Children of Wrath

It’s a privilege to grow up in a Christian environment, and be taught the Word of God as a child. (2Ti 3:15) If that’s been our heritage, we should be grateful, yet not presume we’ve always been a child of God because of this.

We all start out dead to God (Ep 2:1), seeking our own way and will (Tit 3:3), blind in our ignorance, alienated from God’s life (Ep 4:18) and under His wrath. (Ep 2:3) We may not seem as bad as those from more broken backgrounds, but measuring sin as the world does is unwise at best: in our selfishness and pride we’ve all been an abomination to God. (Pr 16:5)

So, God says we must each be born again (Jn 3:7), born anew, each and every one of us; in order to enter Heaven, at some point we must be converted (Mt 18:3), regenerated, made alive. (Ep 2:5).

It isn’t that we must know the exact day and hour we came to Christ, any more than we’d know exactly when we were born physically if no one told us. But the significance of the new birth, requiring that we understand the basics of the gospel and trust God for eternal salvation, and the radical inward transformation that always accompanies this miracle of God (Jn 1:13), suggest we’ll know the general time period, and distinctly remember experiencing assurance of salvation as we began our faith journey. (1Th 1:5)

Thinking we’re Christians simply because our parents were, or because they had us baptized, is to ignore our need for personal salvation and regeneration. There’s no guarantee of heaven in any ritual, or in the faith of others (Ga 6:15): we must each strive to enter the kingdom (Lk 13:24), seeking God until we find Him for ourselves. (He 11:6)

We should each examine ourselves, whether we be in the faith, and prove our salvation (2Co 13:5), laying hold on eternal life (1Ti 6:12), and ensuring the evidences which accompany salvation appear in our own lives. (He 6:9)

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Turning the Grace

Grace may be the most important word in the Christian Faith. We’re saved by grace (Ep 2:8) and we stand in grace. (Ro 5:2) If we get this foundational concept wrong, we may call our theology Christian, but it may still be foreign to God, and leave us with false hope.

God exhorts us to earnestly contend for the authentic, apostolic faith (Jud 3) because false teachers promote a counterfeit Christianity by changing the definition of grace, turning it into permission to indulge, essentially denying God’s nature. (vs 4)

Grace is commonly defined to be the unmerited favor of God, the idea that we may freely enjoy the blessings of God without deserving them. Since those who receive Christ are forgiven and loved by God unconditionally, the claim is that we’re free to sin against God on purpose, that even if we sin deliberately, God will never be angry or disappointed in us: He’s taken care of our sin in Christ. In other words, defining grace this way means we can receive all the benefits of salvation merely by receiving Christ as Savior, and that receiving Him as Lord is optional.

This teaching on grace effectively turns it into a type of open-ended leniency, permission to pursue our own interests, passions, and lusts. This is what Jude calls turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, exposing those who promote this as ungodly, denying the Lordship of Christ. (Jud 4)

Routinely overlooking the willful, wrongful behavior of those we love is unhealthy at best. Claiming God is this way, and that we should be too, is foolish. God simply isn’t like this; He cares very deeply how we act, being grieved and angered by all intentional sin (He 10:26-27) This is clear in the Word, proof of His love. (Re 3:19)

The problem with the common definition of grace is that it fails to account for the miracle of the new birth, and the transforming dynamic inherent in grace. Grace isn’t freedom to sin, it’s freedom from sin (Ro 6:14); grace is God providing us a new nature (2Co 5:17) that’s inclined to obey Him. (1Pe 1:2)

Let no one deceive us (1Jn 3:7): those in Christ have received Him as He truly is, as both Savior and Lord. (Jn 1:12) Those who carelessly and willfully disobey Him as a manner of life don’t yet know Him. (1Jn 3:9)

The relentless assaults of false teachers require us to earnestly contend for the basics of godly faith as we engage each other to fight the good fight and lay hold on eternal life. (1Ti 6:12) God’s Word is unmistakably clear: those who don’t love Jesus Christ don’t belong to Him (1Co 16:22), and all who aren’t trying their best to honor and obey Him don’t love Him. (Jn 14:23)

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The Gospel

Gospel means good news. In scripture, it relates to salvation (Ro 1:16): how we may be reconciled to God (Ro 5:10), delivered from both the penalty and power of our sin. (Ga 1:4)

This Gospel is revealed and enabled in the divine sacrifice, of which the Old Testament animal sacrifices are a type (Jn 1:29); through His substitutionary death on our behalf, Christ became the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1Jn 2:2) We know God is satisfied with Christ’s work because of the resurrection. (Ac 17:31)

But even with the facts of the gospel laid out in plain view, until God opens our eyes, and turns us from darkness to light (Ac 26:18), we remain blind, dead in our trespasses and sins. (Ep 2:1-3) Those who continue in doubt (He 4:1), or to pursue disobedience (1Jn 3:9), who don’t love God (1Co 16:22), who aren’t being transformed into His likeness, are like dead men walking — they haven’t believed this good news: they haven’t been reconciled to God or delivered from the power of sin. (1Jn 3:10)

When Christ came He preached this good news (Lk 20:1), but never once explicitly mentioned His death, burial or resurrection. A sinful woman found forgiveness of all of her sins in Christ through this gospel; overwhelmed in grateful tears, she loved Him intensely. (Lk 7:47)

Abraham believed the gospel when he took God at His word (Ro 4:3), that one of his descendants (Ga 3:16) would be in number as the stars, and God counted this in Abraham as perfect righteousness. (Ge 15:5-6)

King David believed this gospel, and found a place of perfect reconciliation and righteousness in God without working for it, a place where God would never again impute sin to him. (Ro 4:6)

This same gospel was also preached to unbelieving Israel in the wilderness, but it fell on deaf ears.  (He 4:2) Perhaps, as it was then, even so it is now, that very few perceive the gospel, though most of the world has heard of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and is aware that He died for our sins.

We aren’t reconciled to God, or saved, by acknowledging a set of historical facts, or by asking God to save us and committing our lives to serve Him; this is mere religion. We can know Jesus died for the sins of the world, and that He rose again, and still not believe the gospel, the good news, such that we’re saved from the power of sin and death. (Ro 8:2)

There’s only one gospel, one version of this good news, that’s legitimate; anyone preaching any other gospel is accursed. (Ga 1:8) Christ can quicken us (Col 2:13), make us spiritually alive, and take care of our sin (1Jn_3:5), and only Christ can do this. We can’t add anything to this, or take anything away from it, and still have the gospel.

There is no ritual that enables and facilitates receiving this gospel. (Ga 6:15) Salvation comes through an actual miracle of faith, where God gives us supernatural assurance and trust that He’s taken care of our sin in Christ (1Th 1:5), fully and completely, causing us to enter into His rest (He 4:3), and begins transforming our hearts with the living Christ, giving us a new nature (Ez 36:26), His own nature (Col 1:27), enabling us to love and obey Him.

Salvation is the receiving of God Himself, the divine Person, as He is. (Jn 1:12) This is the new birth; it is the work of God, not springing from the human will (Jn 1:13), but God conceiving us through His Word. (Ja 1:18)

Very few believe the gospel and find this salvation (Mt 7:14); we should each labor to enter into this rest (He 4:11), striving to enter (Lk 13:24), diligently ensuring our own calling and election. (2Pe 1:10)

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God Is Not Mocked

We’re constantly making choices, moment by moment, in a continuous flow of sowing and reaping. A universal law governs this: whatever we sow, we reap. (Ga 6:7b) If we invest primarily in our physical, temporal nature, in our own comfort and pleasure, we reap corruption and death (Php 3:18-19); if we choose life and walk in the light as a manner of life, we reap everlasting life. (Ro 2:6)

The law of sowing and reaping: we reap what we sow, we reap more than we sow, and we reap later than we sow. It’s a universal truth; no one escapes it, not even through the Gospel. So, the apostle Paul warns us: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” (Ga 6:7-8)

So, how does this work in Christ? When God forgives us, does He deliver us from the consequences of our choices? No; even those in Christ are subject to this law: no one is exempt. (Col 3:23 -25) Why must this be?

God chastens and scourges every child He receives (He 12:6) to break the pattern of selfishness and disobedience, and work righteousness in us. (He 12:10) God’s law is for our good (Ro 7:12), and when we break it, or sin, this is bad for us. God is intent on delivering us from the power of sin as well as from its penalty; so, if we’re sowing in the wrong place, God will often use this law of sowing and reaping to help straighten us out. The natural consequences of our choices are often our best teachers.

Certainly, God is merciful to all of us (La 3:39): we never reap the full consequences of our sin in this life. (Ps 103:10) For those who fear Him, His mercy is infinite. (Ps 103:11)

But those who commit themselves to a life of sin, sin of any kind, show themselves to be alienated from God, subject to His wrath and indignation (Ro 2:8); it reveals that they’re not God’s children. (1Jn 3:9) God transforms His elect such that they live to please Him. (Ep 2:10)

Thinking anyone can sin without consequence is to deny the justice of God, making a mockery of His dignity and His eternal Word. It makes Him out to be a liar. For anyone who tries this, it will not end well. God does not tolerate being mocked like this; His fiery indignation will silence every rebellious tongue, terrify every arrogant heart, and devour every adversary. (He 10:27)

Let’s serve the Almighty with fear, and rejoice with trembling (Ps 2:11), working out our deliverance from sin by sowing in truth unto obedience.  (Php 2:12)

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She Loved Much

As Christ is dining in the home of Simon the Pharisee, reclining at the table (Lk 7:36), a woman known for her sin approaches Him from behind, weeping. She pours some very expensive perfume onto His feet, and begins washing them with her tears, kissing them and wiping them with her hair. (Lk 7:37-38) Simon’s taken aback at Christ’s willingness to tolerate her touch, and sees it as proof that Christ isn’t a prophet. (Lk 7:39)

Christ picks up on this and offers Simon a little challenge: a creditor has two debtors — one owes him $1000, the other only $100. But since neither can repay him, he forgives them both. (Lk 7:41-42a) Christ asks Simon which of the two will love the creditor most, and Simon supposes it’s the one whose been forgiven more. Christ agrees. (Lk 7:42b-43)

Then Christ begins to explain why the woman is acting as she is: Christ has forgiven her of all of her many offenses, as they are all against Himself, and she is overwhelmed with gratitude. But Simon hasn’t shown Christ any love at all, failing even in the normal courtesies commonly offered to guests, so it appears he’s not been forgiven of anything by Christ. (Lk 7:44-47) Christ then turns to the woman, reassuring her that all of her sins are completely forgiven (Lk 7:48), that she’s now saved by faith, and bids her go in peace. (Lk 7:50)

This explanation of the woman’s behavior alarms everyone else present, as they begin to realize what Christ is saying about Himself: ultimately, only God can forgive sin. (Lk 7:49) If His words are considered carefully there can be no mistake here: Christ is actually claiming to be God, the very One against Whom all sins are primarily committed, something this sinful woman has somehow come to cherish.

———————————————

Now, it is so wildly preposterous for a mere human being to make such a claim that one may only conclude from this that Christ is either Who He says He is, God Almighty incarnate in human flesh, or He is insanely delusional, on par with one who claims to be an orange. In truth, Christ leaves us no middle ground, and apart from such fantastic claims regarding His identity, there is zero indication that Jesus Christ is delusional.

We can worship Christ as this precious woman did, loving Him and living worthy of His name in grateful wonder, or continue to hold Him at arm’s length and remain at enmity with Him. These are our choices; there are no other.

And such love cannot be pretended — if we’re not overwhelmed with the free gift of righteousness, amazed at the amount and degree of sin that we’ve been forgiven by God, then perhaps we’re yet as Simon, on the outside peering in, proud, judging those whose sins are much more visible than our own, ignorant of the depth of our own depravity, and the vast treasure we’ve been offered in Christ.

Anyone who does not love Jesus Christ — as we look carefully at this dear woman’s example — remains accursed. (1Co 16:22)

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The Books

God has a library: He’s having it all written down, everything we do and say. (Re 20:12) Every idle word we speak, all our feelings, motives and thoughts, things we aren’t even aware we’re doing … it will all be publicly scrutinized. All is recorded here, in the books; nothing is forgotten, and we’ll answer for all we’ve done. (Mt 12:36)

This must be an immense work, The Encyclopedia of Humanity, precisely documenting every nuance of every act of every person who has ever lived. As our minds capture everything we experience, making the more significant events available to us for our inspection and reflection, these volumes perfectly preserve all the same data, but make it all available for everyone to peruse. (Mk 4:22) Nothing will be hidden (Mt 10:26); secrecy is an illusion, a temporary one. We’ll all be participating in judging each other, thoroughly apprised of all the facts. (Lk_11:31)

Yet there’s another book, The Book of Life (Php 4:3), or The Book of the Living, listing those who are righteous before God. (Ps 69:28) Some names are engraved into this book before Creation (Re 17:8), others are evidently penciled in afterward, only to be finally blotted out (Ps 69:28) due to their ungodly lives. (Ps 69:26)

We should all rejoice, at least for now, that our names appear in the Book of Life (Lk 10:20), the precious token given to every one of us that there’s a place set aside for us in God: God is graciously willing to receive any soul that turns to Him in faith. (2Pe 3:9) Those who do so, who seek Him until they find Him (Is 55:6-7), the elect chosen from eternity past (Ep 1:4-5), are counted righteous (Ro 4:3), and will never be blotted out of the Book of Life. (Re 3:5)

The only way to survive this searching, exhaustive, judgement, to avoid an eternally fiery end, is to be found written in The Book of Life. (Re 20:15) Only those written in the Lamb’s Book survive; everyone else is corrupt, polluted, unworthy to enter Paradise. (Re 21:27)

Let’s be diligent to make our calling and election sure. (2Pe 1:10) It isn’t so much what we know, as it is Who we know. To have eternal life is to know Him (Jn 17:3), to be known by Him (Mt 25:12) and transformed by Him (Ep 2:10), inscribed indelibly into God’s Book of Life.

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Married to Another

Being married is being joined for life, two souls knitted together into a single living organism ’till death do us part. (Ge 2:24) Most of us, I think, are designed for this in earthly life, yet it’s a picture of God’s ultimate ideal for everyone: to be married to Christ. (Ro 7:4)

However, we all start out with a big problem here: any claim to marriage with Christ is illegitimate so long as justice has a claim on us through the Law. It’s like we’re born into life married to a man who doesn’t care for us, and the law of marriage means we’re stuck in that broken relationship with no way out. (Ro 7:2) If we act like we’re married to anyone else while this first marriage is still valid, then we’re committing adultery. (Ro 7:3a)

It’s an illustration of the fact that we’ve all broken God’s Law, so we’re not free to be married to God, to be joined to Him and in fellowship with Him, until that first relationship with sin is dealt with — justice must first be served. (Ro 7:3b)

Many think God solves our problem by putting the Law to death, as if the old husband we’ve been married to is the Law, keeping us in bondage while we’re trying to keep God’s rules in order to be accepted by Him. Since we can’t keep God’s Law well enough to please Him, they presume Christ’s work frees us from our obligation to obey it. They’re thinking God forgives us of all of our sins no matter what kind of life we are living, that no repentance or change of heart is necessary, so long as we’re willing to be forgiven and accepted by God. It’s a partial truth, the most dangerous kind of lie. (2Ti 3:5)

The full picture is that, in our natural state, inclined to and joined to our sinful ways, we aren’t at all fit to be married to God. It’s not that we’re married to the Law; we’re still hooked up with our carnal nature, our old man. (Ro 7:5) The law of sin, that relentless tendency toward disobedience and rebellion within us, has dominion over us as long as we serve it (Ro 6:16); we must die, become dead to the law, dead as far as the law is concerned, having satisfied its just demands, before we’re free to marry God. (Ro 7:4)

So, it isn’t the Law that God must deal with, it’s us. Our sin nature must be dealt with for good; our alignment with it and our commitment to it must end, before we can walk with God. Though we are required to break off this relationship with sin, this isn’t something we’re willing to do. (Ro 3:11) We need God to intervene; we need a new heart.

Christ solves the problem by crucifying our old nature in and with Himself (Ro 6:6), applying the death penalty to that part of us through His innocent death on our behalf. (1Pe 3:18) Through His resurrection (1Pe 1:3) He actually gives us a new kind of divine life (Ro 8:2), and begins to destroy our sin nature (Ro  6:14), creating a new nature within us that is aligned with Him. (2Co 5:17) It’s a work in progress, to be sure, but in those that belong to God, the life pattern of sin gets progressively weaker, less influential, less potent, less dominant over time. It’s a supernatural work, a transformation from within by the Spirit of God.

In being our sin (2Co 5:21), our propitiation with God (1Jn 2:2), Christ serves justice for us, submitting Himself to endure the death penalty on our behalf, and taking our sinful tendencies to the grave with Himself. This frees us from the dominion of our old nature; we no longer have to obey it or act as if we’re married to it – because we aren’t: it’s dead. (Ro 7:4) We’re free to obey God and be intimate with Him without violating the demands of justice (Ro 8:12), as Christ creates us anew in Himself unto good works. (Ep 2:10)

There’s no assurance of salvation for those who aren’t experiencing this supernatural transformation into a life of holiness (He 12:14); Christ not only saves His own from the penalty of sin, He also saves us from it’s power (1Jn 2:4), purifying a Bride for Himself in us. (Ep 5:25-27)

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Few Find It

Christian Universalism is the teaching that all people will eventually be saved and enter Heaven. It sounds nice, the typical fairy tale happy ending to eternity, but is it true?

All people certainly would be saved if everyone earnestly sought salvation from God (1Ti 2:3-4), but even though all are invited to do so (Re 22:17), very few are willing to come, and none on their own initiative, apart from the drawing of God. (Jn 6:44)

Christ tells us to strive to enter Heaven, that many will seek to enter their own way but won’t be able to (Lk 13:24), that the way to Heaven is narrow, obscure, hidden, and that very few will find it. (Mt 7:14)

Further, Christ teaches that there are certain types and degrees of sin that are never forgiven, neither in this world, nor in the world to come. (Mt 12:32)

Since God is eternally merciful to those who repent and yield to Him (Is 55:7), it would appear that the problem with universalism isn’t that God is unloving or holds grudges, but that Man refuses to repent, even from the flames of Hell. If God waited for men to repent on their own accord, He’d wait forever. (Ps 81:15)

Man is incapable of transforming himself (Je 13:23), and no amount of external punishment or torment will make any difference in the end. (Pr 27:22) The only hope any of us have is the irresistible grace of God; God is able to work in the human heart according to His will (Php 2:13), moving in us to seek Him and obey Him.

It is perhaps a mystery why God does not choose us all; one must look to God’s purpose in Creation to find the answer. (Ro 9:22-23) Evidently, God will be the most glorified in the way He chooses (Ps 46:10), and this is enough for me.

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The Second Death

EtnaEruption
Mt. Etna, Sicily

Yeshua uses unmistakably graphic language to describe Hell. (Mk 9:43-44, 45-46, 47-48) He’s warning us to do all we can to avoid it. Who among us will go there? (Is 33:14) What would it be like do die the second death?

Before coming to faith I dwelt here, meditating on the terror of the Lord; it moved me to repent and seek God until I found salvation. This is, in fact, God’s norm in evangelism. (Jud 1:22-23)

The Lake of Fire is the dreadful fate of all who fail to find their eternal home in Christ. (Re 21:8) Fear of spending eternity in Hell drives the wise to ensure their election, until they’re as sure of Heaven as Christ Himself. Take no chances: perfect assurance of eternal salvation is available; nothing less is acceptable.

Only a few diligently secure their place in Heaven; whatever it takes, strive to enter: be one of them. (Mt 7:13)

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The Gospel Mystery

The good news of Messiah’s resurrection changed the world (Ac 17:6), shattering the worldview of thousands overnight. There’s been nothing else like it, either before or since.

WildFlowerSunriseThe Resurrection points us to an awesome mystery: Messiah Yeshua dealt with human sin, bearing all the sins of all believers (1Pe_2:24), paying their sin debt in full (Is 53:11) and securing their eternal salvation. But He also offers salvation to all (1Jn 2:2), calling all people to believe on Him, to enter into His rest and be saved. (Ac 17:30). It’s a mystery (Ep 6:19) how He effectually and infallibly saves only a few by dying for them, while also being the Savior of all, even those who ultimately perish. (1Ti_4:10)

I believe the answer lies in God’s infinitude: He’s outside time and space (2Pe 3:8), ever present in every moment of time. Whatever God does He’s eternally doing — He only died once (He 10:10) but He can die for anyone at any time, because He’s still there — dying on that cross. He’s always been there, and He always will be.

The atonement of Christ is limited to believers, but He’s offering it to all; He will save everyone who seeks Him (He 11:6) and make them a new creature. On this day of Firstfruits, where we celebrate His resurrection (1Co 15:23), let’s enjoy the mystery, and glory in our God! (1Co 1:31) He sure is amazing!

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