Good Works, Immortality, and So Much More!

In the last post we saw that Jesus came to make it possible to do good works and thus inherit eternal life.

This is not all Jesus came to do. God’s plan turns out to be much, much greater than just delivering us from the slavery to sin that we read about in Romans 3, Romans 7, and Ephesians 2:1-3. We have seen, though, that delivering us from the power of sin so that we can do good works is at least one major purpose of grace (Tit. 2:11-12), the atonement (Tit. 2:13-14), the new birth (Eph. 2:10), walking in the Spirit (Gal. 6:8-9), and a central purpose of the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Empowering us for good works was extremely important because it is good works that are rewarded with eternal life (Jn. 5:29; Rom. 2:6; Gal. 6:8-9; 1 Pet. 1:17; Rev. 3:4-5; etc.).

This would have been enough. What a grand thing that a human being could obtain immortality through the gift of eternal life!

What God has done in Christ, however, is far greater than merely empowering us to do good works, even as central as works are to New Testament teaching.

The Riches of Christ

In Ephesians 3:8, Paul says that he is preaching “the unfathomable riches of Christ” to the Gentiles (non-Jews). What do these unfathomable riches include?

We are the children of God.

The apostle John expresses this best:

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the children of God! (1 Jn. 3:1)

God has made us his children. How does this actually play out?

The first and most important thing is that God gives us his Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul tells that those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God, and that the Spirit bears witness in our spirits that we are his children (Rom. 8:14-16). It is by walking in the Spirit that we fulfill the righteousness of the Law (Rom. 8:4; though we do this apart from the Law–Rom. 3:21), that we do good works (Gal. 6:8-9), that we put to death the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:13), and overcome the lusts of the flesh (Gal. 3:3; 5:16).

Beyond even this, we have unlimited and “bold” access to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16). There we find mercy, and we find grace (favor) to help us in times of need.

I like to illustrate this with a friend I had many years ago. She was the niece of a South American dictator. As a result, the dictator would favor her with the best his government could provide in the way of wealth, housing, dress … in other words, all the wealth of his government. She turned it down, however, and left the country because she knew that when his government fell, she would fall with it.

God is not like my friend’s uncle. His Kingdom is everlasting. And from his government we receive “every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ” (Eph. 1:3); in fact, everything we might need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3).

In that same chapter, the apostle Paul prays that our eyes may be opened so that we can see “the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints” and “the exceptional greatness of his power to us who believe” (vv. 18-19). The power is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead (v. 20), and the riches of God’s inheritance is described by Paul as so great as to eclipse our present sufferings, not even worthy to be compared to them (Rom. 8:18).

One day we will be raised from the dead and receive new bodies in an event so glorious that the whole creation is waiting breathlessly for that day (Rom. 8:21-23). Until then, he has predestined us to become just like Jesus (Rom. 8:29; 1 Jn. 3:2); he is standing by us so that no one can lay a charge against us or condemn us (Rom. 8:32-34); even tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword will not be able to separate us from the love of Christ; and in fact, we will more than overcome these things (Rom. 8:35-37).

There is even more!

The way of righteousness that the Holy Spirit puts us on includes complete deliverance from “the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pet. 1:4; 2:20), so much so that we become partakers of his divine nature (2 Pet 1:4).

We are made a part of his people, which provides protection from confusion and the trickery of men (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Jn. 2:26-27), and joins us like an arm to a body to an everlasting family based in love (1 Cor. 12-13). Those same two chapters let us know that we are empowered with spiritual gifts that we can share together to build the whole family together into the fullness of Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Pet. 4:10-11).

Despite all this empowering to do good, he still promises to show us mercy when we stumble or fall (1 Jn. 1:7-2:2), and we become those to whom the Lord will not impute sin (Rom. 4:1-8). On top of this is a promise of continual growth as we follow him (Php. 1:6).

God’s salvation is rich and full. It is a salvation not just of mercy, but of divine favor that transforms and delivers. It even produces an amazing union with God that allows us to be his children in a real way, becoming partakers of his divine nature.

Going Forward

The plan now is to tell you how to obtain these great and precious promises, which means we will cover the Gospel of Christ and how to respond to that Gospel. After that, I will show you a passage of Scripture that describes this foundational description of Christianity in just nine verses!

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How We Can Do Good Works and Obtain Eternal Life

Ai, ai, ai! Six days since the last post. That is too long. This is why I am careful not to say “tomorrow,” but “in the next post.”

Okay, let’s get to the point of the Bible’s emphasis on good works covered in the last post.

Doing Good Works Will Obtain Eternal Life for You

I pray that I do not lose every reader with that heading.

We have looked at Ephesian 2:6-7 and Galatians 6:8-9 twice already. Both of them say that good works will produce the reward of eternal life. Yes, there is a lot more to say about obtaining eternal life, and we get a hint of that in Galatians 6:8-9, where persisting in good works is tied to sowing to the Spirit; however, the point that good works are tied to eternal life cannot be denied in these verses.

People Cannot Patiently Persist in Good Works

Okay, now we address the problem. Romans 3 teaches that people cannot patiently persist in good works. Romans 7 teaches that giving people a perfect, righteous law still cannot empower them to patiently persist in good works.

So after all I have said about good works, I have come around to say something that just about everyone in American Christianity would agree with. Obtaining eternal life by good works would be great, but we cannot do good works! We fail! We do not wind up worthy!

So why did I spend seven posts talking about the importance of good works? It was to show you the way Jesus fixed the problem, which very few seem to consider these days.

Through Jesus, God Made Us Able!

God fixed the problem of people not being able to do good works by making us able!

This seems like the most obvious solution, right? I mean, it’s not a very good solution if there is no God because we could never enable ourselves. In fact, it’s not a very good solution even if you are the perfect, righteous law of God! According to Romans 7, the best law ever put on this earth could not cause people to do good. “To will is present with me, but to perform what is good I cannot find!” (v. 18).

What a terrible situation! Paul rightly cries out, “O wretched man that I am? Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).

A lot of people seem to think that the answer to Paul’s question is: “Nobody will. But don’t worry! Jesus will make sure you don’t get judged for your inability to do the good deeds required for eternal life.”

That answer, however, is not found in the Bible. Instead, Paul is shocked by such a conclusion. “No! How shall we who are dead to sin live in it anymore!” (Rom. 6:2).

The answer that is found in the Bible says, “What the Law could not do because it was weak through the flesh, God did! By sending his own Son in the image of sinful flesh, and in regard to sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in those of us who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:2-4).

Now you see why I stressed the New Testament emphasis on works. Jesus came to give us the power to do those good works that bring eternal life. We saw this in Galations 6:8-9, where sowing to the Spirit to reap eternal life in verse 8 is restated in verse 9 as doing good without growing weary or giving up. Now we see it in Romans 8:2-4, where the sacrifice of God’s Son did what the Law could not do. The Law could not enable us to perform what is good. It could make us willing, but it could not give us the power to do it. But what the Law could not do because of the weakness of the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of our sinful flesh, condemning sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in those of us who walk according to the Spirit.

We see here that there is an emphasis on the Holy Spirit in regard to our ability to do good works. We must walk in him and sow to (give our efforts to) him. But we have also seen that grace teaches us (Tit. 2:11-12) and empowers us (Rom. 6:14) to do good works. We have seen that grace, which we received apart from works through faith, recreates us specifically to do the good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:8-10). We have seen that the Scriptures, put to proper use, equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Jesus did not break the tie between doing good works and eternal life. Instead, he empowered us to do good works.

It doesn’t stop there. He did much, much more for us. Empowering us to do good works so that we can obtain eternal life is just a small portion of what he did.

More in the next post.

As long then as the former time endured, He permitted us to be borne along by unruly impulses, being drawn away by the desire of pleasure and various lusts. This was not that He at all delighted in our sins, but that He simply endured them; nor that He approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that He sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able. (Anonymous, “Letter to Diognetus,” ch. 9, A.D. 80-130)

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The Bible’s Amazing Focus on Good Works

This is the seventh post in the “Rebuilding the Foundations” series. According to WordPress, about 180 of you read yesterdays’ post and another 80 or so have been on the blog this morning. I hope that means some of you have taken up the challenge to find the verses from which I drew the eight claims I made yesterday.

Here they are in the order I presented them yesterday:

Titus 3:8

Paul tells Titus to “affirm constantly” that God’s people should carefully maintain good works. It turns out “affirm constantly” (KJV) is better translated “affirm confidently” as in the NASB or “stress” as in the NIV.

Hebrews 10:24-25

We are to “consider” how to provoke one another to love and good works. The Greek words in that verse are very interesting. “Consider” involves knowing your fellow Christian by thinking about them, and the purpose is to “incite” or “irritate” them so they do good works. Wow!

2 Timothy 3:16-17

This says that all Scripture is inspired, and its use is to teach, admonish, correct, and instruct in righteousness. These uses of Scripture have a purpose, and the purpose is to thoroughly equip us to do good works.

Titus 2:11-12

Grace, the grace that brings salvation, teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in this present age. This doesn’t directly say grace teaches us to do good works, but it follows from the context. It is only ten verses later that Paul says to confidently affirm that God’s people should be careful to do good works (3:8, cited above). If that is not enough of a confirmation that a major purpose of grace is to produce good works in you, there is another in the next section.

The next time you exhort someone in regard to obedience to God, and the person replies with, “Remember, brother, we are saved by grace,” you can tell them, “exactly why I was exhorting you to do good.”

Ephesians 2:8-10

This passage will be critically important as we go along.

For by grace are you in a state of being saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of yourselves, so that no one will be able to boast. For you are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to go good works, which God has prepared in advance that we should walk in them.

I put emphasis on “his” because I think that word is the emphasis of that last sentence.

This passage has to do both with grace and being born again. Both have as a final purpose that we will do good works, and we learn here that God has specific good works he has planned for us to do in advance!

A related passage would be 2 Corinthians 5:15-17, which begins by telling us that Jesus died so that we would live for him, then tells us that we are new creations in him.

Titus 2:13-14

This is very direct. Jesus gave himself to redeem us from all lawlessness and purify for himself a people that are “zealous for good works.”

Galatians 6:8-9

Everyone knows verses 7 and 8 of this chapter, but few pause to notice verse 9. In verse 8, those who sow to the Spirit are promised eternal life. In verse 9, those who do not get tired of doing good are promised to reap something if they do not grow weak and drop out. In context that something they reap has to be eternal life, and once again it is associated with patiently continuing to do good as it was in Romans 2:6-7.

1 Peter 1:17

This is the verse from which I got the claim that Christians will be judged by works. I could have used 2 Corinthians 5:10 but, again, everyone knows that verse. 1 Peter 1:17 says that everyone that calls God Father needs to spend their tour of earth in reverential fear because he will judge them impartially according to their works. It really says that; look it up.

Conclusions

What I wanted you to see today was that the focus, or at least one focus, of everything that has to do with our salvation—the atonement (Titus 2:13-14), grace (Titus 2:11-12), being born again (Eph. 2:8-10), walking in the Spirit (Gal. 6:8-9), the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and the judgment (1 Pet. 1:17)—is either purposed toward or strongly attached to good works.

In the next post, we will look at why that is. We will also look at the relationship between good works and eternal life in Romans 2:6 and Galatians 6:8-9. This will lead us to the judgment, which will begin the process of clearing up many supposedly difficult verses in the New Testament.

We have just a couple steps left, but I promise you that this series not only leads to a solid understanding of Scripture, but it will bring us to a few posts in which we get to revel in the amazing height, depth, width, and breadth of the salvation of Christ. From there we will talk about faith, obtaining the riches of that redemption, and the incredible power God has for you to walk in his salvation.

I got way ahead of myself out of excitement. Next post: good works and eternal life. Why are they tied together?

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Good Works and God’s Sure Foundation

Today we will move on from the foundation. In the first five posts we saw that …

  1. … God’s sure foundation is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11),
  2. … only two things are inscribed on God’s sure foundation: “The Lord knows those who are his” and “Let those who name the name of Christ depart from unrighteousness” (2 Tim. 2:19).
  3. … the way to stand and build on God’s foundation is to hear and obey the words of Jesus and his apostles (Matt. 7:24-27).
  4. … we can build on the foundation of others by our teaching (1 Cor. 3:11-15).

In the fifth post are links to the first four if you want to review.

Good Works

The next thing to cover is good works. Why good works?

One major reason is this verse:

[God] will recompense everyone according to his deeds. To those that pursue glory, honor, and immortality by patiently continuing to do good [he will reward] eternal life.

This is really in the Bible. You will find it in Romans 2:6-7.

It is true, and important, that the next chapter in Romans tells us that “none, no not one” actually patiently continues to do good (3:10-11). I need you, however, to at least acknowledge that if a person could patiently do good through their life, this verse promises that God will reward that person with eternal life.

Is that true, or is it not true?

Read the verse and think about it, and in the next post I am going to show you the incredible, shocking emphasis the Bible puts on good works.

I am using the word “shocking” honestly. I told a friend just today that there are two things I found in the Bible that shocked me, that put me in stunned surprise. One was finding out that in the book of Acts, in all the places that the apostles preached the Gospel, they never told any lost person that Jesus died for their sins. They told Christians in their letters that Jesus died for our sins, but they did not tell the lost that.

I was so surprised about this that I eventually wrote a book on what the apostles did cover in their sermons. The book is appropriately named The Apostles’ Gospel. (I am required to tell you that I get a commission if you use that link to buy the book.)

The other thing I discovered in the Bible that shocked me was finding out the emphasis put on “good works” even for those that are under grace.

  • … we are supposed to be constantly urging each other to do good works.
  • … we are supposed to be thinking about how to get each other to do good works.
  • … at least one major purpose of the Scriptures is to equip us for good works.
  • … at least one major purpose of grace is to teach us to do good works.
  • … at least one major purpose of being born again is to re-create us to do good works.
  • … at least one major purpose of the atonement is to make us zealous for good works.
  • … sowing to the Spirit is equated with doing good works.
  • … even Christians will be judged by their good works.

I challenge you to find the verses for those claims before the next post. In the next post, I will give you the verses and discuss them, though they really do not need any explanation.

Again, I want to remind you of my claim that at the end of this study, there will be almost no verse in the New Testament that does not make perfect sense on the surface in its plain meaning. I claim also that I am teaching you the things that were held universally by the churches formed by the apostles, and I will show you this from their writings at the end of the study.

See you in the next post!

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Other Scriptures Regarding God’s Sure Foundation

Over the last four posts (1, 2, 3, 4), we have been building a foundation … or rather, letting the Scriptures tell us what God’s sure foundation is and how to build on it. There are four more passages on God’s foundation, and I will cover them quickly today.

Luke 6:48-49

This passage is the same as Matthew 7:24-27, which we covered. If we hear and obey Jesus’ teachings, we are building on the rock. If we do not, then we are building on the sand and are doomed to fall.

Romans 15:20

This verse has an interesting correlation to 1 Corinthians 3, which we covered. Peter and Apollos taught in Corinth, building on a foundation (Christ) that Paul had laid. Paul says that he does not want to build on the foundations of others.

Ephesians 2:20

This presents God’s foundation with a different allegory. The apostles and prophets are the foundation, and Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone. After searching a few web sites, I think this is the best way to picture it. In ancient construction, one rock was placed in the corner, and everything else was measured from it. The other corners were squared to it, etc. (ref).

So here Paul presents Christ as the most important stone. The apostles and prophets then complete the foundation.

So who are these apostles and prophets?

It is easiest to answer who the apostles are. The apostles are the twelve, Paul, James (the Lord’s brother) and some others. In the early churches it was taught that God sent Jesus with the Gospel, Jesus gave it to the apostles, and the apostles were gifted by the Holy Spirit to pass the truths of the Gospel to the churches they started. The collection of their writings is how we got our New Testament.

Since Paul is saying that the prophets are foundational, it seems that he means the Old Testament prophets. Thus, he is referring to the Old Testament itself since this would have been his “Bible.” The use of “prophets” by Peter in Acts 3:18-21 and “prophecy” in 1 Peter 1:20-21 would confirm this interpretation.

Commentaries make a strong argument that he is referring to the prophets who at that time were common in the Church (Acts 11:27; 13:1; 15:32; 21:8-9; Eph. 4:11).

No matter which prophets Paul is inluding, this passage does not change anything we have covered in the first four posts. It merely adds the apostles and either the Old-Testament prophets or the early New-Testament prophets to the foundation in a different allegory where Jesus is the Cornerstone. By using Scripture to build the foundation of our model of the Christian faith, we are already building on the apostles and prophets.

Hebrews 6:1-2

Hebrews 6:1-2 mentions foundational teachings. They are not “the foundation” because that is Jesus Christ. Instead, these are basic, beginning teachings. This passage will be a real confidence booster for us as we proceed. We have been examining the foundation. We will go on to examine obedience, the problem of us, and the solution to the problem in order to complete this foundational study. In the process we will created a framework of teaching upon which all other teachings can be hung.

The writer of Hebrews calls the six teachings of this passage the beginning principles. As we proceed we will find that these six things exactly match the framework of teaching we will be pulling from Scripture as we proceed.

Peter the Rock and Peter’s Confession

In the course of an exchange found in Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus gives Peter his name, which means “Rock,” and then tells him “… upon this rock I will build my Church.”

Protestants and Catholics fight over this passage, but it is unnecessary. Catholics admit that Peter’s confession is the rock on which Jesus built the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 424). Protestants agree with this, but most do not want to admit that Peter himself is the rock as well.

I could argue that the Catholic interpretation makes much more sense, but it is unnecessary because Paul told us in Ephesians 2:20 that Peter, as well as all the apostles, are part of the foundation on which Jesus built the Church. Peter just happens to be the very first rock placed because he was the very first to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

The point about Peter’s confession should not be missed. Protestants and Catholics acknowledge that Peter’s confession is the rock on which Jesus built the Church. Peter and all the apostles are part of the foundation, but so is Peter’s confession!

Almost all the non-Catholic Christians I know believe that the rock is Peter’s confession, but almost all of them do not apply it in any practical way. For us, Peter’s confession will become crucially important as we proceed. This is as it should be because Jesus said he would build his Church on that confession!

In the next post we will review what we have covered, and we move on to the next section of the framework of the Christian faith as found in the Scriptures.

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Building on God’s Sure Foundation

The last post talked about why God’s Sure Foundation is inscribed the way it is (2 Tim. 2:19). In this post, we will learn how to build on God’s sure foundation, which must always be Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11).

Standing on God’s Sure Foundation

There are two ways to build on God’s Sure Foundation.

1. Building on Your Own Foundation

The Bible has one thing to say about how to build on God’s sure foundation. It is simple and clear.

Therefore, whoever hears these sayings of mine and does them I will compare to a wise man that built his house on a rock. The rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house. It did not fall because it was founded upon a rock. Everyone that hears these sayings of mine and does not do them shall be compared to a foolish man that built his house upon the sand. The rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house. It fell, and great was its fall. (Matt. 7:24-27)

If you want to build your life on the foundation of Jesus Christ, then you must obey him. It is as simple as that.

I know that many of my readers will cry out, “Wait, what about faith in him?”

You have to be patient. Obviously, the Bible talks about faith in Jesus Christ; therefore, it will come up. But if you want to build a proper model of our faith, you need to begin at the foundation. The foundation is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11), and to stand on that foundation you have to obey him (Matt. 7:23-27). That is what the Bible says. It does not have anything other than that to say about how to stand and live on the foundation of Jesus.

Therefore, we bring up obedience here, and we bring up faith when its place comes up.

The next question is what do we obey? The context of Matthew 7:23-27 is the Sermon on the Mount, which starts in chapter 5. That sermon would be the immediate context of what we should obey, but of course we know that is not all Jesus taught. The Apostle Paul said, “If anyone considers himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things I write to you are the commandments of God” (1 Cor. 14:37). Both Jesus’ teachings and the Apostles teachings are to be obeyed.

We can’t leave this passage yet because it begins with a “therefore.” We have to find out what the “therefore” is there for.

In this case, Jesus has just finished telling his hearers that saying “Lord, Lord” won’t get them into the Kingdom of Heaven. We have to do the will of the Father in order to enter (Matt. 7:21). In the next two verses, he gives us examples of who won’t get into the Kingdom of Heaven. These include people who cast out demons, worked miracles, and prophesied. Jesus tells them that because they practiced unrighteousness, they need to depart from him (vv. 22-23).

Our study has produced fruit already on the fourth day! We learned previously that “depart from unrighteousness” is written on God’s sure foundation. Jesus confirms there is no hope for those who do not depart from unrighteousness, even if they did “many powerful works” (v. 22).

This is something we expected because of what we learned previously. Our goal is to make it all the way to the end being prepared as we go for what is coming. It is a great feeling to see the teachings of the Bible falling into place this way. This is just the start.

2. Building on the Foundation of Others

During the time of the apostles, the church in Corinth was fighting over who was the best teacher that had visited them. Some chose Paul, some chose Peter, some chose Apollos, and some chose Christ, who of course did not visit in person but who does teach us through his Spirit and through gifted men (and many other ways). In these last days, God speaks through his Son (Heb. 1:2). Read about this in 1 Corinthians 1:10-12.

Paul told them this was divisive, and that forming into parties like that was carnal (1 Cor. 3:3,4). Paul explained the roles of the various teachers. He had laid a foundation in Corinth, and Peter and Apollos had come along afterward and built upon that foundation (1 Cor. 3:5-10).

Paul then explains that it is possible for teachers to come to Corinth and build with precious metals and jewels that will survive the judgment of fire, but it is also possible to build with “wood, hay, and stubble” that will be burned up at the judgment.

Thus there are two ways to build on the foundation of Christ, and they are judged differently. You must build on your own foundation by obeying Jesus, and if you do not do so, you will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 7:21-27). You can build on the foundation of others by teaching, and your teaching will be judged as well. This can be a frightening judgment (Jas. 3:1), but the teacher can be saved despite the fact that his teaching did not survive the judgment (1 Cor. 3:15). He will be saved if he does the will of the Father otherwise (Matt. 7:21-27).

Again, we are addressing these things as they come up. My concern is to build a solid foundation for you, and if we pull from things that you or I believe just to make sure they are included, then we will be like a construction crew that threw studs, nails, drywall and coffee pots into the cement of their foundation. Studs, nails, drywall, and microwaves all have their place in a home, but not as part of the foundation.

Let’s not throw extraneous things into the foundation.

In the next post, we will conclude our study of God’s sure foundation by covering a couple important side notes as regards the foundation. For now, let’s sum up where we are at today.

  1. God’s sure foundation is Jesus, for no other foundation can anyone lay except Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11).
  2. The only two things written on that foundation are “The Lord knows those who are his” and “Let those who name the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness” (2 Tim. 2:19). As we build our model further, it will be essential to remember those foundational truths.
  3. There are two ways to build on God’s sure foundation. We can build on our own foundation by obeying Jesus (Matt. 7:24-27), and we can build on the foundation of others by teaching (1 Cor. 3:10-15).
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The Inscriptions on the Sure Foundation of God

We talked yesterday about 2 Timothy 2:19 and the fact that God’s firm foundation only has two things written on it. Why those two things?

There is a lot of scriptural backing coming for the things I am teaching in this series, I promise. For now, though, I am trying to get us to really look at each verse we cover.

Since God’s firm foundation only has “The Lord knows those who are his” and “Let those who name the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness” on it, it seems apparent that we must ascribe no small importance to those two things. In fact, as we go on, we will see that other Scriptures ascribe great importance to those two things as well. For now, though, we will get everything from this verse what we can.

The point of that first inscription has to be that it is not our job to worry about who is in and who is out. At least in some sense this has to be true. “The Lord knows,” at least in this case, is suggesting that we do not know.

The second inscription is telling us that it is highly important to turn away from unrighteousness. In other words, “Stop doing bad things!”

This is written on God’s foundation, and other things that could have been written there are not there. That makes “Stop doing bad things!” one of the most important teachings in the Christian religion.

That is enough building for today, but today I am going to start chipping away at the old foundation too. A lot of people think that “dos and don’ts” are not part of the Christian system. Apparently they have not read the New Testament. I am going to guess that there is not one book of the New Testament that does not have lots of commands in it. If I’m wrong, I’m only barely wrong. Even Paul’s letters are full of “dos and don’ts.” That is undeniable. Go read the last half of any of his letters.

Because this is an area of conflict between the old foundation, which says “dos and don’ts” are not really a part of faith or if a part, certainly a very small part, and because we must tear down the old foundation to properly build the new one, I will give you a couple of supporting verses, even though the commands in the New Testament books are supporting enough by themselves.

If you believe that commands issued in the Bible are issued to us, or at least most of them are, then the Bible tells me and you to “Affirm constantly that those who have believed in God be careful to maintain good works” (Tit. 3:8). That command certainly indicates that departing from unrighteousness is very important. We are told, or if we are not told, certainly our leaders are told to tell us “constantly” to do good works.

I am going to guess that being told constantly to do good works is not the experience of many of my readers. If I am wrong about that, great!

I am jumping ahead of myself, but let’s look at a great passage expressing the importance of departing from unrighteousness and doing good deeds instead:

The grace of God that brings salvation to all men has appeared, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live sensibly, righteously, and godly in this present age, looking for that blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us so that he might redeem us from all lawlessness and purify for himself his own special people, zealous for good deeds. (Tit. 2:11-14)

Paul gets an “F” in grammar for his run-on sentence, but an “A+” for poetically expressing one of the greatest and most important truths of the Christian religion. Jesus died to redeem us from lawlessness and purify a people hungry to do good works. This is fantastic! It is foundational to depart from unrighteousness, so Jesus died to redeem us from lawlessness and make us zealous for good works. Not only that, but he gave us grace that would continually be teaching us to depart from unrighteousness and to live sensibly and righteously and godly! Awesome!

Then there is the next statement: “These things speak, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you!” (Tit. 2:15).

So not only is grace going to be teaching us to depart from unrighteousness, but our leaders will too, and both grace and our leaders will be “constantly” teaching us to maintain good works.

At this point, I think we are all getting an inkling that “depart from unrighteousness” might be appropriately inscribed on the sure foundation of God.

So now that we know the foundation (Christ, 1 Cor. 3:11), what is written on it, and an inkling of why, let’s talk in the next blog about actually building on the sure foundation of God.

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Rebuilding the Foundations: Beginning at the Beginning

Yesterday I said we would have to tear down the old foundation to build a new one. That is true, but spiritual things do not exactly relate to physical things. On this spiritual foundation, we can limit the tearing down to making room for the new things we are building.

Step 1: The Sure Foundation of God

The sure foundation of God stands firm, having this seal (insignia): “The Lord knows those who are his” and “Let those who name the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness.” (2 Tim. 2:19)

This discussion and all that follow will not mean anything unless something practical comes from it. One way to test any teaching you receive is to compare what the teaching tells you to do with what Scripture tells you to do. Today, I am going to tell you to depart from unrighteousness. I hope that is not new to you!

I am going to take it one step further, though, and I am going to tell you that departing from unrighteousness is foundational. It is so foundational that, according to the apostle Paul, God wrote it on his firm foundation.

Not only did he write it on his foundation, but he did not write anything else except “The Lord knows those who are his.”

Here is a good time to say Selah. That word is used in the Psalms a lot, and most scholars think it means “pause.” Selah. You should pause and think about this.

God, through the apostle Paul, lets us know that departing from iniquity is not only foundational, but more foundational than almost anything else! Mind you, the foundation itself is Jesus, for no one can lay any foundation but Christ (1 Cor. 3:11), but the only two things written on the foundation are “The Lord knows those who are his” and “Let those who name the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness.”

Wow.

Here’s the important thing to think about. If you had only one, or maybe two, short inscriptions to make on God’s sure foundation of Jesus Christ, what would you write?

I am going to suggest that not many, if any of us, would choose “depart from unrighteousness” as so central a theme that it should be written as the only, or almost only, inscription on the foundation of God. And surely no one would inscribe “The Lord knows those who are his” before anything else.

God would.

In the next blog we will talk about why. Until then, I ask you please to think about the inscription on the foundation of God. I would also ask you to think about what would happen to a building if you got the foundation wrong, or even the things close to the foundation wrong. How likely would it be that the structures higher in the building would have worse problems than the foundation?

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Rebuilding the Foundations

Rebuilding the Foundations is the name of a teaching that I gave at a missions conference in Pittsburgh last year. About 40 missionaries and roughly the same number of donors were there. The mission is Heaven’s Family, and I am one of the donors because I love the work they do.

That teaching was so well-received that one missionary asked if he could translate it to Chinese and take it to China.

Over the next few blogs, or perhaps over all the blogs I write from now on, I will cover the tenets of that teaching. Here is my plug for what will be coming:

  • Rebuilding the Foundations is neither fluff nor run-of-the-mill. It is what it says it is, a theological rebuilding of Christian foundations.
  • It is a rebuilding, not novelty. Every step of this rebuilding is founded upon Scripture and was once the universal teaching of the Christian churches.
  • It will very likely require replacement of foundational teaching you have received. One can only build a foundation on prepared ground. The rubble of a previous foundation is hardly good ground for a new one.
  • I dare to tear down other foundations because what I am building is both biblical and historical. As said, it once was the foundational teaching of all Christian churches.
  • My main target for bulldozing are the foundation teachings I received in my trek through the Assemblies of God, the eight years I spent in charismatic churches, my experience with Baptist churches, and the theology I see taught in most Evangelical study Bibles.
  • I dare to bulldoze those foundations because of all the problems caused by those foundations: nominalism, worldliness, division, etc.
  • The foundational teachings we will cover are simple, easy to follow, and do not require a knowledge of history or original languages. The only reason they may be hard to understand is because of false traditions that many evangelicals adhere to and love.

I have had a number of new subscribers lately because of my videos on faith and works on Youtube. Welcome aboard. If you have been able to handle that series, you ought to love what is coming on this blog.

I hope I have piqued your curiosity. If it is piqued enough that you don’t want to wait, the basics of future blogs are available at RebuildingTheFoundations.org.

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Through the Bible: John 1:7-18, John the Baptist and Jesus

We have been going through Tatian’s Diatessaron, a second-century harmony of the Gospels. We are in Section III, and today we are covering John 1:7-17.

John’s Gospel is the last of the Gospels written. It may well have been written in the AD 90’s. John would have been living in Ephesus in those days, watching over the churches in that area (Clement of Alexandria, Who Is the Rich Man Who Must Be Saved, ch. 42). The churches he would have been watching over are the ones we read about in the Revelation chapters 2 and 3, all of which are within about 100 miles of Ephesus in an area known as Asia Minor. The area is in the far west of what is modern Turkey.

John the Baptist

This man came to bear witness, that he might bear witness to the light, so that everyone might believe through his mediation. He was not the light, but [came] that he might bear witness to the light that was the light of truth that gives light to everyone coming into the world.

John’s Gospel is careful to point out that John the Baptist is not the light. In doing so, John gets away from John the Baptist and focuses on Jesus for a little while. He goes back to John the Baptist in verse 19.

The focus that John gives to distinguishing John the Baptist from the true light, who was Jesus, makes me wonder if there were people in Asia Minor who were still following John, but I know of no history of such a sect.

The Creator and the New Creation

He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own did not receive him. Those who received him, to them he gave the power that they might be sons of God, those who believe in his name, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man, but of God.

This is our introduction to being born again. Jesus talks with Nicodemus about being born again in John chapter 3, but John does not wait until then to get to the subject. The context does not call for a discussion about the new birth. John brings it up out of the blue, making sure to insert it into the discussion of receiving him.

This is where the time frame of John, well after the other Gospels, matters. He is emphasizing things because he thinks they are being missed. It is obvious that John’s letters are battling problems in the church because he mentions “those who are trying to seduce you” (1 Jn. 2:26), talks about antichrists (1 Jn. 4:3), and even discusses a church takeover (3 Jn. 9-10). We don’t always think of John’s Gospel being written with the same concerns in mind, but it was.

John wants to centralize the new birth. It is one thing to devote ourselves to obeying God. It is even a good thing, but that commitment is not going to be an effective one without our being born again (Jn. 3:3-5). That is not new to John. Paul calls the new birth a new creation (Eph. 2:10; 2 Cor. 5:17), but he means the same thing. If we lean on ourselves, with no transformation from God, we will live in the powerlessness described in Romans 7. God has a deliverance from that powerlessness (described in Romans 8:1-13), which is the new birth.

Apparently some were forgetting the importance of the new birth towards the end of the first century because John takes the time to put the new birth back at the forefront and to remind us that it is a work of God, not of man.

The passage began by letting us know that the world was made by Jesus, and the people he came to were his own, not because they were Jews like him, but because he made them. I do not know how to give that the emphasis it deserves. The Creator was walking around in our midst, offering new life and giving the power to become children of God to those who received him. That is worth stopping to meditate on.

The Word became flesh and took up his abode among us. We saw his glory as the glory of the only Son from the Father, who is full of grace and equity.

Many missed who he was. Though he has ascended to heaven since the days his apostles saw him, he has sent the Holy Spirit to the earth to convict us of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn. 16:8). As those who know him, we have to trust that our testimony that Jesus is Lord and that God has raised him from the dead (Rom. 10:9-10) is backed up by the conviction of the Holy Spirit. That is why there are so many Christians today, two thousand years later. Our Gospel does not come only as the word of man, but it is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16).

Those who do not yet know him, I warn not to miss him. It may seem like 2,000 years gives sufficient excuse for doubt, but God desires truth deep down inside (Ps. 51:6). He will hold you accountable for ignoring the conviction of the Holy Spirit that is in the world (1 Jn. 5:10).

Then the apostle John returns to John the Baptist, but even there it is to testify even more about Jesus.

John bore witness of him and cried and said, “This is the one that I said comes after me and was before me because he was before me.” And of his fullness we all received grace for grace. For the law was given through the mediation of Moses, but truth and grace were through Jesus Christ.

One of the great emphases of the Gospel of John is that the incarnation was not Jesus’ first trip to earth. John starts by pointing out that Jesus is the Maker of the world, but repeatedly he testifies that Jesus has been around a long time. Here, John the Baptist testifies that “he was before me.” Later, Jesus himself says he was before Abraham as well (Jn. 8:58).

The fact that Jesus is the eternal Word of God is the reason that he could bring more than Moses. Moses brought something good in the way of the law, but the sin that abides in us keeps us from following that Law (Rom. 7). Jesus, however, could do something more. As Romans 8:3 puts it, “What the Law could not do, God did.” The Law could not make us doers of the Law (Rom. 3:10ff), but God was able to do so through his Son (Rom. 8:3-4).

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