The doctrine of the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15)

NOTE: This post is an excerpt from my upcoming book on the end-times to be published this summer. rmb

“The Resurrection Chapter.” That is the nickname attached to 1 Corinthians 15, and it is entirely appropriate. This chapter gives the most comprehensive teaching on the Resurrection in the Bible. In this article, we will be looking at Paul’s teaching on both the historical certainty of Christ’s resurrection and the certainty of the believer’s future resurrection at Christ’s coming. Our objective is to discover Paul’s doctrinal teaching on the Resurrection.

(NOTE: Since we are covering a large section of Scripture, only portions of Scripture will be quoted to illustrate specific points. It is assumed that the reader is following along in their Bible as we move through the chapter. rmb)

THE CERTAINTY OF CHRIST’S RESURRECTION (15:4-8)

Paul begins by establishing the historical certainty of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. He does that based on the trustworthiness of the Scriptures and on the reliability of many witnesses.

THE WITNESS OF THE SCRIPTURES (15:4)

15:4 – The gospel of salvation declares the fact that “Christ was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” An essential element of the gospel is the claim that Christ was raised from the dead on the third day “according to the Scriptures.” The Scriptures are completely trustworthy, and the Scriptures declare that Christ was raised from the dead on the third day. Thus, these two trustworthy witnesses, the gospel and the Scriptures, agree.

SUMMARY: The gospel and the Scriptures declare that Christ has been raised from the dead.

THE EVIDENCE OF HIS APPEARANCES AFTER HIS RESURRECTION (15:5-8)

15:5 – He APPEARED to Cephas, then to the twelve

15:6 – He APPEARED to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep

15:7 – He APPEARED to James, then to all the apostles

15:8 – last of all, He APPEARED to me (Paul)

Paul lists eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, almost all of whom could have been consulted at the time this epistle was written because most of these eyewitnesses were still living. The risen Christ APPEARED to many people, and those people could testify to the fact that they saw Jesus Christ after He rose from the dead.

SUMMARY: Many eyewitnesses could testify to the APPEARANCE of the risen Christ.

THE NECESSITY OF CHRIST’S RESURRECTION (15:12-19)

15:12-19 Paul argues that, if Christ has not been raised, “then your faith is worthless.” The salvation promised in the gospel is a vain hope if Christ has not been raised. Christ’s resurrection is essential to the gospel (see 15:4 above). Indeed, without the resurrection, there is no gospel.

CHRIST’S RESURRECTION AND OUR RESURRECTION (15:20-23)

15:20 – “But Christ has been raised from the dead,” and since Christ has been raised, “in Christ all will be made alive (15:22).” This is a declarative statement of fact and so constitutes a PROMISE, that all who are in Christ will certainly be glorified in resurrection.

15:23a – “But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits . . .” Christ’s resurrection on the third day was “the first fruits,” the prototype for the general Resurrection.

15:23b – “. . . after that those who are Christ’s at His coming (παρουσία).” The Resurrection of all the redeemed of all the ages will occur at Christ’s παρουσία. As Christ was raised up, so all who are His will be raised up at His coming. “Raised up” should be understood as “glorified.” (See Philippians 3:20-21; Romans 8:30)

SUMMARY: Since Christ has been raised from the dead, all who are in Christ will certainly be glorified in the Resurrection.

OUR RESURRECTION BODIES (15:42-49)

In this section of the chapter, Paul is describing the glorified, resurrection bodies we will receive at Christ’s coming, and he does this by making two comparisons. He compares our natural bodies which we have with the glorified bodies we will receive (15:42-44), and he compares the first Adam and the body he gave us with the last Adam and the body He will give us (15:45-49).

COMPARING THE NATURAL AND THE GLORIFIED BODIES (15:42-44)

15:42 – Paul is very explicit about his subject – “the resurrection of the dead.”

15:42 – Sown in corruption (“perishable”); raised in incorruption (“imperishable”)

15:43a – Sown in dishonor; raised in glory

15:43b – Sown in weakness; raised in power

15:44 – Sown a natural body; raised a spiritual body

SUMMARY: Our resurrection body will not be subject to corruption, will be glorious, will be powerful, and will be a spiritual body.

COMPARING THE FIRST ADAM AND THE LAST ADAM (15:45-49)

15:45 – The first Adam received life from God and so “became a living soul,” but the last Adam is God and “became a life-giving spirit.” Adam received life from God, but Jesus, as God, gives life to men (John 5:21).

15:46 – First we receive a natural body and then a spiritual (glorified) body.

15:47 – The first man was made of dust, but the second man was sent from heaven.

15:48 – “As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly.” Those who remain in Adam remain subject to corruption and dishonor, but those are now in Christ will look like Christ at His coming (1 John 3:2; Romans 8:29).

15:49 – We have borne the image of Adam, but because we are in Christ, we are PROMISED that we will also bear the image of the glorified Christ.

SUMMARY: Because we are in Christ, we are PROMISED that we will also bear the image of the glorified Christ.

THE EVENT OF THE RESURRECTION (15:50-55)

15:50 – Paul states that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” and “corruption (perishable) does not inherit incorruption (imperishable).” What he is saying is that there is no way that our natural body can be modified or dressed up to make it admissible in heaven. How, then, do we who believe in Christ inherit the kingdom of God

? How do we who are currently subject to corruption and decay become incorruptible? There is only one answer to those questions, and that is, “through the Resurrection.”

            15:51 – Paul tells us a mystery; “we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.” When Paul says, “we will not all sleep,” he means that at Christ’s coming (παρουσία), there will be believers who are still alive in “flesh and blood.” But we already know that all believers, whether in the grave or in “flesh and blood,” must go through the Resurrection to inherit the kingdom of God (15:50). Hence, “we will all be changed.”

            15:52 – The glorification of believers will occur “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” Our “change” will be instantaneous. The trumpet of God (1 Thess. 4:16) will sound, and the dead in Christ will be raised first (1 Thess. 4:16) “incorruptible,” and then we, the living, will be changed (1 Thess. 4:17). In the Resurrection, the dead in Christ will instantaneously be transformed from decaying corpses into glorified and incorruptible spiritual bodies, and those who are still living will instantaneously be changed from “flesh and blood” into glorified and incorruptible spiritual bodies.

            15:53 – For this perishable MUST put on the imperishable, and this mortal MUST put on immortality.” It is necessary that our perishable bodies put on imperishable resurrection bodies, and our mortal bodies put on immortal resurrection bodies, and this is exactly what happens in the Resurrection.

            15:54-55 – When we have received our resurrection bodies, and have put on the imperishable and the immortal, then “Death will be swallowed up in victory.” Why? Because death will be no more! All the righteous will have become imperishable and immortal and will, therefore, no longer be subject to death. Death no longer has any victory and death no longer has any sting.

SUMMARY: In the Resurrection, at the last trumpet, all who are in Christ will instantaneously be changed into glorified, incorruptible spiritual bodies which are not subject to death.          

These “Summary” sections constitute Paul’s foundational doctrinal teachings about the Resurrection from this chapter.

SDG rmb 5/7/2021

Is it reform or repentance? (Psalm 51)

How can a person change? Is it possible for people to truly change and to stop behaviors that are destructive or immoral and begin actions that are edifying and helpful and holy? In this article we will attempt to answer these and other related questions.

GUILT, ADMITTING WRONG, AND REFORM

There is no power in the guilt that comes from a pricked conscience. When a person does something wicked or disobedient, their conscience accuses them of wrong (Romans 2:15) and there follows a momentary pang of guilt. But that guilt is quickly suppressed and forgotten so that the sinful behavior can continue uninterrupted. The sinner appreciates the comfort of a seared conscience.

Ah, but there is power in the conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11). Rather than merely a passing pang of guilt, this conviction of the Holy Spirit is persistent. Conviction is not easily dismissed. It urges a significant response. Rather than being suppressed, the conviction demands that the underlying sin be dealt with.

There is no power in merely admitting that you did something wrong. Indeed, admitting wicked acts can be done with defiance and evil pride. “whose glory is in their shame (Philippians 3:19).” The most deceitful of hearts can admit that something they did would be considered wrong by some.

Ah, but there is power in seeing my sin as sin and then confessing my sin to the Lord. I acknowledge my sin as rebellion before the Lord (Psalm 32:3-6). Confessing my sin means telling the Lord that what I did was sin. I confess that I have rebelled against the living God.

Against You, You only have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight (Psalm 51:4).

REFORM AND REPENTANCE

And now we come to the heart of the matter. For guilt and admission of wrong, or conviction and confession are merely preliminaries, because the goal is changed behavior. For changes in behavior, we have two tools: reform and repentance. There is no power in reform, but there is great power in repentance.

Reform is an attempt at behavior modification while the rebel inside remains. Attempts at reform assume that changing the external behavior means the person has changed. But reform of a person’s external behavior while their “inner man” remains enslaved to sin is an exercise in futility. The modified behavior conflicts with the fundamental nature of the rebel. The rebel inside detests the new behavior and despises those who constrain his sin. He longs to return to the freedom of his slavery to sin.

The rebel still loves the old behavior but pretends to like different, “better” behavior for some selfish reason. Thus, the rebel strives to reform their external behavior while their heart still loves rebellion. The new behavior lasts as long as the rebel can endure the repugnant modifications and can suppress their cravings for the old ways, but sooner or later, the rebel emerges. The internal conflict is too great, the love of sin is too powerful, and the reforms are the casualty. “The dog returns to its own vomit” and “The pig returns to wallowing in the mire.” The rebel returns to the comfort of his rebellion, and once again, reform is exposed as useless, as a vain attempt to prevent the rebel’s headlong sprint to their own destruction. Reform fails because the rebel remains. But reform is the best you can hope for if you are working with a rebel.

Repentance is different. Repentance is unavailable to the rebel, because repentance is founded on the existence of a heartfelt desire for permanent change, and the rebel’s deceitful heart of stone only desires sin. Ah, but if we change the rebel into a saint, from a slave of sin into a slave of righteousness, then instead of the uselessness of reform, there is the power of repentance. The shackles of sin have been shattered and have been replaced with a hunger and thirst for righteousness. The person has been changed, so they are free to change.

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” – John 8:36

The Son has set the rebel free, so now the former rebel detests their old behavior and puts their old behavior to death (Colossians 3:5) by repentance. There is great power in repentance, in actively hating the sins that I see in my life, and confessing them, and then changing my behavior and turning from those sins. I have been set free, so I can change! The power of repentance is in asking the Lord to remove these loathsome sins from my life. “Make me more like Jesus, O Lord! Help me to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel! Help me to walk as Jesus walked.” Repentance is the powerful tool that allows the changed person to change.

SDG                 rmb                 5/6/2021

Goals and Purpose (Luke 5:11)

In the summer between my graduation from high school and my freshman year in college, my dad introduced me to the concept of setting goals. Dad was excited about the concept and he wanted me to be excited, too. And so, in a manner consistent with my personality, I became zealous about setting goals. If one or two major goals was good, then five goals in every area of my life had to be better. I listened to all the tapes (cassette tapes were big back then) and all the motivational speakers, and I had my system for how I was going to achieve all these spectacular goals. But there was one glaring problem with all these goals: I had no purpose for my life, so the goals were pointless. The goals led nowhere. My goals were arbitrarily chosen because their achievement would boost my ego or would impress others or would please my dad. Or they were just chosen because that goal seemed like a good idea at the time. But without a purpose, or at least a mission, the goals were all pursued in vain. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” And again, to quote Solomon in Ecclesiastes, all these goals were just “a striving after wind.”

In this post I want to explore these twin ideas of goals and purpose so that we get them in the right order and so that we see the difference that Jesus Christ makes in giving us a compelling purpose in life.

GOALS ARE GOOD

It may sound like I am against setting goals, but this is not the case. I truly believe that the vast majority of people in general do not set goals, and I think that a significant percentage of people have never set and achieved a single goal in their life. So those who do set goals have a greater sense of direction and are likely to achieve more than those who do not, or at least that is how the logic goes. What I am questioning is goals without purpose or mission.

But goals presuppose a mission or a purpose because goals only exist to help achieve a purpose. Goals are useful tools for the one who has defined their purpose. You might even say that the purpose of the goal is to help the person achieve their purpose.

A goal defines a directed journey while the purpose defines the destination or the objective.

THE “WHY” QUESTIONS

The purpose establishes the context of the goal. Therefore, it is only with a defined purpose that a goal has a context and thus has a meaning and a function.

Ideally, establishing goals involves answering very simple “why” questions. The consistent answer to a “Why” question about a goal is, “Because (we think) it helps us achieve our purpose.” Several goals may be compared to determine which goal most effectively helps achieve our purpose, but every goal is created to help us achieve our purpose. You can see that goals without a purpose is a fool’s errand. You are roaring down the on-ramp of the interstate with no place to go. “We don’t know where we’re going, but we are getting there in a hurry.”

WISDOM FROM THE CHESHIRE CAT

Having goals without a purpose is a lot like seeking directions without a destination. In Alice in Wonderland, Alice has a conversation with the Cheshire Cat, who is sitting in the tree at the fork in the road. Alice asks, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where—” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat. “—so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation. “Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.” The absurdity of this situation illustrates the vanity of goals without a purpose.

GOALS CANNOT PRODUCE PURPOSE

Just as no amount of works can ever produce righteousness, so no number of goals can ever produce a purpose in life. This is the lesson that I learned after ten years of fervent goal-seeking. I found out that many goals without a purpose is exactly as useful as zero goals without a purpose. It is all “striving after wind.” Without a purpose, goals are useless.

FINDING A PURPOSE IN LIFE

In the plant where I worked for six years as a Buyer, the Human Resources Department would put posters on the wall to motivate good employee behavior. Most of the posters were unmemorable, but one message has stuck with me for almost two decades. The message was:

The first step to getting what you want in life: DECIDING WHAT YOU WANT IN LIFE

As I read the book of “Ecclesiastes” in the Bible, I sense that Solomon’s main frustration was that he was a man with immense abilities and with almost limitless resources at his disposal, but that, for all his remarkable achievement, our hero had not answered the essential question that every person must answer: “What is my purpose in life?”

I sense this is the bane of our age, that most people in our culture have no purpose to their existence. How else do you explain people graduating from college and returning to their childhood bedroom in their parents’ home? What does it mean when twenty-somethings spend their days playing on their cell phones and thirty-somethings are addicted to video games? They are satisfied with a meaningless existence because they never developed a purposeful existence. They are simply biding time.

PEOPLE OF PURPOSE IN THE BIBLE

            But when I look in the Bible, I see that the people of God were people of purpose. In Joshua 14, we read of Caleb. Forty-five years earlier, Caleb had been one of the spies who went into Canaan to give a report to Moses. Now he is eighty-five years old, and he demands that Moses give him the city of Hebron, because the Anakim (the giants) are there. Caleb’s purpose was to take out the Anakim.  

The Apostle Paul was completely focused on his God-given purpose, which was “to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:8).” Jesus Christ Himself had called him as an apostle (Acts 9:15) and Paul was faithful to that purpose to his death.

The Apostle Peter was just an ordinary fisherman on the Sea of Galilee before he met the Lord Jesus. Peter had probably given little thought to his purpose in life. He was a fisherman like his father had been before him, and he was going to peacefully live out his days there on the lake. But when he met the Lord Jesus, his life was immediately and radically changed. In Luke 5, Jesus reveals His deity to Peter in the catching of the fish, and then the Lord gives him a new purpose.

And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” 11 When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him. – Luke 5:10-11

 Of course, the supreme example of purpose in all of world history is the Lord Jesus Christ, who fixed His eyes on His purpose (John 17:4; 19:30; Hebrews 12:2; Luke 9:51) and could not be deterred from reaching His intended destination. His every action was taken, and His every word was spoken to bring Him to the cross. Fixity of purpose was evident in everything that He did.

MY OWN LIFE

            In my own life, before I met Christ, I could not have given you a compelling purpose for my life. While goals crowded my journals and index cards of goals filled my desk drawers, the best answer I could have offered would have been something about wanting to be a decent rock climber, but nothing more. “Why are you doing this or that?” I could not give a substantive answer. “To what purpose are your goals leading you?” I did not know.

            But then, a little more than thirty years ago, on a cliff in California, I encountered the living God, and my life began to change. Now all questions of purpose receive an immediate and confident answer: “Because of Christ.” There may be more to the answer than that, since usually there are details needed so that the answer makes sense, but the essence of every purpose question now begins with, “Because of Christ.”

            Why did I quit my job to live in Russia for three years? “Because Christ called me there.”

            Why did I, as a forty-six-year-old bachelor, marry a widow with three children? “Because the Lord spoke to me and instructed me to do that.”

            Why did I quit my job so we could move to a new city and go to seminary full-time? “Because we felt that the Lord was calling us to that.”

            Why did my company eliminate my job in January 2020? “Because the Lord chose to answer my prayers for greater usefulness.”

ONLY IN CHRIST IS PURPOSE TO BE FOUND

            Purpose in life will never be found if you are seeking purposes that perish. Purpose is not manufactured by your own efforts and it will not be found in searches for material things. God is the One who gives us purpose and meaning. There is great peace for the person who has ceased “striving after wind” and has learned to hear the Lord and to rest in the Lord and to trust the Lord. God is the One who gives purpose, and then we can begin establishing our goals.            

SDG                 rmb                 5/4/2021

Lessons on the Resurrection from John 5:28-29

This post is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Last Act of the Drama: A guide to the end-times, which I plan to self-publish in July. rmb

We will consider the larger context of John 5:26-29:

25 Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; 27 and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice29 and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

            OVERVIEW OF THE PASSAGE: These verses give us a condensed picture of both of Christ’s advents. John 5:25-26 are about Christ’s first advent and 5:28-29 are about His coming in glory. Also, in a sense, this entire passage is about resurrection. John 5:25-26 is about spiritual resurrection. It is about passing from spiritual death to spiritual life, as in John 5:24. These two verses are about being spiritually “born again (John 3:3, 5).” In 5:25-26, Jesus speaks figuratively of time (“an hour is coming, and now is”), life, and death. “Spiritual resurrection” will occur not only during Jesus’ earthly ministry, but it will explode and reach to all the Gentiles with the commissioning of the church (Matthew 28:19-20). “Spiritual resurrection,” which is eternal life, is the whole purpose of the gospel of John (see John 20:31).

THE PHYSICAL RESURRECTION

But Jesus also teaches about a physical resurrection in John 5:28-29. Here, our Lord speaks literally about time (“an hour is coming”), life, and death. In John 5:28, “an hour is coming” is to be understood literally. There is coming a moment in time on the last day (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24; etc.) when the Son of Man will utter His voice and all the tombs will be emptied. Then the physical resurrection will occur and all those who are physically dead will come forth, “those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, and those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment (5:29).” This teaching is consistent with the rest of the New Testament. The righteous will be raised to glory, and the unrighteous will be judged and condemned.

From Jesus’ teaching about the Resurrection on the last day in John 5:28-29, there are several truths that we can see:

  1. In terms of who is resurrected, Jesus makes no distinction between people on any basis. There is nothing conditional about this event. ALL who are in the tombs will hear and will come forth. The good, the bad, and the ugly. If you are “in the tomb” (meaning “if you have physically died”) when Jesus utters His voice on the last day, you qualify. You will “hear His voice and come forth.”
  2. The passage (John 5:28-29) makes clear that the Resurrection is a single, sudden event that occurs on the last day. When Jesus utters His voice, all the dead will immediately arise. In John 11:43-44, Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb. “Lazarus, come forth,” and the man who had died came forth immediately. Just so, at the Resurrection, Jesus will utter His voice and all those who are in the tombs will immediately come forth.
  3. While Jesus makes no distinction in who will be resurrected (“ALL who are in the tombs will come forth”) in this single event, He does make a radical distinction in the destination of those who are resurrected based on their works while they were alive, either to a resurrection of life or to a resurrection of judgment. The righteous will be raised to glory, and the unrighteous will be judged and condemned.
  4. NOTE: In John 5:28-29, Jesus does not teach about those who are physically alive when the Son of Man calls with His voice, but only about those who are physically dead when He returns. Teaching about “we who are alive and remain (1 Thessalonians 4:17)” is covered in numerous other New Testament passages (upcoming article “The Resurrection of the living” will be another excerpt from the upcoming book).

SDG                 rmb                 5/3/2021

A question of purpose (1 Kings 19)

INTRODUCTION

In the opening scene in the movie “Apocalypse Now,” the camera descends through the blades of a slowly turning ceiling fan to settle on a solitary American soldier, sitting on a sweat-soaked mattress in a cheap hotel in Vietnam. The heat and humidity are palpable, but so is the boredom that is projected by the motionless soldier. It is hard to tell which is the more oppressive. Then comes the voice-over: “Saigon. Waiting for a mission.”

As I reflect on my own journey in life, I believe most of my time before I met Jesus Christ was spent waiting for a mission. No, of course, I did not think of my life that way, but in retrospect it seems that I was figuratively “waiting for the phone to ring.” As Pink Floyd says in their haunting song, “Time,” I was, “waiting for someone or something to show me the way.” In the end, my “something” was rock climbing. Maybe it wasn’t significant or impressive, but it was something, and something is better than nothing, and so I gave myself to rock climbing for fifteen years. That was my purpose. Then I met Jesus and trusted in Jesus and my question of purpose was forever answered. Christ became my purpose, and He defines my mission.

I think that purpose is a huge issue for everyone, but it is especially important for men. Men are more driven than women. Men are goal seekers. It was 600 men who rode into the valley of death in “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” And purpose is big for men. In sports, athletes have been known to say, “Play me or trade me, but don’t sit me on the bench.” In life, I think the saying for men goes, “Give me a mission or I wither and die.”

ELIJAH IS LOOKING FOR A PURPOSE

In 1 Kings 18, we read of the contest between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Before their contest, Elijah confronts the people of Israel with a challenging question: “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him (1 Kings 18:21).” In the end, Elijah calls on the LORD to send fire from heaven to burn up the evening sacrifice, then he kills all the false prophets of Baal. It was probably Elijah’s greatest moment.

But then a short while later, our bold and brave hero is running into the wilderness from Jezebel like a scared rabbit. Gone are the challenging questions and the bold calls to the LORD to send fire from heaven, and all we read is that Elijah, “was afraid and arose and ran for his life (1 Kings 19:3).”

What has happened to the fearless prophet?

While some commentators think Elijah is depressed, I had another thought as I looked at this scene through the lens of purpose. Back in 1 Kings 17, Elijah bursts onto the scene from out of nowhere and immediately announces that there will be a long drought in Israel (17:1). Then for the next three and a half years, Elijah is the prophet in Israel, and his life is all about purpose. He is as powerful as Ahab, the king of Israel, and even confronts Ahab about his wickedness and godlessness. Elijah has been a man on a mission with a God-given purpose for three and a half years.

But now, that has all changed. The drought is over, there has been a bit of a revival among the people as they have moved back toward the LORD, and the prophets of Baal have been slain. The mission has been accomplished, so it is possible that Elijah is wondering if his purpose is done. He may be wondering, “LORD, are You done with me?” Then comes the threat from Jezebel, and Elijah thinks, “Surely this is a signal from the LORD that my work is done. Well, if my work here is done, then, LORD, take me home.”

“IS MY WORK DONE?”

This idea of purpose makes sense as we examine the events that take place in this chapter. Notice that twice the angel of the LORD brings food to Elijah, and the second time He says, “Arise, eat, for the journey is too great for you (19:7).” But if Elijah’s purpose is over, why would the angel of the LORD give him food for the journey? Hmm. And what is this journey He mentions? It seems that Elijah needs energy because there is a journey for him to complete.

Elijah’s travels bring him to Horeb, the mountain of God. Then the word of the LORD comes to him, and the LORD said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah (19:9)?” Now, this is fascinating! This is a question about Elijah’s purpose. “Why have you come here, Elijah?” But Elijah uses the question to express his discouragement. Here is a paraphrase of 19:10: “I have accomplished the mission You gave me and now I have no purpose. Take me home!

The LORD then displays His power three times, in a wind so strong it breaks the rocks apart, then in an earthquake, and then in a firestorm. Then the LORD spoke to Elijah again and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah (19:13)?” Elijah answers the LORD exactly the same way, but this time he is asking the LORD for a mission. “LORD, I am still willing to work toward another mission. Have You still got a purpose for me?”

The LORD then gives Elijah a purpose and a mission that will last him the rest of his days on earth. Armed with the power of a new purpose, Elijah goes out with vigor.

NEED PURPOSE, NO PURPOSE, PURPOSE, AND MY PURPOSE

There are definite lessons to learn from this narrative about purpose in life.

First, we are purpose-seeking creatures because we are purpose-needing creatures. We have been created by God for purpose, and we are adrift until we have a compelling mission that gives us a sense of God-given purpose. So, I would say that every person yearns for a sense of purpose.

Second, until a person comes to Christ for salvation, it is impossible to have a God-given purpose and, therefore, all choices of purpose are arbitrary. It is like my choice of having rock climbing for my purpose. A person may make a “better choice” than rock climbing for their purpose, but it is, nevertheless, an arbitrary choice that will soon lose its satisfaction and its ability to compel me to action. Without Christ, there is no God-given purpose.

Third, all believers in Christ receive a sense of purpose and mission at salvation. That is because all followers of Jesus have been called to a mission (Matthew 28:19-20) and have received a God-given purpose (Acts 1:8). As a person grows as a Christian, that person gradually releases their grip on worldly purposes and joyfully accepts their mission and purpose in Christ. All believers have received a God-given mission and purpose.

Ah, but fourth, there is available to all believers but received by relatively few a purpose that could be described as “my unique purpose.” This is that purpose that fulfills the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). This purpose conveys to the possessor the feeling that, “This is the reason I was born!” This is a life purpose, one that you can continue to do and hope to do till the day you die. This is that purpose that Paul received from the Lord Jesus, and the purpose that Paul pursued until he died. (Give me a life of purpose like Paul’s! Give me a purpose worth dying for!) For George Whitefield, this was that purpose that compelled him to preach the word of God till his life’s candle burned out. For Moses, it was leading the people of Israel out of Egypt. When you possess your unique life purpose, you cannot imagine doing anything else. It is your “terminal” purpose.

Let’s all seek the Lord for our own unique “terminal” purpose!

SDG                 rmb                 4/30/2021

The Helper is to your advantage (John 16:7-11)

“There is no way that Your going away is to our advantage!” This is not in the biblical text, but I suspect that more than one of Jesus’ disciples had this thought when the Lord told them, in John 16:7-11, that He was going away to the Father.

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

Once again, we are in the Upper Room as Jesus is giving His disciples final instructions and preparing them for what is to come. In a few hours, Jesus will be arrested, tried as a criminal, scourged, and crucified, and thus He will accomplish the work He was given to do (John 17:4). But now He has a couple of last hours to spend with His apostles. One of the most important teachings of this discourse is Jesus’ teaching here on the Holy Spirit.

SENDING THE HELPER

Jesus has told His disciples that He is going to the Father (John 16:5), “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away.” Before the disciples break out in a panic, Jesus explains that He is going to send the Helper to them (16:7). Who is this Helper? They have already learned about this Helper, the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). He is a member of the Trinity, fully God and worthy to be worshiped. But more than that, Jesus introduces Him as the Helper. That means that one of His primary roles is that of helping the followers of the Lord Jesus. And, while Jesus, because He had taken on a body of flesh, was localized in one place at one time, the Holy Spirit can be in multiple places. Thus, the Helper can be helping believers in far-flung places at the same time. Jesus must go, but He will send the Helper to them.

CONVICT THE WORLD

The primary area in which the Helper will help the disciples is in the area of fulfilling the mission that Jesus will give them. After His resurrection, but before He ascends to heaven, the risen and victorious Lord Jesus commissions His church to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20) and to be His witnesses in all the earth (Acts 1:8). Their primary “weapon” is the gospel, but their source of power is the Holy Spirit. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you (Acts 1:8).” And so, the weak and mortal and often-fearful disciples of Jesus go out into the world empowered by the divine Holy Spirit. And what will the Helper, the Holy Spirit, do? “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8).” The Holy Spirit, then, is the One who works in the hearts and minds of unbelievers to bring a sense of guilt on the ungodly. He will convince the wicked of their fault, and He will show the unrighteous their sin. The church proclaims, but the Helper brings conviction. This is a huge advantage.

CONCERNING SIN

“concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me (16:9).”

Fallen man is sinful by nature and by choice. The natural man is a slave of sin (John 8:34) and he loves the darkness and hates the Light (John 3:19-20). For the world, sin is enjoyable, and the world does not mind evil at all. Those who do not believe in Jesus have no one and nothing to convict them of sin, and so they continue in their wickedness.

But there are some among the ungodly, some who do not believe in Jesus whom the Father is calling and drawing (John 6:44), and for these, the Helper begins convicting them concerning sin. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, is speaking to their mind and to their heart and changing their view of sin. For these whom the Helper is convicting, sin is gradually losing its pleasure. Because of the Holy Spirit’s conviction, sin begins to look less appealing and more disgusting. Eventually, under the Holy Spirit’s conviction, those who did not believe in Jesus repent of their sin and forsake their sin and believe in Jesus. This is a huge advantage.

CONCERNING RIGHTEOUSNESS

“concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me (16:10).”

For the duration of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the world had a vivid display of perfect righteousness. Wherever Jesus was, there righteousness was displayed. And when Jesus was around, the unrighteousness of everyone else in the world was painfully evident. When Jesus was there, you were automatically convicted of your unrighteousness by comparison. But Jesus is going to the Father, and who will convict the world of their unrighteousness now?

The Helper is the Person who convicts the world of unrighteousness now that Jesus has gone to heaven. The Holy Spirit speaks to the minds and hearts of the unrighteous and convicts them. “Your words are vile.” “Your thoughts are wicked.” “All you care about is you.” “You know that you just lied to her.” “God condemns your hatred.” There is no longer conviction by comparison; now there is direct conviction from the Helper. And this is a big advantage.

CONCERNING JUDGMENT

“concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged (16:11).”

When Jesus was on earth, he warned the world concerning the final judgment and urged people to repent of their sin and to believe in Him. His message of coming judgment was clear, even though most hearers ignored His warnings. But now Jesus is going to the Father. Who is going to convict the world about the perils of the coming judgment?

Jesus has not left the world without a witness but has called His church to proclaim the gospel and to warn the world of the judgment to come. The church now has the responsibility to warn the world of coming judgment, and the Helper is the one who brings conviction on the world when the church proclaims. The final judgment of the world should bring fear into the hearts of all unrepentant sinners, but the world scoffs and mocks (Genesis 19:14; 2 Peter 3:3-7). But while most of the world scoffs and mocks, the Helper convicts some in the world of the peril of the final judgment. Under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, some will begin to hear and to fear. Some will cry out for salvation (Acts 16:30). Some will be cut to the quick (Acts 2:37). Some will heed the warning and will flee from the wrath to come (Matthew 3:7). This is the conviction of the Helper, and it is a huge advantage.

SDG                 rmb                 4/28/2021

The elect, the believing, and the one the Father draws (John 6:39, 6:40, 6:44)

NOTE: This article is a detailed study of three verses from John chapter 6 about those whom Jesus will raise up on the last day in the Resurrection. The result is fascinating, as my study revealed how God the Father ensures that all His elect will certainly come to believe in Jesus, the Son, and be raised up on the last day. I hope you find it an edifying study. rmb

Who are the ones that Jesus will raise up on the last day?

John 6:39 – “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing but raise it up on the last day.”

LOOKING AT THE VERSE:

Who are “all that He has given Me?” These are all the elect (righteous) of all time whom God has chosen for salvation before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). These have been given to the Son by the Father.

What will Jesus do with all those whom the Father has given to Him? He will raise them all up on the last day. This “raise up” is certainly the Resurrection. Jesus even adds emphasis by saying that, of all that the Father has given Him, He will lose nothing. All the elect will be raised up on the last day. All the elect who are living will be resurrected, and all the elect who have died will be resurrected. Jesus makes no distinction between the living and the dead in terms of whom He will raise on the last day. “All that He has given Me” will be raised up on the last day. Thus, the Resurrection of all the elect occurs on the last day.

John 6:40 – For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

LOOKING AT THE VERSE:

COMMENTS: At first glance, it might seem that Jesus is just repeating Himself, but that is not the case. Jesus is teaching that the Resurrection of the righteous is two sides of the same coin. In John 6:39, our Lord stated that He will raise up “all that the Father has given Him” on the last day, and it is clear that the expression “all that He has given Me” refers to all the elect. Thus, in John 6:39, Jesus is talking about God’s sovereign decree of election and declares that He will raise up all the elect on the last day. But in John 6:40, we are looking at the righteous through the lens of believing unto salvation.

Notice that in both verses we read of the “will of the Father.”

In John 6:39, “the will of Him who sent Me” is that Jesus will raise up on the last day all that the Father has given Him (all the elect). This is the Resurrection of all the righteous.

In John 6:40, “the will of My Father” is that Jesus will raise up on the last day everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him. And this is the Resurrection of all the righteous.

ALL THAT GOD HAS GIVEN JESUS” EQUALS “ALL WHO WILL BELIEVE IN JESUS

We know that the will of the Father will always come to pass (Psalm 115:3; Ephesians 1:11). Now, since it is the will of the Father, we know that all that He has given Jesus will be raised up on the last day (6:39), and, since it is also the will of the Father, we know that everyone who believes in Jesus will be raised up on the last day (6:40). What Jesus is teaching here is that “all that the Father has given the Son (6:39)” is identical with “everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him (6:40).” Everyone who will ever behold the Son and believe in Him unto eternal life was given by the Father to the Son in eternity past, and all whom the Father has given to the Son will behold the Son and believe in Him unto eternal life. In simpler terms, we could say, “All the elect equals all who will ever believe.”

But this presents us with a difficult question. “How can the Father make sure that all those whom He has given to the Son will actually believe in the Son?” For election does not save. While it is true that God chose us, the elect (all the righteous), in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), it is also true that a sinner must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. So, again, how do the elect become those who believe in Jesus unto eternal life? Consider John 6:44.

John 6:44 – “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”

LOOKING AT THE VERSE:

COMMENTS: What does it mean in this verse “to come to Jesus?” For Jesus says, “No one can come to Me.” In most contexts, but especially in the gospel of John, we should understand “come to Me” as meaning “believe in Me,” because to come to Jesus has no significance unless the one who comes to Him also believes in Him.

But Jesus says, “No one can come to Me unless. . .” This word, “can,” speaks about ability. In fact, the original Greek could be written, “No one has the ability to come to Me.” In other words, “It is not possible for anyone to come to Me.” Then, if we added our interpretation, it would read, “No one has the ability to believe in Me.” This is an alarming verse, but we must remember that Jesus added a condition. “No one has the ability to believe in Me UNLESS the Father who sent Me draws Him; and I will raise Him up on the last day.”

From this, I have three ideas:

  1. Since no one can come (has the ability to come) to Jesus unless the Father draws them, it means only those that the Father draws will come to Jesus. (By the way, we can see here God’s sovereignty in salvation. If He does not draw you, you are not saved.)
  2. On the last day, Jesus will raise up all those whom the Father draws. John 6:44 implies, “If the Father draws them, I (Jesus) will raise them up on the last day.”
  3. From our previous work in John 6:39 and 6:40, we already know those whom Jesus will raise up on the last day. From John 6:39, we know that, on the last day, Jesus will raise up all the elect. And from John 6:40, we know that, on the last day, Jesus will raise up all those who believe in Him.

PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER

I know that I have been going very slowly through this passage, but now we are ready to put the pieces together. Earlier in our study, we asked the question, ““How can the Father make sure that all those whom He has given to the Son will actually believe in the Son?” Then we asked that question another way, “How do the elect become those who believe in Jesus unto eternal life?”

Now in our study of John 6:44 we have the answer: The Father draws all those that He has given to the Son so that they all come to the Son to behold the Son and to believe in the Son.

Here is a simpler way to understand these verses: Jesus will raise up all the elect on the last day, and Jesus will raise up all those who behold the Son and believe in the Son, and Jesus will raise up all those the Father draws.

So, the Father draws (John 6:44) all the elect (6:39) to the Son so that they behold the Son and believe in the Son (6:40).

            SDG                 rmb                 4/28/2021

The vine, the branches, and fruit (John 15:1-6)

1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”

We are with Jesus and His faithful apostles in the Upper Room on the night before His crucifixion, listening as the Master gives His disciples final instructions. In John 15:1-6, our Lord is going to use the illustration of a vine and its branches to teach lessons about bearing fruit.

THE TRUE VINE AND THE TRUE BRANCHES

Jesus declares, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser (John 15:1).” Since Jesus is the true vine, He requires that His branches be true branches. How can we recognize a true branch? We recognize a true branch because it bears fruit. All live, born-again branches will bear fruit. That is the nature of a true branch.

ENCOURAGEMENT FOR THE TRUE BRANCH

Jesus is now going to encourage His true branches. The Lord teaches that “every branch that bears fruit, He (God the Father, the vinedresser) prunes it so that it may bear more fruit (15:2).” Jesus here must be talking about the true branches because these branches bear fruit. “every branch that bears fruit”

But notice that “He (the vinedresser) prunes it (every branch that bears fruit) so that it may bear more fruit.” Consider carefully what the Lord Jesus is saying in this verse. He is saying that God the Father, as the vinedresser, is personally involved in the life of every true branch and is “pruning” that branch so that it may bear more fruit. “The vinedresser” has prepared for me the perfect “pruning” so that I may bear more fruit! His pruning is not arbitrary but is specific, and the purpose of the pruning that I receive from the vinedresser is so that I may bear more fruit. And this is how God the Father relates to every true branch in Jesus.

This should be tremendously encouraging for the believer because it means that God the Father (“the vinedresser”) is personally committed to my spiritual growth so that I bear more fruit. Regardless of where I am in my spiritual growth, God’s intent is to continue to prune me so that tomorrow I bear more fruit than today. And this is true for every branch in Christ. Because by faith you are in Christ Jesus, God the Father is pruning you. This is the standard procedure for every believer. If you are a branch in Christ, you will bear more fruit. But there is more encouragement in this passage for the true branch.

Not only can we bear more fruit, but we can also bear much fruit. In John 15:5, Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit.” Here Jesus promises me and you that if we abide in Jesus, He has promised that we will bear much fruit.

WARNING FOR THE FALSE BRANCH

But just as Jesus encourages the true branches, He also gives sober warning to the false. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He (the vinedresser) takes away (15:2).” These branches are false, dead branches, because they do not bear fruit. They pretend to be true branches and they attach to the true vine as if they were true branches, but they do not bear fruit, and so prove themselves to be dead and false. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away (15:2).” The vinedresser is going to cut off, remove, tear away, hack out and otherwise forcefully get rid of all the false, dead, fruitless branches that try to attach to the vine. Be warned if you are a fruitless branch! But there is still more warning in this passage.

“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them and cast them into the fire and they are burned (John 15:6).” The consequences of not abiding in Jesus and thus of not bearing fruit are dire, and so Jesus is direct with His warning. According to John 15:6, if you do not abide in Him, you are thrown away, dried up, then gathered up and cast into the fire and burned. The warning is meant to frighten us. Jesus, the Son of God, is warning every branch that does not truly abide in Him and so bear fruit, you will end up being cast into the fire and burned (Revelation 20:15). Do not miss this warning. Make sure that you understand what Jesus is saying, or you may be very unhappy on judgment day. If you are a pretender and a fruitless branch, repent and believe in the Lord Jesus!

SDG                 rmb                 4/27/2021

Justified by faith and justified by works (James 2:14-26)

“Does the Bible teach that we are justified by faith alone, or does the Bible teach that we are justified by our works?” This question was one of the central issues of the Protestant Reformation and remains the main dividing line between evangelical Christians and Catholics. “Justification by faith alone” is a non-negotiable doctrine of the Christian faith because it is a central teaching of the New Testament. On the other hand, a major doctrine of Catholicism is that the Catholic is saved by faith and works. This teaching was firmly established as Catholic doctrine at the Council of Trent and is still the doctrine of the Catholic Church today. Thus, the two positions contradict one another. Justification is either by faith alone or it is by faith and human works, but both positions cannot be true.

A PROBLEM PASSAGE?

And this brings us to a passage in the New Testament book of “James” that seems to create a conundrum, because James explicitly states in James 2:24,

“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

Now, it is a fact that the overwhelming majority of New Testament teachings on justification explicitly state that justification is by faith. “Works” are either expressly rejected within the passage or are prohibited by the context of the passage. (A list of these passages is given at the end of this article.) But now we see that this passage in James 2 seems to declare that justification is by works. In light of this verse and this passage, Catholics say that their doctrine of justification by faith plus works has biblical warrant.

Is this the case? Do Paul and James contradict one another in the fundamental doctrine of justification? Is there a contradiction in the New Testament, indeed, a major contradiction? Is the Bible ambiguous on how a sinner is justified? We will need to investigate this passage in James 2:14-26 to see if these things are so.

TWO DIFFERENT QUESTIONS

First, the good news is that there is no contradiction in the Bible’s teaching on justification. The Bible is the Holy-Spirit inspired, God-breathed infallible word of the living God and, as such, has no contradictions. The Bible is the Christian’s final source for all matters of faith and practice and is trustworthy. Therefore, we know from the outset that Paul and James do not contradict one another. But, having said that, we must nevertheless carefully consider this passage in James 2 and see why there is no contradiction with the rest of the New Testament.

Second, a reading of James 2:14-26 will reveal that James is addressing the situation where the person in view already has faith. James’ teaching in this passage requires that the person under consideration already professes faith in Jesus. In fact, the entire passage is predicated on a claim of saving faith. So, in this passage James is not addressing the question, “How does a person receive salvation?” Rather, this passage addresses the question, “Is the faith that you claim you have received a saving faith that manifests itself in works keeping with salvation?” The answers to these two questions cannot contradict each other because they answer two entirely different questions.

JAMES AND PAUL ON JUSTIFICATION

Paul’s teaching on justification is almost entirely focused on answering the first question above, “How is a sinner justified unto salvation?” Paul consistently and repeatedly answers that question with, “The sinner is justified by faith (alone).”

By contrast, in James 2:14-26, James is dealing with the second question; namely, “How is the faith that you claim justified (proven)?” James answers that question with, “The claim of faith must be justified (proven) by your works.” So, it may be said that James is, indeed, teaching “justification by works.” James is teaching that saving faith is “justified” by a changed life full of “works,” full of evidence that you are saved.

With that understanding as a background, the difficulties of James 2:14-26 disappear, and the passage flows easily.

INTERPRETING THE PASSAGE

  • 2:14-17 – James gives an example of faith without works. “What use is that (2:16)?” The expected answer is, “It’s not worth anything!” “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead.” A works-less faith is dead.
  • 2:18 – The difficulty of a claim of faith is that anyone can make such a claim. It may be a justified claim, or it may be an empty claim, but there is no way to tell based on the claim alone. Ah, but show me your godly works, and show me your obedience, and show me your fruit in keeping with repentance, and I will believe your claim of faith.
  • 2:19 – You can make a claim of faith and the demons can make a claim of faith, but if your claim is not justified by visible godly works, your claim will net you a demon’s reward.
  • 2:20 – James is now going to give illustrations of those who were justified by saving faith, because “faith without works is useless.”
  • 2:21-23 – Abraham proved the immensity of his faith by obediently being willing to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice. The faith that had justified Abraham and that was reckoned to him as righteousness many years before (Genesis 15:6); that faith was justified and perfected when Abraham offered up Isaac on Moriah.
  • You see that Abraham was justified by faith, but Abraham’s faith was justified by his works.
  • 2:24 – “You see that a man is justified by works and not by (a claim of) faith alone.”
  • 2:25 – Even Rahab the harlot proved that she had saving faith because she risked her life by sending the spies out by another way. In this way, her invisible saving faith was made visible. So, she was justified by her works.
  • 2:26 – James concludes his argument, “Faith without works is dead.”

APPLICATION

            The first application of this teaching is to assure the believer that James and Paul are not at odds and the Bible is not unclear about justification. James and Paul are addressing two different questions and are using “justification” in two different ways.

            The second application would be as a possible Bible study opportunity for one of your Catholic friends. If your friend was willing to listen to this teaching from James AND also listen to the teaching on justification by faith unto salvation, you may be able to use this as an evangelistic opportunity.

            SDG                 rmb                 4/26/2021

It is faith alone that saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.

“Justification by faith” verses or passages:
Romans 3:22, 24, 28, 30; 4:2-6; 5:1; 9:30-33; Galatians 2:16, 21; 3:6, 8, 11; Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 11:6, 7, 17-19; 1 Peter 1:5, 9

The Cage (Romans 6:20-21)

Going to a college reunion can be an enlightening experience. You get the chance to see people you haven’t seen in thirty years and see what they have done with the last thirty years of drawing breath and taking nourishment on this planet. You may hear, “Oh, wow! You look just the same as you did thirty years ago!” Now, that is probably a bold-faced lie, but it is received with grace, because that is just what you say at college reunions. Another phrase that you may hear at the reunion weekend goes like this, “My, you haven’t changed at all!” This comment would alarm me. “What? You don’t see any change after thirty years? You mean that you still see the same arrogant, profane buffoon that you knew thirty years ago?” I would hope that the comment would sound more like, “You are not the same person you were.”

But the stark reality is that most people do not change. They remain the same “arrogant, profane buffoon” their entire lives. A more wrinkled version of the same person shows up at the forty-year reunion that attended the twenty-year affair. No growth. No change. The question we want to address with this article is, “Why do people not change?”

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 Therefore what benefit (“fruit”) were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. – Romans 6:20-21

SLAVES OF SIN

The Bible presents the truth that people are “slaves of sin.” Here in Romans 6:20, the apostle Paul states the truth that, “When you (the believers in Jesus) were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” What that means is that, as a slave of sin, I had no desire to change, and I had no ability to change.

NO DESIRE TO CHANGE

Before I trusted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I was a slave of sin. I did not know that I was a slave of sin, but slave I was, nevertheless. According to Romans 6:20, I did, however, have some freedom. I was “free in regard to righteousness.” That actually is a strong indictment. “Free in regard to righteousness.” This basically means I was free OF righteousness and free FROM righteousness. At that time, there was not a single shred of righteousness in me to restrain my sin. I was a willing slave of sin and zealously did my master’s bidding. This does not mean I was always actively pursuing sin, but it does mean that I was never pursuing righteousness. Since I was “free in regard to righteousness,” I exercised my freedom by carefully avoiding any taint of righteousness. All this says that one reason I did not change was that I had no desire to change. I enjoyed being unrighteous, so why would I want to change?

NO ABILITY TO CHANGE

But there was another, much more powerful and fundamental reason why I did not change. Because I was a slave of sin, I had no ability to change. The foundational reason I did not change was that I could not change. It was not a question of my lack of desire, it was a question of my utter inability. I was a slave of sin, and there was no one to set me free. I was trapped in the cage that Adam’s sin had built, and I did not have the power to break free. My willpower might allow me to modify my behavior, but the cage of sin prevented me from changing. The same broken man was in a new location or in a different situation, but the same man, nevertheless. This is what it means to be a slave of sin and to be free in regard to righteousness.

And the Bible declares that every unsaved man or woman, boy or girl is trapped in this cage, and you are unable to free yourself. You may be able to modify your behavior for a while, but you cannot leave the cage. You remain helpless, a slave of sin unless and until someone with power opens the cage and sets you free from your slavery.

IF THE SON SETS YOU FREE

There is only one Person with the power to free you from your cage of sin so that you can begin to make fundamental changes, and His name is Jesus Christ.

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.  36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.John 8:34, 36

For those who have trusted Christ as Lord and Savior, the cage has been crushed and the chains of slavery to sin have been shattered. Now in Christ Jesus, those who were slaves of sin who loathed righteousness have become slaves of righteousness who loathe sin. Those who are in Christ are transformed into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). Transformed! What does that mean? Changed! Transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). We are being transformed (changed) from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). And how can they change? They change because believers in Jesus have been delivered from the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:15) so that they hunger for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).

Jesus Christ changes those who come to Him for salvation. First, He sets them free from the power of sin so that they are no longer slaves to sin. But He also gives them a new heart that desires holiness. So, the believer in Jesus has the ability to change and they have the desire to change. And so, they change.

Has the Son set you free? Have you changed or are you still caged?

If Jesus has made you free so that you are free indeed, your next college reunion will be an interesting experience. ““I don’t remember you, but I do remember a guy that looked a lot like you. But it wasn’t you. No, it definitely wasn’t you.”

SDG                 rmb                 4/22/2021