Fear God, He can kill the soul!

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Fear GodGood reasons to fear God

Fear God, he is not safe! C. S. Lewis, referring to Aslan, the Lion, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe said: “He’s not safe, but he’s good.  God is good, there is no doubt about that, but is He safe?  Are we as Christians in no danger of being harshly disciplined by God the Father? Is there a need for the Christian to fear God?

In Matthew chapter 10 Jesus called His twelve disciples unto Himself and gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.  He also instructed them on how and where to preach.  Then in verse 28 after warning them that they would be persecuted He added:

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Since Jesus was speaking to His disciples what He meant here is that Christians should not fear what others do to their bodies.  God is the only one that they should fear, for God has the authority to cast them both soul and body in hell.  We should fear God alone who is the only one who has the authority to discipline us after death.  We should have no fear of those who can only kill the body.

The Lord continued in verses 32 and 33

“Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” 

Christians can be divided into two groups: those who confess Him and those who deny Him, those that fear God and those that don’t.  Some confess His name while others do not, thus effectively denying Him.  Some are willing to be persecuted because of the gospel while others avoid persecution and any type of suffering.  Some will be ashamed and conceal their faith preferring man’s recognition above God’s recognition.  Others confess the Lord openly and are ready and willing to be martyred if the Lord so requires.  Apparently this is very important to the Lord.  We should not shrink from the suffering that comes through confessing the Lord before men.  If we do not confess Him we commit a highly offensive sin more serious than many others.  The Lord in turn will not confess our names before the angels of God. That alone is reason to fear God.

These words of Christ about not confessing their name before the angels implies being cast into hell or being thrown into prison as He taught in the Sermon on the Mount.  This confessing before the angels is a matter of recognition not of relationship.  Christ has relationship with all of His “brethren” but He will not recognize all of His brethren at the judgment.  Just as a judge may not recognize even his own son if the son is guilty before the law.

Jesus spoke in a similar manner in Revelation 3:5.

“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”

I believe that this will happen at the time of the Judgment Seat of Christ.  The book of life where the names of all those who have been born again are written will be opened in the presence of the Lord and His angles.  Apparently, at this time, an angel will then read off each of the names written down, and the Lord Jesus will confess some of these names.  Those whose names He confesses will then enter the kingdom while those whose names He doesn’t confess will not enter.  The names of the unregenerate, the unsaved do not even appear in the book of life at all.  The names of the regenerate but defeated are included but not confessed when they are called and the names of the regenerate overcomers at the time of the kingdom will be recognized and ushered into the kingdom.

Christians should fear God, not because He may send them to hell but because He will discipline them as a loving but firm father disciplines his children. Fear God, it is the begining of knowledge and the foundation to a responsible Christian experience.

Kingdom Parables from Matthew 13

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Kingdom ParablesKingdom parables from Matthew 13

The kingdom parables explained

The parables of Matthew 13 are not commonly understood by many Christians. The seven kingdom parables  in this chapter illustrate spiritual realities of the kingdom of heaven. God wants His people to understand these realities clearly.

The Gospel of Matthew does not talk about salvation. The theme of the Gospel of John is salvation, but the theme of Matthew is the kingdom of heaven. We must take care not to impose our own ideas or preconceived notions on any Bible text. These parables speak about the dynamics of the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven involves three aspects: the appearance, the reality, and the physical and geopolitical manifestation of the kingdom of heaven. This final aspect corresponds to the 1000 year reign of Christ called the Millennium in which Christ the King of Kings, will reign over the world from Jerusalem, and Christians who overcome will reign with Him.

These seven kingdom parables, are separated into two sub groups. The first four talk about the appearance of the kingdom of heaven, they begin with the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is like…” In these four parables, the intent is not to define every aspect of the kingdom, but to describe aspects of what appears to be the kingdom of heaven. The purpose of these parables is to warn against things that “appear” to be the kingdom of heaven but in reality, are not.

The kingdom parables explained to His disciples

After Jesus told the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3-8, His disciples asked Him why He spoke to the people in parables. He explained that they as His disciples were privileged to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven but not the whole multitude.  He was not willing to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven to all people, only to His disciples.

God’s will is that none perish, but that all come to repentance and the knowledge of the Father’s will. Also God’s will is that all men be filled with the knowledge and revelation of His Word. However, because of the state of the majority of men’s hearts, they have not been given the privilege of knowing the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven”. This touches on a general principle of receiving God’s Word which determines that in order to understand God’s will we must have an open and inquisitive heart and humbly receive it as fertile soil receives a seed.  Jesus beautifully illustrated this principle in His first parable when He spoke of how each different type of soil receives seed.

Jesus definitely did not want to prevent anyone from being saved and the meaning of these parables was not hidden to prevent people from recognizing their need for salvation and coming to repentance. Such is clearly not God’s heart and neither is it the heart of Christ. The message concealed in these parables was not concerning salvation since there is no reference to the cross, to a savior, or was there any evangelistic appeal.  Instead, the themes of these parables of the kingdom point to fruitfulness, true and false believers, things that appear to be the kingdom of heaven but are devoid of its true nature. None of these kingdom parables elicited conversion, Jesus spoke them to test the hearts of the hearers.

The term “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” is a distinct term that does not point to a general knowledge of God or of His Word.  Jesus did not tell His disciples that they had received the privilege of knowing the Word of God, or the will of God, or even about the kingdom of God. He made it clear, that the knowledge of the mysteries was revealed only to them as His disciples after having been initiated to exclusive privileges of discipleship, one of which, was the special knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom parables as a mystery

The Greek word musterion usually refers to several different mysteries of God, His Word and His Work. Therefore, we can easily conclude that the “mysteries” mentioned in the New Testament do not all refer to the same thing.  For this reason, in order to discern which mystery each text is referring to, we must consider its context.

The mysteries of the kingdom that Christ was referring to were hidden in the parables of the kingdom of heaven in the book of Matthew.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is a term used exclusively in Matthew and refers to the Millennial Reign of Christ subsequent to the rapture and great tribulation and before Armageddon and the eternal state of Heaven. This is not common knowledge among most Christians and continues to remain almost a universal mystery.

In verse 12 He taught that in relation to this knowledge, whoever had it would receive abundantly more. However, whoever did not have it would lose the little that that they did have.  Even a small amount of knowledge concerning the kingdom that someone may accumulate, would be taken from them.

The kingdom parables – only for those with ears to hear

In verse 13, Jesus taught that since the multitude that heard His words had not been granted this knowledge, He spoke in parables because even though they had eyes and ears, they had no spiritual sight or sense of hearing.  Then He cited the prophet Isaiah who prophesied that since His people had such dull spiritual eyes, ears and hearts in relation to His message, the judgment pronounced over them would be that they would not understand and repent, and thus would lose the chance to receive His healing.  Since they were unwilling to turn, they were denied the chance to turn.

This is a very serious condition, and tragically common among God’s people.  Note that Jesus related this to Isaiah’s prophecy to God’s people.  God’s did not direct these words to another nation but to Israel, His own people. In the same way, Jesus did not direct the words of in these verses to lost people but to those who were “children of Abraham” God’s covenant people.  Many Christians have ears but do not hear and eyes but do not see!  Because of the dullness of their spiritual faculties, they lose any revelation that they might have previously had.  This is a terrible indictment against God’s people!

The understanding of the Kingdom parables brings blessing

Then Jesus reassured His disciples and affirmed that such was not the case with them.  They would be blessed because they had both spiritual sight and hearing to receive the explanation that He gave them privately.  Then before explaining the parable of the sower, He affirmed that many prophets and righteous men of old desired to see and hear what they were witnessing but never had the chance, but they had the privilege of this opportunity, thus they were blessed in their understanding of the kingdom parables of Jesus.

Kingdom Parables

Stumbling blocks and offenses

stumbling blocksIn Matthew 18:6 Jesus taught His disciples about the danger of becoming a stumbling block, he warned:

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Are we to seriously think that Jesus was just seeking to use some eloquent poetic language devoid of any seriousness?  Should we take the words of Christ as vain and toothless? He effectively taught in this verse that to offend or cause someone to stumble (become a stubling block) is more serious than being drown and casts into the sea.  Imagine for a minute what a horrible death that would be.  For what, . . . offending someone?  Seems like a drastic punishment for such a small offence don’t you think?  Yet this reflects the attitude of God.  He is such a lover of the weak and vulnerable that the punishment for leading these “little ones” astray seems tremendously harsh in comparison.  Apparently among human disputes God is inordinately against aggressors.  In verse 7 He continued,

“Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!

Whoa! I think I’ll stay away from offending others, what about you?

In the next verse the Lord moves in even closer with His penetrating judgment showing that it is not only a serious sin to cause others to stumble but even for you yourself to stumble.  Verses 8 and 9 say,

“If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire.  And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.

Remember the Lord had been speaking to His disciples all this time beginning with the question they asked in the first verse of chapter 18.  Of course, He used metaphor and didn’t mean for us to take the suggestion of cutting off members of our body literally. When someone cuts off their hand or foot,  they can still sin.  If you cut off a foot you can still walk with crutches or travel by car.  If you cut off a hand, you can still sin with the other one.  Cutting off hands and feet and plucking out eyes cannot prevent us from sinning.  So the Lord wasn’t speaking of literal hands and feet and other body members, but of dealing with the sin within us and of not making provision for the flesh but removing any provision for it.  He did mean to arouse fear of adverse consequences.  If you can’t seem to control the members of your body then you need to begin eliminating them.  It is better for you to enter into life maimed and incomplete than to remain whole and be cast into hell.

Only Christians can sacrifice body members to enter into life.  The unregenerate cannot enter into life no matter how many limbs they cut off.  In any case they will have their part in the Lake of Fire and their only hope of escaping hell is to be born again.  But Jesus wasn’t speaking of the Lake of Fire which is eternal damnation when He spoke to His disciples here.  However in this age, a Christian may have to sacrifice very precious things in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

This means that those who deal with their sins and lusts in this age having voluntarily sacrificed things as precious as hands or eyes will enter into life.  While those who refuse to deal with their lusts and who are unwilling to sacrifice their precious hands or eyes will be cast whole into hell.  Hell here is the Greek “Gehenna” (the place of the future punishment call “Gehenna” or “Gehenna of fire”).  This was originally the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned; a fit symbol of the wicked and their future destruction.

Although this Gehenna is a fire, it is not what is generally considered the definitive hell or the “Lake of fire” which is eternal damnation.  If a person has become a Christian but his hands and feet are constantly yielded to sin, he will suffer the punishment of Gehenna in the kingdom of heaven.  He will not suffer this punishment forever, but will suffer it for a time in the age of the kingdom.  Such is the fate of every Christian stumbling block . . .or do you imagine that God will somehow reward those that cause the brethern to sin and place them next to the Apostles Peter, Paul and Matthew and put a crown on their head?

Adultery – Becareful little eyes what you see.

AdulteryThe dangerous snare of adultery in the Christian life

Adultery in the life of the unconverted is just another sin with considerable negative consequences. However in the life of a Christian it is much more serious than many Christians think. Continuing on the vein of the need for Christians to fear God, listen up those of you who have wandering eyes.  If you have experienced defeat in the area of adultery, escaping Hell should not be your greatest concern. We believe that Christians don’t have hell to pay, Jesus already picked up that tab. But as we shall see Jesus had some mighty scary things to say about even entertaining the thought of being involved in a relationship of adultery.  Listen to His words in Matthew 5:27-30.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”

The seventh commandment prohibited adultery, but the commandment of Jesus prohibits even adulterous thoughts.  In the original language Jesus was referring to someone lusting after a married woman, because He was referring specifically to adultery and not just fornication.  It is an adulterous thought directed at another man’s wife that Jesus was condemning.  In the original Greek the word “look” does not imply a casual look but an intentional impure looking. Jesus wasn’t talking about sudden thoughts that dart into your mind.  Any serious Christian is subject to such thoughts; they are the flaming darts from Satan.  However, it is our responsibility to resist intentional lusting or desiring.  Sudden thoughts are mere temptations, but awakened lust is the acceptance of the temptations.  It is important to understand the difference.

If the lust is not removed, if the sin is not dealt with, a person can be subject to an experience of being “cast into hell.”  Again we must not forget that Jesus spoke these words to the disciples. The Lord speaks to His people about what concerns His people and to those who are not His people about things that concern those who are not His.  Christians have the grave responsibility of dealing with their sins.  If they allow sin to go unchecked in their lives, though they will not lose their salvation, nor have their part in the Lake of Fire, they may be subject to Hell fire or the Gehenna of fire.  This is a distinct characteristic of the gospel according to Matthew.

I will discuss this further in future posts but for the mean time let these words of Christ burn into your heart and hide them and cherish them.  It will produce a healthy fear of the Lord which is the beginning of knowledge.

The fear of the Lord and what God wants us to understand about it

Fear of the LordThe fear of the Lord

The fear of the Lord is rarly understood  by His people. Besides the grace and love of God, another one of His commonly misunderstood attributes is His justice.  Absolute justice offers no threat to those who are absolutely just, the problem is, who is absolutely just? Those who lack the recognition of their unrighteousness before the righteous judgment of God are just plain blind.

Before considering the fear of the Lord it is necessary to consider the Lord that should be feared.  If we try to discuss the fear of the Lord with those who have little concept of the justice of the Lord we will end up with a simplistic explanation that it just means the “respect of the Lord”.  But practically speaking the fear of the Lord is more than just respect.  Respect is the bare minimum of consideration that we owe toward any person.  Think about it, according to the Word of God, mankind was created in God’s image.  This means that since all people originated from the first man created in God’s image every human bears God’s image. Whenever anyone treats another person with disrespect, the disrespect is aimed at God’s image.  Therefore respect for fellow humans is merely a basic attitude of decency.

The fear of the Lord and His image

There really is no more virtue in respecting God Himself than there is in respecting His image.  Imagine if you were to have a life size cardboard marquee made of yourself for people to remember you by.  If your friends and family get together and draw a bulls eye on your cardboard face and throw darts at it would you feel respected?  Imagine walking through the White House in Washington D.C. and seeing the former president’s portraits defaced by the tourists that walk it’s halls.  Yet disrespect for God’s image abounds.  No, the fear of the Lord isn’t simply respect!  It is our lack of ability to reconcile the grace and love of God with His justice that makes it hard for us to imagine that at the same time we should have a fear of the Lord.

The fear of the Lord and the need for complete obedience

The same God that told Adam and Eve that the day they disobeyed His command to not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil because they would surely die, the same God that did not give them even one chance to remain in the garden after the fall, is the same God that we serve today.  The same God that when king Saul received directions to wait for Samuel and decided to go ahead and offer a sacrifice and as a result was rejected as King with no second chance to correct his error, the same God who slew Ananias and Sapphira for lying about the price of the sale of a piece of Land, is still the same God that we serve today. You can begin to see that there is saftey in the fear of the Lord.

These and many other accounts reveal an aspect of God’s character that deserves more than just “respect”.  According to the wisest man in history it is the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of knowledge.  In other words it is wise to recognize that God is no one to be mocked or slighted much less disobeyed or ignored! There is an inflexibly with God who lays down His righteous laws and never tolerates one instance of disobedience without meting out the punishment promised for the offense.  God is to be feared!

There are a number of places in the Bible that mention the need of the fear of the Lord and His punishment of evil and of unfaithfulness of Christians.  While most Christians accept the idea that God disciplines His people, the form that this discipline takes is almost completely vague and undefined.  I suggest that the Scriptures reveal and describe this chastising and that this punishment will occur principally in the one thousand year reign of Christ.

The fear of the Lord and relationships

Before the Lord began teaching His disciples through His discourse called the “Sermon on the Mount”, in chapter 5 verse 1, we read that the Lord Jesus seeing the multitude went up onto a mountain and sat down, then His disciples came to Him.  Apparently only the disciples followed Him up the mountain so His discourse was preached mainly to them.  There is no indication that the multitude also accompanied Him.  In verses 21-22 Jesus taught His disciples saying,

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’  But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”

Since the Lord was teaching His disciples when He spoke of one brother being angry with another He was speaking of two Christian brothers in conflict.  One Christian calls his brother Raca, which means, a good-for-nothing fool (no fear of the Lord here).  If a Christian speaks to his brother like this, Jesus taught that he is in danger of hell fire.  The Lord wasn’t  referring to an unsaved person, since an unsaved person will go to hell even if he does not call anyone Raca.  Whenever the Bible talks about works, it speaks to those who are already in relationship with God.  For those who do not belong to God, there is no need to mention works or deeds.  Jesus is speaking of a saved person, a brother, but because he is angry with his brother, he is in danger of hell fire.

Jesus continued in verse 23 saying,

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.”

Jesus was speaking of the principle of fellowship in this passage.  In order to have fellowship with God we must maintain fellowship with our brethren.  The problem is laxity in applying the principle because of a misunderstanding of verse 25.  In verse 25 Jesus warns that we should quickly resolve complaints and conflicts with our brother before he takes the matter to the judge.  Many imagine that Jesus spoke of a spiritual principle concerning fellowship and then left a warning that applied exclusively to the Jewish economy of justice.  While Jesus did speak in terms of a temporal process of justice before men in this age and more specifically within the judicial system existent in Israel in the first century, He was speaking prophetically of what will happen in the judicial economy of His Millennial Kingdom reign.  Things like this will happen in the kingdom age. The kingdom is very strict and no one can participate without a fear of the Lord.  The Lord will rule with a rod of iron! God’s grace reigns today in this age, but in that age, justice will reign, and perfection will be required of those who serve the King.

The fear of the Lord and conflict

This has very serious implications, and Christians need to understand fully what it means for them.  What often happens is that injustices are committed by Christians against one another and many times neither side in the conflict has the humility to recognize his error or his sin.  Since there are times when we are unjustly accused by others many times we assume that no one ever has a legitimate cause against us.  This matter is further complicated by the lack of understanding of how sins committed against others are resolved in God’s kingdom.  Many times there is the attitude that the person wronged should just forgive the offense and nothing further needs to be done.  If this was the case Jesus would not have said anything further.

The amount of words spoken by Christ in the Scriptures is very small compared to those in the whole Bible.  It is a grave mistake to imagine that anything Christ taught has no application in our lives.  These words of warning speak to us also.  For this reason if we become aware of a legitimate complaint that a brother or sister has against us no matter how petty it seems, we should follow His directions for reconciliation.  Otherwise God will treat us as the guilty party and there will be negative consequences.

Christ spoke these words to Christians because they are often guilty of offending and sinning against one another.  The problem is not so much that Christians sin against one another, but that they are either not willing to resolve their sins or don’t know how, or don’t believe that it is necessary to resolve them.  Jesus shows that it is absolutely necessary and shows how these matters can be resolved without punishment.  The objective is always reconciliation.  The problem is that too many times Christians are unwilling to be reconciled to their brothers in Christ.

The fear of the Lord and the need to go through the process to resolve personal conflicts

One principle will never change and that is that no two people in the Church today who are in conflict with each other can serve together in the kingdom.  In the coming kingdom, there will only be love and mercy among those who reign with the Prince of Peace. Only those who have shown love and mercy to one another in this age will be fit to serve in the kingdom of heaven.  This current age is an age of preparation.  If Christians can’t get along in unity and love today, they will be disqualified to reign with Christ in the kingdom of heaven.  If I am in conflict with a Christian brother, and if fail to resolve the matter in reconciliation in this age, then in the future, either both of us will be excluded from the kingdom, or only one of us will be admitted.  It will be impossible for the both of us to make it in. The Christians that reign with Christ in the kingdom will all be in perfect unity on all levels.  In contrast with how He deals with it in this current age, God will tolerate absolutely no carnality in the kingdom age.  It is a mistake to imagine that God will deal with His people in the kingdom age just as He deals with them in the Church age.

So the fear of the Lord helps us recognizes that if anyone has a legitimate grievance against us, or if we cause anyone to stumble, we will be in grave trouble with God unless we quickly resolve the issue.  The Lord says that while you are with your brother on the way you have to be reconciled to him. That means that while the both of you are still alive, before the Lord Jesus comes back, you must be reconciled to each other.  In this age the Lord deals with carnality in the church with a huge amount of patience, but there will be no patience or any type of tolerance for carnality in the Kingdom age. If you die, or if he dies, or if the Lord Jesus returns before reconciliation is reached, it will be too late and the case will have to be taken up in the Kingdom age.  Since it wasn’t taken care of “on the way” meaning in this present age, it will have to be taken care of before the judge.

The judge is the Lord Jesus.  He will deliver you to the officer.  The officer is an angel.  And the angel will throw you into prison.  The prison spoken of here is not only a figurative “mental” or “emotional” prison as some would like to believe, it is a very real and sever place of punishment that any Christian who neglects to be reconciled to his brother while on the way will have to suffer, thuse the real need of the fear of the Lord.

The prison referred to here is equivalent to the hell fire spoken of in verse 22.  While I don’t believe Christ was teaching that born again Christians will be sent to Hell, if they have any unrepentant and un-confessed and thus unforgiven sins, they will suffer the pain of Hell fire (in the Greek “Geenna” which is different from “Lake of Fire”).  Just look at the severity of Christ’s words to His disciples in verse 26:

“Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.”

Where is this place from where the Lord told His disciples that they would by no means get out?  The answer is the prison, the fire.  Christ taught that no one will get out unless the last cent has been paid off!  There is absolutely no leniency here this makes the fear of the Lord such a crucial matter.  In the kingdom age, there will be forgiveness, but only after the guilty party pays the last penny.  All Christians have a choice: either you pay now no matter how difficult it may seem, or you pay later.  The problem is that things have a way of accumulating and in this age there is grace to “skid the rails” whereas in the next age nothing will be facilitated.  We all would do well to solemnly heed Christ’s words and learn to cultivate a healthy fear of the Lord.

The Crown of life and the overcomer

Crown of lifeI have already mentioned that the objective of the race and the fight is a crown, a reward, and now we will examine what the Word of God teaches specifically about crowns, more specifically that which Paul called the crown of righteousness or the crown of life.

In I Corinthians chapter 4, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers about the proper way to view God’s ministers.  The truth is that God calls all Christians to be ministers in God’s service.  However, often Christians harbor the notion that God constituted the Church with members who just come together and sit in the pews while a select group of a more dedicated class of Christians serves them by handing them the weekly bulletin, passing the offering plate, singing in the choir, and preaching a sermon to them.  Nowhere in the scriptures can we find such a model and as long as the great majority of Christians imagine that they have no responsibility in and to the local church, we will continue to delay the work of the gospel and each church will see only limited fruit.  Now Paul mentioned that there were people in the church that were unfavorably judging his ministry and his ministry team.  How often do such situations appear in churches today?  Not much has really changed since the first century!  Paul did not seem to be overly concerned about what others were saying about his ministry.  However, he did find it necessary to teach that unless where sin was involved; all ministers in the church are directly responsible to God.  God will evaluate the validity and quality of each minister and the resulting fruit and not the members of the church or other ministers.  He then warned against judging the work of others.

In 1 Corinthians 4:5, he taught:

“Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.”

Every Christian can receive praise from God.  God chose to symbolize this praise with a crown. Not every Christian will receive praise from God, but every Christian may receive praise depending on whether or not they were faithful and pleasing to God through their ministry as Christian workers.  We can cross-reference this passage with the words of Jesus when he taught that not everyone who calls Him Lord would enter into the kingdom.

In Matthew 7:21-23 we read

“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.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”

These “many” correspond to ministers and their ministries that call Jesus “Lord”, prophesied, cast out devils and performed many wonderful works in His name.  In other words, we may declare many ministers and ministries as successful and blessed of God and yet the Lord Himself, may not so recognize them on “that day”.  The Lord will call these ministers “workers of iniquity”.  Iniquity is not necessarily immorality or evil conduct.  Iniquity is simply “good things” that religious people do, which God has not commanded.  Ministers have the responsibility to do what the Spirit of God leads them to do, not what each one decided they would prefer to do.

Each Christian, each minister of God can look forward someday to receiving a crown of glory for the work they have done in obedience to the leading of God’s spirit and His Word.  This is a precious privilege.  The fact is that if each Christian neglects to fulfill his or her purpose as a minister of God’s will and blessing, he or she will reap unpleasant consequences.  Therefore, we should not lightly esteem the praise that He bestows on each one who is faithful until the end.

In Philippians 4:1, Paul brought up the subject of crowns when he spoke of the fact that his ministry had fruit measured in souls.  He said:

“Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.”

Here Paul called those people who came to the Lord through his preaching as his joy and crown.  The highest standard of measurement for Christian ministry today is the number of disciples that each of us has begotten in God and raised up as mature ministers in their own right.  Paul reaffirmed this principle again in 1 Thessalonians 2:19 where he wrote:

“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? ” 

The weight of our crown, which aside from praise from God, is also described as hope, joy and rejoicing, will be measured in terms of the number of disciples that we make during our time here on earth.  The great commission is a mission fulfilled by God’s people with God guiding the way and lending His power through every step of the way.  God does not need us to make disciples but He will make no disciples without our participation.  God is so gracious!  He provides the guidance, gives the power and when we follow His direction and present ourselves as His tools, He shares His glory with us when the fruit comes.  More often than not, we as God’s people overlook the glory, the praise, the crown that He so graciously offers us.  Why is this so often the case?  It is just another example of the difficulty that the very people of God have in understanding and accepting God’s grace.  Many Christians cannot bring themselves to the point of believing that God saves with no regard to merit.  Yet when they do perform some good work in the name of the Lord they imagine that they are somehow paying off a debt for their failures and shortcomings as Christians.  They cannot bear to think that it is proper to accept any praise, reward or crown because, in their own thinking, they will never arrive at the point of deserving anything.

In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul shared his revelation of how the grace of God continues to work in us after salvation.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

In salvation, the grace of God works through us when all we do is believe and receive Christ’s work for us on the cross. In sanctification and holiness however, Paul understood that the grace of God works through our efforts, our praying, fasting, and our labor.  We must work, but at the same time, we need to recognize that it is not just man working!  God initiates His work in us, giving us all the resources; His guidance, His wisdom, His power, His Spirit; He provides all the resources to accomplish the task that He has elaborated to the end that He has determined.  The man of God is simply a tool in God’s hands.  The mind and the hand of the master do the work, but never without the tool.  Yet the glorious difference between the illustration of a craftsman and his tool is that a craftsman gets all the glory for his work, but the Christian in the hands of the master craftsman also is included in the recognition and the glory.  This is grace it is unexplainable!  It is nothing logical it is just grace!

Not all Christians will receive a crown.  This is because not all Christians present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy acceptable to God, which is their reasonable service.  In other words, not all Christians present themselves as tools in God’s hands.  We are children of God called to be His ministers (His tools).  Many Christians either do not understand this or do not accept it.  A characteristic of those Christians who understand and accept their role as God’s ministers and vessels is that they look forward to Christ’s return.  In II Timothy 4:7, 8 Paul told his disciple Timothy that he had accomplished everything that God expected of him and was ready for Christ’s coming.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Those who have served the Lord faithfully and purposefully in the way and manner that the Lord prescribed in His Word love His appearing!  The crown is for all those that love His appearing, His return.  Many have no love for the idea of Christ’s return.  Christians who are busy with their own agendas and projects and would rather that Christ not come so soon.  This is not the heart of a true servant of God.  God disqualifies such Christians from receiving a crown because they do not care about His work and interests.  They have their own priorities.  These Christians receive the grace of God to do the work of God in vain because while the power and resources to do the Lord’s work are available to them they neglect this grace and remain inactive for the Lord’s purposes.

Another characteristic of those ministers of God who will receive their crown from the Lord are those who endure testing and hardships because of the Lord’s work.

The apostle James wrote in his epistle in chapter 1 verse 12

“Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

Here the apostle James confirms the words of Paul in stating that God will try, test, and judge all Christians.  Only those who endure temptation and the difficulties associated with making disciples are apt to receive the crown of life.  This testing necessitates endurance and tears as the psalmist described in Psalm 126:6

“He who continually goes forth weeping, Bearing seed for sowing, Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, Bringing his sheaves with him.”

There is rejoicing, but first there is weeping.  These servants of God couple their enduring of temptation with their loving the Lord.  Only those who truly love the Lord will patiently endure the testing.  Most Christians do not endure the testing even to be trained and molded and shaped until they have attained a pattern worthy of being replicated in the lives of others and thus show that their love for the Lord is limited.  However, those that endure will receive a lasting reward at the appearing of the chief Shepherd as Peter attested to in 1 Peter 5:4.

“and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.”

Some Christians will endure until the point of death.  The words of the resurrected Jesus that appeared to John on the island of Patmos reveal that at least a group of disciples will endure suffering in prison, tribulation and even death because of the gospel.  This may very well be the description of the experience of those Christians that were initially not ready for the Lord’s coming as a thief before the great tribulation and as a result had to go through the hardships of the persecution of the Anti-Christ.  Yet these Christians depending on their testimony during this most difficult time can also enter into the praise and joy of the Lord’s crowning glory at the judgment seat after the great tribulation and just before the millennium.  John described this experience in Revelation 2:10

“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Finally, a somewhat sobering thought, is that there is a good chance that there is a limited amount of crowns available to the ministers that have served the Lord down the ages.  This makes sense since the kingdom will be limited in scope: on the earth for one thousand years.  I would imagine that there will be many positions of honor and glory available for those who will reign with Christ during the millennium but there will not be an infinite amount of crowns.  From the words of the risen Lord in Revelation 3:11 we can easily conclude that although at one point we were qualified to receive it, it is possible for someone to take our crown.  However, this will only happen if someone else became more fruitful or more faithful that us, and the Lord decided that he or she would do better in His service than we would.

“Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”

We must remember that during the kingdom age the Lord will be governing through a political system as well as a spiritual one.  The Lord’s government must be efficient.  In order for justice to prevail, His ministers must be the most competent and effective possible.  This will necessitate the need to place only the best ministers in each position and responsibility.  Today in the church age, the age of grace, many times and in many places the Lord is limited to use inferior ministers.  Men like Noah, who faithfully built the ark during 500 years before the first rain came and destroyed the earth in the flood, others like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Daniel the Apostles, the great reformers and evangelists and thousands of others throughout the ages will be among those that are chose for these positions.  The Word teaches us that many are called but few are chosen.  These few are the ones that will receive the crowns.  While we must admit that relatively few Christians will be qualified to receive a crown, it is of utmost importance that we understand that we all have the opportunity and thus we must heed Paul’s exhortation to run the race to win the crown.  The sad fact is that very few people desire to run with such force and endurance.  However, the invitation is to all.

We have seen that the context of each passage of scripture that we have examined concerning receiving a crown is that of being qualified, of striving, of doing something in order to receive the crown.  In no portion of scripture are rewards and crowns, glory and honor associated with salvation.  The bible does not support the teaching that all Christians will receive a crown irrespective of their works.  This idea is a product of sloppy theology based on an incomplete understanding of the earthly kingdom of Christ and its purpose in the grand scheme of history.  So why be holy if salvation is by grace only?  We can add to our answer.  Holiness is the only path to a crown of glory and the crown of life in the kingdom of heaven.

Contending for the faith – Do we have to fight to get to heaven?

Contending-for-the-faithContending for the faith – why the Christian should fight

Not only is the Christian life a race but it is also a fight.  The apostle Paul likened himself to a boxer, a prizefighter contending for the faith.  This not only speaks of training and discipline but also of strategy and force.  A race demands a toned body, quickness and endurance, but a fight requires quick reflexes, perception, strength and aggressiveness.  Running a race requires aggressiveness with one’s own body but fighting requires aggressiveness with one’s own body before the fight and aggressiveness with the opponent during the fight.  Paul speaking figuratively of the prizefight explained that he did not waste his energy throwing punches in the air.  His attitude was to throw a punch or a series of punches to knock out and eliminate the opponent.

Contending for the faith is like training for a boxing match

One of the most important attitudes of a prizefighter is aggressiveness.  Caution is important but caution alone, while necessary to avoid a defeating blow from the enemy, never won a single fight.  Paul was expressing his example of contending for the faith through his self-discipline and aggressiveness against resisting forces that could get in the way of his victory and his prize.  We know this because in the last part of verse 27 he stated that he willingly went through much sacrifice so that after having preached the gospel he would not disqualify himself.  It is so important to have a firm conviction that for him contending for the faith was not a matter of keeping his salvation.  Just think, if the apostle Paul had doubts about whether he would make it to heaven or not, where would the rest of us be?  The apostle’s fear was of the possibility of disqualifying himself from the race and the fight.  In contending for the faith, do we have to fight to get to heaven?  Absolutely not!  Heaven and salvation are not prizes they are gifts.  No one can disqualify himself from receiving a gift or else it would no longer be a gift.

In contending for the faith it isn’t enough to preach

Here we see that in contending for the faith, it is not enough to preach.  Paul preached the gospel, healed the sick, suffered persecution and many other things that most Christians would almost never deem necessary and yet he saw the need to force himself and buffet his body so that he could finish the race and the fight as a winner.  The correct attitude that we must learn from Paul’s words is that we must be faithful in doing the best we can while always striving for more.  For this, faith is an indispensable necessity.

Contending for the faith in the Christian life beyond being a race and a fight is also an all-out war.  Besides being athletes and spiritual heavyweight boxing champions, God also calls the Christian to be a good soldier.  In Matthew 11:12 Jesus taught that since the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force.  Implicit in this statement is the application of resistance.  The truth is that the Church of Jesus Christ is an invading force in the world.

Contending for the faith implies overcoming the devil

In 1John 5:19 the apostle John wrote: We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.”

That is because Satan is governing through his minions of demons over the world system, governments, the press, education, etc.  According to 1 Corinthians 15:45 and 47 Jesus became the last Adam and the second man: a new spiritual head, and under His “headship” the Church, which is Christ’s body, has been authorized and sent to take back the earth for God’s purposes.  When the Lord said to Peter “upon this rock” referring to Peter’s confession of the Lordship of Jesus, He would build His church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it, He was revealing that His purpose for the church was conquest, a re-taking of the earth from the clutches of the evil one. This is what is meant by contending for the faith!  The meaning here is not that the gates of hell are moving in on the world and the Church is trying to fight them off.  The correct idea and imagery is that the church is the invading force and the church is taking the battle to Satan’s strongholds, the gates of his city.  The church is the invading force and the gates of Hell will not be able to withstand its strength and violence.  Nothing short of this aggressive attitude on the part of the Church will do!  Satan will not peaceably give up what he has previously usurped.

The Apostle Paul explained that the nature of our battle is not against men, kings, or nations but against an organized army of demonic spirits who occupy strategic strongholds in the world.  The truth is that Christ has defeated the enemy and has broken his hold on the world.  The job of the Church as the army of God is to take the world back, soul by soul, family by family, city by city, and nation by nation.  Our struggle is against real and dangerous enemies but the Lord has already won the war and secured the victory and has opened the path for our own victory.  Even so, we must fight courageously and violently against these enemies in order to take back that which rightfully and originally belongs to man.

Only by contending for the faith in active resistence against Satan will the Kingdom of God advance

Christians usually consider violence as a negative trait and that God’s people should be gentle and never violent in their dealing with others.  However, some types of violence are needful in the Christian life.  While God gives salvation by grace through faith to His children, the advance of the kingdom of heaven only occurs through battle.  Our battle is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and evil spirits operating on different levels of power and authority.  It is only in resisting, in applying force against these evil spirits that God’s kingdom advances.  Never think that if the church, which is the body of Christ and the army of God does nothing, that Christ’s rule will advance, it will not. The expansion of the Gospel is not automatic.  God is sovereign but He never works apart from His people.  That is the reason we are still on the earth; we have not yet finished our work.

Expanding the rule of Christ, edifying the body of Christ, obeying the great commission are all one in the same and none of this happens without violence in the spiritual realm.  When we as the people of God begin to recognize that, we are already in a battle and that God calls all of us to fight as soldiers, we will be able to understand and avoid many difficulties in the Christian life.

Salvation is by grace but only by contending for the faith will salvation reach others

There are Christians who are apathetic, paralyzed and passive in many situations where God calls upon them to be strong and courageous.  Unfortunately, many have been convinced that living in the age of grace means that they need not do anything through the body.  We need to be very clear: grace is for salvation but violence in the spirit is necessary to advance the work of God.  In reality, this violence is only a working out and maturing of the grace that we have received starting with our salvation.  Those who do not learn this lesson will never fully see the blessing of God upon their lives, because they imagine that conquests and victories come in the same way that salvation comes – by grace.

We as God people have been commanded to preach the gospel, baptize those who believe, make disciples and teach them to heal the sick, cast out demons and anything else necessary to destroy the works of the devil.  The gates of hell will not be able to withstand Christ’s heavenly kingdom that is invading the earth through the Church, which is the body of Christ and the army of God.  This understanding is foundational but beyond that, there is the need to maintain the proper attitude.

Contending for the faith requires strength, courage and action

The Lord told Joshua as he was preparing to enter into the Promised Land to “be strong and of a good courage” three times in the space of twelve verses.  Fear not!  Be strong!  Believe!  Go ye!  Stand firm!  Resist the devil!  God has given commands such as these to His people all throughout the centuries. Without this attitude and the proper knowledge of the nature of the battle that God has placed us in, we will not be able to effectively contend for the faith and advance the kingdom of God on the earth.  The only thing that slows God down is His people and their ignorance and lack of a proper attitude.  This attitude, which is so often lacking, is nothing more than a reasonable reaction of faith to God’s attributes and purposes.

Whenever we encounter the strongman, God expects us to bind him, enter his house and take the spoils that he has stolen.  The Lord taught us to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.  Whenever we encounter a situation that God does not permit in heaven, we must resist it violently in the spirit, and overcome the demonic resistance until God’s forces reverse the situation and it conforms to His will as it is in heaven.

Jesus continued later in the same chapter speaking of the nature of demonic activity.  In chapter 12:43-45 we read:

“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none.  Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order.  Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.”

Either we understand that we must be contending for the faith by taking the kingdom of heaven by force and in this war we must use violent tactics where the best defense is an advancing attack through which we take the conflict to the enemy, or we will open ourselves to the humiliation of an enemy occupation.  We must either advance against Satan and his forces or he will find us, move into our house and drag us into a worse situation than he had us in previously.  Jesus called those who have been able to break free from Satan’s clutches but fail to advance and overcome him, a “wicked generation”.  This was because their passivity and cowardice permitted the enemy to return and take back that which God had originally forced him to give up.

Is contending for the faith necessary to get to heaven? The answer is no, because heaven is a gift, we don’t have to fight to receive a gift, it is enough to recieve it.  However, we do have to contend for the faith to experience God’s best for us and reserve a position in His kingdom.

Running the Christian Race: Is salvation a gift or a prize?

running the christian raceRunning the Christian race – Why it is it necessary?

What does running the Christian race mean exactly? Do we run to be saved or do we believe to be saved.  Is salvation a gift or a prize?

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 we read:

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.  And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.  Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.  But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”

There are several passages similar to this one in the New Testament that teach us some important things about the life of God’s children.  The life of a Christian is like a race and the Apostle Paul was perfectly correct to claim that the Christian life is like a race.  In fact, not only is it like a race, it is a race.  It is a race against time.  It is a race with an objective.  It is a race that demands preparation and it is a race that brings reward to those who finish it victoriously.  But wait a minute . . . Is salvation a gift or a prize?  We can answer this question by recognizing the error in imagining that salvation is like a race.  Salvation is neither a race nor is it like a race. Running the Christian race is not related to our salvation.

Running the Christian race – a misunderstood metaphor

How silly it is to imagine that the all-knowing and wise God could be capable of choosing metaphors that defy common understanding.  Who in their right mind would think of participating and winning a race as a valid metaphor to describe salvation.  The only possible application would be in the case of some cruel sadistic predator who would take a group of people and line them up side by side and explain that upon hearing the starting gun shot all of them should run as fast as possible because all of them would be gunned down except the person who crossed the finish line first.  To equate salvation with winning a race is to accuse God of threatening us with eternal damnation unless we finish in first place.  Salvation would be a win or burn proposition.  Honestly, what other kind of accusation could a person be leveling against a god who would do that?  No, salvation is neither a race nor like a race.  Nevertheless we as God’s people are in a race so it is expedient that we understand exactly what the race is and why we should run to win it.

Running the Christian race – no Christians exempt

The apostle’s exhortation is for us to first of all recognize that no one, not one person in the church can legitimately exclude himself from this race.  He asked the question: “. . . Do you not know . . . that all run?”  This means that every child of God, every born again member of the church is expected to be running.  You my friend are in this race!  Are you running?  If you don’t understand how this applies to you right at this minute, you are in danger of making a grave mistake!  All run!  All are in the race!  There is no question about whether you need to be running or not, for all run!  Can you imagine a race of twenty athletes after the starting gun has already fired and only two or three runners started running?  Five or six gaze in the direction of those who left the starting blocks, some stare up at the clock already counting down the seconds of the first few minutes of the race.  Some are tying their shoes, some are sitting on the track, some are still doing their stretching exercises and a few even decided to take a nap.  Yet others are giving each other high fives but they are not running!  Ridiculous!  What do you imagine the organizers of the race would be thinking?  What about the fans who come to cheer-on their favorite runner?  This scene would be a total and complete scandal!  But this is a glimpse of the state of the church!  Many have heard of this race, but they are ignorant of the fact that they are on the race track at this very moment!  You, are on the race track.  Are you running?  Why not?  All run!  Besides the fact that all run, all are exhorted to run the fastest.  Not just as fast as they can, but faster than all the others can.  The imagery that the apostle is trying purposely to invoke upon his readers is not that of a friendly jog where no one is keeping score.  No!  The example is of a number of runners all of whom have trained and prepared to win the race, to beat all the other participants, not only to run as fast as they can, but to run faster than all the others.  All run!  And all run to win!  This is what the Christian life is: Running the Christian race . . . to win!  But, again, is salvation a gift or a prize?

Running the Christian race – the cost of running

Then the apostle Paul explains what this means for each athlete.  Every runner strives for the mastery and is temperate in all things.  An athlete either needs to learn tremendous self-discipline or he needs to find a competent and demanding trainer and submit himself to the rigors determined by his trainer. This means that the Christian life is a life of discipline, of hard work and training and exercise. Athletes learn to limit even their social lives and hobbies. Their purpose as an athlete must spill over to each and every area of their lives. Their sleeping habits are affected. Their eating habits are affected, their leisure time is affected, their relationships are affected. Their entire existence is molded by their purpose as an athlete.  And just what is that purpose? To receive a crown, or more specifically in Paul’s example, a garland of flowers placed on the winner’s head and a victory ceremony.  In other words their purpose for all the effort and discipline is glory and recognition. In the case of Paul’s example in the text last mentioned the crown was a glory and recognition that quickly faded with the drying up of the garland that symbolized the glory of the victory. But in the case of Christians, the apostle taught that the purpose was to receive an incorruptible crown.

The objective of running the Christian race: a crown

I know that this may sound strange to many, but the apostle Paul taught that the motive for running the Christian race is to receive a crown. In the worldly system of secular society the crown quickly fades. Paul argued however that the crown that awaits the Christian who runs and runs to win, paying the price to take first place is a superior crown, a crown that will never fade away, a crown that will endure the passing of time. A crown is a symbol of recognition and glory and that is exactly what Paul was teaching: that athletes go through all their discipline and sacrifice to receive a corruptible crown.  The motive is recognition and glory. Some achieve it through athletics, others through academic degrees. Some achieve honor, recognition and glory through music or song. Others are idolized (glorified) through the recognition of Hollywood through film and television.  Some people excel in business and investments and receive recognition and praise for their productivity and business acumen.  All of this recognition is but a corruptible crown however. Athletes grow old and their records are broken by newer generation of athletes.  Academic leaders also fade away and are forgotten as younger prodigies take their place. Movie stars and pop sensations lose their charisma, and beauty and are replaced by newer sensations.  Successful business entrepreneurs also lose their position of prominence as younger professionals rise up to prominence and eventually dwarf them.  Someone better will always come along.  In this life crowns just don’t last very long.

The prize of running the Christian race: recognition

The desire for recognition is something that God has placed within us. We should not imagine that the desire to win and excel is something that didn’t have its origin in God.  It is a mistake to think that this is something that Satan has placed within us.  Satan can’t create anything, he can only corrupt and twist, pervert or suppress that which has been placed in man by God.  More often than not the desire to excel is a drive that Satan seeks to suppress in man.  He convinces millions of Christians that they will never amount to much of anything and shouldn’t even try.  It is also true that he perverts this desire and makes monsters out of some people but the fact is that the desire to win and receive recognition is a God-given trait.  God placed an interest in glory even in His angels.  Otherwise the fall of Lucifer would not have been possible. Satan’s problem was that he didn’t submit his desire to be glorified to God. God was very generous with Lucifer and gave him tremendous honor and glory.  His error is that he wanted God’s glory as well.  The problem of fallen mankind is not his desire to be crowned, or to be recognized since that is the point of being human (Romans 8:30). The problem is the pursuit of glory and recognition through illicit and carnal means, which only lead to corruption.  The fundamental truth behind this whole argument about rewards is that God’s rewards are superior, and the path to those rewards is not the path that fallen man ever chooses.  Only those children of God with a renewed mind understand and take the path to God’s infinitely superior rewards.  But make no mistake, rewards are from God, and every Christian would do well to recognize the surpassing value of striving for God’s best and His accompanying rewards.  So in answering the question is salvation a gift or a prize?  Make no mistake, we are running the Christian race for sure, but we run for a prize, not for a gift.  Salvation is a gift, but the prize must be earned.

How to counter the Christmas controversy

Christmas controversy vs. merry Christmas

christmas controversy

Are you tired of hearing comments like: “Isn’t Christmas a pagan holiday?” “Many people are offended by Christmas” “Was Jesus really born on December 25th?” “Are Christmas trees biblical?” “Should Christians celebrate Christmas?”

Don’t you hate it when people just can’t have a Merry Christmas and feel compelled to attack the holiday for some reason? Is there hope for a solution for all the animosity that seems to hound our Christmas joy? While I have no solution to the world-wide lack of peace, I do have a solution for lack of peace, in your world, where you would like to just enjoy a simple and joyous Christmas season.

With respect to the Christmas controversy and the Christmas holiday there are four basic positions.

  • The Christian traditionalists, those who celebrate and defend the celebration of Christmas as a legitimate motive for commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ.
  • The secular traditionalists, those who both practice and celebrate Christmas for giving gifts and getting together with family and friends. For the secularist the meaning of Christmas is not necessarily tied to the birth of Christ whether they believe the story of the birth of Christ or not, they are content to celebrate the Christmas season and enjoy all of the secular trappings of the season i.e. Christmas trees, Santa Claus, reindeer, giving of presents the colors green, red and white etc.
  • The Christian purists, of whom some do not celebrate Christmas and believe that no true Christian should celebrate this holiday with pagan origins. Others of this position, while they recognize that historically Christmas was an adaptation of a pagan festivity that during the time of Constantine was adapted to the Christian calendar, they still feel the freedom to celebrate the occasion and consecrate the season to their Lord.
  • The anti-Christian zealots composed of people of other faiths who find Christianity offensive, atheists, and people who for various reasons simply decided that they do not want anything to do with Christmas.

Is there a biblical solution for such varied positions as those just cited? I believe there is a mature and biblical based position that both believers and unbelievers alike can embrace to end all of the unhealthy and unproductive conflict concerning this season.

Basic principles to overcome Christmas controversy

Understand the historical context of Christmas

For those who grew up in a family that always celebrated Christmas through the years, the true history of the Christmas holiday may be quite depressing. Historians almost universally understand that Christ was not born on December 25th. I don’t want to go into too many details but the trappings of the original Roman holiday formerly called Saturnalia was as anti-Christian as you can imagine. If you insist on knowing the details, you can easily research them on the Internet. My purpose in this piece is not to decry the immorality of this sordid Roman tradition. It is enough to know that there was absolutely nothing Christian about the origin of the Christmas season.

Often the truth is undesirable, and the truth of the historic origin and context of the holiday season that so many of us affectionately call Christmas is a prime example of this fact. The world is full of people who would prefer not to know the truth. That was the original problem from the beginning of this controversy. In an effort to make Christianity more palatable, the 4th century Christian leaders foisted the lie that pagans could continue celebrating their licentious and idolatrous festivals and still be Christians. Thus, the lie became part of Christian history and although the traditions for the celebration of the holiday have been greatly refined and adapted to the biblical narrative, the truth remains that the biblical narrative of Christmas does not exist.

This admission is by no means an attack on the biblical narrative. Everything concerning the birth of Jesus remains valid. However, the idea that the biblical account of the birth and infancy of Jesus can be legitimately associated with the Christmas holiday is completely man-made and has no basis or support in Scripture. The truth is, that nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to celebrate the birth of Christ, or for that matter the birth of any person. What began as a lie to deceive pagans into believing that there was no need for them to change their lifestyle in order to become a Christian, has morphed into the lie that the same holiday is supported by the Scriptures and should be incorporated into the biblical Christian calendar. While it is true that men, including many Christians, prefer to believe a lie, the Bible teaches that by knowing the truth, the truth will set us free.

My motivation in writing this piece is that we all be set free from the Christmas controversy. Allow me to explain.

Christians should understand the biblical attitude towards special days or holy days

The apostle Paul writing to the very church where this controversy began exhorted the Roman brothers by saying:

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. (Romans 14:5, 6)

According to the principle taught by this passage, it does not matter what the origin of the Christmas holiday is. It does not matter if it is a lie, or at least, it does not have to matter. While as a Christian, I am not free to celebrate the Christian season as the Roman pagans celebrated it (under another name) in the first few centuries of the last millennium, I am free to take advantage of the occasion and apply it to the celebration of Jesus’s birth. As I said before, nowhere in the Scriptures are we commanded to celebrate the birth of Christ. However, in the same manner, nowhere in the Scriptures are we prohibited from celebrating the birth of Christ as God’s physical entrance on the human scene. I do not have to affirm that Christ was born on December 25th in order to celebrate his birth. Not knowing the real date of his birth does not preclude my celebration of it. Under the principle of the above inspired words of the apostle Paul I am free to esteem any day above the others, whether it is December 25th or October 31st. The whole calendar belongs to God and I am free to consecrate any day for any biblical purpose that I choose.

Christians must understand the biblical principle of freedom

Aside from having the liberty to celebrate one day above another, we are also free not to celebrate one day above another. If I choose the celebrate Christmas, and put up a Christmas tree, and place candy canes and Christmas ornaments all over it, if I place gifts under the tree, make gingerbread cookies and string colored lights all over my home, what is the problem? Am I not free to do all of this? As long as I don’t break any biblical principles of holiness and morality I am free to do whatever I wish during the season. If on the other hand I decide to reject every Christmas symbol in existence and treat the day as if it were like any other day, I would also free to completely ignore the holiday. If I decide to reject the celebration of Christmas however, I should in no way, make those who do celebrate it, feel as if they are somehow less spiritual than I am. The principle that the Apostle Paul taught was: whatever you do or don’t do, and however you do or don’t do it, do or don’t do it as unto God.

Understand incidental opportunities for practicing biblical values

The Christmas controversy, whether you agree about its history or not, offers unique opportunities for practicing certain biblical values. For example, traditionally families get together during the Christmas season. This is healthy and good and many families never seem able to get together if it was not for the Christmas season. If for no other reason we decide to cherish the Christmas season to get together with our friends and family members, then it is a good thing. An even better example is the tradition of many Christian families of rereading the biblical texts especially from the gospel of Luke, concerning the events leading to and around the birth of Christ and His infancy. If for no other reason the Christmas season serves to remind us of the sacrifice that God the Father and the Son made in order to come on the human scene then this also can be an excellent reason to celebrate the season.

Another example of an opportunity to practice biblical values is gift giving, to give. Again, if for no other reason we take advantage of the Christmas season to give gifts to those we love then that is a positive thing. If however, out of a religious spirit, we condemn those who feel the freedom to celebrate this season, we become an anti-Christian factor in others’ lives, and even worse, in the lives of those who we love the most.

Understanding the biblical principles of mutual respect

The Christmas controversy, also called the war on Christmas, is a classic example of many people’s struggle to respect their fellow-man. Instead of celebrating a season of generosity, consideration and love, even to those whom we do not know, many people out of a sectarian, religious and demonic spirit take morbid pleasure in ruining the experiences of their fellow-man. There is a demonic principle in operation throughout the world that muses: “If I’m miserable, I need to make you miserable also.” There is nothing worse for these people than feeling miserable in the midst of happy people. This is a classic manifestation of lack of respect for our fellow-man. It is the classic Scrooge mentality. Many people use the truth to justify the spirit of Scrooge and many Christians close their eyes to the truth thinking that this is the only way to remain positive about the whole subject. There is however a better way.

Assimilate these principles into a personal application to celebrate Christmas

There is a happy medium replete with truthfulness, maturity, and joy. If we take the biblical inspired principles of love and respect for our fellow-man and formulate a position based on the truth, no matter how negative it may be, and through biblical principles of respect formulate a position that is agreeable to any honest and sane individual, we can preserve our Christmas joy. Each one of us should know how to articulate our position with confidence, wisdom, and tolerance when confronted with the opinions of others. We should be firm, yet gracious. In so doing we can enjoy the freedom produced by knowing and walking in the truth without attacking the opinions of those who differ with us.

A suggestion to overcome the Christmas controversy

I suggest that during this Christmas season, whether you are a Christian or not, that you feel free to decide the basis for how you spend your holiday season. If you choose not to celebrate it, that is fine, however be careful not to spoil the experience of others. Don’t disrespect your fellow human being by imposing your abstinence on their holiday cheer. If you are an atheist, supposedly you believe that God doesn’t exist and therefore the story of Christ is just another human story. If you are an atheist and you have the grace to live and let live, good for you! If however you think that is your duty in life to illuminate the rest of the world then please spare us, keep you misery to yourself, as if you think the world would be a happier place if there was no such thing as Christmas.

The truth is that there is no real meaning to Christmas. Or at least the true and original meaning is something that Christians should reject. However, the modern-day view of Christmas threatens no one. There is no reason why Jews should be threatened by Christmas just as there is no reason why Christians should be threatened by Hanukkah or by Ramadan. There is nothing in the modern concept of Christmas that should offend anyone. To be offended by Christmas is to be offended by the beliefs of others. Such is a hapless hypocritical position. Those who hold such thoughts think it is completely acceptable to impose their beliefs on others while at the same time becoming offended when others hold to their own beliefs even if they do not impose those beliefs on anyone else. For all of those with the Scrooge mentality, do the rest of the world a favor and keep your gloom to yourself. I offer my opinion here not to force it on anyone, but to offer an opportunity, whatever your position concerning the Christmas controversy, to be joyful, thankful and gracious in this holiday season.

God bless you and have a Merry Christmas, without controversy!

Good works – Unequal rewards for unequal service

good worksWhy should Christians be concerned about good works?

Good works, are they really necessary? Once we get over the difficulty of admitting that receiving rewards for good works is a spiritual matter and not reserved for the least noble among us and that God even encourages the idea of producing good works for heavenly rewards, it is necessary to also recognize that God doesn’t treat or reward individuals with a collective point of view.  God will treat every child, every begotten spiritual son, on the basis of his ability and faithfulness with the opportunities that he has been given. This implies that God will distribute unequal rewards for unequal service or good works.

It is interesting to observe the attitude that the world assumes in each generation.  In these first decades of the 21st century there is an ever growing attitude that it is somehow wrong or immoral to encourage competition, so that some win and other’s lose.  The level of education has fallen so much in the United States that many young Americans are barely literate yet make it through school.  The “system” can’t bring itself to make the poor dears face up to failure if they don’t study properly during their formative years in school.  In recent years, we have witnessed the deplorable attitudes of unionized schoolteachers who get the best employee benefits without having to show any competency in exercising their profession.  This just shows the despicable attitude that modern society has nurtured in these people so that they think that somehow the rest of the working class of society owes them because they have the right to have privileges that others do not receive.

We are in a societal movement that preaches rights rather than worth.  Honest working people have been shaken down so that those who refuse to work for a living can have food and transportation.  You can always tell what is antagonistic to the character of God by observing what is valued by secular society.  Want more examples:  A beauty pageant contestant is disqualified to take the crown because she thinks that gay marriage is inferior to heterosexual marriage.  The rules have just been changed.  It isn’t enough that women used to be judged principally by their physical beauty as if they had anything to do with that, now they have to embrace tolerance to any and all types of lifestyles condemned by biblical standards and praise that which is reasonably repulsive to the mainstream members of society. The world of the 21st century rewards cowardice, and lack of conviction.  The only tolerated convictions are those that mirror the values of the “high priests” of worldly society (homosexuals, hair brained Hollywood movie stars, and eastern mystics among other anti-Judeo Christian types of individuals.)

It all comes down to a hostility to the thinking that we will receive in proportion to what we are able to do and produce and to what we have been given to start with: or in other words: there will be unequal rewards for unequal service, many good works will result in much reward, few good works will result in less reward and no good works will result in yes, you guessed it, no rewards.

What Jesus said about reward for good works

Jesus laid it out in simple language:

“For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” Matthew 16:27 

Let’s consider the context of this statement by looking at the three previous verses:

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

It is absolutely fundamental to recognize to whom Jesus was speaking here.  He said this to His disciples: “If any of you decides to be my follower (naturally no unregenerate man would think of following Christ) you must deny yourself first, then take up your cross and then follow me.”  This is the cost of following Christ.  To qualify as a follower of Christ one has to deny himself.  Christ has no use for those who wish to preserve themselves.  Through Christ’s words we can perceive that He would really prefer that we don’t even begin following Him unless we are clear that we will have to give up our own preferences and prejudices.

The cross is an instrument of death, a symbol of the constant need of the disciple to die to his individual self.  This is the price that must be paid to follow Christ.  However along with the price that must be paid to be a disciple there is also a reward attached to it.  Not only that, if one doesn’t pay the price of denying himself and “losing himself” for the sake of Christ, he will only end up losing it while all the time trying to keep it.  In other words, every man will lose his life one way or another.  The disciple is given a choice, lose it now through the sacrifice that sometimes is necessary to produce good works, and get it back latter with reward, or try to keep it now and lose it later with punishment and discipline and a sense of loss.  Even if we were able to gain the whole world, Jesus added, it wouldn’t be worth it, we would still lose everything forevermore.  Or in other words, the most you can have now is the whole world, but for how long?  Is it worth a thousand years of loss in the kingdom?  You be the judge.

When the Lord returns according to our text in Matthew 16:27 He will reward every man according to his works whether good works or evil.  Are you ready for the return of the Lord?  Are you prepared for the lot you have earned in the kingdom?  I suspect if you are like me, you will want to invest more of your life, material goods and energy in multiplying the talents you have received from the Lord in order to produce more good works.

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