Look to Jesus and you will be at rest.

holocaust

In the last twelve days,  we have seen ISIS attack Istanbul’s major airport killing 45 and setting the world on edge because Istanbul serves as a sort of gateway between the western world and the Middle East.  Then gunmen linked to ISIS killed another twenty in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, and then ISIS pulled off their most deadly attack killing at least 121 in Baghdad.  Droves of people are being murdered around the world and here in the states we are watching racial tensions lead us to a new level of hate where people now embrace “their killers” based on race or profession.  I have seen friends on social media post about inequality because “Our murderers are dead and your murderers receive a paid vacation”.  Really?  That is where we are as a nation?  And then at least 6,000 Turkish military personnel rise up under the leadership of an Islamic minority group in an attempted Coup of the government.

The world is in a tragic state.  As Americans, we regularly look only as far as our own backyard and we are all in an uproar about Black and Blue lives that matter wile nations are quite literally falling apart and killing one another at much more alarming rates.  Yes, I believe that black lives and blue lives matter.  I also grieve for the hundreds who have been murdered this week while celebrating their version of Christmas all around the world, and the entire nation of Turkey (and Syria and many African nations) who have lost all sense of security in their worlds.  Just consider what would change if a military coup occurred in the US.  Jobs, schooling, the banks, all of our retirement plans, all of our “rights” and expectations as fat and happy citizens would be instantaneously changed or gone.  Everything.

But that is Turkey, not here.  We will keep fighting over who has to make a cake for whom and consequently bemoan the terrible injustices we encounter daily.

Corrie Ten Boom is one of those people who exemplified the most remarkable faith and has forever impacted my life and worldview.  She, along with her family, were Dutch nationals who helped hide and rescue Jews during WWII.  The family was arrested for their actions and Corrie was imprisoned alongside her sister Betsie in concentration camps.  Betsie died in the camp.  The girls led Bible studies, worship services and continually praised God throughout their imprisonment, and after the war ended Corrie returned to the Netherlands where she began a rehabilitation center for concentration camp survivors. The girls’ faith was poignant and bold – praising God for even the fleas in their barracks, which they only later learned were the reason that the guards did not come in to rape and harass the women as they did the other women.  Corrie made this simple, yet profound statement:

“If you look at the world, you will be distressed.
If you look within, you will be depressed.
If you look at Christ, you will be at rest.”

– Corrie Ten Boom

Can you imagine:  quite literally starving to death, being worked with the intention of extermination, fearing for your life with no relief in sight, living in barracks with no heat and infested by fleas, having no idea the fate of your family and loved ones, and all the while being able to say, “Look to Jesus and you will be at rest”?

How can we be at rest?  Perhaps you live in fear of the police.  Perhaps you are a police man living in fear of random assassination.  Perhaps you look at the upcoming election with fear, considering both of the candidates unfit to lead our country.  Perhaps you look at the alarming rate at which ISIS is growing, attacks are being successfully carried out and governments are failing.  Perhaps you are stuck in your own little bubble – needing a job, fretting about retirement or arguing about social injustice because someone looked at you funny.  And all of these things are things worth discussing and fighting for (or against).  But these things are not eternal, and these things – if rectified – will not bring us joy and peace.  Only Jesus can do that.

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

– John 16.33

Jesus has already overcome the world.  He has defeated sin and eternal death, and is delaying the end of the Age for the salvation of many.  But the war is already over, the end has already been written and we know that He will bring all of His own into His final rest.  But He also offers rest now, while we are still living on this Earth.  How?  By assurance that our eternity is secure and promising that everything that happens on Earth is working out to His glory and our Spiritual best.  God’s best for the Ten Boom family was obedience to protect Jews, incarceration in a labor camp, murder for some of them, and unthinkable suffering.  They were given faith about which most of us can only dream.  They were sustained through trials – the likes of which would send many of us into depression and abandonment of the faith.

Our eternal life has already begun in the New Birth, and eternal life is simply knowing Him:

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

– John 17.3

Do you know God?  If you do, then you have eternal life.  If you do not, then you do not yet have eternal life.  We will have worldly suffering and trials.  We have difficulties.  Just like Jesus did.  Just like the apostles did.  Just like the early church did.  But all we have to do is look to Jesus, and we will have rest.  Let’s look to Him today – while we are fighting for justice, while we are praying for our nation and the world, while we are seeking economic stability and while we are planning for the future.  Look to Jesus and have rest.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

– Matt 11.28

How Will You Die?

graveyard

Death is unavoidable.  We all know that in 100 or so years, everyone we know will be dead.  Death is the end of life, the eternal closure to our fleeting years on this planet.  The progress of medicine and cultural shift towards entertainment and self gratification have sheltered – or distracted – us from this reality, and we typically only contemplate death and eternity when a loved one dies but we all know death is our destiny.

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.”

– Heb 9.27-28

Scripture is unashamed about that fact that all mankind will die, and that by appointment of God.  After death we will all be judged according to the life we lived while on the Earth.  It has been a popular evangelism tool to ask the question, “If you were to die today and God were to ask you why He should let you into Heaven, what would you say?”  This question reveals a person’s understanding of the Gospel:  that there is nothing we can do to earn or merit our entrance into Heaven because God’s standard is perfection and we have all sinned – but Jesus died in our place and paid our debt of punishment so that we can be forgiven.

This question, however, reveals much about our personal faith and worldview.  If we approach a stranger or loved one with this question the likelihood is that we are considering salvation our escape from Hell, and that alone.  Jesus is for our eternity, He is for after we finish our life here on Earth.  Yes, it addresses our greatest need – but only in a superficial way – essentially saying, “one day we are going to die, then what?”

Jesus did not come to the world to take care of what happens after death, only.  Jesus came to the world to take care of what happens before death.  We cannot get a passport to Heaven, lock it in the drawer and count on it to gain us entrance into Heaven when we die – all the while continuing in life just as we did before.  Jesus came to give us new life which begins at the New Birth, our Spiritual birth, and never ends.  Our physical birth ends in our physical death, but our Spiritual life never ends.  You can read more about that here.

The New Birth required for salvation is when we are born Spiritually:  given Spiritual life (John 3).  This is the life that will continue beyond our death and will enter into eternity with Christ.  This life is birthed by the gift of faith by grace and results in our deep and unfaltering love for God and Jesus Christ (Eph 2.8-9).  God is love.  Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  If we do not love God and one another, we do not know God (1 John 4.7-8).  Loving Jesus and God means “abiding” in Him – or remaining in Him (John 15.4-7).  This means that our love for Jesus draws us continually to prayer (talking with Him), reading Scripture (to learn from Him and understand what He expects from us) and drawing strength from Him (relying on the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us throughout the day).

In short, salvation necessarily results in our love for God.  Everything that we do, therefore, should be in response to that love for God.  Thus we have commandments like:

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

– Col 3.17

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

– 1 Cor 10.31

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”

– Col 3.23-24

Scripture is indeed full of commandments.  If defines and condemns sin, it outlines how we should love, respect and care for the Church and for the world, it even teaches us how to worship God.  And while we take great care and make every effort to obey those commandments, it is not out of duty but out of love for God because of the love He has for us and the salvation He has given us through our new life.

“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

– Luke 7.47

And conversely, he who is forgiven much loves much.  Therefore, those who love Jesus will talk about Jesus continually.  They will recount the story of how He saved them, how He changed them, how He has given them Spiritual life.  They will talk about how much the love Him and what He is doing in their lives.  Their evangelism will not be, “Are you prepared to meet Jesus when you die” but rather, “May I introduce you to Jesus now?”  If Jesus is not transforming our lives now, we should seriously step back and examine our so called salvation – and see if we truly have Spiritual life.

I personally am more concerned about meeting Jesus and giving an account for my obedience to His commands.  He clearly taught us to go into all the world and make disciples of every nation (Matt 28.18-20).  He clearly taught us to love our neighbor in the same way that we love ourselves (Matt 22.39).  He clearly taught us to bear much fruit – growing in Spiritual maturity and teaching others to do the same (John 15.8).  We are promised that we have everything that we need for life and godliness in the Scriptures alone (2 Peter 1.3).  Can you imagine meeting Jesus face to face and admitting that you barely read or knew the Scriptures – His story and instructions for us?  Can you imagine meeting Him face to face and explaining why you did not go?  Why you did not make disciples?  Why you never met your neighbors, never gave to the Church or met other people’s needs?  Why you wasted all of your money on a house, car, entertainment and retirement?

Everything in the Earth is God’s (Ps 24.1).  We have been granted use of the Earth, the gifts and the finances that He deems fit.  We are stewards of His possessions.  Thus Paul says,

“For who regards you as superior?  What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

– 1 Cor 4.7

Jesus came to give us new life, which starts while we are alive physically.  He commanded us to be a part of Him bringing new life to others by going into all the world.  He is not primarily concerned about what happens after we die – even though we all will die.  He is primarily concerned about our love for Him that drives us to obedience of Him.  In this same vein John Piper said,

“The question, brothers, is not whether we will die, but whether we will die in a way that bears much fruit.”

How will you die?

Why is grace amazing?

amazing grace

Perhaps one of the most well known hymns for the past 250 years.  Isaac Newton was born in 1725, and after his mother died just before his seventh birthday, his father took him to sea with him at the age of eleven.  He grew up on the boat, drinking and carousing and was ultimately enlisted in the British navy.  Hating the service, he attempted to desert and was whipped with eight dozen lashes and lost his rank.  He then served on a slave ship but did not get along with his counterparts, and they left him as a slave to a slave trader in Africa.

John’s father sent a rescue mission to retrieve him and the ship suffered damage during a storm, nearly sinking.  Miraculously, some of the cargo shifted into the hole in the ship’s hull, and John understood this to be the intervention of God.  He continued to work in slave trading, though he began to have more compassion on the slaves.

He left the slave trade and became an Anglican priest, and thirty-four years after leaving the profession, John began fighting against slavery and wrote a pamphlet “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade”.  His efforts ultimately led to the outlawing of slaver in 1807 under the leadership of William Wilberforce.

John wrote the first verse of Amazing Grace while his ship was being repaired after the storm:

Amazing grace!  How sweet the sound,
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

While hunting in Londonderry, Ireland, Newton was climbing up a steep embankment and was pulling his gun behind him.  The shot gun went off, he describes it thus:

“As I climbed up a steep bank, pulling my shotgun after me, in a perpendicular direction, it went off so near my face as to burn away the corner of my hat.”

He understood this to be God’s intervention yet again, teaching him to fear – and finding fear’s only true hope:  Jesus Christ.

Grace indeed is amazing.  But what makes it so amazing is that which it counteracts, and that is the wrath of God.  Without the “bad news”, there can ultimately be no “good news”.  We often diminish the Gospel by placating ourselves and believing that we are good people at the core, that God loves us because of who we are, and that admittance into Heaven is just the icing on the cake.

The Gospel, however, teaches us that we are hopelessly wicked and deserve damnation.  Unless we believe in Jesus and are transformed by the Spirit, we will perish.  We have already been judged and the wrath of God is poured out upon us (John 3.18).  We must grasp this reality in order to understand and appreciate grace.  Otherwise grace is not amazing.

Grace is us receiving what we do not deserve:  eternal life.  The more deeply we understand Hell, damnation, and the wrath of God against ungodliness, the more fully we can appreciate the magnitude and glory of grace.

And it is grace itself which teaches our hearts to fear.  Did you go through a season where your heart feared damnation and a godless eternity?  Did you come to a point where you understood your sin and wickedness?  That was grace revealing your true state.  And grace turns around and relieves our fear by giving us hope through salvation.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ’d!

How amazing is God’s grace to you today?  Let us embrace the holiness of God and His wrath against ungodliness so that grace can be all the more sweeter and glorious in our lives today.

Can People Be Saved After Death?

heaven and hell

I had a conversation with a friend recently regarding the nature of death and whether or not people will have a chance to be saved after they die.  This is a relatively new belief that was made widely popular by Rob Bell and his book “Love Wins”, and it is defined by theologians as “postmortem evangelism” (PME).  It is certainly a warm fuzzy thought and comfort: that people can get through life and either never hear of Jesus or deny His salvation, but then be given one last chance as they stand at the brink of eternity to choose between Heaven over Hell.

The good thing, and the truth found within this belief, is that Jesus is the only way to find eternal salvation.  It is still exclusive and right in this claim.

But the problem is that Scripture clearly teaches that this is an impossibility.  The author of Hebrews makes a clear assertion that upon our moment of death we will be taken to judgment.

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…”

Heb 9:27

This is a difficult concept to understand.  We know that God, being Spirit (John 4.24) and being the creator (Col 1, Gen 1-3), exists outside of time.  He is not governed by the physical laws that uphold the world (Is 57.15), and the passing of time to God is irrelevant (Ps 90.5, 2 Peter 3.8, Ps 102.12, 24-27).  So it is not only possible but likely that when we leave our physical bodies we will enter into that state of existence where time does not constrain us.  In short, we can go straight from death to judgment – with everyone (even those who are still alive when we die) – at the end of time.

When we go to the judgment, we will go through two phases.  The first is the Great White Throne Judgment where the believers will be separated from the non believers (Rev 20.11-15).  The non believers, at judgment will be sent immediately to Hell.  Then the believers will give an account for the deeds that they did while in the body, the Bema Seat judgment (1 Cor 3.12-15).  This is the time where all of our deeds that were preformed to the glory of God will be refined from our sinful and wicked ones through fire and rewarded to us as Heavenly, eternal treasures:  treasures that we can present to Jesus as gifts.

Not only does Scripture teach that judgment is what awaits us at death, Jesus also taught in a parable of the impassable chasm between Heaven and Hell in his story of Lazarus and the Rich Man.  The story teaches us that after death the two were taken immediately to their eternity (through judgment):  Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom (Heaven/the New Earth), and the rich man to Hell (Luke 16.22).  The rich man could see Lazarus and in his torment begged Abraham to let Lazarus give him a drink of water, but he was denied (Luke 16.23-26).  Abraham told him that the chasm between Heaven and Hell was impassable (Luke 16.26).  No one can go from Heaven to Hell, and no one can go from Hell to Heaven.  Abraham also condemned the rich man for his actions while he was alive and asserted that he was receiving the reward for his wickedness in life (Luke 16.25).

Scripture regularly teaches that our eternal destiny is based on our actions in life, whether to eternal blessing or damnation:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

– 2 Cor 5.10

 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

– 1 Cor 3.8

“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”

– Rev 22.12

“I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.”

– Rev 2.23

“Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”

– John 5.28-29

The deeds we preform and the salvation we receive or reject while alive will determine our eternity after death.

We also need to consider the sovereignty of God over salvation.  Paul teaches us that everyone who will come to God for salvation was predestined to be saved before the foundation of the world:

“…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”

– Eph 1.4-6

Those who have been predestined have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev 21.27), and they have been there since before time began.  This is why Jesus so boldly taught the disciples that God has given some people on Earth to Him, and everyone that God has given to Jesus will come to Him:

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”

– John 6.37

The sheep analogy is continued and completed in this, as well.  Jesus says that we are His sheep, and His sheep know His voice and come when He calls (John 10.27-28).  Those who are not Jesus’ sheep are goats.  We are fundamentally, by nature, different creatures.  And that is why the first judgment will be the separation of the sheep and goats (Matt 25.31-46).

The last point we need to consider is the command and urgency of the Great Commission and missions.  Jesus came to bring salvation to the world, and the last thing He said as He was leaving the world was “Go and make disciples” of the whole world (Matt 28.18-20).  Paul said that He was obligated to the lost to preach the gospel (Rom 1.14-17).  And we are commanded to be disciples, and part of being a disciple is to make disciples.  If people had a chance to be saved after they left this Earth, then there is no urgency to go and tell.  Why?  Because anyone standing in front of two destinies, a fiery prison of suffering in Hell or eternal blessing in Heaven, will choose Heaven.  If everyone will get to see those options and choose, then there is no point to struggle to take the Gospel to the world.

Ultimately, Jesus taught us that belief in Him, through the Gospel, means that one has already begun their eternal life while alive on Earth.  Whoever does not believe still has the wrath of God abiding on him.

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

– John 3.36

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”

– John 5.24

And ultimately Jesus taught that those eternal destinies are already determined before life, those who are damned are already judged and condemned even though they might still be physically alive:

“He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

– John 3.18

In summary, God has chosen us for salvation from the moment that He created the world.  His plan cannot be thwarted.  When we die, we go immediately to judgment – judgment for our deeds in the flesh and our belief in Jesus – and after judgment we will enter eternity in either Heaven or Hell, and the chasm between the two cannot be passed, in either direction.  This is why evangelism is so necessary and urgent, because we only have a limited time on Earth and then we will spend an eternity in reward for our faith or our lack of faith.  No, people cannot be saved after they die.  So let’s get our own salvation established and then let us be obedient to the ultimate call of Jesus to go out and make disciples of the world, so that we can be obedient and we can spend eternity with our brothers and sisters from all nations!

From Preaching to Meddling

preach

What is the point of Christianity?

Did Jesus come in order to make your life easier and then to guarantee that you would have an easy eternity too?  Did Jesus come just to take care of the after life, once you have done everything that you wanted to do while you were alive?  Are you in charge of your life on Earth and Jesus takes care of everything after death?

Let’s look to see what Jesus had to say about His intention of coming to Earth.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

– John 10.10

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.  This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

– John 6.38-40

“I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.”

– John 12.46

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

– Luke 19.10

Jesus was very clear about His intentions of coming to Earth:  He came to give eternal life to those whom God has chosen.  So what exactly is eternal life?  I grew up in the Church and although no one ever said it to me intentionally, I always perceived eternal life to be life that started after death.  The life that never ends.  Life on the New Earth with Jesus.  And while this is true in part, it is not the full story.  Jesus taught Nicodemus that in order for one to be saved he must be born again:  born Spiritually.

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?  Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’.”

– John 3.3-7

Jesus was teaching Nicodemus that there are two births.  There is a physical birth that will result in physical death and a Spiritual birth that will never see death.  Everyone has a spirit, and everyone will remain in existence throughout eternity.  But only those who are children of God will have that eternal life with God in the New Earth.  And one can only become a child of God by being born Spiritually.  In short, we must be born Spiritually before we die physically.  And when we are born Spiritually, our eternal life has begun.  That Spiritual life which begins at the moment of salvation is the life that will never end.  It is the abundant life.  It is not yet in its fullness, as we remain in our physical bodies until death, but it has been started, in part.

This eternal, Spiritual life which we receive at the moment of Spiritual birth is marked by the conviction and leading of the Holy Spirit.  When we are born again, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives.  God writes His holy Law on our hearts, and the sanctification process begins:  we start looking more and more like Jesus.  We die to our flesh, we wage war on our sin and we produce the fruit of the Spirit that sets us apart from those who are not alive Spiritually.

And to this end of our sanctification, God has given us the Church to hold us accountable and to sharpen us in the Word and in our walk.  Have you ever listened to a sermon or Bible lesson and felt convicted?  There once was a small country church in rural Kentucky.  They same group of people had been attending the same church for generations, but when the pastor died they called a new pastor who was not from their small town.  The new pastor came in and started preaching on forgiveness and reconciliation.  He was unaware of a feud which had been going on, and the church goers approached the pastor and said, “Pastor, you have gone from preaching to meddling.”

These people considered church to be a social event and they considered Jesus to be their genie who would usher them from death to Heaven.  Nothing more.  Thus they heard the commands of Jesus to love and to forgive as burdensome and as meddling in their business – where it did not belong.  The Spirit was not alive within them convicting them of sin and righteousness and helping them to obey and experience abundant and eternal life.

Do you have eternal life?  When you hear the teachings of Jesus, is it a burden?  Does it feel like cumbersome meddling from which you would prefer to be left alone?  Or does the Spirit within you convict you that it is truth and cause your heart to long for those things which Jesus taught?  Jesus said,

“For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

– Matt 11.30

Jesus offers us His righteousness by taking our burden of sin and guilt.  Jesus paid the penalty for that sin on the cross so that we could have Spiritual, eternal life.  The burden of Spiritual life is much easier than the burden of sinful life.  There will be times of great difficulty, however.  Some of us will give our lives for the sake of the Gospel.  Some of us will walk paths of unfathomable circumstances.  But it will be made easier by the power of the Spirit at work within us, and we will never have to walk alone.  If the Spirit is trying to meddle in your life, then let Him.  Step back and surrender to Jesus, ask Him to make you a new creature, and experience the beginning of eternal life.  If we do not have it before we die, we will never be able to have it.

And [the Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

Jesus was not created.

jesus-christ-divine

Christianity Today published an article yesterday entitled “New Poll Finds Evangelicals’ Favorite Heresies“.  In the report, of professing Christians polled, 16% said that Jesus was the first creature created by God and another 11% were unsure.  If this poll is accurate, that means that one quarter of professing Christians are unclear about the nature of Jesus.

Ever since Jesus returned to Heaven, the question of His nature has been a difficult one.  In fact, it was one of the first major issues that the early Church encountered and was the stimulus for the first Ecumenical council in the year 325 AD.  There were many ideas that emerged: Adoptionism believing Jesus to have been an ordinary man who was chosen and “adopted” by God to be the Savior when He was baptized, Arianism which argued that since Jesus was begotten, there was a time that He did not exist and Sabellianism believed that Jesus was not actually human, only God in a different form (modalism).  The nature of Jesus was the primary concern and explanation given by the Nicene Creed at this first council in 325.  The issue of the role and nature of the Holy Spirit was also grossly unclear, and one of the early church fathers named Tertullian was the first to define and defend the term and doctrine of the trinity – and that was not until the early 3rd century.

It is easy to be confused about the nature of Jesus and the trinity.  But the Cappadocian Fathers (saints and theologians of the early Church) defined the nature of the Trinity for us so that we can understand what Scripture teaches about God, that He is one God, existing in three persons.

One reason for confusion are the identities of Jesus as “the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1.15), and God’s “only begotten son” (John 3.16).  Jesus functioned in the flesh as the only begotten son of God.  Jesus, being both fully God and fully man, was born of a human woman into a human body, but was conceived miraculously by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1.35).  He was begotten, and He was the only one physically born as such:  being fully God and fully man.  But Jesus existed before his physical birth.  Occasionally Paul is misunderstood in Colossians by calling Jesus the firstborn of all creation.  We all know that Jesus was born and lived only 2,000 years ago, thousands of years after creation.  But Paul was not referencing Jesus’ physical birth, rather His resurrection.  He was the first born of the dead (Rev 1.5).  Everyone will be resurrected from the dead for judgment, some unto eternal punishment and some unto eternal reward.  Jesus was raised on the third day of His death unto eternal life.  No one else has yet been resurrected from the dead unto eternal life.  Yes, we see all throughout Scripture that God raised multiple people from the dead, but they all died again.  Lazarus is dead, the widow’s son is dead, Dorcus is dead, they are all dead.  But Jesus is alive.

So how, then, do we know that Jesus has been around forever?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.  In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.”

– John 1.1-4

John goes on to explain in the next few verses that Jesus Christ Himself was the Word and the Light.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.”

– Col 1.15-18

These two passages of Scripture explain clearly that Jesus is God and has existed since the beginning.  Not only that, but through Jesus everything was created and by His power all things are held together.  He is the beginning and He was in the beginning.  He is God.  He has no beginning.  He was not created, but rather is the creator.

Jesus was not created.  He is God.  Let’s worship Him as such.

Are Death Bed Conversions Genuine?

Yesterday I wrote about God’s ability to forgive sinners, even the gravest of sinners like Ted Bundy.  He stated in his interview:   “I know people will accuse me of being self-serving, but through God’s help, I have been able to come to the point, much too late, where I can feel the hurt and the pain I am responsible for.”

Are death-bed conversions genuine?

Like I said yesterday, while we can examine the fruit of another’s life, we can never truly know his heart.  But we do know of at least one person who came to undeniable saving faith just moments before death:  The thief on the cross.

“Now there was also an inscription above Him, ‘THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.’  One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, ‘Are You not the Christ?  Save Yourself and us!’  But the other answered, and rebuking him said, ‘Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’  And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’  And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise’.”

 – Luke 23.39-43

Bundy made a very normal observation:  It sounds self-serving to live one’s entire life to his own end and only make peace with God on the way out.  But in reality, salvation is self-serving.  I know, I know, we exist for the glory of God (Rom 4.20, Jos 7.19, 1 Chr 16.35, and innumerable more).  But Paul makes a really interesting statement when he speaks about the one who is following Christ.  He says that the one who will inherit eternal life is the one who “perseveres in doing good seeking for glory and honor and immortality” (Rom 2.7).  Are you seeking for glory, honor and immortality?  When Jesus tells us to not live for the world, he says:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

 – Matt 6.19-21

Notice that Jesus is not saying to live for nothing.  He is not discrediting all treasures.  He is saying work for the treasures that matter!  The ones that last forever!  The ones in eternity!  We are seeking our own best interest, because if you work for those things that will rust and fade away, you are living a life of vanity.  But if you live for those things that will last forever, you are living unto the ultimate happiness.  Yes, all of salvation is self-serving.  It is our eternal preservation through Jesus’ righteousness by faith through grace to enjoy God forever.

So then the question begs to be asked, is it more self-serving to live a life of sin and meaninglessness and get eternity covered at the very end?  Or is it better for me to have much time on earth to store up treasures in Heaven and have abundant life (John 10.10) here on Earth, falling in love deeply with Jesus before I get to meet him face to face?

I would argue the latter.

John Piper wrote a book called “Don’t Waste Your Life”.  I highly recommend the book to everyone!  In it, he speaks of an elderly man who came to a realization of the meaning of life and salvation late in life and when he turned to Christ, in awesome sorrow he mourned “I have wasted [my life]”.

Faith is a matter of the heart.  It is understanding sin and its consequence.  It is understanding God and His holiness and our inability to appease His wrath.  It is embracing Jesus and His righteousness as our only means by which we can by saved, and it is repenting from sin so as to bring glory and honor to God.  One who is truly saved mourns lost time with the Lord and grieves over sin committed that dishonors Him.  Faith is the only response of the heart that accords with grace (Rom 4.5, 20).  And it is by faith alone that we please God and are saved (Heb 11.6, Eph 2.8-9).

Therefore I would argue that the way to test the sincerity of a deathbed conversion is the remorse for a life wasted.  If someone purposes to live a life of personal gain and pleasure, only to say “Please save me” on death’s door, then genuine faith is not present.  But I would also note that when one is staring death in the face, the reality of the vanity of worldliness becomes most clear.  It is only when one realizes that everything for which he has worked will be left behind does he grasp the insignificance of anything temporal and the full value of knowing God.  If one’s intention is to get to Heaven, but not to glorify or love God, he will not be saved.  Fear of eternity alone is not enough.  But to recognize the need of a savior, to understand sin and to embrace forgiveness and enter into a relationship with God through faith is enough.  Anyone can do it, if the Lord permits.

“Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me.”

 – Heb 13.5

If you hear His voice, be saved today!  Because there may not always be tomorrow.  And there comes a point where our hearts become so hardened that we can no longer be saved.  And if you do come to your deathbed and God extends the grace of faith to you then, you can certainly be saved, but only at the cost of realizing a lifetime wasted and no treasures stored up in eternity.