I don’t know about you but the older I get, the darker the world seems to grow. This may be because the farther along I walk with God, the more discerning of the world and its ways I am becoming. Or, it could be just another indication that the long-awaited day of Jesus’ return is rapidly approaching. Certainly, the conditions prevailing in our world today greatly resemble those described by Jesus in Matthew 24:4-8, when He answered His disciples’ request for a sign of His coming by saying…
See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of birth pains.
If these conditions—the same ones that we are experiencing today—are but the “beginning of birth pains,” what can we expect to follow? Jesus goes on to address this question in verses 9-14, when He declares…
Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Undoubtedly, all of these things are taking place in our day and age, but the truth is that much of what has been described here has also taken place throughout most of human history. In fact, with the exception of the gospel being proclaimed throughout the whole world, I think that every generation of believers has looked around at the events taking place in their particular era and seen a world growing darker as a result of sin, thinking surely that the end of the world would soon be upon them.
As an example of this, listen to what Jude, the brother of Jesus and James, had to say about the conditions in his world back in the first century AD…
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who were long ago designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ…these people…defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones…blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understood instinctively.
While this is a pretty scathing indictment of his own times, Jude goes on to tell us about a time when the same kind of wickedness had saturated another, much earlier, society—and when another godly man arose to address the evils of the world around him then…
It was about these [the people referred to above] that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘Behold the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him (Jude 14-15).
Wow—such was the world in which Enoch lived! And when was that? It was, according to Genesis 5, about halfway between the creation of man and the Flood which took place in Noah’s day. And what was the reason for the Flood? It was the judgment upon all of the “ungodly sinners” about whom Enoch had prophesied. Did Enoch live to see the fulfillment of his prophecy? No, because, as we are told in Genesis 5:21-24…
When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.
In other words, Enoch, after walking with God in the midst of his sin-saturated world, was “raptured” out of that world before the Tribulation of the Flood came upon it.
It was this very time to which Jesus referred when He continued in His reply to the question His disciples had asked in Matthew 24. Likening it to the time preceding His own return, He said…
For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man…Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming…you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (vv. 39-39, 42, 44).
And how are we to make ourselves ready?
According to Jude, we…
…must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, ‘In the last time, there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.’ It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the spirit.
But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt, save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
Or, as Jesus put it in Matthew 5: 14 &16…
You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
…which, in our world of rapidly escalating darkness, is just another way of saying that for us to able to find our way through the darkness, we all need to be walking lightly!
So far, through our exercises in Sanctification, we have learned that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to restore our emotions through Prayer and our minds through the study and application of the Word ofGod—a ministry bringing our hearts into alignment with that of the Father and transforming our minds into ones more like Christ’s. But this only encompasses the restoration 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.
Throughout these workout sessions, we have learned that it’s always been God’s will for us to be saved from our sins and be adopted into His family–becoming sons and daughters who have not only been redeemed by the blood of Christ but who have also been conformed or remolded into His image. This means that we are not only to become like Jesus in character, but we are also to share in His mission and ministry here on the earth—a ministry committed to carrying out 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 (John 4:34, 5:30, and 6:38).
Since doing thewill of theFather 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–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—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 Godly input through our dormant spirits, our wills were like puppets whose strings were being pulled by our baser human instincts–instincts solely concerned with satisfying our unregenerate and ego-dominated selves. However, the moment we said yes to Jesus and were Born Again, all this began to change.
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…
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.
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, rather than 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 made in His image and therefore not been eligible for adoption as His children. For us to be like God, it was essential that we be free to choose to act in ways that He would–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. 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. Rather than complying with His will, they allowed their own wills to be seduced by the promises of self-achieved divinity 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.
The War of the Wills
While we are being overwhelmed by the countless mundane issues in life, it is very easy for us to lose sight of the fact behind everything taking place in our lives is this unseen, on-going conflict of wills between the one Righteous Ruler of the Universe and Lucifer, the evil imposter who is seeking to overthrow Him. Lucifer—aka Satan, is none other than “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)….
…the One who could, at any time He chooses, destroy this impudent adversary with just one word from His mouth. Instead, in His wisdom, He has allowed him to “…prowl around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).” Why? Because in this cosmic battle of wills, the decision as to which Will prevails on earth has been delegated by God to the willof each—relatively speaking—puny and seemingly insignificant human being who has ever lived on this planet.
Screwtape’s Perspective on Humanity
In the classic apologetic novel, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis provides us with some insight into the nature of this war of wills through the instructional letters that seasoned demon, Screwtape, sends 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…
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. In spite of what we have been conditioned to believe, worship isn’t so much about what we do when we gather together in church on Sunday morning, it is more about what we do when we leave church and go back into the world. That’s when we come face to face with the people and situations that Satan typically uses when tempting us to abandon God’s will in favor of our own. But it is also 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, He surrendered His will to that of His Father so that His Father’s could be carried out on the earth. What we learn from His example is that worshiping God simply means living surrendered to Him, in any and every circumstance in life, and that anything less is not true worship.
With that in mind, let’s be quick 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).
 Watchman Nee, The Spiritual Man (Richmond, VA: Christian Fellowship Publishers, Incorporated, 1968), Book 3, 81-83.
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?
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Instead, they are to be reverent and grateful for God’s kindness to them for, if 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Sonand, while I cannot ever recall haven 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 any future rewards for faithful service.
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…
Safe in the Hands of God
The Pilgrim Mennonite Mission Choir reminds us that, whatever we may do, God’s “Grace is Greater Than Our Sin”…
Now that we have taken care of these first few essentials, let’s make our way on over to Booth #4, where we will 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 ourDOTS—or 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.
How Can We See the Unseeable?
So, if we put these three individual definitions together, it will produce the kind of collective definition that will be most meaningful to us…
Spiritual vision is the power to see 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 begins to function soon after our births (barring any impairment by accident or disease), 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 Paulwent 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
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 faithI need to see things that are spiritual in nature?
The only place to get this kind of faith is in the Bible; 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 Spiritbegins speaking to our spirits, making known to us the things about Godwhich 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.
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 PictureofGod’s plans and purposes for mankind.This disease can afflict anyone at any time–with even the most devoted students of the Wordfalling 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 againstsin;
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 visionby exploring new ways of looking at the Bible; ways which will allow you to see the broad, over-arching story that Godwants 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 it has a very small but specific Cast of Characters;
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 Biblereveals to us.
The very best part about all of this is that once we learn to view the Bible in these new ways, not only will we able to see Godmore clearly, but the study of His Word will become a true delight to us–no longer being something that we have to do but instead becoming something that we really want to do!
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.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 is not only teaching people what the Bible has to say, but also teaching them some new ways of approaching its study–so that they can better make sense of it on their own.
Just 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 giving out the Word of Godto people, whether or not they want to hear it–and it 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 a pivotal time in my life when, 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.
Stepping Up to Maturity
My training for this new life began quickly and simply–it started with me having nothing but God and His Word to rely on. 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. In hindsight, I now clearly see that God had planned out a comprehensive spiritual training program for me designed to accomplish the following…
Teach me to hear His voice and to trust in His Word;
Teach me how to study the Word and to see the Big Story that it presented;
Teach me how to present and share what I had learned with others; and,
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:
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 dare 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.
To get me to the next level, the one involving teaching me how to study His Word, the Lord did two things…
First, He 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.
Then 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.
Once 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. Then, some years later, to enable me to better my presentation of the material I was putting together, the Lord opened up a new position for me at work—one requiring me to use the computer. As I explained inMy Journey to the Land of Blog,even though I didn’t know how to turn a computer on and off, I began taking the computer courses being offered by my employer and it wasn’t long before I was using what I had learned to organize and prepare the materials for my Bible studies.
Finally, 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 speaking in front of groups of people. However, over the course of these many years, the Lord has continued to put me into those kinds of situations just so I could learn to overcome my fears. And on quite a few occasions, He has required me to confront people and situations that I would have otherwise preferred to avoid, just so I could learn to “woman up” and not let anyone intimidate me.
Why am I sharing all of this with you now? Well, it’s 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, a new season of Bible study. In order to do this, I am proposing that we…
Look into Salvation and learn why it is necessary;
Look at the New Birth and learn how we can obtain it;
Learn how to prepare for Bible study by…
– 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;
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 this, and can only hope that you will want to join me as we launch out into the deep–that is, a deeper study of the Word of God. If so, then let’s get going!
Citizen Way rocks out for us in “Where Would I Be Without You?”
When we ended our last visit, we did so poised with our treasure hunting tools in hand, ready for the truth-seeking adventure that was promised for today. As you may recall, Tool #1 was the understanding that we had gained as to how the Big, Infinite, Spiritual, and Holy God of the Bible reveals Himself to us–the small, fleshly, finite, and sinful human beings who are living here on planet earth. We learned that this God reveals Himself not only through what He says in His Word, but also through the things that He does, which, as we saw last time, included the separating, dividing, and judging of the very things that He had just created. These actions revealed to us not only what God did at that particular time, but they also revealed who He is all of the time—that He is, in His very nature, a Separator, a Divider, and a Judge. As for Tool #2, we learned that this was an understanding of the way that this very same God teaches us about spiritual things; that He does so by using the things that we can see to explain the things that we cannot see…
For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:18b).
Now that we have re-familiarized ourselves with the tools at our disposal, let’s take a moment to identify the treasures that we will be searching for during this and our next visit. After all, we will need to know what we are looking for if we are going to be able to recognize it when we find it. During this visit, we will be searching for Treasure #1, which is The Whatof the trees, or the object lesson that God wants us to give us every time we come face to face with one of His trees. Treasure #2, the goal of our next visit will, on the other hand, be The Why of the trees, or the answers to those questions that were posed back in Redemption, A Story told by Trees, questions as to why God would want to use trees to tell His story of redemption in the first place.
So, with our equipment now in place, we can proceed in our hunt for…
Treasure #1—The What of the Trees
We begin our search for Treasure #1 by taking a look at our treasure map, the Bible, to see what clues it holds for our discovery. Since treasure is almost always buried, and because the Bible is a multi-layered presentation of truth, when we search for the treasures of truthhidden within it, we will find that we need to dig for it on at least three different levels: an earthly level, a heavenly level, and an eternal level. At the earthly level, we will be presented with real people or real events taking place in real time; people and events which God will use to teach us valuable life lessons. God will then take those same people and events and use them to illustrate something that He has done or will be doing in the spiritual realm, or some important spiritual truth that He wants us to know. Finally, God will use what we have learned on both of those levels to take us to the eternal level, or that place where He will reveal to us a more complete picture of who He is.
Our earthly level excavation for truth begins with a look at the first verses in scripture that mention trees, specifically Genesis 1:12, 1:29, and 2:8. In these verses, as we see God calling trees into existence, and from the descriptions that are given of them, we very quickly learn that when God created trees, He had some very practical purposes in mind for them. According to His plan, they were meant to:
Spring up out of the earth;
Reproduce after their own kind;
Be pleasing to look at; and,
Be good for food.
Here, we learn that in creating the trees as He did, God was actually preparing to meet the natural needs of the people He would soon be creating. As not only the source but also the sustainer of the lives that He was about to bring into the world, through the trees, God was making provision for their needs even before they existed.
If meeting these natural needs had been God’s only reason for bringing trees into the world, that would certainly have been reason enough for their existence. However, if we dig a little deeper into the Word,by going on to Genesis 2:16, we get our first hint that God, in His creation of the trees, may have had more in mind than just meeting the physical needs of man. For, here in this verse, we are re-introduced to the God we first met back in Genesis 1—the God who not only created the world but the One who also then separated, divided, and judged every aspect of His own creation. Here, we find Him doing the same thing, only this time He is focused on separating and making distinctions between two of the trees in the garden that He Himself had made for man; here, we find him differentiating between the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, designating the fruit of one to be good or life-giving, and the fruit of the other to be bad or death-inducing. Here, too, we are given our first clue that He, in this separation, division, and judging of the trees, had other reasons for including them in His created order.
This is a very important clue for us and now that we have it in our possession, we can use it to move on to the next level of exploration—that being the spiritual level of truth-seeking. This is the place where Tool #2 will come in handy; for it is here is that we will see how God applied spiritual principals to the natural characteristics of trees in order to illustrate an important spiritual truth. To explain what I mean, let’s go to Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17, where we read:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields it fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. Psalm 1: 1-3
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8
You see, when God wanted to demonstrate what a righteous man or woman would look like, He used trees to make His point. For:
Like trees, we as human beings are to grow up out of the earth, with heaven as our focus and our ultimate destination;
Like trees, while still drawing our physical nutrients from the earth, we are to be continually seeking the light of the Son as our real source of life;
Like trees, for us to remain strong and fruitful, we need to be planted by the streams of God, regularly drawing life-giving water from His Word;
Like trees, as we grow, we will have to weather many storms which, if we keep looking heavenward, will only make us stronger;
Like trees, as we mature, we are to become fruit-bearing, reproducing ourselves both physically and spiritually; and,
Like trees, in our maturity, we are to be safe spiritual havens or sources of refuge for others, all while acting as agents of purification for the atmosphere surrounding us.
Just think about it, by placing trees on the earth, whenever and wherever one was growing, God was actually providing people with a living illustration, a silent witness or reminder, of what and who He expected them to be. Each tree was to be a reminder that He was there, not only as the God who had made the trees for their benefit but also as the God who would be there one day to separate, divide, and pass judgment upon them on the basis of the fruit produced by their lives.
Trees Are Supposed to Be Fruitful
When we see a tree, maybe we should do as Jason Gray does, and ask God to use it to “Remind Me Who I Am”…
After each of our visits, I like to take a little time to ponder what we have been talking about so that I can try to decide where we should go in our next discussion. As a goal-oriented person, I usually have a very good idea of where that is and just how to go about getting there; but, as is so often the case in my life, that isn’t the way it usually works out. All too frequently in my estimation, what I consider to be my good plans are side-lined by God, and replaced by ones that He thinks are far better (imagine that!). And this is exactly what happened as I was preparing for our visit today. While I was all set on devoting more time to the subject of overcoming, the Lord made it clear that He wanted me to use this visit to focus on worship. How did He do that? Well, each time I thought about my proposed agenda, He would interrupt those thoughts with a particular song, The Majesty and Glory of Your Name. Having been down this road more than once, it wasn’t long before I got the point that He was trying to make—which was, if we don’t worship first, there will be no overcoming!
Well, if worship is so important, it goes without saying that we should all have a clear understanding as to what it is. We certainly hear the term tossed about often enough; so often, in fact, that it tends to leave us with the impression that everyone who uses it must know what it is, or that they are all referring to the same thing. Unfortunately, that really isn’t the case. That’s because worship has too often become something so subjective and soulish that we no longer have a correct concept of its meaning, but are left, instead, to devise our own interpretations of what we think it should be.
Surveying Church Members
I would be willing to wager a guess that if we did a survey of people as they were leaving their respective churches, asking them for their definitions of worship, we would get some or all of the following answers:
Worship is the meeting together of believers for fellowship, prayer, and the preaching of God’s Word;
Worship is the regular practice of prayer and Bible study;
Worship is the giving of tithes and offerings for the support of the church;
Worship is the giving of time and talents to do works of service and/or charity;
Worship is the singing of songs of praise to God; and,
Worship is the experience by some of being transported to other realms in moments of ecstasy.
On the surface, each of these definitions has merit, for each one represents a form that worship can take;however, if we could look below the surface—that is, to the motives of some of those engaged in these activities, we would probably find that much of what passes today as worship is more emotional than spiritual, and more about us than it is about God. That’s because, all too often:
When we come together, instead of doing so to exalt God, we are looking to be entertained;
When we pray or study the Bible, we are doing so with the intention of getting something from God rather than learning about Him and His will for us;
When we give of our money, instead of giving joyfully and sacrificially, we do so out of obligation or with the expectation of being rewarded by God with material prosperity;
When we give of ourselves to the service of others, oftentimes, we are more interested in scoring points with God, or in impressing others with our piety; and,
When we sing our songs of praise, or revel in the ecstasy of those mountain top experiences, we quite often do so for our own temporary pleasure, instead of allowing God to use these experiences to bring about lasting changes in our lives.
This is True Worship
Now, knowing what we know about God, can we honestly say that this is really the kind of worship that He desires from us; or is it the kind that Jesus was describing when He said to the woman at the well, in John 4:23-24…
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth”?
Obviously, the answer to this question is “no,” but how are we to know what it really means when Jesus tells us that true worship must be in spirit and in truth?
In our effort to answer that, let’s start with the truth part first. You see, before any of us can come to God in worship, the truth that we must acknowledge is this:
That God is God, and we are not;
That, as God, He created everything, He owns everything, and He established all the rules by which His creation operates;
That, as God, He knows everything, is everywhere, and has all the power;
That, as God, He is holy and always does what is right; and,
Because of all of this, God’s thoughts or ideas, and His ways of doing things are better than ours;
Meaning, that when we come to Him, we can always trust Him to do what is right, not only for us but for everyone else, as well.
As for the spirit part, what Jesus is telling us is that when we come to God inworship, we must do so through a meeting of our spirits with the Spirit of God, and not through any fleshly means. You see, here is the way this spiritual connection is supposed to work: when God decides that He wants to tell us something, He has His Spirit speak to our spirits and then our spirits deliver those messages to our souls. Our souls—or our minds, emotions, and wills—are then supposed to communicate God’s directions to our bodies for their implementation. Our bodies and souls are, in fact, what constitutes the flesh; while our spirits are the parts of our beings which are like God, and which will live on forever. So, if we attempt to come to God through our flesh, He will not accept us or our worship—for, as Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:6…
…that which born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit…
…indicating a separation existing between the two which cannot be eliminated.
Jesus in Worship in the Garden
What this means is, that when we come to God in worship, we open our spirits to His Spirit, we acknowledge His superiority and authority over us, and we bring our wills into alignment with His will for the ultimate purpose of establishing His Kingdom, or His rule and His reign of righteousness here on the earth, just as it already exists in heaven. This, in fact, is what we see Jesus doing in the Garden of Gethsemane when, in the face of the Cross and in spite of His own human desires, He surrenders His will to that of His Father, so that His Father’s will could be done on the earth. What we learn from His example, then, is that worshiping God simply means living surrendered and that anything less is not true worship. And why did He–and why should we–worship in this way? For no other reason than The Majesty and Glory of His Name!
The Metro Singers and their rendition of The Majesty and Glory of Your Name…
Greetings, all of you overcomers! Although it was my intention during this visit to continue on in our discussion of Club business, I have decided that in deference to Father’s Day (and since you have already met my mother), this would be a good time to introduce you to my father—my earthly one, that is. I find that I very seldom mention him to people these days but that isn’t due to any lack of love or respect, it is only because he has been gone from our lives for such a long time now. You see, back in 1972 he died suddenly of a heart attack at the relatively young age of fifty-eight–when I was just twenty-three. Even though he has missed the last forty-one Father’s Day celebrations here on earth and I only knew him for an all-too-brief twenty-three years, he has had a powerful impact upon my life because he provided me with a wonderful earthly image of what my Heavenly Father is like.
If I had to pick one word to describe my father, I think I would have to say that he was a real character—and I mean that in the best possible way! He was quick-witted and armed with a great sense of humor, he brought laughter and joy into our lives often at the oddest moments. I don’t think I ever met anyone who disliked my father! While his given name was Herbert, the name he was known by to his brothers and sisters, he answered to several other, less formal names, when he was in the company of other people:
– Among his friends and co-workers, he was known as “Big Head” or simply “Head,” because his head was slightly larger than normal, which meant that he had to have all of his hats custom made;
– With my mother and grandmother (and I still don’t know the origin of this nickname), he was known as “Piggy”; and,
– To his three children, he was known simply as “Pop.”
Pop was one of three sons born into a working-class family of seven children. Although I don’t remember much about his father (other than he was a tall, lean man who loved to do jigsaw puzzles–and who, because he chewed tobacco, had a spittoon in every room of the house, so nasty!), from all indications, he was a no-nonsense kind of man, one who very wisely insisted that each of his sons learn a trade. Since he was in charge of training the apprentices at one of the local shipyards, all three sons went through the apprenticeship program there, with my father learning the skills that would make him a master machinist.
A Night Out on the Town
However, this kind of work put a real crimp in Pop’s lifestyle. That’s because he was a man who thoroughly enjoyed the nightlife. In fact, he was something of a man-about-town, a playboy, or what we might refer to today as a regular “party animal!” Because he was especially fond of big band music, when one of the bands was in town, he was sure to be in attendance; staying out so late that he was often caught by his father, sneaking in at home with his shoes in his hand, just in time to get dressed for work.
Besides the bands, dancing, and the nightlife, my father’s other great love was sports, especially baseball and football. He not only refereed football games, but he also played baseball in the minor leagues as a catcher, at the same time that Yogi Berra was working his way up through the minors and on to the big leagues. My father loved sports so much that he would do anything to see a game; at times, even “hawking” concessions in the stands, attempting to sell cold refreshments to hot spectators with such catchy jingles as, “Step right up, get it cold and sweet, give your teeth a treat, and your tongue a sleigh ride!”
Of course, all of that changed with the outbreak of World War II. While many other young men were going off to war to serve their country, my father was kept at home to work in the shipyard, serving the war effort by keeping the nation’s ships afloat. It was then, while working in the shipyard, that the third great love in my father’s life appeared. That was when a prim and proper, no-smoking, tea-totaling turret lathe operator named Florence strutted by in her sleek and slim, pleated and perfectly pressed trousers and as the saying goes, the rest is history. The nightlife suddenly lost its appeal, having been replaced by the simpler forms of entertainment that were more appealing to my mother—like a Hershey bar with almonds and a trip to the movies. It was then that Herbert, the dapper man-about-town gradually disappeared, re-emerging later in the person of Piggy and Pop, the devoted family man. Ain’t love amazing?
I am sure that in the coming together of two people from such opposite ends of the spectrum, there had to be a lot of personality conflicts, especially in the early years of their marriage, but to be honest, no one ever knew about them. That’s because my parents never argued in front of us or anyone else; whatever disagreements they had were settled behind closed doors. And I cannot remember a time when either one of them said a disparaging word about the other; my mother always showed respect for my father and my father faithfully demonstrated his devotion to my mother in the countless little courtesies he used to show her.
My Pop Certainly Did This!
With my father around, my mother never had to be concerned about the maintenance on the car; he had it checked regularly, kept it gassed up, and every morning before my mother left for work, he would back the car out of the garage and warm it up for her, just so she wouldn’t have to get into a cold car. She really didn’t have to worry about grocery shopping either, because every other Thursday night when my father got paid, he would shop for food—and he was a good shopper, too. Also, out of consideration for my mother’s allergy to cigarette smoke, Pop would either go outside or he would pull a kitchen chair over to the corner, under the exhaust fan over the stove, to smoke his little cigarillos.
While Pop wasn’t perfect, he was present, both physically and emotionally, and was a father who cared about what was going on in his family. He was also a provider who worked hard to see that his family’s needs were met, as well as a protector who would have done anything to keep his loved ones safe. He was the kind of father who would take out a loan so his family could go on vacation, and then spend the rest of the year paying back the money. He was the kind of father who would give us his last dollar if we needed it and was one who frequently stopped at the ice cream store on his way home just because we liked chocolate chip ice cream and pinwheel cookies. And he was the kind of father who would say that for him, the most important thing in life was to be surrounded by “his hen and all of his little chicks.”
It took me a while to realize it but, in his presence, his provision, and his protection, Pop was painting a living picture for me of a Heavenly Fatherwhom I could trust to always be near, always meet my needs, and always safeguard my way. And when I recall those times that Pop was sitting in the corner of the kitchen and he used to call me over to him to ask what was going on in my life, and if I needed anything, he was planting an image in my mind of a God who wanted me to come to Him at any time and for any reason, with full assurance that He would be there to hear and answer.
I am so grateful to have had the father that I did but, sadly, not everyone can say the same thing. For some, the fathers that they knew did everything imaginable to distort the image of what a father should be. If this has been true in your life, please don’t let the sins of your father keep you from fully trusting the Father who loved you so much that He gave His only Son to die for you. Instead, when you are tempted to think of God in terms of the father that you knew, why not take all of the negative things that your natural father did and think of what the opposite of those things would be; then, by taking a negative image of a negative image and reprinting it, you will be creating for yourself a positive picture of the spiritual Father who is just waiting to reveal Himself to you. Once you have done that, you will be free to joyfully celebrate Father’s Dayevery day for the rest of your life and on even into eternity. Just imagine, when God finally has all of His “chicks” gathered around Him, what a great Father’s Daythat will be!
Instead of the musical selection that I usually include at this point, here are the first four stanzas of the old hymn, “Children of the Heavenly Father.” The words were written in 1858 by Karolina Sandell-Berg and, according to the Cyber Hymnal, “Shortly before writing this hymn, Sandell and her father were on a boat trip, when he fell overboard and drowned before her eyes. It is thought this tragedy gave birth to the lyrics.”
Children of the heav’nly Father
Safely in His bosom gather;
Nestling bird nor star in Heaven
Such a refuge e’er was given.
God His own doth tend and nourish;
In His holy courts they flourish;
From all evil things He spares them;
In His mighty arms He bears them.
Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord His children sever;
Unto them His grace He showeth,
And their sorrows all He knoweth.
Though He giveth or He taketh,
God His children ne’er forsaketh;
His the loving purpose solely
To preserve them pure and holy.