Posts Tagged 'salvation'

Ephesians, Part 3

grace

The grace of God is one the greatest doctrine of the New Testament.  Augustine, in the fourth century, was one of the earliest Christian thinkers to view the entirety of Christianity through the lens of God’s grace.  For Augustine, the only reason for the existence of the Christian faith is the fact of God’s radical grace demonstrated in the work of Christ on the Cross for the benefit of sinners.

Our survey of Ephesians takes us to the second chapter, which contains these famous verses –

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, 9  TNIV)

If you were to ask the average person, “Do you want to go to Heaven when you die?”, most would answer that they do.  Who would want to go to the other place?  But just how does a person go to Heaven when they die?

Well, according to the Bible, nobody gets into Heaven based on the good things they did while they were alive.  Salvation isn’t attained by works so a person can brag about it.  No, a person gets into Heaven based on what God did for them.  And this is what Ephesians 2 deals with.

Saved By Grace: Regeneration, Ephesians 2:1 – 10

In the first chapter, Paul had laid the foundation for this discussion on the regeneration of believers by explaining God’s plan of salvation and His mighty power which enacted that plan through Christ.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.  (Ephesians 2:1 – 3  TNIV)

The second chapter actually begins with the conjunction “and,” so it’s a continuation of Paul’s line of thought in the previous chapter.  He ended that chapter with the idea of God’s mighty power that raised Jesus from the dead.  In chapter two, this exact same power made us, when we were dead in our sins, alive in Christ.

This paragraph, the first three verses of chapter two, describes the true condition of every human being.  Notice it’s all written in the past tense.  We “used” to be like the people in those three verses.  Every single human being who has ever lived, who is alive today, or who is yet to be born, is absolutely dead in sin.  The virus of sin has been passed down from generation to generation at the moment of conception.

It was G.K. Chesterton who responded to the question, “What’s wrong with the world?”, this way:

Dear Sirs, I am.  Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton.

That’s the truth, as only Mr Chesterton could write it!  Paul would have agreed with him.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…  (Romans 3:23  TNIV)

The very language Paul used to describe the unregenerate life reminds us of an episode of “The Walking Dead,” and that’s the prefect way describe a sinner, lost in his sins:  a zombie husk, dead but still walking around.  Oh, they may be breathing and eating and functioning day-to-day without Jesus Christ, but they are dead on the inside – spiritually lifeless.  No zombie sinner can ever cure himself of his dreadful condition without the spiritual intervention only God can provide.  The intervention is called salvation, rescue, or even deliverance in the Bible.  And no zombie sinner can earn it or pay for it.  It is offered by God, free for the taking.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4, 5  TNIV)

God made “us,” both Jews and Gentiles alike, “alive in Christ.”  The same power that raised Christ from the dead also raised sinners from their spiritually dead, zombie-like existence.  And, our regeneration is also an act of God’s grace, not just His power.  He exercised that mighty power because of His grace.  That’s the power of the word “but.”  It’s a small word but an important one.  He exerted salvation power only because of His love for us – His mercy and His grace.  Mercifully, not because we deserved it, God saved us.

That phrase, “rich in mercy,” is a profound one because it expresses a fundamental truth about God.  Man is a complete and utter failure apart from Jesus Christ.  That’s the evident truth of the first three verses.  The contrast to the mess man is, is God, who has all this love for man and who is “rich in mercy.”  He’s everything man is not, and God has enough mercy for any sinner.  He doesn’t have just enough mercy, God is drowning in it!  He has a surplus of mercy – He has exactly the mercy any sinner needs.  He has what you need!

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  (Ephesians 2:6, 7  TNIV)

Verse six is another stunner.  Jesus Christ was not only raised from the dead, He actually left the tomb and appeared to His disciples.  Forty days after the resurrection, Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father.  Both of these events have their counterpart in the life of the believer.  As Jesus was raised from the dead, so we are raised from our spiritual death.  As Christ ascended to Heaven and is enthroned there, so we are enthroned in Christ.  This is a concept difficult to wrap our minds around.  In some way we can’t comprehend, God the Father sees us in Christ, so that Christ’s experience is ours.  He is with the Father, as we are.  Bruce wrote this –

Believers are viewed as being already seated there with Christ, by the act in the purpose of God.  Temporarily, indeed, we live on earth so long as we remain in this body; but “in Christ”; we are seated with Christ where He is.

Now, we were told just a couple of verses back that God made us alive in Christ, but here we are given some more details as to the real reason behind God’s acts of mercy and grace:  “in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace.”  That’s right, everything God did for us in Christ, He did to show in successive ages the vast wealth of His grace.  Think about what that means.  In an eschatological terms, our salvation – and we could say everything God ever did for us – will serve as an eternal witness to God’s endless supply of grace.

All from God, Ephesians 1:8 – 10

This marvelous paragraph brings us back to something Paul mentioned in passing back in verse 5.  Believers owe their whole salvation experience to God.  As A. Skevington Wood so astutely wrote –

Grace is at once the objective, operative, and instrumental cause.

He’s right about that.  Man plays no part in his own salvation other than responding in faith to the call of God.  Our salvation from the bondage of sin springs from God’s grace and appropriated by faith is a gift from God that cannot be earned in any way.  Grace means says that salvation is a work of God from the very beginning to the final end.

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.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  (Ephesians 2:8 – 10  TNIV)

From conception to realization, salvation is work of God and a gift from God.  It is not the result of works, which is another way of saying it is “not from yourselves.”  There is just no possible way that any kindly person can do enough good work to move the meter one iota.  Or, another way of putting it, there is not the slightest reason for any man to be glorified apart of a work of grace.  Faith is the complete opposite of works.  It’s not that good works are bad or to be avoided.  Here’s the problem: man is so prone to sin that if works were involved in salvation, man’s predilection toward boasting would ruin everything.  God, being perfect in every way, could never allow even the slightest risk of causing man to sin, so His plan of salvation has nothing to do with man.

If verses eight and nine put forth the fact that God is the author of our faith, then verse ten emphasizes this remarkable fact:  God created us.  No, it’s actually more than that.  The Greek word behind our English “workmanship” or “handiwork” is poiema, or “poem.”  We are God’s poem, or as J.B. Phillips says,

We are God’s works of art.

This idea is both personal and corporate.  Individuals may be considered to be God’s works of art, but taken collectively the church, the Body of Christ, is a work of art created by God.  That’s more than a beautiful sentiment.  It shows the great care and precision with which God created us and re-created us at salvation.  We are not merely creatures.  We are works of art.

But we were saved (“created in Christ Jesus”) for a purpose:  “to do good works.”  By the time we reach the end of this little letter, Paul will tell us how to do this in a way that is acceptable to God.  We may be seated in Heaven with Jesus Christ, but for now we are living on the Earth, and we should be living in a way that glorifies God.

While we don’t do good works to get saved, once we have accepted God’s gracious, free gift of salvation, we are to do good works.  The order is vitally important: salvation first, works second.  But, and here’s how much God cares about us:  Since we’re on the hook to look for opportunities to do good works, and because of our tendency to sin, there’s that risk of boasting again.  God in no way wants us to sin by bragging about all the good works we’ve done.  This risk is eliminated because – and this is remarkable – God has planned and set up opportunities for us to do good works.  Do you see what that means?  Whatever good works may follow our regeneration, they are the result of the One who created us.

It’s really simple from Paul’s perspective.  We tend to complicate everything, including the Christian life.  But it’s not complicated at all.  Our responsibility is to follow God’s plan for our lives, responding to the impulses of the Holy Spirit as He gently moves us to fulfill His will.  All the good works we need to tend to were planned by God in eternity past.  We just need to keep our eyes open and be obedient.

Is Jesus Really the Only Way?

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It’s a provocative question, that’s for sure. Yet it must be true because the song says it’s so:

Jesus is the answer, for the world to-day. Above Him there’s no other, Jesus is the way.

If we sing it in church, then it must be true, right? But what about those people who have never heard the Gospel? Would a loving God hold the oft-mentioned native on that uncharted island accountable for something he has no knowledge of? How does God deal with those who are unable to think or reason for themselves? What about children who die? These are important questions because the answers you settle on will influence your opinion of God, which in turn will influence how you pray and how you relate to Him on a day-to-day basis.

So, let’s consider the question: Is Jesus really the only way?

This question is not a new one; it’s been around a very long time. Porphyry was an early critic of Christianity, and as a philosopher he made this observation:

If Christ declares Himself to be the Way of salvation, the Grace and the Truth, and affirms that in Him alone, and only to souls believing in Him, is the way of return to God, what has become of men who lived in the many centuries before Christ came? . . .What, then, has become of such an innumerable multitude of souls, who were in no wise blameworthy, seeing that He in whom alone saving faith can be exercised had not yet favoured men with His advent?

He wrote that in the third century, and since then, theological egg-heads have cooked up a number of answers. Let’s make a very quick survey of them.

Universalism

This answer says that all people – all people – will be saved by Jesus. Not a single soul will be damned. Universalists cite these verses to support their view:

Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18, 19 NKJV)

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive…Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:22 – 28, verses 22 and 28 cited NKJV)

Among famous Christian writers and thinkers, Origen, William Barclay, and possibly Karl Barth would be considered Universalists. Remember, though, Universalism teaches that salvation comes to ALL through Jesus. They do NOT teach that there are “many paths to God.” Some how and in some way, Jesus will come through in the end and save all souls.

Inclusivism

This ill-named theory teaches that those who have never heard the Gospel – that unevangelized native on the desert island – may be saved if they respond in faith in God according to the light they have. Among the verses used to support this view are:

And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself (John 12:32 NKJV)

Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. (Acts 10:34, 35 NKJV)

For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:10 NKJV)

Justin Martyr, Thomas Aquinas, John Wesley, and C. S. Lewis are all famous Inclusivists.

Postmortem Evangelism

This idea teaches that the unevangelized will be given a chance to believe in Jesus after death.

Those who believe in the Son are not judged; but those who do not believe have already been judged, because they have not believed in God’s only Son. (John 3:18 GNB)

Christ also suffered. He died once for the sins of all us guilty sinners although he himself was innocent of any sin at any time, that he might bring us safely home to God. But though his body died, his spirit lived on, and it was in the spirit that he visited the spirits in prison and preached to them—spirits of those who, long before in the days of Noah, had refused to listen to God… (1 Peter 3:18 – 20a TLB)

But just remember that they must face the Judge of all, living and dead; they will be punished for the way they have lived. That is why the Good News was preached even to those who were dead—killed by the flood—so that although their bodies were punished with death, they could still live in their spirits as God lives. (1 Peter 4:5, 6 TLB)

Clement of Alexandria, who knew Peter and Paul personally, was an early proponent of this idea.

Universal Opportunity Before Death

This theory tells us that all people will be given the opportunity to be saved because God in His providence will see to it that they will hear the Gospel, even if that opportunity comes through an angel at the very moment of death.

Daniel 2 and Acts 8 are often cited as proof-texts for this view. Arminius and Norm Geisler espoused this view.

Restrictivism

This very rigid theology says that God does not provide salvation to those who fail to hear of Jesus and come to faith in him before they die. Jesus is absolutely the only the way; there are no options.

Jesus told him, “I am the Way—yes, and the Truth and the Life. No one can get to the Father except by means of me.” (John 14:6 TLB)

There is salvation in no one else! Under all heaven there is no other name for men to call upon to save them. (Acts 4:12 TLB)

And what is it that God has said? That he has given us eternal life and that this life is in his Son. So whoever has God’s Son has life; whoever does not have his Son, does not have life. (1 John 5:11, 12 TLB)

A lot of Calvinists hold to this view, including the likes of Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and R.C. Sproul.

If, in reading these views, your eyes have glazed over and a heavy fog descended upon your brain, here’s one more that might suit you:

The Agnostic View (the Non-View View)

This view is prefect for those who don’t want to take a position. It simply says that we just don’t know all the answers; that God’s ways are beyond our understanding. In matters likes these, it’s best just to “leave it up to God.”

Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just? (Genesis 18:25b ESV)

A reasoned answer to the question

But for the rest of us who’d like to know, what is the answer? I suggest the following.

First, it’s clear in Scripture that some souls will be damned. There’s just no way to ignore this Biblical fact. Salvation through Jesus is God’s gift to man to reject. And some will. If there was another way for Jesus to save sinful man, then He wasted His time on the Cross. The Universalist position is hard to defend and harder to swallow.

Second, it’s difficult to imagine to how a reasonable, compassionate God could hold a person accountable for something he doesn’t know or is incapable of knowing (in the case of infants, children and the mentally handicapped). That just doesn’t make sense. That seems to morph our loving God into a very cold Person indeed. Yet, that’s what Restricivists believe.

So, how do they reconcile their view with that of a God who wants sinful men to be saved? Well, to them, God’s foreknowledge is the key. God knows how that individual would have responded to the Gospel had they been given a chance. That’s a convenient out. But is it enough?

Third, you should have some problems with the idea of Postmortem Evangelism idea. It’s a little weird, and yet there are Bible verses that seem to support it. Can an unrepentant sinner get a second chance to make the right choice after death? Not really. These postmortem evangelism supporters would say that only those who have never heard the Gospel get that chance. That may give those who are left grieving comfort, but it’s difficult to buy.

What makes sense is what this passage says:

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) (Ephesians 4:7 – 10 NKJV)

Whom did Jesus lead “captive?” Who were these “captives?” Many believe these “captives” were Old Testament saints, held in Sheol/Hades. During the time between His death and resurrection, Jesus wasn’t sitting around Heaven playing Bridge with Peter and Paul and the other apostles. He descended into Sheol/Hades (not Hell), announced His victory and preached salvation. The Old Testament saints recognized who Jesus was, believed, and He took the lot of them to Heaven.

Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. (Matthew 27:51 – 53 NKJV)

Those who didn’t believe were condemned.

A lot of Dispensationalists find this palatable. To them, it makes sense. It does make “Jesus is the only way” a statement of truth. Supporters say this isn’t happening today. It happened one time and one time only. Today, since the finished work of Christ, Sheol/Hades is no more.

And we are not afraid but are quite content to die, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So our aim is to please him always in everything we do, whether we are here in this body or away from this body and with him in heaven. (2 Corinthians 5:8, 9 TLB)

Inclusivism seems to be the view that makes the most sense, even though it’s name is dreadful and misleading. It has nothing to do with universalism or pluralism. Inclusivists do NOT believe everybody will be saved. What they do say is that God in His Sovereignty and providence makes a way for those who have never heard to be saved.

And why wouldn’t He do this? Consider:

…a huge part of the human race has died never hearing the good news of Jesus. It is estimated that in the year AD 100 there were 181 million people, of whom one million were Christians. It is also believed there were 60,000 unreached groups at that time. By AD 1000 there were 270 million people, 50 million of whom were Christians, with 50,000 unreached groups. In 1989 there were 5.2 billion people with 1.7 billion Christians and 12,000 unreached groups. (John Sanders)

God is nothing but fair; He doesn’t play favorites. Think about this:

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from all nations and provinces and languages, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white, with palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a mighty shout, “Salvation comes from our God upon the throne, and from the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9, 10 TLB)

People from “every tribe and nation” (KJV) will be found in Heaven. That is problematic for Restrictivists because there have been and continue to be people (“tribes” and “nations”) that have never heard about Jesus, yet they are represented in Heaven. A classic example of people who were never evangelized is a group that lived in southern Mexico between 300 BC and 900 AD, known as the Teotihuacans. Other tribes in the Americas (and throughout the world) disappeared prior to the arrival of missionaries. Since these tribes never heard the preached word, they will only be represented in heaven if Inclusivism is true.

God’s mercy trumps man’s doctrine

Finally, we have the Samaritans. We tend to romanticize them today, largely do to the fact that one of them was “good.” In fact, there was nothing good about the Samaritans. Their religion was pagan – a strange concoction of heathen beliefs and practices mixed with a smattering of Judaism. They despised the Jews as much as the Jews despised them. They had no use for Jesus and Jesus wasn’t kindly disposed to them, either. Yet, one time an expert in the law approached Jesus and asked what he needed to do to be saved. Jesus’ answer was in the form of parables, including the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus said that the Samaritan who had mercy was preferable to the Levite and Priest who did not. In God’s view, mercy always trumps doctrine.  It’s foolish to think that God is bound by the ideas we have of how He works.

If we truly believe that God draws all men to Himself, then we should at least leave room for the Inclusivist and the Universal Opportunity Before Death views. At the very least, we should leave those who have never heard the Gospel to our loving, capable God. He can be depended upon to the right thing, in every circumstance.

Our Glorious Salvation, 5

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Our Ultimate Salvation

Salvation has three aspects: past, present, and future. Another way to put it: we were saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. We were saved by the finished work of Jesus on His Cross. We are being saved by the ministry of Jesus now, in heaven. But there is a future aspect to our salvation: we will be saved. What does that entail? We will be saved. From what? From whom? Let’s find out.

Philippians 3:20, 21

But our citizenship is in heaven. 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 3:20-21 | NIV84)

In these two verses, Paul teaches us something very profound that others take volumes to say. It’s the “now but not yet” idea. It may not feel like it, but if you are a Christian you are already living in heaven in the sense that your citizenship is there. A look verse 20 in the KJV shows us something interesting:

For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ… (Philippians 3:20 | KJV)

“Conversation” is how the KJV translates the Greek word politeuma, which actually means “citizenship” or “commonwealth.” If you closely at the Greek word, you see part of the word “politics.” Why did the KJV use a work like “conversation,” then? In Elizabethan English, the word “conversation” meant a lot more than talking or speech. It had to do with how one lived in society; how they conducted themselves as citizens in an organized society. As citizens of Heaven, we are just living here on earth temporarily, but subject to the laws governing Heaven. Our conduct should be the kind of conduct befitting citizens of Heaven, even though we aren’t actually there yet. It’s the “now but not yet” idea.

This idea gives us a clue about the future aspect of our salvation. We are citizens of Heaven, therefore we are already participating in and enjoying many of the benefits of the heavenly life, and yet we aren’t enjoying that heavenly life in actuality yet. Our salvation will be complete when that happens. Verse 21 tells us what Jesus will do to make that happen: He will transform our bodies, making them suitable for living in Heaven. When Jesus descended to live in our world, He had to have a body like ours; His heavenly body was not at all suited to our world. When He returned to Heaven, His body transformed back, more or less, to the way it was. Similarly, our earthly bodies are made for living here; they must be changed, as Jesus’ was, to bodies fit for heaven. Our future salvation, then, involves our bodies. When Christ saved us, He saved all of us!

1 Corinthians 15:50-58

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed–in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:50-53 | NIV84)

You hear these verses all the time at funerals, but they should be read more often because they are full of theology to encourage the weary believer. Paul makes it clear why a “transformation” of our bodies must take place. Our mortal bodies – our present humanity – can’t go into Heaven any more than we can go into space without a space suit. Our bodies as they are constituted now are made to wear out and break down, which explains why they can’t go into Heaven, a place where life never ends. They must, therefore, be changed into something that will never wear out or break down. This is why the unsaved can’t set foot in Heaven at all and why the saved must have their bodies changed.

The “mystery” Paul refers to is the believer’s resurrection body. That whole idea was a mystery to the Corinthians, it may not be mystery to you, though. Looking at the “mystery” in detail, we can see three parts to it:

(1) Not all Christians will be dead when Jesus returns. Some will be alive when that event happens.

According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:15 | NIV84)

(2) All Christians will receive new bodies when Christ comes back and calls His people to Himself. This will happen at the Rapture, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.

(3) The change will happen in an instant to Christians who are alive and those who have already passed.

This will be a victorious event in the life of believers. We don’t think about it often, but death is an ever-present reality that robs us of part of the life God has given us: our physical lives. What kind of salvation saves only our souls and spirits (minds)? God made us whole beings and He saves us wholly. Defeating death means eliminating what death does to us. Jesus will literally stop the reign of death as it relates to Christians and reverse what it has done to them.

1 Peter 1:3-9

Peter’s first letter was written to a number of churches facing horrible persecution.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1 Peter 1:6 | NIV84)

These were second generation Christians; people who, unlike the apostles and original disciples, had never seen Jesus. In spite of that, they were wholly dedicated to their Lord. In the midst of these trials, it is significant that Peter encourages them with words like these:

…who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. (1 Peter 1:2 | NIV84)

The very fact that they had been “chosen” implies purpose. And purpose presupposes a plan. Couple that with God’s “foreknowledge,” and these suffering saints had to know what Peter knew: God had a plan for them in spite of their present difficulties. That plan has an air of permanence about it:

…and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:4-5 | NIV84)

They may be suffering right now. They may have lost possessions and even loved ones, but what God has waiting for them will never be taken from them. Not governments, thieves, nor death will be able to take away the believer’s ultimate inheritance.

Above all else, these believers – and all believers, for that matter – need to keep the faith. Trials, like the ones Peter’s friends were undergoing, come along from time to time to test our faith. These “tests” are not for the purpose of “passing or failing” believers. These tests serve to keep our faith on the promise and the One who made it. Max Lucado expresses it this way:

Jesus gives us hope because He keeps us company, has a vision, and knows the way we should go.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Unlike Peter’s letter, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians was written very early in the Church’s history, during the first missionary journey in fact. It was written to correct some false teaching and ideas that had come into that church after Paul, Silas, and Timothy had left. It seems these Thessalonian Christians had some doubts about believers who had died. Convinced as they were about the soon-coming of Jesus, they wondered what would happen to those deceased Christians? Some believed that those unfortunates would miss out on the glories and blessings of the Second Coming. To help them understand what happens to the dead in Christ (Christians who had died, in other words), Paul goes on to tell them about a revelation he received from Christ.

According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:15 | NIV84)

There will be a distinct order of events. In terms of the believer’s ultimate salvation – that of his body – the dead in Christ will be called up first, followed almost immediately by those who are still alive at the “event.” This event is the rapture, and during this event all believers, those who have died and those who are alive, will receive their new, heaven-suited bodies.

This event, and in particular the teaching that all believers will receive new bodies, is the final and ultimate proof that, as William Barclay wrote, God cares.

Revelation 19:1-3

After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah!Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments.He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries.He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” (Revelation 19:1-2 | NIV84)

This great moment of worship in Heaven takes place during the Tribulation, a period of God’s judgments on earth. At this time, God will pour out His wrath on all ungodly rebellion, and this will be the cause of great rejoicing in Heaven. It’s not pain and suffering or even vengeance, but rather perfect justice; God’s straightening out a crooked world, that motivates the saints to celebrate.

This, too, is part of salvation. Just as God created our bodies and will deliver them from the effects of sin, so it will be with the world. God created the world and when Jesus returns, He will begin the work of restoring it; of reversing what sin has done to it.

Revelation 19:4-9

Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ ” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:9 | NIV84)

The motivation for this great interlude of worship and celebration in Heaven is God’s actions on earth, but soon the worship moves from what is being done to the One responsible; the One sitting on the throne and to another event in Heaven: the union (“marriage”) of the Lamb (Christ) and His bride (all the saints of God).

This is the believer’s ultimate salvation; the culmination of his salvation. As close as we may get to Christ now, when our salvation is made complete we will be united to Him in a spiritual union impossible to conceive of with our finite, flesh-bound minds. The Bible writers use the term “marriage,” which describes the closest possible union two human beings may enter into, to describe how close our final union to Christ will be.  All believers should look forward to this great day, when our faith becomes reality.

Our Glorious Salvation, 4

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The Benefits of Salvation

Aside from the obvious one – going to heaven and not going to hell – we Christians are the fortunate recipients of certain benefits the come along with God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.  But these benefits aren’t noticed all at once.  Becoming a Christian may happen in a moment, but being a Christian is a definite growing process.  That’s the reason for well-known phrases like these:  “babe in Christ,” which describes a new believer and “spiritual father or mother,” describing a more mature believer who may have had a positive impact on your development as a Christian.  Even the conversion experience was called “being born again” by our Lord!

Many of the benefits of salvation come with maturity.  The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us and makes us part of God’s family immediately, but from that moment on, our growth from “babes in Christ” to mature believers is a gradual, lifelong process that depends as much on our co-operation with the Spirit as it does on the work of the Spirit Himself in us.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the benefits of salvation.

We are made children of God 

John 1:12 – 13 

But as many as received him, to them gave he  power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  (JKV) 

That phrase, “as many as” when paired with “to them” is awkward English but was a very common way of speaking in Aramaic.  While the Jews by and large rejected Jesus, there were others who accepted Him as Savior.  Those who accepted Jesus, whether they were Jews or Gentiles it didn’t matter, received the greatest of all spiritual benefits.   For the most part, the Jew failed to realize that in the Kingdom, established spiritually by Jesus at His first coming, there are no “special privileges” based on nationality or sex.  That’s why John used that Aramaic expression, which amounted to:  “Whoever received Jesus became sons of God.”  How that single statement, so precious to us today, must have galled the proud, nationalist Jew of John’s day!

John says a lot in these two verses, so I’ll stay out of the tall theological grass to focus on a single aspect:  transformation.  In an instant out of eternity, one is transformed into a son – a child – of God.  And yet, it is also a gradual process.  In the physical world, a baby born is a child, yet remains a child for years as it grows and matures into adulthood.  The principle is the same in the spiritual world.  We become a child of God the instant life from above enters the soul.  But many of the benefits of this new relationship won’t be realized for years to come, or even until we are set free from the bonds of the flesh.  This notion squares with what John wrote, years later, in his first epistle:

Yes, dear friends, we are already God’s children, right now, and we can’t even imagine what it is going to be like later on. But we do know this, that when he comes we will be like him, as a result of seeing him as he really is.  (1 John 3:2  TLB)

Romans 8:14 – 17 

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  And so we should not be like cringing, fearful slaves, but we should behave like God’s very own children, adopted into the bosom of his family, and calling to him, “Father, Father.”  For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we really are God’s children.  And since we are his children, we will share his treasures—for all God gives to his Son Jesus is now ours too. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.  (TLB) 

In Romans 8, the word “Spirit” is seen some 20 times.  This fact prompted John Knox to write:

The Spirit is the theme of this culminating section of the argument which began at 6:1 with the question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” 

The only true and lasting solution to man’s sinfulness is not anything a man can do to help himself, but the sanctifying work of the Spirit.  That doesn’t absolve us of some responsibility, though.

So, dear brothers, you have no obligations whatever to your old sinful nature to do what it begs you to do.  For if you keep on following it you are lost and will perish, but if through the power of the Holy Spirit you crush it and its evil deeds, you shall live.  (Romans 8:12, 13  TLB)

We used to be obliged to follow our sinful nature, but now that the Holy Spirit is in us, our obligation is to follow the Spirit.  That obedience is the debt we owe the Holy Spirit.  This is sanctification in action; a gradual process of righteous living.  As Oswald Chambers was fond of saying:

We are to sacrifice the natural for the sake of the spiritual.

But, as we honor our obligation to follow the way of the Spirit, we don’t have to be fearful or scared, even of the occasional failure.  Fact is we have been adopted into God’s very own family, and the occasional mess-up on our part can’t change that.  Under grace, we have this close a relationship with God – it’s a familial relationship.  All this happened because of what Jesus did for us.  Because of Christ’s work, we are able to call God by the most personal name of all:  Abba.  How close is our new relationship with God?  Irenaeus put it best:

Jesus became what we are that we might become what He is. 

Jesus is the Son of God by nature, we by adoption.  R.C. Sproul noted:

Nobody is born into this world a child of the family of God.  We are born as children of wrath.  The only way we enter into the family of God is by adoption, and that adoption occurs when we are united to God’s only begotten Son by faith. 

1 Peter 2:9, 10 

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.  (NKJV) 

Peter is saying some remarkable things about Christians here.  We move from the notion of Christians as the adopted “children of God” to a different way of viewing them:  by way of their citizenship.  We have been adopted into God’s family and our citizenship has necessarily changed!  Peter was writing to fellow Jews who had become believers, so what he wrote about “a holy nation,” for example, may hold a more special meaning to them, but as God’s adopted children, it should mean something to us too!  We are as much His people as the children of Abraham are!

Think about these things:

  • A chosen generation.  Another way of saying it could be, “an elect race.” That may have reference to the Jews, but remember this:  we have been chosen, too.  He has chosen us.  We think we chose Christ, but the truth is He chose us first.
  • A royal priesthood.  This has reference to the Jewish priesthood.  But in Christ, we are all “ministers” because we can all minister to God and we can all enter into His presence.  And we can minister for God as we take His message to the lost.
  • A holy nation.  Well, we would have to concede that the nation of Israel has never been holy in terms of their conduct.  But the same could be said of the Church!  And yet, because of our relationship to God, we are holy because Christ has become our righteousness.
  • A special people.  In the KJV the word is “peculiar,” and maybe that describes you better than does “special.”  However you want to word it, what it means is this:  God acquired us and we are now His possession; we belong to God.

These verses tell us a lot about what God sees when He looks at this world we are living in.  There is a new nation here.  There are new people here.  The old order of things is slowly disintegrating but the new order is growing and growing.  You and I became part of this new order because God called us.  It wasn’t our idea to join it.  God called us and we responded.

We are declared righteous 

Romans 4:4 – 8  

Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.  But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness…  (Romans 4:5, 6  NKJV)

The contrast between “as grace” and “as debt” can teach us a lot.  “Works” and “wages” go together as correlatives, while “faith” and “grace” go together.  Paul’s argument is logical:  If Abraham had righteousness counted to him, then works had nothing to do with it. Therefore it must have been an act of grace.   It follows that to be justified by grace through faith is to be given a righteousness which one doesn’t deserve.  Abraham, with his checkered history certainly didn’t deserve to be called righteous, but then neither do we.  That simple sentence is scandalous to works-based religions, of which there are plenty.  When God “justifies the ungodly,” God acquits the guilty sinner for reasons of His own mercy apart from any human merit, worthiness, or even need.  Justification is an act of God’s grace, plain and simple.

No wonder Martin Luther called this kind of righteousness “alien righteousness.”  He wrote:

Everything is outside us and in Christ.

That’s a good way to look at it.  It’s such a simple concept, this justification by faith, that it escapes so many people.

2 Corinthians 5:17 – 21 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  (2 Corinthians 5:17 – 19  NKJV)

These oft-quoted verses are stunning in their implications.  New converts quote them  all the time and preachers love to recite them during altar calls.  What do they mean, though?  When we are born again, at that very moment we are re-created.  We become a “new species of being that never existed before.”  Think about this for a moment.  As a Christian, you are NOT the same person you were before.  You may look the same and talk the same, but you are definitely NOT the same.  You are no longer associated with Adam, you are identified with Christ.   The fact that you may not feel different is irrelevant.  Nor can you base your new status on your salvation experience.  You are a new creation because God says so.

You, as a believer, have been reconciled to God.  This is God’s call to all lost men.  That’s what the “ministry of reconciliation” is all about:  God calling sinners to Himself.  Reconciliation is not salvation.  Reconciliation is all about changes; changes in relationships and changes within us.  Just about the only thing that doesn’t change in this ministry of reconciliation is God, because He never changes.  He changes us and He allows us to enter into a close relationship with Him.  Paul puts it another way in Colossians:

It was through what his Son did that God cleared a path for everything to come to him—all things in heaven and on earth—for Christ’s death on the cross has made peace with God for all by his blood.  This includes you who were once so far away from God. You were his enemies and hated him and were separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions, yet now he has brought you back as his friends.  He has done this through the death on the cross of his own human body, and now as a result Christ has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are standing there before him with nothing left against you—nothing left that he could even chide you for…  (Colossians 1:20 – 22  TLB) 

Through this great work of God’s, we have been reconciled to Him.  He has not been reconciled to us.  Remember, God can’t change.  We’re the ones that needed to change, and God makes those changes possible.

 


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