Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What Is Salvation? (Part 1)


Recently the Lord moved me to read through the New Testament epistles with this question in mind: What is salvation?  I read Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, 1 John and the first three chapters of Revelation (specifically the letters to the seven churches). It was an amazing experience. It clarified and refined my beliefs on matters related to salvation and what it means to live as a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ.

Let's face it - most of us have been exposed to churches, denominations and Christian groups and were taught their doctrines, some of which are true, some partially true and some not true. So it is important to let the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit speak for themselves on the question of salvation. The epistles are letters written by the Apostles to churches under their care, and the letters in Revelation are written by Jesus to seven churches. You are going to hear the heart and mind of Jesus Christ and his Apostles on matters related to salvation and Christian life. I highly recommend this exercise.

Salvation is fellowship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked on, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show to you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested to us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we to you, that you also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we to you, that your joy may be full." - 1 John 1:1-4, King James 2000

Salvation is fellowship with God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. This is eternal life - to be in fellowship with God, never again estranged from the One who created us, and experiencing the fullest joy.

What is fellowship? Fellowship is being known by God. It is hearing his voice, speaking to him in prayer and following his commands (which are not burdensome). Jesus put it this way:

"My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand." - John 10:27-28, Holman

Note that fellowship with God is not the same as participating in religious activities, whether attending churches or Bible studies or being taught by ministers or seminaries. These things are secondary, and can often be substitutions for true fellowship with God. I’ve seen in my own life and others a tendency to think, “I went to church, so things are good with me and God.” Well, how can you know that unless you are hearing from Him personally? We must go to the Source, learn to hear his voice and respond to it. Then we will have true fellowship with God and bear much fruit:

I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.” – John 15:5 

How do we hear his voice? Firstly by the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth:

"When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth." - John 16:13a, Holman

And by the Scriptures, which are the word of God:

"All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." - 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Holman 

It is the Holy Spirit who helps us understand, interpret and apply the Scriptures. If we stick to these fundamentals, God will keep us on the right path. Error comes when we listen to the voices of men and deceptions of the world and fail to confirm it with the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures. 

Salvation is by faith in the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ

But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us! Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath.” - Romans 5:8-9, Holman

All humans were born into a state of sin and rebellion, inherited from Adam and Eve when they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden, which God had forbidden them to do. All the sin in mankind and in our own hearts stems from this original sin. The resulting curse caused death to enter the human race – not only the physical death of our bodies, but the death of our spirits that were disconnected from fellowship with our Creator. We became objects of God’s wrath, subject to eternal judgment for our sin, because God is holy and just. As it states in the Scriptures:

He will repay each one according to his works.” – Romans 2:6, Holman

But to our eternal benefit, God is also merciful and loved us enough to provide a way out of our fallen state, for those willing to receive it.

God gave us the Law through Moses on Mount Sinai to show what His righteousness looks like. The Law contains God’s perfect standard. Anyone who follows the law perfectly can be declared righteous. The problem is no one has been able to do it:

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” – Romans 3:20, NIV

Instead, the Law became a yardstick to show every one of us that we don’t measure up. The Law brought condemnation instead of righteousness – in hope that we might perceive our need for forgiveness and righteousness and find it in his Son Jesus Christ:

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” – Galatians 3:24, NASB

Jesus kept the Law perfectly (the only one who ever did) and submitted to death on a cross to pay the price for everyone sins. This was the only way humanity could be reconciled to God, because the Law demands a blood sacrifice to atone for sins:

According to the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” – Hebrews 9:22

Through His death and resurrection, Jesus overcame both sin and death. Forgiveness and eternal life are now available to all who receive it by faith:

For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9, Holman

How do we receive eternal life? First, we repent:

From then on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!’” – Matthew 4:17

Repent means to turn back from sins – to acknowledge we are sinners and want to stop doing evil.

Second, we believe:

If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9 

The purpose of salvation is to present us holy and blameless before God

For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight.” – Ephesians 1:4

Salvation is God’s work of removing sin and worldliness from us and making us holy and blameless before Him. Salvation means both reconciliation with God and an ongoing cleansing from unrighteousness, a process the Bible calls sanctification, which will eventually perfect us.

Let’s fast-forward to the end of the age. The following prophecy from the book of Revelation portrays the moment before Jesus Christ returns on a white horse, leading the armies of heaven to retake the earth from the forces of Satan:

Hallelujah, because our Lord God, the Almighty, has begun to reign! Let us be glad, rejoice, and give Him glory, because the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has prepared herself. She was given fine linen to wear, bright and pure. For the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints.” – Revelation 19:6-8

The saints are the wife and the Lamb, Jesus Christ, is the Bridegroom. It says the wife has prepared herself. How? By putting on fine, bright, pure linen, which represents righteous acts. This is the culmination of the sanctification process, when the saints have prepared themselves to be a fitting wife for the Bridegroom and to share in His glory. They have learned to walk in righteousness of God. This righteousness is by faith, as the Apostle Paul said while quoting the prophet Habakkuk:

The righteous will live by faith.” – Galatians 3:11

This is not a righteousness we muster up ourselves by trying really hard to follow the rules. This righteousness flows from our unification (i.e. baptism) with Christ – both His death on the cross and resurrection:

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin… Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 6:4-6,11, NASB
 
In other words, righteousness comes from appropriating Christ’s righteousness by faith. His death and resurrection brought not only forgiveness of sin, but freedom from sin and the ability to walk in God’s way.

The Apostle Paul described putting on God’s righteousness another way when he wrote about walking by the Spirit (God’s presence within us) instead of the flesh (old self):

I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance—as I told you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit.” – Galatians 5:16-18,22, Holman  

By the way, there is a big movement in the modern American church to downplay or ignore sanctification, the process of being made holy. This week on the radio I heard a preacher say Jesus came to bring us forgiveness, a place in heaven and purpose in our lives. What was missing in that statement? Sanctification. A "purpose-driven life" is not sanctification. This is a false gospel, because there is no salvation without sanctification.

Our salvation will be complete when Jesus Christ returns in glory


If our salvation begins when we believe in Jesus Christ and continues until our perfection, when do we actually cross the finish line?

Let’s search the Scriptures for clues:

You are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” – 1 Peter 1: 3-5

The Apostle Peter said our salvation will be revealed “in the last time.” The Greek word for “last” (eschatos) is superlative and means farthest or final. In other words, the very end.

Therefore, with your minds ready for action, be serious and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:13

Peter further clarified that we will receive this grace at the revelation of Jesus Christ. What event marks the very end of this age, according to Bible prophecy? It is the second coming of Jesus Christ. Our salvation will be complete when Jesus Christ returns!

When Jesus came the first time, He was the suffering messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. When He returns, He will come in glory with a rod of iron and a sword to crush the forces of Satan and rule the earth righteously from Jerusalem. The saints of this age who endure to the end will share in His rulership of the earth:

But hold on to what you have until I come. The victor and the one who keeps My works to the end: I will give him authority over the nations – ‘and He will shepherd them with an iron scepter; He will shatter them like pottery’ – just as I have received this from My Father.” – Revelation 2:25-27 

We will also share in His glory:

When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” – Colossians 3:4, NASB 

The Apostle John affirmed that we will be transformed when Jesus appears – and will be like Him:

Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself just as He is pure.” – 1 John 3:2-3

According to the Apostle Paul, as Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, so we will be raised at His coming:

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at His coming, those who belong to Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 15:20-23

This resurrection is when Christians will receive immortal bodies, trading in our fleshly, mortal bodies of sin for incorruptible bodies that will live forever:

Listen! I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. For this corruptible must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal must be clothed with immortality. When this corruptible is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:51-54

To sum it up, our salvation will be complete when Jesus Christ returns. We will be perfected, receive immortal, incorruptible bodies and share in Christ’s glory.

The second coming of Jesus Christ is central to the Christian faith. It is our hope! It is what we long for! In fact, all of creation longs for this day:

For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. And not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.” – Romans 8:19-25

 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Dream of Captivity


"After this, I will pour out my Spirit on all humanity. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions; and also on male and female slaves in those days I will pour out my Spirit." - Joel 2:28-29

The following dream is from my 10-year old daughter, who is the dreamer in our household. It was on the night of September 10, 2017.

DREAM


"I saw a huge pit. It looked as if a meteor had struck to make the hole. There was a huge chain fence and brick wall all around the pit. Inside were people who seemed like prisoners. I could tell they were Christians because one of them muttered that the music one of the guards was playing wasn’t Christian. They were doing work - carrying boxes and setting them on shelves. They seemed brainwashed or like they didn’t really understand the situation they were in.

All of a sudden, four helicopters appeared bringing more people to this facility. The people were like the others – Christians who didn’t understand the situation at all.

Then Donald Trump came out of the lead helicopter and pushed the rest of the people inside and locked the door. He was dancing around and laughing and smiling at what had happened, like it was the best thing ever. He seemed like he was drunk. It was weird. I think he was possessed by a demon. He danced back to his helicopter.

Then the helicopters took off. As he was leaving, Donald Trump looked over the site and had an evil smirk on his face.

Guards stood around the whole prison."

INTERPRETATION

I think the dream speaks for itself. The main point is: Donald Trump is leading Christians in America into captivity.




Sunday, September 10, 2017

What Is Blaspheming the Holy Spirit?

In Mark 3 and Matthew 12 are passages where Jesus talked about blaspheming the Spirit as an unforgivable sin. I never really understood these verses because they seemed to contradict the Bible in other places where it talks about the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice for our sins:

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit." - 1 Peter 3:18, NIV 

"For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified." - Hebrews 10:14, Holman

"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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." - John 3:16-17 

These are beautiful verses: Jesus Christ's death on the cross covers and forgives our sins - once for all time - for those who receive it by faith. That's what the Bible teaches. So what is this unforgivable sin, and why is it not clear what it is? Honestly I have been ignoring those verses because they just didn't make sense to me.

Well, I started watching a new video from Jonathan Kleck this week. He began by warning the audience about attributing insights in his videos to the work of Satan. Apparently someone had left a comment on a video saying Kleck's interpretation was from Satan. By Kleck's reasoning, since his interpretations were really from the Holy Spirit, attributing them to Satan was blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Therefore this commenter was irredeemably consigned to hell. Kleck's statement so appalled me that I shut off the video and, after praying about it, left this comment:

"Jonathan, why don't you let God condemn people to hell for not believing in his Son Jesus Christ, rather than you condemn people to hell for not believing you and attributing it to Satan." 

Kleck replied, "I'm trying to stop others from making his mistake."

Okay, I think he genuinely believes that. Kleck believes that if he says, for instance, the Vatican looks like the head of a snake, and someone comes along and replies, "Oh, what you said is satanic," then that person committed the unforgivable sin and will go to hell no matter what - based on the verses about blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

The next morning, blaspheming the Holy Spirit again appeared in a post on my friend James' blog. I took it as a confirmation that the Lord wanted me to look closely at it. So my wife and I read and discussed it and both came to the same conclusion. I will try to explain it here, though please bear with all the detail. This is not something I can explain in a cursory way.

When I encounter difficult verses like these, I tend to set them aside until God gives me more insight into how they fit in. God's truth, while it may be multi-faceted, does not contradict itself. His word in the Scriptures never changes. All of it will be fulfilled. This is why we should study the Bible as a whole, using Scripture to interpret Scripture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to arrive at the truth. Otherwise we risk taking a verse out of context, assigning a meaning that contradicts the rest of Scripture and getting into error.

The Bible is like a complex tapestry with many thousands of colored threads woven together to form a magnificent picture of the truth of God. Each thread conveys part of the picture. But it must be woven perfectly with the other threads, otherwise it becomes a snag that that hangs out and distracts. If pulled too hard, it can unravel the picture.

Here is the full passage in Matthew 12:

"Then some people brought him a man controlled by demons who was blind and mute; and Yeshua [Jesus] healed him, so that he could both speak and see. The crowds were astounded and asked, 'This couldn't be the Son of David, could it?' But when the Pharisees heard of it, they said, 'It is only by Ba`al-Zibbul' -- the ruler of the demons -- 'that this man drives out demons.' However, knowing what they were thinking, Yeshua said to them, 'Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not survive. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself; so how can his kingdom survive? Besides, if I drive out demons by Ba`al-Zibbul, by whom do your people drive them out? So, they will be your judges! But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you! Or again, how can someone break into a strong man's house and make off with his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? After that he can ransack his house. Those who are not with me are against me, and those who do not gather with me are scattering. Because of this, I tell you that people will be forgiven any sin and blasphemy, but blaspheming the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. One can say something against the Son of Man and be forgiven; but whoever keeps on speaking against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, neither in the present age nor in the age to come. If you make a tree good, its fruit will be good; and if you make a tree bad, its fruit will be bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. You snakes! How can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what overflows from the heart. The good person brings forth good things from his store of good, and the evil person brings forth evil things from his store of evil. Moreover, I tell you this: on the Day of Judgment people will have to give account for every careless word they have spoken; for by your own words you will be acquitted, and by your own words you will be condemned.'" - Matthew 12:22-37, Complete Jewish Bible

First, let me ask a question: What if this verse and the parallel account in Mark 3 were not in the Bible? What would be the unforgivable sin? Would God forgive hatred, murder, war, adultery, abuse, theft, idolatry, deceit? Yes, He will forgive all those things - if we believe in the sacrifice of his Son Jesus Christ. When we stand before God on Judgment Day, the only unforgivable sin is never accepting Jesus as our Savior. If we are with Jesus, then everything is covered by his blood sacrifice. If we are not with Jesus, then nothing is covered and God's wrath remains.

To refuse Jesus Christ as God's exclusive way of redemption is, I believe, exactly what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. To see why, read this passage in context very closely. I would suggest at least five times. Pay close attention to each phrase and how they build upon each other. Note who Jesus is talking to and what are the arguments He is making.

First of all, Jesus was talking to the Pharisees, the religious leaders who consistently opposed Jesus during his ministry. The Pharisees were learned men who felt threatened by Jesus' teaching, miracles and appeal to the masses. They were self-righteous and thought they knew it all. Therefore, the Pharisees tried to entrap Jesus in order to accuse him of blasphemy or discredit him. For instance, they cleverly asked Jesus if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? This was a no-win question. If Jesus said yes, they could accuse him of being disloyal to the nation of Israel, because Rome was a foreign occupier. If He said no, they could accuse him of being a rebel and agitator against the state. Jesus asked to see a denarius, a coin used to pay taxes, and asked whose image and inscription was on it. "Caesar's," they replied. So Jesus told them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." Wow! They were amazed at his response. He answered the question but avoided their trap.

So Jesus often dealt with the Pharisees in clever and indirect ways. He spoke in parables and used double meanings and surprising turns of logic. This passage in Matthew 12 is no exception.

In the passage, Jesus healed a demon-possessed man, which prompted crowds to ask if He might be the Messiah (Son of David is a reference to the hoped-for Messiah). The Pharisees, true to form, said no, Jesus was driving out demons by Baal-Zibbul, the prince of demons. They hoped to discredit the notion that Jesus was the Messiah or Savior. That's what this whole passage is about - whether Jesus is the Messiah and whether a person is for or against him.

Jesus refuted their argument by pointing that Satan would not tear down his own work. If he did, Satan's kingdom would fall. Next, Jesus said if He is driving out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon them. According to prophecy, who were the Jews expecting to usher in the Kingdom of God? The Messiah, the prophetic "son of David." Jesus was saying that since He drove out demons by the Spirit of God, the Kingdom of God had come and, by implication, He was the Messiah.

In verse 30 Jesus made a definitive, black-and-white statement: "Those who are not with me are against me." This is a claim He also made elsewhere in the gospels, such as in John 14:6 when He said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Jesus offers the exclusive way of reconciliation with God. The logic and rhythm of that statement continues for the rest of this passage.

"and those who do not gather with me are scattering." Again, people are either with Jesus (gathering) or against him (scattering).

"Because of this, I tell you that people will be forgiven any sin and blasphemy [with Jesus], but blaspheming the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven [against Jesus]." Those who are with Jesus will be forgiven any sin and blasphemy. Those against Jesus are guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, because they deny Jesus operated by the Spirit of God, deny  the Kingdom of God had come, and therefore deny Jesus is the Messiah. Do you see, this is all one thought, one interconnected statement that Jesus was making.

"One can say something against the Son of Man and be forgiven [with Jesus]; but whoever keeps on speaking against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, neither in the present age nor in the age to come [against Jesus]." The logic of "with Jesus or against Jesus" continues. A person can have spoken against the Son of Man and be forgiven, like the Apostle Paul who persecuted Christians prior to his conversion. Or the Apostle Peter who denied knowing Jesus three times on the night before his crucifixion. They are "with Jesus" and therefore forgiven. Those who speak against the Holy Spirit and by extension deny Jesus is the Messiah will never be forgiven... unless they repent and believe and become "with Jesus."

"If you make a tree good, its fruit will be good [with Jesus]; and if you make a tree bad, its fruit will be bad [against Jesus]; for a tree is known by its fruit." People who are with Jesus bear good fruit. People against Jesus bear bad fruit.

"You snakes! How can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what overflows from the heart. The good person brings forth good things from his store of good [with Jesus], and the evil person brings forth evil things from his store of evil [against Jesus]." Blasphemy is a sin of speech, but Jesus pointed out that words flow from the heart. The real problem with the Pharisees was their evil, unbelieving hearts, which is why they were against Jesus.

"Moreover, I tell you this: on the Day of Judgment people will have to give account for every careless word they have spoken; for by your own words you will be acquitted, and by your own words you will be condemned." On Judgment Day, our fates will be decided by whether we spoke with our mouths and believed with our hearts that we are "with Jesus."

I apologize for such a tedious explanation, but I hope this clarifies what "blaspheming the Holy Spirit" is. Some Christians have wondered whether they might have committed an unforgivable sin by something they said and perhaps lost their salvation. I'm here to tell you that if you are "with Jesus," you will be forgiven "any sin and blasphemy." Jesus said so. Just repent and let the blood of Christ cleanse you from all unrighteousness.