Posts Tagged 'Our great salvation'



Our Great Salvation, 6

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Saved by Losing, Matthew 16:25

For anyone who keeps his life for himself shall lose it; and anyone who loses his life for me shall find it again. (TLB)

Paradoxical words, indeed! But this wasn’t the first time Jesus said them:

If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for me, you will save it. (Matthew 10:39 TLB)

This verse forms part of one of the most significant sayings of Jesus that begins with verse 24:

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 TLB)

Jesus had been discussing His impending death with His disciples:

From then on Jesus began to speak plainly to his disciples about going to Jerusalem, and what would happen to him there—that he would suffer at the hands of the Jewish leaders, that he would be killed, and that three days later he would be raised to life again. (Matthew 16:21 TLB)

The thrust of Jesus’ words must have caught His followers off-guard. Not only must Christ face the Cross, but so must His disciples. If ever a teaching deals a death-blow to the “casual Christian” notion, it’s this section in Matthew. According to Jesus, there is no such thing as a “casual Christian.” If a person wants to follow Jesus—to take on His Name—they must do some pretty radical things. The servant is not above his master, and if Jesus, the Master, gave His all for us, then we must give our all TO Him and FOR Him. And the thing is, it’s not an option! Living your life means you must first lose it, because if you lose it for the sake of Christ, you’ll find it. That’s the essence of discipleship.

Let’s take a closer look at our Lord’s teaching on discipleship and see if we are ready to be His disciples.

Self-denial is the key

Even though Jesus is talking to His disciples here, the teaching is really for anybody the least bit interested in following Jesus:

If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 TLB)

Someone wrote: “Self denial are the words written over the gateway to the kingdom of God.” It’s a highly unpopular topic in our narcissistic society that tells us “we” are the most important person in our lives and that our needs are more important than anybody else’s. Apparently this was problem 2,000 years ago, too.

Verse 24 is actually spoken in rabbinical language, which makes sense since Jesus was a rabbi. A “disciple” is a “learner,” somebody who follows after another, learning from them. Traditionally, the disciple of a rabbi would leave home, his family and friends, and literally follow his rabbi.

Following Jesus, though, requires the ultimate in self-denial: one must literally disown one’s self. The Jews disowned the Messiah, but His followers must disown themselves. This act of self-denial is the highest form of humility. It involves seeing yourself as God sees you: a sinner in need of saving; a redeemed sinner in need of His constant care, provision, and direction. For the self-sufficient type, seeing yourself dependent on anybody is huge pill to swallow. It means admitting that you don’t have all the answers; that you don’t have all the resources; that you need Someone bigger than yourself to look after you.

Not only must believers assume that attitude, they must also “take up His cross.” That’s a difficult phrase to get a handle on, but essentially it means roughly what Paul wrote elsewhere:

Your old evil desires were nailed to the cross with him; that part of you that loves to sin was crushed and fatally wounded, so that your sin-loving body is no longer under sin’s control, no longer needs to be a slave to sin… (Romans 6:6 TLB)

I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 TLB)

Taking up your cross” was supposed to have occurred the moment you claimed Christ as Savior, but it is also refers to a continuing characteristic of a disciple of Christ. It means being “dead to sin” in the sense that sin has no claim on you because, well, you’re dead to it. But it also means being “dead to yourself,” meaning you no longer live for yourself—you no longer live the way you may want to live; doing the things you may want to do. Now, you live for Christ; you do the things that He wants you to do.

The great disciple, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, once made this important observation:

Discipleship means adherence to the person of Jesus, and therefore submission to the law of Christ which is the law of the cross.

Deny,” “take up,” and finally, “follow” Christ. That last word, “follow” is written in the present tense, meaning a continuous action. Yes, following Jesus is something Christians are supposed to be doing all the time, everyday of the week, not just on Sunday in church. Following Jesus is to be the lifelong ambition of all who call themselves “Christians.”

Letting go means hanging on

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Matthew 16:25, 26 NIV)

Jesus’ logic is sure and unrelenting. If you want to follow Him, He insists on total commitment. This is something a lot of us have trouble with. But Jesus will not yield and concede ground to the “casusal Christian” on this point. If you can’t give Him your all, don’t waste your time with giving Him some.

Our Lord demands that the person following Him have the same commitment to Him that He has to them. Jesus has shown us how much He loves us and how much He is committed to us by suffering and dying for our sins. He gave His life for us! And this is what He expects from us. He is looking for people who would risk everything to be counted as one of His disciples.

Jesus really nails it with verse 26, driving His point straight through our hearts. Being good followers of Jesus is up to us. It is not something God will make happen in us. But Jesus makes it clear that “eternal life” is the reward for the good disciple. This reward is like the carrot dangling in front of the horse. It’s a motivation for the Christian: would you rather be in possession of all the so-called good things of this temporary life or would you rather be in possession of eternal life, which never goes away. The awful thing, though, is that the “things of this world,” temporary though they may be, have the capacity to rob you of the gift of eternal life. To this, Jesus says, “What good are all the things of this world if they can do that?” Well, the answer is they are not good at all; they are highly dangerous to the Christian. Many a believer has become a sloppy disciple because he became more interested in living for himself than living for Christ. And before you ask, you CANNOT do both at the same time.

That great troubadour for the Lord, Keith Green, wrote these powerful lyrics:

The world is sleeping in the dark
That the church just can’t fight
Cause it’s asleep in the light
How can you be so dead
When you’ve been so well fed
Jesus rose from the grave
And you, you can’t even get out of bed!

The church of Jesus Christ in the 21st century finds itself, not asleep in the light, but comatose in the light! The words of Jesus have never been more urgently needed because we have a generation of Christians who do not understand the value of their own soul. Spurgeon knew well the worth of his soul:

Nothing can be compared with eternal life. The soul’s value cannot be estimated by ordinary reckonings. Worlds on worlds were a poor price. “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Barter is out of the question. His soul is so a man’s soul inheritance that if he has lost it, he has lost all.

Today’s Christians have no concept of this. We barely have a concept of what the soul is, let alone its worth.

If we want to care for our souls; if we are concerned about our eternal destination, we must let go of our lives here. That doesn’t mean we live recklessly or fail to plan for the future. But it does mean that keep an eye on eternal values and not get all caught up on the temporal.

Another motivation

Eternal life is seen by Jesus as a good motivator for being a sold-out disciple. That’s what we may call a “positive motivator.” But there is a “negative motivator” for those not moved by that positive one:

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. (Matthew 16:27 NIV)

This verse means exactly what it says, so don’t read more into it. Entrance into or exclusion from Heaven depends wholly on the grace of God. Salvation is wholly by grace, through faith. You cannot earn salvation in any way, and that is not what this verse is saying.

Verse 27 teaches that there will be degrees of punishment and degrees glory or reward, and each will be based upon two considerations:

(1) How much knowledge an individual posses.

All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. (Romans 12:2 NIV)

(2) How faithful an individual has been. A person’s faithfulness is manifested by how he has lived his life—what he has “done” with the knowledge of God he possesses. You can measure a person’s faithfulness to God; it will be apparent if you look at how he lives his life and the things he has done.

That’s definitely “negative motivation!” And yet, in a sense, it is also positive at the same time. If you let go of your life, you will get it back and then some. There are rewards waiting for the one who practices good discipleship.

The cross is the emblem—the symbol—of our faith. Some people like to wear a cross around their neck, others as cuff links or lapel pins. The jewelry of the cross doesn’t do anybody any good. The cross must be emblazoned on our hearts if it is to mean anything. The world is worth nothing to the person whose soul is lost and no price can redeem the lost soul.

The Lord is calling us to a deeper, more committed walk with Him. It’s not easy, and most of us won’t be very consistent. But if we want to please the One who holds our souls in the balance, we must put forth the effort. Every day.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12 NIV)

Our Great Salvation, 5

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Saved by Washing, Titus 3:5

according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost…

Truth be told, nobody is saved simply by washing. Paul is not talking about Godliness being linked to cleanliness. In fact, we are saved “by the washing of regeneration and renewing.” How do those two things, regeneration and renewing, save us? Let’s take a closer look at what Paul was trying say to Titus. It all starts with some obligations…

Being civil

Remind your people to obey the government and its officers, and always to be obedient and ready for any honest work. They must not speak evil of anyone, nor quarrel, but be gentle and truly courteous to all. (Titus 3:1, 2 TLB)

There’s just no way around it: Christians have a duty to government. You may not like your governing authorities, but you have a duty to be obedient to them; that is, to obey the laws of the land. Paul’s complete philosophy of government is found in Romans 13:1—7, but it begins with the idea that the state is given its authority by God Himself.

Obey the government, for God is the one who has put it there. There is no government anywhere that God has not placed in power. (Romans 13:1 TLB)

That admonition, however, must be tempered with something Paul wrote in the previous chapter:

Don’t quarrel with anyone. Be at peace with everyone, just as much as possible. (Romans 12:18 TLB)

The words “anyone” and “everybody” mean just that: it is the obligation of Christians to live at peace with “anyone” and “everybody,” and that includes the government. But there is a caveat. Christians are to be at peace with “anyone” and “everybody” but only “as much as possible.” In other words, there may be times when things like civil disobedience are the only way for a Christian to respond to their government. The Christian has every right to resist any governing authority that attempts to, for example, stifle freedom of worship or silence the preaching of the Gospel because it is not possible for a Christian to obey such laws for they are opposed to God’s law for the Christian.

So, with that caveat in mind, we understand Paul’s advice to the Cretan Christian to be general in nature. At this time in history, the Cretan government was no in any way oppressing Christians, therefore, being “good citizens” was a practical demonstration of their salvation.

An interesting point to observe is that the phrase “obey the government” or “to be subject” in the NIV, is written in the middle-voice infinitive, a fancy way of saying Christian obedience or subjection to the government is completely voluntary. In other words, the Christian understands that while he may be a citizen of Heaven and subject to the Laws of Heaven, as long as he is living temporarily on earth, he will voluntarily abide by the laws of the land as long as those laws do not contradict the Laws of Heaven.

The same admonition holds for citizenship in general. Christians should be ready to participate in activities that make their community (even their country) a better place to live. The NIV’s translation captures this perfectly:

be ready to do whatever is good…

Whatever is good” may include such things as running for public office or taking an active role in the decision-making process of your local municipality. Some Christians cringe at this; they think believers should withdraw from society and not be a part of it. Jesus taught that we should be “in the world” but “not of it.” But He did not mean that we should stand apart from the rest of society.  The reality is, part of “being a light in the darkness” is to show just how positive and constructive Christianity truly is as a force for good in society. Christians need to be informed and engaged.

Christians also have a duty toward their unsaved neighbors. We are to be careful how we talk to them and be aware of our attitude in general when we are in their company. It’s not always easy for the Christian to treat the unsaved in humility and grace, but if we want to exhibit the character of Christ, then we must.

Motivation

Why should Christians be such exemplary citizens? Is it because we’re such nice people? Is it because we love our country more than non-Christians do and we are, therefore, more patriotic? Not at all!

Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient; we were misled by others and became slaves to many evil pleasures and wicked desires. Our lives were full of resentment and envy. We hated others and they hated us. (Titus 3:3 TLB)

Non-Christians are, by definition: foolish, disobedient, misled, slaves to sin, full of resentment, envy, and hatred. That’s how Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, describes the unsaved. It’s shocking, isn’t it? Christians, by virtue of their relationship with Christ, are the opposite; we are: wise, obedient, led by God, freed from sin, generous, gracious, and loving. And this is why we are supposed to be the best citizens in our communities; full of integrity and well-spoken of. Now, if we break this down, we discover that our motivation is two-fold.

First, our past dictates how we act now. Once we were just as bad and as lost as the unsaved are. But now we are Christlike; we are to act in a way that is opposite to the way the unsaved do. Once we acted foolishly, now we are to act wisely. Once we were disobedient, now we are to be obedient. Once we were easily led astray, now we have discernment. Once we couldn’t help but sin, now we can just say “NO” to sin. Once we were full of resentment and envy and we hated those whom we thought had a better life than we, but now we are gracious and compassionate, and we are able to love all people in Christ. Christ changed us from the inside out! The way we used to be is not the way we are now.

Second, our salvation has changed us in remarkable ways. Our salvation was a real event in history:

But when the time came for the kindness and love of God our Savior to appear, then he saved us… (Titus 3:4, 5a TLB)

Our salvation is why our lives must have changed. We cannot be the same person we were before Christ saved us. Our behavior cannot have remained the same. The change in our lives—spiritual and otherwise—is a work of grace in God. In His plan, at a specific time of His choosing, He intervened in our personal stream of history to radically change us. For the first time ever, our eyes flickered open and we saw the reality of God: He is full of kindness and love. It’s a difficult phrase to translate, but this revealed “kindness and love of God” relates to His enduring affection for man. God loves us; He cares about and for us. Our word “philanthropy” comes from this phrase. And this is why He sent Christ into the world, and this is what we see when we are saved.

Our salvation—and indeed God’s feeling of affection toward us—is not at all based on us our our merits.

not because we were good enough to be saved but because of his kindness and pity… (Titus 3:5b TLB)

Consider what Paul says here: He—God—saved us. This is the historic fact of what He did for us and to us. Once we were NOT saved, but now ARE saved. The aorist tense indicates a past act; God did something for us and in  us and we NOW possess salvation. It is incomplete, awaiting its fulfillment in the future at Christ’s return, but we do possess salvation. And because He did this for us, we have been changed; something has been added to us. We now possess salvation and we have experienced His lovingkindness, and that has to impact how we treat others.

Finally, we read this:

He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit… (Titus 3:5c NIV)

This is a powerful, two-pronged statement. This is: (1) how he saved us, and (2) how we are able to live the way Paul says we should. God’s salvation was mediated to us “through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” It is utterly impossible for any man to save himself; God has to do the saving—God does the “washing.” A man does not clean himself up, preparing himself to be saved! He comes to Christ, “just as he is, without one plea.” God washes Him—God cleanses the sinner from the defilement of sin. It is God that does the work of rebirth or regeneration. This is a ministry of the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit takes the lead and He proceeds to make the sinner clean—to make him holy. “The washing of rebirth,” or as Paul said elsewhere—

When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun! (1 Corinthians 5:17 TLB)

makes the redeemed sinner into a “brand new person,” or a “new creation.” And a new person does not act the same way as the old person did because he is living a new and different life. That’s why a believer’s behavior must be exemplary—because he is a new and better person.

But how is this possible? This is where the “renewal by the Holy Spirit” comes in. A variant of this word, renewal, is found in Romans 12:2—

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (NIV)

Paul urged believers to “be transformed” by changing their habitual ways of thinking. Now, mark this carefully. “Regeneration” is completely a work of God. It is God who does this for the sinner and in the sinner. A repentant sinner does not regenerate his life. A repentant sinner received his new life from God. But, renewal is a little different. While it is a work of the Holy Spirit in the believer, the believer must work in concert with the Holy Spirit—he must co-operate with the Holy Spirit. And this is why Paul spends so much time admonishing believers to live in such-and-such a way; to stop lying and stealing and so on. Living exemplary lives—living as good citizens—living the good life—requires an effort. Changing the way you think takes work. “Renewal” requires the conscious, continued surrender of man’s will to God’s.

Conclusion

Our former state—the person we used to be—is over and done with. Our new life is well under way; the blessings of that new life have been received. And now, in verse 7, the result and the purpose of the blessings of our new life are given:

having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (NIV)

Just to make it clear, Paul makes sure that his readers—both Titus and us—understand that we were saved, we have been born again, NOT for the purpose of making our country or our community better places in which to live. Those are purely secondary results of our salvation. We have been made new creatures so that we may become heirs of the Kingdom and have the hope of eternal life.  We  have been completely and eternally justified by God.

Our Great Salvation, 4

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SAVED BY HOPE

Romans 8:24

For in this hope we were saved. (Romans 8:24a NIV)

For we are saved by hope… (Romans 8:24a KJV)

Well, this can’t be right, can it? We are “saved by hope?” I thought we are saved “by faith” in Jesus Christ; by believing in Him. What did Paul mean when he wrote that “we are saved by hope?”

The first thing we need to do is establish the correct translation of this verse. The venerable KJV is wrong. Nobody is “saved by hope,” even the most casual of Christian realizes there is more to salvation than merely “hope.” We have verses like this one that dooms the idea of “salvation by hope”:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8 NIV)

The NIV’s rendering of Romans 8:24 is preferable: “…in this hope we are saved…” Or, in other words, God planted eternal life deep within every man. The idea that we will go on and never cease to exist is the “hope” of which Paul wrote. It is with the hope of eternal life that we are saved.

The hope of all creation

As Christians, we exist in three dimensions, two temporal and one eternal: past, present, and future. Our salvation—our Christian experience—is built squarely on the Foundation that was laid in Christ. Our salvation lives in the present, empowered by the Holy Spirit. And our salvation stretches forward, to the future, toward our full redemption. So far in the book of Romans, Paul, the great theologian, has dealt with the first two dimensions. He’s already written about what Christ did and what the Holy Spirit does. Now, Paul turns his attention the great hope we have in Christ.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18 NIV)

Paul had already written something very similar to the Corinthians:

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17 NIV)

This is a familiar technique of Paul’s: to compare the present situation to what is in store in the future. The present pales in comparison to our glorious future. Weighed on the perfect scales of eternity, the sufferings we endure in the present are light—they weigh nothing compared to the splendor of our life to come. It takes a measure of faith, though, because the Bible doesn’t say much about what our future glory will be, but it promises it will be ours. In fact, it promises even more than mere possession; our future glory—whatever that is and means—will be manifested in us, we will possess it, and it will forever transform us.

And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20b, 21 NIV)

This “glory,” whatever it may be or form it may take, will be so magnificent, that it’s not just the redeemed who are waiting in eager expectation for the future!

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. (Romans 8:19 NIV)

J.B. Phillips in his translation, handles verse 19 like this:

The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own.

The apostle, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has let us in on something very profound here. All of creation, excluding the angels, demons, and the unredeemed, is “longing” for the day when we Christians will reach the point of our final consummation because all creation seems to understand its own deliverance from its imperfect state caused by the fall cannot take place until then.

Why does Paul bring up such a “heady” idea? It’s because even Christians, especially in the face of suffering, are prone to doubt. By introducing the fact that ALL CREATION believes in man’s ultimate glorification, Paul is saying we ought to have that same kind of faith regardless. Our future as believers, in spite of our present, is certain. We have a glorious future waiting for us!

The “hope” of all creation is linked to the redemption of mankind. The future of the two—all creation and mankind—is inseparably joined together. God, on the day of resurrection, will give to man a glorified body which will suit his new, eternal home, and will create a corresponding new heavens and new earth. Both epoch events are anticipated today by “all creation.”

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:22 NIV)

All creation looks to the future in hope that it, like man, will be restored. It cannot rest until God’s plan for man has been completed. Creation was intended to be man’s perfect home, but when man sinned and fell from grace, creation was corrupted; thrown into complete disarray. Now it’s wild; it works against man and even itself sometimes. But in that great day of the reconciliation of all things, the words of Francis of Assisi’s wonderful hymn will be made real:

All creatures of our God and King,
lift up your voices, let us sing:
Alleluia, alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beams,
thou silver moon that gently gleams,

O praise him, O praise him,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Our cause for hope

So, if “all creation” has this hope, how much more should we, who have the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit convincing us that we are “God’s children?” The child of God should not fear death; he’s never going to die. The child of God need not be troubled by hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, beach erosion, supposed climate change or all the other upheavals of nature because all nature belongs to God and hopes in God. We ought not be disturbed by wars, famines, diseases, and other awful things that sully the human race, because we know that God is in absolute control and this world and everything in, on, and under it is flowing along the current of God’s eternal plan. And may I remind you that this plan was conceived and executed by an omnipotent, omniscient, all LOVING heavenly Father?

Christ is the exact likeness of the unseen God. He existed before God made anything at all, and, in fact, Christ himself is the Creator who made everything in heaven and earth, the things we can see and the things we can’t; the spirit world with its kings and kingdoms, its rulers and authorities; all were made by Christ for his own use and glory. He was before all else began and it is his power that holds everything together. (Colossians 1:15—17 TLB)

Regardless of what’s going on around you, God has not left you up to your own devices. Regardless of what “nature” hurls at you, Christ is the glue that continues to  hold universe together.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 NIV)

Now, we either believe that verse or we don’t. If we don’t, we won’t have hope and we’ll be full of pessimism. But if we do, we will have hope and we will exude good cheer.

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23 NIV)

Here, a new “groaning” is introduced. Not only is “all creation” groaning, but we are as well. Or at least we should be. Our “groaning” is linked to our adoption, which includes our glorified bodies.

At this present time, we are not in possession of our new bodies. But we have been adopted into God’s great family and we are full of His Holy Spirit, who helps us to recognize the reality of our new relationship with our Heavenly Father. This precious gift of the Spirit is God’s promise that the whole process of salvation will, one day, be fully complete. Yes, we are completely saved right now, but part of that salvation is our bodily resurrection, and that hasn’t happened yet. Paul, when he wrote to the Corinthians, emphasized that the end goal of salvation included a new body for believers!

They are just human bodies at death, but when they come back to life they will be superhuman bodies. For just as there are natural, human bodies, there are also supernatural, spiritual bodies. (1 Corinthians 15:44 TLB)

Now, having a new body, a resurrection body, may not be a big deal for you. You may be one among many who’s just glad to be getting into Heaven and avoiding Hell. But consider this: do you really want to spend eternity with the body you have now? Do you want to wear glasses and a hearing aid for all eternity? Do you want to be taking your blood pressure medication for all eternity? Do you want to put up with the chronic pain of arthritis for all eternity? Here’s the point: God thought of everything when He saved you, and He saved ALL of you, including your body! Nobody knows what your glorified body will be like. We have a rough idea what Jesus’ is like, but as far as ours goes, the Bible is silent. One thing is certain, though:  our glorified body will be way better than our present, earthly body!

At this point in time, Christians are not fully redeemed, even though we have been adopted by God and fully accepted by God. We possess a body destined to die. It’s not over for us, yet.

And this is our hope:

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:25 NIV)

Hope for the future. Hope that what is coming is better than what is here now. Hope that all will be made right, finally and forever. Paul’s point is clear: we are to wait patiently for all the promises of salvation to be fulfilled.

We were truly saved the moment we placed our faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We were absolutely saved and redeemed when we were clothed with Christ’s righteousness. And yet, we were not “fully saved” because we were saved “in hope” of our future restoration. Faith and hope are distinguishable but inseparable. Calvin was right on when he said:

Hope nourishes and sustains faith.

Power for living comes from hoping in the right direction. From our perspective, the God of the future will be so much greater than the God of the past or even of the present. Do you have this hope? Does this hope possess you? It can, if you let it!

I pray that God will help you overflow with hope in him through the Holy Spirit’s power within you. (Romans 15:13b TLB)

Our Great Salvation, 3

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Saved by Looking

Numbers 21:8

To quote the Great Detective:

My dear Watson! You see everything yet observe nothing.

Most people are very good at seeing everything but seeing is not the same thing as understanding. There is a difference between looking at something and moving on and looking at something but stopping to linger and really study what you are looking at. The Lord gave Moses these admittedly strange instructions:

Make a bronze replica of one of these snakes and attach it to the top of a pole; anyone who is bitten shall live if he simply looks at it!” (Numbers 21:8 TLB)

Now, we know this has something to do with the Cross of Christ, and we’ll get into that in due course. Isaac Watts really understood what the Lord was getting at with His instructions to Moses. Dr Watts understood completely when the Cross of Christ became powerful in the life of a sinner:

 
When I survey the wondrous Cross,
On which the Prince of Glory died.

Just looking at or glancing at the Cross of Christ doesn’t do anybody any good. It must be surveyed; a sinner must stop, look, gaze at, try to understand what the Cross is all about before the Cross does him any good. You’ve watched surveyors at work. You’ve seen the equipment they use; the care they take as they do their work. The Cross deserves more than a passing glance! It needs to be surveyed, with care and thought. When a sinner does that, his life forever changes.

Let’s examine the context in which Moses was given this instruction and relate the snake on a pole to the Savior on a tree.

First the good, then the bad

It all started with a victory in battle.

Then the people of Israel vowed to the Lord that if he would help them conquer the king of Arad and his people, they would completely annihilate all the cities of that area. (Numbers 21:2 TLB)

It was a “token war.” The king of Arad had taken some Israelites captive and the Israelites asked God for help. God heard them and delivered the Canaanites into the hands of Israel. The nation experienced a great victory because they trusted their God. They often did not, but this time they time they did and the Lord honored them. We may well imagine that this act of God on behalf of His people was a great encouragement to them. Their faith was definitely an “up and down” proposition! Sometimes they had faith, usually they didn’t. Here they did, and God came through for them in glorious fashion. From here on in, the people of Israel would trust God with no reservation. Okay, I made that up. Actually, coming off the high of victory, the people would sink to the depths once again.

Then the people of Israel returned to Mount Hor, and from there continued southward along the road to the Red Sea in order to go around the land of Edom. The people were very discouraged… (Numbers 21:4 TLB)

You read that last sentence and you can’t help but shake your head! What did these people, who had just faced the enemy and won, have to be discouraged about? Well, as it happens, the people had to make a detour in their journey to the Promised Land thanks to the dreaded Edomites. They would not allow Israel to wander across their borders for any reason whatsoever. So each step they took around Edom seemed to take them further away from their objective. To the people, it must have seemed like they were going backward instead of forward. They had been so close; the end was virtually in sight and now they had to all the way around again. Once again, they had to pick up and wander around in the desert.

Moses was determined NOT to have problems with Edom, and his people became irritated with his leadership. In truth, their anger was really directed toward the Lord because Moses was simply obeying Him.

So, flushed with their recent victory in battle, the people’s confidence was now in themselves. They forgot that their victory was due to the Lord, not to their fighting skills. So, for the eighth time, the people began to complain.

Complain, complain

they began to murmur against God and to complain against Moses. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?” they whined. “There is nothing to eat here, and nothing to drink, and we hate this insipid manna.” (Numbers 21:5 TLB)

Their complaint? They hated this manna, and since the manna was a direct blessing from God, they were really complaining about His goodness. There are Christians like that, who would complain about the steak they are eating, preferring to have chicken, in spite of the fact they just “gave thanks” for the steak! It’s mind-boggling how easy and how natural it is for Christians to complain about anything that has to do with the things of God. We complain about the length of sermons; about the color of the church carpet, about the blandness of gospel music, we complain about the pews. Yes, we even complain about God Himself because we don’t understand Him. We could take a lesson from how God dealt with the complaining Israelites because, in many ways, our behavior is worse than theirs.

So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among them to punish them, and many of them were bitten and died. (Numbers 21:6 TLB)

Hands up all you Christians really love God’s grace! Yes, we are living under grace and when we act like petulant children God does not send poisonous snakes to teach us a lesson. Most of us would be dead. But there is a high price to pay for treating God like we often do, and that’s one lesson: sin brings judgment. There is no way to avoid it. And when we treat God with disdain, even though we probably won’t die, we will experience something unpleasant, even if it’s just a hardening of the heart to God’s presence.

God had never left His people during their march in the desert; He was still fighting their battles, He was still feeding them, and they were still complaining.

Something else we may learn from this story is that complaining is habit forming! The more you find fault with God or the things of God, the more faults you WILL find and the more outrageous your whining will become.

And another thing, these snakes were not supernatural, they were just natural, run-of-the-mill deadly snakes. In other words, God used naturally occurring things to exact judgment on His people. Could He have stopped the snakes? Of course He could have; He probably did many times in the past!  This time, He allowed the snakes to do what they would normally do. You see, this is what happens when you step away from and out of God’s hedge of protection: you open yourself up all kinds of hurt that He would have normally shielded your from.

On account of their sin, the people received something – not from heaven like the manna, bur from the desert: the bite of snakes. In the face of all the deaths, the people seemed to snap to their senses:

We have sinned, for we have spoken against Jehovah and against you. Pray to him to take away the snakes.” (Numbers 21:7 TLB)

The people admitted they were wrong. Did they change after this? No, they were still sinners; they would rebel again. But for now, it was enough for them to admit they were in the wrong; that God was the injured party. But how can God know they’re confession was genuine? Well, the people would have to give evidence of their faith in Him, so He established a way for them to prove their faith:

Make a bronze replica of one of these snakes and attach it to the top of a pole; anyone who is bitten shall live if he simply looks at it!” (Numbers 21:8 TLB)

Healing

Conservative Bible scholars see this incident is one of the great miracles of the Old Testament. This is surely among the most, if not THE most important miracle in the Bible for this reason:

And as Moses in the wilderness lifted up the bronze image of a serpent on a pole, even so I must be lifted up upon a pole, so that anyone who believes in me will have eternal life. (John 3:14, 15 TLB)

Somehow, in some way, that serpent on the pole represented the Cross of Christ and everything it stands for. The serpent of brass was a stunning type of Christ who, when He was hoisted high on the Cross, brought salvation to all who looked to Him as surely as those who looked at that serpent were healed. God gave the people a serpent of brass an agent of healing, to heal the poisonous bites inflicted by real snakes, and, as Isaiah 53 says, “…by His stripes we are healed.”

God gave them a cold, lifeless serpent of brass to also remind them of what He was able to do for them in the desert: protect them, care for them, and heal them.  The blessing of healing came from the power of God being released by the faith of the people. They looked IN FAITH at the serpent on the pole, God honored their evidence of faith, and He healed them.

In this incredible Old Testament type of salvation by faith in a Savior who died high on a Cross, the brass serpent was just that. What healed the individual was HIS own action of looking up at the symbol of his healing. Jesus Christ, who died upon the Cross, died for the sins of the world, but the only people who benefit from this ultimate sacrifice of the Son of God are those who look up to Him in faith.

For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life… (John 3:16 TLB)


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