SETTLING FOR THE FIRST HALF

                                       

 Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.                                 Hebrews 12:1

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called meheavenward in Christ. Philippians 3:14

Who suits up for an NCAA ball game only to quit at half time? Millions of Americans are anticipating the annual ritual of collegiate basketball’s March Madness march to crown men and women’s national champion teams. Like this piece of writing, we can expect an escalation in basketball metaphors from the pulpit, in the media, and common conversations over coffee. Facebook posts will reflect increasing passions for alma maters and bets on potential winners. In the end the odds-makers in Las Vegas will likely do very well.

Last night I went with my brother-in-law, Chuck, to the Kentucky vs Florida basketball game. All the sports prognosticators predicted a Florida victory. Almost immediately Kentucky fell behind as Florida go off to a strong start. UK fought hard and a climbed back to tie the score at halftime. Personally, for a Kentucky alumnus, the story ended well with a win for Kentucky (70-66), but what if the UK Wildcats believed the predictions that they would loose the game and so decided to stay in the locker room at half-time rather than go back out for the second half. No way! Crazy! Absurd! Real March madness in February!

Imagine the same scenario at the next national championship game a team tied at half time the coach deciding that there was no real need to continue. Their sacrifice of time, effort, and selfless play in the first half was enough believing the second half would just be more of the same. The national recognition of having a great season would have to suffice. I apologize for the sports metaphor, but that’s what happens to millions of Christians at halftime when they don’t pursue the second half of the gospel?

Second half? There’s a spiritual second half? Right! That shouldn’t be news to you. But many may be duped by Hollywood buying into “only the first half version” of the Gospel. The first half version is Gospel presented in film after film as follows: The birth of baby Jesus, then Jesus baptized by his cousin John, his three years of doing good, the cross, and empty tomb and dawn of a new day. Done! The church picks up from there and says “Believe the story, pray this prayer and you’re good to go. You’re saved and can wait for the glory bus to take you to heaven. Now get busy in the church. That’s all there is to it! Just get saved and go to heaven, or have a little regret about sin and buy the fire insurance. Don’t worry. You’re fine. This is the sad portrayal of a half salvation, a salvation from sin. The truth is its only the first half and many who do come to believe in Christ as Lord and Savior do so without encountering conviction of sin, repentance, and asking for God’s forgiveness. For too many people being “saved” is a cognitive exercise of belief, a response to a proposition without much more than regret for past sin. Regret is not the same as repentance. It is not surprising that people fall back into and/or continue to live lives of sinfulness.

What then is the alternative? What does a second half look like? The answer is found in scripture: “Let us run with perseverance . . .” (Hebrews 12:1); “I press on toward the goal . . .”(Philippians 3:14); “Continue to workout you’re your own salvation . . .” (Philippians 2:12b); “Continue to live in him . . .” (Colossians 2”6); “Remain in me . . .” (John 15:4). One way to look at the second half of salvation is captured by paraphrasing J.R.R. Stott, Anglican pastor and author, who said that the Acts of the Apostles is not actually the acts of the Apostle’s, but rather the continuing work of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit in and through the church to the world. The second half is all about Christ’s “continuing work. . .in and through” us. The good news of the Gospel is that here is salvation from sin, the first half, and then salvation to even more good news in the second half.

This will take some additional writing yet to unpack what this means for us.  A more robust answer to the question is coming in the next post. Look for it!

Questions

  1. Are you stuck in the locker room celebrating the first half unaware there’s a second?
  2. If not in the locker room, are you merely a spectator in the stands?
  3. Are you even at the right game or outside the stadium wandering around?
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