Posts tagged ‘salvation’

When Was Cornelius Born Again?

I once heard a man of Italian descent say that God’s message of salvation went to the Jews first, and then to the Italians. Technically, he was correct! But some debate has occurred over the centuries about what the conversion of Cornelius means for us today as it relates to salvation. It all centers around the question of when, exactly, Cornelius was saved? It is a legitimate question to ask. At what point in time did Cornelius and his family receive salvation? Let’s take a look at chapter 10 in the book of Acts and find out.

When he had performed good deeds and prayed to God?
No, that can’t be it. If that were the case, then why would God have an angel appear to Cornelius and instruct him to send for the Apostle Peter?

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. (Acts 10:1-4 NKJV)

Did God recognize that Cornelius was doing many things right? Sure he did! But there was no way Cornelius, no matter how much he did, was ever going to find the God he sought via his own efforts (Eph. 2:8-9).

Back eight chapters before, this same apostle had spoken to a large crowd on Pentecost about salvation. When those who heard him were convicted in their hearts and asked what they should do, Peter said to “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38 NKJV)
While Peter did say they needed to get “saved”, every serious Bible student I have spoken with agrees that receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit here equates to salvation. This fits perfectly with what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3 when he came at night to talk about salvation (Nick at Night?). Jesus described the salvation above as being “born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

So back to the account in Acts 10, what happened in the case of the first gentile convert?
During the discourse by Peter, Luke records the following:

To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. (Acts 10:43, 44)

Now there’s an attention getter! No doubt, those who heard the message of salvation from Peter instantly believed and received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those who had accompanied Peter were astonished and even Peter said ““Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? ” (Acts 10:47) Please notice that in this instance, if we follow the phrasing of Acts 2:38, Cornelius and his household were saved, and then obeyed the command to be baptized. And they were saved in the same way as the Apostles!

But does this fit with the instructions given to the first Jewish converts in Acts 2? Well according to the Greek text, yes it does. How so? Well, it has to do with verb tenses and how they cause words in a sentence to relate to one another. To put it briefly, we know which verbs go together if their verb tenses match. Greek is a very precise language, and a thorough look at Acts 2:38 shows that the verb tenses for “repent” and “receive” are the same (2nd person plural), and the verb for “be baptized” is third person plural. So what that means is that repent is tied to receiving the Holy Spirit, while baptism is not. It is still a command, and is required, but is separate.

So in Acts 10, what was witnessed was the Holy Spirit baptizing them into the body of Christ at moment they believed (1 Corinthians 12:13), and then Peter commanding that they be baptized in water. That also explains why, when Peter was explaining the reason he had preached to a gentile, he said,

And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’ (Acts 11:13, 14).

Notice it was words, not actions, by which they will be saved. Peter went on to confirm that Cornelius and his household had received salvation in the same way as the apostles themselves had received it.

And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:15-17).

The reaction was unanimous and joyous, and it also confirmed the mechanism that had caused these Gentiles to receive salvation.

When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” (Acts 11:18).

Yes, they believed (a change of mind), which caused repentance (a change of life), which was demonstrated by baptism (a change of allegiance). Does this diminish the importance of water baptism? Not in the least! Far from being an empty ritual, it acts as a marker in time, just like altars did in the Old Testament. It is a point of reference we, as well as those who are witnesses, can point back to and say, “you publicly swore your allegiance to Jesus Christ in water baptism. Don’t you dare forget it!” And may I say, someone who claims to be a Christian but refuses water baptism is demonstrating that they were never really saved. Also, there is no mention of a “sinners prayer” here either. What happened was a group of new believers being born from above when they heard the message of life in Christ Jesus and believed it in their hearts. When that occurred, they were immediately baptized.

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The Value of Denominations

I love having denominations, especially in my wallet! My favorite denomination is the $100 bill, although the $20 is easier to spend. But the extra effort to spend the $100 is one of its better qualities. in spite of my preferences, all too often my wallet is nondenominational. Sometimes it gets so bad that it seems my pockets fear change, too. In a pinch, like for a parking meter, noisy denominations are handy to have around. But for the long term, I prefer the quiet type that only occasionally makes a crinkling noise. But after enough time, even those become silent and just lay there folded in small groups, just waiting to be used by their master.

There are other pieces of paper in my wallet, some of which are still recognizable. They are not, however, denominations of anything, no matter how much they try to be. Even if they are play money or bills from a copy machine made to replicate real money, they have no true value. Unless something changes, they will one day be thrown away.

But whether a denomination is crisp and new, or aged and malleable, its value does not change. A new one is fresh off the presses has the same power as one that was printed 20 years ago. The used one may have been wadded up, stepped on, and bent out of shape multiple times, but that is not what determines how valuable it is. For a $100 bill have inherent value because of what it is, not because of what it may or may not have endured.

The same applies to disciples of Jesus. A Christian has value to His Master and Savior because of what he or she is, regardless of what they have been through or how much of a mess they are in. And you can’t become a Christian by just wanting the eternal or temporal benefits that they have. You must be born from above (John 3). Just as denominations of the dollar have no value unless the U.S. Mint makes them, you are not a Christian unless God makes you one. To quote the Jesus Christ, “you must be born again.”

In the end there will be three types of people:
1. Those who have been doing religious stuff like going to church or giving to worthy causes and speaking Christian words, but were never born again. Like counterfeit bills, they will be rejected and destroyed by the Grand Inspector.
2. Those who are not Christians and make no pretense to be ones. Just like spare pieces of note paper, they will be cast off and destroyed.
3. Those who have been born from above, and are true disciples of Christ. Just like the blank sheets of special paper at the mint before printing, they will start off just like the other two categories of people. But then they were changed, just like the paper at the Mint, into something of worth by the Master Maker into a something new, and uniquely valuable. In many ways they are just like the other bills, but each will have its unique characteristics as well. And they will all have the signature of the Spirit that lets everyone know who they are, what the are, and to whom they belong. Remember that when you are going through trials, being folded over or stepped on. Your value comes from the One who turned you from a piece of paper into something of value, not from those around you who look pristine. You are still useful to the Master for every good work.

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A Tale of Two Trees

The poet, Joyce Kilmer once wrote that “only God can make a tree” and she was right. Many important events in the Bible happened on or around trees. But I would like to consider what are arguably two of the most significant events in history that involved trees.

To look at the first event, we need to go back to the Garden of Eden. From the beginning, Adam lived in complete freedom to partake from any tree in the garden, except for one.

The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16, 17 NASB)

Pretty simple, right? But as we all know, Adam and Eve both ate from the tree after satan convinced them that Jehovah was trying to withhold something from them. Once they stopped trusting what God had told them, they were setup to fall.

The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4, 5)

After the Fall in the garden, they were kicked out of paradise and sin, or a sinful nature that predisposes us to sinfulness, passed to all. It was like someone dented the bread pan and from then on every loaf had a defect.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned- (Romans 5:12)

But that was not to be the end. Even though death and sin entered the world because of what happened on a tree, the remedy for our situation would come from a “Second Adam”, at it would also happen at a tree.
The early church father, Irenaeus, put it this way:

“Through a tree we were made debtors to God; so through a tree we have our debt canceled.”

And he was right! The death that came through the sin at a tree was atoned for by the perfect sacrifice of the Son of God on a tree. Paul, by inspiration, described it like this:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree “- (Galatians 3:13 NASB)

Jesus took the cross, a tree of death, and turned it into the new tree of life for us. An implement of torture and cruel punishment for sin, is now a source of life and forgiveness of sin.

who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness— by whose stripes you were healed. (I Peter 2:24 NKJV)

Yes, Joyce Kilmer was right when she wrote that “that only God can make a tree”, but even more significantly, only God can take a tree of death, and make it a tree of life! Where the first Adam fell and brought death, the second Adam has paid for life and immortality for all who would receive it!

but now made visible through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus. He has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel! (2 Timothy 1:10 NET)

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Our Prognosis

Whenever there is a patient with a newly discovered medical condition, one of the first questions families ask the physician is, “what’s the prognosis?”. They do this because they want to know what the eventual outcome will be for their friend or family member. There is a measure of comfort in knowing what to expect, for we generally fear the unknown. As nearly as possible, the doctor gives the expected outcome so that people can make intelligent decisions about medical care. With that in mind, doctors are very careful about the prognosis they give, since life and death decisions are often made based on their professional opinion. If they are wrong, the results can be tragic.

We serve a God who also makes a prognosis. And when He does, it is always accurate and we can make decisions of eternal significance based on what he says. We can do that because Jehovah has foreknowledge. The Greek word used in the New Testament that is translated as “foreknowledge” is the word “prognosis”. Unlike with humans, when God gives a prognosis based on His omniscient foreknowledge, it is never wrong. Let’s see a few times this word is used and look at what it tells us about our Heavenly Father.

During the apostle Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, he made the following statement about Jesus Christ:

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (Acts 2:22, 23 NIV)

The crucifixion of Jesus was not an unforeseen hiccup in the plan of God. One of the things that made it “the fulness of time” for Jesus to come was that Jehovah knew that if Jesus came in the flesh at this point in history He would be crucified. That was the point, since Jesus was coming to seek and save the lost. Does that mean God manipulated those responsible and somehow forced them to crucify Jesus? Of course not! Fore knowing something and foreordaining something are two very different things. God foreknew what evil men would do and simply accommodated it into His plan.

But why would The Father allow that and even plan for it? Out of love for us and for our salvation. God had planned that all who would come to Christ for salvation would be saved. He didn’t foreordain some to come and others not to come. Our election was based on foreknowledge that we would come to Him(1 Peter 1:2). And knowing that, He made provision for all who would come to make it from justification to glorification. What was necessary was for us was to be “in Christ”.

But this says something more profound about his love for us. Paul, in the letter to the Christians at Ephesus, says that our election (which we already saw was according to foreknowledge) occurred before the foundation of the world.

just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love (Ephesians 1:4 NASB)

He chose us by choosing Christ as our Savior. In doing so, He was choosing all who are “in Christ” as well. That means, before the world existed, Jehovah God knew what would happen to His creation and looked down through time. In His foreknowledge He knew each of us individually who would respond to the Gospel. He looked at each of us, knowing how we would blow it, and how we would be helpless, but also that we would come to Him someday, and said “yes, I will go to the cross for every one of them that come to Him in faith.” He looked down the corridors of time and saw John, Tom, Susan, Whit, Cory, Hannah, (your name here), and even me, and said “they are worth it. I will go and suffer and give my life, because if I do, they will come to me and I can save them.” Stop and contemplate that for a minute, or an hour, or a day. Jesus’ prognosis for each one of us was that if He would bleed and die and pay the debt for our sins, we would respond. And based on that, He had compassion on us, emptied Himself, and took the form of a servant, being obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2). There is something to dwell on the next time you take Communion.

A few years ago, a song was recorded by Hillsongs Australia called, “So You Would Come” and I think the words are an appropriate way to conclude this post.

Before the world began
You were on His mind
And every tear you cry
Is precious in His eyes
Because of His great love
He gave His only Son
Everything was done
So you would come

Nothing you can do
Could make Him love you more
And nothing that you’ve done
Could make Him close the door
Because of His great love
He gave His only Son
Everything was done
So you would come

Come to the Father
Though your gift is small
Broken hearts, broken lives
He will take them all
The power of the Word
The power of His blood
Everything was done
So you would come

(Copyright 1997, Hillsongs United)

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What Is Truth?

What is truth? That is a big question, and one of primary importance for mankind. There is much debate among thinkers and non-thinkers about the very existence of absolute truth. The non-thinkers are those who would say, “there is no absolute truth” since they would see the logical corner they have placed themselves in. For that statement to be true, it would need to be absolutely true and would thus be claiming its own nonexistence.

Even the Roman governor of the province of Judea, in his unregenerate mind, asked the question of Jesus.

Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all. (John 18:38 NKJV)

Earlier in Jesus’ ministry, He made a statement that answers that question.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6)

So the first, and primary, thing we must understand is that the truth is a person — Jesus Christ. The ramifications of that are tremendous! In making that statement affirming His identity as “the Truth” Jesus was also saying a lot about what the truth is NOT.

1. The truth is not a set of teachings. Before you react, let me explain. Jesus and the Apostles taught many things, all of which are true. They are factually without error. But they are true because they come from He who is “the truth”. The correct teachings of the Bible are there to tell us ABOUT the truth, and as far as each of them goes, the provide illumination on a part of the picture of Christ. Don’t mistake what I am saying. False teaching is a big deal, because it draws us away from Jesus, who is the source of truth and paints a false picture for us. One good way of discerning truth, especially if someone is using Bible verses on us, is to ask whether or not the teaching in question magnifies Christ Jesus or magnifies us.

2. We can know the truth. Yes, we can have an intimate, personal relationship with the Truth. But that does not mean we will have the full, clear, perfected set of doctrines in our little brains. Full illumination is reserved for the eternal state. For now, we must follow after Jesus and take in pieces of truth for spiritual nourishment along the way. That means putting up with people whose plates look different than our own. They may see some things more clearly than we do. Paul, when talking about the eternal state, put it this way:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (1 Corinthians 13:12, 13 KJV)

On our best day, when we are most attuned to the Spirit and are the most receptive, we still see through a glass darkly.

3. We must follow after things in their proper order. Jesus is the way to truth and life. We find the truth by following Jesus Christ. We don’t sit down and try to once and for all figure out a perfect doctrinal set of teachings and use them to find Christ. No, we follow after Christ and He gives is spiritual food and teaches us line upon line, precept upon precept.

For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little.” (Isaiah 28:10 NKJV)

4. Jesus is the full revelation of God, and we need seek nowhere else for truth. God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2). The Holy Spirit uses the power of the Word to draw us to Christ (John 12:32; Romans 10:17). As long as we are putting first things first, and following after Jesus, the Truth will reveal truth to us through the living and active Word of God (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Be patient with yourself. There have been many times I have been frustrated by my lack of discernment or by not being rock solid on exact definitions of everything I believe. But that is okay. As long as I am following after Jesus, and nurturing my relationship with Him through prayer and feasting in the Word, my dark glass will slowly become easier to see through. Remember that we are not following after a philosophy, but after a person — the person of Jesus Christ.

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Arriving At Your Predestination

There some words that can stir up strong opinions when discussing matters of Christian faith. Predestination is one of those words. I am a big fan of word pictures that help to explain things, and there is one that I have rolled around in my head and want to share. It has to do with “in Him” and its relation to what “predestination” really means.

There is an airline, and all of its flights are on time, are never too full for one more passenger to come along. (Okay, remember this is only an illustration)
The planes are scheduled ahead of time for specific destinations. You could even say they are predestined to go there. By default, all of the seats on that plane are also predestined to go to the same destination as the rest of the plane, since they are bolted in.

We all have the opportunity to get a ticket, but they cost more than we could ever hope to pay. Flights to heaven, via stopovers in justification, sanctification and glorification, are not cheap! We could give up hope, but someone has been kind enough to point out that there are all the tickets we need, and the price for them has already been paid. The tickets are being offered to us, and all we have to do is believe it, go get the ticket, and proceed to the gate, where we will board the plane.

Well this is Good News, so we do just that. We go accept the ticket and go to the boarding are, where we then get inside the plane. You see, the plane has been prescheduled, or predestined, to go to its destination. And so are we, by virtue of the fact that we are in the plane (i.e. in Him). Before the foundation of the world, it was determined that all who were on board would go to where they needed to go.

Unfortunately, there are some people who don’t make it onto the aircraft. Some didn’t believe that anyone would be so generous as to pay for such an expensive ticket. They don’t believe the announcement and never go and take the ticket. We’re they destined to be left out? Collectively, yes they were, since it was determined that all who did not board the plane would be left.

There is another group who went and got the tickets, but thought they could go on staying inside the safe and comfortable terminal. They run around telling everyone that they got a free ticket, but since they never act on it and obey the instruction to get onto the plane, they are left behind as well. Plus, those who did not believe the message in the first place see them as fools, since in the end they are no different than the ones with no ticket at all.

So when you get a chance, read about what it is like on the plane. Read Ephesians chapter 1 and look for the phase “in Him” and remember what privileges and benefits there are to being onboard with Jesus.

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It Will Never Lose Its Power

I have had some experience with pharmaceutical sales, and one of the questions asked by doctors about a drug is whether or not it loses efficacy over time. In other words, does the medication work well at first, but over time loses its effect on the condition that is being treated? What I want to talk about is something that definitely does not lose efficacy over time. In fact, it is still the most powerful cure in the universe. It is the blood of Jesus!

The apostle Peter talks about the blood this way:

knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. (I Peter 1:18, 19 NKJV)

The blood is something precious. Its value is far above that of silver or gold. This blood is the cure for the most deadly disease in existence. It is used to bring spiritually dead people back to life! You may wonder if we baptize dead people. I would say that, yes, we do. Every one of them starts of spiritually dead. They are then made alive by the blood of Christ!

For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:13, 14)

Our sin had separated us from a holy God. We were without hope of curing ourselves, and were completely alienated from God. But the blood of Christ changed all of that!

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13 NKJV)

Even though we were enemies of God, Christ died for us in order to demonstrate His love for us. We have gone from being enemies of God to having peace with God! (Colossians 1:20)

There was a song written by Andrae Crouch many years ago ago the blood of Jesus, that said that the blood would never lose its power. Even though it was shed for us nearly 2000 years ago, it is just as potent as ever. It will save the worst sinner today the same way it would save one back then. The words of the chorus say, “it reaches to the highest mountain“. Even when we are on the mountaintop and have intimate communion with God, we still are only there because of the blood that was shed for us back at Calvary. Then it continues with “and it flows to the lowest valley“. No matter how far we have wandered in sin; no matter how far into the depths of wickedness our life has plunged, the blood of Jesus will still reach us right where we are if we will only appropriate it.

The words of John at the beginning of the Revelation some it up best:

and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:5, 6 NKJV)

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