Jude 3: Over-Agonizing for the Once for All Delivered Faith

Dear saints,

Jude, our Lord’s brother, commanded us long ago to epagonizomai for the faith once for all delivered to us. Epagonizomai means to “over agonize.” In Colossians 1:29, Paul said he was agonizomai, agonizing, with God’s energeo, God’s energy, to present every man perfect in Christ. Jude puts epi, over, in front of that agonizomai. We are to “over agonize” for the faith.

What is the faith? To borrow a phrase from Tertullian, a writer from Carthage around the year 200, everything turns to its original for classification. The “original,” the very first faith that we know, is recorded in Acts 2:38-48:

  1. Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the Holy Spirit.

Peter said, so long ago, that this promise of the Holy Spirit was for those who heard him and …

for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God might call.

We are far off, but the Holy Spirit is a promise to us who have believed in Jesus and been baptized.

  1. “He solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!'”
  2. Those who “received the word” were baptized and “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, the breaking of bread, and to prayer.”

Look at those phrases! “Solemnly testified”; “kept on exhorting them.”

The apostles spoke and the hearers “received” and “continually devoted themselves.”

The result?

Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe, and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. All those who were together and had all things in common, and they began selling their possessions and property and were sharing them with everyone, as anyone might have need. Day by day, continuing with one mind in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they were eating their meals with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with the people.

And the result of this Holy-Spirit-inspired behavior?

The Lord was adding those who were being saved to their number every day.

No wonder Paul “agonized with God’s energy” to present us complete in Christ! No wonder Jude exhorted us to “overagonize” for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

This was not revival. This was not “re-“; it was the original. This was vivification, life coming to earth from the Holy Spirit. “Re-” vival is the restoration of that life.


“Agonize” is not the best translation of _agonizomai_. I am not trying to correct our Bible translations. “Fight” or “strive” in the sense of trying to win is the correct translation, but “agonize” is the right picture. We are supposed to picture a wrestler agonizing to throw his opponent to the ground, or a sprinter trying to nip his opponent as he crosses the line (reference). It is that effort Paul was giving to make us complete in Christ. It is MORE than that effort that Jude wants us to give in fighting for the original faith.

The original shines through in Acts 2:42-48. It was not forced. It was not communism nor mandatory daily banquets. It is the “of course” result—the fruit—of a fervent people (Rom. 12:11), set on fire by the Holy Spirit to love one another (Rom. 5:8), and zealous to do the deeds (Tit. 2:13-14) they were created in King Jesus to do (Eph. 2:10).

Posted in Early Christianity, Rebuilding the Foundations | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Uniqueness of John’s Gospel and Letters

In John 4 today, I am reminded of how unusual John’s Gospel is. When Jesus is talking with the Samaritan woman, he comes right out and says that he is the Christ (v. 26). In the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) Jesus is careful to prevent anyone from knowing he is the Christ until the last week of his ministry, which led to his being killed. (The admonition not to tell anyone he is the Christ, found in Matt. 16:20 is in all three synoptic Gospels.) Basically, riding into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey was his announcement to everyone that he was the King; the Jewish leaders would have been very familiar with Zechariah 9:9.

As an aside, what kind of leaders wait around for the arrival of a prophesied King, then make it a rule that anyone claiming to be that King is blaspheming? (see Luke 22:70-71).

Anyway, Jesus’s regular announcements that he is the Christ in the Gospel of John makes me think John spent most of the Gospel talking about the last week of Jesus’s life. (John 13-17 is all from one night.) The problem with that is the early Christians say John wrote his Gospel to cover the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, which the synoptic Gospels did not cover (Eusebius, AD 323, Church History, Bk. 3, ch. 24). Thus, John lists the miracle of the water and wine as the first of Jesus’s miracles, and the healing of the nobleman’s son as his second miracle.

That is not the only unusual thing about John’s Gospel. One important unusual thing is his use of “eternal life.” John is the only New Testament author to teach that eternal life is a current possession. For all other New Testament authors, eternal life is a reward after the judgment (yes, in Paul’s letters, too). Another is his persistent use of the Greek present tense, a tense which indicates “this is what is going on currently.” Thus, John 3:16 really should be translated as …

For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that whoever is believing in him [currently] should not be destroyed, but be having [currently] eternal life.

This is true in 1 John as well, where 1 John 3:9 should be “He who is born of God is not sinning [currently].”

Now, I know that those of you who have read to this point will ask, “What are you saying?” My answer is that I am not saying anything; I am telling you what John said.

I am suggesting, though, that we should be careful about how we interpret John, or we may contradict the rest of the New Testament.

Posted in Bible | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Bible Contradictions: Copyists’ Errors or the Word of God?

There are contradictions in the Bible. The reason that most churches’ statement of faith says that the Bible is “free from error in the original manuscripts” is because they know that the Bible is not free from error in the manuscripts we have available. To most, that is not a problem because all or almost all contradictions are chalked up to copyist errors.

One early Christian, though, thought there was something much better to do with contradictions and with puzzling verses that seem to make no sense. His name was Origen and, admittedly, he was a controversial guy. Though brilliant and highly respected in his time (A.D. 220-250), he was prone to wild speculation, and later councils condemned him. The condemnations, though, were probably not so much for his actual teachings but because two centuries later a group of “Origenists” arose promoting a false view of the Trinity, which was still a hot topic at the time.

Anyway, controversial or not controversial, the wisdom of this approach to contradictions in the Bible is apparent. Origen wrote:

Since, then, it was the intention of the Holy Spirit to enlighten those holy souls who had devoted themselves to the service of the truth with regard to these and similar subjects, the following purpose was kept in view. … For the sake of those who either could not or would not give themselves to this labor and toil by which they would deserve to be instructed in … things of such value and importance, [God purposed] to wrap up and conceal … in ordinary language—under the covering of some history and narrative of visible things—hidden mysteries. (De Principiis, Bk. IV, Ch. 1, par. 14; brackets in original)

Note: All the quotes from Origen in this post can be read at CCEL.org/fathers.

Origen is saying here that truth is for the diligent. As Psalm 25:14 says, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant.” Or, as the writer of Hebrews says, all who have faith know that “the Lord is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6). He is also saying that because truth is for the diligent, the most valuable and important truths are hidden beneath the surface, not lying in plain sight for the casual or lazy reader of Scripture.

Jesus gave a similar reason for speaking parables, saying, “I speak to them in parables because seeing they do not see and hearing they do not hear nor understand” (Matt. 13:13).

He goes on:

But if in all instances … the logical connection and order of the Law had been preserved, we would certainly not believe … that anything else was contained in it except what was indicated on the surface. So for that reason, Divine Wisdom took care that certain stumbling blocks, or interruptions, to the historical meaning would take place. He did this by introducing into the middle certain impossibilities and incongruities. (De Principiis, Bk. IV, ch. 1, par. 15)

So Origen says that there are impossibilities and incongruities (i.e., contradictions) in Scripture that are meant to stop the diligent student and cause him or her to look more deeply into the spiritual meaning of the narrative. One example that he gives is the devil taking Jesus on a high mountain to see all the kingdoms of the world.

How could it literally come to pass, either that Jesus should be led up by the devil into a high mountain, or that the latter should show him all the kingdoms of the world (as if they were lying beneath his bodily eyes, and adjacent to one mountain), i.e., the kingĀ­doms of the Persians, and Scythians, and Indians? (De Principiis, Bk. IV, ch. 1, par. 16; parentheses in original)

This example reminds me of a customer service call I took from a lady living on Lookout Mountain in Tennessee. I told her that I had heard that a person can see five states from that mountain. She answered, “Yes, you can, with binoculars and a good imagination.”

There is no mountain in Israel, or anywhere else, from which a person can see India and Egypt at the same time. Origen is telling us to stop and contemplate the spiritual truth being revealed in passages like this. Those impossibilities are God reminding his diligent and spiritual disciples to look below the surface.

Bible Contradictions

The contradiction that led me to write this today is found in 2 Kings 8:25 and 9:28. There you will find two different years for the beginning of King Ahaziah’s reign. The two dates are only one year apart, and it is entirely possible this really is a copyist’s error. It has been more than 2500 years since those chapters were written, and we have no Hebrew manuscript more than a thousand years old with 2 Kings in it. That is 1500 years of copies. It is no surprise a little error like that could come in. In fact, it is a surprise that there are not many more such errors.

I doubt we need to dig deeper into the beginning of Ahaziah’s reign. Rather, that minor copyist’s error reminded me of Origen’s teaching. I write much more extensively about this idea at https://www.christian-history.org/bible-interpretation.html. I do want to discuss Bible contradictions just a bit further here, though.

A much bigger error that has to do with Ahaziah’s reign is in Matthew’s genealogy of Christ. You can see a list of the kings of Judah at Bible-history.com. Note that Ahaziah was the son of Jehoram (or Joram). Matthew, however, says that Joram was the father of Uzziah (Matt. 1:8). Maybe this was because Uzziah was also called “Azariah,” (2 Kings 15;; perhaps “Uzziah” was short for “Azariah”?), very similar to Ahaziah, and Matthew (or a list he was using) mixed them up. No matter what the reason, Matthew confused Ahaziah and Azariah, and so he left out Ahaziah, Joash his son, and Amaziah his grandson. So there were not fourteen generations from David to the exile in Babylon, but seventeen (Matt. 1:17).

Now one response to this “incongruity” is to bury our head in the sand and never mention it, hoping no one will notice. Since we are Christians, spiritual and powerful children of God, and not ostriches, I do not recommend this response. I recommend Origen’s response, digging deeper. This is hard to do. It is terrifying for those who believe the Bible is “free from error in its original manuscripts” to face a real contradiction from the original author of a Bible book. Matthew’s oversight is an error. It is a big error. Matthew counted his generations wrong in order to get his three fourteens (1:17).

I hope you are glad that I told you this rather than a scoffing atheist telling you. Now you have time to prepare.

I wish I could give you some great Bible interpretation when I found this contradiction. I did not get a great Bible interpretation out of it; I got a great spiritual truth. (For those who need a good explanation for the inconsistency, here are some given in commentaries.)

I found the contradiction in Matthew at a time in my life when I was getting back in shape and jogging a lot. I had a favorite logging trail to run on, and I ran a few hundred yards down the trail and curled up in the grass, calling out to God. There were several other difficulties I had run across through the previous year, mostly because I was doing a lot of apologetics. As I lay there on the ground, I told God I had to let go of things that I had treasured and defended. I could not argue for or believe a Bible without contradictions anymore.

The most astonishing peace came over me, truly a peace that passes understanding. It was every bit as puzzling as the joy that came over me a few years later when I was told I had leukemia. In that moment, lying there in the grass, I realized that I believe with a deep-down, unshakable belief that has nothing to do with the accuracy of Scripture and everything to do with the power of God. I had doubted some of the most important things I have ever believed, and neither God nor I cared about it. He was the great supporter. My power and the source of my life comes from him. His support is unshakable. I got up with a faith greater than I had ever had. Further, I was free. All the atheist attacks on the faith, all the scientific evidence for evolution … none of it mattered. I was at peace with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I knew him and was owned by him, and nothing else mattered.

Those commentaries I linked will give you some possible explanations for Matthew’s factual error. I no longer care. The books of the Bible have been gathered, and inspired by God, to reveal his will and ways to us so that we can be “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Today, I have a much higher, stronger, and more spiritual view of the inspiration of Scripture than I have ever had. This is all true despite the fact that I believe Matthew, inspired by God, made a historical mistake.

That may not be a satisfying answer for many of you, but by the power of God, it has more than satisfied me.

Posted in Bible, Dealing with Scripture Honestly | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Aphiemi: Release or Forgive?

It is hard to forgive someone who did not repent. It is hard to understand even why we should. In fact, some who have wronged us are happy to have wronged us and are not looking to be forgiven.

We need to learn a new and biblical word for forgive. That word is “release.” Yes, the Greek word _aphiemi_ can mean forgive, but only as an extension of its real meaning, release (see https://studybible.info/strongs/G863). Thus, in Matthew 6, Jesus teaches us to pray (more correctly translated), “Release us from our debts, just as we release the ones indebted to us.” After Jesus teaches the prayer, he then says, “If you do not release men from their trespasses, neither will your Heavenly Father release you from your trespasses.”

“Trespass” is a really cool Greek word that is literally “sidestep.” I think it can carry the meaning of “I really didn’t mean to slip into that” (see https://studybible.info/strongs/G3900). Either way, with both debts and someone that has trespassed (think, on your land), you can release them without forgiving them in the English sense of the word. Forgiving a debt does not mean you feel bettter about having lost the money. It means telling the person that they don’t have to pay you back. (If you are prone to not forgiving debts, you MUST read the parable of the unforgiving steward in Matthew 18:23-35.)

It is the same with someone trespassing on your property. You may have a sign saying “trespassers will be shot,” and you may be really angry, but in most cases people are satisfied not to shoot trespassers, but just to run them off. They have “released” the person from the trespass even if they have not forgiven them in the normal sense of the word.

I think this an important concept. Even though we have offended God much worse than others have offended us, God is kind toward us, always offering us release. He offers not to punish us at all if we will repent.

He will only do this, however, if we do this for others, and it is something we can do! It’s okay if you’re still angry. You can release those who have offended you from your wrath and from your retaliation. You may still feel bad, but you will have pleased God, and I’ll bet he will go right to work on your feelings. You also won’t feel stupid for forgiving someone who doesn’t care about being forgiven anyway, or who may deny that there is anything to be forgive for. What Jesus is getting at is that just as the Father has released you from the punishment for your many transgressions, you must release others from punishment for their few transgressions against you. Stop praying against them and pray for them. You may still have to stay away from them because they are evil or a bad influence or simply because they suck the life out of you, but you can pray they be released from all punishment from you or from God.

I hope that’s clear. I get asked all the time about how to forgive someone who does not want to be forgiven. Think release, not forgiveness.

Thank you to en.katabiblon.com and StudyBible.info for being complete Bible resources for the Greek New Testament!

Posted in Bible, Holiness | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Sufferings of Christ

I already published a quick post this morning, but I have to add this as well.

Last night and this morning both, I told God that while I understand the cross mentally and theologically, I do not feel it like I have heard others feel it. I believe that a greater depth of feeling would strengthen me in both loving and following Jesus. I could use a jump start in my faith at this time.

My wife and I are moving our bedroom from one room in our house to another for complicated reasons. In the process, I am greatly reducing my bookshelf space. After choosing the books I definitely want to keep, I had space for all but one book. almost three inches thick. To keep it meant taking several others out. My wife helped me choose a small amount of extra space, but I while I had it out, I decided to browse the book. It is called A Heritage of Great Evangelical Teaching, and it has excerpts from Martin Luther, John Wesley, Dwight Mood, Charles Spurgeon, and others (1996, Thomas Nelson, Inc.).

I opened it randomly, this 3-inch thick book, to page 116, where an article called “A Meditation on Christ’s Passion” begins.

This sort of thing is not coincidence, it is a God incident. Unlike some, I do believe in coincidences, but it is important never to miss a God incident.

The article is by Martin Luther. I do not know what you think of Martin Luther, but if you read only his writings from 1517 to 1525, you would love him. If you read only his writings from the 1540’s, you would find him the most hateful of persons and a scoundrel. This writing is surely from the 1520’s because it is kind toward the Jews. There is a footnote acknowledging Luther’s changing attitude toward the Jews during his lifetime, from evangelist to a Hitler-esque hate.

Leaving that behind, here are some of the words God gave me in answer to my prayers.

“They contemplate Christ’s passion aright who view it with a terror-stricken heart and a despairing conscience. This terror must be felt as you witness the stern wrath and the unchanging earnestness with which God looks upon sin and sinners, so much so that he was unwilling to release sinners even for his only and dearest Son without his payment of the severest penalty for them. Thus, he says in Isaiah 53:8, “I have chastised him for the transgressions of my people.” If the dearest child is punished thus, what will be the fate of sinners? It must be an inexpressible and unbearable earnestness that forces such a great and infinite person to suffer and die to appease it. And if you seriously consider that it is God’s very own Son, the eternal Wisdom of the Father, who suffers, you will be terrified indeed. The more you think about it, the more intensely will you be frightened.

“You must get this thought through your head and not doubt that you are the one who is torturing Christ thus, for your sins have surely wrought this. In Acts 2:36-37 Saint Peter frightened the Jews like a peal of thunder when he said to all of them, “You crucified him.” Consequently three thousand alarmed and terrified Jews asked the apostles on that one day, “O dear brethren, what shall we do now?” Therefore, when you see the nails piercing Christ’s hands, you can be certain that it is your work. When you behold his crown of thorns, you may rest assured that these are your evil thoughts.

“For every nail that pierces Christ, more than one hundred thousand should in justice pierce you, yes, they should prick you forever and ever more painfully! When Christ is tortured by nails penetrating his hands and feet, you should eternally suffer the pain they inflict and the pain of even more cruel nails, which will in truth be the lot of those who do not avail themselves of Christ’s passion. This earnest mirror, Christ, will not lie or trifle, and whatever it points out will come to pass in full measure.

“Saint Bernard [of Clairvaux] was so terrified by this that he declared, ‘I regarded myself secure: I was not aware of the eternal sentence that had been passed on me in heaven until I saw that God’s only Son had compassion upon me and offered to bear this sentence for me. Alas, if the situation is that serious, I should not make light of it or feel secure.'”

Those are powerful nails. I must be honest and confess that I do not believe that the sufferings of Christ prove that sinners should be tortured eternally. I consider it an outrageous and evil thought that sinners should be punished eternally for temporal sin. Immortality is a reward for the righteous (Rom. 2:6-7; Gal. 6:8-9). Only God is inherently immortal (1 Tim. 6:16), and he gives immortality to the righteous, not to the unrighteous. The doctrine of the immortal soul is not in the Bible but comes from Greek philosophy. God does indeed punish the unrighteous after death as indicated in the parable of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man and as warned when Jesus said that God can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna. Those who refuse to believe in Jesus will “perish” rather than “have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). They shall “reap corruption” who live according to the flesh rather than reaping eternal life as those who will who sow to the Spirit and do not grow weary of doing good (Gal. 6:8-9).

That said, every other point by Martin Luther is powerful for me, and I will continue to meditate on it. I have known these facts before, but now I will drive them into my heart that the feeling of my heart may match the knowledge in my head. May God give me grace, and I give him praise for his quick response to my prayer and even more so for sending his Son to suffer what I was worthy to suffer. I praise him too for forgiving me for being the cause of the Son’s anguish and the Father’s greatest sorrow.

One More Paragraph from Martin Luther

From the same chapter of the same book, page 118.

“For the evildoers, the Jews, whom God judged and has driven out, were only the servants of your sin; you are actually the one, who, as we said, by his sin killed and crucified God’s Son.”

Posted in Bible, Evangelicals, Gospel, Holiness, Protestants | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

Luke 17: Faith and the Kingdom of God

Today, in Luke 17:6, I read, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you would tell the sycamore tree, ‘Be uprooted, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

As I have been reading through Luke, I have been noting Jesus’ idea of faith. When the apostles were in the boat during the storm and Jesus was sleeping, he awoke and both Jesus and his apostles were surprised. The apostles were surprised he could command the waves and sea, and Jesus was surprised at their little faith. Later, Jesus goes up on a mountain with Peter, John, and James, and when he comes down, he finds that the other apostle had met a demon they could not cast out. Not only is Jesus surprised by this, he is frustrated, and cries out, “Faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and bear with you?”

Those words terrified me. If that was faithless and perverse, then what condition am I in?

Luke 17 has something else to help with this, I think. Jesus statement about the mustard seed is a response to the apostles’ request for more faith. The mustard seed statement is followed immediately by a teaching about serving God. When a master comes in from the field, the servant does not sit down and eat; he first feeds the master, then later eats himself. Even so, Jesus says, his servants should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what we have been commanded to do.”

In all of this, I hear, “You are in control of your faith.” It only takes tiny faith to do amazing miracles, but the mustard seed is not just tiny. Like all other seeds, it is meant to grow. So, our faith can grow as we throw ourselves into serving Jesus. When we put ourselves aside and focus on him, not only will all our needs be met (Matt. 6:33), but our faith will grow. We will become less and less perversely faithless as we serve him because faith comes from the Holy Spirit, and God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him (Acts 5:32).

Further down in Luke 17, Jesus praises the faith of a leper. Ten lepers, practicing social distancing because they were unclean, called to him while standing far off from him. Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priest. As they went, they were healed. One of them, a Samaritan, ran back to fall on his face and thank Jesus.
Interestingly, Jesus said, “Were there not ten cleansed?” This is an example of Jesus’ faith. How did he know that the ten were cleansed? He just trusted. They were far off when he told them to see the priest. They turned around and left, but he knew they would be healed on the way by faith. Then, when the Samaritan come back, Jesus told him, “Go your way, your faith has healed you.”
Despite Jesus’ frustration with the apostles’ faith in particular, he is gracious about crediting others for their faith. The interesting thing, though, is that the next event is being asked about the kingdom of God. Jesus says that it does not come with observation, but it is … and the Greek here can mean either “it is in your midst” or “it is within you.”
Today, though, I realized the main point is not whether the kingdom was in them or in their midst, but that the kingdom of God does not come with observation. Don’t stand around looking for it! Go get it! I am pretty sure the kingdom of God was on earth in the form of Jesus at that time, so I think he was saying, “Here I am in your midst,” not “the kingdom is within you awful pharisees.” (The pharisees asked the question.) The point, though, is that they were waiting around for the kingdom, and here it was right in their midst. Forget looking, grab it! Believe it! Get it! The kingdom of God suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. Pour yourself out! Say, “I am an unworthy servant; I have only done what I was commanded.” Go get more. Pursue Jesus more. Lay hold of more faith. Jesus is the King of the kingdom! We must lay hold of him!

Posted in Bible | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Why It Matters That You Can Lose Your Salvation

Sometimes my blogs put me in awkward position. I almost don’t want to write this post because I am tacking on to the sermon of a friend. His sermon was great, his exhortation timely, and his delivery of the sermon anointed. He is a caring shepherd like few I have every met. If you had to choose him or me as a shepherd to follow, you should choose him.

Nonetheless, we have a subject we disagree on. This post is not for him; it is for you. I am sure he is among those who do not shrink back to destruction, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul (Heb. 10:39). Nonetheless, we all need to know that it is possible for us to fall away. Why? First because it is biblically commanded (1 Cor. 10:1-12; Rom. 11:19-22). Secondly, … well, let me explain.

My friend said many true things in his sermon. We cannot earn our salvation. Everything we have, we have received by faith. We were chosen by him, predestined in him, and saved and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise.

I don’t want to refute him; I want to add to what he said. A great passage to begin with is Romans 6:22-23. It describes the pattern of salvation:

“But now being made free from sin, and made slaves to God, you have your fruit to holiness …”

This we agree on. Once we are saved and mad slaves to God, holiness is the fruit of the gifts and power he gives us through the Holy Spirit and grace.

“… you have your fruit to holiness, and the end: eternal life.”

Again, we would agree here. Holiness is a fruit, a result of simply being attached to the vine that is Jesus Christ (Jn 15:1-0). We even agree that no one gets eternal life without holiness (cf. Heb. 12:14).

Where we disagree is that not all true branches of the vine bear fruit. John 15 says there are branches that are in the vine, but they don’t bear fruit. Those branches will be cut off and thrown into the fire.

Some argue that this is just pruning, not being cut off. Those who say so misunderstand that the vine gets stronger from pruning, but the branch dies. Prune an apple tree according to gardening instructions some day. Then look at the huge pile of branches you cut off. They are not going to get better. There is no recovery for those branches unless they are grafted back into the tree. No pruner does that, however. He takes the branches and throws them in the fire (says Jesus in John 15).

Despite that disagreement, we do agree on the rest of that passage:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Eternal life is a gift. There is no way we could “earn” it my our suffering and efforts, which we endure by God’s power and want to endure because of the free gift of salvation that he gave to us when we believed in Jesus. From front to back it is his work. We “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” only because “God works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Php. 2:12-13).

Surely the question must be asked, “If it is God’s work from front to back, then how could we possibly lose our salvation?”

The answer is, “Because we are a stubborn and rebellious race, even after we receive God’s great gifts.” That is why we are warned over and over to continue in the faith by “making every effort.” Let’s sample just a few of the multitude of verses in the New Testament.

  1. 2 Peter 1:3-11 has to be the most majestic of those passages. After describing our salvation in the most glorious terms, he gives us things that we must “give every effort to.” If we do not do those things, we become blind and forget that we were purged from our past sins. If we “do these things,” then, and only then, do we make our calling and election sure and gain an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
  2. Colossians 1:21-22 gives a glorious description of what happens to Christians when we appear before Jesus. Because he reconciled us, not our own work, he will present us holy, without blame, and “unreproveable” in his sight What an amazing work! But it will only happen if we continue in the faith, steadfast and grounded.
  3. It is always funny to me that Paul is so often quoted to support eternal security apart from our own effort, when he himself disciplined his body daily so that he would not be “disqualified” after having preached to others (1 Cor. 9:27). “Disqualified” is the same word in Greek that he uses in 2 Corinthians 13:5, where he tells the Corinthians to examine themselves to be sure they are in Christ, unless they are disqualified. Yes, it is easy to say that 2 Corinthians 13:5 is telling the Corinthians to make sure they were ever Christians in the first place, but it is very hard to make 1 Corinthians 9:27 say that Paul thought he might never have been a Christian in the first place. If that is what 1 Corinthians 9:27 means, then we all need to wonder whether we were ever saved because if Paul wasn’t, none of the rest of us are!
  4. Romans 11:19-22 seems irrefutable to me as well. God has cut Jewish people off the one tree of his kingdom, and he has grafted us Gentiles in. He warns us there that if God cut off the native branches, he will cut us off too if we don’t continue in his goodness. What are we going to argue against this? Those branches that were grafted in weren’t really saved? No, we are branches, just like the branches of the vine in John 15. We Gentiles are grafted in “against our nature,” and I am certain all of us experience that. Just like Paul had to discipline his body and bring it into subjection, so do we! It is a fight, and like Paul, we must not consider ourselves to have attained, but keep pressing forward if we hope to attain to the resurrection of the dead (Php. 3:8-15).
  5. Both letters of Peter are my final example. Both letters are packed with warning. Every time Peter talks about the great gifts of God, he warns us about our part in walking in them. Though he tells us we are “kept by the power of God,” he means the same thing Paul means by that phrase. If we will “make every effort” and “discipline our bodies to bring them into subjection,” then God will make sure we win that battle. It is his power, not ours, but if we shrink back from the effort, it will be to destruction. After Peter tells us of the great work of God in us in 1 Peter 1, he goes on to tell us of what we must do in verses 13-17. Then he goes again into all God has done for us, which gives us no excuse for not “laying aside all malice, guile, hypocrisies, envy, and malicious speaking” (2:1). Thus the warning in 1 Peter 1:17 that God will judge us by our works. It is not possible to cover all of 1 Peter in this list item, but there is a reason that Peter writes that God “sets his face against those who do evil” (3:12), or that “the righteous are scarcely saved” (4:18). Of course, 2 Peter speaks for itself. It needs no commentary in the context of this post.

I could write these things all day. There are dozens of passages like this. In Revelation 3, Jesus tells the church in Sardis that only a few of them have undefiled robes and that only those will walk with him in white. Then he reminds those with spiritual ears that we must overcome so that our names are not blotted out of the Book of Life. In seven letters, he uses “works” or “deeds” a dozen times! How many of us write letters like Jesus?

It is true that those works are not any works. We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do. Those works are God’s will, and he is guiding us like a loving Father along that path. Nonetheless, we must hear the warnings of Scripture not to get tired of doing those works. Even when they are done the Spirit, we can grow weary and fail (Gal. 6:8-9). We must fight to go forward, and God will ensure you win. Shrinking back, though … giving up, growing weary, settling in, coasting, and growing comfortable, those are scary places when the assurance of your calling and election depends on “doing these things” and “making every effort” (2 Pet. 1:10). If God frees you from the corruptions of this world, beware entangling yourself in them again! (2 Pet. 2:20-22).

This isn’t a very exciting post, I know. So let me tell you the results of this kind of teaching because I also teach on the great and precious promises of God quite often.

We discuss things like this in our church, and our church meetings are all discussions. We only rarely have teachings with one person up front teaching. When we do, our members quickly say, “Well, of course.” If asked what they are hearing from me, they say, “If you started on this course, you have to keep going even if it’s hard. You have to keep going forward. God has given us the Holy Spirit and grace to make sure we can do that. It is only right that we would be judged for not doing it.”

There is not a spirit of fear in our church, and there is an important reason why. They know they must continue in the faith, so they have sought God for the means to do so. In doing so, they have found him faithful. So will you.

To preempt your comments, my dear and honored friend Jon, I have no idea why you wonder whether you are making every effort when you face the kind of battles you face. Blessed are those who do not [feel], yet believe anyway. If anyone presses and wrestles, it is you. Our God is a merciful God, and if he has made your trail unusually difficult, then surely he will give you unusual rewards for having traversed it. You are ahead of us who “feel” it, not behind.

Posted in Holiness, Modern Doctrines | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Luke 11 Mini-Commentary

I have been following the daily Bible reading plan from “Our Daily Bread” (odb.org) the last couple weeks. Today one of the chapters was Luke 11. These are the verses I highlighted and why.

Luke 11:9-10

“I tell you, keep asking, and it will be given you. Keep seeking and you will find. Keep knocking and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened.”

The last part of this verse could be translated “For everyone who is asking is receiving, and he who is seeking is finding, and to him who is knocking it will be opening. It would be awkward, but Jesus’ point would be made better. We have to keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking. This verse is preceded by a parable about asking for help from a neighbor in the middle of the night. Jesus says that if you keep at it, the neighbor may not help you because he is a friend, but he will help because of your persistence.

Obviously, Jesus wants us to pray to God with the same kind of passion that the man in the parable was asking for bread at night. Our prayer needs to be ongoing. We need to beat on the door. James, the Lord’s brother, would remind us not only that the “fervent” prayer of a righteous man avails much, but also that the mighty Elijah was no different than us. It was his prayers and his faith that were different.

I highlighted Luke 11:9-10 for me. My prayers have plenty of room for more fervency and passion. Following Jesus is something we must do intentionally, which means I need to set fire to my prayers.

Luke 11:13

“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

This verse reminds me that I am not setting fire to my prayers because God is a reluctant giver. Jesus said that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom (somewhere in the discussion with his disciples in John 13-17). Here he says that our Father wants to give us the Holy Spirit.

This is not just talking about our initial filling of the Spirit when we were born again. This is talking about asking for the Holy Spirit often. Ephesians 5:18 tells us to “be being filled with the Spirit.”

That is a command, so it is something we are to do. Jesus tells us here that we can do this by asking. I am always reminding people that Jesus said this about the Holy Spirit. Let’s take advantage! But remember, Peter said God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him (Acts 5:32). This doesn’t mean we work for the Holy Spirit, but there is a beginning commitment to Jesus that we all must make. It is only to those who know him as Lord to whom he gives the Spirit. The Holy Spirit does many things for us, but his primary role is to empower us for obedience to Jesus. Even God’s Spirit won’t do this without our commitment to follow Jesus above all other authorities, including your good buddies, your girlfriends, and your family.

Luke 11:21

I have to quit with this one. I guess I won’t cover all the verses I highlighted in Luke 11.

“When the strong man, fully armed, guards his own dwelling, his goods are safe. But when someone stronger attacks him and overcomes him, he takes from him his whole armor in which he trusted, and divides his plunder.”

I highlighted this verse for theological purposes. This verse is bursting with the wine of Jesus’ teaching like an over-ripe grape.

First, note the boldness of Jesus’ words. The context is casting out demons. Jesus is calling the devil a “strong man, fully armed.” Then he implies, “But I am stronger. I am attacking him and overcoming him, and I am going to plunder him.”

To this day, people are scared of demon-possessed people. The whole town was afraid of the demoniac in the tombs that Jesus cast the legion out of (Mark 5). Jesus wasn’t afraid. Instead, the demons were afraid of him! They only had one weapon against him, and they employed it often when he came near them. Jesus did not want the people to know until the right time that he was the Messiah (Matt. 16:20), and the demons often announced it (e.g., Luke 4:41). They wanted him killed before his time. Eventually, they would get their will, but in God’s time, and they would regret it (1 Cor. 2:7-8), for it was in death that he truly pillaged the devil’s goods, taking captivity captive (Eph. 4:8), and delivering us from our fear of death.

Thus, Luke 11:21 shows us Jesus’ boldness and authority, and it prophesies of his death and resurrection. He spent his life pillaging the devil on earth, and his death defeated the devil, death, and the grave, preached to the dead (1 Pet. 4:6), and took all the strong man’s goods. So much more could be said about how much we can see the living Word of God in Jesus in this passage, the one with all authority in heaven and earth, but this is just a blog post. I need to bring it to an end now.

Great grace to all of you. Pray like Elijah and implore God for all the good things that he so longs to give to you.

Posted in Bible | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

LOVE and Good Works: COVID-19 Is a Launch Pad for the Church

I get Facebook friend requests from Christians in Africa and India on a regular basis. I have no idea how many of those actually read my posts. If any of them do, then I want to announce to them that this is a great time for the church. We have turned the church, which is supposed to be a family (1 Tim. 3:15; Gal. 6:10) into an institution with a teacher and a bunch of students. Hebrews say we all should be becoming teachers (end of ch. 5).

REMEMBER: This does not mean go off and teach your own doctrines. It means learning about one another so you can provoke one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24-25). The PURPOSE of the Scriptures, according to 2 Tim. 3:16-17, is to equip men of God (and women of God) for love and good works. It only works though if we are teaching, correcting, admonishing, and instructing in righteousness using the Scriptures.

Serve and teach, friends, not with crazy, new doctrines, but with encouragement to obey Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. “A good understanding,” says the Scripture, “have all those who DO his commandments” (Ps. 111:10). That is Old Testament, but the New Testament says that God blesses only the doers, not just the hearers (James 1). It also says that God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him (Acts 5:32) and eternal salvation to those who obey him (Heb. 5:8-9).

All my friends (that I respect so much) want me to remind you that obedience is the product of faith in Jesus. Without him, we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5). It is by the Spirit that we fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law (Rom. 8:3-4) and put to death the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:13). So there’s your reminder about the source of all our good works. Now, go work out your salvation with fear and trembling because it is God (not your church membership) that works in you both to will and to do his good pleasure. Seek God, get empowered, then overflow to those around you so that they are so filled with Jesus, or maybe convicted by the Holy Spirit, that they obey our loving Lord, who makes our yoke easy, but nonetheless puts a yoke on us (Matt. 11:30).

Remember, provoke to love and good works (Heb. 11:24), don’t spend time on doctrines you think you understand, but really don’t. It is LOVE and good works. Unity matters. Quit trying to create a separated, elite level of Christianity that the weak cannot be part of. Encourage the weak, and comfort the fainthearted (1 Thes. 5:14). Yes, we also need to “warn the unruly” (same verse), but that is the unruly, those that cause miserable problems in the church. Those that are simple doing what they are told, showing up Sunday after Sunday, but still confused as how to serve and grow, are not the unruly. They are fainthearted because they have never been TRAINED to be bold for Jesus. Help and comfort those people, if they will let you.


Posted in Church, Holiness | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Are You Really Saved? What To Do If You Doubt It?

I much prefer practical discussions about following Jesus to theoretical, theological discussions about Christianity, though sometimes the theoretical must be addressed because it affects the practical.

Never Saved or Falling Away?

I have a conflict with most evangelical pastors over the assurance of salvation. In the twentieth-century, at least in my experience, evangelical pastors often told their congregation that they could get to heaven no matter how they lived as long as they believed Jesus died for their sins. Fortunately, more than 30 years have passed since my early experiences in evangelicalism, and evangelical pastors have mostly come to their senses and rejected that falsehood, at least in my experience.

There remains, however, a disagreement. If someone is not living for Jesus, are they in danger of falling away, or were they never saved?

Whichever answer you choose to that question, there is just one thing to do about it. Whether you wonder if you are really saved, or whether you wonder if you are falling away, the Bible has just one course of action for you.

How You Can Restore OR Begin Your Relationship with God

There are three things to think about here:

1.) If you were never really saved, but you did believe and were baptized, then the next step is not to believe and be baptized all over again. If that did not work the first time, why would it work the second time? As the saying goes, it is a mark of insanity to do the same things over again but expect different results.

2.) Mark 16:16 says that the one who believes and is baptized will be saved. If you have believed and been baptized, then you have a promise that God will save you. All denominations believe that the Christian life should be lived by faith. They all quote Galatians 2:20 to establish this. It is a great verse. So, you can simply step out in faith on the promise that he that believes and is baptized will be saved.

3.) Think about what happens when a person believes and is baptized and is really saved. What should happen is that all their sins are forgiven, they receive the Holy Spirit and, as a result, they live a holy life; i.e., they “bear fruit” (Jn. 15:1-10). If that did not happen for you, the Bible gives specific steps you can take to get all those things.

The forgiveness of sins: 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confess and repent of your sins (Cf. Acts 26:20).

Receive the Holy Spirit: Jesus said, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those that ask him” (Luke 11:13). Similarly, the apostle Paul says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18, NIV). Since Paul was writing to a whole church in a large city, it is safe to conclude that he thought Christians should be filled with the Spirit over and over again. Ask your Father in heaven to fill you with the Holy Spirit.

Live a Holy Life: If you asked your heavenly Father for the Holy Spirit, trust Jesus and begin obeying God. Peter said God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him (Acts 5:32). He will help you every step of the way. Here are the ways you can begin obeying God:

How You Can Obey God</h3

  1. 2 Peter 1:3-11 is a great general passage to begin with. You have faith, and you have been baptized, and Peter explains how to add to your faith. In verses 3 and 4, he lets you know what God has given you as a Christian and what great promises he has for you, such as partaking of his divine nature (Wow!). He then tells you what you should add to your faith. First, there is virtue. Do what you know is right. Second, increase your knowledge by reading the Bible and finding other Christians you can help you. Third, practice self-control. Do those virtuous things, and increase your knowledge. Be diligent about it. Fourth, don’t give up (“add … perseverance”). There are days you will feel weary, but don’t give in. Persevere. Fifth, if you persevere in those first four things, you will find yourself becoming godly. Sixth and seventh, you will find your godliness growing into kindness and love. You feed the engine by doing those first four things diligently, and you will find that God ensures that you never stumble and that a grand entrance is provided for you into the kingdom of his dear Son.
  2. Perhaps the greatest passage for knowing the teachings and will of our Lord Jesus is the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7. Encourage yourself with these chapters on a regular basis. As you do, you will grow to understand Jesus’s nature and attitude, and the promises in those chapters will encourage you that you can continue.
  3. No one can make it on their own. 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and Hebrews 3:13 and 10:24-25 will explain to you what the church can do for you. Make sure to read those verses because not all churches will provide those things for you. A once a week sermon will do great things for you for a short time. After a while, though, you will be bored because you are supposed to have much more than songs and a sermon. If you do not find people in a church or Bible study that are doing what these passages say, press on and keep looking. You need accountability.
  4. That is the prescription I see in the Bible whether you are not sure you are saved or whether you are saved but are not living for Jesus. James seems to tie the two conditions together by writing, “Brothers, if any among you wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (5:19-20).

Posted in Evangelicals, Gospel, Holiness | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments