by Roland W. Keith
In Luke 8:4-15 the author records Jesus’ teaching known as the “Parable of the Sower.” His account includes the parable itself and Jesus’ explanation of the lesson subsequently given to His disciples. In the parable there are four distinct groupings of people who have heard the word of God. The first group is made up of individuals who never believe and the last group are those who go on to become and remain productive Christians. The second and third groups, however, are made up of those who receive the word “with joy” and accept Christ as their Savior. Sadly, though, they do not mature as Christians in one case and in the other while they bear spiritual fruit they never become completely disentangled from the world therefore the fruit they bear never matures and they succumb to the cares of the world once again.
Jesus’ parable provides a powerful lesson for both those who teach the word of God and those who are new-born Christians. Like a baby in the physical world, a new-born life in the spiritual realm is a fragile being to be nurtured, cared for, and brought to maturity. The difference being a babe in the physical world is helpless whereas in the spiritual walk both the Church and the new Christian bear some responsibility for his or her development.
Peter encouraged new Christians to “long for the pure spiritual milk” they needed to grow (I Peter 2:2). Paul also equated spiritual maturity to a process that required the growing Christian to move on from milk (the fundamental teachings of the gospel) to solid food (the more in-depth and mature teachings in scripture; I Corinthians 3:1-3). The greater burden is on the new Christian to desire growth, but it is also important for the congregation to take the newborn under its wing and provide him with the teachings and guidance he needs.
When we become a Christian, we are changed— we no longer reside solely in the physical world but are born into the spiritual world created for those who follow God (I Peter 1:22-23; II Corinthians 5:17-19). In this way mankind, who has been separated from God due to sin is reconciled to Him through the blood of His Son (Matthew 26:28). However, for that change to be of full effect we must continue to grow and remain faithful. Failure to do so may cause us to be misled and fall away (Galatians 5:4-6), or may result in our failure to keep God’s commandments and to have a right relationship with Him (I John 2:1-6).
As Peter wrote, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 1:5-11).
Peter provided us with a list of Christian virtues to help us focus on areas of our lives we need to constantly work on and improve. Later in the same letter he warns us to not be carried away by error and thereby lose our spiritual stability (II Peter 3:17-18). The epistles are full of warnings and admonitions for us, as followers of Christ, to safeguard our faith and to avoid apostasy. The possibility for some is very real, especially for those who have not yet matured in their faith. If you are struggling in your walk with Christ seek help, pray, and study the word diligently. If you see a brother or sister struggling help them find their way back to the path (James 5:20). One of the best things we can do for a fellow Christian at times is to remind them of Who they follow and represent to the world, as Peter did when he wrote, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps” (I Peter 2:21).
Sometimes we just need to be reminded why we became Christians in the first place. We need to remember what God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ did for us (John 3:16; Hebrews 12:1-2). Moreover, we need to meditate on the great promises He has given to those who come to Him (Hebrews 6:12; 8:6; II Peter 1:4; II Corinthians 7:1). We also need to learn to put God first. Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39). God does not require that we love only Him but He does require that our love for Him is preeminent in our lives. His is worthy of that love and rightly demands it (Matthew 22:36-40). We are to seek God and His kingdom first and all other things will fall into place (Matthew 6:33).
Jesus came to earth as the Word of God incarnate, and as the light of the world (John 1:1-5). Before His ascension Jesus told His disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15). As His disciples we are to learn His word, to handle it properly and to share it with the world (Acts 17:11-12; II Timothy 2:15). And, we are to do all things that He commands us faithfully.
Jesus told his disciples, “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21-23). Some say that Jesus is describing those who will falsely claim to have worshiped Him in their lives. However, it may be that He is describing those who worshiped Him, but they did it their way, not God’s way. Remember Nadab and Abihu, who offered strange fire before the Lord and were consumed? (Leviticus 10:1; Numbers 3:4). They worshiped God, but did it their way instead of according to His instructions and it cost them their lives. Similarly, Luke records these words of Jesus, “Why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great” (Matthew 6:46-49).
When we know God’s word and do not obey it we come to ruin. On another occasion Jesus said, “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). Many who worship God do it in vain, believing that they can do it their way, instead of God’s. It is not enough to believe in God and show up to church on Sundays. We must faithfully serve Him according to His commands, not according to our own desires or some social convention. If we are struggling with our faith or obedience we can pray for God’s help and wisdom, as Paul wrote, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7; James 1:5; Colossians 1:9; I Thessalonians 5:17-18).
Finally, as God’s elect we must worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24). We must not neglect the assembly of the faithful (Hebrews 10:25), noting that we are to gather on the first day of the week (I Corinthians 16:2; Acts 20:7). When we are together we should strive to stir one another up (Hebrews 10:24), and as Paul wrote, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16: Ephesians 5:19-20). As Christians, both new and old, it should ever be our desire to grow in the wisdom of God’s word, in fidelity toward it and one another, in our prayer life, in our service to the Lord, and in fellowship with like-minded children of the Lord.
Have you ever asked someone to describe God? Some people end up describing God as more of a what than a Who. Or, they speak of Him as more of a god, than the God— the one true and living God who created all things. Today we are going to look at the God of the Bible. The One Christians believe to be (and quite rightly so) the true and only God. We will examine what the Bible has to say about God from two aspects: 1) the qualities of God, that is those characteristics peculiar to the Godhead, and 2) the attributes of God, that is the characteristics that He has in some sense shared with mankind in creating us in His image. These are traits that have been distorted in man by sin, yet God expects us to strive for as His children.
To begin, there are five qualities peculiar to God, that no other beings share. The first is His omnipotence. God is all powerful (Psalm 89:8; Genesis 18:14). Unlike man, God is not limited by finite knowledge, imagination, or ability. He can literally do all things, including creating new things previously non-existent. God’s abilities, in other words, are unbounded.
Second, God is omniscient. This means that He knows everything. Nothing is hidden from God, not even our thoughts, as Paul wrote, “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 4:13; also, Romans 8:26-28). This also means that God’s knowledge is not static. It is not confined to the current knowledge that exists today, as some believe. That would, in fact, be putting a limit on God that does not exist. Even man is capable of original thought, in fact that abilty is an attribute given us by God. This means that God can and does conceive of new knowledge, never before existing. Therefore, the term “all knowledge” is an ever-changing quantity when it comes to God. He is in all senses eternal and infinite.
Third, God is omnipresent, existing everywhere at once. As David wrote, “Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139: 7-10). If we were to reach the edge of the universe and travel a billion light years thence, God would be there and beyond. Amazingly, as far beyond us as He is (in every sense), He is near to each one of us (Acts 17:27). God is everywhere, yet it seems there is no place that He would rather be than in our hearts.
Fourth, God is immutable, or unchanging. When you are perfect and hold all knowledge, what’s to change? As James observed in his epistle, “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” (James 1:17). God doesn’t change because His nature is perfect, and His understanding of His Own nature is complete. There is nothing to improve or change. That being the case, we must conclude, from His own actions, that it is also a part of His perfect nature to desire and share that love, wisdom, and perfection that He demonstrates, even as He is glorified (John 3:16; James 1:5-7; Ecclesiastes 3:14).
Fifth, God is Spirit. He exists outside of His creation (Luke 24:39). Before all things universal, He was. Whether there are other universes or creations past, present, or future we are not told, and it is of no consequence. God is all-in-all. He stands alone in eternity. Everything that exists outside of Him does so by His hand, and at His good pleasure. That He has chosen to henceforth share eternity with man has rendered us most sublime of all earthly creatures. The fact that He has deemed us worthy of such an honor, through the blood of His Son, seems incomprehensible, until we begin to understand that at the core of God’s reasons for creating us was a desire to give and share His love. Yes, He desires us to worship Him as well, because He is worthy of all praise and adoration and it is His just due. But, such worship on our part only brings us closer to Him and the light we were created to bask in. Communion with God is the zenith of human existence. To fail to experience it is to fail to be fully human, for we were meant to be with God. Separation from Him makes us something less than we were meant to be.
When we consider the above qualities of God one thought may have come to some of your minds: God is awesome! I firmly believe that of all the things the Bible has revealed to us about God and what we experience when we meditate upon those things pales in comparison to what we will experience when we stand before Him in heaven. Though we cannot know what heaven is truly like until we get there, the Bible does teach us that we can approach God while we are here on earth— by seeking Him in His word, through prayer, worship, and by obedience (John 4:23). If we seek to understand God through His following attributes, and to emulate as many as apply to us as His children we can draw near to Him.
God is good (Psalm 33:5) and God is great, as the psalmist wrote, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; He puts the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him! For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm” (Psalm 33:6-9; also, Deuteronomy 5:24). His glory and greatness are beyond our ability to grasp, as Solomon noted, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Though we are capable of recognizing God in His handiwork (Romans 1:19, 20), we cannot begin to understand all He has done.
Previously mentioned is God’s love. According to Jesus, “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). God loves us, and He wants us to be like Him in His holiness (I Peter 1:14-17). Moreover, in seeking to be holy, we must also seek His perfection (Matthew 5:48). Fortunately, God is merciful. Though we will fail to live up to His holiness and perfection God will accept those who present themselves to Him (Romans 12:1).
Being separate from His creation, as a Spirit God is invisible to us (John 5:37; John 6:46). Though His attributes are self-evident in His creation (Romans 1:19-20), no man has seen God. Yet, when we read about His deeds and meditate upon His creation we can recognize the glory of God (Exodus 15:11). How many words have been written in poetry, in song, or prose by both religious and non-religious writers in awe of His universe? How many have pondered truth and love, mercy and joy as things man strives for beyond himself?
How many have considered the grace of God by which He redeems man (Acts 15:11; 20:32; Ephesians 1:7; Psalm 84:11)? Or the righteousness and justice of the Lord towards the lost, and most particularly those who fear Him (Psalm 19:9; Acts 10:34)? Are we not glad that God shows no partiality, looking upon the heart of man and not that which is external? Moreover, do we not benefit from His longsuffering and patience that He extends to us, and that He imparts to those who turn to Him (II Peter 3:9, 15; Romans 2:4, 7; 8:25; I Timothy 1:16)?
How many of us have considered the majesty of God (Luke 9:43; II Peter 1:16)? No king who has ever sat upon a throne with crown and scepter in the midst of his worldly kingdom has ever approached the greatness of God. As it is written “Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11; also, Exodus 15:11).
God is the great creator and judge whose compassion toward man is unparalleled (Psalm 78:38-39). When He is angered He remembers the weakness of our flesh and restrains Himself for our sake. God is generous towards us. Though we do not deserve it He has become both our forgiver and redeemer. As Paul told the Romans: “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?” (Romans 8:31-35).
Along with His generosity God has shown divine kindness. In His Kindness He has sought to lead us to repentance through His Son Jesus Christ and has even accepted us as His own (Romans 2:4; Ephesians 2:7; I John 3:1). In addition to His kindness He has extended true riches and eternal wealth to those who seek after Him (Romans 10:12; 11:33; Ephesians 1:18, Philippians 4:19; Matthew 19:21).
And, finally God is faithful to all His promises and to all His word (I Corinthians 1:9; 10:23; Hebrews 3:6; 10:23; I Peter 4:19; I Thessalonians 5:24; II Thessalonians 3:3). God will accomplish all He has determined to do. For those who have set out to follow in the steps of His Son, there is no greater assurance than God’s word. If we will but hold fast all these things will come to pass.
Last week we left off our study of the crown of life with the question, “Can the crown of life be lost?” Many believe that once we are saved we cannot be pulled from the grasp of the Savior’s protective hand. That is true. According to Jesus, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand” (John 10:27-29). However, we must not forget the example of the twelve apostles. These were the original disciples given to Christ, and according to John 17:12, none were lost “except the son of perdition.” It has been argued that the only other time the term “son of perdition” is used in scripture it refers to the anti-Christ, therefore Judas was not saved, just as Satan and his demons are not saved, but it is important to remember that Satan was once a heavenly being who lived in obedience to God. He chose to rebel against God of his own volition and fell from grace, and so it was with Judas. According to Luke 9:1-6 the apostles were all given “authority over all demons and to cure diseases.” The indication is that they were all able to do this (see also, Matthew 1-:1-8). Since these powers in themselves indicated to the world that these men and their work were approved of God then Judas must have been a believer and true follower at one point.
John 13:27 (also Luke 22:3) tells us that Satan entered into Judas. Satan can tempt (and does tempt) each of us but he cannot enter into our lives or control us unless we let him (James 1:14-15). Judas, as Satan before him, was a believer who stood in the good grace of God, and then chose to turn his back on the Lord and betray Him. No one was able to pull him from the hand of God, he exercised his God-given free-will to walk away from God and His salvation of his own accord. Again, Satan may entice us to get us to abandon God, but he is powerless to actually do so. The only person who can separate a saved soul from God, is the person himself. We call that person an apostate.
Our Christian walk is a life-long commitment, which will include great joy mixed with times of struggle and testing. Paul once wrote, “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (Hebrews 10:36). This is a sentiment that he often repeated (Romans 5:3-4; 15:4; II Corinthians 6:4; Hebrews 12:1), as did John (Revelation 13:10; 14:12). These two knew the cost of following Christ and made a point of instructing others in the need to develop perseverance and endurance to stay the course.
Writing to the church at Corinth, Paul used the analogy of a foot race to make his point. Not every runner who enters the race finishes or wins the prize. Those who do attain the reward are those who exercise self-control to prepare for the race, and then run it in a manner that assures victory (I Corinthians 9:24-25). Jesus, Himself, said that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). Later, in His Revelation Jesus encouraged His followers: “Because you have kept My word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from My God out of heaven, and My own new name” (Revelation 3:10-12).
The one who receives salvation does so by being obedient, in patient endurance. They also hold fast to what they have gained as Christians, conquering the world, and thereby protecting their crown. Yes, the Christian can (and many of us do) bumble and stumble along at times, and we may often fail the Lord without losing our crown (I Corinthians 3:11-18). We may suffer for our failings yet still gain salvation. But we can also destroy ourselves and others and pay the eternal cost, therefore it behooves us to avoid self-deception and become wise in these matters. Demas, a once faithful companion, deserted Paul and returned to the world (II Timothy 4:10). Others wishing to cling to the law (this could include all who wish to justify themselves) severed themselves from Christ and fell from grace. Many of these were people who had been doing well only to be turned aside apparently by false teaching. Paul’s warning was both dire in consequence, yet hopeful that they would return to the Spirit (Galatians 5:4-16).
Another example of one who put his soul in danger is found in Acts 8:9-24: “But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the power of God that is called Great.’ And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.’ And Simon answered, ‘Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.’"
Many have said that Simon was not a true believer, that he was in fact a charlatan, using Christianity as another one of his scams, making him a false teacher. But read the account carefully. Luke does not indicate any falsity in Simon’s belief. In fact, he wrote “Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip.” He believed in the Holy Spirit and witnessed His reception by fellow believers. It was the power to give the gifts of the Spirit that enticed Simon and caused him to sin, being a power beyond anything he had claimed as a magician. Note Peter’s condemnation and instruction. Peter did not call Simon out for being a false brother. He condemned his behavior in the severest of terms, but then told him to repent, that he may be forgiven. It is important to also notice Simon’s response. Perhaps afraid that his own prayers might not be sufficient he enjoined Peter to pray on his behalf. This is a great example of a Christian who allowed his old, worldly nature to re-infect his life. Simon had not completely let go of the world and needed to set things aright before it was too late. How many Christians do you know who are like Simon, trying to be a servant of God, while keeping one foot in the world?
In his first letter to Timothy Paul wrote, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (I Timothy 1:18-20). As the body of Christ, we are to do all we can to return a brother or sister to the truth, but if they persist in their sin we separate ourselves from them, hoping that they will return to the church. On another occasion Paul also wrote, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11). Such a person has made the choice to follow the path to condemnation. When we dis-fellowship another Christian it is with the hope that they will repent and come back, but there is a very real possibility that they won’t.
We are warned over and over again in scripture to take care, to develop and exercise the godly virtues, to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). As Peter exhorted, “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). If we will resist, heed the teachings of holy writ, and submit when necessary to the discipline of the church God will surely restore and establish us in His kingdom. The crown of life awaits those who faithfully endure (Revelation 2:10). For those who seek God, refusing to be turned to the left or the right the day will come when they may hear their Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:23), even as a the crown of life is placed upon their heads.
by Roland W. Keith
In his first epistle 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). For the faithful these words are a strong reminder that God never promised us a life of ease while here on this earth. What He did promise us was this: He will be with us every step of the way— to strengthen us, to restore us, and to establish us in our faith, and through that faith to bring us into His eternal glory through His Son Jesus Christ. But until that day there is no guarantee that we won’t occasionally find ourselves traveling through some tough and dangerous territory.
When revealing His revelation to John, Jesus said, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:10-11). Many people in that day, and in days since have been tested, even being put to death for the name of Christ, and they did so with faith in God’s promises, even those things as yet unseen (II Corinthians 4:18). One of those things is the crown of life.
The Lord’s brother also mentioned this crown: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12). Have you noticed a pattern concerning those who will one day be awarded this crown? They are not those who are ‘once saved, always saved’ or sometime pew sitters in our local congregation. These are the people who have been put though the fire and stood the test. Those who have endured tribulation and remained steadfast in their faith.
It is not always easy to stand our ground, but that is what we must be willing to do for the sake of Jesus— and for our own eternal welfare. We will never be left alone in the fray, but we may well be tested to our limits. An example of that is Paul the apostle. I don’t have to tell you all he endured for Jesus. The beatings, the danger, the hardships he went through are well-documented in scripture. Yet at the end of his life, after all of that, when he faced execution, he stood tall, writing to 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).
Are you one of those who are truly grateful that Christ came to this earth to die for us? Jesus once told His apostles, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Are you one of those who truly believes that Jesus has prepared a place for you? That you have a home and crown waiting for you in heaven? What are you willing to give for the name of Jesus? Are you willing to glorify God by suffering for Him (I Peter 4:15; see also I Peter 3:14; Romans 8:17; Philippians 1:29; II Timothy 1:29)?
It is not that God wants us to undergo hardship, it is just that He knows what the world can and will do to those who choose to walk in the light. Yet, He wants us to overcome the world by putting our faith in Him, knowing that our faith will often be tested. When it is put to the test God demands that we do not shrink back but stand firm in our confession. God gave His Son in sacrifice for us, and while we will never be worthy of His propitiation, we must strive toward that worthiness with true devotion, understanding that it is only through Jesus’ blood that we will be seen by God as deserving of His gift of salvation. When we look back across the history of man and the current state of humankind it is an amazing thing to consider what God has done for us. God wants us to succeed. His holiness and righteousness demand justice, but He wants us to accept the forgiveness He is offering so that we can avoid the condemnation that His perfect character calls for. He sent the Messiah into the world to do for us what we could not do for ourselves, while at the same time paying the penalty for our sins in our stead. However, as much as God wants all to come to repentance and thereby salvation (II Peter 3:9), it would be a mistake for us to think that if someone turns his back on God and chooses to take the path to destruction God will overlook that or prevent it. God does not interfere with our free will, it is up to us to exercise it wisely.
In Revelation, John wrote, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." And He who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also He said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Revelation 21:3-5). The Creator of the universe wants man to dwell with Him. He has created a perfect paradise for us to do so. It is our chose. And this John tells us is the truth. If we are faithful and true we have a home in God’s eternal kingdom, and there is a day set on which we will pass through the narrow gate into heaven.
Paul described that day, in part, with these words, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:51-57).
That is the day each of us will receive the crown of life. I don’t know if it will be an actual, physical crown, or if that term is symbolic for our victory in Christ, and the award of eternal life in heaven. Whatever it is, I know I want it. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul put it this way: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 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 9:24-27). According to him it is an imperishable gift. The apostle Peter saw it as an “unfading crown of glory” (I Peter 5:4). Yet for all their imaginings what truly awaits us is almost certainly beyond our current understanding. Much has been revealed to us, but some things I think we will just have to see for ourselves (I Corinthians 2:9).
The crown, and the life that goes with it have also been described as “God’s rest” (Hebrews 4:9-11), and “the prize of the upward call” (Philippians 3:14). It is also a place where the righteous are separated from the unrighteous or ungodly, as John wrote, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:14-15).
With that separation in view we are also made to understand that each of us will one day stand before Christ to give an account of our life and will be adjudged worthy or unworthy to enter in to heaven. According to Paul: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened— not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (II Corinthians 5:1-10).
Next week will continue our study by asking the question: Can our crown be lost? We will also look at the final result of our faith.
by Roland W. Keith
Most of us consider ourselves to be successful, right? However, in grading our lives we may not all be using the same criteria or comparisons. Because of that we may have a distorted view of what real success is in life if we start comparing ourselves to others. Some do compare themselves to the proverbial Joneses. Others to their parents. Still others to whether or not they are on track to achieve the goals they set for themselves. The bottom line is there is no single measure of success. Unless you are a Christian. When the Christian takes stock of his or her life, he or she has a definite yardstick to use for measurement. It is the word of God.
The Christian knows that true success in life comes from submission to God. Jeremiah wrote, “I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). We know that our understanding in life is limited and turn therefore to God for wisdom and direction, as the Psalmist penned, “When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to Your testimonies; I hasten and do not delay to keep Your commandments” (Psalm 119:59-60). The apostle Paul once called upon his readers to examine themselves to ensure their behavior would not bring condemnation down on them (I Corinthians (11:28-29). Each of us should consider our actions and strive to be a role model for others, even as we look to those who are more mature than us as examples for our own lives, yet we should not compare our actions to that of others without striving to know the will of God first and foremost. Consider the words of Paul: “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you” (II Corinthians 10:12-13).
Any example we try to set, and any person we turn to for guidance should rely on a common source of wisdom. For the followers of Christ that source is the Bible. Continuing with the Psalmist, “I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep Your word. I do not turn aside from Your rules, for You have taught me. How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep Your righteous rules” (Psalm 119:101-106). There is great danger in relying too much on oneself in navigating through life. One may survive, even do quite well, based on the world’s concept of truth and understanding, only to find that their path has led ultimately to failure and absolute destruction on the day of judgment. In the wisdom given him Solomon wrote, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 16:25). In a similar vein Paul once wrote, rather bluntly, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18).
The sort of independence engaged in by those who rely on their own desires and opinions to live their lives eventually leads to disaster for themselves and those who follow. Greater wisdom, passed down and tested through the ages should be respected and paid due attention to. And no greater wisdom is there than the word of God, handed down from heaven and made perfect in His Son, Jesus Christ. God’s word, God’s wisdom is perfect and has been delivered to us for our benefit (II Timothy 3:16). All Christians should trust in the veracity of that statement. As Paul once said, “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 true as these scriptures are, there are always those, both in the world and in Christendom, who think that they know better. As Jesus once observed, quoting Isaiah, “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: "'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).
For the Christian the blueprint for success will be found in the Bible. But it requires more than an academic understanding. To be what God intends us to be in our lives we must put that knowledge to work. As the brother of Jesus wrote, “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:25). As servants of God we must act! There is no time for hesitation and procrastination. We must go to the work with all diligence, as Paul wrote, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-25). Not only must we go to the work, it is important to go about it in a way that commends our actions to others as a reflection of Jesus in our lives. We must be willing to sacrifice and suffer hardship, doing all with rejoicing, patience, truthfulness, and endurance (II Corinthians 6:1-12). We must also go about our work with a sense of urgency. As Jesus told His disciples, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4). The field in which we labor is larger than any one of us, so we must work with ceaseless energy, banding together to reach as many as we can with the truth, never knowing when opportunity will present itself (Acts 16:32-34; 8:26-40; 2:14-41; 10:1-48).
It is important to do our best. As Christians that means submitting our own will to God’s. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught: “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'” (Matthew 7:21-23). As we labor it is good for us to occasionally do a self-assessment of our work by comparing our efforts to what we find in scripture. Are we being faithful to God’s commands, or has self begun to creep in? It often happens that individuals and groups begin to do things out of expediency or a desire to ‘attract’ more people, instead of allowing the living word to work through them. It may be that from time-to-time we need to remind ourselves of John’s words: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I John 5:2-5: John 14:15).
Finally, it is important for us to know that there may be times of doubt or weariness or suffering. In those times it is good to remember that Jesus also suffered— and not just on the cross. It was not an easy burden for Him to witness the suffering of the world, all the while knowing the cross awaited Him. However, according to Paul, “Although He was a son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:8-9). When we do grow weary or suffer it is important to remember what Jesus suffered for us, and take encouragement from Paul, who wrote, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). God will be faithful to all the promises He has made to those who come to Him for salvation, we need only trust Him.
To those who were with Him, Jesus once said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going. Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:1-6).
Ultimately, we are successful in life if we find salvation in Jesus. No matter how far we may fall in life, or how high we may soar in the end if we find Christ and submit to Him we will gain everything of real value in eternity. With that said I will end with these words from Paul: “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).
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.