Posts tagged ‘salvation’

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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Don’t Miss Dinner

One of my favorite sayings is, “Call me anything you want, but don’t call me late for supper!” Shared meals are very special, and they were especially so in the ancient Near Eastern cultures. With that in mind, Jesus took the opportunity while reclining at a meal to illustrate the Kingdom of God. I think it would be beneficial to take a look at Luke and draw some lessons for ourselves from the text.

When one of those who reclined at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, “The one who will eat bread in the kingdom of God is blessed! ” Then He told him: “A man was giving a large banquet and invited many. At the time of the banquet, he sent his slave to tell those who were invited, ‘Come, because everything is now ready.’ (Luke 14:15-17 HCSB)

Jesus sets the stage for the parable by describing a large banquet for which invitations had already been sent. What is implied here is that the invitations had been accepted by those to whom they had been sent. To back out on such an invitation was considered a sign of disrespect and showed that the host’s feelings were not a priority for the guest. One by one, the servants come back with a list of excuses instead of a list of guests.

“But without exception they all began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. I ask you to excuse me.’ “Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m going to try them out. I ask you to excuse me.’ “And another said, ‘I just got married, and therefore I’m unable to come.’ (Luke 14:18-20)

What are represented here are responses of those who had previously accepted the invitation, but had other things come up that they considered a higher priority. There is a warning here for those of us who have committed to following Jesus but have let other things get in the way of our service to God. And these things are not what we might assume them to be. They aren’t sex, drugs, and rock and roll. They are not lying, killing and cheating. Let’s take a closer look, and in so doing remind ourselves to keep these things from hindering our spiritual service.

“The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. I ask you to excuse me.’ (Luke 14:18b)

The recently purchased field represents possessions, or our “stuff” becoming more important than spiritual matters. Notice, Jesus is not saying that it is wrong to own a field. He is saying that the things we possess should never take precedence over the things of God. And yet how many, in pursuit of worldly wealth, forfeit their souls?

For what is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose or forfeit his own self? (Luke 9:25 ASV)

Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ (Luke 14:19 NASB)

A yoke of oxen were used in the daily tasks of making a living. As such, they represent our work or career. Again, Jesus is not saying that we should not work to support our families. But when career growth and advancement takes a priority over our spiritual advancement and growth, then it has become an idol and has put God in second place in our lives. The same could be said of someone who keeps their faith under wraps because it might hurt their promotion potential if people thought they were an on fire Christian. While employment is a legitimate need, the Lord’s work must come first.

Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’ (Luke 14:20 NASB)

This statement represents relationships with friends and family. As before, we cannot let fear of rejection by those who are close to us keep us from obeying God. This can be the most difficult to overcome, but in the end, it is our relationship with God that will matter most in eternity. When we are strong and unashamed in our walk with God, then those same friends and relatives are the ones who may be drawn to Christ by our example.

In the end, each of these things, possessions, professions, and relationships are not evil in and of themselves. But when they, or anything else, become more important than obeying God, then they are idols. They very things that started off as blessings become the things that condemn us. So I would encourage all of of us to evaluate ourselves and see if any of these has becomes an idol for us, and adjust our lives to out God first in all things. And if you have not come to Christ because your fear what you might have to give up, or are afraid it will cost you a job or a relationship, put eternity first, come to Christ in obedient faith, and don’t let anything keep you out of the Kingdom!

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We Smell Like Something

Scientists, through diligent research, have concluded that our olfactory senses (smell) are the ones most closely linked to our memories. There are many things, such as a the smell of certain foods cooking, that bring back many fond memories from long ago during the Christmas season. Unfortunately, there are also specific odors that are linked to horrible memories and can send people into panic attacks or make them physically ill. Such is the power of olfactory memory.

In the same way, our spiritual lives have memories. Certain songs bring back memories of worship services with my father leading singing, or of times of worship at Sierra Bible Camp. Various Bible verses bring to mind situations in life where they became especially poignant. And spiritual memories can encourage or discourage us in our walk with God. Likewise, the Gospel message has a lasting effect on those who have heard it. You see, no matter what happened at the time, there was either a positive or a negative response to that message. Paul is speaking of such things in his second letter to the church at Corinth.

14 Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.15 For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish:16 To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?17 For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17 KJV))

In later years, we can look back with gratitude on a lesson we heard that “sealed the deal” for us and elicited a response to the Gospel. Many, with deep regret, will look back at the judgment, and perhaps for all eternity, on squandered chances to respond with obedience and faith. Whenever the Gospel message is preached, due to the power of the “living and active” Word of God (Hebrew 2:14), we are enabled to respond, and do so. To ignore the message or brush it off, is to reject the message. We are confronted with decisions of eternal consequence, so our response needs to be carefully weighed, in light of its eternal consequences.

The Gospel message is seen as offensive by those who reject it. That is true because it causes such discomfort when our pride is wounded by our sin being exposed. The Gospel says that we are dead in sins (Ephesians 2:1) and we don’t like that. It offends us to find out we have been duped by the “father of lies” (John 8:44) and that as a consequence we are doomed to eternal destruction. In that way, it is an aroma of “death unto death” (v. 16).

But we have another option. We can repent and believe the Gospel. If we can set aside our pride and admit to our spiritual bankruptcy before God, we can be saved. For the Gospel does not end with a message of death and destruction. It continues with a message of hope and new life in Christ Jesus!  We learn about His offer of life, and if we respond in obedience we are graced with eternal life. Thus, in the case of those who are saved, it is a message of “life unto life” (v. 16). What we have to decide is which type of message it will be for each of us!

But there is another warning here for those who proclaim the message. It is not to be corrupted, watered down, or peddled. I really like the way the Amplified Bible translates verse 17:

17 For we are not, like so many, [like hucksters making a trade of] peddling God’s Word [shortchanging and adulterating the divine message]; but like [men] of sincerity and the purest motive, as [commissioned and sent] by God, we speak [His message] in Christ (the Messiah), in the [very] sight and presence of God.

The Apostles did not use the message for personal gain. I often wonder whether Jesus or the Apostles, had they been with us today, would have made money by selling their teaching series on CD or DVD to their partners. No, they had a threefold commission to preach the Gospel.

They were:

1.        Sincere and had pure motives. There was no thought of personal gain or of being popular and accepted by the culture.

2.        Commissioned and sent by God. Their only thought was to be faithful to the God who commissioned them. They were not consumed with thoughts of making the message more palatable for their listeners or of marketing their ministries.

3.        They spoke the message in Christ, in the sight of God. Their sole mission was to be pleasing to God. They also kept themselves cognizant of the fact that God was watching over all that they did and would hold them accountable for completing the work he had sent them to do.

So yes, we all smell like something. Our message will have, not only different, but completely opposite effects on those who hear us. So rather that water down the message, realize that it only matters what God thinks of us, and that our reward is not determined by our popularity with men, but our faithfulness to God.

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