They Are Remitted

As Jesus equips His disciples for ministry, He gives them authority to both remit and retain sins, implying God Himself will align with their choices. (Jn 20:23)

Some take this to mean the Twelve Apostles could decide whom God would forgive and whom He wouldn’t, effectively determining who would enter Heaven and who would go to Hell. Some evidently leverage this to teach the Roman Catholic Church controls our eternal destiny, contradicting what God Himself says about salvation: we’re saved by believing on Christ. (Jn 3:16) This relationship is between each individual person and God (18); Church leaders have nothing to do with it.

Others take it to mean the Twelve Apostles were simply messengers of the Gospel, showing people how to be forgiven, declaring forgiveness when people believed on Christ. (1Th 1:4-5) Yet the wording doesn’t permit this: it says the Apostles themselves could either remit or retain the sins of individuals as they saw fit. It’s not the same thing at all.

Neither of the above interpretations does full justice to the context, and it isn’t easy to find any other intelligible take on it. Even so, there must be a better way. (Mt 7:7)

Note carefully that this authority to remit and retain sins is the very first working principle Christ teaches the Twelve after giving them the Holy Spirit. (22) In filling them with the Spirit, Christ is forming them into an assembly of born again, spirit-filled brothers in what we might consider to be the first local church. This authority is evidently central to their ministry in this context, not necessarily given to each of the apostles as individuals, or even merely because they are His apostles. This authority to remit or retain sins may be vested in them simply because they are now spiritual brothers within the same local body of believers.

In such a context, they are in fact now responsible to discern what kinds and levels of sins to patiently bear with (remit, or let go of) (Ga 6:1-3) within the local assembly, and what degrees of sin to call out, judge and discipline (retain, or hold on to). (1Co 5:11-13)

Paul, an Apostle himself, reinforces this concept of brotherly authority in the context of church discipline (Ro 16:17); the brothers are to decide when someone is committed to sin and exclude them from fellowship (1Co 5:6-7), treating them as though they were unbelievers. (Mt 18:17)

Further, those whom the brothers forgive and receive back into fellowship after having disciplined them, Paul also forgives, indicating God’s alignment with them. (2Co 2:10-11)

The brothers have this spiritual authority to facilitate unity and purity within the local body; they’re responsible to manage this in all of the complexities and challenges they face together. And as they seek the truth and align in the Spirit, God Himself works in and through them to glorify Himself (1Co 5:4-5), backing them up as needed. (Mt 18:18)

This kind of spiritual authority is, as we have noted, evidently not such that any sinful mortal may decide whether another soul is ultimately eternally forgiven before God, but God’s way of managing corporate purity and health within a local body of believers. (Ro 15:14)

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Whom Have I In Heaven?

How important would going to Heaven be if there were no Hell?

Suppose God were to offer us all our own version of Paradise, whatever we wanted, where we may do as we please any time we wish, enjoying lovers, friends and family at will, living in eternal happiness and pleasure away from God.

And suppose Heaven is only God, just each of us alone with Jehovah God forever, beholding and worshipping and serving Him. Nothing and no one else even on the radar.

If it were indeed so, who then would strive to enter God’s kingdom? (Lk 13:24) Would it be more evident who’s seeking God Himself, to know Him and walk with Him? (Jn 17:3)

When we think of Heaven, is God distant and far off, the way we perceive Him now? Are we Ok with that? primarily interested in being reunited with loved ones? (Mt 10:37) Or in freedom from pain and suffering? (38)

Meanwhile, are we consumed with earthly cares? (Mk 4:18-19) Only turning to God when we’re in need? (Jn 6:26)

Many of us, by the way we’re living, appear to be like Adam and Eve after the Fall: seeking Paradise without God. (Ge 3:8)

If the earthly-minded are bound for eternal destruction (Php 3:18-19), how much more those who would focus Heaven itself on themselves?

Those pursuing their own benefit will forfeit it (Jn 12:25) and miss the ultimate Treasure. (Mt 13:44)

Can a soul who isn’t longing for God Himself be fit for the kingdom? (He 12:14) Can one who doesn’t value God above all rightly claim to know Him? (Mt 13:45-46)

Is God Himself enough for us? (Ps 72:26) Is Jehovah God our eternal portion? (Ps 119:57) If not, we don’t yet know Him as we should. (Php 3:8)

Asking God to search our hearts (Ps 139:23-24) helps us understand ourselves, to know who we are and where we are with God. (2Co 13:5) We can lie to ourselves about our love for God all day long, but He won’t fall for it. (1Co 16:22)

If we love God supremely, with a new heart created by Him and for Him (2Co 5:17), being with Him eternally is the Paradise we long for (Ps 27:4), and nothing less is acceptable. (Ps 73:25)

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Fit for the Kingdom

Yeshua says many things which may seem harsh, often in an arbitrary way. It’s difficult to understand Him in these contexts, so He is often misunderstood.

For example, when an enthusiastic young man decides to follow Christ, yet first wants to go home and say goodbye to his family (Lk 9:61), Christ replies, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.(62) Is Jesus telling him he can’t even tell his family about his life-changing decision, and bid them farewell as he starts off on his journey?

Looking carefully at His reply, Yeshua isn’t actually forbidding the disciple this last kindness to his family: He’s warning him about indecisiveness; his relatives will likely protest and discourage him, challenging the conventional wisdom of his decision and reminding him of his responsibilities to themselves and the larger community. “What?!! You’re going to abandon your family, leaving your little brother to handle everything all by himself? to follow who? Some rogue preacher you just met? And to do what? Where? You’re being impulsive, romanticizing about a revolution, but you’re going to get yourself killed! And maybe the rest of us too!” Family doesn’t generally take kindly to these sorts of decisions. (Mt 10:35-37)

Yeshua is indirectly prompting this dear man to look carefully into his own heart and count the cost; is this really what he wants? Is he willing to pay the price? to do what it takes to follow Messiah? Has he committed and focused his own spirit to take on the rigors demanded of the spiritual life? This isn’t a cake-walk; we’re called to take up our execution stake every single day. (Lk 9:23) Second-guessing will defeat us.

Those who start off in shallow passion and excitement after Messiah without doing this honest self-examination, this sobering kind of soul-searching evaluation, reflection and preparation (Lk 14:28), who have some ulterior motive, looking to advantage themselves — when the going gets tough, like the seed sprouting on stony ground, they’ll cool off, wither and fall away. (Mk 4:16-17) These are not fit for the kingdom of God.

This seems consistent with the rest of the immediate context; Christ responds to another enthusiast, willing to follow Him to the ends of the earth, that He Himself is homeless, having no place of His own to lie down at night. (Lk 9:57-58) Following Him means sleeping outside on the ground at times, in the rain and cold, going without food for days. (Mk 8:2-3) He’s suffering and calls us to endure hardness with Him (2Ti 2:3); are we in for that? (1Pe 4:1-2)

Those who aren’t willing to give up all to follow Christ (Lk 5:27-28), to forsake themselves for Him (Lk 14:25), to put Him first in every area of their lives, aren’t yet believing on Him, don’t yet know Him, and aren’t yet suited for the kingdom of God. (Lk 14:33)

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Anathema Maranatha

Eternal hellfire and brimstone is seldom mentioned anymore, and the little we do hear about it is often tearless (Ph 3:18), yet Christ warns us all to avoid Hell at any cost. (Mt 5:29-30) Who among us still races headlong into this dreadful end? (Is 33:14)

How many souls are actually going to make it to Heaven? One in a thousand? (Ec 7:28) One in ten thousand? If the antediluvian proportion of His elect is any indication (one in a billion1Pe 3:20) it’s only a remnant (Ro 11:5); very, very few. (Mt 7:14)

The reality is all who don’t love Jesus Christ will be anathema maranatha: cursed when Christ returns (1Co 16:22); this is very nearly everyone. (Mt 7:13)

By inference, all who aren’t keeping and obeying the words of Christ are headed to Hell. (Jn 14:23) Those who don’t obey Him don’t love Him. (24a)

Similarly, all who mind earthly things, who focus more on temporal concerns than on God’s kingdom, these folk are also headed to Hell. (Php 3:19) The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches distract them (Mt 13:22), because these also do not love Him.

Who’s living as if they’re elect? Who is obeying Jesus Christ today (Mt 7:21), cherishing His Words (Col 3:16), the words of Torah (Ro 7:22), hiding them in their hearts and meditating on them day and night as a manner of life? dedicated to Him and to His glory? Almost no one. It shouldn’t surprise us, but it’s sobering.

The fact people aren’t aware of their dreadful, eternal fate is irrelevant; science and/or religion may give peace for the moment, but confidence without holiness is an illusion, deception. (He 12:14) They’re stumbling heedless over the fathomless depths of Hell itself every moment of their lives, and will fall into it suddenly, utterly consumed with terrors. (Ps 73:18-19)

How are we supposed to live in light of this? First, we diligently make our own election sure (2Pe 1:10), working out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Php 2:12), examining ourselves in light of God’s revelation whether we truly are in the faith, and prove it out for ourselves. (2Co 13:5) Are the characteristics which accompany salvation evident in our own lives? (He 6:9)

Then we do what we can to encourage others to diligently seek God (He 11:6) and strive to enter the kingdom (Lk 13:24), bearing patiently with them (2Ti 2:24-25), knowing we ourselves also were lost (Ti 3:3), teaching and warning those who will listen (2Co 5:11) with all wisdom (Co 1:28), helping them as much as we can along the way. (He 12:24-25)

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The Travail of His Soul

Our response to the crucifixion of Christ reveals who we are; this becomes the ultimate litmus test, revealing the inward nature of both God and Man.

In contemplating the Cross, in particular the immense soul-crushing suffering of Christ on our behalf (Is 53:4-6), as the innocent Son of God becomes our sin (2Co 5:21), we may begin to comprehend God’s amazing character and appreciate the intensity of His passion and love. God in Christ, laying down His life for us, showing us how He loves us: this is how we perceive the love of God. (1Jn 3:16)

The Passion of the Christ

As Father God sees the travail and suffering of Jesus Christ, not merely the intense physical suffering but also His vast, mysterious spiritual agony (Mt 27:46), He is satisfied. (Is 53:11a) In God’s reaction to the Cross, we find that Christ’s payment for our sin is both necessary and sufficient for our salvation. (1Jn 2:2)

Seeing God the Father’s response to the Cross helps us fathom not only the goodness of God (in that He so graciously provides each of us a way to be reconciled with Himself – Jn 3:16), but also the severity of God (in that He requires such a complete and costly sacrifice for sinRo 11:22a) Further, we also experience both God’s justice and mercy (in that He fully accepts Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of those who believe, though none of us deserve it. – Is 53:11b) This is a priceless window into the matchless power and wisdom of God. (1Co 1:23-24)

Yet it also appears that Father God will partition the human race based on our response to His Son (Jn 3:36), and to the Cross in particular. (14-15) Our reaction to the Crucifixion will reveal everything about us that’s worth knowing (1Co 1:18); this determines our eternal destiny. (Jn 6:53) Disvaluing the Son (Ps 2:12) and His provision of salvation (He 2:2-3) deeply angers the Godhead. (He 10:29)

What will it be like on Judgment Day, as we stand before Jehovah God of the Universe and behold His nail-pierced hands? How will ignorant, ritualistic, self-centered worship pale before Him, in light of the infinite cost He paid to save us? (1Jn 3:1) How will indifference (Re 3:16), or a spirit of disobedience (Co 3:6) fare before the Cross in the presence of His incredible suffering on our behalf? (Mt 10:38)

If the Cross has not yet overwhelmed us with the love of God, with the majesty of God, if it isn’t moving us into holiness with God, and continually drawing us into gratitude and true worship (Jn 4:24), then we’re not yet rightly valuing the Cross of Christ; we’re not really getting it. (1Co 2:14) The spiritual mind is grounded in the supreme value of the Cross (Ga 2:20); this doesn’t come naturally; we should pursue God for this grace. (Ep 3:14-19)

A proper valuation of the Cross positions it uniquely within our hearts: the Cross on the one side, and all the world on the other. (1Jn 2:15-17) The crucifixion of Christ, when rightly valued and understood, tells us we no longer belong to ourselves; we’ve given up the right to go our own way; everything about us belongs to Christ now. (2Co 5:14-15) The Cross effectively crucifies the world unto us, and us unto the world. (Ga 6:14b)

If our affection and focus is still on the things of this world, if our appetites still command our attention and loyalty, then we’re still enemies of the Cross of Christ … and we aren’t yet His. (Php 3:18-19)

To glory in anything else, to depend on, exult in and/or rejoice in what is outside of and apart from God in Christ, especially in the context of the keeping of our souls (1Pe 4:19), highlighting anything we think we’ve done to contribute to our eternal salvation, devalues Christ our Savior. (Ga 6:14a) Knowing Christ, and Him crucified, is where we must begin. (1Co 2:2)

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The Father Seeketh

As Jesus teaches us about the Father, He reveals a Seeker of worshippers: God’s looking for those who worship Him in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:23-24); true worship is about relationship, loving and enjoying God Himself, not religious form or ritual.

However, this isn’t the same as indulging our emotional impulses; seducing spirits imitate the Holy Spirit and draw careless, uninformed worshippers away. If we aren’t focused on and enjoying Father God as He has revealed Himself, we’re wandering astray, off on our own path (Is 53:6), chasing idols. (1Co 12:2)

So, we should carefully heed Christ’s observation that most worship is ignorant: “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.” (Jn 4:22) Unless we know God from a Hebraic perspective our worship is in error, misguided; Jesus and His followers worship in truth because they have a Torah-based mindset. The Jews are the conduit of God’s offer of salvation to the world; through the Tanach God has revealed Who He is, what He is like and how to have a relationship with Himself. (Lk 16:29) We can only worship in spirit and in truth from such a perspective. (Ps 119:7, Is 8:20)

Christ is telling us that if we aren’t cherishing Jehovah God of the Hebrews, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and what He has shown us about Himself in Torah, we aren’t worshipping God at all, but an idol of our own imagination. (Ro 1:21) In other words, if we aren’t meditating in the Old Testament to comprehend Divinity and how to walk with Him, if we’re getting our theology elsewhere, we’re not even in the ballpark — we’ve no idea what we’re doing.

This is the basic problem with Christian theology: in rejecting the Torah-based foundation it takes the New Testament out of context; it’s a new religion, invented well after the Apostolic era, built on the sand. (Mt 7:26-27) The Jesus offered to the world through Christianity, who abolished Torah, isn’t the Christ of Scripture (Mt 5:17-19), and the various Christianized versions of the everlasting Gospel — inasmuch as they are not grounded in Torah, are false. (2Co 11:4) It’s an elaborate counterfeit (2Co 11:13-15), and to the degree souls are inoculated with this deception the harder they are to reach.

The people of God, who are the Israel of God (Ga 6:16), understand the basics about God as revealed in Torah: Jehovah God is holy, pure light; in Him is no darkness at all. (1Jn 1:5) He is a consuming fire (He 12:29) and will trample underfoot all who err from His commandments. (Ps 119:118) It is a fearful thing to fall into His hands. (He 10:31)

Claiming to know Jehovah God without keeping His commands is lying to ourselves. (1Jn 2:4) There’s no reconciliation with God apart from obedience (Ac 5:32); God doesn’t save us to sin as we please (Ep 2:10), He writes His Laws into our hearts (He 8:10) and conforms us to the image of His Son. (Ro 8:29)

God’s followers obey Him (1Jn 3:7-8), and we do so in love — love for God and others. (10) We obey in faith, knowing God is good, faithful and true, no matter what. God works in us to live like this (Php 2:13), to serve Him with reverence and godly fear, by grace. (He 12:28)

God is seeking worshippers … who know Him as He is: Almighty Jehovah God, laying down His life to justify us (1Jn 3:16), giving us new hearts to love and pursue Him (saving us) (Ez 36:26), requiring perfect obedience of us (Mt 5:48), showing us mercy as we try imperfectly to obey (Ex 20:6) and enabling us to obey Him more and more in spirit and truth (sanctifying us). (1Co 1:30-31)

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In Himself Alone

Until quite recently, I’ve held what many might consider to be an extreme view of Total Depravity; I believed everyone (including me) will always make the most evil choice God allows them to make every time they make a choice, and that the only reason we do not act like Satan at every instant is the restraining grace of God. I can no longer hold this position, partly due to this verse: “But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.” (Ga 6:4-5I am unable to make sense of this text, and many others like it, without abandoning my former position, so … I let it go, it’s history.

Evidently, there are degrees of real moral freedom within the boundaries of Total Depravity, such that we have some practical potential to do better or worse within these boundaries according to our own personal choices. Our depravity is evidently total in scope in the sense that all we do is tainted with sin (Is 64:6): we cannot ever do anything perfectly good (Ro 3:12), with 100% pure motives. (Pr 20:9)

However, while we may not be able to make any single choice with perfect motives, it is also evident we have some practical control of how far away we deviate from God’s perfect standard as we choose; we operate within some range of badness, and we can choose to be better or worse within this range. (2Ti 3:13) So, it appears that we are not totally depraved in degree, only in scope.

This is how we experience reality: we have moral freedom to make better or worse choices within some theoretical range of moral goodness, and this is also how God treats us (Mt 12:41); so, it makes sense that this is the reality, not just an illusion. Where these boundaries ultimately come from and how they appear within and impact each individual is mysterious, but a few things appear to be clear about it.

As a foundation, no human except Christ JEsus has ever been perfectly good at any moment (Mk 10:18); all the rest of us are rebels (Is 53:6), some more than others (Ge 13:13), but we’re all guilty (Ro 3:19), and God is perfectly just in punishing us in our rebellion. (Ps 145:17) We’re all sinners (1Jn 1:8) in need of a Savior to save us from this condition: we cannot save ourselves. (Ep 2:8-9)

That said, it is evidently also clear that we are not all equally bad; some of us make worse choices in our total depravity than others, and this difference is something we ourselves can and ought to control. God may even tend to reveal the gospel to those who are trying to make better choices within their unique range of moral ability (Ps 50:23), to those seeking eternal life. (Is 55:6-7)

This is not salvation by works; it is still God choosing to show mercy to the underserved (Ro 9:16), but it may also be God showing mercy to those who — though undeserving — are at least seeking mercy, trying their best (Ro 2:6-7), as bad as it is, within their own, unique degree of moral capability and freedom. (1Ti 1:13)

We perceive we are responsible to make the best choices we can, that it is up to each of us as individuals to do so, of our own free will, and that we don’t always want to make the most evil choice available to us, and that our actions are not all predetermined or compelled by any internal or external forces. Most importantly … we are commanded to live accordingly, and not assume we have no practical control or influence in determining our eternal destiny (Ps 50:23), but that we pursue God and His kingdom with all our might. (Lk 13:24)

If this is how we experience reality, and it is also how God describes reality, and it is also how He actually treats us, there’s sufficient reason to try to interpret all of scripture in accord with this perspective.

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The Covenants of Promise

In God’s dealings with the nation of Israel there are two covenants (binding agreements) in play: the first is a conditional covenant made with Israel at Mount Sinai (Ga 4:24); the agreement is that if Israel will obey God’s Law He will bless them, otherwise He will curse them. (De 11:26-28)

The second (or new) covenant is an unconditional covenant God will eventually make with Israel: He will put His Laws into their minds write them in their hearts (He 8:10), be their God and accept them as His people, ensure they all know Him, and put away all of their sins. (11-12) He will give each of them a new nature which delights in His laws (Ro 7:22), redeeming and saving the entire nation. (Ro 11:26-27)

This first covenant with Israel is not a promise of salvation by works; it’s simply a promise given to Israel as a nation to bless them if they honor and follow God’s law to the best of their ability, evidently as a signal to the rest of us that there’s tremendous blessing in obeying God (Ps 1:2-3), and trouble if we don’t. (Ps 119:118) Israel has, of course, failed miserably to keep their end of the covenant and are being punished by God as a consequence.

The second covenant God will eventually make with Israel certainly is a promise of redemption and eternal salvation for Israel as a nation, but it’s incomplete and mysterious at present, how He will accomplish this and what it will look like.

In the interim, in between these two covenants, we’re left to work out an understanding of how we’re all to relate to God, for it’s through these two covenants God reveals His redemptive plan. (Ps 50:5) They hold within them the keys to having a relationship with God; in being estranged from them we have no hope, and are without God in the world. (Ep 2:11-12)

Yet these two covenants with Israel don’t comprise the whole picture: God makes a third covenant related to redemption, but this one is unique in that God makes it with Himself (Ga 3:20); this is a covenant between the Father and the Son (He 10:8-10): the Father gives the Son a group of people (the elect, or chosen) to redeem, and the Son redeems these people for the Father. (Jn 6:37) This covenant is flawlessly secure because both parties to the covenant are unfailingly perfect. (Ro 4:16) This divine agreement is actually the first covenant of the three, made in eternity past (Ep 1:4, 1Pe 1:19-20) and publicly formalized, revealed and confirmed in front of Abraham, well before Sinai. (Ga 3:17)

The eternal covenant between God the Father and God the Son is evidently related to the two covenants God makes with Israel in that God produces obedience to the Law in the hearts of His elect as required in the Sinai (first) covenant (De 5:29) by providing Himself as the new heart (Ez 36:26), the divine nature within the elect (Co 1:27) inclining us to obey (1Pe 1:2), as promised in the future New Covenant with Israel. (He 10:16-17) In this way, God unites us with Himself and His Law so we partake in both of these two covenants of promise He makes with Israel (1Ti 1:6), giving us hope of eternal life and fellowship in Him. (Ep 2:13-14)

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As a Sparrow Alone

Terminal cancer is no joke. When we hear we have so little time left, what do we do? Re-calibrate? Re-orient? Get out our bucket list and try to live it up? It’s perfectly understandable, whatever we do when we face our fragile little selves for what we really are (Ga 6:3), feeling alone (Ps 102:7), afraid, uncertain. (He 10:31)

Truly, we’re all dying of a terminal condition: Life itself. But as long as death seems far away, not imminently close, we comfort ourselves however we can, asleep at the wheel.

Facing our mortality wakes us up, helping us realize what and who we are (Ja 4:14), what and who we have, or don’t have. (Ga 6:4-5) It’s clear we don’t take our stuff, our friends or family (1Co 6:29-31), or even our man-made religion (Mk 7:7); we leave it all behind. (1Ti 6:7) We will face God alone, and deal with Him one on one, for eternity. (Ro 14:11-12)

It isn’t so much a choice between Heaven and Hell, though that’s implied; it’s more about being a devoted lover of God, or His enemy: there’s no middle ground with Him. (Mt 12:33)

Think of it this way: no matter where we end up, it’s just going to be like each one of us as an individual is alone with God (2Co 5:8), as if no one else will be on our radar, distracting us from Him (Ps 27:4), part of our routine, conscious focus, except Him. (Ps 73:25)

What will that be like … if we love God? (1Co 8:3) or if we don’t? (16:22)

For sure, those in Heaven will be in community together, in a sense (He 12:22-23), as well as those in Hell, but as God unveils us into His immediate omnipresence (Jn 17:24), His infinitude will completely consume, occupy and overwhelm all our senses. (Re 20:11) From that moment on, out into eternity, we will see and experience God as All in All (1Co 15:58), drinking in the infinite majesty of Jehovah God. (Re 22:3-5)

If we love God, in that eternal moment, we’ll have all there is to have (Ro 8:17); and if we don’t love God, we’ll be forever face-to-face with the indignant fury of the Almighty (Re 6:16), Who repays all who hate Him to their face. (De 7:9-10)

We may think we don’t actually hate God, perhaps we’re just indifferent or lukewarm, but that’s all the same to Him; He might even detest indifference more intensely. (Re 3:15-16) God cannot be trifled with (Ga 6:7); He commands us to love Him with all our being; mind, heart, soul and strength. (Mk 12:30) Nothing less is acceptable.

False religion is how we deceive ourselves into thinking God will accept us on our merits, because we belong to a special club and follow certain rituals, and the more truth our religion contains the more deceptive it can be. (2Co 11:13-15) Any religion offering us hope by adhering to it is a counterfeit; religion can’t bring us to God. Shedding all formal religion, leaving only the divine relationship, may help us see whether we’re relying on emptiness here.

If we’re honest with ourselves (1Co 3:18), we can tell what and who we truly love. Is it truth? (2Th 2:10) Is it God? Above everything and everyone else? (Jn 12:25) Is this reflected in our lives, day to day? (Pr 20:11) Are we obeying Him the best we know how, submitting our entire lives to Him? (Jn 14:23)

There’s only one Way to God: the Person of Jesus Christ. (Jn 14:6) He is all we need, but to have Him we must give up everything else (Mt 13:44-46); He tolerates no rivals in our affections or loyalties. (Lk 14:26)

If me and Christ forever sounds like Heaven (Ps 84:4), we’re likely one of the chosen few to find the narrow gate and we’re well on our way (Mt 7:14); otherwise, we’re likely still on the broad road with the mass of Mankind, the walking dead (Ep 2:1), headed to eternal death and destruction. (Mt 7:13) Look for that tiny little gate, find it and strive to enter (Lk 13:24); it’s only One Person wide, and His name is Yeshua: Jesus.

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Founded Upon a Rock

The ending of the Sermon on the Mount is majestic, imposing, ominously authoritative and frighteningly demanding. After laying out what looks like an impossible standard of conduct, Christ says all who don’t obey Him and do what He says will be eternally destroyed (Mt 7:26-27), including many who call Him Lord. (22) If the Gospel is simply a free gift of salvation to all who are willing to receive it, how do we square this up?

One way is to ignore the warning and hope for the best, that God’s love and grace will cover our sin and we’ll be fine in the end even if we don’t obey Him. This isn’t wisdom, to say the least; it’s building on the sand: equivalent to rejecting Christ Himself. (Jn 12:48) We can say we’re receiving Christ while we’re ignoring what He says, but it’s pointless doubletalk. (Ja 2:20) Christ is saying something exceedingly profound, and He means exactly what He says; we ignore Him at our eternal peril. (De 18:19)

Another way to deal with this is to claim we’re saved by obeying Christ, reject the idea of salvation is a free gift and try to earn it. Another dead end, hopeless approach. (Ga 3:10)

The correct way to resolve this must be that those who are justified freely by His grace also obey Him (1Pe 1:2), not to earn salvation but as a necessary consequence of believing in Christ. Though works aren’t the cause of salvation, they must be the evidence that salvation has taken place. In other words, faith alone is a myth (Ja 2:17); faith and works always go together, we can’t separate them.

This implies those who are saved cannot live in willful disobedience as a manner of life. If our lives don’t reflect faith in the Son of God, we shouldn’t deceive ourselves; we should seek God until we find Him, until He reveals Christ in us and begins to sanctify and transform us. (Ep 2:10)

It also implies that Christ is not demanding absolute, sinless perfection from the start of our spiritual journey; there’s a sanctification process where we grow in faith and love over time. (Php 1:9) While we’re growing, we find within the longing to be more holy and obedient (He 12:14); continuous, stubborn defiance does not characterize the child of God. (15)

If we’re justified in Christ, we’ll be able to see how Christ is working within us obedience to all of His words, ensuring our lives are bearing out the fruit He says will come. Where we aren’t obeying too well yet in a particular area, we ask Him to show us why and heal us so we become more like Him. (Ja 5:16)

This is how we dig deep, laying up for ourselves a good foundation against the time to come, and lay hold on eternal life (1Ti 6:18-20), grounding our eternal home in the Rock Himself: Christ Jesus.

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