Archive for the ‘theology’ Tag

The Weeds in the Wheat   1 comment

InMatthew 13:24 – 30 gives the parable of a landowner who has his servant plant a field with wheat. An evil man comes at night and sows tares among the wheat. Tares look like wheat when they are young, but they produce poisonous seed heads. The servant offered to remove them from the field, but the landowner recognized that the crop would be damaged by the weeding effort and told the servant to wait until both were mature and then remove the weeds from the wheat.

I love the parables when rightly interpreted. In this parable, God is the landowner and the field is the church. The wheat represemts true Christians and the tares are hypocrites and apostates within the church. The servant might be church leaders or observers from various denominations who see heresy and apostasy in the pews and feel they must DO something right NOW to purge it from the ranks.

The Southern Baptist Convention tore itself apart for almost 20:years. What were they fighting about? Heck, I’m a Southern Baptist affiliated church member and I’m hard pressed to explain it adequately to any reasonable person. There were some legitimate concerns in the 1980s with moderate theology slipping intointo SBC educational institutes. There were professors, particularly at Southern and Golden Gate semaries who were teaching that the Bible was not trustworthy and others who were passing students who were far-wide of the Bible. Something needed to be done about the false teachers … and it was. And then things went crazy. The problem with dealing with heresy and apostasy in the church is that you can become so focused on side issues that you form a circular firing squad to shoot your allies.

A friend of mine with doctorates in New Testament history and textual criticism was asked in a job interview if he believed the Bible was inerrant. He answered “I believe that the original writers faithfully communicated what God guided them to write and that the large body of New Testament manuscripts show that the modern translations of the Bible are mostly correct. However, there are some questionable sections due to translation drift and some translators, particurly prior to the discovery of eastern manuscripts, translated with a heavy bias toward personal agendas.” That was an honest statement meant to be entirely accurate. He was then asked if he “favored” the King James Version or the New International Version? He answered “neither, because the KJV is a result of a translation by ill trained translators with access to a limited number of manuscripts while the NIV is a product of belief that anything even slightly variant should be removed.” He was not hired by Southwestern SeminarySeminary in the 1990s, the school he graduated from, because of those answers. Ten years later, after working on the New English Translation (NET), he applied again and was hired. Why? Because the hiring committee had come to realize that a translation is a representation of the word of God filtered through handwritten copies and translator’s interpretations. The original manuscript was infallible and inerrant and the better translations today are trustworthy for determining theology and doctrine, but not wholly accurate because of small errors in punctuation and occasional uncertainties about word transmission. What Alan said 20 years ago.

So was that worth nearly 20 years of argument?

The fact is that the Bible is trustworthy and we can know what God has said to us, even if some commas are not in the right place. To argue over that was ridiculous. Now, can we move onto a discussion about something of true theological importance – like how many angels can dance onmthenjead of a pin?

Or how about this ….

Does God exist and can we know Him through the Bible?

Is Jesus Christ God stepped down into human flesh or just themson of God?

Are human beings sinners in need of a savior or are we essentially good people undermined by society?

Is salvation through faith by God’s grace or by our works?

If salvation is by faith, why can’t Christians live as if there is no God?

Now there are some truly me a fun theological questions.

Not to strain the analogy too far, but arguments over the KJV versus the NIV we’re chick-weed while we ignored the tares being down among the wheat. Now we want to dig up the weeds while ignoring that kudzu is overtaking parts of the field. What if we took Jesus’ advice and left the tarès? Stop freaking out over arguments with little bearing on salvation and actually strive to obey God? Stop judging other denominations harshly on side issues and focus on what is truly important – Christ crucified for ourmsins and rsen on the third day for our salvation as amgirft of God, not of ourselves lest we think we’ve earned it by our own efforts.

First Step is a Wet One   12 comments

Christianity is really pretty simple. Admit that you’ve disobeyed God and cannot fix that on your own, believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins, confess that belief where others can hear you, and you’re saved.

That simplicity can make salvation sound like a “get out of jail free” card. It costs the believer nothing to be saved because Christ did it all. Add to it that once you’re saved you’re always saved and cannot lose or even give away your salvation, and it sounds like a great deal.

And, it is! But make no mistake, Christianity will cost the believer something. That’s where the whole confessing part comes in. Undercover Christians aren’t risking a whole lot which is why Jesus said believers have to identify with Him and that they shouldn’t be surprised that their identification with Him was going to cost them something. “The world will hate you, because it hated Me first,” He warned in John’s Gospel

A friend of mine who spent a number of years in the Middle East tells me that the reaction to a Muslim attending a Christian church is actually underwhelming. At least in Turkey, it was. People didn’t get upset about it and the church-goer didn’t seem to think they were risking anything. Until … until they became a Christian in their hearts and then they faced a dilemma. They could continue to attend church and even talk about their newborn faith, but if they decided to be baptized, they faced being marked as an apostate by the local imams. Their families would disown them and sometimes attempt to kill them.

Why? Baptism in the United States is not seen as a big deal, but Muslims perhaps understand it better than we do. For the early Christians, baptism was identifying with Christ. The symbol of being immersed in water and being brought back up parallels Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. This is also, btw, why Bapists hold to full immersion baptism. If you read Acts, you quickly see a pattern emerge. A person accepts Christ and is baptized. It is rare not to see that pattern and that may just be that it wasn’t recorded, not that it didn’t happen. To the early Church baptism was very important. Why?

Baptism identifies us as partaking in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. It is a public event. It is a first step of obedience in the Christian life. In America, it doesn’t cost us very much to do it, but I know people who haven’t and won’t even though they claim to be Christians. What I’ve learned is that it comes down to a question of control for them. They’ll couch it in all sorts of other terms, but really, they don’t like the idea that they’re showing humility before God and that someone else has to lower them into the water and pull them back up. Obedience is not their primary focus.

In most cases, those Christians remain immature and stagnant in their faith. Just my experience, but I’m pretty convinced of it. Why? Because they refuse to obey at the very first step of their walk with God and the Christian life starts and ends with obedience. All other areas of obedience cannot even get started until they’ve gotten that one out of the way.

Faith is Not Mental Illness   6 comments

I reblogged a post by a gentleman who made a very broad statement — that all religion without exception is a form of mental illness. He then pointed to history to support his claim and announced “It’s the 21st century.”

It is the 21st century, indeed. And we think we’re very wise and intelligent and we’ve unlocked the mysteries of the universe. Or have we?

It’s superstition to believe something with no evidence, but as a Christian, I see lots of evidence for my faith and feel that faith is a reasonable response to that evidence.

Science is very good at describing how the world works, but ultimately, it cannot explain why the world works or even why it exists. Why is there matter? We know that at some point in history, there wasn’t matter. That’s the Big Bang theory in a nutshell. “Point of singularity” rhetoric to the contrary, cosmologists postulate that there was no time and no matter before the Big Bang — or at least no time or matter as we understand time and matter. So, why did it come into being? Not how. We more or less know how — incredible energy, burning heat, bright light. The Big Bang left evidence of itself in the cosmos. How is covered. But why did it happen?

I’m not a highly trained scientist, but I’m a relatively intelligent and reasonable person who knows a couple of highly trained scientists who are Christians. I also know a bit about singularities. A black hole is a singularity. Matter, light, everything near a black hole collapses into the black hole. It doesn’t suddenly burst out into bright light and intense heat. So why did that long ago singularity do that?

Reasonably speaking, it couldn’t have. That would defy the laws of the universe as we know it. So, something unnatural happened — possibly something supernatural.  The evidence points in that direction unless you are opposed to considering that direction.

Whatever caused the singularity containing a universe to reverse the course of its nature and start expanding had to have come from outside of that singularity. Whatever it was existed outside of time and space because neither of those existed prior to the Big Bang. Those are just basic scientific observations. Using my intelligence, however, I can also wonder a bit. Whatever it was chose to reverse the course of the singularity, suggesting intelligence and will. Looking at the structure of the universe — which is really quite orderly — I must wonder if this creation force was also aware, organized and able to think ahead.

Hmmm, well, now, reasonably speaking, that sounds like a description of the God of the Bible — outside of space and time, creative, intelligent and personal. No, it doesn’t prove God exists, but the evidence of the Big Bang definitely makes me think that God is a reasonable theory and certainly more reasonable than nature just reversed its course and exploded outward into the relative regularity that we see today.

Faith is responding to evidence that others may reject, but that you see every where around you once your eyes have been opened to it.

Joel Osteen Shows His True Stripes   6 comments

I’m posting this cold without a great deal of thought because Joel Osteen has always been the epitome of a Christian heretic in my estimation.

I don’t know a single person who I consider to be a Biblical Christian who thought Osteen was a Christian. So, now he shows his stripes. Goodbye, Mr. Osteen. Farewell. And I hope God finds you and proves to you that you are wrong.

When the Least Become First   Leave a comment

Mary Magdalene was a woman of ill repute. The Bible doesn’t tell us that she was a prostitute. That was a pope in the 7th century who laid that on her. But she was possessed by seven demons before she met Jesus. I suspect she did some things that she wasn’t proud of later. And yet Mary was the one Jesus  chose to be the first witness to His resurrection — in essence the first Christian.

On the morning of the third day, the women went to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body. They were mourning. They were probably afraid. Their men were in hiding. Only the women were brave. And when they got to the tomb, they found the guard that had surrounded the tomb gone and the stone that blocked the door thrown halfway across the garden. They ran to the men because they didn’t know what else to do.

John and Peter ran to the tomb. John ran faster. They both saw that Jesus was gone, but they didn’t understand. He’d told them He’d rise after three days, but they hadn’t understood. They went back home, scared and perplexed.

Mary, however, looked into the tomb and saw two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had been. They said “Why are you looking here? He’s not here.”

I think it’s odd that she wasn’t afraid of the angels or that she didn’t demand to know who they were. Except, this woman recognized angels. Why? Because she’d been demon possessed and the only difference between an angel and a demon is that one follows God and the other follows Satan. She knew what she was seeing, I think.

And, then she turned from the tomb and there was a man there who asked “Why are you sad?”

“Because they have taken my Lord and I do not know where,” she answered.

“Mary, don’t you know Me?”

Of course, she didn’t know Him. She expected Him to be dead. She was crying too  Her eyesight was blurred and her heart was in a very dark place. Of course she didn’t recognize Him.

Until that moment. And then recognition dawned, a light came on, and the whole of the universe was an entirely different place than it had been one second before.

Possible Site of Christ's Tomb by dufasnoop

He is Risen! by Brian A Petersen

Black Saturday   1 comment

I’m not going to post a lot today because it’s a beautiful spring day here in Alaska and I’m going out hiking. Maybe I’ll wake a spring bear.

I want to thank the people who have been visiting and those who are now following my blog. And now for a brief message …


Today could rightfully be called Black Saturday. Think about it. Just about 2000 years ago, mankind killed God in the flesh, Jesus. They hung Him on a cross and He died. His followers ran away. They abandoned Him. They scurried around the edges of His execution and did nothing. Peter denied Him three times. John had enough contacts to get into the chamber to watch his best friend’s trial and beating, but he still didn’t try to save Him.

Where do you think the disciples were on Black Saturday?

Hiding in a hole. Scrambling to return to their homes and pretend they never knew Him. Weeping. Examining themselves and finding they weren’t all that good. They promised to follow Him wherever He went and they ran away!

Today is Black Saturday. Jesus is dead and you’re responsible. Think about it!

Aurora Watcher   7 comments

My screen name, Aurora Watcher, was given to me by Syun Akasofu, former head of the International Arctic Research Center, a foremost expert on the aurora. More than 30 years ago, I interviewed him when he was a professor at the Alaska Geophysical Institute and as we were winding up the interview, I mentioned having heard the aurora. He dismissed my claim, saying that there was no way to hear sounds from the ionosphere because it was so far from the biosphere. I was a journalism major and not qualified to argue with this great scientist, but I did point out to him that I had heard something on multiple occasions, sometimes with other people, and once my dog had heard it too. He kindly held fast to his science. We agreed to disagree.

Years after I graduated, I met Dr. Akasofu again. He immediately recognized me as “the aurora watcher”. Apparently, he’d had an experience when he had heard the aurora himself and he now believed that it could be heard, but he had not yet proven it scientifically. As far as I know, he hasn’t yet proven it, but the Geophysicaly Institute’s webpage no longer categorically denies that the aurora is audible.

I have a faith point here. There’s a lot in this world we do not understand and there are times when we want to dismiss what we don’t understand as not actually valid. I had heard the aurora, Dr. Akasofu had not. He said it wasn’t possible scientifically … until he experienced it for himself and then it didn’t matter that science still says it’s not audible.

In a similar fashion, God doesn’t make sense to us until we’ve experienced Him for ourselves. He doesn’t fit in our test tube. He won’t lay down on the examining table and let us dissect him. He doesn’t exist scientifically … or, more probably, our science is inadequate to explain Him.

I use the screen name to remind myself that not everything in this universe is immediately explanatory based on hard evidence. Sometimes, you just have to go with your experience and trust it will be explained later. Maybe. In God’s good time.

Say What You Believe   2 comments

You really want to believe in Christ, but it’s going to affect your career, your marriage, your standing in the community. So isn’t it enough to accept Christ in your heart and keep it to yourself? I was asked this question not long ago and the inquirer made a good point. What if someone accepts Christ then dies before they have time to confess their salvation?


I’ve often accepted as a given that someone could accept Christ on their death bed and be accepted into Heaven, but what if that person were not able to speak and therefore unable to confess their salvation? Okay, now I’m stumped and I will confess that I remain stumped on that portion of the question. My only answer is that God knows what was in that person’s heart and He is the ultimate arbitrator of who gets to enter His kingdom. I don’t know the answer, but I’m convinced that God not only knows the answer, but that Jesus Christ is the Answer, so I don’t really need to know. I think it’s narcissistic of us to believe we have to understand God totally. No, we don’t. He’s God, we’re humans. We’re like ants to Him. We will never fully understand Him and that should be fine with us.

Corinthians tells Christians to judge their fellow believers, so I’m turning from metaphysical questions to the more pragmatic part of the question. Can a person believe in Jesus Christ, but not confess that belief before men and still consider himself saved.

At the risk that you won’t read the rest of this post … NO!

Romans 10:9-10 says “because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation.”

There are those who try to explain away the meaning of these words and there are those who adhere to them like barnacles to a boat hull, but what is really the answer beyond dogmatism.

First, someone will note that Paul puts confession before belief in verse 9. That’s because (in verse 9) he’s quoting Moses’ words from Deuteronomy 30:14 and that’s how Moses wrote it. In verse 10, Paul’s own words and instructions appear — believe and then confess, which is really the only chronology that makes sense.

The word “confess” here is homologeo the same as used in 1 John 1:9 and means to “say the same thing about something as others have said”. Early Christians risked their lives by saying “Jesus is Lord”. First, the Jews tried to kill them for blasphemy and then the Romans tried to kill them because Caesar was “lord” in their society. So the simple statement “Jesus is Lord” was the most common confession that Christians of the 1st century made and it carried a great deal of importance.

In verse 9, Paul directly states that believing and confessing are both essential for salvation. In verse 10, while believing and confessing are now set apart into two separate clauses, confession is still declared to result in salvation. Confession (homologeo) in this context cannot be as easily explained as that which takes place in the heart as a private act before God as some might hope. The term “mouth” implies an oral confession. God does not need one to “confess with the mouth” for his benefit. He can see into the heart to discern our faith, and grant us justification at the very moment of faith.

Yet the vast majority of NT passages mention faith as the only condition for eternal life. What is more, the Gospel of John, written for the precise purpose of clarifying the condition for receiving eternal life (20:30-31), nowhere states that our eternal destiny is determined by “confessing with the mouth.” In fact, John wrote the very opposite—that one can trust Christ for eternal life (and actually receive it), but fail to confess the Lord publicly. He wrote, “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess [homologeo„] Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue…” (12:42). John knew of those who did not openly identify with Christ for fear of persecution and rejection, yet they had come to faith that brings eternal life.

To find Paul’s meaning in Romans 10:9-10, we need to investigate the book itself more deeply. In Romans, it is undeniable that Paul’s favorite term for redemption is the heavily theological word, “justification” (dikaiosune). For Paul justification is a legal or forensic term referring to the imputed righteousness the believer receives at the moment of faith. Paul discussed justification in great detail in 3:21–5:11, climaxing his treatise with a discussion of a few of its marvelous blessings (5:1-11). Paul’s thorough treatment of justification was been completed in Romans long before he arrived at the Romans 10:9-10 argument.

In the 3:21–5:11 passage, Paul made absolutely no mention of “confessing Jesus as Lord” in order to receive justification. In these early passages, the apostle repeatedly stressed the need for faith alone, just as the Reformers later discovered. It seems rather strange that in chapter 10 Paul would add to justification by faith the need for “confession” —a concept he completely excluded in the early chapters of his epistle. In fact, Paul never mentioned confession as a requirement for justification in any of his other epistles.

Practically speaking and theologically accurate, justification means “to be declared as righteous as Christ is righteous.” If you’re as righteous as Christ, what more is needed for eternal life? The answer should be evident: nothing more is needed to get to heaven than to be justified in the sight of God (Romans 3:20; 4:2). This is why Paul combined the two concepts in his phrase, “justification of life” in 5:18. For Paul and his epistle to the Romans, there is nothing more needed to get to heaven than to be justified by faith in Christ alone. But nothing in Romans 10:9-10 contradicts this. Romans 10:10a reads, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified…” (italics added, NIV). In chapter 10, Paul is in perfect harmony with his own teaching in the other parts of his epistle.

It’s important to note that Paul is discussing Judaism just prior to this verse and is, in fact, quoting Deuteronomy 30 in verses 6-8, demonstrating that Israel should have listened to the exhortation of Scripture that pointed her to the need for divine help issuing from faith. Romans 10:9-10 is in reality a further interpretation of the truth Paul finds in Deut 30:12-14, namely that the righteousness that comes from faith is available to all, and so is the divine help (salvation) that can follow justification. Deuteronomy 30:11-14 reads,

For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious [difficult, NASV, NIV] for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.

The context of the Deuteronomy passage is the speech Moses gave to Israel as they were about to enter the land of Canaan. Moses warned the people against rebellion and predicted that in their disobedience they would be scattered far beyond their own borders and relocated in many nations as a result of God’s judgment of them. But one day (at the Second Coming of Christ) God would bring them back to Himself, circumcise their hearts to be fully devoted to Him (the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31), restore them from their captivity, and bring them into the land to possess it (30:1-11). Nevertheless, Israel at the present time should not complain that God’s revelation was so difficult it could not be obeyed or so unclear that more revelation was needed before it could be believed. They must not think that someone should go up to heaven or cross to the other side of the sea to bring back divine truth and make the people able to obey it. Revealed truth was not distant, but as close as faith in the heart. That which was not revealed belonged to God alone, but what was revealed was given to be believed and obeyed. Divine help was also right at hand. If Israel would only turn to their Lord for help He would assist them in obedience. This help was as near as calling on the Lord, invoking His help with their mouth. In Paul’s interpretation of Deuteronomy, Christ is God’s present revealed truth given to all people in the gospel. Justification through faith in the heart and divine help for obedience to Christ (sanctification) are readily available to all, not just the Jew. Gentiles too can believe in the Lord Jesus and call on Him for help of all kinds. After all, Christ is rich to all that call on Him for deliverance. But first, one must believe in Him before he can call on Him.

One should observe that three times, once in each verse of Deut 30:12-14, the passage adds that Israel must “do” the requirements of the revealed will of God in the law. Paul does not include this phrase in his citation of Deuteronomy 30 but this must be in his thinking. Otherwise, Paul has taken an OT passage that distinctly speaks of obedience to the law and finds in it a principle of faith alone, apart from obedience to the law. This would involve a gross aberration of the original context of Deuteronomy 30. What Paul finds in Deuteronomy 30 is that faith for justification is the supreme prerequisite of calling on the name of the Lord and must precede any confession with the mouth. Calling on the name of the Lord can be done only by one who has first experienced the righteousness that comes from faith (10:6). So faith is the first and foremost response to God’s revealed truth. Therefore, Paul can also summarize both faith in the heart and confession with the mouth with the phrase, “the word [Greek, rhe ma] of faith which we preach” (10:8).

The “word is near” in the sense that when the listener expresses faith in Christ in his heart, Christ will draw near in giving him righteousness (i.e., justification). Once a person is justified before God, Christ can also be near to him for deliverance when she publicly confesses He is Lord and calls on His name. This is the meaning of the phrase, “The word is near you, in your mouth.” The author of Deuteronomy has led the way to this impression with the only other reference in the Book to the nearness of God: “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?” (italics added; Deut 4:7, NASB).

For many Christians Romans 10:9-10 is a favorite series of verses for evangelism. Generally, these verses are cited in order to emphasize the need for faith. You can’t get a requirement for public confession from the verses. The Greek doesn’t support it. However, the practical lesson of this passage is that publicly identifying with Christ has a cleansing and sanctifying effect on our lives. If nothing else, openly confessing Christ makes the Christian conscious of his lifestyle. He now knows that non-Christians will quickly respond to his inconsistencies and compromises with, ‘I thought you said you were a Christian?” Inevitably, the vocal Christian becomes careful to live a godly life because he or she never wants a non-Christian friend to confront him with hypocrisy. The world is certainly watching Christians. But it is watching Christians who can be identified as such. I can be a secret Christian, but I can never be a victorious, secret Christian. One vital principle for victorious Christian living is the public, vocal, regular identification with the Lordship of Jesus.

Evidence for Salvation   3 comments

The essence of Christianity is narrow, for only the shed blood of Jesus Christ saves anyone. The expression of Christianity is very broad, for it affects every facet of our existence. Consider some of the Biblical terms for the Christian which highlight various facets of the outworkings of our faith.

Christian. Christian is a very popular present-day term with a wide variety of connotations. Actually, it is found only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). The suffix “ian” is similar in meaning to “ist” (Methodist, Baptist, etc.) or the somewhat more pejorative “ite”. A Christian is one who is a follower of Christ or who has allegiance to Christ. The term was originally a perjorative affixed to Christians by non-believers, but that’s a history lesson we might discuss later.

Believer. A much more frequently employed term in the New Testament is believer (Acts 5:141 Timothy 4:10,12). We have already shown that belief must have some basis or content, so a believer is one who adheres to a particular system of beliefs, namely the teachings of the Bible. Then, in addition to a belief in the historical elements of our Lord’s life and death, a Christian believes in Christ Himself for salvation.

Follower. The gospels abound with references to following Jesus. Jesus invited men to follow Him (Mark 2:14), and Christians are said to be His followers:

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-28).

As a follower, a Christian is one who not only believes in Christ, but who follows Him. This implies much more than a mere conversion experience, but a way of life. It means that we will aspire to be like Him.

Disciple. It refers not only to those of the 12 who followed Jesus (e.g. Matthew 5:1), but to those who were His disciples in other places at a time after His death, resurrection and ascension (Acts 11:26,29). Here a deeper level of commitment is implied, as well as a greater intimacy between the Master and the disciple. Primarily, a disciple is a learner and thus, his following Jesus is not out of curiosity but commitment.

Saint. The term saint is one which non-Catholics shy away from using, especially with reference to ourselves. We know that in eternity we shall be like Him, but at the present time this label makes us feel uneasy because it seems inappropriate. While total sanctification will only occur at His coming, the term saint reminds us that holiness is an essential characteristic of the Christian. This is why Peter reminded us of the divine command, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16) .

Brother. A vertical relationship with God also creates a horizontal one with all those who are saved. We frequently find Christians called brethren (Acts 6:3; 9:30; 10:23; Romans 16:14, etc.). Christians were never meant to be “Lone Rangers.” Each of us is a part of the body of Christ, with a vital function to perform and with certain needs which can only be met by others in the body (1 Corinthians 12).

Servant/Slave. By far, the least popular synonym for the Christian is that of servant or slave. Yet it is a very common word in Scripture and seems to have been one of Paul’s favorites when referring to himself (Romans 1:12 Corinthians 4:5Philippians 1:1, etc.). Jesus Himself was the supreme example of servanthood (Mark 10:45), underscoring this by washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-11). Leadership, in God’s Word, is assumed by servanthood (Matthew 20:27Mark 10:44).

The overall impact of all of these terms is that while the essence of the gospel is limited narrowly to the blood of Christ, the expression of our individual faith is boundless. The modern presentation of the gospel often generalizes the basis for one’s salvation, maximizing the temporal and eternal benefits while minimizing the obligations. This is totally backwards! We are only saved through faith in the death of Christ. That salvation must be entered on the basis of the objective facts of the gospel through the subjective experience of repentance and faith, and objectified by a life of obedience and discipleship.

So is that the gospel you believed? In today’s world, there are many other gospels, but most will not save (Galatians 1:6-9). The shed blood of Jesus Christ is not an element of the gospel, but the heart of it. Search your own heart for the basis of your eternal hope. If you are uncertain, affirm that you are a sinner, deserving of God’s eternal wrath. Submit yourself to God, relying only upon the work of Christ at Calvary for your forgiveness of sins and source of righteousness and eternal life. In the words of Paul, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Perhaps you are one of those who has thought of yourself as 75% saved (see earlier post). You believe about Jesus Christ and do many of the things Christians do (or don’t). But 75% is not enough in God’s book. Take Paul’s advice:

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Obtaining Salvation   1 comment

The work of Christ on the cross is the objective basis for a person’s salvation (His shed blood—and that alone is what saves us). However there is also a subjective side to salvation. Salvation is the object of our faith, but how we obtain salvation is equally important.

There’s a lot of terminology used to discuss salvation and most of it is not understood. Repentance, belief, born again … what do all these terms mean?

Recognize that the terms we use are translated from Greek, which is an incredibly subtle language. English has limits. When you go back to the Greek, you find that translation is not always precise and that sometimes different Greek words were translated into the same English word, which leads to confusion. I’m not a Greek scholar, but I know one and this is what he has taught me. When I get into portions of scripture that make me scratch my head, I pull out the Greek Interlinear Bible to see if the words are different. Often they are. I also use the Net Bible a lot because it provides direct translation from skilled translators and textual critics, which means I don’t have to become either.!bible/Matthew+1

Moreover, we have our own connotations for the words we use that don’t necessarily align with the Biblical terminology.

The word repent is probably the most frequently employed term used when the way of salvation is declared to Israelites in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Believe, on the other hand, is seldom employed in these gospels, but frequently found in John. Repent tends to view salvation more from the negative side. We are saved from eternal damnation as well as to eternal life. Repentance averts the judgment of God on unbelievers. Frequently, when the word repent is found, judgment is nearby in the context:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”… But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with your repentance; …” (Matthew 3:2, 7-8).

And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:38-40).

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31; Romans 2:4:11-16; 2 Peter 3:9, 10).

Repentance is a change of mind, which results in a change of behavior. It comes from a nautical term that means to change directions 180 degrees. Repentance involves a recognition of our sinful state and the dreadful consequences of our sin apart from faith in Christ. Before we can be saved, we must be convinced that we are lost and doomed. Repentance recognizes this and determines to make whatever changes are required to be saved. Repentance was frequently evidenced by baptism (Acts 2:38) and always by works fitting this change of mind, heart and life (Matthew 3:8). We’ll discuss that later.

If repentance speaks of the “about face” of the penitent sinner, especially his turning from sin and its resulting judgment, faith (belief in action) stresses the positive side of one’s turning toward God by faith in Christ, resulting in life.

“… that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:15-18).

“Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name every one who believes in Him has received forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43).

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to every one who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).

Belief is a two-pronged matter. First, we must believe that, and secondly, we must believe in or uponFaith must have content. The objective basis of faith is the sacrificial death of Christ. The historicity and absolute reliability of the Gospels’ account of the birth, life, teachings, death, burial and resurrection of Christ are essential to the Christian’s faith. I have heard some naively say, “I don’t believe in doctrine; I believe in Jesus.” But which Jesus do they trust in? Is their Jesus virgin born, truly human and divine? Did He die a literal death and rise bodily from His grave? Doctrine defines the Jesus in Whom we trust. Faith in the wrong Jesus cannot save. Consequently, we must believe

… that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; … (Romans 10:9).

“And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69; cf. John 11:27, 42).

To be a Christian you  must believe in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation. It is not the doctrine of the atonement that saves anyone, but the Christ Who died that saves. We must receive Him (John 1:12), and we must believe in Him (Acts 16:31) in order to be saved. While doctrine defines the Christ in Whom we trust, it is the person of Christ that we must place our trust in for eternal life (1 John 5:11-12). Salvation is forsaking any other means of salvation but Christ and casting ourselves fully upon Him for eternal life. We therefore believe that in Him we have died to sin, and in Him we have eternal life.

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans 6:3-5).

For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 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. And 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 (Colossians 2:9-13).

In the Bible there is no established procedure by which men are saved. In fact, the Scriptures avoid recording any one method by which men came to faith. Everyone to whom Jesus presented the gospel was dealt with individually, not through a formula. Jesus’ use of the term “born again” with Nicodemus clearly illustrates this.

Now there was a man, of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Him by night, and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is every one who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?” (John 3:1-10).

Nicodemus, as a Jew, felt that salvation was a national matter and that being born a child of Abraham was all that it took to be a child of God (John 8:33,39). Nicodemus’ first birth did not save him. Actually, it constituted him a child of Adam, the sinner, and thus a child of wrath and an enemy of God (Ephesians 2:1-3). In order to become a child of God, Nicodemus must be born spiritually, must be born again, this time into the family of God through Christ’s atoning work (Romans 5:12-19).

Nicodemus was a man of his day. As a devout Jew, he had come to think more of a ritual than of righteousness, more of acts than of attitudes, more of ceremony than of Spirit. Jesus had no standard form for salvation. We are not even told by John that Nicodemus was saved at this time. Faith cannot be produced through formulas and so Jesus sought to stress that, in the final analysis, salvation is the work of the Spirit of God, Whose effects we may observe, but Whose working we cannot control or manipulate:

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Of course, we must participate in the process of being saved, but we do not control the process; God the Spirit does. If the lost are to be saved, we must proclaim the message of salvation to men, for without this men will not be saved (Romans 10:14-15). Men must call upon the name of the Lord, and they must confess Him publicly as their Savior (Romans 10:9,10,13), but it is not a process which we can control. Salvation is fundamentally the work of God, and, chronologically, it begins with Him (John 1:12-13Romans 9Philippians 1:29).

Today the gospel has been so formulated that it is most often presented to unbelievers in a stereotyped fashion. Salvation is sometimes thought to result from following a prescribed formula rather than from simple faith. People believe that walking the aisle, raising their hand, reciting a prepared prayer or signing a card is what saved them rather than faith in the work of Christ upon the cross in their place. While the two fundamental requirements for entering into the benefits of Calvary are repentance and faith, there is no mechanical method by which salvation can be obtained. Many people who walk the aisle are saved, but not all who walk an aisle are saved. External acts will not produce a genuine internal commitment, but a genuine faith will always evidence its existence by actions which are pleasing to God (James 2:14-26Ephesians 2:8-10).

Salvation is always based upon the objective fact of Christ’s death in the sinner’s place, but conversion is a subjective matter involving repentance and faith, which cannot be equated with an act, but only evidenced by subsequent acts of obedience to the Word of God.

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