Christianity 201

January 31, 2017

As Moses Lifted up the Serpent

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This is one of my favorite Old Testament passages and one which I think is strongly tied to New Testament salvation. We’ve discussed it before here in the context of the idea of an invisible transaction; that there’s nothing tangible or quantifiable that one does at the moment of crossing the line of faith. Today’s thoughts are more directed to the source of our salvation.

We’re paying a return visit to the blog, Counseling One Another by author and pastor Paul Tautges. Please click the link below and read this at source.

4 Lessons from the Bronze Serpent

The book of Numbers contains the account of a strange event which took place during Israel’s time of wandering in the wilderness. It is most often referred to as Moses and the bronze serpent. Let’s take a few minutes to think about this unusual biblical story, see its significance to Israel, and then learn from Jesus’ interpretation and application in the Gospel of John. First, read the original account.

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

There are four truths God wants us to understand and embrace.

Saving faith realizes the guilt of one’s sin and the justice of God to punish the sinner (Num. 21:7a).

Just as personal admission of one’s sickness is a prerequisite to being helped by a physician, personal admission of sin is a prerequisite to receiving forgiveness from God. Before the sinning people could be forgiven they had to admit “we have sinned.” The snake bites brought them to the place of personal conviction and then they were ready to make a plea for forgiveness.

One of the two guilty thieves hanging next to Jesus had a similar response. While one thief joined the crowd in launching accusations at Jesus, the other realized his sinfulness—he knew he deserved to die for his sin. So, before he died he looked to Jesus with the look of faith (Luke 23:39-42). As a result, he joined Jesus in Paradise that very same day. When we honestly face our sin and guilt then, and only then, our heart is prepared to confess to God and look to the Savior for mercy.

Saving faith recognizes the need for an intercessor between the guilty sinner and God (Num. 21:7b).

When the people realized the guilt of their sin they immediately turned to Moses saying, “Pray for us.” Instinctively, every guilty sinner knows he cannot simply waltz into God’s presence on his own. He must have a representative, an intercessor, a mediator. The sacrificial laws and prescribed rituals found in the book of Leviticus made this clear to God’s people.

Thankfully, God has provided the one and only perfect priest to intercede for us, to reconcile us back to Himself. 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 Timothy 2:5-6). When we confess our sins to God, while at the same time looking to Jesus, we have an advocate with the Father (1 John 1:8-2:1).

Saving faith looks to God alone to provide the necessary remedy (Num. 21:8-9).

The bronze serpent could not save the people. Only God could provide the remedy. In looking to the brazen serpent on a pole their eyes of faith looked to God. Sadly, the bronze serpent eventually became an idol that was worshiped during the time of Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kings 18:4). But true saving faith does not look to religion, statues, or human priests. It looks to God as the only one who can rescue us. We are desperate sinners who cannot save ourselves; we must be saved by God’s grace, as the apostle makes clear in Romans 5:6-10.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Saving faith looks to Jesus to be the Mediator, propitiation for sin, and the entrance into eternal life (John 3:14-18).

In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes it crystal clear that the bronze serpent was a type of Himself. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15). The word “as” indicates that Jesus was making a comparison. As God provided the means whereby the bitten people could be healed through faith, so He has provided the only means by which our souls may find healing and restoration—through faith. When we turn in faith to look to Jesus, as the only one who can intercede for us before a holy God, we are redeemed from sin and receive the gift of eternal life.

Saving faith looks to God alone. It does not look to self. It does not look to any goodness in one’s own heart, nor to the works of religion. There is only one way for the soul to find its healing—and that is in its return to God. To be reconciled to God we must first see our sin for what it really is—an offense to God’s holiness. Because our sin is offensive, God must punish it. But thanks be to God that He has already punished His sinless Son in our place. Are you looking to Jesus to save you?

[Adapted from last Sunday’s sermon at Cornerstone Community Church in Cleveland, OH, Look to Jesus]


Related: Story in Numbers Foreshadows the Crucifixion

January 20, 2017

The Tension between God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility

Today we’re paying another return visit to Shane Idleman, founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California, just North of Los Angeles. To read this at source on the church blog, click the title below. This subject may be familiar to many of you, but possibly new to others. This article provides a good window into both sides of an ongoing discussion.

“Can I Lose My Salvation?”

A common question for many is, “Can I lose my salvation?” I’ve heard both sides of the argument, and only God truly knows a person’s heart, but I can share a few thoughts. The reason there is a debate is because the Scriptures teach that salvation is a gift from God that cannot be earned, but they also offer warnings about falling away. There should be a healthy tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. This issue should not create a spirit of division, elitism, or theological superiority.

One school of thought suggests that salvation cannot be lost, as in losing your car keys, but that it can be left, as in walking away from it. This may be why Jesus spoke of the man who said in his heart “my master delays His coming; therefore, I will turn from living a godly life”. When the master returned unexpectedly, the servant was banished because he chose to turn from what he knew to be right.

In another passage, Jesus said, “You have left your first love,” when speaking to the church in Ephesus (Revelation 2:4). James 5:19-20 adds, if anyone wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, a soul is saved from death. If anything, these Scriptures, and many more, reinforce the fact that we have certain responsibilities.

1. We must look at the context of such verses. For example, in James 5 the context is a believer who is sick because he or she wandered from God (a pattern of sin) – from alcohol and drugs to lying and slander, and from sexual sin to the sin of pride – the warnings, convictions, and rebukes were all ignored. The elders become involved in hope that confession and repentance take place, and that faith-filled prayer releases the person from God’s chastisement (cf. Hebrews 12:5-7). The believer is heading toward physical death as the result of wandering from God, but if repentance takes place, they will be restored – the soul is saved and his ongoing pattern of sin (multitude) is covered, concealed, and dealt with. This verse is not about salvation, but disobedience.

We should never turn from what we know to be right. Jesus encouraged His followers to be watchful, prepared, and ready for His return. Are we watchful? Are we prepared? Are we ready? (Read Matthew 24:45-51; Luke 21:34.) The Scriptures offer a healthy tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

The other school of thought suggests that some passages are dealing with people who never fully surrendered to Christ. As a result, they fell away. They heard the gospel, but never fully embraced it and turned from their sins; they only had “intellectual” knowledge of salvation. According to this view, the real question isn’t, “Can a person lose their salvation?” but, “Was the person really saved to begin with?”

Titus 1:16 and James 2:14 both conclude that many people “say” that they know God, but deny Him by their lifestyle. I John 2:19 suggests that those who acknowledge Christ initially, but deny Him later, are not saved to begin with: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.

2. Who holds us together? If we must maintain our salvation, what happens if Alzheimers or some other mind-debilitating disease sets in and begins to twist, corrupt, and pollute our thinking? Is all lost, or are we held together because we are a child of God? I am convinced, like Paul, “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Nothing can separate us from God, but we should never ignore the strong warnings about turning from Him.

When it comes to salvation, we all agree that God gets all the glory and all the credit. Salvation is His work. We are never outside of His sovereignty and control: “It is God who makes us stand firm in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:21).

Our salvation is guaranteed based on the assurances found in Scripture, but we also must “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (cf. Philippians 2:12). My goal is to be faithful to the command to preach, witness, and proclaim while understanding that God does the drawing, saving, and sealing.

3. At the heart of the division is Calvinism vs. Arminianism. Sadly, brother is shooting brother and sister is wounding sister. Have we forgotten how to show grace to those in the Body who we disagree with? Those who believe you can lose your salvation should not chide those who believe in eternal security – “once saved always saved” is by no means a license to sin – it’s a belief in God’s guarantee. But on the flip side, those who embrace eternal security should not mock those who disagree.

I can hear it now, “But what about Hebrews 6:4-6.” It says, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

Based on my understanding of terms such as “enlightened,” “tasted,” and “shared,” they are not necessarily words linked to salvation. Judas Iscariot was enlightened—he knew a great deal. He also tasted and shared in the ministry of Christ, but we all know his fate. When he fell away, repentance was elusive. His fate was sealed. However, this verse should force all Christians to take inventory.

We all sin and fall short, but the important question to ask is what is the condition of your heart—have you truly repented and believed in Christ as your Lord and Savior, or are you trusting in false assurance? This may be why Paul said in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourself as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?

Our actions reveal a great deal about our relationship with Christ. A.W. Tozer said: “When people find that after being in the church for years they are not making much progress, they ought to examine themselves and wonder whether they have been truly converted.”

Has your heart become so hard as to reject Jesus Christ? If so, you can change that today. I’m aware that I’m driving this point home, but I’d rather err on the side of speaking too much about a committed relationship with Jesus than too little. It’s never too late to get back on track: “Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord (Micah 3:7). God is sovereign but man has a responsibility to repent and return.

 

 

July 31, 2016

Many Live as Enemies of the Cross of Christ

•••by Russell Young

Paul disclosed to believers in Philippi his observation that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. (Phil 3:18-19, NIV) His epistle had previously addressed his personal goal for righteous living in order that he might become like Christ in his death and “so, somehow to attain to the resurrection.” (Phil 3:11, NIV) The “destiny” of those who live as enemies of the cross, according to his understanding, will be “destruction.” (v 19) In this passage he is not addressing those who have not confessed faith.

His teaching poses a very real issue for each of us and for doctrinal teachings that are being presented in many churches.  Doctrines that allow and teachings that provide allowance for believers to live as enemies of the cross need to be examined; otherwise, many may end up with their eternal hope destroyed.

What does it mean to live as an enemy of the cross?  An enemy is a person who is an adversary, or hostile to, or tries to defeat another or that one’s purposes.  He or she undermines or acts in opposition.  The writer of Hebrews has stated that Christ died to set people free from the sins committed “under the first covenant.” (9:15, NIV) His sacrifice has provided cleansing from the sins that would have brought death. Peter has admonished his readers by saying that those who act in opposition to the work of the cross make it ineffective, thwart the value of the Lord’s sacrifice, and render it meaningless.  (2 Peter 2: 20)

Paul’s teaching is not uniquely expressed in his letter to the Philippians or by Paul himself. The writer of Hebrews has also recorded, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Heb 10:26-27, NIV) Peter spoke of “those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature” (2 Pet 2:10, NIV) and stated that “blackest darkness is reserved for them.” (v 17) Paul also addressed the issue in his letter to the Galatians: “Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please the sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.” (Gal 6:7-8, NIV)

These truths from the Word should cause teachers and pastors to examine what they are teaching, and what they should be teaching.  Their understanding of “grace” and “freedom” should perhaps be re-visited. Those who allow that the “believer’s” eternal salvation was assured and settled (eternal security) at the point of his or her confession need to recognize that the teachings presented by Paul and others allow opportunity for a person to reap destruction following their confession of faith.  Those who permit that eternal redemption occurred at the time of confession of faith need to examine the Scriptures more fully.  The manner in which a person lives his or her life has eternal consequence.  “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6, NIV)

The writer of Hebrews spoke of Christian maturity (Heb 5: 13- 6;3) and of the need for believers to train themselves to distinguish good from evil and to accept teachings about righteousness.

Enemies of the CrossWho are the enemies of the cross?  Of course it is all of those who make ineffective the work of the cross and who treat it with disdain.  In this passage Paul is addressing those who have joined the fellowship and he is concerned about their walk.  They were taking the Lord’s sacrifice for granted and living on their own terms.  They do not appreciate the depth of their need or the preciousness of his love offering for them.

It is easy to assume and to accept love and the promises of love if they cost nothing of the recipient.  And, it is important for believers to understand exactly the accomplishments and the limitations of God’s tolerance and love-yes, the limitation of his love. The Lord said, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love.” (Jn 15:10, NIV) The promise of his love rests in keeping his commands.  In a parable referencing himself the Lord concluded with, “but those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them-bring them here and kill them in front of me.” (Lk 19:27, NIV) The enemies of the Lord are those who do not submit to his rule of their lives.  This includes those who do not follow his leadership, who have been deceived by the misrepresentation of his enduring patience, forgiveness and love when such allowance is gained through a twisted presentations of his Word.

There is a limit to his patience, forgiveness, and love. When confessors revel in the freedom that they suppose they have and live apart from the Spirit’s leadership, and when they deliberately continue to sin, they are treating as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them and have become enemies of the cross of Christ.

Believers must submit to the rule of the Spirit.  This requires a conscientious effort (working out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12), and a donning of the armor of God. The person led by Christ must learn to reject the interests of the flesh and the attractions of the world. “For everything in the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-comes not from the father but from the world.” (1 Jn 2:16, NIV)

The evil one is quite ready to give permissions that Christ does not.  The deceiver might be closer than you think and his persuasions more powerful than you know.  The believer must fight the battle with the help of Christ.  He must engage the enemy of his soul. Christ came to defeat the works of the devil and in no place does he give permission for sin to prevail.

It is easy to live with an unrighteous attitude and to proclaim love for Christ.  It is probably true that those whom about Paul is talking do not even appreciate that they are walking as enemies of the cross.  When freedom and security are promised it is easy to waiver in vigilance. The Lord said, “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Mt 7:13-14, NIV)


To read other posts here by Russell Young, click this link.

April 20, 2016

Resurrection: Dead in Adam, Alive in Christ

Wednesday contributor Clarke Dixon continues his Resurrection Facts series, begun last week. Click this link to read at source.

•••by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever had the experience of knowing something is coming and there is not a thing you can do about it? I remember vividly the first time I capsized a sailboat. You might think it would be a sudden thing and that you would find yourself in the water before you knew it. But it wasn’t. It seemed to happen in slow motion. With the boat laid over on its side, the hull slowly sank into the water. I even had time to say to my sailing partner that day “well, here we go.” We knew we were about to get wet and there was not a thing we could do about it.

The apostle Paul speaks of something coming that we can do nothing about: “For as in Adam all die.” (1 Corinthians 15:22) There is much that confirms this fact. History confirms it. Study the history of any era in any place and time and time again you will see the same thing has happened; “In Adam all die.” Look to science and the same thing is confirmed again. Indeed the news there is worse as scientists point out, quite matter of factly, that some day the sun will go out and the earth will be no longer life permitting. “In Adam all die.” Look to the arts, and there you will find many novels, poems, songs, music, paintings, and movies dealing with the theme of mortality and what is the meaning of life when “in Adam all die.”

Of course the Bible itself confirms that “in Adam all die.” We can look to the time death entered our world:

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die. (Genesis 2:15-17)

Adam ate the fruit. The consequence was death: “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23). Some may point out that Adam and Eve did not in fact die that day. However, they did start dying that day. When the Bible says “for as in Adam, all die” the word for ‘die’ is in the present tense so could be translated “in Adam all are dying.” We tend to think we grow until we are 20, have a perfect body until we are 60 and then we start the ageing process. Being in my mid 40’s I can attest to this being untrue with the ageing process being quite underway. We actually begin the ageing process at conception. Our bodies are continually changing so that even while we are living, we are also dying.

To continue in the Greek, “in Adam all die” is also in the active voice. This means it is something we do, something we are responsible for. We can speak of this or that disease “taking us,” but in fact it is we who are doing the dying. We are responsible. Now some will deny this. “Put me in the Garden of Eden, I would have done better!” But when we are being honest we will relate to Paul who said:

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death. (Romans 7:21-24)

“For as in Adam all die.” And there is nothing we can do about it.

Alive in ChristThat is the bad news. Is there any good news? Well yes, because we have only read one half of the verse so far: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Back to the Greek; “All will be made alive” is in the future tense, so even if we feel we are presently dying, hang on, death is not the end of the story. When we are “made alive” we will have a new beginning within God’s grand story.

“All will be made alive” is also in the passive voice, meaning it is not something we do or are responsible for. Someone will do for us something that we could never do. This takes us back to verse 3 of 1st Corinthians 15 where Someone does something for us: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” All those sins we have committed that show we are no better than Adam and are sharing in the same fruit? Yes, Jesus died for those. The bad news gives way to very good news!

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 7:24-25)

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

This is very good news indeed but we might be very typical and think it is all about us. We get to enjoy eternal life. But there is more going on here. The resurrection of the dead is not just about us.

Consider that back in the Garden of Eden there seemed to be new rulers in town. The serpent was powerful in temptation. Adam and Eve were powerful in exerting their own will and doing their own thing. Soon Cain was powerful in the ending of his brother’s life. And on it goes down through history with people wielding power and enforcing wills. “Just try to stop me God!” With all that exercise of power let’s read what happens with the resurrection of the dead:

Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:24-28)

That can all sound quite complicated, but it points to something very simple; God’s rule, God’s sovereignty, for God’s glory. While salvation is really good news for what it means for us, it is also about the glory of God. He is “all in all.” The spanner thrown into the works by the evil one, and by Adam and Eve, does not upset God’s apple cart at all. Despite Satan’s best efforts to drive a wedge between humanity and God, despite Adam and Eve’s sin, despite yours and mine, The LORD will be

. . . among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them.
(Revelation 21:3)

God’s purposes will be accomplished, God’s Kingdom will come, God’s glory is intact.

Let us go back to the original question. Have you ever had the experience of knowing something is coming and there is not a thing you can do about it? The resurrection of the dead in Christ to eternal life is something Satan and the powers of evil know is coming  and there is not a thing they can do about it. When we repent and trust in the Lord Jesus, then our resurrection becomes something coming that no one can touch. Not because we are better than Adam, but because God is all in all.

All scripture references are from the NRSV except “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” which is taken from KJV.

Image: Augsburg Fortress Bulletins

April 17, 2016

Is Your Belief Sufficient to Gain You Everlasting Life?

•••by Russell Young

There are eleven occasions where “everlasting life” is used in the Word of God; most are found in the book of John and teach that it comes through believing in Christ.  “For God gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal [everlasting] life. (John 3:16, NIV)

Since “belief” is the means of gaining everlasting life one should be sure of its meaning.  “Believe” is translated from the Greek pisteuo which is defined as “to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), i.e. credit; by implication, to entrust (especially one’s spiritual well-being to Christ): -believe (-r), commit (to trust), put in trust with.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary #4100)

Belief in the context of salvation goes beyond understanding that something is true; it means that one has sufficient faith in Christ or is sufficiently persuaded concerning the being and mission of Christ that he is willing to entrust his well-being to the Lord.  One’s conception of “belief” should not be limited to the understanding that his well-being can be assured by absenting himself of all responsibility for it by allowing Christ to do all that is necessary.  He cannot abrogate his obligations unless the Lord has allowed him to do so, and He hasn’t.  The writer of Hebrews has recorded that eternal salvation comes through obedience. (Hebrews 5:9) “Belief” means accepting the Lord’s teachings in the gospel with the commitment to honouring them with his total being…all his mind, soul, and heart. (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27)

In Biblical times “to believe” was synonymous with obedience.  “And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed?  Se we can see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.(Hebrews 3:18, 19, NIV) One acts according to what he believes.  He cannot truly believe something and act contrary to that belief; his actions are to be congruent with his beliefs and his belief are to be in accordance with the Word of God.

The most commonly presented view of the means of salvation seems to be mental assent or conviction that Christ will deliver the confessor into His eternal presence if he acknowledges that Christ is God, acknowledges that he is a sinner, and voices repentance for his sin.  To accept the position that salvation comes through mental assent followed by confession of faith without requiring obedience, however, is contrary to much of the teaching of the New Testament.  Belief is to be ‘in the heart” (Romans 10:9) which is the motivator of one’s actions.  Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21, NIV)

Paul reported to King Agrippa that he had preached that people should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. (Acts 26:20)

There are many references to the need to obey Christ throughout the New Testament. (John 10:27, 8:51; Ephesians 5:3-7; Romans 6:16; 8:48:14) The understanding of the need for obedience should give cause for thought because many accept that they will be in the kingdom of heaven without any need for obedience or for doing God’s will.  The book of Hebrews presents: “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” (4:11, NIV)

Whatever one claims “belief” to mean, it must incorporate the necessity for obedience to Christ over one’s lifetime; otherwise his belief will be “in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:2) He is to be lord and He is to be honoured as Lord.  It is through belief that one relents of his own lordship and allows Christ to direct his life in order that his heart might be transformed into that of the likeness of Christ, (Romans 8:29) and become an offering acceptable to the Lord. (Romans 15:16)

Belief does not save anyone since every person believes in something.  What results in everlasting life is what one believes and how he proves that belief by his actions.  Belief produces faith and faith unless it produces works is meaningless. (James 2:17) One’s belief/faith is better measured by his actions than by his profession.  Everlasting life comes through belief that is evidenced through obedience to his Lord and Saviour.

March 20, 2016

A Monumental Error

•••by Russell Young

There is a monumental error being taught and accepted that equates one’s redemption with his eternal salvation. Unless the fullness of the gospel is presented, many may end up to be eternally disappointed. Paul wrote: He redeemed us in order that the blessings given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:14, NIV) The purpose of the redemption provided by Christ is so that we might receive the Spirit. It is the Spirit who brings eternal salvation! (2 Thessalonians 2:13, Titus 3:5-6) The blood offering of Christ does NOT. The sacrifice of Christ has prepared the believer for the gifting of the Holy Spirit, “Christ in you,” (Colossians 1:27) so that he might enjoy Christ’s indwelling presence and on-going ministry.

One’s redemption is the first step in achieving an eternal hope. The blood of Christ cleanses the believer of his “past sins” and allows him the jurisdiction and power of the New Covenant (Hebrews 9:15), a covenant of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:6). Paul wrote that the justification provided by the blood of Christ was not sufficient to avoid the wrath of God. Since we have now been justified by his blood how much more, shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:9-10, NIV) The Spirit gives life.” (John 6:63) Christ is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17, 18) More is required than the believer’s redemption or reconciliation; the life of Christ must be lived in the believer following that point if he is to have life.

There is much rejoicing for the gift of eternal life that presenters think the redeemed possess. Following one’s redemption the one who professed the lordship of Christ (Romans 10:9-10) may yet abandon his pledge. John chapter 15 makes clear the possible impermanence of one’s position in Christ. If the believer does not produce fruit, he may be cut out of Christ (v.1), and Christ said that if he [the believer] remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit (v.5) and if one remains in Him, his prayer requests will be answered. (v.7) These “if” statements put a condition on one’s place in Christ.

In another place the Lord Himself proclaimed, I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.” (John 8:34-35.) Paul has written that a son is one who is led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14) and that we have an obligation to put to death the misdeeds of the body because if we live according to the sinful nature we will die. (Romans 8:12-13)

Although redeemed, Paul was not confident of his own resurrection. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings [Hebrews 2:18] becoming like him in his death, and so somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all of this. (Philippians 3:10-12) If Paul lacked confidence, how is it that believers today can rest their confidence in a pledge once made and in their redemption. One’s redemption is a form of salvation (deliverance) but it is NOT eternal salvation.

One’s redemption at the time of his confession frees him from the law and brings him near to God so that he might be given the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that brings about one’s “eternal salvation.” This truth needs to be appreciated and believers need to be taught and need to learn how to be led by the Spirit. They need to love the Lord with ALL of their mind, soul and heart. Nothing less is satisfactory. Because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold-I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:16, NIV)

The monumental error that many have accepted is that their redemption means their eternal salvation, whereas it is only the first step to gaining that eternal hope. The life of Christ must be lived in them yet. He is the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6)

Paul has made it clear, Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8, NIV) One’s doing following his redemption is important and it is his obedience (Hebrews 5:9) to the Spirit that will allow him eternal life.

February 29, 2016

Do You Know the Gospel of Christ? (Part 2)

This is partly a continuation of where we left off yesterday, and partly a different perspective on the same subject.

•••by Russell Young

In Part 1 it was revealed that eternal salvation comes through the life of Christ being exercised in the believer.

Did Part 1 present what seems an unlikely gospel? Let’s consider it another way. The believer has available all of the attributes that Jesus had as he walked this earth excepting for His soul. Just as Jesus was body, soul, and spirit so is man. This reality must be appreciated by those who are prepared to excuse themselves from “walking as Jesus did.” (1 John 3:6)

All of mankind are composed of the trinity of body, soul, and spirit. The body of Christ was the same as that of all men; it was formed in the womb of Mary. “Since children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity…he had to be made like his brothers in every way in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God.” (Hebrews 2:14…17, NIV) Further, it is written “We have a high priest who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15, NIV) And to solidify the nature of His humanity the writer has also presented: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son he learned obedience from what he suffered and once made perfect became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:7-9) (This passage does not refer only to petition in the Garden of Gethsemane following which He suffered a cruel death.)

The body prepared for Christ by the Father in the womb of Mary is of the same nature as the one we possess. It is the body that brings death (Romans 7:24) and its appeasement subjects one to temptations and suffering. “Because he himself [the Lord] suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18) It must be accepted that the “body” of Christ is of the same nature as our own.

But Jesus has a soul and a spirit also. Jesus was given the spirit that mankind had enjoyed at creation…it was in the likeness of God (Genesis 1:27) holy in purpose, just as were the spirits of Adam and Eve. However, the spirits we possess are far from the nature of the one first given. Adam and Eve had no knowledge of evil but allowed the lies of Satan to infect them with his lies and his spirit. They took on evil spirits…desiring to please the flesh rather than God. Jesus, however, maintained the spirit given Him and lived a sinless life. (Hebrews 4:15) “How much more then will the blood of Christ, who through the Holy Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences [moral consciousness] from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9:14, NIV)

At the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan the Holy Spirit descended upon Him. (Matthew 3:16) The believer is also given the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:5, John 7:39) Therefore, not only did Christ have a body that suffered the same interests as do those of the rest of mankind, the believer, once reborn, has the same Spirit that brought victory to Christ. The believer possesses a body like that of Christ and the Holy Spirit…the very one that enabled Christ to overcome the flesh, the world and the Evil One. The believer has been reminded to be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is a matter of one’s will…his choices; as he denies his evil nature, his natural spirit will weaken and become ineffective. One’s eternal hope is availed when he is gifted with the Holy Spirit. “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” (Galatians 5:5, NIV)

It is man’s soul that differs from that of Christ and it is his soul that Christ came to transform. Man’s soul distinguishes him from all others and houses his will. His soul offers the testimony of his faith to God and the world. One’s will reacts to one’s heart interests and determines his choices and practices. The will of Christ was to honour and obey His Father. (John 5:30) The one given entrance to God’s Eternal Kingdom must also honour and obey the Father. (Matthew 7:21) “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37, NIV)

In Genesis it is recorded: “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Genesis 6:5-6, NIV) It is not a pardon that is required for eternal salvation, although that is essential, but a transformed heart. A pardon does not transform but relieves the sinner of the consequences of his rebellion. Those who cause God pain will not be found in His presence. Paul wrote: “For it is God [the Spirit] who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13, NIV) The Lord must subdue and convert/transform the soul of man as He is allowed on order to sanctify the evil heart and conform it to His likeness. (Romans 8:29)

Paul wrote, “You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is corrupted by its deceitful desires, to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22, NIV)

The command to live as Christ lived in this world should not be considered an impossibility. The believer has all that Christ had in the body that the Father had prepared for Him in the womb of Mary and he is expected to reveal Christ to the world as the Lord lives in his body. He has the same Spirit and the Spirit is to enlighten, lead, and empower for the development and display of the same soul. However, obedience is required…not to the law but to Christ, the Holy Spirit. He is truly to become a son of God and a brother of Christ.

Those who excuse the practice of sin will one day have to justify it to the Lord who provided them with all that is needed for life and godliness, who had lived with the same realities of body, soul, and Spirit, and who had made provision of Himself to live in the one who had professed Him as lord/Lord.

This is the gospel: Christ offered Himself a sacrifice on the cross, to redeem the believer from his past sins and from the Old Covenant so that He might live righteously through the repentant believer and fit him for the Kingdom of God.…“Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

February 28, 2016

Do You Know the Gospel of Christ? (Part 1)

Today we have the first of a two-part, back-to-back look at a subject that Russell Young is very passionate about. Subscribers will receive the second part on Monday. Read this slowly and carefully, some of this may seem new to you.

•••by Russell Young

It is surprising how many “believers” and even pastors do not know the gospel of Christ or are unable to articulate it. The consequence of this is very serious.

The gospel rests in the revelation of an eternal hope through the presence of Christ “in” the believer. Paul wrote: “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery [that “which had been kept hidden for ages and generations” v. 26], which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27, NIV) The gospel or good news which manifests God’s glorious riches, the “mystery” that has been kept hidden, is Christ “in” the believer which is his hope of glory.

This great mystery was revealed following the crucifixion of our Saviour. “Christ in you” is the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV. See also Ephesians 2:22)

The Spirit is necessary for one’s eternal salvation. Paul wrote to Titus (3:5-6) and to the Thessalonians (2:13) that God chose them to be saved “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.” It is not recorded anywhere in the Word of God that eternal salvation comes through the sacrificial offering of Christ on the cross. Christ’s ministry on the cross redeemed the believer from the consequences of his “past sins” and from the jurisdiction of the Old Covenant, completing it for him. He was then placed under the New Covenant, the covenant of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:6), and he has been made “competent” to satisfy it through Christ in him.

The believer’s eternal hope is not based solely on his being pardoned for past sins, but is based on the sanctifying ministry of Christ in the believer following one’s confession of faith and following his confession of the lordship of Christ. (Romans 10:9-10) In another place Paul also made known the necessity of the life of Christ lived in and through the believer: “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him… For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled shall we be saved through his life.” (Romans 5:9-10, NIV)

Christ must be allowed to live His life through the believer; His presence in one is not sufficient to achieve one’s hope. The Spirit may be quenched, denied, or thwarted. “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Romans 8: 11, NIV)

John wrote: “This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him [Christ] must walk as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:6) This requirement is often dismissed out of hand. After all, who can walk as Jesus did? However, this is part of the gospel and John has said that the believer “must” do this if he is to be found living in Christ. The writer of Hebrews has stated that eternal salvation comes through “obedience.” (5:9) (This is the ONLY passage in the entire Word of God that contains the phrase “eternal salvation.”) Most challenging of all is John’s proclamation: “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (1 John 3:6) How is this writing to be understood? The answer is that mortal man cannot live as Christ did, but the Lord living in him can. He accomplished the sinless life in the body that the Father had prepared for Him in the womb of Mary, and He can do it in the body of the believer. “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience [moral consciousness] from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14) That is why Paul wrote that “Christ in you” was your hope of glory. This is the “good news.” The victory has NOT been won for the believer by Christ; that must yet happen. The victory that Christ won was for Himself and gave Him the keys to hell and death. (gave Him authority over/put Him in control of hell and death.)

To further develop these truths, we are reminded that Christ came to fulfill the law; not to abolish it. He came to fulfill it through living His life personally and specifically in the body of each believer, if permitted. (God does not over-rule the will of man.) Paul wrote: “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4, NIV)

Paul also taught that it was those who are led by the Spirit who are not under the law (Galatians 5:18, and those who are led by the Spirit who are sons of God. (Romans 8:14) The Spirit’s leading comes through conviction of one’s conscience. The Spirit enlightens, leads and empowers for righteousness leading to holiness and eternal life. (Romans 6:19, 22)

The Lord has revealed the need for one to die to self and to the interests of the flesh (One’s baptism testifies to this.) and to live in obedience to the Spirit. Although there is much to be said on the need for obedience and transformation, and the need to “overcome” (Revelation 21:7), a singular passage might assert these truths: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8, NIV)

The Lord has given the believer all that he needs for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) but he must appropriate that provision; he is to live as Christ lived, and as Christ will live through him, if obeyed. The believer is told “to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) and to make “every effort” to enter through the narrow door because many will try to enter and will not be able to. (Luke 13:24)

Judgment awaits the disobedient and rebellious, starting with the household of God. (1 Peter 4:17) Those who are slaves to sin will have “no permanent place” in the family. (John 8:35, NIV) “He will punish those who do not know [see/appreciate] God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” (2Thessaslonians 1:8, NIV)

This is the gospel: Christ offered Himself a sacrifice on the cross, to redeem the believer from his past sins and from the Old Covenant so that He might live righteously through the repentant believer and fit him for the Kingdom of God.…“Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

January 21, 2016

Is God Schizophrenic?

Today we welcome a new writer to C201 and one of a very limited number of people here who I have been privileged to meet face-to-face. Russ Young’s writing focuses on ways in which the church has compromised Biblical teachings on grace and salvation and eternal life, and our one hour discussion challenged me personally in areas where my standards with respect to holiness have the propensity to become lax.

•••by Russell Young

Is God Schizophrenic? The answer is, of course not. The problem is that at least western Christianity is treating Him as if He was. That is, He is viewed as being bi-polar. In the Old Testament He is seen as being a wrathful God, bringing His anger upon the Jews for their disobedience and rebellion. In the New Testament, He is viewed as the all-forgiving, all-loving, and all-tolerant God. In the Old Testament He might be viewed as being depressive; while, in the New He is viewed as being manic. Of course, God does not change and has not changed. He is pure in all His ways and His expectations have not changed.

The issue that has distorted understanding of God and which has distorted the gospel is that of teachings concerning “grace.” The believer is saved by grace, but his eternal salvation is not unilaterally gifted as is often presented; nor does God’s grace cover sin deliberately committed following confession of faith. The Jews lived under the Covenant of the Law. Obedience to its governance was required in order to avoid God’s wrath. This was and remains so because He is supreme and He is holy. The LORD had presented the laws concerning His righteous government to Moses in stone. Defying them is defying Him…His sovereignty. He will not give His glory to another. Through them He also revealed the nature that He wanted to have established for His kingdom. To contravene His Law is to blemish the holy nature of His kingdom.

The LORD knew the heart of man and knew its inclination to evil (Genesis 6:5); consequently, He had addressed the solution to the heart problem through the presence of His Son living in the heart of man. The Law was put in charge to lead us to Christ. But now that faith has come we are no longer under the supervision of the law. (Gal. 4:24-25, NIV) The law “supervised” so that the righteous requirements of God as revealed through the law could be maintained and His wrath avoided.

God Has Not ChangedGod has not changed. He still has the same righteous requirements and will continue to visit His wrath upon the disobedient and the rebellious. His “grace” does not cover these challenges to His authority and holiness. Paul writes, Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him. (Romans 5:9-10, NIV) We ought not be confused concerning this matter. His wrath is avoided through Him…the exercise of His life in the believer.

The avoidance of His wrath is NOT through His death but through His life. Paul wrote that the mystery of God which had been kept hidden for ages and generations is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col. 1: 27) The wrath of God is avoided through the life of Christ within the believer…by the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18) It is the Spirit who will lead in the pursuit of, and if obeyed, the achievement of righteousness leading to holiness. And so God condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Ro. 8:3-4, NIV) And Peter wrote:His divine power [the Holy Spirit] has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3, NIV)

According to Peter we have all that we need in order to avoid God’s wrath and that comes through obedience to the Spirit (Heb. 5:9) Paul told the Corinthians: He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant-not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:6, NIV) God’s grace does not give anyone eternal life. It removes his “past sins” and upon confession of Christ’s lordship allows him the enjoyment of the covenant of the Spirit. (Heb. 9:15)

Those who accept that they have been freed from God’s wrath while sin is being practiced will have a surprise one day. They will come under judgment for their rebellion and disobedience. Paul taught, For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one might receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV) the Lord revealed, The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Matthew 13:41, NIV) One’s separation from Christ is dependent upon one’s actions. The things he does and the unlawful things that he causes to happen.

God’s kingdom will be righteous and will contain those who are righteous. His righteous expectations have not changed. His grace does NOT unilaterally allow one escape from His wrath. He is not schizophrenic but is constant in His being and in His expectations. The manner in which righteousness is achieved has changed but not its need. God’s grace, allowed for the incarnation of His Son. It allowed for His Son to bring the word of truth. It provided Christ, an unblemished lamb, as a sacrifice for sin. His grace allows for the gifting of the Spirit to enlighten, lead, and empower the believer in a righteous walk. It provides Christ as high priest to mediate for sins committed in ignorance and for confessed sin. The grace of God does not gift eternal salvation but provides all that is necessary for it. Eternal salvation comes through “obedience” (Heb. 5:9) which produces holiness. (Romans 6:22)

December 18, 2015

He Came to Save

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Today’s reading is from Stephen & Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement. This is my go-to devotional in the morning and we break the six-month rule with them, using their material more frequently here. They are in their eleventh year of faithfully doing this on top of an active chaplaincy ministry in Pennsylvania. Click the title below to read this at source.

Mighty To Save

ListenListen to this message on your audio player.

“The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save” (Zephaniah 3:17).

“But when he (Joseph) had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet” (Matthew 21:20-22).

“Therefore He is able also to save to the uttermost (completely, perfectly, finally, for all time and eternity) those who come to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25 Amplified)

One day when Heaven was filled with His praises,
One day when sin was as black as could be,
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin,
Dwelt among men, my example is He!

Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me;
Buried, He carried my sins far away;
Rising, He justified freely forever;
One day He’s coming—oh, glorious day! *

At this season, along with Easter, it’s predictable that national news magazines will do a feature story about Jesus Christ. However so often these articles are slanted away from the Biblical and historical teachings about Jesus Christ and espouse the faddish views of various “scholars” that the writer selectively cites.

Critics have often tried to distinguish between what they perceive as the harsh, judgmental God of the Old Testament with the kind, loving God of the New Testament.  Of course God is God and He does not change. In Malachi 3:6 He declares “I the LORD do not change”. The feeble attempts by critics to “package” God merely reveals that we are finite humans. We are called to belief and obedience. Understanding comes as we “trust and obey”.

Zephaniah 3:17 Today’s first verse is a reminder to us of a powerful, loving God who is ever present. “The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save.” You may have present circumstances in your life that make this verse hard to grasp. But consider the great truth that God is with you and He is mighty to save! I would sure take this to primarily mean in regard to our greatest need of salvation from sin, but I also believe He is “mighty to save” in regard to a specific situation we are dealing with as well.

Matthew 1:20-22 contains the angel’s announcement to Joseph concerning Mary. The message of the angel in verse 21 is an assurance to Joseph that Mary’s baby would be a “Son” whose name would be “Jesus.” The Greek name “Jesus” comes from the Hebrew name Joshua which literally means “Jehovah saves,” or “God is salvation.” Even before Christ was born the angel revealed to Joseph the unique nature of His reason for coming, “He will save His people from their sins”. The Gospels and Apostolic teaching reveal this was accomplished by His sinless life, atoning death, and resurrection from the dead. The term “His people” should be understood to include both believing Jews and Gentiles (see Gal. 3:13,14; Romans 3:21-25; Titus 2:13,14; 1 Peter 2:4-10) whom Christ would save “from their sins” by means of His perfect life and substitutionary sacrifice. (from “Explore the Bible”)

Two thousand years after His first coming and mission accomplished we are among those who experience the wonder of His love. “Therefore He is able also to save to the uttermost (completely, perfectly, finally, and for all time and eternity) those who come to God through Him.”

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today

Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Daily prayer: Father, the wonder of Your love is that You sent Your beloved Son, Jesus, the Holy Child of Bethlehem, in answer to our need for salvation. And in answer to our prayer You cast out our sin and entered in to be born in us, making all things new in our spiritual transformation. Because we come to You through Christ we are saved completely to the uttermost: perfectly, finally, for all time and for all eternity. All we have need of You provide through Christ Jesus our Lord. And we are forever grateful! Amen.



* “Glorious Day (Living He loved me)”  Video  Casting Crowns

August 7, 2015

What About Those Who Have Never Heard?

I have always been attracted to articles that deal with the eternal destiny of the un-evangelized, not because I expect to resolve this issue, but because it challenges me to think. Writers don’t necessarily agree on this topic, and I believe that’s part of living in a world where we “see through a glass darkly.” (1 Cor. 13:12)  This article appeared at the blog Wintery Knight, which in addition to a lot of political discussion, contains a number of thought-provoking articles like this one. Click the link below to read at source.

What will God do with people who have never heard about Jesus?

One of the most difficult questions for Christians to answer, especially when posed by adherents of other religions, is the question of what happens to those who have never heard of Jesus? In this post, I will explain how progress in the field of philosophy of religion has given us a possible (and Biblical) solution to this thorny question.

First, Christianity teaches that humans are in a natural state of rebellion against God. We don’t want to know about him, and we don’t want him to have any say in what we are doing. We just want to appropriate all the gifts he’s given us, do whatever we want with them, and then have eternal bliss after we die. We want to do whatever we want and then be forgiven, later.

Along comes Jesus, who, through his sinless life and his death on the cross, heals that rift of rebellion between an all-good God and rebellious man. Now we have a real understanding of the fact that God is real, that he has power over death, and that he has very specific ideas on what we should be doing. If we accept Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and follow his teachings, we can avoid the penalty of our rebellion.

The only problem is that in order to appropriate that free gift of reconciliation, people need to actually know about Jesus. And there are some people in the world who have not even heard of him. Is it fair that these other people will be eternally separated from God, just because they happened to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Enter famous Christian apologist William Lane Craig to save the day. His solution is that God orders the world in such a way that anyone who would freely choose to acknowledge Jesus and appropriate his teachings in their decision-making will be given eternal life. God knows in advance who would respond, and chooses their time and place of birth, and he supplies them with the amount of evidence they need.

And this agrees with what the Bible teaches. The apostle Paul says this in his apologetic on Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-31:

22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.
23 “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘ N D ‘ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;
25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;
26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;

28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
29 “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.
30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,
31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

This passage is not difficult to understand, although some may find it difficult to accept. According to the Bible, God puts us in the best possible place for us to respond to him, and if we don’t, we are responsible. We decide how to respond to God’s efforts to make himself known to us. We would never find him ourselves, but he takes the initiative to reveal himself, without being coercive. It falls to us to investigate and find the clues, and re-prioritize our lives according to what we find.

In this research paper, Craig explains in detail how God foreknows how people will choose in every set of circumstances, and how God uses that knowledge to get everyone where they need to be without violating their free will. God wants the best for everybody, and has ordered to whole universe in order to give each of us our best opportunity for eternal life.

Here is a summary of the what is in his paper:

The conviction of the New Testament writers was that there is no salvation apart from Jesus. This orthodox doctrine is widely rejected today because God’s condemnation of persons in other world religions seems incompatible with various attributes of God.

Analysis reveals the real problem to involve certain counterfactuals of freedom, e.g., why did not God create a world in which all people would freely believe in Christ and be saved? Such questions presuppose that God possesses middle knowledge. But it can be shown that no inconsistency exists between God’s having middle knowledge and certain persons’ being damned; on the contrary, it can be positively shown that these two notions are compatible.

Go read this paper and equip yourself to answer this common question!

May 22, 2015

Mercy to Those Who Doubt

Late last night, I was re-reading a 2013 article at the blog Parchment and Pen by Michael Patton dealing with doubt. It drew me to verse 22 of Jude:

Jude 22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

The Reformation Bible Commentary states:

The exact Greek text of these verses is disputed, and it is hard to tell whether two or three groups of sinners are in view. Whatever the textual solution, Jude clearly recognizes that different pastoral strategies are to be employed with different people. Some can profit from gentle counseling (Gal. 6:1). Others will require confrontation or action of some sort, to pull them “out of the fire.”  (emphasis added)

That sets the tone I believe for anything you read in other commentaries on this verse. The Asbury Bible Commentary states:

Despite his vigorous exposure of the opponents’ errors, in vv. 22-23 Jude calls the church to evangelize them. Jude holds out the evangelistic hope for renewal, even to selfish schismatics who upset congregational fellowship and mission. Jude’s prescription of edification for the saints and evangelism of the schismatics is an effective antidote for contemporary church fights as well.

which seems to reflect that “doubters” would refer to Jude’s opponents or those unevangelized.

But Matthew Henry sees this referring to “brethren” who have fallen into error.

He directs them how to behave towards erring brethren: And of some have compassion, etc., Jude 1:22, 23. Observe, (1.) We ought to do all we can to rescue others out of the snares of the devil, that they may be saved from (or recovered, when entangled therein, out of) dangerous errors, or pernicious practices. We are not only (under God) our own keepers, but every man ought to be, as much as in him lies, his brother’s keeper; none but a wicked Cain will contradict this, Gen. 4:9. We must watch over one another, must faithfully, yet prudently, reprove each other, and set a good example to all about us.

(2.) This must be done with compassion, making a difference. How is that? We must distinguish between the weak and the wilful. [1.] Of some we must have compassion, treat them with all tenderness, restore them in the spirit of meekness, not be needlessly harsh and severe in our censures of them and their actions, nor proud and haughty in our conduct towards them; not implacable, nor averse to reconciliation with them, or admitting them to the friendship they formerly had with us, when they give evident or even strongly hopeful tokens of a sincere repentance: if God has forgiven them, why should not we? We infinitely more need his forgiveness than they do, or can do, ours, though perhaps neither they nor we are justly or sufficiently sensible of this. [2.] Others save with fear, urging upon them the terrors of the Lord; “Endeavor to frighten them out of their sins; preach hell and damnation to them.” But what if prudence and caution in administering even the most just and severe reproofs be what are primarily and chiefly here intimated–(I do but offer it for consideration); as if he had said, “Fear lest you frustrate your own good intentions and honest designs by rash and imprudent management, that you do not harden, instead of reclaiming, even where greater degrees of severity are requisite than in the immediately foregoing instance.” We are often apt to over-do, when we are sure we mean honestly, and think we are right in the main; yet the very worst are not needlessly, nor rashly, nor to extremity, to be provoked, lest they be thereby further hardened through our default.—“Hating even the garment spotted with the flesh, that is, keeping yourselves at the utmost distance from what is or appears evil, and designing and endeavoring that others may do so too. Avoid all that leads to sin or that looks like sin,” 1 Thess. 5:22.

I suspect Matthew Henry has more there than was in view in the article that I read. The short Jude passage raises rich and complex issues. Michael Patton was dealing more with the issue of assurance of salvation which we looked at here recently and also here. Looking at people — especially in the Reformed tradition — who have seemingly crossed the line of faith but lack assurance that they are among the elect.

The question is Can one be absolutely sure that they are a believer and how important is this assurance in their walk with the Lord? Many Christians don’t believe an individual can be assured of their ultimate salvation. Many believe one can lose their salvation. Catholics believe that “mortal sins” (really nasty sins such as adultery,  rejection of the perpetual virginity of Mary, or missing Mass without a valid excuse) can cause a Cathlic to lose their salvation. Arminians and Wesleyans believe one can cease to believe, thereby forfeiting their seat in heaven. Therefore, from the perspective of those who don’t believe salvation can be lost, these belief systems cannot offer any assurance. The criticism would be that no one could ever be sure, until death, whether or not they are saved. After all, what if I decided to sleep in on Sunday and then immediately died of a heart attack without repenting? How do I know for sure if my faith is going to last until the end? For Catholics, the fact that one cannot be assured of their salvation is dogmatized.

…Ironically, for the Catholic, to believe that one can be assured of their salvation would be the means by which they lose their salvation!

He continues,

There are three primary reasons Christians doubt. The first has to do with objective intellectual issues. These doubt the Bible’s truthfulness, Christ’s resurrection, and even God’s existence (among other things).  Another group doubts God’s love and presence in their lives. The last group doubts their salvation and the reality of their faith. These are always wondering if they have true saving faith or a false faith. This last group lacks assurance.

It may surprise you to know that just about every contact I have had with people who are doubting their salvation are Calvinistic in their theology. In other words, they believe in unconditional election. These are the ones who believe in perseverance of the saints. These are the ones that believe that we cannot lose our salvation! Yet these are the ones who are doubting their faith the most.

Their issue has to do with their election. Are they truly among the elect? If they are, they believe their faith will persevere until the end. But if they are not, there is no hope. But how are they to know for sure whether they are elect? Maybe their faith is a stated faith? Maybe it is false. The gentleman I talked to today was so riddled with doubt, he was having thoughts of suicide. “How do I know my faith is an elect faith?” He wanted assurance so badly, but felt that his Calvinistic theology prevented him from ever having such assurance.

He adds,

When we present the Gospel to someone and they say they have trusted in Christ, we do them a disservice to force assurance upon them. After all, how do we know that their faith is real? We don’t. Instead of assurance, maybe we should give them some of the Hebrews warning passages. Maybe we should speak to them as Christ spoke to the seven churches in Revelation: “to him who overcomes . . .” Maybe we should encourage them to “test their faith” (2 Cor. 13:5). Maybe we should warn them that there is a possible disqualification. (1 Cor. 9:27). This may not fit into your thinking, but we all know there is a faith that does not save (James 2:19). Why not bring this up?

I encourage you to read the entire article.

April 18, 2015

Being Assured and Giving Others Assurance of Salvation

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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I chose this to run today simply because we don’t hear enough these days on this topic, the assurance of our salvation. The author is Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings whose writing first appeared here four years ago, and you can click the title below to read this at source.

How can I have assurance of my salvation?

This is a common question many Christians have. I think it stems from the reality that we are saved by grace through our faith. In the minds of most people (for many years this described me as well), being “saved by grace through faith” feels like salvation was out of our hands. This means salvation is a gift from God, and we receive this great and wonderful gift through our belief.

The problem with viewing salvation this way is that there is no tangible standard for us to know that we have truly received the gift of salvation. If it was based on what we did, at least we could keep a score card on our behavior so we could know if we were living up to the right standard.

Without a tangible standard, many people rely on a subjective experience to tell them that they are saved. The problem with this is that over time the feeling of the experience fades, and we are left with the same question: Am I saved?

Life is going to take us through a series of ups and downs. In one moment we feel like we are close to God and that our salvation is secure, but the next moment we wonder if God has abandoned us. If we are going to rely on a subjective experience as evidence for our salvation, then we are going to constantly doubt our salvation. What we need is an objective standard to tell us that we are saved, and thus give us confidence of our salvation.

The way I moved away from the constant roller coaster of doubt and certainty of my salvation was to focus on God. Our salvation begins and ends with God and His grace, and therefore I can know I am saved because of God. The apostle Paul wrote,

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6; NLT)

We can trust God to save us and mold us into the people He wants us to be.

Why can we have this confidence? This confidence comes from the fact God is a Covenant Keeper and we are in a covenant relationship with Him. Deuteronomy 7:9 says,

“Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.” (NLT)

Being in a covenant relationship with God gives us assurance of our salvation. How do we know if we are in a covenant relationship with God? We enter into a covenant relationship with God through faith and repentance as expressed through baptism (Acts 2:38; Romans 6:1-8). The New Testament is clear on the importance of baptism, and baptism is always connected to the ideas of faith and repentance. That means without faith and repentance (trusting in God and declaring your loyalty to Him alone) baptism is meaningless. Baptism is the means of entering into a covenant with God when it is accompanied by faith and repentance.

The guarantee God gives us that we are in a covenant relationship with Him is the Holy Spirit. The sign that the Jews were in a covenant relationship with God was circumcision, but through Jesus that has changed. The apostle Paul wrote;

“And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago.” (Ephesians 1;13; NLT)

The Holy Spirit circumcises our hearts and sets us apart as God’s people.

If we break the terms of the covenant, these terms are summarized in the two great commandments of loving God and loving people, God promises to forgives us (1 John 1:9). He also gave us a way to renew our covenant with Him: Communion. We enter into the covenant by being united with Jesus, the covenant sacrifice. In communion we affirm our intention to be part of God’s covenant by consuming the body and blood of the covenant sacrifice (Luke 22:19-20).

The objective standard of being in a covenant relationship with God should give us assurance of the salvation that we have.

Another way we can be certain of our salvation is through life change. We can’t follow Jesus and be guided by the Holy Spirit without our life being changed. As we reflect on our lives we should be able to see that there is a change that has happened.

The book of 1 John was written to help us to be confident about our salvation:

“I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13; NLT).

One of the common themes through the book is the love that we have for each other. For instance 1 John 3:14 says;

“If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead.” (NLT)

If we want to know whether or not we are saved, then the evidence is going to be seen in the love we show to other people.

Can we be confident that we are saved? Yes, we can live with confidence, knowing that God has saved us. This confidence doesn’t come from a subjective experience that may fade over time. Rather, it comes from the objective standard of God’s faithfulness. We can know we are saved because God keeps His covenant. Our hope for the future can be a confident hope because it is founded on the covenant faithfulness of God, and that is the firmest foundation we can have for our faith.

Check out more of Paul’s writing at Paul’s Ponderings.

March 13, 2015

Biblical Regeneration

I’ve been reading Arthur Sido for years, but other than one brief mention here 14 months ago, I see we have never included his writing here at Christianity 201. His blog is called The Voice of One Crying in Suburbia, and if you follow a number of online writers, I encourage you to bookmark it. Begin by clicking the title below to read today’s thoughts at source, and then look around at his other articles.

Regeneration Is Not An Attitude

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:17)

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8)

Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of salvation in the broader evangelical church, up and down the spectrum, is the simple truth that salvation is entirely a work of God. Every bit of it. Jesus didn’t die to make good men better or to create a potential, possible salvation maybe for anyone pious enough to grab it, a kind of faith meritocracy. Salvation is nothing less than a miracle, a greater miracle than parting the Red Sea or knocking down the walls of Jericho or Jesus walking on water, feeding the multitude or healing the sick and blind.

Instead of embracing the awesome and fearful image of a God who can and does save as He desires, we make salvation into a decision people make like deciding which house to buy or whether to go to Burger King or McDonalds. That decisional sovereignty might make sense if a right standing with God is predicated on your current attitude but that is not what Scripture teaches.

What troubles me about the language of “personal relationship with Jesus” and “Jesus wants a relationship not a religion” that is so in vogue in religious circles these days, other than the obvious issue of it not being anywhere in the Bible, is that it sidesteps the necessity of regeneration. There is no relationship with Christ apart from a supernatural act of regeneration and adoption. The “relationship” between an unregenerate man and God is one of an enemy and a criminal who will be held to account with no hope of acquittal. You can talk about your “personal relationship with Jesus” all you like but it is good for nothing more than making you look like a moral person in the eyes of your fellow man. It certainly changes nothing in your standing before God. Only being regenerate counts, only being born-again. That is why it is so maddening and inane when people talk about avowed unbelievers like Gandhi as if they are paragons of Christian virtues when the one thing that matters most in the Gospel was absent from their lives. They were never born again and therefore will not partake in life eternal. I have no problem with saying that Gandhi and anyone else who refuses to bow the knee to Christ in this life will face an eternal hell, one that is infinitely just. I take no pleasure in it but I would be ashamed to deny what Christ taught.

When a person is regenerated, it is not merely the taking on of a new attitude. A Christian who has been born-again is something completely new. He hasn’t merely changed his mind. He was dead and now he is alive again. He was an enemy of God, a child of wrath and now he is reconciled to God and a child of The Most High. One does not waffle back and forth like a particularly fickle adolescent girl, this day, this hour in love with God and saved and the next falling out of love and unsaved. Salvation is not a spectrum where you get to 50% +1 units of saved and you get in (unless you slide back to 50% – 1 right before  you die). It is all or nothing. You are born-again or you are not. If you are, you are in the Kingdom of God, adopted and justified. If you are not you will never see the Kingdom no matter how many good works and acts of religious piety you perform.

When the church that has a doctrine un-moored from the necessity of regeneration it ceases to be the church of Jesus Christ. It might be a swell place to hang out, it may feed lots of poor people, it might have a fat bank account but it is not the church, the both invisible and visible temporal embodiment of the Kingdom of God. We are in real danger of losing this most precious, most necessary doctrine of regeneration. If we do we have nothing to offer the world but our own piety and that will save no one from the judgment to come.

You must be born again.

It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

August 13, 2014

Justification, Sanctification and Glorification

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:22 pm
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For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin–
For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.
 (Romans 6:6-7 NLT)

Jeremy Myers has been running a series of word studies at his blog, Till He Comes, concerning words that do not refer to eternal life, even though we think of them in terms of it. This is actually part three; you might want to click the link in the first paragraph to read the parts sequentially. To read the first one at source, click the title below.

Words that DO NOT Refer to Eternal Life (Part 3): Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification

In previous posts we looked at several words that do not refer to eternal life: salvation and Kingdom of Heaven, and inheritance and reward. This post we will look at three more.

Justification

While it may be true that justification and eternal life are very closely related, they are nevertheless distinct in biblical theology.

To be justified is to be “righteousified.” That is, justification is to be declared or considered righteous by God. It is not the same thing as being “made righteous.”

It may be best to think of justification as being “in right standing” with God whereas eternal life is the actual reception of God’s life in us. The two are closely related and occur simultaneously when we believe in Jesus, but are still distinct.

The critical point to remember is that neither the reception of eternal life, nor the declaration of righteousness actually makes one righteous in all their thoughts, actions, and behaviors. If it did, we would never sin again. But we do sin, which brings us to the topic of sanctification.

Sanctification

It is because of this ongoing sin that we need sanctification. This is the life-long process of being sanctified, that is, of becoming more holy.

Sanctification occurs as we follow Jesus in discipleship and learn to love others like Jesus through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Sanctification often leads to the temporal experience of eternal life, but is not eternal life itself.

Through sanctification we begin to understand what it means to live under the rule and reign of God, and we begin to see other people as God sees them, and ourselves as well. Based on this brief description, you may realize that sanctification is vitally important for the Christian life.

Indeed, it is probably not an overstatement to say that the vast majority of the New Testament is concerned with Christian sanctification.

Glorification

Glorification then, is the future event when we finally gain our perfect, glorified bodies. It is with these redeemed and sinless bodies that we will live forever with God and will serve Him and one another for all eternity.

justification-sanctification-glorification

Though it is an oversimplification, we could say that if justification is deliverance from the penalty of sin, and sanctification is the deliverance from the power of sin, then glorification is the deliverance from the presence of sin.

So justification, sanctification, and glorification are not themselves eternal life, but maybe it would be safe to say that they are aspects of eternal life. Justification is when we receive eternal life; sanctification is when we learn to live within eternal life; and glorification is when we fully experience eternal life.

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