What is Faith, Part III — Election

[Editor’s note: Rather than reading this drivel, feel free to listen to Election by the great Shai Linne. Any song that includes the line “I was a corpse and I smelled like it” is sure to be a winner!]

Saving faith requires belief in the saving act of Jesus Christ, and this belief will be evidenced through obedience to God’s commands. Underlying much of our discussion of these topics has been the question of the basis for our salvation — us or God? Even many who attribute salvation to the Lord ultimately trace the basis for this deliverance back to human merit. The only true answer to this question lies in the doctrine of election.

Since the earliest history recorded in the Old Testament, God has been doing what he chose to do. In creation, the flood, the exodus, and many other events, God carried out His actions according to His own will; He was never forced or coerced into doing anything. This can be chiefly seen in His selection of Israel as His holy people.

The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. –Deuteronomy 7:6.

A thorough study of Israel’s journey from Egypt, through the desert, and into the promised land of Canaan reveals that Israel was far from deserving of this honor. Yet God fulfilled the promises He made to His people, because He had chosen them. In this post, we explore predestination to discover that the same thing holds true for us today: God has elected us for salvation; this election was made before the world was created; we are chosen solely on the basis of God’s grace; and this election guarantees our salvation.

God has elected us for salvation…

The first person to teach this controversial doctrine was a guy who goes by the name of Jesus. First, He tells us that not only is election real, but it is actually necessary.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. –John 6:44

A few chapters later it is confirmed that God must and does choose us, and that we cannot choose God.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. –John 15:16

Paul expands on this theme in several of his letters, particularly in Ephesians.

He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will… In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will. –Ephesians 1:5,11

In case the end result of this predestination was unclear, he clarifies in 1 Thessalonians.

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. –1 Thessalonians 5:9

Many other books make reference to God’s choosing of a select group of people. We will not quote every reference, but compare the following passages to see different people speak of “the elect”: Mark 13:20 (Jesus), 2 Timothy 2:10 (Paul), 1 Peter 1:1 (Peter), and 2 John 1:1 (John).

…this election was made before the world was created…

While alone it is not overly critical that we know when God chose us, understanding this fact sheds much light on the other aspects of election. For if we were chosen at a certain point in our lives, it may have been due to something we did or because we achieved a certain level of maturity. But that is not the case; in His infinite wisdom and sovereignty, God chose us before he even created the world!

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” –Matthew 25:34

Our place in God’s kingdom has been ready and reserved since the foundation of the world. Paul repeats this claim, emphasizing that the election was made before the world was created, so that even claiming they were simultaneous events does not suffice.

Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. –Ephesians 1:4

In a letter to Timothy, Paul expresses many wonderful truths about election. We will come back to this passage later, but for now focus on the timing of this choice (i.e. calling).

[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began. –2 Timothy 1:9

Before the world was made, before time was even a thing, I belonged to Christ Jesus!

…we are chosen solely on the basis of God’s grace…

If you have been reading through this entire series, this fact should be well known by now. But in case this is your first time with us — or you like being reminded of God’s grace! — we will prove this statement yet again, beginning in Romans.

When Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad — in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls — she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” –Romans 9:10-12

God’s purpose in election is to do things because of who He is, not because of what we have done. Paul repeats this a few verses later, a sign of its importance.

For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. –Romans 9:15-16

One of the most famous passages in support of election by God’s grace appears in Ephesians.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved… For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. –Ephesians 2:4-5,8-9

Notice again the repetition: “By grace you have been saved”. Our salvation is not and cannot be based in our own works or merit — if it were, we would have something to boast about! As it is, we boast, along with Paul, in “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). Before we move on, let’s revisit the passage in 2 Timothy.

[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began. –2 Timothy 1:9

This time around, focus only the basis of our salvation and calling: God’s purpose and grace, not our works. If someone claims that God simply chose those He knew ahead of time would choose Him, then that election would be based on their foreseen works; this is not the Bible’s view of election!

…and this election guarantees our salvation

This final element of election is often a sticking point for many people. After all, if we are guaranteed salvation, then the power is out of our hands, and many are unwilling to yield personal control of their fate. Those who are elected, however, happily concede that God is the one in charge, and the Bible gives us much confidence in this position.

And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. –Matthew 24:31

Our first passage illustrates that the elect will be spared condemnation at the second coming of Christ. Furthermore, the very reason Christ came to Earth is to gather those elected by the Father; not a single chosen soul will be left behind.

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. –John 6:37-39

If you have confidence that God’s will will be done, then you can have confidence that He will save all of those He has chosen to save!

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. –John 10:27-29

The reason for this assurance boils down to the very character of God. There is no one greater than He, so once you have been elected, He is faithful to carry out your salvation. As illustrated in Romans, the chain from predestination to salvation is unbroken.

Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. –Romans 8:30

We close with a very simple and straightforward statement on the results of election.

All who were appointed for eternal life believed. –Acts 13:48 (NIV)

Taken together with the previous post, we seem to have a contradiction. Saving faith is necessarily evidenced by works, yet election is unconditional and always results in salvation. What, then, becomes of the professing Christian who shows no evidence of repentance and faith? What is the role of human free will in the doctrine of election? We will attempt to answer these and other questions when we address applications of the doctrine of salvation.

Next time: Christians should conform to God’s will to confirm their election.

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What is Faith, Part II — Evidence

Probably one of the clearest messages in the Bible is that saving faith requires belief in Jesus Christ. This post covers a much more controversial topic: the role of works in salvation. As mentioned in a previous post, we are most definitely not saved on the basis of works. We will explore three key passages traditionally used to support the heresy of salvation by works to show that the main point of these passages is not salvation because of works, but rather salvation evidenced through works.

Those Bad, Bad Goats

The first passage on our docket is a painful one for me, because my wife loves goats. A lot. Especially pygmy goats. Seriously, if you’ve had a conversation with her sometime in the last year, you have probably heard her very enthusiastic plan to own a goat farm and make tiny wheels of pygmy goat cheese. But Jesus uses goats to illustrate the dangers of the forthcoming judgment; the full account is contained in Matthew 25:31-46; some key verses are reproduced here.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘…inherit the kingdom…’ [and] he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me…into the eternal fire.’ –Matthew 25:31-34,41

The excluded verses highlight a number of good deeds to show that the “sheep” are those who performed these deeds, while the “goats” are those who did not. It is concluded by some, then, that we will be judged according to our actions, with those who do enough good deeds qualifying for heaven. What they miss from this passage is that sheep and goats have always been sheep and goats! Animals aren’t formless blobs that become goats when they decide to jump on things. They jump because they are already goats! We, too, cannot change our identity by our behavior, but we can certainly reveal our true identity through our actions.

A Tree is Recognized by its Fruit

In response to an offhand comment during a 1981 interview, Barbara Walters infamously asked Katherine Hepburn what kind of tree she would be. While she was widely parodied for the remark, Jesus essentially challenges us to answer the exact same question.

For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. –Luke 6:43-45

Just as its visible fruit helps us determine the nature of a tree, once again our words and actions reveal the true nature of our hearts. An apple tree cannot be changed into a banana tree by gluing bananas to its branches; in the same way, an evil heart cannot be painted over with good deeds, nor will a good heart allow itself to be covered by evildoing.

But Wait, What about James??? — Take Two

We find ourselves once again at the tinderbox that is the epistle of James.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” — and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. –James 2:14-26

We remarked in our first look at this passage that the main point is not saving faith plus works yields salvation, but faith that doesn’t produce works is dead. In other words, your works (or lack thereof) will either show your faith to be “active” and saving or “dead” and unsaving. Paul supports this view in Acts 26:20, because he “preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds” (NIV).

James is really encouraging introspection and proper response on the part of his readers. If you see that your deeds do not match what is expected of a Christian, there are two options: 1) you are not yet mature enough in your faith, so you should devote yourself to growth in God’s Word; or 2) you are only claiming to have faith, when in fact it is not present. This second case is highlighted by the example James gives of the person in need. If you simply say nice things to that person, it does not change his position; he is still needy! Similarly, if you just claim to have faith, it does you no good. You must make that faith the center of your life, and if you do that God promises that you will produce good deeds, so you can be assured of your salvation.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit. –Jeremiah 17:7-8

If we truly trust in the Lord, then we will be a good tree that produces good fruit — AKA a sheep — and our faith will result in salvation. The reason for our confidence in this promise will be more fully explained in the next post in this series.

Next time: Saving faith is a gift from God given to His elect.

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Predestined Promises

Part of a series on the Nature of God.

Thus far in Genesis, we’ve seen God making promises right and left, most notably of the “I will give you land and babies” variety. How, though, do we trust these promises? The word “promise” has been used and abused by humanity, and nowadays means nothing more than “assuming the future goes according to plan… and I have nothing better to do, I shall do what I said I would.” It follows, then, that only the one with the perfect, certain plan and an unchanging will (both things humanity universally lacks) can make perfect, certain promises.

The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” –Genesis 18:16-19

God has chosen him SO THAT he may do righteousness and justice SO THAT the LORD may fulfill his promise.

Just to recap on some of the promises the LORD made Abraham:

I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God. –Genesis 17:8

I [The LORD] will bless her [Sarah], and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her. –Genesis 17:16

At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son. –Genesis 18:14

The list goes on. What’s evident from these is that God PROMISED these things. A covenant where Abraham would reciprocate with obedience was established, but these things were promises made by the LORD God to Abraham, unconditionally. There are, of course, conditional promises made by God in the Bible, but these listed were in no way presented as such.

This makes it seem like the Lord has made promises that are uncertain. Based on our chain of reasoning, if Abraham were to live unrighteously or unjustly, the chain would be broken and the Lord wouldn’t be able to fulfill his promise. This would, in effect, render God dependent on the actions of a human and put Him in danger of becoming of liar.

God, of course, cannot be a liar as He is Truth itself. What could this mean, then? How do we determine the order of cause and effect for the events (promise made, God choosing Abraham, Abraham’s actions, fulfillment of the promise) such that it makes sense both within this passage and with what we know about God and the necessary sureness of his promises? I for one, don’t believe we can. The only way God could have made a promise that was dependent on Abraham’s faithfulness, before Abraham was ever faithful, was if the future was — at least in God’s perception — a sure thing.

If I knew FOR SURE — not weatherman sure, but really absolutely sure — that it was going to snow next week, my promise to you that it would indeed snow next week would be a sure thing. This promise, therefore, would be no different than a fact. Just so, God’s promises, because of the degree of absolute certainty with which He makes them, should be taken as facts. Indeed, we can see that Sarah does give birth to a son, to her own astonishment, and Abraham’s progeny have included among them an entire nation as well as kings to rule them.

This begs the question, did God just react to his view of the future? Did he look ahead, passively observe the weather, and just relay the news? No, remember God chose Abraham so that these things could come to pass. God not only sees and reports the weather, but controls it with absolute autonomy. That initiative on God’s part — His setting the ball rolling — must come before any promise can be made, any action can be taken on Abraham’s part. If we follow it back one step further, we find the cause of God’s action: God’s will. What else could move God to action? This, therefore, is where our chain ends.

We can see this in the previous chapter, where God sets things in motion before the promise is even made.

Walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly. –Genesis 17:2

Let us make a distinction between God omnisciently setting things in motion and God controlling every iota of action. God could know all possible outcomes had he chosen anyone on earth at that time to make into a great nation. Knowing this, He chose Abraham so that, as we see from our verse, Abraham would obey and God’s promise would be fulfilled. This does not necessarily mean that God made Abraham obey. Whether He did or not simply cannot be gleaned from this verse. What I’m saying is that despite God’s foresight, free will is still on the table.

So here we are…

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. –Sherlock Holmes

Life is inexplicably and beautifully tied with what God sets in motion and the reasons (promises) for His setting them in motion. Asking how God’s will and reality — be it past, present, or future — are tied is akin to asking “Which is bigger, orange or blue?” There is no answer, as the question itself is ridiculous. In truth, God’s will and the very facts of reality are one in the same.

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What is Faith, Part I — Belief

This is probably going to be the easiest post I have ever penned. Certainly the easiest in the Study on Salvation series. For there are few, if any, teachings in Scripture that as clear and as repetitive as the necessity of belief in Jesus Christ for salvation.

From the Mouth of Jesus Himself

Jesus Christ preached on many topics during His time on earth. This included a virtual encyclopedia on moral behavior, good news about the coming Kingdom, and architectural advice. But the core of His teaching was always belief — belief in Himself as the Savior of sinful human beings. One of the most famous passages confirming this is found in Mark, where Jesus addresses the apostles concerning His resurrection.

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. –Mark 16:16

While the first clause includes two conditions (belief and baptism), the second clause makes it clear on which condition our fate hinges: belief.

The first three gospels — often referred to as the Synoptic Gospels — include much historical background and are mostly a collection of facts and stories. The Gospel of John, however, was written with a very specific purpose in mind — salvation. Compare the following declaration with Luke’s stated purpose in Luke 1:1-4.

These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. –John 20:31

The whole point of John’s writing is belief in Christ, which leads to salvation. As such, it is no surprise that we find most of Jesus’ teaching on belief in this gospel. Leading off is another famous passage, with the message repeated for emphasis.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:14-16

Later in the same chapter we got a similar claim; this passage adds that the only other option besides belief is disobedience that leads to wrath.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. –John 3:36

Confirming that He is the “bread of life” — the true manna — Jesus explains once again a few chapters later what leads to salvation.

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day… Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. –John 6:40, 47-48

Just before this, Jesus makes a comment that equates belief in the Father with belief in the Son and confirms that it is the key to life.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. –John 5:24

Confirmed by the Apostles

We take much of our modern Christian doctrine from the New Testament books that follow the four gospels. Since these books offer applications of Jesus’ sayings and instructions on forming the first churches, this is probably a good practice. Does the teaching that belief in Christ leads to salvation make the cut? While a majority of the passages dealing with salvation in the epistles do so under the guise of the term “faith”, we still see direct references to belief in a number of books by several different authors.

  • Acts: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (16:31)
  • Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (1:16)
  • 1 Corinthians: “It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” (1:21)
  • Galatians: “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” (3:22)
  • 2 Thessalonians: “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” (2:13)
  • 1 Timothy: “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1:16)
  • 1 Peter: “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1:8-9)
  • 1 John: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” (5:13)

 What This Means for Us

Quite simply: Believe! Your life — in this world, too, but especially in the next — depends on this very simple, yet profound, command. I frequently try to bring the words of the father with a demon-possessed child to my lips: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24, NIV). Before engaging in any deeper discussion on what faith means, we must embrace this truth. Only then can we study the next component of saving faith — evidence.

Next time: Those who have faith are recognized by their works.

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Sin and Salvation

Part of a series on the Nature of God.

In The Knowledge of Good and Evil, we looked at what sin was,

and how it was measured. Sin, as it turns out, is the act of disobeying God; i. e. not trusting Him as the authority in your life. As a result of this sin, we saw humanity fall, cut off from God’s presence.

With this background, it is not hard to see that when we sin, we sin against God Himself. If I were throw a book at you, it would be you that I offended, and it would be your forgiveness that I required lest you be angry with me indefinitely. Who, then, gets the bruise when I sin? Who am I offending, and following that, whose forgiveness must I seek? This might seem obvious, but bear with me as we arrive at the conclusion from scripture.

Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD. –Genesis 13:13

So the men of Sodom were sinning against YHWH, directly. In another situation, Joseph believed that lying with the wife of another man (his boss) would be sinning against… the woman? her husband?

He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? –Genesis 39:9

Joseph obviously thought he would be sinning against God. Why would he think this? For the answer, we must go back to our definition of sin: disobedience to God’s word. There are some pretty famous commands about the exclusivity of the marriage bed in later books, but even in Genesis we can see this idea in its infancy when marriage was first established.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. –Genesis 2:24

At the time, of course, there were no other people and therefore telling Adam and Eve that they should only have sex with one another would seem nonsensical to them at the time. It is easy to deduce from this verse, however, that marriage (and all that it entails) should remain between a man and his wife. This understanding seems to have been present from the very beginning. How MANY wives a man could have, however… that one took a bit longer. Now we see why Joseph thought he was sinning against YHWH, for to sleep with this man’s wife would be against YHWH’s decree. The law of YHWH itself defined sin — the breaking of this law — and it was against this law that Joseph would have been measured and found wanting had he slept with the woman.

Every time we sin, no matter who we hurt, we are sinning against God, and it is His forgiveness we require.

Luckily, the beginnings of a plan for forgiveness and salvation from this sin are revealed.

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. –Genesis 3:15

It may seem like a leap to derive salvation and atonement from this verse. However, something tipped off the old-testament heroes (especially Jacob) that YHWH would indeed provide salvation of some kind.

I wait for your salvation, Jehovah. –Genesis 49:18

Then [Jacob] blessed Joseph and said, “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys… –Genesis 48:15-16

To fully appreciate this verse, we must clarify who Jacob refers to as “the angel”. While the word “angel” in Hebrew generally means messenger, we see that YHWH Himself and at least one of these angels are intimately tied.

Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am!’ And he said, ‘Lift up your eyes and see, all the goats that mate with the flock are striped, spotted, and mottled, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.’ –Genesis 31:11-13

If we look back to Genesis 28:18-22, we can see that YHWH is the one to whom Jacob had made the vow. What we have, then, is this “angel of God” claiming to be God himself. We should then read Genesis 48:15-16 as if the “angel,” like the previous two clauses, is talking about God.

What we have found is that by sinning (i.e. breaking God’s law), we are sinning against God Himself. However, even in Genesis, there existed the concept of God redeeming us (compensating for our sin). Although the text of Genesis doesn’t convey an understanding of the means for this compensation, Jacob (at the very least) knew that it was God who would compensate for — and save him from — the consequences of his disobedience.

Next time: Predestined Promises

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Saved by Faith

By God’s grace, salvation is something we can know and experience in our earthly lives. While this revelation is comforting and exciting, it is useless if we don’t understand how to know salvation. Fortunately, the Bible provides enough information on this topic to support a lifetime’s worth of blog posts. However, it does not actually take a full lifetime to learn what one must do to be saved. In fact, we can sum up the prerequisites for salvation in a single word: faith.

Benefits of Faith

Scripture defines faith as… well, lots of things. We’ll spend the next three posts discussing this in more detail; for now, we simply want to explore the effects of faith. These effects are plentiful and paint a vivid description of a person who has been saved. The following verses detail some direct results of faith.

  • Answered prayers: “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” –Matthew 21:22
  • Forgiveness: “And when he saw their faith, he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.’ ” –Luke 5:20
  • Cleansed heart: “…having cleansed their hearts by faith.” –Acts 15:9
  • Justification: “For we hold that one is justified by faith…” –Romans 3:28
  • Christ’s presence: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” –2 Corinthians 13:5
  • Blessings: “So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” –Galatians 3:9
  • Child of God: “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” –Galatians 3:26
  • Righteousness: “…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” –Philippians 3:9
  • Raised with Christ: “…you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God.” –Colossians 2:12
  • Inherit promises: “so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” –Hebrews 6:12
  • Preserved soul: “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” –Hebrews 10:39
  • Crown of life: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” –Revelation 2:10

What a list! You would have a very difficult time trying to argue that someone who experienced these benefits is not saved. But just in case you have any remaining doubts, the Bible — as it is wont to do! — hammers this point home with authority.

First, by Christ himself.

And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” –Luke 7:48-50

Then, by Paul.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. –Ephesians 2:8

From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. –2 Timothy 3:15

And yet again, by Peter.

Who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time… Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. –1 Peter 1:5,8-9

If Christ and his chief apostles claim that we are saved by faith, who am I to argue!

Definitely Not Saved by Works

Unfortunately, many do try to argue these claims. Time and time again, different religions add a list of required actions that must be performed if one desires to be saved. Some of these are Biblical ideas that have been muddied and misconstrued (e.g. baptism, evangelism, Lord’s Supper), while others are obviously human constructs (e.g. indulgences). What these all have in common, however, is that they are roundly rejected by the apostle Paul.

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. –Romans 3:28

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone. –Romans 9:30-32

Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified… I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. –Galatians 2:16,21

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. –Ephesians 2:8-9

In fact, the majority of the book of Galatians was written to combat this very idea of salvation by works. Paul calls those who hold to this teaching “foolish” (Gal. 3:1) and “cursed” (Gal. 3:10). Works can never be and will never be a basis for salvation; it can only be obtained through faith!

But Wait, What about James???

Opponents of the doctrine of salvation by faith alone love to point to the epistle of James. In James 2:14-26, the author — who we believe to be the Lord’s brother — argues that “a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone”. The initial reaction to this passage is that faith in Christ is not enough, but that someone must also perform enough good deeds to get into heaven. This couldn’t be further from the truth! As we will see in the coming weeks, the majority of the New Testament — particularly the teachings of Christ and his chosen servant Paul — preaches that it is only faith that can save us. How, then, can we interpret this passage?

First, we need to clarify that the passage is not saying that someone can have true faith but still miss out on salvation because they didn’t do the right deeds; the faith James describes is “dead” (v. 26) and “useless” (v. 20) and similar to that of demons (v. 19). What, then, separates saving faith from dead faith? I’m glad you asked! That will be the goal of the next three posts in this series. Part II specifically addresses faith and works and will include further analysis of this oft-misused passage.

Next time: Saving faith includes belief in Jesus Christ.

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The Knowledge of Good and Evil

Part of a series on the Nature of God.

When man was first created, he existed within a right relationship with God.

Then the infamous fall. Adam and Eve ate of the tree and were subsequently banished from the garden just as humanity as a whole was removed from God’s presence. Though this is perhaps the most famous of the Bible stories, what it illustrates about the nature of God is often overlooked in light of the more Hollywood-esque talking snake and flaming sword.

First of all, we have an illustration of what a right relationship with God looks like in Adam and Eve, perfect obedience to YHWH. We know this because the moment this obedience was compromised with the eating of the fruit, that right relationship was broken.

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” –Genesis 4:17-19

All of creation turned against Adam and Eve because of their disobedience. Death was introduced, sin was defined, and evil declared just as they were cast out of the presence of God. It is important to note what that definition of sin was. Eating fruit wasn’t in and of itself sinful (vegetables are another story), nor was the eating of that specific tree sinful because of the knowledge it entailed. It was sinful simply because God had said not to. To do so, then, was to defy God’s authority and put oneself as the center of one’s world. Evil, sin, and even death, therefore, are never measured apart from God but are instead defined by disobedience to God’s word. This initial coup d’etat of spiritual authority, in other words idolatry, is what led to a fundamental change in the nature of humanity, as told by YHWH himself.

Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.'” –Genesis 3:22

Man has gained a knowledge of good and evil. Equally as interesting, yet often overlooked, is that YHWH considers himself  (and possibly other beings… see God’s roles in Creation II: The Image of… Who? for exploration into who the “us” is) to have this knowledge as well. What does this mean? We’ll start with what it doesn’t mean.

  • It does not mean that God had in any way acted evil. Evil is, by definition, the opposite of God. God being evil is itself a contradiction.
  • A tempting conclusion would be that God has witnessed evil from the fall of Satan, and thus He knew about it through experience. I don’t believe this is possible for the self-evident truth that sin isn’t something that God needed to learn about. The fall of Satan couldn’t have taught God anything more about His creation than He already knew as it was just that, His creation.
  • It also doesn’t mean a head-knowledge of the effects of sin, as evidenced by the fact that God obviously knew what would happen if Adam were to disobey, as he warned him you will surely die.  However, at this point Adam knew as well what would happen but he did not yet have the knowledge of good and evil.

There are other theories, to include a sarcastic God, among other things, but I’m convinced that the knowledge of good and evil, by process of elimination, is the equivalent of what we think of as the moral compass. Before eating the fruit, Adam and Eve knew right and wrong just because of what God had said, not because of any innate knowledge. This is backed up by them feeling the shame of their disobedience only after their eyes were opened and they’d gained this knowledge.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” –Genesis 3:7

This jives with God having this knowledge as well, as God would certainly have a moral compass of sorts, desiring to do good. He, of course, could never violate that compass, as his own will determines where north is.

What we’re left with, then, is a humanity that has overthrown God as the authority in their own lives and a God who not only is good, but sets the measure for what is good — and thus what is evil. Our eyes being opened to the knowledge of good and evil was us finally seeing where we fell on that measure, giving birth to shame. Being given a moral compass, a compass oriented towards God, was both a blessing and a curse as it allowed us to see which way was north, while showing us that we were most definitely pointed south.

Next Time: Sin and Salvation

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God’s roles in Creation II: The Image of… Who?

Part of a series on the Nature of God.

Thus far, creation seems to have been pretty straight forward…

This Elohim — or “god” — called YHWH, created everything. We still have the question of what is this “Spirit of YHWH,” but creation itself seems to lie solely in the hands of YHWH Himself. During the account of the creation of man, however, things get a bit tricky.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” –Genesis 1:26a

Unlike the word “Elohim,” the word “our” here is plural no matter what the context. Who could God be talking to, then? Let’s read on.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” –Genesis 1:27

And again:

When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.” –Genesis 5:1

It seems that God is creating man in the image of both a plurality of beings; “our image… our likeness”, and his sole image; “his own image… in the likeness of God.” Refer to Genesis 1:22, and Genesis 11:7-8 for a few other examples of this duality of singular and plural.

This leads us into our first question that this passage evokes: “Whose image was it that humans were created in?” It seems to be the common image of a plurality of which God is one member, as well as the image of God Himself. I’m not convinced that Genesis alone completely puts this question to rest, so I’ve compiled a list of the possibilities I’ve been able to narrow this seeming contradiction down to.

  1. God is referring to Himself with the royal “we.” The royal “we” was used to indicate both the person and public title of a high-office individual. “We, Francis, the King of France, declare…” He is really the only being involved.
  2. God could have a plural aspect to Him, He is made up of multiple discrete parts. Therefore, it would not be incorrect to refer to Himself as both one and many. Trinitarians would be the most influential group to hold this view.
  3. There are a number of completely distinct beings that God is referring to. He seems to be the main actor, and indeed it is in HIS image that He Himself ultimately creates man, but there is a council of sorts which either act as bystanders, or act with God’s authority.

The second question, then, is what is the “image of God?” Genesis offers little information, and any guesses I have would be pure speculation. We may address this question again if more information is revealed in later books.

There are a lot of unanswered questions, but what we do know is that YHWH was attributed with creation, from the universe to us. We are made in His image. There might be other players involved, but that remains to be seen…

Next time: The Knowledge of Good and Evil.

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A General Introduction to Salvation

There is nothing in this life more important than our relationship with God, and the goal of that relationship — from our perspective — is eternal life spent with our Father in heaven. Almost all of the Epistles address salvation directly; from this we can derive that, ever since the earliest days of Christianity, salvation has been a vexing and misunderstood topic. It is no surprise, therefore, that so many religions, denominations, and sects have very differing interpretations of salvation and eternal life. Paul warns against such false doctrines of salvation in his letter to the Romans.

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” –Romans 10:1-2

Since we want our knowledge to match our zeal, it is prudent that we take a Biblical look at what leads to salvation and how this affects the life of a Christian. A natural starting point for our journey is a definition of “salvation”.

What is salvation?

Salvation is deliverance from the power and effects of sin, taken from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. These effects include falling short of God’s standard (Rom. 3:23), separation between man and God (Is. 59:2), slavery (John 8:34), and death (Rom. 6:23). While we can certainly discuss salvation from earthly woes (as David does in many of his Psalms), our focus will be on spiritual salvation — the salvation that leads to eternal life. There are many different aspects of this salvation, and we will consider Scriptural references to any of the following ideas as references to salvation.

  1. Regeneration — being born of the Spirit (c.f. John 3:3-5)
  2. Justification — being declared righteous (c.f. Rom. 3:20-30)
  3. Adoption — being made a child of God (c.f. Eph. 1:5)

The term Christian is bandied about quite liberally in our society, but we will hold to the convention of using this term to refer to those who have been saved (regenerated, justified, adopted). Who, then, is properly called a Christian? Is this something we can even know? The former question is a very complex one, and seeking an answer to this question will be the subject of the next four posts. Fortunately, we can answer the second question with a resounding “yes!”

Salvation Can Be Known

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” –1 John 5:13

For succinctness and clarity, it’s hard to beat John’s statement near the close of his first letter. Not only can we know our salvation, but this is actually John’s primary purpose in writing! It follows that our goal as readers should be to determine whether or not we have eternal life. Both Paul and Peter confirm this in their own letters.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence — continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” –Philippians 2:12

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” –2 Peter 1:10-11

These statements will be analyzed in greater detail in later posts, but for now notice the language the apostles use. Christians — at least, potential Christians — are to “work out” and “confirm” their standing in regards to salvation. Not only can we know salvation, we are actually commanded to pursue such knowledge. In the coming weeks, we will wrestle with this challenge. By the end of this study, we should all be able to answer the question, “Am I a Christian?”

Next time: Those Who Have Faith Are Saved

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