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True Christianity


by Owen Weber

Edited by Edit Inc.

Copyright 1988 Owen Weber

This book may not be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the author.
  

          Table of Contents

    No.                Chapter

                        Introduction
 One                 Grace
 Two                 Salvation
 Three               Newness of Life
 Four                 Pleasing God
 Five                  Learning
 Six                   Prayer
 Seven               Humility
 Eight                The Church
 Nine                 Judgment
 Ten                  The End Times

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.



Introduction

     My mother-in-law has a bookshelf filled with a collection of encyclopedias, dictionaries, and many other reference books.  I recently noticed that one of those many books was much more worn than all the others.  The spine of this paperback book was torn away, and the front cover was missing as well.  When I pulled it from the shelf, it fell into my hands in multiple pieces.  Finally, when I realized what it was, it made perfect sense.  It was a crossword puzzle dictionary, used on a daily basis by my mother-in-law since she's an avid crossword puzzle fan.  Although all the other reference books were used occasionally, this one was needed every day because it was more applicable to her everyday activities.  It was the one that applied so directly to her activities that she had worn it out.  (Yes, I did buy her a new crossword puzzle dictionary).

The Bible

     Likewise, the Bible is a collection of many books, all of which are inspired by God and worthy of our study (2 Timothy 3:16).  It's the responsibility of the individual believer to examine the scriptures daily (Acts 17:11).  We should analyze all the various types of statements it makes, and understand the audiences to whom they were addressed.  Then we must stand accountable to God for how we expect to apply the Bible's truths to our own lives (Romans 14:12).  This understanding is very important when we ask how we should live as Christians.  Is there a section of the Bible that's geared to basic truths and instructions especially for Christians?

The Epistles
 
     Yes, there's a certain subset of the books of the Bible that contain truths which are more directly applicable to our everyday lives as Christians, namely the epistles (letters), from Romans through Jude.  Whereas most of the Old Testament and the gospels (Genesis through John) were mostly directed to the Jews, Acts is a transitional book, and the Revelation largely describes future events, the epistles constitute the teaching, or doctrinal portion of the Bible for Christians.
     The epistles are a collection of letters from the apostles (mostly from Paul) to Christians in established churches.  These epistles were all written completely:  by Christians, during the Christian Age, to Christians, about other Christians, and for the benefit of Christians.  With the exception of a minimal amount of necessary historical narrative, almost every verse teaches truths and guidelines on how God expects Christians to live.  This is in contrast with the other parts of the Bible, which must be analyzed much more closely, with the proper discernment, in order to determine just how they are teaching us. The epistles are unquestionably and directly applicable to believers today, although some books, such as 1st and 2nd Timothy, contain a few instructions to specific individuals (such as Timothy), and they must be recognized and interpreted with the appropriate discernment.
     For example, most of us would agree that we're no longer required to build altars, make animal sacrifices, refrain from work on Saturdays, or execute homosexuals, as the Old Testament teaches.  To further illustrate, consider a tricky question:  Was King David a Christian?  At first thought, we might say that since he believed God's revealed word and showed evidence of his faith, we can assume that he was a Christian (even though none of us truly knows the heart of anyone else).  However, David wasn't a Christian because the church and Christianity did not even exist until after Christ ascended to heaven.  David was a Jew, and we have evidence to think that he was a believer, but to label him as a Christian is incorrect.
     With this understanding, it follows that a discussion of the priorities of the Christian life can be effectively presented through a doctrinal study of the ten percent of the Bible, which comprises the epistles.  Although, as we've already stated, the entire Bible warrants dedicated study, the outline for True Christianity was constructed by carefully studying each verse of the epistles, then categorizing each truth according to the ten major doctrines which the epistles teach, along with their associated sub-doctrines.  Then the epistles can be further understood through the light of the other ninety percent of the scriptures.
     Of course there are countless ways to organize the presentation of the doctrines of the epistles, but by the approach taken here, they seem to fall conveniently into ten major categories.  True Christianity offers a condensed systematic theology for Christians, as well as a convenient reference tool.  Except for omission of redundancy in order to save space, almost every verse of basic Christian truths and guidelines in the epistles are included or referenced in the following pages. As stated earlier, this study doesn't discount the rest of the Bible.  In fact, of course, many references are made to pertinent scriptures outside the epistles.  We are, however, simply confining our doctrinal train of thought to the subject at hand, that of living the Christian life. 
     Albert Einstein once said, "I want to know God's thoughts, . . . the rest are details . . ."  Scholars are divided on Einstein's belief in a personal God, but for believers his statement indeed reveals the intelligence of a genius.  As Christians, we should want to know God's thoughts, and all the other things in life are truly only details.  We truly hope to know God's thoughts.



Chapter One

Grace

     As a child, I loved the television show "Bonanza.”  One of my favorite episodes found the Cartwright boys launching a new livery stable business.  They soon had disagreements that resulted in Hoss and Little Joe running a livery stable on one side of town, while Adam competed against them with his own livery stable on the other side of town.  Naturally, a price war ensued, and every time one livery stable lowered its prices to draw more customers, the other one lowered its prices even more.  Finally, Little Joe had a brainstorm.  He told Hoss they should give their goods away free of charge, but that they should accept donations.  Hoss reluctantly agreed, although he didn't yet fully understand how they could make a profit, even if they did move more goods.
     The first customer arrived, selected some merchandise, and asked for the bill.  Little Joe said, "Oh, there's no charge.  Just take it."
     The confused customer asked for clarification, and Little Joe explained that their goods were free, although they accepted voluntary donations.  The customer began to leave, then almost angrily returned to the counter and threw a sum of money into the donation jar that actually exceeded the value of the goods.  As he did, he said, "I don't take something for nothing!"
     Well, of course, their business prospered in this way, but why?  Why is this a believable story, and what made this customer respond the way he did?  I believe it's an anomaly between the business world and our human nature.  When a business wants to give me something free of charge, I usually think it's a gimmick.  Sure, they'll give me a free month of phone service, but only if I agree to pay a hefty price for the rest of the year.  When an individual wants to give me something free, I usually think he wants me to be indebted to him in the future.  He'll do me a favor now, but later he'll expect a bigger one from me.
     Part of the problem here is due to the marketing tactics of the business world, but those tactics wouldn't work if not for a weakness in our human nature.  We're taught, and rightly so, that we should earn our own way without expecting other people or governments to fund our livelihood.  Most of the parents of us baby boomers lived through the Great Depression, and they passed on to us the hard lessons they learned about attaining an education and earning a living.  Indeed we understand that there are no free lunches, so we strive to be responsible and self-sufficient. 
     Although this is a noble goal, this mind set can quickly grow into an ugly pride.  We want everyone to know that we don't need anybody else.  We think that the worst thing that could happen to us would be to have to go on welfare.  So it is with our reluctance to accept grace from God, absolutely free.  We want to earn our keep, and we want everyone to recognize that we did.  However, with God, there's no other way to receive his blessings.  In truth, we're not self-sufficient. We should humbly accept our dependence upon Him.
     Why is the concept of free grace so important?  Well, throughout the history of the world, men have attempted to understand their relationships with a deity and with other people.  At the very core of every system of government, religion, or any other belief, there's always a central belief or doctrine which upholds that system.  That core doctrine then serves as a foundation to support the residual structures, or sub-doctrines, each of which must be consistent with that encompassing central doctrine.
     A prime illustration in the realm of government is the Constitution of the United States, where we weigh all decisions against that Constitution.  Some systems have used various sets of laws as their constitution while others have used either historical records of past performances of humanity, or new guidelines concerning man's deeds.
     Most systems of religious beliefs have also used some form of legal constitution in order to govern themselves with respect to their relationships with deity and mankind.  This is where Christianity is unique and where it excels above any other system of belief.  Its central doctrine is that five-letter word called "grace."  This grace still serves as a guideline to qualify our other beliefs, but in Christianity, this central belief is not a law.
     What is this thing called grace then?  If it's the pillar of the Christian faith, it would seem necessary that it be well understood by all Christians.  Indeed, we use this term liberally in hymns and phrases of worship, but do we really understand its significance?
     Grace was indeed preached fervently by the Apostle Paul as the very foundation of Christianity.  In fact, grace is the key element in every single Epistle of the New Testament, which includes evidence of authorship by Paul.  In each of those thirteen epistles, Paul begins by identifying himself as the author, then he identifies the recipients of the letter, and then he immediately proclaims grace to those recipients, "Grace to you."  In some cases he includes peace and mercy in his exhortation, but grace is always the very first word of the body of the letter.  He not only begins with grace and illustrates grace throughout his letters, but he also ends each one with a similar expression of his desire for grace to remain with those recipients, "Grace be with you."  The very gospel that Paul preached is called ". . . the gospel of God's grace" in Acts 20:24.  What then can be so critical about this concept of grace?

Giving

     We usually, both accurately and inadequately, define grace as the unmerited favor of God.  Although we can't explain grace with a single word or phrase, perhaps the best word to begin our discussion on grace is the word "giving,” since favor implies giving or imparting something to someone else.  Another commonly accepted truth in Christianity is that the Bible explains the Christian way of giving in 2 Corinthians, Chapters 8 and 9.  However, until we define grace as giving, we don't fully grasp the connection and realize that this passage of scripture defines and explains the doctrine of grace.  This discussion will attempt to clarify the doctrine of grace by analyzing the concept of grace as Paul describes it in this letter to the Church at Corinth.

2 Corinthians 8:1 - 9:15 (NIV)

     1) And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.  2) Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  3) For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.  Entirely on their own, 4) they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.  5) And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will.  6) So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part.  7) But just as you excel in everything--in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us-- see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
     8) I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.  9) For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
     10) And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so.  11) Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.  12) For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.
     13) Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14) At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, 15) as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little."  16) I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you.  17) For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative.  18) And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel.  19) What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help.  20) We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift.  21) For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.  22) In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you.  23) As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ.  24) Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it.

2 Corinthians 9:
 
     1) There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints.  2) For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action.  3) But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be.  4) For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we--not to say anything about you--would be ashamed of having been so confident.  5) So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised.  Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.  6) Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  7) Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  8) And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9) As it is written: "He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever."  10) Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.  11) You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
     12) This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.  13) Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.  14) And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.  15) Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Understanding Grace

     Paul actually introduces this passage on giving in 2 Corinthians 8:1 by saying that he wants the Corinthians to ". . . know about the grace that God has given  . . ."  Already he has verified that giving is the first word to be associated with grace since grace is given sovereignly by God, and then reflected by the churches.  In fact, the terms grace and giving can often be used interchangeably.  Paul also verifies that the context of this passage is grace and giving by explicitly naming these topics in the introductory verse, in preparation for a discussion on the subject of grace.  This is how we know that 2 Corinthians 8-9 is actually an explanation of what grace is.

Liberal Giving

     Verse two associates this giving or grace with the concept of generosity, or liberality:  ". . . their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity."  Grace is not just giving, but it's giving liberally.  This kind of giving is not made as a token gesture to a worthy cause.  This giving pours out of a person when he really cares enough to give.  It's somehow giving a lot even when you don't have a lot to give.  Grace knows no limitations.

Accountability
 
     Verse three continues to define grace for us by noting that it was given according to the givers' ability, and of their own accord:  " . . . they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.  Entirely on their own  . . ."  Not only is one accountable for his own giving, but he also makes his own decisions concerning how much to give.  Obviously you can't give something that you don't have, and you usually have some other obligations that prevent you from giving everything you own.  Grace is a conscious decision, which is approached with common sense, but more importantly, it's a personal decision.  You can't give according to "someone else's accord," and if you try this deception, then you're not giving in grace.  If you give a certain amount or percentage just because someone told you that you should, then you're probably not giving in grace.

Excited Giving

     Verse four says that the disseminator of grace is so excited about giving that he begs to participate:  " . . . they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints."  Try to imagine the Christian who likes giving so much that be begs for the opportunity to share his grace with others.  This level of commitment is only achieved by those who give "themselves first to the Lord" as described in verse five.  First one sacrifices himself, and only then his possessions.  One can't graciously give his possessions until he has given himself.

Voluntary Giving

     Paul then reveals the uniqueness of grace in verse eight by saying, "I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others."  In other words, if grace is a conscious and personal decision to give of your own accord, how can Paul, or anyone else, command grace?  If it has to be commanded, it's not grace.  If it's not an earnest and sincere decision made in love, then it's not grace, so it's really not even giving.  If someone else is driving your decision to give, then it's not of your own accord.
     This brings us back to the standard definition of grace:  unmerited favor.  If one gives without sincerity and love, then he's giving for some kind of merit or payoff.  We shouldn't give in order to satisfy some command, law, or obligation.  In fact, if we do, this isn't giving at all--it's paying.  It's a travesty to use our giving as some sort of Mafia hush money to secure God's favor.  Now we begin to see the unique quality of grace.
     Grace seems foreign to us because none of our other activities operate on grace.  When an employer pays an employee for his work, neither one is giving in grace.  They're paying each other--work for pay, and pay for work.  The employee earned the money by his work, and he deserved the money because of his prior agreement with his employer.  This is appropriate because we do not pretend that employment operates under a grace system.
     However, some activities are more deceptive.  When we contribute to an organization in order to receive a free gift, neither the contribution nor the gift is given in grace.  Certainly when we give a certain amount of money to a church because someone told us we should, we're not giving in grace; therefore, we're not giving at all.
     Grace doesn't distort the meaning of giving; rather, grace is giving, in that grace is the sovereign gift of God.  Giving is mutually exclusive from paying just as grace is mutually exclusive from merit.
     Giving in grace means giving when we don't expect anything in return.  When we give to a beggar on the street, we probably never expect to see that beggar again, so we don't expect anything in return from him in the future.
     On a recent vacation to New York City, my family and I were walking down Broadway one evening.  We passed a homeless man whom I had hardly noticed, but as we walked by, my daughter quietly gave him a kind word and handed him a few dollars.  I noticed this incident out of the corner of my eye, so I strained to hear the ensuing conversation in order to ensure her well-being.
     The homeless man looked into my daughter's eyes and said, "May you always be happy, and may all your dreams come true."
     I glanced at the man and chuckled.
     He heard me laugh, and then looked into my eyes and said, "No, I mean it!"
     Although some would say he was just using a ploy in order to get more money, I think this man understood grace, perhaps because of the misfortunes life had dealt him.  My daughter didn't have to stop and speak or give him anything.  What she gave him was a gift of grace because she knew he would probably neither repay what she gave nor ever even see her again.  He had nothing with which to repay her, except his blessing, which I'll always remember.
     However, even a situation like this can be transformed from grace into legalism by doing it in order to somehow earn points with God.  We shouldn't give in order to earn God's favor.  We should do it out of compassion for the needy rather than out of pious greed.  When children perform household chores in exchange for an allowance, neither the children nor the parents have experienced grace.  However, when they do their chores in recognition of the responsibilities, needs, and love of each family member, their actions are done in grace.
 
The Grace of Jesus Christ

     Our example of grace is seen in verse nine in the life of ". . . our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake, he became poor so that you through his poverty might become rich."  If one gives in grace, he's actually willing to become poor.  The key to grace is seen in verse ten:     " . . . not only to give but also to have the desire to do so."  Paul again speaks this as an opinion, not a command.  Then verse eleven says, "Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means."
     We've already exercised grace when we achieve the readiness to give, even before the actual giving, although we should carry through with the gift.
     A few years ago, I was working in an office where most of us workers had become fairly good friends.  When Christmas approached, one of the young women in our group (we'll call her Charlotte) was upset because she wasn't going to be able to go home for Christmas since she didn't have the money for a plane ticket.  She moved from office to office sharing her troubles and looking for a listening ear.  We each listened sympathetically, tried to cheer her up, and some of us might have even invited her to share Christmas with our own family.
     I remember when one of the men in our group (we'll call him Bill), was one of the last of us to receive word that Charlotte couldn't afford a plane ticket home for Christmas.  I'll never forget when Bill walked into Charlotte's office, reaching for his wallet, and saying, "How much do you need?"
     While the rest of us tried to be comforting, Bill used grace.  Charlotte needed money, not comfort.  Bill was willing to give, and he carried through with his gift.  Now, when I think of the grace of Jesus Christ, I think of Him showering gifts upon me from heaven and saying, "How much do you need?"

    Give Accordingly

     Verse twelve explains that if the readiness is present, then one will give    ". . . according to what one has, not according to what he does not have."  Obviously then neither can we give according to what we expect to have in the future (such as signing a pledge card based upon our expected income for the coming year).  Furthermore, we shouldn’t be overly concerned with the size of the gift, because the amount of the gift doesn't determine the grace.  If we truly give in grace, the amount will be appropriate.
 
    Give Eagerly

     In 2 Corinthians 9:2, Paul explains that grace has a zealous quality as well:  "For I know your eagerness to help . . . and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action."  In verse five, Paul refers to their ". . . generous gift, not as one grudgingly given."  A grace gift is a bountiful gift, and it's unaffected by covetousness.  Verse seven reiterates that grace is a personal decision according to what ". . . one has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."  Grace is given according to what's in one's own heart, not according to what's in someone else's heart.
     Perhaps this explains why grace is elusive to us.  We can't depend upon anyone else to make our decisions of grace for us, and we're often unwilling to make those decisions ourselves.  Grace is given cheerfully, not grudgingly or under any compulsion or pressure.  Since grace can only be exercised completely free from outside pressure, nobody should ever be pressured to give.  In fact, if giving is done under pressure, it's not really giving.
     When Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit in Acts 5:4, Peter rebuked him for not giving in grace.  Ananias's possessions belonged to him before he sold them, and the money was also his after he sold them.  It was all under his control, and it was his to use as he pleased.  If he chose to give in grace, then that was fine.  If he chose to use it in another way that was fine too. However, the sin was in using it to gain merit and then deceive others into thinking it was given in grace.  By Romans 4:4-5 and Romans 11:6, grace and works are mutually exclusive.

Sovereignty

     The final lesson on grace from this passage is found in 2 Corinthians 9:8, 14 where Paul cites that God is the one who makes grace abound in us.  In 2 Corinthians 8:1, Paul called this grace that which "God has given," so this necessitates a discussion on the sovereignty of God.
     All things come from God (James 1:17), and all things originate from God (1 Corinthians 11:12).  God does all (Colossians 1:12-17), He knows all (Colossians 2:3), He works all things in all people (1 Corinthians 12:6), He gives righteousness (Philippians 3:9), and He supplies all of our needs (Philippians 4:19).  In accordance with the definition of grace in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, He freely gives us all things (Romans 8:32, 1 Corinthians 2:12).  In fact, He not only freely bestows grace upon us (Ephesians 1:6), but he generously lavishes it upon us (Ephesians 1:8).  He "poured" the Holy Spirit upon us richly (Titus 3:6).  He gives us His mercy (Romans 9:16, 11:30, 32).  Our destiny doesn't depend upon our own deeds; rather, on what God has given to us and done for us (Romans 9:16, Titus 3:5).  God also supplies us with our spiritual gifts (Romans 12:1-21, 1 Corinthians 7:7, 12-14).
     Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 4:7, "What do you have that you did not receive?"  Then in 1 Corinthians 15:10, he says, "By the grace of God I am what I am  . . . yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me."  God owns everything, but He gives to us in grace, and He expects us to be good stewards of His gifts (Colossians 1:25), including our time (Ephesians 5:16), and to share our grace with others.

Happiness

     In Philippians 4:4-13, Paul tells us that it's only through an understanding of grace that we'll achieve the happiness and contentment that God wants for us.  We are to rejoice in God, not ourselves (Philippians 4:4).  Our peace comes from knowing that God is in charge, not us (Philippians 4:7).  Only through recognizing His sovereignty will we be content (Philippians 4:13).

Faith Rest

     The first step toward true Christian service through our understanding of grace is to realize our worthlessness (James 4:10).  Once we give God the credit for "gracing" us, we can achieve an attitude of faith rest (1 Peter 5:7), and truly ". . . not be anxious about anything" (Philippians 4:6), by relying 100% upon Him.  We must realize that ". . . the battle is the Lord's" (1 Samuel 17:47), and that He'll not allow us to be tempted with more than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).  Then we can maintain a truly relaxed mental attitude of peace and humility.  Now that is grace.
     In Matthew 6:25-33, Jesus tells us not to worry about the material details of life.  He illustrates that if God adequately cares for his other creatures, apart from their worry, then he'll surely care for us.  Concerning our material needs, he says, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33).  Knowing that God will provide all our needs, we can truly have an attitude of faith rest.

Liberty
 
     With an understanding of what grace is, we're curious about its effect on living the Christian life.  John 1:17 emphasizes the uniqueness of the Christian faith by citing that Moses brought the law, but Jesus brought grace and truth.  Christ "graced" us with freedom from the law (Galatians 2:16, 21, 3:12, 4:31, 5:1, 4, 13).  Christ fulfilled the law, and we're not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:14).  The law served its purpose as our tutor in order to teach us the grace way of life, which Christ offered (Galatians 3:24-25).
     Under the liberty of grace, we're freed from judging others, and from the judgments of others (Romans 14:2-15:2).  Under grace, all things are lawful but not all things are beneficial (1 Corinthians 6:12, 10:23-33).  The very presence of the Spirit assures us of this liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17), and one must exercise this liberty by his own free will, completely free from compulsion (Philemon 14).  In Colossians 2:16-23, Paul warns us that this liberty is opposed by legalisms such as ritualistic observance of special holy days.  How could we force others to observe such rituals under a system of grace?

License

     Unfortunately, sometimes an explanation of grace provokes those who don't understand it to say that it gives us a license to sin (Jude 4). It's impossible for such a question to come from a grace-oriented Christian.  Once a Christian is oriented toward grace, he would never think of asking such a question, nor would he ever worry about it.  When grace takes over, you do what you want to do, but what you want to do is to please God.  This is illustrated in Paul's life, where in 1 Corinthians 9:16, he says he preached because God led him to preach.  It's what he wanted to do, because he felt led under compulsion from the Holy Spirit to do it.

The Law

     Christians are freed from the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament that the Jews were required to follow as a daily way of life.  Romans 6:14 says ". . . you are not under the law, but under grace!"  Although everything exists by the grace of God, through that grace He gave the Jews the law as a way of life.  Although He manifested Himself to them by grace, He still demanded that they keep the Law as rules for their daily lives.  They were required to offer sacrifices, offerings, and tithes, to rest on Saturdays, and to obey hundreds of other moral, civil, and religious laws.  We Christians are freed from the law, and now God not only reveals Himself through grace, but he wants us to live according to grace as a way of life.
     For example, Galatians 4:10 and Colossians 2:16 illustrate this principle by showing that since we're not under the law, we no longer must refrain from all work on Saturdays, as was required of the Jews.  The law was given to make us conscious of sin (Romans 3:20), and to teach us grace (Galatians 3:24).  However, once grace is learned, the law is void because the love of Jesus fulfilled the law for us (Romans 13:10).  The Old Testament Jews obeyed God in order to receive His blessings on their lives, but we Christians obey God because He already has blessed us.
     By receiving His grace, love, and blessings, we want to obey Him, and by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, we will obey Him (Romans 7:4).  This is what is so critical about grace.  To learn grace (Galatians 3:24) and to grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18) is our first step toward pleasing God in this age, His Age of Grace.  God freed us from the law (Romans 6:14), and we're dead to the law (Romans 7:4).  Living under the law means living under a curse (Galatians 3:10), but Christ freed us from that slavery to the law (Galatians 5:1).

Legalism

     Galatians 4:9 says, "But now that you know God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?  Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?"  Here Paul clearly states that the law enslaved people, but grace has freed them from their enslavement to the law.  The law constituted ". . . weak and miserable principles," and any legalism is an expression of desire to return to that enslavement, and to deny God's grace.
     This is what Galatians 5:4 means by having ". . . fallen away from grace."  This whole passage refers to believers who accept God's grace for salvation through faith, but then try to deny grace as a way of life by returning to the enslavement of rules and laws to govern their daily lives.  Philippians 3:2-3 calls these kinds of legalists "dogs" of the "false circumcision" as opposed to those followers of Christ and His grace, which are of the true circumcision.  It's amazing how so many of us would rather try to earn our salvation instead of simply trusting God's grace (Galatians 1:6).
     Colossians 2:20-23 says, "Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belong to it, do you submit to its rules:  'Do not handle!  Do not taste!  Do not touch!'?  These are all destined to perish with use, because they're based on human commands and teachings.  Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence."  Legalism expresses a self-abasement in deceptive, man-made, physical teachings of men, but grace is the Godly, spiritual life for Christians.  We live by eternal grace, not by temporal rules.
     In 1 Corinthians 10:27-28, we see legalism contrasted with grace in an illustration concerning the violation of the law by eating meat, which had been sacrificed to idols.  Paul says that when we're invited to eat, we should eat whatever is served.  However, if a legalist objects to our actions, we should accommodate him by modifying our behavior for his sake, even though we're free to do what we want.  Grace gives us both freedom and responsibility.

Conclusions

     Grace is giving.  Giving still stands as the most accurate one-word definition of grace, and this giving needs no human external motivation.  In summary, true grace is given liberally, decisively, excitedly, personally, freely, desirably, readily, willingly, voluntarily, and cheerfully.  Grace is complete freedom, liberty, and truth.  God gives grace to us and we reflect His grace to others.
     Perhaps the most effective way to describe grace is to define what it isn't.  Grace is not merited or deserved, or given in exchange for anything else.  Grace is not paid for anything expected, and it's not owed for anything received.  In summary, grace is the unmerited, undeserved, unpaid, unexpected, unselfish, ungrudging, non-exchangeable, non-owed, non-coveted, non-compulsive, non-pressured favor of God.
     Grace relieves all pressures and stress, and it gives us happiness and a relaxed mental attitude.  The Christian life is one, which is relaxed and objective, not based upon emotions, experiences, entertainment, or fanfare.  Grace orientation will abolish our need for "How to Cope With Stress" classes.
     Through grace, one can truly be content and satisfied with himself.  No other system could establish such a personal relationship with God.  "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14).  Christians must understand grace in order to live the Christian life of submission and obedience to God.
     For years, we visited my in-laws in Corpus Christi every Thanksgiving.  We all looked forward to the point in the weekend when we would drive to Joe Cotten's for the best barbeque dinner in Texas.  However, the first time we went, I learned a lesson about grace.  When it was time to pay the bill, my father-in-law made sure he picked up the check.  He carried it protectively to the cashier, and insisted on paying the entire bill, despite my objections.  Though I felt bad about this at first, I began to understand that he felt very good about being able to treat his family to a good dinner.
     In this situation, my job was to accept his grace, not to demonstrate to him that I was financially capable of providing his daughter and grandchildren with a meal.  Once I accepted his grace, as the years passed, I even came to expect a free barbeque dinner at Joe Cotten's every Thanksgiving.  I would even climb into the car with no money in my pocket, because I had come to depend upon my father-in-law's grace.  We should likewise realize that we're not self-sufficient apart from God's grace, and that it's actually easier to depend upon Him.  With God, the only way to attain His blessings is to "take something for nothing."



Chapter Two

Salvation

     There once was a dwarf who lived contentedly beside a shallow river, and the water in the river was clean and pure.  Every evening the dwarf would wade across the river to cut firewood that he would use to cook his dinner and warm his hut.  One evening while he was cutting wood on the far side of the river, a sudden storm brought torrential rains and the dwarf sought shelter under a fallen tree.  He could only watch as the river's tranquility gave way to rage and the water spilled over its banks.  The dwarf waited for the floodwaters to recede so that he could return home, but the rains kept coming.
     Darkness came, and after many hours of suffering cold and hunger, the dwarf was startled by a giant walking up to the edge of the river.
     "What's the matter?" roared the giant.
     The dwarf replied, "I'm cold and hungry but I can't return home. If I try to swim the swirling river, I will surely drown."
     "No problem," said the giant.  "I was about to cross the river myself.  I'll gladly take you across."
     Although the cold night was coaxing the dwarf to accept the giant's offer, he was still somewhat cautious.  "Why should I believe that the river will not sweep us both to our deaths?" he asked.
     The giant, understanding the dwarf's concern, gently replied, "To me this river is small.  I can walk across it without even having to swim.  I've done it many times when the water was much higher than this."
     Though rain dripped from his face, and his stomach growled with hunger, the dwarf responded, "Why should I trust you?  How do I know I won't become your own dinner?"
     "I wouldn't hurt you," said the giant, somewhat disappointed in the distrusting dwarf.  "I'll even carry your firewood, and after you're safe at home, I'll kill a buck for your dinner while you dry and warm yourself."
     The cold but ever-prudent dwarf responded, "What will you want in return?  More than I can afford no doubt."
     "You'll owe me nothing," answered the giant.  "I would do this freely for anyone in need, as I have many times."
     Still hesitant, the dwarf made further inquiries.  "If I cross the river with you, what must I do to be saved from the river's torrents?  Though you may cross safely, I may drown without your even knowing."
     "Leave it all to me," replied the giant.  "You don't have to do anything. Just believe that I can do it all.  Just trust me.  Here, just let me lift you into my pocket.  Though I get wet, you will stay dry.  You'll get warm and you can even go to sleep if you want.  In fact that would make it easier for both of us, and I'll have you home in no time."
     The kind giant knelt down to make his pocket easily accessible for the dwarf.  Finally, the gentle giant's kindness gave way to the night's cold rain.  The dwarf agreed with the giant's plan of salvation, and he allowed the giant to lift him into his huge pocket.  He stayed warm and dry during the journey home.  When they arrived, the dwarf built a fire with the wood the giant had carried.  They both feasted on a buck the giant killed, and they remained friends forever.

Saved From Destruction

     So it is with man and God.  We know we're doomed by our raging river of sin.  We can't do anything to save ourselves.  Only God can save us.  We simply believe that he can save us, and place our trust in His saving grace.  He saves us free of charge, and then He continues to provide for us through eternity with unearned blessings.  The term "salvation" simply means being saved from destruction, and the doctrine of salvation teaches us how to be saved from an eternity of fire in hell.  This is obviously the first doctrine revealed to all new Christians.

Purpose

     God's purpose in saving sinners is that they'll learn to please Him by bearing fruit for Him and increasing in His glory and grace (Romans 7:4).  Colossians 1:10 specifies that believers are to please God and bear His fruit through good works and through increasing in the knowledge of His word.
 
By Grace

     Before we explore the other facets of salvation, let's take a deeper look at its source.  As one would expect, salvation is consistent with the preeminent doctrine of grace.  Throughout the epistles, the persistent message that salvation is a free grace gift from God is explained. Ephesians 2:5 says, "By grace you have been saved."  Also, Romans 4:4-5 and Romans 11:6 indicate that grace and works are mutually exclusive.  If one attempts to gain salvation by works, this nullifies the saving grace.
     The scriptures are also emphatic to indicate that God is the one who supplies salvation, not man.  He provides salvation in His omniscience as he purposes (Romans 9:11, 18).  We're led to repentance by His kindness (Romans 2:4).  It's His choice, not ours (Romans 11:5).  God does as He wishes (1 Corinthians 15:38).  He chose us.  We did not choose Him (Ephesians 1:4, 2 Timothy 2:10).  We are God's inheritance (Ephesians 1:18).

Election / Predestination

     Throughout the epistles, Christians are called the "elect" or the "called" (1 Corinthians 1:24-26, Galatians 1:15, 5:8, Ephesians 4:1, 4).  This establishes the doctrine of election (Jude 1).  This is consistent with the fact that God is the one who is in control. Romans 8:30 says that all Christians are predestined, called, justified, and glorified by God.  Romans 8:29 shows that God actually foreknew us in eternity past.  This wasn't just a knowledge of our future actions, but an intimate relationship between God and us.  He has adopted us as His own (Ephesians 1:5, 11), and he has approved us (1 Thessalonians 2:4).  He prepared us beforehand (Romans 9:23-24, Ephesians 2:10), and even wisdom is predetermined (1 Corinthians 2:7).  In fact, even the ungodly have their destiny predetermined (Jude 4).

Eternal Life

     Without a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we could not enter into the deeper truths of God's Word.  Most Christians understand that along with our saving comes eternal life in heaven (John 3:15-16, 2 Thessalonians 2:16) which Revelation 21:1-8, 27 describes as eternal paradise.  In fact, Hebrews 5:9 uses the phrase "eternal salvation," because it indeed ushers us into the eternal plan of God.  However, there's much more to salvation than just eternal life.  The following paragraphs illustrate exactly what happens to us when we're saved. 
 
1) Propitiation

     Because God is righteous, His wrath burns against sin, but His wrath toward us sinners was appeased by our substitute sacrifice Jesus Christ.  This satisfaction of God's wrath is called the doctrine of propitiation (1 John 4:10), and it was the blood of Christ on the cross that afforded us this blessing (Romans 3:24-26).  God can now "pass over" our sins because Jesus is our "Passover" sacrifice (1 Corinthians 5:7) just as lambs were offered by the Old Testament Jews for their Passover sacrifices.  God's wrath is now appeased toward the sins of the whole world because of the sacrificial death of Jesus.  Because His wrath toward us is now appeased through Christ (1 John 2:2), we have no condemnation for sin (John 3:17-18, Romans 8:1).  Although this doctrine is not widely understood, we should not take it lightly.  Read Psalms 51 to see David's description of the jubilation that comes from realizing that one's sins are not counted against him.

2) Expiation

     Our sins carry the penalty of spiritual death, and God in His justice demands payment of that penalty.  We need atonement for our sins, and this doctrine of atonement is called expiation (Romans 3:25).  Christ's death on the cross paid the required price for the penalty we incurred, and it extinguished our sins.  We must understand that the sins of us believers do not go unpunished.  A price had to be paid, but Christ paid it for us.
     Toward the end of the movie version of James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, Duncan Heyward and the Munro sisters were captured by Indians, and Hawkeye bravely entered the camp to try to negotiate their release.  The Indians demanded a sacrificial payment, and they declared that one of the girls must be killed.  Although Hawkeye was willing to be killed instead, Duncan Heyward overruled him and offered to die in place of the girls.  This satisfied the Indians, and so it was done.
     Likewise, Christ sacrificially paid our debt with His life, and His payment was pleasing and acceptable to God the Father.

3) Redemption

     God used this payment of Christ on the cross for our sins to actually purchase us, which brings us to the doctrine of redemption (Romans 3:24, 1 Peter 1:18-19).  In grace, God redeems us out of the slave market of sin through His forgiveness of all of our sins (Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14).  This redemption is made possible by the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19).  We also have God's continuing forgiveness of our temporal sins of the flesh through confession by 1 John 1:9.
     Slaves can be bought and sold by masters, but not by the slaves themselves.  When slavery was practiced in the United States, slaves were bought and sold only by free men.  A slave couldn't buy and sell another slave.  Slaves weren't even allowed to have money, so they had no means for buying other slaves.
     I have a ten-cent piece from the Civil War era, and it has a hole through it.  The reason for the hole is that it once belonged to a slave who had drilled a hole in it and worn it for jewelry.  This is the only way a slave was allowed to possess money.
     In Alex Haley's Roots, Chicken George became one of the first black men to gain his freedom, and many white men were unbelieving at first seeing a free black man.  Just as Chicken George was redeemed from slavery into freedom, so are we redeemed out of the slave market of sin by Christ.

4) Justification by Faith

     Once we're redeemed and forgiven, God justifies us by imparting the absolute righteousness of Jesus Christ to us (Romans 3:22), thus declaring us to be righteous in His sight.  When God looks at us, He sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which alleviates any condemnation for sin.  As stated above, God is the one who does this, and we must only accept his grace gift by faith.  The scriptures are not always easy to understand, but if there's one message that's clearly repeated throughout the epistles, it's this doctrine of justification by faith, as opposed to justification by works.
     Romans chapters three through five and Galatians chapters two  through five are dedicated to this doctrine of justification by faith, and it's explicitly stated in many more scriptures (John 3:16, Acts 16:31, Romans 1:16-17, 1 Corinthians 1:21, Galatians 2:16-20, and Ephesians 2:8-10).
     We can't begin to cover all the proof texts here, but it's worthwhile to look at a few of them in order to show the clarity of the scriptures concerning justification by faith alone.  This is a critical dividing point between various churches today, including a major point of controversy between Catholicism and Protestantism.
     Probably the most emphatic and complete verse on justification is Galatians 2:16, "A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified."  How could this possibly be any further clarified?  Romans 1:16 says that the gospel is the power of God to everyone who believes (John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 1:21).  In fact, the most common terms found in the scriptures for differentiating Christians from non-Christians are "believers" and "unbelievers," so justification by faith is even inherent by definition.
     It should also be noted that this justification by faith is in accord with the doctrine of grace (Romans 4:16, 5:2), in that even our faith comes from God (Romans 12:3, Philippians 1:29, Colossians 2:12, 2 Peter 1:1).  God is the one who justifies (Romans 8:33, 1 Corinthians 6:11).
     When my son was a senior in high school, he took a job as an assistant teacher at a day care where he taught a class of four-year-olds.  He once told me a story about one of his students, which beautifully illustrates true faith.
     On a pretty fall day, my son took the children outside to play.  Suddenly, on an otherwise calm day, they felt a stiff gust of wind against their faces.  It must have been the strongest gust of the season, loosening the excess of multicolored leaves from the huge trees in the playground.  As a steady downpour of leaves gently rained down upon them, every child and adult in the yard ceased their activities and simply enjoyed nature's autumn showcase.  The gust ended, but they all continued watching for about twenty seconds until the last leaf found its resting place.
     One girl wandered near my son, restlessly watching the trees and kicking at the ground.  Finally she said, "Could you tell Jesus to do that again?"
     That is the simple, childlike faith with which we must believe the gospel (Luke 18:17). 

5) Sanctification

     The doctrine of sanctification (Romans 6 through 8) teaches that God sets us apart as new creatures in Christ.  We have positional sanctification "in Christ" as opposed to our prior state "in Adam."  Our being "in Christ" is analogous to the state of Texas being in the union of the United States.  Although I live in Texas, I live under the federal headship "in the United States," and I'm entitled to certain rights that come with that position.  For example, the state of Texas can't violate my rights under the federal Bill of Rights.  Also, if a foreign nation declares war on the United States, they're also implicitly declaring war on all the citizens of Texas as well, because we identify with the United States.
     Likewise, as an unbeliever, I was formerly "in Adam" which meant that I was under the federal headship of Adam, and accountable for the sins that Adam and I committed.  However, when I became a believer in Christ, I was placed "in Christ" which means I can claim His sacrifice for my sins as my own, as well as the righteousness He freely bestowed upon me.
     Along with being set apart into positional sanctification, we also have experiential sanctification in our daily lives because we now have power over sin.  Although this consecration won't result in our total perfection in this life, we're assured of perfection in eternity.

6) Regeneration

     John 3:6-7 uses the phrase "born again" to speak of our regeneration in Christ.  He regenerates us into new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17) and gives us a newness of life in the Spirit (Romans 7:6) through the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).  We are now God's children (1 John 3:2), His sons (Galatians 3:26) and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:18).  He has adopted us (Romans 8:15, Ephesians 1:4-5), and he has annulled the former hardness of our hearts (Ephesians 4:18).  When we're regenerated, God gives us His Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5, 2 Corinthians 1:22, 1 John 4:13).  God pours the Holy Spirit upon us richly (Titus 3:6).  This is the third member of the trinity of the Godhead.  God the Holy Spirit actually lives eternally within us (Romans 8:9), and we are to continually be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).  In 1 Corinthians 12:13, the Bible is emphatic to note that all believers are baptized with the Holy Spirit.  Furthermore, Romans 6:4-6 assures us that through the Holy Spirit, we now have power over the flesh.

7) Spiritual Gifts

     Along with the Holy Spirit come the gifts of the Spirit, or spiritual gifts (Romans 12:1-21, 1 Corinthians 7:7, 12-14), which enable us to perform Christian ministries.  These gifts are given to us by God, just as He pleases, according to His own good pleasure (1 Corinthians 12:11, 27-31).  We are to hold these gifts in high esteem (1 Corinthians 14:1), and use them properly so as not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30).  The gifts listed in these passages probably constitute only a partial list of all gifts.  The emphasis is not on particular gifts, but on the fact that everyone has different gifts, and we should not try to conform to anybody else's expectations, or else we won't be exercising the gifts God gave us.
     The illustration in 1 Corinthians 12:16 shows that although the ear is not an eye, this doesn't mean that it's not part of the body.  We should never try to impress people or pretend that we're something that we're not.  Spiritual gifts are given by God, not developed by some human means.  It's a travesty to succumb to the pressure of an overly zealous believer who makes others feel that they should be doing all the things that he's doing.  In fact, we shouldn't even always follow the examples of Biblical characters, and try to duplicate their actions.
     Just because Paul traveled throughout the known world preaching the gospel doesn't mean that we should.  We may have a different gift.  To illustrate how absurd this practice can be, most Christians would agree that just because Abraham slept with his housekeeper doesn't mean that we should.  We must simply each do our own part as the Holy Spirit leads and enables us.  Christians are to be concerned with their own actions rather than to be critical of others.
     The controversy over spiritual gifts is widespread today.  Although many insist that all gifts are active today, the gifts of miracles, healing, and tongues were probably given solely as signs to the Jews in order to validate the apostles' teachings, to help spread Christianity, and to authorize the New Testament as Christianity replaced Judaism (1 Corinthians 13:8-10, 14:21-22).  "The perfect" in 1 Corinthians 13:10 refers to the completed New Testament Canon as the total revelation from God.  Hebrews 2:1-4 tells us that these miracle gifts were a confirmation of the apostles and their message.  They confirmed God's revelation.  These gifts were phased out as the Canon of scripture was completed in the first century, A.D., along with the gifts of knowledge, wisdom, and prophecy (1 Corinthians 13:8).
     Even in the first century church there was no single gift given to each believer, which physically verified salvation (1 Corinthians 12:30), as some claim that the gift of tongues does today.  Such claims are inconsistent with the doctrines of grace and faith.  Philippians 2:25-27 verifies that even Paul no longer possessed the gift of healing toward the end of his ministry, by showing that he was unable to heal Epaphroditus.
     Once the Canon of scripture was completed and we had a finished Bible, God no longer manifested Himself through human agents with the gifts of miracles or healing, although of course He still often produces miracles and healing through our prayer and His grace.  With the Word of God now complete in our Bible, neither does He any longer zap us with visions and dreams as he used to do occasionally in Biblical times.  By Jeremiah 23:25, men who make such claims today are called liars, and we're warned not to add in any way to God's completed revelation (Revelation 22:18-19).
     What we see today doesn't follow New Testament guidelines.  God's revelation must be presented in intelligible words (1 Corinthians 14:9).  The tongues of the New Testament were foreign languages, which were understood by those who had that particular language as their native tongue (Acts 2:4).  In the New Testament, speaking in  tongues was exercised by only one person at a time and by not more than three during one service, and not at all unless an interpreter was present to relay the message in an intelligible language (1 Corinthians 14:27).  All church services are to be conducted in a fitting and orderly way (1 Corinthians 14:40).  When we see unrestricted babbling that nobody understands, we can be sure that this is not the New Testament gift of tongues.

8) Reconciliation

     Since God’s wrath toward us has been satisfied, our sins have been forgiven and paid for, and we have been declared righteous, God is free to do another great thing for us.  Now He can give us peace by reconciling us to Himself (Colossians 1:22), and granting us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).  This is necessary in order for God to restore the earth and humanity, which have been separated from Him since the Garden of Eden.  Again, this gift of reconciliation is made possible through the blood of Christ (Romans 5:10).
     Having been reconciled by God, He also gives us a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9, Revelation 1:6).  We now have access to God the father through Jesus Christ the Son (Ephesians 2:18, Hebrews 10:19-20).  This was symbolized by the tearing of the temple veil at the point of Jesus's death on the cross (Matthew 27:51).  When Christ died, the temple veil was miraculously split by God, indicating that each believer now was his own priest, and that a mediator or intercessor is no longer necessary for communication with God, as was the case with the nation of Israel in the Old Testament.  Hebrews 10:19-20 explains that we now have confidence to enter the holy place because Christ inaugurated us through the veil by His flesh.  Now we are to draw near to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) through prayer.
     Also, the very nature of this priesthood implies privacy of the priesthood (Galatians 6:5).  This relationship is between the individual believer and God, and nobody else should try to interfere in it (Job 19:4).  This is inherently obvious by virtue of the fact that our relationship with God is a personal one.
     Upon reconciliation by God, we enter into His eternal kingdom (Colossians 1:13).  God calls us to our new position in His kingdom (1 Thessalonians 2:12), and we enter it through Christ (2 Peter 1:11).  This kingdom is one that we live in a temporal way now on earth, but it will be fully realized only when we see it in heaven.  This is not the same kingdom as the millennial kingdom where Christ will reign for 1000 years on earth from the city of Jerusalem.  This millennium will be discussed in the chapter on The End Times.
     As children of God, we're given Heavenly citizenship.  The citizenship of all believers is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).  We're not really at home here on the earth.  We're actually strangers here (Ephesians 2:12, Hebrews 11:13).  Luke 10:20 says that the names of all believers are recorded in heaven.  We are members of God's household (Ephesians 2:19), and we won't really be at home until we reach heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8).

9) Glorification

     The final facet of salvation is glorification, although we do not fully realize the glory of God while we remain in this life.  However, we have the hope of the glory of God in heaven (Romans 8:18).  This is true of all who have been justified (Romans 8:30).  We'll realize this glory when Christ returns (Colossians 3:4).
     When we think of God's glory, we should think of His bright shining light.  Our blessed hope is to realize His glory in heaven someday, where there is no need for suns or stars because He provides the light (Revelation 22:5).

10) Responsibility

     With the gift of salvation come gifts of responsibility.  As children of God, we're Lights in the World.  At salvation, we're taken from darkness (Ephesians 5:8) into the light (1 Thessalonians 5:4).  God is light, and there is no darkness in Him (1 John 1:5).  We should walk in the light and have fellowship with each other (1 John 1:7).  We're called to be lights in the world for Christ (Philippians 2:15).  Another gift of responsibility at salvation is that we're now called to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).  With this privilege comes the responsibility of any ambassador, that of mediation.  As stated above, we're now God's lights in the world (Philippians 2:15) to those who don't share our ambassadorship.  Obviously, here is where we should be witnesses to others for Christ.
     At salvation, we're given freedom from the slavery (Galatians 5:1) and curse (Galatians 3:10) of the law (Romans 6:14).  As we saw previously, Moses brought the law, but Jesus brought grace and truth (John 1:17).  We have complete liberty in Christ (Galatians 3:10, 5:1).  We're also freed from the power of the old sin nature, or the flesh (Romans 6:6).  It's annulled, and we're empowered to serve Christ according to God's will.  We're now complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10), and we should exercise our power over sin.

    Security

     To conclude this summary of salvation, we must remember our initial comments on the eternal nature of salvation, eternal life.  By definition then, we can be confident in the security of our salvation.  Our salvation can't be revoked (Romans 8:31-39, 11:29).  When one understands that salvation is performed completely by God, this eternal aspect of salvation is not difficult to accept.  God made us secure, and He'll keep us secure eternally.  Just as we're children of our natural parents, and we can't negate that physical relationship, so did we become God's children when we were born again, and we can't be "unborn" (Romans 8:26).  We're His children forever (John 10:29).  God protects us (1 Peter 1:5) in what Romans 11:29 calls an irrevocable calling.  Romans 8:38-39 says nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Assurance

     Salvation not only secures us, but it also assures us.  By 2 Corinthians 3-4, we have assurance of our salvation simply by realizing that we understand the gospel message (1 Corinthians 1:18, 2:14). The gospel is foolish to the lost, so if it's not foolish to us, then we are saved.

How Not to be Saved

     Unfortunately there are many misnomers about salvation, especially concerning how it's attained.  salvation is not attained by walking an aisle, talking to a preacher, joining a church, public profession or confession, stopping one's sinning, partaking of baptism, communion, or circumcision, calling a toll-free number, or by "doing" anything else.  Neither is it attained by more subtle misnomers such as being good, saying a prayer, "giving one's life to Jesus," making some commitment, accepting some challenge, being sincere, dedicating one's life to Christ, coming to "know Jesus," humbling oneself, making Jesus Lord of one's life, nor even believing that there is a God.
     A particularly misleading ploy is implied by the phrase, "inviting Jesus into your heart."  This is usually supported by Revelation 3:20 which says that Jesus is knocking at the door of the hearts of Christians.  Unfortunately, too often it's misinterpreted as an "invitation" of salvation to unbelievers.  This deception often misleads sincere soul-searchers into believing that some sort of physical "work" is required for salvation.  For example, some heart transplant patients have been known to ask their doctors whether the heart donor had Jesus in his heart.  Now how clear can that person's understanding of salvation be?
     Another deception is that church members are often sent on guilt trips because they haven't lined up to somebody's notion of their proper degree of involvement in the activities of the local church.  Then this issue is cleverly confused with that of salvation, and Christians then get salvation confused with works.  This results in Christians who ignorantly question their own salvation, and then try to "compensate" by increasing their involvement in church activities in which the Holy Spirit has not led them.

Conclusions

     Salvation is simply a free gift of grace from God to an undeserving sinner through his believing that Jesus is his savior.  This simply means trusting what Christ has done on the cross alone, as all that is necessary to take care of one's sin problem.  That sin is what had separated each of us from God (Romans 3:23), and condemned us to eternal damnation.  Only through our trust in Christ's atonement do we have eternal salvation.  We must avoid any illustrations, which imply that salvation is attained through some combination of faith and works.
     Salvation is the forgiveness, propitiation, reconciliation, and absolute righteousness given to us in grace by God, by means of faith in the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross, so that we can live eternally in paradise.  It's a free gift given by God to whomever he chooses to give it.  With it comes freedom, individual priesthood, access to God, heavenly citizenship, and a responsibility to be lights in the world and ambassadors for Jesus Christ.  God has justified believers by grace through faith.  He has sanctified believers into positional perfection so that He sees us as righteous as Jesus Christ.  He'll sanctify us into experiential perfection in the day that we reach glory in heaven.
     Like the helpless dwarf, we just trust in God's saving power, accept his free offer, and ride to salvation in His giant pocket.



Chapter Three

Newness of Life

     When my children were quite small, they enjoyed capturing caterpillars and waiting for them to turn into butterflies.  An amazing transformation takes place as the wormlike caterpillar encloses itself in its cocoon, and then reemerges as a beautiful winged butterfly.
     As amazing as this transformation is, it can't begin to compare to what happens to a person at the moment he believes in Jesus Christ as his savior.  Romans 5:14-15 explains that when we're born physically, we're born into lives of flesh and sin, and we have Adam as our federal headship.  Then when we're spiritually born again, we're born into a life in the spirit with Jesus as our federal headship.  Romans 7:6 calls this the newness of the spirit.
     However, this newness of the spirit constitutes a far more extensive change than the change, which occurs when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.  In our newness, we've actually become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).  We're a new creature, and the old creature has passed away.  The caterpillar only experienced a transformation from one form to another.  However, when God filled us with the newness of the spirit, He created something that wasn't previously there.  We actually became somebody new.
     This is not unlike what happened to Saul when he was being chosen as Israel's first king.  In 1 Samuel 10:6, 9, when the Spirit came upon Saul,    ". . . he changed into a different person!"  God changed his heart.  The only difference is that while the Spirit eventually left Saul in 1 Samuel 16:14, we Christians are indwelt with the Spirit forever.  We're new creatures in Christ, and what God sees when He looks at us is that new creation in His Son, rather than our old flesh.

The Flesh

     However, although we are new, our flesh is still with us, and that presents a serious problem.  We've all heard of people who struggle with split personalities.  They're constantly torn between their two completely different characters.  This is always the case for anyone who becomes a Christian.  We are brand new, but we bring along our old baggage.
     Probably the hardest thing for a new Christian is accepting the fact that when we're born again in the Spirit, we do not lose our flesh (the old sin nature).  The flesh does no good (Romans 5:18), it sins (Romans 5:20), and it's evil (Romans 5:21).  Although we're in the Spirit and not in the flesh (Romans 7:25, 8:9), the flesh still lives in us (Galatians 2:20), even though its power has been annulled.
     This was even true for the Apostle Paul.  In Romans 7:14-25, Paul says that although he doesn't understand it, he doesn't do the things he would like to do, and that he should do, but he does the things that he hates. In Romans 7:8, the sin that lived in Paul produced coveting in him.  However, since Paul was in the Spirit, it wasn't he that was doing the sinning, but the flesh that lived in him (Romans 7:17, Galatians 5:16-17).       This phenomenon makes perfect sense in light of Galatians 2:20 which says, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me," and Matthew 10:20 which says, ". . . for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you."  Before we're saved, we're in the flesh and guilty of sin, but after we're saved, we're in Christ and declared righteous (justified).  Before salvation, our sinful flesh constitutes our being, but after salvation, our regenerated spirit constitutes our being.  We were sinners in the flesh, but now we're sanctified in Christ, even though the flesh still resides in us.
     This also explains the seeming contradiction between 1 John 1:8, which says we all have sin, and 1 John 3:9 which says we won't continue to sin if we're born of God.  Although we continue to experience sin, it's really the flesh, which remains in us, which is doing the sinning.
     This new life can be compared to adopting a child.  Even though the child belongs to new parents, and it will learn the traits of those new parents, its genetic characteristics from its biological parents are still with it.  The new environment will more powerfully influence the child, but the old genetic nature will still remain.

Positional Sanctification

      In other words, when God looks at us, he sees the righteousness of Christ, which He gave us.  He doesn't see us as creatures of the flesh.  This is because of our position in Christ, and this is sometimes called positional sanctification, or positional truth, as described in Romans 6:1-7:13.  Again, this also explains 1 John 3:9 which says that no one born of God practices sin.  He can't sin.  It's the old flesh that is sinning, but we're in the spirit.  When we're in the spirit, God no longer counts our sin against us (Psalms 51), and we suffer no condemnation (John 3:17-18).

Experiential Sanctification

     The obvious question is then asked in Romans 9:19-20, "Then why does God still blame us?"  The answer is found in Galatians 2:20 where we're crucified with Christ, and it's not even we who live, but Christ lives in us.  Furthermore, our lives in the flesh must be lived by faith.  Here we have scriptural proof of our dual personality.
     This life in the flesh which must be lived by faith is sometimes called experiential sanctification as described in Romans 7:14-8:39.  "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14).  Jesus brought us grace, and through that grace, we have power over sin in our lives in the Spirit.  Although we still have a sin nature, Ephesians 4:24 proclaims that we should constantly be putting on our new self.
     Therefore, we must constantly struggle with our split personality.  We're torn between life in the Spirit and life in the flesh.  It's critical that new Christians understand this.  If they don't, they'll learn it the hard way in short order.  Christians sin, and that's all there is to it.  Any gross sin that any unbeliever can commit can be just as ably committed by any believer, and maybe worse so.  We can't think that we're above sinning just because we're Christians.
     Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have power over sin, but we're all imperfect, and we don't utilize that supernatural power as we should.  We should impress this upon new Christians, lest they be distraught when they realize that all desires for bad habits and temptations have not vanished the moment they accept Christ as their savior.
     Again, this is not a license to sin, but a realization of sin.  We must then continually pray for control over sin.  If we don't, we're each capable of rapid digression into ungodly practices rivaling any unbeliever, regardless of our current status.  If this were not the case, the epistles wouldn't have to warn us against sinning.  This situation will continue until our bodies of flesh are transformed into new bodies of glory.  Meanwhile, our sins are attributed to the flesh, and the new creation is always blameless before God.  When we put on our new self, God is glorified, and when we sin, Christ has atoned through His death, burial, and resurrection.

Perfection

     Although we sometimes don't like to admit it, we can't achieve perfection in this life on earth.  In 1 John 1:8, we see that if we try to claim perfection, we're only deceiving ourselves because we all continue to sin, and we'll continue to do so until we're ultimately glorified by God in heaven.  As we've seen, even Paul struggled with everyday sin in his life (Romans 7:15-8:1).  Paul clearly admitted his imperfection in Philippians 3:12.  Yet, Romans 9:19-20 makes it clear that we're still accountable for our own actions.

Conclusions

     Concerning the flesh and our newness of life, we must learn to differentiate between the symptoms and the disease.  The symptoms of the flesh manifest themselves through individual acts of sin, but the disease is a lack of trust in God's grace.  Believers are given the power of the Holy Spirit, and they should live by that power.  However, the flesh is still with us, although its power is annulled and we have the power through the Spirit to overcome evil.  At the same time, since nobody is perfect, we must struggle daily in our own experiences, although when God looks at us, He sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ, because we've already been sanctified into position in Christ.



Chapter Four

Pleasing God

     I was raised in a Christian family, and many of my uncles and direct ancestors were preachers.  In our zeal to uphold Christian values, we emphasized the importance of church attendance and righteous living.  However, as a child watching the world change around us, I became confused on the issue of Christian values, and on what it really meant to please God.  If you had asked me then what I had to do to please God, I probably would have recited the following four restrictions on my personal freedom:  don't drink, don't smoke, don't dance, and don't play cards.  Although each of these rules may have had some biblical basis for constituting Christian values, they also caused me to miss the mark on other very important aspects of pleasing God.
     A Christian's ambition should indeed be to please God (2 Corinthians 5:9).  We are to honor Him (1 Timothy 6:16), and give Him our thanks in order to glorify Him (2 Corinthians 4:15).  When we're properly oriented toward the concepts of grace and faith, we'll want to please Him.  "Without faith, it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6), and we're to continue to grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18).  We must study the Bible in order to find out how to please Him.  It pleases God for us to grow in faith and grace.  Also, Hebrews 13:16 tells us that doing good and sharing pleases God.  Colossians 1:10 shows that believers are to please God by bearing fruit for Him through their good works and through increasing in the knowledge of His word.  After all, we recognize a fruit tree by the type of fruit it bears.

Praise and Worship

     It pleases God when we bring Him glory and honor through praise and worship (James 5:13).  Praise and worship mean different things to different people, but I learned to praise God while driving my children to school.  When my son was in first grade and my daughter was in kindergarten, I drove them to school every day, on my way to work.  We would all climb into my little Isuzu 'Pup, along with my briefcase and their backpacks and lunches.  It was cramped, but cozy.  Every day we would play praise and worship tapes on the cassette player, praising God at the top of our lungs.  We received a few puzzled looks at stoplights from other commuters, but we surely learned how to praise God.

Love

     An obvious beginning toward doing good is to love one another (1 Corinthians 13:13).  Jesus taught that we are to love God, and love our fellow man (Matthew 22:36-40).  John taught that we are to love God as He loves us (1 John 4:16).  It pleases God when we love Him, and when we love one another as ourselves (Galatians 5:14).  This is a godly love, meaning that we're willing to pursue the well-being of others.  We simply maintain an attitude that is free of any ill will or dissent toward them.  This kind of love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8), and we are to aggressively pursue this love (1 Corinthians 14:1).
     Furthermore, we are to constantly reaffirm our love for God (2 Corinthians 2:8).  With this type of love, we can exercise true kindness.  Hebrews 13:2 says that we should be kind even to strangers because we never know when they might really be angels in disguise.  I believe I experienced this on at least one occasion.
     On a business trip in 1985, I was staying in an expensive hotel in downtown Los Angeles.  The hotel was closely monitored by security guards as well as police officers.  I was having dinner at a restaurant in the hotel, sitting at a table by myself.  Suddenly appearing before me was a homeless woman, within five feet of my table.  She was a small, middle-aged black woman with ragged clothes, uncombed hair, and a black trash bag holding her possessions.
     She looked at me and said, "Can you give me some money so I can get something to eat?"
     I'm ashamed to say how I reacted.  Although I didn't immediately consider how she had passed by the security guards and managed entrance to the hotel, I suppose I was simply startled by her presence there.
     I simply shook my head and said, "No."
     She looked at me, somewhat disappointed, and said, "Well, that's not very nice of you."
     Then she turned, walked away, and sat down at a nearby table.  As I continued eating my dinner, I became convicted that I had not acted in a godly manner toward her.  I finished my meal and approached her as I left.
     I said, "I'm sorry.  You were right.  I wasn't being very nice."
     Then I gave her enough money for dinner, and I left.  Only later did it occur to me that she should never have been there because the guards would have quickly thrown her out if they had seen her.  In fact, looking back upon this encounter, I now believe I was the only person that saw her.  I don't think anyone else in the restaurant even knew she was there.
     Was she an angel, testing whether or not I'd be kind to strangers?  Of course, I have no definitive proof that she was.  However, yes, I believe she was.  Besides being unable to explain her presence there, I believe that God put her on my mind when I subsequently studied this passage in Hebrews 13:2.  She taught me a lesson, and ever since then, I've never refused a request for money from anyone.

Spiritual Warfare

     It pleases God for us to wear His full armor (Ephesians 6:10-20, 2 Corinthians 4:4) in our constant battle against the demonic world (Ephesians 6:12).  We're His soldiers in the battle (2 Timothy 2:3-4) and we must prepare ourselves for combat.
     Our belt of truth (Ephesians 6:14) enables us to know and discern the truth, know where to find it, and teach it to others.  Our breastplate of righteousness then allows us to perform godly good works (Ephesians 6:14).  Our shoes of peace teach us that we can have peace with God through the propitiation of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 6:15).  We should wear our shield of faith in our daily walk with God by trusting Him with our burdens (Ephesians 6:16).  Through the helmet of salvation we receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 6:17).  The sword of the spirit is the Word of God, the Bible, which we must study and learn (Ephesians 6:17).  Finally, it pleases God to hear our constant prayers (Ephesians 6:18).

The Flesh

     As with any Christian truth, it's only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can please God, because "Those controlled by the sinful nature can't please God" (Romans 8:8).  Galatians 5:19-21 gives examples of deeds of the flesh, which range from anger to sexual impurity.  Romans 1:29-31 lists more examples of the works of the flesh, all of which it categorizes as unrighteousness, wickedness, evil (meanness), and approval of evil.
 
Galatians 5:19 - 21

     19) The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20) idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions  21) and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Romans 1:29 - 31

     29) They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30) slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31) they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

Immorality

     In 1 Corinthians 6:18, the Bible tells us to ". . . flee from sexual immorality" because immoral acts are sins against one's own body.  Indeed, this form of sin seems especially futile and senseless since the sinner himself is one of the victims of his own sin and its consequences.  Adultery (1 Corinthians 6:9) is often considered to be the most common act of immorality.  God has warned against adultery ever since He gave Moses the seventh commandment on Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:14).
     An adulterous act can easily find the adulterer as a victim of his own sin through guilt, deceit, unwanted pregnancy, and loss of relationships, just to name a few.  Unfortunately, the adulterer often drags others down with him, including his partner, spouse, children, friends, and the church. Also, it's revealing for us to remember that Jesus equated lustful thoughts with adultery (Matthew 5:28).

Homosexuality

     The Bible portrays homosexuality (Romans 1:27) as one of the most obscene of all immoral acts.  In the Old Testament, homosexuality was punishable by death (Leviticus 20:13), and in Romans 1:27, Paul tells us that homosexuals ". . . received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion."  The reader can decide for himself whether this is a promise of AIDS based on the homosexual act.  The sin of sensuality is also explicitly condemned in Galatians 5:19, along with any form of impurity or indecency (Romans 1:27), including everything from lustful thoughts to bestiality.
 
Pride

     It's very revealing that among the vile sins listed in Romans 1:30, we find the sin of pride as displeasing to God as any act of immorality.  Somehow pride doesn't seem so bad to us, but again God has condemned it in His written word ever since Old Testament times.  The book of Proverbs is filled with promises of blessings for the humble and curses for the proud.  "He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34).
     Pride is the insolent attitude that causes us to be haughty, boastful, and arrogant, and these attributes are all explicitly condemned in Romans 1:30.  When we're proud of our work, our children, or our friends, we tend to think that God excuses this pride from condemnation.  However, pride is never treated as a positive attribute in the Bible, except for boasting in Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:17-18).  Pride in any form is just as displeasing to God as homosexuality.

Coveting

     Coveting is wanting what other people have, often to the extent that we want to take their possessions from them.  Covetousness is a common sin today, and it has always been prevalent.  It was condemned in the Old Testament by the tenth commandment in Exodus 20:17, and in the epistles by 1 Corinthians 6:10.  We are to be satisfied with what we have (Hebrews 13:5), and believe that God will generously provide for us (Philippians 4:19).
     Coveting begins with envy, which is condemned in Romans 1:29.  We become envious of the possessions, status, or position that others have.  Then we become jealous, which is condemned in Galatians 5:20, and we lose our love for others by harboring ill will against them.  Our coveting often includes greed, which is also condemned in Romans 1:29, and we want what others have even when we already have more.  Coveting material possessions is somewhat obvious, but this subtle sin can crop up under any set of circumstances.  Coveting is particularly displeasing to God when we covet the position, recognition, or authority of others, especially in a church environment where Christians are jealous of other Christians.

Deceit

     Deceit is the mental sin that causes us to construct a lie for our own personal gain.  It's among the vile sins in Romans 1:29.  It leads to fraud (1 Corinthians 6:8), swindling (1 Corinthians 1:10), and various other forms of cheating.  It also leads to another evil listed in Romans 1:31, that of being untrustworthy.  It displeases God for us to not live up to our Christian calling of honesty.  When we start being dishonest, there is no limit to displeasing God.

Speech

     The sins we commit by what we say seem to hold a special status of contempt in the Bible, and they're particularly displeasing to God. In Proverbs 6:16-19, most of the things that God hates are due to sins of speech.  James 3:5-9 says that the tongue can be a devastating weapon.  With it, we can gossip (Romans 1:29), slander (Romans 1:30), and revile (1 Corinthians 6:10), which means to defame through abusive language.  We've all felt the pain of an insult from the lips of others, and it displeases God when we damage the reputations of others or sow discord through our speech (Proverbs 6:19).

Hate

     We would all agree that hate is a contemptuous sin, and God verifies this in Romans 1:30.  It leads to many other vile acts such as strife, competition (Romans 1:29), outbursts of anger, and fighting (Galatians 5:20).  Here God condemns any sort of enmity, dissension, or faction.  This is particularly ugly in a Christian environment.  Let us not forget that Jesus said that anger is just as bad as murder (Matthew 5:21-22), which is understandably condemned in Romans 1:29.  Furthermore, Ephesians 4:26 tells us not to let the sun go down while we're still angry.  We should get over our anger quickly, and completely forgive and forget about it.

Drunkenness

     Then there are those blatant sins that obviously displease God. Drunkenness (1 Corinthians 6:10) distorts our thinking, so how can we learn God's word and please Him without a clear mind?

Drinking
 
     Although the Bible doesn't forbid drinking, and the consumption of alcoholic beverages was widely practiced by first century Christians, the Bible very plainly forbids drunkenness.  But what does the Bible say about drinking, short of becoming drunk?
     There are three passages in the Bible that suggest abstinence from all alcoholic beverages. The first is in Proverbs 31:4-5 where "kings" are forbidden to drink because their judgment would be impaired.  In those days of monarchies, kings were the ultimate court judges, like one-man supreme courts.  The Bible said that they shouldn't drink because of the important decisions they were expected to make.  In the same way, who among us today is not responsible for decision making to some degree, and unsure when he might have to make a decision?
     The second reference is 1 Peter 4:7 which tells us that since the end is near, we should stay sober and clear-minded so that we can pray. How many drinks does it take to distort one's thinking?  Isn't the mind-altering effect of alcohol one of the major motivations for most drinking?
     The third reference is Romans 14:21, where we're charged not to drink if it offends someone else or bruises their spiritual confidence.  Although a Christian has personally searched the scriptures and decided he is not violating God's Word by drinking, he may still choose to abstain to keep a fellow Christian from stumbling, who may not have the same level of understanding. This is where one must be accountable for what he believes and how he interprets scripture.  Isn't it becoming more obvious why we must study the Bible daily?
     Again, the Bible doesn't say that Christians must not drink.  In fact, some passages even make recommendations to indulge.  Proverbs 31:6-7 says, "Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more."  Drinking can help the distraught to forget their troubles.
     Also, in 1 Timothy 5:23 Paul tells Timothy to "Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses."  Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 11:22, Paul asked the Corinthians, "Don't you have homes to eat and drink in?"  Here, he is telling the believers at Corinth that if they choose to drink, they should do it at home rather than at a church service.  Of the six passages referenced in this discussion, the former three lean toward abstinence, especially for leaders, and the latter three lean toward indulgence, especially for the distraught.
     Either way, drunkenness is forbidden (1 Corinthians 6:10, Ephesians 5:18).  If you're a Christian drinker, you probably emphasize Proverbs 31:6-7 and 1 Timothy 5:23.  If you're a Christian abstainer, you probably prefer Proverbs 31:4-5 and 1 Peter 4:7.
     The deciding factors, however, are the mind-altering effects and the long-term health risks of alcohol (Romans 12:1).  If you drink in moderation without altering your thinking capability to the extent that it affects your decision making, and your drinking doesn't present a long-term health risk, then you have not violated the scriptures.  If you experience mind-altering effects when you drink, so that your decision-making rationale is impaired, you have violated scripture.
     Regardless, you're accountable for you.  Your drinking is between you and God, and it's nobody else's business unless you seek their help (1 Timothy 4:11).  To be sure, there are many who place too much emphasis on this issue because they're not minding their own business.  Too often, the pious abstainer may be displeasing God more through his Pharisaical pride than the indulger is through his drinking.  Now that we've managed to irritate those on both sides of this issue, let's move to the next topic.

Blatant Sins

     Carousing (Galatians 5:21) simply invites trouble of various kinds.  Idolatry (Romans 1:25) insults God whether we worship a carved image or simply cling too closely to some material possession.  Sorcery (Galatians 5:20) is condemned whether in the form of magic, witchcraft, drug abuse, or demon worship.  This includes using mediums to call up spirits for any reason.  Demons have great power, but we are not to cultivate and use that power.

Subtleties

     Finally, there are those subtle sins such as disobeying our parents (Romans 1:30), which displease God as much as the blatant sins.  Also, because ". . . bad company corrupts good character" (1 Corinthians 15:33), we're told not to let peer pressure corrupt us (Ephesians 5:7), and not even to associate with immoral Christians (2 Corinthians 6:14).
     Another subtlety that displeases God is improper personal appearance.  The book of Proverbs teaches moderation in our lifestyles, and even in the clothes we wear (Proverbs 7:10).  Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 11:6 and 14 condemn long hair for men and short hair for women as forms of rebellion and disgrace, which displease God.
     Also, the Christian life is not filled with subtle chores such as hustling, talking, visiting, smiling, handshaking, emoting, or "doing" church like activities.  Rather, the Christian life is simply yielding to the power and leadership of the Holy Spirit.
 
Sins of Omission

     Perhaps the epitome of all these vile acts are the sins of being unloving and unmerciful (Romans 1:31).  These sins of omission do not seem to belong in the same list as some of the grotesque sins already mentioned, but they're there all the same.
     Possibly the biggest surprise in Romans 1:31 is the sin of being without understanding.  Isn't this the origin of all our evil deeds?  How can we please God if we don't understand His Word as well as the feelings of others?

Conclusions

     Believers are in constant warfare with Satan, his demons, and our own flesh.  In order to please God, we must know His will for us. When we learn His Word, we recognize the sins in our lives, we understand His truths, we love Him, we love others, and we don't engage in the actions, which displease God.  We can then remain pure because we love God and want to obey His Word, rather than through feeling browbeaten and guilty because of our failures.  A wise man of God once said, "I sin all I want to."  However, with the necessary spiritual maturity built into his soul through an understanding of God's Word, he supernaturally pleased God through obedience to His Word.  "Be holy in all you do" (1 Peter 1:15).



Chapter Five

Learning

     Computers are intimidating.  When I was first exposed to computers, I was afraid I'd never be able to use one.  I wanted computer skills, but I just knew that whatever was happening inside that metal box was above me.  However, when someone showed me how to use one, within two hours I felt very productive and quite at home.  Although I had only elementary skills, I was no longer afraid and intimidated.  I had used my mind to learn what I needed to get started, with some help from a friend.  As it turned out, using a computer was something I could do well.  I should never have been intimidated.  I just didn't have the knowledge I needed.  As an old farmer once told me, "It's all in knowin' how."

The Mind

     The same is true about the Christian life.  In John 14:15, Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command."  That's a little intimidating too, especially before we know what He commanded.  Of course, we must know His commandments before we can obey them, and in order to know them, we must learn them.  Obviously, we would never even have known that He made this statement if we had not learned this verse or another like it.
     We're not born with a working knowledge of the Bible, and God doesn't supernaturally zap our brains with the information he wishes to reveal to us.  Instead, He transforms us by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2).  We are to have our minds set on the Spirit (Romans 8:6), and learn what's pleasing to the Lord (Ephesians 5:17).
     He holds us responsible for knowing His wisdom (Ephesians 3:10) and understanding what His will is (Ephesians 3:18, 5:10).  It's the inner self that matters most, which Paul described as the circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29). Of ultimate importance is what's written in the heart (Romans 2:15), then these inward thoughts produce our outward actions.
     In Colossians 1:9-10 Paul asks God to fill the Colossian Christians with ". . . the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding," so that they can ". . . live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God."  We would do well to remember that it was wisdom that originally led to our salvation through faith in Christ (2 Timothy 3:15).  We are to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) because the mind is more important than the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:4, 7, 1 Timothy 4:8).  We're called to pray and sing with our minds (1 Corinthians 14:15).  Proverbs 4:7 tells us that wisdom is the most important thing.

Maturity

     It's through the training of the mind that Christians become mature believers.  Indeed, it could be argued from Ephesians 4 that the whole purpose of the church is for believers to encourage each other into spiritual maturity.  We are to ". . . grow up" (Ephesians 4:15) and mature, ". . . know Christ" (Ephesians 4:20), and ". . . be made new in the attitude of your minds" (Ephesians 4:23).  In 1 Corinthians 14:20, Paul warns us not to be like "children" in our thinking, but to be mature in our minds.  In fact, being without understanding is a serious sin (Romans 1:31).

Teaching

     Paul himself studied for three years before he came out of the wilderness to teach God's Word (Galatians 1:16-18).  He prayed that the love of the Philippian Christians would ". . . abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight." (Philippians 1:9)  In Colossia, he was ". . . teaching everyone with all wisdom" (Colossians 1:28), in order to establish firm roots in the faith, and to build them up ". . . as you were taught" (Colossians 2:7).  We are to let the word of Christ richly dwell within us, and to teach and admonish each other (Colossians 3:16).  We should develop the wisdom and discernment, which is required to enable us to confidently reject new and false doctrines (2 John 1:10).  We are to admonish one another (Romans 15:14) and gently turn people back to the truth when they stray from it (James 5:19-20).
     Perhaps we can better understand why Paul dwells on this concept of teaching and learning by realizing that it's not simply for temporal purposes alone.  Don't be deceived into thinking that God will give each Christian omniscience or complete spiritual maturity when his body is glorified and ". . . changed--in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).  Only God is omniscient, and His system of rewards precludes any thought of systematic equality in heaven.  We'll carry our spiritual maturity into heaven with us, and it will weigh heavily at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10).  Through that maturity comes the divinely good works for which we'll receive eternal rewards (2 Corinthians 5:10-11).  God in His grace has chosen to give us our temporal lives on earth, during which we are to build our spiritual maturity, and share it with others.

The Bible

     So exactly what should we study and learn in order to attain this prized spiritual maturity?  Paul told Timothy that our spiritual growth will come from God's Word, the Bible, "All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16).  The Bible is God's revelation to us, "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope!" (Romans 15:4)  "These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come" (1 Corinthians 10:11).  We are to read and study the scriptures, and use them to exhort and teach others (1 Timothy 4:13).  This is a prerequisite for any other spiritual service.  Otherwise, we wouldn't have the required knowledge for God's service.  Furthermore, and obvious from a previous discussion, one of the first things to be learned is the grace of God.

Interpretation

     Although it's easy to become dogmatic about a particular issue, and claim that our point of view is "clearly" taught in the Bible, the truth is that the Bible is very complex, it requires much study, and few principles are very "clear" without devoted study of all relevant passages.  Each Christian is accountable for his own learning and interpretation.  To unquestionably accept the views of pastors or other teachers simply on the grounds that they have had formal training, is to accept the responsibility and judgment from those ideas even if they're wrong or not properly tested.
     When someone dictates his own rules of hermeneutics (interpretation), we must remember that the term hermeneutics is a theological term which is taught in seminaries, but there are dozens of opposing, man-made sets of hermeneutical principles, and each individual must choose the correct interpretation.  Above all, believers should not be intimidated by such theological terms.  There is a place for seminary teachings and a place for theological experts, but the accountability remains with each individual believer.  Experts can be wrong, and since there are so many different opinions from the experts on many different theological issues, they indeed must be wrong much of the time.
     As an example of difficult interpretation, consider 1 Corinthians 16:2 which says, "On the first day of every week each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made."  Some may be tempted to teach that Paul is telling us to do our giving on Sunday, and others might therefore try to establish Sunday as a Christian holy day.  However, by Colossians 2:16-23, we know that there are no holy days in Christianity.  We should give at every opportunity, not just on Sundays.  The admonition in 1 Corinthians 16:2 is directed to the church at Corinth as it was to the church at Galatia (1 Corinthians 16:1), in preparation for Paul's arrival so that ". . . when I come no collections will have to be made."  To generalize this verse in order to symbolize Sunday as a model for a Christian Sabbath, and Paul as a model for pastors, is to misinterpret the scriptures.

Evangelism

     One of the things that we should teach others is the gospel message of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for the sins of the world, and belief in His sacrifice for securing eternal life (John 3:16). In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus said, "Therefore go and make disciples  . . . teaching them  . . ."  Obviously, the first step toward Christian maturity is understanding and believing the gospel.  "I believe, therefore I have spoken" (2 Corinthians 4:13).  What we believe, we pass on to others.  "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15).  How can you prepare your defense except by absorbing God's Word?  Witnessing is simply telling and explaining the truth, not pressing for a decision.
 
Family

     So who should we teach?  We're more confident if we learn from those we know and trust (2 timothy 3:14).  Obviously we're entrusted to teach all who are willing to hear (2 Corinthians 4:13), but what better place to start than in our own homes, in God's institution of the family?  Since the man is the head of his family, just as Christ is the head of the Church (Ephesians 5:22-24), husbands are charged by God to love, lead, and teach their wives (Colossians 3:18-19).  Women are charged by God to work in their homes (1 Timothy 5:14), to raise their children (1 Timothy 5:10), to be quiet in church (1 Timothy 2:11, Titus 2:5), and to be submissive to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24).  Women are to learn from their husbands at home (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Ephesians 5:23-25), and they're not to have authority over men (1 Timothy 2:12). If a woman doesn't want to accept this arrangement, she should simply choose not to get married.

Children

     Just as God told the Jews to teach their new generations (Deuteronomy 6:6-7), we're challenged to teach ours, with the primary responsibility again falling on the man of the household.  Fathers are to bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).
     This admonition applies to the family environment, which is the ultimate place for education, as well as to "formal" schooling.  When the parents delegate their teaching authority to public or private schools, the parents still hold the ultimate responsibility for the education of their own children.  Parents are accountable for their children as well as themselves.  Rather than blame the children or their schoolteachers when the child's education is inadequate, parents should simply find another school or another means of education such as home schooling or tutoring.  Even when the children are in a good school, the Bible calls for continued teaching of the children at home by the parents, to which the formal teaching is only a supplement.
     Children are to obey their parents (Colossians 3:20-21) and learn from them.  If spiritual truths are not propagated, they're lost.  No wonder the epistles are filled with the kinds of words that involve mental activities such as mind, heart, know, understand, think, repent, believe, faith, love, and glorify.  Each of these words refers to our mentality, such as Romans 10:10 where we believe with our hearts (our minds).  These words alone are used more than 1000 times in the epistles.  Let us not therefore underestimate the importance of renewing our minds through the learning of Bible truths.  Indeed, before we can love God, we will obey His commandments, and before we can obey Him, we must learn His Word.

Conclusions

     Truly, if we love God, we'll obey His commandments (John 14:15), but how can we obey if we don't study His word and discern His will for us?  It's each believer’s primary responsibility to study the Bible regularly, and to teach it to others.  It's through the learning of Bible doctrine that we can achieve the peace that God intends for us as he sheds his grace upon us.  The truly peaceful man may not be able to explain every minute detail about the Bible, but he'll surely be able to satisfy his conscience concerning the major controversies among Christians, by regular study of the Word of God.  The Christian who is forever questioning various aspects of his faith, due to Biblical ignorance, will never experience real peace.  "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline" (2 Timothy 1:7).  It really is true that "it's all in knowin' how.”



Chapter Six

Prayer

     You may have heard of a man named George Mueller who once ran an orphanage.  Though accustomed to lacking material things, one evening there was no food whatsoever available for dinner.  When the children asked Mr. Mueller what to do, he said, "Set the table.  God will provide."
     They set the table, prayed for food, and then heard a knock at the door. It was a bread deliveryman whose cart had broken down.  He said he would be unable to deliver the bread, and he wondered if Mr. Mueller could use it.
     Prayer is a powerful tool, and although we can't expect God to always answer as timely and as powerfully as He did for Mr. Mueller, the simple fact is that the Bible commands us to pray.  In the midst of instructing the Philippians on how to be happy, Paul told them, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (Philippians 4:6).  As Christians, we're charged to pray, and we're assured of God's blessings through prayer.  We have access to God through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:18), the Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26), and we are to draw near to the throne of God (Hebrews 4:16).

Supplication
 
     Prayer is simply letting our requests be made known unto God.  It's telling God your needs, and asking Him to grant your requests to address those needs.  James 5:13-14 says, "Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray  . . . Is any one of you sick?  He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord."  Suffering and sickness are obvious reasons to pray, but as we will see, we should pray for the general well-being of ourselves and others, by addressing specific situations or individuals.

Thanksgiving

     As we saw in Philippians, thanksgiving is an essential aspect of prayer.  We should thank God for previous answers to prayer, as well as his unsolicited blessings of grace, which he showers upon us even when we neglect prayer.  We should express thanksgiving for others as well as ourselves (1 Timothy 2:1-2).  We're always to maintain an attitude of thankfulness (Colossians 4:2).

Confession

     When we pray, we are to confess our sins to Him (1 John 1:9).  This just means identifying and naming our sins to God.  We simply need to recognize our sins, and remember God's forgiveness and the need for it.  This restores our temporal fellowship with God, and it reminds us of our dependence on God as well as the areas where we need improvement.  It wouldn't be a bad idea to follow-up our confession with a request for power over that sin in the future.  Also, confession includes completely forgetting about that sin.
     Have you ever suddenly discovered that you're overweight, or further over than you thought?  I'm frequently disappointed when I step on the scale and see that I've gained weight since the last time I weighed, so I promise to shed a few pounds.  Well, it may not work for everyone, but I've discovered a simple solution that really works for me to keep the weight off after I've lost it.  My secret is to weigh every day.  That's all.  It sounds too simple, but I think I know why it works.
     When I weigh myself each morning, I believe I initiate a subconscious process.  If I'm a little heavier than I thought, it's somehow easier for me to control my eating and exercise throughout the day.  When I refuse that second helping, it's not difficult to do, because my subconscious mind if helping to persuade me.  It also tells me that if this works today, maybe I can have dessert tomorrow.  Without this subconscious support, I often find the temptations irresistible.
     I believe the same principle applies to confession.  Confession serves as a daily reminder that we have some work to do in a particular area.  When we have recently reminded ourselves of this, then the next time we're tempted, it's just a little easier to resist the temptation.  Regular confession to God actually helps us to be better Christians.
     With that said however, I'm still in a constant battle with my own flesh.  Although I'm confident in both areas of my simple and proven solutions of daily weighing and regular confessions, I still find myself drifting out of the habit of each of them.  In reality, I don't weigh every day, nor do I confess my sins as often as I should.  I know I should, and both techniques offer simple solutions to my problems.  They actually offer me the easy way out, and I know it would be for my own good, yet I choose to rebel.  For this reason, we should never underestimate the paradoxical power of the flesh.

Who to Pray For

     We should pray for all people, but especially ". . . all those in authority" (1 Timothy 2:1-2).  Obviously our leaders need prayers so that they'll be able to properly exercise their God-given authority in making important decisions on the behalf of many other people.  The higher the position of leadership, the more difficult the decision-making process is, the more people are available for prayer, and the more prayers are needed.  James 5:16 says we should pray for each other, and Ephesians 6:18 says we should pray for all the saints (Christians).  There's no better source of strength for a Christian than to know that his name is included in the prayers of the other members of the body of Christ (Hebrews 4:16) through the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26).

When and How to Pray

     Ephesians 6:18 says, "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints."  We are to be in a constant attitude of prayer.  We are to remain alert and sober for the purpose of prayer (1 Peter 4:7), especially in times of trouble.
     Colossians 4:2 says, "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful."  Prayer will take time, effort, and energy, but we're charged to pray, even though God already knows our needs (Luke 12:7), and we are to pray in faith and expect God to respond (Luke 11:9, John 15:7).
     Jesus taught that prayers are to be made with an attitude of quietness and humility, which corresponds exactly to the whole attitude of the desired Christian mentality.  Jesus condemned prayer by memorization (Matthew 6:7), and He suggested that a solitary place is a good location for praying (Matthew 6:6).  This is not to say that we should not practice corporate prayer, but even when praying with others, we should approach God with a quiet and humble spirit.
     In order to ensure a godly frame of mind when I pray, I like to include Philippians 4:4-9 in my daily private conversations with God:

Philippians 4:4 - 9

     4) Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  5) Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  6) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  7) And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
     8) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.  9) Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Rejoice, Relax, Think, Pray, and Do (God’s Will)

     Verse four reminds me to rejoice, verses five and six remind me to relax, and verse seven reminds me to pray in peace.  Verse eight tells me to meditate upon godly things, so I deliberately spend some extra time thinking about things as it suggests.
     I think of something true, such as the Bible, the Word of God, and sometimes I remember one of the passages I've recently read.  Then I think of something noble, such as my father's military service in the Marines in the South Pacific during World War II, as well as the nobility of those who gave their lives for my freedom.  Then I think of something right, such as worshiping God.  It's the right thing to do, so I do it then.
     I also think of something pure, such as the love of Christ as He died on the cross for my sins.  His love must have been quite pure if he did this for me in spite of some of my awful sins.
     Then I think about something lovely, such as my daughter on the day she was born.  I held her within five seconds after her birth, and I rubbed my cheek against hers.  I'll always remember that her cheek was absolutely the softest and the loveliest thing I had ever touched.  It was so soft that I was afraid my beard might tear her fragile flesh.
     Then I think about something admirable, such as a one of my dear friends in India.  He has a heart for evangelism like nobody else I know.  To me, his dedication to God, to His mission, and to prayer is truly something admirable.
     Then I think about something excellent, such as the humanity of Jesus Christ.  I think of how He might have appeared as he walked on the earth teaching God's Word.  I also think of something praiseworthy, such as God, the Father.  He is truly praiseworthy because of His creation as well as His plan of salvation and redemption.
     Finally, verse nine reminds me to put God's Word into action, and I commit to do His will in a specific way.
     Then I like to summary this passage as follows:  rejoice, relax, think, pray, and do (God's will).

School Prayer

     All citizens and students should be allowed to pray publicly in their community or schools.  This right is suggested by our freedom of religion as specified in the U. S. Constitution, as well as in the Bible.  Without Benjamin Franklin's call for prayer during the writing of the Constitution, we probably wouldn't even have a constitution.  Our own Declaration of Independence recognizes God as our sovereign creator.  The U.S. Congress begins its daily sessions with fervent prayer.  The men who first engraved "In God We Trust" on our currency, and a biblical call for freedom on the Liberty Bell, certainly wouldn't have favored the exclusion of public prayer in schools.
     However, when the right to public prayer is terminated by some level of government, we Christians can still take comfort and consolation in prayer, indeed, even in school prayer.  Perhaps public prayer can be dictated by the state, but prayer can't be.  Prayer is a free privilege from God, not a right that is granted by the government.  Christians can pray anywhere, including any school in the world.  Just because public prayers can't be offered in some classrooms doesn't mean that God has revoked Ephesians 6:18 where He calls us to ". . . pray on all occasions," no matter where we are.  Yes, the Bible says that we should be able to pray freely in public, but when we're restricted by the government, we must remember that it's probably more important to pray privately, no matter where we are.  The government can't end all school prayer, only public school prayer.

Answers

     When we do obey God by praying, He promises to answer our prayers.  John said in 1 John 5:14-15 that we can be sure that ". . . if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us, and if we know that he hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of Him."  James 5:15-16 says, "And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."

Asking Amiss

     If God says He'll give us whatever we ask, then why does it seem like my prayers sometimes go unanswered?  James 4:3 says that when our prayers are not answered, it's because we ". . . ask with wrong motives," and we're not praying in God's will and in submission to the Holy Spirit.  We can't just guess about God's will for things such as the size of a church budget or the membership growth of a church.  We must be sure that any goal setting we do is truly inspired by the Holy Spirit.  We sometimes have to be less specific and simply pray for discernment.  Furthermore, prayer should never be used lightly as a token to pacify a demanding congregation, or as an excuse for fellowship.
     Indeed, we must be careful what we ask in prayer.  For example, if we have a fear or a burden, we shouldn't necessarily pray that it be removed.  God may have a purpose for us, which we can only realize through that situation.  Maybe He's trying to teach us endurance, patience, or simply not to worry.
     In 1978, my mother was diagnosed with inoperable heart disease when she was only 55 years old.  She had been a strong Christian all of her life, and we prayed for four years for her healing.  Instead of being healed, her condition continually worsened until she was completely confined to her bed and an oxygen bottle.
     During the four years of praying for her healing, I claimed John 14:13-14, which says, "that the Father may be glorified, you may ask anything in my name, and I will do it."  Seeing that my prayers were not answered as I wanted them to be, I decided that it must be God's will for my mother to die, so I reluctantly changed my prayer and asked God to end her suffering.  He did, quite quickly, and she died in 1983.
     Here's what I learned:  I was asking with wrong motives, as James 4:3 explains.  When I was praying for her healing, I was asking according to my own will; i.e., what was selfishly best for me.  When I considered what was best for her, and what God's will might be, I essentially asked for her death, and God answered that prayer.

Conclusions

     At our house, my wife provides a magic list for me, which she keeps on the kitchen counter.  If I need something and can’t find it, I write it on that list, and it magically appears within a day or two.  If I’m out of charcoal, I write it on the list, and the next day I automatically have charcoal in my garage.  I think this is what God wants us to do with prayer.  We should bring all of our requests to him, and he will provide.
 
     Believers are charged by God to pray, although God already knows our thoughts and needs.  We are to boldly approach His throne with specific requests, in an attitude of thanksgiving, confession, and reverence. This doctrine of prayer is widely taught, but greatly overlooked in practice.  There have actually been occasions when Bible churches have canceled prayer meetings due to the telecast of the Super Bowl.  I haven't yet mastered the art of praying, but I'm convinced, because of the Bible's emphatic call to prayer, that it's a largely untapped resource.  How much of your day is devoted to quiet, fervent prayer?



Chapter Seven

Humility

     I worked as a service station attendant during my college years, often admiring the well-to-do folks who patronized us in their fancy new cars.  By the time I graduated in 1976, I was eager to make some money and improve my own lifestyle.  I secured a job as a computer programmer for IBM, tripled my salary, and soon bought a new house and a new car.  I had the world by the tail, and I was proud of it.  After all, there weren't that many computer programmers in 1977.
     Then, late one night, I stopped at an all-night service station.  As soon as I arrived, I was greeted by the lone attendant, and given the excellent customer service that I expected and deserved.  The attendant was about my age, but our appearance was noticeably different.  I was well dressed, while he had stains on his shirt from his last oil change, and a tear in his jeans from the tire machine.
     He began pumping my fuel (yes, in those days the attendants actually pumped gas for the customers), and I got out of my car to visit with him, as was my usual routine.  This constituted my social contribution of never forgetting the little guy, and maybe I could even offer some professional advice to some of the less fortunate members of society. 
     He asked me what I did for a living, and I proudly informed him, "I'm a computer programmer for IBM."
     I paused, waiting for his complimentary remark, but instead he said, "Yeah, I used to do that."
     I was taken aback.  The rest of his story confirmed that he had indeed been a computer programmer, realized its demands and limitations, and decided to do something more appealing (apparently pumping gas).
     I was humbled.  Suddenly he seemed to be the one on top of the world, even in a seemingly low position in which I had served for four years, and loathed.  I learned my lesson, but that night I was wishing I hadn't been so proud, and had kept my mouth shut.
     Though not widely accepted, the Bible teaches time and again that we should be humble and quiet.  Most people will agree with the humble part, although few people actually practice humility.  However, the quiet part doesn't seem as important, even though the Bible adamantly commands us to be quiet in both our speech and our actions.  In fact, quietness goes hand-in-hand with humility.
     When Paul said, "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands" (1 Thessalonians 4:11), there were probably those in Thessalonica who did not respond with a positive attitude.  The young dynamic politician who might have been campaigning for the Thessalonica City Council, or maybe even a church committee, may have been ingrained with the idea to constantly sell himself.  He probably would have recognized his ability to wax eloquent with words as a spiritual gift from God in order to bring the attention to himself that he felt he obviously deserved.
     If he had overheard Paul telling Timothy to ". . . live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness" (1 Timothy 2:2), he probably would have rationalized that Paul's advice served Timothy well, but it wasn't fitting for such a dynamic personality as himself.  If Peter had told him that what matters most is ". . . that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight" (1 Peter 3:4), he could have assumed that he was referring only to wild lifestyles, and not to his everyday speech.  In fact, however, these scriptures apply a principle to Christians of today in the same way that God applied the same principle to Israel in the Old Testament.  In Exodus 14:14, Israel was told, "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."  The Bible promotes self-denial over self-assertion and self-promotion.

Talking

     In Proverbs we learn that "A man of knowledge uses words with restraint" (Proverbs 17:27), and "When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise" (Proverbs 10:19).  A fool is described as one who ". . . utters all his mind" (Proverbs 29:11), but, "Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue" (Proverbs 17:28).  In these proverbs, God associates words with sin, and quietness with wisdom, knowledge, and discernment. Granted, some speech is necessary, and God isn't suggesting total silence or He wouldn't have given us tongues.  Indeed, we would even be hard pressed to propagate the gospel without speaking.  Yet, we shouldn't take these guidelines of Proverbs and the epistles too lightly, because a lot of talking always begins with a little bit of talking.  We are explicitly warned to ". . . avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly" (2 Timothy 2:16).  It can easily lead to arguments, which are condemned by God (Titus 2:14).
     Instead, we're charged to be kind, patient, and gentle (2 Timothy 2:24-25).  Perhaps the natural fear of public speaking, which most of us share, is God's way of telling us to remain quiet.  Consider the warning in 1 Timothy 6:4-5 against an ". . . unhealthy interest in controversies and arguments that result in envy, quarreling, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain."  These scriptures suggest that godliness may not be manifested by the flamboyant and loud Christian.  We should never try to impress people or pretend that we're something that we're not.

Listening

     In accordance with an attitude of quietness comes the doctrine of listening.  The book of Proverbs is filled with admonitions to listen to others, to listen to reproof, and especially to listen to our elders who have the knowledge, experience, and maturity to help us (Proverbs 12:15).  This is how we learn.  Furthermore, we can often be of great service by simply listening to someone's problems, and saying nothing ourselves.  Sometimes, it's just the unloading that helps people feel better, regardless of any advice given or action taken.  We need to become good listeners instead of concentrating on what we're going to say next.

Vanity

     One way of viewing God's definition of quietness is as a condemnation of vanity.  Whatever won't last is vanity, and we should avoid it.  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Who's the best player in the NFL?  Whom did Adam and Eve's sons marry?  These questions don't matter to either our Christian life on earth or eternity, so we shouldn’t waste our time with them.
     The lesson here as it's most applicable to us today is to avoid extraneous small talk.  This doesn't set well with us because we like to ask people how they are when we couldn’t care less, and we like to flatter people and try to force them to like us if we see a chance for personal gain.  We like to give the appearance of being authorities on subjects that we know nothing about, and we love to argue about things that don't matter.  We feel obligated to get the last word in the conversation.  Have you ever met a person who tried to one-up everything you did or said?  If you had a bad day, he said he had a worse one.  If yours was good, his was better.
     All this extraneous small talk is condemned by Paul as ". . . empty chatter."  What percentage of the words from your mouth constitute empty chatter?  Usually, our egotistical and compulsive phrases such as "I know" and "I did too" only manifest our pride, and they're better left unsaid.  When was the last time you said, "How are you?" without really caring how that person was?  If we really care, we should say, "Please take a moment and tell me about yourself," and then listen with open ears.
     It's interesting to note the quietness in the life of Jesus. In Luke 9:5, Jesus told the disciples to just quietly leave from the places where they were rejected.  What did Jesus do when the people asked him to leave in Matthew 8:34?  The next verse, Matthew 9:1, tells us simply that he quietly left.  He could have argued and pled with the people or told them truthfully how terribly wrong they were, but he just left quietly.
     What did Jesus reply when the high priest became furious about his silence in Matthew 26:62?  Matthew 26:63 simply says, "Jesus remained silent."  Of course, Jesus wasn't always silent.  He often taught by speaking, and he even eventually answered the high priest.  However, the lesson to be learned here is that Jesus used silence when confronted, and we should too.  If anyone ever had the right to speak, Jesus did, but he often chose not to say everything that came to His mind.

Quietness

     Please remember that attracting attention to oneself is the opposite of quietness and humility.  Philippians 2:3 charges us to actually consider others as more important than ourselves.  God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh in order to keep him from ". . . becoming conceited" (2 Corinthians 12:7).  The Christian doctrine of humility is in sharp contrast to today's encouragement toward self-esteem and a positive self-image, which often invoke pride.  In reality, most of us probably suffer from too much self-esteem, and too little humility.
     Quietness is often learned painfully through embarrassment, and it's sometimes even more painful to remain humbly restrained.  Picture yourself in a heated debate with a peer or a superior.  Perhaps you even wisely use some restraint in your speech in order to keep your adversary somewhat composed.  Later you learn that your friend has slandered you by telling your mutual friends how wrong he thought you had been, to the point of questioning your judgment or sanity.  Now comes the test of humility.  Do you commend yourself for your previous restraint and proceed to teach him your own little lesson in how to slander efficiently?  Or do you yield to your thorn in the flesh and cling to humility and wisdom by holding your tongue?
     Humility and quietness don't come naturally or easily because of our flesh, but when these traits are exhibited, they deserve our utmost respect.  If anyone ever told you, "you sure don't talk much," you should humbly regard it as a high compliment.  Of course it's not always inappropriate to verbally respond when your adversaries jeopardize your reputation.  Yet, the Bible tells us that a quiet non-response is never a bad idea.  "A prudent man overlooks an insult" (Proverbs 12:16).

Competition

     A test of humility wouldn't be complete without an examination of one's views concerning competition.  Galatians 5:26 says, "Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other."  Why do we feel the need to compare ourselves to others?  Romans 14:10 says, "You then, why do you judge your brother?  Or why do you look down on your brother?  For we will all stand before God's judgment seat."  We tend to excuse our competitive spirit because we're motivating ourselves to do our best and improve our skills.  Yet, the Bible says that any time we judge, boast, or regard others with envy or contempt, we've carried our competition too far.  Now comes the painful look at all the competition in our own lives.
     When was the last time you saw a competitive event that didn't include judging, challenging, provoking, or envying?  When have you seen the winners' locker room without an attitude of boasting, or the losers' without envy and dejection?  Usually in competitive athletics, there's only one winner, but many losers.  Even in team sports, there are often members of the winning team who are dejected because they felt like they did not contribute appropriately to the winning effort.  When a college basketball team goes 29-and-1 for the year, and loses the national tournament by one point, they feel a sense of failure because they weren't the best.
     When too much emphasis is placed upon winning and losing, we can't "Live in peace with all men" (Hebrews 12:14).  How many athletes can honestly say, "It doesn't matter whether you win or lose?"  When was the last time you saw a professional football bowl game without a sickening amount of arrogant taunting?  Are there more coaches or Bible teachers recognized as household names in America?  The Bible is certainly not condemning physical fitness or entertainment, but when these activities reach into the realm of competition and judgment, they're not desirable activities for Christians.  Instead, we are to accept one another as Christ has accepted us (Romans 15:7).

Conclusions

     The Bible seems to be telling us that it's not wrong to speak, but too much talk easily leads to boasting, envy, and arguments,  In reality, if we removed these elements from our speech, we would indeed be practicing the quietness which is precious in God's sight.  Let your speech be ". . . full of grace" (Colossians 4:5-6).  Isn't it strange how the talkative person tends to classify talkative people as "dynamic," and quiet people as "shy," while the quiet person tends to think of people as either "loud" or "quiet?" Rather than making ourselves famous, we should concentrate on making ourselves scarce (Proverbs 25:17).  Christians should be nice, courteous, and responsive when others speak to them, but they should not complain (Philippians 2:14) or make judgmental comments.
     To many people, the doctrine of humility and quietness may not rank as one of the ten major doctrines of Christianity.  However, as we've seen, the epistles have much to say about humility being the normal and constant attitude of Christians.  This is difficult for us because of social pressures, but humility is the obvious attitude of a Christian who has been humbled by God's sovereignty and grace.  James 3:1-8 says that the tongue is a very powerful weapon, and it can be an evil one.  James 1:19 says, "My dear brothers, take note of this:  Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."



Chapter Eight

The Church

     We once had neighbors with a six-year-old daughter named Grace who, in my view, lacked self-esteem.  Although in our society, we easily digress from self-esteem to an inflated ego, I thought I should do what I could to build up Grace's self-image.  One evening my daughter and I were sitting on the driveway playing with a jar of bubbles.  When we dipped the wand in the bubble jar and blew through it, it sent an army of bubbles marching through our neighborhood.
     Soon Grace noticed the bubbles blowing in the wind, and she bashfully approached our driveway to cautiously enjoy the fun.  We quickly started a new game where my daughter and I would blow bubbles, and Grace would try to pop them before they hit the ground.  As she popped each one, I praised her in such a way that it sounded like I was unbelieving of her special athletic ability. 
     On one occasion, making sure that Grace was within hearing distance, I said to my daughter, "Look at how she's not letting a single bubble hit the ground."
     Then I turned to Grace and said, "Hey, you're good at this!"
     A moment later, after again preventing even one bubble from escaping, Grace softly said, "Hey, I'm good at this!"
     My heart leaped with joy.  Although we no doubt would have quickly recovered from the tragedy of one of the bubbles hitting the ground, I had encouraged Grace and built her up, and this in turn encouraged me.
     So it is with the Church.  Jesus established the Church ". . . to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" (Ephesians 4:12).  We are to know and be sure of what we believe, and be mature in it (Ephesians 4:13).  Our continual temporal responsibility is to "grow up" in the faith (Ephesians 4:15), and "build up" each other (Ephesians 4:16).  We're built up through the equipping and the encouragement of our fellow Christians, and this should be the goal of the Church.

Edification

     The whole purpose of church members meeting together is to give encouragement to each other (Hebrews 10:25).  It's the encouragement of others that gives us our hope (Romans 15:4).  We're encouraged through the comfort (1 Thessalonians 4:18) and consolation (1 Corinthians 14:3-5, 12, 17) of our fellow believers.  Edification comes when we ". . . make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification" (Romans 14:19).  Everything the church does should be for the building up of Christians (1 Corinthians 12:19), and not their tearing down (1 Corinthians 13:10).  If a church causes discouragement, something is wrong.

Equipping

     The church is to equip its members ". . . in every good thing" (Hebrews 13:21), so that “. . . everyone may be instructed and encouraged" (1 Corinthians 14:31).  Through this exhortation and teaching (1 Timothy 4:13), we stimulate one another to love and good deeds.  If the church is not teaching, it's not doing its job.  It must equip believers with the truth, and avoid any type of flattery, theatrics, or greedy attempt to grow the church for the wrong reasons (1 Thessalonians 2:5-7).

The Pastor

     The ultimate teaching authority in the church is the pastor/teacher (Ephesians 4:11).  In 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:7, we see that the pastor must be a respected man, above reproach, a good teacher, disciplinarian, and household manager, and a prudent man, strong in the faith with a mastery over the material details of life such as money and alcohol.  His primary responsibility is teaching (1 Timothy 5:7), and he is to teach willingly, not grudgingly.  He is to teach and gently guide the believers (2 Timothy 2:25), like a shepherd does his sheep (Ezekiel 34).
     For his service to the church, the pastor is worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17) and receiving his living from the church (1 Corinthians 9:14) through the sharing of the church members (Galatians 6:6).  The church members should love, appreciate, and esteem those who labor and teach them and exercise authority over them (1 Thessalonians 5:12-15).  However, since the congregation freely chooses its pastor, the church members have ultimate authority over him, and they should rebuke and/or remove him if he continually fails in his role of leading the church in teaching and encouragement (1 Timothy 5:18-20).
     Pastors must live their lives above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2).  They must not be like those Paul described in Romans 2:1, who pass judgment on others, when they themselves are guilty of the same wrong doings.  As an all too familiar example, pastors and television evangelists who preach against sexual immorality, then fall into it themselves, are actually condemning themselves.
     However, we must realize that pastors are people too.  They can't be expected to perform supernaturally any more than the rest of us.  They don't think deeper thoughts, they're not capable of more divinely-appointed knowledge, and they don't have some higher privilege of access to the Father than others.  We should not think of pastors as the "neck" of the body of Christ, where Christ is the head, and pastors should not view themselves this way.  A man with excessive ego, personal ambition, or a need for reassurance that he's important to the church, is not qualified to be a pastor.  His highest priorities should not be committee meetings, national conferences, and denominational recognition.

Unity

     When the church meets together, the services are to be conducted in an orderly manner (1 Corinthians 14:40).  The members should be of the same mind, accord, and voice (Romans 15:5-6), and they should agree with that same mind, and avoid divisions and quarrels (1 Corinthians 1:10-11).  They should be comforted and like-minded, and live their lives in peace and love (2 Corinthians 13:11).

The Lord's Supper

     Of secondary importance are the church ordinances (or symbolic ceremonies), the Lord's Supper (or Last Supper), and baptism.  The Lord's Supper is simply a symbol and a ritual symbolizing the actual death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, Paul mentions sharing the cup and bread, and in 1 Corinthians 11:20-29, he further describes how the first century church did this.  Nowhere does the Bible tell Christians that they must practice the Lord's Supper, but it has become a tradition with most Christian groups by following the example of these early Christians.  The emphasis, however, should be on one's self-examination (1 Corinthians 11:28) rather than on the ritual.
 
Water Baptism

     Water baptism is simply a ritual symbolizing the actual baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Acts 10:47 indicates that all believers are candidates for baptism.  Again however, in 1 Corinthians 1:14-17, Paul discounts the importance of baptism by noting that he was grateful that he did not baptize very many people, and he wasn't even sure how many he did baptize.  Peter also reminds us that baptism is only a symbol, by telling us in 1 Peter 3:21 that water only removes dirt from the flesh, and it has no saving power.
     Great care must be taken to examine any scriptures concerning baptism, because the scriptures refer to seven different baptisms.  These are the baptism of Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus, the cross, fire, the Holy Spirit, and water.  If the baptism of the Holy Spirit is confused with baptism, great distortions of scripture may erupt.

The Local Church

     In short, the church is a group of believers who come together for encouragement, edification, and teaching.  Unity and order are a part of the church environment, but arguments and disruptions are not.  Each believer is part of the body (1 Corinthians 12:11-31), and Jesus Christ is the head (Ephesians 5:23).  Perhaps we would do better to more closely follow the example of the first-century local church as described in Colossians 4:16, by spending more time simply reading God's word in our church services.  This is what Paul recommended, and it's how the first churches functioned for hundreds of years.  Churches are to encourage believers through Bible study, equipping, and edification.

The "Unchurch"

     Unfortunately, there are many misnomers about what a church should be.  The church is not a social organization where people go in order to be seen, to make contacts, to round out their children's education, or to get pumped up as though they were filling their fuel tanks at some sort of emotional filling station.  Neither is the local church a place to present superficial challenges, scare-tactics, nor food-for-thought.  The church is a place to learn the Bible, but it has been estimated that few attendees can name even one of the first four books of the Bible, or identify common Biblical terms such as "Calvary."
     Churches should not measure themselves by "growth" just because the first church "grew" in the book of Acts.  Churches should not overemphasize goals and statistics of membership growth or budgets for buildings and programs.  Most financial problems in most churches would be solved if those churches simply abandoned all of their activities in which God is not leading them and supplying their financial needs.
     Church members should not be measured by how much they smile, visit, proselyte, shake hands, emote, hustle, attend committee meetings, conferences, banquets, and family nights, or by how much other "doing" they can accomplish.  Church is not the place for devices, formulas, steps, commitment cards, or invitations with emotional appeal to the guilt and pride of the flesh of the members.  Christians should feel comfortable in their Christianity, not guilty.

Pseudo Fundamentalists

     Churches are certainly no place for malice, attacking one's integrity, or recognition of accomplishments, especially under the guise of doing God's work.  Success is not measured by buildings, membership, attendance, organs, chimes, flowers, or banquets.  It's sad when we can accurately estimate the size of memberships and budgets of churches by looking at the front door of the church building.  Perhaps an appropriate term for these deceivers would be "pseudo fundamentalists."

Missions

     Churches should be mission-oriented.  They should not consider the souls of potential local members to be more important than the souls of people who will never attend their particular church.  We should especially support foreign missions where people are more open to the gospel than in our own country.  Yet, frequently, churches spend more than ten times the amount of money on church buildings than what they spend on missions.

Conclusions

     Our churches should be groups of believers under the authority of a pastor/teachers, who equip and encourage each other.  However, the church is not an organization trying to "make the world a better place," or a means of approaching God through groups.  Our relationship with God is still a personal one, but we do need regular encouragement and edification from fellow believers.  We must understand the true purpose of the church, and learn to use it as a tool instead of as a crutch.



Chapter Nine

Judgment

     My wife has taught seventh grade English and History for many years at the school where our children attended.  As our children approached their middle school years, she considered the possible problems associated with having her own children in her classroom.  Would there be accusations of favoritism, or resentment from other students, parents, or teachers?  Well, sure enough, she had our son one year, and our daughter the next, and there were problems, but different ones than what one might have anticipated.
     Because of her strong love for the two children she had carried in her womb for nine months, the temptation to show favoritism was a challenge.  After all, grading essays can be very subjective.  What she found, however, was that her moral obligation to be fair to all her students superseded the temptation to favor the efforts of her own children above the other students.  In fact, to be sure she wasn't favoring them, and to compensate for any advantage of having their mom as their teacher, she sometimes realized that she demanded even higher standards from their work than from the others.
     The role of a schoolteacher can be considered to be analogous to that of a judge.  A courtroom judge dispenses justice to all parties without partiality, and a teacher grades (or judges) the efforts of all students on a standard scale.  However, my wife had to deal with some feelings with which a courtroom judge seldom does.  Although she loved all of her students deeply, she had a personal intimacy with two of them, which she didn't have with any of the others.  Yet, she knew that her judgments must yield justice for all students, in spite of her love for her own children.  In doing so, she ensured that all students were responsible and accountable for what they learned.
     Likewise, God is our spiritual judge, and he'll hold us each accountable for our beliefs, our lives, and our actions, without partiality.  In the best-selling book, Talking to heaven, James Van Praagh mistakenly calls God a god of justice and non-judgment.  As long as there is sin in the world, a just God must judge that sin.  God is indeed a God of justice, and His justice demands that He exercise perfect judgment as well.  God loves all of us more than we can understand, but He must judge each of us in order to ensure that we all receive perfect justice.  God is first a god of justice, and his justice and righteousness can't be compromised.  What, then, will our final judgment be like?
     A discussion of the doctrine of the judgment of God requires an understanding of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for the sins of all men (John 3:16, Hebrews 12:2).  All of our sins are forgiven via this single sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27), and we'll never be judged for the individual sins that we commit.  In eternity, our sins are forgiven and forgotten by God.  Jesus supplied our eternal sacrifice, and through confession (1 John 1:9), we can have God's temporal forgiveness in this life.  If so, then what judgment does 1 Peter 1:17 address?  "Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear."  Furthermore, Romans 2:6 says that God will judge every man according to his deeds.  Indeed, all men will be judged, but there are two specific categories of judgment based upon the determining factor of believing in Jesus Christ as personal savior.
     Remember that upon accepting Christ as savior, God imputes the righteousness of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to each believer.  Without this divine power, man can do no good (Romans 3:10, 12, Psalms 53:3).  He may do some humanly good deeds, which have as their source the flesh, but unless the Holy Spirit indwells a person and God sees that person through the righteousness of His son, he can't perform any divinely good works.  In the first category of judgment then, believers will be judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10), and in the second category, unbelievers will be judged at the Great White Throne of God (Revelation 20:11-15).

The Judgment Seat of Christ

     The judgment of all believers will occur at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10, Romans 14:10), but the Bible doesn't clearly specify when this judgment will occur.  I tend to side with those who believe that our day of judgment will occur after the rapture and during the tribulation period, but it's probably a moot point since time can't be set in an eternal state.  Nevertheless, we're assured of both the rapture and this judgment which introduce what the Bible calls ". . . the day of the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:8), and we're charged to be prepared for it and remain blameless in this life until that day.
     In 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, we see that in that day, ". . . his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light."  Christ will test the quality of our works with fire, which will burn up the wood, hay, and straw, but leave the pure gold, silver, and precious stones.  God will repay us for our deeds in the body, according to what we've done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).  Christ will reveal whether our good works were only humanly good works produced by the flesh like the wood, hay, and straw similar to that of "good" unbelievers, or whether our good works came from the divine power of the Holy Spirit in the form of gold, silver, and precious stones.
     For the divine good works that survive the test of fire, Jesus will credit our account (Philippians 4:17).  For our human good works, we'll suffer loss of rewards, but we'll keep our eternal life (1 Corinthians 3:15).  We're promised that God will repay us for our service to Him (Ephesians 6:8), and we'll receive ". . . an inheritance from the Lord as a reward" (Colossians 3:24).

Rewards

     We're not told the details of these rewards, but any reward from God must be wonderful and worthy of our service.  Our rewards may be personal commendations from Jesus, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21, 23).  They may be in the form of crowns (1 Corinthians 9:25, Revelation 3:11).  In 1 Peter 5:4, a special "crown of glory" is specified for leaders who serve well.  In 2 Timothy 4:8, we see a crown of righteousness for those who live Godly lives and long for Christ's return.  James 1:12 references a crown of life for those who persevered by God's grace, while under trial for their faith. Philippians 4:1 speaks of a crown of joy for those who stand firm in their service to God.
     Our rewards may be positions of authority or leadership as we reign with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12, Revelation 20:6, 22:5).  By 1 Corinthians 6:3, we'll even be given authority to judge the angels.  No matter what our rewards are, Christians in this life must have faith that God will make all our service to Him worthwhile.  We should understand that the name of the game after salvation while we remain on the earth is service to God and rewards from Jesus Christ
 
Works

     This system of judgment and rewards for Christians in return for divinely good works doesn't at first sound like a grace system, does it?  However, God established this system of works within His all-encompassing system of Grace, similar to the way he had a system of works to govern the daily lives of the Jews in the Old Testament, although the two are completely mutually exclusive.  When not properly oriented toward God's grace and sovereignty, a Christian can feel guilty for trying to earn eternal rewards.  Of course our works should be motivated from our love for Christ, but Matthew 6:19-20 says not to seek earthly treasures (coveting), but to seek heavenly treasures (rewards) with fervor.

The Great White Throne

     The judgment of unbelievers will occur after the Millennium as all unbelievers stand before the Great White Throne of God (Revelation 20:11).  God will judge all their deeds (Romans 2:6) and find that they're all lacking the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22), and God will cast them all into the lake of fire forever (Revelation 20:15).  The Bible doesn't specify how the judgment of their individual human good works will affect their eternal doom in the lake of fire.  Perhaps there will be degrees of punishment in hell, although we can't perceive a punishment worse than hell itself. Romans 1:18-27 tells us that they deserve their punishment, and they have no excuse for their unbelief, since God has revealed Himself to all men.

Conclusions

     We'll all face God's judgment, whether we're believers or unbelievers. Believers will be rewarded for their divinely good works, and they'll spend eternity in paradise, either as wealthy recipients of many rewards, or as paupers in comparison to what they could have had.  At the Great White Throne of God, unbelievers will be found to lack the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and they'll be sentenced to the lake of fire forever.  Our concern in this life is that of pleasing God as Christians through our faith, our obedience, and our earning of heavenly rewards.



Chapter Ten

The End Times

     I sometimes wonder what it would be like to travel through time.  Suppose we traveled back to 1990, picked up a newspaper, and read the business section.  At that time, IBM's earnings were very impressive.  Most people believed that since it had always proven to be a strong and profitable company, which had never had a layoff, IBM stock was probably a wise and safe investment.  However, being time travelers from the future, we would know that IBM would lose $15 billion in a three-year period and execute the largest layoff in corporate history in 1993.  We could sell our IBM stock (or even sell short) for $175 per share, and buy it back three years later for $44 per share, or 25 cents on the dollar, then watch it climb back to $200 per share by 1997.  We would be in a very enviable position.
     Suppose, however, that we were less selfish and returned to 1990 announcing from the street corners to anyone who would listen that IBM was destined for bad times of historic proportions, even a worse fate than it suffered during the depression of the 1930s.  This news would be quite disheartening for IBM stockholders and its employees, although we probably wouldn't be taken seriously.
     We find ourselves in a position where, although we can't change it, we know what will happen.  Indeed, we can't change history and prevent others from suffering the coming apocalypse, but we can position ourselves for our own advantage.  Strangely enough, although the coming disaster will wreak havoc for many, the knowledge of its coming actually gives us hope and comfort.
     So it is with the biblical prophecy of the apocalypse of the end times.  We know what will happen, and it's a sad story to tell, but when we tell it, few people respond.  We can't change it because God has already decided it, but we can position ourselves to avoid the coming disaster.  The coming apocalypse will be disastrous for many, but the forehand knowledge of it gives us reason to maintain our hope and comfort even in the face of disaster.  In this case, we must ensure our position in Christ, and not in man (Romans 6:1 - 7:13).
     Without the realization of the hope the story brings, one might think that the doctrine of the end times (eschatology) has very little to do with living the Christian life, since we are to live the same Godly lives whether Jesus returns today or in a thousand years.  However, this doctrine is presented to believers in the epistles so that we might have hope and comfort about our temporal destiny as well as eternity (1 Thessalonians 4:18).  The book of The Revelation promises great tribulation just before the end of the world as we know it, and our understanding of these end times will assure us that God will deliver His children from His great wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
     There is much speculation about the events of the end times, and there are many different assumptions made by various theological experts.  The doctrine of the end times is difficult to follow because it's presented in small pieces of noncontiguous scripture throughout the Bible.  The discussion in this chapter will use the end time prophecies of the epistles as a base, and then we'll build upon that base by referencing the associated prophecies in the other parts of the Bible.

The Last Days

     Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:1-3 that in the end times, it will be common for people to fall away from true doctrine and practice false doctrine including the doctrine of demons.  When we realize that this includes practices such as calling up mediums, we can't help wondering if the New Age movement has put a stake in the ground to mark the beginning of the last days.  Paul says that people will be hypocrites and liars, and some will forbid certain practices such as marriage and the eating of certain foods as part of their doctrines.  He gives an even more explicit description of the last days in 2 Timothy 3:1-7.  He says that these will be difficult times because people will be wicked, mean, and full of hate, and they'll love fighting.  They'll love themselves and be boastful, conceited, and arrogant.  They'll love money and pleasure, and live dangerous, reckless lives, and children will be disobedient to their parents.  People will be ungrateful, unholy, malicious gossips, and they'll be without self-control.  Imagine a world without self-control.  Yet we see signs of this today.
 
False Teachers

     The epistles give such extended warnings about false teachers that we wonder why so much attention is given them (2 Peter 2:1-22).  In 2 Timothy 4:3, we see that in the end times, people will actually seek out false teachers who will tell them the things that they want to hear, in place of the truth.  Apparently these warnings against false teachers are so numerous and emphatic so that we'll have to give constant attention to identifying them.  They're subtle, and they'll easily deceive the unsuspecting (Romans 16:17-18).  We'll know them because they preach a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4) although they disguise themselves as apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, 23).
     We're told that these false teachers will speak arrogant words of vanity (2 Peter 2:18).  We'll have an uneasy feeling toward them, and we're accountable to test the spirits (1 John 4:1-2).  Even if an angel preaches falsely, he is to be accursed (Galatians 1:8).  When we identify false teachers, we shouldn't even greet them or let them enter our homes (2 John 10).  We are to ask questions.  Hiding behind our confidence in a pastor or another priest won't suffice on judgment day.  We're accountable for ourselves, and if we disagree or don't understand, we must ask questions--that's how we learn.  However, we can be confident to learn from those we know well and trust (2 Timothy 3:14).

The Rapture

     Although God has revealed how troubled those times will be, He promises that believing Christians will be spared from the worst if it (1 Thessalonians 1:10, 4:18), through an event we commonly call the rapture, which Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.  Jesus will come from heaven and enter the earth's atmosphere to cloud-level.  A trumpet will sound (1 Corinthians 15:52), and the dead bodies of believers will rise from the earth, whether they be in graves or elsewhere, to unite with their souls which are already with Jesus.  Then the believers who are still living will be raised to meet Jesus in the air also.  The bodies of all these believers will be transformed or changed (1 Corinthians 15:51-52) into new glorified bodies (Philippians 3:21) in the same form as the body of Jesus Himself (1 John 3:1-2).
     We're told that this whole company will ascend to heaven with Jesus just as He ascended the first time (Acts 1:11).  In John 14:1-3, Jesus prophesied this event as He explained that our dwelling places await us in heaven.  Although the Bible doesn't specify exactly when we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive our rewards (1 Corinthians 5:10), it seems reasonable that this judgment of believers will probably begin at this point and perhaps continue through the period of great tribulation and trouble on the earth (Revelation 6 - 19).  Again however, it seems somewhat futile for us to try to comprehend and explain events of eternity in temporal terms.

The Second Advent

     Although there are a wide variety of views among Bible scholars, I tend to believe that the Great Tribulation described in the books of Daniel and The Revelation will occur during the seven years immediately following the rapture, although there's much disagreement and speculation about the order of these end-time events.  Evil and trouble will be the norm for this period (Revelation 6-18).  The Antichrist will reveal himself (Daniel 11-12, Revelation 13).  Russia and her allies will attack Israel, but they'll suffer defeat as Russia is devastated by an earthquake (Ezekiel 38-39).  China and her allies will attack Israel at the Battle of Armageddon, but then Jesus Christ will return to earth at the Second Advent, and personally defeat Satan and Israel's enemies in the most devastating battle of all times (Revelation 19).  The Second Advent is described further in Psalms 22:19-31.
     Satan will be bound and Christ will reign as King of the whole earth for 1000 years--the millennium (Revelation 20).  After the 1000 years, Satan and his demons will be released, they'll retaliate, and finally they'll be cast into the lake of fire for eternity.  All unbelievers will be judged at the Great White Throne of God, and they'll also be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20, 2 Peter 3).

Eternity

     Then God will form a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21), and all believers will live in eternal paradise forever (Revelation 22). This eternal blessing is possible because of Jesus's sacrifice on the cross for our sins, and it belongs to anyone who believes that Jesus is his savior (John 3:16).

Conclusions

     The future is bright for believers, and dismal for unbelievers. Believers will spend it in paradise, and unbelievers in the lake of fire, after much tribulation on earth.  We should use what we know of the end times as an encouragement and a witness until Christ returns.

The End