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Salvation: Process or Providence? (Sabbath Meditations)

A few months ago I was visiting a long-time friend and we became engaged in one of those animated theological discussions, where you sit on the edge of your chair, leaning forward, red in the face, gesturing wildly at the beginning of every sentence, while your spouse glances around the room at anyone who may be within earshot and apologetically rolls her eyes.
Pausing briefly after having exhausted our brain cells on one topic...I can't remember which one....probably something deep and weighty like the identity of the two witnesses or the suitability of Petra as a ‘place of safety’, I attempted to launch the conversation in a new direction. I asked my friend, “So, how would you describe the process of salvation?”
He thought for a moment and then responded: “The process of salvation is analogous to climbing a cliff. Upon conversion, we stand at the bottom of a high cliff. We’ll call it the cliff of perfection. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we begin to climb. We struggle and we strive throughout our Christian life to make it to the top. At the end of our life, or at Jesus’s return, whichever comes first, whatever distance we haven’t yet managed to climb, God, in His grace, reaches down and grabs our hand and hoists us the rest of the distance to the top.”
I was impressed. It was a compelling analogy. One that I, at one time in my life, would have whole-heartedly endorsed. It deftly attempts to balance the tension between the Christian’s responsibility to obey the law and the role that God’s grace plays in the process.
But there was something about my friend’s analogy that, for me, didn't ring true. Something about the premise that, though I couldn't quite put my finger on at the moment, struck me as flawed. So rather than launch into a dissertation of the ten reasons why I did or did not agree, I simply responded, “Hmmm, interesting. I'll have to think about that,” and then stared blankly at the wall in front of me. I’m sure cutting our discussion short spared my wife the necessity of rolling her eyes a few more times, but I left feeling....well...unresolved.
In the weeks and months since then I’ve spent a lot of time pondering my friend’s analogy and what it was about it that bothered me. I now have some definite thoughts on the subject. Unfortunately, it’s too late to go back to my friend and pick up our conversation where we left off. He lives about 2,000 miles away. That moment has passed. So I’ve done one better. I’ve put my thoughts on this topic in writing so that my friend, and you, can have the pleasure, or, depending on your perspective, the frustration, of pondering these things along with me. Or, maybe, just roll your eyes. Either way, here goes...
With regard to salvation, it’s my conviction that scripture makes two clear pronouncements.
Salvation is not something to be achieved; it’s something to be accepted.
Salvation is the starting point, not the ending point, of our Christian journey.
An abundance of scripture tells us that, no matter how great the effort, we cannot achieve salvation. Isaiah 64:6 tells us “All our righteousness are as filthy rags.” Romans 3:10 says “There is none righteous, no not one…” Psalms 39:5 reads “…every man at his best state is vapor.”
It would be easy to dismiss these as statements about non-Christians who don’t have the Holy Spirit working in them, except for the fact that even Paul, who no one can argue was led by the Spirit, said the following in Romans 7: “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Paul is saying that, even though he delighted in keeping the law, he had to acknowledge his complete inability to do so. He acknowledged that he was, even with his best effort, even with the Holy Spirit having changed His heart and mind, still a wretched sinner. In short, he acknowledged his inability to climb the cliff.
I’m certainly thankful that Paul didn’t leave us hanging (pardon the pun). He goes on to share where his assurance of salvation came from. Romans 7:25 “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”
Notice he didn’t say, “I thank God – through my effort and Jesus Christ.” No, he said “I thank God – through Jesus Christ!” He, not I, gets all of the glory for saving me. I deserve none of it.
Does that mean that Paul didn’t try to climb the cliff at all? Of course it doesn’t. Paul loved the law. He wrote a great deal about running the race, fighting against the flesh. But he had no misconception that his effort contributed one iota to the work Jesus Christ was doing in Him. That work was not his to achieve, only to accept.
So why then did Paul bother striving against sin? Well, that question leads to what I believe is the second great pronouncement of scripture regarding salvation. That is: Salvation is the starting point, not the ending point, of our Christian journey.
As I see it, the formula for salvation according to scripture is not:
Believe --> strive to become like Christ --> receive salvation
But rather:
Believe –> receive salvation –> strive to become like Christ
Believe: Romans 10:9-11 “...that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”
Receive Salvation: Titus 3:4-7 “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (See also 2 Timothy 1:9–10; Ephesians 2:8–9)
Strive to become like Christ: Romans 5:17–21 “For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)…so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Continuing in Romans 6:11-14, “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
These scriptures and many others seem to confirm that our desire to obey is a response to salvation, not an incentive to work for it. Our Christian walk is spent striving to become what we already are in Christ Jesus.
1 Corinthians 1:30-31 tells us: “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord’.”
Note the operative word: ‘became’. Jesus Christ became our righteousness. He became our redemption. I can’t imagine how much clearer it could be, can you? We don’t climb 80% of the cliff, only to have Him help us with the last 20%. Our contribution to our salvation doesn’t even measure up to .00001%, so far are His ways above our ways. He is responsible 100% for our salvation. His life in us, His righteousness imputed to us, makes us worthy to be on top of the cliff with Him.
Ephesians 2:4-10 “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us (past tense - upon our conversion) sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Salvation is not something we attain at some future date, but, spiritually speaking, it's ours, right now. Spiritually speaking, through faith in Jesus' sacrifice, we sit in heavenly places with Him. Salvation is ours. Membership in the Family is ours. It’s the starting point, not the ending point, of our Christian journey. He has placed us on the top of the cliff.
So now, when the Father looks at you and me, he doesn’t see us. He doesn’t see our sin. He sees His Son. Romans 8:1 tells us that, before God, those who are in Christ Jesus are without condemnation. We are worthy, now, at this moment, of the gift of salvation, because His righteousness in us has made it so.
We won’t receive that gift in all its fullness until the resurrection, when our bodies are converted. So in that sense, I guess it could be said there is a process involved. There are stages to how salvation is ultimately realized. But the fact that we can't yet walk through walls in no way negates the fact that salvation is ours. No one would argue that a son who has been granted an inheritance is not really a son until he has it in his hands. He can choose not to receive it. He can reject it, but as long as he remains, it’s His, whether it’s in the bank or in his hands. The same is true of us. We are sons. We are in the Family. Our inheritance is in the bank.
“But wait a minute,” someone may protest, “What about scriptures that seem to clearly tell us our effort does contribute to our salvation? Doesn’t Philippians 2:12 tell us to ‘Work out your own salvation with fear in trembling’?” Of course. However, you must understand what that means in the light of the verse that immediately follows: “...for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
“But what of the many passages that proclaim ‘He who overcomes’?” They too must be understood in the context of Revelation 12:11 which reads, “and they overcame by the blood of the Lamb.”
“Surely,” it might be argued, “you must concede the importance of our effort revealed in Matthew 24:13, where Jesus teaches, ‘He who endures to the end will be saved’.” Certainly, but to get the full picture you have to couple that verse with Paul’s words in Hebrews 12:2, “looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
He is the Author, the Beginning, and the Finisher, the Ending, of our faith. He is our endurance. He will finish it for us. We can reject Him, but as long as we remain in relationship with Him, the end is not in question.
Still, there are those who might continue to take exception: “If salvation is already ours, where then is the incentive to obey?” It’s a fair question, but one that, if we think objectively, has an obvious answer. Why do we assume that incentive is something the Christian needs? Is not a Christian by definition someone in whom the Holy Spirit dwells? The individual who has truly accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior will have a changed heart, correct? Would not an individual who has truly accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior, in whom has been put a new heart, want to obey, even if he can never do so perfectly, even if he is completely unable to climb the cliff himself? And wouldn’t this new man, having had his mind renewed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, be compelled by that Spirit to desire to become like his Savior? So then, if the heart of this new man is not motivated by a desire to become like Christ, and the pattern of his life has not become one of working, overcoming and enduring, isn’t it doubtful that he ever really repented and accepted Jesus as his Savior in the first place? Isn’t he by definition still unconverted?
So, what difference does it make how we understand how salvation is obtained?
Answer: It doesn’t...and, at the same time...it makes all the difference in the world.
Huh? No difference?
Nothing changes about what we do. We still strive to obey. We still love God’s law with all of our heart, all our mind and all our soul. We still strive to become like Christ. That goal is in no way diminished.
All the difference in the world?
Though it doesn’t change the what, it has huge implications for the why.
For one, it changes the dynamic of our relationship with God. It moves us from a place of obedience based on compulsion, on fear of not measuring up, to an obedience based on love, on desire to be like Him.
Secondly, it takes the focus off us and puts it squarely onto whom it belongs, God the Father and Jesus Christ. They, not we, get the glory for anything and everything they are accomplishing in us.
Finally, it levels the playing field of comparison between brethren in Christ. It confirms that each of us are not 5%, not 20%, but 100% dependent on His grace and mercy. We recognize, like Paul, that we are all sold under sin. None of us has reason to exalt ourselves above our brethren. That truth drives us to our knees, where we, like Paul, exclaim daily, “O wretched man that I am, who shall save me from the body of this death?” To which, we boldly and confidently reply, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord…” He has done it in me. I am saved, not by the process of my effort, but by the strong hand of His providence.
And carried in those strong hands, no cliff is too high.

Salvation Isn't Easy (First Century Christianity)

How many times have we heard that all we need to do to be saved is to accept Jesus and that our works are filthy rags? It’s countless, isn’t it? But let’s take a look at some verses that don’t mesh with that doctrine.
For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. 1 Peter 4:17-19
I really like Peter. He’s a blue-collar kind of guy who has made his share of mistakes. He even had the privilege of being rebuked by Yeshua in person. Peter doesn’t mince words, either, as his sermon on the Pentecost when the Spirit came is very short and very direct. No beating around the bush with this guy. And he says some stuff here that is pretty difficult for a lot of Christian denominations to reconcile.
The first is that the household of God is being judged. Most folks are taught that believers are not judged at all! The second is that it is outright hard for the righteous to be saved. Cue the ‘needle scratching the LP’ noise; I thought there were none righteous? How can this be? Peter is telling us that not only are we judged but that even righteous people, those who live properly and fear Yahweh, still have to strive to be saved. Those are some sobering words right there.
Next up is James the brother of Yeshua.
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. James 2:10-17
James clearly states here that faith without works is death. Permanent death, not the temporary first death we all experience. He starts by saying whoever keeps the whole law and stumbles is guilty, which sounds like keeping the law is somehow obsolete, but he goes on to explain that pure faith without works is nothing. If we keep reading, we see that even the demons have faith. They know they were created and by whom. They know who Yeshua is, too. But their works condemn them, just like it will a great many on the great and terrible day of the Lord.
Now what about Paul? What does he have to say about works? He is, after all, the one who supposedly told us that Torah is obsolete and those bothersome Old Testament rules are obsolete, right?
More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Phi 3: 8-14
Even Paul writes that he had to strive for salvation, working towards a goal and forgetting what was behind him. Yes, this is shocking information!
Yes, brothers and sisters, we have to strive every day to achieve a better resurrection. We have been called out of the world and have to work to keep ourselves out. We have to constantly fight temptation and grow in knowledge. That growth tends to condemn us, as the more we learn, the more we are liable for. So let’s all strive together, encouraging one another, as we focus on the goal of Yeshua the Messiah!

Small is Beautiful (New Horizons)

Most churches, it would seem, are caught in a complex web of bureaucratic entanglement. Endless committees. Sheets of bye-laws. Conferences. Budgets. Accountants. Salary structures.

And the bigger the church the more complexity. Why?
The answer lies in the definition of ‘church’, defined as a ‘denomination’. If ‘church’ is an organized group of tens or hundreds or thousands of associated assemblies, all answerable to a central bureaucracy -  then that complexity might be a requirement. You don’t need to look far to find examples. And given that any activity - religious services, evangelism, stipends etc - needs a degree of finance, it’s clear that bigger means more: more money, more personnel, more admin. And less to support the essential work of the church.
Assume, on the other hand, that a ‘church’ is a unit - a single local assembly, serving a defined area and co-operating willingly with other local area assemblies. (You will find this is the New Testament pattern of church governance.) It is small. It is not burdened with paper-work or pages of bye-laws or committees or salary scales or pensions. It is adaptable to local culture and needs, and language.
As portrayed by the churches of Revelation chapters 2 & 3, each assembly is individually monitored by the Head of the church, Jesus - the leadership being directly accountable to Him for the health and welfare of his congregation. Any necessary administration is the responsibility of a diaconate.
Such a structure is not a barrier to ‘acting big’. If all such local churches of like-mind were to co-operate, more impact could be made - locally and even globally. Inter-dependent, in other words.
In reality, denominations are self-protective, carefully guarding their own turf and excluding such co-operation, the leadership remote from the brethren. It is time for the leadership and brethren to re-think priorities.

The Fullness of Christ (Children of God)

There seems to be a widely held view within the Churches of God that is not very far removed from the Protestant’s erroneous belief, ‘Once saved – always saved’. In the Church of God the belief goes something like this, “I was baptized and converted, and I go to church every Sabbath - I’ll be in the Kingdom of God.”
That is not the way it works. Going to church services is not enough! Certainly, with our repentance, faith and baptism, a conversion ensues that places us within the body of Christ, and makes us children of God. Yes, that places us in the Church of Jesus Christ. We are justified and the righteousness of Jesus Christ is imparted to us. But that is not the end of our spiritual journey - there is much more to it.
The Scriptures speak of a process variously described as sanctification, holiness, going on to perfection, growing in grace and knowledge, and being filled with the fullness of God. It has not been emphasized enough in our traditional narrative. We understand that on the day we were baptized we were placed into the Body of Christ - but we must go on to perfection through the process of sanctification, being set apart, or made holy. To what extent do we strive to attain to the perfection or holiness of Christ?
“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13)
Sanctification must be sought after and worked toward all of our natural lives. After baptism, we are to become a new creation in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are to become like Jesus, and like God the Father.
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)
It is this “inner man” that must continue to grow to the fullness of Christ through the process of sanctification. Simply going to church services week after week and year after year will never suffice.
Loyalty to God and His Truth must be the central theme for members of God’s Church today. It now falls to all of us, as brethren, to take up the mantle of true Christianity. So many prominent leaders have not done so. There exists a morbid state of self-satisfaction of ‘having it made’, in many of the groups. This gives us the opportunity to be Christ-like and build fellowship among God’s children. It is a salvational requirement.
“Follow peace with all men, and holiness [sanctification], without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
None of us is anywhere near being like God is - we have our work cut out for us - with the help and guidance of God’s Holy Spirit. Are we pursuing this course of sanctification with all our might?
“As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” (1 Corinthians 15:49)
This verse does not mean that we wait until after death for this to take place. We should begin at our baptism - and then continue to grow into the fullness of Christ. Christ’s sacrifice begins the process of godly character growth - a perfection that proceeds to sanctification which is holiness. We are sanctified when we grow into the fullness of Jesus Christ.
“Unto the Church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:… And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 1:2, 6:11)
We are made holy - sanctified by living the word of God (John 17:17). We are sanctified over time by God’s Spirit working within us.
“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.” (1 Peter 1:2)
The sanctification of the Spirit shows the working of God’s Spirit in us that, not only separates us from the world, but also brings us to the fulfillment of the salvational process.

The Rich Fool (Morning Companion)
“Fool! This day your life will be required of you!” (Luke 12:20)
Once there was a rich fool, Jesus tells us. We don’t know if he started off as a fool, but for certain something happened that made him that way. One year his farm was so productive that his barns were full, his storage bins were full, and his silo was full. His harvest was so great that he was dumping it on big heaps on the ground.
He decided to solve the problem by tearing down every building he had built and replacing them with ones newer, bigger, and better. In fact, the way he calculated it, his harvest was so successful he would never have to work again. It was now time to just kick up his feet and party for the rest of his life.
And that’s when God calls him a fool.
It surely would be nice to win the lottery or find the estate of a long-lost uncle, but would it really be a blessing? In the neighborhood where Jesus lived, it was assumed (as is sometimes assumed today) that if someone had riches, it was a sign that God held him in special regard. While we don’t want to talk for God, common experience should inform us that this isn’t always the case. The wicked often do prosper. The fact is, this man had something unusual but pleasant happen to him (sudden, great riches), yet he is held forth as a miserable failure.
If we’re looking for a reason for this verdict, the text hints at the answer: “So is he who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Verse 21)
This is not to suggest that prosperity and wealth are of themselves a special kind of evil. Nor is the intent to limit the discussion to riches alone. The intent here is to illustrate that whenever God or the vagaries of life hand us good things, whether monetary or otherwise, they are essentially worthless and definitely meaningless if we want to hoard everything for ourselves. Blessings only take on meaning if our vision is greater than ourselves.
This rich fool had great material wealth, but that was only part of the story. His wealth also freed up time. That time could have been used to serve others. He was clearly a man of talent, or else he would not have been such a successful farmer. But he used his time, talent, and treasure to serve himself. This is where he failed. This is where he was a fool. Taking your time, talent, and treasure and hoarding it all up for yourself advances the Kingdom of God not one whit. Great blessings can be curses if the center of attention is inward.
Whether it’s your time, talent, or treasure, use those gifts to honor God. Enjoy them, exercise them, but do all to the glory of God.