By Roland W. Keith
The prophet Jeremiah once wrote, “I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). An odd statement to make about a being who was created in the image of God and given dominion over the earth as its caretaker. But a lot had changed since the creation of man and Jeremiah’s time. Man had been corrupted by sin and no longer walked in harmony with God. As God spoke through Isaiah, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). God’s intellect and understanding is infinitely superior to man’s to be sure, but there was a time, albeit briefly, when the mind of man was at least perfectly attuned to God’s will.
What man lost in the Garden of Eden is beyond our ability to assess. That which is not perfect cannot adequately understand nor describe that which is perfect. For us perfection is an idea or goal to strive toward, but it is not a reality. As Christians we are made perfect through Christ, yet our weaknesses remain with us even as we try to emulate Him. And, as a species our flawed nature is reflected in the world we have created for ourselves, demonstrating just how far from God and perfection we have wandered. Even so, there can still be a connection between us and perfection, between the creation and its Creator.
Through a knowledge of the Messiah and the infallible word of God that leads us to Him we can become reconnected with perfection. We can find the path that brings us back to God and another chance to follow His will. Adam and Eve were to rule the earth according to God’s direction. That is still man’s charter. That which Zechariah prophesied concerning Joshua has been true of man throughout the ages: “Thus says the LORD of hosts: If you will walk in My ways and keep My charge, then you shall rule My house and have charge of My courts…” (Zechariah 3:7; see also Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 28:1-2; 30:16; Jeremiah 7:23). Those words and promises were delivered to mankind by men God inspired to speak and write for Him. The last such men included first and foremost the Son of God Himself, Jesus Christ, and the men that He and the Holy Spirit inspired to complete the final covenant between God and man (Ephesians 3:3-5; Hebrews 1:1-2; II Timothy 3:16; II Peter 1:16-21; 3:15-16).
When Jesus came to earth His Father gave Him all authority. Jesus used that authority to establish His church, command His disciples in their duties, and to call all men to Himself in obedience to His word (Matthew 28:18-20). It is our responsibility as Christians to do our part in Gods great commission and all works done internal to the body of Christ as well, knowing that all that God has decreed shall come to pass, as spoken in Isaiah: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
It is our duty to stir one another up to remembrance of God’s word and commandments, and to follow His teachings, continuing in them throughout our lives (II Peter 3:1-2; II Timothy 1:13; 3:14-15). As members of Christ’s body it should be our goal to attain that which Paul hoped for Timothy when he wrote, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15). Moreover, we must hold to that word throughout our lifetimes, helping to forward to future generations the faith and traditions in which we stand, ready at all times to affirm God’s word and commands (Philippians 2:16; II Thessalonians 2:15; II Timothy 4:2; I Peter 3:15-16; Jude 1:3). Part of that affirmation includes protecting the integrity of the written word.
In his second letter Peter wrote, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed” (II Peter 2:1-2). It is our job to combat such attacks on God’s word. We must not let false doctrine invade our congregations or go unchallenged in the world. To allow such things is to be complicit with those Paul described as “the sons of disobedience”, risking the wrath of God along with them (Ephesians 5:6-10). We must be able to say, along with Paul, “we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God” (II Corinthians 4:2).
Unfortunately, some will be misled even among those who have a zeal for God: “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness” (Romans 10:2-3). Many are those who believe in God who have been taught and ascribe to the idea that they can worship their Maker according to their own will, without truly seeking or submitting to God in the matter. Paul wrote, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-3).
No matter how earnest we are in our worship if we drift away from the truth we are courting disaster. So great is that danger that Paul informed the Galatians, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, John recorded this warning that truly applies to all scripture: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).
Jesus Christ issued another warning during His ministry: “If anyone hears My words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects Me and does not receive My words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on My own authority, but the Father who sent Me has Himself given Me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me” (John 12:47-50).
The word. It is the authority and power of God over man and all of creation. Each of us has a duty to obey it and a responsibility to protect it from, and to share it with the world. The protection and sharing of the word being among the works that God created us for (Ephesians 2:10), that we might bring glory to His name. So, the next time you pickup your Bible ask yourself this question, “How well am I handling the word of God?”
By Roland W. Keith
From the human, historical perspective the Bible is a product of forty writers, all of whom were Jews, except Luke, the physician. However, as Paul wrote, “the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). Accordingly, all the texts in the Old Testament were inspired by God, the final text being that delivered by the prophet Malachi. After his writings a four-hundred-year period of silence between God and man, known as the intertestamental period, occurred.
That silence ended when John the Baptist began his ministry as the Messiah’s forerunner in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign (Luke 3:1-3), followed closely by the ministry of the Messiah Himself(Acts 10:36). Jesus’ life and ministry fulfilled the law and prophets ((Matthew 5:17), issuing in a new, and brief period of miracles, inspired prophesy and writings, which ended with the death of the last person given such powers by the Lord or through the laying on of the apostles hands, a period which culminated with the inspired writings we now know as the New Testament.
Cumulatively the works of both the old and new covenant periods and their writings have a single goal: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (II Corinthians 5:18-19).
God’s word is truth (John 17:17), given to man with the intent of freeing him from his sins (John 8:32). It is both the weapon we need to defeat our enemies and a shield by which our Savior protects us (Proverbs 30:5). And since the last writing was completed late in the first century, it contains the completed and final covenant between God and man, including all the knowledge we need to reconcile ourselves to our creator and to live in accordance to His will for us (II Timothy 3:16-17; II Peter 1:20-21).
According to Peter knowledge of the inspired word provides all that we need to live full, godly lives. Moreover, it reveals to us both the Heavenly Father and His Son, all the work that they have done on man’s behalf, and all of God’s promises, including His plan of salvation for man (II Peter 1:3-4). In describing the word Peter wrote, “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for 'All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.' And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (I Peter 1:23-25).
James, the brother of our Lord, once said that the man who looks into the word of God and perseveres in its application would be blessed (James 1:25). But what of the one who refuses its wisdom? As Paul wrote, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13).
The Bible is full of blessings and curses. Blessings for those who obey God, and curses for those who rebel against Him. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). In the end God’s word and His judgments will stand— for eternity. The Savior also observed, “Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.’ For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them” (Matthew 13:14-15).
How can we receive the blessings of God? By obeying His word (Psalm 119:9; John 8:31, 52). It is in His word that we find our eternal inheritance, according to Acts 20:32: “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
Next week’s blog: The Bible: Its Authority and Our Responsibility
Most Christians today, if asked, would most likely say that the Law of Moses was made obsolete by the New Testament. Some scholars on the other hand would argue that the old Law and the Law of Christ (Galatians 6:2), are founded on the same commandments (Mark 12:28-31; Matthew 22:37-40; Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18), therefore the Law of Moses was not abolished or changed—rather it was made perfect in understanding and thereby superseded by the New Testament, which is the same in its nature. This is based in part on this statement of Jesus: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).
The failure of this argument is twofold: (1) While Christ did not come to abolish the Law, He did come to fulfill it. When something is fulfilled, or its purpose has been met it is no longer required. As for the rest of this passage, Jesus was telling His fellow Jews, who lived under the Law of Moses as He did, that they could not relax in their efforts to uphold and obey the Law in its entirety (Not just the first two commandment on which it was founded); to fail in one point of the Law was to violate the Law itself, and to be accursed (Galatians 3:10). (2) If the Law of Moses was not superseded in fact, but in understanding only, then the Law and all its regulations are still in effect as well as the curse attached to it. However, when Christ was crucified and rose from the grave, He set us free from that curse (Galatians 3:13), by establishing a different sort of law, as Paul noted: “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). Both laws were from God. Both are founded on the same two foundational commandments (Mark 12:28-31). However, while one revealed sin and condemned violators to death, the other set them at liberty because its testator Himself had paid the penalty for all violators who are willing to come to Him for redemption. One system of law was based on works of the Law which required perfect adherence from its subjects (who could not live up to its demands), the other is based on grace freely given, and works of obedience, which does not require the perfection of its subjects, but faithful obedience to the One Who was made perfect for them. By proxy the followers of Christ are made perfect through His sinless life, not through their own actions.
The Law of Moses accomplished its task as God intended. The foundation of God’s law remains, but much of the original structure was swept away to be replaced. The ordinances and regulations and their associated works are no longer in effect. That which was by its nature incomplete has been replaced by that which was made perfect (I Corinthians 13:9-10; Hebrews 7:28; 12:23). Upon that foundation Jesus Christ has established a new covenant, which has been made complete in a way that the Law of Moses never was. The new covenant encompasses the perfect law of Christ/God (I Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 6:2; Romans 7:22-25; Matthew 22:37-40). So, what is to be made of the Law of Moses?
According to Paul, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). The Old Testament, the Law and Prophets remain an example and a source of instruction (I Corinthians10:11). They also provide the student with the history of God’s dealings with man and the background that we need to more fully understand the New Testament, and man’s current relationship to his Creator.
When we look into that history, we find that the Law never stood alone, nor was it intended to be a permanent solution to man’s woes. It wasn’t until 430 years after God established His covenant with Abraham that He gave man the Law, for a specific reason: “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made… Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:17-24).
The law made man aware of his transgressions and convicted him, yet at the same time guarded him until Messiah would come to redeem him (Hebrews 9:15). It was Christ, not the Law that set man free from his sins and the burden of the Law itself (Hebrews 10:1-7; Romans 3:20). Jesus did what the Law could not do and what man could not do for himself. Through Jesus man can once again draw near to God, both Jew and Gentile, in order to be reconciled to Him (Galatians 3:10-16; 5:1). It is in Jesus Christ that man can throw off the shackles of the Law through faith (Galatians 3:24-26), as Paul wrote the Romans, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to Him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:4-6).
The Bible tells us that all who have broken the Law are dead in their trespasses but can be set free from its condemnation (Colossians 2:13-14). We can find that freedom by turning from the world to Christ: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:1-7).
In the end, while it still has much to teach us, the Law of Moses was made void. As Paul wrote, “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13). It was made so by Jesus Christ, according to the will of God the Father. According to Paul: “For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, but this One was made a priest with an oath by the One who said to him: "The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, 'You are a priest forever.'" This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:18-22).
We do not live under the Law of Moses. We are fortunate, for we have been given an opportunity to accept God’s gift of grace. We are able to find salvation under a better, perfect covenant. On the Day of Pentecost, as Peter preached the gospel message those who stood convicted under the Law of Moses asked a simple question, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37), “And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). On that day the new covenant was ushered in to effect and Christ’s Church was established.
Years later the Lord’s brother would write, “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:25). A covenant is a contract between two parties. It stipulates what each side is responsible for and what benefits each will receive under its provisions. It also outlines what constitutes a breach of contract. James is telling us not to forget— to persevere so that we will indeed receive the benefits of the contract we have entered into. For those who do persevere there is a one-way ticket to a better place, as Paul wrote, “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16).
By Roland W. Keith
Are you a person of influence? Are you a parent, sibling, or boss? A spouse, a teacher, employer, or employee? Then the answer is yes. We all affect others around us in indirect or intangible ways, as well as directly. We all exert a spiritual or moral force on those in our lives. Moreover, we all have some impact on the condition and development of other people, especially those within our own families. The real question isn’t whether or not you are an influential person, but rather what kind of influence are you exerting? Jesus once said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
As Christians it is our responsibility to be a force for good in the world. In so doing we develop a good name for ourselves and favor in the community, which has greater value than worldly riches (Proverbs 22:1), and we bring glory to the one we serve (Matthew 5:14-16). Our influence on others begins and ends with the things we say and do (Matthew 12:34-35). Does our behavior reflect the teachings of Christ? Do we have a positive or negative attitude in life? Do we look at the world and its condition and shrug our shoulders and say, “There’s nothing I can do, the world’s problems are too big for me,” or do we ask, “What can I do to help fix things,” then roll up our sleeves and get to work.
The world’s problems are not too big for us if we are trusting in God. Paul wrote this to the Philippians, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:27-29). What is going on in the world should concern us, but it should not intimidate us into inaction. As James said, “You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).
The world (and our fellow Christians) know us by our works. Every once in a while, we need to assess our own efforts and ask, “What am I saying to others with my life?” Are we telling them we love God and the church? Are we showing concern for our neighbors? (Luke 10:27; John 13:34-35). Or, are we in fact still conforming to the world (I Peter 1:14-16)? As someone once said “silence is consent.” We can’t hide in a building we call the church while the world rages around us. We have a duty to stand up to the world and sin come what may. In his first letter Peter wrote, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly” (I Peter 2:21-23). Do not misunderstand these words. Peter is not saying that Jesus kept His mouth shut to what was going on around Him. Anyone who has studied the life of Christ knows that He confronted sin head on, and He expects us to do the same; what he did not do was get dragged down to the world’s level and play their game, moreover He taught us to follow His example and rise above the world, exerting godly influence at every opportunity.
If we do that then our effect on the world will live on beyond our own lifetimes, much like Abel’s (Hebrews 11:4). As Christ lives in us, He will live on in those we touch with His gospel, and those we lead, even as we follow in His footsteps. Not only will our efforts bear fruit for the Lord here on this earth, but they will follow us beyond this life (James 2:18; Revelation 14:12-13).
Every once in a while, I walk into someone’s house and see a quote from the Bible displayed on one of their walls, or a Bible displayed prominently in a main room and I am reminded of Deuteronomy 11:18-21. What we present to others in our homes says a lot about us, especially when we make it a focus of our daily routine for all to see and hear, beyond our own walls. Thinking on these verses from the Old Testament got me to thinking of a conversation I was a part of not long ago. It was about our country and the direction it is headed in and the impact newly proposed laws and amendments and court decisions will have on the church. One of the sentiments expressed during the conversation was the belief that a time may come in the not too distant future when the church will have to meet in homes or other private venues.
The idea was that we would be driven underground, meeting in secret to protect ourselves. But recent events involving the slaughter of Christians in other parts of the world, coupled with scriptures like those in Deuteronomy have made me realize we cannot hide away from the world, nor are we suppose to. Our influence is meant to extend to the world around us, not be kept hidden away among the faithful. Going back to Matthew 5 we read more of Jesus words: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
The Lord expects us to stand up for the truth and for Him, as He made clear when He said, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). We must be willing to not only live according to the teachings of Christ, but to share them with the world, for as Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Paul suffered much for the cause of Christ reminding those who questioned his apostleship: “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (II Corinthians 11:23-27).
The Lord died for us and set the example that we must be willing to die for the truth and for one another. Paul’s life and works are recorded in part as a testimony of one who followed that example faithfully. If hardship and persecution come our way whose influence will prevail in our lives, the Lord’s or the world’s? Will we in turn become an influence for spiritual cowardice or Christian strength. Will we become a stumbling block for the lost and our fellow Christians or a beacon of light? Will we follow the path of our Lord and as Paul be able to claim, “For he says, "In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you." Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left” (II Corinthians 6:2-7).
Jesus honored His father’s will even unto death. Paul honored his Master body and soul, in life and death, a hope he spoke of and lived up to (Philippians 1:20; II Timothy 4:6-8), confident in the reward of his King. With Paul we can be assured of our place in heaven if we are a faithful servant. One whose influence on the world is a godly one. If we are faithful and true then what Paul noted of the faithful of old can be said of us: “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16).
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines gospel as “the message concerning Christ, the kingdom of God, and salvation.” For those of us who are Christians that’s like defining a human as a “bipedal primate mammal.” Both are correct definitions in their essentials, but they hardly describe the subject words in the fullness of their meaning. After all a human is so much more than just an animal who walks upright. And, the gospel is more than just a message.
Paul once wrote, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). How is that for a definition? If the word of God is a living entity, then the gospel is its heart muscle. All of God’s work throughout both the Old and New Testaments is centered around and given life in the promises that the Father made concerning His Son. The entire Bible is about God bringing man to the promised land, to forgiveness after failure, to redemption, to salvation, to the kingdom. The Son’s blood is the lifeblood of that redemptive work and man’s salvation. The gospel encompasses all that God has done for man since the fall; even before time began (Titus 1:1-3).
In the Old Testament the gospel work was prophetic and preparatory, culminating in the work of John the Baptist and Jesus Himself. Since Jesus’ resurrection the gospel work continues, not in prophesying the coming Messiah and His kingdom, but in proclaiming Jesus as the Christ and bringing the lost of the world into His kingdom (I Corinthians 15:1-4). Today the “good news” of the gospel and its promises are at hand (Acts 8:35; 13:32; I Peter 1:12, 25; Luke 19:9; Acts 4:12; 28:28), and it is the job of Christians everywhere to spread the word (Matthew 24:14; 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Romans 1:16; Revelation 14:6).
The purpose of the gospel is to bring man face-to-face with his Savior. In the gospel according to John we find this exchange between Jesus and Martha, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world’” (John 11:25-27). The gospel prepares us to meet Him, to learn of His life and resurrection, of the redemption found in coming to Him, and then to become members of His kingdom (Mark 1:15; Matthew 4:17; 13:43; Ephesians 6:15).
The gospel is revelatory. It reveals God’s plan of salvation for man. And while it is natural to focus on the positive aspect of that message it is important to understand that it also reveals the fate of those who reject God’s message (Mark 16:15-16; John 3:16-18). There is no message, no written word of greater import for humanity than the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote the Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (Romans 1:16-19).
For those who seek to share the word of God we are given due warning. We will be resisted by those who do not want to know or live in accord with the truth. Satan seeks to blind unbelievers to the truth (II Corinthians 4:3-4), even as he leads the ungodly to destruction (Jude 1:15; II Peter 3:7). Nonetheless, the power of the gospel is sufficient to reach those whose minds are open to the truth, even among the ungodly, if we will but reach them with the truth (Romans 10:13-15; I Thessalonians 1:4-6). We go forth with the word under the authority of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20), knowing that there are forces arrayed against us, but those cosmic powers (Ephesians 6:12) are inferior to the one under who’s banner we fight (Ephesians 6:13). As Paul wrote, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His Own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the One who died—more than that, Who was raised—Who is at the right hand of God, Who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-39).
No one who stands for Christ and His gospel can truly be defeated. Even in death the victory is his (I Corinthians 15:54-57; I John 5:4). It is in understanding this that we can comprehend the meaning of Jesus’ words when He said, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). By human standards the burden of Jesus’ life was heavy indeed. And, it is no less so for those who suffer trials and tribulations as His followers. Yet from the perspective of eternal salvation the burdens of this life are but for a moment— and then heaven. This is the promise of the gospel, that the Savior Who died for us and rose from the dead has gone ahead to prepare a place for us (John 14:2-3).
It took centuries for God to prepare the world for His Messiah, but the day finally came (Galatians 4:4-5). The Christ was born (Luke 2:8-14). There is no mystery as to why He came, John tells us, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17). The gospel is the account of God’s promises kept and made manifest in the man, Jesus of Nazareth. For all who turn to Him there awaits eternal salvation (John 3:14-15; 10:25-30). It is the divine knowledge needed to draw us to Him, as Peter explained: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (II Peter 1:3-4). Paul said it is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16).
It is has now been nearly two millennia since Jesus was crucified. And, as in the first century there are many who will scoff and say, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (II Peter 3:4). I do not know when He will be back. Although sometimes I think it can’t be long. However, I trust the gospel promises and the rest of the Holy Scriptures. I know He will be back to judge the living and the dead (Acts 10:42; I Peter 4:5). Until then I will share the gospel and abide in all the word of God and echo the words of Paul who wrote, “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” ( II Timothy 1:12).
by Roland W. Keith
There is more than one way to get from New Orleans to Dallas. There is more than one way to solve many math problems. And, as my granddad use to say, “there is more than one way to skin a cat” (although I am pretty sure he never actually skinned one). The point is there are often legitimate options to choose from in life that allow us to achieve the same goal. On the other hand, we often find that methods are standardized because someone has found the single best way of doing something. Moreover, there are times when there is, in fact, only one way to do something correctly. In Isaiah 1:18-20 we read, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
God was not seeking a compromise with the Israelites, nor was He seeking to enter a dialogue or debate with them when He spoke these words. Instead He was rendering a legal decision and calling on Israel to listen to reason and choose wisely. They stood convicted of their sins and a verdict was being rendered. However, the Great Judge was allowing them to choose their fate. Based on their own free will He was giving them two options to choose from. The way of the world or His way. But it was not a blind decision they were being forced to make. He told them up front what the two choses would lead to. Read the verses again. Clearly there is only one way to get what they want— a long and prosperous life living off the “good of the land.” That way was God’s way. The alternative would lead to their destruction. Easy chose right?
Today we also stand convicted of our sins. Although the day of judgment still awaits there is no escaping the fate of our actions. At least there wouldn’t be if we were made to pay the due penalty for our offenses. However, as with the Israelites of old, God is giving us a chose. To stand convicted of our sins and be condemned to eternity in hell, or to repent of our sins and to find redemption in the blood of Jesus Christ and be granted a place in His eternal kingdom. Our options are before us. The way of the world as laid out by the great deceiver, Satan. Or, God’s way as laid out in His inspired scriptures. The chose is between obedience and disobedience to God, between heaven or hell. If our goal is eternal joy and happiness, freedom from pain, love, and fellowship with our Creator the chose should be easy.
Why then is it so difficult for most people? If we listed all the ways we can go astray it would be a separate study in itself. Suffice it to say, for this study, the answer is the entanglements of self-will and sin. As Paul quoted, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12; Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20). Most of the world has turned aside to do their own thing, their own way; including how they choose to worship God, if they worship Him at all. However, as Isaiah noted, even as our lives fade, we are carried away by our sins, to such an extent that even our good deeds are polluted (Isaiah 64:5-6).
All it took was for Satan to infect one man, and sin became the most infectious disease in existence. Through man, in turn, the whole of creation has fallen under its curse and deviated from the pure course of its intended by its Creator (Romans 5:12; 8: 9-22). From the day of our birth we are exposed to the disease (Psalm 51:5; 58:3), with no hope of living into the age of accountability without contracting it. Spiritually speaking, once we have sinned, we are nothing more than the walking dead, children of wrath under the power of the prince of darkness (Ephesians 2:1-3). The malady we contract alters the very essence of what we were created to be, as Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
Once sin has penetrated our hearts, we become an altered being, the disease feeding on the basest parts of the host and being spread to others by his own deeds, as Jesus said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23). The pure being that is born into the world becomes defiled in mind and conscience, becoming enslaved to the ravages of the disease to the point of physical and spiritual death (Titus 1:15; Romans 6:20-23).
So pernicious is the plague of sin that even those who receive the anecdote remain subject to its recurrence and all its ill effects. Paul the apostle described the condition with these words: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Romans 7:18-23).
The only hope of surviving the spiritual death that sin brings, the only anecdote is the blood of Christ. Salvation through Jesus Christ is God’s way. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The one who thinks he can forge his own way to heaven is mistaken (Jeremiah 10:23). And so is the one who exalts himself with his own righteousness. In the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector Jesus said, “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:11-14). It is the one who humbles himself before the Lord in submission who is justified not the one who touts his own deeds as justification. Even those who have a zeal for God will be rejected if they continue to seek their own way and refuse to learn and live according to His righteousness (Romans 10:1-3).
To be saved we must hear the word of God (Romans 10:13-17; I Corinthians 1:21). We must believe (Romans 10:9-10; Mark 16:16; John 3:18; Acts 16:31; I Corinthians 1:21). We must confess our faith in Christ (Romans 10:9-10; I John 4:3; Matthew 10:33; I John 2:23). We must repent (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30). That means turning away from the world (and our own ways) and turning to God in submission to His will. If we choose to walk in God’s light the blood of His Son cleanses us of our sins and we are in fellowship with God and His church (I John 1:7-9). It was God’s plan to redeem us through the death of His Son on the cross; the perfect sacrifice given as a ransom for those held hostage by the great deceiver through sin (I Peter 12:18). Our reconciliation, our righteousness, the forgiveness of our sins, and our salvation were all accomplished on our behalf by Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 5:18-21). In addition to hearing, believing repenting, and confessing Jesus as the Son of God we must also be baptized (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16; John 3:5-7; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:12; 18:8; 19:3-5; 22:16; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27). Then, after we have been added to the Lord’s church we must continue or abide in Him (John 8:31; 15:10; Acts 14:22; Romans 11:22; Colossians 1:21-23; I John 2:24; II John 1:9).
As Christians following in God’s way, we will count all things in the world as loss for the sake of Christ (Philippians 3:7). This means that we will put God first in all that we do, giving Him preeminence in our lives (Matthew 6:33; 10:37-39; Luke 14:33; Colossians 1:18). That is a tough assignment. The way we are being raised in the world today, the way we are motivated, the enticements put before us are all in contrast to the way God wants us to live our lives. That doesn’t mean we should give everything we have away and live a life of asceticism and poverty. It does mean putting everything in its place, with God above all things, in all things. There is only one path to heaven. Through the blood of Christ (Acts 4:12). As John wrote, “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). There is also only one way to maintain what God has given us. By remaining faithful to all He has given us, as John wrote, “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that He made to us—eternal life. I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as His anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in Him” (I John 2:24-27).
Do not let the world deceive you. There is only one correct path in life. There is only one way to heaven. God’s way.
by Roland W. Keith
When I was in the Navy, as a member of the maintenance department, we lived by what are called technical manuals. These manuals were full of diagrams, schematics, and illustrated parts breakdown images and lists. Moreover, they included procedures and instructions on how to analyze and trouble shoot malfunctioning systems, how to recognize operator error, and how to remove and replace or repair parts or entire pieces of equipment. They also included something else of great, even grave, importance. Words that we were told were “written in blood.” These were the cautions and warnings highlighted throughout the manual. The blood quote was no joke. Most of the safety warnings were added over the years only after someone was injured or killed. Read in a proper state of mind the Bible is a lot like one of those technical manuals.
The Bible is full of the rules and procedures God has laid out for man to live by. It contains organizational structure, defines responsibility, outlines legal requirements and consequences of action. It defines expectations and provides instruction in training and how to instill and maintain good order and discipline. It is also full of words “written in blood.” Throughout the Bible the shedding of the blood of animals and men was recorded as a caution against the consequences of sin and disobedience and as a warning against the loss of life— in this case the loss not only of corporeal life, but more consequentially of eternal life. One such type of warning found consistently through the New Testament is that dealing with false teachers. Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).
The bad tree (false prophet or teacher) and its fruit are fit only for the fire (hell). This is a stern warning not only to the false teacher, but to all of us, as John wrote, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world (I John 4:1). It is our responsibility to test what is put before us, using the Bible itself as the measure of truth. The danger of false teaching cannot be over-stressed. It is hard enough to combat that which comes from outside the church. Secular ‘authority’ is dominate in today’s world; they hold sway in education, government, media, and entertainment. However, what is close to home may be more dangerous, striking at the heart of even those earnestly seeking the truth. Those who operate within Christendom teaching what is false can mislead even the faithful. Especially those who are prone to feeding their own desires while exercising a “form of godliness” (II Timothy 3:5; I Timothy 6:3-5).
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (II Timothy 4:1-4). Anyone observing the Christian landscape today can certainly see the forces of false teaching at work. The one remedy? Abide in God’s truth, understanding that we do not have the authority to change it to suit us, or the sensibilities of the modern world. The word of God does not change, nor are we authorized to add to or take from it (James 1:17; Deuteronomy 12:32; Proverbs 3:6; Revelation 22:18-19).
Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). In his letter to Titus, Paul informed him that an elder must “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” He went on to say that those who taught contrary to the truth must be silenced and rebuked to be brought back and “made sound in the faith.” They were to be turned from and brought back from “Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:9, 11, 13-14). In another letter, to Timothy, Paul mentioned by name two men who, among others, had made “shipwreck” of their faith. His remedy? He “turned them over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (I Timothy 1:18-20). In these instances, those in error were treated in a manner designed to help them see their mistakes and hopefully return to the truth. But what of those who do not turn back to the Lord? What of those who claim to know God but deny Him by their actions? Paul said, “They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:15-16). Among these are some who at one time were truly of the faith but had departed from it, as Paul mentioned to Timothy, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (I Timothy 4:1-2).
Whether a false teacher is one whose faith may be questioned as to whether or not it was ever genuine (II Timothy 2:23- 3:7); or perhaps a false brother brought in to wreak havoc (Galatians 2:4-5; II Peter 3:3-4)), or whether they are true believers who are misled and in turn mislead others (Galatians 1:6-10), the damage done to the church and the work of God is the same. Many of those turned aside will never be recovered and others who may have been near the truth will follow the lie the rest of their lives. We must safeguard our own salvation (Philippians 2:12), and at the same time look out for our fellow Christians (Matthew 7:12; Romans 15:1-3; Philippians 2:2-4; John 13:34-35), all the while seeking to get the truth into the hands of a lost world (Romans 10:12-17).
There was once a group of men who faithfully recorded all that God required of them. Through them God gave us the technical manual of salvation, the New Testament. God’s final covenant with man, the completed plan of His work of salvation. How do we combat false teaching? By learning God’s word for ourselves. If someone teaches you something that you think contradicts holy scripture, then search out the answer in the Bible. If necessary, question them. Maybe you are wrong, or maybe it was an honest mistake or lack of understanding on their part that needs to be corrected. Or, maybe they had an ulterior motive for misleading you. I am not trying to make people paranoid, but there is a reason so much attention was given to false teaching by the Bible’s inspired writers. False teaching happened then, and it is happening now.
Timothy received these words of encouragement and instruction from his mentor, Paul the apostle, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:14-17). The word of God is our guide, the Holy Spirit working in our lives through it. Today it is the lone source of God’s eternal truth. If you have a question about what is being taught about it, ask. Ask in class or in private, but ask. And, if an error was made make sure it is corrected. That is every saint’s responsibility. Anyone who has taught for any length of time has had to issue a correction. The real damage done is when the error is allowed to abide in silence.
As Christians we were created for good works (Ephesians 2:10). One of those works is to herald the word of God. Another is to safeguard and defend the truth that we believe in (I Peter 3:15). If we don’t the Devil will find ways to distort it or snatch it away from those we are seeking to reach with it.
By Roland W. Keith
Have you ever heard someone describe another person as a “character?” It might have been said with a bit of humor, even admiration, on the other hand it could have meant that he was a crank or a codger or “a real piece of work,” terms that are not so complimentary. However, as we examine what it means to be a person of character today, we have a singular question in mind: are we seeking to attain the moral excellence and firmness of faith that Christ demands we aspire to as His followers?
In his second letter Peter informs us that “His [God’s] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (II Peter 1:3-7). It doesn’t matter if we are of low or high character according to worldly standards when we become a Christian, what matters is that we cultivate and grow in the Christian virtues or attributes brought before us in the holy scriptures as an example to us (among them: I Corinthians 13:1-13; I Peter 3:8-12; I John 5: 2-3; Ephesians 4:1-2; Galatians 5:22).
Among the various lists or statements of character in the Bible we find that the Christian is a person of love. Specifically, one who exhibits agape, that is a love for their fellow man that is selfless, sacrificial, and unconditional in nature. Jesus once said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). We are told elsewhere that one who does not love does not know God (I John 4:7-9, 20-21). When we love one another, we are a comfort in troubled times, and a source of strengthening and refreshment when one is weary (Philemon 1:7). The world may hate us for the sake of Christ (I John 3:13), but we bolster our faith and determination through our love, and in turn share that love and faith with the world.
We often speak of our faith as Christians, but without love even our faith will come to nothing (I Corinthians 13:2, 13). In fact, it is because of our love for others that we share our faith. It is through these two attributes that we become effective students and teachers and evangelists (Philemon 1:4-6). In speaking of faith, we are not talking about simple belief. Believing is absolutely essential to salvation, but not all who believe are saved (James 2:19; John 12:42). When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt He did so with great sign and wonders. He led them with a pillar of cloud by day and by a pillar of fire by night, yet they did not “believe” in Him. They knew He existed, but they did not trust His word, they didn’t have faith (Numbers 14:11). As Paul wrote, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1-2).
When we have faith in God we trust in His word. We are convinced that what He promises will come to pass and we take His word as surety for our hope, believing that it is impossible for God to lie or fail. It is the immutable and perfect nature of God to which we anchor our souls in the storms of life and in safe harbor, knowing that He will not fail us (Hebrews 6:17-20; II Timothy 1:12). We also know that His promises are not reserved for a select few but extend to all people— to all who will come to Him (Acts 15:9). On the day of judgment every person who has given himself to Christ in obedience will stand justified by that faith (Romans 5:1), gaining the eternal home and peace that their Heavenly Father has reserved for them.
Another of the prime characteristics of the man or woman of God is forgiveness. Peter once asked Jesus, “‘Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times?’ Jesus saith unto him, ‘I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus’ answer was a sufficiently high number to get the point across— forgiveness is without limitation. On another occasion the Lord also said, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). Note that our forgiveness may be without limit, but it is not without qualification— we are to continually forgive others, even as the Lord forgives us when we confess and repent of our sins (I John 1:9; Colossians 3:13). Jesus also issued a stern warning to those who refuse to forgive: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). In the end, why would we not gladly forgive others, knowing it is the will of our Lord and Savior, and understanding within our own hearts how much has been forgiven us. Frankly, I don’t want to see how long the ledger against me would be if it weren’t for the blood of Christ.
Finally, the person of Christian character will certainly be a prayerful person. According to the Lord we should always pray, knowing that the Father hears our earnest cries (Luke 18:1-8). Prayer is our avenue of communication with the Lord. It is also a sign of our faith, trust, and hope. If I don’t believe that God hears or answers prayers, why bother? But, if I do believe will I not avail myself of that helpline, that opportunity to say thanks, that means of lifting others up?
It is important to understand, however, that prayer is not a means to justify ourselves. Luke recorded: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14). Any prayer, no matter how boldly we approach the throne (Hebrews 4:16), should be a humbling experience. We may be bursting with joy and thanks, but there should still be a certain levity in standing before God, and a certain knowledge that we have nothing to brag about, but a lot to be thankful for.
If we are righteous God hears our prayers (I Peter 3:12). If we have faith, He answers our prayers when they are according to His will (I John 5:14). So, what should we pray for? Paul told Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (I Timothy 2:1-3). We may pray for the sick, and for our sins, and even the weather (James 5:15-17). The fact is we can talk to the LORD God about any worthwhile subject. The important thing is to honor the time we spend in prayer with respect for the one to Whom we are praying. It is not a trivial thing to talk to God. Moreover, along with worship and Bible study, it is the most important time of the day and we should treat it as such.
In this brief study we have focused on four attributes of Christian character: Love, faith, forgiveness, and prayer. These are by no means all there are. However, if we focus on these four as we study God’s word and pray for wisdom and seek to emulate Christ, we will not fail to add the other virtues to our lives.
By Roland W. Keith
Jesus once said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:25-26). According to our Lord no kingdom, good or bad, can stand for long if it becomes divided. Others through history have echoed this observation. Bao ?ai, the last reigning emperor of Vietnam said, “In this decisive hour of our national history, union means life and division means death.” President Abraham Lincoln said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” For a society, a nation, a civilization division carries a destructive power greater than any hurricane or other force of nature.
It was Jesus’ prayer that all those who believed in Him would become one with Father and Son (John 17:20-21). And, since we are all united in His body, this also means one with one another, as Paul explained: “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call--
one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3-6). We are to be one— united in understanding and action. To the Corinthians the apostle penned these words: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10). To behave otherwise is to act according to human standards, not in the ways of God (I Corinthians 3:3).
Solomon wrote of six things the Lord hated, and seven that were an abomination, among them “one who sows discord among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19). Paul warned us to avoid those who create conflict among the Christian brotherhood noting that such people do so to deceive those they are able to, to feed their own desires (Romans 16:17-18). Such deceptive individuals often do so to gain power over others, money, even fame. In a more imminent warning Paul told the Ephesian elders, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:28-30).
Today this warning is as relevant and concerning as it was when Paul put pen to parchment. From both outside and inside the church is being attacked by those who seek to reform it according to either secular sensibilities or through the assertions of false teachers seeking to gratify their own hungers. Only diligent study of scripture and a right understanding of God’s commands stand between the apostasy these individuals and groups seek to achieve with their efforts and the spiritual welfare of God's children.
One might ask, however, is there ever a time when one might stand in opposition to those who claim religious authority? Are there any “exceptions to the rule”? After being arrested and subsequently found teaching in the temple the apostles were brought before the senate where this exchange occurred: “And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:27-29). Whether in the assembly of believers or before secular authorities our one and only loyalty is to God and His divine word. We must seek the approval of God, not man in such a situation (Galatians 1:9-10). It is important, however, to use a reasoned, properly informed defense in standing for the truth (Colossians 4:5-6; I Peter 3:14-16; II Timothy 3:14-17), nonetheless, stand we must if we want to please the Lord.
In speaking about division within God’s kingdom and how to prevent it we must understand how such division can be introduced into the church to begin with. One way is due to the immaturity of a particular congregation. Remember all of Paul’s missionary journeys? How often did he return to fledgling churches to check on their spiritual growth and welfare? How often did he write to various groups to address issues that had popped up? A lack of growth can be deadly (I Corinthians 3:1-3), and therefore should be a prime concern for church leadership.
Another concern can be the undue influence of a single member or a small group stirring things up in a church. Paul advised Titus to warn such people twice, then have nothing more to do with them if they persisted, writing that such individuals are “self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11). The apostle John also mentioned such a person, Diotrephes, in his third letter noting that he did not acknowledge the apostle’s authority and liked to “put himself first” (III John 1:9-10).
A third concern are those who willfully twist the word of God and find an easy audience. Paul was amazed that the Galatians were so easily manipulated by such a false teacher and informed them that any gospel contrary to the one he had taught them was false and any one espousing such a gospel was accursed (Galatians 1:6-9). The apostle wrote the Romans in a similar vein declaring that wrath and fury awaited these purveyors of falsehood (Romans 2:1). Peter also warned his readers of false teachers who would come among them introducing heresies that would cause the truth to be blasphemed, leading to their own destruction (II Peter 2:1-2).
In his second letter John instructed his readers to have nothing to do with those who sought to bring in novel teachings opposed to the word of God (II John 1:9-11). Today, in contrast to those who seek to turn us away from the truth, the assembled writings of the men inspired by God to write the holy scriptures agree with one another. As Paul wrote: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:4-6).
Concerning his gospel account John stated, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31). One can add the words of Paul to John’s, when he wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17).
If we believe what John and Paul were telling us, then we know how to avoid and combat division within the church. Stay true to the word of God, which is truth itself.
By Roland W. Keith
For the longest time I equated the idea of abiding in Christ as simply synonymous with the idea of following Him. Which leaves open a broad interpretation of what constitutes being a true follower (in some people's minds). Exactly how close do you have to follow for Jesus to recognize you as one of His own? However, when we examine the definition of the word ‘abide’ we find that it is a word well chosen to describe our relationship to the Lord.
To abide is to wait for. Have you ever seen a dog waiting for his master? The anticipation and joy he feels is visible. Even so he waits patiently and continues in place trusting in his return. We await the Lord’s return, not knowing when He will come, yet faithfully trusting in His promise to do so. But that is only a part of what it means to abide. One who abides in Christ does so by conforming to His word, accepting His commands without objection, and enduring the world’s opposition without yielding or compromising the truth.
Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). The words of Paul, and the example he left us take us well beyond the description I have given from the dictionary, doesn’t it? The apostle sought to not only live as one conforming to a rule given by another, but to live as one whose life was wholly given up for the other, even replaced by the other as if they were one and the same.
For Paul every Christian is a new creation reconciled to God in a way that goes beyond our fleshly existence (II Corinthians 5:16-18). Jesus became the first born from the dead when He rose from the grave; subsequently each true follower has followed suit, spiritually rising from the grave through the blood of Christ to be reconciled to the Father, to be made a subject in the kingdom of His Son, and to be made one with Him as members of His spiritual body (Colossians 1:13-20; I Corinthians 12-13; 10:16-17; Ephesians 1:22-23; Romans 12:4-5). If we have put on Christ (Galatians 3:27), then we have become one with Father and Son in some inexpressible way (John 17:20-21).
The closest we can get to describing what God has done for us Paul has done by relating it to family: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (Romans 8:16-17). If we then have been grafted into His body and share the same spiritual DNA with the Son of God, by the grace and mercy of His Father (Ephesians 2:8), how can we but help to resemble Him? How can we help but to walk as He walks (Colossians 2:6-7)?
To abide in Christ as an adopted son or daughter of His Father, and fellow heirs of the Father’s promises we fall under the authority of the LORD God. Accordingly, as written in Deuteronomy, “what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)?
If we have truly become one with the Lord, we will walk in His light in harmony with one another, and in a manner worthy of His calling (I John 1:7; Ephesians 4:1-3). Not only that but we will do so boldly and with a great zeal to do His works (Romans 1:16-17; 12:11). As Solomon wrote, having tested life for its meaning, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). We have but one duty while we are here on this earth— to live according to the will of God. If we will but do this we can find the only true fulfillment in life.
To live life well we have to go beyond sitting in the pews on Sunday merely listening to the word— we must be doers who are dedicated to the work God has put before us (James 1:22-27; Titus 2:11-14). What the world calls folly we embrace as the wisdom of God to our salvation (I Corinthians 1:19-30; 2:5-7, 13; 3:19), and seek to share that wisdom with all who are willing to hear.
In the end we cannot fear the world or what it might do to us. To abide in the Lord is to trust in the reward He has promised us, no matter what we sacrifice in this life (Revelation 2:10; Titus 1:1-3), knowing that we have been set free from spiritual death in Him (Romans 8:1-4). Moreover, in seeking to do His will we will continuously strive to overcome the world (Galatians 5:16-21), while developing the attributes of Christ in our lives ( II Peter 1:5-11; Galatians 5:22-25), remembering the words of Paul in Romans 8:35-39: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.