Just a cup of cold water

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cup-of-cold-water

A cup of cold water . . .

How could such a small thing as a cup of cold water make a difference to God?
As was stated in the previous post the Lord has shown through scripture that the subject of rewards is very important.  For this reason no rewards offered or promised by God should be despised even if the reward comes as a result of giving a cup of cold water.

The subject of rewards in the New Testament is positively taught in 43 instances in 16 New Testament books.  Jesus spoke on the subject no less than 16 times and other New Testament writers (Paul, Peter, John, and the writer of Hebrews) spoke 27 times on the subject.

Mankind has always been geared towards rewards.  If we are completely honest, all of us can identify with the desire to be rewarded.  At the same time we need to be careful to not confuse the sanctification of this desire with the repression of it.  God has placed desires within each one of us and we need to recognize that the first sin of mankind was committed through the perversion of this desire.  Religion seeks to repress legitimate desires while redemption in Christ seeks to lead us into the sanctification of each and every one of our human desires.  Let us observe just what Jesus said about rewards.

In Matthew’s gospel chapter five verse twelve Jesus summed up the conclusion that those who suffer for the name of Christ should be glad.

“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus exhorts those who suffer for the sake of the Gospel to rejoice and be glad because of their suffering and He sites two motives.  This is important!  Jesus knew what was in man.  He being God, knew the make-up of those that He created.  Jesus could have very easily exhorted those who suffer for the sake of His name without making any reference to any reward.  He could have just said:  “Yes, you will suffer, yes it will be difficult, but I am worth it.  Prove your love for me by submitting to the suffering that comes your way because of me.”  He could have spoken in such a manner and there would be no fault in doing so.  But my point is that He didn’t do that.  He said rejoice and be exceeding glad.  Luke adds “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven”. He mentioned two things to explain themotive for the rejoicing.  The first: great is your reward in heaven.  If Jesus Christ the Son of God listed reward as motivation for suffering because of His name, who are we to condemn such motivation?  Jesus said great is your reward in heaven.  When Jesus says something is great we should recognize that there is what I consider great and what you consider great and then there is what Christ considers great.  Great according to Christ, must be unimaginably great as far as our imagination can go.  Eye hath not seen nor ear hath heard the things that the Lord has prepared for us.  When Christ says to rejoice and be exceeding glad because great is our reward in Heaven, I say “Praise God for His unspeakable reward”.  In the very next phrase Jesus gave another reason to rejoice and be exceeding glad: “for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you”.  Christ is exhorting all those who suffer for the sake of the Gospel because they will be recognized together with the prophets.  In effect Christ is saying that there will be great reward and great recognition.  Once again, Christ didn’t even mention that a motive for suffering for His sake was the privilege of suffering in His name, instead He mentioned a great reward and a great recognition in Heaven.  Even Christ Himself didn’t suffer only for the sake of suffering, nor even only to obey God, for we read in Hebrews 12:2 “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Christ went through the ordeal of the cross because of the joy that was set before Him: the reward for His sacrifice.  What was His reward?  You and me, and all those who have accepted His redemptive work, not to mention that in Philippians chapter two Paul mentioned that after “he humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.  God also highly exalted Him, and gave Him a name which is above every name.”  Even Christ received reward for doing the will of the Father.  Rewards are of God!

Later in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus continued speaking about rewards: In Matthew 5:46  He said:

For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

Previously in verse 43  He reminded the disciples that He was addressing that which they had been taught that they should love their neighbor, and hate their enemy.  Then He told them in verse 44

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,”

And why should they do this?  He continued in verse 45:

“that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

These are at first glance curious words.  That ye may be the children of your Father?  Can you imagine someone telling you to do something so that you may be the child of your father?  If you have a father, you are already his child.  Or does a child have to do something to be considered a child of his father?  Taken with the next phrase about the Heavenly Father making the sun to rise and sending rain on the just and the unjust we can learn that Jesus is telling His disciples that the reward for loving our enemies is that we will take on the likeness of our Heavenly Father and will be recognized as such by God the Father.  In John 1:12 the apostle stated that as many as received Him, to them He gave power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.  It is interesting to note that all those who have received Christ have been given power (ability) to become sons of God, but it doesn’t say that they automatically become the sons of God, but in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us how we can become the children of our Father in heaven: by loving our enemies.  This is a promise of recognition as being sons of God, in His likeness.  Not all sons are recognized as being in the likeness of their father.

In Matthew chapter six Christ taught about reward for giving alms.  He said:

“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.

Why do some people give alms and make it a point that others notice what they are doing?  The answer is so that they receive the glory of men.  The motive is recognition.  Jesus didn’t exactly even condemn this motive. He merely pointed out that it is a relatively small reward.  Then He explained how to give alms so that the Father would reward them openly before men.  The implication is that the reward is much greater when we give alms as God prescribes.  It is notable that the motive that Jesus sought to promote wasn’t even for the sake of the poor but for the giver to receive an open reward at a later time for giving alms so as not to be seen at the time they were offered.  It almost seems that Christ wasn’t concerned about noble motives but selfish ones, albeit patient and longsuffering selfish motives.  I believe this was done not to discourage noble motives, noble motives are part and parcel of our new nature, but the reality is that God recognizes that they aren’t strong enough to be our only motivation.  If God had to wait for our noblest motives to move us to get His work done, His purposes would be slowed down even more than they are now.  God is gracious enough to meet us at the level of motivation that will move us to accomplish His will at a quicker and more energetic pace, for the love of those who we may reach while we work for our rewards.  Let’s face it, if we are honest with ourselves even in light of rewards, we move too slowly. We must recognize there is much land that we must yet conquer for the Kingdom of God and the “days are evil”. Therefore we should make the most of each opportunity that the Lord places before us.

Prayer and fasting are also activities that have the promise of reward.  Once again it is Jesus Christ who offers a reward for those who pray and fast according to His direction.

“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.  But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.  But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,  so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”

Once again Christ contrasts the small reward of the religious hypocrite and the recognition that such a person receives with the greater and public reward for those who  pray and fast as Christ taught.  That isn’t even including the answer to prayer that we are promised to receive when we pray according to God’s will.

So precious is this principle of rewards that Christ even mentioned rewards for “small favors” done to His servants.  In Matthew chapter 10:41,42

“He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.  And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”

After reading His words we can begin to see what Jesus said about rewards. He taught that even a cup of cold water is sufficient to bring a reward!  This speaks volumes of how we should see life.  Each day we have the opportunity to express the love and grace of God and “be a blessing” to someone.  Just the privilege of blessing others is a reward, so much the more knowing that God pays attention to each act of kindness we show in His name.


Rewards in heaven . . . Who needs em then?”

Rewards in heaven . . . Who needs em then?”
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rewards-in-heavenDoes God promise rewards in heaven?

“Rewards in heaven?  Who needs rewards in heaven? I will thrilled just to be able to go to heaven! Give me the smallest mansion in heaven any day!” I would imagine that the above sentiment expresses what many Christians today feel concerning spiritual rewards.   Just what do you know about spiritual rewards?  There isn’t a whole lot of information out there concerning this subject.  Yet Jesus Christ himself spoke considerably on the subject.

Consider how the Lord rewarded His faithful servants in the parable of the talents in Matthew 15.  What a joy it is when God rewards us!  What a joy it is when God approves us!  Do not allow yourself to think that the approval of God is a small thing.  I personally believe that God made us all with a craving for approval, for attention.  We did not get that from Satan, although his thirst for glory and recognition was the driving force that motivated him to desire the position of God and got him kicked out of heaven.  This “bent” for approval and recognition can lead us far from God but it can also draw us near to Him if we value His recognition above that of all others.

I can see in my two sons how they have responded to my recognition through the years.  My firstborn is quite a musician.  He took music lessons as a small boy, learned music theory on the piano, and from there took a few guitar lessons and taught himself how to play the most difficult guitar riffs in modern music today.  Whenever he learned something new, he would always want to show my wife and me how he mastered part of a solo.  Of course, we always gave him a healthy dose of recognition and together with the recognition of his friends and admirers he went on to learn how to play, the base guitar, keyboard, drums, violin, saxophone and the flute.

My youngest son today has distinguished himself as bible teacher.  His mother and I gave him approval at a very young age but he assimilated our approval as just being considerate and kind parents.  Today because he has advanced and gained recognition from others, he has grown much more.

Approval is powerful!  On the other hand, we can argue that reproof is the worst thing that a person could go through short of going to hell. History and research have shown us that reproof and lack of approval is fatal to the human soul.  Therefore, the reward for the faithful is approval of God: hearing His voice bragging on us is the sweetest music in the universe.  Christians, who find this argument overly sentimental and even carnal in emphasizing of the value of God’s approval of His children, should examine themselves and consider that they may have some deficiencies in their own self-identity.  Let’s face it; a healthy self-identity is a gift of God.  A troubled and overly exalted or overly despised self-image is the scourge of servitude to Satan.  If receiving human approval is a joy to our children, imagine the effect of receiving praise from the mouth of God will have upon them.

Just think what that day will be like!  Imagine entering through the gates of glory and contemplating a countless multitude of saints.  Suddenly you hear your name, and the Lord publicly declares “Welcome, good and faithful servant!” That would be a marvelous situation wouldn’t it?  I don’t know about you but I want to hear that from my Lord, I want Him to approve me!  I have learned to live with the desire for His recognition as one of His faithful servants.  In case you feel inclined to judge me as being driven by “man-centered” motivation as opposed to God centered, let me just remind you that it is God who has made these promises.  We should not despise them!

With all due respect to my dear brothers who interpret Christian humility as if it were the attitude that we should just forget about ourselves and strive to be expressionless nobodies so that the Lord can be exalted on High.  Listen, the Lord can hold His own among those of His children and servants who know who they are in Christ!  I am not diminishing the need to exalt the Lord, but emphasizing the need to recognize that He is exalted through what He is able to do through you and me!  It is ridiculous to imagine that someday the Lord will publicly approve someone who is stuck on themselves and hungry for glory.  Yet hunger for the approval of God is the most biblical motivation out there.

I hunger for His approval because I love Him, Just as I hungered for my father’s approval because I loved him and my sons hunger for my approval because they love me.   I have come to recognize that I have received a talent from the Lord, and for that reason, I am inexcusable.  My goal is to be available to God and to have a heart to multiply these talents, obeying God’s call on my life so that on that day He approves me to reign with Christ through the entire thousand years of His reign.

Rewards are precious and they are not reserved for heaven. There well may be rewards in heaven but the rewards that Christ spoke of are separate from our salvation and tied to our Christian service.


Predestination and salvation

predestination

Predestination – no afterthought

Predestination determines that the salvation that God offers was not an afterthought, but a purposeful, planned act.

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.   Romans 8:29-30

When God saved us He also justified us, however God knew us way before that, our justification came much later. This passage in Romans is a chain of which the first link is His foreknowledge. The second link is our predestination. The third, is our calling and the fourth is our justification finally the fifth being our glorification.  We think that we knew God when we were justified, but God already knew us.  In addition, those that God knew, He marked. He marked us to be identical to Jesus.  He is not content to have just one son, but desires that we all become sons in the image of His first begotten Son Jesus.

The meaning of predestination

Predestination means that our history with God began way before the day of our conversion when we were justified, but began in God’s presence in eternity past.  If we could lose our salvation, it would be a matter of God’s omniscience.  If He knew that at one point that He would save us, how could we not be saved at a later point?

God cannot change our justification without affecting His foreknowledge, predestination and calling.  God is the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega (Revelation 22:13).  We begin things and we try to finish them, but we do not always succeed.  God however is not like us: He finishes what He begins.  The work that God begins will not stop midway.  Salvation is a work of God, not a human work.  God saved us He will complete the work He began in us.

. . . being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; Philippians 1:6

If salvation could stop halfway in our lives that would mean that God declined to finish what He began.  Either He stopped it or man stopped it.  Either way God’s character would make this impossible. He began His work of salvation in us in the foreknowledge that in predestination He would perform it to completion and lead us to glorification.

I believe that we can affirm that our salvation is eternally secure because it is a predestined work of God.  If it depended on us, we would fail, but just as God was responsible for beginning the work, He is also responsible for preserving it.

In Philippians 1:6, Paul is confident (completely convinced in his spirit) that God would complete or fulfill the work (that work, which we will yet define and examine) which He had begun in the Philippian believers.

We can safely deduce that God’s work of predestination began in general in these believers even before they were born, and then more explicitly upon their conversion.  What may not be so clear to all is when He will complete it.

I used to think that the time that God works in our lives was limited to the time that we are living here on earth in this present age.  I have even preached this verse accordingly several times.  Thus, I rendered the phrase “until the day of Jesus Christ” as meaning until the end of life on this earth which most likely would be before the day of Jesus Christ.  In other words, God will finish what He began by the end of your life.  That sounds wonderful and comforting but neither reflects the historical narrative of scripture nor common experience.  Most all Christians know of at least one deceased believing brother or sister in whose life here on earth God had not finished His work.  There are countless examples of people who started well in their walk with Christ but fell away and by the end of their lives could hardly be identified by fruit in their experience as true Christians much less as someone within whom the work of God has been completed and fulfilled.

The Philippians had not begun this work, God had.  Paul based his assurance that God would fulfill and complete this work on his confidence that whatever God starts, He also finishes.  God is perfect and there is no reason why He would begin such a work only to latter abandon it.  He has infinite power to complete it.  No enemy could overcome His purpose. No difficulty could prevent Him from completing His good work. Not to do so would go against His very character and it is unthinkable to consider that He will not complete everything that He has initiated. No, God abandons nothing good that He undertakes.  While He does meet out discipline from time to time and effect course corrections, He always follows through with what He has purposed.

Implications of predestination

God has left no un-finished worlds or solar systems. There are no half-made and forsaken works of His hands. There is no evidence in His works of creation of any change of plan, or of having forsaken what He began from disgust, or disappointment, or lack of power to complete what He started. How then could there be such evidence concerning His work in the human heart? If God indeed began a work, any work, in a person then according to this text and the spirit of all scripture He will finish and complete what He has predestined.

O.k. so, when did God ever do this, and what does His completed work look like in the life of one of His children?  As stated above God planned us in eternity past when He foreknew us, the Apostle Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit calls us His workmanship.  There are ample examples throughout the Scriptures that show us that God prepares each one of His children that He foreknew and predestined them to be conformed to the image of His Son.  God is great enough to leave no detail to chance.  God somehow divinely chooses and puts together through the free will of each generation the people and circumstances so that each child of God is born into the world to the parents and in the location and circumstances that He has predetermined.  God began His work in us before even before our parents conceived us.  Even before conversion, God has planned and ordained our life circumstances to play part of the mosaic that contributes toward His purposes.  God began His work in each of His children before they took on an earthly body and one day He will finish this work of predestination.

There are many examples of this in the Word but the most classic is Jacob.  Jacob apparently started out all wrong.  Even at birth, he was trying to usurp his brother’s rightful place as firstborn.  Jacob was a lying, conniving, manipulative soul who for some strange and wonderful reason became one of the most used men of God.  At the end of his life, marked by the discipline of many years he grew and matured into the noble man of God called Israel.  What a contrast with what he was in the beginning.  The presence of this patriarch who had wrestled with God and obtained His blessing impressed even Pharaoh, king of the most powerful nation on earth at the time.

We can safely say that God finished the work that He began in Jacob’s life.  He is one of the heroes of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11.  God taught him a thing or two about spiritual vision, for so many years he wandered through life’s desert not understanding what God was doing in his life.  But at the end when he prophesied over his sons and his son Joseph saw that he placed his right hand on Ephraim instead of Manasseh the firstborn, when he tried to correct him, his father said that he knew who was who, but that the younger would be greater than the firstborn.

However, just as we have examples of men and women who saw the work of God fulfilled in their lives we also have examples of those who apparently did not see the work of God completed in their time here on earth.  Are we to conclude that this host of imperfect and admittedly fallible men and women were eternally lost?  What of Esau, he was a carnal man but had more character than Jacob once had.  Saul worried about his image and never learned how to follow his spiritual leader but he did not involve himself in scandalous sins like those that David did (lying, adultery, murder).  We can also cite the example of Ananias and Sapphira.  God Himself cut their lives short.  Are we to understand that because they lied to the Holy Spirit about the price of their offering that they lost their salvation or that God never began a work in their lives?  I shudder to think that someone could be eternally lost because of one act of dishonesty or hypocrisy.

Opportunity of predestination

What about you dear reader, what has yet to be fulfilled in your life?  If you died today, could you say that God finished the work that He began in your life?  Unless you recognize that God has feats for you to conquer through your faith, quite realistically you will not accomplish much of any eternal worth before your time comes to leave this world.  Then how will God have completed His work in you?

To answer this question, consider three possibilities:  First, God never started a work in you.  Second, He started it and then gave up, or third, He started it and will finish it before the day of Jesus Christ.

I believe that we can boldly affirm that what God begins in His predestination, He finishes.  Your challenge is to cooperate with Him now so that He can conclude His work before you leave this life.  Otherwise, you will suffer lost at the judgment seat of Christ.  Then by the end of the Millennium, He will have completed His work in your life, but it will not be a very pleasant experience.

Gift of Salvation

gift-of-salvationThe gift of salvation is not a wage for good works

The gift of Salvation is just that, a gift, not payment for good works. Our own merits and works have nothing to do with God’s gift of salvation by grace.

Since salvation is a gift from God by grace, then, we can never be debtors before God in relation to this free gift of salvation after having received the gift.  If I show grace to someone, I cannot wait for any repayment.  If I give a gift to someone and have any thought of them repaying me, or of reclaiming the gift, then it would be a loan and not a gift and thus not grace.

If God gives us the gift of salvation with the hope of later receiving from us any good work, even the works of faith, then it would not be a gift of grace.  Whatever is given by grace cannot be repaid.  The bible clearly states that salvation is a gift or present of God.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.   Romans 6:23

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Death here means primarily spiritual death.  Death is payment for something earned.  Spiritual death is the payment for the works of sin.  The justice of God determines that the unbelieving sinner be paid his wages.  But the Grace of God determines that the sinner who believes that Christ took upon Himself the sin of all mankind and received the just payment for mankind’s sin doesn’t have to collect the wages of sin and is free to accept the gift of God of eternal life.  Watchman Nee once said that eternal life is not payment for anything.  Faith is not a wage that we can pay to deserve eternal life.  If faith were wages for the gift of salvation then eternal life would not be a gift.

Notice that Romans 6:23 contrasts wages with gift.  Paul did not teach that the wages of sin is death and the wages of faith is eternal life.  The gift of God is eternal life; therefore, it is not possible to lose an eternal life that God gave by grace.  God doesn’t give us something to later ask for it back, or to later take it back because we didn’t meet certain conditions.   We can collect a loan, but we cannot reclaim something we give by grace.  If God gave us eternal life by grace, then He cannot reclaim it.  Therefore, we can never lose our gift of salvation or our eternal life.

God is eternal and unchangeable.  Once He gives us something, He never asks for it back.  God never asks to borrow anything from us, nor does He loan anything.  He just gives, and expects us to give as well.  God did not give us eternal life to “buy” our devotion to Him.  If we do not freely “give” ourselves as holy sacrifices, even though we were created by Him, and bought by Him, and we are by right His property, He will not take by force that which is rightfully His.  He asks us to give ourselves, as sacrifices.  A sacrifice is given.

The gift of salvation is based on grace through faith

God saved us because of His love.  This is clear from John 3:16

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

If when we were sinners God loved us to the point of giving us the life of His Son, could it be possible for God to reject someone after conversion that becomes weak or inconsistent?  The love of God does not change and neither does His grace.

There is no change in the love with which God loves man.  If the possibility of a believer losing his gift of salvation existed then there would be the possibility of a change in God.  By God’s own definition of Himself that is not possible.

The giver is more important than the gift of salvation

When God gave His own Son as our savior, we need to recognize that He gave that which is more important than eternal life (His own Son).

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?  Romans 8:32

For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.   Romans 5:10 

If God wished to freely give us His Son to pay the price of our sins while we were still His enemies, would He think of denying us eternal life at some later point based on our performance or lack of it?  Since God was willing to give eternal life to those who were formerly His enemies, would He not even be more willing to preserve the eternal life of His own begotten sons?  Are we to believe that keeping our eternal life is more difficult than receiving it in the first place?  Or does this God of grace seek to save the sinner only to continue to threaten him with the weight of all his responsibilities to maintain this wonderful gift of salvation that he supposedly received freely by grace?

Imagine for a moment if God said to you and to each person who comes to Him to receive the gift of salvation: “O.K. now I saved you, now don’t blow it, you don’t have an unlimited number of chances for error.  Most people will never make it all the way to heaven but I have given you a chance.  You may never know at any point if you will make all the way, so do not lose faith.  Otherwise things could be even worse than before.”  Just think how your kids would turn out if you raised them that way.

Once God gave His only begotten Son how could He deny us our gift of salvation?  The gift of salvation is nothing compared to the value of the Son of God.

God gave us His Son and gave us the gift of salvation, if He does not reclaim His Son why would He reclaim the gift of salvation?  Therefore, according to the grace and love of God it is impossible to lose our free gift of salvation.


The Will of the Father

will-of-the-fatherDoing the will of the father

Doing the will of the father is the key to entering into the kingdom of heaven according to Jesus. In Matthew 7:21 Jesus stated “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”

Who can honestly say at any, and I mean any moment, that he or she is doing the will of the Father?  Many of those who claim to be Christians do not even have much of an idea of what God’s will is.  Doing the will of the Father implies knowing what the will of the Father is.

What is the will of the father? . . . Well, how about “being holy as He is holy”, that is His will, right?  Ask yourself this question: “Are you as holy as God?”  That is what He requires. What about God not being willing that any should perish but that all repent?  How shall they hear unless you or I preach?  What about you, are you a preacher of the Gospel?  Do you obey the great commission?  Do you love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind?  I said, with all your heart, soul and mind.  . . . No?  Yet that is what God commands.

How can any of us enter into the kingdom of heaven with these kinds of requirements?  You may argue that of course God does not expect us to be perfect.  I agree, although He does command us to be perfect.  So now, we have a dilemma.  How much perfection is enough?  How good is good enough?

If we rightly say that God does not look at our own righteousness or works for our salvation, but those of Christ, we should then admit that our salvation would not be lost, based on our performance if God looks at Christ’s works and not ours.  Because if we do not, then we must admit that at some point God no longer considers Christ’s work and begins to consider our own work, and that there is a certain line that if passed, will cause us to forfeit our salvation.  And unless we can define that line or limit, then we are no better off that the Catholics, who hope that they are good enough to be saved but never expect to ever be able to know if they are saved or not.

You see, if the maintenance of our salvation is up to us, then there must be a measurable defining point beyond which we can know if we are “in” or “out” of eternal life. If the Lord is not wholly responsible to keep us saved, then we must be able to answer the question: what sin or sins or whatever, is effective to exclude us from eternal life. This is no small matter. It is a matter of life or death, more exactly of eternal life or eternal damnation.  There is no other need more important or urgent than this.

Pharisees, not righteous enough

pharisees

Pharisees are out with the rest of us.

In Matthew 5:20 Jesus stated, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

He stated this after saying that He did not come to take away any part of the Law, but that He came to fulfill all of it.  The practical outworking of this declaration is that unless our “works of righteousness” outshine those of the Pharisees we would never qualify to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Granted, many Pharisees were corrupt but they were men who prayed often, fasted regularly, tithed faithfully and meticulously obeyed the commands of the law. What can we say about the accepted pattern of the modern day Christian who confesses Christ and appeals to grace to cover his failings?  Does he pray often?  Does he fast ever?  Does he tithe faithfully and correctly?  Is he truly a student of the scriptures?  These are the very things that Christ was laying out as requirements for entering the Kingdom of Heaven!  Certainly, He was not referring to their piety of heart, since He often exposed them as hypocrites.

Many of the Pharisees were religious in their practices but lacked a heart for God, although not all of them because Paul was devout and really believed that he was serving God before he had his conversion experience.

If we are to understand that Christ was speaking of salvation here, then however we state it, we must make it clear that no one will make it into heaven who does not maintain a strict regime of works of righteousness.

Yet how can we rightly divide this scripture with the words of Titus 3:5: “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.

To be fair and honest with both texts we would have to combine the two somehow.  We could state it something like this:  We do not initially receive salvation by any act of righteousness of our own, but if indeed we do receive salvation, at any given moment there must be enough practical works of righteousness manifested in our life, sufficient to out-shine any devout Pharisee, in order that we may enter the kingdom of heaven.  I would estimate that over 90% of those who confess Christ, according to His apparent qualification, would in His words, in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Eternal Security and Grace

Eternal Security and Grace

eternal-security

Eternal security & Grace

I grew up in a denomination that has the following phrase stated in its doctrinal statement. ”We believe that the gift of eternal life is a present possession of every true disciple of Jesus Christ, and that nothing or any person can take it from him.  However, it is a realistic possibility, for a true believer, once saved, of his own free will to no longer “continue in the faith” but instead to apostatize , “depart from the faith” return to sin, and consequently forfeit the eternal life he once possessed.”

Never has anyone pressured me to hold either position for or against eternal security, or the possibility of forfeiting or losing one’s salvation.  On the contrary as a young Christian within the denomination, I had always assumed that there were proponents for, as well as against “eternal security”.  I somehow imagined that there was no definite position on the matter.

It was only after I left for the foreign mission field that I noticed that the phrase “We believe . . . that it is a realistic possibility, for a true believer to forfeit the eternal life he once possessed”, was included in the doctrinal statement.

To say that there is a possibility that we can forfeit eternal life is, in practice, no different that stating that there is a possibility that we can lose it. If we can forfeit something, then it is not permanent, it is not secure.  If someone were to hold a gun to your head and force you to renounce your faith, or to forfeit your salvation, if that were possible, you would lose it.

I used to teach that while the bible teaches that nothing can separate us from the Love of God we ourselves can depart and turn our backs on God.  In other words, we cannot lose our salvation but we can throw it away. Let us be honest, if we can throw something away, it is not secure.  Eternal security states that salvation is not losable, thus the position that there is a possibility however distinct or remote of losing it, is the same as stating that salvation can be lost and that eternal security does not exist and is a lie.

As I began to dedicate more time to the study of the Word, I consolidated my conviction that there does appear to be more scriptural passages to support the rejection of Eternal Security than the acceptance of it. For years in my pulpit ministry, I pounded away at what I considered “false hopes” of church members who could not seem to get out of bondage to sin.  I now see these poor souls as “defeated Christians” and even practicing “apostates” but not “lost” or reverted to an unregenerate state.  I have come to see that the logical end of the arguments that I was using is that hardly anyone may realistically expect to make it to heaven, or at least it is extremely difficult to both receive salvation and keep it.

Grace scandal

grace scandal

Grace scandal – Embrace it!

Christians have never understood the grace scandal. It just seems too incredible to them.  The world knows so little of the principle of the grace scandal and the gifts of God.  We humans instinctively learn to “wheel and deal” and bargain.  All day long our minds are occupied with how much work we do and how much we receive for our work.  We believe that we have to somehow deserve what we get.  Even a lazy freeloader thinks he deserves something just because he is a “have not”.  We have witnessed the emergence and growth of the “give me” generation of Americans that somehow think that their parents or the Government, or the credit institutions have the obligation to take care of their every need.  Their “work” is being needy, and suffering deprivation of their heart’s desires.  Either way, whether rugged individualists like we used to be or, social victims as many have become, we all have a notion of what is due us.  For years and years we have invested our lives, time and energy and we are looking for a return on our investment.

We see our lives are a series of deals.  Since we have learned to live this way, we also think that God’s grace and eternal life are obtained by the same principles.  When we hear, understand and receive the Gospel, we come to see the light and in that moment we perceive the grace scandal, that grace is free and not a question of bargaining.  When this happens there are no thoughts of celebrating grace by continuing in sin since every true believer has received the Spirit of God and God’s spirit within us hates all sin.  It is possible, and demonstratively happens quite frequently, that the believer loses his sensitivity and allows sin to remain in his life and goes through the experience that the apostle Paul described in Romans chapter 7.  That is why the Spirit of God inspired him to continue with what was written in Chapter 8 of Romans.  Many people still haven’t been freed from the grace scandal, the erroneous concept that the grace of God is a loan to us.  They think that if they don’t behave in just the right way, that God will ask for His gift of grace back.

Some people have concerns about preaching the grace scandal, and without a doubt there has been a lot of misunderstanding about the place of grace in our Christian walk.  Some argue that if a person believes that salvation is wholly by grace completely apart from works claiming that if one is “once saved, always saved”, he will certainly sin more freely. This can be considered the most common and strongest argument against the teaching of salvation exclusively by grace or what is often called “eternal security”.  If a person knows that he is eternally saved won’t he easily become lazy and start to commit all types of sin? Isn’t such a teaching quite dangerous to one’s holiness?

The answer is “no” if we are talking about a born again believer, a true son of God. God disciplines and punishes every son He receives.  Hebrews 12:5-7  states:

And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.”  If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?

Eternal security doesn’t mean that God doesn’t discipline His disobedient children.  Remember the parable of the prodigal son?  He told his father “I am outta here”  Except this father, was way, way more generous than I ever was.  He gave his kid his inheritance; the ungrateful brat didn’t even have the decency to wait for his father to die.  That would be like my son telling me that he didn’t like the way I ran things at the house and suggested that I rent him a penthouse, buy some “hot” wheels for him to drive around with and give him a nice big savings account to pay for his new lifestyle.  Fat chance!  But, you see, that is grace. You may even feel it is unwise and imprudent, but that is the main message of the parable.

We can insist on our own way with God and even take that which He has blessed us with for the purpose of doing His will and use it for our own purposes.  If that happens He may say that we were once alive and now we are dead (eating pig food) but we would still be His sons.  In the parable the prodigal returned planning to serve his father as a slave rather than as a son.  But the father treated the undeserving son with nothing but the grace scandal.  Yes my friend, in the eyes of the older brother, and quite possibly in your eyes, this father was rewarding the rebelliousness and ungratefulness of his son. He threw a party and declared that “this my son was dead, and now he is alive!” Do you think for a minute that the next day the son was back to his old tricks because he discovered that his father was a sucker for forgetting the past and not only forgiving him but piling on His richest blessings to such an undeserving ingrate of a son?

And even if the son didn’t repent, and the next day he demanded another fortune from his father just as before what might his father’s reaction be?  Just imagine the ensuing scene: “Listen old man, that was a nice party and all, but I just can’t take it anymore, I need my freedom, I want to go back to my old friends.  I’m outta here again.  How much you got left to give me?” Would his father throw his check book on the ground and rant, “that is it!”? “I have had it.  Get out of here! You go to hell you ungrateful bastard!  After all I have done for you, you repay my love with this?” That might be my reaction or your reaction, and perhaps it wouldn’t even be a wrong or improper reaction, but it wouldn’t be grace because grace works independently of reciprocity.

Oh this grace scandal is so beyond our understanding! I can’t reject the teaching of eternal security just because I am not so inclined to show the same degree of grace that God does. Any person that could rejoice in the grace scandal by sinning just because he knows that he can get away with it only shows that he was never a son of God in the first place. We as the sons of God, do sin! We do fail! If we deny our sin, God calls us liars. While sin in our born again life will adversely affect our fellowship with the Father, because of His graciousness, it never affects our status as His begotten sons.

I now have absolutely no fear of losing my salvation; formerly however that was definitely an issue for me.  At the same time, I can honestly say that in spite of ridding myself of the fear of losing my salvation I have more desire than ever before to be holy and free of all forms of sin. The grace in the life of a child of God isn’t experienced as a function of downplaying or excusing sin but as a function of enhancing the experience of our holiness and the power of God for fruitful ministry. Paul stated that the grace of God worked through him more that all the others. He certainly wasn’t saying that he got away with more sin that the rest of the apostles.  Those who think differently just “don’t get it”. It isn’t easy to “get” or understand the grace scandal, it’s divine for God’s sake!

God’s scandalous grace

scandalous grace

Scandalous grace

God’s scandalous grace is Biblical grace. Grace, from the Greek “charis”  specifically means undeserved or unmerited favor.  For grace to be grace it should never be expected since it has no basis on merit or recompense. Grace implies receiving without having a reason to receive. Once grace has a reason, it becomes something else.

Fake grace

While my wife Sandra and I were on vacation in northeastern Brazil we went for a walk along the beachfront. As we passed some new hotels, a tall, handsome young man stopped us and asked us if we would like a chance to win a free dinner at the new hotel.  He gave me a scratch card and told me that if I rubbed off three matching symbols (out of 5) we would win a free dinner.  I was able to choose correctly and we won a voucher for the free dinner.  We agreed to return at 6:00 p.m. to claim our meal.  When we arrived at the hotel we were introduced to an attractive young woman who asked us to sit down and chat for a while before dinner.  She was very nice so we didn’t object.

To make a long story short we were pressured into listening to a 50 minute timeshare presentation for the group of hotels that they represented.  At the end we were asked to sign a contract to buy a timeshare for the next ten years.  I made it clear that I wasn’t prepared to sign any contract so finally we were excused and instructed how to claim our free dinner.  The dinner was fine but in the end it wasn’t exactly free.  This was an example of a free gift that had nothing to do with grace, there was no scandal to it.

How can I say that?  Well, for one thing we were chosen because we were obviously tourists on vacation.  If we had looked like a couple of beggars or gypsies we would have never received the “chance” to win a “free” dinner and that would have been an example of the scandal of grace.  It was made clear that in order to be shown to the dining room we had to go through the process of hearing their timeshare spiel.  Finally after we declined to “purchase the goods” they made us feel like we were cheating them by claiming what they intended to be a small reward for purchasing their product.

If this was truly an example of a “free gift” or scandalous grace, it would be completely independent of any interest the hotel had of making any money.  If it was a gift of grace gypsies and bums would have overrun the place. That would have been scandalous grace. Wherever there is even an ounce of merit there can be no grace, only payment. Our dinner that evening was not free.  We paid for it by listening patiently to a sales pitch for a product that we did not want to purchase, and then when they should have treated us like deserving patrons, we were made to feel like opportunistic cheapskates! We felt scandalized but it was a far cry from scandalous grace.

Scandalous grace and salvation

The truth is that grace is a difficult concept for us humans to comprehend and even more so, to accept.  Many Christians believe that salvation has been given on the basis of grace, but then turn around and apply principles of barter and exchange to interpret how eternal life and salvation are obtained. The principle way this is done is maintaining that there is the possibility that salvation can be lost, due to negligence, disinterest or any other type of sin.  Some call it backsliding, others call it “falling away” or “falling from grace.” This reveals either a lack of understanding of what grace really is, or a practical admission that salvation really isn’t received on the basis of grace and is somehow paid for by good works and service. Scandalous grace implies that we can’t pay for salvation, nor can we pay to keep it.

Scandalous grace can only be shown to someone who is in a position of need and incapable of repaying what is received. Therefore we can never extend grace to someone who is able to give back what we give. If we could somehow repay the gift of eternal life it would no longer be a gift but simply a kind of loan.  Grace is neither God’s payment of a debt nor is it His over payment of a debt. It isn’t payment for good works subsequent to salvation. It is a total scandal, scandalous grace!

An illustration of scandalous grace

Suppose that I have a neighbor with a mischievous son who routinely “borrows” his father’s car for “driving practice”.  One day he decides to borrow his father’s car for a joy ride.  As soon as he pulls out of the driveway he loses control and crashes into the wall of my front yard and breaks a big hole in it.  I can deal with the situation by having one of three different attitudes, justice, mercy or grace.  All three are valid attitudes and I would be correct in choosing any of the three.

One way I can deal with the situation is with an attitude of justice: so I explain to the boy that he or his father will have to pay for the damage.  The damaged car can be sold and the difference can be used to fix my wall.  There would be nothing wrong with this since it is based on what is just and right.  The boy and his family need to right the wrong committed against me.  Paying for the damage is the right thing for him to do.

Another way that the situation could be resolved is if I looked at the young man and told him that he was already in enough trouble.  I could tell him that his father did not have the means to pay for the damage to the car much less repair my wall.  I could then have an attitude of mercy and send him away telling him that I will take care of the damage that he caused to my wall and he would take care of the rest of the damage to his father’s car. This would be mercy, a little better for him than justice, but he still has the problem of his father’s wrecked car.

But there is a third possibility, I can be gracious to him.  How would this work out?  I could run to the car and ask the boy if he was hurt.  He might answer “no, but the car is wrecked and I destroyed your wall.”  I could then brush those details aside and say, “so you want to learn how to drive, is that right?  Listen you don’t have to do this behind your father’s back.  Look, I will fix my wall and pay for the repairs to your father’s car.  While your car is being fixed, you can use my car, and I myself will teach you how to drive, and once you learn how to drive I will give you my car so that you won’t ever have to borrow your father’s car again.” Do you see God’s scandalous grace here?

Do you know anyone who would treat you that way?  Well, God did!  That is what God in Christ has done for every sinner.  Mankind deserves a one way ticket to hell for what he has done with the life that God has given to be lived out for Him.  But instead of treating us with justice, instead of just showing mercy, He showed us grace.  He sent His own son to die in our place and then He gave us a position in His  own family and called us by His own name, and gave us a share in the inheritance that He reserved for His only begotten son.  Grace is surprising, grace is unexpected, grace is divine and because of this, man has a hard time understanding it and how it can be applied to his situation because it is the scandal of grace.

Why should I be good? Salvation is free!

why-should-I-be-goodWhy should I be good?

I am going to start this blog off by talking about a book I recently wrote called Why should I be good? Salvation is free! It is available on amazon.com as a Kindle book.

Have you ever asked yourself the question: Why should I be good?

Salvation is free! Why should I be holy? Salvation is by grace? Then this book: Why should I be good? Salvation is free!  Strong motivation to be better than just saved is for you!   If you believe that salvation can be lost, you owe it to yourself to know what the dividing line is between being one sin short of hell and one sin long of heaven.  Which side of the line are you on?
This book reveals how the idea of losing salvation is inconsistent with the teachings of the Bible.  It shows how some Biblical passages that refer to Christian rewards and punishment are often misinterpreted as referring to salvation and damnation.  It also shows that even if you refuse to believe the position that salvation cannot be lost you will have to admit that to be consistent with your interpretation it would be almost impossible to both be saved and retain your salvation.
If you believe that salvation can’t be lost then you must answer these questions: Why should I be good? Isn’t salvation free? Isn’t salvation by grace? Why should I be holy? Bad, or carnal Christians get to heaven just as those who have sacrificed a life of pleasure don’t they?  Why should I try so hard?
Most Christians aren’t very clear about the basis of their salvation. Are you? Are you good enough and holy enough to be saved?  Are you good enough to keep your salvation?
The purpose of this book is by no means to promote laxity in the Christian life but to reveal added motivation to make something out of your life with Christ! After all, God is so good! He is so faithful! Christian service and good works are not a means to salvation!
Many Christians have the mistaken idea that their behavior, their goodness or holiness is somehow tied to their salvation.  There is a need for Christians to be good and to be holy!  But the motive should not be salvation or preserving salvation!  Salvation is free!  Salvation is received by grace through faith and not by good works.
I believe that every true Christian desires to be good, holy and just. The problem is that most just don’t know how to get there and some are doubtful that it is possible, while others wonder what difference it makes.
Why should I be good? Salvation is free! Discusses what will happen to Christians who have no good works when Christ returns at the rapture in the end times. The book is an apologetic for Christian holiness and an encouragement to be better than just saved.
Why should I be good? Salvation is free! Discusses the words of Jesus in the book of Matthew when He speaks of the kingdom of heaven and the rapture. The book of Matthew is the kingdom gospel and treats the matter of the kingdom of heaven in a very distinct manner.
The concept of the overcomers is introduced in “Why should I be good, salvation is free” and Jesus Himself teaches that the difference between those who are “just saved” and the “overcomers” is that the latter will inherit the kingdom of heaven as a reward.  Part of this reward is being included in the rapture as the period of the great tribulation and the events of the end times begin to intensify.
After reading “Why should I be good, salvation is free” you will have a much clearer vision of God’s purpose for your life, the meaning of the kingdom of heaven, the purpose of the end times, the rapture and a new understanding of the fascinating book of Matthew.
In the last chapter of Why should I be good, salvation is free, the parables of book of Matthew and how they speak of the kingdom of heaven, the end times, and the rapture and the role that Christians who have been good will play in these events is explained.
By the end of the book there will be no doubt in your mind that if you have been born again, your salvation is sure and you will have plenty of motivation for developing a life of spiritual fruit and holiness.  Not to be just saved but to be qualified to reign with Christ.

Pretty much everyone agrees that holiness is a commandment.  But Christians disobey commandments of God all the time.  Here are some examples that I would think would undermine our holiness:
Divorce, God hates it!
Abortion, just another name for murder
Worry, very offensive sin against God’s power and ability

This list could go on and on and a life of holiness would of course include everything on the list.  The question remains: Why should I be good? Salvation is free!

For more information visit the book page WhyBeHoly.com

the Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/why.be.holy?


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