Posts Tagged ‘Eternal life’

Live Strong by Faith

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Hebrews 11:1–3 (NLT) Great Examples of Faith

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.  By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.

Hebrews 11, called the “Hall of Faith,” is one of the most beloved chapters in the Bible.  In Heb. 10:37, 38, the author quotes from Hab. 2:3, 4 “For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay.  And my righteous ones will live by faith…”

As he thinks about living by faith.  He begins with a definition of faith.  He says, “Faith is resolute confidence…”  The word translated confidence in the NLT is hupostasis.  Hupostasis is a noun meaning ‘resolute confidence,’ literally, standing under or understanding; assurance.  The word translated as “conviction” is elegchos, meaning certain persuasion.  In this case, “Faith is the resolute confidence of what we hope for, the conviction of things not seen.”  (v. 1) The author’s 2 fold definition suggests that if we can see it, then it is not faith.  Faith is acting on what God has revealed about God’s will and character.  “For by it the people in days of old gained a good reputation.”  (v. 2)

In v. 3, the author begins to repeat this phrase, “Pistei…” meaning “By faith…” “By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.”  This is a fundamental belief of both Judaism and Christianity (Gen. 1:1-3).  God created everything in the universe that we can now see, and it was all created out of nothing.  A life of faith understands that, by analogy, God’s promises are real and will be called into reality by God, even if at present they are unseen.

The normal Christian life is a life lived by faith.  This is the main point of the text.  God is faithful and can be counted on to bring to completion all of God’s plans and promises.  The normal life of faith means living in the light of eternity.  All of the examples that follow (vv. 4-31) demonstrate this life of faith.

The remainder of the chapter can be divided up into 3 sections and a conclusion:  Introduction (vv. 1-3); I.  Examples of faith from Abel to Abraham (vv. 4-12); Interlude:  Faith of pilgrims (vv. 13-16); II.  More examples of faith from Abraham to Rahab (vv. 17-31); Conclusion:  Overview of the history of OT faith (vv. 32-40)

For example, Enoch was taken up into heaven and did not face a normal death.  (Gen. 5:24).  The author uses Enoch as an example to cite this principle in v. 6:  “And it is impossible to please God without faith.  Anyone who wants to come to God must believe that God exists and that God rewards those who sincerely seek God.”  The author alludes back to his theme verses from Hab. 2:3, 4 (Heb. 10:37-38).  The belief that God exists is a properly basic belief.  And the second belief follows it, that the God in whom we believe is able to fulfill all God’s promises.  God is faithful and trustworthy.  God will fulfill all God’s promises.  In all our difficulties and trials, we can trust in God and anticipate the fulfillment of God’s promises.

In the example of Abraham, the author cites 2 events in Abraham’s life:  the calling of Abraham (vv. 8-10; Gen. 12:1-2; 10:-13:18); and the birth of Isaac (vv. 11-12; Gen. 22:17)  The OT account tells us that Abraham obeyed God, and God counted his obedience as righteousness.  Abraham stepped out in faith, not knowing where he was going, but only obeying God as he understood that God promised him a land which not he, but his descendants would possess:  the promised land (a major theme in this text).  And the author identifies the Promised Land with “a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God” to which Abraham was confidently looking forward.  He takes the Promised Land to be, not the physical land of Canaan, but the heavenly Kingdom of God.  (v. 10)

In the interlude (vv. 13-16), the author says that “All these people died still believoing what God had promised them.  They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it.  They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth.”  (v. 13)  They were strangers (xenoi) and exiles (parepidemoi).  Xenos means a guest, stranger, meaning a friend although a stranger.  Parepidemos means a stranger, a sojourner; not simply one who is passing through, but a foreigner who has settled next to native people.  This points out a basic understanding of the nature of the Christian life.  This world is not our home, rather we are here as strangers and foreigners, immigrants if you will.  We are passing through this world until we get to our real heavenly home.

Living strong by faith involves resolute confidence in response to what God has made known (11:1-3).  As seen in the examples of faith in Hebrews 11, living strong by faith is the normal Christian life.  We live in the light of eternity.

Living by faith as demonstrated in the example of ch. 11 shows how faith worked in the lives of Abraham, Moses, and the other OT saints.  The danger is that we might say, “I’m not like Abraham, or Moses, or David.  They are in the Bible.”  But when you examine the biblical record you find that Abraham was a liar as was Jacob. Sarah was a doubter.  Joseph was a tattle-tail.  Moses was a murderer.  David was an adulterer.  The account ends with Rahab the prostitute.  These were just ordinary people living ordinary lives, until they responded to the call of God.  And even after stepping out in faith they still struggled.  They never received the promises of God, they lived in the light of those promises, understanding that God is faithful.  And the faithful God who calls us to step out in faith, will also be faithful to fulfill his promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ.  So the author concludes:  “For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.”  (v. 39)

 

 

Salvation by Grace through Faith

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Ephesians 2:1–10 (NRSV) You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

In this passage, Paul describes what became the essential doctrine of the Reformation:  salvation by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ.  The three solas of Luther were:  sola scripture (only by Scripture), sola fide (only by faith), and sola gratia (only by grace).

Grace is God’s unmerited favor.  God is love (1 John 4:8), and grace is an expression of the love of God.  In this case, Paul is speaking of God’s justifying grace, the grace of God that the Holy Spirit works in a person to justify them with God.  To be justified is to be “made right.”  In the work of justification, being made right with God means that we are freed from the guilt and punishment of our sins and receive new life (regeneration).  Only the presence and power of God can free us from the guilt and punishment of sin.

Before we believed in Christ, we were dead through our many sins.  This is true for every human being.  “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  (Rom. 3:23)  We once lived following the passionate desires of our sinful nature, and in fact, obeying the devil.  The devil is the “commander of the powers of the unseen world.  He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.”

I had another preacher ask me, “You mean to say that my little granddaughter is a sinner?”  I answered, “Yes.  She is.”  Although God does not hold her accountable until she is old enough to give account.  She is born a sinner.  “All” means “all.”  One of the first words that a child learns to say is, “No!”  Where does that come from?  It is the sin nature raising it’s ugly head leading a child to disobedience, which is sin.

But by God’s mercy, kindness and love, we who are joined to Jesus Christ are saved from the consequences of sin (Eph. 2:4, 5), which is death.  (Rom. 6:23)  Paul says literally, that God “made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in heaven in Christ Jesus.”  (Eph. 2:5, 6)  Since we are joined with Christ, we will share his resurrection.

When does the resurrected life begin for the believer?  Paul suggests that in some way, we have already begun living the resurrection life.  Although our physical bodies will still die, yet our soul will continue to live in heaven and we will also share in the kingdom of God with Christ.  All these blessings are a result of our union with Christ:  resurrection, eternal life, the Kingdom of God, and all the other blessings of the Kingdom.  They are as sure as if everything has already taken place.  Christ’s resurrection is the evidence that it is all true.  The Spirit of Christ living in us is the guarantee that we have a share in these blessings.  So we should endeavor to live into our resurrection, live into our eternal life, and to not live as those who have no hope.  (1 Thes. 4:13)

Ephesian 2:8, 9 are probably two of the most important verses in the Bible, in that, they concisely describe how a person is saved.  “God saved you by his grace when you believed.  And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”  (v. 9)This is how Protestants have understood the process of salvation since the Reformation.  People are made righteous through faith in Jesus Christ, not through our own goodness nor through good works nor through any of our own merit.  Only by grace through faith are we saved.  (Rom. 3:21-4:8; Gal. 3:2-10; 5:1-6)  This is the great theme that runs through all of Paul’s letters.

Lord, help me to live in the light of eternity.  Help me to live into my resurrection life.  Help me to live each day as a citizen and ambassador of the Kingdom of God, and to help others know you and the glory of the blessings in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

 

The Reign of Grace and Life

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Romans 5:12–21 (NRSV) 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Throughout ch. 5 to 8, Paul compares and contrasts this “present evil age” and a “glorious age to come.”  He uses these contrasting realms to conceptualize our experience of salvation.  The old realm is ruled by death (5:12-21), sin (ch. 6), and the law (ch. 7), and the sin nature (ch. 8).  In contrast, the new realm is characterized by life (ch. 5), righteous living (ch. 6), grace (ch. 6), and the Holy Spirit (ch. 8).

Paul goes back to the the account of Creation and the fall in Genesis (Gen. 1-3)  and the meaning of the first parents as prototypes of humanity and keys to the moral failure known as the Fall.  Paul is not comparing Adam with Christ, but describing the results of their actions.  Paul contrasts Adam’s act of disobedience with Christ’s act of obedience which led to reconciliation.

Why does Paul focus on Adam?  He is not unaware of Eve’s contribution to the Fall, but he focuses on Adam, the first man, in order to focus on the universal aspects of what he is saying.  Adam is the Hebrew word for man, or human.  All references to Adam in this passage have a generic meaning that embraces all of humanity, both male and female.  Adam, the first man, contrasts with Jesus Christ, the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45)

In the beginning, God created everything and pronounced it good.  Humanity is the crowning creation of God, in that, God created humanity in God’s own image.  But sin entered the world through one man, Adam (Rom. 5:12).  The act of sin in humanity broke the relationship that existed between God and humanity.

Before the fall, Adam’s state and standing was the same.  Adam had unconfirmed holiness, and his standing before God was the same.  After the fall into sin, Adam’s state and standing were also the same.  He was a confirmed sinner.  And so are we to this day, unless we come into a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

In fact, through this one original sin, all have sinned.  Through his sin, Adam became the father of all sinners.  One way to understand this is that Adam stood as the representative of all of humanity before God, and in his fall, so we have all fallen into sin.  Whatever the explanation for how this happened, the fact remains that every human being born is born with a sin nature, that is a predisposition to sin.

Adam was created with the potential to live a holy life, humans now are born with the inevitable destiny of sin.  It is impossible to not sin, so Paul says, (Rom. 7:21–24 NLT)  “I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?”  So the Psalmist declares, “There is no one who does good, not even one.”  (Ps. 14:3; Rom. 3:10)

Through Adam’s sin, death came to all humanity.  (Rom. 5:18) So Paul says, “For the wages of sin is death…”  (Rom. 6:23)   Death spoken of here is not just the physical death that all humans experience, but the spiritual death, the death of the soul.  Sinners are those who are “dead in trespasses and sins.”  (Eph. 2:1)  Death is universal because sin is universal.  (Rom. 5:18)

But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s grace.  Through Adam’s sin death entered the world, but through God’s grace and forgiveness life entered the world through Jesus Christ.  (Rom. 5:15)  Both Adam and Jesus Christ committed a single act whose influence extends to all people.  Adam represents all humanity.  God offers all humanity a free gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ’s atoning work on the cross.  But we must receive the gift of righteousness in order to be represented by Christ.  “For all who receive ti will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.”  (v. 17)

Christ’s one act of righteousness refers to his death upon the cross, which he died once for all sinners.  It is a righteous act, because Christ chose to die in obedience to the Father’s will (John 10:18).  And as a result, new life in Christ is available to everyone through Christ.  (v. 20)  Paul isn’t teaching that everyone will be saved.  But that the atoning work of Christ is available to everyone.  The offer of salvation is to whoever will believe (John 3:16).

So what was the purpose of God’s Law (the Mosaic Law)?  Paul says that the Law was given to show people how sinful they truly were.  (v. 20)  So in the old realm, sin reigned over all humanity, both Jews and Gentiles from Adam until today.  But now, God’s grace has done a new thing.  And the law of grace now rules.  And so through Christ, God’s grace offers us right standing with God (justification), “and results in eternal life through Jesus Christ.”  (v. 21)

Lord, I thank you that sin and death no longer rule over the world.  I thank you that you have delivered me from the power of sin and death through the death of your Son, our Lord, upon the cross.  Help me to to live into my baptism, to live into my higher calling day by day, in and through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

 

 

 

The Sheep and the Goats

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Matthew 25:31–46 (NLT)

The Final Judgment

31 “But when the Son of Man* comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations* will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,* you were doing it to me!’
41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.* 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

In the final judgment, we see the Son of God as the Judge of all the nations.  (v. 32)  The wording echoes Isaiah 66:18.  All the nations points to all humanity. In the final judgment, Jesus will separate the people according to their deeds of mercy.  Those who have demonstrated their righteousness by their good works will are the sheep, those who have not are the goats.
In v. 34, the Son of Man is now called the King.  The King of the Kingdom of Heaven will speak to those on the right hand, and invite them to receive the blessing prepared for them from the beginning.  The reason that they are so blessed by the Father is that they ministered to the King when he was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, needy, sick or in prison.  The righteous will answer, when did we do any of these things for you?  The King will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters you were doing it for me!’
Turning from those on his left, the King will command them, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!”  (v. 41)  The reason for this terrible judgment is “when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.  And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”
This parable does not answer the question of our salvation in the way that we have been trained to expect as far as American Christianity is concerned.  The basis of Christ’s judgment as to whether one should be counted as righteous or wicked is based on how a person has treated one’s fellow humans.  Jesus determination is based on “in as much as you did it for one of these little ones, my brothers and sisters, you have done it for me.”
The parable relates to the question of faith and works.  Since the Reformation, Protestants have asserted along with Paul that “salvation is by grace through faith alone.”  James famously says, “Faith without works is dead.”  (James 2:14-26)  Paul has sometimes been said to contradict James, but a close examination of Paul’s letters show that they are both in agreement.  In Eph. 2, Paul says that salvation is by grace through faith…”So that we can do the good things he (meaning God) planned for us long ago.”  (Eph. 2:10)
Jesus is not teaching that salvation is by works.  Rather in all his teachings, he stressed the necessity of repentance from sin and faith in the Gospel.  The Gospel writers summarize Jesus preaching as “Repent and believe the Good News!  For the Kingdom of God has already come near you!”  Salvation is not achieved by good works.
However, our emphasis on salvation by faith alone has often led to a false dichotomy between faith and works.  Salvation is not achieved by good works, but neither should salvation be without good works.  Jesus promises eternal life to those who have lived a life in accordance to God’s will (Matt. 5:3-12).  Righteousness is required to enter the Kingdom of God (5:20-48; 7:21; 22:11-14; 23:3).  But faith that does not result in good works is not saving faith.

 

Where Is My Heart?

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Matthew 6:19–21 (NASB95)  19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
20 “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;
21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Wesley preached frequently on the Sermon on the Mount (Ch. 5-7), calling the teaching of Jesus within it “the sum of all true religion.”  (Sermon 21:  Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount).  How does the Sermon on the Mount apply to the Christian life?  Wesley saw it as a backdrop for the social ethic of the New Creation.  He used the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount to support the Christian’s involvement in building the Kingdom of God on earth as well as in Heaven.
In vv. 19-21, Jesus gives a common image used frequently by the Jews in the first century, that of a storehouse for treasure.  v. 20 introduces a second theme in ch. 6, “Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.”  And the principle is stated in v. 21, “Where your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”  I heard Larry Burkett, the popular radio personality of Money Matters who has now gone to be with the Lord say that if he saw your checkbook, he could tell what was important to you.  What we spend our money on shows what is important in our lives, and conversely, what is not important.
The storehouse was the place where a wealthy person or a king might store their treasures.  So metaphorically, Jesus is speaking about the storehouse of spiritual treasures in heaven.  How do we store up treasure in heaven?  In the Jewish context, storing up treasures for oneself in heaven meant doing good works, that is, works of charity.
This is what it is like in the Kingdom of Heaven, we should not store up treasures on earth which are subject to decay and theft.  Rather, we should store up spiritual treasures in heaven which are eternal.  They neither decay nor can they be taken from us.
John Wesley preached a famous sermon entitled, “The Means of Grace.” (Sermon 16, Mal. 3:7)  In that sermon, he identified the means of grace, that is, “any means ordained of God, as the usual channels of His grace.”  Wesley taught that our becoming and growing as Christians is enabled by grace.  Salvation is from grace to grace.  Through grace we are invited into a transforming relationship with God, which largely takes place as we participate in the means of grace.
The means of grace are practices that the Holy Spirit uses to draw us to God (prevenient grace), to enable us to know our sins are forgiven (justifying grace), or to grow in love for God and our neighbor (sanctifying grace).
He identified two broad categories by which Christians receive God’s grace:  works of piety and works of charity.  Works of piety are devotional practices such as reading and studying the Bible, prayer, fasting, partaking of the Lord’s Supper, Christian conversation, and hearing the Word of God preached.  Works of charity are works of love expressed to our neighbors:  feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and those in prison, caring for widows and orphans, ministry to the homeless and the immigrant.
It is in the means of grace that we encounter the grace of God in all of God’s transformative and loving power.  AS we faithfully participate in the ministry of the means of grace through worship, sacraments, daily devotions, fellowship and service, God recreates in us the image of God, the divine image of love in which we were created.
Lord, help us today to keep Your Kingdom first in our minds and hearts today.  Help us to remember daily to honor You with all that we have and all that we are, and not to forget to use the means of grace that you have given to us to build us up.  So that through the ministry of the means of grace, we will grow up to maturity in Christ.  Amen.