God’s Blueprint for Believers

No doubt, there are many things that could be said about this.  The most important one is the verse which says that we’re to be conformed to the image of His Son, Romans 8:29.  Without doubt, perfect Christlikeness is the ultimate goal of our salvation, 1 John 3:2.

Paul also had something to say about it.  In 1 Timothy 1:15, 16 (NKJV), he wrote,

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.  However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. (emphasis added).

What??

How can we be like Paul?  Travelling all over his world with the Gospel, starting churches, writing a lot of the New Testament…how can we do that?

I don’t think that’s what Paul had in mind.  True, there are those today who are successful at church-planting, as well as those who claim that they, too, receive direct revelation from the Lord.  For those who plant churches, I thank the Lord that He uses people and that His Word accomplishes what He sends it out to do.  As for the others, well, I’m not the final judge on such things, but I think they are misled.

Paul wrote that he was to be “a pattern”.

We get our word “schematic” from the Greek word translated “pattern”.  A schematic shows how something’s put together so it’ll work the way the designer wanted it to. Though they’re a little different, it’s the same thing with a blueprint.

So Paul wrote that he was an example, “a pattern,” of how salvation is supposed to “work.”

How so?

  • Pattern of Great Sin. 

Paul never forgot that he started out by trying to stamp out the name of Jesus, Acts 26:9-11.  He was exceedingly enraged against those who confessed that name.

It’s probable that very few, if any, of us have gone to that extreme, but the Scripture is still true that says, …all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.

It doesn’t matter how far “short” we have fallen, either.  I was talking with a fellow and somehow we got around to the Grand Canyon.  I made the comment that it didn’t matter if you could jump 10 feet off the rim, or only one foot, you would still plunge to your death.  The fellow said he saw someone he had to meet and rushed off.

I might add to that and say that if you could take the pole a pole-jumper uses and propel yourself 20 or 25 feet from the edge, you would still die.

Compared to the holiness and righteousness of God, the Grand Canyon isn’t even a crack in the sidewalk.  You can step over that.

There are a lot of people who’ve got their “poles” all ready for the “jump”.  They’ve been baptized or joined the church or take the Eucharist (communion/mass) or any of a hundred other things that folks say can be done to get us to the other side.  Doesn’t matter.  We’re still gonna “fall short” and die.

A lot of people use the “pole” of “Well, I’m not so bad.  Look at so-and-so,” as if another sinner were the standard.  But the Lord Jesus is the standard, and He said, “I always do those things which please the Father.”  That word, “always,” condemns all of us ’cause we can’t say that.  If anyone could, as I’ve remarked before, then they could go up to the throne when they get to heaven and say, “Move over, Jesus.  Now there are two of us.”

  • Pattern of Gracious Salvation.

A lot of people believe that God must be very careful when approaching sinners about being saved.  Unless they are “willing,” God can’t do anything.  They have to take that first step, do “their part” before He can do “His part.”

Really?

How does that work with Paul?

What do you suppose would have happened if, on the morning of his trip to Damascus, some Christian had asked him if he would like to “accept Jesus”?

The last thing on Paul’s (Saul’s) mind would have been that, before he got to Damascus, he would be a disciple of that One whose very name he was trying to destroy.  He was breathing out threats and murder against Christians.  It may be that he was being convicted by the testimony of those he persecuted, but up until the second that the light struck him down, he thought he was serving God.  He wasn’t asking God to show him the right way; he thought he already had it!  Jesus didn’t come to him and ask him if he’d like to be saved.  The Holy Spirit didn’t try to “woo” him, or to “cooperate” with Saul’s will.  Saul’s “will” was to kill Christians!  That was his “decision.”  According to Acts 26:11, 12, it was while thus occupied and being exceedingly enraged against them, that the Lord appeared to him.  He didn’t even know whose brightness it was which knocked him to the ground: “Who are you, Lord?”  

Modern religion entirely misses the point on this.  Apart from the grace of God, we’re not the least bit interested in what God really says or wants.  We might have religion, or even a (great) knowledge of Scripture, like Saul.  We might talk about God, even “believe” in Him, but we don’t know nor love the God of Scripture,  or we might be strenuously opposed to Him and His Word, like Saul.  This brings us to our next point.

  • Pattern of God’s Sovereignty. 

Oh, this is where the rubber meets the road.  This is where the Word sticks in our throats.  The very idea!  That God could act like God!  I don’t know of another doctrine that makes us angrier or arouses our opposition more quickly or vehemently than the doctrine that God is sovereign in salvation.

This is already a long post, so we won’t get into the discussion of all this.  Just hear what Paul said about it in discussing his life before Christ, when he persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it: … But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace,… Galatians 1:13, 15.

It pleased God…. 

As much as modern Christianity tries to deny it, Paul didn’t take the first step…

God did.

  •  Pattern of  Grateful Service. 

From that moment on, Saul was completely different.  Eventually, he became known as Paul.  In Galatians 1:23, he wrote of his early experiences as a Christian with the churches in Judea:  that they were hearing only, He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy. 

God doesn’t call every believer to be a preacher or missionary, yet at the same time He does.  The world needs godly janitors and godly auto mechanics.  It needs people everywhere who demonstrate that this world isn’t all there is to life.  It needs godly teachers, godly politicians (no, that shouldn’t be an oxymoron).  Our Lord taught that believers are salt and light.  No matter where we are, the world needs what we have. That doesn’t mean it wants it, just needs it.

Paul was a pattern for those who believe on the Lord Jesus for everlasting life.  If the “building inspector” came around, would we be “up to code”?  Do we match the blueprint?

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The 5 Words of Bible Study

This is by no means an exhaustive look at studying the Bible.  One of the most profitable classes I had in Bible College was “Methods of Bible Study.”  Though I obviously can’t include everything I learned there, perhaps I can adapt something that is said to have been told to a reporter about how to do his job:  find the answer to these five words:  who, what, where, when and why.

It’s been claimed by some who don’t believe the Bible that you can prove anything by it.  Others teach that the Bible has to be conformed to a certain confession of faith or catechism.  These documents are the standard of what one believes, not the Bible itself.    A certain church strives for “doctrinal purity.”   There’s nothing wrong with that in itself, yet some of the worst expositions of Scripture ever heard may came from that pulpit; “doctrinally pure,” but Biblically accurate – not so much.  Still others go to the other extreme:  I know what the Bible means TO ME (emphasis added), so their view of Scripture is based on what it means to them.  It might “mean” something else, entirely different, to someone else.

The thing is, What does GOD MEAN BY IT?  Is the Bible just Silly-Putty or Play-Do, that we can form as we like?  Are verses of Scripture like Legos, which we can put together or isolate any way we choose?  The answer to both these questions is, NO.

As we go through these five words, we’re going to use two very popular verses as examples.  I see them quite often.  I don’t mean to offend or upset anyone.  I just want to know with Paul, What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3.  These are wonderful verses, full of promise and meaning, yet what exactly do they mean?  These verses are:

2 Chronicles 7:14, “if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 

Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. 

1.  Who?

Two things:  who is speaking, and who is being spoken to?  In our two verses, God is speaking and He is speaking to Israel.  This is more important than it might seem.  The Bible is a true account of all it records, but not everything it records is true.  For example, Eve heard this message:  “You will not surely die.  For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil,” Genesis 3:4.  Who is speaking?  Satan.  Eve is being spoken to, but it’s a direct contradiction of what God said.  Further, it’s wrong, or at least, incomplete.  Satan didn’t mention that if they ate of the tree, they would become powerless to do good – as God defines it, and they would become programmed, as it were, to do evil.

So, who is speaking?

2.  What is being said?

As simple as this may sound, our two examples show that it isn’t always followed.

2nd Chronicles is part of the dedication of the Temple Solomon built, and contains God’s warnings about what would happen if Israel sinned against Him and what they had to do to escape those judgments.  As needful as it may be for America to repent of her wicked ways and seek the Lord, these verses aren’t addressed to her.  America has no such promise.  As for Jeremiah, our verse follows v. 10, which refers to the seventy-year Babylonian captivity of Israel and the fact that God had something else in mind for her.  There are many verses in the New Testament for believers:  Romans 8:18-23; 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-4 to list just a few.

It is possible to make the Bible seem to contradict itself.  It doesn’t; it just can be made to seem that way.  An example of this is the on-going discussion between “free will” and “the sovereignty of God.”  There are those who take free will to the point of saying that God can’t do anything without our permission.  He must humbly consider what we want before He can do anything.  A brother recently posted that he believed that the sovereignty of God was the greatest trick Satan ever pulled on the church.  Others take the sovereignty of God to the point that we become little more than puppets or robots.  I knew a brother who would always say that he was caused to believe.  He could never say with Paul, “I know whom I have believed.”

So we need to be clear on what is being said.

3.  Where is it being said?

We’ve already mentioned the location where our two verses were spoken, but there is a broader thought here, too.  Is it in the Old Testament or the New Testament?  Keep in mind that “the church” was unknown in the Old Testament.  There are verses which are shown to refer to NT things, but the church itself wasn’t fully known until the epistles of Paul.  An example, Matthew 1:21, “He shall save His people from their sins.”  This text was part of a sermon I preached, and I made the “mistake” of mentioning that Joseph didn’t know anything about the church, so that “His people” referred to the nation of Israel.  This was in a church which believed that Ezekiel 40-48 was “fulfilled in Jesus,” so they didn’t take kindly to my statement.  In fact, I was accused of preaching two different ways of salvation.  There’s only ever been one way of salvation – faith, even in the Old Testament.  Hebrews 11 clearly shows that, to say nothing of the rest of Scripture.

The Old Testament has a great deal to teach us, but we have to remember that it wasn’t written directly TO us.

4.  When?

This, too, has two parts:  when is it said, and, in the case of prophecy, when will it be, or when was it, fulfilled?

As to when it is said, look at Luke 11:13 to see the importance of this:  our Lord said, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”  Does this mean that we have to “pray to receive the Holy Spirit”?  Do each of us have an individual Pentecost?  John 20:22 tells us that the disciples received the Holy Spirit before the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven; Pentecost was their enabling for the work Jesus gave them.  Pentecost itself is no more “repeatable” than Calvary.  People are saved by looking to and trusting that once-for-all death.  Every believer has been “gifted” by the Holy Spirit when they were saved as part of their salvation.  There is no “second blessing” to be added to that.  Indeed, believers have received many, many more than “two” blessings.

Without doubt, there is a great deal more that needs to be said on this subject.  It’s not really what this post is about – beyond seeing what the Bible says, and when.

As for prophecy, whew!  That is a difficult subject.  Part of that has to do with the fact that there is A LOT of it in Scripture.  Part of it has to do with HOW you are to interpret the Old Testament.  Is it to be taken “literally,” or is it all simply symbolic?  Books and books and books have been written on this subject, from every possible viewpoint.  We fully agree with the idea that there is symbolism in the Old Testament.  The question is, how much?  Can the 270 verses of Ezekiel 40-48, for example, with exhaustive details of a building and instructions about a priest’s haircut and whom he may or may not marry, be reduced to five words:  it’s all fulfilled in Jesus?

The thing is, if God didn’t mean what He said, why didn’t He say what He meant?

5.  Why?

Why was it said?  Because God was pleased to reveal Himself to mankind, and in particular, Israel, in the Old Testament, and to that body known as “the church” in the New Testament.  Without that revelation, we would have no way of knowing God.  We might figure out there’s some sort of “higher power” out there, but who or what that is, we’d have no way of knowing.  Life would just be meaningless chaos.  There’d be no hope at all.

This is just a very little of what could be said on the subject of Bible Study.  I hope it’s helpful.  And I encourage you to read the Bible – all the way through – and then read it again, and again, and again.  I know this is an electronic society, but I really encourage you to buy an actual Bible as a book – not an e-book, an actual book with a cover and pages, and read that.  I’ve been saved going on 50 years and I still find new things, even in the “old” parts I read over and over.  You read some of them on this blog.  For many years, just as a thought to you, I’ve made a habit of reading the Bible through and then going back and reading the New Testament again.  I recommend it.  It never gets old.

What does the Scripture say? 

May God add His blessing as you read it.

The Words of Salvation

A lady once asked me why there were so many words used in talking about salvation.  I told her that salvation was like a diamond, with many facets.  The different words used about salvation simply describe one of these various facets.

The following is adapted from a tract I’ve had for a long time.  It briefly describes several, though not all, of these words.  It was written by a man named C. D. Cole (1885-1968), a well known pastor and writer of an earlier generation.  I’ve done some editing, as indicated by [ ].

Sin has wrought awful havoc with the human race.  It has ruined every man and every part of man.  The consequences of sin are manifold, and there is an aspect of salvation for every aspect of sin.  If the sinner be viewed as in a state of [spiritual] death, then regeneration is the Bible word to  denote the impartation of [spiritual] life.  If the sinner is considered as a child of the devil, then adoption is the term which expressed the judicial act of God.  If we think of the sinner from the standpoint of his body, being mortal and having in it the germs of death by which it will be turned into a dustheap, then  glorification is that aspect of salvation in which the body will be fashioned like unto the glorious body of Christ.  If the lost person be regarded as in a state of depravity or moral defilement, sanctification is the work making him holy and pure before God.

If we think of the sinner as in a state of spiritual darkness unable to understand the gospel, then [illumination] is the Bible term describing the act of God giving light [to the soul] by which the sinner can see or understand that Christ crucified is the wisdom and power of God in the plan of salvation.  [If we think of the sinner as in a state of rebellion and defiance, then calling is the act of God by which the Holy Spirit effectually draws that sinner from the power and influence of Satan into the kingdom and authority of God’s Son.]  If the sinner be thought of as in a position of condemnation – cursed by God’s law he has violated – then justification speaks of his perfect standing before the throne of God.  [It is the other side of sanctification.  The Bible says believers are God’s handiwork, Ephesians 2:10.  Sanctification is simply the Holy Spirit making sure we look like it.]  If salvation be approached from the standpoint of the eternal purpose of God, according to which He graciously saves sinners, then election and predestination are the Bible terms which denote the choice and destiny of God’s people.

“Firstfruits”

“Firstfruits” were important in the Old Testament.  “Firstfruits” were, of course, “first fruits.”  The first apples off the tree.  The first grapes off the vine.  The first sheaf of wheat from a field of grain.  There were also “firstripe,” “firstlings,” and “firstborn.”

And God said that they were His, Exodus 23:16, 19.

This was a reminder of where they came from.  The Israelite indeed had to sow the seed, but he was dependent on God for the rain and sunshine necessary to bring the seed to fruition and then to harvest.

They were also a promise of more to come.

I’m not so much interested in the Old Testament references to them as I am to the fact that the New Testament also has some things to say about “firstfruits.”

In the order, more or less, in which they appear in the New Testament, because I haven’t worked out a “logical” sequence for them, they are:

1.  Romans 8:23, …we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, [NKJV]

Romans 8 is a chapter on the Holy Spirit and His relationship to the Christian.  The section from vs. 18-25 deal with the earnest expectation of…creation as it looks forward to the time when it, too, shall be delivered from the curse brought on it by Adam.

In Ephesians 1:13, 14, Paul wrote that the Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession,… [emphasis added].  The word translated “guarantee” means “earnest money.”  We might think of it as a down payment.  When my wife and I bought our present home, we had to put down some money as “earnest money.”  This secured to us the right to move into the house, but it also led to an obligation of  30 years of payments to the lender who financed the purchase.

Without wishing to demean the ways of God in any way, or to teach that they are comparable to the way man does things, cf. Isaiah 55:8, 9, God has only given us the beginning or “down payment” of what it will take Him eternity to reveal to us, Ephesians 2:7, the exceeding riches of His grace.  It also, if I may be so bold, obligates Him to finish the transaction.  We have the Spirit until the redemption of the purchased possession.  In other words, once God has truly saved a person and given him or her “the earnest of the Spirit,” He can never take the Spirit away or “unsave” the person.  There will be no “foreclosures” in the real estate of heaven.  (That will be because the full price has already been paid.  There’s nothing left of the debt.)

2.  Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:15, firstfruits of Achaia.

These respectively are, the beloved Epaenetus, about whom nothing else is said in the New Testament, and the household of Stephanas, who are also mentioned in 1:16 as one of the very few households Paul personally baptized, and who, Paul said in 16:15, had devoted [“addicted”, KJV] themselves to the ministry of the saints.  A good “addiction” to have.  Stephanas was also apparently Paul’s secretary in writing 1 Corinthians.

3.  1 Corinthians 15;20, 23, Christ the firstfruits of the resurrection.

In this defense of resurrection answering those who denied it, Paul asserts that Christ has indeed risen from the dead, and, furthermore, is only the “firstfruits” of it.  As the firstfruits in the Old Testament were a harbinger of things to come, so also is Christ the promise of resurrection, each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.  Death isn’t the end of everything.  It’s just the “planting” from which will spring the harvest of eternal life and blessing for those who are Christ’s, those who have “the earnest of the Spirit.”

If I were to choose the epitaph for my tombstone, it would read, “This, too, shall pass.”

4.  James 1:18, Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

I believe James is here referring to all those Old Testament verses which promise a restoration of creation, mainly by the removal of the Adamic curse.  When that happens, the OT tells us that the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as waters cover the sea, Isaiah 11:6-9. Life will also be greatly extended, so that a child will still be considered a child at 100 years old, Isaiah 65:20.

I think it does a great disservice to Christians, and removes the Old Testament from any intelligible understanding, to say that all this is “fulfilled in Jesus” and the church is “the kingdom.”  I know that many will disagree with me, and without wanting to get further into that discussion here, just let me say this.  That Jesus will indeed be instrumental in the actual fulfillment of these and similar verses should go without saying, but I believe we may also say that “the church” – believers – is “the firstfruits” of that worldwide kingdom the OT prophesies so often and so eloquently.  We are a “kind of firstfruits” of that harvest, but we’re not the whole harvest.

5.  Revelation 14:4, These  were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.

I realize there is considerable discussion about Revelation and what it all means.  What one believes about that will determine what one thinks about this verse.  As I understand Revelation, these 144,000, also see 7:1-8, are “the firstfruits” of that nationwide conversion of Israel that will take place at the Second Coming of Christ, Romans 11:25-27; Zechariah 12:10-14.

Conclusion

This world is not heaven. Nor, for that matter is it hell.  It’s just the preface, if you will, to eternity.  The blessings we have as believers, and they are without number, are nothing compared with what waits for us “over there.”  In Romans 8:18, Paul wrote, For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.  Not “to us,” as some read it, but IN US. 

IN US!

IN US!

IN US!