By Roland W. Keith
Jesus informed one of His audiences that there is a need to count the cost of being His disciple (Luke 14:26-33). Not that the cost was high in relative terms— compare life on earth to a place in heaven. However, Jesus was telling them to consider what it would take to follow Him. To examine themselves and be prepared to do what would be necessary to live a successful life as one of His disciples. Today each of us should make that same self-examination. Are we willing to commit everything to God? Consider what the Prince of Heaven gave up for us. He left His throne in heaven to live as one of us knowing that His destiny was to suffer and die for our sins. He allowed His fallen creation to mock and humiliate Him, our Creator, so that He could pay the price of our sins to relieve us of the eternal debt attached to them.
What Jesus accomplished pleased His Father; so much so, that Paul wrote, “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). Jesus came to earth to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), and when He rose from the grave, He became the Savior of the world, establishing the covenant through which that work continues today. The path to heaven is revealed in the testament He left behind. There is only one way or path to heaven— His way (John 14:6; Matthew 7:13-14; Acts 9;2); There is no other entrance into His kingdom (John 10:1; I Timothy 2:5-6; I John 5:10-12; Acts 4:12).
It took the better part of a century for the Holy Spirit, working through His apostles and other select disciples, to complete the word He had given in written form. Along the way many years were spent spreading the gospel throughout the world, meeting the challenges, preparing the groundwork, establishing His kingdom before the world was ready for the New Testament in its completed form. Everything, however, was done in due time. It even took some time for His followers to finally be called by their proper name— Christians (Acts 11:25-26). Nonetheless, even before His people took His name as their own, the name of Christ had become, and continues to be at once a beacon for the lost of the world, a badge of honor and glory for those who own it, and a target for persecution among those who have hated it throughout the ages (Acts 26:28-29; John 15:20; Matthew 5:10; Acts 22:4; II Timothy 3:12). But, as Peter wrote, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (I Peter 4:16).
Why become a Christian? Of course, the most obvious answer is for our own eternal welfare. There is, however, a greater reason even than that. We owe it to our Creator for all that He has done for us. As the Psalmist wrote, “What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all His people. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints. O LORD, I am Your servant; I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds” (Psalm 116:12-16). Just as King David praised the Lord for being there for him we should honor our God Who rescued us when we were condemned to the eternal fires of hell (Psalm 18:18-19), not because He owed it to us but because He loves us and wanted to be merciful to us. Not only did His Son give His life for us, but He set the example for us to follow to ensure our own success in life (I Peter 2:21; see also I Corinthians 11:1; II Corinthians 5:17-18).
Jesus is leading the way. He overcame the world and has cleared a path for us to do the same (John 16:33; See also 14:27; Hebrews 6:19-20). In his letter to the Hebrews Paul wrote, “So we can confidently say, "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?" (13:6). Later, he would write Timothy, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (II Timothy 4:17-18; John 14:3). At the end of the letter Paul would acknowledge that his own death was eminent. He was to be put to death for his faith. Considering that, what was the Lord rescuing him from? Apparently that which would prevent his entrance into the kingdom of God. Just as with the apostle we too can be sure that even if someone were to take our lives there is nothing they can do to effect our ultimate fate when we trust in the Lord, Who said Himself, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him Who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28; see also I Corinthians 10:13; Revelation 2:10).
In the end, God has done more for us than we can ever repay. Nevertheless, He wants us to accept His gift of grace, even though we do not merit it. Notwithstanding, His requirement for justice must also be met. On the one hand, He exercises absolute power and authority over His creation, on the other hand, He has given us the choice of salvation or condemnation. We can exercise our free will to choose either. If we make the wrong choice, we have no one to blame except ourselves. However, if we elect the salvation made available by the death of His Son, we opt for a path that benefits not only us but increases the value and responsibility that goes with our influence over others. For those who accept Jesus Christ as Savior are given the charge to be examples to those around us, with the obligation to share His gospel with the lost souls of the world (Matthew 5:14-16; Philippians 2:14-15; Acts 26:18).
For those who convince themselves that doing the ‘Lord’s work’ is burdensome, just remind yourself what He did for you. And recall these words: “And He said to all, "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25; see also 14:33; Matthew 7:14). Seen in a prudential light God’s tasking is a light load after all (Matthew 11:30)! For many of us our Christian walk requires us to make what are often radical changes in our behavior as evidenced by the words of Paul: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2; see also Ephesians 4:20-24), and also “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13; see also II Peter 1:4-9). Regardless of what changes are necessary considering the benefits gained weighed against what will be lost if we turn away from the Lord’s gift should make such sacrifices seem trivial in comparison.
With regard to what can be gained or lost Paul wrote, “and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject Him who warns from heaven… Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:25, 28-29). God is merciful, but God is just. And He is all powerful. We should stand in awe of our Creator and be grateful that He has provided us with an avenue to escape the due punishment for our sins— the unquenchable fire of hell (mark 9:43.
On top of the benefit of escaping hell’s fire (Luke 12:5; Matthew 25:31-46), the children of God profit in many other ways. In John 8:31 it is recorded: “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Throughout the ages man has sought the truth. In many ways he has searched and failed. Yet Jesus said that the truth, the ultimate truth, is available to those who follow Him. Not only can we have the truth revealed to us as children of God but we become heirs of the promise, as Paul told the Christians in Rome: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (Romans 8:16-17). As members of His holy nation (I Peter 2:9), we have taken hold of and been made heirs of eternal life (I Timothy 6:12; Titus 3:7); We will spend that eternity in His heavenly kingdom with Him, where a place has been prepared for us (James 2:5; John 14:2); Each of us will share in the treasures of heaven (Luke 18:22), with the guarantee that what awaits us is imperishable and unfading (I Peter 1:40), among which are the crowns of righteousness that each one of us will receive due to our faith in and obedience to Christ Jesus.
Such unimaginable treasures should be enough to compel us to be become a Christian and to make all our thoughts and actions captive to His will (II Corinthians 10:3-5), but in the end it is our love for God and our desire to please Him above all these things that should drive us forward in our lives. Do we look at the evening sky or the stars of the night in awe and want to know and worship their Creator? Our Creator? If so, all those other things become ever-so-much easier.
The Conversion of Saul of Tarsus
By Roland W. Keith
The apostle Paul’s first appearance in the scriptures occurred in Acts 7:58, where we read: “Then they cast him [Stephen] out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.” Not an auspicious beginning for a man whose name has become synonymous with the spread of the gospel. According to Luke’s narrative this event appears to be the catalyst for the persecution of the local church and particularly for Saul’s own assault against the church wherever he might find Christians gathered (Acts 8:1, 3).
Picking his account of Saul’s activities up again in Acts 9:1-6, Luke wrote: “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus… Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, Whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do."
In choosing Saul to be one of His apostle’s there is no doubt that God saw in him all the qualities of a great disciple, however misguided at the time, but it was also a display of God’s great ability to call even the bitterest enemies or the most mistaken individuals to Himself and save them. To that end the Lord Jesus communicated with Paul through the vision he received on the road to Damascus (Acts 9, 22; see particularly Ch. 26), and God communicated with Saul through at least one additional vision during the three days he sat blinded in the city (Acts 9:11, 12). After preparing Saul, God sent Ananias to restore his sight and bring him to salvation (Acts 9:1-18). The apostle Paul recounted this visit, in part saying, “And he [Ananias] said, 'The God of our fathers appointed you to know His will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from His mouth; for you will be a witness for Him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:14-16).
Later Paul would write, “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12). To what extent the gospel was revealed to Paul on the road to Damascus or in the city or in subsequent visions we do not know; what we do know is this— Paul’s understanding of Who Jesus was and what was required for his salvation was sufficient for him to submit to baptism in faith and obedience and have His sins forgiven and to be added to the church after his sight was restored.
Paul was a man sure of his religious heritage and commitment to God (Acts 22:3), as he told King Agrippa, “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities (Acts 26:9-11; see also 22:4). Paul’s devotion to God was all consuming, and remained so after his conversion, with one key difference— the man who struck out in a ‘raging fury’ had been humbled. He had learned that his sense of morality was not enough (Philippians 3:6; Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 14:12), even though he had based it on the law. He had zealousness, but not understanding (Psalm 14:2). He had also discovered that a good conscience does not justify one’s actions. Though he could rightly proclaim before the council, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day" (Acts 23:1), he could not claim that his conscience had always led him aright (Acts 26:9). Paul had learned the meaning of Jesus’ warning: “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). After encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul had been set free (John 8:32).
So complete was Paul’s transformation from persecutor to disciple he would later write, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” Philippians 3:8). For him nothing was more important than knowing Jesus (Matthew 10:37-39). In his letter to the Galatians Paul would describe his conversion with these words: “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me, in order that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days… Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, "He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." And they glorified God because of me” (1:14-18, 21-24).
The great apostle had learned the full extent of the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:46-48, Romans 1:16; etc.). So humbled was he by God’s great plan that when he reviewed his own past life as a persecutor of the way he wrote, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (I Timothy 1:15). Moreover, Paul knew the importance of what God had given him to do (Romans 10:13-17). He understood that man is saved because of God’s great love for us (John 3:16), that salvation is a gift given by God’s grace to be accepted not by belief only, but in obedient faith (Romans 1:5; Ephesians 2:5, 8; Romans 5:1-2). That man must come to God in repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 5:23; 24:47; Acts 11:18; II Corinthians 7:10). That he must confess the Lord before his fellow man (Romans 10:9, 33; II Corinthians 9:13; Hebrews 1-:23). That we must call on the name of the Lord (Job 27:10; II Samuel 22:4; Psalm 55:16; Acts 22:1; Romans 10:12-14), in hope and worship, and in baptism (Acts 22:16; 2:38). He also understood that we must live for Christ after our conversion (Romans 6:1-4; James 2:17-20).
Paul understood that he or anyone else could be disqualified from their state of salvation by disobedience or turning their backs on God (II Timothy 3:8; I John 2:4; II Peter 2:20-22). The apostle understood that he had to stay the course to receive the gift of salvation (Acts 20:24; I Corinthians 9:27). All Christians must remain true to God’s commands (John 14:15; 15;10; Matthew 15:8-9), just as the apostle Paul remained true to his Lord after his conversion (II Timothy 4:6-8). He once wrote, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). Indeed, let us follow his example so that we too will receive the crown of life.
By Roland W. Keith
In the opening of his letter to the church in Philippi Paul told the members that they were always in his prayers. Often when we think to pray for someone it is because of some hardship or worry we have on their behalf, however, when Paul thought of and prayed for the Philippians it was with joy and thanksgiving for the partnership he had formed with them through the gospel (Philippians 1:3-5). As he continued in these thoughts He wrote, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (1:9-11). Like a teacher with a gifted student Paul was at once praising their efforts to date while letting them know his prayer on their behalf was for still greater things.
How often do we thank the LORD for the opportunity He has given us as individuals or as a congregation and then ask for more to do? How often do we pray for more success to the glory of His name? How often do we pray for greater success against Satan? Remember when Paul wrote to the Ephesians encouraging them to take up the whole armor of God to withstand the devil? Even as he was describing the armor and telling them to prepare themselves for spiritual battle, he included these words, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:18-20). Paul’s instruction for them and us was to pray regularly for ourselves and others and the work that is being done. Even in chains the apostle asked the Ephesians to pray on his behalf, that he might be bold in proclaiming the gospel.
When we look at Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, we see a specific list of things he prayed for on their behalf to make them stronger and more productive Christians. First, He prayed that they might abound more and more in love (Philippians 1:9). Love is the foundation for God’s plan of salvation; it is also the foundation for all that we do as Christians. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). John would later remind us that God’s commands are not burdensome for the faithful in Christ (I John 5:3). However, for us to be obedient we must first know what the will of God is (Ephesians 5:17; Psalm 119:104). Even then we come back to love, as Paul wrote, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (I Corinthians 13:1-3).
For the Christian love or charity or agape is paramount in all that we do. The first law was to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). The second was like it, as explained by Paul: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:8-9). It is through love and obedience that we purify our souls (I Peter 1:22-23). Paul wanted the Philippians’ love to increase more and more along with the second thing he prayed for— their knowledge and discernment (Philippians 1:9). To be saved we must come to a knowledge of the truth in the things that rightly guide our lives and lead us to godliness and to the depths of our understanding of God and His ways, insofar as we can search them out (I Timothy 2:4; II Peter 1:3; Romans 11:33).
It is only in being filled with love and coming to a correct understanding of God’s will that we can begin to meet our primary responsibility as servants of God. Paul, who understood his role as servant, apostle and teacher, knew that it was his duty to bring others to a “knowledge of the truth” (Titus 1:1). While it is true that none of us are apostles our responsibility to the lost of the world and one another, and to our own advancement is the same as his was in most respects, as evidenced by Paul’s words to the Hebrews: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14). Only by advancing in our knowledge of the LORD and the development of our discernment can we instruct or lead others to Christ, it is the only way to grow in our own faith, or to reflect the light of God to the world, bearing fruit to His glory; it is the only way to attain to the full stature of Christ in our lives (Romans 15:14; II Corinthians 4:6; II Peter 1:5; Colossians 1:10; Ephesians 4:13). This is what Paul wanted for those in Philippi.
Third, Paul prayed that through their growth as Christians they would be able to “approve what is excellent” (Philippians 1:10). He did not want them to be numbered with those who refused God’s truth and salvation (II Thessalonians 2:10-12). The world is full of people who call evil good and darkness light (Isaiah 5:20). We seem to be seeing more and more of them in our day and time. Unfortunately, some of them even walk among us even as they did in the first century church, as Paul noted to Titus: “They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:16). What was Paul’s solution for the one who is sincerely seeking the truth? Trust God’s word and apply it to all that we do (II Timothy 3:16-17). Next to that, test all that you are told against His word and hold fast to the truth (I Thessalonians 5:21).
Fourth, Paul prayed that his readers would be pure and blameless on the judgment day (Philippians 1:10). In praying for this he was praying for honesty in their motives, the openness of their hearts, the richness of their faith, and for their wisdom and thankfulness toward God (Matthew 6:1; II Corinthians 9:7; Colossians 3:16). He did not want them to be false in their religion as many had become. Jesus said of such people, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9). Paul wanted followers of Christ to “be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). For those who might fall short Paul advised: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). James gave similar advice in his letter: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
Finally, Paul prayed that the church in Philippi would be productive in God’s work (Philippians 1:11), not for the work’s sake alone but for their own spiritual welfare. We have a duty to obey God’s command in spreading His gospel (Matthew 28:18-20). Failure to do so has consequences, as Jesus taught: “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit I am the vine… Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:2, 5-6). Each of us bears fruit. Either we are cultivating that which leads to death or that which leads to eternal life, as Paul wrote: “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:20-23; see also Ephesians 2:10; James 2:14; Romans 7:4).
One day we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of our lives (II Corinthians 5:10). Paul was confident that the Philippians would meet that day as faithful servants (Philippians 1:6). Jesus taught His disciples: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). If we let our light shine and hold fast to the word of life (Philippians 2:16), we too will receive God’s promised rewards as faithful and diligent servants.
By Roland W. Keith
Parents expect their children to obey them. Teachers require the attention of their students. Bosses expect their workers to do as they’re told. Generals demand that their troops follow orders. And all for good reason. Each of these individuals are in leadership positions. In all most every case they are the subject matter experts. They have more life experience, training, and preparation than those they lead. They have also been given the power and authority to lead, whether it is by society itself or by institutional structures within the society. They also bear the burden of leadership, being responsible for those under their governance and the success or failure of their objective or goal. If that authority is eroded or otherwise weakened their leadership may become ineffective. Even with good leadership there have even been times when open rebellion among those being led has resulted in failure. Then who is to blame?
Moses was hand-picked to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. By all accounts he was an effective administrator and leader. Nonetheless, the generation that he led failed to achieve their goal, because of their disobedience. Moses himself was incited by the people to a single act of disobedience that prevented his entering the promised land as well. While the nation was given opportunity after opportunity to correct themselves and get back in line all it took was once for Moses, because the standard of government or rule must be higher for them than for those being led (Numbers 27:12-14). King Saul was rejected by the LORD for his disobedience (I Samuel 15:10-26; see also Proverbs 16:12). And, today leaders in the church are held to a higher standard (I Timothy 3:1-13; James 3:1). Those who live up to that higher standard deserve our support and obedience as those appointed over us (Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 13:17; I Timothy 5:17). To rebel against them is to do so to our own detriment as one rebelling against God Himself. I’m not talking about blind obedience, but simply that which is rightfully due to them. That being said if we are to submit in all things to proper authority, what do we owe to the one who has appointed them?
According to the Bible government was ultimately instituted by God (Romans 13:1-2), as was church leadership (Titus 1:5-9). If we feel compelled to obey these institutions how much greater should our obedience be to the One Who created them? How much greater should be our effort to obey the One Who created us and the universe we live in? After searching out and testing the ways of life Solomon wrote, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). Centuries later when Israel’s council charged the apostles to stop speaking or teaching in the name of Jesus “Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). In His lifetime Jesus had told His disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” and If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 15:14; 14:15). Charged with proclaiming Jesus’ gospel His followers were determined to obey Him (Matthew 28: 18-20; Mark 16: 15-16).
Unfortunately, many today want to claim Christianity, but only if they can do it on their own terms. However, failure to worship and serve God according to His plans is to fail altogether, as Jesus warned: “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). Paul gave a sobering description of the fate that awaits those who do not know or obey the Lord’s gospel in his letter the Thessalonians (II Thessalonians 1:7-10). When we read his words and recall the fate of those who were not obedient such as Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-19), Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2), and those who were deceptive in their service such as Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), it should give us pause to think, “Am I truly doing what God wants?”
Jesus once asked His disciples, “Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). He went on to compare the one who obeys Him to a wise man, and the one who is disobedient to a foolish man (Matthew 7:24-27). Jesus often taught about the need to submit to God’s will, and in doing so He made a distinction between those who give the appearance of obedience and those who are truly pleasing to the LORD (Matthew 21:28-32). There was once a commercial that said, “It’s not nice to fool mother nature.” Perhaps not, but it is impossible to fool the one true living God. He knows who is acting in true faith to His word and who isn’t. And, if we are being observant even, we can usually tell, as James wrote, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 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. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:14-26).
Unless we act in obedience to all that God has given us to do our faith is not complete. It is not one or the other. Faith and obedience are part and parcel to our salvation. Jesus came to earth to save all those who would come to Him in faith (John 3:16-18), regardless of who they are or where they come from (Acts 10:34-35). But if we think we can be hearers of the word only we are mistaken. We must be doers as well; to fail to act is to sin (James 1:22; 4:17). Just as Abel was obedient in his faith (Hebrews 11:4) so was Noah (Genesis 6:22), and Joseph (Genesis 39-50), and Gideon (Judges 6:25-29), and Daniel (Daniel 6:10), And Abraham (Hebrews 11:17-19), and Paul after them (Acts 9, 22, 26). All of these examples have one thing in common— they were men of action dedicated to doing God’s will. And God demands the same of us; we are expected to act in our faith, in fact, to complete our faith through our obedience.
We have already looked at a few who were disobedient to the LORD, among them Nadab and Abihu, but who can forget Lot’s wife? Commanded not to look back at the life she was leaving behind she could not resist the temptation and was turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:15-17, 26). On the day of judgment each of us will receive the results of our faith or lack thereof, and the results of our actions or inaction; the results of our obedience or disobedience. In his first letter John wrote, “And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. Whoever says "I know Him" but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in Him: whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked” (I John 2:3-6). Again, it is not enough to simply look into the law, one must act and persevere in their obedience as James 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). Such obedient faith gives us access to the tree of life (Revelation 22:14).
The world will one day pass away, but we will not. In His revelation Jesus revealed man’s fate to John, who wrote, “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:7-8). Where we spend our eternity will depend. We can abide in the eternal wrath of God (John 3:36), or, we can abide forever with our LORD (I John 2:17). It all depends on the choice that we make. We can follow the world, we can claim to follow God on our own terms, or we can obey the LORD our God. Only one of those choices leads to salvation. Jesus is the way (John 14:6). We often quote this scripture, just as we often quote John 3:16-18. But now let’s quote the rest of Jesus’ statement in that passage: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21). In the end we must carry out the works of God in our life. We must obey.
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.