Posts tagged ‘obedience’

A Salvation Experience

I remember the date, time, and place that I was born again. If I had a 1977 calendar, I could mark it down for all to see. That is because salvation is something that is experienced. We don’t get it by inheritance because our parents had it. God doesn’t have grandchildren. We have to have our own faith. No matter how much you admire someone, their salvation is just that — theirs.

Nor can you be saved and not know it. God does not regenerate you without your consent. We do not suddenly come to the realization that somehow, in some way, you have become a Christian. There is no surprise salvation. Yes, salvation is an intentional and individual experience.

But at the same time, what do some folks mean by “a salvation experience”? Is there some common emotional experience that every new believer has? Do we need a special tingle in our toes, or a quiver in our liver before we can be sure of our salvation? Are we required to “pray through” at a mourners bench to beg and plead for God to save us? No, not at all.

We need faith, and that comes by hearing the Word of God. It is available to anyone who hears that word and has a willing heart. That is something that we experience.
We need to repent, and that is a natural next step when someone believes the message of the Gospel. And it is a decision that is intentionally made, so it is also an experience.
That faith and repentance will manifest itself in obedience and a changed life. Those are all things that are experienced.

Where we need to tread with care is in taking the feelings, circumstances and emotions that we had when we were saved and conclude that if someone else did not have those same emotions and feelings then they are not saved. The Holy Spirit works through the Word in the same way toward everyone, but each of us is different so our reaction to that work will be different in every case. And that is okay. It is a sad sight to see someone who would stand up and say with great conviction that baptism is not required for salvation because it is a work, turn around and have someone pray and weep and beg and plead at a mourners bench for hours to be saved. I ask you, “how is that less of a work than baptism?” I know which one is a lot easier to do.

So lets take the Bible, see what it says is necessary for salvation, keep it simple by not adding to it, and let our individual “salvation experience” be as unique as each of us. We can only trust what the Word says about salvation, and not our emotions or an experience. Because if it does not line up with Scripture, then our emotions about an experience can leave us deceived and lost. Let’s obey Jesus instead of seeking a spiritual high, because the proof of salvation is the fruit of obedience it produces, not the feelings it stirs.

And having been made perfect, He [Jesus] became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, (Hebrews 5:9 NASB)

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Real Faith Works!

Ever since the days of the Reformation, there has been a strong emphasis on teaching that salvation is by faith. Given the unhealthy stress placed on works at the time, this was a normal reaction. What is needed is a healthy, and accurate, view of the relationship between faith and works if we are to be spiritually healthy and balanced. When James, the Lord’s brother, wrote his letter, the Spirit inspired him to address the subject this way:

Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (James 2:17-20 NASB)

There is no contradiction here with the message the apostle Paul would later give to the church at Ephesus. Read carefully what Paul wrote:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8, 9)

He is saying, correctly, that our salvation does not come from our performance, or from working our way to God. No one can will ever be able to say that God owes them salvation. But also notice what Paul goes on to say in verse 10.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

We were created in Christ when we are born again, for the uprise of good works. Do you see the order here? The works don’t cause faith and salvation; the faith and salvation produce the works! Furthermore, God has it planned that way.

God always connects a truth to believe with a command to obey. While “faith” and “obedience” can be defined as separate terms, they are inseparable as realities. To put it succinctly, real faith, works!
That being said, faith has to come first. We can have works without having faith (i.e. dead works), but we cannot have faith without works. Build your faith and the works will follow. It is a trap to suppose that we can reverse the polarity of our spiritual power by putting works as a higher priority than cultivating intimacy with God and strengthening our faith.

For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5:5, 6)

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Circumcision of the Heart

The Old Testament is replete with types and shadows that were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. One of those Old Testament symbols of the covenant was circumcision. Circumcision was so integral to the Old Covenant that the concept of an uncircumcised Jew was unheard of.

In Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae, he says that baptism is the spiritual fulfillment of circumcision.

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11, 12 ESV)

Now that we are in the New Covenant with Christ, we experience a circumcision that is spiritual and of the heart. And according to Paul, this spiritual circumcision occurs at baptism. Fittingly, the concept of an unbaptized Christian is just as foreign to the New Testament as an uncircumcised Jew was to the Old Testament.

But is this verse in Colossians saying that baptism is what saves us? Well, was Abraham declared righteous before being circumcised or afterwards? According to Romans chapter 4, at what point was Abraham declared righteous?

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. (Romans 4:7-10 ESV)

It was Abraham’s faith that caused him to obey the commandment of God and be circumcised, and it would be accurate to say that if Abraham had refused to obey God that he did not have faith. His obedience proved his faith. In the same way, we are declared righteous when we have faith, and that faith is proven, or validated, by our submitting to baptism.

Thus, salvation is by faith, and that faith is shown by our baptism. Righteousness comes by faith, and is not of works. We are saved by faith, not by faith plus a ritual. But that sign of the covenant must not be diminished or disregarded, either. Just as faith without obedience is out of context, obedience without faith is useless as well. But the connection of the old circumcision to baptism is clear. And Abraham was declared righteous because he believed God before he was circumcised. In the same way, we are declared righteous when we believe, and we submit to the sign of our covenant relationship when we are baptized. Failure to do so proves we didn’t really believe in the first place.

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The Family Seal

There are many seals out there. I don’t mean aquatic mammals or elite Navy commandos. I’m talking about seals like the Great Seal of the United States, or a family crest. They usually have a theme to them with a short phrase or two that succinctly states the organization’s mission or the family’s focus.

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he lets us know what is on God’s seal. In a way it is the family crest for His eternal family.

However, God’s solid foundation remains standing, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from evil.” (2 Timothy 2:19 NET)

One unique feature of our family crest is that with the two statements on it reflect God’s side and man’s side of this covenant relationship. The first one is about God. He knows those who belong to Him. By this, I don’t think it is just saying that God has the master membership list of the saved. In itself, there are two facets of that.
He is very much aware of who we are, with our strengths and weaknesses.

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:13, 14 ESV)

In addition, He has a personal relationship with each of His children. He knows us intimately, the way a husband knows his husband. His love for each of us is so deep that He sent His Son to die for us while we were enemies (Romans 5:8)

Next comes our part of this kingdom covenant. It says that everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from evil. It does not say that we are to be prosperous. It does not say that we are to feel good. It says that the main characteristic of our lives must be that we are going in the opposite direction that was the story of our former lives.

Jesus was very straightforward about this in Matthew 7.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23 ESV)

“But I thought we are saved by faith, not by works!” that is true, in context. As I said in a prior post, talking about faith apart from obedience, is to take it out of context. In reality, faith cannot exist alone. Without obedience it is dead. More precisely, a lack of obedience means faith has died. That is why Jesus will appear a second time for those who obey him!

So this family seal shows both sides of the relationship. God intimately knowing and loving us, and our response of repentance and obedience. It is not optional. It is the test with which we can examine ourselves and se if we are in the family of God!

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Wanted: Dead & Alive!

Wanted: Dead & Alive!

No, that is what I meant to say. God is calling us to be in Christ, and to get there we have to be dead AND alive. What do I mean by that statement? Glad you asked. But what I would like to do is let the scriptures speak for themselves, with just a paragraph title.

We must be dead to sin and alive to righteousness.
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (Romans 6:3-8 NIV)

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:3-5 NIV)

We must be dead to our will and alive to do His will.
“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19, 20 NIV)

We must die to our old life and be born again to a new life.
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:3-5 NIV)

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB)

having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 2:12-14 NASB)

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Spiritual Veal

Have you ever eaten milk-fed veal? I personally do not eat it because of how it is made. Once the calf is born, it is restrained on the floor so that it cannot move. It is then fed nothing but milk for its entire life. After all of this, it is butchered and sold. I am not writing this as a condemnation of veal (although I could), but instead to ask a question. Are you spiritual veal? Here is what that would look like.

After the new birth, they choose to remain inactive. Whether this is through fear or a lack of conviction, they never get busy with the obedience that their faith was designed to produce. By keeping themselves weighed down, the never develop their spiritual muscles.

“but refuse profane and old wives’ fables. And exercise thyself unto godliness: for bodily exercise is profitable for a little; but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7, 8 ASV)
We must exercise ourselves to godliness. The time to develop spiritual strength is before trials come. In the middle of a spiritual battle is not the time to begin getting ready.

We also need to have the proper diet. Veal calves are fed nothing but milk, which makes the meat very soft and light. But it means that the muscles never get what they need for further development. The Hebrew writer put it this way:

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:12-14 NASB)

While it is important that when we are new Christians we “as newborn babes, long for the spiritual milk which is without guile, that ye may grow thereby unto salvation;” (1 Peter 2:2 ASV) we cannot stay that way! Just as it is necessary for a baby’s diet to change while growing, we must take in nourishment appropriate to our spiritual age.

So is being spiritual veal a big deal? I mean, does it really matter? YES!
The devil is prowling about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, (1 Peter 5:8) and a weak veal Christian is likely to be exhausted and fall away. Do not be deceived. Satan wants you dead and being spiritual veal makes it easier for him.

And since we are engaged in a spiritual battle, your fellow soldiers need you to be strong. A weakened veal Christian makes those around him or her more vulnerable to attacks of the enemy.
“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13 NIV)

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How Do You Know?

Have you ever had something that you thought was valuable, but that turned out to be a fake? On occasion I find a show called “Antiques Road Show” where people bring in things they have that they think may be valuable. Sometimes they are surprised at the value of the object they thought was worth very little. Other times, they bring what they are sure is a priceless antique, and find out it is a copy with no value at all.
But what about salvation? Is there a way to determine if you or someone else really knows God? Can someone feel that they are truly saved, and yet be self-deceived and still in their sins? As always, the answer to this all-important question is found in the Bible. By inspiration, look at what the Apostle John wrote:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: (1 John 2:3-5 ESV)

The primary test of the genuineness of our salvation, or anyone else’s is whether or not they are trying to obey the Words of Christ. By that I am not speaking about total moral perfection, but about growing in Christ and walking in love toward God and one another. Jesus spoke about this subject in a very direct manner in Matthew chapter 7.

You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ (Matthew 7:16-23 NASB)

Jesus equates knowing him with obeying him. No matter how we feel, or what we think, the fruit of our lives will give us away. When we look in the mirror of the Word of God, we need to use it to evaluate where we stand with God and do something about what we see reflected there. And we can’t fake fruit, either. If you are not in Christ, Jesus didn’t say bearing good fruit would be difficult; he said it would be impossible! A bad tree can NOT bear good fruit. That is also why, in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 when Jesus greeted each of the churches, he did not say “I know your hearts” but rather said “I know your works” because their works reveal their hearts!

But back in First John, he ends on a positive note. If we are those who keep His words, the love of God is perfected (or completed) in us. In the Greek, he is not signifying the love God has for us, but rather the love we have for God. The more we walk in love, faith and obedience, the more spiritual fruit we will bear, and the more proficient we become at loving on God. Our love deepens and we bear even more fruit. And we will know for sure that we are in Him”.

Perhaps it’s time to sit down with the bible and check our progress and determine now where we stand with God.

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