By Roland W. Keith
According to the Dictionary of Christianity in America (1990) there are about 20,800 denominations worldwide. Other estimates vary from 217 in the U.S. alone to over 41,000 around the globe, mostly existing within three major groups (Evangelical Protestantism, Mainline Protestantism, and Catholicism) and two minor ones (Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental orthodoxy). Regardless of the actual numbers or whether a particular denomination affiliates with any of these groups, most view themselves as separate from other denominations, groups, and traditions. In addition to these (actually, even among them) there are also a growing number of churches who view themselves as “non-denominational.” With these numbers continuing to grow year-by-year the question is “how many of these churches are scripturally authorized; how many are Biblically founded?”
In Philippians 2:1-2, Paul wrote, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” Twice in his admonition the apostle exhorts the disciples to be of the same mind or of one mind. Likewise, to the Corinthians he wrote, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10).
It is clear from these verses that the church is to actively remove division from its midst, by resolving issues before they become irreconcilable. We are to seek and achieve unity of understanding and exercise the same singleness of thought in our judgments. How do we accomplish such things? First, and foremost by heeding the words of Paul from his prison cell: “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. There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6). We must consciously compare our actions to the word of God. Are we motivated by our own desires, biases, or will? Or, do we seek to act in a manner worthy of Christ’s sacrifice?
Secondly, we must understand that there is no place in the church for such willful motives. It is our responsibility to bear with one another as we work through disagreements, always prayerfully using the Bible as our arbiter in all matters, remembering that we are all members of the same kingdom. It was Jesus prayer that His followers be one with one another in the Father and Son (John 17:20-21). If we have a sincere love for each other (I Peter 1:22; John 13:35), how can we bear to separate over a dispute concerning God’s word and His church? Yet that is the heart and soul of denominationalism. According to denominational standards we do not have to see eye-to-eye on a matter. You do it your way, we’ll do it our way and we an all agree to disagree and we’ll call that unity because we all worship the same God, that’s all that’s really important after all. That may be the denominational standard, but it is not the Biblical one.
Christians are a fellowship of the same Spirit. We are not kindred spirits, birds-of-a-feather, or bosom buddies. We are one body. Concerning that body Paul wrote, “But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12: 24-27). We are one. Not two. Not three. Not a member of this denomination or that one. This church or that one. We are one or we are nothing. Concerning our fellowship Paul told the Colossians, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25; see 5:22-25). We are only fooling ourselves if we think we can walk apart from each other and all still be in step with the Spirit.
Jesus Christ came to save the spiritually lost (Luke 19:10). His mission was to unite us into the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), telling His listeners: “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). One of His greatest lamentations was when He overlooked the city of Jerusalem, the city of God’s temple and His people, and condemned it for rejecting His word. For claiming their religion and denying or twisting God’s laws, for killing His prophets, and rejecting their Messiah (Matthew 23:37). How many today are claiming Christianity while denying God’s word? It’s happening. If it weren’t there wouldn’t be so many church buildings out there with so many different names on them. How many claim Christ as their head but are not all a part of the same body? Paul wrote, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16). Are we building each other up by being divided? If so, how?
Jesus warned us about false prophets who would come to us in sheep’s clothing who would seek to lead even the elect astray (Matthew 7:15; 24:25; 7:15; II Peter 2:1). No one, nor thing can snatch us out of the hand of God (John 10:28). But Satan can tempt us to turn away of our own free will, as Paul warned the Corinthians: “And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (II Corinthians 11: 12-15). Just as there were false apostles in the first century there are false teachers today. John warned us to test the spirits to see who is of God (I John 4:1). Ultimately, our salvation is our own responsibility (Philippians 2:12). We are warned that trials will come (I Peter 4:12; James 1:12). We are also told to pray not to enter into temptation (Matthew 26:41). In addition, God gives us everything we need to overcome every trial and temptation (I Corinthians 10:13). Therefore, the Christian who turns away from God and loses his own soul does so of his own accord.
Sadly, there are many who believe in God and seek Him out, but only if they can do so their way. Paul warned Timothy the day was coming in his second letter to him: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (II Timothy 4:1-5).
The day of false religion in the name of God has long since arrived and has never gone away. What can we do about it? In many ways it is harder to reach those lost in their religion with the truth than it is the one who has never heard of God. Many such people are so entrenched in their beliefs that they are unmoved by the truth even when it is presented in a reasoned, biblical study. Often, they cannot bear the consequences of the truth. If they are wrong then their parents or grandparents who have passed on were wrong as well, meaning that they are not where they thought they would be in eternity. If they are wrong then they have misguided their own children, friends, or strangers. If they are wrong… They just cannot bear the thought. So, they jeopardize their own salvation clinging to the false hope that somehow, they have been right all along despite the evidence. What can we do about it?
The only thing we can do is pray and evangelize and put it in God’s hands. Leave no effort unmade. And, be prepared, as Peter exhorted: “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). Be prepared, be patient, and kind, and hopeful— always realizing what is at stake for every person you speak to. And pray for the harvest. And work to ensure that all those brought into the kingdom will come in the strength and unity of the one Spirit.
By Roland W. Keith
Any distance runner can tell you what it is like to hit a strong head wind, especially on the backside of a long run. It can sap your strength physically and drain your mental resolve. There is a tendency to tense up and fight the wind which only makes the situation worse. However, the best runners learn to relax, even down to unclenching their hands and jaw, anything that causes undue tension. They learn to control their posture, leaning slightly into the wind without hunching over, and to maintain their stride focusing on effort rather than pace, knowing the energy cost for their body is significantly higher going into the wind. Moreover, the serious runner will use the wind and other adverse conditions in practice to make himself stronger for race day. Like the sign on the gym wall says, “No Pain, No Gain!”
On occasion, the apostle Paul used athletics as an example for fellow Christians, once writing, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (I Corinthians 9:25-27). One might add, as Christians, that we not only discipline our bodies (physical desires) but our emotional and intellectual states as well. In many ways life is a marathon in which we find ourselves often running along inclining stretches of road against contrary winds. For the Christian and non-Christian alike, there is no escaping these ill-winds of life. The best we can do is to prepare for them and when they come to meet them head-on with the proper mindset.
The Christian mindset, however, should be distinctly different from the non-Christian. We know that God often uses conflict and tough life-lessons to prepare and strengthen us for what lies ahead, especially concerning the work He has for us to do. The Bible is full of men and women who, as an old Navy Chief might say, were tried, tempered and made true by the LORD. Joseph was buffeted by hard winds when he was sold into slavery, falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, and imprisoned (Genesis 37:28; 39:7-20). Esther put her life on the line for God’s people (Esther). Abraham’s faith was tested (Hebrews 11:17-18; Genesis 22:10-12). Perhaps no one in the Old Testament received a greater test of his integrity and faith than Job, when everything that he had, including his ten sons and daughters, were taken from him and he was physically struck from head-to-toe with boils (Job 1:1-19). Yet he remained faithful (Job1:20-22; 2:9-10), eventually saying of the LORD, “But He knows the way that I take; when He has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:10).
In the New Testament the apostles and other disciples were put to the test again and again, none more so than Paul, who once noted, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (II Corinthians 11:24-28; Acts 27). Eventually, Paul would suffer various terms of imprisonment as well (Acts 16:19; Acts 24:23-27; 28:3-31; II Timothy 1; 2:8-9; 4:6-8). Yet, in all his trials and tribulations he would write, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Philippians 1:12-13).
Paul accepted the trials of faith as the Lord’s discipline, writing, “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... For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives… For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:3-4, 6, 11). Jesus Himself made it clear that the Christian will not be removed from harm’s way— quite the contrary: “Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” John 15:20). Even so, He also said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
The apostle Paul suffered a lot for the faith, yet he rather philosophically told the Philippians, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13). Paul understood that our plight in life does not define who we are or our relative condition to God. By accepting the storms of life and proceeding through them with confidence in our ultimate victory in Christ we can endure whatever life throws at us. As he wrote to the Corinthians, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (II Corinthians 4:8-9).
The world cannot destroy what God has built. If we reside in His kingdom then we can appreciate the words of the psalmist: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19). The devil is a formidable foe yet as Peter wrote, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (I Peter 5:8-10).
The Christian can count the opposing winds of life as a test that gives us the opportunity to grow and strengthen our faith, producing an ever-stronger Christian (James 1:2-4). A man or woman fit for the kingdom and the Lord’s work one who cannot only start the race, but finish strong because the adverse winds, the trials and tribulations of life that buffet us along the trail will not slacken our resolve nor overcome our ability to endure to the end. The Christian who is able to stand alongside Paul and Peter and a host of others on the Day of the Lord and proclaim “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (II Timothy 4:7).
By Roland W. Keith
As we begin part two of our study, we do so with the understanding that our primary duty as obedient Christians is to proclaim God’s word to the lost (Mark 16:15). There are many ways we can be involved in our church’s evangelization efforts, but none are more important than being able to simply explain to another person why we believe what we do about Jesus Christ and God’s plan of salvation. To do that we must be well-studied in the gospel and the other New Testament writings. It is a matter of common sense that to educate others in a subject we must be well-educated on the topic ourselves. In John 8:31-32 we read, “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."”
To know the truth, we must abide in God’s word. To abide in the word is to conform to or comply with it. To do that we must first be intimately familiar with the word and comprehend its meaning. Faith, as Paul wrote, comes through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). It is a noble thing to proclaim God’s word, for as Paul wrote to Timothy, God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 10:17). It is by that knowledge that we are able to receive the blessings that God so desires to bestow upon us, for as Peter noted: “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” (II Peter 1:3).
Jesus said His word was truth, as already noted; He also said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). The Holy Scriptures are not just another collection of worldly wisdom. Their power and insight are from a much greater source than that, as Paul wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17). The scholarship gained from being a student of the Bible is superior to all the worldly forms of enlightenment gained by man on his own, because it comes from the source of all knowledge.
There is something else that is unique about the word of God. It was written with a laser-like focus designed to penetrate and effect one thing with spiritual truth— and that one thing is the human heart [intellect]. Regarding its power to do so Paul wrote, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13). So powerful and precise is this word that it is the final arbiter of our fate on the day of judgment (John 12:48). Given its unique nature it is a prudent person who harnesses its power to enlighten their path in life (Psalm 119:105).
Seen from a proper perspective the Bible is the greatest guide to a worthy life ever written. No philosophy of man, no style of life or life path guru, no self-help book, nor any other path devised by man can do what the Bible does for us. Moreover, it is not just a guide for a life well-lived on earth. As Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17). As Christians we are sanctified by the word (John 17:17) and saved by the word. Considering all that the word has to offer us we, like the Bereans, should receive and examine the scriptures with all eagerness (Acts 17:11). However, our examinations into its truths should be made with a sober-minded and critical determination to test all that we are being told against the word itself with the intent of discovering all of its goodness and to separate out all error from our understanding (I Thessalonians 5:21; I John 4:1-3).
Our goal as we grow in our knowledge and understanding of the Bible is to incorporate its teachings into our lives, as Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15). For James to rightly handle the word was to live according to the Lord’s teachings and to obey His commands, as he wrote, “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22-23). Next, we are to teach and admonish one another as Christians in order to build the church up and strengthen it (Colossians 3:16).
Ultimately, our goal is to not only grow in our own faith, and not only to strengthen our brethren, but to be able to proclaim God’s word to the lost of the world. Whether its from a pulpit or one-on-one with family members, friends, acquaintances, or strangers on a plane it doesn’t matter. We should want to share our salvation with others. That is a part of being a member of the Lord’s body. It is a part of the doing that Jesus spoke of when He said, “Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Matthew 7:24-26).
By Roland W. Keith
After Moses had written the Law and given it to the priests the Bible records: “And Moses commanded them, "At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place that He will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 31:10-12).
The great lawgiver understood the importance of keeping the knowledge of God’s word instilled in the people. In like manner, after the Israelites had defeated the city of Ai in the early stages of their conquest of the promised land, in accordance with Moses’ instruction Joshua placed half the people on Mt. Gerizim and half across the valley on Mt. Ebal to bless the people, then afterwards he read the blessings and the curses, all the Book of the Law, before the people (Joshua 8:33-35). Such devotion to God’s word was, and is, important to those who would faithfully follow Him, for to truly do His will we must know His word completely.
Nonetheless, while they remained a religious people somewhere along the way the Jewish people wandered away from the word of God. So far away in fact that the Book of the Law was found lying discarded in the neglected temple at one point only to be rediscovered by Hilkiah the high priest during the reign of Josiah, who read the book before the people and brought them back into a covenant relationship with the LORD (II Kings 22:8-23:3).
In Jesus time it was customary for the Law and the Prophets to be read before the assembly on the Sabbath and then to have someone, often a visiting rabbi, speak words of encouragement or teach a lesson based on the reading (Acts 13:15). Jesus used such an occasion to reveal Himself to the people according to Luke 4:16-21. Later, after the Lord’s church had been established, the apostles sought to ensure that their inspired teachings were read and taught in the church (Colossians 4:16; I Thessalonians 5:27; I Timothy 4:13).
The importance of teaching from God’s word was made manifest in the writings of the apostle Paul: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17). It is through reading and studying the scriptures that we attain to the level of Christian living and service that is acceptable to the Lord. In the same letter to Timothy Paul also wrote, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (4:1-5).
In Josiah’s time the people had turned from God’s word because it had literally been placed out-of-sight-out-of-mind or they had willingly rejected it (Hosea 4:6). Since the time of the early church the word of God has been ever present and increasingly available to all men. However, one of the great dangers today is that people are either not devoted enough to personal study and too easily lead astray by false teaching, or they willfully look for preachers and teachers who will twist the word to tell them what they want to hear instead of the truth (II Corinthians 4:4).
Anyone who truly wants to follow God and do his or her part in getting the truth out to the world is going to look at the study and understanding of God’s word as one of life’s primary purposes and a Christian duty. How are we to obey all that the Lord has given us to do if we do not know and comprehend on a personal level what those things are? To keep His doctrines, we must be educated in them and able to clearly distinguish them from the commandments of men (Matthew 15:9). Only then can we demonstrate our love for the Lord by our obedience to Him (Matthew 5:19; John 14:15, 21; I John 2:3, 4; 3:24; 5:3; Revelation 14:12).
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.
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.