R U Saved? If U die 2day will U go 2 Heaven?

If you ask most Americans (who aren’t atheists) if they are going to heaven they’ll say yes. They’ll tell you that they are good people, they believe, they go to church or they have been baptized. There’s a problem with each of those answers, none of them are the right one.

The Bible is pretty clear that no person is without sin and that we all need the penalty of our sin to be paid. Jesus paid that penalty when he allowed himself to be nailed to the cross. We deserved the death penalty and he paid for it with his life. So just being “good” won’t cut it, because even though we do some good things we also do many bad things and the good doesn’t pay off the bad. Look at it this way; if you robbed a store and told the judge that you were polite to old ladies and nice to puppies would he let you off?

Just believing won’t work either. It’s like Jesus’ brother James said, “Even the demons believe that there is one God, but they tremble.” Most people in America say they believe, but there is little evidence, in the way the live, that they actually do. The demons tremble in fear, but most of the people who say they believe in God have no respect or fear for him. There are quite a few people in the Bible who believed in God, lived however they wanted, and never made it to the Promised Land.

Being baptized when you were an infant or when you were 12 doesn’t mean you saved today. What have you been doing since then?

When Jesus came he offered humanity a chance to have a pretty good relationship with God. He offered us a deal or as the Bible calls it a covenant. Here’s the deal believe in Jesus, that is believe he lived, died as a sacrifice for sin, and that he was resurrected on the third day. In other words have faith that he died for the penalty for our sins.

Just like you have to have faith whenever you make a deal with somebody, you have to have faith when you make this deal with Jesus. It’s like getting married, you wouldn’t get married unless you had faith your spouse would be faithful to you. Likewise you must have faith that God will be faithful and do what he says he’ll do. You can only be saved if you are in this covenant with God and you can only be in covenant if you have faith.

Just having faith is not the only thing in this deal though. There are other things we call conditions. Some of them are be baptized, repent from sinning, love your enemies, forgive others and obey God. But this is where you need to be careful because you don’t get to heaven by checking stuff off of a list. You need to want to please God and you’ll need to learn to love him.

If you’re like everyone else you’re asking yourself, “what happens when I screw up?” The answer to that depends on you. If you decide to say the heck with it I’m just going to live how I want no matter what God thinks, then you’ll probably be in serious danger if you never turn back to God. Most likely you’ll find out what hell is, the hard way. But, if you fail and then do your best to do right the next time then you are on the right track. As long are you are being honest with yourself and with God and as long as you make the best effort you can, he’ll forgive you and help you on your way.

The Bible says, “He does not deal with us as our sins deserve; he does not repay us as our misdeeds deserve. For as the skies are high above the earth, so his loyal love towers over his faithful followers. As far as the eastern horizon is from the west, so he removes the guilt of our rebellious actions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on his faithful followers.”

Don’t wait. Decide to believe today and decide to make that covenant deal with God. Believe in him, believe what he’s said and follow him. If u died 2day, u can go 2 Heaven.

How Does Faith Work?: A Covenant Forgotten – Part 4

In class one evening a professor made the remark that he thought that the common translation of Habakkuk 2:4 “…the righteous will live by his faith” might be more accurate if translated something like, “…the righteous person will live because of his faithfulness.” [1] I’ll leave it to Hebrew scholars to discuss which is more accurate, but I think even a layman’s research would show there is a strong chance that professor was correct.  As I researched what he said the thing I never could be sure of was if the scriptures meant the righteous will live by His (the Lord’s) faithfulness or his (our) faithfulness. In the end I think the answer is yes in both instances because every covenant depends on both the Lord’s faithfulness (which is never in doubt) and our faithfulness.

Here’s a simple example of how faith gives us confidence and courage. Imagine you are in a deep well and the only way out is a rope dangling from the surface. You wouldn’t try to use that rope if you didn’t believe it would support your weight. You’d be afraid that if the rope broke you’d fall, injure yourself, and be even worse off. But if you had faith that the rope was strong and that it was tied to something that would hold your weight, you’d start climbing. The more faith you have in the rope the more apt you are to use it. Once you begin to use the rope your faith in it will grow because it’s passing the test and it’s supporting your weight. The further you climb up the rope the more your faith will grow and soon you’ll be out of the hole and saved.

Now if you only believe the rope was there and only believe the rope can save you but you didn’t use the rope the rope would be useless. If you didn’t start pulling yourself up the rope to test it, your faith would not become stronger, you would never have the courage to climb the rope, and you would never get out of the hole. In the end believing in the rope, but not using the rope, will have the same result as not trusting the rope in the first place. This is what James is trying to tell us when he says, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

Likewise starting up the rope but not climbing all the way out of the hole does no good. Those who start up the rope but go back down because they lose courage won’t leave the hole, and neither will those who near the top and decide they like life in the hole and go back down. Paul wrote, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14) and Jesus said, “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13) These and other scriptures show that enduring in our trust in and our faithfulness to the Lord matters greatly.

“Faith comes by hearing…” (Romans 10:17)  Imagine you are looking at the rope dangling in front of you wondering if it was safe, and a voice from outside of the hole began to assure you that the rope was safe. Would that build you trust in the rope? Or, if another person was in the hole with you and told you they had climbed the rope many times, would that build your trust in the rope? We gain trust and confidence from the stories from scripture, the experiences of others and experiencing the Lord’s faithfulness ourselves. Faith grows even more as we exercise it.

To show the interaction of faith and action James wrote, “Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” (James 2:21-23) Offering a son as a sacrifice takes great faith, but Abraham didn’t always have that kind of faith. We can see by some of his choices that his faith was not always as strong as it was when he took Isaac to Mt. Moriah, but as experienced more of the Lord’s faithfulness Abraham’s faith grew. Eventually his faith grew to the point where he knew the Lord would raise Isaac from the dead if he were sacrificed.

When Moses led Israel from Egypt the Israelis were not very trusting of the Lord. Even though they’d seen the plagues He’d sent on Egypt and the miracles He’d done they were still not convinced of His greatness. Not even the parting of the Red Sea and the many other miracles convinced all Israelites of how great the Lord is. Yet some were convinced and they trusted the Lord and we see later that those who did were able to do things and see things that those without faith could not. For example, Joshua and Caleb trusted the Lord and when they went to explore the land of Canaan with ten other men, they were the only ones who saw how good the land was and how easily Israel could conquer the people there and take the land. Ten of the men who went said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” (Numbers 13:31) Caleb and Joshua saw the same things those men saw but they said, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.” (Numbers 14:7) The only difference between Caleb and Joshua and the other ten men was their faith. Caleb and Joshua’s perspective, from a position of faith, allowed them to see and realize things that the other ten could not even imagine. Their trust in the Lord equipped them to have courage the others would never have.

The story of David and Goliath is no different. David saw and understood things that no soldier in the Israelis’ camp could. Remember how David recalled the Lord’s faithfulness just before he fought Goliath. “When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” It was the knowledge of the Lord’s faithfulness that gave David his courage.

Hearing those stories of the Lord’s faithfulness helps our faith grow just as surely as exercising our faith does. It’s only by faith in the Lord that we can enter into covenant with the Lord, and it’s only by faith that we will be able to be faithful that covenant. If we choose to believe and to remain in the covenant our faith will grow stronger and stronger just as Joshua, Caleb, David and Abraham’s did. By knowing how we must use faith and action together, we can understand how it’s true that we are saved by faith but not by faith alone. Some want to say the faith produces obedience that’s not quite true, but faith is what makes obedience and love possible. Obedience to the Lord and loving the Lord are not necessarily automatic consequences of having faith. Faith, love and obedience are so intertwined it’s impossible for them to be effective apart from each other.

 


[1] Scripture is taken from GOD’S WORD®, © 1995 God’s Word to the Nations. Used by permission of Baker Publishing Group.

Life is about choices: A Covenant Forgotten – Part 3

In the first covenant that God made with man Adam was free to do as he pleased, which he did and mankind has regretted his choice ever since. What we can learn from Adam’s story is that ultimately our eternal future depends upon our belief in the Lord’s faithfulness, and our commitment to entering and keeping our covenant with the Lord.

In the parable of the “Parable of the Bags of Gold” (Matthew 25:14-29) the Master said to the servant, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”[1] Notice that the Master did not commend the servants, who returned with a profit, for what they believed; he commended him for what they did. They obviously believed because they chose to act on what they believed. The third servant had the same information as the other two, about the master, yet he decided to believe and act differently. Was that because of what was in that servant’s heart? That third servant had no trust in his master even though he believed his master. Did the servant see the master as being the same as him? (“To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.”[2])

In that same chapter of Mathew Jesus told the parable of the “The Sheep and the Goats” that described the final judgment. In that parable Jesus said, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”[3] Jesus said to the righteous, “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’”  In that parable the righteous are those who chose to love their neighbors as themselves.  In other words the people who were faithful to what the Lord said are the ones who were righteous.

All through scripture we see people making choices. Adam and Eve chose to disobey the Lord. Noah, by choice, walked with God. Following Israel’s choices is like taking a wild roller coaster ride, one moment they would choose to follow God and soon after they were sacrificing their children to false gods. King Saul chose to follow God and then chose not to. Solomon chose to follow the Lord with his whole heart and then chose to follow him somewhat. David, on the other hand, followed God and all but one of the Apostles chose to follow Jesus to the end.

One way to view those stories is that they are stories of those who would choose to be in and stay in covenant with the Lord, those who would choose to not be in covenant with Him, or those who would enter and then leave His covenant with them.

There may not be any place in scripture that shows that we must make our own choices better than Joshua 23-24 does. Israel had journeyed from Egypt, wandered in the desert, conquered nations and was able to rest for a moment. Their leader, Joshua, gathered them to hear him speak and after he reminded them of the great things the Lord did for them, that they saw Him do, he reminded them that they must make a choice. “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” [4]

The Lord doesn’t force us to follow Him and He didn’t force Israel to serve Him. Adam and Eve had to make a choice to obey Him as did Noah, Abraham and many others. The Lord made covenants with them all. Every time we see the Lord making a promise or giving a command, in Scripture, we are seeing a form of a covenant.  The Lord promises His faithfulness to mankind in the Bible through covenants and it is through covenants that He expresses his expectation that man be faithful to Him.


[1] Matthew 25:23 (NASB)

[2] Psalm 18:25-26 (NIV)

[3] Matthew 25:46

[4] Joshua 24:1

Relationship: A Covenant Forgotten – Part 1

But the Lord continually shows loyal love to his faithful followers,
and is faithful to their descendants,
to those who keep his covenant,
who are careful to obey his commands.

When I was first saved the preacher who baptized me also gave me a Bible and told me to read the New Testament and then the Old Testament. I was able to read through most of the New Testament in just a short while, and as you might imagine I was profoundly affected. As I read I realized that my sins were forgiven and that I was truly born again and though Jesus had done His part I must, with His help, do my part. I was struggling with the sin that was still in my life and that the old man was not going down without a fight. My struggle with that old man wasn’t easy and to be very honest for years I lost more battles than I won. Yet, because the Lord loves me so much, He patiently waited on me to grow strong and to depend on His help. I knew there were things I had to do in my life, but in my early walk I didn’t understand how much my Father in Heaven wanted me to succeed or how far He would go to make sure I did. I thought His love for me depended on what I was accomplishing, however his love for me depended on nothing I’d done, He loved me even before I turned and cried out to Him. But, in those early days I believed the Lord demanded perfect righteousness when in fact he demands an all-consuming commitment to become righteous.

I am now beginning to see that our definition of righteousness is not God’s definition of righteousness. Scripture describes Noah as, “a righteous man,blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.” Job was “was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Zacharias and Elizabeth “were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” Even so, Paul wrote, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” How is it possible that those people were blameless and righteous, yet they were also sinners who fell short? Was it only because they believed? Certainly that was part of it we know they all had faith, but in each of those stories we also see they were committed to walking with God and keeping His commandments. Abraham was declared righteous because of his faith yet he was justified by what he did. Faith and following the Lord go hand in hand. Those I mentioned weren’t sinless and none were perfect, however they were all committed and faithful. When I was first saved, I entered into a covenant with my Creator. Those men and women who the Bible says are blameless were also in a covenant, and it was their covenant as well as their God that they chose to be faithful to.

In the infancy of my Christianity, and even now, I listened to and read the works many different preachers who spoke from a wide variety of viewpoints. I’ve read or heard views from Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, Reformed, Wesleyan, Nazarene and many others. One teacher will say that we only need faith to be saved. Often those same teachers will say that if we only have faith Jesus will do the rest. They make it seem as if all our lusts, pride, and selfishness will just miraculously disappear and we’ll never backslide if we believe in just the right way. Others teach the need for both belief and holiness, and it seems that a failure in faith or a failure in striving for holiness could endanger our salvation. The first teacher says you can’t earn anything by doing the things that please the Lord and the second says you can’t be saved without working to please the Lord. Both teachers have their proof verses and long explanations, and quite honestly any person who is able to look at both views with an open mind will find both teachers to be quite convincing. But, I’ve found a couple of problems with both views.

First, I see extreme legalism in both views. The first preacher uses the Word to show what you do not need to do and he finds “legal” reasons why we have no need to do them. The second finds many reasons why we must do this or that and they can show you his “legal” reasons as easily as the first. Most people won’t agree that the first preacher is legalistic, we’ve been trained by him to think only those who tell us what we must do are legalists. But legalism is legalism whether you are looking for loopholes to not do something or commands that say you must do something.

The second thing I find wrong is that both views deny that they want you earn anything, but they both do. One view wants you to earn salvation by believing while the other wants you to earn it by believing and working. That will confuse some of you because it difficult to see how we can earn something just by believing while it’s easy to see how we can work and earn something. Both philosophies teach that if you do something you will get or earn salvation, we either believe and earn salvation or believe and work and earn salvation. Both views often ignore that no person who does not faithfully love God will be saved.

In the end both teachings can, and have, produced many converts who fail to love God and who don’t serve Him out of love only. A sermon by that great Alliance Missionary preacher Paris Reidhead, that speaks about Christian Humanism, illustrates what I’m saying.

“Now in order to understand the implications of that in the twentieth century, we must go back 150 years, to a conflict that attacked Christianity. Just after the great revivals in America with Finney, the Spirit of God having been marvelously outpoured onto certain portions of our country, there came an open attack on our faith in Europe under the higher critics. Darwin had postulated his theory of evolution, certain philosophers had adapted it to their philosophies, and theologians had applied it to the Scripture. About 1850 you could mark the opening of a frontal attack upon the Word of God. Satan had always been insidiously attacking it. But now it was open season on the Book, open season on the Church, and Voltaire in France could declare that he would live to see the Bible become a relic, placed only in museums; that it would be utterly destroyed by the arguments that he was so forcefully presenting against it.

Well, what was the effect of this? The philosophy of the day became humanism. And you could define humanism this way, humanism is a philosophical statement that declares the end of all being is the happiness of man. The reason for existence is man’s happiness. Now according to humanism, salvation is simply a matter of getting all the happiness you can out of life. If you’re influenced by someone like Nietzche who says that the only true satisfaction in life is power and that the power is its own justification, and that after all the world is a jungle. And it is therefore up to the man to be happy, to become powerful, and become powerful by any means he can use. For it is only in this position of ascendancy or as we saw in the worship of Molech that one can be happy. This would produce in due course a Hitler who would take the philosophy of Nietzche as his working operating principle and guide and would say of his people that they were destined to rule the world. Therefore any means that they could to achieve this was then salvation.”

The problem doesn’t come from the conflict between faith and “works”, the problem comes from why we do what we do. A “me”- centric Christianity is not Christianity at all, as Mr. Reidhead pointed out it is humanism. This is not the relationship with the Lord that Jesus and the New Testament teachers ever taught us to have. Coming to Christ to be saved is where every Christian starts in their relationship with Jesus, but the relationship can’t stay there. If we believe or work only for our own benefit, to be saved, we’ve missed the point.

The Lord does love us and, again, we have done nothing to deserve that love. But look again at what the Psalmist said. “…the Lord continually shows loyal love to his faithful followers… to those who keep his covenant.” Though he loves us all He only continues to extend His love to those who choose to make the effort to obey Him and to follow Him. This principle is found all through scripture, it’s an eternal principle. We can see that principle in the second commandment which says, “…I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Moving forward to the New Testament we find that Jesus didn’t change that principle, in fact he confirmed it’s eternal nature. “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”

When we think of our side of our relationship with our Creator the first thing that should come to our mind is obedience and faithfulness to Him. That might seem shocking because the first thing you might think should come to mind is faith. However, if you believe you are in a relationship with the Lord, then you must already believe that He exists, and you must already have faith that His death and resurrection was for the atonement of sin. Christians understand that we have all sinned and that there is a penalty for our sin. We know salvation is only because of Jesus’ blood that was shed on the cross and we know only Jesus can grant forgiveness of sin. Jesus paid the debt for our sin, but our debts are only paid if we believe in whom He is and what He did. We must have faith to be saved. Faith is how the relationship begins, how we begin our covenant with Him, after that we must think about how we stay in relationship with Him.

  1. Psalm 103:17-18 New English Translation (NET)
  2. Genesis 6:9 NASB
  3. Job 1:1 NASB
  4. Luke 1:6 NASB
  5. Romans 3:23 NASB
  6. Paris Reidhead, “Ten Shekels and a Shirt”
  7. Psalm 103:17-18 New English Translation (NET)
  8. Exodus 20:5 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
  9. John 15:10 (NASB)

A Covenant Forgotten: Preface

While sitting in class at Johnson University one evening our professor, Dr. Carlus Gupton, thoughtfully mused that that Habakkuk 2:4 might be translated more accurately if it read “the just shall live by his faithfulness” rather than “the just shall live by his faith.” He explained how the Hebrew text was sown together and made a very convincing argument. Some modern translations and Hebrew scholars, I later found, even agreed with him. I haven’t been able to shake the idea from my mind since and it nagged at me for quite some time as I pondered if it could be true and what it would mean if it were. I had to ask myself just what affect would it have on Paul’s uses of that same verse and that in turn affected my beliefs?

As I studied I discovered a book titled “Saved By Faithfulness: How The Covenant Shapes Our Understanding of Salvation” by Rev. Mark Skillin. That book changed my thinking as much as Dr. Gupton’s statement in class did. In fact what Rev. Skillin wrote both added to and validated Dr. Gupton’s idea and brought more clarity to the scriptures for me.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been so influenced and borrowed so heavily from “Saved By Faithfulness” that it would be impossible for me to cite every idea that came from that book. Let me just make the blanket statement that future post’s in this blog are built on that book, and this work may not exist without that book.

I’ve  often hear that we are “saved by faith alone” and have found no way to reconcile that with much of what Jesus taught. Jesus did say we must have faith, but he also spoke of us bearing our cross, loving and forgiving others, and obeying Him.  Also, in the Book of Acts Peter said, “I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism in dealing with people, but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is welcomed before him.”  (Acts 10:34-35 NET) From that it’s easy to understand that Peter meant we must believe in the Lord, walk humbly before Him and do what is right.

The Apostle James wrote, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” (James 2:14-17)

John the Apostle quoted a similar statement from Jesus, “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” (1 John 3:23-24)

Faith, it seems, is not the only condition of the New Covenant.

Thank you Mr. Skillin and Dr. Gupton for the profound affect you’ve had on me. Only scripture and CS Lewis have had more affect (not bad company to be in).

More to come on “The Forgotten Covenant.”

Be in Covenant with the Lord, be relevant.