Service:  The Church as the Body of Christ

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Exercising through Service

Getting Stronger and Reaching the World

In our previous exercise, we began a new level of workout routines dealing with Service; and, during the course of that introductory routine, we learned how, through our service for Christ, the good works which He began are still being done in the world today.  Then, as we searched for a definition of the word, especially as it relates to us as believers, we discovered some of the Terms of Service which must be adhered to, if any enduring work for Christ is to be accomplished.  These are…

  • Service must begin at the altar of worship, where we surrender our wills to God’s will;
  • Service must be motivated by our love for Christ;
  • Service must proceed from clean hands and pure hearts; and,
  • Service, like that which Jesus performed—and, other than our post-salvation, personal MDLA, or Minimum Daily Lifestyle Adjustments—must be done in cooperation with other members of the Corporate Body of Christ, or the entity better known as The Church.
We Are the Church Together

Not a Building but a Body of Believers

Too often, when we hear the word Church, the image that comes to mind is of a building.  However, the real Church of Jesus Christ is not and was never intended to be an architectural structure or an organized institution, into which the Children of God could retreat in search of protection or insulation from the world.

Rather, it was designed by God to be the collective and universal spiritual manifestation of Christ on the earth; one in which Christ is no longer limited to serving through just one physical body, living in one time and in one place.  Instead, with His Presence and Power multiplied many times over in the lives of Believers scattered across the globe, the works that He once did during His Incarnation are now being replicated worldwide by the members of His spiritual body, the Church.

In order to grasp this concept a little better, we must realize that, even though God loves each one of us individually, Christ died for each one of us individually, and we are each saved individually, at the moment we receive our Salvation, the Holy Spirit is busily and quite imperceptibly baptizing us into the Collective Spiritual Body of Christ; positioning us within that Body wherever He deems best, and assigning specific roles or functions to us that we are to carry out within the Body

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.   For the body does not consist of one member but of many…as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose ( 1 Cor. 12: 12-14, 18).

Before getting into what those roles may be, though, we first need to learn how God intended for the Body of Christ to operate.

In one of our earlier exercises, Sanctification: Regeneration Perfected, we learned that when God created Man, He fashioned him with an individual or Personal Body, Soul, and Spirit, so that…

  • Through his Body, he could relate to and function in the physical world;
  • Through his Soul, he could relate to others on both emotional and intellectual levels; and,
  • Through his Spirit, he could relate to God and learn how he could use his will to bring God’s will to pass on the earth.

In much the same way, God’s design for the Body of Christ called for it to have a Corporate Body, Soul, and Spirit,  so that…

  • Through its Body, the Church could relate to and carry on the work of Christ in the world outside of the Church;
  • Through its Soul, the Church could relate as a Family to those within the Church, ministering to them and their needs in love; and,
  • Through its Spirit, the Church could serve heaven as an Army of Spiritual Warriors; one united in its mission to overthrow the Enemy of God, take the territory previously held by him, and bring the Kingdom and the Will of God to rule on the earth in his place.

In short, God’s intention for the Church of Jesus Christ is for it to…

  • Function externally in the world as a unified Body, under the direction of its Head, Jesus Christ;
  • Relate internally to its members as a Family, under the loving guidance of God the Father; and
  • Serve eternally by advancing the Kingdom of God through Spiritual Warfare, under the command of its General, the Holy Spirit.
In the World

…Being in the world but not of it


The Church as a Body
 

Since God’s purpose in creating mankind was to obtain a spiritual family of holy sons and daughters; and, since He was not willing…

…that any should perish but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9)…

…God purposed that His Church, in its function as a unified Body, would reach out to those in the world who had not yet to come to repentance—that is, those who have yet to be adopted as His children.  In fact, forty days after His resurrection, as He was preparing to go back to His Father in heaven, Christ charged His disciples—those who would soon become the Church—with this very task in the Great Commission…

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matt. 28:19-20).

As for how Jesus intended the soon-to-be Body of Christ to fulfill this charge, it was to be accomplished by its members…

  • As they lived before the world according to the kingdom principles He had taught them in the Sermon on the Mount; and,
  • Through acts of service empowered by the giftings of the Holy Spirit, which would soon be bestowed upon them.
The Sermon on the Mount

Jesus Teaching the Principles of Kingdom Living in the Sermon on the Mount


The Body and Kingdom Living
 

After choosing His disciples, one of the first things Jesus did was to gather them together and give them an introductory lesson in Kingdom Living.  This lesson, called the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5-7), must have been tremendously unsettling for them because in it, Jesus was establishing as their new standard for living, a set of principles which completely contradicted everything they had been taught was true.  That’s because, in the culture of that day—much like in our present day—they had grown up believing that being healthy, wealthy, religious, and without any apparent problems were all indicators that one had been blessed by God.  But here, in what has come to be known as The Beatitudes, Jesus was declaring that for the Children of God, the very opposite of this was true; that the ones who would be blessed by God are…

the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account (Matt. 5:3-11).

And, it would be these seemingly weak, insignificant, and oftentimes marginalized members of society, as they learned to live out the Kingdom Principles Jesus highlighted in His Sermon—principles such as…

  • Kingdom Living requires more of us than surface level righteousness; it requires true righteousness which begins in our hearts and then proceeds outward;
  • Kingdom Living requires that we love our enemies, blessing instead of cursing them;
  • Kingdom Living requires that we treat others the way we would want them to treat us;
  • Kingdom Living requires that we replace outward demonstrations of piety, designed to impress others, with giving, praying, and fasting done in secret; and,
  • Kingdom Living requires that we cease judging others and that we forgive them instead, just as God has forgiven us…

…who would become the salt of the earth and the light of God in a darkened world, and so spiritually emboldened that they would later be spoken of by the Thessalonians in Acts 17:6 in this way…

These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.


The Body and Spiritual Gifts
 

Surely, living according to God’s Kingdom Principles—that is, living lives radically different from the cultural norm—would prove to be a great way for believers to pique the interest and attract the attention of those living outside of the Body of Christ; however, just getting their attention would not be sufficient to get them saved, and moved from the outside to the inside of the Body of Believers.  To make a transfer like that happen, from the world’s kingdom to the Kingdom of God, the involvement of the Holy Spirit would be required; which is why, just before His ascension Jesus ordered His disciples

…not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’

[For] you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and [after that] you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

It would take the power of the Holy Spirit, working through individual believers, to produce Acts of Service like the ones Jesus performed, and in the way that God had ordained–which was, with the members of Christ’s Body working together, using the Spiritual Gifts assigned to them at the time of their Salvation.

 

Spiritual Gift

The Holy Spirit Gives Gifts to All


Spiritual Gifts,
unlike the natural talents we are born with or the skills which we develop on our own throughout life, are the special spiritual abilities or enablements given to believers for the purpose of growing and building up of the Church, the Body of Christ.  The Apostle Paul explains them far better  than I could, here in these passages from three of his letters… 

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed…there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone (1 Cor.12: 1, 4-6).

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.  All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills (1 Cor. 12:7-11). 

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness (Romans 12:4-8). 

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Although we will go into more detail about these Gifts of the Spirit in a future exercise, to summarize what we have learned so far about Service and the Church, we now know that…

  • as the members of Christ’s Body model the character and behavior of Christ before the world—the character developed in them as the Fruit of the Spirit, and the behavior epitomized in the Kingdom Living Principles taught in the Sermon on the Mount; and…
  • as, the members of Christ’s Body reach out to the world through their Acts of Service—service which has been initiated, coordinated, and empowered by the Holy Spirit

…the world will be reached with the Gospel, the family and kingdom of God will be expanded, and the function of the Church as the Corporate Body of Christ will have been realized.

 

Smiley Face with Earphones2
Unspoken reminds us that if we are to do the works of Christ, we will need the Holy Spirit to “Start a Fire” in our souls…

 

 

Original image of the Sermon on the Mount courtesy of http://www.freebibleimages.org.

 

Service: Continuing the Work of Christ in the World

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Service Please

All of God’s Children are Called to Serve

Now that we’re about halfway through our Workout Program, let’s pause briefly to review the progress we have made thus far.  We started out this regimen with four exercises in Salvationexercises through which we learned that…

  • Salvation is obtained through the one-time spiritual event known as the New Birth; an act taking us from sin-enslaved and hell-bound sinners to forgiven and heaven-bound sons and daughters of God;
  • While everyone has been Predestined, or pre-designed, by God to become one of His children, only those who elect to receive His offer of Salvation will do so; and,
  • Once that decision is made and our spiritual adoption is finalized, our Salvation is forever settled and rests Eternally Secure in the hands of our Heavenly Father.

Building upon this foundation during our next five exercises, we were introduced to Sanctification, the lifelong process of spiritual transformation which begins the moment we are reborn—and, the focus of which is the Holy Spirit’s Restoration of our Souls through Prayer, Bible Study, and Worship.  For, it is…

Through Prayer that He brings our hearts into alignment with the heart of God;
Through Bible Study that He brings our minds into alignment with the mind of Christ; and,
Through Worship that He brings our wills into alignment with the will of God.

Once these changes start revolutionizing the way we feel, think, and act, it isn’t long before our perceptions of the world around us also begin to change.  No longer approaching it from the self-centered, grab-all-that-you-can-get perspective of our pre-salvation days, we start looking at it from God’s viewpoint—that is, with a heart of compassion for those still lost in sin, and with a new desire to do something about it.  Such changes in our character and outlook as these should come as no surprise, though, because they are a reflection of the attitude and characteristics of Christ which must be developed in us, if we are to carry out His work in the world.

The Works of Jesus

…and greater works than these we will do

The Works of Jesus

When we consider the nature and the number of things that Jesus accomplished during His earthly ministry, the prospect of us continuing His work seems a rather far-fetched, if not impossible, task to undertake. After all, during His brief ministry here, He…

Revealed God to the people, and taught them what the Kingdom of Heaven was like;
Healed the sick—restoring sight to the blind, mobility to the lame, hearing and speech to the deaf and dumb;
Raised the dead, cast out demons, fed the hungry, and shared the water of life with those who thirsted for it;
Took the religious leaders to task while putting the political leaders in their places; and, then…
As if it were a small thing, walked on water and subdued the storm… 

…making His the most difficult act of all times to follow.  And yet, in the Upper Room, on the night before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples…

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the work that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father (John 14:12)…

But, are we really to do greater works than Jesus did—and if we are, how is that possible?  We fully expect Him to be capable of doing works of this magnitude because He is, after all, the Son of God; and, because…

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power [so that] He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him (Acts 10:38).

However, for us to be able to do even greater things than He—that’s a completely different story, isn’t it?

It would be if we were attempting to do these works in our unsaved and unsanctified conditions.  What we need to keep in mind, though, is that while Jesus is the only Begotten Son of God, when we came to Him for Salvation, we became the Adopted Sons and Daughters of God—as well as the legal heirs to and partakers of all the riches and power belonging to Christ.  And, it is for this reason that Jesus could and would make the following promises to us…

…I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you (John 14:16-17); and,

…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).

If we doubted the possibility of our being able to carry out the work of Jesus before, we should be encouraged by these promises of Jesus; for, in them, we are assured that He will provide everything we need to fulfill the purpose for which we were created; a purpose which is described by the Apostle Paul in this way…

…we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10).

As for understanding what He may have meant by “doing greater works,” we must to remember that during His life on earth, and in spite of His being God, Jesus willingly chose to confine Himself to one body, living in one time and one place.  As a result, His ministry of good works was confined to a limited number of people, living in one geographic area, during one brief period in human history.  This all changed, however, following His resurrection and with the coming of the promised Holy Spirit.

After that, as His newly-anointed disciples shared the Gospel with others and they, in turn, came to faith in Christ, the same resurrection life and power that the disciples had received was also manifested in these newborn Christians.  Then, as more and more people became believers, and as these believers scattered throughout the then-known world, demonstrating the character and commitment of Christ as they went, the quantity and scope of Jesus’ works increased to a degree previously thought impossible—and resulted in an explosion of faith and service that continues to this very day.

Terms of Service

Service for Christ must be done in His Will and Way

What It Means to Serve

When thinking about service and what it means, it’s likely that a number of different images come to mind.  For instance, we might think of service as serving in the military, or as police officers and firefighters; possibly serving patrons their dinners in restaurants; or, maybe even serving the ball in a game of tennis.  But, for those of us who are Christ followers, what does it mean for us to serve? 

In pursuit of an answer to this question, I looked to my handy-dandy Webster’s pocket dictionary—where, among the many definitions for the word, I found four that are highly relevant to this discussion.  And, in adapting them to the exercise at hand, I discovered that they provide us with a systematic, progressive definition of Serving, which for the believer, means…

  1. Rendering obedience and worship to God;
  2. Complying with the commands or demands of Christ;
  3. Being of use to the Master; and,
  4. Providing services that benefit or help others.
     
  1. Rendering Obedience and Worship to God

In one of our previous exercises, Sanctification: Restoring the Will through Worship, we learned that real worship is what takes place when we lay aside our will and wants, and choose to do God’s will instead.  This is what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane as He surrendered His will to that of His Father; modeling for us a type of surrender later described in Romans 12:1…

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship…

..and, a surrender that each of us will be called upon to make as a routine part of our service.  Every day, we will find that, as we are faced with the choice of doing things God’s way or our way, we will repeatedly have to make a conscious decision to climb back on the altar of sacrifice and submit our wills to His in a demonstration of our obedience and worship to God.  If we don’t, no real work for Christ will take place; for, it is at the altar of worship that all service in His name originates.

  1. Complying with the commands of Christ

In the same way that Jesus set the example for worship through the submission of His will to God’s, He demonstrated His love for the Father through His whole-hearted compliance with His Father’s commands–as He stated here in John 14:31…

…I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.

Because He did this first, His expectation is for us to follow His lead and do the same thing, so that the world will see how much we love Him and He loves us…

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you (John 15:12-14).

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).

From this, we learn that love must be the motivation for any service done in Jesus’ name; something which the Apostle Paul elaborates on in 1 Corinthians 13…

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.   If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends…

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

The often overlooked aspect of this is that, along with our compliance to His commandment, comes the promise of Jesus that…

…whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him…[and] Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us (1 John 3:22, 24)…

…a promise which makes even the most impossible task or service do-able.

  1. Being of Use to the Master

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable.  Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. 2 Tim. 2:20-21

In this passage, the Apostle Paul is instructing his spiritual son, Timothy, on how to be a good servant through a comparison of God’s servants to household vessels.  Just as a homeowner makes distinctions between the vessels in his possession, such as using only the cleanest ones to eat off of, God will only use those servants who have cleansed themselves of sin through confession and repentance.  Or, as Paul goes on to tell Timothy in verse 22…

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart….

…with the lesson here being, service done in the name of the Lord Jesus must always proceed from a pure heart and clean hands.

Clean Hands and Pure Heart

Service for Christ Must Come from Clean Hands and Pure Hearts

  1. Providing Services that Benefit or Help Others 

With our wills surrendered to God at the altar of worship, with the love of Christ as our motivation, and with clean hands and pure hearts to keep us useful to God, we are ready to move on to the fourth aspect of service—which is, the provision of services that will benefit others.  This raises the question, though, about the kinds of service we should be providing. After all, there are so many needs in the world that are going unmet, how are we to know which ones are the most deserving of our attention?

Surely, as a result of our Salvation and of the Spirit’s work of Sanctification taking place in our souls, we are already engaged in good works that are in keeping with our new lives in Christ—works such as the ones cataloged in Ephesians 4:25 ff…

Having put away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor;

Be angry and sin not; do not let the sun go down on your anger;

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone who is in need;

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear;

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with malice; and,

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you…

…works which could be considered as the MDLA—or Minimum Daily Lifestyle Adjustments—required of each and every believer.  Moving beyond these, though—that is, moving on to doing the greater works than those previously attributed to Jesus—will call for more than just our minimum daily lifestyle adjustments; they will demand the wisdom, direction, and anointing of the Holy Spirit, working through the cooperative gifts and prayers of all believers.  In other words, providing Service for Jesus will require the active participation of the Church—something which we will discuss at length in our next exercise.

 

Smiley Face with Earphones2
The Sidewalk Prophets remind us that through our service, we show the love of the Lord to the world and bring glory to our King…

 


Images used in the Works of Jesus montage courtesy of http://www.freebibleimages.org.

 

Sanctification:  Restoring the Soul through the Word of God

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A well-worn Bible
We really stretched our spiritual muscles in our last exercise—Sanctification: Restoring the Soul through Prayeras we learned how the Holy Spirit teaches us to talk to our Heavenly Father through prayer, and how He uses those prayers to…

Make us One with the Father in His Person; and,
Make us One with the Father in His Purpose.

 Additionally, through these prayers He opens up an emotional “love-line” between God and us; creating a place where we are free to express our deepest feelings and concerns without censure; and where, as our spirits and hearts become united with God’s over time, we are able to absorb and share in the things which are nearest and dearest to His heart.

Prayer, however, isn’t the only tool that the Holy Spirit uses in the restoration of our souls; He also relies on the Word of God to instruct us on how to listen to God, and to discern His will.  In much the same way that the Spirit employs prayer to bring our hearts into one accord with the Father’s, He uses the Word to transform our minds from ones programmed for evil by the world, our flesh, and the devil, into ones which have been rewired for righteousness by God—that is, ones having been brought into alignment with the very mind of Christ. 

Mind Under Construction

Mind Under Construction

For some insight into this mind, we need look no further than Philippians 2:5-8, where the Spirit through the Apostle Paul admonishes us to…

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by being obedient, to the point of death, even death on the cross. 

This sort of humble, selfless mindset certainly doesn’t resemble the ones we brought with us into our new relationships with God; rather, ours was more like the one described in Ephesians 4:17-18…

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.  They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 

To put it another way, while they were in their unregenerate states…

…our minds served no useful purpose as far as God and His kingdom were concerned;
…our mind’s ability to grasp or comprehend the Truth of the Gospel was clouded over;
…our minds were estranged from and even hostile to God;
…our minds were uneducated or untaught in the ways of God; all because…
…our hearts were rigidly firm in their will and purpose, and not easily penetrated by the Truth of God’s Word…

 …conditions which were due to the fact that…

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 (1 Cor. 2:14). 

All of this changed, however, when we were Born Again and the Holy Spirit moved in with us, beginning the transformation of our once darkened minds into ones filled with the light and life of Christ—and, ones in complete agreement with the will and purpose of God our Father.  A change as radical as this, though, isn’t something that takes place very quickly or easily.  It can only be brought about as we, who were previously uneducated and untaught in the ways of God, begin to learn…

Who God really is;
What His purposes are for mankind;
What His plans are for the earth; and,
The means He uses to see that these plans and purposes are achieved. 

Since this kind of information is not and has never been available to the minds of natural men, in order for us to obtain it, we must trust the Holy Spirit for its provision; for, it is He who…

…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, 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 Holy Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual (1 Cor. 2:10-13).

And, it is these spiritual truths which He has made available to us is the Bible, the Spirit-inspired training manual on God and His Ways—and, the book also known to us as the Word of God.

Truth is


The Bible as the Word of God 

Although we often hear it spoken of as such, what do we really mean when we say that the Bible is the Word of God?  Well, in checking the dictionary for the meaning of the word “Word,” we find it formally defined as…

…a unit of language, consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation, that functions as a principal carrier of meaning…[1]

…which is just a fancy way of saying that a word is the spoken or written representation of a person’s thoughts—a definition wholly consistent with the way it is used in John 1:1-4—where, the Word spoken of is a Person, who is none other than Jesus Christ

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

In this passage, the Greek term used for Word is logos which, roughly translated, means collected thought and wisdom and, in this case, refers to the collected thought and wisdom of God.  That is, in describing Jesus as the logos of God, John is saying that Jesus is the embodiment of the collected thought and wisdom of God, who was spoken into the world, not only during its creation and throughout all human history, but also in His Incarnation—something which he makes clear later in John 1:14, where he tells us that…

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

In essence, he is saying that everything God thought about truth, righteousness, holiness, love, compassion, humility, mercy, grace, integrity, strength, perseverance, selflessness, and so much more, was expressed to us in Jesus.  And, not only that, everything that God intended for mankind to be was manifested in the flesh for us by Jesus.  As the righteous and obedient Son who came to carry out His Father’s will on the earth, He was, is, and always will be the Divine Template for what a Child of God should be like; and, He will be the One against whom we will all be measured—that is, as we all…

…attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Eph. 4:13-15).

It is this Word, then—this collected thought and wisdom of God made visible to us in the Person of Jesus—that the Holy Spirit has scribed, or written down, in a book called the Bible.


What We Need to Know about the Bible

When we speak of the Bible, what we are actually referring to is the collection of books considered to be the sacred texts of both Judaism and Christianity.  The word itself comes from the Greek word biblia, the plural form of biblion, which is a diminutive of biblos—the word meaning book.  It got its name because books were originally made from byblos, or papyrus—the plant that was used to make parchment, or the material upon which books were written.  Byblos was also the name of the Phoenician city that exported papyrus to other parts of the ancient world.

The Jewish Bible, written mostly in Hebrew, came first and consisted of three parts:  the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.  Later, when the Christian Bible came into being, it was written in Greek, Latin, and Syriac, and contained the same books of the Hebrew Bible, only in a different order—and, with the books of the New Testament added to it.  In order to distinguish between the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures, the terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament” were introduced, and were in general usage by the end of the second century AD.  Although the Greek word for testament is usually translated as “will,” the Hebrew for it is translated as “covenant.”  Therefore, when we speak of the “Old” and “New” Testaments, what we are actually referring to are the covenants that God made with His people during each of these two eras.

Now, in order to add to our knowledge about and to enhance our study of the Bible, there are a few more things that we need to understand about it—the first being, it is unlike any other book that has ever been written.  It is unique in all of literature because it is the only trustworthy source of God’s words—and of His self-revelation to mankind—that exists in the world.  Actually, the Bible is not just one book but a collection of books—sixty-six, to be exact—that have been arranged in a systematic, progressive, and comprehensive way so that God’s revelation of Himself could be made known and understandable to any and all who chose to receive it.  Although it was transcribed by many men over the course of fifteen hundred years, men who employed a variety of genres and styles in its recording, it is remarkably consistent in its message, in its portrayal of the person and purposes of God, and in its honest representation of the nature and character of humanity.

The only way to explain such a consistency in its content over so great a period of time is to say that, in spite of its having so many human scribes, the Bible has only one author—and that author is God Himself.  Only the One who is able to declare that…

…I the Lord do not change… (Mal. 3:6), and …I am God, and there is none other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done (Is. 46: 9-10)…

…could be capable of accurately documenting a story which transcended the generations of the very ones who took part in recording it.  Through the means of divine inspiration, or through the intimate involvement of His Spirit, God made known His thoughts and words to a select group of men, and then He guided them in the ways in which those thoughts and words were to best be presented.  While each presentation reflected the personality of the man who was doing the writing, as well as the times during which he lived, the words were always God’s; words which repeatedly conveyed the timeless truths that every man and every generation should know.

Scribes at work on the Word

We learn more about this matter of inspiration in 2 Timothy 3:16, where we are told that the Bible was…

… breathed out by God and [is] profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

This breathing out by God means that the words of the Bible were imparted directly by the Spirit of God, an impartation which made the Bible a living book imbued with power.  Hebrews 4:12 confirms this when it tells us that…

…the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

In other words, as a living book, the Word of God is able to penetrate our innermost beings in order to confront us with the truth about God and ourselves, and to convict us of our deviations from, or our rejections of, that truth.  As the only real source of truth in the world, the Bible, then, becomes the only trustworthy guidebook which man has for life.  Not only does it teach him how to live successfully—that is, to live like Jesus—in the here and now, it also instructs him on how he can obtain eternal life, or the life in the hereafter, which God has promised to give to those who will come to Him through faith in Jesus.

Since God’s purpose in authoring the Bible was to make Himself known to mankind, it would follow that He intended His Book to be for all people of all time, and that it was not something reserved for just Christians and Jews.  This would mean that everything in it would have application, at some point, for every person who has ever lived, and that its principles and truths would be so universal that they would be relevant to every age and every culture.  This would make it possible for even the most seemingly disparate people to be able to comprehend them; meaning that the peasants working in the rice patties of ancient China, the tribesmen hunting for heads in the jungles of Africa, twenty-first century penthouse dwellers, and kings and con men throughout each generation would all be able to learn the truth presented within its pages.

The Bible is about Jesus

Some of the other things about it that we need to know are…

The Bible is a multi-layered presentation of truth.  By that, I mean that it presents us with a number of important truths, on several different levels or dimensions, all at the same time.  Through the stories of real people, who are taking part in real life activities, at real times in human history, we not only learn important lessons that we can use in our everyday lives, we also learn about God’s prophetic or future plans for all of mankind, for the earth, and for His enemies, and learn about the person and character of God, as well.

The Bible is consistent in its method of teaching.  Throughout the Bible, the way in which God explains spiritual truths to us is by taking the things with which we are familiar and using them to teach us about those things which are beyond our comprehension—that is, He takes the things that we can see, which are temporal or earthly in nature, to explain those things that we cannot see, because they are spiritual and eternal in nature.  And, toward this end, He purposefully incorporated things in His creation which He could use for His divine illustrations.

The Bible is ALL about Jesus.  He is there at the very beginning, He is there at the very end, and He is there in every chapter and verse in between.  Throughout the Old Testament, He is seen covertly—that is, some aspect of His Person is hidden within the pictures or types that were created by the lives of the Old Testament characters; and, He is represented in each of the feasts and in the rituals of the Old Testament system of worship.  In the New Testament, though, He is seen overtly or openly, making His appearance in the flesh as the fulfillment of each of those Old Testament pictures or types—and, as the physical manifestation to us of the collective thought and wisdom of God!  And, it is through His application of this thought and wisdom, which permeates every page of the Bible, that the Holy Spirit is able to transform our minds from the carnal to the spiritual, to restore our souls to their original function as mediators, and to teach us how to…

…prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2).

Restoring the Mind and Emotions

 

Smiley Face with Earphones2Instead of our usual musical selection, and to add to our understanding of the Bible we have been talking about, here is the video, “The Bible:  The Story Behind the Story,”  which is also available for viewing in our Video Vault…

 

 

 

[1] word. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/word (accessed: June 04, 2016).

Sanctification:  The Work of the Holy Spirit

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The Holy Spirit
As promised in our introduction to Sanctification, this workout time will be given over to becoming better acquainted with the Holy Spirit, our Trainer and Coach for this entire series of exercises.  The way in which we will do this is by asking and answering the following questions…

His Person—Who is He?
His Position—What does He do?
His Power—How does He do it? and,
His Presence—How does He relate this to each one of us? 


His Person:  Who is He?

Although some may have mistakenly thought of the Holy Spirit as nothing more than an emanation of God’s power, or some impersonal spiritual force from God, in reality, He is a Person—the equal, yet distinctive third Person of the Godhead, or Trinity.  This Trinity is actually a community made up of God the FatherGod the Son, Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit—three separate and unique Persons who are united in purpose, with each one working together to bring about the achievement of that purpose.  As a member of this Godhead, the Holy Spirit is every bit as divine as God the Father and God the Son; meaning that He shares in the very same divine attributes which they possess. Like them, He is:

  • Omniscient—that is, He is all-knowing (1 Cor. 2: 10-11);
  • Omnipresent—that is, He is everywhere present, all at the same time (Ps. 139: 7-10; John 14: 26; John 16: 12-13);
  • Omnipotent—that is, He is all-powerful (Luke 1:35);
  • Eternal—that is, He is, always has been, and will forever be (Heb. 9:14); and,
  • Holy—that is, He is pure and totally separate from sin (Rom. 1:4).

The Trinity1ax
Even though He is singular in His Person, the Holy Spirit is known by a number of different names, with at least twenty-five of them found throughout the Old and New Testaments; with these names giving us some much needed insight into His Person, and into His ministry.  The names by which He is known are:

  • The Spirit—which is translated as “breath” or “wind.”  As breath, He is the “breathing out” of God that imparts news life (Gen. 2:7, Ps. 104:30), and that gives divine inspiration to the Word of God (Heb. 4:12); and, as wind, He is invisible and sovereign; and beyond human understanding or control (John 3:6-8).
  • The Spirit of God (1 Cor. 3:16), the Spirit of Jehovah (Is. 11:2 1 Cor. 12:11), the Spirit of the Lord Jehovah (Is. 61:1-3), and the Spirit of the Living God (2 Cor. 3:6)—in His relationship to God the Father;
  • The Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9), the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:19), the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:6,9), and the Spirit of His Son (Gal.4:6)—in His relationship to God the Son;
  • The Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), the Holy Spirit of Promise (Eph. 1:13), the Spirit of Holiness (Rom. 1:4), the Spirit of Judgment (Is. 4:4), the Spirit of Burning (Is. 4:3-4); and the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17, 15:26, 16:13);
  • The Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding (Is. 11:2, 2 Tm. 1:7), the Spirit of Counsel and Might (Acts 1:8, 8:29 16:6-7), the Spirit of Knowledge and the Fear of the Lord (Is. 11:2), and the Spirit of Life (Rom. 8:2);
  • The Holy Spirit of Joy (1 Thes. 1:6), the Spirit of Grace (Heb. 10:29), the Spirit of Supplication Zech. 12:10), and the Spirit of Glory (1 Pet. 4:14);
  • The Eternal Spirit (Heb. 9:14)—all in regards to Himself; and,
  • The Comforter (John 14:26).  As the Comforter, He is also known as the “Paraclete” (Gk. Paraklētos), or as the “one who is called alongside” of the believer for assistance.

The Spirit Searches


His Position:  What does He do?

Because He is a Person, the Holy Spirit does the things that any other personal being does:  He thinks (Rom. 8:27), He feels (Rom. 15:30), He wills (1 Cor. 12:11)—and He acts, with some of His actions being described for us in:

  • 1 Corinthians 2:10—-where the Holy Spirit searches the thoughts and the deep things of God;
  • Acts 8:29 and Acts 13:2—-where the Holy Spirit speaks;
  • Acts 15:28—-where the Holy Spirit makes decisions;
  • Romans 8:26-27—-where the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us before God;
  • John 15:26 and John 16:14—-where the Holy Spirit testifies of Jesus;
  • John 14:26 and 1 Corinthians 2:13—-where the Holy Spirit teaches us;
  • Romans 8:16—-where the Holy Spirit reassures believers of their salvation;
  • 1 Corinthians 12:11—-where the Holy Spirit distributes gifts to believers;
  • Ephesians 4:30—-where the Holy Spirit grieves over sin; and,
  • Acts 16: 6-7—-where the Holy Spirit overrules human actions.

The Holy Spirit teaches...


His Power:  How Does He Do It? 

Although no one has ever been able to adequately explain the Trinity or how it works, one thing that seems to be apparent about it is that:

  • God the Father is the One who wills and plans;
  • God the Son is the One who does the Father’s will and carries out His plans; and,
  • God the Holy Spirit is the One who provides the power (Gk. Dunamis, or dynamic power) needed to apply the work done by the Son.

In other words, the role of the Holy Spirit is to see that the will of the Father and the work of the Son are carried out to completion.

Although we cannot actually see the Spirit’s power as He is working, we can see the evidences of that power, not only throughout the Scriptures but throughout our world, as well.  Even as He, in Genesis 1:2, was busy hovering over the darkness and chaos preceding the first coming of life—waiting in anticipation for the Word of God to be spoken so that He could perform or empower that Word into reality—He is constantly, yet invisibly, at work, bringing light and life to those who are living in darkness.  From the creation of the world until now, the power of the Holy Spirit has been at work:  striving with and convicting men of their sins; performing miracles; inspiring the prophets and the preachers; protecting God’s people; maintaining life as we know it on this planet; and most importantly, magnifying Jesus, and shining the light of God upon the Truth. 

Speaking of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit was also clearly seen in every aspect of His life, including His incarnation; His anointing for ministry at His baptism; His ministry to His disciples and to the crowds which followed Him; His transfiguration; His sacrificial death on the cross; His resurrection; and, the empowerment of Jesus’ disciples on the Day of Pentecost.

Truth


His Presence:  How does He apply the will of God and the work of Christ to us?

Since it was the will of God that:

  • No one should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet. 2:9);
  • We believe on the One (Jesus) whom He has sent (John 6:29);
  • We be sanctified, or made like Jesus, and be set apart for the His holy purposes (1 Thes. 4:3);

It became the work of the Son to:

  • Provide the redemption and forgiveness of sins needed to save us from perishing (Eph. 1:5-7);
  • Be sent to earth, to live a sinless and righteous life before men, to die an agonizing death on the cross in order to make atonement for the sins of all men, and to overcome death through His own resurrection; and,
  • Go back to the Father, so that the Holy Spirit could be sent to apply the work that He had accomplished.

As for the way in which the Holy Spirit goes about applying both the will of God and the work of the Son in our lives, He does this through the on-going work of His Eternal, Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Holy Presence, as He:

  • Convinces of us of our sins, the righteousness of Christ, and the judgment waiting for us in the future (John 16:8-11)—so that we can be brought to repentance;
  • Regenerates, or brings back to life, our long dead spirits, thus reconnecting our spirits with God’s (Titus 3:4-7);
  • Comes to live within us—writing the laws of God upon our hearts, and teaching us to live lives that are pleasing to God—reproducing the very character of Christ in us as a result (James 4:5, Heb. 10:16, Gal. 6:22-23);
  • Baptizes us and places us into the Body of Christ, giving us gifts of service, and then empowering us to use those gifts to carry on the work of the Son (1 Cor. 12:4-11, 1 Pet. 4:10); and,
  • Guarantees our inheritance by His seal, until we can take possession of it ourselves when we get to Glory, (Eph. 1:13).

As you can see, the Holy Spirit is a very busy and a very important Person in our lives; for, in the plan of God, it is His work to birth us as the spiritual children of God, and then, to help us mature into sons and daughters of God who can carry on the work of Christ in this world, and prepare for His coming Kingdom in the next.  In light of what we learned in our introductory exercise in Sanctification, the initial work of the Spirit in this regard will include…

  • Opening up the lines of communication with God, and teaching us to talk to Him through Prayer;
  • Transforming our carnal minds into Christ-like ones, and teaching us how to hear from God, through the Study of His Word; and,
  • Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, or the character of Christ, in our lives through a combination of Prayer, Bible Study, Worship, and Testing of what we have learned…

…beginning the process whereby our Spirits, Souls, and Bodies are restored to their proper places and functions, with the Spirit controlling our thoughts, feelings, and actions—and our flesh responding with submission and obedience to the Will of God.

 

Smiley Face with Earphones2
The Gaither Vocal Band and “Search Me, Lord”…

Sanctification: Regeneration Perfected

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Regeneration

In our first set of exercises, we began stretching our spiritual muscles as we learned some of the basic principles of Salvation…

We also learned that Salvation is the process by which God redeems lost sinners—those who have been in bondage to the world, the flesh, and the devil since their births; buying their freedom for them through the substitutionary death of Christ on the Cross and thus making it possible for them to be adopted into the family of God as His children.

A person’s Salvation isn’t limited to his just being adopted by God, though; it also involves his being transformed into a true Christ-resembling Child of the Most High.  That’s because, once a person becomes a child of God through the process known as the New Birth, he or she can no longer continue to think, speak, and act like the sinner he or she once was; instead, he or she must learn to think and behave in a manner befitting the son or daughter of a Holy King.  And, this is where Sanctification comes into play.

 

Sanctification

As we discovered in Salvation: What It Is and Why We Need It, Sanctification is the second of the three Stages in Salvation, with the first being Redemption and the last being Glorification; and, that it means…

To make holy; set apart as sacred; consecrate;
To purify or free from sin;
To make productive of or conducive to spiritual blessing. 

And, according to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, it is something which…

…involves more than a mere moral reformation of character, brought about by the power of the truth:  it is the work of the Holy Spirit bringing the whole nature more and more under the influences of the new gracious principles implanted in the soul in regeneration.  In other words, sanctification is the carrying on to perfection the work begun in regeneration, and it extends to the whole man.[1]
 

The Work of Regeneration

In order to better understand the work being referred to here, we will need to go back to Salvation:  How Do We Get It, where we learned that…

…Regeneration is the act by which our dead spirits are brought back to life again by the Holy Spirit of God…

…and, where we learned that the need for this regeneration goes all the way back to Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden.  For, it was then that their spirits, as well as those of all of their future descendants, died—or, were separated or cut off from God.  As for how this spiritual death impacted them, and us, in practical terms, it completely shut down the communication system God had established between Him and Man; and, it overturned the authority structure He had designed for His entire created world.

System Failure and Structural Collapse

When God created man, He fashioned him with a Spirit, Soul, and Body, so that…

  • Through his Spirit, he could relate to and communicate with God;
  • Through his Body, he could relate to and function in the physical world; and,
  • Through his Soul, consisting of his mind, will, and emotions, he could not only relate to other human beings, but his soul could also serve as the connecting point between his spirit and his body.

When this system was functioning as it should—which was, before the entrance of sin into the world—it meant that…

  • God’s Spirit could speak to man’s spirit, telling him what God wanted him to do;
  • Man’s spirit could relay that message to man’s soul; and,
  • Man’s soul could then direct man’s body to carry out the command it had been given by God…

…and, in this way, the will of God would be carried out on the earth by man.

As for the authority structure that God had devised for His creation, it was ordered along very similar lines—with God at the top of the structure and Man next in authority under Him; then, with Woman, an equal partner with her husband, yet coming under his authority—to be followed lastly by the creatures in the animal world.  Given that this arrangement was one which was ordained by God, it should come as no surprise that in his scheme to overturn it, Satan would come disguised in the form of an animal (a creature at the bottom rung of the ladder) and present himself first to the woman (on the next level up), who would then turn around and entice the man (on the next higher rung) to disobey God.

Unfortunately, and certainly unforeseen by our forbearers, this colossal structural collapse marked the beginning of what would turn out to be mankind’s perpetual rebellion against authority in every form; manifesting itself not only in his rebellion against God’s authority, but also in the rebellion of wives against husbands, children against parents, workers against employers, and the governed against those governing them.  It was a rebellion which also gave rise to an egocentric lust for power which would eventually lead to the commission of every other kind of sin that man could imagine.

This entrance of sin into the world also resulted in the failure of the once ideal system of communication between God and Man.  Instead of the top down system previously described, it became a bottom up one in which man’s flesh, instead of his spirit, began dictating to him what his thoughts, feelings, and actions should be.  That’s because, with the death or separation of man’s spirit from God’s Spirit because of sin, there was no longer any communication between God and man; a situation which left man’s powerful fleshly appetites to determine what he would or would not do in any given situation.  And, this is the way that it has been ever since.

The Apostle James explains the consequences of this system failure in the following way…

…what causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this, that your passions are at war with you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder.  You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel (James 4:1-2)…

…each person is tempted when he lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it is conceived gives birth to sin and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:13-15).

The Effects of the Fall
Extending Regeneration to the Whole Man

Since the unregenerate, or…

…the natural man 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 (1 Cor. 2:14)…

…when a person becomes Born Again, it then becomes the work of the Holy Spirit, through the process of Sanctification, to restore what was lost to that person as a result of The Fall and to reprogram him as to the right way to live.  As we have just learned, this means that…

  • His soul will have to be restored to its proper function; and,
  • His inborn tendency to rebel against authority will have to be dealt with and brought under control.

Rebellion to Submission

Although this work is a challenging one, and one taking a lifetime to complete, its success will be insured by the presence of the Holy Spirit who, once a person is regenerated, takes up residence within him.  Working from the inside out, He not only begins teaching this new Child of God the right way to live, but He provides him with the supernatural power needed for him to succeed.  Evidences of this success will become apparent in the life of the believer as…

  • He learns to communicate with God, his Father, through Prayer;
  • His mind is transformed into the mind of Christ through the Study of God’s Word;
  • The character of Christ is formed in him through Testing;
  • The works of Christ are reproduced in his service through the Gifts of the Spirit; and,
  • He learns to successfully wage Spiritual Warfare through his respect for and submission to God’s Authority Structure.

We will learn more about this process of spiritual transformation in our upcoming workout sessions, as we begin the basic exercises in Sanctification dealing with Prayer, the Bible, the Fruit of the Spirit and Testing; with these to be followed later by the more advanced exercises in Service, the Gifts of the Spirit, and Spiritual Warfare.  Before moving on to these, however, we first need to become better acquainted with our Trainer and Coach, the Holy Spirit, whom we will meet when we get together for our next session.  Until then…

…may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Thes. 5:23)

 

Smiley Face with Earphones2
The Sidewalk Prophets remind us that our salvation makes all things new…

 

[1]  Sanctification. Dictionary.com. Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/sanctification (accessed: April 07, 2016).

 

 

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

 

Smiley Face with Earphones2
The Pilgrim Mennonite Mission Choir reminds us that, whatever we may do, God’s “Grace is Greater Than Our Sin”…