AUTHORITY: Whose Authority Should A Believer Be Under?

                           

                 Authority: Whose Authority Should A Believer Be Under?

There is a strong movement amongst church and Para-church leaders to push professing Christians under the umbrella of a group or a “leader.” I believe that the scriptures do, with great clarity, point to submission to government entities as long as they are affirming values that are objectively good and are punishing evil. (Romans 13:1-7). We are also exhorted to submit to our brethren in accordance with the biblical model given to us by Jesus, Paul and Peter. Christ centered leadership does not lord authority over others, as Jesus Christ himself showed us by serving the sick and the poor and by washing his disciples’ feet even as he was about to be brutally executed by his enemies.

Many of the well-known Christian leaders of our day reject any type of scriptural examination of their teachings, claiming that, as David spoke of Saul, so we are not to touch (or question) God’s” anointed.” Fortunately, we have the great apostle Paul as an example of how a leader is supposed to respond to a flock that tests his teachings. In Acts 17:10-12, it is clear that the Berean church was highly esteemed…because they tested EVERYTHING Paul taught them with the scriptures. They were not rebuked or rejected by Paul for daring to test his teachings. Instead they were considered to be more noble than other churches for examining his words, and have been recorded forever in the canon of scripture for that very act. May we find leaders who feel the same way about honest men testing their teaching in the refining furnace that is the word of God.

It is a very good (and sadly, a very rare) thing to have mature and honorable people in our lives who truly believe and understand the word of God. I am a firm believer that when the Lord brings us such people, they should feel the freedom to use God-breathed scripture to correct, train, teach and even rebuke us…getting us back on the straight path to Jesus Christ. The word of God should always be our final authority, as it was for the noble Bereans, for it will endure long after this earth and it’s inhabitants burn away. (1 Peter 1:23-24).

I personally long to know men and women of honor and truth with whom I can share this journey to Jesus Christ…believers who have put aside the deceptive lies of this world: wealth, status, sex, power, constant recreation, and instead joyfully subject themselves to the only one who judges righteously…Jesus Christ. But as noted above, such believers are few and far between as the wickedness of this world flows like an open sewer into the body, destroying the hearts and minds of even the most sincere followers of Christ.

Below are several scriptures that set forth the biblical model of authority, warning us that we should be cautious when submitting to fallible men, and reminding us that Jesus alone is our final authority. The scriptures also illustrate that biblical authority should not look like temporal authority. Instead it should look … like Jesus. I encourage those who read this to do so with a Bible in hand. This is far from an exhaustive study, but it does attempt to capture the primary theme of the verses that address this issue.

Matthew 23:8-12

In this passage, Jesus instructed a large crowd that they should not call anyone teacher or master, for Jesus Christ alone is our master. He also warned them that they (and we) are not to call anyone father other than our Father God in heaven. Instead, whoever is greatest among us must be our servant and whoever exalts himself will be humbled. In Mark 10:42-45, Jesus also emphasizes the fact that those in authority through Christ should be a servant, just as Jesus Christ came to serve mankind and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Luke 16:15

In this passage Jesus points out that what is highly esteemed by men is detestable in the sight of God.

Nowhere is the above statement truer today than in the church, where both leaders and laymen are enamored with the wealthy “Christian” businessman or the “Christian” celebrity athlete. Often authority and respect are erroneously given to a wealthy businessman not because their hearts and character have been tested with the refining fire of scripture, but because character is simply assumed because they have had temporal success. In my experience I have seen church leaders ignore the fact that many of these men have stepped on the necks of business partners – even ones who were struggling financially – to gain more power and wealth for themselves. Also, the fact that many of these men have often ignored or left behind wives and children as they built an empire for themselves that will soon burn away (Revelation 18:10-19), is forgotten, because in today’s church, cash and outward appearances are almost always king. Paul and Jesus, however, cared nothing for material wealth and had no place to rest their heads as they traveled from city to city on foot, in order to love and serve the poor with integrity. (See Paul’s thoughts on all things temporal: Favorite Scriptures #1: Paul’s Perspective On This Short Life (Philippians 3:7-14)) Are those in power in our spheres truly caring for the weak and powerless on a consistent basis as Jesus and Paul did? Not likely, because as much as it is talked about in our sanctuaries, it is rarely a significant item on the schedules of the men leading our churches since there is much fund raising and book writing to do.

John 2:24-25

Jesus did not entrust himself to men for he knew what was in men.

While Jesus was God, and was fully submitted to the Father while on earth, this statement by John makes it clear that we should be very cautious when trusting ourselves to others, just as Jesus was. Perhaps that is why Jesus, in John 14:26 (and 1 John 2:27) told us that the Holy Spirit, not rabbis or pastors, would teach us all things. We must all simply take the time to study the word of God ourselves, with the help of the spirit, and not delegate that duty to any man.

1 Corinthians 4:6

Do not think of man above that which is written.

This is an excellent verse, making it clear that Paul does not want any man to place him or any other elder above the scriptures. The word of God alone is our final authority, not man.

1 Corinthians 4:6

The head of every man is Christ

This unambiguous statement by Paul makes it clear that in Christ, men do not rule over men. Jesus Christ is our Lord and it is to him alone that we must give an accounting for our lives. Thus, we should get to know what is important to him straight from the fountain…avoiding the middleman where the fountain often becomes polluted.

2 Corinthians 1:24

In this verse Paul makes states that he did not want to have dominion over anyone else’s faith. He simply wanted to be a helper…a servant to his flock because each one of them, and each one of us, stand and fall based on our own faith.

In 2 Corinthians 11 and in Galatians 1, we also see that in both Corinth and Galatia, the people in the churches were easily submitting themselves to a different gospel and a different Jesus than the one Paul preached. Why? It was undoubtedly because they, unlike the Bereans, did not test what they heard from their leaders with the word of God. Even Jesus Christ himself used the word of God when he battled Satan in the desert after starving for 40 days. He could have easily come up with his own memorable and powerful phrase with which to hammer Satan. But Jesus Christ himself chose to use the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God in reminding Satan that, “It is written….” With those words, Satan fled.

Jesus and Paul both warned us, and Paul with tears, that we must be on guard, for many false prophets and teachers will arise from inside the church. These greedy and power hungry men lord their authority over the flock, and as Peter said, turn us into merchandise…a means to comfort, wealth, power and fame. I believe we can all say that we have seen far too much of that type of leadership in the body…some subtle and some not so subtle.

In Galatians 2, Paul also makes it clear how he feels about challenging authority if he believes that false practices or teachings are taking place. He did not mind challenging even the great apostle Peter – and in front of other believers. Peter was leading the church back into legalistic practices, some of which Peter himself ignored when it suited him. So Paul called him out in a very clear and direct manner, not demeaning Peter but calling the sin that was taking place sin, with no attempt to prop him up or protect him from what he had to face. Paul’s only desire was to honor and glorify God by making it known publicly that Peter’s actions were wrong and were infecting the body.

Neither Jesus nor Paul was a respecter of persons. They loved people but did not idolize them or place them on a pedestal. The scriptures are clear: only Jesus should be worshipped and treated as above criticism. Yet somehow today, some in the church feel that we should cover or down play the sins and false teachings of our leaders because it will hurt the body if they are exposed. Quite the opposite is true. There is nothing…nothing more beautiful than a good, strong leader in Christ owning up to his failures and being an example of humility and teachability to the brethren. That…is true power through the spirit of Jesus Christ.

It is also clear that Paul did not believe that he had to run every decision he made by other men. When he received his calling to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, he stated that he did not confer with flesh and blood before undertaking that commission. (Galatians 1:16). He, like Jesus, did not need to be told by fallible men what he knew the spirit was calling him to do. Is it wise to run important decisions by men we trust, who know the word and use it as their lamppost? Yes. But if there are no such men available, we are able to trust the word of God and the mighty Holy Spirit within us to lead us into all truth. (John 14:26, and 1 John 2:27).

Ephesians 5:21

Submit yourselves to one another in the fear of the Lord.

Again, Paul makes the point that in Christ, we who are growing towards maturity are not supposed to lord authority over each other. Instead we should mutually submit to the biblical wisdom and insight that our brothers and sisters have for us through knowing and fearing God. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul says, “follow me as I follow Christ,” meaning follow him to the extent that what he is doing is truly following Jesus. We do not have to blindly submit to the worldly advice and insights given to us by our friends and fellow believers, for each one of us are ultimately accountable to the only one who judges justly.

1 Thessalonians 2:4

Paul states that he and his brothers put their faith, not in men, but in the gospel, seeking to please God who tries their hearts.

I love that Paul emphasizes throughout his letters, that we must remain aware, at all times, that it is ultimately Jesus Christ to whom we are accountable. We must constantly live in a state of godly fear and awareness of his mercy, power and majesty as we remain in him, bearing fruit to the glory of the Father.

1 Timothy 2:5

There is only one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.

This is another scripture that states clearly and directly that we, as believers, are beholden to no man, but are instead personally responsible for our own faith and must communicate our sin, our troubles and our thanksgiving to Jesus Christ himself.

Similarly, Hebrews 4:15-16, reminds us that we have a high priest in the heavens who can relate to our infirmities since he himself was a man. Therefore, we can approach his throne of grace with boldness so that we may obtain mercy from him directly in our time of need.   Notice how there is no mention of going first to a pastor or brother. We all may, due to the sacrifice of Jesus’s body on the cross, approach him directly and with great confidence. Furthermore, Hebrews 12:1-3, tells us, eloquently and with great spiritual power, that we are to fix our eyes not on man…but on Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith who, for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning it’s shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. It is the Jesus of the Bible that we must focus or minds, our hearts and our eyes on, not man.

2 Timothy 2:15-17

In this passage Paul reminds Timothy that he has known the Holy Scriptures since he was a child, and that those scriptures are able to make him wise unto salvation. Paul goes on to tell him that ALL scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and for instruction in righteousness so that he – and we – might be fully equipped for good works.

The lesson here is that, if I am to mutually submit to another for instruction, correction and reproof, those admonishments must come from the scriptures…and not from the mind and heart of a man.

Hebrews 13:17

In this passage, Paul tells us to obey those that have “rule” over us for they are accountable to God for our “souls.”

Based on how the words “ruler” and “soul” are used in both this passage and in Romans 13:1-7, and based on what Jesus teaches us in Matthew 23:8-12(discussed above), it appears that this passage is addressing temporal rather than spiritual authority. Regardless, the Berean church established with great certainty that examining those who posses the gift of leadership with the word is a noble thing.

1 Peter 5:1-3

Peter instructs the elders to feed the flock of believers rather than to lord authority over them. He also encouraged them to be good examples to the younger brothers and sisters.

1 John 2:20,27

We all have the anointing from God and “know all things,” so we “need not that any man teach” us since the anointing from God will teach us instead. These verses are similar to Jesus’ statements in Matthew 23:8-12 and John 14:26, which are discussed earlier in this writing.

1 John 2:20 and 27 directly address two key issues as they relate to authority in the church today. First, they establish, with certainty, that there are no longer any specially anointed men who are not subject to a careful examination with scripture. While we all have different gifts and we can learn from each other…everyone who is truly in Christ is personally anointed by God. Secondly, these verses remind each of us NOT to delegate our responsibility to learn about Jesus Christ to an authority figure. We all are to seek God ourselves while he may yet be found and we must test everything we hear from men with the word, lest we be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. (Ephesians 4:14).

There are many men and women today who are desperately trying to obtain power and wealth by declaring themselves (or by having their cohorts declare them) apostles and prophets of Christ. They expect all believers to get in line under their self appointed headship and to obey everything they teach, including many so-called revelations, which often contradict scripture directly. One of the best examples of the obvious false teachings of both the Dominionists/NAR and Bethel, is their false eschatology, which is the exact opposite of the clear teachings of Daniel and Revelation. In Revelation 13:7 and in Daniel 7:21, 7:24, 8:24, and 11:33, it is clear that believers are NOT going to retake the world to usher in Christ’s return. Instead, the saints will be defeated by the antichrist, and Jesus will take his revenge in his time and in his way. It is not about us and our fleshly desire to reign. It is about Jesus Christ and his perfect plan, which takes place in his perfect timing.

There truly is only one mediator between God and man and that is Jesus Christ, our wonderful and precious high priest who gave his body and his blood for us…cold and naked on a hard wooden cross. This great and wonderful God has given us the gift of his Holy Sprit, which will indeed teach us all things as we seek him with all of our hearts. (John 14:26). We must reject the worship of proud, charismatic men and must instead invest our hearts in the one thing that we know is true…the unchanging, everlasting word of God. Then we will be able to understand God’s perfect love and his will for our lives.

EPILOGUE

If we do find faithful believers who are truly following the model of a Jesus centered life, as illustrated by the apostles, by all means follow them as they follow Christ. But…know the word for yourself so that you, like the Bereans, are equipped to test everything, and do not fall for clever sounding phrases and thoughts sprinkled with the name of Jesus and other Christian language. Submit to committed followers of Christ as they teach you God’s eternal word…but understand this: all men will fade away and die, like grass in the hot sun (1 Peter 24-25), but the word of God endures forever. When we stand before God at the end of days, with everything laid bare before him, he will ask us if we truly loved him with all of our hearts, and if we did, why didn’t we take the time to test the things we were taught and practiced with the scriptures since many courageous men were burned at the stake so that we could have it by our beds and on our electronic devices. I hope that we are all able to tell Jesus, with great boldness, that we did love him and that we were not fooled by the call from proud and deceitful men to listen to their interpretation of the Bible and ignore our own, through the Holy Spirit. Seek the Lord in truth and with great earnestness while he may yet be found. Time is short my brothers and sisters. Make the most of it while there is still daylight….

Ecumenism part 1: Contend Vigorously For the Faith

Preach the Word Boldly, and do Not Be Ashamed of Jesus Christ

Tithing and the New Testament Church

LIMITED ATONEMENT: Does Everyone Have an Opportunity to Be Saved?

           Limited Atonement: Does Everyone Have an Opportunity to Be Saved?

He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.  John 3:36

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it (the gospel of Jesus Christ, and not sovereign election or predestination!) is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16

14 “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:15 And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” 2 Cor. 5:14-15

…God our Saviour…will have all men to be saved , and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.  5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all…. 1 Timothy 2:3-6

“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”  2 Peter 3:9

32 “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.33 This he said, signifying what death he should die. ” John 12: 32-33

9 “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

An Analogy:

If my wife, rather than being human, was AI, and was programmed to run to the door, smile, hug and kiss me with great joy every day when I come home from work, it would mean exactlynothing, because it wasn’t from her heart. It wasn’t her choice to marry me or love me.

Despite the semantic games, Calvinist teach that we are essentially robots, chosen by God to love him…forced to love him. That, of course, is not love at all. In order to have authentic love, we must have the freedom to hate, even to hate the God who made us and loves us. Satan made the choice to reject God’s love and his will…and so do most of us. Life is so much more than simple, gnostic FATE.

 

   The idea that God, before time began, preselected certain unborn people to be destined for salvation, while certain other people were pre-designated for hell, with no opportunity to believe and repent, is clearly and outrageously false – and fails when tested in the refining fire that is the word of God. We are to look to the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) for guidance on all issues, and the full counsel of God, as found in the eternal scriptures, obliterates the idea of limited atonement, along with the other pillars of Calvinism. However, for the purposes of this article, I will focus on the error of limited atonement because it is a critical concept for believers since, if it is true, the Christian life of evangelizing, being a living example of Christ, and making disciples, has no value in terms of saving others from the flames…and both the piercing gospel of Jesus Christ (which is the power of God unto salvation, per Romans 1:16) and prayers for the salvation of others…are meaningless.

From the dawn of time, men and women have had free will, given to us by the hand of God. In his sovereignty, he chose to create humans, not robots. In the garden, Adam and Eve had the freedom to either obey God, or to listen to the deliciously wicked voice of the serpent. God did not make or want mindless creatures, but instead, He, in his unimpeachable sovereignty has given each of us freedom. This freedom is best illustrated by the opportunity we all have to choose life or death, good or evil (see, Joshua 24:14-15).

Far more often than not, we have chosen evil, but the idea that we are all preordained to go to heaven or hell, without a volitional element, makes the life and brutal death of Jesus Christ, as well as the commands of Jesus and the apostles, moot, a waste, a sham, a fraud, and an unfathomable cruelty perpetrated by a God who in reality has an unsearchable love for each and every one of His beloved children. We are far more than robots living an essentially meaningless, preprogrammed life. We are men and women who have received the gift of free will from the one and only God, and he wants us to use that will to seek him with all of our hearts. The evidence of his love and mercy…is everywhere (Ps. 19).

My primary problem with Calvinism and all other structures and belief systems superimposed on the Bible, such as hyperdispensationalism, covenant theology and pre/post-tribulation rapture, is that we tend to force every other scripture we find into the mold of those manmade paradigms, even if there are 20, 40 or even 100 scriptures that seem to contradict the 3 or 4 verses that support our belief. We tend to cling to our position as an idol, rather than seeking the “whole counsel” of God on a subject. Why? Because we learned it from a trusted youth leader, a long-time pastor or from a wise seminary professor. Instead of trusting men, who will fade away like grass (1 Peter 1:24-25), we must take the eternal word of God, as a whole, gathering all of the verses on a topic we seek to understand, so that we can study every single word Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, et. al. said regarding that issue. That is the ONLY way to truly understand the things of God. We must rely less on the teaching of men, no matter how much we love and respect them, and rely more and more on God’s everlasting word. As John 14:26 and 1 John 2:27 teach us, the Holy Spirit will teach us all things as we press deeply into His word.

My hope is that we will all obey the Apostle Paul’s command in 2 Corinthians 10:5, and cast down every pretense that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. We must tear down the manmade structures that we place on the eternal scriptures, no matter the cost, and instead search the written word ourselves, diligently and in full, just as the Bereans did and were commended for it (Acts 17:11).

Below are an abundance of scriptures, most of which are self-explanatory, which establish the fact that every single person born on this earth has a chance to be saved. While I will never understand the thoughts and intents of the heart of God, or fully comprehend His foreknowledge, I do believe that Jesus, Paul and Peter have made it more than clear to all of us who truly seek Him in His word, that no one, pre-birth is designated for hell at the whim of God, and that everyone has an opportunity to recognize and choose the only one who can save us from the consequences of sin(Romans 1:18-21).

If your theology requires you to change the definition of these simple words: all, any, every, and the world…then you have a problem. That problem is not with me. It is with God.

Nullifying the plain meaning of multiple scriptures in order to make them fit into the theology of our favorite authors and teachers, is a dangerous thing. For God so loved…the WORLD. Yes, God actually loved the whole world, so he gave his only begotten son to redeem us all, yet most reject such a great salvation.

Psalm 19:1-4 In this passage, David states that the heavens declare the glory of the Lord and the earth shows His handiwork. Day after day they pour forth knowledge and night after night they pour forth speech. There is no language where their voice isn’t heard. Their words have gone out to the end of the world.

This scripture, in conjunction with Romans 1:16-21, teach us that, God has revealed himself to all through the beauty and power of creation. Therefore, we are ALL without excuse.

Psalm 97:6 The heavens declare His righteousness and all of the people see His glory.

Matthew 11:28-30 Come to me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest….

Anyone who is weary and burdened is invited by Jesus to come to Him for rest. He doesn’t invite those he’s allegedly already chosen. He wants and has invited us all.

Matthew 18:14 When Jesus is talking about children, He specifically states that it is not His Father’s will that even one of these should perish. Clearly, Jesus is sharing His (and the Father’s) hope that every single one of the children on earth will seek Him and find Him. His will is that none perish, yet many do, thereby confirming that we have a will that can reject God.

Luke 2:9-11 When the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds to announce Christ’s birth, he told them that he was bringing tidings of great joy which will be “to all people.”

Luke 13:34 Jesus laments over the fact that He so desperately longed to gather ALL of His elect jews to Himself – but they refused to come. His elect jews willingly rejected the one who made them and was calling them home. I recommend reading this passage. It makes no sense in the context of Calvinism.

John 1:1-18 The gospel of John (along with Romans Chapter 10) is a tour de force against calvinism, tearing it down from every angle. This extended passage, which I believe is one of the most important in the entire Bible (because it establishes exactly who Jesus Christ was, is and is to come), is an excellent place to start in proving that Jesus came to save everyone who believes. Sadly, most reject his offer of salvation by grace through faith.

In the opening four verses, the Apostle John states, with great clarity exactly who our savior is, and he makes it abundantly clear that: Jesus “was the light of men.” Jesus was not the light of some men. He was not the light for certain chosen men. He was the light of all men. John then goes on to state that John the Baptist came as a witness to Jesus so that through Him all men might believe.(V. 7). Again, it was Jesus’ hope that every single person on this earth would believe in God…not just some men, not just certain preselected men, but all men. In verse 12, John also specifically states that anyone who receives Jesus, to him he will give the power to become a son of God. John is emphasizing the fact that there is a strong volitional element to salvation. Anyone who receives Jesus Christ can become a child of God. John 1:16 goes on to state that we have all received the grace of God.  Men predesignated for hell, with no chance to choose between Jesus and the god of this world, would not have the opportunity to receive God’s grace, thereby making John and the scriptures liars. I believe the clear, specific words of John the apostle, over any man, no matter their reputation, popularity or academic background.

John 3:16-21 In this well-known passage, Jesus restates the point made by John in chapter 1, by saying that anyone who believes in the name of Jesus will not perish but will have everlasting life. Verse 17 goes on to state that God sent Jesus into this world not to condemn it but to save it. He did not come to save a few preselected people who were already marked for salvation. Why would Jesus come and die a brutal, torturous death to save people who were already saved? Why would Jesus and Paul tell us to preach the word of God, to make disciples, and to contend for the faith vigorously, if it was already predetermined who would and wouldn’t be saved?    In the rest of this passage, we learn, from the mouth of Jesus Christ, the author of our salvation, that we all have a choice…darkness or light, good or evil. (See also, John 3:36, which is just as strong on this topic, and is quoted in the heading of this article).

John 5:22-24 Jesus states that all judgment has been committed to Him by the Father, and that it is the Father’s hope that all men would honor His Son. Jesus then goes on to state that whoever hears His words and believes that He was sent from the Father, has eternal life.   Again, there are no limitations placed by Jesus or the Father on who can hear and believe in Jesus Christ, and Jesus specifically states that it is His Father’s actual hope that everyone would honor Jesus Christ. The only person who seems to place limitations on who can hear the word of God and be saved is John Calvin.

John 5:39-40

“And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” John‬ ‭5:40‬

Jesus tells His fellow Jews that, while they search the scriptures daily, they do not choose to come to Him, the very one to whom the scriptures point. Jesus is making it clear that the study of theology doesn’t give anyone eternal life…but willingly coming to the one and only savior, Jesus Christ, does…and that is a choice we all have the opportunity to make.

John 6:45-47 Jesus again states that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life, not just a preselected few.

John 12:32 Jesus says that, if He is lifted up from the earth He will draw all men to Himself. Most will ignore Him, but Jesus says, with unmistakable certainty, that He will draw ALL men to Himself.

John 12:48 is another clear verse, spoken by Jesus Christ, warning us of the eternal consequences of using our freedom to reject His salvation:

“He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.”

John 20:31

“But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”

Why do we have the scriptures? That we might believe and choose life. This is another clear verse explaining how God has given humanity certain things (like creation per Psalm 19:1-2; Rom. 1:19-21) to point our eyes, minds and hearts to him. Some heed the call of God…but most reject it and go their own way.

Acts 7:51 When Steven, “full of faith and power” is explaining the prophesies of Jesus from the Old Testament to the Jewish council, he informs them that, just like their fathers, they resist the Holy Ghost.   Steven would not need to waste his time preaching this message to the Jews if it were predetermined who would and wouldn’t be saved. He also makes it very clear that their forefathers chose to resist the Holy Spirit, which is of course a voluntary act. In both Deuteronomy 30:19-20 and Joshua 24:15, God commands His people to choose…this day life or death, blessings or curses…thus, even in Old Testament days, God gave men the choice as to whether or not they would follow Him. Most of them chose the golden calf, Molech, the queen of heaven or Ashtoreth worship over the Living God, just most people today choose their idols over salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ. We all have the ability to resist or accept the unchanging truth of our great God. He speaks to our hearts through His eternal word and through the glory and beauty of creation, so that all of us are without excuse. See, Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:19-20.

Acts 10:34-44 When Peter was sharing the gospel with Cornelius, he stated that God is not a respecter of persons, and that every nation that feareth Him and works righteousness, is accepted by Him(we saw that with Nineveh in the OT when they repented after hearing the word from Jonah) . In verse 43, Peter teaches that through God’s name, whoever believes in Jesus shall receive the remission of sins. We also see throughout Acts and the epistles that Peter, Paul and many other Apostles spend their lives relentlessly preaching the gospel throughout the world knowing that all men everywhere have an opportunity to hear the truth of Jesus Christ and be saved.

*****Acts 17:24-31 In this powerful passage, where Paul is preaching to the philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens, he lays out, in very clear terms, the fact that God, who made everything, created each person at a specific time and in a specific place that “they should seek the Lord and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us.” So even the godless Greek philosophers were placed on earth at a specific time and in a specific place, so that perhaps they too might seek God, find Him an be saved. This is true for every person ever created…says Paul: Acts 17:24-31

24” God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring…30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”

Romans 1:16 This verse is self explanatory. The power of the God unto salvation is NOT predestination. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ, which ransoms men from the flames of hell:  16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” The great passage on Grace in Ephesians 2:8-9, also makes it clear that we are saved by “grace through faith,” not by “grace through predestination.”

Romans 1:19-23 Paul essentially restates what David said in Psalm 19, that all men are without an excuse when it comes to knowing God because God has revealed Himself to everyone from the dawn of time, through the glory and power of creation. Yet men choose to ignore what God has placed right in front of their five senses, and instead choose to degrade each other and embrace the darkest of sins.

**Romans 4:5 The calvinists claim that choosing to believe the gospel is a work, thus, true believers don’t choose to trust Christ but he alone chooses them. This verse makes it as clear as is possible, that choosing to believe is NOT a work because Paul contrasts belief with works:

“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Romans‬ ‭4:5‬ ‭KJV

Romans 5:18 Just as judgment came upon all men by Adam’s sin, so by the righteousness of Jesus, the free gift of justification unto life came to all men.

***Romans 8:29 In this verse Paul explains predestination as “foreknowledge,” just as Peter defines the “elect” as those God “foreknew,” in 1 Peter 1:2. The point is, that God did not preselect men to go to heaven or hell, but he, in his omniscience, “foreknew” who would choose to believe on his name, and those who would reject him. See below:

“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:29

Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ….” 1 Peter 1:2

 Romans 8:32 Paul states that God the Father delivered His Son to death “for us all.”

Romans 10:4 Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for everyone that believes.

Romans 10:9-10  “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God raised him from the dead (NOT” If thou art randomly preselected by Jesus for heaven before time began”), thou shalt be saved. For it is with the heart that man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

Romans 10:12-17 Paul teaches us, without any limiting language, that the Lord is rich toward “all” who call upon him (vs. 12) and goes on to state that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (See also, Joel 2:32) Paul then implores the Roman church to preach the gospel, since the only way that people can believe in Jesus is by hearing the word of God. He states, “How shall they believe in him of whom they haven’t heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans10:14).  This point is emphasized again in verse 17: “So then faith cometh by HEARING, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17

Paul does NOT say that people believe in Jesus Christ because they are part of the “elect.” He makes it clear that people will not, and cannot believe…unless we preach, and they hear…the word of the living God.

In summary, Paul is telling us in Romans 10, with clear and powerful language, that salvation wasn’t accomplished at the pre-creation whim of God, but instead he exhorts us to go out into the world and preach the gospel in order to give more people an opportunity to hear the story of Jesus Christ, who ransomed us from hell with his blood, and perhaps, through hearing the truth, might be saved.

1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

***1 Corinthians 5:11 “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.”

The passage above is one that motivates me to evangelize perhaps more than any other. Not only is the terror of the Lord on the day of judgement very real, but Jesus Christ has called us to labor tirelessly to “persuade” people, via the gospel, to repent. If the false, Calvinist understanding of predestination were indeed true then this scripture(along with many, many others) is a lie because no one could be persuaded.

2 Corinthians 5:14-17 Christ died for all (it says that twice), thus if any man be in Christ he is a new creature and all things become new.

2 Thessalonians 2:12 Those are damned who believe not the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness.

Who is damned? Those who choose not to believe.

1 Timothy 3:6-7 God’s wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, for He gave Himself as a ransom for all.

 1 Timothy 4:10  We labor and suffer reproach because we trust God, who is the savior of all men.

1 Timothy 4:16 We must be careful how we live and with our doctrine for in doing so we shallsave both ourselves and our hearers.   Clearly, our words and actions may have a bearing on who is and isn’t saved.

Titus 2: 11-12  11″For the grace of God which bringeth salvation has appeared to ALL men, 12 teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world….” The grace of God THAT BRINGS SALVATION has appeared to everyone. This is one of many passages that could not possibly be any more clear on the fact that God offers his grace to everyone, and he offers it for free.

Hebrews 2:9 Jesus, was made a little lower than the angels and was crowned with glory and honor so that He, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man.

James 5:19-20 James tells us that many of our sins will be covered if we, through the truth, convert a sinner from the error of his ways, saving him from death. Jude 1:22-23 also emphasizes that by our actions, as followers of Christ, men can be pulled from the fires of hell.

2 Peter 2:9 God is long suffering toward us and is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:15 “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation….”

‭Peter makes it clear once again – God’s long suffering towards us actually leads to salvation. How? It his patience with our wickedness…his long delayed judgement, that gives us all the time we need to consider his gospel and repent. He wouldn’t need to be long suffering towards us – and his long suffering certainly wouldn’t lead to salvation – if each of us didn’t have a choice to make with our hearts. That choice is…the short term pleasures of sin, or the blood of Jesus Christ? Choose this day who you are going to serve.

1 John 2:2 Jesus is the propitiation for our sins and for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 5:1  “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God….”

Once again, the apostle whom Jesus loved, teaches us exactly who is saved. It is those who believe that Jesus is who He said He is.

Revelation 22:17  And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”  At the very end of the Bible, THIS is what Jesus Christ wants us to know: whosoever is thirsty, whosoever will, let him take the water of life…freely!  The offer of salvation to everyone, without limitation is being made abundantly clear one last time. Please, come to him and choose the saving blood of Jesus Christ, as the clock of of time…winds down.

Jesus Christ, the one who was with God in the beginning and through whom all things were made; the one in whom is life and that life is the light of men; the one who gave us grace and truth; the one who bore our sins in His body on the tree; the one whose head and hair are white like wool as white as snow and whose eyes are like blazing fire; The one who holds the keys of death and hell; the one who someday will appear in an open sky, riding on a white horse wearing a robe dipped in blood with a name written on Him which no one knows but He Himself; the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; and the author of such a great salvation, makes it clear, through His own words and the words of His Apostles, that He wants every single person born on this planet to be saved from the flames of hell. Why would He waste so much time teaching the jews about the dangers of hell if it was already predetermined who would and wouldn’t go there? Why would he give us the great commission or have us pray for the salvation of others, if everything was already set in stone? Why would he have allowed his son to be brutalized and murdered if we are all simply preprogrammed, predestined robots?

Because of His surpassing love, He gives all people everywhere an opportunity to repent and turn to Him. He even sends the gospel to pagans who are searching for the one true God (Cornelius, Lydia, and the Ethiopian Eunuch). However the road is narrow…and few find it because few want it. Let us all seek the kingdom of God through His everlasting word, unpolluted by the doctrines of demons and men, and let us joyfully share it with others who might also choose the glorious gift of salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ.

EPILOGUE

I strongly recommend that each one of us ask God to tear down ANY man-made belief system, which we have placed on His glorious word, no matter who taught it to us. Jesus promises us in John 14:26 (and John says essentially the same thing in 1 John 2:27), that the Holy Spirit will teach us all things, so I humbly suggest that we pick up our KJV Bibles, and ask the Spirit to destroy any preconceived notions we have about anything related to God…and then simply read.

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.   Revelation 3:20

*A note on freewill and the Old Testament: As John 3 and Romans 10 indicate so clearly, salvation is and has always been accomplished in the heart of a man who hears and responds to the word of God (see, 10:17). Since Jesus came to earth, in order for us to be saved, we must believe in our heart that he, fully God and fully man, paid for our sins with his blood, and was raised to life by his Father. There is nothing in these verses (or John 3) that implies anything else. Hebrews 11 also makes it clear that it was always faith that saved, even in Old Testament times(see also, Romans 4:2-5 and Hebrews 4:1-7). Wicked pagans and harlots, such as the citizens of Ninevah, Nebachadnezzar, and Rahab were saved – not because they were jews (because the weren’t), but because they believed in the true God of heaven, and it was credited to them as righteousness. Anyone who has read the major prophets and the books of Moses can see that most jews didn’t care one bit about the God who chose them and redeemed them from slavery time and time again, therefore, they were not saved even though they were God’s chosen people. God, through his prophets, begged them to choose Him and turn their hearts back to the one who delivered their forefathers from Egypt…but they would not. Their hearts were hard and they refused to exercise their God-given freewill to “choose this day” and “turn their hearts….” Therefore, God have them over to his enemies time and time again.

Ezra 6:19-21 is another excellent passage illustrating that even pagans who separated themselves from the filthiness of their heathen gods and turned to the God of Israel, were accepted by Him.

No verse quite sums up the tenor of the entire Old Testament, and the freewill-rejection by the elect Israelites, of a God who loved them deeply, and pursued them with all of his heart, like Luke 13:34:

34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!

God longed to gather them to Himself, as a mother hen does with her chicks…BUT THEY WOULD NOT. No passage could ever summarize freewill, and how 99% of the world uses its freedom to respond to God than this one.

Faith in the one true God has always been the only factor that saves. Even the Magi, who came from somewhere in the far eastern regions of the known world, traveled thousands of miles to honor the baby Messiah prophesied about in the Jewish scriptures. These distant pagans did what few Jews did. They read and believed the word of God… and were rewarded not only with eternal life, but by meeting in person the God who could save them.

God has always been available to the hearts of those who want to find him, no matter where they are. Cornelius, Lydia, Apollos and the Ethiopian Eunuch are more examples of New Testament gentiles who wanted to know the one true God and sought him with their hearts, so God sent his gospel to them. That…is how He works.

One more for the road:

“Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord:”

‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭1:24, 29‬ ‭KJV‬‬

Excellent Article: A Brief History of John Calvin and his Theology

All 5 Points of Calvinism Refuted

An Excellent sermon on Romans 9: Adrian Rogers

The Bible version controversy analyzed and explained

Piercing The Darkness: Preaching the Gospel in Key West, Florida

What Exactly is the Gospel?

ECUMENICISM: Jesus Christ as He is in the Word, Is the Only Way to God

Tithing and the New Testament Church

SIN, REPENTANCE AND THE CROSS OF CHRIST

                                         SIN, REPENTANCE AND THE CROSS OF CHRIST

 

” I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Luke 13:3,5

“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Galatians 6:14

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you but Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live for righteousness, for by his wounds you have been healed” 1 Peter 2:24

“…Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” Revelation 1:5b

 It grieves me deeply that much of the focus of popular “Christian” teaching and preaching today deemphasizes or even ignores sin – the very reason Jesus came to earth – and instead focuses on temporal things such as prosperity, non-essential theological matters, team building, “prophecy,” corporate leadership style, social justice, and the freedom we have in Christ. Teaching on some of those topics can be edifying if done in the unmoving shadow of the cross of Christ, through which I was crucified to the world and the world to me. However, I strongly believe that we should all, as true believers, teach nothing outside of the context of these eternal truths: the blood of God’s precious Son Jesus Christ, was freely shed for us all, so that we might see our need for a savior and humbly repent of our unrighteousness and turn, with all of our hearts, from sin, to the one and only God who loves us with an everlasting love.

 As Isaiah said, every act of charity that we do in our flesh is as filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6). All of our motives are laid bare before the one to whom we must give an account. God sees our hearts, and knows when we claim to be serving him, but in the deep places of our hearts are truly seeking: the approval of men, to broaden our business contacts, and are perhaps even attempting to earn our salvation. Paul understood the pitfalls of this type of thinking and beautifully and powerfully proclaimed that he would not glory in anything…but the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. He considered wealth, power, and the respect of men a loss for the sake of Christ. Instead he sought, with all of his heart, to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Jesus in His death so that somehow he could attain to the resurrection of the dead (Philippians 3:7-14). My hope is that we will all search our hearts before God, seeking out our true motives in everything, and ask God to conform us to His likeness through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Below I am setting forth, in summary form, many of the scriptures that stood out to me as I searched the word, regarding how the identity of Jesus was so deeply intertwined with the notions of sin, repentance, and the mercy of God. One thing is abundantly clear from my research – Jesus cannot be accurately preached without emphasizing these concepts. The scriptures prove, without doubt, that the very reason Jesus Christ came to earth in the flesh was to save us from our sin (it is sad that this is even a question)…and he accomplished this incomparable act of unmerited mercy, by shedding his blood for us on a cold, hard cross:

“5And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, 6And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Revelation 1:5-6

My hope is that readers will look up the scriptures cited as they examine this writing.

Matthew 1:20-21 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, he told Joseph that Mary, his future wife, would bring forth a son named Jesus who “shall save His people from their sins.” So…when God communicated to Joseph why he needed to take an already pregnant Mary as his wife, the only reason he gave was that this unborn child “will save His people from sin.” Redeeming us from sin is the very core of Jesus’ identity on earth – from birth to death.

Matthew 3:1-12 John the Baptist, the greatest man ever born to woman according Jesus, had one message: repentance for the forgiveness of sin because the kingdom of God was at hand. Clearly, John, like the prophets before him, was standing in the place of God, warning those who had ears to hear, that, in order to have access to God’s heavenly kingdom, repentance must take place. In verse 8, John also states, when addressing the self-righteous Pharisees, that true repentance brings forth fruit. (See, also John 15 on bearing fruit to the glory of the Father).

Matthew 4:17 After Jesus is finished with His forty (40) days of fasting and the temptations of the devil, Matthew states that Jesus’ primary message was the same as John the Baptist’s: “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 9:1-6 In this passage, Jesus made it clear, while addressing a man who had palsy and couldn’t walk, that He had the authority to heal both body and soul. In order to emphasize that the healing of the soul was much more important that healing a physical disability, He told this man first that his sins were forgiven. Only after that point was made to the man and the people who were observing this interaction, did He tell the sick man that his faith had also healed his body.

Matthew 9:7-13 Jesus stated that He came to heal those who were sick in spirit, so that they might know His mercy – and NOT to receive robotic sacrifices. This stands in stark contrast to the legalism of the Pharisees, who rejected His message of repentance. Jesus, their long-awaited Messiah, actually came to have mercy, not to receive sacrifices…and He did not come to the proud, but he came to call the poor, the weak, and the broken to repentance.

Matthew 11:20-24 Jesus rebukes the towns where He preached because they refused to repent. These cities, which had heard the message of repentance from His mouth, and rejected it, are worse off than Sodom and Gomorrah at the Judgment. This message is clearly applicable to those today who hear (or read) the true message of repentance and mercy through the blood of Jesus Christ, but reject it. It will not go well for those who minimize or ignore that beautiful message of salvation and healing, on Judgment Day. Jesus actually repeats this warning in Matthew 12:38-42 when He tells the scribes and Pharisees that He will not show them the miraculous signs they are requesting, but instead they must simply repent of their sins as Nineveh did at the preaching of Jonah.

Matthew 21:23-32 It is not what we say, but what we do that matters to God. We must repent and obey in order to please Him.

Matthew 26:26-30 During the last supper, at the end of the meal, Jesus passes around a cup of wine and tells his disciples that it represents His blood which is shed for many for the remission of sin.

Mark 2:15-17 Jesus didn’t come to those who seem to be righteous. He came to call sinners…those who almost certainly realized that they were living in a way that displeases God and were seeking a way out…to repentance. Since the self-righteous don’t believe that they need a redeemer, why would He come to them? God sees the deep things of the heart, and He longs to heal those who understand what they are in their sin…dead.

Mark 6:7-12 When Jesus first sent out His disciples, the only instruction He gave them in terms of what they taught, was to preach repentance for sin.

Luke 1:76-77 In this passage, Jesus makes it clear that He came for one reason, to teach us God’s loving plan of salvation via his death on the cross for our sins…covering them with His blood. That is who Jesus is and that is why he came. The more we live in that beautiful, simple truth, realizing that we are hopeless sinners, and how merciful and loving God was to forgive us, the more we grow in the love and in the power of God. There is no secret knowledge to obtain in Jesus Christ, just an understanding of what exactly he did for us on the cross, by subjecting himself to unfathomable violence…taking away the sin of the world.

Luke 13:1-5 Jesus states, in no uncertain terms, that unless you repent you will perish.

(verse 5: “5 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”)

Luke 15 In this passage, Jesus makes it clear that there is much joy in heaven over one repentant sinner, even more joy than there is over ninety-nine (99) righteous men. He also tells the parable of the prodigal son, emphasizing His mercy on those who are truly repentant and turn away from their sin, submitting themselves instead to the will of God.

Luke 16:19-31 In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus makes the point about just how difficult it is for a wealthy person to even care about sin and hell, given the enticing power of the temporary and deceptive luxuries that surround him.

Luke 18:9-17 The parable of the self-righteous Pharisees and the humble publican emphasize the fact that we must always remain aware of our sin lest pride creeps in and draws us away from the truth. We must stay humble before Jesus, not to live in self-condemnation, but to constantly remain aware of what exactly our great God has done for us through His blood, so that we might live in the freedom and power of His mercy.

Luke 24:47 Jesus, as He is about to ascend to heaven, tells His disciples that “repentance and the remission of sin should be preached in his name among all nations,” not just to the Jews. This is the exact same message that both Peter and Paul preached as they spread the gospel across both Judea and the world.

John 1:29 When Jesus is described by John the Baptist, He is called the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Just as the angel of the Lord described Jesus to Joseph as the one who would take away our sin (Matthew 1:20-21), so John the Baptist described Jesus to those around him when he sees Jesus from afar.

John 5:1-14 In this passage Jesus healed a man who couldn’t walk, and then tells him…not to be blessed or to increase financially…but to sin no more lest a “worse thing happen” to him. Again, Jesus is emphasizing the horrible, eternal consequences of sin, and illustrates that point by stating that, even being unable to walk for a lifetime is nothing compared to what happens to the unrepentant in hell.

John 8:1-9 In the parable of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus makes the point that we are all hypocrites, and must be careful not to condemn others who sin, for what if our own sin was exposed for the world to see? Instead, as Jesus illustrated for us, we should loving point out sin to those who have ears to hear, sharing with them the mercy of God, and encouraging them to go…and sin no more.

John 9:40-41 Jesus tells the Pharisees, who are full of pride and vain knowledge, that their sin remains because they claim not to have any sin. If they truly knew God, then they would be aware of their sin. As 1 John 1 says, if we claim to be without sin, we lie, and the truth of God is not in us.

John 15:22-23 If we hear the message of Jesus but ignore it, we are guilty of our sins because the very reason He came in the first place was to reveal sin to our hearts, so we might turn away from the temporary deceptions of this world, toward Him…and inherit eternal life.

Acts 2:38 Peter, when preaching the Gospel, told his audience to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins that they might receive the Holy Ghost. I particularly like this passage and a few similar ones in Acts because it makes it clear that when the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, repentance for the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ is the key message.

Acts 3:19 When Peter preaches the Gospel to a large crowd, he tells them to repent and be converted that their sins may be blotted out.

Acts 3:26 In this passage, we are told that God raised up His own Son, Jesus Christ, and sent Him to bless us by turning us away from our sins.

Acts 5:31 When Peter is preaching to Jews, explaining to them who exactly Jesus was and is, he describes Jesus as the one exalted by God to be Prince and Savior, and to give repentance and the forgiveness of sins to Israel.

Acts 11:18 In this passage Peter explains to his Jewish brothers that God showed him a vision that Jesus has given repentance unto life, not only to Jews but also to the Gentiles.

Acts 13:38-39 Paul is teaching a group of Jews about Jesus, explaining to them how the Old Testament points directly to Jesus, and Paul specifically notes that, through Jesus came the forgiveness of sins, something which the law could not provide.

Acts 17:23-32 Paul preaches to the Greeks on Mars Hill in Athens teaching them that God has commanded all men everywhere to repent.

Acts 20:17-24 When speaking to the Ephesian elders, Paul recounts how he preache to both Jews and Greeks, repentance towards God and faith toward Jesus Christ.

Acts 26:16-20 Paul, when describing the ministry given to him by Jesus on the road to Damascus quotes Jesus and says:

“But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto the…To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.”

‭‭

Romans 2:4 If we truly understand the goodness of God, then it should lead us to repentance.

Romans 5:8-21 This extended passage indicates that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, justifying us by His blood and saving us from the wrath to come. Paul also notes that death came to us through sin and that all of us have sinned. However, sin was not imputed to us to forever, because, just as sin came on us through one man, by the righteousness of another man, Jesus Christ, the free gift of justification unto life came to all men as well. While sin abounded and reigned unto death, through Jesus Christ, grace reigns through His righteousness.

Romans 6 Paul asks a key question, should we all feel the freedom to willfully sin because of grace? No. We are dead to sin so how can we live it any longer? Since we were baptized into Christ death, we were therefore buried with Him by baptism into death, and just as Christ was raised from dead, we should also walk in the newness of life. Our mortal life was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, that we should no longer serve sin. Instead, we should live unto God and should not, through the spirit, let sin reign in our mortal bodies. We are reminded by Paul that the wages of sin is death, and that we should obey God, not out of duty or to earn our salvation, but from our hearts.

Romans 7 When we were in the flesh, our sin bore fruit unto death. While the law itself is not sin, it did help us understand what sin is – and sin, as Paul says, slew us. He notes that even he does what he hates to do because sin dwells in his flesh, yet his inward man delights in the law of God – yet the law of sin is still in his body warring against the law of his mind. Who will deliver him from this body of death? Jesus Christ!

Romans 8 While this passage states that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, the King James version correctly includes an additional phrase at the end of verse 1 that was in over 98% of the ancient manuscripts, which I believe is critical to understanding what God requires of us in terms of sin: there is no condemnation “…for those who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.” In order to avoid condemnation, Paul makes it clear that we must have a heart to walk in the Spirit of Christ, not willingly continuing to sin because of grace, but setting aside the deeds of the flesh, which God condemned in the body of his own Son. Paul goes on to state that, if we live in accordance with the things of the flesh, it is death and is hostility towards the God who loves us. But, if we have the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead, He who raised Christ from the dead shall quicken our mortal bodies by His Spirit, which lives in us. Paul then repeats the fact that, if we choose to live after our sinful flesh, then we will perish, but, if through Spirit, we mortify the deeds of the flesh we will live. (See verse 13)

1 Corinthians 6:18-20 Fornication (sexual intercourse outside of marriage between a man and a woman) is considered a particularly grievous sin to God because it is a sin against the body, which is the temple of the Holy Ghost. As Paul notes, we are not our own. We were bought at a price…a steep price I might add. Therefore, we must glorify God in our body and in our spirit.

1 Corinthians 15:55-58 The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law, but thanks be to God that we have victory over sin through Jesus Christ. Therefore, we must be steadfast and unmovable, always laboring for the Lord.

1 Corinthians 15:1-4 In this passage, Paul defines what exactly the Gospel is. He states that, Jesus died for our sins according to the scriptures, was buried and rose again. This is the Gospel, Paul says, and in it…we must take our stand. We also must keep it in memory as we live, or else we have believed in vain.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away and all things have become new. God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not counting our sins against us. God made Jesus to be sin for us, even though He was sinless, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Christ.

2 Corinthians 7:8-10 Godly sorrow leads to repentance, which leads to salvation.

2 Corinthians 12:21 Paul stated that his duty was to reprove those in the church who sinned but did not repent.

Galatians 1:3-5 In the introduction to Galatians, Paul says, “Grace and peace from the Father and Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins that He might deliver us from the present evil world according to the will of the Father, to whom be glory forever.” I appreciate the fact that, when Jesus is described to the Galatians, it is specifically noted that He gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from this evil world.

Galatians 5:16-26 We are told by Paul to walk in the Spirit, and not in the ways of the flesh. This passage lists the acts of the flesh (aka sin) and specifically lists, among other things, fornication, idolatry, uncleanliness, witchcraft, hatred, wrath, strife, heresy, and envy. Paul states that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. If we are truly Christ’s, then we are continuing to crucify the flesh and it’s lust.

Galatians 6:7-9 After listing the deeds of the flesh above, Paul states that we should not be deceived, God will not be mocked. If we sow to follow the flesh, we will reap corruption.

Galatians 6:14 In this passage, Paul acknowledges the supremacy of the cross of Christ over his life by stating that, God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world.

Ephesians 1:5-10 In Jesus Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.

Ephesians 2:1-18 In describing the work of Jesus to the Ephesians, Paul states that Jesus quickened us who had died in our past sins when we walked in the ways of Satan according to the course of this world. But God, who is rich in mercy, even when we were dead in our sins, made us alive with Christ and raised us in Him to heavenly places. It is by grace that we are saved, and without this grace, we have no hope. Now, in Jesus Christ, we who were far off from God, are brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who broke down the wall of partition between us and Him. Paul goes on to state that Jesus abolished in His flesh enmity, making in Himself one new man that He might reconcile us unto God in one body by the cross, and through Him we have access by the Spirit to the Father. We are no longer strangers and foreigners, but are fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God.

Ephesians 4:17-25 In this passage, we are told not to sin, but to put off the deceitful lusts of our old man, and to be renewed in the Spirit of our mind. We are exhorted to put on the new man, which, after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. We are also specifically told to cease from lying, which is emphasized, I believe because it is one of Satan’s favorite weapons.

Ephesians 5:5-6 No unclean, covetous, or idolatrous man will inherit God’s kingdom. I very much appreciate the next part of this chapter, because it describes what is going on in the Christian world today. We are told by Paul not to be deceived by vain words (hypergrace/license to sin perhaps?) and that it is because of the sins listed above that God’s wrath is coming on those who disobey Him. We were once partakers of sin, and now we must walk as children of the light.

Ephesians 5:11 We are told by Paul to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather to reprove them. In other words, we are to avoid sin and to expose and correct those who claim to follow Christ, but walk in or teach sin.

Colossians 1:13-23 This passage beautifully describes how God delivered us from the kingdom of darkness and through His blood, translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son, in whom we have redemption, even the forgiveness of sins. Jesus made peace for us through the blood of His cross, reconciling all things to Himself. Paul notes that we have been reconciled to God, if we continue in the faith, not moved from the hope of the Gospel.

Colossians 2:13-15 We were dead in our sins, but Jesus forgave our trespasses, blotting out the law, nailing it to the cross.

1 Timothy 2:4-6 God wants everyone to be saved, and to know the truth. There is one God and one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom for all.

2 Timothy 2:19-26 If we claim to be in Christ, we must depart from sin. If a man purges himself from sin, he shall be a vessel of honor. Timothy is then instructed that in gentleness and meekness, we should teach others, hoping that God will give them repentance for acknowledging the truth.

Hebrews 1:3 Jesus, the brightness of the glory of God, purged our sins and then sat down at the right hand of the Father. That is who Jesus is and it is what He did for us, while we were yet sinners.

Hebrews1:9 Jesus Christ loved righteousness and hated sin, therefore God anointed Him above everyone else.

Hebrews 2:17-18 Jesus became flesh that he might be a merciful high priest (able to understand our fleshly struggles, See 4:14-16 below) in things pertaining to God, making reconciliation for the sins of the people.

Hebrews 3:12-14 Do not, through unbelief, and the deceitfulness of sin, depart from God. For we are partakers of Christ, if we hold our initial confidence in Christ, steadfast to the end.

Hebrews 4:14-16 Jesus was, in all ways tempted as we are, yet was without sin. Therefore, let us come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace in a time of need.

Hebrews 6:4-8 It is impossible for those who are enlightened, who are partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word offered, if they fall away to reunite themselves again to repentance seeing that they crucify God afresh. Those who bear thorns and briars are rejected by God and their ends shall be eternal fire.

Hebrews 8:10-12 The new covenant establishes that we shall have mercy, and God will not remember our sins and iniquities any longer.

Hebrews 9:12-15 By Jesus’ own blood, He has redeemed us for eternity. The blood of Christ, through the eternal Spirit, purges our conscience from dead works to instead serve the living God.

Hebrews 9:22b Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission for sins.

Hebrews 9:28 Jesus Christ was offered to bear the sins of many, and to those who live for Him He shall appear a second time, without sin, unto salvation.

Hebrews 10:10 We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus for our sins, once and for all.

Hebrews 10:12 Jesus, after He offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.

Hebrews 10:26-31 Do not sin willfully after having received the knowledge of the truth…because only a fire with indignation which will devour God’s adversaries awaits. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

James 1:12-15 If we endure temptation we will receive the crown of life from God. God does not tempt us, but our lust, which brings forth sin, tempts us into sin, and sin brings forth death.

James 4:8 Draw near to God, and He will draw near to us. We must cleanse our hands of sin.

James 4:17 It is sinful to know good, yet willingly choose to do evil.

1 Peter 2:21-25 Jesus suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow. Despite His suffering, He did not sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth. When He was insulted while on the cross, He did not retaliate. Instead He entrusted Himself to the one who judges rightly, the Father. Jesus bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we being dead to sin might live for righteousness. By His stripes we are healed.

1 Peter 1:1-5 As Christ suffered in the flesh, so we must suffer as well, and that suffering will help us cease from sinning, that we might no longer live for the flesh, but instead live for the will of God. In the past, we walked in our lusts, our drunkenness, and in our idolatries. Peter notes that our friends will not understand why we no longer live like that, but they will one day have to give an account to God for their deeds.

2 Peter 1:5-10 In order to make our calling an election assured, we must gain virtue, knowledge, patience, godliness, and brotherly kindness. If we do not do such things, then we have forgotten that we have been purged of our past sins.

2 Peter 3:9 God is long suffering towards us, and is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

1 John 1:8-10 If we say that we do not have sin, we lie and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 2:1-3 John advises his audience that he is writing this letter so that we do not sin, and so that we understand that we have an advocate in heaven, Jesus Christ, who is the propitiation for our sins and for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 3:5-10 The reason that Jesus came to earth was to take away our sin, and in Him there was no sin. Whoever abides in Jesus doesn’t sin, and he who sins is of the devil. Whoever is born of God doesn’t sin and cannot sin because he is born of God. In this way we can see who is of God and who isn’t. Whoever does not do righteousness and does not love his brother is not a child of God.

***Based on the totality of scripture, I believe that the passage above is speaking about those who consider themselves to be “believers” yet have an unrepentant heart. Sinless perfection cannot happen as long as we are in, what Paul describes in Philippians 3:21, as these “vile bodies.” What John seems to be saying is that, if we are truly in Christ, we will despise sin and will remain in a place of repentance as we live. We will, with the help of the Holy Spirit, seek out our sin, and confess it, not out of guilt, but because we love this great God, Jesus Christ, who became flesh and willingly suffered and died that we might forever live with Him and His Father in paradise.

1 John 5:17 All unrighteousness is sin. For whoever is born of God doesn’t sin and is protected from Satan. This verse clearly implies that when we willfully sin, we open the door to satanic oppression.

Revelation 1:5 Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the first begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of earth. He loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood and made us kings and priests unto God.

Psalms 19:13-14 In this Psalm, David asks God to keep him from presumptuous sin, and prays that no sin would ever rule him. He then shows just how much he loves God and understands His mercy and power by praying that every single thing he says and does…the words of his mouth and the meditations of his heart…might be acceptable in the sight of the living God, his strength and his redeemer. May I have that same desire.

There is no special knowledge that we must attain to in order to mature in Christ.  Instead, we must all grasp the simple yet glorious message that Jesus Christ stepped off His throne to become flesh, and willingly died for the sins of the world, cold, naked, and rejected on a cross. In that and only that should we glory. For if we dwell, through the spirit, in a place of understanding exactly who Jesus was from eternity past, and what He left to walk among us (See Ezekiel 1), we can truly understand who and what we were in our sins without Him and just how much he loves us. Then, in great humility, we can walk in the fullness of His love and power, sharing with others the great and eternal gift He freely gave us, the forgiveness of sins through His body and His blood. And we also can continue to partake of this great gift as we boldly approach His throne of grace in our time of need.

 “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

Isaiah 1:18

Harry Ironside on the meaning of repentance

Favorite Scriptures #1: Paul’s Perspective On This Short Life (Philippians 3:7-14)

What Is Important to God? Instructions For Life from Paul and the Apostles

Jesus and the Father Will Help Us Make it to The End

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GOD, ADAM AND THE GARDEN: LOVE AND TRAGEDY IN PARADISE

        GOD, ADAM AND THE GARDEN: LOVE AND TRAGEDY IN PARADISE

 

When I recently read the first few chapters of Genesis, I felt the full measure of God’s overwhelming creative power and love for me as He, and the Holy Spirit (see Gen. 1:2) designed and built a beautiful, and glorious habitation for His beloved new creation – man. I felt the intimacy of God’s thoughts towards us as He created thick green grass to cover the barren earth, and a multitude of seed-yielding herbs and fruit trees to provide us life-giving food, sweet and delicious to the taste. God then created lights in the heavens to govern both the day and the night – for signs and for seasons and for days and for years. God also made a multitude of creatures to fill the earth, the waters, and the sky with abundance. He blessed them and told them to be fruitful and multiply, and to fill the earth … and He saw that those things He made were good.

 

Then God formed man in His own likeness, and gave him dominion over all of the glorious things that He had just created, and He blessed us and told us to be fruitful and to multiply. God then viewed all that He had carefully labored over… and He saw that it was very good.

After God made Adam from the dust of the ground, He put His mouth up to Adam’s face… and gently breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and Adam became the first living soul. Genesis 2 goes on to state how God Himself went and “planted” a garden in a place called Eden, designed specifically for Adam, with every tree that is “pleasant to the sight” and that was “good for food.”

As one who loves to plant palm trees, bamboo and other tropical vegetation, the above passage touches a deep place in my soul, painting a beautiful and intimate picture of the God of heaven and earth personally designing and building a gorgeous and life-sustaining garden for man. God specifically created it so that, not only are there an abundance of plants which are perfect to sustain him physically, but there were also many trees, shrubs, and flowers which were placed there by God solely for Adam to enjoy with his other senses – his eyes, his nose and his tongue. When I picture this garden, I envision lush green queen palms blowing slowly in a soft, warm wind. I see huge, grand Canary Island date palms; purple and translucent Hawaiian Ty; thick pink, white, and yellow oleander; and waves of flowering purple, lavender and orange bougainvillea, all surrounded by endless open spaces full of thick, lush dark green grass.

I had never noticed the fact that, after creating the garden, God gives Adam his very first job, a job, which I greatly envy. “The Lord God took man, and put him in the Garden of Eden to dress it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15). What a great and innocent vocation – to tend to all of the beauty and glory that God specifically fashioned for him, all the days of his life. If only….

Besides the fact that God actually designed and planted a lush beautiful garden specifically for Adam, where he could live and reign forever, enjoying the beauty and glory of creation each and every second, the verse that struck me the most about God’s intimate and personal love and delight in man, was Genesis 2:19. In this verse, it says how God formed all of the birds and animals, and brought them to Adam “to see what he would call them.” I envision God, like a loving, deeply interested father, sitting back and watching with a big, warm smile, as His precious son Adam, thinking and imagining for himself, perhaps for the first time, comes up with creative names for all of the living creatures God made just for him. It reminds me of watching my little daughter with a new doll wrapped up perfectly for Christmas, opening it, naming it, smiling joyfully at it, and holding it close to her heart…and then giving it her very favorite name. The feeling I get as a father when I see this, is just a little taste of what God must have felt as He finished His six days of creating this wonderful planet, and watching as His plans, His purposes, and His dreams for mankind are fulfilled through Adam.

But God didn’t want robots to fill this glorious place that He carefully and lovingly designed for us, so He gave Adam and Eve free will. He allowed them to decide whether or not He, the God who made every single thing on the earth for them, was enough. Would they choose to love Him? Would they choose to trust Him? So God planted a tree, that if eaten from, would give them the knowledge of good and evil – and He specifically told them to enjoy all of the other trees and plants but not that one.

God loved them (and us) so much that He did not want us to lose our innocence and be burdened with the knowledge of evil, and He gave us every opportunity to avoid it. He simply hoped that we would be content tending the garden, enjoying the beauty, the peace, the love, and the friendship that Adam and Eve had with each other and with all of the animals, and He wanted us to walk closely with Him…in the cool of the evening.

But it wasn’t enough for Adam, and it wouldn’t have been enough for me. The unceasing beauty and majesty of creation – which speaks loudly to the hearts of each and every human through the soft clouds and a warm summer wind – is not enough. No. We, in our selfish ambition and desire to be as gods, prefer to close our eyes and hearts to God, and to pursue the cravings of our flesh. As a result of Adam’s choice, he and Eve were ejected from the garden God designed for them, and the ground was made firm and difficult to till so that they would have to eat from the sweat of Adam’s brow…and the intention of God, to make them immortal in their innocence, was shattered, and God declared that from dust they were created and to dust they shall return (Genesis 3:19, 22, 24). A cherubim and a flaming sword were placed at the entrance to the garden, preventing mankind from ever accessing the tree of life again…until Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, provided us a way back to intimacy with God through His precious blood shed in agony on a hard wooden cross.

What a great tragedy mankind turned out to be. We continued to hurt the heart of God even after the garden to the point that, just before the world was destroyed by a flood in Genesis 6, “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth and it grieved Him at His heart.”

The fact that we have the capacity to so wound the heart of the living God, shows me in a tangible and powerful way, just how much He does love us and just how grievous our sin is to Him. This same God, who made us in His image, and placed a rich and verdant garden in which we could have dwelled forever in unceasing peace and beauty, was pierced deeply and personally because of our unceasing wickedness. And to consider that, despite the fact that every inclination of our hearts was evil, He still sent His one and only Son to live spartanly and die brutally, shows that His love and desire for our hearts has not waned. May we return that love to Him by seeking His face and His face only, and recalling His wonderful plan for us at the dawn of time. For if we truly repent and believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will, one glorious day, be restored to Him and to His eternal kingdom, and there we will finally eat from the tree of life, and we will live and reign with Him in paradise forever.

Heaven: Your Best Life…Later Part 2

Grace, Obedience and Salvation: The Narrow Road

Favorite Scriptures #1: Paul’s Perspective On This Short Life (Philippians 3:7-14)

FORGIVENESS: TO THE MERCIFUL, GOD SHOWS HIMSELF MERCIFUL

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven… 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?

Matthew 5:43-46

There is neither a greater, nor more difficult calling by Jesus Christ, then the call to forgive even our worst and most spiteful enemies. Jesus himself exhibited this most difficult act, while hanging cold, naked and in agony on a cross. His ability to forgive those who destroyed his body and humiliated him in front of his enemies was truly the product of a life of love, trust and obedience to his Father in heaven…and only when we do the same through the power of the Holy Spirit can this beautiful and powerful fruit of the Spirit be birthed in us.

The Lord’s Prayer is, in my estimation, one of the most important passages of scripture because it consists of Jesus, the guy we pray to (jointly with his Father), telling us exactly how to pray. Every time I read it however, I get hung up on a few certain verses….

12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…. 14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

 

I would much prefer it say, “forgive us our sins forever, and punish quickly and with great and unfettered vengeance, those who have dared to disagree with us or hurt us.” J

But it doesn’t say that because that is not the heart of our great God. As long as we live on this earth, we are called to love – and even bless our enemies, not just with words and gritted teeth…but in the depths of our heart. To truly do that, I believe that we must know Jesus as he is in the word, and seek to comprehend exactly what it is that he did for us during his 33 years on this planet.

There are many verses that describe the love of Christ, and his death for us while we were sinners, but to me, the passage below seems to capture his mercy, his love, his obedience and his surpassing greatness, perhaps more than any other pre-Revelation passage:

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:23-24

Surrounded by his taunting enemies, hanging cold and naked on a cross, Jesus Christ, the maker of heaven and earth, the one who could have called down twelve legions of angels to save him, instead chose to suffer, bearing our sins…my sick and wicked sins…in his body, so that I might die to those sins and live for righteousness…for by those wounds, I am healed. Therefore, I must, by his Spirit, also learn to forgive, and even to suffer in forgiveness, just as he did for me.

The parable of the unmerciful servant below is an excellent illustration of what exactly Jesus expects from those who love him:

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

 

The unmerciful servant sounds a bit too familiar to me. Sadly, it is like a huge, cracked mirror held up to my face.

I know that I must forgive, in the deepest places of my heart, the people who have hurt me, especially those who have hurt me the most. Why? Because Jesus has forgiven me for so much – yet I so easily forget all of the people that my gossip, slander and selfishness have maimed. I have committed so many sins against both God and man that if I truly know Jesus as he is in his word, I will seek to become even more aware of those sins, and of his great, unmerited mercy, towards me so that I might, through the spirit, share that beautiful gift of mercy with those who have hurt me.

I cannot fake forgiveness, but what I can do with the help of Jesus, is make a decision in my mind and in my heart to forgive someone, knowing that even if I still ache inside from the rejection or shame, the choice is made – and it is final. To walk in that forgiveness, I simply ask the Holy Spirit to help me love the one who hurt me and to destroy any root of bitterness growing in my heart. I also make a point of praying for the person who wounded me, never asking that I would be justified in their eyes, or that they would see things my way, but that the Lord Jesus might take hold of them and show them more and more of his love and eternal power. Really, it is the same prayer I pray for myself. And when that bitterness starts welling up like a poisonous fountain, I ask that God would send his consuming fire to burn it up…and he does. Sometimes it is a constant battle, but knowing the life, love and death of Jesus Christ through his word, and knowing the sacrifice our Father made to allow his precious son to come to earth and suffer years of rejection and abuse, makes it a little bit easier.

Each of us has been deeply and even catastrophically wounded by others, including those we love and trust. But in many ways, through Jesus Christ, those wounds are a gift in light of eternity, because they force us to seek his face, since often, only his love can salve the pain. I have also found that deep wounds, especially those caused by the ones I trust, cause me to look intently at my own sin and the hurts I have inflicted on my close friends and family. When I consider the darkness of my own deceitful and wicked heart, it truly does make me more grateful to Jesus for inexplicably saving me…vengeful, selfish, proud me…and it pushes me to desire conformity to his likeness even more, so that when I am scorned and gossiped about, I, like Jesus and through Jesus, can put aside vengeance, and instead entrust myself to the only one who truly judges justly.

While only Jesus Christ can save souls, the wounds we receive from other people, especially the deep ones can be used as instruments of mercy to draw others to him, through the power of the Holy Spirit. We must all grasp the depth of our own selfishness in order to understand the depth of the love and mercy of God, which, through his precious son, has freely offered to us all. In a small way, our human mercy, extended even to those who despise us, is an opportunity to show that beautiful and eternal gift to others who may have no other chance to see it. May Jesus Christ help me grasp my own sinfulness so that I might, through his spirit, share this great gift of mercy.

The purpose of this short life is to know and love the one true God, and his son Jesus Christ. It is not, as I often think, to avoid pain and slink into heaven as quickly and as safely as possible. It is funny how my personal journey to seek Jesus as he truly is, became harder but much more focused, intense and authentic, during and after being rescued from my greatest failure and deepest pain. What the Lord did in my heart during that time period reminds me of the story of the Pharisee and the prostitute in Luke 7:36-50, where Jesus tells the self-satisfied and scornful Pharisee, that the prostitute who is washing his feet with her hair loves much because she has been forgiven much. Were her sins worse than the Pharisee’s? Not likely – they were just more obvious. But God judges the deep things of the heart, and she was clearly more aware of her sin, and understood what a beautiful gift it was to be forgiven by God. I too have been forgiven much…may I also love much.

I strongly believe, that, in order to truly understand Jesus Christ, we must always be aware of our sin – not out of a sense of failure or guilt, but as proof that the Holy Spirit in us, since Jesus told us in John 15, that after he departed the Spirit would convict us of sin. We must continue to walk in repentance, so that we don’t become like the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3, where our love and awareness of him wanes to the point where he is just about ready to spit us out of his mouth. The closer we are to him, the easier it seems to capture sinful thoughts and deeds before they metastasize. Thus, it isn’t a burden, but a joy to live in a place where the death and resurrection-life of Jesus are woven into every aspect of our existence.

EPILOGUE

If we only love and forgive those who love us or apologize to us, then we really are no different than the world. Jesus tells us, in no uncertain terms, that in order to be forgiven by him we must forgive others…with our hearts and without condition. The only way to authentically do that is by understanding the life of Jesus Christ, who bled and died for our many sins. How can we not, through the power of the Holy Spirit, forgive those who have hurt us, making the choice to free them from the chains of guilt and unforgiveness, and freeing ourselves from the poisonous vine of bitterness?

Each time that someone who has wounded us comes to mind, regardless of whether they have apologized to us, according to the clear mandate of scripture, we are to take that thought captive, and bless them, praying sincerely, that they might grow in the knowledge and love of Jesus. That is the only way to squelch the bitter and spiteful voice of revenge that rears itself in our flesh. And as we do this, with our eyes firmly set on Jesus, we will come to understand even more deeply, the height, breadth and depth of his love and mercy towards us. Because, he did after all, bear my sin in his body on the tree, so that I might die to sin and live for righteousness…for by his wounds I am healed. May we generously extend that same love to others.

Favorite scriptures #3: Whether the Lord Gives or Takes away…Blessed Be His Name! (Job 1)

Portraits of Jesus Christ in the word: Who Exactly is our God?

Favorite Scriptures #4: God Chose the Weak and Foolish Things of the World (1 Corinthians 1:17-25)

“Greater works than these shall he (we) do….” What is the meaning of this scripture?

 What Does the Scripture Mean: “Greater Works than these shall he do….?”  

 John 14:12

12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.  John 14:12 (KJV)

Jesus Christ says, In Matthew 18:8-9, that if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away, for it is better to live this life maimed than to have two hands and two feet and to be cast into “everlasting fire.” If that wasn’t clear enough, Jesus goes on to state that even if one of our eyes is causing us to sin, it is better to pluck it out and throw it away than to have two eyes for this life, but to be cast into the fires of hell for eternity. In John 5:5-14, Jesus heals a man who had been infirm for 38 years, and after finding him in the temple a few hours later…said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.” (John 5:14)

The point of the above passages seem to be that physical health – and even bodily wholeness – pale in comparison to having our hearts turned away from sin, and fixed instead on the eternal things of God. Jesus Christ, the maker of both heaven and hell (John 1:1-5; Matthew 25:41; Colossians 1:16), is telling all of us, in no uncertain terms, that we must focus our minds and our hearts on the things of God and not on temporal things, because ultimately, everything temporal…even our physical bodies, will burn in hell if we choose the short term pleasures of sin over the everlasting love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

When I consider the previously referenced passages in Matthew 18 and John 5, in light of John 14:12 (quoted at the top of the post), and the life of Paul, it seems clear that the “greater things” Jesus is referring to, are eternal things…. things that draw the hearts of men away from the temporary and deceitful pleasures of this world, and into a real and permanent relationship with the Living God, through the death and resurrection of our great Lord. By the mercy of Jesus, and by his great sacrifice, we have the ability to, as co-laborers with Christ, draw others away from that infernal place called hell, which God prepared for Satan and his angels, to an eternal kingdom…one that can never, ever be shaken…and to treasure that can never perish, spoil or fade. By the grace of God, this great and everlasting inheritance will belong to us – and to those we help lead to repentance, not by healing their bodies or by performing signs and wonders, but through boldly sharing the unfettered power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth….”  Romans‬ ‭1:16‬ ‭

The scriptures clearly testify that healing sick bodies and even raising people from the dead (which of course our omnipotent God can do through us if he so chooses), are small and temporary things in light of eternity. Jesus says that the angels in heaven cheer for even one sinner who repents (Luke 15:7), so how much more valuable is a life dedicated to “greater things” such as drawing others to the cross of Jesus Christ, opening up a door for them to eternity in heaven? While a life of relentlessly sharing the gospel message of Jesus Christ in gentleness and confidence through the power of the Holy Spirit will not make us rich or famous, we will be serving our great God, who is a consuming fire…and we will be fulfilling His first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) by loving both God and man.

EPILOGUE

I encourage myself first, and everyone who reads this brief article, to consider everything – every word and every action – in light of eternity. Any little thing we do for the Kingdom of God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is far greater than even the greatest thing we do for the flesh. May the Lord God, our merciful and loving Father, help us to see everything in this short life in light of the cross…until that glorious day when we meet Him in the air to be in the paradise of God…forever.

19 Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.20 Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.  Luke 10:19-20

18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.    1 Corinthians 4:18

Preach the Word boldly, and do not be ashamed of the gospel

Portraits of Jesus Christ in the word: Who Exactly is our God?

Prayer: How to Approach God and What to Expect From Him

The Written Word: What Did Jesus, The Apostles, and the Psalmists say about the Eternal Written word of God?

Leadership In Christ: Our Responsibilities As Teachers and Hearers of the word

                          TEACHING, LEADING AND HEARING

” Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”  1 Timothy 4:16

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”  2 Timothy 2:15

“For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” 2 Corinthians 4:5

What and to whom are we leading people, as we follow Christ? Are we leading them to a “spiritual life,” to reconciliation with friends and family; to wisdom through the Bible; to brotherhood; to our own charismatic personality; to temporal success, power, and happiness; to signs and wonders – or are we leading people to Jesus Christ? If we lead people to anything other than complete surrender before the cross of Jesus Christ, to the acceptance of His blood as atonement for sin, and then to a new life of love, mercy, holiness, and obedience to God, then our leadership…is in vain.

Jesus makes it clear to his followers before he ascends to Heaven exactly how we are supposed to lead. We are to go and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything He has commanded us. My purpose with this study is to examine as many scriptures as possible which specifically address the importance of sound, Jesus-centered teaching. Both teaching and hearing the word of God come with great responsibilities. Teachers must be careful to teach what is right and true before God because they are judged severely (James 3:1). Likewise, hearers must test and approve the words – and the spirit – they receive in light of scripture. So, as believers, we are all called to know the word – whether as a teacher or listener – and really, if the body of Christ is functioning properly, we should all be both teachers and hearers. Our God is a consuming fire, so let us teach, correct, rebuke and exhort each other with the holiness, love, mercy, and truth, which comes only from the Living God and His eternal, unchanging word (2 Timothy 3:16). Heaven and Earth will pass away but His words will never, ever pass away (Matthew 24:35, 1 Peter 1:23-25).

One of the scriptures which has most impacted my journey with Christ is 1 Corinthians 2:2, where Paul, after the Corinthians were divided by all kinds of “contentions” including arguments over whether they followed Paul or Apollos, boldly proclaimed, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” He went on to state that his preaching was not about him, for he came to them not with eloquence or great wisdom, but in weakness and in fear and with much trembling so that his message would not rely on men’s wisdom but on God’s power (1 Corinthians 1:17, and 2:1-5).

Paul’s statement in the passage above is the very essence of sound doctrine: preach Christ crucified, and all that the cross means, and do so in weakness and in fear, and with the power and confidence of the Holy Spirit and NOT in the strength of our personalities. In Acts 20:24-35, Paul states that his life was worth nothing to him other than that he finish with joy the task of testifying to the Gospel of God’s grace. He warns us to keep watch over ourselves and over the flock which the Holy Spirit has given us to oversee. We are shepherds of his church and we were all purchased with his blood.

In that passage, Paul warns us that savage wolves will arise from within the flock, and will try and destroy it by distorting the truth and drawing disciples away after them. Therefore, we are to vigorously and diligently testify to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in order to ensure that those we influence are not pulled away by hollow and deceptive philosophies, which rely on the wisdom and traditions of men (Colossians 2:8), or on the excitement and lust of unbiblical spiritual experiences.

If we do not waiver from the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified we will be in lonely – but good company. We should all be willing to make that blessed trade, because, as Peter says, all men are like grass, and their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fade…but the word of the Lord endures forever (1 Peter 1:24-25).

20 “…That in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:20-21

In Romans 1:5, Paul states that the reason he received grace and apostleship was to call the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. He does not say that he was called by God to heal the sick, to prophecy over the brethren, or to perform signs and wonders. In fact, Paul actually takes pleasure in his weaknesses and infirmities (sickness) because he knows that when he is weak, God is strong (2 Corinthians 12:5-10 KJV). The purpose for the calling of this great apostle was to teach and preach obedience to the loving commands of Jesus – and Paul fulfilled this purpose by both his words and his actions. He made a point of emphasizing the importance of living what he preached. (Romans 15:17, 1 Corinthians 4:16-17).

In 1 Corinthians 3:3-15, Paul states that, as God’s workers we need to lay a foundation of Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ only. The point of this scripture(as the point of 1 Corinthians 2:2), is to make sure that the only thing we never neglect to preach is Jesus Christ crucified for sin, for he is the foundation of everything. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-15, Paul again emphasizes that it is the Gospel upon which we are to take our stand. It is the Gospel that saves us and we must hold firmly to that simple yet powerful message. Therefore, Paul constantly teaches what he – and we – must continue preaching: the truth about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to pay for our sin.

In 2 Corinthians 4:2-5, Paul states that he does not use deception or distort the word. Instead, he sets forth the truth about Jesus plainly. Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the Gospel of Christ. Paul then emphasizes that he does not preach himself, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and himself and his brothers as servants for Jesus’ sake. The focus of all teaching must be strictly on Jesus Christ and not on any worldly principles. He goes on to state that teachers are called to demolish every argument and pretension, which sets itself up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

In 2 Corinthians 11:10-13, Paul states that the Corinthians are putting up with foolish teaching and Paul is jealous for them with a godly jealousy. He states that, just as Eve was deceived by the serpents cunning, the minds of the people have somehow been led astray from their sincere and pure devotion to Christ. He then states that, if anyone comes to them and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus Paul preached, or if they receive a different Spirit than the one they received from Paul or a different Gospel from the one they accepted, they put up with it easily enough. Paul is disgusted by both the Corinthians and the false teachers, and he states that the men who preach a different gospel are false apostles, deceitful workmen masquerading as apostles of Christ. No wonder he says, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light and thus, it is not surprising that his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. However, Paul notes, their ends will be what their actions deserve.

Unfortunately, angels of light masquerading as apostles seem to be quite common these days, with very few well known pastors preaching the cross, repentance, love, self-control, humility, and obedience. Instead, disorderly, bizarre, and unbiblical signs and wonders reign, and prosperity is boldly and ignorantly considered godliness. We are hearing what our itching ears want to hear rather, than the true, humbling gospel message. It is equally as disappointing that the flock does not know the word well enough to perceive the fact that so many of the things going on in their “churches” have nothing to do with Jesus or the word. Like the Bereans of Acts 17:11, we are all to receive and examine the words we hear from all of our teachers – regardless of their fame or reputation – and test them against the unchanging scriptures to make certain that every single word we hear is true.

When Paul goes to Galatia, he finds much the same thing that he found in Corinth. He is astonished that the Galatians are turning to a different gospel, which isn’t really a gospel at all. Some imposters were throwing the Galatians into confusion and were trying to pervert the Gospel of Christ. Paul emphasizes twice that if even an angel preaches a different Gospel than the one Paul preached to them, may they be eternally condemned (Galatians 1). Teaching right doctrine, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. May we never preach anything but the truth of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for sin, and may we be very careful regarding the things we approve of, lest we lead others astray and so condemn ourselves (Romans 14:22).

In Ephesians 5:3-7, Paul discusses sin and how no immoral or impure person has any inheritance with God. The key verse in this passage is verse 5, which applies directly to all who teach. Paul states that no one should deceive the people with empty words, for it is because of sins such as obscenity, greed, and sexual immorality, that God’s wrath comes on the disobedient. Clearly Paul is stating that all those who choose to teach have a great responsibility to avoid watering down sin and thereby leading God’s children to Hell by being afraid to speak the truth.

Ephesians 4:11-16, states that some believers will be pastors and teachers in order to prepare God’s people for works of service and to grow them into maturity. Maturity in Christ is important because it keeps the people from being “blown here and there by every wind of doctrine.” Thus, the calling of teachers is very serious and very clear – preach the truth of the gospel in order to, among other things, protect His precious sheep from the ferocious wolves that teach false and destructive heresies. Because the calling of teacher comes with such great responsibilities, James 3:1 says, not many of us should presume to be masters because those who do so will be judged more strictly.

Colossians 2:18-19, states that we should not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels to disqualify us for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what they have seen and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. 1 Timothy 1:3-5, also states that we should not put up with men who teach false doctrines or who devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These people promote controversies rather than God’s work. The goal of this teaching is love, yet some have wandered away from the good message and have turned to meaningless talk. These people want to teach, but they don’t know what they are talking about and what they so confidently affirm. The above are two excellent scriptures which all of us can use to test the teachers and teachings we are hearing. If they do not line up with those scriptures, then they are not from God.

In 1 Timothy 4:1-7, Paul tells us that the Spirit has stated that, in later days people will abandon their faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Therefore, it is our responsibility to point out the lies of legalism, the prosperity doctrine, false signs and wonders, and hyper-grace. We are to have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales. Instead, we are simply to devote ourselves to the scriptures. As noted at the beginning of this article, in 1 Timothy 4:16, Paul implores us to watch our life and doctrine closely, and to persevere in them, because in doing so we will save both our hearers and ourselves.

In 1 Timothy 6:3-5, Paul states that, if anyone teaches false doctrine and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words which results in envy and constant strife. In 1 Timothy 6:20-21, Paul tells us to guard what has been entrusted to our care. We are to turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called science, which some have professed and in doing so have wandered from the faith. In 2 Timothy 1:13-14, Paul states that, what we have heard from him, keep as the pattern of sound teaching with faith and love in Christ Jesus. We are to guard the good deposit that was entrusted to us with the help of the Holy Spirit.

In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul tells Timothy to show himself a workman approved by God, who studies the scriptures for himself, does not need to be ashamed – and most importantly, rightly divides the word of truth. This verse is important because it emphasizes the fact that we all need to… very carefully and very wisely, study and share the scriptures. We must make sure that what we teach lines up, not with what we have seen or heard from other men, but with the teachings of Jesus and with the apostles…lest we be found wanting. We can only do this if we ourselves become workmen, studying the scriptures carefully and frequently, asking the Holy Spirit to teach us as we devote our time and our hearts to the everlasting word of truth(John 14:26).

In 2 Timothy 3:14-17, Paul implores us to continue in what we have learned and on that of which we have become convinced. He tells us to focus on scripture because it is, inspired by God and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

While books and the words of men are interesting, if their doctrines do not line up perfectly with scripture, we should throw them out. Only scripture is inspired by God, while men and their wisdom will fade away….

In 2 Timothy 4:2-5, Paul tells us to preach the word and to be prepared in and out of season to correct, rebuke, and encourage with great patience and careful instruction. For a time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine, but instead, to suit their own desires will gather around themselves a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn away from the truth and will instead turn aside to myths. But we are to keep our head in all situations, endure hardships, and do the work of an evangelist discharging all the duties of our ministry. I believe Paul’s primary point in this passage is that if we preach the word and are prepared through the word (and the word only) to correct, rebuke, encourage with scripture, then we will never be teaching or preaching in vain. At the end, like Paul, we want to be able to say that we have fought the good fight, that we have finished the race, and that we have kept the faith.

In Titus 1:7-11, we are told that overseers who are entrusted with God’s work must be blameless and must love what is good. They must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught. False teachers must be silenced for they teach things they ought not teach and they do so for dishonest gain. Again, the message is clear. We are not to dabble in teachings and preaching that are not clearly in line with scripture. It is also highly relevant to determine whether or not the people we are listening to are making large sums of money preaching what the people’s itching ears want to hear instead of the true, pure, Gospel. The message of the Jesus – sin, repentance, forgiveness, love (and taking up our cross daily) doesn’t seem to draw the money and crowds quite like prosperity preaching, and seeing people getting “slain in the spirit,” soaking in prayer or barking and/or laughing uncontrollably on the floor do.

Titus 2:1-15, goes in more detail about what is required of a teacher. Titus states that, those who instruct must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. They are to teach temperance, self-control, reverence, purity, kindness and all manner of honorable behavior. All teachings must show integrity, seriousness, and soundness of speech which cannot be condemned so that those who oppose the teachers may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say. Furthermore, the grace of God which brings salvation has appeared to all men, and it teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live lives self-controlled, upright and godly while we wait for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior. Jesus Christ gave Himself for all of us, to redeem us from wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, and who are eager to do what is good. We are to encourage and rebuke with all authority and we should not let anyone despise us.

Titus 3:9-10, says to avoid foolish controversies and arguments and quarrels about the law because they are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person twice and then have nothing to do with them. This passage is clearly stating that anyone who is dividing the church by arguing about irrelevant controversies that are not in accord with the word of God should be warned and then, as verse 10 teaches, “Reject a divisive man after a first and second admonition.”

Hebrews 5:14-61, states that solid scriptural food/teaching is for the mature who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us all leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death.

2 Peter 2:1-3, states that there will be false teachers among us who will secretly introduce destructive heresies. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit the people with stories that they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them and their destruction has not been sleeping. When examining many modern churches today, they seem to have an endless supply of these types of teachers. In spiritual lust, their flock craves false stories about angels and demons and heavenly creatures all while ignoring the doctrines of repentance, self-control, obedience and love.

In 2 Peter 3:15-18, Peter tells the church that Paul’s letters contain many things that are hard to understand and which ignorant people distort, as they do other scriptures, to their own destruction. We are told to be on our guard so that we might not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from our secure position. Instead we are to grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. By focusing on scripture in its raw, unadulterated form, we will never have to worry about slipping into false teachings and heresies.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-15, Paul warns the church to not let anyone deceive them in any way because the secret power of lawlessness is already at work. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. He states that men perish because they refuse to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason, God is going to send a powerful delusion to those who do not love the truth. They will believe the lie and all will be condemned who would not believe the truth but who have instead delighted in wickedness. He then advises the Thessalonian church to stand firm and to hold onto the teachings passed on to them by word of mouth or by letter.

In all the above scriptures, believers are told to be very careful that they preach only that which is in agreement with sound doctrine. According to Paul, that means that Jesus Christ and Him crucified is the primary piece of theology that must be taught. The foundation of all teaching must be the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ(John 1:1-18 is an excellent place to start). Those who choose to teach or lead are held to a very high standard of accountability before God. Those who have been entrusted with a flock must be very, very careful not to waiver to the right or to the left of the pure Gospel message.

Like the Bereans, all believers are called to know and understand the scriptures so that we are able to separate good teachers from bad teachers, and sound doctrine from man-centered lies. We are to be workmen who are not ashamed and who correctly handle the word of truth (2Timothy 2:15). We are not to seek signs and wonders, because as Jesus said, a wicked generation seeks after a miraculous sign (Matthew 12:38-42; 16:1-4), and as Paul says, we are to fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Instead, we are called to seek Jesus Christ Himself – not as our culture or our friends define him, but as he truly is in his word. Any image, teaching or prophecy that does not clearly line up with the eternal scripture must be rejected. Unfortunately, Paul notes that many “believers” don’t really want or even like the truth, but instead prefer satisfying their spiritual lust in seeking counterfeit miracles and signs instead of Jesus Christ, and because of that they will perish. Let all of us be on guard for such things, and demand that whoever preaches, teaches loving obedience to the words of Jesus and to the words of His apostles, as we wait, not for wealth, riches, health or happiness in this life, but for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭10:13-14, 17‬ ‭KJV‬‬

Harry Ironside on the meaning of repentance

What Exactly is the Gospel?

Favorite Scriptures #4: God Chose the Weak and Foolish Things of the World (1 Corinthians 1:17-25)

Teachers, Preachers and Mammon: Money and the Ministry

Portraits of Jesus Christ in the word: Who Exactly is our God?

The Written Word: What Did Jesus, The Apostles, and the Psalmists say about the Eternal Written word of God?

Ecumenicism: Praying With People from Other Religions

Catholicism and the Worship of Mary

GRACE, OBEDIENCE AND SALVATION: The Narrow Road

                     GRACE, OBEDIENCE, AND SALVATION….THE NARROW ROAD

I believe in eternal security for those who are truly saved by the free gift of grace, through the blood of Jesus Christ. The bottom line: no one can snatch us out of Jesus Christ’s or the Father’s hands – not even we ourselves in our foolishness.(John 10:27-28). He will keep us and protect us to the end, faithfully completing the good work he began in us. Please see the top of my blog, which explains what I believe about salvation more extensively.

14 Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord.15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served … or the gods …in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.      Joshua 24: 14-15

28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.30 I and my Father are one.   John 10:28-30

6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.   Philippians 1:6

14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Hebrews 10:14

8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10

 

INTRODUCTION

It is extremely disappointing that in many churches today there seems to be an inordinate emphasis on the beautiful gift of salvation by grace alone, and yet there is so little teaching on the corresponding doctrines of obedience and fruit bearing through the spirit. The interplay between  those concepts is divine and in my view, is not fully comprehendible to our finite minds. Yet we all need to seek the truth – the whole counsel of God(Acts 20:27) – on these critical issues, ignoring easy, trite, christian cliches and pithy phrases that satisfy our desire for a quick answer, but may not fully capture the intention of God. Only the scriptures, viewed in-full, can truly teach us God’s definition of grace and what He requires of us as believers…not as works but as evidence of salvation.

In the writing below I am setting forth several key passages on the topic of grace, obedience and the call to bear fruit for the kingdom.  Titus 2:11-12 describes as clearly as possible, what the saving grace of Jesus is supposed to accomplish in our lives:

11″ For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world….”

I view the scriptures as flames of truth, and as the burning bush spoke to Moses, so the word of God speaks to us – and it is telling all of those who call on the name of the Lord to: believe, surrender, repent, love, obey, and be holy – and I know that I can’t do any of that without calling on the Holy Spirit to help me put my proud and selfish ways aside. God doesn’t want an intellectual “decision.” He wants our hearts, our souls, and our minds. In other words…he wants our lives.

Grace and the Narrow Road….

“…Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto to life, and few there be that find it.” Matthew 7:14

I believe that anyone who takes the time to read the scriptures for themselves will see clearly, that Jesus (and Paul, Peter and James) speaks frequently and with great earnestness, about how loving God in spirit and truth results in obedience and fruit-bearing …. not as works, since we are saved solely by his free gift of grace, but as evidence of a sincere love for him – or as evidence of our faith. Jesus seems to equate love for God and salvation with obedience – especially in John 14:15-29(I will quote it below) and 1 John 2:3-4. How could a good and “just” God allow someone into heaven through his bloody, brutal death who didn’t actually love him but simply used him as a free ticket to heaven? I believe that the scriptures state without equivocation, that He can’t…and He won’t. He doesn’t want our words, He wants our undivided hearts set on him…and he will help us by the Holy Spirit once we have committed ourselves to him in truth.

There are two categories of scripture, which I think are important for understanding what it means to be a true disciple of Christ. One involves what it means to actually be saved, and the other involves the nearly 100 verses that don’t tie salvation to obedience, but make it abundantly clear that, as disciples, we are called, loudly and frequently, to flee sin and to obey. Isn’t that what we should want to do anyway if we really believe that Jesus had spikes hammered through his feet and hands, and hung cold, naked and humiliated on a cross for us in the presence of his gloating enemies??

In this writing, I am going to focus on the first category, going through the New Testament book by book after a few thoughts on “belief.”

What exactly does “believe” mean when Paul says in Romans 10:9-10, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

I think James, the brother of Jesus says it best when he says that even demons “believe” that Jesus is God (James 2:19). Thus, an intellectual belief alone is clearly not a “saving” belief. We must believe more deeply than with our minds – we must believe in our hearts, not just that Jesus is our saviour but also that he is our Lord. It is not a surprise to me that the new Bible versions delete out “the Lord Jesus Christ” many times, and simply put “Jesus” or “Christ.”

James seems to define what a “belief” leading to salvation is in James 2:14-24(and1:22), where he famously says, “faith without works is dead” and that we are justified by our actions and not on faith alone. Does this mean that we need works to be saved? No. It means that works, obedience and fruit-bearing are evidence that we really are saved because they shows that we truly understand, in our hearts, the meaning of the life, death and love of Jesus Christ. Belief as evidenced by actions seems to be the difference between believing in our hearts that he is Lord, versus only believing with our minds, as even demons do.

The Pharisees thought they were saved by their actions, without regard to their hearts. Now we have Christians doing the opposite. They say they are saved in their hearts, and yet they have no desire to honor the living God who made them, with their actions. Both are wrong and Jesus himself makes it clear on many occasions that salvation is not just an intellectual choice, but a decision of the heart. As John 4:23-24 says, the Father only wants those who worship Him with their hearts – in spirit and in truth. He has had enough of empty words….

Matt. 7:15-19 Jesus says that every good tree bears good fruit. You will recognize a good tree by its fruit. He goes on to say that every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So, Jesus Christ, the one who was in the beginning with God, the one who made all things, the one in whom is life and light, and who died for our sins and will judge us at the end…say, very clearly, that if we don’t bear fruit we will be thrown into the fire. Why? Because we were never truly saved in the first place.

Matt. 7:21-23 In this passage, Jesus says that not everyone who says to him “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. In fact MANY (a lot of people who think they are believers) will say that they prophesied and cast out demons in His name (I find it interesting that he chose those as examples), but he will say to them, away from me evil doers! I never knew you. What we think about ourselves doesn’t matter. Our lives need to line up with the unchanging word of God to be saved. Obedience to His Word (and word) because we love Him and believe Him is how we do it. See, also 1 John 2:3-5.

Matt. 7:24-27 Whoever hears the words of Jesus and obeys them, will be safe when the storm comes because their foundation is God. Whoever hears His words and doesn’t obey them will be destroyed when the storm comes, because their foundation is like a house built on an unstable foundation of sand.

Matt. 10:37-39 Jesus says that whoever loves his father, mother, son or daughter more than Him is not worthy of him, and whoever does not take up his cross and follow Jesus is not worthy of Jesus. Whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for His sake will find it….Jesus seems to be saying that salvation requires surrender – a willingness to lay down everything – even family and domestic comforts – to follow God. This directly contradicts those who say a simple prayer is all that is needed to be saved.

Matt. 11:28-30 Jesus says to all those who are weary, “come unto me.” He then goes on to instruct them to, “take my yoke upon you and learn of me….”…This call to come to God requires more than just an acknowledgement that He is God. It requires a willingness to take on the yoke of God, surrendering our volition and desires to Him. I love the image of Jesus taking the reins of our lives from us and steering our life for us while we remain fully submitted to His will. Paul describes it as servanthood (KJV) to God. Servanthood? Yes, but we are a bondservant to the only one who knows us fully and who loves us unconditionally.

Matt. 13:3-23 & Luke 8:13-15 The parable of the sower is powerful on the reality of salvation being evidenced by fruit bearing. This parable describes people actually receiving the word, and even holding on to it for a time….but then the deceptions and troubles of life come and choke it away. I think the hyper-grace people are those who will lose the seed when persecutions come. They don’t realize it now, but because they don’t really understand what Jesus did for them (for if they did they would long to obey Him), so when trouble comes, they will gladly water down the truth – or even deny it – to protect themselves from pain, since the little prayer they said long ago already saved them.

Matt 16:24-27 Everyone who desires to follow Jesus must take up their cross and follow Him. Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for the sake of Jesus will save it……Clearly, those who follow Jesus in spirit and in truth, understand that our best life isn’t now…it’s later, in heaven with Jesus and the Father, forever. James the brother of Jesus also made it clear that friendship with the world is actually hatred toward God (James 4:4). John said essentially the same thing in 1 John 2:15-17.

Matt. 18:21-35 If we do not forgive with our hearts, the people who sin against us, we will be cast into hell….So, to enter heaven, the owner of heaven(Jesus) tells us that we must follow His example and forgive others deeply, with our hearts. Only His spirit can get us to that place of forgiveness, but if we love Him we will ask Him to help us forgive even the ones who have abused us or rejected. If we don’t care to do that with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will be cast into hell (vs. 33-35).

Matt. 24:9-13 Persecutions will come, and he who stands firm to the end will be saved….Again, salvation isn’t saying a magic prayer once. According to Jesus, it involves living a life of obedience and remaining in the truth all the way to the end….

Matt. 28:19-20 I always forget that, in the great commission Jesus tells his disciples to make disciples by…“teaching them to observe [obey]all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Discipleship requires obedience! It is not just hanging around together and watching football while we drink craft beer and talk theology. If we are not encouraging and teaching obedience to the life-giving commands of our great and merciful God, then we are not really being disciples or making disciples.

Luke 6:46-49 If you hear my words “doth them” aka  PUT THEM INTO PRACTICE, you are like a man who built his house on a rock. When the storm comes, you will survive, unlike the man who hears his words but doesn’t obey them. The storm will destroy his house and him along with it….Clearly Jesus is saying that storms will come to everyone – and if the Rock, who is Jesus, is not your foundation, then you will be destroyed.

In Luke 8:19-21, when Jesus’ family is trying to find Him and someone tells Him that they are outside looking for Him, He tells the multitude that those who HEAR and OBEY are his mother and brothers. Interestingly, in Luke 11:27-28, when a woman tells him that his mother Mary is a blessed woman, Jesus says, “…Rather blessed are they that hear the word of God and KEEP it.” So much for Mary worship.

Luke 12:35-48 This is one of the most instructive scriptures on the topic of obedience once we are saved since Jesus tells Peter – continue to obey me or even you will be cut to pieces and assigned a place with the unbelievers. It is impossible to read these words of Jesus Christ and not hear the call to obey Him, knowing that a life of disobedience, even for the Apostle Peter, means very bad things.

Luke 13:22-30 “Strive to enter in at the strait gate…” …. But we ate and drank with you, say the people. Away from me all you workers of iniquity, says Jesus… Entering through the narrow door does not consist of living like the rest of the world, while having an intellectual knowledge that Jesus is savior. The narrow door involves making Him Lord by taking his yoke upon us and forsaking the world. In 1 Peter 2:11, Peter says that we are “strangers and pilgrims” in the world. How then can we live like the world and be saved?? We are supposed to hate the world, not conform to it. See also, James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17; and Romans 12:1-4.

Luke 14:25-34 If you are not willing to give up everything for Jesus then you cannot be His disciple….Clearly Jesus is not looking for people who want to get away with as much drinking, sex, greed, pride and sin as they can and still be saved. He wants those who worship Him and His Father in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).

John 8:31 If you obey my teachings then you really are my disciples.

John 8:51 If you obey me you will never see death.

John 12:47-48 If you hear the words of Jesus and reject them, then you will be condemned by the Father on the last day.

John 14 is an excellent chapter on the love Jesus and the Father have for us….if we obey.

vs. 15-17 if you love me then you will obey me…and then(once you obey me) I will send you the Spirit, which the world cannot accept. vs. 21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father and I will show myself to him. vs. 23 He who does not love me will not obey my teachings. These words are not my own but belong to the father who sent me. Then Jesus shows his own obedience to His Father in vs. 31. The glorious result of His life of obedience is beautifully and powerfully laid out in Philippians 2:5-11.
…If a person says that they don’t have to do anything to be saved except believe in Jesus intellectually,then they need to carefully study the words of Jesus in John 14. Jesus says, specifically, that you must obey his commands if you truly love him, and if you want his spirit. (Acts 5:32 reiterates the fact that we only receive his spirit if we obey him). John 14 is also a beautiful portrait of the intimate love both Jesus and the father have for us. Jesus wants to take us to be with Him…where He is. Jesus and the father want to make their home with us. Jesus will not leave us as orphans but He will come for us….

John 15:9-10 You will remain in the love of Jesus…if you obey Him, just as Jesus remained in his Father’s love via obedience.

Acts 26:20 Paul preached repentance for sins and told believers to…. do works consistent with their repentance.

Romans 1:5 Paul received grace and apostleship, not to call people to “decide for Christ”… but “for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name.” This passage makes it clear that obedience through faith, was the actual purpose of Paul’s great calling. Peter says that God chose us and sanctified us…unto obedience. 1 Peter 1:2. Peter says that God’s elect have been chosen “for obedience to Jesus Christ….” not simply to make a decision for Jesus then to live as you please.

Romans 6:1-7, and 11-14 In this passage Paul makes it clear that it is an absolute abomination to think that grace is a free pass to continue sinning. If we died to sin how can we live in it any longer? We were baptized with Jesus into His death, and just as Jesus was raised from the dead in glory, so we should walk in the newness of life. In verses 11-14, Paul goes on to state that we should consider ourselves dead to sin and thus, should not let sin reign in our mortal bodies by obeying its lusts. We are not to yield our bodies to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but instead we are to yield ourselves to God. For sin shall not have dominion over us any longer.

Romans 8:1 In the King James Version (which agrees with 98.02% of ancient manuscripts), but sadly, not in the other versions, Romans 8:1 says that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. That last phrase was deleted from the Bible versions that flow from manuscripts Sinaticus and Vaticanus along with  the 1881 edits by Westcott and Hort Those deletions change the meaning of the entire verse. We have been given free will, and for there to be “no condemnation” on believers, according to Paul, we must be choosing to walk, not according to our sinful nature, but in accordance with the Spirit which we have freely received from Christ. Romans 8:4, in most versions, goes on to affirm the point made in 8:1 by the KJV, by stating that the righteousness of the law is fulfilled…by those who walk after the Spirit and not the flesh.

Romans 8:7-8 The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God and those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

Romans 8: 11-15 Because Jesus is in us we have an obligation to put aside our sinful nature and, by the spirit, to put to death the misdeeds of the body. “If ye live after the flesh(sinful nature) ye shall die, but if, ye through the spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” So says Paul – the same guy who speaks so frequently and beautifully on grace.

1 Corinthians 7:19 The flesh means nothing. Only obedience counts.

1 Corinthians 15: 10 Paul states that the grace of God caused him to labor more abundantly than all of the other apostles. He was not bragging. He was simply illustrating how much he knew he needed the mercy of God and how grateful he was for it, since earlier in the chapter he expressed shame for previously persecuting the church of God. God’s grace did not whisper lies to Paul’s heart, like the serpent in the garden, to sit back and relax…not worrying about sin and disobedience. Instead It told him the profound truth that Jesus died a brutal death for HIM and that he was saved, despite his wickedness, by the merciful hand of Jesus Christ. This prompted him to, with great vigor, serve the Lord across the known world with no regard for his physical needs.

Galatians 1:6-9  Here, the Galatian believers were turning to a different gospel… a different Jesus. Paul makes it clear that if he or even an angel preaches a different Jesus or a different gospel… may they be eternally condemned.  So…if we are pulled off into heresy, teaching and preaching a false Jesus Christ, they will end up in hell.

Ephesians 5:3-8 Paul states with great clarity that no immoral or greedy person will inherit the kingdom of heaven…no matter what prayer he prayed.

Colossians 1:21-23 We are holy in Christ’s sight and are free from accusation….if we continue in the faith, grounded and settled, not moved away from the hope of the gospel….not as works, but as evidence of salvation.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 Avoid sexual immorality since God called us to live a holy life. Paul then says that rejecting this teaching is rejecting God himself.

1 Thess. 5:8-11 says be self-controlled to avoid suffering God’s wrath…..Believer or not a believer, whether Paul or a young disciple, all of us must, through the spirit (Romans8:13), discipline our flesh by obeying the unchanging word of God.

2 Timothy 2:19b Everyone who confesses the name of The Lord must turn away from wickedness.

Titus 1:16 Titus is an excellent book on the life we are called to live as followers of Christ. Titus 1:16 says that some people claim to know God – but by their actions they deny him. Clearly our actions matter. Titus 2:11-12 teaches us exactly what the true, saving grace of God should look like in our lives…and it isn’t the freedom to enjoy sin:

11″ For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world….” 

Hebrews 5:9 Jesus is the author of salvation for….all those who obey.…Salvation is not for those who simply have an intellectual belief in Jesus Christ. We must also obey, and we will if we are truly saved.

Hebrews 12:14 This verse teaches us that without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.

James 1:22 and 2:14-24 state very clearly that an intellectual belief in Jesus is not enough for salvation. We must prove our faith by our actions, since even demons “believe” or accept that Jesus is God. “Works” prove that our belief is real, but they don’t save us. Only faith in the blood saves us.

James 4:4-5 teaches us: 4 “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?”

…If we are living, in large part, like the world and are fitting nicely into our sick and godless culture, something is wrong. We are to be set apart, not by legalistic actions, but by knowing God – by being holy, by exercising spirit-lead self control and by fleeing from the greed, materialism, drunkenness and lust that ties us tightly to this age. Each of us needs to test our actions in the light of the unchanging, everlasting word of the Living God. We must remember that Jesus told us very clearly in John 15 that if we truly love Him, then we will be hated by the world, and James 4:4-5 (above) tells us that friendship with the world makes us an enemy of God. That…is not something we can take lightly.

1 Peter 4:17-19 It is even hard for a righteous man to be saved so how much more the ungodly?

2 Peter 1:5-10 Make your calling and election sure by making every effort to exercise goodness, self-control and love.

Here Peter, as Paul frequently did, emphasizes that obedience is required to make our election certain. Again, I strongly believe that they are saying that, while “works” don’t save us, obedience and fruit are evidence that we truly believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord, and has saved us from the dominion of darkness through His blood.

1 John 1:5-7 God is light. In him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness we lie and do not live by the truth. …We can’t be in Jesus and walk unrepentantly in darkness.

1 John 2:3-6 Anyone who says that they know him but does not obey him is a liar and the truth is not in him. We know that we really know him if we obey him.

1 John 2:15-17 If anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him.

1 John 2:24-25 If what you heard in the beginning remains in you, then you will remain in the son and the Father…and you will have eternal life.

1 John 3:6-10 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has seen him or knows him. vs. 9 – No one who is born of God continues to sin. vs. 10 – Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God.

2 John 1:6 What is love? It is walking in obedience to his commands.

2 John 1:8-11 Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for(meaning rewards in this context). Anyone who does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God.

Jude 1:3-4 We are instructed to earnestly contend for the faith, and avoid godless men who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality.

Sadly, this is what happens when people don’t take the grace of god and the call to obedience seriously. The brutal murder of Jesus for our sins becomes a free pass to do whatever we want. But, as Galatians 6 says, do not be deceived…God will not be mocked.

According to Jesus Christ himself, who alone is the author and perfecter of our faith, an intellectual belief in his life, death and resurrection for our sins is not enough to be saved. He wants our hearts, our minds and our eyes fully focused on who he truly is and what he did on the cross to redeem us from hell (Romans 15:6, Colossians 3:2, Hebrews 1:1-3). He wants us to continue in repentance and obedience, not as works but as evidence of our love for him. He also wants us to have a faith that overcomes the world, not one that conforms to the world… and He will help us to make it to the very end, for the one who called us is faithful(1 Thessalonians 5:24).

EPILOGUE

All of these verses, and many, many more, make it abundantly clear that Jesus doesn’t just want men and women of words. He wants and demands action – not to earn salvation, put as proof of a surrendered heart. The action required is belief, proven by obedience, which leads to fruit. He wants us to bear fruit, fruit that will last, and this is to His Father’s glory (See, John 15.) There really isn’t any way around these scriptures. So let us put aside all of the legalists who have hurt us and have turned us away from the commands of God, and let us all seek to obey Him, not because we have to or because it earns us anything, but because we adore Him and desire in the inmost places of our hearts to honor Him with all of our being…and Jesus and the Father will help us make it to the end….See, Making it to the End: Jesus Christ and the Father Will Help Us

Portraits of Jesus Christ in the word: Who Exactly is our God?

See, also...The Deceitfulness of Wealth: Your Best Life…Later Part 1 and The Loving Discipline of the Lord,

Teachers, Preachers and Mammon: Money and the Ministry

Hell and the Wrath of God-Almighty

What Is Important to God? Instructions For Life from Paul and the Apostles

PRAYER: How To Approach God and What To Expect From Him

                   PRAYER: How to approach Our Great God, And what to Expect From Him

 

 

 “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” James 4:3

21 “And (Job) said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.22 In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly. ” Job 1:21-22

 

 

 As I read the word slowly and with great deliberation, I find that prayer, as taught by Jesus Christ and the Apostles, bears little resemblance to the “name it and claim it” prayers (and attitudes) being widely taught today. With great frequency I hear self-proclaimed evangelists and teachers instructing the body to sow their financial seed to God (via their ministry) and then to tell God, in no uncertain terms, exactly what material “blessings” they want in return from Him – placing their order with God for goods, services, and health if you will. They are then instructed to wait on God to deliver…and if He doesn’t, well then it is their own fault for not having enough faith.

I have found the above method of prayer to be patently and outrageously false when tested in the refining furnace of scripture, given to us freely and graciously by our precious Lord. My hope is that we will all learn to pray, not as petulant children demanding money and a new car from our father, but as trusting and obedient sons and daughters, praying humbly and with great reverence to the one who know us and adores us. This attitude is perfectly illustrated by Paul in 2 Corinthians.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul states that Jesus Himself allowed a messenger from Satan to torment him, lest he become proud regarding his intimacy with and knowledge of God. Paul begs the Lord to remove this thorn in his flesh, pleading with Jesus three times…but Jesus Christ, who made Paul and knew with great precision what was best for him, said…no. His grace was sufficient to get Paul through all of the tribulations of this short life, despite constant and extreme suffering.

In the above referenced passage, Paul isn’t asking Jesus for material blessings, or for respect amongst his peers. He isn’t even requesting that his basic needs be met, since that was a continual struggle for him. (See, 2 Corinthians 11:22-33). Instead he was simply asking that Satan not be allowed to constantly torment him. This seems like an easy request with an obvious answer, right? Well, actually no. Our Great and Loving God, who made all things and who knows all things, declined to remove this painful trial from the life of His beloved apostle. Similarly, when Jesus was in Gethsemane, awaiting torture, humiliation, and a long slow death, He asked the Father to remove the cup of suffering from Him. The Father refused to change His plan for saving mankind, despite the fact that Jesus had already lived 33 perfect years of love and obedience on this earth.

What stands out to me about the prayer in Gethsemane is the fact that Jesus, who was Himself, God incarnate, didn’t demand that His Father save Him from the abuses and degradations to come. While He felt the freedom to ask His Father for anything…He ended the prayer with a beautiful picture of surrender and trust “…Yet not my will but yours be done.” Jesus knew that what He wanted at that moment in time might not be right in the eyes of His Father. So rather then make a demand or give an ultimatum, He simply submitted His own perfect will to the One whom He knew loved both Him and the world with an everlasting love.

Today, a prayer like the one by Jesus Christ in Gethsemane would be considered by many leaders to be weak and faithless…but in the reality of a life hidden in the arms of a loving and Omnipotent God, it is strong and powerful. Instead of demanding a certain result from God, the prayer of Jesus places the outcome fully in the hands of God no matter the short-term cost. Jesus, unlike us, doesn’t need a specific result to be at a place of complete peace and trust with His Father. The result of our own (my own included) prayers should, as Jesus exemplified, be fully submitted to God with absolutely no secret strings attached, and as Job so eloquently stated in the midst of total destruction, whether God gives or takes away…blessed be His name! (Job 1:21-22).

In Luke 11, when one of His disciples asked Jesus to teach them all how to pray, Jesus taught them what is commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer. Two simple and oft overlooked parts of this passage, which speak deeply to my heart about what my disposition towards God should be as I approach Him in prayer are:

Thy will be done…”- meaning, not what I want God, but what You want and know is good, true, and right since you, and not me, are the God who knit me together in my mother’s womb (Ps. 139), and made this glorious universe for me to enjoy.

I also love the part of this great prayer where Jesus says, “…give us this day our daily bread….” He didn’t teach us to ask the Father to make us wealthy and successful so that we can impress our friends, neighbors, coworkers and fellow believers – and so that we won’t have to worry about our retirement. No. Jesus wants us to have to depend on Him every single day, lest the temporary riches and comforts of this world deceive our hearts and draw them away from the Living God. (See, Parable of the Rich Fool, Luke 12:13-21, and the Parable of the Sower, Luke 8:4-15).

In Luke 11:5-13, just after teaching the disciples how to pray, Jesus goes on to tell them that their Father in heaven wants them to have good things, just like any earthly father would. He then encourages them to ask, seek, and knock, for everyone who asks receives, everyone who seeks finds, and to anyone who knocks the door will be opened to them. But what whispers to my heart from this passage, with gentle but strong conviction, is the last verse, which after stating clearly that the Father does give good things to those who ask, then goes on to define exactly what those good things are in His eyes. In Verse 13, Jesus says, If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Jesus seems to assume that true believers, meaning those like Paul and the disciples, who really love Him in the deep places of their hearts, and are seeking His eternal kingdom, will ask for…. not a big bonus check, a new car, or favor and respect among men, but instead will request more of the Holy Spirit of the Living God. Ouch. That’s not exactly what we typically ask for here in the western church…and sadly, that is not what we are taught to ask for. We are told to sow a big seed so that we are blessed with more seed to sow back in to the pastor’s ministry. And why don’t we, if we truly love Him, receive the material blessings we seek so earnestly in prayer? James the brother of Jesus says it perfectly. In James 4:3, he says: “When you ask you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” Double ouch.

How many times, when praying for what we think we want or need from God, ask for more of the true Holy Spirit? Sometimes perhaps – yet Jesus seems to assume that we, as His disciples, will ask for it constantly, since it is the greatest gift that He has left for us on this earth. If we follow many of the well-known pastors and teachers of today, we are taught to ask for wealth, temporal success, creativity and children who are world-changers, along with a false “Holy Spirit” who is disorderly and often manifests himself in a fashion similar to the demons Jesus cast out and sent back to hell during His ministry. Yet here in the word, Jesus assumes that we, His beloved sheep, will simply want more of Him and His eternal kingdom, rather than the fading and deceiving pleasures of this ill world.

Luke 1 is another excellent example of how God relates to us in His unadulterated sovereignty. In the first half of this chapter, Luke makes it clear that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth are honorable people in the eyes of God. They are righteous because, as verse 6 says, they walk in all of the commands and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. Since Sarah is barren, and they are both very old, it is easy to assume that they have prayed to have children for decades, with no success. Then one day, the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah in the temple and tells him that he will finally have a son. Apparently, seeing this mighty angel of God in person wasn’t enough to convince Zechariah that what Gabriel said was true because he asks for another sign. Because of his unbelief, Gabriel prevents Zechariah from speaking until the baby, John the Baptist, is born.

Since God wanted Sarah and Zechariah to have a child, it WAS going to happen, regardless of whether they named it and claimed it. Their faith was completely irrelevant to God’s purpose being accomplished. They could have screamed at God, reciting His promises to them in Psalms and Proverbs, all day long…but that would have been of no effect. Instead, God saw the devotion of their hearts to Him, as reflected in their lives…and He gave them what they always desired but never thought they could ever have. In all things, His sovereignty and goodness will prevail. It just seems to take a long time…and in this particular case, it was almost a lifetime.

Similarly, if Jesus wanted Paul to have a thorn in His flesh, then it WAS going to remain, tormenting Paul as He saw fit, no matter how many times he begged God to remove it. Yet Paul, like Jesus in Gethsemane, accepted the final, painful decision of God, and instead of accusing God of wrong doing, he instead chose to glory in his weakness…for he knew with great certainty, that where he was weak, God was strong (2 Corinthians 12:10). May we all seek the eternal riches of Jesus Christ through His precious Holy Spirit, rather than the temporary comforts of this dark and dying world.

EPILOGUE

I am, without a doubt, a foolish man, who has expended much time and energy chasing the lies of this world. As I have, in failure and brokenness, turned my eyes and heart to the Jesus Christ of the Bible as fully as I am able, I have learned to pray for people, in every situation – not that they would be blessed, be healed or have temporal success. I simply pray that the Holy Spirit would pour Himself into their circumstances, and would draw, with His mighty power, all those involved closer to Jesus Christ, as He truly is in the word…because really, nothing else matters. Nothing. Eternity and eternity alone is what matters, because once that door to heaven closes…it can never, ever be opened. I encourage anyone who reads this to consider eternal things and only eternal things, as they pray, teach and share life with those they love, for what is seen truly is temporary, but what is unseen…is eternal.

Intimacy with and dependence upon Jesus Christ, and only Jesus Christ, should be the sole goal of our prayers as we walk this path towards eternity.

***EXCELLENT BONUS SCRIPTURE FROM DANIEL 3 ***

14″ Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up?15 Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.18 But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”

Shadrach, Meshach and Abendego knew that God could do anything – even save them from being thrown into a furnace by an angry king. But they didn’t demand that God deliver them…and they didn’t even, by their “positive confession,” attempt to save themselves through the power of their words (aka the occultic law of attraction). They simply declared, with great boldness, the absolute power of the One and Only God in the presence of their angry enemies – and in the face of a horrible death. Yet That was enough for them. They trusted the one who made them and loved them. They let God be God and they were His humble and faithful servants…even unto a fiery death. May it be the same for all of us.

Whether the Lord Gives or Takes Away, Blessed Be His Name!

Does God Always Answer our Prayers?

The Loving Discipline of the Lord

THE LOVING DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD

                                              THE LOVING DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD

11 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, 12 because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. Proverbs 3:11-12  

One of the most important lessons I have learned as a follower of Jesus Christ, is that the Lord does discipline those He loves, just as any loving earthly Father would. His goals are not for us to be happy and prosperous on this earth. His ways and His thoughts, which are far superior to our ways and our thoughts, are set firmly on eternity. And He knows that the only way for us to truly remain in Him – and to have true joy while on this planet – is for us to keep our eyes fixed on Him at all times, lest we be deceived by the lies of this world, and as a few of the verses I will cite state, perhaps gain the short term pleasures of this world but forfeit our very souls.

Job, who experienced extreme material and familial destruction at the hands of God, not as discipline, but to test his heart, had great insight and understanding when it came to the chastening of the Lord. Even in the midst of what appeared to be a total and inexplicable rejection from God, Job, in great wisdom, said:

17 “Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. 18 For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal.”

Job understood that the Lord does discipline those He loves, and that all such discipline, if heeded, ultimately leads to great healing and restoration…from the hand of God Himself. Job finds out first hand, exactly how great and mighty the restoring power of the Lord is only a few weeks later, due, in great part to his unwavering trust in God, even in the most horrific of circumstances.

In Psalm 39:10-11, David asks the Lord to remove the mighty blow of His hand from him, for by it he was overcome. He then acknowledged how God deals with His precious children by stating that it is with rebukes that God corrects a man’s iniquity.

In Psalm 94:12-13, the author states that a man whom the Lord chastens and teaches is blessed, because through those things he receives rest from adversity.

Psalm 118 is one of my absolute favorite Psalms because it sets forth, with great clarity, the mighty attributes of our God. In it, the author praises the Lord for His mercy and power, and apparently, after turning away from serious sin says:

18 “The LORD has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death.”

 And despite this severe chastening, in verse 29, he writes:

 29 “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”  

What resonates with me so deeply about these two verses is that, not only does the writer understand that he needs the discipline of God to avoid what he describes as death, but he also understood that the Lord chastened him out of love and mercy…not out of anger and wrath. May I always see the Lord’s strong, reproving hand the same way!

Psalm 119 also speaks to me in a very personal way about the Lord’s discipline, perhaps more than some of the other passages, because many of the statements by the author seem to match how the Lord has dealt with me on many occasions. In verse 67, the psalmist writes that, before I was afflicted I went astray…but now I obey your law; while in verse 71, he writes that it was “good to be afflicted” that I might learn your statutes.

These two deeply profound statements speak directly to me, loudly and clearly. Often I don’t really seek the Lord with all of my heart unless I am suffering some type of failure due to pursuing sin or striving in the flesh. I have come to truly understand that it is a great blessing to suffer, even deep affliction…that I might turn to the Living God, receive His mercy, and be healed. Great intimacy with God has sprung up like a flower in the desert of my selfish heart from my acceptance of His loving discipline.

In Psalm 119:75-76, the psalmist states that he understands that the Lord’s judgments are right, and that “in faithfulness” the Lord has afflicted him. He then asks the Lord for His unfailing love to be his comfort.These are powerful and beautiful statements, illustrating a very different side to the love and faithfulness of God than the one the world is used to hearing. For, like Job, the author knows that whatever God does, it is good, right and true…and in faithfulness God afflicted him. Why? As verse 67 stated, he was suffering under the strong and loving hand of God because he was straying from the truth…living in the flesh…and God was jealous for him. He was weak, and he knew it, and God, like any loving father, turned him back to the way of truth through the only method that would work…discipline.

The author then goes on declare that he will meditate on God’s precepts (verse 78b) for, as verse 72 says, the law of the Lord is better to him than thousands of gold and silver coins. May we all view the riches of the everlasting word of God the same way! I

n 1 Corinthians 5, Paul confronts the church about the extreme sexual immorality going on amongst the brethren, which was beyond even what was typical amongst the unsaved. Apparently, one of the brothers was sleeping with his father’s wife and that sin wasn’t being dealt with as Paul expected. So…Paul instructs the church to…”deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit might be saved on the last day.”

Paul, like Jesus, was concerned about one thing…our souls making it to heaven to be with God forever. If we need to suffer – even great pain – on this earth to avoid the unquenchable fires of hell, then so be it. God (with Paul as His ambassador) truly is a loving father, who understands the unceasing horrors of an eternity in hell. Therefore, He is willing, and even eager for us to experience earthly affliction under His loving hand…because He knows that it will lead to the destruction of our flesh and a more perfect union with Him in spirit and truth, via repentance.

Even Paul, who lived a life of unrelenting intimacy with and dedication to Jesus Christ, suffered severe preemptive discipline at the hand of the Lord. In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Paul describes his journey up into the third heaven, where he heard and saw great and unspeakable things. Because of these great revelations, he received from the Lord a thorn in the flesh…a messenger from Satan to torment him lest he become proud. He begged the Lord to remove it, but God declined, telling him that His grace was sufficient for Paul and would carry him through his pain. And Paul, like Job before him (Job 1:21-22), embraced God’s decision to destroy his flesh, and accepted the fact that in his weakness, the power of God would be more fully evident…for where Paul was weak, God was strong.

In Revelation 3:14-21, Jesus rebukes the church of Laodicea for being lukewarm. Instead of pursuing Him, they were seeking the wealth and comforts of this world, and Jesus was just about ready to spit them out of His mouth. Instead of seeking temporal riches Jesus counsels them to buy from Him, gold refined in the fire to cover the shame of their spiritual nakedness. He then, as He always does, reminds them of His great love and mercy, and says that He rebukes and disciplines those He loves, so that they might repent, overcome and sit with Him on His throne in heaven.

The deep truth of the above passages is that eternity matters infinitely more to God than this short life does, and God is willing to allow…and even cause…suffering to come upon those He loves if it will turn their hearts away from the short term pleasures of sin and towards Him. I often reflect on my own journey and how I, even when I truly thought I was walking in His will, suffered great afflictions, only to discover through the truth of His word, that I was straying from Him in the deepest places of my heart. Be it wealth or earthly distractions, my heart has often wondered from the eternal riches of the Living God, and He, in His great love and mercy, has used pain and failure to bring me back to a place of humility and repentance, turning my eyes, my mind, and my heart back to Him. May they remain fixed on His glorious face all the days of my life…..  

Heaven: Your Best Life…Later Part 2

Portraits of Jesus Christ in the word: Who Exactly is our God?

Favorite Scriptures #1: Paul’s Perspective On This Short Life (Philippians 3:7-14)

Favorite Scriptures #5: The Power and Love of God in the Psalms

Forgiveness: To The Merciful, God Shows Himself Merciful