“To Boldly Go…”

I’ve been a fan of science fiction all my life.  The adventures of John Carter on Mars from the pen of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the writings of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, the imagination of Hugo Gernsback with his Ralph 124C41, written in the early 1900s, yet foreshadowing many ideas which have actually happened.  I realize that most sf is indeed fiction and much of it has little “science” behind it.  Indeed, it’s all written from an evolutionary standpoint.  If life evolved on this planet, then no doubt it also evolved on numerous other planets, and so we have the pronouncements of a Jean Luc Picard opening the TV show “Star Trek, The Next Generation,” saying, “These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise.  Her mission is to seek out new cultures and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before….”

As for any idea of “God,” in another show, Picard, in great anger, says that mankind got ride of that superstition (his word) a long time ago.  For all his ability and ingenuity, man is still “a fool,” Psalm 14:1.

Another show has the opening line, “Space, the final frontier….

I doubt that man will ever be able to really enter the frontier of space, let alone “cross” it.  Man may have left his footprint on the moon, and yes, I believe he did, but Scripture says that the heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s, but the earth He has given to the children of men, Psalm 115:16, emphasis added.  The moon may be within our reach, and even, in some yet unforeseeable way, the solar system or parts of it, but the nearest star, not counting our own Sun, is 4 light years away. Sf shows talk about some place in space as being 3 or 4 or so light years away, as if that’s nothing – just a couple of hours or days away – but that doesn’t really show the enormous distances involved.  A light year –  the distance a ray of light travel is said to travel in a year – is a little over 4 trillion miles.  That means the nearest star is 24 trillion miles away or 39 trillion kilometers! 

I used to drive for a living and figure I drove about 600,000 miles.  Counting all the years that I’ve been driving, or was simply a passenger in a car, train or plane, perhaps I’ve traveled close to one million miles.  But even that great distance is “only” 1/1000th of a billion, which itself is “only” 1/1000th of a trillion.  So, to look at it another way, I’ve “traveled” 1/1,000,000th of 1,000,000,000,000 miles.  At that rate, I’d have to live 1,848,000 years to get to the nearest star.  In computing space travel, we’re dealing with distances which are so vast that they are nothing we can relate to.  We have no yardstick to measure them.

But space isn’t really “the final frontier” men and women face.

In my reading the other morning, I read Ecclesiastes 8:8, There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war, (KJV).

Many folks have a document that says that they served in a particular branch of the Armed Forces.  It’s their “discharge”.

Until the Lord comes back, there is no such “discharge” in the “battle” of life.

According to Hebrews 2:15, part of the reason the Lord came the first time was to release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

What “fear”?  What “bondage”?

Hebrews 9:27, And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.

There is an innate knowledge that death is not the end of everything, that there is something beyond, something Hebrews calls “judgment”.  I grant that our “modern” culture has pretty much thrown out such “outmoded” ideas as God and salvation and judgment to come.  We worship “science,” not the Savior.  We see the evidence and result of such thinking every day in the newscasts on TV.

Nevertheless, death is an irrefutable “fact of life” and Scripture tells us that it is not the end of our existence, merely the turning of a page, as it were.

Our Lord came to prepare us for that event, that change.

How did He do that?

First, He came as a Substitute.  In the Old Testament sacrificial system, the Israelite would bring an animal to the door of the Tabernacle or to the Temple.  He would place his hand on the head of that animal, thus signifying that he himself deserved to die, but the animal was taking his place.  This was only a temporary arrangement and the countless animals that died during the centuries before our Lord bore eloquent testimony that they could never take away sin, Hebrews 10:4.

Second, He came as a Sacrifice.  Hebrews 10:11 says, This Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sin forever, sat down at the right hand of God.

“One sacrifice for sin forever.”

One sacrifice.

Sin must be paid for.  Either you and I will pay for our sins with an eternity in hell, because we could never even ever pay for one sin, let alone the countless multitude we are guilty of, or someone must pay it for us.

That Someone is the Lord Jesus Christ.

His life and death are the only ones God will accept, because He is the only one whose life and death meet the requirements of a holy, righteous and just God.  His are the only ones without sin.

Those who receive Him as Lord and Savior escape final judgment for their sins because the Lord Jesus took their place as their Sacrifice.  I say, “final judgment,” because sin does have consequences.  God may forgive adultery without restoring the marriage that was destroyed by it.  He might forgive drunkenness without restoring the bodily damage that was done by it.  Sin does have consequences.  For the true believer, though he will give an account to God for the sins he committed in this life, and there might be consequences in this life, he can never be lost because of them.  Jesus took his place.

John 1:12 says, As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.  There is only one Name God will accept, only one life and death, only one way into heaven.  Contrary to a lot of modern thought, not everybody is going to a “better place.”  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me, John 14:6.

“No one.”

There is only one way into heaven and that is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Oh, friend, have you received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?  Do you trust Him as the payment for your sins?

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, Acts 16:31.

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“New Testament Christians”

This post was suggested by an article I recently read from Creation Ministries International.  This is a ministry, as its name suggests, that specializes in the defense and explanation of the opening chapters of Genesis as being authoritative, accurate and historical.  I highly recommend it and the publications it produces.  You can contact them at Creation.com.

The article refers to Christians, churches and individuals alike, who, for various reasons, downplay the importance of the Old Testament, and especially the first 11 chapters of Genesis.

Without getting into the article’s approach to the subject, may I suggest some reasons why Genesis is important and should be studied, not neglected.

1. It gives an account of the origin of the earth and its inhabitants that is quite different from the science of our day.  It simply says that in the beginning God created….  Evolutionary science tells us that things just simply happened, without rhyme or reason, and we’re lucky that a planet evolved on which life could form and we could show up.

2. Genesis tells us that it took God six days to create everything and that He “rested” on the seventh day.  Evolution requires numerous billions of years for the development of nothing into everything.  Some try to get around this by saying that Genesis’ “days” are really eons of time.  Genesis describes them as “evening” and “morning.”  If eons of time are really involved, then how did vegetation, which was created on the third day, survive without sunlight, which was created on the fourth day?

3. Genesis tells us that man was a unique and separate creation, not just a development from a lower form of animal.  Nor does it tell us, as some have taught, that God took a couple of hominids with which to form a “special relationship.”  God formed man out of the dust of the earth, not from an ancestor of apes and monkeys.

4. Without Genesis, we have no account of why this world is so messed up, or how, as Paul put it, sin entered.  Genesis tells us that man is a fallen creature, under the judgment of God and driven out from His presence.

5. Genesis gives us the foundation and background of the Gospel.  It contains the very first promise of redemption, when God told Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.  He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel,” Genesis 3:15.

There is a great deal more we could say about this, no doubt.  Simply put, Genesis is the foundation of the rest of the Bible.  Without it, we lose a great deal of what we need to understand it.

We need Genesis.

Having said that, there is another use of the term, “New Testament Christian,” a term very familiar in my own background and history.

Perhaps the majority of professing Christians believe, in one way or another, that we have to live according to the Old Testament, in particular, the Law of Moses.  They try very hard to mold New Testament believers according to an Old Testament pattern.  From this view, for example,  has come infant baptism, because Jewish male babies were circumcised, and, it is said, infant baptism and communion have replaced circumcision and the Passover.  However, circumcision and the Passover weren’t replaced by other symbols, but were fulfilled in that which they symbolized and foreshadowed.  Circumcision is fulfilled in regeneration, and the Passover was fulfilled in the death of Christ.  Baptism, believer’s baptism, the only kind commanded by our Lord and observed in the New Testament, is the believer’s profession of faith, and Communion or the Lord’s Supper, looks back to the death of Christ, not a release from Egyptian bondage.

From the view that we’re obligated to live by the Old Testament has come the idea of a “national church,” in which one is a member simply by virtue of being a citizen of that country.  Spiritual condition has nothing to do with it.  The New Testament knows of no such thing.  Salvation is a personal and individual thing, not a corporate thing.  Nor is it “familial,” that is, the infant has some sort of relationship with God simply because the parent does.  It was to one who perhaps exemplified an Old Testament relationship to God more than any other person in Scripture to whom our Lord said, “You must be born again.”

Though the term “church” is sometimes used in a general sense, its predominant use is in reference to a local group of believers in a given area.  The NT knows nothing of the monolithic religious structures which have risen since the days of the early church.

Along with the idea of a national church has come the idea of a priesthood, based on the OT idea of priesthood, in which the people of God are separated into “clergy” and “laity.”  While it is true that God has given only some men gifts and abilities to be pastors and teachers, every believer may come into the presence of God in prayer for himself and for others.  Such access isn’t limited to a certain “family” or class of believers.  There is no NT office of “priest.”

Well, then, if we’re not to live by the OT Law, does this mean that we can live as we please?

Certainly not.

While there are no instructions for animal sacrifice or any “ritual” in the worship of God, every commandment of the Ten except one is repeated in the New Testament, along with a great deal else unknown to the Old Testament.  The only commandment not repeated in the NT is the one about keeping the seventh day as Sabbath.

There is a great deal more that could be said about this.  It’s a minority viewpoint, to be sure.  Nevertheless, this is what “New Testament Christian” means:  that we live under the teachings of Christ in the New Testament, not under the rules and regulations of Moses in the Old.

“Presentation”

In this post, we’ll take a little side-trip from our study in Revelation.  It’s just something that’s been on my mind the last few days.

My wife is an excellent cook and enjoys watching TV shows about cooking.  I watch with her sometimes.  There are several shows where different professional chefs are challenged to take unusual ingredients and make them into something tasty, with other chefs who judge their efforts.  One of these judges in particular I don’t especially like because he’s always concerned about “presentation” and “texture”.  I’ve remarked to Sharon that perhaps he should go to a food bank and learn about folks who are happy just to have food on the plate and don’t worry about how it’s arranged or how it looks.

I’ve never understood the fascination with “gourmet” plates of food with a dab of this and a dollop of that arranged artistically on a plate.  That little mound of edibles in the middle of the plate always looks lonely.

Maybe it’s just me, and my palate has never been properly educated.  I spent a lot of my formative years with my grandmother.  She took in roomers and boarders to help make ends meet.  When I was there, there would be six of us around the  dinner table.  And there was plenty of food!

Meat.

Potatoes.

Vegetables.

Dessert.

Stuff that a lot of people today raise their hands in horror at the idea of eating, except maybe the vegetables.

I got to thinking about this idea of “presentation” the other day after one of my rants to my wife about this judge and it occurred to me that a great deal of what this world does and is concerned about is nothing more than “presentation.”

Advertising types call it “marketing.”

Manufacturers are concerned about “packaging.”

We used to call it “putting our best foot forward.”

am not advocating a haphazard life style of slovenliness.  There’s nothing wrong with being neat and orderly.  It’s just that there’s more to us than what people see on the outside.  Life isn’t about how the food is arranged on the plate.

When our Lord came into this world – and I’ve already seen a TV commercial for “Christmas stuff” this year – He didn’t come to fanfare and big crowds.  He didn’t come to live in a palace or to hobnob with the rich and powerful.

No, no.

He was born to a young woman in the midst of scandal and, no doubt, gossip.   I wonder sometimes what happened when it became obvious that she was with child, in a society where that wasn’t common or accepted as it is in our society.  After all, she wasn’t yet married.  Scripture tells us how she became pregnant, but the world doesn’t accept the testimony of Scripture.  Even when Jesus was an adult, though there is some discussion about what the verse means, references to His birth were thrown in His face, John 8:41.

And Joseph, His earthly father, wasn’t rich.  Some versions call him a carpenter, but the Greek word simply means a craftsman.  He worked with his hands to provide for his family.  He didn’t have a life of ease and luxury.  Neither did our Lord.

Jesus’ life was spent in relative obscurity.  Even though He had large crowds around Him for a while, when He began to talk about things more important than how the food is arranged on the plate, so to speak, people left Him, John 6:66,  and He wound up with just a handful of followers at the time of His death.

And what a death!

Executed like a common criminal, naked and alone, in one of the worst ways to die ever conceived by the twisted mind of mankind.  Granted, He rose from the dead three days later, but as far as the world is concerned, He’s still dead.

And the message He left behind for His disciples to preach!

It wasn’t about building us up.

Making us feel good about ourselves.

Being all we can be.

The message was about how messed up we are.

It was about the fact that we’re all sinners, falling short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.  It was about the fact that we’re not going to be judged by the fickle, changing standards of this world, but by the inflexible and eternal Word of God.

It was about the fact that the best we can do by ourselves, the things we might think of as being “righteous,” even our “religion,” is still vile and filthy in the sight of God, Isaiah 64:6.  It’s about the fact that even the most backward and primitive societies and cultures have a definition of “right” and “wrong,” as varied and different as those might be, but have failed even to live up to their own standards, let alone the righteous and holy standards of God.  It’s about the fact that, apart from Divine intervention, we’re all doomed to spend an eternity in hell.

It’s about the fact that God did intervene and sent His Son to do what we cannot do – be righteous and perfect in the sight of God.

And to suffer on the Cross that penalty due to our disobedience and sinfulness, that penalty that not all the “goodness” we could perform in a thousand lifetimes could even begin to pay.  In fact, it would add to the penalty because it would say that we know better than God and that we are able to please Him in and of ourselves.

The message is about the fact that those who turn from themselves, their sin and their “goodness,” and turn to the Lord Jesus, trusting who He is and what He did on the Cross for sinners, they, and they alone, are saved, that is, made righteous in God’s sight and the penalty due to their sins is paid and erased.

Life.

There’s more to it than meets the eye.

Cornelius Revisited, or, Must We Be Baptized to be Saved?

A few weeks ago, I did a post on Cornelius, the Roman centurion in Acts 10.  I told of the lady I’d worked with who believed that baptism was necessary for salvation, and who had no answer for Acts 10.  I mentioned that in all the time since then, no one who believes as she did has ever had an answer to that chapter of the Bible.

That is no longer true.  Now someone has, or so they believe.

For a while, I belonged to a Bible study group on facebook.  The subject of baptismal salvation came up and someone attempted to answer the idea that Acts 10 forever rejects the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation.  This person had several remarks.  I’ve seen him in other groups, as well, saying the same things.

First, he seems to think that Cornelius and his people speaking in tongues was no different than Balaam’s donkey talking to Balaam.  He believes that the speaking in tongues was simply God’s way of showing Peter that it was ok to preach the Gospel to Cornelius.  As for the first thing, I really don’t know how to answer such a preposterous idea, except to say that it is preposterous.  To compare Balaam’s donkey’s temporary ability to speak with the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in a fair-sized group of people is beyond preposterous.  It seems to me perilously close to blaspheming the Spirit.  As for the second idea, the vision given to Peter in the earlier part of the chapter was God’s telling him it was ok to go to Cornelius’ house.  Otherwise, Peter would never have gone to the house of a Gentile.  As it was, he had some difficulty interacting with Gentile believers even after this, Galatians 2:11, 12.

Peter certainly thought that Cornelius and his associates were saved.  In Acts 10:47, he asked, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”   He didn’t ask that these be baptized in order to be saved.  They were already saved, as proved by the presence of the Holy Spirit – unless we are to conclude that the Holy Spirit can be received by lost people, or if we are to demean and dismiss their experience as nothing more than what happened to Balaam and his donkey.

There are two or three other verses that this gentlemen and those who believe like him use.

Perhaps the most familiar is Acts 2:38 (NKJV), where this same Peter had earlier urged a Jewish audience to, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

“See,” they say, “‘Be baptized for the remission of sins.’  You have to be baptized in order to be saved.”

The main difficulty with that is that you cannot take a specific command to a specific group of people and turn it into a general command for everyone.  Peter was speaking to a specific group of people, many of whom had seen the crucifixion of Jesus with its attendant unusual occurrences.  He charged them with being guilty of the murder of Jesus.

They became convicted of their guilt and asked, “What shall WE do?” (emphasis added.)  Since they had rejected and crucified their Messiah, they were concerned with what could be done for them to obtain forgiveness.  Could they even obtain forgiveness??  They weren’t asking a general question about salvation, but a specific question about theirs.

Peter’s answer?

“Repent, and let EVERY ONE OF YOU be baptized….”  (emphasis added).  In spite of what some claim, this is not a general command.  He never said it again, and certainly not to Cornelius, whose salvation, and that of his household and friends, forever denies the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation.

In the case of Peter’s audience in Acts 2, they were to be baptized in order to identify with Jesus as Israel’s Messiah.  He had been officially rejected by the leaders of the nation, who had demanded His crucifixion.  These to whom Peter was speaking were, in effect, to reject the leaders of their nation and receive this One whom the leaders had rejected.  Baptism was the sign that they had done so.

The verse itself tells us that baptism isn’t necessary for salvation.  The word translated “for” – “eis” – is a very common preposition, occurring more than 1700 times in the New Testament.  It has a variety of meanings, only one of which is “for the purpose of.”  This is the meaning that would be required if Peter were telling his audience to be baptized “for the purpose of” receiving, or “in order to” receive, remission or forgiveness of sins.

However, the word also means, “because of.”  For example, it is used like this in Romans 4:20 (NKJV) in speaking of Abraham, he did not waver at the promise of God through [“eis” – “because of”] unbelief….  

This is the meaning of “eis” in Acts 2:38.  Peter was requiring his audience to be baptized in order to show that they had repented of their rejection of Christ, had turned to Him and had therefore received the forgiveness of sins.

This is verified in an earlier occurrence of baptism, in fact, the first in the New Testament record.  Matthew 3 is Matthew’s account of the ministry of John the Baptist.  Multitudes came to John, and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins, v. 6.

Included in the crowds coming to John were many of the Pharisees and Sadducces, v. 7.  Seeing them, he said to them, “Brood of vipers!”  Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance…,” v. 8.

 John required repentance before baptism.  So did Peter.

To say that it is baptism that brings forgiveness of sins and not repentance and faith is to deny the entire teaching of the New Testament that we are saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  To require baptism for salvation is really to say that we are saved by faith in baptism, not in the Lord Jesus.

To require baptism for salvation is to be lost.

There are other verses that are used in this erroneous teaching.

One of them is in Acts 22, where Paul is describing his conversion to the Sanhedrin.   In v. 16, he quotes Ananias as telling him, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord Jesus.”

“See,” say the proponents of baptismal salvation.  “Wash away your sins by being baptized.”

I attended some Bible studies by an elder of the Boston Church of Christ.  One evening, he baptized a young lady in the swimming pool of the house where we met.  There’s nothing wrong with using a swimming pool for baptism.  But after the young lady came up out of the water, the elder said something to the effect that her sins were now at the bottom of that pool.  I’ve referred to this elsewhere, also my reaction that I certainly didn’t want to go into THAT water!

We can say the same thing about Acts 22 that we did about Acts 2.  It’s a specific situation, not a general teaching.  Paul’s own teaching on this is instructive.  Writing to the Corinthian church and discussing reasons for the divisions in it, one of which seems to have been about who was baptized by whom, Paul wrote, I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 1 Corinthians 1:14, though he did add the household of Stephanas in v. 16.  He concluded in v. 17, for Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel,…lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.

“Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel….”

For those who believe in baptismal salvation, to preach the gospel is to baptize!

The Gospel isn’t about baptism; it’s about blood.  It’s about the Cross of Christ, on which He paid the penalty for sin and secured the salvation of all for whom He died, of all who believe on Him for salvation.

Another verse these folks really like is 1 Peter 3:20, where Noah and his family were saved by water (KJV).  The above-mentioned gentleman has used this in a couple of places I’ve seen.

Both times I’ve pointed out, apparently to no avail, that one should really read the whole verse, not just three words taken out of context.  The verse actually says, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water.  The NKJV translates it, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, IN WHICH a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water (emphasis added).  Peter is clear that THE ARK was the means of deliverance, not the Flood.  In fact, those in the water perished.  Those in the Ark – before the Flood came – were spared.  Those in the Ark didn’t get there by swimming to it and somehow getting into its closed interior after the Flood came.

In his second epistle, Peter wrote that the flood was to destroy the world of the ungodly, 2 Peter 2:5.  It had nothing to do with the salvation of Noah and his family mentioned in that same verse, except perhaps that they were saved from it by the Ark.  The Flood itself, the water, was not how they were saved.

Baptism isn’t how folks are saved, either.

In fact, requiring baptism for forgiveness of sins is to add sin, not get rid of it.  It’s sin because it denies the sufficiency of the life and death of the Lord Jesus to save sinners.  Saying that baptism is necessary for salvation is to add something to repentance and faith in the Lord.  It’s saying that we have to do something to be saved besides believe, that faith in what the Lord did isn’t enough.

This teaching is so pervasive, it’s unbelievable.  I watched a movie on Netflix about a lady who had to leave a career elsewhere and go back home because her father died.  It wasn’t even really what you could call a “religious” movie.  The gist of the movie is that the lady found out that’s where she belonged, though she did turn out to be wildly successful in her former life, as well.  The thing is, at the end of the movie, leading into the credits, this lady sang a song about going back home.  The first verse was really good, but the second verse mentioned “being baptized in the creek to wash away our sins.”

Friends, you can be baptized in a creek, in a baptistry, in a swimming pool, or in the Jordan River itself every day for a hundred years and never wash away a single sin.  In fact, you’re just adding to your sins.

Though baptism does have a place in the Christian life, it isn’t the obtaining of that life.

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!
_______________

(originally posted June 20, 2013) edited.

A Servant Girl

God’s heroes aren’t always mighty warriors.  More often than not, they’re just ordinary folks doing extraordinary things.  When all is said and done, it may not be the personality who stands in front of thousands and has a world-wide ministry who gets the “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  It may be the bed-ridden saint who prays for him.

An example of ordinary people doing extraordinary things is found in 2 Kings 5:2, 3, only two verses out of more than 31,000 in the Bible, but extraordinary for all that.

And the Syrians had gone out on raids, and had brought back captive a young girl from the land of Israel.  She waited on Namaan’s wife.  Then she said to her mistress, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria!  For he would heal him of his leprosy.”

The “master” was Namaan, a mighty and successful warrior for one of Israel’s enemies, Syria.

We’re told nothing else of this girl, probably in her teens, though we don’t know.  The Hebrew word could mean “young woman.”  Any way, what’s important isn’t her age, but her attitude.  No doubt, she had seen or heard terrible things in the forays of Syrian raiders into her homeland.  Perhaps she had seen her parents or friends or neighbors slaughtered.  Maybe, if she were a young woman, she had been taken from a family of her own.  She had been dragged into an enemy country and made a slave.  Who knows what indignities she herself might have endured.

And we’re not told what prompted her remark. Perhaps it was in the closeness of daily household activities.  Maybe his wife was lamenting his condition.  Perhaps the wife’s remark wasn’t even addressed to her, she just overheard it.  However it came about, something happened and she had to respond.

How easy it would have been for her to be vengeful, to think, “Good!  He deserves it!”

To say nothing….

But she didn’t.

She had compassion on him, and on his wife, and told of a place of cure.

An ordinary girl, doing an extraordinary thing.

What a lesson for us!

What an example of Matthew 5:44, where our Lord said, “…love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you”!

After all, isn’t that what He did with us?

Cornelius

Cornelius, a Roman centurion, is one of the most important people in the New Testament.  His conversion, along with that of his family and friends, recorded in Acts 10 and 11, was a watershed event in church history.

How so?

The early church had a really hard time accepting that Gentiles could be saved without first becoming Jews, and Peter perhaps more than most.  That’s why Peter received a special vision in Acts 10:9-16.  Three times he saw a sheet lowered from heaven, filled with all kinds of animals:  clean and unclean.  Three times he was told to rise and eat.  After all, he was “very hungry,” v. 9.  Three times, he said, “no,” that he’d never eaten an unclean animal:  no bacon, no rattlesnake, no kalimari.  Three times, he was told that what God had cleansed, he must not call unclean or common.

“What in the world?” thought Peter.

Just then, in God’s perfect timing, there was a knock at the front door, so to speak v. 17.  Three men – Gentiles – wanted to talk to Peter.  Now he understood.

Though a Roman centurion, Cornelius was what was known as a “God-fearer.”  Cf. Acts 13:16, you who fear God. These were Gentiles, like Cornelius, who had come to see the God of Israel as the true God.  They had not become “Jews” by being circumcised, but they still recognized and followed the God of Israel.

Cornelius was called a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms to the people, and prayed to God always, Acts 10:1.  For all that, he and his household still needed something.

God sent Peter to tell him of that something.

Several somethings.

1.  God acknowledged what Cornelius was doing, but it was not enough.  Lest some use these verses to say that we can be saved by our own works and doings, Peter said that there was someone else involved, vs. 34, 35.

2.  This someone else was the Lord Jesus, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power.  He then went about doing good and healing, vs. 36-39a.

3.  In spite of all the good the Lord did, they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree, v. 39b.

4.  God raised Him from the dead, vs. 40, 41.  Jesus showed Himself to selected witnesses, among them Peter, who confirmed that He did indeed rise from the dead.  There are those who teach that He only rose “spiritually,” that His body remained dead, and is preserved somewhere, but He Himself proved His bodily resurrection by appearing to His disciples, telling them to touch Him and saying, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have,” Luke 24:39.

5.  Jesus commanded His disciples to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.  To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission [forgiveness] of sins, vs. 42, 43.

Peter never got to finish his sermon.

In thinking about current practices and teaching, it strikes me that Peter never did several things we do today.

1.  He never told Cornelius to “make his decision for Christ.”
2.  He never told Cornelius to “pray to receive the Holy Spirit.”
3.  He never told Cornelius to “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins,” (even though he had indeed said that to an earlier audience, Acts 2:38).

With regard to that last “omission,” when I was just a new believer, I worked with a lady who belonged to a group who insisted that baptism was essential to salvation.  They’re still around today – I see them on facebook quite often.  Even though I had pleased the little old ladies in my grandmother’s Sunday School class because I knew that “sanctification” means “to set apart” (though it means more than that), I really didn’t know much about the Bible.  I did know the story in Acts 10; I just didn’t know where it was.  I looked and looked and finally found it.  (Didn’t have my trusty Strong’s Concordance, then. 🙂 )  When I showed Acts 10 to this lady, she had no answer, though she wouldn’t receive what it said.

Play close attention to what the Holy Spirit wanted us to know about what He sent Peter to do:

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, 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, “Can anyone forbid water, that these SHOULD NOT BE BAPTIZED WHO HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT JUST AS WE HAVE?” Acts 10:44-47, emphasis added

It seems to me that, unless one is willingly to believe that lost people can receive the Holy Spirit, the conversion of Cornelius and his family and friends puts to rest forever the false teaching that baptism is essential to becoming saved.

Having said that, it is essential for those who ARE saved – it’s their “profession of faith,” not walking an aisle or raising a hand.  It’s just never how you “get saved.”