By Roland W. Keith
The apostle Paul wrote, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This willful state of iniquity separates us from a proper relationship with our Creator (Isaiah 59:1-2); in addition to that sin puts us into a state of condemnation. Every just, albeit imperfect, society rightly demands punishment for those who break its laws and endangers the common welfare. Therefore it can be no surprise that God, Who is perfect in His righteousness and is the author of what constitutes the absolute standard of moral, ethical and spiritual behavior commands obedience to His laws of conduct and requires justice for those who act contrary to His divine will (Romans 6:23). Fortunately for us our Creator is not a capricious or vindictive God. Rather, He is a God Who is just in His demands, yet Whose every action toward His creation is marked with infinite love and grace, as His Own Son proclaimed, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17; see also Acts 15:11; 20:32; Romans 6:14).
Since man’s fall from his original state of grace in the garden when his eyes were opened to good and evil, he has been locked in a futile struggle against himself, and his own passions and self-will on the one hand and God’s will for him on the other. Jeremiah rightly noted, “I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). Somewhere within man is that spark of the divine nature that reminds him that he was created in the image of God. As corrupted as that image has become, and as unattainable as a return to it is for man by his own actions there is still a way. Not to become righteous again on our own merit, but to be set free and accounted as righteous by the grace of God through the actions of His Son (Romans 8:20-23; John 3:16; James 1:17-18).
Jesus Christ gave His life for us. It is no accident that blood sacrifice was chosen by God as the avenue for man’s salvation. From the beginning certain sins against God and man were specifically deemed worthy of physical death. One who committed rape or premeditated murder stood in forfeiture of his own life for his crime. Sin itself brought death to all men, both physically and spiritually. Throughout our history man has innately understood this concept of justice (Hebrews 9:22). In addition, man has always understood and elevated the value of self-sacrifice. One who gives his or her own life to save others is universally praised as a hero. It is the ultimate form of agape love (love for our fellow man). God’s plan of salvation for man was tailor-made for our natural sense of justice and understanding.
By God’s law we have been found worthy of death, but His Own Son gave, that is sacrificed, His own life to save us (Ephesians 5:2; I John 1:7-9). However, from a proper perspective this goes well beyond agape love. It is one thing for a man to give his life for another man, but for God, our Creator, to send His Own Son to earth to die for our redemption is divine love. It is without merit on our part, yet God determined to do it and guided all of human history to a point in time specially prepared for Jesus to come to earth as His Messiah. As such Jesus ushered in God’s final dispensation for man’s time on earth, as Paul noted: “Therefore He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant” Hebrews 9:15).
The revealing of God’s final covenant was continued by the Holy Spirit and Christ’s apostles even after Christ’s ascension, as foretold by Jesus when He said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:12-13). It took many centuries to prepare the way for God’s Messiah, and the better part of another century to establish His final testament after His kingdom was established. These things were much anticipated in heaven and on earth (I Peter 1:10-12), but the day finally came for God’s plan to be revealed in its entirety. For his part Paul wrote, “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:1-5). In his first letter to the Corinthians he also wrote, “But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him"— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (I Corinthians 2:9-10).
What then did Jesus and the Holy Spirit reveal? First that the word delivered is truth, and that truth has the power to set men free (John 17:17; John 8:31). Second that Jesus is the way, the only way, to God and salvation (John 14:6; 8:24). Third, that the gospel of Jesus Christ “is the power of God for salvation” to all men (Romans 1:16-17; Hebrews 4:12). Fourth, that for that salvation to take effect man must first believe, then take action on that belief, that is they must be “doers of the word” (James 1:21-22). As Paul wrote to the Hebrews, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” (11:6). To be one who is truly seeking the Lord we must be engaged in His work, as James pointed out: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:17-24).
James was not writing of works according to the Law of Moses, rather he was writing about works of obedience under the law of Christ. Every Christian is expected to be involved in the work of the Lord, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10; see also Titus 2:14; 3:8, 14). Not only must we be about the work of the Lord, we must take care to do all according to His will. Jesus became the source of our salvation through His obedience to His Father, in turn we must be obedient as well (Hebrews 5:8-9), as He said, “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew7:21-23).
Although Christ came to earth and established His kingdom, opening the doors wide for all who seek to come to the Father through Him there remains a great barrier between God and man— man’s own self-will. Though the proof of God’s existent is irrefutable (Romans 1:19-25), many will deny Him. Others will acknowledge Him but be unwilling to accept God on His terms. Still others will roll the dice and gamble with their own eternal fate, hoping that there is no hell, or that God will not send them there for eternity. Paul informed the Hebrews that God had guaranteed His promises with an oath, telling them that it is “impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:17-20). If it is impossible for God to lie about the good things He has promised, it impossible for Him to lie about the fate of those who disobey Him as well (Matthew 10:28; 23:33; 25:46; II Thessalonians 1:9).
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul told his young protégé, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, Who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:3-4). Peter echoed Paul’s statement in his second letter, where he wrote, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (II Peter 3:9). God wants all men to be saved. He has given us a clear path to heaven’s gate. Not an easy path, but a true one. Not only that but He is Himself our guide. So long as we obey His word and refuse to turn to the right hand or to the left we will never be lost (Deuteronomy 5:32; Joshua 1:7; Proverbs 4:27).
In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost Peter proclaimed, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). If we come to Christ and remain faithful even “unto death,” we will receive the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).
By Roland W. Keith
Sometime after Moses had returned from the mountain with the ten commandments (for the second time), he spoke to the people concerning the need for them to trust in the Lord and to obey His commandments as they prepared to enter the promised land. During his admonition to the people he told them, “For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the LORD your God, walking in all His ways, and holding fast to Him, then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you” (Deuteronomy 11:22-23). The promises God had made to the Israelite's were great indeed, and by this point they had already witnessed the fulfillment of many of those promises firsthand— promises kept with a mighty hand done with signs and wonders and power beyond that of mortal man. Still, they were a headstrong people and, in the end, that generation was denied entry into the land of promise. Why?
To answer that question, we will first look at a few more verses from both the Old and New Testaments. The LORD told Joshua, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses My servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7). Addressing Judah’s disobedience God told them, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 1:18-20). In John 3:36 those of us who live under the new covenant are told this: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” In Hebrews 5:9 we are told, “And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” And again, in Romans 2:6-8 we read: “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.”
God has given us a simple formula or pattern to follow: Submit to His will and receive the promises He has made to all who will come to Him in obedience to His Commands, or be disobedient and not only will you be denied His good promises, you will find yourself suffering the wrath of a just God. As our Creator and the Sovereign of the created universe and all the heavens beyond God has the inalienable right to make and uphold that demand. In fact, as a holy and just God He cannot act in opposition to His Own perfect nature. If that sounds like I am imposing a restriction on God’s power I am not— that which is truly perfect cannot be other than what it is because it is all good things, in thought and action and possibilities to an infinite degree, it is by definition GOD. Such a being cannot be wrong, or he would indeed be limited and therefore no god at all. Therefore, when God makes a demand of us, we can be assured, whether we wholly understand it or not, that it is a just condition or requirement that is ultimately for our own benefit.
With our inability to comprehend all that God does, it is interesting to see, in-so-far as we can understand, the dynamics of God’s love for His creation at work in the Holy Scriptures. Among His creation in this universe He created one being in His own image— which required Him to give that being free will. That being abused his free will and rebelled against his Creator— an act which requires justice at the hands of his Creator. Yet the Creator loves this rebellious creature so much that He determined to devise a plan that will allow the creature (man) to escape his due punishment, while at the same time meeting the Creator’s requirement for justice. The answer? God Himself (specifically, the second member of the Godhead) would receive the punishment for all of mankind, so long as the offending members of mankind who are willing to come to Him in repentance and sincerely (albeit imperfectly at times) live in obedience to His commands. Not only can man escape punishment he can be accepted into the Lord’s kingdom as a fellow heir of eternal life— an eternity wherein he will be in the presence of his Creator forever.
Those who accept God’s call are not merely heirs, but become children in the house of God, as Paul explained in his letter to the Galatians: “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise” (3:25-29). This opportunity— this great gift— is offered to all men by the grace of God. Our part is to accept it in faith and live in obedience to God’s word. This faith is more than just believing there is a God. It is belief in action, whereby the believer actively seeks the God he believes in, trusting in His promises, and drawing near to Him in hope and submission, as Paul noted: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen… And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him…” (Hebrews 11:1, 6).
The truly faithful man or woman learns to trust God in all things (Matthew 6:31-34; Mark 11:22-25), and to approach Him without doubt (James 1:5-8; Hebrews 4:16). The one who turns away from sin and seeks to be a part of God’s kingdom in all earnestness will seek out God’s family to become a member of the household of saints supporting one another, as Paul wrote: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:23-26).
A true believer knows that God is able to accomplish all that He has promised. However, he also knows that God will not reward those who separate themselves from Him (Isaiah 59:1-2). The faithful Christian is confident in his life, even when times are tough, because he knows God sees and hears him and will strengthen him in times of need and will meet all requests that are asked according to His will (I John 5:14-15). He also knows that faith requires patience and dedication to the work, trusting that God will reward the diligent and steadfast servant (Hebrews: 6:10-12). As Paul wrote: “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, "Yet a little while, and the coming One will come and will not delay; but My righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him." But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:35-39).
Do you want to receive the promises of God? Then repent of your sins and come to Him in humble obedience. And once you have become a member of His kingdom never look back to the world you left behind in longing. Instead, take Peter’s advice and continually develop, add to, and hone your understanding of God’s word and the characteristics of a faithful saint: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 1:3-11).
Any one of us can be assured of God’s promises. How to receive them is no mystery, as we have seen. It only requires us to have a believing heart that looks to God and desires to please Him by doing His will. However, it is important to understand that faith does not free us from temptation or the hardships of life, rather it brings us into the fellowship of our brothers and sisters in Christ, broadens our avenue of prayer, and leads us into a relationship with God and His living word which arms us and gives us the strength to endure knowing the reward that awaits us when our brief sojourn on this earth comes to an end.
By Roland W. Keith
Every once in a while, a story appears about someone who has been pronounced clinically dead, only to be revived with a tale to tell about what they experienced on the “other side.” Usually I take those claims with a grain of salt; however, there is one such story I do take seriously. It is recorded in I Corinthians 12:2-4: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” Paul did not know if the man was transported bodily, or still in his body having a vision, or if he was having what we would today call an “out-of-body” experience. But clearly, he trusted the man’s account of what he saw.
Most of us will never have such an experience, therefore we must study such claims and determine if the eyewitness accounts are trustworthy. Does the evidence support the claimant’s story? That is, by the way, the crux of the gospel, and all of Holy scripture. We live after the events and lives of those who made the claims. Jesus once said, “"Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). We have only the written word and those who deliver it to us to rely upon (Romans 10:14). Some claim that it is a fairy tale, or worse — a hoax perpetrated to mislead the gullible. However, both of those claims fail the test. Reality is easily separated from fairy tales and hoaxes are readily exposed with facts. On the other hand the gospel and the other New Testament documents withstood the intense scrutiny and testing of Jesus and His apostles and other disciples by competent authority even to the point of persecution and death; their accounts concurrently being tested by thousands of eyewitnesses and participants in countless events all designed and providentially supported by signs and wonders and recorded as evidence to be presented to all who are willing to listen. As I have written before, if the claims set forth by Jesus and His followers had been false Christianity would never have survived the first century.
Interestingly, we find the following caution delivered to the Sanhedrin by one of its most noted members, Gamaliel, during their examination of the apostles: “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go” (Acts 5:38-40). This was sage advice. Many false Messiahs arose before and after Jesus all with the same results— their pretensions disproved and they and their followers either put to death are scattered in the winds. Only the assertions of Jesus and His followers have stood the test of time. As an old Navy Senior Chief, I would say the words of the New Testament are tried, tempered and true. So, what does Holy scripture have to tell us about Paradise?
For one thing it tells us that God’s people have long sought “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). It also tells us that in that country God has prepared a city for us to dwell in. Accordingly, Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Jesus said that He was the path to the Father (John 14:6), and that those who follow Him can rejoice in the fact that their names are written on the rolls in heaven, where the city of the living God and the tree of life await their arrival (Luke 10:20; Hebrews 12:22-23; Revelation 2:7). Peter wrote that it is a place where righteousness dwells (II Peter 3:13). Paul said it is a place beyond our imagining (I Corinthians 2:9); a place reserved not for flesh and blood but for those who have put on the eternal likeness of our Lord and Savior (I Corinthians 15:50-57; Philippians 3:20-21).
When the gates of heaven are finally opened it will be a day of unsurpassed joy for those who are in Christ and unimaginable sadness for those who have rejected Him. Jesus said, “when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29). Paul described that day to his readers: “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might, when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed” ( II Thessalonians 1:5-10). Yet, for those of us heaven-bound I believe the bitter-sweetness of that day will be eternally washed away when we enter into the presence of the LORD.
Regarding the dead and those still alive when Jesus returns Paul wrote, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:13-17). What a strange and wonderful day that will be! I am sure that even those of us who are afraid of heights will find the experience most exhilarating!
I have often thought of that day. The day of judgment. I usually picture long lines of billions of people waiting in line to be judged, but in reality, it will probably be over in the blink of an eye. The next thing a I think about is what the first day in heaven will be like, or the first week. How long will it take for everything to sink in? One thing I do believe— it will never get old. Concerning what it will be like the Bible gives us only tantalizing glimpses. In Revelation John wrote, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (21:1-5).
I am convinced by the testimony of those eyewitnesses who were inspired by God to write what they experienced and saw. Heaven is real. It is a home made ready for those who have been made righteous by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 12:22-23; Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:7). It is a place set apart for those who love the Lord and have remained faithful to Him; a habitation where the followers of Christ will be rewarded for their faithfulness, as Paul noted: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing” (II Timothy 4:7-8; Revelation 2:10; Matthew 10:22). It is a place of rest, purity and glory (Hebrews 4:9-11; Revelation 21:26-27). It is where we can spend life eternal with our Creator (Romans 6:23).
I am fortunate to have grown up in a Christian home. Yet, even with the advantage of having godly parents who set the example and an ideal childhood in a small town in West Texas, there were times in my life when I strayed away from the path I had been taught so well. I have heard it said that it is not easy being a Christian. I think it is. Jesus said His yoke was easy (Matthew 11:30). Its just that humans can find a way to make anything hard. Just look at the history of Israel in the Old Testament. Or, the history of the Lord’s church. It is estimated that there are over 39,000 denominations worldwide. Most of those have come into existence over the centuries due to disagreements among various church members or groups who wanted to do things their own way. However, Jesus said there is only one way, only one church. Agreeing to disagree or separating because we disagree is not a path to unity. Nor is it a path to salvation. Paradise exists. We have briefly reviewed why we can believe in it, what it is like, and who will be there. On that last point I have one more thing to say. Sitting in a pew on Sunday guarantees nothing. Those who will one day reside in heaven will do so by the grace of God and their obedience to His word and will. I encourage everyone to study the Bible diligently and with an open-mind, and then ask yourself one question. Not what does the preacher say, or what did my parents believe, or what does my favorite teacher say. Ask yourself this: “Am I doing what God says I must do, and am I following His prescribed commandments faithfully?”
By Roland W. Keith
For what do you hope in life? Many people around the world have no hope. They merely exist from day-to-day until they die. They live in poverty and hunger throughout their lives with little vision of a future past tomorrow, and no concern for what lies beyond the grave. While some resist the oppression of abusive or inept governments, drug lords, and persistent lack of opportunity and seek to rise above these and other restraints to their well-being many simply live in a state of hopelessness. And so, it was in the first century when Jesus came to earth. As today there was great wealth and poverty in the world. However, there was an undercurrent of hope during that period that we do not see today. Even in our western civilization which has led the world in improving the lot of mankind politically, socially and spiritually since the time of the Roman Empire (in its stricter European form) there is today an unfathomable pessimism and resistance against the freedoms and values that have led to unprecedented growth and prosperity for billions of people over the last 150 years in particular. Yet, two millennia ago men were seeking for that freedom and spiritual truth so disdained today.
God providentially set the stage for the arrival of His Messiah. Understanding that, there are many reasons why the first century AD was the right time (Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:10). The political climate, travel conditions, Common language, multicultural cities of trade, a growing desire, especially in Palestine, to throw off all forms of oppression, and a hunger for spiritual understanding. Even among the oppressed there was a growing optimism that freedom could be obtained, and that there was something more out there for man. There was hope. Moreover, for a growing number that hope centered around God, spiritual redemption and unity, and eternity, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians concerning Christ: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ
as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory” (1:7-12).
When the mystery of God’s will was revealed in Christ Jesus hope for mankind soared! God guaranteed His promise to man with an unbreakable oath (Hebrews 6:17-19). To make good on that oath and to remove all doubt as to its validity He sent His only Son to establish the final covenant of that promise and to set in motion the final work for its completion. Moreover, Jesus was able to validate His own deity and claim to be the long-awaited Messiah through the miracles and wonders that marked His ministry, as well as the work of the Holy Spirit through His apostles and other disciples, as the approved work of God (John 3:16; 21:24-25; 2:23; Matthew 12:28; Acts 3:16; 4:29-31; 9:11-12; 15:12, 18-19). Not only did Jesus prove Who He was, He ransomed His life to pay the debt of sin for all who are willing to accept Him as Savior; so when we put our faith in Him we are putting our faith and hope in God, the originator of the promise Christ fulfilled (I Peter 1:13-21). Moreover, when Jesus laid down His life for us, He further validated His claims by promising to rise from the dead, and then doing it (Matthew 17:9; 28:5-7; I Corinthians 15:3-8)!
Jesus’ resurrection is the centerpiece of our hope for eternal life as Christians, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:12-14, 18-19). The promise of eternal life is empty without the resurrection, however, we have that hope because Christ ensured He was seen by many to verify that He had come forth from the grave according to His word. Without the eyewitness testimony of the apostles and other disciples concerning Jesus’ life and resurrection, confirmed by the miracles they performed, the movement known as “the way” would have never survived the first century.
In Jesus God fulfilled His promise to Abraham that all men would be blessed through his seed (Romans 15:11-13; Ephesians 2:12-16); the great commission being a result of that promise (Matthew 28:18-20). All people everywhere can share in the blessings of God and should count it an honor if they suffer as the Lord did while awaiting their place in heaven (Romans 12:12; Romans 8:17; Philippians 1:29; I Peter 3:14, 17; 4:19). Paul rejoiced that he could suffer for the Lord in revealing the mysteries of God’s word which leads to the hope of glory (Colossians 1:24-27). It is in the revelation of that mystery that we are set free in life to seek God through His Son and receive eternal life (Galatians 5:1-6; John 14:6; 1 John 2:25). It is also in that mystery that we find that all men, Jew and Gentile, are to come together as one in Christ, as Paul revealed to the Ephesians, “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” (4:4-6).
There is one hope for mankind and only one avenue of grace to follow (I Peter 1:13). After he had met Jesus on the road to Damascus Paul spent the rest of his life bound up in that grace and he counted it as the supreme form of freedom (Romans 8:21; II Corinthians 3:17; Galatians 5:1; I Peter 2:16). He stood before the Sanhedrin, kings and emperors and common folks alike in defense of the hope and freedom offered by Christ (Acts 23:6; 26:6), with one desire for all, as he proclaimed to King Agrippa, “And Agrippa said to Paul, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?" And Paul said, "Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains” (Acts 26:28-29). A man bound in chains telling a king he wanted to set him free. Clearly, the apostle’s hope of true freedom was not for himself alone, but something he wanted for all men (Titus 1:1-3; Romans 9:1-3).
The apostle Paul understood that this grace he wished for all men was a kindness offered by a loving God subject to their willingness to obey Him, as he explained to Titus, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7). For his part Paul longed for the day he would escape the bounds of this earth for heaven (II Corinthians 5:1-2). We too should look forward to that day, patiently doing His work until that time (II Timothy 1:8-9; 2:15; I Peter 3:15; II Corinthians 5:20; Matthew 5:15-16).
As a final thought— we often hope for better days, for the perfect vacation, a promotion or raise, for a good report of health, for a better world, for many things. And that’s alright. But, is there anything that compares with the hope of meeting our Lord and Savior face-to-face and seeing a smile on His face as He welcomes us to our new home?
Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). If our hope is in Him, and we are His obedient disciples He has a place for us. In the book of Revelation John described it this way: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away"… And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life” (21:1-4, 22-27).
Regardless of my plight in this life it is my hope that my name is in the book of life, and it is my further hope that your name is written there, too.
By Roland W. Keith
Most of us are familiar with the story of the rich young man who sought Jesus’ counsel concerning eternal life: “And as He was setting out on His journey, a man ran up and knelt before Him and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17). If this was the only verse you knew from the story what would it tell you? To me it says that the young man was earnest in his desire, and he began by asking the right question. It also seems that his heart was in the right place. Jesus responds first by reminding him to keep the commandments, to which the young man responds, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth” (Mark 10:19-20). Matthew’s account records, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” (19:20). Some commentators have accused the man of being dishonest in his reply, yet Jesus did not challenge his claim. I believe the man was being honest. And again, he was asking the right questions. He had been doing everything he knew to do yet was concerned that he was somehow still lacking.
The Lord’s response to the young man? “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Mark 10:21). Jesus did not question the veracity of the man’s claims; in fact, His own response supports the man’s assertion. He was doing the right things, but there was still something standing in the way. His heart was not entirely in the right place after all. And that was what Jesus addressed. The youth was too attached to his worldly possessions. Mark tells us he went away sorrowful when the Lord told him to let go of his wealth (10:22). I do not know if his response would have been the same if he were twenty years older. Some people have a great desire for the material aspects of life when they are young, but that desire becomes less important as they mature (II Timothy 2:22; Ecclesiastes 12:1). However, many people find it hard to let go once they have it. Wealth gives them a false sense of security, power and superiority. The pharisee in the parable of the pharisee and tax collector is a good example. While the Sadducees made up the upper class, the Pharisees belonged to the small group we would recognize today as the middle to upper middle class. Far better educated and well off than 70% or more of the population they are often portrayed in the Bible as having a misplaced feeling of superiority. On the other hand, the tax collector would have been financially well-to-do as well but despised by Jewish society of the day. In Jesus’ story, despite his wealth, unlike the pharisee, the taxman realized he needed God’s mercy.
Remember what Jesus taught His disciples after the rich young man walked away? It’s hard to enter the kingdom of heaven, and it’s even harder for a rich person (Mark 10:23-25). However, its not impossible (Mark 10:26-27). As we grow in the wisdom of the Bible, we learn that money isn’t the only hindrance to our salvation. There is power, fame, ego (pride), etc. For those struggling with any of these stumbling blocks we can give the same advice Jesus did: let it go and follow the Lord. However, for the young man in the story, though he was disheartened and sad, he was not willing to give up his riches, not even to inherit a far greater treasure: eternal life. Why couldn’t he let go? Why are some people able to do what others cannot, or will not?
Moses had all of Egypt at his feet, in comparison, but as Paul wrote, “Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26). In some ways the problem seems to be a lack of vision or inability to assess what constitutes true value in life. For some no matter how great the reward on the horizon they are unwilling to let go of what they have in hand. Comparing the pursuit of earthly gain to godliness Paul wrote, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (I Timothy 6:6-10).
What mankind considers of great value and worthy of pursuit Solomon discovered to be otherwise. Assessing his own accomplishments and vast fortune he wrote, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). If we spend our life in pursuit of only worldly gain we are truly grasping for the wind. Eventually, everything slips away from us. As Paul noted we can’t take it with us, and as Solomon reasoned we do not even know what the next generation will do with what we have left behind (Ecclesiastes 2:17-21). Will they build upon it, squander it, appreciate it or mock it? It is not his worldly accomplishments and fortune that marks the man, rather it is his spiritual strength, as Paul noted: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (I Corinthians 1:25-29).
At the end of our lives we will not have to give an account of our land holdings or bank account or social status, but we will have to give an account of ourselves, whether we lived and died for the Lord or lived for the world (Romans 14:8-11). The things we have and the things we do are by the grace of God and should be acknowledged as such and should be guided by our desire to do what is right in the sight of God (James 4:13-17). When we live according to God’s will— that is when we put God first in our lives— we will be able to let go if it is called for. The world may not understand why we turn and walk away, they may deride us for it or even persecute us (I Peter 4:3-5, 12-13) but that should not dissuade us. They will have to give an account of themselves the same as we will. And when that day comes it will be better to stand with God in eternity than with the world whose every accomplishment will fade into non-existence leading those who reveled in them at the gates of hell.
Those of us who heed the Lord’s call turn from the world with a longing to honor God with our lives and a hope to share “in the inheritance of the saints” (Colossians 1:11-14). When the young man walked away from the Lord he was walking away from the light toward eternal darkness. Each of us will have to make the same choice. To follow the world or turn to God. To turn from the darkness to the light, from the futility of the world’s understanding to the wisdom of God. What we leave behind in the world has no lasting value, what we gain is beyond estimation. Jesus said we must be willing to leave all for Him (Luke 14:25-26; Mark 10:28-31) and even to suffer in the process; to give up the world for the love of Him and the hope of salvation. If we trust in His word and diligently seek Him, He will provide the way for us to enter His kingdom ((II Peter 1:10-11; I Peter 1:3).
Jesus said that all who would find God must do so through Him (John 14:6). In addition, He told His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:24-27). What would you give in exchange for your eternal soul? Would you give up the world and its finite treasures to ensure your own eternal well-being? The young man in the parable was not willing to do that. His priorities were misguided, and his attachments were in the wrong place.
As we ponder our life decisions in the context of our eternal welfare we should consider Paul’s words: “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:6-11).
God wants all men to be saved (John 3:16; Romans 1:16; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 5:9), nonetheless His justice must be served. For those who refuse His invitation there is condemnation due to their sins; for those who come to Him in repentance there is salvation and a place for them in His kingdom: “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” (Revelation 21:3-4).
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.