SPIRITUAL VS CARNAL?

    It is no real wonder, or surprise that our world is in great turmoil these days. So many are hurting and crying out. Others are responding in anger and confrontation, while still more are confused and lost. We see people here and around the world being oppressed, persecuted, and afflicted. We observe abuses of power, arrogance, and a complete imbalance of responsibilities. The list goes on and on. The fact is, the world has always been in turmoil – at least it has been since man was expelled from Eden (Genesis 3). When mankind was separated from his Creator, he became more “carnally” minded. While in the Garden, man walked with God, who provided anything and all that could be needed. There was no reason to be concerned about worldly things. Yet, once expelled, he was condemned “to till the ground from which he was taken,” (Genesis 3:23) forcing him to deal with his own, worldly flesh.
    The ancient Hebrew word for “ground” (adamah), is a word derived from the same word as “man,” (adam). Both have to do with moving liquid, or blood. Both have to do with the flesh; the ground is a thin layer covering the earth, while skin is a thin layer covering the human body. When man had to start providing for himself for his own survival, it meant his focus turned toward the more physical, animalistic, or carnal aspects of his nature. He had to till the ground in order to provide for the flesh. Perhaps, Paul had this imagery in mind when he addressed the troubled Christians of Corinth, “I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, …” (1 Cor. 3:1).
    The ancient Greek word for “carnal” (sarkikos) means “pertaining to the flesh (as earthly and perishable material).” It is a derivative from a word (sarks) that is defined by Thayer’s Dictionary as, “flesh (the soft substance of the living body, which covers the bones and is permeated with blood) of both man and beasts; denotes mere human nature, the earthly nature of man apart from divine influence, and therefore prone to sin and opposed to God.” That certainly carries with it the idea of what happened in Genesis 3! Essentially, Paul is explaining that a mind set on the flesh is one that rejects the Word of God and His love. In contrast, the spiritually minded are those who, after conversion, have continued to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. Paul uses the term carnal here to describe those Christians who continue to live like the unconverted – being full of envy, jealousy and strife – mostly concerned about worldly affairs. It is someone who could live differently, but chooses to not do so.
    I find it rather striking that even today, in our own society, our schools and knowledge outlets are teaching people that they are nothing more than a descendant of a primate. In doing so, we shouldn’t be surprised when they begin to behave like wild animals. It is the result of having no real basis, or foundation for one’s moral compass when one is led to believe they’re simply a cog in the giant, vicious cycle of a carnal ecosystem. They are behaving as one who is carnally minded.On the other hand, when human beings are shown that they are a purposely created being, made in the image of their maker, and that their Creator has prescribed certain expectations He desires from them, then an entirely different behavioral pattern is manifested. One’s moral compass gains cardinal points and specific bearings are developed to guide them through the complexities of life. This only happens when one is spiritually minded.
    The one who is spiritually minded is the one who knows the things of God and does them – which is what Jesus did, as our example (John 13:15). The one who is carnally minded is the one who knows the things of God, yet is still characterized by and mostly preoccupied with all the concerns of this world – which is what Adam did (Rom. 5:12). We choose which one we will be. Which one are you?


WHEN WAS JESUS BORN?

    We mark the dates from our calendars with the familiar suffix, “A.D.” Today, for example, is July 19, 2020 A.D. Those letters represent a dating device we have been using for approximately 1500 years. They are an abbreviation of the words Anno Domini, which is a Medieval Latin phrase meaning “in the year of the Lord,” and a shorter version of the full original phrase “anno Domini nostri Jesu Christi,” which translates to “in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The letters have come to represent the past two thousand years as the “Christian Age,” and are based off of the year that Jesus Christ was born. The letters “B.C.” were also adopted to mean “before Christ.” All dates assigned to events occuring before Jesus receive the “B.C.” designation and the events since His birth are designated as “A.D.”
   So, does this mean that Jesus was born 2020 years ago? That is certainly what the designated letters would imply, however, they are wrong! It has been calculated that Jesus was actually born some 2025 years ago! Instead of Jesus’ birth year being marked as A.D.1, it is more likely He was born in 5 B.C.! How could this be? Well, it is a rather intersting story, that begins with a monk by the name of Dionysius Exiguus. He had become agitated that all the calendars used during his time had been implemented by Roman Emperor Diocletian. To complicate matters, there had been many and various calendar formats implemented by other emperors in the previous centuries. Roman calendars began counting years from events such as: the founding of Rome, the reign of a certain emperor, or from a particular conquest. What we now know as 532 A.D., the year when Dionysius proposed a change, was known to him as the year 284 in the Diocletian calendar, or the year 1286 in the AUC calendar (ab urbe condita, meaning “since the founding of Rome”). If this sounds confusing, it is, and it had been for many centuries before Dionysius’ time.
    Since the Roman Empire had disintegtrated and Diocletian had been known as a fierce persecutor of Christianity, Dionysius reasoned that a pagan emperor should not be be glorified over our Lord and Savior. So, he proposed that all calendars should be dated from the birth of Jesus, instead. However, since the actual date of Jesus’ birth is not registered in any particular historical document, we are not exactly sure just how Dionysius calculated his dates and arrived at 754 AUC as the year Jesus was born. At any rate, he fixed this date as A.D.1 and the system was soon adopted by the authorities of the time. This is the calendar we have today and the one that has been in use around the world ever since. It wasn’t until many years later that an error in Dionysius’ calculations was revealed.
  The Bible gives us two, very specific events that can be used to more accurately deduce the year of Jesus’ birth. The first verse is in Luke, “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria,”(Luke 2:1-2). Roman historians recorded this event as taking place around 749 AUC (5 B.C.). The second passage is found in Matthew 2:1 which says, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king,” and verse 19 says, “Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph …” According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, the year that Herod the Great died was 750 AUC, which correlates to 4 B.C. With these two events and their corresponding historical resources, we can reason that Jesus must have been born around 749 years after the founding of Rome, which is also known as 5 B.C. by our modern calendars. This means that our current calendars are not actually correct in asserting that they are dated from the birth of Christ! It would also mean that if we were to make some adjustments to reflect the date more accurately, then this year is not 2020, but 2025 instead! How interesting!


PETER THE APOSTLE

    Let’s get to know some of the people of the Bible! Look up the verses listed below and learn more the remarkable people whose names are registered in God’s Holy Word. You will find it to be a very beneficial study!
 
    NAME: The Apostle Peter is known by four different names. Peter is one; Symeon is another, (found in Acts 15:14 of the ASV); Simon is the Greek equivalent of Symeon; and Cephas is the Aramaic form of his name (John 1:42). The name, Peter, comes from the Greek word Petros, which is a direct translation of the Aramaic (Cephas). According to Matthew, Jesus was the one who dubbed him Petros (Matt. 16:17). Peter was also known as the “son of Jonah” (bar-Jonah). The first mention of Peter is found in Matthew 4:18, with the final mention in 2 Peter 1:1. Peter is referred to some 183 times in nine books of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Peter, 2 Peter). Peter’s name is always listed first on any list.
    BACKGROUND: Peter had a brother, Andrew, who was also one of Jesus’ disciples and is teh one who introduced Peter to Jesus. Both Peter and Andrew were fishermen, working on the Sea of Galilee. Peter had a home in Capernaum (Mar 8:14). He was married, though nothing is known about his wife. We do know that Jesus healed his mother-in-law early in his ministry (Luke 4:38-39). Peter apparently had an accent that identified him as a Galilean (Matthew 26:73).
    PERSONALITY: We often call Peter, the “Impetuous One,” because he always seemed to act out of impulse and emotion. For example: he wanted to walk on water with Jesus (Matt 14:28); he wanted to build a tabernacle for Jesus when he saw Him transfigured (Matt 17:4); instead of just the feet, he asked to be “completely” washed (John 13:9); he cut off Malchus ear when they came to arrest Jesus (John 18:10); he jumped in and swam to Jesus (John 21:7-8). There are many other instances in the New Testament where Peter showed his more impulsive side. In any case, Peter quickly became a spokesperson for the group of disciples and he, along with James and John, are depicted as being Jesus’ innermost circle.
    STRENGTHS: Peter was a dedicated follower (John 6:68). He was confident, brave and willing to die (Matt. 26:51-52; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:49-51; John 18:10-11; Acts 4:13). Perhaps, one of the most significant aspects of Peter’s character and his tendency to act on impulse, was the day he stood up and delivered the very first Gospel sermon (Acts 2:14-41). From that day forward, empowered with the Holy Spirit, Peter became a prominent figure among the apostles in establishing the church of Christ. He was also the one who witnessed Christianity opened up to the Gentiles (Acts 10). After Jesus rose from the grave, He addressed Peter personally as the discredited leader of the Twelve in John 21 which provided him an opportunity for repentance and restoration to leadership.
    WEAKNESSES: Although Peter attempted many acts of faith, he often failed. For one, he had tendencies toward Jewish legalism, such as: not eating with Gentiles (Gal. 2:11-21) and adhering to Jewish food laws (Acts 10:9-16). Along with the other Apostles, Peter did not fully understand Jesus’ new teachings or their implications (Acts 1:6; Mark 9:5-6; 18:10-11; John 12:16). In fact, he was personally and severely chastised by Jesus (Mark 8:33; Matt. 16:23). He was found sleeping instead of praying in Jesus’ great hour of need in Gethsemane (Mark. 14:32-42; Matt. 26:36-46; Luke 22:40-60) and, of course, his worst offense was repeatedly denied knowing Jesus (Mark 14:66-72; Matt. 26:69-75; Luke 22:56-62; John 18:16-18,25-27).
    We can certainly learn a lot from Peter! One, it’s okay to be emotionally driven, just make sure it’s guided by God’s will; two, Peter failed often, but he always got back up, was willing to learn, and he remained faithful to Jesus.


BACK TO BASICS

    Hebrews 5:12 is a verse that has always had a great impact on my spirituality. The words have always resonated with me because I can clearly picture faces of embarrassment upon those first century Christians who must have received and read this letter for the first time. At least, that’s how I would have felt. I can also feel their heartache as one of God’s inspired writers has just exposed to the world their failure of personal responsibility to grow and mature in the Christian faith. I certainly would not want that kind of attention directed toward me! Oh, how each word must have cut them deeply! Listen closely: “… you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” That is a direct reprimand aimed squarely at some members of the Lord’s church.
    That is why this verse has always compelled me to read the Scriptures more, to study more, to explore and investigate the many facets and aspects of God’s Word more profoundly so that I may never be accused of falling short of what God expects of me. Now, I realize it is a process and that every individual grows at a different pace, but these brethren seem to have become rather complacent and unproductive in their spiritual growth. Thus, the writer felt warranted in reprimanding them. We should all take note, because even Jesus had similar words to the churches in Asia, “You have left your first love … repent and do the first works,” (Rev. 2:4-5). “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot,” (Rev. 3:15). We are expected to always be learning and growing in our spirituality. It is part of “remaining faithful until death” (Rev. 2:10)
    Hebrews 5:12 was not written only for those Christians of the first century. Through God’s wisdom, there is a direct correlation to Christians today and many applications that we can draw from this passage. Take the current state of affairs, for example. People are feeling anxiety, uncertainty and turmoil with all that’s happening in this country. The upcoming election, racial tensions, pandemic fears, and government overreach are all weighing on people’s minds, causing heated discussions and tempers to flare. Currently, many people are not as occupied with their jobs and normal routines, so there’s an abundance of idleness. The Bible warns that being idle can lead to all kinds of problems (Proverbs 14:23, 19:15; Matthew 12:36; 1 Timothy 1:6, 5:13; 2 Timothy 2:16). So, what is the solution for a Christian living in such times? Go back to basics! Yes, basics. Even the most experienced teacher sometimes needs to return to the fundamentals of the faith, especially in times like these.
     The “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) does not come to us overnight. It must be developed and nurtured through the study of Scripture. When turmoil, strife, and tribulations arise, a Christian just needs to go back to the basics, to the “milk of the word.” If you are a new Christian, it will give you armor needed to withstand the attacks of Satan (Ephesians 6:10-20). If you have been a Christian a long time, it will strengthen the armor you already have. In any case, it will build your resilience! I think that’s the point of James chapter one when he says we should “count it all joy when you fall into various trials,” because it’s a time for spiritual growth. If we lean on God and trust in Him, He will provide and we will certainly be stronger when we come out of whatever we are experiencing.
     So, the lesson is simply this, let’s not allow worldly things to distract us from our spiritual growth. Let’s not allow ourselves to wind up in a position of needing to be reprimanded for having neglected the first principles of the oracles of God. Let us instead, have our “senses exercised to discern both good and evil,” (Hebrews 5:14).


THE “LOST” BOOKS OF THE BIBLE

    One of the most ironic titles, from among the many books in my library, is one that reads, “The Lost Books of the Bible.” I find that most humorous because if they are lost, then how is it that we have them here in a book form? While my juvenile humor may be lost on some, it still highlights an important point – titles such as that one relate man’s tendency toward sensationalism and a fascination with mysticism. Movies like the The DaVinci Code (2006) is yet another example of this compulsion toward a notion that the general public has been duped into believing the Bible is true. In such provocative theories, these “Lost” books, or some newly discovered, secret document that had been previously withheld from the public, will suddenly enlighten the entire world about how Christianity has been nothing more than some imaginary charade foisted upon naive, unsuspecting, gullible simpletons. How sad.
    So, are there other books, or documents that should be included in the Bible that aren’t there? Are there writings that are considered sacred, which contradict what we have in Scripture? Has someone deprived us of pertinent information regarding the truth of the Bible? The short answer is, “No.” God has given us all that we need (2 Timothy 3:16,17; 2 Peter 1:3). There is nothing missing. To answer the question with more detail, it is necessary to divide the many ancient, Biblical and unbiblical writings into a few categories. Here is a list and what they entail:
    Canonical. These include all the books we have in the Bible. Each is regarded as authoritative and authentic because they meet a specific standard of requirements, such as: claiming inspiration, being revelatory in nature, being universally recognized by the early church, and bearing the marks of an inspired writer. History reveals that within just a short period after the church began, congregations all around the Roman Empire had collections of copies of all the books and epistles that we have in our Bibles today.
    Church Fathers. These are writings by early Christian leaders who wrote letters, commentaries, and other documents long after the New Testament had been established and its inspired writers had died. They include people such as Ignatius, Polycarp, Papias of Hierapolis, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. These are all valuable and useful as historical works, but they are not considered sacred or canonical.
    The Apocrypha are works, usually written, of unknown authorship, or of doubtful origin. They also do not meet the standard of requirements to be considered Scripture. A very important point is they were never included in the Hebrew Bible. These include books like: Tobit, Judith, Maccabees, Baruch, Wisdom of Solomon, and others.
    The Pseudepigrapha is the largest group, comprised of many spurious, pseudonymous writings, which are typically, falsely ascribed to various biblical characters, yet were composed many years after the establishment of the church. This is the category that includes many of the so called, “lost books,” such as the: Didache, Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Barnabas, Goepl of Mary, Lost Gospel of Peter, Book of Enoch, Testament of Solomon, Apocalypse of Daniel, and many others. These books have some historical value, are interesting, but they absolutely are not Scripture.
    Even the Apostle Paul had to deal with false writings like these in his time. In 2 Thessalonians 2:2, he appears concerned about a “letter seeming to be from us.” In other places, he would clearly specify, “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write” (2 Thessalonians 3:17; also 1 Corinthians 16:21; Galatians 6:11; and Colossians 4:18). This was to ensure the readers of its authenticity and would eventually become one of the identifying marks of canonicity. That’s important! At the end of the day, we need not doubt the Scriptures. God has provided all that we need. So, let’s focus more on that and doing His will.


DO WE REALLY UNDERSTAND?

    Please read the following quote, posted below in bold letters, very carefully. Take your time and pay very close attention to what Paul, an inspired apostle, is trying to communicate. Read it for yourself word for word and then ask yourself, “How does this apply to ME?” Ready? Here it is ….
“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)
 
    Now, I promise I am not trying to be condescending, nor am I patronizing you, or trying to belittle you in any way, form, or fashion. I am simply trying another approach to get your attention. I am sincerely asking you to read that verse with the utmost concentration and comprehension. Just like Paul, I truly want you to see and understand what is being said, for your own best interest. Then, I pray that you will ask yourself if you really understand it. Ask yourself if you are truly observing this Scripture to its fullest, or not. Be bluntly honest with yourself.
    I am positive that every baptized disciple in the Lord’s church fully believes this verse and even practices it … most of the time. What I am not so sure about is if we all really understand what it means. I know I have struggled with it. While I try myself and have also seen this passage practiced within the lives of several faithful Christians, it still seems we easily forget, or misunderstand it from time to time.
    Perhaps, the greatest magnifyer for proof of our understanding is by observing our own actions on social media. While there is much good that can come from engaging others on the many digital platforms out there, there is also just as much harm that can come from it. For example, since there are no real filters or special permissions required among those mediums for expressing our thoughts, opinions, or frustrations on a world-wide stage, then the responsibilty for excercising self-control is solely ours, that’s a fundamental, godly attribute of a Christian (Galatians 5:22-23; 2 Peter 1:5-7). Sadly, many forget this and blatantly post whatever they want without considering that offenses may occur, mental harm could be done, and even that it could be placing one’s soul in danger. Maybe you just never thought about it before. If so, then here’s an easy test to see how you are doing in that area: pretend, for a moment, that you are a complete stranger to your own page, or profile – would someone who doesn’t know you be able to see Jesus in your posts, your pictures, and comments? If your answer is either “No,” or “I don’t really know,” then maybe you need to make some adjustments in your life, or consider getting your heart right with God.
    Listen, we all have our lives, responsibilities, and personal wants and desires. That’s perfectly okay! That is what is implied within the first part of the verse. So, take care of those things that pertain to you because you have a right to do so. But, the second part of the verse is reminding you to just recognize that you are not the only person in this world. The lives, responsibilities, and personal wants and desires of others are just as important as your own. Don’t forget the “Golden Rule” of Matthew 7:12. In a world where there is already entirely too much emphasis on self-centeredness, we need more of this kind of teaching. We need to focus more on others and not just ourselves. We need to consider how our own actions might affect others.


WORN OUT DELETE BUTTONS

   The delete button on my keyboard is just about worn out. It is not because I am bad at typing. It’s not because I make a lot of mistakes when I am writing and need to back up. No, that’s not why. It’s almost worn out because I use it a lot, a whole lot. It’s not only the button on my desktop computer that is worn out … so is the one on my phone. I think the one on my iPad is about worn out, too. They are all about worn out, but it is not because I am some highly prolific writer that is constantly pecking on the keys to the point that these tools eventually wear out on me. In my profession, I actually write a lot and almost everyday. Here’s the reason why the delete buttons on my devices are almost worn out, it is because I wind up deleting almost everything I write to post on social media.
   Allow me to paint the scenario: I have many brethren, friends, family and acquaintances on many different social media platforms. A lot of them are very opinionated and write all kinds of things about all kinds of subjects. Still, others may not write much, but they share and post memes, articles, photos and other things that are rather controversial. Some of these may seem benign at first, but often, they turn into dissension. In addition, there are a few of my friends who just love to argue and be contentious on any subject that’s posted. This is simply the freedom of expression that comes with the internet and social media. There are really no filters, gateways, or stop-gaps between the “post” button on the sender’s device and the millions upon millions of screens on devices all across the globe. While this can be an absolutely wonderful platform for expressing one’s ideas and creativity, as you can imagine (and have probably experienced yourself) it can also create real problems and produce serious consequences.
   So, here’s what happens next. I certainly have my own opinions, thoughts and “soap-boxes,” and often, the posts I see provoke me to respond because I may either know something more about the subject, or I want to contribute in some way. I always strive to write in a loving, kind, and respectful tone no matter what the subject may be. But, after I have written what I think is the perfect counter-argument, the absolute-end-all response, or the greatest mic-drop come back ever, … I stop and re-read what I just wrote. Then, I start thinking about people I know and love, who might read what I have written . Questions and scenarios develop in my mind like, “Mary might not understand what I am saying and misread this. Will this upset Roger? John may get it, but then he might take it further than I intended. Is this really necessary to say? Will it really matter in a few moments? A day? In a month from now, or more?” The words of Jesus (Matthew 5:9; 7:12; 22:39), the apostle Paul (Philippians 2:4), and James (James 3:1-18) all come to mind. There are many other things I think about … until my index finger, almost by reflex, begins slowly moving up to the delete button and erases everything I just wrote. That is why my delete buttons are almost worn out. I have had a lot to say in response. But as a preacher, a friend, and a brother, I feel that peace, love and harmony with my brethren, my friends, and family was far more important than my lowly opinion.
    Now, I am certainly not saying that we should never express our opinions on social media. If that were the case, I should have never have written this article! Exchanging ideas, thoughts, and even opinions can be healthy and promote intellectual growth. I simply wish and pray that people, especially those who call themselves Christians, would locate and use the delete button more often. I hope I can encourage you to think about others and consider what you are saying before you click that “post” button! Wouldn’t the world be a better place with more worn out delete buttons?
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,” (Hebrews 10:24).


KEEP YOUR EYES ON JESUS!

    When Tesla first introduced the autopilot feature in its electric cars, it created quite a sensation in the automobile world. Shortly afterward, it created more commotion throughout the media when people started crashing their cars while using the new feature. As it turned out, drivers were putting entirely too much confidence in the autopilot and doing other things like taking naps and reading books instead of keeping their eyes on the road! Accordingly, Tesla responded by stating, “Autopilot is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times,” and that “you need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle” while using it. In other words, the feature was never intended to replace the driver, it was simply implemented for assisting the driver during his trip.
    There is a spiritual lesson here we could certainly apply to Christianity. It is seen in what the apostle John wrote, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin,” (1 John 1:7). That word “if” is the key! It implies that we can drift off the path, or that we can wander off course. It also implies that we are capable of getting back on track, or that we can correct our trajectory when we stray by returning to walking in the light. Just as Tesla’s autopilot still requires the driver to be vigilant and make corrections whenever necessary, so likewise does the Christian need to do during their spiritual walk.
    Just because we have been saved and are cleansed by the blood of Christ, does not mean we should take our eyes off of Him! Think about how a sailor navigates a harbor, or a farmer plows a field, by pinpointing a landmark in the distance to mark and maintain a straight line in his course. This is what Paul is referring to by writing, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth,” (Colossians 3:2). It is truly the key to a successful spiritual walk and reaching spiritual maturity! Christians must maintain their spiritual compass so that it tracks straight and true.
    The Bible is full of this principle. Throughout the Old Testament, God uses the phrases “If you obey” (Deut 11:27); “if you do this” (Ex 18:23); “if you walk” (1 Kings 6:12); “if you heed, or if you keep my commandments” (2 Chron 7:17) to remind His people to stay on track and not drift off course. In the New Testament, Jesus also teaches us that we cannot serve two masters, so we should “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” (Matt 6:24,33). For a Christian, all of this has to do with keeping our eyes on Jesus. It is the only way we will make it to heaven. The way we keep our focus solely on Him is by learning God’s will through the Scriptures and then remaining obedient to His commands (1 John 5:1-3). This harmonizes perfectly with Revelation 2:10, “Remain faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.” That certainly implies a true and straight trajectory, maintained through vigilance.
    So, just as Tesla stated that a driver “needs to maintain control and responsibility for their vehicle,” a Christian also needs to maintain self-control and responsibility for their spirituality. A Tesla driver must keep their eyes on the road and a Christian must always keep his/her eyes on Jesus. You can keep your eyes Jesus by “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,” (Heb. 12:2). He left an example for us to follow (John 13:15).
 


WHAT MUST I DO AFTER BAPTISM?

    “What must I do to be saved?” is the absolute most important question that one must ask themselves during their lifetime. Fortunately, the Bible gives us the answer to the question! We can find it in the New Testament in verses that teach the “Plan of Salvation.” This then leads one to hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized which adds them to the church (Romans 10:17; John 3:16; Luke 13:3; Matthew 10:32; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:47). After all that is done, then the second most important question one should ask himself/herself is, “What must I do AFTER baptism?” It seems that we, members of the Lord’s church, are pretty good at helping people with that first question, but we don’t often put as much emphasis on that second question as we should. Yet, the manner in which one lives their life after they have been saved is just as serious of a matter as obeying the Gospel! Fortunately, the Bible gives us the answer to the second question, as well! Let’s take a look.
    The plan of God to save man is not just getting one into the baptistery. In fact, notice that within the Great Commission there is one very distinct objective that is to be completed in two phases. The first phase is, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The second phase is seen in the words, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20). Those two phases lead to the main objective of making disciples, which is the only verb in the entire command. “Go,” “baptize” and “teaching” one to observe Jesus’ commands are all participles which point directly to the main verb, “making disciples.”
    Another way to look at this is by recognizing that God gives specific responsibilities to all believers. First, a believer must obey the Gospel in order to be saved. Secondly, a believer must learn and keep the Lord’s commandments in order to remain saved. Essentially, to be a disciple means one must be obedient all of his/her life from the day they obey the Gospel until the day they die. This is exactly why Jesus said, “Remain faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life,” (Revelation 2:10). Furthermore, note how the writer of Hebrews illuminates this same thought, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,” (5:12). This verse implies those same Christian responsibilities, that basically, a true Christian’s life is characterized by a process of continual growth. This verse is also a clear indication that something special exists within God’s Word that every believer must learn. It is learned in small increments. It illustrates that just like a small child needs milk to grow, so do new Christians.
    Notice that when someone becomes a Christian, they are said to be “born again,” (John 3:7; 1 Peter 1:23). Thus, they become a “new creation,” (2 Corinthians 5:17). They are also called, “babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1). So, just as a baby or child grows and matures by being nourished by milk, so must a spiritual babe in Christ be nourished by the spiritual “milk” of the Word, (1 Peter 2:2; Colossians 1:10). As they mature, then they begin to consume “solid food” or the “meat” of the word. What a poetic way of saying that the goal of every Christian should be to grow in Christ (Ephesians 4:15)! It is only through the Word of God that one can truly grow and mature spiritually (2 Timothy 2:15).
    The truth is, it is not easy being a Christian! If it were, we wouldn’t need all those letters in the New Testament by inspired writers about how to live the Christian life! (Romans through Jude) The fact that we do have those letters shows that we must work at it, that there’s more to our salvation than just being baptized. That’s exactly why Peter warns: “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;” (2 Peter 1:10). We also learn from those letters that after we are baptized, we must leave our old life behind and focus on the new. We must “put off the old man,” as Paul puts it in Colossians 3:9. We are no longer part of the world, but now part of a new special family, a “chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people” belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9). So, the answer to the question is “as you have always obeyed, … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” (Philippians 2:12).
 


CAN WE FALL FROM GRACE? (Part 2)

    Last week, we presented a few points regarding why people leave the church. This week, I would like to address the fallacy of teaching that it is impossible to fall away, or that there is no chance someone could lose their salvation. Such a position evokes numerous questions and stands in contrast to the Scriptures. Think about it for a minute, if someone cannot fall from grace, or if one cannot lose the gift of salvation, meaning no entrance into heaven will be supplied, then how do you answer these 10 questions:
 
  1. Why did Jesus warn the church at Ephesus saying, “I will remove your candlestick” in Revelation 2:5? That’s a clear indication that one’s position of salvation can be expunged. This can certainly happen if a Christian sins and will not repent!
  2. Why did Jesus teach that we should produce fruit or otherwise be discarded as dry branches (John 15:6)? Do not forget that Jesus was addressing His disciples (cf. John 14). We glorify God when we produce fruit! If we cannot fall, then why should we be bothered with producing fruit for God?
  3. Why did Jesus say: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven’ ” in Matthew 7:21? These people were followers of Christ, they were not unbelievers! But, apparently they hadn’t done something correctly.
  4. Why does the Bible clearly use the word “fall” and other phrases that clearly state, or imply such a possibility is always present? (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:12; Galatians 5:4; 1 Timothy 3:7; Hebrews 3:12, 6:6; Revelation 2:5)
  5. Why did Simon the magician have to repent and ask for forgiveness after being baptized (Acts 8: 20-24)? It is clear that he obeyed the Gospel and was saved (vs. 13). If one can’t fall from grace, what was that all about?
  6. Why did the apostles write so much about false teachers? Why are there so many warnings if there is no danger of falling? (Colossians 2: 8; Galatians 1; 2 Peter; 1 John) What difference does it make that there are false teachers?
  7. Why do we need to confess our sins to be cleansed again by the blood of Christ if one cannot fall from grace (1 John 1:9)? The warning is to people who had already been baptized (had already received salvation). John wrote, “we,” which included himself, an apostle, in the group. So, one of Jesus’ own righteous apostle needed to be forgiven?
  8. Why did Jesus pray for Peter “so that [his] faith would not be not lacking” (Luke 22: 31-32)? What’s the implication?
  9. Why does Peter say we must “stand firm in the faith” if there is no possibility of falling (2 Peter 1:10)? For clarity, note 2 Peter 2:20: “… having escaped the defilements of the world.” This refers to one’s salvation. These people had become entangled in sin once again after having obeyed the Gospel. He describes it as a dog returning to his vomit.
  10. Don’t forget that God’s people in the Old Testament (Israel) were a rebellious people. An entire generation lost their right (inheritance) to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 32:13-15). Has God changed in this Christian dispensation? Is God more compassionate today with sinners than what he was before? Of course not! Sin is sin — from then to now.
 
  The questions don’t stop there either! If someone can’t fall from grace, then … why should we meet together with the church? Why should we study the Word? Why should we walk in the light? Why should we do anything more than just be baptized? It makes NO sense! We need to really take into consideration that when a doctrine produces so many questions, contrary to plain Scripture, then there must be something wrong with it! The Bible is simple and easy to understand. It is not necessary to do “circus acrobatics” in order to reach a correct conclusion. Just read what the Bible says to do, do it, and be honest with yourself.
    Finally, think about this: Suppose you are standing before the throne of God on the Day of Judgment. Which of the following is more secure to believe? (A) To believe in the possibility that one could fall and not make it to heaven, so you work hard to be obedient and stay on the path? Or, (B) believe it is NOT possible to fall away, and essentially, “in the end” will we will all get there? One of these thoughts is very dangerous, the other is in harmony with the Bible. Which one will you choose?