By Roland W. Keith
Does your church work? Unfortunately, many people today will assume I am asking is their church working out for them. Is it giving them what they want? Notice I did not say is it giving them what they need. Too many people nowadays choose a church for what they can get out of it, here and now, rather than for its spiritual strengths and dedication to the Lord’s work. That work including evangelism, edification and benevolence. The ultimate responsibility of the church is to bring the lost to Christ, to educate its members (citizens of the kingdom) and strengthen them, and to care for one another and our neighbors, as ourselves. However, in each of these works there are set limits and boundaries. If someone refuses to hear the truth we shake the dust off our feet and move on (Mark 6:11), we limit our teachings to the wisdom of the inspired word (Luke 21:15; I Corinthians 2:6-7, 13; 1:20; 3:19), and in our benevolence we help provide (within our abilities) for the necessities of life, not for people’s wants (I Peter 4:10; Acts 10:35; Titus 3:14; Luke 10:34-36; Acts 20:28; I Timothy 5:16; Galatians 5:16).
The real question is: Does your church do the work of the Lord according to Biblical standards? Paul told Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15). That admonishment applies to us as individuals and to the church as a whole. God has entrusted us with His kingdom (Matthew 25:14). Whether we are speaking of evangelists (II Timothy 4:5), Elders (I Peter 5:1-4), deacons (Acts 6:1-3), or Christians in general (Ephesians 2:10) we all have a place in God’s work. And, in doing His work we have a responsibility to Him, to one another and to the world. We have a moral, spiritual obligation to share the bounty of God’s kingdom with others, to stand by and strengthen the weak, and to be actively concerned with the eternal fate of our fellow man.
As Members of the body of Christ we must be prepared to walk away from the world and put the kingdom of God first (Luke 9:57-62). We must cleanse ourselves of sin and make ourselves ready to serve the Lord (II Timothy 2:21), and as Paul exhorted the Corinthian brethren, we must “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:58). We may not always see the results, but as faithful servants, we can trust that God is using our efforts to His glory. We need only concern ourselves with being ready and fully armed to engage in the battle of good vs. evil (II Timothy 4:2; Ephesians 6:10-18), worthy to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our fellow saints as we defeat the forces of the devil at play in the world (Philippians 1:27- 28; I Peter 5:8-10; James 4:7). Moreover, we must understand that in this war against the dark forces of Satan no Christian can remain out of the fray. No one is left on the sidelines; all must be involved. Regarding this James wrote, “But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (James 2:18; see 2:14-26).
Faith, without active engagement in the Lord’s work is useless to God, and to us. Eventually our faith will die if it is not exercised with works (James 2:26). Therefore, we must be fervent in our service to the Lord (Romans 12:11), always pressing forward as one ever seeking but never attaining the goal until the end (Philippians 3:12-14; II Timothy 4:7-8).
Not only must we tirelessly press on with the work, but we must continually study the word and assess if we are doing all things according to God’s will and have not allowed our own biases or outside influences to lead us astray in our efforts. Jesus once warned: “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19-20).
It is not enough to claim God’s work, we must be faithful stewards of what God has delivered into our care. Jesus once said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34). Our task is to do the same. To accomplish the task of Him Who has sent out into the world with His message, and to live and labor in accordance to His commands. It was Jesus Who also said, “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Given this warning we will be wise to heed the words of Paul: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (I Timothy 4:16).
We can accomplish the will of the Father in two ways: First, by remaining true to His commands, and, second, by dedicating ourselves to one or more of the areas of work He has given us to do. As evangelists we are to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15), understanding that without our efforts the world will not hear the gospel nor submit themselves to Christ as Savior (Romans 10:14-15). Moreover, each successive generation and each eldership within the brotherhood must be engaged in raising up faithful men to continue the work (II Timothy 2:1-4). And, not just evangelists, but teachers within the church as well.
The Biblical teachings and examples are clear. In Acts 5:42 we read, “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” Even those who were forced out of home and country due to their faith continued to spread the word of God (Acts 8:3-4). In addition to evangelism, which informs and edifies the world with the gospel, we can also involve ourselves with the edification of our fellow Christians (as well as ourselves). In his letter to the Ephesians Paul explained: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Though we no longer have apostles and prophets among us the rest holds true. Read the passage again. The work Paul outlines is no small responsibility or task. It requires dedication, personal growth, and a commitment
to God’s word that is second-to-none to be truly successful. Even those of us who are not elders or preachers or teachers (who need our continual support— I Thessalonians 5:12-13) have the task of stirring one another up, to push each other to greater heights in our faith (I Thessalonians 5:11, 14; Hebrews 10:24-25; Romans 14:19; I Corinthians 14:26).
Finally, we are to be involved in the welfare of our brothers and sisters in Christ and our worldly neighbors, as Paul pointed out to the Galatians: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). One of the great examples of this love for our fellow man is recorded in the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), which teaches that every man is our neighbor, and to some extent our concern. None more so, however, than our own families (I Timothy 5:8-17). Although things are different today in our country in comparison to first century Palestine, with the myriad of public assistance programs now available, the church should still be there for those who cannot rely on family or other avenues for help and, we might add, in addition to that help (James 1:27; Galatians 2:10).
God has made us our brother’s keeper. In some small degree with his health and welfare; in an absolute degree with his spiritual welfare, insofar as he is willing to accept our help. It is the work that God has given us to do as members of His church, as citizens of His kingdom. Moreover, our own welfare is ultimately tied up with what we do for others. We cannot be neutral or a non-participant in life, especially the Christian life. As Paul wrote, “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8-9). God will not be mocked but will judge each of us according to our deeds (Galatians 6:7; II Corinthians 5:10). As Paul noted: “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (II Corinthians 9:6). May your church, and your harvest be bountiful!
by Roland W. Keith
“So everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father Who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father Who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).
Having read the verse above ask yourself, “What does it really mean to acknowledge God? And, what does it mean to deny Him?” The most obvious answer to the first question is to state that you believe there is a God. And, the most obvious answer to the second question is to deny that God exists. But, are those adequate answers? According to the Bible the answer to that question is, no. As Christians we must understand that the answers to these questions are a little more complicated than that. In fact, one might confess there is a God yet deny His power or sovereignty over, or involvement with, His creation. One may even seek God but refuse to follow the path drawn out in the Biblical text. Or a man may claim that individuals or the corporate church in modern-day Christendom have the right to add to or supplement the ancient writings, thus redrawing the prescribed path to heaven’s gate. Indeed, various churches and individuals have done exactly that thus changing how their followers view the Holy Word. However, the bible is quite clear on these matters, for the person who can set aside modern or institutional biases and read the scriptures with an open mind.
If you are not an atheist then you have to ask yourself, “Since there is deity is that which I recognize as such the God of the Bible, and if so, do I in turn recognize Jesus of Nazareth as His Son?” If we recognize the God of the Bible as the Supreme Being and creator of the universe then the Bible becomes the litmus test for whether or not we are fully, truly acknowledging all that God demands of us with regard to Himself as the Triune God — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The rest of this brief study will focus on the Son, and to some extent God the Father, for as Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). According to scripture at least twice God the Father testified to man that Jesus Christ was His Son. The first times was at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:16-17), and the second at His transfiguration (Matthew 17:5). Additionally, Jesus had this to say of Himself, “But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about Me that the Father has sent Me” (John 5: 19, 36-40; see also Matthew 11:27; John 5:19). Jesus also warned, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23).
If we are to believe these testimonies, then we must trust Jesus when He said that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). We must also admit that the Father has placed man’s salvation in His hands (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus spent His life calling the world to Himself and the kingdom of God (Matthew 11:28-30; John 8:31-32; Matthew 7:13-14). As Paul said of Him, He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:3-4). Those that Christ taught, who had witnessed His life, and were guided by the Holy Spirit also bore witness of Him. During his sermon, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter would say, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Later he would tell Israel’s rulers, priests and scribes, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
After the death of Jesus why would these men and His other followers, joined later by Paul, risk everything, even their lives, and in many cases give their lives for His cause? Indeed, why had they made His cause, their cause? It wasn’t just religious fervor. Jesus had claimed too much and promised too much for anyone to continue to follow Him, and risk so much in the process, without some amazing and compelling reasons. For the core of followers who would brave all to take the gospel out into the world there were three: (1) their personal experiences with the Lord (and later the Holy Spirit), (2) the supernatural works He had performed to which they were witness and the power He had conferred in them, and (3) His resurrection. In his second letter Peter wrote, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain” (II Peter 1:16-18). For those near Jesus all that they had seen and heard and participated in was more than convincing— it compelled them to dedicate their lives, even give their lives for Him and for the spiritual welfare of their fellowman.
When we deny their eyewitness testimony, their sacrifices, and the words they penned under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we deny God. Moreover, when we turn from the word and go after those who are determined to lead us away from the Lord, or when we allow others to add their own thoughts to the word, again, we deny God (II Peter 2:1; I Corinthians 4:6). If we allow others to question the historicity of the scriptures without defending them, knowing that they are founded on the blood of Christ, as is our faith, then we deny His sacrifice on the cross (I Peter 1:18-19). It is by the grace of God that we have been saved (Ephesians 2:8-9), our redemption coming through the shed blood of His Son on the cross. Because of His love and mercy, He redeemed us, making for Himself a possession, and a kingdom (Titus 2:14; 3:5; Matthew 25:34; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 12:28). If we will not acknowledge all that He has done for us what expectations do we have of His acceptance, considering all that He has done, and the sacrifice He has made for us?
Jesus lowered Himself to become a man. He died a terrible death, numbered among criminals, to pay the price for our failures, our sins. All He asks from us is faithful obedience to His plan of salvation, which is not burdensome, but is, in fact, designed to lift us up (I John 5:3; Hebrews 12:11-13). He once said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). If we take Him at His word how can we not humbly follow His commands? And what if we do deny Him? We have been warned. According to Mark 8:38 Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” In addition, Jesus clearly stated that it is by His word that we will be judged (John 12:48). Not by man’s word. Not by the Pope’s words. Not by a televangelist’s words. But, by the word of God.
Jesus made a promise to those who believe and obey, just as He made a promise to those who don’t (Mark 16:16). Nonetheless, many will not believe, and others will ride the fence trying to balance their love of the world with their love for God. However, that won’t work (Matthew 6:24). The works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit are opposed to one another (Galatians 5:19-22). We must choose one or the other. Matthew recorded this conversation: “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father Who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:13-18). The church is founded on the confession that Peter made in acknowledging Jesus as the Christ. Paul also confessed that Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4).
Toward the end of his account of the gospel John wrote, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31). At the beginning of his gospel he had written, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Later, he would go into greater depth as to what drove his faith writing, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:1-3).
John takes great pains to make us understand that his account of things was not hearsay or legend. It was his eyewitness testimony. All of the disciples of Christ that we have mentioned in this study could make the same claim, even Paul who met the Lord on the road to Damascus, and Luke who acted as an historian, passing on the accounts of those who had witnessed and/or been a part of Jesus’ ministry and the early church. So, the question I pose to you is this: “Based on their testimony are you willing to acknowledge God, or do you deny Him?”
Have you ever had someone tell you that you missed your calling in life? Usually they are referring to an ability or talent you have that could have been put to better use in making a living or making a difference in the community or some such thing. Certainly, we all have different abilities which could lead us along different paths in life, if we chose to develop those talents. Some people do make that choice while others don’t, for a variety of reasons. Some folks may have a gift or talent that they have no interest in developing, even though it is extraordinary. However, not all callings have to do with talent. There are different kinds of calls in life. During an emergency one person may be called upon to render medical aid as a nurse or EMS, while another person with no particular talent may be pressed into service to remove debris or provide transportation. Moreover, we never know when we may be called upon or the impact it may have on us or others. All we can do is to respond to the best of our abilities when called upon. It is also true that not all calls are of equal importance, nor have the same impact on lives as others might have. Except one.
Paul the apostle spoke of this one exceptional calling on multiple occasions. He called it, among other things, a heavenly call (Hebrews 3:1-2). It requires no exceptional level of intelligence or other ability by those who receive it. In fact, it applies to all men and women. All can receive the call and answer it with an equal assurance of success. The only requirement for those who answer it is to do so with faithful adherence to the call itself. The degree of difficulty experienced in adhering to the call will vary with the individual, their background, strengths and weaknesses, and level of commitment. But we can rest assured that the One Who called us, will provide each of us with the guidance and strength we need to not only answer the call but to remain faithful to it, as Paul wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13).
The call Paul spoke of begins with the gospel of Jesus Christ, but it doesn’t end there. Also known as the Way (Acts 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22), it leads us to: life eternal (Matthew 7:13-14), to righteousness (Matthew 21:32), and the path of God (Mark 12:14). Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The call or the Way, then is the path of truth established and completed by God through His Son and passed on by the Holy Spirit through the prophets, apostles, and inspired writers of Holy Scripture. What was incomplete under the old covenant was made complete by Christ and the new covenant, which was paid for by His blood. The gospel calls us to a holy calling as followers of Christ, Who through His death purchased for us life and immortality as members of the kingdom He has established (II Timothy 1:8-10; Mark 9:1; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 12:28).
Peter told his readers that they had been called out of the darkness into God’s light (I Peter 2:9). That light illuminates our path toward the narrow gate that Jesus spoke of to His followers (Matthew 7:13-14). According to our Savior the path is difficult, though it be illumined, that leads to the gate of life; however, the rewards for reaching that gate are priceless. As Paul told the Philippians, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). The one who truly answers the call forgets her past with its successes and failures and sets her sights on the treasure that lies ahead. What Peter called the light, Paul described as the upward call of God, Who awaits us in heaven. He awaits those who will answer the call, for as Christ calls us to Himself, to become His saints, we must in turn call upon His name in obedience (I Corinthians 1:2).
On another occasion Paul described the LORD God’s summons as a call into the “fellowship of His Son” (I Corinthians 1:9). It is more than an offer of citizenship in His kingdom, it is a personal invitation to fellowship with the Lord. Then again, it is more than even that. It is an offer of adoption, by which we are made heirs of the kingdom along with His Son (Romans 8:14-17; I Peter 1:3). To Paul being called into service and fellowship with the Lord was the worthiest of all calls, because it was the only one by which we are drawn to the Lord with a legitimate hope of being accepted by Him (Ephesians 4:1-6).
For everyone who accepts the Lord’s invitation there is prepared a life of opportunities and spiritual abundance. As a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17) the Christian is made for good works (Ephesians 2:10). We are to be a model to the world of what God wants man to be (Titus 2:7, 14), prepared for every good work that is of an excellent nature and profitable for people (Titus 3:1-2, 8). We are to be devoted to His word, becoming enlightened as to the hope into which He has called us, able to discern the riches of the saints and the greatness of God’s power toward us (Ephesians 4:4; 1:18-19), and prepared to give a defense to anyone that asks us about the hope that we have in the Lord (I Peter 3:15).
We have been brought near to God by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13). That very proximity to the Lord will inevitably bring us into conflict with the world. But we should not fear their rejection nor any persecution that we may suffer at their hands. As Peter once wrote, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (I Peter 5:10). Whatever we may suffer at the hands of the world we must trust that it will be of limited duration and of no consequence in comparison to the reward of heaven, and we must trust that God will be with us giving us the strength to not only endure, but that in the end He will establish our place with Him. We need only make every effort to remain obedient to our call.
So, how are we called? We are called by the gospel (Luke 4:43; Acts 8:12; Romans 10:8-15). God’s command was for His word to be proclaimed to all nations. There is to be no partiality in who we reach out to with the gospel (Acts 10:34-35). The word is to be proclaimed by preachers, missionaries, teachers— by each one of us in defense of the hope that is in us (II Thessalonians 2:13-14; I Peter 3:15). Through the written word and our sharing of that word the truth is to be spread to all men. If we are doing our part all men will one day have the opportunity to hear the good news and come to a knowledge of the truth, and as Jesus said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). The sad part is not all who receive the call will accept it. Some will miss their calling. No matter what we do most of the world will turn a deaf ear to what we say. While that may be disheartening, we must not dwell on the seeming failures, but instead rejoice in those who accept the Lord’s word for what it is— the path to their salvation.
For those of us who have accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, the journey continues until we finish the race. It is a daily struggle at times to hold the world at bay. Such times prompted Peter to encourage his readers to build on their Christians virtues (II Peter 1:3-9), strengthening themselves to remain effective in the word. He culminated by writing, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (II Peter 1:10). We must be diligent in our journey along the way to the narrow gate for there are those who would seek to draw us away. It was Peter who also warned us: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8). The call brings us to the cross, but it is what we do after we accept Christ that determines our eternal fate. We must be true to the call and continue to follow the path along the way that Christ has pathed for us before we can say, along with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing” (II Timothy 4:7-8).
by Roland W. Keith
One of the first things a new Christian should be taught is the absolute veracity of the word of God. If he or she has doubts about the word it will not be long before his or her new-found faith is in jeopardy; after all the very faith they have is founded on what we know of Jesus Christ and God the Father through the written word. It is important for all followers of Christ to know and trust the Bible as fact and not as a collection of fables or wise stories and sayings. Peter addressed this very thing when he wrote, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain” (II Peter 1:16-18). Peter is not alone in assuring his readers that what they are reading or listening to is a first-hand account by reliable witnesses. John, Matthew, and Luke also proclaimed the verity of their words were based not on hearsay or anecdote, but on eyewitness accounts— often by those who not only witnessed the events but were actual participants themselves (I John 1:1-3; Luke 7:22; 19:37; 5:26; John 1:14, 32-34; 4:45; 11:45; 9:1-25; Matthew 15:30-31; Acts 4:19-20; 22:14-15; 8:6-7; 3:2-10)!
According to Paul not only are the scriptures trustworthy, they are elevated above all words of human wisdom. According to him, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The words written in the bible contain the mind of God Himself— just as Jesus was the word incarnate, holy scriptures are the manifestation of God in written form. To understand them is to understand (in as much as He has revealed it) the thoughts and intentions— the very will of God. To know the Bible is to be touched by the divine mind. If our minds are open to it the Bible reveals our every weakness, every sin, every hope, our every intention, not just to God (He already knows!), but to us! It exposes us to the truth— about the world, about God, and about us. As Paul went on to say, “no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). The Bible makes us aware of what God already knows. It brings us face-to-face with our own sin and mortality. However, it goes beyond merely exposing our plight as fallen men and women. It offers us hope.
To the Romans Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17). The word of God has not only the power to penetrate the mind and deeds of man, it contains the power to change men and women; to redeem and to save them. “All Scripture,” Paul wrote Timothy, “is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17). The Bible can lead us to Christ for salvation, and then equip us to be the kind of people God wants us to be (II Peter 1:3-4).
The Bible is a gift from heaven that brings good news (James 1:17-18; I Peter 1:25; Luke 2:10; 4:43; Romans 10:15; I John 2:25-26). It is also a sign and warning of God’s judgment upon sin (II Peter 2:6; Genesis 19:1-22; 6:9-13; II Peter 3:7). Fortunately, its warnings are designed to compel us to accept God’s offer of forgiveness and salvation, providing us with a clear path to heavens gate (Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9; Matthew 11:28-30; 7:12-14; John 14:6; Philippians 2:12-13). In the end if we hear the word of God and reject it, or accept it, then turn from it, our condemnation will be on our own heads (Mark 16:16; Matthew 10:33; I John 2:22; John 12:42; II Peter 2:20-21). If, however, we believe and remain faithful we have the assurance of God that He will forgive our sins (I John 1:9), that He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to deal with it (I Corinthians 10:13), that He will keep His promises (Hebrews 10:23; I Thessalonians 5:24), that He will add us to the fellowship of His Son, bestowing upon us the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).
These assurances are based on the eternal nature of God. As James once wrote, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:17-18). God does not change His mind. Once His word is given it is absolute. Therefore, if we answer His call, and obey His commands salvation will be ours. The seed of salvation planted in us shall not fade away, as Peter noted, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’" (I Peter 1:22-25).
What is this promise that God has bound by His word? Eternal life. Not life in eternity, which all humans, both the condemned and saved, will receive for good or ill, but something else. When the Bible speaks of eternal life it is speaking of being granted the right to live in God’s presence throughout eternity (John 10:10; I John 2:25; Philippians 3:20; John 14:2; Luke 6:23; 10:20; Matthew 7:21; 6:21). It is a gift that God determined to offer man because of the great love He has for His creation (John 3:16), choosing to spare us eternal damnation if we will accept it and come to Him in repentance (Acts 17:30; 3:19; Luke 13:3). To pay for our sins, even though we are weak and unworthy, God sent His Son to earth to redeem us by taking our sins upon Himself on the cross (Romans 5:6).
Not only did God sacrifice His Own Son for us, but through Him and the work of the Holy Spirit He gave us the inspired word to guide us and teach us His will for our lives (II Timothy 3:16-17; Colossians 2:6-7; II Peter 1:5-8). Before His crucifixion Jesus told His apostles, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13). The result of the Holy Spirit’s work is the Bible. Filled with God’s words of encouragement and direction it also provides the necessary warnings to help us avoid the deceptions of those who would draw us away from our creator (II Peter 2:1-3, 20-22; 3:1-4; Colossians 2:8).
According to Jesus, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). The word of God sets us free. It does not create an impenetrable bubble around us that keeps the world from touching us, but it does give us the spiritual knowledge, weapons, and tools to help us successfully navigate through life (I Timothy 2:3-4; 3:16-17; Ephesians 6:10-18). It is through the word of God that we are born again, having our souls purified, and our minds prepared and strengthened to defeat Satan through our understanding of, and obedience to it (I Peter 1:19-23). God desires all of us to come to the knowledge that is necessary, not only to save us, but to ensure our ability to endure to the end (I Timothy 2:3-4).
In his first letter to Timothy Paul wrote his young friend, “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, Who in His testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” ( I Timothy 6:11-14). Timothy’s call that Paul mentions is the word of God that he had received first at the feet of his mother and grandmother, then later through the testimony of Paul, as given to him by the Lord (II Timothy 1:1-14). It is that same word that we receive today when we are taught from or study the Bible. What compelled Paul and Timothy, and so many others to dedicate their lives to the spread of God’s word, risking, and even giving their lives to deliver it to the world is the same thing that should compel us to risk all to attain the goal that has been set before us.
In his last letter written shortly before his death, Paul wrote Timothy, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (II Timothy 4:6-8). The aged apostle had remained true to the Lord’s call and looked forward to the promises of his Savior. I hope that the same can be said about each one of us.
The word of God was written for our edification (II Timothy 3:16-17), salvation (I Timothy 2:3-4; John 20:30), and judgment (John 5:19-29; 12:48; II Peter 3:7). No greater works of writing exist in the world. If there is only one book you read this year. If there is only one whose teachings you take to heart I sincerely hope that it will be the one given to man by God: The Holy Bible.
by Roland W. Keith
In his brief letter Jude likened those who reject the authority of God or substitute their dreams or wishes for the truth with the generation of Israelites who died in the desert for their unbelief, as well as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, whom the Lord destroyed due to their immorality (Jude 1:5-6, 8). Along with these he added the example of the heavenly beings who rebelled against God, writing, “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, He has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 1:6). Reading such words there is often a sense of foreboding attached to the study of the day of judgment, however, we should not lose sight of the fact that it is also “the Day of the Lord.” Jesus came to earth to do the will of His Father— to give His own life as a ransom for the souls of mankind and to establish an eternal kingdom for those who would believe in Him and turn to Him for salvation. For all such men and women Jesus promised, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40; see 6:38-54). It is on the day of judgment that every believer, justified by the blood of Christ, will rise to meet the Lord in the clouds.
The day of judgment is a day of both eternal death and eternal life, when we are judged according to our deeds and whether or not we have accepted and acted in accordance to God’s word (John 12:47-50; II Corinthians 11:15; Jude 1:15; I Peter 1:”17; Romans 2:6; James 2:24; Mark 16:15-16). Each of us will die, and each will face the judgment (Hebrews 9:27-28); as Paul also wrote, “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 5:10). The day the Lord returns is, therefore, a day of sorrow and rejoicing. Many will be sentenced to an eternity separated from God in the fires of hell, and many will be joyfully united with God in heaven. If you are an obedient follower of Jesus Christ there is no fear of the judgment in your heart, but rather the confidence of one who abides in the love of God (I John 4:15-18). It is the day when all of Christ’s work on behalf of man will be brought to completion— when He will be glorified in His saints (Philippians 1:6-10; II Thessalonians 1:5-10), and those who have rejected Him will feel the wrath of God’s righteous judgment (Romans 2:5).
To some the Lord’s return has been a long time coming (II Peter 3:4-9). However, it is God’s will to give humanity every chance to repent. Nonetheless, there is a day that God has fixed upon to send His Son back to earth to gather the final harvest (Acts 17:30-31; Hebrews 9:27-28). The judgment day is a certainty. What has not been determined is our eternal fate. There is still time for any of us to reverse our fortunes and turn to the Lord, avoiding the fate of the ungodly (I Peter 4:17-18). In Revelation we read, “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (20:12-15).
The book of life. God’s journal of all those who have died to sin and been made righteous by the blood of His Son (I Peter 2:22-24). The record of all those who honored the Son of God and the eternal Father in their lifetimes by being obedient to the divine call (John 5:21-24). God will judge the living and the dead (II Timothy 4:1), according to the word and His truth and justice (John 12:48; Revelation 16:7); as Paul told the Romans, “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. 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” (2:5-10).
We will all give an account of our lives when the world comes to an end. As Paul told the Roman Christians, “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10-12). God is a loving and merciful God, however, He is also a holy God, Whose nature demands justice. All who reject the truth and act contrary to God’s word will be punished. Being self-condemned by their own actions (II Thessalonians 2:9-12), they will “suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord” (II Thessalonians 1:7-9). Those who obey God, on the other hand, will be considered worthy of His kingdom, glorifying the Lord on that day (II Thessalonians 1:5, 10).
We do not know all that will occur on that day, nor can we envision its glory and spectacle. However, Jesus did tell us one thing about it: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ Then He will say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (Matthew 25:31-34, 41).
All of history’s great and small, the famous and the unknown, from all times will be judged and divided by the Lord. In fact, in His own lifetime, and ever since Jesus has divided man by His actions and His words. As He said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household” (Matthew 10:34-36). He has always divided the truth from error and the righteous from the unrighteous. But on the day of judgment that separation will absolute and eternal. There will be no more abiding with man who strives against Him. The battle of good and evil will come to an end. The evil introduced into the world by Satan will be put away in the lake of fire. And, on that day the righteous in Christ will be ushered into heaven where the glory and holiness of the Lord God will illuminate their way for eternity. Near the end of his life Paul wrote his son in the faith, “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).
How many of us have loved His appearing? How many of us are convinced that we are the product of a creator? And, how many of us look forward to that day? The last day of man’s sojourn on earth and the first day in our eternal abode. It will be a day like no other. A unique moment in time. As the culmination of God’s plan for His creation it could not be otherwise. All of our history upon this earth points to that day. A day of total destruction and eternal birth. I do not know what God accomplished before the creation of the universe, nor do I know what awaits us in eternity. But I know I want to be there, in heaven, with Him. As Paul once said, “I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded” (II Timothy 1:12). And because I am persuaded I am confident that the day is approaching when I will meet my Maker, moreover, I look forward to it.
by Roland W. Keith
For regular readers you have probably noticed that for the past month or so (the holiday season) we have been focused mainly on the life of Christ from a variety of perspectives. This week will continue that trend as we spend some time discussing Jesus as the suffering Savior. Truly, no one has lowered himself as far below his given station for the benefit of others as the Son of God did when He left His place beside His Father in heaven to come to earth. Choosing to be born as a babe in humble circumstances, He rose to manhood thoroughly acquainted with the griefs of the world and prepared to lead His fellow man out of the darkness of sin into the light of God’s grace.
Paul described the Lord’s earthly sojourn with these words, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:4-8).
By humbling Himself, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, put both the will of His Father and the welfare of the human race above His own interests and well-being as a man. Moreover, He did it without compulsion, acting of His own free will, as He Himself said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him Who sent Me… For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from My Father” (John 6:38; 10:17-18; see also Luke 19:10).
By acting in accordance with His Father’s will He chose to suffer for sinners, knowing that most of them will reject the sacrificial gift He has offered on their behalf. Nonetheless, both He and God the Father deemed the salvation of those who would accept God’s gift of grace as sufficient reason for them to implement their plan to redeem mankind. A plan set forth because of the great love that God has for His creation.
Although we often talk about Jesus’ death the fact is, He lived His life with a singular purpose— to save man from eternal punishment and to provide a heavenly home for those who choose to become citizens of His kingdom. Only, after devoting His entire life to obedient service (Luke 2:49; John 10:25; 15:10), and implementing the plan given by heralding the coming kingdom and preparing His disciples to carry on upon His ascension, did He lay down His life for us.
As with His entire life, the last twenty-four hours played out according to prophesy. He was betrayed by a friend (Zechariah 11:12-13; Matthew 26:14-15, 48-50, 52-56). He was a righteous or falsely accused sufferer (Psalm 69; John 15:25; Romans 15:1-3; Matthew 26:59-60), and without proper examination His faithful testimony was deemed a lie (Matthew 26:63-66). He was a victim of treachery, deceit, betrayal, lies and political manipulation (Mark 15:3; Luke 23:2; John 19:12-15).
After His betrayal He was abandoned to His fate by His followers (Matthew 26;56), who had proclaimed their willingness to die with Him (Matthew 26:33-35). Not only did they run, but Peter, perhaps His most ardent follower, denied Him with an oath and curses (Matthew 26:69-75).
After the mockery of the trials He was subjected to, and a rush to judgment Jesus was beaten and mocked, then presented to the people (John 19:1-3), before Pilate examined Him one last time, and bending to the will of the Jewish leaders and the crowd turned Him over for crucifixion (John 19:1-16). At the end, beaten so severely He could not bear the burden of the cross alone, Jesus was crucified between two criminals (Luke 23:32-33).
In the final hours of His life Jesus was forsaken (Psalm 22:1-31; Matthew 27:39-44, 46; Hebrews 2:12), calling out in the end, “"Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” After His death one of the Roman guards pierced His side driving his spear through His lungs and heart validating His death. It was only after His ordeal on the cross was over that two of His followers took courage and claimed His body (John 19:38-40). However, His story was not over!
Three days later Jesus Christ stood resurrected, becoming the chief-cornerstone of the kingdom He had come to earth to establish and die for (Psalm 16:8-11; Acts 2:22-32; 13:35-37; Matthew 21:42; Ephesians 2:20; I Peter 2:6-8)!
by Roland W. Keith
Tomorrow millions of people will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Although we are not commanded to do so in scripture, many will take the time midst the more commercial exchanges to offer a prayer, or sing a song, or read a few verses from the Bible to honor God’s great gift to man, esteeming the day above others during the year for that purpose (Romans 14:4-6). Others will, in fact, give little or no thought to our Savior. As Christians we may want to take a few minutes to tell our children and grandchildren the Biblical account of our Savior’s arrival on earth (Matthew 1:18-2:23; Luke 2:1-40), noting that every day is a good day to meditate on what God has done for us. Having said that, today we will consider the life of Jesus in our study.
According to John’s account: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:1-4). Jesus is the eternal Son and Creator, Who humbled Himself according to His Father’s plan and came to earth, taking the form of man. In obedience to God the Father, in the likeness of men, He prepared humanity for the coming kingdom of God, and then gave His life on the cross to purchase it with His own blood (Philippians 2:5-8). Having accomplished all that he had been given to do He returned to His heavenly home, where, as Paul wrote, “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).
For the earnest Christian tomorrow is just another day in the year that we honor the divine birth and life and sacrifice of the child called Immanuel, that is to say, “God with us,” giving thanks for God’s saving grace (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:20-23). For us Jesus’ birth fulfilled God’s promise of a Messiah, the One who would not only lead us to God, but Who would tear down the barrier erected between God and man because of sin (Matthew 27:50-51; Hebrews 10:19-20), by paying our ransom with His own life, thus redeeming us from our sins (Matthew 10:45; Titus 2:11-14). As Messiah, Jesus was a man without sin, Who’s life and death not only won our eternal freedom, but is also an example of how each one of us should live our lives (I Peter 2:21-22). It is because of what Jesus has done for us that we can, no matter how sinful we have been, be assured that God will forgive the penitent heart, for we now have a perfect high priest, Who has Himself been tempted as we are yet has overcome, and is now our mediator before the throne of God (Hebrews 4:15-16; I Timothy 2:5).
During His life Jesus left no doubt as to Who He was. His knowledge and understanding of scripture, His teaching, and authoritative ownership of God’s word and revelation astounded people (Luke 2:46-49; Matthew 7:28-29). Furthermore, He asserted His claim to deity by saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 4:16). Not only did He claim to be the truth, but that the truth (that is He is our Savior), would set those free, who truly followed Him (John 8:31-32). Having accomplished His earthly task and resurrection, 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 28:18-19).
Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice in human terms— He died for others. In His case He gave His life in place of ours. An innocent man paying the penalty for the guilty. It is due to that sacrifice that God is willing to forgive our trespasses of His commands (Ephesians 1:7-10). He has reunited God and man through His blood. Noting the Son’s sacrifice Peter wrote, “And if you call on Him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (I Peter 1:17-21).
Some may point out that many have given their lives for others, and that is true. However, few innocent people have been willing to die in the stead of a guilty person. And only one perfect being has given His life for sinners. And, only the Son of God, our Creator, has died for His creation. Moreover, Christ proved Who He was not only by the life He lived, but more specifically by the many miracles and works that He did, and even more specifically by rising from the dead (Matthew 28:5-6). So essential is the resurrection to the validity of Christianity that Paul wrote, “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” (I Corinthians 15:12-14). Yet, Jesus resurrection was verified- by over 500 eyewitnesses (I Corinthians 15:1-8). Had these evidences not prevailed in first century Jerusalem and beyond no one today would have ever heard of the carpenter’s Son from Nazareth.
The result of Jesus’ life is the New Testament, God’s final covenant with man on earth, which includes the gospel plan of salvation (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; see Mark 16:15-16; also Acts 2). For those who heard Peter’s gospel account on the Day of Pentecost and asked, “What shall we do?”, Peter replied, “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; 22:16). God has given us a way to escape the eternal punishment that awaits those who reject Him. The question is why would He give such a rebellious race an opportunity to enjoy eternity with Him? According to John, “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. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:16-18).
God has no desire to condemn the world or a single soul in it. However, His justice requires the condemnation and punishment of sin. Therefore, in order to ascertain justice and to be able to extend His infinite grace to man, because of His great love for man, He came up with a plan that would satisfy His justice and permit the redemption of all men who are willing to come to Him in obedient acknowledgement of what He has done for them (Romans 5:6-9). It is by the grace of God that we may be saved (Ephesians 2:8010; Titus 2:11); a free gift that exceeds all the wealth of the world, extending God’s love and salvation throughout eternity in heaven.
When Jesus was preparing to leave this earth, He told His followers, “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” (John 14:1-4). Jesus left us a roadmap or plan to get to heaven. All we have to do is follow His instructions; that is, follow in His footsteps. He has already cleared the path for us. The sacrifices we are asked to make in following Him are small in comparison to what we gain in pursuing the truth and calling on His name. What we can look forward to on the other side of our physical death makes what we have in this life pale in contrast.
Paul once 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). There is a great day that awaits those who trust in the Lord. He Who gave His life for us, has also prepared an eternal home for those who accept His invitation to join Him. Will you be one of those on that day who clasps our wonderful Savior’s hand giving thanks to Him as He welcomes you into His heavenly abode? Merry Christmas to all!
by Roland W. Keith
As a book the New Testament makes a rather remarkable claim about the leader of its cause. According to Luke’s account the angel Gabriel visited a young, betrothed virgin named Mary, telling her, “’behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’ And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God’” (Luke 1:31-35). Subsequent to this conversation the angel visited her fiancé, Joseph, to prepare him for this immaculate birth as well (Matthew 1:20-23).
Many a work of fiction has dealt with the gods and their offspring, some might say. There is only one problem with that assessment. The New Testament is not Greek mythology. It is not an epic poem or story. It is not a fairy tale. Nor is it a tragedy for the stage. It is, in fact, not a story at all. From a publishing standpoint it is a collection of writings and letters unrelated by intent of writing. That is to say that there was no collaboration or intentional building upon one another’s work among the authors. For instance, Luke acknowledged that others had written accounts of the events surrounding the life of Jesus yet having followed the events himself felt that it was good for him to write his own account to Theophilus (Luke 1:1-3). Peter mentions the writings of Paul (II Peter 3:15), marking a distinction in their writings by saying of Paul’s work “according to the wisdom given to him.”
There were eight or nine writers of the New Testament, depending on whether Hebrews was written by Paul (I think so) or an unknown author. There are four gospel accounts written by four men (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). One history written by Luke. There are 21 letters written by five men (John- 3, Peter- 2, James- 1, Jude- 1, Paul- 14). And, there is one book of revelation, written by John. So, if these writings are unrelated by intent and were not meant to be part of a larger body by the writers (not being fully bound together for several centuries (A.D. 400)), then how did they become one? First, the writings had a common theme or goal. To share with others the writers experiences with a single man— Jesus Christ, and to inform the world of His deity and teachings regarding God and salvation. Two, they had a common audience. Three, each work was one of inspiration that was providentially separated from lesser writings and slowly coalesced into a single volume.
That’s two paragraphs to get to this— The New Testament is not a story in itself, nor a collection of fiction. It is a collection of eyewitness accounts, inspired teachings and revelation written and passed on to us at great peril to the men who wrote them. They risked life and limb to spread the knowledge they had been given. Their purpose and goal was for all of humanity to come to know of that child heralded by Gabriel, Who would grow up with a purpose of His own— to save all who would come to Him from their sins. So, Who is Jesus?
According to Moses He was a prophet like himself, raised up by God to turn men from their wickedness (Acts 3:22-26). To Matthew though, He was more than just a prophet: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17). Jesus Himself acknowledged the heavenly testimony of God calling Him His Father when He told His followers to abide in Him and keep His commandments (John 15:1-11). Later, Jesus would ask His disciples, “‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-16; see also John 9:35-38). Peter’s answer reflected not only what Jesus had been teaching them about Himself, but the evidence that He had provided them through His miracles and teachings.
In his history of the early church Luke recorded Peter’s gospel sermon on the Day of Pentecost, when he declared, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it…This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool.’” Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus Whom you crucified” (Acts 2:22-24, 32-36). Had Peter spoken false words to that audience Christianity would have died right there, before it had even really started. The advent of the church succeeded because Peter spoke the truth, eliciting the listeners own personal knowledge as evidence of what he was saying. They had witnessed Jesus' works for themselves, and for those willing to acknowledge that and make the connection Peter was laying before them there was only one correct response to his call for repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus.
As deity Jesus is the Son of God, the second member of the Godhead and the source of eternal life (I John 5:20). As a man, He was the Son of God, the son of David, and the son of Mary, sent to earth to be the Messiah. As such His job was to herald the kingdom of God and prepare man for its inception. It was also His job to offer His life as a ransom for all who would hope to enter that kingdom. John also called Him the “propitiation for our sins” (I John 2:1-2), because He continues as the ransom for our sins from His throne in heaven. He was by turns a carpenter and a rabbi (Mark 6:3; John 3:2), and so much more. Much as Peter called on his audience as its own witness, Paul reminded his readers of all those of past generations who had borne witness of the Christ, in one way or another, describing Him as the “founder and perfecter of our faith,” Who, having accomplished His work was seated at the right hand of God awaiting those who would endure in His name (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Paul would also describe Jesus as not only the Son of God, but as the “apostle and high priest of our confession” (Hebrews 3:1-6). Who do we pray to? God the Father. But in Who’s name do we pray? In the name of the Son. He is the mediator between His Father and men (I Timothy 2:5). However, He is more than just an arbitrator, as Paul made clear to the Hebrews: “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). Not only does he mediate the new covenant between God and man, both the covenant and its promise of eternal life were established by His death— purchased with His blood as our redeemer.
Do we sometimes take what Christ did for us for granted? How often do we pray in His name, read from His word, or discuss His life without really meditating on it? How often do we catch ourselves daydreaming in the church pews on a Sunday morning? Jesus pushed me out of the way of an oncoming car, stepped between me and the gunman and took the bullet meant for me, pulled me from a burning building moments before it collapsed, gave me the last seat on the lifeboat before slipping into the icy waters. You say He didn’t do any of those things? How about this— when I deserved death, both physical and spiritual, He died a most excruciating death on a cross, and innocent man just for me. So that I do not have to spend an eternity separated from God. He might not have taken a bullet for me, but he did die for me. And, He did literally pull me away from falling into the fires of hell.
In Revelation John wrote this to the seven churches, “from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him. Even so. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’ (Revelation 1:5-8).
Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Faithful Witness, the Firstborn of the Dead, the Ruler of Kings. And, because He loves us and was willing to come to earth and die for us— the Savior of Man.
By Roland W. Keith
What does it mean to fall away from God? To fall from grace? Many in Christendom believe that such a thing cannot happen, that once one is saved, they are always saved. After all, it was Jesus Himself Who said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:37-40). However, to understand what Jesus is saying here we must focus on a key word used twice in this text— that word is should. As used, it is an auxiliary function to express the futurity of an outcome that is probable or expected. It is not an absolute or foregone conclusion.
Jesus would go on to say, “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 10:28-29). Here we focus on another word: will. Although it is not always used in absolute terms, here it is used to express the inevitability of what is being said. No one has the power to “snatch” a child of God from the grasp of his Savior. So how do we reconcile these two statements of Jesus’ concerning salvation? It is God’s will that all men should be saved (I Timothy 2:3-4), but clearly that is not the case. Many will reject God outright. But, what about those who have come to Christ and accepted Him as Savior? Are they not protected? The answer is yes— as long as they are obedient. All men— saved or unsaved— maintain their free will. No outside force can pull us away from God. If we lose our salvation subsequent to being saved it will be an inside job. It will be because we voluntarily forfeit what God has given us. You see, falling away is synonymous with turning away from or turning our backs on our Savior after all He has done for us. We should be saved after accepting Christ as Lord and obeying the gospel, but ultimately the choice is ours (Philippians 2:12).
In his letter to the Hebrews Paul wrote, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:26-29). In similar fashion, Peter wrote, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first” (II Peter 2:20). It is a notable, and sobering warning, that Peter said of such people, “For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (v. 21).
It is clear that neither Paul nor Peter are addressing the unsaved about their spiritual condition, but are speaking to those already sanctified, and issuing a warning as to the consequences of turning back to the world after having received the gift of salvation. The New Testament is full of examples of those who had jeopardized their eternal standing. Simon the sorcerer was warned to repent and pray for the possibility of forgiveness (Acts 8:9-24). Paul turned Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan with the hope that they would learn not to blaspheme (I Timothy 1:18-20). Demas deserted Paul (and the Lord) because he turned back to his love for the world; and, there is no indication that he ever returned to the church (Titus 3:10). In his letter to Titus, Paul instructed him to have nothing more to do with those within the church who stir up division after one or two warnings, writing that “such a person is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11).
God did not spare the angels of heaven when they sinned, nor will He spare us if we leave our position in the church (II Peter 2:4-9; Jude 1:6). Certainly, He knows how to, and is willing to rescue us from our trials, but when they are self-inflicted, we must repent. The prodigal son was received by his father with great joy, but only after he came to himself and returned to his father’s house (Luke 15:11-32). On the other hand, Judas Iscariot was a legitimate disciple of Jesus, casting out demons, anointing and healing the sick, and testifying for the Lord with the other apostles (Mark 6:11-13), yet he ultimately turned his back on the Lord and betrayed Him (Mark 6:11-13; 14:10; Luke 6:16; 22:3; Matthew 26:14-16). Of him, Jesus said, “For the Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mark 14:21).
Judas is not alone in the Bible as one who turned from God, forfeiting the promise given to him. An entire generation died in the wilderness because of their failure to trust in God and obey Him. Speaking of them Paul wrote, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:11-12). With regard to those of us under the new covenant Paul additionally wrote, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (I Timothy 4:1-2). These can be numbered among those who have escaped the defilements of the world, only to become entangled in them again (II Peter 2:20-22).
So, how or why do some who have salvation in their grasp give it up? Many believe there is a God, and that Jesus is His Son, but they do not trust God to deliver His promises, much as the Israelites in the desert suffered from this form of unbelief (Hebrews 3:18-19). Others will be misled by men who twist the truth to draw them away (Acts 20:29-30). Still others will fall under the weight of tribulation or persecution (Matthew 13:20-21). However, the greatest number perhaps will suffer condemnation in a manner wholly self-inflicted— because of their own selfish desires. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (II Timothy 4:3-4). John also seemed to recognize the continual draw of the world among many in the church warning, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:15-17).
Those who continue to be tempted by the world must find a way to submit their will to that of God. Moreover, while God does not shield us from the world, He does have our back, as Paul noted, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13). For our part we must remain diligent, trusting in the Lord. Not only does He provide an escape, He provides the tools we need to overcome (II Peter 1:3-10; Ephesians 6:12-18). We also must have a determined, disciplined approach to how we live as Christians (I Corinthians 9:27). God has given us the play book, but we are the one’s responsible for properly executing it, so we must study the book and execute its commands appropriately. For those who are successful Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death” (John 8:51; Acts 10:32).
When we fail, and we will fail, we do not fall back; instead we repent, and move forward, knowing that God will forgive the penitent heart (I John 1:9; Revelation 2:5). The sincere Christian takes his own salvation and his responsibility to others seriously. He seeks wisdom and strength through the word, via prayer, in fellowship, and in action. There is no better way to become good at something than by practicing it. We have all heard the old saying “practice what you preach.” Well, for the Christian that should be a way of life. We should be doing the Lord’s work, stirring one another up to do more, worshiping and fellow-shipping together (Hebrews 10:24-25; I Corinthians 10:16).
Those who succeed in their Christian walk seek to instill the qualities of Christ in themselves, such as those mentioned by Peter (II Peter 1:5-10). He learns to let love abound toward all men (Hebrews 13:1-6). The Christian learns to deny himself for the sake of Christ (Matthew 16:24-25), sacrificing himself for others. He becomes a diligent watchman, confident in the strength he has gained in Christ (I Corinthians 16:13). And, he is sober-minded, willing to suffer for what he believes in (II Timothy 4:4-8), certain of victory.
by Roland W. Keith
Last week in our discussion of life and happiness we considered the words of the apostle Paul, who wrote, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way” (Philippians 3:13-15). We may not be able to truly forget the past in every respect, but we do not have to be one of those people who spend more time looking backwards than than they do ahead.
We can learn from the past, but we can’t change it. So, take life’s lessons and use them to move forward. That includes letting go of our tendency to judge others from a purely selfish (self-righteous) perspective, and holding on to old grudges, remembering that judgment awaits all of us, therefore it is best to get our own house in order first (Matthew 7:1-5). As Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). It is amazing how much understanding and tolerance we can gain when we take a hard look at ourselves before criticizing others. We may just discover we’re all bailing water out of the same boat, so its best to work together.
One of the stepping stones to happiness is in discovering that we all have more in common than we realize. We have all fallen short (Romans 3:23), we will all be judged (Revelation 20:12-13), we all need God’s mercy (Romans 11:32; Hebrews 4:16; I Peter 1:3; 2:10), and we can all find salvation in Jesus (Acts 4:12; Romans 1:16; I Thessalonians 5:9; Titus 2:11). It is easier to get along with others when we focus on our commonalities rather than our differences. And, it is easier to be happy with ourselves when we judge ourselves in humble regard to the teachings of Christ.
Another stepping stone to true happiness is in learning the power of positive thinking. For the Christian that begins with the word of God and the wisdom imparted there (Job 12:13; 28:12-28; I Corinthians 1:24, 30; James 1:5). When we meditate upon His word it becomes the source of enlightenment that will forever change how we view and live life. Among the scriptures are these words from Paul: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 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. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:4-9).
Peace and happiness are within our reach. Not every minute of every day. There will always be sadness and loss, pain and disappointment or regret. But for the Christian those periods can be all but washed away in the joy and contentment of knowing Jesus Christ. Even our sadness can be tinged with the understanding that our lives upon this earth are but a moment in eternity, and that peace awaits the followers of Christ on the other side of death.
Like all things worth having happiness and contentment require something of us. Paul said we needed to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, holding fast to the word of life (Philippians 2:12-16). To me the hope of salvation is the ultimate manifestation of happiness or joy. If we truly believe that all of life’s upsets can be held in the proper perspective. As Paul wrote, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
The faithful, obedient Christian is heir to the promises of God (Romans 8:14-17). We have a Spirit who intercedes for us when we are struggling, but calling on the Lord; moreover, we can rest assured that all things work for our good in a spiritual, eternal sense (Romans 8:27-29). Therefore, no matter what the world throws at us we can be at peace with ourselves and live in peace with others, so long as it is within our power (Romans 12:18). Along with Paul we can abound, no matter what the circumstances, because our happiness and joy are bound up in the promises of God, not in the pursuit of worldly things are how the world treats us. Christ and our Christian family are the source of our comfort.
This world, and this life are temporary. We are just passing through on our way to another place, as 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” (Revelation 21:1-4).
What greater source of happiness is there than to know what awaits us in eternity? Why let the world get you down? Ask, and God will not only guide you in the here and now, but He will also prepare a home for you in the hereafter. All you have to do is obey His call.
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.