Are you missing what may be the most important verse in the Bible?

All of us know that the Bible says, “… not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together.” Why, then, do almost none of us know what it says to do instead?

We all think that instead of forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, we should sit in a pew, sing a few songs, pay some money, then listen to a sermon. At least, that is what we seem to think. We all do it, and if we don’t do it, then someone will tell us that we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.

Hebrews 10:25 has a different alternative to forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. Instead of forsaking the assembling, we should be exhorting.

Go ahead, look it up.

Did you exhort last Sunday morning?

And who said it was talking about Sunday? There are arguments—some weak biblical ones and some strong historical ones—that we should assemble ourselves on Sunday. But where does the Bible suggest we assemble only on Sunday? In fact, that same book of the Bible says we are to exhort one another every day! How long should we continue exhorting one another every day? As long as it is called today (Heb. 3:13).

Let’s take a moment to define the word exhort. It is one of the most awesome (and most used) words in the Bible. The King James Bible translates it as “beseech” 44 times, “comfort” 23 times, “exhort” 21 times, “desire” 8 times, “pray” 6 times, “intreat” 3 times, and four other miscellaneous translations. Young’s Concordance says it can be translated address, speak to, call upon, exhort, entreat, comfort, instruct, admonish, beg, console, and strengthen.

Exhort is a big word. Thirty years ago, I looked up all the uses of “parakaleo” (the Greek word for exhort and all those other words), and chose “to say something to get someone else to do something” as the definition.

That definition works really well because immediately before “… not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together,” in Hebrews 10:24, the Bible says, “Get to know one another so that you can provoke to love and good works.”

The alternative to forsaking the assembling of yourselves together, biblically, is to get to know each other so that you know how to exhort, plead with, encourage, console, admonish and thus provoke each other to love and good works.

Did you get to know your brothers and sisters in Christ last Sunday, thinking about how to provoke them to love and good works? Did you beg them, plead with them, encourage them, console them, admonish them, and in whatever way possible come alongside them to help them to love and to do good works?

If not, then you have been forsaking the assembling of yourselves together.

There are examples of people who are not forsaking the assembling of themselves together. Many are small, but some are very large. For example, there is Francis Chan’s “we are church” movement in San Francisco. There is Torben Sondergaard’s “Last Reformation” movement. Whether you agree with their theology or not, they are definitely exhorting one another day by day. Our own Christian community, Rose Creek Village, is very small compared to those movements, but we are begging, pleading, encouraging, consoling, and helping one another to do love and good works day by day rather than forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.

You can do the same. It would be great if the leadership of your Sunday “one-guy-exhorts-everyone-else” meeting would encourage you in doing this. Even if he does not, though, you can begin pleading with, helping, and consoling your brothers and sisters today. Maybe someone will see your example and do the same.

Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. (1 Thes. 5:14)

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

Rebuilding the Foundations: The Just Judgment of God

“ButterintheField,” whose comments have occasionally led me to create a post, has reminded me in a comment that I had better finish up at least one part of the Rebuilding the Foundations series.

I stopped doing this project on the blog, and I am working on finishing it as a Word document. I am praying that I can complete it, print it as a pamphlet, and have it available when I speak in Pittsburgh in a month. Here is the section on the judgment, it is a little long for a blog post.

Summation of Previous Posts

In the word document, the following is at the end of chapter 4. Most of the first few chapters are covered in the previous posts:

Everything we have looked at is very simple to understand. Paul said that if a person tried to obtain glory, honor, and immortality by patiently doing good works, God would reward that person with eternal life. We all agree that people in general are slaves to sin (Rom. 7:7-24; Eph. 2:1-3). Thus, the obvious solution to this dilemma would be to free people from their slavery to sin. We have seen that the New Testament provides power to patiently continue to do good works through many means, all revolving around the Holy Spirit, grace, and the Scriptures.
     There is no other problem to be resolved. Romans 2:6-7 works for Christians who are born again, filled with the Spirit, empowered by grace, and equipped with the Scriptures. I have not even touched on the fact that we have each other so that we can provoke one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24; cf. 3:13) and grow together with each other’s help (Eph. 4:11-16).

I am basically saying here that we have followed simple steps in looking at God’s foundation, followed by examining what the New Testament has to say about works. Then I describe the problem that arises with what I have written. I wrote the description of the problem before ButterintheField wrote his comment to me. His comment is longer, but it does show I was guessing accurately the problem my readers would find.

This would be as simple and obvious for my readers as it is for me except for one more false teaching that is more devious, deceptive, and destructive than anything we have looked at so far.
     That false teaching is that God will not let anyone into heaven who is not perfect. It is the accusation that God is not a just judge.

Almost everything ButterintheField wrote in his comment is covered in my chapter on the judgment even though it is not completed. I am trusting he is going to comment further if I did not answer his comment sufficiently.

The Just Judgment of God

This is a copy and paste from the Word document I am writing. It is 1766 words, and a lot of those are from Ezekiel. Bookmark this page and read it over a couple days, maybe?

Here goes:

I am encouraged that the idea that God requires absolute perfection at the judgment is losing traction. Ligonier, a Reformed theology ministry, has a web page called “The State of Theology.” On it, they report that a survey showed that 61% of participants strongly disagreed with the statement that “Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.” (2017. “The State of Theology.” Ligonier. Retrieved July 8, 2018 from https://thestateoftheology.com/)

I rejoiced when I read this statement. In my mind, torturing a person eternally for one sin that they committed in their life is horribly unjust. It is not just unjust; it is wicked. Ligonier does not agree. “If [God] is perfectly holy and just,” they say, “He cannot let sin go unpunished. But God is no longer holy—in the minds of six out of ten Americans.”

This kind of thinking is unthinkable to me. In fact, on a logical basis, it is so unreasonable that it is silly. Try applying the same kind of thinking to a Christian. If you met a Christian who would not forgive the smallest sin, would you think that Christian was perfectly holy and just? No, you would think he is incapable of mercy. It would not matter to you if the Christian tried to justify himself by saying, “I will forgive this small injustice done to me by someone else if you will let me slap you in the face. You see, I am holy, and I must punish sin, but you can take the punishment if you want.”

Such a person might be regarded as insane, not holy or just. Why, then, would we lay such a charge upon God?

The answer is that we have taken one passage in James 2 that is talking about our judging one another, and we have turned it into the standard on God’s judgment and mercy. That passage reads:

But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. (James 2:8-11)

If there were no verses talking about God’s judgment on the last day, then we might be justified in concluding that God will judge us the way James describes in this passage. There are many verses describing God’s judgment of humans, however, and none of them list “any point of the law” as a standard. This passage has to do with judging one another. Since we are all law-breakers, we sin if we give preference to some individuals as though we were not all law-breakers. More specifically, in the context of James 2, we sin if we prefer rich people over poor people because both are law-breakers.

One of the passages that talks about God’s judgment of humans is a vehement protest by God against Israelites who were complaining that God did not judge justly. In response, God gives a careful explanation of the terms of his judgment. Please excuse the length of this quote from Ezekiel. God gives a better explanation of the judgment than I ever could.

“The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.
     “But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die. None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live. Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?
     “But if a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked person does, will they live? None of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness they are guilty of and because of the sins they have committed, they will die.
     “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die. But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die. Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?
     “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live! (Ezek. 18:20-32)

This is God’s idea of a just judgment. God commands the wicked to repent, and if they do, he forgets all the wickedness they have every done. Their righteousness will reap life for them.

It is obvious that God cannot be talking about perfect, sinless righteousness. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament teach that no one is without sin, not even the righteous or the born again (1 Kings 8:46; Jas. 3:2; 1 Jn. 1:8-10). Instead, under both the Old Testament and New Testament, there are those “whose sin the Lord will never count against them.” (Ps. 32:2; Rom. 4:6-8).

On top of this description of the judgment, Ezekiel gives a very interesting picture of righteousness in the eyes of God that is pertinent to this discussion.

“Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals, even if these three men—Noah, Daniel and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord.” (Ezek. 14:13-14)

Through Ezekiel, God lists three men who were so righteous that they could not only save themselves, but intervene for the sins of others. Of course, in this case, God has reached the point where he has crushed the kingdom of Judah and they are in captivity. He is not going to forgive them until the prophesied 70 years are fulfilled (Jer. 29:10). Nonetheless, God holds these three men up both as righteous enough to save themselves from judgment, and he clearly implies that their prayers carry weight with him for deferring judgment on the sins of others based on their righteousness.

We know that these men sinned because there is no one who does not sin. Even under the New Covenant, the Apostle John states that anyone claiming to have no sin is a liar (1 Jn. 1:8). Nonetheless, God has the highest regard for their righteousness.

This is a good spot to dismiss another myth. We evangelicals regularly quote Isaiah 64:6 and interpret it to mean that even when we do good, our righteousness is as dirty as filthy rags. This is not the case. Isaiah 64:6 is a specific lament by Isaiah in regard to Israel at a specific period of time. The passage is regularly quoted by us, but it is never quoted by Jesus or the apostles. And as you can see, the righteousness of Noah, Daniel, and Job are not considered filthy rags by God.

This is not just true of Noah, Daniel, and Job. God tells us through Ezekiel that anyone who turns from their wickedness and begins to do righteousness will live because of their righteousness. Their wickedness will never be brought up to them! (Ezek. 18:22).

I will not make you read through a passage you are surely familiar with, but in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells us that when he sits down on his throne to judge us, he is not going to take stock all the little imperfections we accumulated in our lives. Instead, he is going to recount to us whether we have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned. There is nothing in that passage about distinguishing between those who had faith and those who did not. He will know who had faith by whether they fed the hungry or not.

Blamelessness

The fact that God will not require sinlessness at the judgment does not mean that we cannot arrive at the judgment blameless, without stain or blemish (1 Cor. 1:8; Eph. 5:26-27; Jude 1:23). We have already discussed the fact that there are those to whom the Lord will not impute sin. Who are these people?

The Apostle John has a lot to say about this. For example, in 1 John 1:7 he tells us that “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” While in 1 John 1:9 we read that he will forgive and purify us if we confess our sins, 1 John 1:7 tells us that we will continually be cleansed if we will walk in the light.

Of course, we then have to ask, “What does it mean to walk in the light?”

Ephesians 5:8-15 addresses this directly. There Paul tells us that if we live as children of light, then the fruit we bear will be “goodness, righteousness, and truth” (v. 9). Light exposes (v. 13; Jn. 3:19-21). It is safe to conclude, then, that the person who is seeking to live a godly life, confessing his sins to God (1 Jn. 1:9) and others (Jas. 5:16), can expect to be forgiven on an ongoing basis. Such a person can expect to be among those to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

All the above was cut and pasted from what I wrote in the Word document. Let me add this to show you the direction I am going with the rest of the chapter.

This idea that there is a standard that much be met in order to be among those whose sins the Lord will not take account is in the New Testament in a number of places. We have already looked at 1 John 1:7, which says that walking in the light is what leads to fellowship with one another and to continual cleansing by Jesus’ blood. Walking in the darkness provides us with no fellowship with God at all (1 Jn. 1:6).

More directly, 1 John 3:7 tell us that we need to be practicing righteousness if we expect to be righteous as Jesus is righteous. It tells us not to be deceived about this.

Finally, Galatians 6:7 says, “God is not mocked.” There is a place where our sowing to flesh will lead to corruption. This place is not at one sin, but there is a such a place.

Any time I bring up these verses, or suggest that we as Christians will face the judgment, I am asked about “the line.” Where is the line? How badly must I sin before I am mocking God. How much righteousness must I practice in order to be sure that God is attributing the righteousness of Jesus to me and not accounting sin to me?

Normally, this is not even a real question. Normally this is a challenge. Those who ask me this are saying, “Your teaching is wrong because it leaves us wondering where the line is.”

The answer, though, is that we are supposed to be wondering. Look at Paul’s response to his own teaching in 1 Corinthians 9:27 and Philippians 3:8-15. Paul is discipling himself daily, and he is pressing forward with all his might. Why? Because he wants to attain to the resurrection of the dead. He does not want to be disqualified after preaching to others. What does he mean by disqualified? Well, he uses the same word that he uses in 2 Corinthians 13:5, where he tells us that we should examine whether we are in Christ. In 2 Corinthians 13:5 if we are disqualified, it is contrasted with being in Christ.

I know this is a horrifying thought to most of us, but it is definitely Paul’s attitude. Peter seems to agree because he tells us to live our lives in fear because of the judgment (1 Pet. 1:17). He also tells us to be diligent to make our calling and election certain (2 Pet. 1:10).

God does provide assurance, but it is not the kind of assurance we are typically offered by American preachers. He provides the witness of the Holy Spirit that we are his children (Rom. 8:16; 1 Jn. 3:24). We can also assure our hearts before God by loving in deed and truth rather than just talking about loving (1 Jn. 3:18-22).

We have to contrast this kind of strictness with the nature of God, who is merciful. The primary marker of God’s character is love (1 Jn. 4:8), but mercy is a close second (Ex. 34:6). When we sin, we are not supposed to run away from God, but we are to run to him because he will show mercy and “freely pardon” (Isa. 55:7).

This balance can be both frightening and amazing. Frightening because we must follow Paul in disciplining our body and bringing it under subjection (1 Cor. 9:27), and amazing because when we fail we find his mercy to be new every morning (Lam. 3:22). Surely God is as willing to forgive us as he commands us to forgive others. Jesus told Peter to forgive his brother 70 times 7 times if his brother offended him (Matt. 18:22). Surely God is more merciful than we are.

Okay. I will quit there except to say that if you are struggling with the fact that there is a line that you should fear, you should make sure you have Christians around you with whom you are in real fellowship (friendship). You need them anyway (Heb. 3:12), but they can provide an outside perspective besides our own faulty judgment of ourselves. They can tell you whether you are being too hard (or ridiculously hard) on yourself or whether they wonder with you whether you are really a Christian.

Posted in Rebuilding the Foundations | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

We Can’t Do Anything Without Jesus

I hope at least a couple of you are wondering why I haven’t posted in a couple weeks. If you are one of those two people, lol, here is why.

My attempt to expand last year’s “Rebuilding the Foundation” series into a booklet on this blog is floundering. I took a look at the outline of the original teaching I did last year, and I realized I could probably expand the outline more successfully than what I am accomplishing here. I have been expanding that outline on my computer rather than posting here.

I don’t want to stop posting here, though, so I am going to post articles that are related to the “Rebuilding the Foundations” teaching (RTF). Today, the topic is …

We Can’t Do Anything Without Jesus

I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (Jn. 15:5, WEB)

That about says it. I don’t have to add anything at all to scripturally prove the premise of this post. So instead, let me explain how this relates to RTF.

Good Works and Grace

I am regularly told that I should tell the other side of the good works story. “Yes,” I am told, “good works are important like you are teaching, but you need to tell the other side of the story as well.”

I have two answers to this. One, the other side of the story is told weekly in pulpits, daily in contemporary Christian songs, and daily in our comfortable and unmotivated Christian lives. Two, I never stop telling the other side of the story, even when I am talking about good works.

Back on May 8, I posted “The Bible’s Amazing Focus on Good Works. Let’s review what I covered:

  • We are commanded to “affirm constantly” that God’s people should be “careful” to maintain good works (Tit. 3:8).
  • We are to think about how to “provoke” (or “annoy”) one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24).
  • One of the main purposes of Scripture is to give us the tools to equip one another for good works (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
  • Grace will teach us and enable us to reject worldly living and to live godly (Tit. 2:11-12; Rom. 6:14).
  • Jesus died to purify us from all lawlessness and to purchase for himself a people zealous for good works (Tit. 2:13-14).
  • We will be judged by our good works (1 Pet. 1:17).
  • We are enabled to do good works by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 2:6-7 w/ Gal. 6:8-9).
  • Being born again sets us on a path of good works (Eph. 2:8-10)

These Scriptures not only show us the importance of good works, but they show us that God gave his Son, bought us with his blood, and gave us grace, the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit, the new birth, and each other so that we would be able to do the good works that lead to eternal life. That’s a pretty heavy dose of “the other side of the story,” don’t you think?

As we saw in John 15:5, we cannot do anything apart from Jesus. As I pointed out when I wrote about Romans 2:6-7, the problem with that verse is that the very next chapter points out that “no, not one” actually patiently continues to do good works. Even those who come close are going to include among the sinners, so that Jesus can be the one Redeemer and the One who justifies us all (Rom. 3:21-26).

Along with these lovely passages about grace and spiritual power, I also pointed out that God still expects us to patiently continue to do good works and that we will reap corruption rather than eternal life if we do not (Gal. 6:7-9). This is not a popular thing to point out even though it is repeated over and over and over again (e.g., Rom. 8:12-13; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-7; 2 Pet. 1:9-11; 2:20-21, etc.). Pointing it out seems to negate everything I said about God’s amazing benefits to us in grace, the Spirit, and each other.

The fact is, neither should be said without the other. Every time we are told that belief in the Son leads to eternal life (Jn. 3:16), we should also be told that disobedience prevents life and leads to the wrath of God (Jn. 3:36).

Do not be deceived, little children, the one doing righteousness is righteous as He is righteous. (1 Jn. 3:7)

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The Rebuilding the Foundations System Spelled Out by the Apostle Peter

I am keenly aware of how hard it is for human beings to shift core belief systems. As a friend said recently, it is hard even to consider the idea that works have anything to do with eternal life.

Of course, passages like Romans 2:6-7 and Galatians 6:8-9, which we have already covered, force us to consider the relation between good works and eternal life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 is another such passage:

Charge them that are rich in this world not to be haughty, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. [Charge them] to do good, to be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to share; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. (emphasis mine)

Again, notice the connection between good works and eternal life in this passage. The connection between the two in Scripture is clear, but let me give you something that I think will help all of you along. Today’s Scripture passage covers the entire system I am teaching concisely, clearly, and completely.

2 Peter 1:3-11 (NASB)

Verses 3-4

Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

This passage describes the great gifts of God that we receive when we believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God (Matt. 16:16-17; Jn. 20:31). We described these in the last post.

Verses 5-7

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.

This passage describe our responsibility once we have received these great gifts by faith and apart from works. By faith we received these great rewards, and having received them, we are commanded to add moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.

Notice that these verses shoot down the commonly expressed idea that salvation is “faith plus nothing.” Peter commands us to add to our faith and to do so diligently. Faith plus nothing will cause you to be blind and forget the purification of your sins (v. 9). Faith plus the seven things listed in verses 5-7 will produce an abundant entrance into the Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (v. 11).

Verse 8

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (

This verse tells about the rewards of this life that we will receive if we add those virtues to our faith. We will truly know Jesus Christ, and we will be useful and fruitful.

Verse 9

For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.

Verse 9 tells us what will happen if we do not gain these qualities. We will forget that we were purified from our past sins, and we will lose our spiritual sight. In other words, faith plus nothing produces spiritual blindness and spiritual memory loss.

Also, notice that we have been purified from our past sins, not our future ones. We can ensure that our future ones are purified as well by walking in the light (1 Jn. 1:7). John 3:20-21 and Ephesians 5:8-13 explain what it means to walk in the light.

Verses 10-11

Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.

In these verses, Peter reminds us that pursuing these qualities is our job, not God’s. God has given us great benefits and powers by faith in verses 3-4, and he wants us to use those powers. Thus, he calls us to be “all the more diligent” to “practice these things.” If we diligently practice these things, we will ensure our election and obtain an abundant entrance into Jesus’ everlasting kingdom!

This, of course, disintegrates much of what Calvinist/Reformed doctrine espouses. Yes, we are elected (chosen)—because we have believed—but it us up to us to make that election certain.

Going Forward

We are not done. We will flesh out the system that we have been looking at, but I wanted you to be able to see it written out in simple and straightforward words in the Bible. This will help keep you settled as we proceed. I am not pulling the wool over your eyes; I am raising that wool cap off your eyes.

In the next two posts, we will look at how one receives the great and precious promises described in 2 Peter 1:3-4.

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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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