The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines gospel as “the message concerning Christ, the kingdom of God, and salvation.” For those of us who are Christians that’s like defining a human as a “bipedal primate mammal.” Both are correct definitions in their essentials, but they hardly describe the subject words in the fullness of their meaning. After all a human is so much more than just an animal who walks upright. And, the gospel is more than just a message.
Paul once wrote, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). How is that for a definition? If the word of God is a living entity, then the gospel is its heart muscle. All of God’s work throughout both the Old and New Testaments is centered around and given life in the promises that the Father made concerning His Son. The entire Bible is about God bringing man to the promised land, to forgiveness after failure, to redemption, to salvation, to the kingdom. The Son’s blood is the lifeblood of that redemptive work and man’s salvation. The gospel encompasses all that God has done for man since the fall; even before time began (Titus 1:1-3).
In the Old Testament the gospel work was prophetic and preparatory, culminating in the work of John the Baptist and Jesus Himself. Since Jesus’ resurrection the gospel work continues, not in prophesying the coming Messiah and His kingdom, but in proclaiming Jesus as the Christ and bringing the lost of the world into His kingdom (I Corinthians 15:1-4). Today the “good news” of the gospel and its promises are at hand (Acts 8:35; 13:32; I Peter 1:12, 25; Luke 19:9; Acts 4:12; 28:28), and it is the job of Christians everywhere to spread the word (Matthew 24:14; 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Romans 1:16; Revelation 14:6).
The purpose of the gospel is to bring man face-to-face with his Savior. In the gospel according to John we find this exchange between Jesus and Martha, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world’” (John 11:25-27). The gospel prepares us to meet Him, to learn of His life and resurrection, of the redemption found in coming to Him, and then to become members of His kingdom (Mark 1:15; Matthew 4:17; 13:43; Ephesians 6:15).
The gospel is revelatory. It reveals God’s plan of salvation for man. And while it is natural to focus on the positive aspect of that message it is important to understand that it also reveals the fate of those who reject God’s message (Mark 16:15-16; John 3:16-18). There is no message, no written word of greater import for humanity than the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote the Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (Romans 1:16-19).
For those who seek to share the word of God we are given due warning. We will be resisted by those who do not want to know or live in accord with the truth. Satan seeks to blind unbelievers to the truth (II Corinthians 4:3-4), even as he leads the ungodly to destruction (Jude 1:15; II Peter 3:7). Nonetheless, the power of the gospel is sufficient to reach those whose minds are open to the truth, even among the ungodly, if we will but reach them with the truth (Romans 10:13-15; I Thessalonians 1:4-6). We go forth with the word under the authority of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20), knowing that there are forces arrayed against us, but those cosmic powers (Ephesians 6:12) are inferior to the one under who’s banner we fight (Ephesians 6:13). As Paul wrote, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His Own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the One who died—more than that, Who was raised—Who is at the right hand of God, Who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-39).
No one who stands for Christ and His gospel can truly be defeated. Even in death the victory is his (I Corinthians 15:54-57; I John 5:4). It is in understanding this that we can comprehend the meaning of Jesus’ words when He said, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). By human standards the burden of Jesus’ life was heavy indeed. And, it is no less so for those who suffer trials and tribulations as His followers. Yet from the perspective of eternal salvation the burdens of this life are but for a moment— and then heaven. This is the promise of the gospel, that the Savior Who died for us and rose from the dead has gone ahead to prepare a place for us (John 14:2-3).
It took centuries for God to prepare the world for His Messiah, but the day finally came (Galatians 4:4-5). The Christ was born (Luke 2:8-14). There is no mystery as to why He came, John tells us, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17). The gospel is the account of God’s promises kept and made manifest in the man, Jesus of Nazareth. For all who turn to Him there awaits eternal salvation (John 3:14-15; 10:25-30). It is the divine knowledge needed to draw us to Him, as Peter explained: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (II Peter 1:3-4). Paul said it is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16).
It is has now been nearly two millennia since Jesus was crucified. And, as in the first century there are many who will scoff and say, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (II Peter 3:4). I do not know when He will be back. Although sometimes I think it can’t be long. However, I trust the gospel promises and the rest of the Holy Scriptures. I know He will be back to judge the living and the dead (Acts 10:42; I Peter 4:5). Until then I will share the gospel and abide in all the word of God and echo the words of Paul who wrote, “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” ( II Timothy 1:12).
by Roland W. Keith
There is more than one way to get from New Orleans to Dallas. There is more than one way to solve many math problems. And, as my granddad use to say, “there is more than one way to skin a cat” (although I am pretty sure he never actually skinned one). The point is there are often legitimate options to choose from in life that allow us to achieve the same goal. On the other hand, we often find that methods are standardized because someone has found the single best way of doing something. Moreover, there are times when there is, in fact, only one way to do something correctly. In Isaiah 1:18-20 we read, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
God was not seeking a compromise with the Israelites, nor was He seeking to enter a dialogue or debate with them when He spoke these words. Instead He was rendering a legal decision and calling on Israel to listen to reason and choose wisely. They stood convicted of their sins and a verdict was being rendered. However, the Great Judge was allowing them to choose their fate. Based on their own free will He was giving them two options to choose from. The way of the world or His way. But it was not a blind decision they were being forced to make. He told them up front what the two choses would lead to. Read the verses again. Clearly there is only one way to get what they want— a long and prosperous life living off the “good of the land.” That way was God’s way. The alternative would lead to their destruction. Easy chose right?
Today we also stand convicted of our sins. Although the day of judgment still awaits there is no escaping the fate of our actions. At least there wouldn’t be if we were made to pay the due penalty for our offenses. However, as with the Israelites of old, God is giving us a chose. To stand convicted of our sins and be condemned to eternity in hell, or to repent of our sins and to find redemption in the blood of Jesus Christ and be granted a place in His eternal kingdom. Our options are before us. The way of the world as laid out by the great deceiver, Satan. Or, God’s way as laid out in His inspired scriptures. The chose is between obedience and disobedience to God, between heaven or hell. If our goal is eternal joy and happiness, freedom from pain, love, and fellowship with our Creator the chose should be easy.
Why then is it so difficult for most people? If we listed all the ways we can go astray it would be a separate study in itself. Suffice it to say, for this study, the answer is the entanglements of self-will and sin. As Paul quoted, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12; Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20). Most of the world has turned aside to do their own thing, their own way; including how they choose to worship God, if they worship Him at all. However, as Isaiah noted, even as our lives fade, we are carried away by our sins, to such an extent that even our good deeds are polluted (Isaiah 64:5-6).
All it took was for Satan to infect one man, and sin became the most infectious disease in existence. Through man, in turn, the whole of creation has fallen under its curse and deviated from the pure course of its intended by its Creator (Romans 5:12; 8: 9-22). From the day of our birth we are exposed to the disease (Psalm 51:5; 58:3), with no hope of living into the age of accountability without contracting it. Spiritually speaking, once we have sinned, we are nothing more than the walking dead, children of wrath under the power of the prince of darkness (Ephesians 2:1-3). The malady we contract alters the very essence of what we were created to be, as Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
Once sin has penetrated our hearts, we become an altered being, the disease feeding on the basest parts of the host and being spread to others by his own deeds, as Jesus said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23). The pure being that is born into the world becomes defiled in mind and conscience, becoming enslaved to the ravages of the disease to the point of physical and spiritual death (Titus 1:15; Romans 6:20-23).
So pernicious is the plague of sin that even those who receive the anecdote remain subject to its recurrence and all its ill effects. Paul the apostle described the condition with these words: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Romans 7:18-23).
The only hope of surviving the spiritual death that sin brings, the only anecdote is the blood of Christ. Salvation through Jesus Christ is God’s way. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The one who thinks he can forge his own way to heaven is mistaken (Jeremiah 10:23). And so is the one who exalts himself with his own righteousness. In the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector Jesus said, “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:11-14). It is the one who humbles himself before the Lord in submission who is justified not the one who touts his own deeds as justification. Even those who have a zeal for God will be rejected if they continue to seek their own way and refuse to learn and live according to His righteousness (Romans 10:1-3).
To be saved we must hear the word of God (Romans 10:13-17; I Corinthians 1:21). We must believe (Romans 10:9-10; Mark 16:16; John 3:18; Acts 16:31; I Corinthians 1:21). We must confess our faith in Christ (Romans 10:9-10; I John 4:3; Matthew 10:33; I John 2:23). We must repent (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30). That means turning away from the world (and our own ways) and turning to God in submission to His will. If we choose to walk in God’s light the blood of His Son cleanses us of our sins and we are in fellowship with God and His church (I John 1:7-9). It was God’s plan to redeem us through the death of His Son on the cross; the perfect sacrifice given as a ransom for those held hostage by the great deceiver through sin (I Peter 12:18). Our reconciliation, our righteousness, the forgiveness of our sins, and our salvation were all accomplished on our behalf by Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 5:18-21). In addition to hearing, believing repenting, and confessing Jesus as the Son of God we must also be baptized (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16; John 3:5-7; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:12; 18:8; 19:3-5; 22:16; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27). Then, after we have been added to the Lord’s church we must continue or abide in Him (John 8:31; 15:10; Acts 14:22; Romans 11:22; Colossians 1:21-23; I John 2:24; II John 1:9).
As Christians following in God’s way, we will count all things in the world as loss for the sake of Christ (Philippians 3:7). This means that we will put God first in all that we do, giving Him preeminence in our lives (Matthew 6:33; 10:37-39; Luke 14:33; Colossians 1:18). That is a tough assignment. The way we are being raised in the world today, the way we are motivated, the enticements put before us are all in contrast to the way God wants us to live our lives. That doesn’t mean we should give everything we have away and live a life of asceticism and poverty. It does mean putting everything in its place, with God above all things, in all things. There is only one path to heaven. Through the blood of Christ (Acts 4:12). As John wrote, “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). There is also only one way to maintain what God has given us. By remaining faithful to all He has given us, as John wrote, “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that He made to us—eternal life. I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as His anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in Him” (I John 2:24-27).
Do not let the world deceive you. There is only one correct path in life. There is only one way to heaven. God’s way.
by Roland W. Keith
When I was in the Navy, as a member of the maintenance department, we lived by what are called technical manuals. These manuals were full of diagrams, schematics, and illustrated parts breakdown images and lists. Moreover, they included procedures and instructions on how to analyze and trouble shoot malfunctioning systems, how to recognize operator error, and how to remove and replace or repair parts or entire pieces of equipment. They also included something else of great, even grave, importance. Words that we were told were “written in blood.” These were the cautions and warnings highlighted throughout the manual. The blood quote was no joke. Most of the safety warnings were added over the years only after someone was injured or killed. Read in a proper state of mind the Bible is a lot like one of those technical manuals.
The Bible is full of the rules and procedures God has laid out for man to live by. It contains organizational structure, defines responsibility, outlines legal requirements and consequences of action. It defines expectations and provides instruction in training and how to instill and maintain good order and discipline. It is also full of words “written in blood.” Throughout the Bible the shedding of the blood of animals and men was recorded as a caution against the consequences of sin and disobedience and as a warning against the loss of life— in this case the loss not only of corporeal life, but more consequentially of eternal life. One such type of warning found consistently through the New Testament is that dealing with false teachers. Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).
The bad tree (false prophet or teacher) and its fruit are fit only for the fire (hell). This is a stern warning not only to the false teacher, but to all of us, as John wrote, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world (I John 4:1). It is our responsibility to test what is put before us, using the Bible itself as the measure of truth. The danger of false teaching cannot be over-stressed. It is hard enough to combat that which comes from outside the church. Secular ‘authority’ is dominate in today’s world; they hold sway in education, government, media, and entertainment. However, what is close to home may be more dangerous, striking at the heart of even those earnestly seeking the truth. Those who operate within Christendom teaching what is false can mislead even the faithful. Especially those who are prone to feeding their own desires while exercising a “form of godliness” (II Timothy 3:5; I Timothy 6:3-5).
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (II Timothy 4:1-4). Anyone observing the Christian landscape today can certainly see the forces of false teaching at work. The one remedy? Abide in God’s truth, understanding that we do not have the authority to change it to suit us, or the sensibilities of the modern world. The word of God does not change, nor are we authorized to add to or take from it (James 1:17; Deuteronomy 12:32; Proverbs 3:6; Revelation 22:18-19).
Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). In his letter to Titus, Paul informed him that an elder must “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” He went on to say that those who taught contrary to the truth must be silenced and rebuked to be brought back and “made sound in the faith.” They were to be turned from and brought back from “Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:9, 11, 13-14). In another letter, to Timothy, Paul mentioned by name two men who, among others, had made “shipwreck” of their faith. His remedy? He “turned them over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (I Timothy 1:18-20). In these instances, those in error were treated in a manner designed to help them see their mistakes and hopefully return to the truth. But what of those who do not turn back to the Lord? What of those who claim to know God but deny Him by their actions? Paul said, “They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:15-16). Among these are some who at one time were truly of the faith but had departed from it, as Paul mentioned to Timothy, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (I Timothy 4:1-2).
Whether a false teacher is one whose faith may be questioned as to whether or not it was ever genuine (II Timothy 2:23- 3:7); or perhaps a false brother brought in to wreak havoc (Galatians 2:4-5; II Peter 3:3-4)), or whether they are true believers who are misled and in turn mislead others (Galatians 1:6-10), the damage done to the church and the work of God is the same. Many of those turned aside will never be recovered and others who may have been near the truth will follow the lie the rest of their lives. We must safeguard our own salvation (Philippians 2:12), and at the same time look out for our fellow Christians (Matthew 7:12; Romans 15:1-3; Philippians 2:2-4; John 13:34-35), all the while seeking to get the truth into the hands of a lost world (Romans 10:12-17).
There was once a group of men who faithfully recorded all that God required of them. Through them God gave us the technical manual of salvation, the New Testament. God’s final covenant with man, the completed plan of His work of salvation. How do we combat false teaching? By learning God’s word for ourselves. If someone teaches you something that you think contradicts holy scripture, then search out the answer in the Bible. If necessary, question them. Maybe you are wrong, or maybe it was an honest mistake or lack of understanding on their part that needs to be corrected. Or, maybe they had an ulterior motive for misleading you. I am not trying to make people paranoid, but there is a reason so much attention was given to false teaching by the Bible’s inspired writers. False teaching happened then, and it is happening now.
Timothy received these words of encouragement and instruction from his mentor, Paul the apostle, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:14-17). The word of God is our guide, the Holy Spirit working in our lives through it. Today it is the lone source of God’s eternal truth. If you have a question about what is being taught about it, ask. Ask in class or in private, but ask. And, if an error was made make sure it is corrected. That is every saint’s responsibility. Anyone who has taught for any length of time has had to issue a correction. The real damage done is when the error is allowed to abide in silence.
As Christians we were created for good works (Ephesians 2:10). One of those works is to herald the word of God. Another is to safeguard and defend the truth that we believe in (I Peter 3:15). If we don’t the Devil will find ways to distort it or snatch it away from those we are seeking to reach with it.
By Roland W. Keith
Have you ever heard someone describe another person as a “character?” It might have been said with a bit of humor, even admiration, on the other hand it could have meant that he was a crank or a codger or “a real piece of work,” terms that are not so complimentary. However, as we examine what it means to be a person of character today, we have a singular question in mind: are we seeking to attain the moral excellence and firmness of faith that Christ demands we aspire to as His followers?
In his second letter Peter informs us that “His [God’s] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (II Peter 1:3-7). It doesn’t matter if we are of low or high character according to worldly standards when we become a Christian, what matters is that we cultivate and grow in the Christian virtues or attributes brought before us in the holy scriptures as an example to us (among them: I Corinthians 13:1-13; I Peter 3:8-12; I John 5: 2-3; Ephesians 4:1-2; Galatians 5:22).
Among the various lists or statements of character in the Bible we find that the Christian is a person of love. Specifically, one who exhibits agape, that is a love for their fellow man that is selfless, sacrificial, and unconditional in nature. Jesus once said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). We are told elsewhere that one who does not love does not know God (I John 4:7-9, 20-21). When we love one another, we are a comfort in troubled times, and a source of strengthening and refreshment when one is weary (Philemon 1:7). The world may hate us for the sake of Christ (I John 3:13), but we bolster our faith and determination through our love, and in turn share that love and faith with the world.
We often speak of our faith as Christians, but without love even our faith will come to nothing (I Corinthians 13:2, 13). In fact, it is because of our love for others that we share our faith. It is through these two attributes that we become effective students and teachers and evangelists (Philemon 1:4-6). In speaking of faith, we are not talking about simple belief. Believing is absolutely essential to salvation, but not all who believe are saved (James 2:19; John 12:42). When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt He did so with great sign and wonders. He led them with a pillar of cloud by day and by a pillar of fire by night, yet they did not “believe” in Him. They knew He existed, but they did not trust His word, they didn’t have faith (Numbers 14:11). As Paul wrote, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1-2).
When we have faith in God we trust in His word. We are convinced that what He promises will come to pass and we take His word as surety for our hope, believing that it is impossible for God to lie or fail. It is the immutable and perfect nature of God to which we anchor our souls in the storms of life and in safe harbor, knowing that He will not fail us (Hebrews 6:17-20; II Timothy 1:12). We also know that His promises are not reserved for a select few but extend to all people— to all who will come to Him (Acts 15:9). On the day of judgment every person who has given himself to Christ in obedience will stand justified by that faith (Romans 5:1), gaining the eternal home and peace that their Heavenly Father has reserved for them.
Another of the prime characteristics of the man or woman of God is forgiveness. Peter once asked Jesus, “‘Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times?’ Jesus saith unto him, ‘I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus’ answer was a sufficiently high number to get the point across— forgiveness is without limitation. On another occasion the Lord also said, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). Note that our forgiveness may be without limit, but it is not without qualification— we are to continually forgive others, even as the Lord forgives us when we confess and repent of our sins (I John 1:9; Colossians 3:13). Jesus also issued a stern warning to those who refuse to forgive: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). In the end, why would we not gladly forgive others, knowing it is the will of our Lord and Savior, and understanding within our own hearts how much has been forgiven us. Frankly, I don’t want to see how long the ledger against me would be if it weren’t for the blood of Christ.
Finally, the person of Christian character will certainly be a prayerful person. According to the Lord we should always pray, knowing that the Father hears our earnest cries (Luke 18:1-8). Prayer is our avenue of communication with the Lord. It is also a sign of our faith, trust, and hope. If I don’t believe that God hears or answers prayers, why bother? But, if I do believe will I not avail myself of that helpline, that opportunity to say thanks, that means of lifting others up?
It is important to understand, however, that prayer is not a means to justify ourselves. Luke recorded: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14). Any prayer, no matter how boldly we approach the throne (Hebrews 4:16), should be a humbling experience. We may be bursting with joy and thanks, but there should still be a certain levity in standing before God, and a certain knowledge that we have nothing to brag about, but a lot to be thankful for.
If we are righteous God hears our prayers (I Peter 3:12). If we have faith, He answers our prayers when they are according to His will (I John 5:14). So, what should we pray for? Paul told Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (I Timothy 2:1-3). We may pray for the sick, and for our sins, and even the weather (James 5:15-17). The fact is we can talk to the LORD God about any worthwhile subject. The important thing is to honor the time we spend in prayer with respect for the one to Whom we are praying. It is not a trivial thing to talk to God. Moreover, along with worship and Bible study, it is the most important time of the day and we should treat it as such.
In this brief study we have focused on four attributes of Christian character: Love, faith, forgiveness, and prayer. These are by no means all there are. However, if we focus on these four as we study God’s word and pray for wisdom and seek to emulate Christ, we will not fail to add the other virtues to our lives.
By Roland W. Keith
Jesus once said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:25-26). According to our Lord no kingdom, good or bad, can stand for long if it becomes divided. Others through history have echoed this observation. Bao ?ai, the last reigning emperor of Vietnam said, “In this decisive hour of our national history, union means life and division means death.” President Abraham Lincoln said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” For a society, a nation, a civilization division carries a destructive power greater than any hurricane or other force of nature.
It was Jesus’ prayer that all those who believed in Him would become one with Father and Son (John 17:20-21). And, since we are all united in His body, this also means one with one another, as Paul explained: “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call--
one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3-6). We are to be one— united in understanding and action. To the Corinthians the apostle penned these words: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10). To behave otherwise is to act according to human standards, not in the ways of God (I Corinthians 3:3).
Solomon wrote of six things the Lord hated, and seven that were an abomination, among them “one who sows discord among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19). Paul warned us to avoid those who create conflict among the Christian brotherhood noting that such people do so to deceive those they are able to, to feed their own desires (Romans 16:17-18). Such deceptive individuals often do so to gain power over others, money, even fame. In a more imminent warning Paul told the Ephesian elders, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:28-30).
Today this warning is as relevant and concerning as it was when Paul put pen to parchment. From both outside and inside the church is being attacked by those who seek to reform it according to either secular sensibilities or through the assertions of false teachers seeking to gratify their own hungers. Only diligent study of scripture and a right understanding of God’s commands stand between the apostasy these individuals and groups seek to achieve with their efforts and the spiritual welfare of God's children.
One might ask, however, is there ever a time when one might stand in opposition to those who claim religious authority? Are there any “exceptions to the rule”? After being arrested and subsequently found teaching in the temple the apostles were brought before the senate where this exchange occurred: “And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:27-29). Whether in the assembly of believers or before secular authorities our one and only loyalty is to God and His divine word. We must seek the approval of God, not man in such a situation (Galatians 1:9-10). It is important, however, to use a reasoned, properly informed defense in standing for the truth (Colossians 4:5-6; I Peter 3:14-16; II Timothy 3:14-17), nonetheless, stand we must if we want to please the Lord.
In speaking about division within God’s kingdom and how to prevent it we must understand how such division can be introduced into the church to begin with. One way is due to the immaturity of a particular congregation. Remember all of Paul’s missionary journeys? How often did he return to fledgling churches to check on their spiritual growth and welfare? How often did he write to various groups to address issues that had popped up? A lack of growth can be deadly (I Corinthians 3:1-3), and therefore should be a prime concern for church leadership.
Another concern can be the undue influence of a single member or a small group stirring things up in a church. Paul advised Titus to warn such people twice, then have nothing more to do with them if they persisted, writing that such individuals are “self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11). The apostle John also mentioned such a person, Diotrephes, in his third letter noting that he did not acknowledge the apostle’s authority and liked to “put himself first” (III John 1:9-10).
A third concern are those who willfully twist the word of God and find an easy audience. Paul was amazed that the Galatians were so easily manipulated by such a false teacher and informed them that any gospel contrary to the one he had taught them was false and any one espousing such a gospel was accursed (Galatians 1:6-9). The apostle wrote the Romans in a similar vein declaring that wrath and fury awaited these purveyors of falsehood (Romans 2:1). Peter also warned his readers of false teachers who would come among them introducing heresies that would cause the truth to be blasphemed, leading to their own destruction (II Peter 2:1-2).
In his second letter John instructed his readers to have nothing to do with those who sought to bring in novel teachings opposed to the word of God (II John 1:9-11). Today, in contrast to those who seek to turn us away from the truth, the assembled writings of the men inspired by God to write the holy scriptures agree with one another. As Paul wrote: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:4-6).
Concerning his gospel account John stated, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31). One can add the words of Paul to John’s, when he wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17).
If we believe what John and Paul were telling us, then we know how to avoid and combat division within the church. Stay true to the word of God, which is truth itself.
By Roland W. Keith
For the longest time I equated the idea of abiding in Christ as simply synonymous with the idea of following Him. Which leaves open a broad interpretation of what constitutes being a true follower (in some people's minds). Exactly how close do you have to follow for Jesus to recognize you as one of His own? However, when we examine the definition of the word ‘abide’ we find that it is a word well chosen to describe our relationship to the Lord.
To abide is to wait for. Have you ever seen a dog waiting for his master? The anticipation and joy he feels is visible. Even so he waits patiently and continues in place trusting in his return. We await the Lord’s return, not knowing when He will come, yet faithfully trusting in His promise to do so. But that is only a part of what it means to abide. One who abides in Christ does so by conforming to His word, accepting His commands without objection, and enduring the world’s opposition without yielding or compromising the truth.
Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). The words of Paul, and the example he left us take us well beyond the description I have given from the dictionary, doesn’t it? The apostle sought to not only live as one conforming to a rule given by another, but to live as one whose life was wholly given up for the other, even replaced by the other as if they were one and the same.
For Paul every Christian is a new creation reconciled to God in a way that goes beyond our fleshly existence (II Corinthians 5:16-18). Jesus became the first born from the dead when He rose from the grave; subsequently each true follower has followed suit, spiritually rising from the grave through the blood of Christ to be reconciled to the Father, to be made a subject in the kingdom of His Son, and to be made one with Him as members of His spiritual body (Colossians 1:13-20; I Corinthians 12-13; 10:16-17; Ephesians 1:22-23; Romans 12:4-5). If we have put on Christ (Galatians 3:27), then we have become one with Father and Son in some inexpressible way (John 17:20-21).
The closest we can get to describing what God has done for us Paul has done by relating it to family: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (Romans 8:16-17). If we then have been grafted into His body and share the same spiritual DNA with the Son of God, by the grace and mercy of His Father (Ephesians 2:8), how can we but help to resemble Him? How can we help but to walk as He walks (Colossians 2:6-7)?
To abide in Christ as an adopted son or daughter of His Father, and fellow heirs of the Father’s promises we fall under the authority of the LORD God. Accordingly, as written in Deuteronomy, “what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)?
If we have truly become one with the Lord, we will walk in His light in harmony with one another, and in a manner worthy of His calling (I John 1:7; Ephesians 4:1-3). Not only that but we will do so boldly and with a great zeal to do His works (Romans 1:16-17; 12:11). As Solomon wrote, having tested life for its meaning, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). We have but one duty while we are here on this earth— to live according to the will of God. If we will but do this we can find the only true fulfillment in life.
To live life well we have to go beyond sitting in the pews on Sunday merely listening to the word— we must be doers who are dedicated to the work God has put before us (James 1:22-27; Titus 2:11-14). What the world calls folly we embrace as the wisdom of God to our salvation (I Corinthians 1:19-30; 2:5-7, 13; 3:19), and seek to share that wisdom with all who are willing to hear.
In the end we cannot fear the world or what it might do to us. To abide in the Lord is to trust in the reward He has promised us, no matter what we sacrifice in this life (Revelation 2:10; Titus 1:1-3), knowing that we have been set free from spiritual death in Him (Romans 8:1-4). Moreover, in seeking to do His will we will continuously strive to overcome the world (Galatians 5:16-21), while developing the attributes of Christ in our lives ( II Peter 1:5-11; Galatians 5:22-25), remembering the words of Paul in Romans 8:35-39: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
By Roland W. Keith
Does your church work? Unfortunately, many people today will assume I am asking is their church working out for them. Is it giving them what they want? Notice I did not say is it giving them what they need. Too many people nowadays choose a church for what they can get out of it, here and now, rather than for its spiritual strengths and dedication to the Lord’s work. That work including evangelism, edification and benevolence. The ultimate responsibility of the church is to bring the lost to Christ, to educate its members (citizens of the kingdom) and strengthen them, and to care for one another and our neighbors, as ourselves. However, in each of these works there are set limits and boundaries. If someone refuses to hear the truth we shake the dust off our feet and move on (Mark 6:11), we limit our teachings to the wisdom of the inspired word (Luke 21:15; I Corinthians 2:6-7, 13; 1:20; 3:19), and in our benevolence we help provide (within our abilities) for the necessities of life, not for people’s wants (I Peter 4:10; Acts 10:35; Titus 3:14; Luke 10:34-36; Acts 20:28; I Timothy 5:16; Galatians 5:16).
The real question is: Does your church do the work of the Lord according to Biblical standards? Paul told 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). That admonishment applies to us as individuals and to the church as a whole. God has entrusted us with His kingdom (Matthew 25:14). Whether we are speaking of evangelists (II Timothy 4:5), Elders (I Peter 5:1-4), deacons (Acts 6:1-3), or Christians in general (Ephesians 2:10) we all have a place in God’s work. And, in doing His work we have a responsibility to Him, to one another and to the world. We have a moral, spiritual obligation to share the bounty of God’s kingdom with others, to stand by and strengthen the weak, and to be actively concerned with the eternal fate of our fellow man.
As Members of the body of Christ we must be prepared to walk away from the world and put the kingdom of God first (Luke 9:57-62). We must cleanse ourselves of sin and make ourselves ready to serve the Lord (II Timothy 2:21), and as Paul exhorted the Corinthian brethren, we must “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:58). We may not always see the results, but as faithful servants, we can trust that God is using our efforts to His glory. We need only concern ourselves with being ready and fully armed to engage in the battle of good vs. evil (II Timothy 4:2; Ephesians 6:10-18), worthy to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our fellow saints as we defeat the forces of the devil at play in the world (Philippians 1:27- 28; I Peter 5:8-10; James 4:7). Moreover, we must understand that in this war against the dark forces of Satan no Christian can remain out of the fray. No one is left on the sidelines; all must be involved. Regarding this James wrote, “But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (James 2:18; see 2:14-26).
Faith, without active engagement in the Lord’s work is useless to God, and to us. Eventually our faith will die if it is not exercised with works (James 2:26). Therefore, we must be fervent in our service to the Lord (Romans 12:11), always pressing forward as one ever seeking but never attaining the goal until the end (Philippians 3:12-14; II Timothy 4:7-8).
Not only must we tirelessly press on with the work, but we must continually study the word and assess if we are doing all things according to God’s will and have not allowed our own biases or outside influences to lead us astray in our efforts. Jesus once warned: “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19-20).
It is not enough to claim God’s work, we must be faithful stewards of what God has delivered into our care. Jesus once said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34). Our task is to do the same. To accomplish the task of Him Who has sent out into the world with His message, and to live and labor in accordance to His commands. It was Jesus Who also said, “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Given this warning we will be wise to heed the words of Paul: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (I Timothy 4:16).
We can accomplish the will of the Father in two ways: First, by remaining true to His commands, and, second, by dedicating ourselves to one or more of the areas of work He has given us to do. As evangelists we are to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15), understanding that without our efforts the world will not hear the gospel nor submit themselves to Christ as Savior (Romans 10:14-15). Moreover, each successive generation and each eldership within the brotherhood must be engaged in raising up faithful men to continue the work (II Timothy 2:1-4). And, not just evangelists, but teachers within the church as well.
The Biblical teachings and examples are clear. In Acts 5:42 we read, “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” Even those who were forced out of home and country due to their faith continued to spread the word of God (Acts 8:3-4). In addition to evangelism, which informs and edifies the world with the gospel, we can also involve ourselves with the edification of our fellow Christians (as well as ourselves). In his letter to the Ephesians Paul explained: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 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 4:11-16).
Though we no longer have apostles and prophets among us the rest holds true. Read the passage again. The work Paul outlines is no small responsibility or task. It requires dedication, personal growth, and a commitment
to God’s word that is second-to-none to be truly successful. Even those of us who are not elders or preachers or teachers (who need our continual support— I Thessalonians 5:12-13) have the task of stirring one another up, to push each other to greater heights in our faith (I Thessalonians 5:11, 14; Hebrews 10:24-25; Romans 14:19; I Corinthians 14:26).
Finally, we are to be involved in the welfare of our brothers and sisters in Christ and our worldly neighbors, as Paul pointed out to the Galatians: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). One of the great examples of this love for our fellow man is recorded in the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), which teaches that every man is our neighbor, and to some extent our concern. None more so, however, than our own families (I Timothy 5:8-17). Although things are different today in our country in comparison to first century Palestine, with the myriad of public assistance programs now available, the church should still be there for those who cannot rely on family or other avenues for help and, we might add, in addition to that help (James 1:27; Galatians 2:10).
God has made us our brother’s keeper. In some small degree with his health and welfare; in an absolute degree with his spiritual welfare, insofar as he is willing to accept our help. It is the work that God has given us to do as members of His church, as citizens of His kingdom. Moreover, our own welfare is ultimately tied up with what we do for others. We cannot be neutral or a non-participant in life, especially the Christian life. As Paul wrote, “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8-9). God will not be mocked but will judge each of us according to our deeds (Galatians 6:7; II Corinthians 5:10). As Paul noted: “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (II Corinthians 9:6). May your church, and your harvest be bountiful!
by Roland W. Keith
“So everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father Who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father Who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).
Having read the verse above ask yourself, “What does it really mean to acknowledge God? And, what does it mean to deny Him?” The most obvious answer to the first question is to state that you believe there is a God. And, the most obvious answer to the second question is to deny that God exists. But, are those adequate answers? According to the Bible the answer to that question is, no. As Christians we must understand that the answers to these questions are a little more complicated than that. In fact, one might confess there is a God yet deny His power or sovereignty over, or involvement with, His creation. One may even seek God but refuse to follow the path drawn out in the Biblical text. Or a man may claim that individuals or the corporate church in modern-day Christendom have the right to add to or supplement the ancient writings, thus redrawing the prescribed path to heaven’s gate. Indeed, various churches and individuals have done exactly that thus changing how their followers view the Holy Word. However, the bible is quite clear on these matters, for the person who can set aside modern or institutional biases and read the scriptures with an open mind.
If you are not an atheist then you have to ask yourself, “Since there is deity is that which I recognize as such the God of the Bible, and if so, do I in turn recognize Jesus of Nazareth as His Son?” If we recognize the God of the Bible as the Supreme Being and creator of the universe then the Bible becomes the litmus test for whether or not we are fully, truly acknowledging all that God demands of us with regard to Himself as the Triune God — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The rest of this brief study will focus on the Son, and to some extent God the Father, for as Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). According to scripture at least twice God the Father testified to man that Jesus Christ was His Son. The first times was at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:16-17), and the second at His transfiguration (Matthew 17:5). Additionally, Jesus had this to say of Himself, “But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about Me that the Father has sent Me” (John 5: 19, 36-40; see also Matthew 11:27; John 5:19). Jesus also warned, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23).
If we are to believe these testimonies, then we must trust Jesus when He said that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). We must also admit that the Father has placed man’s salvation in His hands (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus spent His life calling the world to Himself and the kingdom of God (Matthew 11:28-30; John 8:31-32; Matthew 7:13-14). As Paul said of Him, He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:3-4). Those that Christ taught, who had witnessed His life, and were guided by the Holy Spirit also bore witness of Him. During his sermon, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter would say, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Later he would tell Israel’s rulers, priests and scribes, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
After the death of Jesus why would these men and His other followers, joined later by Paul, risk everything, even their lives, and in many cases give their lives for His cause? Indeed, why had they made His cause, their cause? It wasn’t just religious fervor. Jesus had claimed too much and promised too much for anyone to continue to follow Him, and risk so much in the process, without some amazing and compelling reasons. For the core of followers who would brave all to take the gospel out into the world there were three: (1) their personal experiences with the Lord (and later the Holy Spirit), (2) the supernatural works He had performed to which they were witness and the power He had conferred in them, and (3) His resurrection. In his second letter Peter wrote, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain” (II Peter 1:16-18). For those near Jesus all that they had seen and heard and participated in was more than convincing— it compelled them to dedicate their lives, even give their lives for Him and for the spiritual welfare of their fellowman.
When we deny their eyewitness testimony, their sacrifices, and the words they penned under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we deny God. Moreover, when we turn from the word and go after those who are determined to lead us away from the Lord, or when we allow others to add their own thoughts to the word, again, we deny God (II Peter 2:1; I Corinthians 4:6). If we allow others to question the historicity of the scriptures without defending them, knowing that they are founded on the blood of Christ, as is our faith, then we deny His sacrifice on the cross (I Peter 1:18-19). It is by the grace of God that we have been saved (Ephesians 2:8-9), our redemption coming through the shed blood of His Son on the cross. Because of His love and mercy, He redeemed us, making for Himself a possession, and a kingdom (Titus 2:14; 3:5; Matthew 25:34; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 12:28). If we will not acknowledge all that He has done for us what expectations do we have of His acceptance, considering all that He has done, and the sacrifice He has made for us?
Jesus lowered Himself to become a man. He died a terrible death, numbered among criminals, to pay the price for our failures, our sins. All He asks from us is faithful obedience to His plan of salvation, which is not burdensome, but is, in fact, designed to lift us up (I John 5:3; Hebrews 12:11-13). He once said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). If we take Him at His word how can we not humbly follow His commands? And what if we do deny Him? We have been warned. According to Mark 8:38 Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” In addition, Jesus clearly stated that it is by His word that we will be judged (John 12:48). Not by man’s word. Not by the Pope’s words. Not by a televangelist’s words. But, by the word of God.
Jesus made a promise to those who believe and obey, just as He made a promise to those who don’t (Mark 16:16). Nonetheless, many will not believe, and others will ride the fence trying to balance their love of the world with their love for God. However, that won’t work (Matthew 6:24). The works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit are opposed to one another (Galatians 5:19-22). We must choose one or the other. Matthew recorded this conversation: “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father Who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:13-18). The church is founded on the confession that Peter made in acknowledging Jesus as the Christ. Paul also confessed that Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4).
Toward the end of his account of the gospel John wrote, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31). At the beginning of his gospel he had written, “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). Later, he would go into greater depth as to what drove his faith writing, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:1-3).
John takes great pains to make us understand that his account of things was not hearsay or legend. It was his eyewitness testimony. All of the disciples of Christ that we have mentioned in this study could make the same claim, even Paul who met the Lord on the road to Damascus, and Luke who acted as an historian, passing on the accounts of those who had witnessed and/or been a part of Jesus’ ministry and the early church. So, the question I pose to you is this: “Based on their testimony are you willing to acknowledge God, or do you deny Him?”
Have you ever had someone tell you that you missed your calling in life? Usually they are referring to an ability or talent you have that could have been put to better use in making a living or making a difference in the community or some such thing. Certainly, we all have different abilities which could lead us along different paths in life, if we chose to develop those talents. Some people do make that choice while others don’t, for a variety of reasons. Some folks may have a gift or talent that they have no interest in developing, even though it is extraordinary. However, not all callings have to do with talent. There are different kinds of calls in life. During an emergency one person may be called upon to render medical aid as a nurse or EMS, while another person with no particular talent may be pressed into service to remove debris or provide transportation. Moreover, we never know when we may be called upon or the impact it may have on us or others. All we can do is to respond to the best of our abilities when called upon. It is also true that not all calls are of equal importance, nor have the same impact on lives as others might have. Except one.
Paul the apostle spoke of this one exceptional calling on multiple occasions. He called it, among other things, a heavenly call (Hebrews 3:1-2). It requires no exceptional level of intelligence or other ability by those who receive it. In fact, it applies to all men and women. All can receive the call and answer it with an equal assurance of success. The only requirement for those who answer it is to do so with faithful adherence to the call itself. The degree of difficulty experienced in adhering to the call will vary with the individual, their background, strengths and weaknesses, and level of commitment. But we can rest assured that the One Who called us, will provide each of us with the guidance and strength we need to not only answer the call but to remain faithful to it, as Paul wrote, “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).
The call Paul spoke of begins with the gospel of Jesus Christ, but it doesn’t end there. Also known as the Way (Acts 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22), it leads us to: life eternal (Matthew 7:13-14), to righteousness (Matthew 21:32), and the path of God (Mark 12:14). Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The call or the Way, then is the path of truth established and completed by God through His Son and passed on by the Holy Spirit through the prophets, apostles, and inspired writers of Holy Scripture. What was incomplete under the old covenant was made complete by Christ and the new covenant, which was paid for by His blood. The gospel calls us to a holy calling as followers of Christ, Who through His death purchased for us life and immortality as members of the kingdom He has established (II Timothy 1:8-10; Mark 9:1; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 12:28).
Peter told his readers that they had been called out of the darkness into God’s light (I Peter 2:9). That light illuminates our path toward the narrow gate that Jesus spoke of to His followers (Matthew 7:13-14). According to our Savior the path is difficult, though it be illumined, that leads to the gate of life; however, the rewards for reaching that gate are priceless. As Paul told the Philippians, “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). The one who truly answers the call forgets her past with its successes and failures and sets her sights on the treasure that lies ahead. What Peter called the light, Paul described as the upward call of God, Who awaits us in heaven. He awaits those who will answer the call, for as Christ calls us to Himself, to become His saints, we must in turn call upon His name in obedience (I Corinthians 1:2).
On another occasion Paul described the LORD God’s summons as a call into the “fellowship of His Son” (I Corinthians 1:9). It is more than an offer of citizenship in His kingdom, it is a personal invitation to fellowship with the Lord. Then again, it is more than even that. It is an offer of adoption, by which we are made heirs of the kingdom along with His Son (Romans 8:14-17; I Peter 1:3). To Paul being called into service and fellowship with the Lord was the worthiest of all calls, because it was the only one by which we are drawn to the Lord with a legitimate hope of being accepted by Him (Ephesians 4:1-6).
For everyone who accepts the Lord’s invitation there is prepared a life of opportunities and spiritual abundance. As a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17) the Christian is made for good works (Ephesians 2:10). We are to be a model to the world of what God wants man to be (Titus 2:7, 14), prepared for every good work that is of an excellent nature and profitable for people (Titus 3:1-2, 8). We are to be devoted to His word, becoming enlightened as to the hope into which He has called us, able to discern the riches of the saints and the greatness of God’s power toward us (Ephesians 4:4; 1:18-19), and prepared to give a defense to anyone that asks us about the hope that we have in the Lord (I Peter 3:15).
We have been brought near to God by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13). That very proximity to the Lord will inevitably bring us into conflict with the world. But we should not fear their rejection nor any persecution that we may suffer at their hands. As Peter once wrote, “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 5:10). Whatever we may suffer at the hands of the world we must trust that it will be of limited duration and of no consequence in comparison to the reward of heaven, and we must trust that God will be with us giving us the strength to not only endure, but that in the end He will establish our place with Him. We need only make every effort to remain obedient to our call.
So, how are we called? We are called by the gospel (Luke 4:43; Acts 8:12; Romans 10:8-15). God’s command was for His word to be proclaimed to all nations. There is to be no partiality in who we reach out to with the gospel (Acts 10:34-35). The word is to be proclaimed by preachers, missionaries, teachers— by each one of us in defense of the hope that is in us (II Thessalonians 2:13-14; I Peter 3:15). Through the written word and our sharing of that word the truth is to be spread to all men. If we are doing our part all men will one day have the opportunity to hear the good news and come to a knowledge of the truth, and as Jesus said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). The sad part is not all who receive the call will accept it. Some will miss their calling. No matter what we do most of the world will turn a deaf ear to what we say. While that may be disheartening, we must not dwell on the seeming failures, but instead rejoice in those who accept the Lord’s word for what it is— the path to their salvation.
For those of us who have accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, the journey continues until we finish the race. It is a daily struggle at times to hold the world at bay. Such times prompted Peter to encourage his readers to build on their Christians virtues (II Peter 1:3-9), strengthening themselves to remain effective in the word. He culminated by writing, “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 1:10). We must be diligent in our journey along the way to the narrow gate for there are those who would seek to draw us away. It was Peter who also warned us: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8). The call brings us to the cross, but it is what we do after we accept Christ that determines our eternal fate. We must be true to the call and continue to follow the path along the way that Christ has pathed for us before we can say, along with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing” (II Timothy 4:7-8).
by Roland W. Keith
One of the first things a new Christian should be taught is the absolute veracity of the word of God. If he or she has doubts about the word it will not be long before his or her new-found faith is in jeopardy; after all the very faith they have is founded on what we know of Jesus Christ and God the Father through the written word. It is important for all followers of Christ to know and trust the Bible as fact and not as a collection of fables or wise stories and sayings. Peter addressed this very thing when he wrote, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain” (II Peter 1:16-18). Peter is not alone in assuring his readers that what they are reading or listening to is a first-hand account by reliable witnesses. John, Matthew, and Luke also proclaimed the verity of their words were based not on hearsay or anecdote, but on eyewitness accounts— often by those who not only witnessed the events but were actual participants themselves (I John 1:1-3; Luke 7:22; 19:37; 5:26; John 1:14, 32-34; 4:45; 11:45; 9:1-25; Matthew 15:30-31; Acts 4:19-20; 22:14-15; 8:6-7; 3:2-10)!
According to Paul not only are the scriptures trustworthy, they are elevated above all words of human wisdom. According to him, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The words written in the bible contain the mind of God Himself— just as Jesus was the word incarnate, holy scriptures are the manifestation of God in written form. To understand them is to understand (in as much as He has revealed it) the thoughts and intentions— the very will of God. To know the Bible is to be touched by the divine mind. If our minds are open to it the Bible reveals our every weakness, every sin, every hope, our every intention, not just to God (He already knows!), but to us! It exposes us to the truth— about the world, about God, and about us. As Paul went on to say, “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 4:13). The Bible makes us aware of what God already knows. It brings us face-to-face with our own sin and mortality. However, it goes beyond merely exposing our plight as fallen men and women. It offers us hope.
To the Romans 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). The word of God has not only the power to penetrate the mind and deeds of man, it contains the power to change men and women; to redeem and to save them. “All Scripture,” Paul wrote Timothy, “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 Bible can lead us to Christ for salvation, and then equip us to be the kind of people God wants us to be (II Peter 1:3-4).
The Bible is a gift from heaven that brings good news (James 1:17-18; I Peter 1:25; Luke 2:10; 4:43; Romans 10:15; I John 2:25-26). It is also a sign and warning of God’s judgment upon sin (II Peter 2:6; Genesis 19:1-22; 6:9-13; II Peter 3:7). Fortunately, its warnings are designed to compel us to accept God’s offer of forgiveness and salvation, providing us with a clear path to heavens gate (Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9; Matthew 11:28-30; 7:12-14; John 14:6; Philippians 2:12-13). In the end if we hear the word of God and reject it, or accept it, then turn from it, our condemnation will be on our own heads (Mark 16:16; Matthew 10:33; I John 2:22; John 12:42; II Peter 2:20-21). If, however, we believe and remain faithful we have the assurance of God that He will forgive our sins (I John 1:9), that He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to deal with it (I Corinthians 10:13), that He will keep His promises (Hebrews 10:23; I Thessalonians 5:24), that He will add us to the fellowship of His Son, bestowing upon us the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).
These assurances are based on the eternal nature of God. As James once wrote, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:17-18). God does not change His mind. Once His word is given it is absolute. Therefore, if we answer His call, and obey His commands salvation will be ours. The seed of salvation planted in us shall not fade away, as Peter noted, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’" (I Peter 1:22-25).
What is this promise that God has bound by His word? Eternal life. Not life in eternity, which all humans, both the condemned and saved, will receive for good or ill, but something else. When the Bible speaks of eternal life it is speaking of being granted the right to live in God’s presence throughout eternity (John 10:10; I John 2:25; Philippians 3:20; John 14:2; Luke 6:23; 10:20; Matthew 7:21; 6:21). It is a gift that God determined to offer man because of the great love He has for His creation (John 3:16), choosing to spare us eternal damnation if we will accept it and come to Him in repentance (Acts 17:30; 3:19; Luke 13:3). To pay for our sins, even though we are weak and unworthy, God sent His Son to earth to redeem us by taking our sins upon Himself on the cross (Romans 5:6).
Not only did God sacrifice His Own Son for us, but through Him and the work of the Holy Spirit He gave us the inspired word to guide us and teach us His will for our lives (II Timothy 3:16-17; Colossians 2:6-7; II Peter 1:5-8). Before His crucifixion Jesus told His apostles, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13). The result of the Holy Spirit’s work is the Bible. Filled with God’s words of encouragement and direction it also provides the necessary warnings to help us avoid the deceptions of those who would draw us away from our creator (II Peter 2:1-3, 20-22; 3:1-4; Colossians 2:8).
According to Jesus, “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). The word of God sets us free. It does not create an impenetrable bubble around us that keeps the world from touching us, but it does give us the spiritual knowledge, weapons, and tools to help us successfully navigate through life (I Timothy 2:3-4; 3:16-17; Ephesians 6:10-18). It is through the word of God that we are born again, having our souls purified, and our minds prepared and strengthened to defeat Satan through our understanding of, and obedience to it (I Peter 1:19-23). God desires all of us to come to the knowledge that is necessary, not only to save us, but to ensure our ability to endure to the end (I Timothy 2:3-4).
In his first letter to Timothy Paul wrote his young friend, “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, Who in His testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” ( I Timothy 6:11-14). Timothy’s call that Paul mentions is the word of God that he had received first at the feet of his mother and grandmother, then later through the testimony of Paul, as given to him by the Lord (II Timothy 1:1-14). It is that same word that we receive today when we are taught from or study the Bible. What compelled Paul and Timothy, and so many others to dedicate their lives to the spread of God’s word, risking, and even giving their lives to deliver it to the world is the same thing that should compel us to risk all to attain the goal that has been set before us.
In his last letter written shortly before his death, Paul wrote Timothy, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (II Timothy 4:6-8). The aged apostle had remained true to the Lord’s call and looked forward to the promises of his Savior. I hope that the same can be said about each one of us.
The word of God was written for our edification (II Timothy 3:16-17), salvation (I Timothy 2:3-4; John 20:30), and judgment (John 5:19-29; 12:48; II Peter 3:7). No greater works of writing exist in the world. If there is only one book you read this year. If there is only one whose teachings you take to heart I sincerely hope that it will be the one given to man by God: The Holy Bible.
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.