Sanctification: Restoring the Soul through Worship

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A Sanctified Soul

Sanctification Restores the Soul of Man

So far, through our exercises in Sanctification, we have learned that part of the work of the Holy Spirit is to restore our emotions through Prayer and our minds through the study and application of the Word of God; a ministry which brings our hearts into alignment with that of the Father, and transforms our minds into ones more like Christ’s.  However, this part of the sanctification process only takes care of two of the components of our souls—leaving the third one, our all-important and powerful wills, for the Spirit to deal with.  And deal with them, He must; because unlike our emotions, which are simply expressions of how we feel, and our minds, which merely reveal what we think, our wills through their actions express what we want and who we really are.

Also, through these workout sessions, we have learned that it is God’s will for us is to be saved from our sins and be adopted into His family; as sons and daughters who have not only been redeemed by the blood of Christ, but as ones who have also been conformed or remolded into His image.  This means that we are not only to become like Jesus in His character, but we are also to share in His mission and ministry here on the earth—which, as He stated in John 4:34, 5:30, and 6:38, was to do the will of His Father

My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work;
I can do nothing on my own…because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me; and,
I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.

Your AssignmentSince doing the will of the Father was at the heart of Jesus’ mission, and since becoming like Him is the goal of our Sanctification, it stands to reason that doing the will of the Father must become the mission in our lives, as well.  This, however, is something that is a lot easier said than done!

That’s because, before coming to Christ, our wills and the actions they precipitated were dominated by our flesh—which is to say, by how we felt and by what we thought.  If our bodies hungered for or lusted after something—regardless  of whether it was appropriate or beneficial; or, if our minds harbored certain thoughts about anyone or anything—regardless of whether they were true or not—our wills would initiate actions geared toward satisfying those feelings and vindicating those thoughts.  In short, before our Salvation, with no access to or Godly input from our dormant spirits, our wills were like puppets whose strings were being pulled by our baser human instincts; instincts concerned with the pleasing and preservation of our unregenerate and ego-dominated selves.  But, all this began to change the moment we said yes to Jesus and were Born Again.
 

Salvation and the Will of Man

The goal of and long term impact of Salvation on our wills has been well described by Watchman Nee in his book The Spiritual Man, where he remarks…

What is salvation?  It is none other than God saving man out of himself into Himself.  Salvation has two facets:  a cutting off and a uniting with.  What is cut off is self; the uniting is with God.

What is self? …were we to say self is self-will we would not be too far from the mark… [because] man’s essence is in his volition…

Salvation, then, is to deliver man from his created, natural, animal, fleshly, and self-emanating will…

The gospel is to facilitate the union of our will with God.  Anything short of this is failure of the mission.  God aims his arrow of salvation not so much at our emotion or our mind, but at our will, for once the latter is saved, the rest are included.

[For] …God intends to destroy the life of the soul but not its function, so upon being joined with the Lord in life, He launches forth to renew our soul with its various parts in order that our soul may be one with our new life and consequently one with His will.[1]

In the face of such a challenging, time-consuming, and (on our parts) painful prospect as the transformation of our self-absorbed wills into ones totally given over to the pursuit of God’s will, we might find ourselves wondering if it wouldn’t have been better for us, instead of being endowed with the capacity to choose, to have been pre-programmed for obedience by God.  Surely, this would have been much easier on everyone involved; and yet, if God hadn’t designed us in this way, we wouldn’t have been created in His image and would therefore not be eligible to be adopted as His children.  For us to be like God, then, we would have to be free to choose to act in ways that He would; ways such as…

  • Choosing to do what’s right, rather than what’s expedient;
  • Choosing to do what’s in the best interests of others, even at the expense of our own interests;
  • Choosing to speak nothing but the truth, even if we are the only ones doing it; and,
  • Choosing to believe God and take Him at His Word, even though we can see no evidence of His existence; and even when our thoughts and feelings do not concur.

The failure to make this last choice—which is really the first one we each need to make—is what caused our first parents, and eventually us, to be at odds with the will of God in the first place.  For, as Genesis 3:6 relates it, in spite of the fact that Adam and Eve had been told not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil…

…when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Sadly, when Adam and Eve were given an opportunity to prove that they would carry out the will of God, they failed the first test of “Sonship,” which was obedience to their Father.  Rather than complying with His will, they allowed their own to succumb to the desires of their flesh, and to be seduced by the promises of self-achieved divinity being offered to them by Satan, the one whose will has always been in direct opposition to God’s.

On this, Watchman Nee comments again…

We may say that there are two massive contradictory wills throughout the universe.  On one side stands the holy and perfect will of God; on the other is arrayed the defiled, defiling, and opposing will of Satan.  In between subsists the sovereign, independent, free will of man.[2]

The War of the Wills

When overwhelmed by the countless mundane issues in life, it is very easy for us to lose sight of the fact that the driving force behind everything that takes place in our lives is this unseen, on-going conflict of wills between the one Righteous Ruler of the Universe and the evil imposter who is seeking to overthrow Him.  The evil imposter is none other than the powerful fallen angel, Lucifer—who is also known as Satan, “the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2),” and “the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44).”  His bio, in Ezekiel 28: 12-17, reads like this…

You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.  You were in Eden, in the garden of God…an anointed cherub…blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you…

So I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.

Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor…

His arrogant ambition and the self-centered nature of his will are also noted for us in Isaiah 14:12-14…

How you are fallen from heaven, O Daystar, son of Dawn!  How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!

You said in your heart…

I will ascend to heaven;
…above the stars of God I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of the assembly in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the height of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.

His opponent, of course, is God—the Sovereign, All Powerful, All-Knowing, Holy Being who not only…

…created the heavens…formed the earth and made it…[and] formed it to be inhabited;
…speak[s] the truth…[and] declare[s] what is right (Is. 45:18-19);
…gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist (Rom. 4:17);
…is light and in [whom] is no darkness at all (1 John 1:50;
…is love (1 John 4:10)….

…but is the One who could, at any time He chooses, destroy His impudent adversary with just one word from His mouth.  Instead, in His wisdom, He continues to allow him to “…prowl around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).”  And, why is that?  Because in this cosmic battle of wills, the decision as to which one will prevail on the earth has been delegated by God to the will of each—relatively speaking—puny and seemingly insignificant human being who lives on this planet; and, is determined every time he or she is faced with the choice of doing what will satisfy his or her own selfish desires, or what will be pleasing to God.

Screwtape

Screwtape’s Perspective on Humanity

In the classic apologetic novel, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis provides us with additional insight into the nature of this war of wills through the instructional letters that seasoned demon, Screwtape, writes to his nephew, Wormwood, a lowly demon-in-training.  Here, in a slightly abridged version of one such letter, we learn that in the view of Satan and his minions

…Humans are amphibians– half spirit and half animal…As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for as to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation–the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks…As long as [they live] on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty…

…To decide what the best use of it is, you must ask what use the Enemy [God] wants to make of it, and then do the opposite. Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this. To us (demons) a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy [God] demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth.

He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because he has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His.  We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy (God) wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct. 

And that is where the troughs come in. You must have often wondered why the Enemy [God] does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation.

Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs– to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot ‘tempt’ to virtue as we do to vice.

He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys…[3]

 

Servants to Sons

God’s Desire is to have Sons who Choose to do His Will over their own


Worship and the Will of God

Although he didn’t refer to it as such, the act that Screwtape is describing when a child of God chooses to obey the will of His Father—even in the face of any thoughts, feelings, or circumstances to the contrary—is something that God looks upon as Worship.  For, in spite of what we have been conditioned to believe, worship isn’t so much about what we do as we gather together in church on Sunday morning; it is more about what we do when we leave church and, going back out into the world, we come face to face with the people and situations that Satan likes to use in an attempt to get us to abandon God’s will in favor of our own.  It is then that, as we are strengthened by the Spirit and reminded that…

God is God, and we are not;
He created everything, He owns everything, and He established all the rules by which His creation operates;
He knows everything, is everywhere, and has all the power;
He is holy and always does what is right; and,
His thoughts or ideas, and His ways of doing things are better than ours; and,
He can always be trusted to do what is right, not only for us but for everyone else, as well…

…we can lay aside our will and what we want, and choose to do what Jesus would do, if He was there in our place.  This, in fact, is what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane when, in the face of the Cross and in spite of His own human desires, He surrendered His will to that of His Father, so that His Father’s would be done on the earth.  What we learn, then, from His example, is that worshiping God simply means living surrendered to Him, in any and every circumstance in life, and anything less is not true worship.

With that in mind, then, we need to submit to and embrace the work of the Holy Spirit as He continues the work of restoration in our souls, so that in every situation our attitude will be…

O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker.
For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand (Ps. 95:6).

Worship the Lord

 

 

Smiley Face with Earphones2
The song of a soul restored…

 

 

[1]  Watchman Nee, The Spiritual Man (Richmond, VA: Christian Fellowship Publishers, Incorporated, 1968), Book 3, 81-83.

[2]  Nee, Spiritual Man, 77.

[3] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), chapter 8.

Salvation: Can We Lose It?

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Many years ago, I attended a church which staunchly supported its denomination’s position that a person can lose his salvation.  Up to that point in my Christian experience, I hadn’t given much thought to the matter, probably because the thought that a saved person could somehow become unsaved had never occurred to me.  However, since all I have ever wanted to know is the truth, I decided to try and keep an open mind about it, at least until I could search the scriptures for myself.

As I started thinking about it, though, the idea of a person losing their Salvation began to seem like a very far-fetched and highly illogical one.  I mean, if it was possible, at which point would that person cross the line?  Would it happen after he had committed a certain number of sins, or, once he had committed a particular kind of sin?  In other words, would it be the quantity or the quality of his transgressions—or, perhaps a combination of the two—that would push him out of the righteous camp and back into the camp of the wicked?  And, if this could happen, just how was he to know if and when he had crossed over?  Would an angel of doom suddenly appear on his doorstep with a message informing him of the transfer; or, would he come to know it as he found himself, going through life, with a dark cloud hanging over his head?

Eternal Security

Can We Really Lose Our Salvation?

Of course, no one that I knew at the time had any answers to these questions—nor, could I find any in the Bible.  And, that’s because, once I got around to checking out the verses usually used to support this theory, I found that, more often than not, they had been taken out of their immediate contexts, and out of the overall context of the Bible, as well.  As examples of what I mean, here are some of the verses that I reviewed, along with a brief description of the contexts in which they are found.  I will leave you to judge for yourselves whether or not they really support the position that a person can lose his or her Salvation.

Matthew 7:19-23 

The Verse:  “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. ‘Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

The Context:  These verses come from the Sermon on the Mount, and were a warning from Jesus to His disciples to beware of false prophets; saying that the way that they would recognize them would be by their fruits.  It would be to these false prophets that Jesus would one day say, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

Matthew 10:22

The Verse:  “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

The Context:  Here, Jesus is preparing to send out His twelve disciples to minister on their own, charging them to confine their ministry to Israel and not to take it to the gentiles.  He warns them that, because of their association with Him, they will be persecuted and encourages them to stay strong through the opposition.

Matthew 24:9-13

The Verse “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

The Context:  In the Olivet Discourse, when the disciples asked when the temple would be destroyed, Jesus warned that it would be at a time of great tribulation, when many false Christs and false prophets would arise, and when they would experience intense persecution.  The last statement in this verse was intended to encourage them to remain faithful through whatever challenges they may have to face.

Luke 12:46

The Verse:  “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.”

The Context:  Jesus admonishes his disciples to be ready for His return at any time and uses a parable contrasting the reward waiting for a faithful servant and a faithless servant to make his point.  In the parable, the faithful servant is the one who believes his master and behaves accordingly, while the unfaithful servant proves his unbelief through his mismanagement and abuse of others.

Luke 13:6-9

The Verse:  “Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

The Context:  The fig tree in this parable speaks of Israel and of her failure to produce the fruit that she should have.  This doesn’t have application to an individual’s salvation.

John 8:31-32

The Verse:  “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Context:  This was directed to some Jews who professed belief in Jesus.  But when He said this to them, they took issue with the part where He said they would be free.  As descendants of Abraham, they claimed that they had never been enslaved, so they didn’t need to be set free of anything.  In their response to Jesus’ statement, they revealed that they hadn’t come to faith at all.

John 15:1-6

The Verse:  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

Context:  In the last of His seven “I Am” statements, in His farewell discourse in the Upper Room, Jesus declares Himself to be the True Vine—in contrast to Israel.  The implication is that those in Israel who do not come to true faith in Jesus will be cast away as unfruitful dead branches, while those who do come to faith will remain in Him and bear fruit.

Romans 11:20-22

The Verse:  “But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.”

Context:  Once again, the branches referred to here are the Jews who, because of their unbelief, were cast off.  Paul is admonishing the Gentile believers to not be arrogant toward the Jews because they had been grafted into the Vine in their place.  Instead, they are to be reverent and grateful for God’s kindness to them for, it He judged the unbelief of the Jews, He will also judge them for their pride and arrogance.

1 Corinthians 9:27

The Verse:  “No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

The Context:  Paul uses the metaphor of an athlete training for a race to describe his approach to ministry.  In the same way that an athlete endures the rigors of training so that he may run and win the race, Paul endures whatever hardships are required to carry out his ministry and win the lost to Christ.

Colossians 1:21-23

The Verse:  “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”

The Context:  To the Colossians who had become believers, Paul contrasts their conditions before salvation and after their salvation—reminding them that, because Christ has reconciled them to God in order to present them holy and blameless before Him, they should make every effort to remain steady and grounded in their faith.

1Timothy 1:18-20

The Verse:  “Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.”

Context:  Here, Paul is encouraging Timothy to stay strong as a minister of the Gospel—unlike those who claim to represent Christ but who have proven to be false teachers.  He identifies two who fit that description, saying that they had been put out of the church for that reason.

1Timothy 4:1

The Verse:  “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.”

The Context:  This relates to the false teachers that Paul has been warning Timothy about—and, about how they will infiltrate the Church in an effort to lead true believers away from the faith.

Hebrews 3:6

The Verse:  “But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.”

The Context:  In this passage, the writer is contrasting Christ with Moses—with Christ as the Son over the household and Moses as the servant.  He then contrasts the followers of Moses with the followers of Christ.  Moses’ followers failed to enter into the rest of God through their unbelief, but the true followers of Christ will prove their belief as they hold on to their faith in the midst of struggle and persecution.

Hebrews 3:12-14

The Verse:  “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.”

The Context:  Again, recalling the unbelieving Jews in the wilderness, the writer admonishes those who hear the voice of God not to rebel and harden their hearts to the truth.  Instead, they are to encourage and build up one another in the faith so that none of their hearts will become hardened by sin and unbelief.

Hebrews 6:4-6

The Verse:  “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

The Context:  This is probably the most problematic passage for those who question the eternal security of the believer.  However, I think it will begin to make more sense when it is interpreted within the context of the book in which it is found.  The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish believers who were either being threatened with or undergoing persecution for their faith; and, because of that, they were  being tempted to return to the “safety” of their original Jewish faith and rituals.  The imagery used here is of one who has come to the magnificent feast that is offered in Christ, only to return, in comparison, to the table scraps being offered by life under the Law.  Having just made a case for the superiority of Christ over every aspect of the Jewish religious system, here the writer encourages those being tempted not to abandon the former in favor of the latter, as Judaism could offer them nothing in the way of salvation—only Christ can do that.  In essence, the writer is saying that salvation through Christ is God’s Plan A—His only plan—and, since there is no Plan B, they need to stick with it.

Hebrews 10:26-31

The Verse:  “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

The Context:  Because Christ is the only way that anyone can be saved, for those who have heard the gospel of salvation through Him and rejected it—choosing instead to remain in their sinful conditions—there remains no other way for them to be saved.  In their rejection, they have demeaned or “trampled underfoot” the sacrifice offered by the Son of God, so all they can expect is judgment and punishment as enemies of God.

2 Peter 2:20-22

The Verse:  “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.”

The Context:  The “they” here refers to false teachers who appear to have come to faith in Christ but haven’t really.  It would have been better for them to not have made a show of knowing Christ because they will be judged all the more severely for their deception, and for their attempts to lead others from true faith.

2 Peter 3:17

The Verse:  “Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.”

The Context:  Peter warns that false teachers are twisting Paul’s teachings, and admonishes his readers not to be deceived by them—but to grow in the grace of Jesus Christ and in the knowledge of the Lord.

1 John 2:24

The Verse:  “See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.”

The Context:  John’s readers had seen many leaving the church, so he tells them that their departures only indicated that they were not true believers to begin with.  Warning that the devil is always at work trying to deny the Son, he encourages them to hold on to the faith that they had in the beginning.

Revelation 3:5

The Verse:  “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.”

The Context:  This is part of Christ’s letter to the church at Sardis, a church He described as being dead, despite its appearance of life.   However, there still were a few in the church who were saved—ones whose names had been written in the Book of Life and would not be removed.

Revelation 22:19

The Verse:  “And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”

The Context:  Jesus, through John, warns that anyone who attempts to add to or take away from the inspired Word of God will be regarded as a false prophet and subject to death—the same fate as the false prophets in the OT.

No longer a slave

Through Christ, We Have Become the Sons and Daughters of God

Instead of focusing on the more negative aspects of the question, perhaps it would prove more helpful if we approach it by looking at it within the context of the overall Story of the Bible—a story driven by God’s desire and plan to create a family for Himself.  As we have learned in our three previous exercises in Salvation, this family was to be one made up of men and women from every tribe and nation of the world, who had originally been born as slaves to sin and death, but whose freedom had been purchased for them by the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Once forgiven and free, they were in a position to legally be adopted as the sons and daughters of God, and be placed into the family of God by the Holy Spirit—who would then begin the lifelong process of training these offspring of God to think, speak, and act like His children.

With this in mind, then, let’s now go to a passage of scripture which will provide us with a picture of the security that every believer, as a blood-bought child of God, should expect to experience.  This passage is the Parable of the Prodigal Son and, while I cannot ever recall having heard it used in support of a believer’s eternal security, I think it provides us with one of the best examples of it to be found in the Bible.

As one of the best known parables, it tells the very familiar story of a father and his two sons; with the younger son, itching to get out and experience what the world has to offer, choosing to rebel against the authority of his father, while the older son remains at home and obedient to it.  In its original context, this parable was given, along with the Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, in response to the Pharisees’ and scribes’ criticism of Jesus for His practice of associating with “tax collectors and sinners.” It was used in that context to illustrate God’s great passion for seeking and saving the lost; however, when viewed from the perspective of family dynamics, it provides us with the reassuring picture that, no matter how far away from God we stray, His love for us remains the same and our position in His family is never in jeopardy.

Here, then, is the story, taken from Luke 15:11ff…

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons.  And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.  Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.  And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.

So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.  And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.  But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.  And he arose and came to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

Now, let’s take a look at what this parable has to say in regard to eternal security…

  • The younger son, in pursuit of a life in the world, willingly chose to separate and alienate himself from his father;
  • Everything he did while in the world would have been reprehensible and an anathema to his father;
  • Yet, when he was as far away from his father as he could possibly get, he came to himself and the first thing that he acknowledged was, that in spite of his own unworthiness, his father was still his father; then,
  • When he repented and returned home, he discovered that to his father, the son was still his son.

In other words, the son’s sins did not, in any way, negate the Father-Son relationship—in fact, it remained intact the whole time that the son was living in the world.  What they did do, though, was sever the fellowship between the two during the period of the son’s estrangement; and, ultimately, rob the son of the future rewards that his inheritance would have otherwise brought him.  So, it wasn’t his position in the family which was lost—it was his fellowship with his father, as well as future rewards for faithful service.

The Prodigal Son

Lessons about Family from the Story of the Prodigal

So, when we consider that…

  • Every sin capable of being committed would have, at some time in the past, been committed by the men and women who eventually come to Christ for Salvation;
  • Every imaginable sin was paid for and completely covered by Christ’s atoning work on the cross;
  • When each of these men and women come to faith in Christ—that is, when they receive by faith His death as a substitutionary payment for their deaths–they are declared “Not Guilty” in the Court of Heaven, and immediately adopted into the family of God; and,
  • Their adoption papers have been signed in the blood of Christ, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and witnessed by God…

…is there anything that they can possibly do to undo their adoption, and cause them to lose their Salvation…especially in light of such promises as these from the Word of God?

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  (John 3:16)

…whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.  (John 5:24)

…whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  (John 6:37)

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  (John 10:28)

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

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 8:1)

…you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.  (Ephesians 1:13)

God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  (Hebrews 13:5)

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.  (1 John 5:13)

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy-to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.  (Jude 24-25)

I don’t think so, for…

Eternally secure

Safe in the Hands of God

 

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The Pilgrim Mennonite Mission Choir reminds us that, whatever we may do, God’s “Grace is Greater Than Our Sin”…

 

Seven Lessons I’ve Learned Through Testing

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Please be sure to check out the new article, Seven Lessons I’ve Learned through Testing, that has recently been added to the Room for Meditation at http://histruthmyvoice.org.

 

 

Time Out for a Vision Check at Booth #4

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So far, during our extended stop-over at the Welcome Center of the Word, we have taken time out for:

Eye exam

It’s Time for a Spiritual Vision Exam

Now that we have taken care of these first few essentials, let’s make our way on over to Booth #4, where we will also take some time for a vision check.  Why a vision check?  Well, before proceeding any further into the Land of Revelation Knowledge, and so that we will be able to behold all of the beautiful truths waiting for us up ahead, we need to make sure that our ability to see them will not be impaired in any way.

I am pretty sure that when most of us hear the word “vision,” our thoughts automatically turn to our physical eyesight, or our ability to see the material things that exist in the natural world around us.  But our physical eyesight isn’t the kind that we need to be concerned with on this trip; the type of vision that we need to check, and possibly even correct, is our spiritual vision.

To better understand what I mean by this term, let’s pause briefly for another one of our DOTS—better known as a definition of terms.  Referring once again to my trusty pocket dictionary, I have learned that:

  • Spiritual—is defined as of, relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit:  incorporeal;
  • Incorporeal—is defined as having no body or form; and,
  • Vision—is defined as the act or power of seeing.
Vision: Seeing the Unseeable

How Can We See the Unseeable?

So then, if we put the three of these individual definitions together, this will produce the kind of collective definition that will be most meaningful to us—and that is…

Spiritual vision is the act or power of seeing that which has no body or form.

This seems like a relatively simple and straightforward definition, doesn’t it?  There is only one problem with it, though—just how is it possible for any of us to see “that which has no body or form?”  Or, to put it another way, how are we supposed to see that which is unseeable with our physical eyes?

For the answers to these questions, I think we need to look no further than the following Vision Check Questionnaire:

Question #1:  How can I get or know if I have spiritual vision?

If you have experienced the New Birth, then you already have spiritual vision.  That’s because, when you were born again and the Holy Spirit quickened your previously dead spirit, He also opened the “eyes” of that spirit so that you would be able to “see” the things that He, over the course of time, would be showing you.  Unlike our physical eyesight which (barring any impairment by accident or disease) begins to function soon after our births, our spiritual vision frequently takes some time to develop.  So, even if you are not aware of its existence right now, this does not mean that it isn’t there. A good illustration of someone in the Scriptures with undeveloped spiritual eyesight can be found in Mark 8:23, where Jesus healed a blind man who had been brought to him at the village of Bethsaida:

And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?”  And he looked up and said, “I see men but they look like trees, walking.”  Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again, and when he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.  (For more on seeing men as trees, please check out some of our earlier “tree” reflections, particularly Of Trees and Tapestries.)

Question #2:  Why do I need to see spiritually?

Since God is Spirit, the only way that we can “see” Him is through our spirits.  This is exactly what Jesus told the woman at the well in John 4:24, when He stated, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

The Apostle Paul went on to explain this principle in more depth in 1 Cor. 2:7, and in the verses that follow:

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory…these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.  For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.  For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in Him?  So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truth to those who are spiritual.  [For] The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Question #3:  What is needed for me to begin seeing with spiritual vision?

The Eye of Faith

The Eye of Faith

To begin seeing with your spiritual vision, you need to develop eyes of faith because, as we are told in Hebrews 11:6:  “…without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”  And, as for what faith is, according to Hebrews 11:1ff, it is “…the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…by faith we understand that the universe was created by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

Question #4:  Where do I get the faith I need to see things that are spiritual in nature?

The only place to get this kind of faith is in the Bible for, as we are told in Romans 10:17: “…faith comes from hearing and hearing through the Word of God.”  It is as we study the Word of God that the Holy Spirit begins speaking to our spirits, making known to us the things about God which would otherwise remain unknowable to the natural mind of man.  He does it by using the things in the world that we can see to explain to us the things in the spirit world that we cannot see.

Question #5:  What are some of the things that will impair my vision?

Sin is one thing that will limit what we can see with our spiritual eyes.  In Matthew 6:22, Jesus warned us of this when He said:

The eye is the lamp of the body.  So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Because they are the portals to our innermost beings, our eyes will determine the amount of light, or enlightenment, which will be sent to our spirits.  If our eyes are clear, the light will flow through them in abundance; however, if they are darkened or clouded over by sin, no light of understanding will be able to penetrate, and our spirits will remain in darkness.

Open Bible

No Word, No Vision

Another contributing factor to poor spiritual vision is our negligence when it comes to the study of God’s Word.  Since the Word is the source of our faith, and faith is what it takes for us to see spiritually, then logically, No Word = No Vision.

Disease can also be an impediment to our ability to see things clearly, and the disease that is most often at fault is something that I call Spiritual Myopia.  By definition, myopia is the condition in which visual images come to a focus in front of the retina, resulting especially in defective vision of distant objects.  When we apply this definition to our spiritual vision, we learn that Spiritual Myopia is really spiritual nearsightedness or our inability to see distant objects clearly—with the distant object in this case being the Big Picture of God’s plans and purposes for mankind.  This disease can afflict anyone at any time–with even the most devoted students of the Word falling victim to it–causing them to get so lost in the many smaller details and stories of the Bible that they often fail to see the really Big Picture that God wants to show them.

Question #6:  What can be done to improve or correct my spiritual vision?

To be sure that your vision remains clear, you must:

  • Be vigilant in guarding your heart against sin;
  • Stay in communion with God through a regular program of prayer and Bible study; and,
  • Learn to identify and eliminate any spiritual farsightedness which may be hindering your ability to see through your eyes of faith.  To do this, you must learn to expand your spiritual vision by exploring new ways of looking at the Bible; ways which will allow you to see the broad, over-arching story that God wants us all to know.

Because this process of learning new ways of looking at the Bible is so crucial to the development of our spiritual vision, it is something that we will be undertaking throughout the remainder of our journey through the Land of Revelation Knowledge.  It is a process by which we will learn to:

  • Distinguish between story and structure—for when we do, we will find that there is One Main Plot to the Bible;
  • Think corporately—for when we learn to view the people in the Bible collectively, we will find that there is a very small but specific Cast of Characters there;
  • Acquaint ourselves with God’s Principles of Explanation—for when we understand that God’s method of explanation is to use the known to explain the unknown, it will be easy for us to identify the recurring Theme or Motifs running throughout the Bible; and,
  • Interpret the text on multiple levels—for when we do that, we will discover the Different Levels of Truth that the Bible reveals to us.

The very best part about all of this, though, is that once we learn to view the Bible in these new ways, not only will we able to see God more clearly, but the study of His Word will become a true delight to us; no longer being something that we have to do and becoming, instead, something that we really want to do!

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Join Selah in “Be Thou My Vision…”

 

 

For Every Thing There Is a Season…There’s Even One to Rock and Roll

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Rock and roll

“It is Time to Rock and Roll!”

Last week, as I was pondering and praying over the direction that our future visits should take, I heard the Lord speak to me, saying quite clearly:  “It is time to rock and roll, little girl (even though I have never been little in any respect, He has always called me that).  This is not the time to be timid and pull back (which, as a marshmallow, is something that I tend to do)—this is the time to rock and roll!  And, with that, I knew just what He wanted me to do.  This was His way of telling me that the time had come for me to get down to the business that He has called me to; which, in case you haven’t picked up on it by now, is not only teaching people what the Bible has to say, but also teaching them new ways of approaching its study, so that they can better make sense of it on their own.

Now, in case you may be thinking that God wouldn’t speak to anyone in quite this way, let me assure that He has no problem in using any language whatsoever, if it gets His point across to those whose ears are attuned to His voice.  In fact, what He said to me last week was really nothing more than a modernized version of what He told the prophet Jeremiah over twenty-five hundred years ago, when He said, But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you.  Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them.” (Jer. 1:17)  Work in this case, for both Jeremiah and for me, was and is to give out the Word of God, whether people want to hear it or not; and for me, in particular, this work is something that I have been preparing or “dressing myself for” for over forty years.

Although I was saved at the relatively young age of eight, my real preparation for all of this rocking and rolling did not begin until much later, when I was about the age of twenty-two.  This was the pivotal time in my life when, finding myself stuck in the middle of a disastrous marriage, I rededicated my life to the Lord.  It wasn’t long after making this decision, that in the interest of our personal safety, it became necessary for me to take my two young sons and leave my alcoholic husband, and begin a new life on our own—a life which soon turned into an odyssey of faith from which I have yet to recover.

Child Climbing Stairs

Stepping Toward Maturity

My training for this new life began quickly and simply, for it started with me having nothing but God and His Word upon which to rely.  You see, when I left my husband, I had no job, no car, and no health insurance; just two little boys, our clothes, $200.00 in cash, and my sewing machine.  For the first year, we were fortunate enough to be able to stay with my parents but after that, we were completely on our own.  Now, in hindsight, I can clearly see that God had planned out a comprehensive spiritual training program for me which was designed to accomplish the following:

 

  1. Teach me to hear His voice and to trust His Word;
  2. Teach me how to study His Word and to see the Big Story that it presented;
  3. Teach me how to present and share what I had learned with others; and,
  4. Teach me to not fear anyone or anything, other than the Lord. 

Of course, time and space will not allow me to go into detail about all of my experiences, so let’s just suffice it to say that:

Step 1In order to teach me to hear His voice and to trust His Word, the Lord impressed upon me from the very beginning that I was not to make anyone else aware of my needs, or to ask anyone other than Him for help.  Once I brought my needs to Him, He would present me with some relevant promises from His Word and then challenge me to act upon them.  In response to those challenges, some of the things that I was required to do were:  to ask and believe for a car when I had no money, and later, to drive that car for a week with no gas; to plan and take trips with no money; to trust God to pay all of my hospital and doctor bills with no insurance; to trust God to provide places for us to live as well as ways to pay for them; and, even when little things like loaves of bread or spools of thread were needed, to ask God for them and then wait on Him to provide them.  In every circumstance and situation of life, I found myself being tested and stretched beyond anything I had previously thought possible—and yet, all of this was just preparation for the next level of His training.

Step 2In order for me to move on to that level, the one which involved teaching me how to study His Word and to see the Big Story that it presented, the Lord first sent me to one of the most academically challenging schools in our state—a place where He knew I would have to learn to study and do research in order to survive; after which, He set me aside for almost a year of intense personal Bible study and prayer.  It was during this time that He presented me with a new way (new at least to me) of understanding the Bible; an approach which very quickly became the foundation upon which all my future studies would be based.

Step 3Once this foundation was in place, I was able to start building upon it, and to continue adding to it through many more years of additional study.  Some years later, in order for me to learn to better present the material that I was putting together, the Lord opened up a new position for me at work—one which required me to learn to use the computer.  As I explained in My Journey to the Land of Blog,” at this point, I didn’t even know how to turn a computer on and off, but  as I began taking the computer courses in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that were being offered by my employer, it wasn’t long before I was using what I had learned to organize and prepare the materials for my Bible studies.

Step 4Finally, and probably the most harrowing part of all this, has been my training in learning to not be afraid of anyone or anything other than the Lord.  As an introverted, fearful, and naturally reticent person, I have, throughout my life, tried to avoid having to speak to or in front of groups of people.  However, over the course of these many years, the Lord has continued to put me into these kinds of situations just so I could learn to overcome my fears.  He has also, on numerous occasions, arranged for me to have to confront people and situations that I would have otherwise preferred to avoid, just so I would learn to “woman up,” and not let anyone intimidate me. 

So, why am I sharing all of this with you now?  Well, it is to let you know where I have come from so that you will be able to more fully appreciate and participate in where I believe the Lord is taking us next.  For what I would like to do in our upcoming visits is to move us both into a new season of rocking and rolling—that is, into a new season of and approach to Bible study.  In order to do this, I am proposing to:

  1. First, do an examination of salvation and the aspects encompassed by it;
  2. Take a look at the “new birth” so we can more fully understand why it is the pre-requisite to salvation;
  3. Do a series of discussions on how to prepare for Bible study, some of which will include:
    –  Understanding what the Bible is and what it isn’t;
    –  Recognizing the baggage that we each bring to its study;
    –  Acknowledging the parameters to what we can know; and
    –  Being open to learning new ways of looking at the Bible.
  4. And, finally, launch into a study of the Bible, presented as The One Big Story that God Wants Everyone to Know. 

I don’t know about you, but I am excited at the prospect of all of this, and I can only hope that you will want to join me as we move on to this whole new level in our relationship.  I know for sure that I am, but are you really ready to rock and roll by moving into a deeper study of the Word of God?  If you are, then, let’s get going!

 

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Citizen Way rocks out for us in “Where Would I Be Without You?”

 

R8Y5R9VEJH4F

Tree Treasures, Part II

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There is a lot of Truth in the Trees

Trees—who knew there was so much treasure to be found in them; I mean, how were we supposed to know that, hidden behind all of those leaves, there would be so much rich spiritual truth just waiting to be uncovered?  And yet, as we learned in Romans 1: 19-20, hiding truth in trees was all part of God’s plan to make known to us such otherwise unknowable things as “…his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature…” through the things that He had made.  Wow, this would imply that all of creation is just one huge treasure trove of divine truth waiting to be discovered, wouldn’t it?

Of course, having had only one little excursion into the woods so far, our excavation for true spiritual riches has only begun; but, let’s not despise the day of small beginnings for in just that one outing, we have already uncovered an important spiritual truth, one which we have labeled as Treasure #1, The What” of the trees, or the lesson of what we, in comparison to trees, should look like.  We are not stopping with that discovery, however—for we are on our way back out among the foliage today, and this time, we will be looking for what should prove to be Treasure #2, also known as The Why” of the trees—or, the truth in answers to the questions that were raised in “Redemption, A Story Told by Trees”—questions as to why God would use something as seemingly insignificant as earthly trees to tell His majestic and eternal story of redemption.

Pick and ShovelX

Time to Get Your Tools Out

To aid us in our search today, we will need to take along the same tools that we used in our previous outing; only this time, we will be bringing with them the truths that were uncovered during our earlier search.  As you may recall:

  • Tool #1—was the understanding that from the beginning of creation, God has revealed Himself not only through what He has said, but also through what He has done.
  • Truth #1—was that one of the first of those revelations was of God as the Separator, Divider, and Judge of the very things He had created.
  • Tool #2—was the understanding that when God created the world, He included elements within it that He would later use as teaching tools for His spiritual truths or principles.
  • Truth #2—was that for one such lesson, God used the natural characteristics of trees to illustrate the spiritual characteristics that righteous men and women should exhibit.

With these tools and truths in hand, then, we can begin our search for…

Treasure Chest

Treasure #2

Treasure #2—The Why of the Trees…    

… by answering the questions posed so long ago.

Question #1 – Why would God choose to use trees to test the measure of a man’s righteousness?

Since we now know that it was part of God’s plan to use trees to teach us important spiritual truths, and that it was also part of His nature to divide and make distinctions between the various elements of His creation, it should come as no surprise that He would also make distinctions or divisions between the humans He had created—and that He would use trees to do so.  After all, if trees were to produce fruit after their own kind—that is, in accordance with the type of seed hidden within them; and, if men and women, likewise, were to produce fruit after their own kind—or, in accordance with the type of seed hidden in their hearts, wouldn’t giving them a choice between two trees that produced vastly different kinds of fruit be the most logical way of revealing the heart conditions of those who were doing the choosing?

We will find this truth borne out for us through a little deeper dig into the Word of God, where:

  • In Luke 6:43-45, from the words of Jesus, we are instructed that…

    …no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its fruit.  For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.  The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

  • In Matthew 12:33, we hear the Lord’s admonition to…

    Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.

  • In Proverbs 11:30, we learn that…

    The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life

Surely, the God who had separated, divided, and judged every other aspect of His creation would be expected to do the same with the people He had created, especially since those people had been created in His image, and been given authority to rule over all that He had made.  To rule for God, though, one would first have to be righteous, and what more appropriate way to judge for righteousness than through an inspection of the fruit produced by the tree of that person’s choosing?

Question #2 – Why would God make the choice of one tree over another mean the difference between life and death, not only for the one doing the choosing, but also for all the ones who would come after him?

In designating man as His ruling representative on earth, God was entrusting him with the responsibility of carrying out His will upon the earth.  So, in having him choose between the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God was giving man the opportunity to prove whether he would choose to do God’s will or his own.  This was the same choice that was presented to Israel, as she was preparing to enter into the Promised Land, when the Lord said…

See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.  If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord and walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statues and his rules [doing His will], then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 

But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear [or do your own will]…I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish…I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. 

Therefore, choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers… (Deut. 30:15-20).

If the first man chose to do his will over that of his Father, and if every tree produces fruit after its own kind, then all of those who were to descend from Adam must, of necessity, be of the same kind that he was, must produce the same type of fruit, and must have to suffer the same consequences.  As the old saying goes, the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree–or, as we said before…no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its fruit.

Question #3 – Once the choice had been made, why would God make the way to the Tree of Life inaccessible to those who needed the new life that it offered?

The truth is, if God had allowed fallen man and woman to eat of the Tree of Life, then they would have lived forever in their sinful state and, in that state, they would have been beyond the reach of God’s redemption, and wouldn’t have experienced the saving grace and forgiveness that Christ made available to us through the Cross.  In reality, it was an act of mercy on God’s part to bar man’s way to the Tree of Life until the time when the Son of Life would come to pay the price for man’s sins and reopen the way to that Tree through His redeeming blood.

Question #4 – Why would God allow an ugly, cruel tree fashioned by men to be the instrument of torture and means of death for His one and only Beloved Son?

When we consider the two trees that were in the Garden, it is important for us to understand what each of them was meant to represent.  Just as God intended for healthy, vigorous trees in the natural to represent the healthy and productive spiritual lives of men and women who were right with God, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil were intended to represent the only two options in life available to mankind—that is, man could opt to do God’s will and, in so doing, he would become more like God and end up gaining life everlasting; or he could opt to do life on his own terms, attempting to be his own god, with the end result of that choice being death.  The Tree of Life, then, was intended to represent the way of Faith, while the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was meant to represent the way of Works.

The Tree of Life, or the way of Faith, was rooted in Jesus’ submission to the will of His Father, or as it is recorded for us in Psalm 40:8-10…

I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart. I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord.  I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.  

As we can readily see, the sap produced by this tree was one characterized by Submission and Praise, while its fruit was that of God and His Glory.

On the other hand, as the way of works, or as man’s attempts to be god on his own terms, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, had as its root system the same one that Satan had when, as he sought to rebel against God, he said in his heart…

I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High (Is. 14:13-14)

a root system which could only produce the fruit of “Me and My Glory,” and sap amounting to nothing more than “Selfishness and Pride.”

It was Adam’s choice of this tree that eventually produced every sin, every act of rebellion, every false system of belief—no matter how seemingly virtuous—and every death that men have suffered throughout history.  In fact, every work of man, apart from God, has been the fruit of this one choice and has found its representation in this tree.  Since the only kind of tree that the works of man could produce was one of dead works, that was the one that Jesus would have to die on if men were to ever be set free from its curse and its power, and if the way to the Tree of Life was ever going to be made available to them again.

Question #5 – Why and how could God make what was a tree of death for One into a Tree of Life for many?

Through His death on the Cross, that tree representing all of man’s futile efforts at achieving righteousness through his own works, and then through His resurrection from that death, Christ became  the “firstfruits” of all those who would afterwards come to Him in faith.  As the Apostle Paul explains in selected verses of 1 Corinthians 15…

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive…Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 

But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual.  The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.  As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.  Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

In other words, just as the first Adam’s selfish choice reproduced the fruit of death in those who would come after him, the second Adam’s sacrificial choice reproduced the fruit of life in all of those who would came after him in faith—to those for whom “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life…”

I know this has been a lengthier than usual dig today but as we consider all of the tree treasures that we have uncovered today, let’s also take a moment to consider this final treasure of truth found in Isaiah 61:1-3.  It is Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the promised Messiah, and one with which many of us are familiar.  However, I don’t think too many of us have heard, or at least not paid much attention to, the last line, for it in it God reveals the ultimate purpose of our Redeemer’s mission…

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

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There’s Gold in Them Thar Trees

Wow—who knew that the reason Jesus came was to make us into oaks, trees of righteousness through whom the Lord would be glorified!  I mean, who knew that the most precious treasure to be found in the trees would be us?

 

 

Smiley Face with Earphones2

 

The Robbie Seay Band on that “Beautiful Scandalous Night”