though his new life was full of trials: 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, ". . . in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure."
And finally, why have I given up my life, my dreams, and my desires for someone I have never met before in Russia -- on the other side of the world, knowing full well I will never be compensated for my trouble and most likely never even receive a "thank you" (well, not in this life anyway)? If all Christianity was, was a religion or even just a simple relationship, would we not pity Paul, Peter, and yes, even me? But thanks be to God, it is so much more than a mere relationship -- it is an ADOPTION into God's own family!
Ephesians 1:3-6: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved." Yes, we are now God's beloved children, supernaturally born-again, through His Son Jesus. We Christians, by the blood of God's only Son for the forgiveness of sin, have been born-again into God's very own family to the point we can cry out, "Abba, Father" -- MY FATHER!
So, what do I mean by the phrase, "born-again"? Describing to someone the true meaning of the phrase born-again would be akin to describing to a blind person the vivid colors in a sunset; especially if the blind person was born blind and did not have even the slightest concept of color. You must agree, taking on such an undertaking would be an exercise of futility because we realize without even the concept of color, our mere words would be so completely inadequate that they would just fall to the ground. In truth, our mere words would be utter nonsense to the blind person's carnal understanding.
Since this person was born blind, he remains ignorant of even the existence of color. However, we now have something we can tell the one who is blind, although we cannot explain the concept of color, we can tell him about the existence of color. However, in order to do this, the person who is blind would have to have a trust (faith) in the person who is telling him about the reality of color. Remember, he was blind at birth, and to him there is no such thing as color. And in his world that would be 100% correct; however, in reality, we who can see know that color does exist.
People who can see can easily testify of color existing in the world, but the one born blind just cannot accept it without seeing it -- no pun intended. Therefore, he will never believe that color exists. However, we who can see know without a doubt that color not only exists, but it exists in a vivid display of great beauty, and it exists abundantly. But, if the blind person had a friend he could trust, then as this friend tells him about color, perhaps he would then make a leap of faith and say, "Yes, I believe in the existence of color." Yet, he would still remain blind to color's beauty inasmuch as he still lacks the actual experience of seeing color in its vivid display of beauty and abundance.
In the same way, we who are born-again know that being born-again is as real as color, and yet it is impossible to prove to those who are blind the concept of being born-again. We can tell the blind of its existence, but it will require the blind to make a leap of faith to believe it. If the blind wish to accept it, they do have a very trustworthy friend in the Word of God. The Word of God has been the only book on the face of the earth which has remained intact over the centuries. Its trustworthiness has been confirmed time and time again. Even when we think it to be wrong, the passage of time constantly proves the Word of God to be trustworthy.
Our trusted friend, the Word of God, speaks of being born-again in both the New and Old Testaments. Ezekiel 36:26-27: "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances." Again in John 3:7-12: "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'you must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said to Him, 'how can these things be?' Jesus answered and said to him, 'are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and you do not receive our witness. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?'"
If you do not believe in the trustworthiness of God's Word, then I challenge you to take the time to see if God's Word can be trusted. However, be sincere in the challenge, as if your very eternal life hangs in the balance, because it does -- unto everlasting hell by doing nothing, or everlasting life with God. Now if the trustworthiness of your friend, the Word of God, causes you to take that leap of faith, and you agree that there is such a thing as a real born-again experience -- the replacing of your dead spirit with God's Holy Spirit (which truly is abundant life) -- then you can go on to step two and experience it. Unlike the blind person who may accept the fact of the existence of color, but can never experience it, you can experience being born-again. Actually becoming one of the ones that can see -- seeing all the beauty, the stark reality, and abundance of life in being born-again.
Step two consists of acknowledging the need of a Savior, unless, of course, you happen to be perfect. Since no one is, this becomes a very easy step to take. Just look in the mirror one morning and say to yourself, "I am perfect in all my ways." Then after you pick yourself up off the floor laughing at yourself, you will find yourself in need of a Savior. (Now remember I said perfect, not better than someone else.) You will then begin to realize that your old dead spirit within you likes being a little nasty, and does not want to give it up, because your old dead spirit likes the darkness of sin. Hopefully, at that point you will begin to realize the need to be born-again from above with God's very own Holy Spirit, because your old dead spirit will never be able to please God -- in this life, nor in the afterlife.
You may ask, "So what do I do?" It's easy! All you have to say is, "God I know I am a sinner (not perfect), and I am in need of a Savior. I also realize that my old dead spirit within me does not have the ability to please You; therefore, in the name of Your salvation for me (Jesus), I accept His blood for the forgiveness of my sins, and I want to be born-again with Your Holy Spirit that I may not be blind any longer." At that point, it will not be long before you begin to notice a difference in your life. You will begin to realize the reality of being born-again. Like those before you, you will also find yourself unable to explain the concept of being born-again to the blind, but can only hope that God will touch their hearts with His love, and trustworthiness; so that they, like you, would be able to take the leap of faith unto everlasting life.
Why do I consider God's gift literally priceless? Because once I was also very blind, but now I can see. Once I was dead and condemned to everlasting hell, but now I'm alive unto everlasting life. Who could ever put a price on such a gift? It would be impossible -- it's PRICELESS! This is not a religion of peer-pressured good works, or some kind of a "friendly God" relationship. Christianity is about a supernatural work of God unto salvation and everlasting life by the replacing of our fallen spirit with His Holy Spirit. And through God's Holy Spirit within us, we begin to produce good works, not through the law, but from within our born-again heart.
As the blind man cannot understand the concept of color, how can I explain to the spiritually blind why I'm willing to give up all, and spend my lifetime proclaiming the Gospel, even if just one person is saved? The answer is I cannot, because using mere words to describe color (born-again) to a blind man cannot even come close to the actual experience of seeing color.
1 Corinthians 2:6-16: "Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written 'things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him.' For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ."
I thank God every day for the privilege of conveying His gospel (good news) to whosoever will listen. I thank God every day for those of you, who by your financial help and/or prayers, help me to fulfill my passion; which is also God's passion, as He said, "I wish none to perish, but all to have life, and have it abundantly." My passion for God's gospel is so great for two reasons: I know the time is short, and I know the pricelessness of His gift to us. But regardless of the reason, I just know I have to do this, because for some people there may be no tomorrow. Just like the lady I sent my tapes to and then discovered that she passed away about a week after my tapes arrived. Therefore Lord, my prayer is, "As long as I live Lord, use me to touch one more soul -- to help one more weary one to reach the finish line, which is eternal life -- and have life abundantly."
From my heart to yours,
Raymond D. Sopp
All above Bible references are from The New American Standard Bible, (La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation) 1977.
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