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.
By Roland W. Keith
The apostle Paul wrote, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This willful state of iniquity separates us from a proper relationship with our Creator (Isaiah 59:1-2); in addition to that sin puts us into a state of condemnation. Every just, albeit imperfect, society rightly demands punishment for those who break its laws and endangers the common welfare. Therefore it can be no surprise that God, Who is perfect in His righteousness and is the author of what constitutes the absolute standard of moral, ethical and spiritual behavior commands obedience to His laws of conduct and requires justice for those who act contrary to His divine will (Romans 6:23). Fortunately for us our Creator is not a capricious or vindictive God. Rather, He is a God Who is just in His demands, yet Whose every action toward His creation is marked with infinite love and grace, as His Own Son proclaimed, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17; see also Acts 15:11; 20:32; Romans 6:14).
Since man’s fall from his original state of grace in the garden when his eyes were opened to good and evil, he has been locked in a futile struggle against himself, and his own passions and self-will on the one hand and God’s will for him on the other. Jeremiah rightly noted, “I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). Somewhere within man is that spark of the divine nature that reminds him that he was created in the image of God. As corrupted as that image has become, and as unattainable as a return to it is for man by his own actions there is still a way. Not to become righteous again on our own merit, but to be set free and accounted as righteous by the grace of God through the actions of His Son (Romans 8:20-23; John 3:16; James 1:17-18).
Jesus Christ gave His life for us. It is no accident that blood sacrifice was chosen by God as the avenue for man’s salvation. From the beginning certain sins against God and man were specifically deemed worthy of physical death. One who committed rape or premeditated murder stood in forfeiture of his own life for his crime. Sin itself brought death to all men, both physically and spiritually. Throughout our history man has innately understood this concept of justice (Hebrews 9:22). In addition, man has always understood and elevated the value of self-sacrifice. One who gives his or her own life to save others is universally praised as a hero. It is the ultimate form of agape love (love for our fellow man). God’s plan of salvation for man was tailor-made for our natural sense of justice and understanding.
By God’s law we have been found worthy of death, but His Own Son gave, that is sacrificed, His own life to save us (Ephesians 5:2; I John 1:7-9). However, from a proper perspective this goes well beyond agape love. It is one thing for a man to give his life for another man, but for God, our Creator, to send His Own Son to earth to die for our redemption is divine love. It is without merit on our part, yet God determined to do it and guided all of human history to a point in time specially prepared for Jesus to come to earth as His Messiah. As such Jesus ushered in God’s final dispensation for man’s time on earth, as Paul noted: “Therefore He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant” Hebrews 9:15).
The revealing of God’s final covenant was continued by the Holy Spirit and Christ’s apostles even after Christ’s ascension, as foretold by Jesus when He said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:12-13). It took many centuries to prepare the way for God’s Messiah, and the better part of another century to establish His final testament after His kingdom was established. These things were much anticipated in heaven and on earth (I Peter 1:10-12), but the day finally came for God’s plan to be revealed in its entirety. For his part Paul wrote, “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:1-5). In his first letter to the Corinthians he also wrote, “But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him"— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (I Corinthians 2:9-10).
What then did Jesus and the Holy Spirit reveal? First that the word delivered is truth, and that truth has the power to set men free (John 17:17; John 8:31). Second that Jesus is the way, the only way, to God and salvation (John 14:6; 8:24). Third, that the gospel of Jesus Christ “is the power of God for salvation” to all men (Romans 1:16-17; Hebrews 4:12). Fourth, that for that salvation to take effect man must first believe, then take action on that belief, that is they must be “doers of the word” (James 1:21-22). As Paul wrote to the Hebrews, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” (11:6). To be one who is truly seeking the Lord we must be engaged in His work, as James pointed out: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:17-24).
James was not writing of works according to the Law of Moses, rather he was writing about works of obedience under the law of Christ. Every Christian is expected to be involved in the work of the Lord, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10; see also Titus 2:14; 3:8, 14). Not only must we be about the work of the Lord, we must take care to do all according to His will. Jesus became the source of our salvation through His obedience to His Father, in turn we must be obedient as well (Hebrews 5:8-9), as He said, “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew7:21-23).
Although Christ came to earth and established His kingdom, opening the doors wide for all who seek to come to the Father through Him there remains a great barrier between God and man— man’s own self-will. Though the proof of God’s existent is irrefutable (Romans 1:19-25), many will deny Him. Others will acknowledge Him but be unwilling to accept God on His terms. Still others will roll the dice and gamble with their own eternal fate, hoping that there is no hell, or that God will not send them there for eternity. Paul informed the Hebrews that God had guaranteed His promises with an oath, telling them that it is “impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:17-20). If it is impossible for God to lie about the good things He has promised, it impossible for Him to lie about the fate of those who disobey Him as well (Matthew 10:28; 23:33; 25:46; II Thessalonians 1:9).
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul told his young protégé, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, Who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:3-4). Peter echoed Paul’s statement in his second letter, where he wrote, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (II Peter 3:9). God wants all men to be saved. He has given us a clear path to heaven’s gate. Not an easy path, but a true one. Not only that but He is Himself our guide. So long as we obey His word and refuse to turn to the right hand or to the left we will never be lost (Deuteronomy 5:32; Joshua 1:7; Proverbs 4:27).
In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost Peter proclaimed, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). If we come to Christ and remain faithful even “unto death,” we will receive the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).
By Roland W. Keith
Sometime after Moses had returned from the mountain with the ten commandments (for the second time), he spoke to the people concerning the need for them to trust in the Lord and to obey His commandments as they prepared to enter the promised land. During his admonition to the people he told them, “For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the LORD your God, walking in all His ways, and holding fast to Him, then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you” (Deuteronomy 11:22-23). The promises God had made to the Israelite's were great indeed, and by this point they had already witnessed the fulfillment of many of those promises firsthand— promises kept with a mighty hand done with signs and wonders and power beyond that of mortal man. Still, they were a headstrong people and, in the end, that generation was denied entry into the land of promise. Why?
To answer that question, we will first look at a few more verses from both the Old and New Testaments. The LORD told Joshua, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses My servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7). Addressing Judah’s disobedience God told them, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 1:18-20). In John 3:36 those of us who live under the new covenant are told this: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” In Hebrews 5:9 we are told, “And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” And again, in Romans 2:6-8 we read: “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.”
God has given us a simple formula or pattern to follow: Submit to His will and receive the promises He has made to all who will come to Him in obedience to His Commands, or be disobedient and not only will you be denied His good promises, you will find yourself suffering the wrath of a just God. As our Creator and the Sovereign of the created universe and all the heavens beyond God has the inalienable right to make and uphold that demand. In fact, as a holy and just God He cannot act in opposition to His Own perfect nature. If that sounds like I am imposing a restriction on God’s power I am not— that which is truly perfect cannot be other than what it is because it is all good things, in thought and action and possibilities to an infinite degree, it is by definition GOD. Such a being cannot be wrong, or he would indeed be limited and therefore no god at all. Therefore, when God makes a demand of us, we can be assured, whether we wholly understand it or not, that it is a just condition or requirement that is ultimately for our own benefit.
With our inability to comprehend all that God does, it is interesting to see, in-so-far as we can understand, the dynamics of God’s love for His creation at work in the Holy Scriptures. Among His creation in this universe He created one being in His own image— which required Him to give that being free will. That being abused his free will and rebelled against his Creator— an act which requires justice at the hands of his Creator. Yet the Creator loves this rebellious creature so much that He determined to devise a plan that will allow the creature (man) to escape his due punishment, while at the same time meeting the Creator’s requirement for justice. The answer? God Himself (specifically, the second member of the Godhead) would receive the punishment for all of mankind, so long as the offending members of mankind who are willing to come to Him in repentance and sincerely (albeit imperfectly at times) live in obedience to His commands. Not only can man escape punishment he can be accepted into the Lord’s kingdom as a fellow heir of eternal life— an eternity wherein he will be in the presence of his Creator forever.
Those who accept God’s call are not merely heirs, but become children in the house of God, as Paul explained in his letter to the Galatians: “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise” (3:25-29). This opportunity— this great gift— is offered to all men by the grace of God. Our part is to accept it in faith and live in obedience to God’s word. This faith is more than just believing there is a God. It is belief in action, whereby the believer actively seeks the God he believes in, trusting in His promises, and drawing near to Him in hope and submission, as Paul noted: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen… And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him…” (Hebrews 11:1, 6).
The truly faithful man or woman learns to trust God in all things (Matthew 6:31-34; Mark 11:22-25), and to approach Him without doubt (James 1:5-8; Hebrews 4:16). The one who turns away from sin and seeks to be a part of God’s kingdom in all earnestness will seek out God’s family to become a member of the household of saints supporting one another, as Paul wrote: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:23-26).
A true believer knows that God is able to accomplish all that He has promised. However, he also knows that God will not reward those who separate themselves from Him (Isaiah 59:1-2). The faithful Christian is confident in his life, even when times are tough, because he knows God sees and hears him and will strengthen him in times of need and will meet all requests that are asked according to His will (I John 5:14-15). He also knows that faith requires patience and dedication to the work, trusting that God will reward the diligent and steadfast servant (Hebrews: 6:10-12). As Paul wrote: “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, "Yet a little while, and the coming One will come and will not delay; but My righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him." But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:35-39).
Do you want to receive the promises of God? Then repent of your sins and come to Him in humble obedience. And once you have become a member of His kingdom never look back to the world you left behind in longing. Instead, take Peter’s advice and continually develop, add to, and hone your understanding of God’s word and the characteristics of a faithful saint: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 1:3-11).
Any one of us can be assured of God’s promises. How to receive them is no mystery, as we have seen. It only requires us to have a believing heart that looks to God and desires to please Him by doing His will. However, it is important to understand that faith does not free us from temptation or the hardships of life, rather it brings us into the fellowship of our brothers and sisters in Christ, broadens our avenue of prayer, and leads us into a relationship with God and His living word which arms us and gives us the strength to endure knowing the reward that awaits us when our brief sojourn on this earth comes to an end.
By Roland W. Keith
Every once in a while, a story appears about someone who has been pronounced clinically dead, only to be revived with a tale to tell about what they experienced on the “other side.” Usually I take those claims with a grain of salt; however, there is one such story I do take seriously. It is recorded in I Corinthians 12:2-4: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” Paul did not know if the man was transported bodily, or still in his body having a vision, or if he was having what we would today call an “out-of-body” experience. But clearly, he trusted the man’s account of what he saw.
Most of us will never have such an experience, therefore we must study such claims and determine if the eyewitness accounts are trustworthy. Does the evidence support the claimant’s story? That is, by the way, the crux of the gospel, and all of Holy scripture. We live after the events and lives of those who made the claims. Jesus once said, “"Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). We have only the written word and those who deliver it to us to rely upon (Romans 10:14). Some claim that it is a fairy tale, or worse — a hoax perpetrated to mislead the gullible. However, both of those claims fail the test. Reality is easily separated from fairy tales and hoaxes are readily exposed with facts. On the other hand the gospel and the other New Testament documents withstood the intense scrutiny and testing of Jesus and His apostles and other disciples by competent authority even to the point of persecution and death; their accounts concurrently being tested by thousands of eyewitnesses and participants in countless events all designed and providentially supported by signs and wonders and recorded as evidence to be presented to all who are willing to listen. As I have written before, if the claims set forth by Jesus and His followers had been false Christianity would never have survived the first century.
Interestingly, we find the following caution delivered to the Sanhedrin by one of its most noted members, Gamaliel, during their examination of the apostles: “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go” (Acts 5:38-40). This was sage advice. Many false Messiahs arose before and after Jesus all with the same results— their pretensions disproved and they and their followers either put to death are scattered in the winds. Only the assertions of Jesus and His followers have stood the test of time. As an old Navy Senior Chief, I would say the words of the New Testament are tried, tempered and true. So, what does Holy scripture have to tell us about Paradise?
For one thing it tells us that God’s people have long sought “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). It also tells us that in that country God has prepared a city for us to dwell in. Accordingly, Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Jesus said that He was the path to the Father (John 14:6), and that those who follow Him can rejoice in the fact that their names are written on the rolls in heaven, where the city of the living God and the tree of life await their arrival (Luke 10:20; Hebrews 12:22-23; Revelation 2:7). Peter wrote that it is a place where righteousness dwells (II Peter 3:13). Paul said it is a place beyond our imagining (I Corinthians 2:9); a place reserved not for flesh and blood but for those who have put on the eternal likeness of our Lord and Savior (I Corinthians 15:50-57; Philippians 3:20-21).
When the gates of heaven are finally opened it will be a day of unsurpassed joy for those who are in Christ and unimaginable sadness for those who have rejected Him. Jesus said, “when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29). Paul described that day to his readers: “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might, when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed” ( II Thessalonians 1:5-10). Yet, for those of us heaven-bound I believe the bitter-sweetness of that day will be eternally washed away when we enter into the presence of the LORD.
Regarding the dead and those still alive when Jesus returns Paul wrote, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:13-17). What a strange and wonderful day that will be! I am sure that even those of us who are afraid of heights will find the experience most exhilarating!
I have often thought of that day. The day of judgment. I usually picture long lines of billions of people waiting in line to be judged, but in reality, it will probably be over in the blink of an eye. The next thing a I think about is what the first day in heaven will be like, or the first week. How long will it take for everything to sink in? One thing I do believe— it will never get old. Concerning what it will be like the Bible gives us only tantalizing glimpses. In Revelation John wrote, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (21:1-5).
I am convinced by the testimony of those eyewitnesses who were inspired by God to write what they experienced and saw. Heaven is real. It is a home made ready for those who have been made righteous by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 12:22-23; Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:7). It is a place set apart for those who love the Lord and have remained faithful to Him; a habitation where the followers of Christ will be rewarded for their faithfulness, as Paul noted: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing” (II Timothy 4:7-8; Revelation 2:10; Matthew 10:22). It is a place of rest, purity and glory (Hebrews 4:9-11; Revelation 21:26-27). It is where we can spend life eternal with our Creator (Romans 6:23).
I am fortunate to have grown up in a Christian home. Yet, even with the advantage of having godly parents who set the example and an ideal childhood in a small town in West Texas, there were times in my life when I strayed away from the path I had been taught so well. I have heard it said that it is not easy being a Christian. I think it is. Jesus said His yoke was easy (Matthew 11:30). Its just that humans can find a way to make anything hard. Just look at the history of Israel in the Old Testament. Or, the history of the Lord’s church. It is estimated that there are over 39,000 denominations worldwide. Most of those have come into existence over the centuries due to disagreements among various church members or groups who wanted to do things their own way. However, Jesus said there is only one way, only one church. Agreeing to disagree or separating because we disagree is not a path to unity. Nor is it a path to salvation. Paradise exists. We have briefly reviewed why we can believe in it, what it is like, and who will be there. On that last point I have one more thing to say. Sitting in a pew on Sunday guarantees nothing. Those who will one day reside in heaven will do so by the grace of God and their obedience to His word and will. I encourage everyone to study the Bible diligently and with an open-mind, and then ask yourself one question. Not what does the preacher say, or what did my parents believe, or what does my favorite teacher say. Ask yourself this: “Am I doing what God says I must do, and am I following His prescribed commandments faithfully?”
By Roland W. Keith
For what do you hope in life? Many people around the world have no hope. They merely exist from day-to-day until they die. They live in poverty and hunger throughout their lives with little vision of a future past tomorrow, and no concern for what lies beyond the grave. While some resist the oppression of abusive or inept governments, drug lords, and persistent lack of opportunity and seek to rise above these and other restraints to their well-being many simply live in a state of hopelessness. And so, it was in the first century when Jesus came to earth. As today there was great wealth and poverty in the world. However, there was an undercurrent of hope during that period that we do not see today. Even in our western civilization which has led the world in improving the lot of mankind politically, socially and spiritually since the time of the Roman Empire (in its stricter European form) there is today an unfathomable pessimism and resistance against the freedoms and values that have led to unprecedented growth and prosperity for billions of people over the last 150 years in particular. Yet, two millennia ago men were seeking for that freedom and spiritual truth so disdained today.
God providentially set the stage for the arrival of His Messiah. Understanding that, there are many reasons why the first century AD was the right time (Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:10). The political climate, travel conditions, Common language, multicultural cities of trade, a growing desire, especially in Palestine, to throw off all forms of oppression, and a hunger for spiritual understanding. Even among the oppressed there was a growing optimism that freedom could be obtained, and that there was something more out there for man. There was hope. Moreover, for a growing number that hope centered around God, spiritual redemption and unity, and eternity, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians concerning Christ: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ
as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory” (1:7-12).
When the mystery of God’s will was revealed in Christ Jesus hope for mankind soared! God guaranteed His promise to man with an unbreakable oath (Hebrews 6:17-19). To make good on that oath and to remove all doubt as to its validity He sent His only Son to establish the final covenant of that promise and to set in motion the final work for its completion. Moreover, Jesus was able to validate His own deity and claim to be the long-awaited Messiah through the miracles and wonders that marked His ministry, as well as the work of the Holy Spirit through His apostles and other disciples, as the approved work of God (John 3:16; 21:24-25; 2:23; Matthew 12:28; Acts 3:16; 4:29-31; 9:11-12; 15:12, 18-19). Not only did Jesus prove Who He was, He ransomed His life to pay the debt of sin for all who are willing to accept Him as Savior; so when we put our faith in Him we are putting our faith and hope in God, the originator of the promise Christ fulfilled (I Peter 1:13-21). Moreover, when Jesus laid down His life for us, He further validated His claims by promising to rise from the dead, and then doing it (Matthew 17:9; 28:5-7; I Corinthians 15:3-8)!
Jesus’ resurrection is the centerpiece of our hope for eternal life as Christians, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:12-14, 18-19). The promise of eternal life is empty without the resurrection, however, we have that hope because Christ ensured He was seen by many to verify that He had come forth from the grave according to His word. Without the eyewitness testimony of the apostles and other disciples concerning Jesus’ life and resurrection, confirmed by the miracles they performed, the movement known as “the way” would have never survived the first century.
In Jesus God fulfilled His promise to Abraham that all men would be blessed through his seed (Romans 15:11-13; Ephesians 2:12-16); the great commission being a result of that promise (Matthew 28:18-20). All people everywhere can share in the blessings of God and should count it an honor if they suffer as the Lord did while awaiting their place in heaven (Romans 12:12; Romans 8:17; Philippians 1:29; I Peter 3:14, 17; 4:19). Paul rejoiced that he could suffer for the Lord in revealing the mysteries of God’s word which leads to the hope of glory (Colossians 1:24-27). It is in the revelation of that mystery that we are set free in life to seek God through His Son and receive eternal life (Galatians 5:1-6; John 14:6; 1 John 2:25). It is also in that mystery that we find that all men, Jew and Gentile, are to come together as one in Christ, as Paul revealed to the Ephesians, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (4:4-6).
There is one hope for mankind and only one avenue of grace to follow (I Peter 1:13). After he had met Jesus on the road to Damascus Paul spent the rest of his life bound up in that grace and he counted it as the supreme form of freedom (Romans 8:21; II Corinthians 3:17; Galatians 5:1; I Peter 2:16). He stood before the Sanhedrin, kings and emperors and common folks alike in defense of the hope and freedom offered by Christ (Acts 23:6; 26:6), with one desire for all, as he proclaimed to King Agrippa, “And Agrippa said to Paul, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?" And Paul said, "Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains” (Acts 26:28-29). A man bound in chains telling a king he wanted to set him free. Clearly, the apostle’s hope of true freedom was not for himself alone, but something he wanted for all men (Titus 1:1-3; Romans 9:1-3).
The apostle Paul understood that this grace he wished for all men was a kindness offered by a loving God subject to their willingness to obey Him, as he explained to Titus, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7). For his part Paul longed for the day he would escape the bounds of this earth for heaven (II Corinthians 5:1-2). We too should look forward to that day, patiently doing His work until that time (II Timothy 1:8-9; 2:15; I Peter 3:15; II Corinthians 5:20; Matthew 5:15-16).
As a final thought— we often hope for better days, for the perfect vacation, a promotion or raise, for a good report of health, for a better world, for many things. And that’s alright. But, is there anything that compares with the hope of meeting our Lord and Savior face-to-face and seeing a smile on His face as He welcomes us to our new home?
Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). If our hope is in Him, and we are His obedient disciples He has a place for us. In the book of Revelation John described it this way: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away"… And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life” (21:1-4, 22-27).
Regardless of my plight in this life it is my hope that my name is in the book of life, and it is my further hope that your name is written there, too.
By Roland W. Keith
Most of us are familiar with the story of the rich young man who sought Jesus’ counsel concerning eternal life: “And as He was setting out on His journey, a man ran up and knelt before Him and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17). If this was the only verse you knew from the story what would it tell you? To me it says that the young man was earnest in his desire, and he began by asking the right question. It also seems that his heart was in the right place. Jesus responds first by reminding him to keep the commandments, to which the young man responds, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth” (Mark 10:19-20). Matthew’s account records, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” (19:20). Some commentators have accused the man of being dishonest in his reply, yet Jesus did not challenge his claim. I believe the man was being honest. And again, he was asking the right questions. He had been doing everything he knew to do yet was concerned that he was somehow still lacking.
The Lord’s response to the young man? “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Mark 10:21). Jesus did not question the veracity of the man’s claims; in fact, His own response supports the man’s assertion. He was doing the right things, but there was still something standing in the way. His heart was not entirely in the right place after all. And that was what Jesus addressed. The youth was too attached to his worldly possessions. Mark tells us he went away sorrowful when the Lord told him to let go of his wealth (10:22). I do not know if his response would have been the same if he were twenty years older. Some people have a great desire for the material aspects of life when they are young, but that desire becomes less important as they mature (II Timothy 2:22; Ecclesiastes 12:1). However, many people find it hard to let go once they have it. Wealth gives them a false sense of security, power and superiority. The pharisee in the parable of the pharisee and tax collector is a good example. While the Sadducees made up the upper class, the Pharisees belonged to the small group we would recognize today as the middle to upper middle class. Far better educated and well off than 70% or more of the population they are often portrayed in the Bible as having a misplaced feeling of superiority. On the other hand, the tax collector would have been financially well-to-do as well but despised by Jewish society of the day. In Jesus’ story, despite his wealth, unlike the pharisee, the taxman realized he needed God’s mercy.
Remember what Jesus taught His disciples after the rich young man walked away? It’s hard to enter the kingdom of heaven, and it’s even harder for a rich person (Mark 10:23-25). However, its not impossible (Mark 10:26-27). As we grow in the wisdom of the Bible, we learn that money isn’t the only hindrance to our salvation. There is power, fame, ego (pride), etc. For those struggling with any of these stumbling blocks we can give the same advice Jesus did: let it go and follow the Lord. However, for the young man in the story, though he was disheartened and sad, he was not willing to give up his riches, not even to inherit a far greater treasure: eternal life. Why couldn’t he let go? Why are some people able to do what others cannot, or will not?
Moses had all of Egypt at his feet, in comparison, but as Paul wrote, “Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26). In some ways the problem seems to be a lack of vision or inability to assess what constitutes true value in life. For some no matter how great the reward on the horizon they are unwilling to let go of what they have in hand. Comparing the pursuit of earthly gain to godliness Paul wrote, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (I Timothy 6:6-10).
What mankind considers of great value and worthy of pursuit Solomon discovered to be otherwise. Assessing his own accomplishments and vast fortune he wrote, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). If we spend our life in pursuit of only worldly gain we are truly grasping for the wind. Eventually, everything slips away from us. As Paul noted we can’t take it with us, and as Solomon reasoned we do not even know what the next generation will do with what we have left behind (Ecclesiastes 2:17-21). Will they build upon it, squander it, appreciate it or mock it? It is not his worldly accomplishments and fortune that marks the man, rather it is his spiritual strength, as Paul noted: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (I Corinthians 1:25-29).
At the end of our lives we will not have to give an account of our land holdings or bank account or social status, but we will have to give an account of ourselves, whether we lived and died for the Lord or lived for the world (Romans 14:8-11). The things we have and the things we do are by the grace of God and should be acknowledged as such and should be guided by our desire to do what is right in the sight of God (James 4:13-17). When we live according to God’s will— that is when we put God first in our lives— we will be able to let go if it is called for. The world may not understand why we turn and walk away, they may deride us for it or even persecute us (I Peter 4:3-5, 12-13) but that should not dissuade us. They will have to give an account of themselves the same as we will. And when that day comes it will be better to stand with God in eternity than with the world whose every accomplishment will fade into non-existence leading those who reveled in them at the gates of hell.
Those of us who heed the Lord’s call turn from the world with a longing to honor God with our lives and a hope to share “in the inheritance of the saints” (Colossians 1:11-14). When the young man walked away from the Lord he was walking away from the light toward eternal darkness. Each of us will have to make the same choice. To follow the world or turn to God. To turn from the darkness to the light, from the futility of the world’s understanding to the wisdom of God. What we leave behind in the world has no lasting value, what we gain is beyond estimation. Jesus said we must be willing to leave all for Him (Luke 14:25-26; Mark 10:28-31) and even to suffer in the process; to give up the world for the love of Him and the hope of salvation. If we trust in His word and diligently seek Him, He will provide the way for us to enter His kingdom ((II Peter 1:10-11; I Peter 1:3).
Jesus said that all who would find God must do so through Him (John 14:6). In addition, He told His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:24-27). What would you give in exchange for your eternal soul? Would you give up the world and its finite treasures to ensure your own eternal well-being? The young man in the parable was not willing to do that. His priorities were misguided, and his attachments were in the wrong place.
As we ponder our life decisions in the context of our eternal welfare we should consider Paul’s words: “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:6-11).
God wants all men to be saved (John 3:16; Romans 1:16; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 5:9), nonetheless His justice must be served. For those who refuse His invitation there is condemnation due to their sins; for those who come to Him in repentance there is salvation and a place for them in His kingdom: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).
By Roland W. Keith
Today we begin with a question: If you had to choose would you choose to be condemned by the world, or would you rather be condemned by God? One form of condemnation is temporal and therefore of relatively short duration, the other condemnation is eternal, therefore it is of infinite duration. For the mind given to rational thought the only reasonable answer is to select the path that is most beneficial to our own well-being, even if it means giving up immediate benefits real or perceived to receive those of greater value and duration later on. When it comes to our ultimate fate “a bird in the hand” does not constitute good decision making.
One of the things often left out of our evangelization efforts as Christians is the need to paint a realistic picture of the Christian’s life and responsibilities for those who are considering coming to God. We tell them of the benefits without mentioning the personal costs. Of course, we want to bring all we can to faith in the LORD God and His Messiah, Jesus Christ, but it is important to let them know what it means to follow Christ. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?... So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-28, 33).
Most of us will not be called upon to give up everything for the Lord, but it is something we must be willing to do if it becomes necessary. We can place no person or thing above our love and loyalty to our Creator. So, what do those who would come to Christ need to know? First, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23; see also 3:10-12). Second, to come to God we must be righteous, but because of sin we have already fallen short and deserve death (Romans 6:16). Third, there is a way to escape punishment. Jesus Christ took our punishment upon Himself to ransom us from eternal damnation (Romans 3:25; 5:18). By faith in, and obedience to, Him we can be seen as righteous in the eyes of God (Romans 1:17; 3:22; 4:5, 13; 10:4). Fourth, which is the focus of our lesson, to be a Christian is to be at enmity with the world. While we live in the world and seek the best for it, the world will reject us, hate us, and at times even persecute us.
Jesus taught His followers that the world would hate Him and them without cause, telling them, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-25). When one comes to Christ, they should do so with a clear understanding that their life is about to change forever. What they gain as a Christian is infinitely superior to all the world has to offer, but the path they are choosing is one strewn with difficulties, placed there by Satan, and the forces he has at play in the world. As Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets” (Luke 6:22-23).
According to Peter there is no shame in being insulted or suffering for our faith, rather it is a cause to glorify God (I Peter 4:14, 16). In fact, as Paul taught by using Moses as an example, it is better to receive reproach and mistreatment in the name of Christ in the hope of His promises than to enjoy the momentary pleasures of this life (Hebrews 11:24-26). Moreover, as the Psalmist proclaimed, though the world band together to treat us unjustly, or even to put us to death, God is our eternal refuge and the punisher of those who do such evil (Psalm 94:20-23). We do not need to fear the world nor seek our own revenge for we have the promise of heaven before us and a guarantor of justice in the LORD (Proverbs 20:22; Isaiah 41: 11-13). As Paul so succinctly put it, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13:6).
It has often been said that our own mistakes and life’s hardships are our best teachers. Though there is something to be said for learning from the mistakes of others, it is an undeniable truth that the lessons we learn in the school of hard knocks tend to stick with us. Paul understood the value of keeping a positive attitude, remaining at peace, and using our difficulties to learn from and to grow stronger in our faith, telling the Romans, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (5:1-5).
Paul once reminded Timothy that all who live a godly life will be persecuted, but by remaining firm in their faith, following the example of godly men, and turning to the Holy Scriptures to complete us we will not only endure but we will succeed in every work that He gives us (II Timothy 3:10-17). It is to be known then that our success will come against opposition. There is no clear path to the goal line. And while we can follow the example of godly men, there is no greater example than the Lord Himself, as Peter wrote, “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:19-24).
Christ is the great example for our lives. What He endured for us we can endure for Him because He is with us to strengthen and guide us. When we stand firm for Christ though suffering, when we defend our faith in Him emulating His patience and gentleness in the face of rejection and hatred, when we suffer for the good that we do, when we honor Him in overcoming adversity, we can do so without fear, knowing that He is with us no matter what the world does to us (I Peter 3:14-18). If we have the love of Christ, we can endure all things for His name’s sake (I Corinthians 13:7), and if we are willing to stick it out to the end, we have the promise of salvation (Mark 13:13).
At the beginning I asked a question: Would you rather face the condemnation of the world or of God? Think about the consequences of living for the world as opposed to living for God. Not just in terms of condemnation, but in terms of promises gained as well. What do you stand to gain and what do you lose in both cases? Try to go beyond immediate enticements to see the lasting consequences of your decision. Someone once said, “The heart wants what the heart wants.” But, that doesn’t mean that what the heart wants is best for us. Many a person has wanted and pursued the wrong things in life. So, be logical and rational. Add up the pros and cons. What does the world have to offer in comparison to what God offers? Logic leads to only one rational decision. Is it the one you have made, in thoughts and deeds?
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10).
By Roland W. Keith
Contentment for the non-Christian and the Christian may be the same in some ways, but in many ways it is different. We may find contentment in life because we are not overly ambitious and are satisfied with our lot in life or because we simply don’t need much to be happy. However, in our society such acceptance of our condition is hard to achieve for many since we are taught to be ambitious and to want more in life. In fact, the striving for worldly gain is an age-old ambition of man. Solomon wrote, “Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man” (Proverbs 27:20). Throughout history the gaining of wealth, power, fame, and prestige have been honored and expected goals. To be satisfied with less or contented with our position in life is frowned upon as lacking ambition or motivation. True, to be the best we can be should be a goal for all of us. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to strive to have all we can have or gain all we can gain. In the Christian sense it means to be the best we can be, the most Christ-like we can be, in every situation. It also means distinguishing between spiritual gain and that which is temporal.
These two things — the temporal and the spiritual— are not mutually exclusive, but they are more often than not at odds with one another. It is a difficult balancing act, since in almost every case a person who is drawn toward the one is pulled away from the other. As Paul wrote, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:1-8).
The apostle Paul was born into a prominent family, wealthy and influential enough to have their son seated at the feet of the nation’s foremost teacher and member of the Great Sanhedrin, Gamaliel. He was known by members of that council and trusted enough to receive letters of commission from them to round up Christians, against whom he cast his vote in capital cases when they were put to death. This means he may well have been a member of one of the lesser Sanhedrin’s, a rising star in their political/religious world. When you put all these things together Paul had a lot to lose in becoming a Christian. Yet, he did give everything up, separating himself to such an extent that years later when he himself was brought before the council he did not even recognize the current high priest (Acts 23:2-5).
With regard to what he had given up Paul told the Philippians, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 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 3:7-8). What would make a young man of prominence turn his back on all that he knew and had? Paul looked forward to the spiritual and heavenly promises of the Lord and traded all he had in the world for those things, telling the Romans, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). From the time of his conversion onward in his life Paul found contentment in his service to the Lord, without regard for the worldly comforts he was used to, writing, “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).
He learned to discipline his mind and body and to accept his circumstances as a temporary condition on his way to a place of love and perfection (I Corinthians 9:25-27; II Corinthians 5:2; II Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 12:22). In his mind he cultivated the wisdom of Christ, taking his concerns to the LORD in prayer (Philippians 4:4-7), and he passed that wisdom on, writing, “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 4:8-9). Paul’s words and actions reflected the teachings of Jesus: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
Jesus also taught, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?... But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:25-27, 33-34). God will provide; whether it is feast or famine, God will give us what we need for our spiritual well-being. What He gives you may not be what He gives me because we all have different needs, but He will be there for us if we have faith. However, it is important to understand that our spiritual growth and accomplishments always come before that which is physical, as Paul noted, writing, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (I Timothy 6:6-7).
Paul had learned to focus on what was important— his spiritual wealth— and to avoid the temptations of the world, particularly the lure of money (I Timothy 6:8-10). He looked ahead to his inheritance as a child of God (Romans 8:16-17), knowing that no matter what his fate was in this life all was according to the will of God and worked in life for his good (Romans 8:27-28). We too can find the contentment Paul had if we trust in the Lord. If we put our faith in Him our sufficiency in life will come from Him (II Corinthians 3:4-5). The Psalmist wrote, “The LORD is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works. The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth” (Psalm 145:17-18).
True contentment comes to those who call on the Lord, trust in Him to guide their path in this life, put spiritual health and wealth ahead of the physical world, take responsibility for their own lives, living it according to the Lord’s word, and are willing to set aside worldly treasure hunting for the true treasure that is in Christ Jesus.
By Roland W. Keith
According to the dictionary mind is: “the element or complex elements in an individual that feels, perceives, thinks, wills, and especially reasons.” As a Christian concerned with the existence and effects of good and evil, I am most concerned with the last three elements of this definition. What one thinks. What one wills. And, how one reasons. Is our view of good or evil a construct or concept of our own mind? Do we “will” certain things to be true because of personal feelings on a matter? Or, do we use facts and logic to come to a reasoned understanding (truth)? In some religions and philosophies if you define what is good then evil ceases to exist, or neither exists. There are only shades of behavior— some more beneficial and desirable, some more detrimental and less desirable. In these views good or evil are simply judgments made and are defined only by the one doing the judging. What you may determine to be acceptable behavior, I may judge to be wrong, and vice versa. An example of this sort of reasoning is on full display in our society today in the disagreement on abortion. I say disagreement and not debate because we cannot debate someone who has willfully determined that abortion is acceptable and has thrown scientific fact, spiritual discernment, and reason out the window.
As a Christian I accept what science has actually proven. I do not have to accept scientific speculation as fact or the opinion of someone simply because they are a scientist. Less so am I compelled to conform to social mores that are contrary to God’s word. In fact, all true knowledge, whether it is scientific or not, begins and ends with God. Paul wrote, “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him?” (I Corinthians 2:16). We have much to learn from God, but nothing we can inform Him of. Nor do we have the right to change or override His word or will. Good and evil do exist because God says they do: “Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:22. Ultimately, sin is born of pride and self-seeking which drives men to deny or turn their backs on God (Proverbs 8:13; Romans 2:8-9; II Chronicles 29:6; Isaiah 32:6; John 3:18-20). On the one hand we have the will of God and on the other the mind and free will of man.
In Deuteronomy 30:15-18 Moses told the Israelites, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in His ways, and by keeping His commandments and His statutes and His rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you… But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish.” Good and evil, spiritual life and death are things we choose for ourselves of our own free will. Jesus asked a group of scribes, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” (Matthew 9:4). They were not born with evil in their hearts— their thoughts were their own. Nor are we born evil. We are born with free will into a world that is drowning in sin— our propensities for good and evil are at war with one another, which of the two we choose is up to us.
Paul, who was well acquainted with the will of man, wrote, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19). There is an old Cherokee parable about a man teaching his grandson about life: “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
When we seek the good, we bring forth what is good and when we seek evil, we produce evil (Matthew 12:35). Whether we are talking about an individual or an entire society we become what we seek. And, for those who know to do good and do not do it, or who allow evil to go unchallenged, it is sin (James 4:17). If we do not seek the Lord, or convince ourselves that the ways of the world are not so bad then gradually we will become one with the world and our thoughts and actions will reflect that (II Chronicles 12:14; Genesis 6:5; Romans 1:30; Mark 7:21, 23). If we want to overcome or change the world, we must do good (Romans 12:9, 21; Deuteronomy 12:28). As Paul attested it is not always easy, but if we are diligent seekers of truth and focus on the Lord’s guidance we will succeed. Solomon once wrote, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life… Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil” (Proverbs 4:23, 26-27).
All most every generation has bemoaned the perils of the times. This is because Satan and sin are ever present in the world. The devil is tirelessly seeking to deceive the world, including God’s elect (II Corinthians 11:4). As Paul noted the world has been blinded to the truth (II Corinthians 4:3, 4), and the people have become “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:18). Those whose minds are still open to the truth and have had their spirits renewed by the secret wisdom of God are the fortunate ones (Ephesians 4:17-24; I Corinthians 2:6-7, 13). Such were each of us who bear the name of Christ. As such we should come together in prayer and fellowship to achieve greater wisdom for ourselves and one another; with due concern for our Christian growth, we should be actively safeguarding our salvation with all vigilance (James 1:5; Ephesians 1:16-17; Philippians 2:12; Colossians 2:2-3).
When our minds are centered on Christ and we remain bound together Satan cannot defeat us. To the Colossians Paul wrote, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (3:1-4). If we refuse to be conformed to the world and seek God’s council, He will guard our hearts and minds and together we can and will overcome the world (Romans 12:1; Ephesians 4:22-25; Philippians 4:5-7). Chances are, if you have been a member of the church for very long, you have heard someone proclaim that we are not citizens of this world, merely sojourners passing through. There is much to be said for that mindset. It helps us to put our fleshly existence into perspective with our spiritual nature. Paul wrote, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him” (Romans 8:5-9).
Those who belong to the Lord do not live outside the world, so long as we are in the flesh, we just don’t live for worldly things (Matthew 6:21). We look outside ourselves for the true treasure of life and in so doing find ourselves concerned with the spiritual welfare of others as well (Philippians 2:4). Since we cannot conform to the world and the world hates those who refuse to submit to it, we find ourselves at war with its god. As soon as our mind grasps the possibilities the gospel offers us, we find it in peril. The world will entice us, berate us, threaten us, condemn us, even seek to destroy us if we take a stand for Christ. Even as sin wages a war for our minds (Romans 7:23), Satan, through the world, devises plans to devour our very souls (I Peter 5:8). Nonetheless, so long as we trust in the Lord Satan’s efforts are in vain. We have all the necessary tools and weapons that we need to defeat him.
Paul encouraged the Ephesians with these words: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13). We too can stand firm against the perils that confront our minds, bodies, and souls. We can do so by our faith in Jesus Christ. In him we are more than a match for Satan and the world. For those who remain true to Christ and do God’s will Christ says, “come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29).
By Roland W. Keith
The gospel is called the word of life for at least two reasons— (1) It contains all we need to know to be granted eternal life in heaven (Ephesians 1:13), and (2) It is the springboard into the further teachings of Jesus Christ, the giver of that life.
Our Savior said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). In Mark, Jesus’ command was recorded as, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (16:15-16).
Jesus’ commanded His followers to spread the word. They were to proclaim the gospel, but more than that, they were instructed to teach all that He had commanded them, which would also include all that He would impart to them through the Holy Spirit after His ascension.
After an angel of the Lord freed them from prison, the apostles were instructed to “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life” (Acts 5:20). They were being directed to fulfill the mandate given to them by the Lord, even in adversity. Years later Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). He would also tell the Romans, “For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of Whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? … So, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (10:13-14, 17).
The word of life will enable those who hear, believe, and act on the word to walk on a new path in life, one with promises for the here and now, and beyond into eternity (Romans 6:3-4; 1:17; I Timothy 4:6-8). Jesus likened the person who accepts and obeys His word to a wise man, and the one who rejected His word to a foolish man (Matthew 7:24-29). It has been said that if there is no God the man who believes and obeys the word of God has still made his life better for his faith, and in the end loses nothing; but, if there is a God the one who rejects His word loses everything. That would be foolish and sad indeed.
For those of us who do believe we are to stand up for the “faith of the gospel” “in one spirit, with one mind” (Philippians 1:27). We have a responsibility to uphold the word, not only in our hearts, but in our actions (Matthew 5:14-16). Paul was astonished to hear that the Galatians were being so easily led away from the truth and exhorted them to hold to the faith (Galatians 1:6-9; Ch.s 3-5). The necessity of holding to the word was also made clear to the Corinthians when Paul wrote, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain (I Corinthians 15:1-2).
Such exhortation comes with the knowledge that we will be persecuted for our faith (II Timothy 3:12; John 15:18-20). When it happens, we must hold our heads up and demonstrate our faith and pride in our Lord (Mark 8:34, 38; Acts 5:41). Moreover, we must be willing to expose works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11), remembering that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).
At one point in our lives we all walked according to the world in varying degrees (Ephesians 2:1-3). We have all walked contrary to God’s will, at times perhaps even after we have put on the name of Christ, yet God has determined to save us if we will walk with His Son (John 3:16; Romans 3:23-26; James 1:18). We can be saved if we live by the word of life. We can be born again, as Peter wrote, “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; for "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." And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (I Peter 1:22-25).
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.