By Roland W. Keith
“There but for the grace of God, go I” is a quote attributed to the English Reformer, John Bradford as he witnessed men being led away to be hanged in the 16th century. No doubt there have been many a man whose life was turned from such a fate because they were led to a knowledge of Jesus Christ and subsequently submitted to Him for salvation. Millions more of us may not have been spared such a worldly end, but we have been set free of a far worse eternal fate because of God’s love and grace. Such grace, when accepted leads us away from all forms of sin and the fires of hell, toward God and His eternal kingdom, as Paul wrote to Titus, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:11-12).
Every man and woman are offered the free gift of God’s grace (Ephesians 4:7; Romans 5:18). Each of us can take the Lord’s yoke upon us to serve Him and receive His gift of salvation (Matthew 11:29-30; Mark 16:16; II Corinthians 9:8). It is equally as true that we can turn from God to our own destruction even after having found salvation (Galatians 5:4; II Peter 2:19-22). To understand these things, it is necessary to understand exactly what grace is.
According to the Free Dictionary online grace is “a favor rendered by one who need not do so.” Specific to Christianity it is: (a). Divine favor bestowed freely on people, as in granting redemption from sin. (b). The state of having received such favor. (c). An excellence or power granted by God. According to this and other dictionaries grace is a kindness or approval granted to those willing to accept what is being offered; that is the offer is made, not imposed; one may reject it at the outset, or one may accept it only to return or spurn it at a later time. It is a gift in every sense of the word. Its acceptance, rejection or return is solely at the discretion of the one to whom the gift is offered. However, the gift of grace offered by God is unique. Not only is it completely unmerited, it is a gift that is multidimensional in its nature. By grace we are accepted as the children of God (Jeremiah 3:19; Romans 8:16); we are saved by grace through faith ( Ephesians 2:8; Romans 6:23). We are justified by it (Titus 3:4-7). And, it sets us free from spiritual death (Romans 5:20-21) among other things.
Grace frees us from our sinful past and the consequences of God’s judgment upon the unrighteous by granting us justification through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. According to Jesus, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16; see also Romans 5:15-21). We have been made acceptable to God the Father through His Messiah (Ephesians 1:6; I Corinthians 1:4). Nonetheless, just as the Son was made perfect by obedience, becoming the author of our salvation, we too must be obedient to receive that salvation (Hebrews 5:8-9). Many a person on judgment day will claim salvation for themselves based on a form of religion only to be rejected, because they had followed the dictates of their own hearts, instead of being obedient to the Lord (Matthew 7:21).
The grace of God is an extraordinary thing. He has granted it to those who do not deserve it (Romans 3:23; 5:12). He sent His Own Son to earth to purchase our salvation by His Own blood (Acts 20:28; II Corinthians 5:21). Moreover, the work to make God’s gift effective was done entirely by the Godhead (Ephesians 2:8-9). However, there is still action required of us to accept the gift. We must hear the word of God (Romans 10:17). We must believe (John 8:24) and be obedient to the word (Matthew 7:21; James 2:24). We must repent of our sins (Acts 3:19; 17:30-31). We must confess Jesus (Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 10:32; Acts 8:26-39). We must be baptized (I Peter 3:21; Acts 22:16; Galatians 3:27; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). Finally, we must continue to be faithful (Revelation 2:10).
In order to be faithful, we must remain obedient to the Lord’s commands (I Peter 1:13-14; James 4:7; Luke 16:13; Hebrews 5:9; 13:17). It is imperative that we grow in grace and knowledge (II Peter 3:18). We must also grow in faith with all diligence (II Corinthians 8:7). We are indeed saved by the grace of God, but that grace is the entry point to a life of faith, obedience and service in the Lord’s kingdom. But great is the end result of our faith on the day of judgment (II Timothy 4:8).
By Roland W. Keith
As all Christians know John the Baptist was the prophesied forerunner of Jesus Christ. As such his message was two-fold: To prepare the people for the arrival of our Savior and to herald the arrival of His kingdom (Matthew 3:1-3). Some people today are still looking forward to the kingdom, awaiting Christ’s return to establish His millennial reign on earth. Others see it as the eternal kingdom of heaven that they look forward to at the end of life. It is true that the kingdom is often spoken of in the New Testament as a future realm (Matthew 25:34; 8:11). However, it was also spoken of as something that was fast upon the world in Christ’s own day. Jesus told His listeners: “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mark 9:1: see also Matthew 16:16-19).
Jesus did indeed establish His kingdom in the first century, but listen to how He described it: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But My kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). Paul told the Romans that the kingdom was not eating and drinking (of the flesh), but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (of the Spirit— Romans 14:17). Nonetheless, first century believers saw the kingdom “come with power” during their lifetime. The eternal kingdom proper is in heaven, but it exists spiritually in the temporal world here and now, and has existed for nearly two thousand years. If we do not enter the kingdom while we are here in this body (II Peter 1:1-11), we shall not gain entry at all.
Today we see evidence of the kingdom in the lives and actions of Jesus’ followers. In a sense it is manifested in the places of worship we build to meet in, but those are merely buildings. The kingdom or church (Matthew 16:18-19), is within us and among us as disciples, as noted in Luke 17:20-21: “Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them, "The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” The church is the kingdom of God on earth and when we become a Christian we become a citizen of it, as Paul wrote the Colossians, “He 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 1:13-14). God established this spiritual domain and put His Son at its head (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18).
The establishment of the kingdom of God had been long prophesied as was its King (Isaiah 2:1-3; Luke 24:44-49). In Daniel 2:44, we read, “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.” As already noted, the church and the kingdom are synonymous terms. Christ is both the King of kings and head of the church (I Timothy 6:15; Ephesians 5:23).
For those interested in how to become a member of God’s eternal kingdom start be reading the four gospel accounts and then read the Book of Acts, particularly chapter two. Through study you will find the five steps, founded on God’s love and grace, that lead to entry into heaven. You must: 1. Hear (or read) the word (gospel of Jesus Christ) (Romans 10:17). 2. You must believe (and exercise that belief in faith) (John 3:17-19; I John 5:5). 3. You must repent of your sins (Mark 1:14-15, Matthew 3:2; Luke 5:32; Acts 11:18). 4. You must confess Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 10:32-33). 5. You must be baptized (Acts 2:38; 22:16). If you do these things you will be transferred into God’s kingdom. Finally, we must remain faithful till death (Revelation 2:10; II Peter 2:20-21; James 5:19-20; I John 1:9).
By Roland W. Keith
Today we are going to take a look at the five R’s of sin and salvation: the reality of sin, the reasons for sin, the results of sin, God’s remedy for sin, and how to receive God’s remedy. One need only look at man’s destructive behavior to know that evil or sin exists. Quoting Old Testament scripture Paul wrote, “as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). Isaiah wrote of mankind, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6-7). Even our good deeds are often impure in some sense or are less than what they should be. One thing is certain when we look at how man treats his fellow man and the world in general— we are not as good as we could be. The question is why?
Tradition says that the reason for the first sin, committed by Satan, was the sin of pride. Original sin on the other hand is used to describe man’s first sin of disobedience in the garden of Eden. The sin of rebellion fostered by deception and brought to fruition by desire (Genesis 3:1-7). According to the record of this event Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened. They had gained a knowledge of good and evil which resulted in them being barred from the tree of life, forever changing their own and their descendant’s natures. Because of their actions all of humanity has been made susceptible to physical and spiritual death through the spread of sin and wrath (Romans 5:12; see also Ephesians 2:3). The Psalmist wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). We are not born guilty of original sin, but we are born to sinful parents into an environment awash in sin. Like a virus sin has infected the entire world. We are born into a diseased world, a disease for which there is no natural cure or immunity. Yet while there is no cure for the disease there is a remedy to prevent its terminal effect— the blood of Christ.
Without the blood of Christ, we cannot overcome the results of sin. Sin has made the whole of mankind desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9). Though we may desire to do what is right it is common for man to find that he resorts to sin despite his best efforts (Romans 7:18). As Christ said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23). It is this dueling nature within man, the battle between good and evil, that man by himself cannot win, Ultimately, he succumbs to sin and its requisite end— death, unless he turns to God (Romans 6:23). It is in Christ that the purity that is required to defeat sin, the purity that we knew as children, can be restored (Matthew 18:4; 10:15). It is in Christ that the defilement of our minds and actions are replaced with Godly purity (Titus 1:15).
The purity of the Christian is not personal perfection but relies on the perfection of Jesus Christ covering our shortcomings. It is evidenced in one who pursues righteousness, faith and the other godly attributes while one flees from sinful passions (II Timothy 2:22). The result of which is pure conduct (I Peter 3:12), self-control (Titus 3:5), and purity of heart Matthew 5:8).
In contrast, even among professed believers, there are those who are self-justified, but are not so in the eyes of God, such as the Pharisee who thanked God he was not like others (Luke 18:11-14). In this lesson, Jesus explained that it was the tax collector, lowly esteemed in Jewish society, who beat his chest and asked for mercy that was justified in God’s eyes. Nor are we justified because we have religious zeal, if that zeal is misplaced and not in accord with God’s word (Romans 10:1-3).
The remedy for sin is to place our faith in Jesus Christ, repent of our sins, and obey His gospel (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30; Mark 16:15-16). Described by Paul as the ministry of reconciliation, it is through the gospel that we are restored to God (II Corinthians 5:18-20; I Peter 1:18-19). It is by the blood of Christ and our obedience to the truth that we are born again and have our souls purified (I Peter 1:18, 22-23).
In explaining salvation to his fellow Jews Paul compared the difference between the old covenant and the new. Using himself as an example, he wrote, “though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 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 and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:4-11).
The resurrection from the dead and the eternal joy of being in the presence of God can only be realized by faith in and obedience to the LORD and His Messiah (Acts 4:12). It is in Jesus that we are made righteous in the sight of God (Acts 2:37-41; I John 1:9). The only way to receive God’s cure for eternal death caused by sin is to turn from our sins in obedience to His son and allow His blood to wash away the effects of sin in our lives. Not only can we be cured, but we can become one of God’s children, free from death’s grasp. As John wrote, “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, H). Like a virus sin has infected the entire world. e gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
By Roland W. Keith
“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by Him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (I Peter 2:11-15).
Every Christian knows that we have been saved by the grace of God through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). It has also been made clear that our own efforts with regard to works of the Law, that is the law of Moses, play no part in our salvation. God alone determined to save us and devised a just plan to do so (Titus 3:4). But to what purpose? We know that God’s desire is for all to come to Him that we may have eternal life with Him and avoid eternal damnation. However, is that the sole reason for all that He has done?
There is a reason why God created the universe, why He created living things, why He created one being in His Own image, why He gave that being dominion over an entire planet, why He gave that being free will, and why He chose to redeem him after he fell from grace. There is no singular reason for these things. God took pleasure in the creative process, and He has remained involved in His creation ever since. As the one being who has been made in God’s image and given a measure of His creative impulses, we know what it is like to create something and be pleased with our efforts (Genesis 1: 25, 27). We also know what it feels like to have something we have made become corrupted. And many of us know the painstaking efforts to restore our creation to its original condition (Luke 12:32; Romans 8:20; Ephesians 1:10). We are, after all, imitators of our Father. God is not simply an observer of His creation, but an intimate participant in its total existence (Colossians 1:15-20).
What then of the creature made to reflect the Creator? Is getting into heaven the sole purpose for our existence? Since God had already created heavenly beings, and since he created us as a part of a physical universe, that assertion does not seem logical. As far as we know humanity is unique in God’s creation. A short blog does not permit us to delve into all the reasons why God created us, so today we will concentrate on one. God created us to do good. According to Paul, “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). Such good works require us to seek God while turning away from worldly pursuits. In his letter to Titus, Paul also wrote, “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, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works” (2:12-14).
Jesus spent His entire ministry helping others physically, emotionally, and spiritually (Matthew 15:30; 11:4-5; Acts 10:38). And, according to His example, He expects the same from us, saying, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). In emulating His good deeds through our own we bring glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16; I Peter 2:12).
What are among the requirements for doing good? We must be obedient to those in authority over us (Titus 3:1). We must be devoted to the work; it cannot be an on-again, off-again pursuit (Titus 3:8, 14). Such efforts are profitable to those we help as well as to ourselves. Moreover, a tree that grows to maturity and does not bear fruit is cut down and removed from the orchard as useless (Luke 13:6-9), fit only to be thrown into the fire (Matthew 7:19). However, when we bear fruit as Christ’s followers it not only benefits those in urgent need, it also accomplishes something else. By being model citizens concerned with and involved in the welfare of others it also silences those who would scoff at the followers of Christ out of ignorance (I Peter 2:15).
If a tree that doesn’t bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire, what does that say about works? Clearly Paul taught that works do not save (Ephesians 2:8-9). Nonetheless, 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. Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:14-17, 20, 26).
Are Paul and James at odds? No. The works that are of no consequence are those performed under the Mosaic Law, a merit-based system that could only expose man’s violations of the Law but could not save them. Such works are dead works (Hebrews 6:1; 9:14). On the other hand, we are told that Jesus is the source of salvation for all who obey Him (Hebrews 5:9). John also tells us that we are children of God if we obey His commandments (I John 5:2). Such obedience requires work on our part. Jesus’ works and those of His apostles compelled those who witnessed them to believe in Jesus (Acts 2:22; John 14:12). While the age of miracles has passed, we continue to do the works of Christ by spreading the gospel and doing the other works that the Father has set before us. Moreover, we will be judged by them (Romans 2:6). Not dead works, that is works of merit under the old Law, but works of faith and obedience under the new law, the law of faith (Romans 3:27), the law of God (Romans 7:22), the law of the Spirit of life (Romans 8:2), or the law of liberty (James 1:25). If we are being obedient our fellow Christians and the world should be able to identify Who we belong to by our works. If those works are not there to be seen, can our faith survive?
Here are some examples of the kinds of work we are to be engaged in as God’s servants (Matthew 28:18-20; James 1:27; Acts 2:35; I Thessalonians 5:14; Galatians 6:1-2; James 5:14-15; Romans 12:13-18; I Timothy 5:9-10; Hebrews 13:2-3, 6; I Timothy 6: 17-20). These are just some of the things we should be concerned with in the church. It is not a merit system, there is not quota, but it is of these things that we build a life of obedience or disobedience, for which we will be judged, even as the seven churches were judged (Revelation 2, 3). We should encourage one another to join in the harvest and stay the course. And when start to slack remember the words of Paul: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” Galatians 6:9-10).
By Roland W. Keith
“Every word of God proves true; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him” (Proverbs 13:5).
Most of us have doubts from time to time. About our abilities, our health, the world around us, about God, about our salvation. About many things. But it doesn’t have to be that way. King David often failed, he often sinned and felt downcast and troubled. Yet he was a man after God’s own heart and over the years he learned not only how to trust in the LORD, but what trust truly means. As king of Israel God did not make his paths straight, He didn’t prevent David from making mistakes or protect him from the consequences of those mistakes. But He did make him a promise, the same one He has made to all who follow Him. That if we obey Him He will be there for us. He will guide us, shield us from being pushed beyond what we can bear, He will give us the strength and understanding that we need to overcome.
King David wrote, “My steps have held fast to Your paths; my feet have not slipped. I call upon You, for You will answer me, O God; incline Your ear to me; hear my words. Wondrously show Your steadfast love, O Savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at Your right hand” (Psalm 17:5-7) . David trusted God to sustain him against his enemies and times of trouble (Psalm 3:3-6). Nonetheless, he understood that death comes to all men, and even innocent and faithful people can die tragic deaths. He would have been well aware of the accounts of the babies Pharaoh killed, Samson and Able to name a few. Today we can add to that list— the children of Bethlehem, Jesus, John the Baptist, Stephen, James, and the traditional accounts of how many of the apostles died.
We can understand then that the trust we have in the LORD does not guarantee us a life of ease or a peaceful death. It is founded on much greater things than those. In Psalm 34:22 we read: “The LORD redeems the life of His servants; none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.” Yes, God will always be with us and our lives will be the better for it. But what does that mean? It means we will be better people, equipped to deal with life’s troubles and temptations. We will grow not only wiser but spiritually and mentally stronger. And we will be better prepared to meet and accept life’s bounty and poverty with equal disinterest. It also means that we understand God’s endgame. Not to give us a life of ease and luxury here on earth, but to make us strong, obedient, productive members of His kingdom who will one day spend eternity with Him. We do not trust in God necessarily to deliver us from physical death, though He may choose to deliver us again and again, but we trust Him ultimately to raise us up from our physical death to spiritual life (II Corinthians 1:8-10).
The Christian knows that our help in all of life’s trials comes from the Lord, so long as we trust in Him (Psalm 121:1-3; Psalm 125: 1-4). As the Psalmist wrote, “The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; He is their stronghold in the time of trouble. The LORD helps them and delivers them; He delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him” (Psalm 37:39-40). When we truly put our hope and faith in Him, confident in His promises, God blesses us (Jeremiah 17:7; Proverbs 16:20). When hard times come, we are not afraid, nor do we despair, knowing that in the end we will triumph in Him (Proverbs 16:20; Psalm 112:7-8).
God is always there to sustain us and lead us home, no matter how dire the situation, as we read in Psalm 46:1-7: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; He utters His voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah.” When we are afraid, we can put our hope in Him with unwavering confidence, as David wrote, “I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? (Psalm 56:3-4; see also Psalm 56:11-13; Psalm 118:6-8).
When we humble ourselves before the LORD, He will be there to raise us up (I Peter 5:6). God knows our hearts, and, as Paul told the Romans, “all things work together for good” for those who are called by the LORD (Romans 8:27-29). However, as Christians it is important to remember that for us “all things” encompasses all the good and bad we experience and how we use them to achieve the long-game in God’s plan— that which, over many years, brings us to the gates of heaven. Peter alluded to this when he wrote, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled” (I Peter 3:13-14). As one who had suffered for the Lord, Peter was thoroughly acquainted with suffering for righteousness sake, knowing of what he spoke.
None of us have a crystal ball (at least not one that actually works). The best that we can do is to live our lives in obedience to God’s word. To do that we must be well studied in the word and determined to incorporate its wisdom and guidance into our lives. It will also help to be aware of what is going on in the world, particularly regarding the church. It is easy to feel comfortable in the confines of our homes here in America. However, it is not the same in other parts of the world. Moreover, recent events in both the public and political arenas here in the states indicate that our security even here is waning. How prepared are we to trust in the LORD? Are we ready to say, as Paul did, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me? (Hebrews 13:6). Are we determined to heed Christ’s words to the faithful in Smyrna, when John wrote to them: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
Remember it was Jesus who told His followers, “I tell you, My friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you Whom to fear: fear Him who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4-5). Trusting in the LORD means more than just looking forward to all the promises of good He has made to us. It also means trusting in His warnings about the judgment. If the promise of heaven isn’t motivation enough then let hell motivate you as well. I once heard someone opine, “I know for sure I don’t want to go to hell, Texas is hot enough.” Growing up in West Texas I understand exactly what they meant, but how serious were they? All joking aside, heaven and hell is as serious a conversation as we can have. The greatest command is to love God with everything we have. Do we love Him enough to want to obey His every command? Do we love Him enough to want to spend eternity with Him? And, secondarily do we love ourselves enough to want to secure our eternal welfare as opposed to earthly gain?
If we have our priorities straight then we will put our love and trust in the LORD, and be able to join with Paul in saying, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, Who was raised—Who is at the right hand of God, Who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-39.
By Roland W. Keith
Have you ever watched a small child imitating one of their parents? One raises his spoon, the other raises his spoon. One brushes her hair back, the other brushes her hair back. One puts his boot up on the rail, the other struggles to get his leg high enough to get his boot up there too. Children imitate their parents because parents are their role models. The child loves his parents, admires them, wants to please them, wants to be like them— in everything. Jesus once said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Luke 18:17). As Christians, no matter what our age, there is a certain child-like quality we must have. Even as we grow in wisdom, we must maintain our innocence, as Paul wrote, “I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” (Romans 16:19). And, as a child of God, we should imitate our Father and His First Born.
In his first letter Peter told his readers, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps” (I Peter 2:21). Jesus, Himself said, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:15). He is the first and greatest example of how we can please our heavenly Father. We are the disciples, He is the teacher, we are the servants, He is the Master (Matthew 10:25). When we heed His words, we act in the wisdom of His teachings, when we ignore His teachings or rebel against them, we act the fool, to our own detriment (Matthew 7:24, 26). To Paul our desire to emulate Jesus should be unbounded, even by death (Philippians 3:10).
Paul used himself as an example for those he taught writing, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). Along with himself he also used his fellow evangelists, as examples of how to follow Christ, writing, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything” (I Thessalonians 1:6-8; II Thessalonians 3:7, 9). His point here should not be lost on us. It doesn’t take an apostle to take up the mantle of Christ to show others how to follow in the footsteps of our Savior. As we grow in Christ each of us should become a pattern for the next generation; if we don’t many of them will end up turning away from the truth.
Christ and His apostles are our examples in word and deed (I Timothy 1:16; Acts 5:41-42). In like manner, teachers are our examples, our church leaders are examples (Hebrews 13:7), and each one of us becomes a proper exemplar when we act in obedience to God’s word (Philippians 3:17). It is our responsibility, therefore it should be our goal to set the pattern for one another, for new converts, for the children in our congregations, for our friends, our coworkers, and for our communities. It is not enough to simply point to a Bible and say, “look in there.” We are the living bricks of God’s holy temple (I Corinthians 6:19; Ephesians 2:19-22). We are a holy nation of people chosen to proclaim the excellencies of God and His Messiah (I Peter 2:9). One of the most effective ways to declare God’s truth is by exhibiting it in our own lives.
As James noted it is by being “doers of the word, and not hearers only,” that we prove that God’s word has been effectively planted in us, thereby demonstrating to others the power it has in the lives of those who trust in it (James 1:21-22). To deceive ourselves in to thinking we are being obedient to God when we are not doers of His word is to be false in our religion, leading to dire consequences.
So far, we have been looking at the positive examples in the New Testament and how to act in accordance with them. But the Bible is full of bad examples that were recorded for our admonishment as well. The Israelites were overthrown in the desert for refusing to trust in God (I Corinthians 10:5-6). First century Jews refused the truth out of jealousy (Mark 15:8-15; Acts 17:1-6). The story of Sodom and Gomorrah demonstrates the fates of those who engage in unbridled sin (Jude 1:7). Paul made clear to the Thessalonians what the fate of those who reject God and His word is when he wrote, “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” (II Thessalonians 1:8-9).
Which examples we follow is up to us. The early Christians were devoted to God’s teachings and to fellowship, the breaking of bread, and to prayer (Acts 2:41-42). Are we? They sought peace and mutual upbuilding (Romans 14:17-19). They sounded the word forth into the world of their day (I Thessalonians 1:8). Are we spreading the word? So active were they that their faith was made known throughout the ancient world (Romans 1:8). No greater compliment can be paid to a congregation of God’s people than to say that they are effectively engaged in taking God’s word to the lost of the world. Not that the work will always be easy. Persecution, even in severe forms, is a reality for many of the faithful around the world today, just as it was for the early church.
James encouraged his readers to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). Centuries before, the psalmist had written, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). Looking for the silver lining when faced with oppression due to our faith can be a hard thing to do. But we must find a way to do it. Not for our own sakes alone, but for those who look to us for strength and guidance. We are not alone in the struggle. We have one another, and we have the Lord to strengthen and light the way for us. Nonetheless, it is good for us to count the cost of being a Christian (Luke 14:26-33). It is good for us to prepare ourselves for rejection from the world, and the possibility of discrimination against us because of our faith. As Paul told Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (II Timothy 3:12-13).
In the western world today the forces aligning against God’s kingdom and its people are increasing. It is not a far-fetched warning to say that if you have not experienced persecution for your faith the day may soon come when you will. When it happens what will you do? James encouraged his readers to emulate the suffering and patience of the prophets of old, encouraging them to remain steadfast (James 5:10-11). John reminded his readers to imitate the good, and not evil (III John 1:11). One thing is for certain— there is strength in brotherhood. We do not have to fight the battle or endure the attacks of the wicked one alone. Though what we ultimately decide to do is a decision that each of us will make for himself, we do not have to be isolated when we make that decision.
One way we can follow the example of the early church is to forsake not the assembling of the saints (Hebrews 10:25). We can temper the resolve of our faith with consistently studying God’s word, with an active prayer life, and fellowshipping regularly with like-minded believers. And finally, we can follow our Lord. As Paul told the Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:1-4).
In the end to imitate Christ is to consider what He endured for us, and to follow Him wherever it may lead us, trusting in God’s promises.
By Roland W. Keith
Can one fall from grace? Someone once explained to me that if a person dies unsaved, they never really were in a state of grace or truly saved to begin with. That’s like saying because I’m not currently in the Navy I never was a sailor to begin with. But, in fact I spent many years serving our country in the Navy, just as there are some people who spend many years in faithful service to the Lord with their name written in the book of life only to have it blotted out in the end because they turn their backs on the Lord at some point. Peter wrote, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment… then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment (II Peter 2:4, 9). God knows how to rescue us and secure our salvation. That is true. But the fallen angels’ positions in heaven were secured by God’s might as well; heaven’s armies have never been defeated nor ever shall be. Yet there are angels who have been cast into hell because they turned away from the surety of God to pursue something else.
Jude wrote, “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 1:5-6). The Israelites were saved, only to perish outside of the land they had been promised because of their unbelief. We must understand, however, that this unbelief spoken of was not atheistic. They believed in God. They were daily witnesses to His might and existence, from their rescue in the land of Egypt to the cloud-by-day and pillar of fire-by-night, and from their daily rations of manna to God’s rumblings on the mountain. Their unbelief was a lack of trust that God would deliver, even though He always had. The angels on the other hand already had a proper place in heaven and chose to give it up in rebellion. Let us learn from these lessons. We always have free will, both before and after our coming to the Lord. Therefore, choosing to follow the Lord is a perpetual choice. We choose to follow every day. Sadly, at some point a person will occasionally decide to walk away from his salvation (II Timothy 4:10).
According to Paul, in his first letter to Timothy, two men, Hymenaeus and Alexander, had made shipwreck of their faith (I Timothy 1:18-20). Paul explained that “I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” This indicates that he had a hope that they would return to the Lord, but there was no guarantee. As we all know in a shipwreck while many may be saved, many more may perish. Simon the sorcerer is another man whose salvation was on the brink. Many have claimed that Simon was not saved, but if that was so then Peter’s response to his impertinence is very odd. Peter did not accuse him of falsity or advise him to seek true faith, rather he instructed him to “Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.” Simon was told to repent of his sin, to which he it seems quite sincerely beseeched Peter to “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me” (Acts 18: 9-24).
Perhaps no verses more clearly illustrate the need for us to safeguard our salvation than Galatians 5:4-7. Writing to members of the church Paul warns them: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” We cannot fall away from something we do not possess. These were people under grace in danger of throwing it away by returning to the Law. There are many warnings against falling away or reverting to sin in the Bible for those already in the kingdom (Matthew 13:37-43; I Corinthians 10:1-13). Once such caution was given by Paul when he wrote: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (I Timothy 4:1-2).
Another such caution was given by Peter: “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; Hebrews 3:13).
The possibility of falling away is a very real concern, especially for some within the brotherhood. Therefore, we must work to strengthen one another even as we look to our own salvation (Hebrews 10:25; I Corinthians 9:27; II Peter 1:10). There are many causes that can make us lose heart or turn aside— tribulation or persecution (Matthew 13:20-21), disobedience (Hebrews 3:18-19), love of the world (I John 2:15-17), false teachers (Acts 20:29-30), among other things. So, how can we prevent falling away? First, we can do everything that we can to abide in the Lord and His word (John 15:6; 8:51). We can study His word diligently and learn to apply it to our lives (Acts 17:11; II Timothy 2:15), knowing that within the scriptures is the way of our escape (I Corinthians 10:13). When we falter, we can repent and renew our efforts (Revelation 2:5, 16).
We have to word, we have prayer, we have one another to lean upon. But, more than anything else, we must trust the One Who has given us His promises, as the psalmist wrote, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber” (Psalm 121:1-3). Before departing from them Paul told the Ephesian elders, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). If we remain true to His word and we participate in the blood of Christ then we can put on the armor of God in order to withstand whatever Satan and the world throws at us (I Corinthians 10:16; Ephesians 6:10-18). We can continually increase Christian character by following Peter’s admonition: “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” II Peter 1:5-10; also I Corinthians 16:13).
Lest we tend to get distracted by the cares of life it is important to recall these words from the Lord: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). The result of falling away is eternal condemnation (Revelation 2:4-5; II Peter 2:20-2). The result of repenting and turning to God and thereafter remaining in His grace is eternal salvation as Jesus proclaimed in His revelation to John, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels” (Revelation 3:5).
By Roland W. Keith
It’s that time of year again. When one year ends and another begins, and in this case when one decade ends and another begins as well. It is that time when we look back at the past year with its accomplishments and failures, joys and tragedies, and look forward to the new year with anticipation, and make out our annual list of new year resolutions (which often looks a lot like last year’s). This year for the Christian I advise wadding up that list and doing something different. Consider the following list of practical things we can all focus on:
1. Love the Lord your God. And your neighbor, too (Matthew 22:37-39).
We know we are keeping the first commandment when we are diligently seeking to keep the Lord’s commandments (John 14:15). We know we are keeping the second commandment when we heed Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Corinthians 13:4-7). When we are patient and kind and learn to bear with others, we know we are making progress. And, let us not forget to show particular regard for our brothers and sisters in Christ (John 13:34-35; Galatians 6:10).
2. Evangelize the world.
That sounds like a big goal to consider practical, but it’s not. All we have to do is our part. Jesus told His apostles to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16). Paul looked at the missionary effort of his day and asked, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news" (Romans 10:14-15). The fact is we are not all called to be missionaries, but we are called to support their efforts (I Corinthians 9:11-14; II Corinthians 11:8; Philippians 4:14-18; Titus 3:13). Moreover, while we may not be called to go into a foreign land, we should be involved in local efforts to spread God’s word beyond the walls of our place of worship, as Peter wrote, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” I Peter 3:15).
3. Show mercy to others, even as you are receiving mercy from God.
As Jude wrote: “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 1:20-23).
4. Strive for peace and unity.
We are to live at peace with all men if at all possible (Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14). Knowing the nature of the world this means that we must take the lead in this endeavor. However, it does not mean that we should let the world run roughshod over us, just that we must make every effort to be at peace. Within the church it is a different matter. As Paul wrote, “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (I Corinthians 14:33). According to Paul we must pursue the peace that leads us to mutual strengthening and uplifting (Romans 14:19), which cannot occur if we simply agree to disagree and go our separate ways. There is no unity in a house divided, even if the division is agreed upon (Mark 3:24). Under such circumstances while a remnant of the faithful may survive, many will be lost because they chose separation over a willingness and dedication to finding the common ground of truth. There is no such thing as our truth and their truth when it come to the truth of God. We must be one, therefore I encourage all to heed the words of Paul: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
5. Discipline and restore the wayward.
No one wants to see a fellow church member disciplined or disfellowshipped. We want to restore such a person, as Paul told the Galatians: “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). Yet it is sometimes necessary to discipline someone hoping it will bear fruit in a change of behavior (Hebrews 12:11). It is a sad fact that the gentle touch doesn’t work with everyone. In fact, some see such an approach as a sign of weakness or something to be taken advantage of. Paul’s direction in such a case? “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11; see also II Thessalonians 3:6; I Timothy 1:20).
6. Comfort one another.
No one goes through life without getting knocked about a bit. Some of us more than others. And, sometimes it is easier for those who have suffered much in their own lives to have empathy for another person who is going through a difficult time. However, we should all look out for one another. Paul wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (II Corinthians 1:3-5).
7. Support one another.
Supporting others goes hand-in-hand with comforting them. We can give support not just during times of suffering, but really all the time. Whether it is the big stuff like helping someone who is carrying one of life’s heavy burdens (Galatians 6:2), or just helping a friend move; every little bit helps. Do you encourage the new convert or anyone struggling to understand a scripture? Take a minute to discuss it with them (I Thessalonians 5:11; Romans 14:1). Even a small gesture can help build another up (Romans 15:2). For those of us who are strong in the faith it is our responsibility to be there for others; not everything can be left to our elders or the preacher. As Paul counselled, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1).
8. We should respect each other, especially those who work among us.
We should give respect to whom it is due (Romans 13:7; I Peter 2:18). This may not always be an easy thing to do, but part of a Christian’s responsibility is to obey those in authority over us, not necessarily to please man, but to please God (Colossians 3:22-25). However, for those who labor among us in the church our respect should be flavored with true esteem as Paul explained, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (I Thessalonians 5:12-15).
9. Hold firm to what God has given us.
For the Christian to hold firm means not simply to cling to something in desperation, but to gain such confidence in it as to master it and wield it in a productive manner, as Paul told Titus: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).
10. We must prepare ourselves to persevere.
In His life Jesus endured much from the world, yet without sinning, and it is He Who is our example (Hebrews 12:3; Luke 18:1). When we follow in His footsteps we will not only grow in faith but begin to add the other Christian virtues to it (II Peter 1:5-8), which will make us strong and effective members of His kingdom. Such perseverance sustains us as we strive toward our ultimate goal, and enables us to draw others with us, as Paul wrote, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10; Luke 21:19).
In the end there are many practical steps we can take to make the new year a success. With that in mind I will leave you with a couple of Paul’s to-do lists for the Christian: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:9-21). And, finally: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:16-22).
By Roland W. Keith
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
All around the world people have already began coming together to celebrate Christmas. For most it is a time to celebrate family with homecoming and gift giving. Others still see it as a time to honor its namesake, Jesus Christ. This latter group often laments the need to “put Christ back in Christmas.” I would argue that we need to put Christ back in our lives on a day-to-day basis, more so than on an arbitrary day designated as a holiday in His name. Nonetheless, any day we choose to celebrate the birth of our Savior is a good day. Still the Bible focuses on the death of our Lord more so than His birth. We are not commanded to pay homage to His birth as we are to memorialize His death (Matthew 26:26-29). It is in His death and resurrection that we are reminded of the great sacrifice God has made for us. However, it would be remiss to ignore Jesus’ birth altogether, considering that it was the most heralded birthday in history.
When man fell from grace in the garden God had already determined not to wash His hands of us, but instead to provide us with an escape from eternal damnation, as Paul wrote to Titus, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7; see also I Timothy 1:15-17).
God sent His Son to earth to redeem mankind by paying the price for our sins in terms universally understood by man— He gave His life to save us; an innocent man paying for the sins of others. Jesus, Himself made this clear when He said, “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In human terms Jesus voluntarily submitted Himself to be executed for our crimes against God and man: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Galatians 4:4-5; I John 5:11).
God prepared man for this momentous event by heralding the birth of His Son. Isaiah 7:14 records, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and will call Him Immanuel.” Isaiah also wrote, “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Centuries later, Luke recounted how the Lord prepared the young Mary for her role in God’s plan, writing, “And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:28-32). Her betrothed, Joseph, who was considering putting her away due to her pregnancy was visited by an angel as well, and told to have no fear in taking Mary as his bride, being told also, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
It is interesting that when the time for our Lord’s birth arrived God chose to proclaim His arrival to both the simple and wise of the earth. An angel appeared to shepherds in the field telling them “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (see full account in Luke 2:4-141). As for the wise, Matthew wrote, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him… After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route” (Matthew 2:1-2, 9-12).
In his gospel account John wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Paul described Jesus as an indescribable gift from God (II Corinthians 9:15). On Christmas Day we will give gifts to one another out of love for family and friends or just human kindness. And though it is not a biblical command it may be nice during your Christmas celebrations to seek a quiet moment in the day to meditate on the gift that inspired the day— the indescribable gift of God’s Son, given to man out of the infinite store of God’s love. You may even want to recount the story of Jesus’ birth with those gathered around you (Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 1:18-25).
The day Jesus was born the world changed forever. No, sin has not gone away. The self-centered and destructive tendencies of man continue almost unabated. But there is a love in the world that wasn’t here before. Yes, love existed, as Jesus proclaimed, “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). But the Law and the Prophets did not have that which is perfect. Many things were still a mystery to them. Today we can see more clearly (I Corinthians 13:9-13). The light of God’s perfect love has walked among us and left us that which exceeds the Law and Prophets— that to which they pointed. The grace of God as revealed in and through His Son.
On that day, over two thousand years ago a child like no other was born. He was both God and man. He is both our guide and path to salvation (John 14:6; John 8:12). He is the Lord of lords and King of kings (I Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14), as the angel Gabriel told His mother, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a Son, and you are to call Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; His kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:30-33).
By Roland W. Keith
Much is written about temptation in the Bible. Jesus taught His followers to pray not to be led into temptation, but to be delivered from evil (Matthew 6:13). And, shortly before His crucifixion He told Peter, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26: 41; see also Luke 22:46). Considering that it was succumbing to temptation that led to the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, it is easy to understand why it is one of the focal points of New Testament teaching. In fact, it is so important that one of Jesus’ responsibilities as Messiah was to lead by example in the fight against temptation, as Paul wrote: “For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). And also, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Victory over temptation and sin was summed up by James when he wrote, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). It is a simple matter, but as we all know a difficult goal to achieve. According to various dictionaries temptation is: 1. the act of tempting or the state of being tempted. 2. something that tempts, entices, or allures. 3. a person or thing that tempts. 4. the fact or state of being tempted, esp. to evil. Humans are tempted by a person or thing that has some influence on them. Regarding this James wrote, “Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). We cannot blame God for our situation when we are caught in sin, or even when we find ourselves in the crossfire of someone else’s sin. God created the heavens and the earth, but man created the world we live in and we must take responsibility for it. James went on to say, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14). God allows us to be tempted because He has given us free will, but He desires us to choose Him. He allowed Satan to test Job in the Old Testament account, and he desired to test Peter as well. According to Luke, Jesus informed Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).
It is important to understand, however, that even as we are being tempted God is there for us. He gives us guidance and warnings in how to avoid the pitfalls of everything from sexual desire to the allure of money (I Corinthians 7:5; I Timothy 6:9), two of the greatest temptations that seem to plague man. The bottom line, as summed up by John? “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:15-17). The dictionaries say that temptation comes from without us— “a person or thing that tempts.” The Bible teaches that temptation is conceived from within (again, James 1:14). In his first letter John stated, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (I John 2:16). Sin is in the world— it permeates every place and time. But only because we allowed it in through through our own pride and desires. Yes, the devil and his servants are tricky (II Corinthians 11:15), still they cannot lead us where we do not want to go.
Fortunately, God enables us to overcome and be victorious over sin, as Paul explained it, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13). God provides us with a plan to defeat sin. Peter wrote, “then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (II Peter 2:9). So sure is God’s Plan and guiding hand that James said we should “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). Today we might say, “Bring it on! What doesn’t kill me will only make me stronger!” And even if it does kill this body, I have eternal life in Christ (Matthew 10:28; John 3:16, 36). Not matter what our earthly fate our eternal one is vouchsafed by our Creator, as noted by Peter: “who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (I Peter 1:5-6).
Each of us, as Christians, have God’s promise that if we faithfully obey Him we shall overcome the world and receive His eternal blessings, as James wrote, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).
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.