By Roland W. Keith
Psalm 90:1-2 is designated “A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.” In it Moses prays, “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” We see from his words that Moses understood that God is both an eternal being and the Creator of the heavens and the earth (see also Psalm 33:6-9; 93:1; Hebrews 1:2; 11:3; Colossians 1:16). As our Creator does it make sense for us to question Him or rebel against Him? Paul asked the Romans, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (Romans 9:20-21).
God created man for many reasons. He made us in His Own image to have a like being to commune with. He made us for good works. He wanted someone to bestow His love upon who would reciprocate that love of their own free will. At the same time, He wants, in fact commands, that we behave in a manner worthy of the eternal spirit that He has given each of us. A spirit that was created to reflect His own attributes. We are the only creatures in His creation with such a Spirit. The only one set apart with the attributes of our Creator. With the ability to understand the universe around us. To appreciate it and its Creator. To comprehend its grandeur and feel awe for the all-encompassing power of the One Who brought it forth. We are the only ones called to acknowledge Him as the eternal and Supreme Being. The only ones required to worship Him, even as He offers us a place in heaven as His beloved children. However, though He has the right to command our obedience and our praise and adoration He does not compel it. Among His own attributes He has instilled in us is free will. He has given us the right to choose or reject His call. To stand with Him or against Him.
For those who stand with their LORD, there will be the reward of eternal life with God, but for those who reject their God, there will be eternal punishment. At the end of our lives we will be called upon to give an account of our lives (Romans 14:12). Did we live our lives according to God’s word or did we reject it, and live as we pleased in rebellion to God? Jesus said it is by the word He has given us to lead us to salvation and guide us in right living that we will be judged (John 12:48; Hebrews 4:12). It is our relationship to His word that will reward us for being His obedient followers or condemn us for fighting against Him. Paul looked around at his fellow man and noted, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).
Solomon was a wise man. The Bible tells us the wisest man who had ever lived. After studying the world and testing all that it offered, he concluded, “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). Hundreds of years later Peter wrote, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (I Peter 2:11). Solomon and Peter both understood that we are just passing through this life on our way to eternity. The best we can do, the right thing to do is to keep God’s commandments. It is in His divine word that right and wrong behavior is defined. Paul enumerated many of these behaviors when he wrote, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:19-24). Accordingly, we are to obey all the words of God, including abstaining from these behaviors and other works of darkness (I Thessalonians 5:22; Ephesians 5:11; II Timothy 2:19).
It is our responsibility as followers of Christ to avoid sin and focus on those things that are just and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). Everything that we do should be not just pure in motivation, but in compliance with the will of God. Whatever we do for ourselves, or families, our church, our community, our country, and our fellow man should be done according to the will of God, as the psalmist wrote, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1). Joshua gave the Israelites an ultimate from God: choose whom you will serve, saying, “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).
Each of us has a choice to make. Who will we serve? Will we serve the world, self, or the LORD? Will we establish our families according to God’s pattern (Matthew 19:6; Ephesians 5:23; 6:1-4), or will we just wing it?
What about our businesses or work relationships, how we treat friends and strangers, our attitude toward government (Romans 13:1)? Paul told the Romans that the unrighteous would be “slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless,” among other things (Romans 1:30-31). To Timothy he wrote, “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy” (II Timothy 3:2). For the Christian there is no mystery as to what our attitude or behavior should be. The Bible makes it clear. If we stick with the Bible and apply its lessons to our lives, we will do fine.
In his letter to the Colossians Paul wrote, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (2:8). Every generation seems to be susceptible to false doctrine and willful disobedience among those who profess faith in God, a problem that prompted the Lord to say, “in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men."
And He said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition… thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do” (Mark 7:7-9, 13). Such behavior also led Him to ask, “Why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46; see also I John 2:4). We are either with the Lord or against Him (Matthew 12:30; 6:24).
This is true not only for those of the world, but for those in the church as well, as Peter wrote, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: "The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire” (II Peter 2:20-22). We must always strive to keep our minds set on the things of the spirit and not of the flesh (Romans 8:6; see also Mark 8:36-37). To fail is to incur the wrath of God, and as Paul noted, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31; also 12:29). And, as Jesus said, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). If we choose to fight against God, we will lose.
It is our chose. We can choose instead to take a stand for God and fight against the world, arming ourselves as Paul told the Ephesians: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (6:10-12; see also II Corinthians 10:3-5).
The armor of God is fashioned in His word, as noted by John: “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, "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).
If for some reason we feel unworthy to take up the cause of Christ or to accept His offer of salvation remember what one of His greatest opponents, Paul, wrote after his own conversion: “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). It has been said that nothing worth having comes easy. In many respects that is true. Jesus said, “For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). The Lord does not place on us more than we can bear, and the more we trust and turn to Him, the easier it gets, but we must remember it is a fight that we must engage in for the rest of our time on earth for it was also the Lord Who said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).
By Roland W. Keith
When a Pharisaic lawyer asked the Lord about the great commandment Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40; 19:19: Mark 12:29-31). Many years later the Lord’s brother, James, dubbed the second of these commandments the “royal law,” writing, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well” (James 2:8). Think about it. A royal law is one handed down directly from the king, and so long as he does not change his mind the law cannot be altered. Now consider that God is the eternal King of kings. The Bible tells us that He does not change His mind or fail to keep His promises or turn from what He has purposed (James 1:17; I Samuel 15:29; Hebrews 13:8; Numbers 23:19; Proverbs 19:21; Matthew 5:18). According to scripture all of God’s commands and all His promises are based on these two foundational commandments. And since He is a King Who does not change, His will in all matters is immutable.
We are, and forever will be, subject to these two commandments and all others based on them. So important are these two commands that when a lawyer tested Jesus with the question, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25), Jesus responded, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:26-28). If we truly understand both commands from God, they will lead us to eternal life. The first command will lead us to seek the truth of God’s word and obey it and the second will ensure that we live up to our responsibilities to our fellow man in sharing the truth and living amongst each other as God intended.
Concerning the royal law, we find that it existed long before Jesus’s or James’s statements. God told the Israelites not to take vengeance or bear a grudge against one another, and to love the stranger among them as themselves (Leviticus 19:18, 34). Jesus would later add that we are to love our enemies and pray for them (Matthew 5:43-45). Paul taught that we should love and serve one another, rather than seeking to destroy the other (Galatians 5:13-15). The first command dictates our relationship to God. The royal law determines how we come together with our fellow man to our own betterment and survival, by learning to love our neighbor (everyman). The love spoken of in the law is known in Christian circles as agape, and according to John Stacy (Messianic Psalms and Other Sermons, p. 36), “Agapao (shalt love) means "to love the unlovable, the unlovely, those who cannot merit nor deserve our love. It is unconquerable benevolence. It also means to act intensely, to eagerly cling to, and to affectionately admire."
Clearly, agape does not resemble what most of the world is thinking when it speaks of love. Although concern for our fellow man is not a foreign idea among the world it is not consistently adhered to, nor does it encompass all that the Lord’s definition would require. We are to look beyond the shortcomings of the world or individuals (find something to value in all we encounter) and give aid where and when we can, with an eye toward their eternal needs first and their worldly needs or desires secondly. This means that agape may often be a soft and gentle hand, while at other times it may come in the form of “tough love.” We must also understand what the world can produce if we do not step forward to exercise agape. All we have to do is look at history to see where agape was lacking or missing entirely: In the gas chambers of Nazi Germany, the killing fields of Cambodia, the human sacrifices of various religions throughout the ages, a society that claims concern for the world but produces more and more disenfranchised youth and citizens who place little or no value on human life and turn to mass violence to vent their helplessness, frustration and rage.
According to Jesus our neighbors are not only those we know and care about but also include the stranger in need (Galatians 6:10) One of the Lord’s best known lessons was a story Jesus told the lawyer mentioned above that dealt with this very subject: “Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:25-37). Whether we live next door or across the world; whether we are trusted countrymen or despised adversaries, the Lord is telling us our true neighbors are those who are our friends and those we count not only as our enemies but our persecutors as well (Matthew 5:43-44). For many of us the idea of counting those who do us harm or even seek our death may seem like a bridge too far. However, we must remember that even while we were in rebellion against God, He sent His Son to earth to die for us (Romans 5:8). Requiring us to care for our fellow man is not beyond our means if we truly love the Lord. Confucius once said, “Do not do unto others what you do not want them to do unto you.” A rather passive but effective means of “do no harm.” Jesus on the other hand went beyond that, requiring His followers to take action. It is not good enough to simply do no harm, we must actively seek to benefit others on top of that, as Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Our Lord also once instructed, “You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).
Our ultimate goal is to treat all men as God treats us. It certainly means to cause no form of injury— do not murder, steal, or bear false witness among other things (Deuteronomy 5:16-21; Romans 13:8-9). As Paul wrote, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). But again, it means more than simply to do no harm. We must look to others welfare; to build them up and do them good (Romans 15:2). We must be honest in our dealings with those we encounter in life (Ephesians 4:25). And, while we should naturally do good to those who are members of God’s household, we cannot neglect to help anyone else when the opportunity presents itself (II Corinthians 3:2). When we do God’s work in the world it allows His light to shine through us to His glory (Matthew 16:15-16). That being said there is no greater thing we can do among friends and strangers than to fulfill Gods command to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).
John informed his readers that the one who does not have a love for others abides in death (I John 3:14). When we love our brothers and sisters in Christ as well as the lost of the world, we emulate Christ. As John also wrote, “We love because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). For those who struggle with their willingness to help others ask yourself this question: Can we fulfill the great commandment without fulfilling the royal law? Can we truly obey God without honoring both of these laws? As Jesus said, all the law and prophets, that is all the blessings and promises of the LORD depend on these two commandments, including the promise of eternal life.
By Roland W. Keith
This study’s title is significant in that it describes three extremely different categories of people. A citizen is a person entitled to their country’s protection by birth or naturalization. In turn they owe the country their allegiance and loyalty for what it provides. Instead of being a mutually exclusive relationship it is mutually inclusive. What is good for one is good for the other, and what is bad for one is bad for the other. And, what is good for both is deemed good for all and worthy of sharing and protecting. A stranger on the other hand is an outsider, who is neither a friend nor acquaintance. They are unaccustomed to or unacquainted with the country’s customs and laws; moreover, their loyalty may lie elsewhere, and all entitlements and protections due them are minimal at best. Such a one may forever remain a stranger or they may seek to become assimilated to the country and become a naturalized citizen. A Pilgrim on the other hand is someone who travels to a foreign land or place for a specific reason. They seek a place or experience that holds great personal importance to them. Their allegiance is to the specific place or experience and what it means to them, not so much to the land itself.
As a Christian I am not called upon to put much store in religious artifacts, but I still have an interest in archeological discoveries related to the Bible. I would like to visit the holy land and ponder the events that occurred there. A trip like that could be called a pilgrimage. As such my residence in the holy land would be of a temporary nature. I’d just be passing through. Such a traveler as I could also be described as a sojourner, that is one who has no binding connection to the country in which he temporarily resides. As Christians the Bible outlines our responsibilities as citizens of our countries (Romans 13:1-7); to those around us, including strangers (Luke 10:25-37; and, as sojourners just passing through this life (I Peter 2:10-12; Hebrews 11:13; Philippians 3:20). Each of these things are important but perhaps the most important for us to realize is the fact that we are all, ultimately, only sojourners in this life. No matter how many years we pass upon this earth we are still just passing through on our way to someplace else.
Keeping that in mind how should we view our own actions in this life? Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). In a very direct way, the Lord is telling us to get our priorities straight. Know what’s important and focus on those things. From a material aspect we gain nothing on this earth that we can take with us. That’s not to say we shouldn’t enjoy life’s bounty— but we should distinguish between the things that have only finite value and that which has eternal worth. Paul encouraged the Colossians to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is… Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-4). In the same light he told the Philippians, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus… our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:14, 20-21).
The Bible tells us that after defeating death Jesus ascended to heaven where He is now seated at the right hand of His Father (Hebrews 1:13; 12:2). However, He did not depart without leaving us certain promises and assurances. He told us we can find the Father (and the truth and thereby salvation through Him; John 14:6; Acts 14:12). He promised that He was going to prepare a place for those who would follow Him (John 14:1-3). He informed us that through Him His Father has qualified us for an inheritance that has delivered us “from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:12-14). He also promised that one day we would be transformed and granted an eternal body like His and be called the children of God (I John 3:1-2; I Corinthians 15:51-52). As His children we are to emulate His Only Begotten Son, Who humbled Himself in obedience to His Father even to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2:8).
Physically we came from the earth and to the earth we shall return (Genesis 3:19). Our hope does not lie in this world, but the one to come. Nonetheless, while we are here in this body, while we sojourn through this life, we are to respect it, with an eye toward the heavenly kingdom. To the Romans Paul wrote, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect… Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life” (Romans 12:1-2; 12-13).
Our lives have been sown with a perishable seed, a natural body, but there is also a spiritual body that will survive it. Will it remain corrupted in the eternal fires of hell, or be raised in power and glory incorruptible in heaven (I Corinthians 15:42-44)? One day every knee shall bow before the Lord and confess His name (Philippians 2:9-11). Death will be destroyed (I Corinthians 15:26). On that day the lawless one will be revealed (II Thessalonians 2:8), and subjected to the second death along with the beast and the false prophet, Death and Hades, and the disobedient (Revelation 20:10, 12-14; 21:8); the second death being the lake of fire into which they are cast. On the day of judgment each of us will experience either the resurrection of life or the resurrection of judgment (John 5:28-29). The choice is ours. We can be citizens of the earth, seeking only the things of this world, or we can choose to be sojourners here passing through on our way to our true country, prepared for us by our God (Hebrews 11:16).
How we live our lives reflects who we truly are. Sometimes we are able to keep the real us hidden from the world, but we cannot hide away from God (Hebrews 4:13). He knows the path that we are on. There is someone else we cannot actually hide from, either. Ourselves. No matter how practiced at deception we are, even self-deception, deep down we know who we are. We know where our loyalties lie. WE just need to examine ourselves and answer this question: what country do I want to be a citizen of? To whose rule do I want to submit? Paul wrote, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ Who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).
Peter urged his readers to diligently confirm their election to the kingdom (II Peter 1:10-11). Paul reminded the Colossians to set their minds on the things above. And, Jesus distinguished between the heart of one who is far from the kingdom (Matthew 15:8), and the one who is a true citizen (Matthew 6:19-21). The question we have to answer then is “where is my heart”? If it is not where we want it to be we need to change the road we’re on, and pass through all other lands until we are at home in the kingdom.
By Roland W. Keith
Jesus informed one of His audiences that there is a need to count the cost of being His disciple (Luke 14:26-33). Not that the cost was high in relative terms— compare life on earth to a place in heaven. However, Jesus was telling them to consider what it would take to follow Him. To examine themselves and be prepared to do what would be necessary to live a successful life as one of His disciples. Today each of us should make that same self-examination. Are we willing to commit everything to God? Consider what the Prince of Heaven gave up for us. He left His throne in heaven to live as one of us knowing that His destiny was to suffer and die for our sins. He allowed His fallen creation to mock and humiliate Him, our Creator, so that He could pay the price of our sins to relieve us of the eternal debt attached to them.
What Jesus accomplished pleased His Father; so much so, that Paul wrote, “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). Jesus came to earth to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), and when He rose from the grave, He became the Savior of the world, establishing the covenant through which that work continues today. The path to heaven is revealed in the testament He left behind. There is only one way or path to heaven— His way (John 14:6; Matthew 7:13-14; Acts 9;2); There is no other entrance into His kingdom (John 10:1; I Timothy 2:5-6; I John 5:10-12; Acts 4:12).
It took the better part of a century for the Holy Spirit, working through His apostles and other select disciples, to complete the word He had given in written form. Along the way many years were spent spreading the gospel throughout the world, meeting the challenges, preparing the groundwork, establishing His kingdom before the world was ready for the New Testament in its completed form. Everything, however, was done in due time. It even took some time for His followers to finally be called by their proper name— Christians (Acts 11:25-26). Nonetheless, even before His people took His name as their own, the name of Christ had become, and continues to be at once a beacon for the lost of the world, a badge of honor and glory for those who own it, and a target for persecution among those who have hated it throughout the ages (Acts 26:28-29; John 15:20; Matthew 5:10; Acts 22:4; II Timothy 3:12). But, as Peter wrote, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (I Peter 4:16).
Why become a Christian? Of course, the most obvious answer is for our own eternal welfare. There is, however, a greater reason even than that. We owe it to our Creator for all that He has done for us. As the Psalmist wrote, “What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all His people. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints. O LORD, I am Your servant; I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds” (Psalm 116:12-16). Just as King David praised the Lord for being there for him we should honor our God Who rescued us when we were condemned to the eternal fires of hell (Psalm 18:18-19), not because He owed it to us but because He loves us and wanted to be merciful to us. Not only did His Son give His life for us, but He set the example for us to follow to ensure our own success in life (I Peter 2:21; see also I Corinthians 11:1; II Corinthians 5:17-18).
Jesus is leading the way. He overcame the world and has cleared a path for us to do the same (John 16:33; See also 14:27; Hebrews 6:19-20). In his letter to the Hebrews Paul wrote, “So we can confidently say, "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?" (13:6). Later, he would write Timothy, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (II Timothy 4:17-18; John 14:3). At the end of the letter Paul would acknowledge that his own death was eminent. He was to be put to death for his faith. Considering that, what was the Lord rescuing him from? Apparently that which would prevent his entrance into the kingdom of God. Just as with the apostle we too can be sure that even if someone were to take our lives there is nothing they can do to effect our ultimate fate when we trust in the Lord, Who said Himself, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him Who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28; see also I Corinthians 10:13; Revelation 2:10).
In the end, God has done more for us than we can ever repay. Nevertheless, He wants us to accept His gift of grace, even though we do not merit it. Notwithstanding, His requirement for justice must also be met. On the one hand, He exercises absolute power and authority over His creation, on the other hand, He has given us the choice of salvation or condemnation. We can exercise our free will to choose either. If we make the wrong choice, we have no one to blame except ourselves. However, if we elect the salvation made available by the death of His Son, we opt for a path that benefits not only us but increases the value and responsibility that goes with our influence over others. For those who accept Jesus Christ as Savior are given the charge to be examples to those around us, with the obligation to share His gospel with the lost souls of the world (Matthew 5:14-16; Philippians 2:14-15; Acts 26:18).
For those who convince themselves that doing the ‘Lord’s work’ is burdensome, just remind yourself what He did for you. And recall these words: “And He said to all, "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25; see also 14:33; Matthew 7:14). Seen in a prudential light God’s tasking is a light load after all (Matthew 11:30)! For many of us our Christian walk requires us to make what are often radical changes in our behavior as evidenced by the words of Paul: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2; see also Ephesians 4:20-24), and also “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13; see also II Peter 1:4-9). Regardless of what changes are necessary considering the benefits gained weighed against what will be lost if we turn away from the Lord’s gift should make such sacrifices seem trivial in comparison.
With regard to what can be gained or lost Paul wrote, “and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject Him who warns from heaven… Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:25, 28-29). God is merciful, but God is just. And He is all powerful. We should stand in awe of our Creator and be grateful that He has provided us with an avenue to escape the due punishment for our sins— the unquenchable fire of hell (mark 9:43.
On top of the benefit of escaping hell’s fire (Luke 12:5; Matthew 25:31-46), the children of God profit in many other ways. In John 8:31 it is recorded: “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Throughout the ages man has sought the truth. In many ways he has searched and failed. Yet Jesus said that the truth, the ultimate truth, is available to those who follow Him. Not only can we have the truth revealed to us as children of God but we become heirs of the promise, as Paul told the Christians in Rome: “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). As members of His holy nation (I Peter 2:9), we have taken hold of and been made heirs of eternal life (I Timothy 6:12; Titus 3:7); We will spend that eternity in His heavenly kingdom with Him, where a place has been prepared for us (James 2:5; John 14:2); Each of us will share in the treasures of heaven (Luke 18:22), with the guarantee that what awaits us is imperishable and unfading (I Peter 1:40), among which are the crowns of righteousness that each one of us will receive due to our faith in and obedience to Christ Jesus.
Such unimaginable treasures should be enough to compel us to be become a Christian and to make all our thoughts and actions captive to His will (II Corinthians 10:3-5), but in the end it is our love for God and our desire to please Him above all these things that should drive us forward in our lives. Do we look at the evening sky or the stars of the night in awe and want to know and worship their Creator? Our Creator? If so, all those other things become ever-so-much easier.
The Conversion of Saul of Tarsus
By Roland W. Keith
The apostle Paul’s first appearance in the scriptures occurred in Acts 7:58, where we read: “Then they cast him [Stephen] out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.” Not an auspicious beginning for a man whose name has become synonymous with the spread of the gospel. According to Luke’s narrative this event appears to be the catalyst for the persecution of the local church and particularly for Saul’s own assault against the church wherever he might find Christians gathered (Acts 8:1, 3).
Picking his account of Saul’s activities up again in Acts 9:1-6, Luke wrote: “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus… Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, Whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do."
In choosing Saul to be one of His apostle’s there is no doubt that God saw in him all the qualities of a great disciple, however misguided at the time, but it was also a display of God’s great ability to call even the bitterest enemies or the most mistaken individuals to Himself and save them. To that end the Lord Jesus communicated with Paul through the vision he received on the road to Damascus (Acts 9, 22; see particularly Ch. 26), and God communicated with Saul through at least one additional vision during the three days he sat blinded in the city (Acts 9:11, 12). After preparing Saul, God sent Ananias to restore his sight and bring him to salvation (Acts 9:1-18). The apostle Paul recounted this visit, in part saying, “And he [Ananias] said, 'The God of our fathers appointed you to know His will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from His mouth; for you will be a witness for Him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:14-16).
Later Paul would write, “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12). To what extent the gospel was revealed to Paul on the road to Damascus or in the city or in subsequent visions we do not know; what we do know is this— Paul’s understanding of Who Jesus was and what was required for his salvation was sufficient for him to submit to baptism in faith and obedience and have His sins forgiven and to be added to the church after his sight was restored.
Paul was a man sure of his religious heritage and commitment to God (Acts 22:3), as he told King Agrippa, “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities (Acts 26:9-11; see also 22:4). Paul’s devotion to God was all consuming, and remained so after his conversion, with one key difference— the man who struck out in a ‘raging fury’ had been humbled. He had learned that his sense of morality was not enough (Philippians 3:6; Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 14:12), even though he had based it on the law. He had zealousness, but not understanding (Psalm 14:2). He had also discovered that a good conscience does not justify one’s actions. Though he could rightly proclaim before the council, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day" (Acts 23:1), he could not claim that his conscience had always led him aright (Acts 26:9). Paul had learned the meaning of Jesus’ warning: “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). After encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul had been set free (John 8:32).
So complete was Paul’s transformation from persecutor to disciple he would later write, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” Philippians 3:8). For him nothing was more important than knowing Jesus (Matthew 10:37-39). In his letter to the Galatians Paul would describe his conversion with these words: “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me, in order that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days… Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, "He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." And they glorified God because of me” (1:14-18, 21-24).
The great apostle had learned the full extent of the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:46-48, Romans 1:16; etc.). So humbled was he by God’s great plan that when he reviewed his own past life as a persecutor of the way he wrote, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (I Timothy 1:15). Moreover, Paul knew the importance of what God had given him to do (Romans 10:13-17). He understood that man is saved because of God’s great love for us (John 3:16), that salvation is a gift given by God’s grace to be accepted not by belief only, but in obedient faith (Romans 1:5; Ephesians 2:5, 8; Romans 5:1-2). That man must come to God in repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 5:23; 24:47; Acts 11:18; II Corinthians 7:10). That he must confess the Lord before his fellow man (Romans 10:9, 33; II Corinthians 9:13; Hebrews 1-:23). That we must call on the name of the Lord (Job 27:10; II Samuel 22:4; Psalm 55:16; Acts 22:1; Romans 10:12-14), in hope and worship, and in baptism (Acts 22:16; 2:38). He also understood that we must live for Christ after our conversion (Romans 6:1-4; James 2:17-20).
Paul understood that he or anyone else could be disqualified from their state of salvation by disobedience or turning their backs on God (II Timothy 3:8; I John 2:4; II Peter 2:20-22). The apostle understood that he had to stay the course to receive the gift of salvation (Acts 20:24; I Corinthians 9:27). All Christians must remain true to God’s commands (John 14:15; 15;10; Matthew 15:8-9), just as the apostle Paul remained true to his Lord after his conversion (II Timothy 4:6-8). He once wrote, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). Indeed, let us follow his example so that we too will receive the crown of life.
By Roland W. Keith
In the opening of his letter to the church in Philippi Paul told the members that they were always in his prayers. Often when we think to pray for someone it is because of some hardship or worry we have on their behalf, however, when Paul thought of and prayed for the Philippians it was with joy and thanksgiving for the partnership he had formed with them through the gospel (Philippians 1:3-5). As he continued in these thoughts He wrote, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (1:9-11). Like a teacher with a gifted student Paul was at once praising their efforts to date while letting them know his prayer on their behalf was for still greater things.
How often do we thank the LORD for the opportunity He has given us as individuals or as a congregation and then ask for more to do? How often do we pray for more success to the glory of His name? How often do we pray for greater success against Satan? Remember when Paul wrote to the Ephesians encouraging them to take up the whole armor of God to withstand the devil? Even as he was describing the armor and telling them to prepare themselves for spiritual battle, he included these words, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:18-20). Paul’s instruction for them and us was to pray regularly for ourselves and others and the work that is being done. Even in chains the apostle asked the Ephesians to pray on his behalf, that he might be bold in proclaiming the gospel.
When we look at Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, we see a specific list of things he prayed for on their behalf to make them stronger and more productive Christians. First, He prayed that they might abound more and more in love (Philippians 1:9). Love is the foundation for God’s plan of salvation; it is also the foundation for all that we do as Christians. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). John would later remind us that God’s commands are not burdensome for the faithful in Christ (I John 5:3). However, for us to be obedient we must first know what the will of God is (Ephesians 5:17; Psalm 119:104). Even then we come back to love, as Paul wrote, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (I Corinthians 13:1-3).
For the Christian love or charity or agape is paramount in all that we do. The first law was to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). The second was like it, as explained by Paul: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:8-9). It is through love and obedience that we purify our souls (I Peter 1:22-23). Paul wanted the Philippians’ love to increase more and more along with the second thing he prayed for— their knowledge and discernment (Philippians 1:9). To be saved we must come to a knowledge of the truth in the things that rightly guide our lives and lead us to godliness and to the depths of our understanding of God and His ways, insofar as we can search them out (I Timothy 2:4; II Peter 1:3; Romans 11:33).
It is only in being filled with love and coming to a correct understanding of God’s will that we can begin to meet our primary responsibility as servants of God. Paul, who understood his role as servant, apostle and teacher, knew that it was his duty to bring others to a “knowledge of the truth” (Titus 1:1). While it is true that none of us are apostles our responsibility to the lost of the world and one another, and to our own advancement is the same as his was in most respects, as evidenced by Paul’s words to the Hebrews: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14). Only by advancing in our knowledge of the LORD and the development of our discernment can we instruct or lead others to Christ, it is the only way to grow in our own faith, or to reflect the light of God to the world, bearing fruit to His glory; it is the only way to attain to the full stature of Christ in our lives (Romans 15:14; II Corinthians 4:6; II Peter 1:5; Colossians 1:10; Ephesians 4:13). This is what Paul wanted for those in Philippi.
Third, Paul prayed that through their growth as Christians they would be able to “approve what is excellent” (Philippians 1:10). He did not want them to be numbered with those who refused God’s truth and salvation (II Thessalonians 2:10-12). The world is full of people who call evil good and darkness light (Isaiah 5:20). We seem to be seeing more and more of them in our day and time. Unfortunately, some of them even walk among us even as they did in the first century church, as Paul noted to Titus: “They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:16). What was Paul’s solution for the one who is sincerely seeking the truth? Trust God’s word and apply it to all that we do (II Timothy 3:16-17). Next to that, test all that you are told against His word and hold fast to the truth (I Thessalonians 5:21).
Fourth, Paul prayed that his readers would be pure and blameless on the judgment day (Philippians 1:10). In praying for this he was praying for honesty in their motives, the openness of their hearts, the richness of their faith, and for their wisdom and thankfulness toward God (Matthew 6:1; II Corinthians 9:7; Colossians 3:16). He did not want them to be false in their religion as many had become. Jesus said of such people, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9). Paul wanted followers of Christ to “be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). For those who might fall short Paul advised: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). James gave similar advice in his letter: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
Finally, Paul prayed that the church in Philippi would be productive in God’s work (Philippians 1:11), not for the work’s sake alone but for their own spiritual welfare. We have a duty to obey God’s command in spreading His gospel (Matthew 28:18-20). Failure to do so has consequences, as Jesus taught: “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit I am the vine… Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:2, 5-6). Each of us bears fruit. Either we are cultivating that which leads to death or that which leads to eternal life, as Paul wrote: “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:20-23; see also Ephesians 2:10; James 2:14; Romans 7:4).
One day we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of our lives (II Corinthians 5:10). Paul was confident that the Philippians would meet that day as faithful servants (Philippians 1:6). Jesus taught His disciples: “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 5:16). If we let our light shine and hold fast to the word of life (Philippians 2:16), we too will receive God’s promised rewards as faithful and diligent servants.
By Roland W. Keith
Parents expect their children to obey them. Teachers require the attention of their students. Bosses expect their workers to do as they’re told. Generals demand that their troops follow orders. And all for good reason. Each of these individuals are in leadership positions. In all most every case they are the subject matter experts. They have more life experience, training, and preparation than those they lead. They have also been given the power and authority to lead, whether it is by society itself or by institutional structures within the society. They also bear the burden of leadership, being responsible for those under their governance and the success or failure of their objective or goal. If that authority is eroded or otherwise weakened their leadership may become ineffective. Even with good leadership there have even been times when open rebellion among those being led has resulted in failure. Then who is to blame?
Moses was hand-picked to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. By all accounts he was an effective administrator and leader. Nonetheless, the generation that he led failed to achieve their goal, because of their disobedience. Moses himself was incited by the people to a single act of disobedience that prevented his entering the promised land as well. While the nation was given opportunity after opportunity to correct themselves and get back in line all it took was once for Moses, because the standard of government or rule must be higher for them than for those being led (Numbers 27:12-14). King Saul was rejected by the LORD for his disobedience (I Samuel 15:10-26; see also Proverbs 16:12). And, today leaders in the church are held to a higher standard (I Timothy 3:1-13; James 3:1). Those who live up to that higher standard deserve our support and obedience as those appointed over us (Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 13:17; I Timothy 5:17). To rebel against them is to do so to our own detriment as one rebelling against God Himself. I’m not talking about blind obedience, but simply that which is rightfully due to them. That being said if we are to submit in all things to proper authority, what do we owe to the one who has appointed them?
According to the Bible government was ultimately instituted by God (Romans 13:1-2), as was church leadership (Titus 1:5-9). If we feel compelled to obey these institutions how much greater should our obedience be to the One Who created them? How much greater should be our effort to obey the One Who created us and the universe we live in? After searching out and testing the ways of life Solomon wrote, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). Centuries later when Israel’s council charged the apostles to stop speaking or teaching in the name of Jesus “Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). In His lifetime Jesus had told His disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” and If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 15:14; 14:15). Charged with proclaiming Jesus’ gospel His followers were determined to obey Him (Matthew 28: 18-20; Mark 16: 15-16).
Unfortunately, many today want to claim Christianity, but only if they can do it on their own terms. However, failure to worship and serve God according to His plans is to fail altogether, as Jesus warned: “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21-23). Paul gave a sobering description of the fate that awaits those who do not know or obey the Lord’s gospel in his letter the Thessalonians (II Thessalonians 1:7-10). When we read his words and recall the fate of those who were not obedient such as Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-19), Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2), and those who were deceptive in their service such as Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), it should give us pause to think, “Am I truly doing what God wants?”
Jesus once asked His disciples, “Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). He went on to compare the one who obeys Him to a wise man, and the one who is disobedient to a foolish man (Matthew 7:24-27). Jesus often taught about the need to submit to God’s will, and in doing so He made a distinction between those who give the appearance of obedience and those who are truly pleasing to the LORD (Matthew 21:28-32). There was once a commercial that said, “It’s not nice to fool mother nature.” Perhaps not, but it is impossible to fool the one true living God. He knows who is acting in true faith to His word and who isn’t. And, if we are being observant even, we can usually tell, as James wrote, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "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. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:14-26).
Unless we act in obedience to all that God has given us to do our faith is not complete. It is not one or the other. Faith and obedience are part and parcel to our salvation. Jesus came to earth to save all those who would come to Him in faith (John 3:16-18), regardless of who they are or where they come from (Acts 10:34-35). But if we think we can be hearers of the word only we are mistaken. We must be doers as well; to fail to act is to sin (James 1:22; 4:17). Just as Abel was obedient in his faith (Hebrews 11:4) so was Noah (Genesis 6:22), and Joseph (Genesis 39-50), and Gideon (Judges 6:25-29), and Daniel (Daniel 6:10), And Abraham (Hebrews 11:17-19), and Paul after them (Acts 9, 22, 26). All of these examples have one thing in common— they were men of action dedicated to doing God’s will. And God demands the same of us; we are expected to act in our faith, in fact, to complete our faith through our obedience.
We have already looked at a few who were disobedient to the LORD, among them Nadab and Abihu, but who can forget Lot’s wife? Commanded not to look back at the life she was leaving behind she could not resist the temptation and was turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:15-17, 26). On the day of judgment each of us will receive the results of our faith or lack thereof, and the results of our actions or inaction; the results of our obedience or disobedience. In his first letter John wrote, “And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. Whoever says "I know Him" but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in Him: whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked” (I John 2:3-6). Again, it is not enough to simply look into the law, one must act and persevere in their obedience as James wrote: “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). Such obedient faith gives us access to the tree of life (Revelation 22:14).
The world will one day pass away, but we will not. In His revelation Jesus revealed man’s fate to John, who wrote, “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:7-8). Where we spend our eternity will depend. We can abide in the eternal wrath of God (John 3:36), or, we can abide forever with our LORD (I John 2:17). It all depends on the choice that we make. We can follow the world, we can claim to follow God on our own terms, or we can obey the LORD our God. Only one of those choices leads to salvation. Jesus is the way (John 14:6). We often quote this scripture, just as we often quote John 3:16-18. But now let’s quote the rest of Jesus’ statement in that passage: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21). In the end we must carry out the works of God in our life. We must obey.
By Roland W. Keith
The apostle Paul wrote, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This willful state of iniquity separates us from a proper relationship with our Creator (Isaiah 59:1-2); in addition to that sin puts us into a state of condemnation. Every just, albeit imperfect, society rightly demands punishment for those who break its laws and endangers the common welfare. Therefore it can be no surprise that God, Who is perfect in His righteousness and is the author of what constitutes the absolute standard of moral, ethical and spiritual behavior commands obedience to His laws of conduct and requires justice for those who act contrary to His divine will (Romans 6:23). Fortunately for us our Creator is not a capricious or vindictive God. Rather, He is a God Who is just in His demands, yet Whose every action toward His creation is marked with infinite love and grace, as His Own Son proclaimed, “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; see also Acts 15:11; 20:32; Romans 6:14).
Since man’s fall from his original state of grace in the garden when his eyes were opened to good and evil, he has been locked in a futile struggle against himself, and his own passions and self-will on the one hand and God’s will for him on the other. Jeremiah rightly noted, “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). Somewhere within man is that spark of the divine nature that reminds him that he was created in the image of God. As corrupted as that image has become, and as unattainable as a return to it is for man by his own actions there is still a way. Not to become righteous again on our own merit, but to be set free and accounted as righteous by the grace of God through the actions of His Son (Romans 8:20-23; John 3:16; James 1:17-18).
Jesus Christ gave His life for us. It is no accident that blood sacrifice was chosen by God as the avenue for man’s salvation. From the beginning certain sins against God and man were specifically deemed worthy of physical death. One who committed rape or premeditated murder stood in forfeiture of his own life for his crime. Sin itself brought death to all men, both physically and spiritually. Throughout our history man has innately understood this concept of justice (Hebrews 9:22). In addition, man has always understood and elevated the value of self-sacrifice. One who gives his or her own life to save others is universally praised as a hero. It is the ultimate form of agape love (love for our fellow man). God’s plan of salvation for man was tailor-made for our natural sense of justice and understanding.
By God’s law we have been found worthy of death, but His Own Son gave, that is sacrificed, His own life to save us (Ephesians 5:2; I John 1:7-9). However, from a proper perspective this goes well beyond agape love. It is one thing for a man to give his life for another man, but for God, our Creator, to send His Own Son to earth to die for our redemption is divine love. It is without merit on our part, yet God determined to do it and guided all of human history to a point in time specially prepared for Jesus to come to earth as His Messiah. As such Jesus ushered in God’s final dispensation for man’s time on earth, as Paul noted: “Therefore He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant” Hebrews 9:15).
The revealing of God’s final covenant was continued by the Holy Spirit and Christ’s apostles even after Christ’s ascension, as foretold by Jesus when He said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:12-13). It took many centuries to prepare the way for God’s Messiah, and the better part of another century to establish His final testament after His kingdom was established. These things were much anticipated in heaven and on earth (I Peter 1:10-12), but the day finally came for God’s plan to be revealed in its entirety. For his part Paul wrote, “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:1-5). In his first letter to the Corinthians he also wrote, “But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him"— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (I Corinthians 2:9-10).
What then did Jesus and the Holy Spirit reveal? First that the word delivered is truth, and that truth has the power to set men free (John 17:17; John 8:31). Second that Jesus is the way, the only way, to God and salvation (John 14:6; 8:24). Third, that the gospel of Jesus Christ “is the power of God for salvation” to all men (Romans 1:16-17; Hebrews 4:12). Fourth, that for that salvation to take effect man must first believe, then take action on that belief, that is they must be “doers of the word” (James 1:21-22). As Paul wrote to the Hebrews, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” (11:6). To be one who is truly seeking the Lord we must be engaged in His work, as James pointed out: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "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. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:17-24).
James was not writing of works according to the Law of Moses, rather he was writing about works of obedience under the law of Christ. Every Christian is expected to be involved in the work of the Lord, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10; see also Titus 2:14; 3:8, 14). Not only must we be about the work of the Lord, we must take care to do all according to His will. Jesus became the source of our salvation through His obedience to His Father, in turn we must be obedient as well (Hebrews 5:8-9), as He said, “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew7:21-23).
Although Christ came to earth and established His kingdom, opening the doors wide for all who seek to come to the Father through Him there remains a great barrier between God and man— man’s own self-will. Though the proof of God’s existent is irrefutable (Romans 1:19-25), many will deny Him. Others will acknowledge Him but be unwilling to accept God on His terms. Still others will roll the dice and gamble with their own eternal fate, hoping that there is no hell, or that God will not send them there for eternity. Paul informed the Hebrews that God had guaranteed His promises with an oath, telling them that it is “impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:17-20). If it is impossible for God to lie about the good things He has promised, it impossible for Him to lie about the fate of those who disobey Him as well (Matthew 10:28; 23:33; 25:46; II Thessalonians 1:9).
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul told his young protégé, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, Who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:3-4). Peter echoed Paul’s statement in his second letter, where he wrote, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (II Peter 3:9). God wants all men to be saved. He has given us a clear path to heaven’s gate. Not an easy path, but a true one. Not only that but He is Himself our guide. So long as we obey His word and refuse to turn to the right hand or to the left we will never be lost (Deuteronomy 5:32; Joshua 1:7; Proverbs 4:27).
In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost Peter proclaimed, “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). If we come to Christ and remain faithful even “unto death,” we will receive the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).
By Roland W. Keith
Sometime after Moses had returned from the mountain with the ten commandments (for the second time), he spoke to the people concerning the need for them to trust in the Lord and to obey His commandments as they prepared to enter the promised land. During his admonition to the people he told them, “For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the LORD your God, walking in all His ways, and holding fast to Him, then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you” (Deuteronomy 11:22-23). The promises God had made to the Israelite's were great indeed, and by this point they had already witnessed the fulfillment of many of those promises firsthand— promises kept with a mighty hand done with signs and wonders and power beyond that of mortal man. Still, they were a headstrong people and, in the end, that generation was denied entry into the land of promise. Why?
To answer that question, we will first look at a few more verses from both the Old and New Testaments. The LORD told Joshua, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses My servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7). Addressing Judah’s disobedience God told them, “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” (Isaiah 1:18-20). In John 3:36 those of us who live under the new covenant are told this: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” In Hebrews 5:9 we are told, “And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” And again, in Romans 2:6-8 we read: “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.”
God has given us a simple formula or pattern to follow: Submit to His will and receive the promises He has made to all who will come to Him in obedience to His Commands, or be disobedient and not only will you be denied His good promises, you will find yourself suffering the wrath of a just God. As our Creator and the Sovereign of the created universe and all the heavens beyond God has the inalienable right to make and uphold that demand. In fact, as a holy and just God He cannot act in opposition to His Own perfect nature. If that sounds like I am imposing a restriction on God’s power I am not— that which is truly perfect cannot be other than what it is because it is all good things, in thought and action and possibilities to an infinite degree, it is by definition GOD. Such a being cannot be wrong, or he would indeed be limited and therefore no god at all. Therefore, when God makes a demand of us, we can be assured, whether we wholly understand it or not, that it is a just condition or requirement that is ultimately for our own benefit.
With our inability to comprehend all that God does, it is interesting to see, in-so-far as we can understand, the dynamics of God’s love for His creation at work in the Holy Scriptures. Among His creation in this universe He created one being in His own image— which required Him to give that being free will. That being abused his free will and rebelled against his Creator— an act which requires justice at the hands of his Creator. Yet the Creator loves this rebellious creature so much that He determined to devise a plan that will allow the creature (man) to escape his due punishment, while at the same time meeting the Creator’s requirement for justice. The answer? God Himself (specifically, the second member of the Godhead) would receive the punishment for all of mankind, so long as the offending members of mankind who are willing to come to Him in repentance and sincerely (albeit imperfectly at times) live in obedience to His commands. Not only can man escape punishment he can be accepted into the Lord’s kingdom as a fellow heir of eternal life— an eternity wherein he will be in the presence of his Creator forever.
Those who accept God’s call are not merely heirs, but become children in the house of God, as Paul explained in his letter to the Galatians: “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise” (3:25-29). This opportunity— this great gift— is offered to all men by the grace of God. Our part is to accept it in faith and live in obedience to God’s word. This faith is more than just believing there is a God. It is belief in action, whereby the believer actively seeks the God he believes in, trusting in His promises, and drawing near to Him in hope and submission, as Paul noted: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen… And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him…” (Hebrews 11:1, 6).
The truly faithful man or woman learns to trust God in all things (Matthew 6:31-34; Mark 11:22-25), and to approach Him without doubt (James 1:5-8; Hebrews 4:16). The one who turns away from sin and seeks to be a part of God’s kingdom in all earnestness will seek out God’s family to become a member of the household of saints supporting one another, as Paul wrote: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:23-26).
A true believer knows that God is able to accomplish all that He has promised. However, he also knows that God will not reward those who separate themselves from Him (Isaiah 59:1-2). The faithful Christian is confident in his life, even when times are tough, because he knows God sees and hears him and will strengthen him in times of need and will meet all requests that are asked according to His will (I John 5:14-15). He also knows that faith requires patience and dedication to the work, trusting that God will reward the diligent and steadfast servant (Hebrews: 6:10-12). As Paul wrote: “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, "Yet a little while, and the coming One will come and will not delay; but My righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him." But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:35-39).
Do you want to receive the promises of God? Then repent of your sins and come to Him in humble obedience. And once you have become a member of His kingdom never look back to the world you left behind in longing. Instead, take Peter’s advice and continually develop, add to, and hone your understanding of God’s word and the characteristics of a faithful saint: “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. 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. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 1:3-11).
Any one of us can be assured of God’s promises. How to receive them is no mystery, as we have seen. It only requires us to have a believing heart that looks to God and desires to please Him by doing His will. However, it is important to understand that faith does not free us from temptation or the hardships of life, rather it brings us into the fellowship of our brothers and sisters in Christ, broadens our avenue of prayer, and leads us into a relationship with God and His living word which arms us and gives us the strength to endure knowing the reward that awaits us when our brief sojourn on this earth comes to an end.
By Roland W. Keith
Every once in a while, a story appears about someone who has been pronounced clinically dead, only to be revived with a tale to tell about what they experienced on the “other side.” Usually I take those claims with a grain of salt; however, there is one such story I do take seriously. It is recorded in I Corinthians 12:2-4: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” Paul did not know if the man was transported bodily, or still in his body having a vision, or if he was having what we would today call an “out-of-body” experience. But clearly, he trusted the man’s account of what he saw.
Most of us will never have such an experience, therefore we must study such claims and determine if the eyewitness accounts are trustworthy. Does the evidence support the claimant’s story? That is, by the way, the crux of the gospel, and all of Holy scripture. We live after the events and lives of those who made the claims. Jesus once said, “"Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). We have only the written word and those who deliver it to us to rely upon (Romans 10:14). Some claim that it is a fairy tale, or worse — a hoax perpetrated to mislead the gullible. However, both of those claims fail the test. Reality is easily separated from fairy tales and hoaxes are readily exposed with facts. On the other hand the gospel and the other New Testament documents withstood the intense scrutiny and testing of Jesus and His apostles and other disciples by competent authority even to the point of persecution and death; their accounts concurrently being tested by thousands of eyewitnesses and participants in countless events all designed and providentially supported by signs and wonders and recorded as evidence to be presented to all who are willing to listen. As I have written before, if the claims set forth by Jesus and His followers had been false Christianity would never have survived the first century.
Interestingly, we find the following caution delivered to the Sanhedrin by one of its most noted members, Gamaliel, during their examination of the apostles: “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go” (Acts 5:38-40). This was sage advice. Many false Messiahs arose before and after Jesus all with the same results— their pretensions disproved and they and their followers either put to death are scattered in the winds. Only the assertions of Jesus and His followers have stood the test of time. As an old Navy Senior Chief, I would say the words of the New Testament are tried, tempered and true. So, what does Holy scripture have to tell us about Paradise?
For one thing it tells us that God’s people have long sought “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). It also tells us that in that country God has prepared a city for us to dwell in. Accordingly, Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Jesus said that He was the path to the Father (John 14:6), and that those who follow Him can rejoice in the fact that their names are written on the rolls in heaven, where the city of the living God and the tree of life await their arrival (Luke 10:20; Hebrews 12:22-23; Revelation 2:7). Peter wrote that it is a place where righteousness dwells (II Peter 3:13). Paul said it is a place beyond our imagining (I Corinthians 2:9); a place reserved not for flesh and blood but for those who have put on the eternal likeness of our Lord and Savior (I Corinthians 15:50-57; Philippians 3:20-21).
When the gates of heaven are finally opened it will be a day of unsurpassed joy for those who are in Christ and unimaginable sadness for those who have rejected Him. Jesus said, “when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29). Paul described that day to his readers: “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might, when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed” ( II Thessalonians 1:5-10). Yet, for those of us heaven-bound I believe the bitter-sweetness of that day will be eternally washed away when we enter into the presence of the LORD.
Regarding the dead and those still alive when Jesus returns Paul wrote, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:13-17). What a strange and wonderful day that will be! I am sure that even those of us who are afraid of heights will find the experience most exhilarating!
I have often thought of that day. The day of judgment. I usually picture long lines of billions of people waiting in line to be judged, but in reality, it will probably be over in the blink of an eye. The next thing a I think about is what the first day in heaven will be like, or the first week. How long will it take for everything to sink in? One thing I do believe— it will never get old. Concerning what it will be like the Bible gives us only tantalizing glimpses. In Revelation John wrote, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (21:1-5).
I am convinced by the testimony of those eyewitnesses who were inspired by God to write what they experienced and saw. Heaven is real. It is a home made ready for those who have been made righteous by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 12:22-23; Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:7). It is a place set apart for those who love the Lord and have remained faithful to Him; a habitation where the followers of Christ will be rewarded for their faithfulness, as Paul noted: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing” (II Timothy 4:7-8; Revelation 2:10; Matthew 10:22). It is a place of rest, purity and glory (Hebrews 4:9-11; Revelation 21:26-27). It is where we can spend life eternal with our Creator (Romans 6:23).
I am fortunate to have grown up in a Christian home. Yet, even with the advantage of having godly parents who set the example and an ideal childhood in a small town in West Texas, there were times in my life when I strayed away from the path I had been taught so well. I have heard it said that it is not easy being a Christian. I think it is. Jesus said His yoke was easy (Matthew 11:30). Its just that humans can find a way to make anything hard. Just look at the history of Israel in the Old Testament. Or, the history of the Lord’s church. It is estimated that there are over 39,000 denominations worldwide. Most of those have come into existence over the centuries due to disagreements among various church members or groups who wanted to do things their own way. However, Jesus said there is only one way, only one church. Agreeing to disagree or separating because we disagree is not a path to unity. Nor is it a path to salvation. Paradise exists. We have briefly reviewed why we can believe in it, what it is like, and who will be there. On that last point I have one more thing to say. Sitting in a pew on Sunday guarantees nothing. Those who will one day reside in heaven will do so by the grace of God and their obedience to His word and will. I encourage everyone to study the Bible diligently and with an open-mind, and then ask yourself one question. Not what does the preacher say, or what did my parents believe, or what does my favorite teacher say. Ask yourself this: “Am I doing what God says I must do, and am I following His prescribed commandments faithfully?”
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.