Vol: 143 Issue: 21 Wednesday, August 21, 2013
I have a good friend who was once a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but who left that cult after having encountered a well-informed Christian who proved to him that the New World Translation (the Bible used by Jehovah’s Witnesses) had significant differences from other Bible translations.
Unfortunately for my friend, while he left the cult, he took what he had learned from it with him. One of the most difficult concepts for him to grasp is that of salvation by grace.
“But, Jack, it just CAN’T be that simple,” he’ll argue, before pointing out all the verses he learned from the JW’s that ‘proved’ salvation is limited and dependent upon behavior. My friend believes in God and Jesus Christ, and tries hard to live right because of that belief, but he still can’t bring himself to trust Jesus Christ alone for his salvation.
Instead, he trusts to his own good works, in spite of the fact that he knows (and admits) to sinning every day, just like everybody else does.
We’ve talked and talked — for hours at a time — while he wrestles with the concept of salvation by grace through faith. I am sure everybody has a friend like mine, so I thought it might be good to revisit Salvation 101 — maybe you’ve run into some of the same questions.
The Omega Letter is aimed at those who have already grasped the simplicity of salvation, and generally focuses its attention on the ‘strong meat’ of doctrine.
For example, we’ve examined the nuts-and-bolts answers to hard questions like, “Why did Jesus have to die?” and “would a loving God send people to hell?” etc., but not so much with the ‘milk issues’ that confound the seekers and confuse the lost.
Many people feel they have fulfilled the second commandment of God, in loving other people, but to a large degree, they have ignored the first and most important commandment – to love God with all your heart. We are created in the Image of God to love God and love one another.
If we choose to ignore God and not love Him, we are rejecting Him, and as such will not be forced to live with Him in heaven, but will be eternally separated from Him and His children (those who love Him).
Many churches do good things, and many people do good works in their church and in their community. However, without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, these works are “dead works,” often done to glorify ourselves and gain esteem within the church.
A person cannot have a personal relationship with God apart from Jesus. There is a gap that exists between God the Father and sinful humanity.
God is completely holy and cannot tolerate the presence of any sin. But we are all selfish sinners. To redeem us, He had to become ONE of us.
To do THAT, He had to physically enter sin’s ‘quarantine zone’ (the earth’s atmosphere), conquer sin in THIS world, thereby defeating sin’s universal stranglehold on humanity, and then, having qualified as an acceptable Sacrifice, paid the eternal penalty for sin on our behalf.
When Adam sinned, God cursed him, saying, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Genesis 3:19)
God covered the first sin of Adam by clothing his nakedness with dead animal skins. Sin, by definition, introduced death into the world. “. . . without shedding of blood is no remission.” (Hebrews 9:22)
Jesus paid the penalty prescribed by Adam’s sin, just as every human being since Adam, but Jesus was WITHOUT sin. He was not under that penalty for Himself, so He could assume it on our behalf. Having defeated the cause of death (sin), He then defeated the penalty of sin (death) by His Resurrection.
My friend, (and everyone else who ever sinned, even once) have not defeated sin personally, and remain under sin’s penalty of death.
“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” (Hebrews 9:27)
But death is in two parts. The physical death, and what the Bible calls the ‘second death’ eternal separation from God in the Lake of Fire.
And so is the judgement. The believer’s sins were judged at the Cross, and the penalty for them has already been paid.
For those who trust to their own good works, there is a second judgement before the Great White Throne, where they will be judged according to ALL their works, good and bad.
There is no balancing scale. One sin earns eternal separation.
Our personal sin still earns the wages of physical death. We are spiritually and eternally saved, but the world in which we live remains under the curse. Sin has its consequences on the things which are in it.
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
Jesus sinless Sacrifice paid our eternal debt — there is nothing left to judge but our rewards. Nothing we could ever do could earn it, because it is a gift, freely offered to all men.
By accepting Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf and committing to follow Him we are declared righteous by God on the basis of our faith.
Therefore as new creatures, recreated by the Blood of Christ, wearing His righteousness instead of our own, we are able to come before the throne of God blameless and cleansed, reestablishing our relationship with God.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2nd Corinthians 5:17)
It has NOTHING to do with religion. Paul was preaching to the Church at Galatia, where a heresy had crept in that said Christians had to be circumcised like Jews in order to prove they belonged to God.
Paul makes it clear that Christians are neither Jews nor Gentiles, but something entirely new.
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” (Galatians 6:15)
My friend’s difficulty in trusting Jesus is rooted in his failure to understand the ‘new creature’ for what it is. The Bible teaches that there are four spiritual creations.
First, God created the angels. Then, He created Adam in His Image and in His Likeness. At Adam’s fall, his spiritual state was changed, he became separated from God, and Adam fathered the spiritual creation known as the Gentile.
Abraham, through faith, fathered the first of another new spiritual creation. Isaac was the first spiritual Jew, the father of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel.
Since then, every person is born either a spiritual Jew or a spiritual Gentile. The three spiritual creations of God, then, are angels, and then Jews and Gentiles, created in His Image, with an eternal spirit.
A descendant of Isaac can never become a Gentile. A Gentile can become a practicing Jew, but he remains a spiritual Gentile, since his eternal spirit remains estranged from God in any case.
Jesus introduced a new spiritual creation with His Resurrection. Those who trust Jesus are transformed into a totally new spiritual creation, personally indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God, and restored to the fellowship lost by Adam.
“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12)
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19)
Having been MADE righteous and restored to fellowship, Christians are neither Gentile nor Jew. Nor are they angels, either literally or figuratively. The Bible calls them ‘saints’ — something entirely unique in the history of the universe. Jews and Gentiles are born what they are. Christians are REBORN into a ‘new birth’ — a new spiritual creation of God.
Our conversion is literal — we CONVERT into a new thing, like a moth becoming a butterfly. Just as a Jew can’t become a Gentile because he is of Isaac’s race, (and a Gentile can’t become a spiritual Jew because he isn’t), a Christian, once reborn, can’t revert back to either Jew or Gentile. And we never were angels.
Salvation is a permanent transformation from one kind of spiritual creation to a different kind of spiritual creation.
Why is this so important to a study on basic Salvation 101?
As I said, it is the misunderstanding of the new creature that is a stumbling-block to my friend. He sees Christians the way the world does. Sinners, not saints.
He understands the ‘wages of sin’ part, kinda grasps the ‘free gift’ part, but not quite, but can’t get understand how Christians can still sin and confidently expect to go to heaven when they die? Because they DO sin, even though they try not to.
One cannot sin one’s way back into an old creature that has, according to Scripture, “passed away.” (2nd Corinthians 5:17) Paul says the old creature is dead. Only God can raise the dead, not an act of man. Even a sinful act.
The Bible says to repent (literally, change your mind), realize your sin will take you to hell, and that there is nothing you can do about it except to trust Jesus’ promise that by trusting Him for your salvation as the Lord of your life, you are now a new creation of God.
It’s so simple. So simple, in fact, that there are millions upon millions who just can’t get it. Paul spoke of being “wise in your own conceits” (Romans 12:16) not the least of which is the belief that our works contribute to our salvation.
“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” (1st Corinthians 1:27)
Trusting Jesus means exactly that. Jesus did it ALL. It’s Salvation 101.
Note: What a blessing it was to find Jack’s simple Letter explaining the Gospel. Pete Garcia’s column today, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” gives us an overview of what the world will look like for those that have rejected salvation.