Avoiding hell, according to Jesus (Luke 13:1-5)

If Jesus Christ Himself told you explicitly how you could certainly avoid going to hell when you died, would you listen to Him? If Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, gave you simple concrete steps for not perishing forever, would you follow those simple steps?

In this passage from the gospel of Luke, you will have an opportunity to answer those questions, because in Luke 13:1-5, Jesus gives a message that is so clear that you almost have to try to miss the point.

13 There were some present at that very time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perishOr those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” – Luke 13:1-5

BACKGROUND

A little background would be helpful. Jesus is in Jerusalem and, as usual, He is surrounded by a large crowd. Some people in the crowd made a comment to Him about an atrocity that Pilate, the governor, had committed in killing people who had come to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the temple.

THE UNIVERSAL PROBLEM – YOU WILL LIKEWISE PERISH

Instead of addressing their comment, however, Jesus talks about the universal problem confronting every member of the human race. “Do you think these were worse sinners than all the others? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:2-3).” Jesus establishes the truth that physical death is of secondary importance. The critical question is, “When you physically die, will you eternally perish?”

Jesus then repeats His message in another context. Eighteen people had died when the tower of Siloam fell on them (Luke 13:4). But the question was not, “Did they die this way because they were bad people?” No, the question was, “They died, just as you will die someday. When you die, will you eternally perish?”

The Lord uses events from the daily news to bring into the spotlight the eternal question of heaven and hell. Jesus was asking these people to consider their eternal destiny. “You are so concerned about what happens to others, but will you not consider that your dying day is also arriving sooner than you think? When you have your own ‘tower of Siloam,’ will you likewise perish? Will you repent or will you perish?”

SAME MESSAGE FOR YOU AND ME TODAY

Of course, the message Jesus gave to that crowd on that day almost two thousand years ago is exactly the same message that He gives to everyone living today. All the living will perish unless they repent. Twice our Lord Jesus Christ Himself tells all who will listen explicitly how they can certainly avoid going to hell when they die. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Twice Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, gives simple concrete steps for not perishing forever. Again, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” But if any man or woman will repent, they will not perish.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO REPENT?

To repent means to turn away from your sin and to consciously choose to obey God. To repent means to hate your sin and to love righteousness. Repentance is when you confess to God that you are a sinner and that you no longer want to live your life of disobedience and rebellion but want to live as a disciple of Jesus. Notice that Jesus Himself gives a promise to all those who repent, that you will not perish.

HOW WILL YOU ANSWER?

We began this article with a couple of questions. Jesus Himself has now told us the simple steps we can take to avoid perishing forever. Will you listen to Him and repent, or will you ignore Him and perish?

SDG                 rmb                 6/9/2021                     #414

Warnings of the watchman (Ezekiel 33:1-7)

BACKGROUND OF THE PASSAGE

The prophet Ezekiel had been appointed by the LORD to be a watchman for the house of Israel (Ezekiel 33:7). The word of the LORD had come to the prophet and had described for him the circumstances that demanded a watchman for the people and what the obligations were for this person.

The people needed a watchman because there was an imminent danger of destruction. There was a sword from the LORD coming upon the land and the watchman was appointed to blow the trumpet and warn the people so that they had an opportunity to escape. Sounds simple enough, right? But there was a catch. If for any reason the appointed watchman did not blow the trumpet and warn the people, the sword would certainly take a person away, “but his blood I (the LORD) will require from the watchman’s hand (33:6).”

Clearly, when the LORD appointed a watchman for the people, He expected the watchman to blow the trumpet at the appearance of the approaching sword. Things did not go well for the silent watchman.

PARALLELS BETWEEN THE WATCHMAN AND THE WITNESS

While at first glance this story of watchmen and trumpets and swords may seem far removed from our own experience, when seen through the lens of the gospel, the picture is strikingly relevant. Let’s make some word substitutions.

Sword = God’s Judgment                    Trumpet = Gospel

Blow the trumpet = Proclaim the gospel

Take warning = Believe the gospel     Delivers his life = Is saved

Ignores the warning + Does not respond to the gospel

Sword takes him away = Perishes forever in hell

THE KEY QUESTION: WHO IS THE WATCHMAN?

The critical question in this parallel is, “Who is the watchman?” Is the watchman every believer, or is the watchman one of a small subset of all believers? We need to explore this question to be sure that our blood is not being required because of our silence.

It is possible that “the watchman” is a special Christian who has been set apart by God for this special task of proclaiming the gospel. It is possible that the large majority of believers are not obligated to communicate the good news to the lost at all but are free to be silent about the terrifying peril facing the unsaved and to be silent about the salvation that is promised to all those who will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is possible that the large majority can be silent while a small minority bears all the obligation to proclaim. I suppose it is possible that is the case, but there are several things that make me nervous about that.

One thing that bothers me about the idea that a special, select group of believers shoulders the responsibility for proclaiming the gospel to the lost is that I cannot find that in the New Testament. Jesus’ statement, “You shall be My witnesses,” is for all those who have received the Holy Spirit, not just for an elite subgroup. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is given to every member of the church, not to just a handful of specially gifted people. If I accept that I am a member of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9),” then I must also perform the duty of proclaiming His excellencies. If there is a special group of people who serve as New Testament “watchmen,” I need to know who they are and how they are identified to be sure that I am not unknowingly among them.

But there are other things that cause me concern. Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of man (Matthew 4:19).” That sounds like if I do the one, I also do the other. If I follow, I also fish. It sounds like all followers, fish for men, not just a select few. Doesn’t it?

Paul wrote, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:20).” But aren’t all believers to be ambassadors to the lost?

In that same chapter, Paul also says, “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men (2 Cor. 5:11).” Surely all believers know the fear of the Lord’s judgment. So, all believers should be involved in persuading people that the sword of God’s judgment is poised above all those who have not fled for refuge to the Lord Jesus.

Bottom line is that the Bible teaches we are all the Lord’s watchmen and, therefore, we do not get a pass. In fact, we read that there is a consequence that flows from our silence. Notice that if Ezekiel had been silent, the blood of those who perished on his watch would have been required from Ezekiel’s hand. I am not sure what the phrase “blood required from your hand” means, but I do know that I do not want to find out.

Ezekiel was appointed a watchman to blow the trumpet and warn the people of the coming sword. In the same way, we, as followers of the Lord Jesus, have been called out of darkness to let our light shine (Matthew 5:16). The Lord has bought us at the price of His own blood, and He has given each of us a huge sack of seed. It is written, “The sower went out to sow (Matthew 13:3).” And what are we to sow? We are to scatter the seed of the gospel everywhere and everyday so that the world may know of Jesus and so “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).”

So, you and I are “the watchman.” We see that there is a judgment coming and that there is only one means of escape. “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).” So, we blow the trumpet of the gospel so that men and women may find refuge in Jesus.

SDG                 rmb                 6/7/2021         #413

The King in Zion and the kings on earth (Psalm 2)

It is evident from studying the psalms that the arrangement of these prayers and poems in the psalter is not random but is planned for a purpose. This is certainly true of the two psalms that open the psalter. Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 are placed at the head of the book of psalms to establish the themes that will be developed throughout the rest of the book. This will be a two-post series on the first two psalms.

Back on May 24, we had explored Psalm 1. From this psalm, we learned that there are two groups of people on earth, the righteous and the unrighteous. The LORD blesses the righteous, but the wicked will be destroyed in the judgment. The rest of the book of psalms, indeed the rest of the Bible, will resound with the truth that, “The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. The face of the LORD is against evildoers (the unrighteous), to cut off the memory of them from the earth (Psalm 34:15-16).” Psalm 1, then, commends the righteous and warns the wicked.

PSALM 2

            This second psalm introduces us to the rightful King in Zion, the Son, who deserves all glory and honor, and tells us about the rebellion of the nations.

1 Why are the nations in an uproar
And the peoples devising a vain thing?
The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us tear their fetters apart
And cast away their cords from us!”

The psalm opens with the nations in open rebellion and the peoples plotting their evil opposition. The kings and the rulers join them in their scheming against the LORD and against His Messiah (anointed). Jesus is the rightful King, the Son, and the Messiah, but we see that long before His Incarnation in Bethlehem, the unrighteous were already arrayed against Him and were prepared to reject Him. Man has been in rebellion against their Creator since the fall. In his defiance he “takes his stand against the LORD” and shakes his puny fist at the omnipotent one. He is a rebel against all constraints and desires to be rid of all God’s commandments. “Give us no moral fetters or cords of obedience!” This psalm makes clear that natural man intentionally rejects God’s rule and rejects God’s Ruler.

He who sits in the heavens laughs,
The Lord scoffs at them.
Then He will speak to them in His anger
And terrify them in His fury, saying,
“But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”

How does the LORD respond to man’s defiance? The LORD laughs at man’s pitiful rebellion because man’s defiance is of no consequence. But while the opposition of the nations cannot possibly threaten the LORD, their opposition does serve to anger the LORD. Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), and we have already seen that the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:6). No one defies the LORD or violates His holiness with impunity. There will surely be a just recompense on the unrighteous. Remember, “the wicked will not stand in the judgment (Psalm 1:5).” But to the rebellious nations the LORD has the final word: “I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain.” And who is this King who has been installed in Zion? “Who is this King of glory? The LORD (Jesus), strong and mighty. The LORD (Jesus), mighty in battle (Psalm 24:8).” This King is Jesus.

“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
‘You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.’”

Notice that this next stanza is spoken by the Son. The Son tells of the decree of the LORD. Again, we ask, “Who is the Son?” Can there be any question? There is only one Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly, it is Christ who is speaking in this stanza. We read that the Son is begotten of the LORD. In John 3:16, we read that “God gave His only begotten Son, (Jesus)” to the world for eternal life. We also read here of both of Jesus’ roles, as Savior of the righteous and as Judge of the unrighteous. In His decree, to the Son the LORD “gives the nations as Your inheritance and the very ends of the earth as Your possession.” “The nations” and “the ends of the earth” are people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation that will praise the Lamb for all eternity (Revelation 7:9) in heaven, those who have been gathered through the preaching of the gospel. But there will also be those whom the Son “shall break with a rod of iron and shatter like earthenware.” These are the unrighteous who will be cast into the lake of fire in the judgment (Revelation 20:11-15).

10 Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
Take warning, O judges of the earth.
11 Worship the LORD with reverence
And rejoice with trembling.
12 Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!

The psalm concludes with a sober warning. “Do homage to the Son” or “you will perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled.” The judgment will come suddenly like a flood, and then there will be no room for repentance. Your doom will be forever sealed. Now you have received warning, and today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to do homage to the Son, for tomorrow may be too late. But if you bow the knee to the Son and if you do homage to Jesus, you will receive His full blessing:

“How blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”

SDG                 rmb                 5/30/2021                   #409

The righteous and the unrighteous (Psalm 1)

In studying the psalms, it is evident that the arrangement of these prayers and poems is not random but is planned for a purpose. This is certainly true of the two psalms that open the psalter. Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 are placed at the head of the book of psalms to establish the themes that will be developed throughout the rest of the book. This will be a two-post series on these first two psalms.

PSALM 1

Ever since Adam’s first sin in the Garden, mankind has been divided into the righteous and the unrighteous. Therefore, from the beginning of history, there have been two, and only two, groups of humanity, the righteous and the unrighteous. All humanity is included in these two groups. You are either righteous or you are unrighteous, and there is no exception.

Psalm 1 explores the significance of this fact. We have before us the deeds of the righteous and the destiny of the unrighteous. If your life does not evidence the fruit of the righteous, then you will experience the fate of the unrighteous. Built into this psalm is the implicit call to evaluate your own life. Does your life reveal that you are among the righteous or the unrighteous? If among the unrighteous, will you heed the warning? The psalm certainly commends the righteous, but it also certainly warns the unrighteous that they are in great peril.

THE RIGHTEOUS

The psalm begins by pouring blessing and accolade on the righteous for the company he avoids (Psalm 1:1). He does not allow the deeds and the lifestyle of the unrighteous to influence him to ungodly behavior. Therefore, he will not walk with the wicked nor stand with sinners nor sit with scoffers. Notice that the righteous man is called blessed for that choice: “How blessed is the man.”

How, then, does the righteous spend his time? The righteous person delights in God’s word (Psalm 1:2), reading the Bible not with a sense of drudgery or duty, but with a sense of pleasure and privilege. “Here are the very words of the living God and so I will dwell and feast as on my necessary food.” The truth of the Word gives the righteous all things pertaining to life and godliness.

For the one who does not walk with the wicked but delights in the Law of the LORD, there is a fourfold promise of blessing. He will be firmly planted, his life will yield rich fruit, he will have a full life, and everything that he does prospers (Psalm 1:3).

THE WICKED (UNRIGHTEOUS)

“The wicked are not so.”

The contrast between the righteous and the unrighteous is abrupt and absolute. For the wicked, for those who remain unrighteous in the sight of God, there is no blessing, either now or in the future. Instead of a tree firmly planted, they are chaff blown away (Psalm 1:4), here today, gone tomorrow, and forever forgotten. Their legacy is like smoke in a gale and their memory is a morning mist.

Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. – Psalm 1:5

But while their impact on earth is forgotten, their lawless deeds are vividly remembered in heaven. There is a judgment coming when all unrighteousness will receive a just recompense. In God’s final judgment, the wicked will be declared guilty and forever condemned, and will be cast headlong into eternal torment. “The wicked will not stand in the judgment.” All unforgiven sinners will be excluded from the assembly of the righteous in heaven.

Again, the LORD makes a distinction between the righteous and the wicked.

“The LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” – Psalm 1:6

The LORD blesses the path of the righteous and the life of the righteous on earth, and the LORD will welcome the righteous into heaven forever. But “The way of the wicked will perish.” The word “perish” does not speak of oblivion or of annihilation but speaks of losing all sense of any good or mercy or peace forever while never being delivered from judgment. “Perish” is a word intended to evoke dread. “Perish” is a wrath word and a judgment word and a retribution word, a word of ultimate misery and hopelessness of relief. The LORD blesses the life of the righteous, but He curses the way of the unrighteous.

LESSON FOR THE RIGHTEOUS

Who are the righteous? Who are these who can proclaim before God their righteousness? The righteous are all those who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. These have been declared righteous through faith in Jesus Christ and their faith has been reckoned to them as righteousness. For the righteous, this psalm commends their ongoing obedience and promises them blessings from the LORD.

LESSON FOR THE UNRIGHTEOUS

And what if you realize you are among the unrighteous? That is, what can you do if your deeds have been wicked, and you have long walked contentedly along the path with the sinners? Is there any remedy for the one who longs to escape the judgment and to stand in the assembly of the righteous? O, hear the good news! Salvation is promised to anyone who will repent of their sins and who will bow down to Jesus Christ as Lord of their life. “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).” Anyone who trusts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior has passed from death to life (John 5:24) and is, at the moment of initial faith, counted as righteous.

If you would be righteous, you must believe in Jesus.

SDG                 rmb                 5/24/2021

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

The danger of merely tasting Christ (Hebrews 6:4-6)

In a recent post (April 9), we began a consideration of Hebrew 6:1-8, a passage that talks about the danger of “tasting” all the truths of the gospel and hearing all the glories of Christ without ever coming to true faith in Christ. This post will continue in that vein.

A SUMMARY OF HEBREWS 6:4-6

The best way to understand Hebrews 6:4-6 is as a strong warning about the danger of hearing the gospel of salvation and yet never actually coming to faith in Jesus. The author suspects that some in the fellowship are still unsaved because they remain on the fence, considering the claims of Christ but refusing to make a full commitment to Jesus. Here in this passage, the author warns that, if you delay long over the call to faith, and if you persist in refusing Him who calls, then there may come a time when your heart will grow cold and when the gospel no longer compels you to respond. If you merely taste the things of Christ without confessing Him as Lord and Savior, you may know that experience where “it is impossible to renew you again to repentance (6:6).” At that place, your eternal doom is forever sealed. Tasting Christ without trusting Christ will be regretted forever in hell. So, this is a very sober passage.

TASTING, BUT NOT BELIEVING – HEBREWS 6:4-6

The full gospel had come to the readers of this letter. “God had testified to the gospel by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit (2:4).” They had been called to enter God’s rest (3:7-4:13). They had heard the message about Jesus, their great High Priest (4:14-5:10). The gospel had been proclaimed such that they had heard the truth about Christ and about His salvation. How had they responded?

“For in the case of those who had once been enlightened (6:4)

These had heard the gospel proclaimed, probably many times. Upon hearing it, they had been enlightened. They had become aware that Jesus, the Son of God from heaven, had come and died on the cross, and risen on the third day. But, having heard the gospel, they have not believed the gospel and called on the Lord. (Romans 10:13-14) They are enlightened, but still unbelieving.

“and have tasted of the heavenly gift (6:4)

The “heavenly gift” is the gift of the One who came from heaven. The heavenly gift is Christ Himself. But Christ is not merely to be tasted but is to be received as Lord and Savior (John 1:12). “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves (John 6:53).” A tasting can never save. You must love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength (Matthew 22:37).

“and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit (6:4)”

I do not know what it mean to be a “partaker” of the Holy Spirit I know what it means to be sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Word teaches about being indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16). There are certainly gifts of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). These verses describe a vital, saving relationship with the Holy Spirit, but being a “partaker” talks about an association or a familiarity, but does not speak of a saving relationship. The true believer is empowered and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, not merely a “partaker” of Him.

“and have tasted the good word of God

These people had been in the assembly of the church and they had heard the pastors and the elders teach the Bible, and they had been moved. “Ah, surely here is power and truth! Yes, these men can preach!” They had enjoyed the Bible teaching, but they had not been changed by the Word. They tasted the Word, but they did not embrace the Word. If the Word did not agree with their opinions or desires, they just tuned it out or rejected it. A taste of the good word of God will not cleanse a filthy heart or open blind eyes.

“and have tasted the powers of the age to come

There were some people in the church who has seen signs and wonders and miracles (2:4) performed before their very eyes. They had tasted the powers of the age to come, but their interest in Christ remained lukewarm. 

Yes, they had been exposed to everything about the glory of God and the salvation offered in the Lord Jesus Christ. They had heard it all, and yet they remained unconverted. They still had not unreservedly run to Jesus. They had not bowed the knee to the Jesus and confessed Him as Lord. They were comfortable with these ideas and enjoyed associating with those in the church, but nevertheless they remained once-born.

THE DANGER OF MERELY TASTING

There is a danger in continuing to taste of salvation without coming all the way to full repentance. Today the word of the gospel may have an appeal and there is in your heart a curiosity about Christ, maybe even an attraction to Christ. You enjoy being in the company of believers and the Bible is an interesting book. You even had the thought, “You know, maybe I’ll become a Christian today.” You are tasting Christ, but you are not trusting in Christ.

For in the case of those who have tasted “and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” – Hebrews 6:6

But the danger of merely tasting Christ without embracing Christ as Lord and Savior is that one day, suddenly, you “have fallen away.” Suddenly, one day the gospel is foolishness to you. In a moment, your curiosity about Jesus has vanished like smoke. All of a sudden, you despise the people in the church and the Bible is a dead book. Your heart has gone from lukewarm to ice cold. You “have fallen away” and the collapse is both irreversible and complete.

Most chilling of all, your eternal destiny is now sealed, for if you “have fallen away, it is impossible to renew you again to repentance.” You are doomed to be damned. Repentance is now impossible. Hebrews 10:26-27 gives this warning:

If you have fallen away “after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

You have heard the gospel and have heard of the offer of salvation in Christ, but you delayed too long, and now the offer has been forever withdrawn. Now all that awaits you is a “terrifying expectation of judgment.”

SEVEREST WARNING POSSIBLE

Because of the eternal danger of falling away, the author of this letter is giving the severest warning possible. If you fall away, the opportunity for repentance is eternally lost. If you fall away, you can never be saved. Therefore, come to Christ now!

“Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart (Hebrews 4:7).” Act now! Come to faith in Jesus now! The Lord will not call forever. There is an urgency to your response.

Do not hesitate until the call of the Holy Spirit has ceased. Then you will be like Esau, who trifled with the blessing too long, and then finally could not obtain it for any price (Hebrews 12:17). The gospel was proclaimed to you, but you refused to respond. Now your heart is cold, and the gospel is foolishness. The moment is forever lost, and it is impossible to renew you again to repentance (Hebrews 6:6).

When you sense the attraction of the gospel, when you feel the draw of the Holy Spirit, then cry out to Christ for salvation. Be like Bartimaeus, who knew that eternity hung in the balance (Mark 10:46-52). Jesus Christ is passing by! Call to Him now. Hesitate and He will be gone, and you will never have this opportunity again.

Do not be those who receive (meaning, “hear”) the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. 6:1). “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation (6:2).” Do not be among those who heard the good news but did not heed the good news (Romans 10:16). You have heard the message. What will you do? “Be saved from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40)!”

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Hearing a blind beggar’s cry (Mark 10:47)

For Bartimaeus, that day had begun like every other day. The blind man had been led down to his spot beside the Jericho road, sitting in the dirt and the dust and crying out for alms to passersby whom he could not see, most of whom intentionally tried not to see him. Few of them knew his name and fewer still had pity on him. After all, why should they be concerned about a blind beggar sitting by the road? Yes, it seemed like this would be another ordinary day.

But something was different about that day, for down the road coming out from Jericho was a large crowd, all apparently following the Man who was walking on ahead of them. The crowd was talking excitedly among themselves, as crowds do, but they were also listening intently to the words being spoken by the Teacher, the Rabbi who was leading the crowd.

Large crowds were not common on that road out of Jericho, so Bartimaeus asked about the Rabbi. Who is He?

And when he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” – Mark 10:47

It would be difficult to find a less significant person in all of Israel than this blind beggar in the dust of the Jericho road, whose lot in life was to cry out for alms. And it would be impossible to find a more significant Person in all of human history than Jesus, the Son of David, the Son of God sent from heaven “to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).” And at this moment, this most significant of men was fixed on accomplishing the most significant work in human history as He aimed for Jerusalem and His appointment with a cross.

Nevertheless, blind Bartimaeus “kept crying out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” – Mark 10:48

Could Jesus even hear the blind beggar’s cry above the din of the crowd? And even if He could, would He pay any attention? Why would He pay any attention? But Jesus does hear the beggar’s cry.

And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.” – Mark 10:49

Jesus interrupts His journey to Jerusalem and His mission of dying as a sacrifice for sin to call a dirty, blind beggar to Himself. What manner of Man is this (Matthew 8:27)? Bartimaeus “jumped up and came to Jesus (10:50),” and then the Son of God gave Bartimaeus a blank check.

“What do you want Me to do for you?” – Mark 10:51

Jesus put no limitations on what could be requested, because there are no limitations on what He can supply. In essence, Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “Ask Me according to your faith.”   Then, as an act of pure faith,

the blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight! – Mark 10:51

As only Jesus could do, He gave the blind beggar sight, then continued on His way to the cross with a new disciple following behind Him.

THE MESSAGE OF BARTIMAEUS

Why is this story of Bartimaeus in our Bible? It is here because all of us are born into this world as insignificant blind beggars, and we figuratively sit in the dust beside the road begging for mercy from passersby. Like blind Bartimaeus, we cannot change our situation or fix ourselves. Every day is basically the same as the last one, and we wait for someone or something that can give us hope of change.

Like Bartimaeus, we are waiting for Jesus the Nazarene. We are waiting for someone to tell us about Jesus, Son of David, who can give sight to the spiritually blind and who can give life to the spiritually dead. We are waiting for Jesus, the Man with divine power, to have mercy on us, to call us to Himself, and to allow us to follow Him forever.

For all those who know Jesus as Lord and Savior, you, like Bartimaeus, have a “that day” when you met Jesus. On “that day,” when the Lord Jesus came near, you cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And on “that day,” Jesus heard your cry and stopped and said, “Call them here.” When you realized that He was calling for you, yes, for YOU, you threw aside your cloak, and jumped up and came to Jesus.

Jesus said to you, “What do you want Me to do for you?”

“Lord, save me! Forgive me of my sins! Make me one of Your disciples. Let me walk with You.”

Then Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you.”

So, that is one reason why this story of Bartimaeus is in our Bible. It gives a picture of who we are as fallen, sinful humans and how we can come to Jesus and be saved.

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Remaking a spoiled vessel (Jeremiah 18:1-4)

The potter worked quickly and skillfully as he created his vessels from the lumps of formless clay. His working on the wheel was almost as if the two were one unit, with the wheel yielding to and obeying every impulse from the potter as he shaped and molded. Every once in a great while, the potter would make a mistake with the wheel or with the clay, and the vessel that he was making would be spoiled in his hand. In those instances, the potter would collapse the spoiled vessel back into a lump of clay and quickly remake it into another useful shape.

The LORD calls Jeremiah, the prophet, to go down to the potter’s house and he sees what we just described. The potter takes the spoiled vessel and remakes it into another one.

But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so, he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. – Jeremiah 18:4

As interesting as the work of the potter is, it is not the main point of this story. In fact, this story of the potter and the spoiled vessel is just an illustration that speaks to our own ruined human condition. You see, you and I come into this world as spoiled vessels and we need to find someone who will remake us into pristine, useful vessels.

WHAT DOES A SPOILED VESSEL LOOK LIKE?

The Bible is the story of God’s pursuit of His people and of how He redeems them and remakes them regardless of how spoiled they are. Included in the pages of Scripture are many pictures of what ruined vessels look like to show me how ruined I am.

So, what does a spoiled vessel look like?

As a spoiled vessel, I was like a demon-possessed man screaming naked among the tombs as I gash myself with stones. Not even chains and shackles could restrain me as I fought wildly against my own depravity (Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:27-39).

A spoiled vessel, I was like a newborn infant thrown out into the open field, squirming in my own blood, helpless and rejected. (Ezekiel 16:4-6)

I was dead like Lazarus, rotting in the grave, stinking in my graveclothes (John 11:39)

I was spoiled like Mephibosheth, crippled in both feet. (2 Samuel 9:3-4)

I was an unclean leper, longing to be touch and cleansed. (Matthew 8:1-4)

I was a spoiled and ruined vessel like the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, sitting in the dust beside the road (Mark 10:46-52).

Those are pictures of what a spoiled vessel looks like.

Watching a skilled potter make pottery and occasionally remake spoiled vessels into beautiful ones is entertaining, but what does someone do if they themselves are the ruined vessel? For the clay vessel was visibly spoiled, but I am comprehensively ruined. A skilled potter can remake a clay vessel into something useful, but who has the power to redeem and remake a ruined life?

THIS POTTER CAN REMAKE ME INTO SOMETHING NEW

And now we come to the main application of the story of the potter. For there is a master Potter who has the power to remake the most spoiled of vessels into a new and glorious creation. But observe that the ruin in the vessel cannot be repaired. This is not pottery repair, but it is pottery made new. The old vessel must go, and the new vessel must come.

For me there came a day when I realized that the vessel of my life was ruined and there was nothing and no one who could repair it. Sin had ravaged and was ravaging my life, and I needed to find someone who had the power to make me new and set me free. I was tired of gashing myself on stones. I was weary of the dust beside the road. I was rotting in the grave and I was crippled in my feet. My life was spoiled and needed to be remade. Then I met Jesus Christ, the great Savior, the one who has the power to remake ruined lives into useful lives. He has the power to give sight to the blind and freedom to the captives and beauty for ashes. He took my spoiled vessel and remade it as it pleased Him to make it.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. – 2 Cor. 5:17

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Why all the warnings? (Hebrews 3:12-14)

False assurance is a dangerous thing. The person possessing false assurance is confident that they are prepared to face a certain challenge or threat when, in fact, their defenses are inadequate, and their preparation is incomplete. This is like the fair-skinned sunbather on the Florida beach with SPF 5 sunscreen that they are confident is SPF 50. Or this is like the rock climber with the 100-foot rope rappelling down the 130-foot cliff which the climber is confident is only 80 feet tall. Or this is like someone who has been attending a local church for a little while and has joined in the singing and has listened to the sermons and has done whatever they saw the other people in the church doing; this is like that person having the false assurance that, because they behave like a true believer and go through the same motions, they possess the same salvation and are safe from God’s judgment. In these instances of false assurance, the person must be warned about their error before bad consequences result. So, we can see that false assurance is a dangerous thing.

The author of “Hebrews” is acutely aware of the disastrous consequences of a false confidence of salvation. He warns those who may possess a false profession, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (10:31),” and “our God is a consuming fire (12:29).” In fact, one of the dominant themes in this New Testament epistle is the author’s warning to those who are religious and unconverted. “Pay close attention lest you drift away.” “Do not neglect this great salvation.” “Do not fall away from the living God.” “Hold fast!” “Have faith, not unbelief.” “Strive to enter God’s rest.” “If you fall away, it is impossible to restore you.” “Do not be a person who shrinks back.” The author repeatedly urges the pretenders and all the falsely assured to fully embrace Jesus Christ and loudly proclaim Him as Lord to rightly be assured of true salvation.

WARNINGS IN HEBREWS 3:12-14

Consider one of the author’s warnings in Hebrews 3:12-14:

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.

But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.

The warnings in this passage are strident and the implied consequences dire because it is urgent that the writer gain their attention and alert them to their peril. He does not mince words when he warns them of an “evil, unbelieving heart” and tells them they “will fall away from the living God.” Without encouragement, they are in danger of being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” You are truly partakers of Christ only “if you hold fast your assurance (your faith) firm until the end.” Implicit and explicit warnings follow one after the other as the writer speaks to this fellowship.

WHY ALL THE WARNINGS?

Why so many warnings? The warnings evidence a heartfelt pastoral concern. The writer-preacher is concerned that some in his congregation are in danger of falling short of salvation, that they have not really embraced Christ in faith, but rather are just going through their old religious motions in a new way. These people must be warned that following Christ is radically different from the old Jewish traditions and practices, and that those who fall short of or drift away from genuine faith in Jesus will eternally perish. Having heard the message about Jesus Christ, you must embrace that message. To go through the new Christian “rituals” without embracing Christ and without being born again is to engage in useless religious works.

THE TASK OF WARNING THE RELIGIOUS

This task of warning people of the peril of religion is never an easy one because most people are quite comfortable with the religion they have been given. Religion gives its adherents a false sense of assurance. Just so, until recently, this Jewish (Hebrew) community was contentedly practicing their religion of external works, moral lifestyle, and traditional practices. All Jews were accepted as full members of the religious community based on their adherence to the external works. (This is the way all religions work.) The community was close-knit because they all maintained the same age-old practices. The old wine was good enough (Luke 5:39). There was no talk of salvation or of repentance or of faith in the Messiah. All was routine and peaceful. And, unfortunately, all were peacefully perishing without a Savior.

But now, the religious landscape has seismically changed. Now the gospel of salvation has been proclaimed. Now Jesus is preached as the Messiah, the Christ. Now the religious community of the Hebrews is being replaced by the faith community of the followers of the Messiah. The traditions of the elders and the fathers are no longer good enough because the works of the Law cannot justify anyone (Romans 3:20). Now we must repent from dead works (Hebrews 6:1) and place our faith in Jesus. Now unity and fellowship in the Jesus community is based on a common faith in Jesus the Messiah.

WHAT ABOUT A THIRD OPTION?

In addition to the old Jewish religion based on external works and traditions, and the new movement of faith in Jesus the Messiah, what we see happening in the book of “Hebrews” is the emergence of a third option. It is this third option that is the reason for all the writer’s warnings. The preacher’s concern is that some in this congregation have exchanged the external works of Judaism for “the external works” of the faith community without embracing Jesus the Messiah by faith. These people emulate the external “religious works” of genuine believers without the new heart (Ezekiel 36:26) of genuine believers. They mistakenly think that this new Jesus movement is just another religion, and, like Judaism, a person can be an accepted and respected member of this new community merely by doing the appropriate works and going through the expected motions. The writer-preacher directs his most urgent exhortations at these people in the hopes that they will forsake this deceptive and disastrous way of thinking and come all the way to full faith in Christ.

APPLICATION FOR OUR OWN TIME

The beauty of the Scriptures is that they are always contemporary, and they apply to our world and our situations. Just so, we must take seriously the warning about this “third option,” which is the circumstance where members of our church fellowship may be falsely assured of their salvation because they are relying on “religious works” or even “Christian works.” In the case of the Hebrews, the people emulated the external “religious works” of genuine believers without the new heart (Ezekiel 36:26) of genuine believers. This is a real concern today, particularly in American churches where religious traditions can replace genuine faith. In churches where conversions are not celebrated (Is that because they do not occur?) and where forms are prominent, the church can gradually become a homogeneous gathering of people united based on shared traditions and externals, rather than being united based on a shared experience of conversion and a fervent faith in the Lord Jesus. I believe that when the writer-preacher of the book of “Hebrews” wrote his warnings, he had specific people in the congregation in mind. He was, thus, compelled to warn them of the peril of religious motions without saving faith. Just so, the concerned pastor today would be well-served to preach these same warnings with vigor to his congregation in the hopes of stirring up faith in those who are comfortably unconverted.

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