It’s Not About Your Intentions

People who oppose the gospel do not have good intentions.  Their intentions, in fact, are evil because they come out of an evil heart (Prov. 27:19; Mark 7:14-23; Titus 1:15).  Their “intentions” oppose the only way that we can obtain salvation, namely through Jesus.

How do non-believers oppose the only true way of salvation?  They do it through self-righteous asceticism by abstaining from foods, drink, or other things (Col. 2:21-23; 1 Tim. 4:1-4; Titus 1:10-16).  Or they do it through self-righteous relativism by doing whatever they want (Rom. 1:21-25; 1 Cor. 6:9-11).   Likewise, Christians can fall into these sinful traps, too.  For the Christian’s heart is new, not perfect.

We are sinners, not because we have good intentions and fail to bring them to fruition, but because we are bad from the heart (Mark 7:20-23; Rom. 7:18).  By nature and choice, we worship created things rather than Creator God (Rom. 1:25).  The only remedy for this is Christ’s righteousness, which makes even our best deeds look like filthy rags (Isa. 64:6).  Non-Christians need to repent to Jesus from their self-righteous ways and come to him for salvation.  Likewise, we Christians need to repent to Jesus from our own self-righteousness and press on to become what we already are in Christ.

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  1. james

    The blog post wasn’t mean to be long, so I didn’t include this, but I can put it here. I could understand if someone argued that in Acts 17, when Paul was in Athens, that he said that the Athenians had good intentions in their worship of their “unknown god” (v. 23).

    I don’t see this as a good intention, however. The simple reason is that when it all boils down to it and the created man stands before his Creator God on judgment day, saying, “My intention was to worship you!” will not cut it.

    Paul did not excuse the Athenians’ sin in Acts 17, rather, he made known to them the true and living God, Jesus Christ. He did this by telling them that God commands repentance (which explicitly means to turn from going the wrong way — despite “intention”). God commands this because he will judge the world in righteousness by “a man,” namely Jesus. The assurance that this will happen is due to the fact that God raised his Son from the dead.

    So Paul isn’t giving the Athenians credit for their worship. Instead, he is saying that their worship is incomplete and pagan because it is void of Jesus, the one who will be the Judge of the whole world. He will judge the world in righteousness. The only ones who will receive forgiveness are those who believe in his name (see Acts 10:42-43).

    So what’s the point? Believe in and receive Jesus as Lord, Savior, and Treasure because he is our only hope! Amen!


  2. Cheryl

    I would be interested in your reaction to the video here:


  3. james

    Hmm. I think it’s a little off the topic of the blog, but interesting still. Seems pretty ecumenical, which of course, contradicts Christian Scripture. Nevertheless, I have a problem with this statement on their page, “The church is being redirected by God to major in serving and minor in beliefs.”

    That’s not in the Bible. I think that the church is called to do both equally and with vigor as they pursue the glory of God. If you have no fruit, it doesn’t matter what your confession is. If you have fruit, but your confession is not Christ and him crucified, then your fruit is self-righteousness, which is nothing but a filthy rag compared to God’s glory (see Isaiah 64:6).

    Here’s a good short article on the topic:


  4. Cheryl

    That’s a good article. I agree the “bait and switch” tactics aren’t desirable, like the giant banana split on the beach. I do like the “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words” approach, even though the point of the article was that it is also insufficient.

    Regarding “If you have fruit, but your confession is not Christ and him crucified, then your fruit is self-righteousness, which is nothing but a filthy rag compared to God’s glory (see Isaiah 64:6). “ though…

    Where I live, it gets very cold in the winter. Every year, my temple and many other houses of worship in the area each house homeless people for one week (i.e., the same group goes to a different place each week, so that they are housed throughout the winter). It’s the exact same act, but for the churches it’s “fruit” and for my temple it’s “a filthy rag”?


  5. james


    Yes, it is a hard truth, but this is what the Bible teaches. A fair reading of the Old Testament shows this. God desires a broken spirit and a repentant life, not religious duty (see Psalm 51:17). Christianity is not solely about actions, but about inward transformation. That’s what Jesus taught Nicodemus in John 3 about being “born again.” Any righteousness outside of Christ is not enough. The reason being, how much good is enough? If we take that approach, then we have made morality and justice a subjective thing. If it’s not God’s standard (i.e. perfection), then by definition, it falls short of his glory (Rom. 3:23).

    Now, God takes delight to some extent in all good and just actions, even by a non-believer, because even that is a reflection of his beauty, glory, and creation (Christians call this “common grace”). However, Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of your (the Jewish) law. So if we aren’t doing things for him by faith that his completed work on the cross is our justification before God (as opposed to our own “acts”) then as the my original post says, we are not really doing anything good at all. Kind of a paradox, yes, but not contradictory. This is what the Bible teaches.

    As a side, one thing to keep in mind: There are many churches that say they are Christian, but are not, yet still do good things. The churches who are truly Christian match their words with deeds. Most biblical Christian churches have truly born-again people in them as well as those who are not. That’s why Christianity is a personal (though not private) faith. My dad always told me (though this was in the context of dating relationships, haha): “People don’t go to heaven in pairs.”


  6. Cheryl

    Do you consider there to be any possibility of us finding any common ground at all?


  7. james

    That’s a loaded question. ;)

    People say that Christians are close-minded all the time. For myself, when it comes to the gospel and salvation by grace through faith, I am. I can’t budge on that.

    Cheryl, you’ve heard this before, no doubt, but the most loving and truthful and helpful thing I can say to you is that Judaism is incomplete because Jesus came to fulfill the law so that you don’t have to meet all 613 laws that God gave to Moses. The only way to get to God — the God of the Old and New Testaments — is through Jesus, the God-man himself.


  8. Cheryl

    OK, it was. :)

    I guess what I don’t get is: I understand that Christianity completely works for you. But it didn’t work for me, and Judaism does. I know that you will take issue with my definition of “work”. :) But that is my experience.

    Genesis 18:26 says, “And the Lord answered, ‘if I find within the city of Sodom fifty innocent ones, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.’” It got down to ten, and then not even that many could be found, but doesn’t this verse still imply that God was capable of forgiving people, prior to Jesus? If so, then what made Jesus necessary?


  9. james

    Cheryl, I could have a nice long answer (and I have it ready, haha), but I’d like to as you, in your faith, what saves you? What atones for your sin? (I ask because there is no temple anymore, and thus, no more sacrifices being made.)


  10. Cheryl

    In a word, repentance. For a longer answer, I will rely on Mark Washofsky’s book Jewish Living: A Guide To Contemporary Reform Practice:

    Repentance (teshuvah, literally, ‘return’). What is repentance? ‘It is when the sinner abandons an evil deed, removes the very thought of it from the mind, and resolves with sincerity never to repeat that action.’ True repentance has occurred when one who has the opportunity to repeat a sinful act refuses to do so and when that refusal stems ‘not from fear or from weakness, but from the fact of repentance itself.’
    Reconciliation. It is not enough that one repents privately. We must seek reconciliation, especially during these ten days [referring to the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur], with those whom we have wronged during the past year.”

    “Although the prevailing mood of the day is a somber one, Yom Kippur is also an ocasion for joy. Repentance and reconciliation with God and our fellow human beings, a process we begin formally on Rosh Hashanah, and pursue with urgency during the Days of Awe, reaches a climax on this day. And our tradition recognizes this as a successful climax. The end of the day should leave us feeling physically exhausted and morally exhilarated, for we know that God will receive our sincere and prayerful repentance with love. ‘Rejoice, O Israel!’ sang Rabbi Akiva in the house of study long ago, for you may be certain that on this day you shall be made pure.’” (emphasis original to the text).


  11. james

    What do you repent towards? In other words, what is the grounding for your repentance? Where does your atonement for sin come from?


  12. Cheryl

    We repent towards those whom we’ve wronged – first each other, then God. Atonement comes from those to whom we’ve repented – each other, or God.

    I’m not completely sure what you mean by grounding – are you asking what prompts us to repent? As I’ve said, the Days of Awe are specially designated for that, but we don’t have to wait for that time.

    Or are you asking what the standard is? How do we know what we’ve done wrong? Because Jesus does that for you; am I right? So you’re wondering how one would know those things otherwise? If that’s the case, my answer would be:

    Jesus, for you, represents the ultimate in perfection for human behavior. But, since he died 2000 years ago, that perfection is not something you have personally witnessed; you have to imagine it based on what you read about him. It is just as easily done, to imagine this perfection without imagining Jesus; we just call it “God” instead.


  13. Cheryl

    I hope my answer wasn’t offensive to you – I was trying to respond to your questions as best I could. Not sure if you’ve just been busy, or don’t want to continue this discussion? If I have offended I am sorry.

    When I asked if you thought we have any possiblity of finding common ground, I didn’t entirely mean it as a loaded question – in fact I didn’t think of it that way until after you said so. If you’ve taken even one glance at my blog you could probably tell my overriding passion in life is to try and find ways to bring more peace to the world, especially between religions. And being a former Christian and now a Jew, those are the two it grieves me the most to see at odds with each other.

    The questions I have been asking here are not meant to be provocative. I’m honestly not trying to have a “debate” or try to compare the merits of Judaism vs Christianity. They are things that I have sought answers for, for decades – long before I looked into Judaism. (I was raised Lutheran.) My inability to answer them myself, or to find anyone else who could, or who was even willing to talk about them with me, was most of why I stopped being a Christian. I talked to a lot of people, but fewer and fewer as the years went on. A lot of people were either dismissive, or got quite upset with me. So you are actually the first person I’ve brought them up to in a very long time, because you are so knowledgable and seemed willing to have these questions asked, without being defensive or threatened by them. I know the internet is rife with anti-Christians but please know that I am not one of them.

    This morning I thought of an analogy: it was 60 degrees (F, obviously), so I dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt. My husband dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. We were both comfortable, but required very different clothing to reach that comfort. Think of God as that comfort, and different religions as the different clothing.

    One of the most meaningful passages to me is Deuteronomy 30:11-14. “Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.”

    I am unable to believe that God would expect of us humans something that we are, by nature – a nature, by the way, that according to the Bible, He Himself gave us – utterly unable to accomplish, and then damn us for failing at it. Thus I cannot see a need for substitutionary atonement in the first place, nor can I see why a substitution would be acceptable – especially one that required God to work a miracle to make happen. If God had to do it Himself anyway, what could possibly have prevented Him from deciding to just allow Himself to forgive people?

    I can understand people finding the Torah difficult to live up to, and the idea of God offering another way for people to reach Him, through belief, but I don’t see why it’s necessary to say that belief is now the only way.


  14. james

    Not offended, just rather busy. I’ll respond when I get some more time.

    Thanks for the dialogue.


  15. james


    1. God needed a substitutionary atonement because he couldn’t overlook sin. He is perfectly righteous and holy. Sin is an trampling upon God’s infinite worth. He is completely perfect and thus infinitely worthy; we are completely sinful and thus infinitely unworthy. So God, in sending himself, atoned for our sin by removing our sin and his anger at sin. He took sin away in Christ bore our sins in himself on the cross. Secondly, God took away his anger at sin by taking it out on himself — in the crushing and bruising his own son (see Isa. 52:13-53:12).

    2. Being unable to give ourselves spiritual life (because if we are totally depraved then we are spiritually dead) does not remove our guilt. Our inability to get to God on our own only adds to our guilt because it shows how completely helpless we are. The promise of a new covenant in Ezekiel 36:26-27 show that our hearts are spiritual dead before a divine transplant has been made. This covenant is made even more clear in Jeremiah 31:31-40. This covenant happened when Jesus came, died on the cross, rose from the grave, and gave us God the Holy Spirit in order to make our hearts alive instead of cold, hard, and dead.

    3. We cannot quote certain parts of the Bible that are good (such as the ones you quoted in another post’s comments regarding the love of Christ), and ignore other ones that are offensive to other faiths. Either we believe the whole Bible as Truth or reject it all as false. There is no middle ground. Jesus’ followers did not make up the fact that Christianity is the only way. Jesus himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7). Further, the apostle Paul confirmed this: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Tim. 2:5-6).

    Jesus did not leave us with the option of saying that he was just a good teacher or a prophet. He said that he was God and if was lying to us, then he wouldn’t be a good teacher at all — in fact, he’d be a very bad teacher because his lying would blackeye every moral teaching he gave us. We can either believe he is God, or must believe that he is a liar, or a crazed-lunatic who had a demon (this is what the Jewish Pharisees believed–because he did good things for people on the Sabbath!).

    Furthermore, one may argue that Jesus didn’t say that he was God, but that his followers distorted his words and thus the Bible must be false. But to that, I ask these question: What kind of person (or people) would distort a religion so that the Hero gets murdered and they all get martyred for following this murdered (and risen) Savior? What kind of a person would forsake their entire Jewish upbringing and commit blasphemy (according to the Pharisees) by calling a man God? There is only one answer: this Man, Jesus Christ, really was who he said he was and he truly completed all the Jewish Scriptures. Remember that Jesus said to the Jewish religious men: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). Also, Jesus said, “If you believed in Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:46-47).

    No man would think up a plan of salvation like the one that God has thought up. 1 Corinthians 1:27 says, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” Also, 1 Corinthians 2:6 says, “We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” This means that God did things the way that NO ONE IN THE WORLD would have expected them to be done. And this wisdom of God is hidden from those who do not believe. How do we know this? If it wasn’t hidden, then Jesus would not have been crucified. But in God hiding his wisdom, it brought on the greatest act of love and atonement the world has ever known. And it was for my sin and for your sin, Cheryl, because confession and repentance without a definite atonement are just external religious works — which God continually condemns throughout the whole OT.

    4. Finally, as for why Christ is sufficient AND necessary (he is both), I could quote the book of Hebrews all day, but I would suggest reading it and genuinely try to hear the author’s argument for why Jesus is better than the Old Testament way (that is, Judaism and everything that comes with it).


  16. Cheryl

    “1. God needed a substitutionary atonement because he couldn’t overlook sin. He is perfectly righteous and holy. Sin is an trampling upon God’s infinite worth. He is completely perfect and thus infinitely worthy; we are completely sinful and thus infinitely unworthy. So God, in sending himself, atoned for our sin by removing our sin and his anger at sin. […]”

    Why, then, according to the Bible, would God create humans at all, if our very existence is such an affront? I’m familiar with the apple story of course, but that still leaves the same question, one level removed, and it still doesn’t make sense to me (because according to the Bible, it was God’s idea to put the tree there, and I don’t understand why He’d make possible an outcome that was abhorrent to Him, when anything that’s God, must surely be able to do whatever God wants?) I guess that’s tangentially related to the old, old question “is it right because God wills it, or does God will it because it’s right?”. Have you already written about that, and if so can you give me the link? Thanks! (If it’s contained within the posts and article about election that you gave me yesterday, I haven’t gotten to read them yet but am about to do so.)

    “3. No man would think up a plan of salvation like the one that God has thought up. […]”

    That’s for sure, especially not an industrial engineer like me – we are all about efficiency!!!!!! :) :)


  17. james

    The answer: Whatever God ordains is right. :)

    Also, this is not mapped out in the Bible, per se, but we have to remember that God is not man. He is altogether different than we are. He is infinitely more able to hold a complex number of emotions in his mind and heart than we are. God is the ultimate source of reality and decision. Not humans. If he wasn’t, then he wouldn’t be God.

    So in that, he doesn’t do things the way we think they should be done. For example, it would make sense (to us) for God to create a perfect world where everyone goes to heaven OR it would make sense for God to create a world where he knew we wouldn’t fall. But in his perfect wisdom and insight, it seemed best to him to do it the way he did. That’s why God’s wisdom is not man’s, and at it’s best, man’s wisdom is folly (see 1 Corinthians 1-2).


  18. Cheryl

    “For example, it would make sense (to us) for God to create a perfect world where everyone goes to heaven OR it would make sense for God to create a world where he knew we wouldn’t fall.”

    It’s funny how I’ve wondered about this (off and on) for so long, but not until I read you saying it back did this occur to me: it actually doesn’t make sense to think that God would create a perfect world because that would be redundant, i.e., given that God already existed, and God is perfection, why create more perfection?


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