March Memories: The Thief on the Cross: A Different Way of Salvation?

Note:  In my previous post in this series, I reprinted “The Thief on the Cross” and commented at the end that I had received a lengthy response to what I said.  I mentioned that I had answered that response with another post.  This is that post.  The reason I did this, and reprint the two posts together, is because the view expressed on the other side strikes directly at how people are saved.  It diverts them from faith in the Lord Jesus and what He did on the Cross to faith in a ceremony, a ritual, namely immersion in water for salvation.  Not faith in Christ for salvation, but baptism for salvation.

Several years ago, I attended a few Bible studies led by an elder of the Boston Church of Christ.  During one of these studies, at a home, this elder baptized a young lady in the swimming pool out in the back yard.  I have no difficulty with that, but after he brought her up from the water, he commented that “her sins were now at the bottom of the pool.”  I’m afraid I didn’t appreciate the  situation.  My first reaction was, “Boy, I sure don’t want to go into that water.”

Anyway, here is the post.

On November 23 [2013], I published a post about the thief on the cross.  Some time later, I got a lengthy response.  WordPress put it into spam.  It wasn’t, but neither was it something I could “approve.”  I have no difficulty with people disagreeing with something I believe, provided they can show their viewpoint from Scripture.  The trouble is that there are many, many conflicting views, most of which appeal to Scripture.

This was the case with this gentleman’s response.  He clearly believes that there has been more than one way of salvation.  His comment was titled, “Can Men, Today, Be Saved Like Enoch?”

He starts off, “Did you ever notice that the hydrophobic believers in Jesus want to be saved like the thief on the cross?”  I suppose the term “hydrophobic” (fear of water) has to do with the fact that this gentleman believes that baptism is necessary for salvation.  His whole response is based on that supposition.  At the same time, he refers to them as “believers in Jesus.”  So, are these “hydrophobic” “believers in Jesus” saved, or not?

He continues, “Their argument is that the thief was not baptized in water, and was still saved.”  I agree.  However, he also says, “Their proponents fail to mention that the thief was also saved without being born of the Spirit.”  I disagree.  Just because the Bible doesn’t specifically mention it in this case, doesn’t mean that He wasn’t active in the heart and mind of this thief to enable him to see that Jesus wasn’t just another criminal being executed.

According to this gentleman, “the Holy Spirit of promise had not been given at that time,” so, apparently, He was nowhere to be found until Pentecost.  However, the OT is filled with references to the activity of the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost may have inaugurated a new day in God’s dealing with men, with Gentiles being granted salvation apart from becoming Jews, but it did not begin the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Then he brings in the case of Enoch, asking why men today don’t petition to be saved like Enoch.  He quotes Genesis 5:24, Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.

Having admitted that Enoch was saved, the writer then asks a series of questions about things which Enoch did not “believe.”  He didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, nor that God raised Him from the dead.  He wasn’t immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins.  He didn’t believe that Jesus died on the cross so that his sins could be washed away.  He wasn’t born of the Spirit, again, because the Spirit hadn’t been given.

Except for the last item, all these things are irrelevant to the case of Enoch.  Hebrews 11:5 has a comment about Enoch, By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, ‘and was not found because God had taken him’; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.  How was Enoch saved?  BY FAITH, just like anyone else who has ever been saved, beginning with Abel.  (The Scripture nowhere reveals for certain whether Adam was ever saved.)

So then, what is “faith”?  According to Hebrews 11, it’s an obedient response to the Word of God.  We might add to that, the Word of God as it has been given, as it had been given to Enoch, not as it will be given, as it has been to us with the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Enoch was saved through faith in the revealed Word of God, just like you and I are.

Then the writer turns to the thief on the cross.  Again, he lists some things about the man.  The thief believed that Jesus was the Christ.  This is true.  He repented, but he did not confess that God raised Jesus from the dead.  This last is irrelevant.  Jesus hadn’t yet been raised from the dead, so the resurrection wasn’t yet an object of faith.  And, finally, he wasn’t born of the Spirit.  We believe this is inaccurate, as we mentioned above.

Then he asks, “Can men, today, be saved like the thief on the cross.  ABSOLUTELY NOT” (his emphasis.)  So, he believes that there have been at least two different ways to be saved.

He says, “men, today, can only be saved by meeting the terms of the New Covenant,” which, according to him, “started on the Day of Pentecost.”

It might be interesting to see what the Old Testament, which was written long before Pentecost, has to say about the New Covenant.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 says,

“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH (my emphasis)  – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was an husband to them, says the LORD.  But this is the covenant which I will make with THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL (my emphasis) after those days, says the LORD:  I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be My people.  No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.

The whole section of Jeremiah 30-33 is the context in which the above portion should be read.

Ezekiel 11:19-20; 16:60-63; 37:15-28, and 39:21-29 are just some of the OT Scriptures which refer to this promise of God to the nation of Israel.

Did all of this happen at Pentecost?  Did any of it?  To the nation?  To individuals, yes, but to the nation?

It’s commonly taught that verses like these were all fulfilled when Israel returned from the Babylonian Captivity.  Again, where is the Scriptural evidence?  It certainly isn’t in Nehemiah, Ezra, Haggai or Malachi, books written during or after the Return.

There’s not a verse in the OT about the New Covenant which includes baptism as one of its “terms of pardon.”

In a final “note,” the author refers to conversions listed in the Book of Acts.  Turning his argument around, he maintains that no one who was saved said that they did not have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that they did not have to be born of water and of the Spirit, did not have to believe in the Resurrection, did not have to be immersed in water in order to be saved, and did not have to repent in order to be saved.

Except for the two references to “water,” which we’ll look at in a moment, all the other things he lists are irrelevant.  Jesus had come, unlike the time of Enoch and even in some ways unlike the thief on the cross – as we’ve noted – and so there were things about Him, like His deity and Resurrection, which are now the objects of faith.  One cannot deny them and be saved.

So, what about “water”?

The writer refers a couple of times to John 3:5, where Jesus said to Nicodemus, “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  There are a variety of viewpoints about what the Lord meant by “water.”  Our friend says that it has to be immersion in water in order to be saved.  Others says it refers to physical birth, and still others look to Ephesians 5:26, where Paul refers to the washing of water by the word.  However, Nicodemus probably never read Ephesians, and the idea of it simply referring to physical birth seems unlikely.  All Nicodemus had to go by was the Old Testament, where baptism is never mentioned.

In his listing of salvation experiences on Acts, there’s one incident to which our friend never refers.  It’s found in Acts 10:  the conversion of Cornelius, his family and several close friends.  We’ll start reading from v. 43, which tells us something of what Peter told those in the house:

“to Him [Jesus] all the prophets witness that through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sin.”  While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.  And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.  For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.  Then Peter answered and said, “Can anyone forbid water, THAT THESE SHOULD NOT BE BAPTIZED WHO HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT AS WE HAVE?” (emphasis added).

“Whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sin.”  If Peter had agreed with our friend, wouldn’t he have said, “Whoever believes in Him and is baptized in order to be saved will receive remission of sin”?

Cornelius and his family and friends were all saved without baptism, as witnessed by their receiving the Holy Spirit, which, in turn, was evidenced by their speaking in tongues and glorifying God.

News of this reached Jerusalem and created quite a stir.  The early church, being mainly Jewish, had a great deal of difficulty accepting the idea that Gentiles could be saved without coming through Judaism; perhaps none of them more-so than Peter.  That’s why he received the vision in the early verses of Acts 10.

Acts 11 records the argument that arose over what Peter had done.  He gives a complete account of what happened before and when he arrived at Cornelius’ house.  In vs. 15-17, he said,

“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?”

Notice in both these instances that Peter never asked for a “decision.”  He never told people to “pray to receive the Holy Spirit.”  He just simply told them about the Lord Jesus, and God did all the rest.  These may or may not have their place elsewhere, but they had no place here.

Unless one believes that lost people can receive the Holy Spirit, and in spite of the two or three other verses proponents of baptismal salvation use, Acts 10 forever refutes the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation.
__________

(originally published December 26, 2013.) edited.

 

March Memories: The Thief On The Cross

We’ve all heard sermons about this man and his salvation.  He’s the classic example of one being saved who could do nothing to earn it or deserve it.  He was nailed to a cross.  Just hours away from death.  He was guilty by this world’s standards, let alone heaven’s.  Yet he was saved.  There’s hope for the least and the worst.  There’s hope for you.  And me.

At the same time, there’s more to his conversion than meets the eye at first reading.  It wasn’t just some simple “accept Jesus,” with no idea of what was really going on.  In fact, this criminal puts many of us to shame with his understanding of who this One next to him was.  Granted, he didn’t start there, but he finished there.  That’s what’s important.

Let’s look at what happened.

1.  Condemnation.  Matthew and Mark both tell us that two criminals were crucified with our Lord.  Matthew tells us they were robbers.  And they joined in with the onlookers in reviling the Lord Jesus, Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32.

2.  Conviction.  Luke alone records this:  Then one of  the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.  But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds.  But this man has done nothing wrong,”  Luke 23:40, 41.

What happened?  May we suggest several things.

We can’t even begin to visualize the scene.  I admit I haven’t seen The Passion of Christ or other movies attempting to portray this event, but I know beyond any doubt that they don’t even begin to “tell it like it is.”  They can’t; we’re too far removed from that mindset, with our emphasis on “criminal rights,” and making sure they get a “fair trial.”  Such fantasies were a long ways beyond the savagery of that time.  “Special effects” may be realistic, but we know in the back of our minds that they aren’t “real.”  This was.

Executions were public, held out in the open.  We’ve no way of knowing what kind of “crowds” they might have drawn.  There were people there, though.  Matthew 27:29, 30 even speaks of those who were just passing by.  Then there were those who were “watching,” namely, the Roman soldiers, Matthew 27:36, though they were just doing their job. There were many woman, looking from afar, Matthew 27:55.  There was the apostle John, supporting Mary, the mother of our Lord, John 19:25.  Perhaps as the scene drew to its ugly end, the women came nearer the Cross, for John describes them as being close to it, John 19:25, 26.  And there were the chief priests, scribes and elders gloating over this One who had dared to question their authority and teaching, Matthew 27:41-43.  How they hated Him and His teaching.  Finally, they thought, they were done with Him!  How little did they understand of what they were doing!

Through his own agony and despair, the thief saw all this.  Both thieves saw it.  They heard the derision of the crowds shouting their insults at the Man in the center.

“You who destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself!  If you are the Son of God, come down from the Cross!”

“He saved others; Himself He cannot save!”

Devilish taunt expressing a truth far beyond those uttering it.

“If He is the King of Israel, let Him come down from the cross and we will believe Him!”

He did come down from the Cross, and they still didn’t believe Him.

“He said He trusted in God; let’s see if God will have Him!”

Even the thieves yelled at Him,

“Hey, ‘King of Israel!’  Save yourself and us!  Come on.  Get us down from here!”

As this was going on, one of the thieves began to notice something different about this Man in the middle.  Something wrong.  He was hanging there naked, just like they were.  He had been condemned, just like they had.  He was suffering, just like they were.

Still…

There was something…

What was it?

As the soldiers were driving in the spikes that would hold the Son of Man to the cross, the thief heard Him say, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing.”

“Forgive…?!”  That certainly wasn’t what he had said!

Then he saw, rather than heard. an exchange between this One and an onlooker.  After a few words from the Cross, the thief saw the man put his arm around a sobbing woman and gently lead her away….

Who was this, who was concerned about a mere woman in the midst of His own agony?  …and could forgive His tormentors?

Who WAS He?

As he came from his musing, he heard the other thief cursing and swearing,

“If you’re the Messiah, then do something!  Save Yourself and get us down from here!”

He felt a stirring of the soul.  Later men would call it “the quickening of the Spirit,” but he didn’t know anything about that.  He just know that he was suddenly sick of it all.  It was too much.  He wanted to be done with it, even if it were too late.

“Stop it!” he exclaimed to the other man.  “Don’t you fear God at all?  You’re about to die, yourself.  We’re just getting what we deserve.  But this One,” he nodded toward Jesus, “this One hasn’t done anything wrong.”

He was as sure of Jesus’ innocence as he was of his own guilt, more than even his Roman executioners knew about.  He had seen Him show compassion, pray for forgiveness – for His executioners!

He couldn’t understand anything of what was going on.  He remembered what little he’d heard from the Rabbis and others as they talked about the coming kingdom.  How they expected Him to throw off the Roman yoke and free Israel.  Yet here was the King – he knew that – here was the King, hanging on a cross just like he was.  He just knew one thing –

“Lord…”

Yes, He was Lord, the thief knew that, too, not just “Jesus of Nazareth,” not just another condemned criminal.  He was Lord.

“Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

Just remember me, that’s all I ask.  I don’t deserve even that, but “remember me,” if you will.  He didn’t understand all the nuances of what he was asking or how the kingdom would come, with its King being executed in front of him….  He just knew, somehow, this wasn’t the end.  When that happened, he knew, just to be remembered by this One would be more than enough.

Jesus looked at him.

“Today….”

The two men looked at each other.

“Truly,” said Jesus, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The robber would have been overjoyed to be remembered…”when.”  He was promised “today.”  And not just “remembered,” but would be with Him in paradise.  Again, he didn’t understand all that was involved, but it was enough.

Men have looked at this in various ways.  Some have tried to change the meaning around altogether.  They have Jesus saying, “Truly I say to you today, you will be with Me in paradise.”  But this same sentence structure occurs numerous times in the NT and even in their own translation, they have the comma before “today” or whatever word is there.  Only here do they change the meaning of what the Lord said to something entirely different.

Another man, a Reformed pastor, quoted it, “Today you will be with Me in My kingdom.”  That’s not what the Lord said, either.  It isn’t the purpose of this post to discuss what He meant, or the importance of what the Scripture actually says, as opposed to what our doctrine says it says.  It’s enough that He gave the thief on the cross what he wanted, infinitely more than he wanted.  He does that, gives us way beyond what we can ask or even think, Ephesians 2:20, 21.

Before that day was over, the soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves in order to make them die more quickly.  When the one thief got to the other side, Jesus was waiting there, to welcome him home.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day.
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.

_______________

(originally published November 23, 2013.)

NOTE to present post:  When I first published this, I received a lengthy comment attempting to rebut what I had written.  I’ve gotten a couple of such comments from this gentleman, inviting me to his blog.  I recognize that he can do that, we do live in a free country, but his viewpoint is heresy and teaches a false gospel and a false way of salvation.  I did a post in answer to his comments.  I will republish it next, as the last post in this series of reprints.  Below is a copy of what I wrote to him in response to his comments.  I hope this will prevent him from doing it again.

“To the gentleman who sent me a lengthy comment on this post:  the Reader put it into spam.  It isn’t, but I didn’t approve it because it isn’t Scriptural.  Your assertion that water baptism is essential for salvation is forever denied by Acts 10 and Peter’s defense of his actions in Acts 11.  You seem to believe that there has been more than one way of salvation, and that unsaved people can receive the Holy Spirit.
I tried to comment on your blog, but it wasn’t accepted.  I may do a post some day on your views of this matter.”

I have, in fact, done a post on his views of this matter.  It’s next.

March Memories: The 1812 Overture – and the return of Christ.

As I work on the blog, catching up on emails and posts, I’m listening to the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky.  *sigh*  Now that’s music.  Funny, this stuff used to be called “longhair.”   The “longhair” stuff today is a little different – all noise and percussion.  But then, I’m old.  What do I know?

I especially love the finale.  Always brings tears to my eyes.  All that joy and victory.

Triumph!

This time, I got to thinking about the return of Christ – the finale of present history.

I wonder what it will be like when the Lord comes back in honor, glory and VICTORY to this world which has done, and is doing, everything it can to get rid of Him.  When He ascends the throne of David in Jerusalem as KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS!  What rejoicing there will surely be among His people.  What a festive time that will be!

I know there are some who pooh-pooh the idea of “an earthly, carnal kingdom” of our Lord.  They’re quite content with the “spiritual kingdom” they envision in the Church, most of which doesn’t pay a lot of attention to Him, either.  I simply cannot understand how they can insult the Lord by calling ANY kingdom which He is over as “carnal,” regardless of where it is.

I’m sorry.  In my reading and study of the Bible, I do not see anything other than such a kingdom as has Jesus as its King, sitting of David’s throne in Jerusalem.  While it is certainly true that the Lord “rules” His people – He is, after all, LORD – that is just a dim foreshadowing of the time foretold by both Testaments when He will rule over all nations, not just in some unseen “providential” sense, but really and personally.

As the finale wound its way to its glorious end, my heart almost burst with longing for that time.

“EVEN SO, COME, LORD JESUS!’

 

March Memories: odds ‘n’ ends ‘n’ sparrows.

I’m kind of a collector of lost causes.  I’ve got a couple of plants people where I work have thrown away.  Both survived and are growing.  Then there’s the newborn pigeon on the balcony where I work.  The balcony seems to be a favorite breeding-ground for them.  Already two messes of babies this year.  [I don’t know what you call a group of pigeons, “flock,” I suppose.  Considering how dirty they are, “mess” seems like a good choice.]  This last batch consisted of two yellow fuzz-balls.  One was contentedly settled down in what passed for a nest; the other was having troubles.  I didn’t think it would make it.  It didn’t.

And…?

Got me to thinking about the time our Lord was teaching His disciples and talked about sparrows.  In Matthew 10:29, He said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?”  Luke 12:6 records it like this, “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins?”

That fifth sparrow.

A “throw-away, as it were.  A lost cause.

Yet, in both instances, the Lord said that God knew all about it.  Then, He continued, even the hairs of our head are numbered, v. 7.  Not counted – numbered.  So the next time you comb or brush your hair, you can say, “Well, there go numbers …”

Then He said, and I think it was with a tender smile, “Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

All of us are bent and broken and full of imperfections and problems.

Lost causes.

Yet, through the Lord Jesus, God is pleased to take those bits and pieces, those imperfections, that lostness, and to build Himself a dwelling, which He beautifies and glorifies with His presence.

No wonder the Psalmist, in considering the work of God in his life, said, Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it, Psalm 139:6.  Then in v. 17, he wrote, How precious are your thought to me, O God!
________________

(originally published July 12, 2013.) slightly edited.

March Memories: “The Romans Road.”

When I was a young student in a Fundamentalist Bible college, I was taught how to “soul-win.”  This mostly revolved around a “method.”  Get people to agree with four or five verses in Romans, have them repeat the prayer you recited to them, and, presto, they were saved and their names were written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  Then you gave them “assurance of salvation” with a couple of verses of Scripture – and your work was done.  You could add them to the weekly report you were required to turn in as to your visitation and outreach efforts.  It didn’t matter if they were ever baptized or joined a church or gave any evidence that God was at work in their lives; they were “saved.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being “fundamental.”  Even though the word “fundamentalist” is terribly misused by those who have no understanding of its true meaning, or interest in its origin, there are some things which are “fundamental” to Christianity and being a Christian.  And there’s nothing wrong with evangelism; it’s required of us by the Lord.  What I object to is the blatant misuse, in my opinion, of the Word of God for something so important as determining one’s eternal destiny.  This superficial way of using Scripture is the main reason, again in my opinion, for the rise of “fundamendalist-turned-atheist” websites.

And there’s certainly wrong with the verses in Romans.  However, as someone has said, “A text of Scripture taken out of context often becomes a pretext.”  So, what does “the Romans Road” say?  What do the verses which make it up really mean?

for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23 (NKJV).

This was often weakened to the idea that, “Well, yes, I’m not perfect,” in order to get the prospective “convert” to agree with it.  That’s not really the point here.  There’s so much more to it than that.  While it’s true that the word translated, “come short,” means “to miss the mark,” what “mark” is it, exactly, that we miss?

It’s easy to say that we miss the mark of the righteousness which the Law requires – and we do miss that mark badly.  Or we can go down a rabbit trail against a particular sin or social shortcoming.  But it occurred to me recently that the “mark” we miss is “the glory of God.”  After all, Romans 3:23 tells us that!

We see that thought earlier in Romans, as well, referring to early mankind:  although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, neither were thankful, Romans 1:21.  This “knowledge” wasn’t just some superficial awareness that God exists.  From the books of Genesis and Job, I believe that there was a wide-spread knowledge of God among the early inhabitants of this planet, long before Sinai and the giving of the Law.  These people “knew,” that is, were acquainted with the God of Heaven.  But they couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge Him as God, so He gave them up to their own desires.  Romans 1:18-32 is a description of the terrible things we do when God takes His hand off us.

We see this also in Revelation 16:9 of some who will go through the terrible events of the end times, but will not repent and give Him glory.

The “mark” we miss is giving God the honor, the adoration, the worship, the service that He and He alone deserves.  Not just some lame, “Well, yes, I’m not perfect.”

Because…

He is.

for the wages of sin is death, Romans 6:23.

This verse would lead into some conversation to the effect that the person knew that he would eventually die.  Revelation 20:11-15 might be brought in, with its references to hell and the second death.  This, in turn, would lead to the question, “You don’t want to go to hell, do you?”

Of course not!  No one in their right mind wants to go there, even if they don’t believe it exists.

We can’t even begin to understand all that Romans 6:23 involves.  We live in “death.”  It’s all around us.  I’m not just talking about “physical” death, even though this planet is really just one gigantic graveyard.  And as far as Revelation 20 is concerned, we have nothing with which to compare the terror and horror of that time and place.

And this doesn’t even bring in the spiritual death – the separation and alienation from God, to say nothing of condemnation – that  we all live in, apart from His grace.

We all live in and around “death.”  Dead hopes.  Dead dreams.  Dead love…, relationships…, health…, finances…, and on and on.  Death stalks throughout our land and our lives.

the wages [consequences] of sin is death.

Salvation is much more than just some relief from the consequences of our sin, like the filter on a cigarette, or “safe” sex.  It’s also more than just a fire escape from the final consequences of our sin.  It’s deliverance from the sin itself, not completely nor entirely in this life – would that it were! – but the work is begun in our conversion and continues in our sanctification, that is, as we grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

but God demonstrated His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, Romans 5:8.

Here the talk would center around how much God loves everybody.  John 3:16 would probably be quoted, as well.  Yet I find it fascinating that the early church never once mentioned the love of God in its preaching.  Indeed, there’s only one occurrence of any of the words translated, “love,” in the Book of Acts, and that’s found in 28:2, where Paul, writing of surviving a shipwreck, wrote the natives showed us no little kindness….  The word translated, “kindness,” is where we get our word “philanthropy.”

In 1 John 1:5, “the love of God” isn’t the message, 1 John 4:8 notwithstanding.

The cross of Christ was all about satisfying God’s justice, about taking care of our sin problem, not just about His love.  Truly, God does have a redemptive love for humanity, otherwise, He’d have never gone to the trouble He has in order to save it.  Individually, however, apart from the Lord Jesus, we are all under God’s wrath, John 3:36.  We are subject to His judgment.

Romans 8:39 and 1 Timothy 1:14 both tell us that the love of God is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  This is why the early church never mentioned the love of God.  Apart from the Lord Jesus, not a single one of us has any right to nor claim on the love of God.

but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ, our Lord, Romans 6:23.

Here, the “method” would be to begin to move toward getting the “convert” to “make his decision,” to get him to “pray the prayer.”  So the talk would revolve around the idea that one must “receive” a gift.  There might be some talk that we can’t earn a gift, or something like that, but the idea was to move the person toward that moment of decision.

That’s not at all what Paul was writing about!

He’s contrasting two ideas:  “death” is the result of something we do, namely, sin.  Now, not all “deaths” are the results of sin; babies die who aren’t yet capable of it.  “Death” itself, however, is the result of sin.  If Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned against God, there would be no death.  In contrast to that, “eternal life” is NOT the result of something we do, as much as some would like to make it that.  It’s something God freely gives us because of and only by His grace.  We could never earn it, deserve it, or make it.  We may only receive it by faith, as something foreign to ourselves, to which we contribute nothing.

This leads us to the last verses.

that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth, confession is made to salvation. … For “whosoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,”  Romans 10:9, 10, 13.

Here, the “soul-winner” would try to “close the sale,” as if “the customer” were doing nothing more important than buying a car or a vacuum cleaner.  The idea was to get the person to “pray to be saved.”  I even knew “soul-winners” who would begin to pray before the person did, as a means of pressuring them to pray themselves.  And “pressuring” is the right word.  This is how they understood “calling on the name of the LORD.”

Oh my, my brothers and sisters!  This “calling” isn’t just some canned repetition of a prayer someone recites for you, with no real understanding of what is involved or is supposed to be going on!  It isn’t just a prescribed number of “Hail, Marys” or “Our Fathers.”  It’s not just words on a page, or sound waves in the air.

It’s a cry for help, a call for rescue.  It’s a 911 call to Heaven.

“Lord, save me!” was Peter’s cry as he began to sink into the water, Matthew 14:28-33.  He didn’t need someone in the boat to tell him what to say.  He didn’t try to remember what some rabbi or his parents had told him as a child.  His situation told him what to say.

“Lord, save me!”

I’m not suggesting that one needs to be a scholar or theologian to be saved.  I’m simply saying that Romans 10:9, 10 and 13 themselves tell us what is involved.  And I’m not trying to put them into “steps,” the doing of which will get you saved.  But there are some things to consider.

1.  Confess the Lord Jesus.  Not just “accept” Jesus, or some such thing.  It basically means to agree with what God says about Him.  God says He is Lord.  God says the name of Jesus is above every name in heaven or on earth.  God says you can’t only have part of Jesus.  You can’t have Him as Savior without at the same time having Him as Lord.  You can’t separate what He does from who He is.  In fact, if He weren’t who He is, He couldn’t do what He does.

2.  Believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead.  This really involves everything about Jesus, from the fact that He is the Word, that He came into this world to die for sinners, and in the future, every knee will bow before Him as Lord. Having said that, the verse does focus on His death and resurrection, for it is that alone which is the basis for salvation.  Without those, there is no salvation.

3. Believes unto righteousness.  Here we’re brought face-to-face with our condition before God.  That we have indeed sinned, and pay no attention to honoring and obeying God.   That we have nothing approaching the righteousness God requires of us and we can never approach that righteousness in and of ourselves.

This shuts us up to the righteousness of Christ, which is imputed to believing sinners, which we must have if we are ever to stand before God uncondemned, Romans 4:5-8.

Conclusion:  These are just a few suggestions as to what is involved in “The Romans Road.”  There is so much more that could be said.

I’m not saying there has to be complete understanding of these things.  Who does that?  Who can do that?  And I’m not trying to discourage people from using these verses in their witnessing.  It’s just that I wish that salvation were treated as something more than “one of the great things of life.”  Have you ever heard preachers say that?  “If you miss salvation, you miss one of the great things of life”?

I have.

Oh, if you miss salvation, you miss life!
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(originally posted June 20, 2013) edited.

March Memories: Just A Piece of Wood.

Hezekiah broke in pieces the brass serpent which Moses had made; for until that day the children of Israel burned incense to it, and he called it Nehushtan (a piece of brass), 2 Kings 18:4.

Nearly 700 years (!) earlier, Moses had made this brass serpent in obedience to God’s instruction, Numbers 21:1-9.  The people had sinned and poisonous snakes had come among them as judgment.  Those who looked at this serpent of brass held aloft on a pole were healed.  In John 3:14, 15, the Lord Jesus used this incident as a picture of His own coming death and of the salvation of sinners.

By Hezekiah’s time, the brass serpent had become an object of superstition, as if it had the power to heal.  When Moses destroyed it, how do you suppose the people felt?

What do you suppose would happen some Sunday morning if a pastor, holding up a wooden cross, would stand before his people and, after announcing, “This is just a piece of wood,” would break it into pieces?  It might depend on the church, but we suspect a ripple of shock would sweep through the congregation, much like the shock when a priest tore up a picture of Pope Benedict after Benedict announced his retirement.

We’re so used to hearing about “the cross.”  But the cross itself has no more power to save than that brass serpent of old.  Even the cross on which Jesus died was “just a piece of wood.”  Other men may have died on that same piece of wood.  Their deaths held no meaning.  Why did His?  Scripture gives three reasons.

1.  The death of Jesus was a SACRIFICE.

From the very first, sin has brought death.  Even Adam and Eve were taught this.  Death had been promised them “the day” they ate of the forbidden fruit.  Yet they did not die, at least physically, that day.  Instead, animals died and Adam and Eve were clothed with their skins, Genesis 2, 3.  Further, every time an Israelite brought an animal to the altar, he put his hand on its head.  This was a symbolic confession that he deserved to die, but the sacrifice of the animal meant that he could continue to live.  So Jesus came to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, Hebrews 9:26.  We live because of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.

2.  The death of Jesus was a SATISFACTION.

God has instituted physical and moral laws which govern all life.  Breaking these laws has consequences.  If you jump off a tall building, the consequence for breaking the law of gravity is serious injury or death.  To break God’s moral law brings only death.  The soul that sins shall die, Ezekiel 18:4.  The wages of sin is death, Romans 6:23.  God’s justice is as inflexible as His love is immeasurable and must be satisfied.  God cannot and will not overlook or ignore sin.  The penalty for sin – death – must be paid and there are no exceptions.

Isaiah 53:10, 11 brings these two thoughts together.  V. 10 speaks of the offering – the sacrifice – of the Lord Jesus, and v. 11 says that God was “satisfied” with that offering.

What does this mean to you and me?

3.  The death of Jesus was a SUBSTITUTION.

2 Corinthians 5:18-21 says that Jesus took the place of those for whom He came to die.  Though sinless Himself, He took their sins as His and, dying, paid the penalty for those sins.  So completely did Jesus satisfy God’s justice that it is impossible for a single person for whom He died ever to come under condemnation for sin.  Jesus was their Substitute.

Sin will be punished.  Your sin will be punished, and mine.  Either we will be punished for them, or we must find a substitute.  The Lord Jesus came as a Substitute.  Though sinless, He took a place as a sinner, to die for sinners.  Have you taken, will you take, your place as a sinner?  Will you confess that you are guilty?  That you deserve to die?  That God would be just and fair if He punished you?  Will you turn from your sin and turn to the Lord Jesus for salvation?

Do you in this way believe on the Lord Jesus?  Do you rest in His sinless life and sacrificial death as your only hope and confidence before God?  You see, the cross is more than just a pretty piece of jewelry, or a decoration on a building.  It’s more than just a “sign.”  It’s the instrument on which Jesus died for sinners.  It is His death and His death alone which gives any hope for sinners like you and me.

Do you believe like this on the Lord Jesus?  If so, God’s Word says you have been saved from your sins, Romans 3:21-26.  If not, consider….  Are you willing to stand before God on your own, Hebrews 9:27?
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(originally published May 13, 2013.)

 

March Memories: “Look Now Toward Heaven.”

When my wife and I were first married, we started each evening to read a chapter of the Bible before we went to bed, beginning in Genesis.  We would alternate verses.  We hadn’t been doing this for very long when we came to Genesis 15.  As we were reading through this chapter, I noticed something I had never seen before.  It made me exclaim aloud, “Now, wait a minute!”  As I looked at this thought, the chapter, as well as the Bible’s teaching on faith, opened up to me in a way that was unbelievable.

One word of caution.  There’s a standard understanding of this chapter that’s pretty much universally held.  I held it myself.  In fact, I’ve never seen or heard the approach to this chapter that I now hold.  I believe that my view is right.  It’s just that every so often someone comes up with some new teaching “from Scripture” – some hare-brained idea that’s all the rage for a couple of weeks, and then fades back into the woodwork.  I’m not interested in novel ideas about the Scripture.  I agree with Paul in Romans 4:3, where he asked the question in another connection, What does the Scripture say?

..really say?

So, before you go any further in this post, I’d like for you to read Genesis 15 – yes, right now.  Close your laptop and open your Bible.  Read Genesis 15.  It’ll just take a few minutes.  Or look it up online, if you’re inclined that way.  I’m an old geezer myself and prefer books, though, obviously, I do use a computer. 🙂

I wonder how many will actually do that.

Anyway, the usual reading of this chapter concludes with the idea that Abraham goes out at night and looks at the starry heavens.  “Whoa!” he says.  “That’s a lot of stars.”

The trouble with this idea is that men HAD counted the stars, or so they thought.  The ancient Egyptians catalogued 1025 stars.  That’s not a very large posterity – not even really a good sized town.  Even as late as 1627, the German astronomer Kepler had only catalogued a little over a thousand stars.  It’s only been with the invention and improvement of the telescope that science has discovered that there are innumerable galaxies, each one with innumerable stars.  Just in passing, how did the “ignorant goat-herder” who is alleged to have written Scripture know about innumerable stars, when only a handful, relatively speaking, are visible to the naked eye?

There’s another, even more interesting, challenge to the usual understanding of the chapter.  That’s why I asked you to read it.  There are two phrases which caught my attention that long-ago night, and forever changed my conception of the chapter.  Did you notice them?

God told Abraham, “Look now toward heaven….”  Some of the later versions omit the word, “now,” but I think my interpretation is still valid.

After the conversation in v. 5, we read in v. 12, now when the Sun was going down, and in v. 17, when the Sun went down and it was dark….  My wife would have read v. 12 and I would have read v. 17.

Now, I don’t know if it was the reading of those phrases, or hearing them read out loud, or what, but they caught my attention.  They caused me to exclaim, “Now, wait a minute!”  To me, these phrases indicate that it was broad daylight when God told Abraham to look at the stars.

Now, I hear you say, “Wait a minute!”

It doesn’t make sense, does it?  The idea that God would ask someone to count stars in the daytime?

It seems to me that there are several lessons we can learn from this incident.  There are a lot of things in Scripture that don’t “make sense.”  That’s why unbelievers and skeptics have so much trouble with them.  God told Noah to build a huge boat because a flood was coming, and it have never even rained up until that time.  God told Israel to walk around Jericho for seven days, and on the seventh day they were also to yell real loudly.  What kind of warfare is that?  The Lord fed 15,000 or more people with a few sardine-sized fish and a couple slices of bread.  Pretty slim pickings.

Yet, in each case, “sense” was wrong, or at least very inadequate.

In addition, Abraham had to choose between what he could see, or what God said.  To do that, he had to go against the “science” of his day.  That’s still true.  At least here in the US, it seems that God hardly exists.  Violence and immorality are increasing.  Atheism has pretty much become the law of the land and the Bible is illegal in a good portion of our society.  As for science, no comment is needed.

But there’s more.

Abraham was a shepherd.  He’d spent a lifetime of nights under the stars.  And he could expect to spend a lot more nights under them.  But God said, “Look now….”  Abraham couldn’t look to his experiences.  God said, “Look NOW.”  He couldn’t count on his expectations.

As Christians, we can look back and see how God has blessed us.  For example, the way I met my wife involves about 7 years, four states, quitting a job, a long move, several people, a telephone book, and a phone call.  But that’s a story for another time….

We can see many times that God has been with us.  And, by His grace, we look forward to an eternity which will infinitely eclipse the things of this world.  It’s the “now” that’s the problem.

I’ve known and know people going through things I can’t even begin to imagine.  And this blog has led me to people who are also suffering.  For all these, “now” is anything but enviable.

“All” Abraham had to go on was the naked word of God.  There was no “tangible, verifiable evidence” – the kind skeptics and unbelievers are always asking for – just God and His promise.  But you see, that’s what “faith” boils down to: an absolute reliance on and trust of, God and His Word, even when everything around us says, “Why?”  Why do you think there are such attacks on the Bible?  “Faith” isn’t about us getting God to do what we want, it’s about trusting His Word and what He says He will do.

Abraham had to wait 13 years for the beginning of the fulfillment of that promise.  He did some foolish things in the meantime, things which echo today in the Middle East.  Even though Abraham was foolish, God was faithful to His promise.

For all believers, Paul wrote, the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us, Romans 8:18.

Let me encourage you, dear readers of this blog.  I don’t know anything about your “now,” but God does.  I don’t know what to say to ease your burden.  I just hope and pray that He will use these few words to encourage and bless you.

Look now toward heaven….
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(originally published March 26, 2013.)  edited.