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Grace, Faith and the Plan of God

This is the third installment in the series on Grace and Faith.  I suppose we should review again some of the points weíve discussed in the first two papers.  However, I donít want to spend a lot of time on this.  So, if you read the following statements and theyíre confusing to you, let me encourage you to go back and read the first two papers again.

The Scriptures do not say that we are saved by grace.  Instead, they are very explicit in pointing out that we are saved by grace through our faith.  Grace gives us the opportunity to be saved and faith is the essential means by which we are saved.  Faith literally describes the on-going, real experiences we have with God that define our salvation and make the invisible God a reality.

Also, it bears repeating that Godís purpose is to change us into the image of His Son.  And that Heís not interested in our futile efforts to reform ourselves through our own religious efforts.  As good as anyone might think they are, self-righteousness will never gain them entrance into Godís Kingdom.  They remain citizens of the kingdom ruled by the god of this world.  God insists that we participate in His plan by submitting to Him so we can be changed through a relationship with Him that is real, and in which He is personally involved.

And while Iím at it, let me expand something that was previously mentioned regarding the use of the words, "salvation" and "deliverance".  The concept and meaning of the word "salvation" as the traditional, institutional church uses it is both inaccurate and misleading.  The Greek word is soteria and primarily means "deliverance".  It can also mean "preservation".  However, the idea as it is presented by the traditional church is that salvation is quick and easy to obtain and impossible to lose.  Iím not going to cover that ground again; I already have in several papers.  But, I will give you one short passage that speaks to this issue, as well as the necessity of Godís personal involvement mentioned in the previous paragraph.  This is Philippians 2:12-13:

"And so, my friends, as you were always so quick to obey those things that were revealed to me, with the same willingness you would show in my presence, now in my absence, continue to work out your own deliverance with reverence and a serious caution for anything that might hinder your progress.  Not in your own strength, but all the while knowing that it is God working in you, giving you both the desire and the strength to be submissive and obedient to His good pleasure (what He has purposed to accomplish - His plan to change you)."

Simply stated, this verse tells us that our deliverance involves an on-going process that requires our cooperation with the continued participation of God in our lives that is designed to carry out what amounts to His plan and purpose (His good pleasure).  Itís another bucket of cold water, another slap in the face, another reality check for all those involved in the religious pursuit of self-righteousness or those who want to believe they have the freedom to make up their own agenda with God.  Listen again, and listen well.  God doesnít care about what we want, because He knows that what we want will not deliver us!

Now to the issue at hand Ė the plan of God.  In the last paper I said that grace is the product of Godís mercy and loving kindness.  God knew there was no way that we, in our fallen state, could ever deliver ourselves, so out of His grace He came up with a plan.  And we must be very clear on this point, He not only had to come up with the plan, He had to carry out that plan.  We donít have anything to do with Godís plan.  We didnít help Him come up with it.  He didnít ask for our help and wouldnít accept it if we offered.  And thereís nothing we could ever do to change this plan or affect it in any way.  God did it all.

Of course, those who insist that weíre "saved by grace, not by works" like the sound of this.  But the "God did everything, we do nothing" crowd has to ignore not only Ephesians 2:10 (remember those "good works that God has prepared for us to walk in"), but about 75 other verses that Iíve quoted in previous papers that show us without question that our salvation (deliverance) requires work on our part.  For those who might have a really short memory, go back to page 1 and reread Philippians 2:12-13.

The fact is, and as you go through these points it should become crystal clear, that Godís plan of grace is nothing more than what He did to make our deliverance possible.  And if you have struggled with this concept that grace is what gives us the opportunity to be delivered, I hope this presentation will help you with that.

There are 7 points in Godís plan of grace, so letís get started.  This is going to take some time.

Point One Ė God Gives Us Life

There is in man a certain arrogance of self-determination ignorant of truth.  We tend to think that we are life-givers and therefore are free to determine our own fate.  Male and female join, conception takes place, and a child is born.  We did it.  It was fun.  It was easy.  We can do it again, if we want to.  This is typical human reasoning based on partial truth leading to a wrong conclusion.

The first point in Godís plan of grace is that He alone gives life.  As in every part of Godís plan, if He doesnít do it, then it simply wonít happen, because man does not have the ability to carry out any part of His plan.  If He doesnít give life, it doesnít come.  Letís go to the scriptures.

"And God said, Let Us make man in Our image and likenessÖ" (Genesis 1:26a)

"So God created mankind in His image.  He created both the male and the female in His image." (Genesis 1:27)

"Then the Lord God formed the manís body from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life, so the man became a living soul." (Genesis 2:7)

"And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to come upon the man and then took one of his ribs from his side and closed the wound.  And the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man He made into the body of the woman, and He presented her to the man." (Genesis 2:21,22)

Now, letís take a look at the words I italicized in the verses above and see if we can make sense out of all this.  The first word in Genesis 1:26 is "image".  The Hebrew is tselem and means "shadow image or essence" (by essence, I mean the basic nature of a thing).  In this case, itís a reference to something being the same, but not exactly the same.  Specifically, like God, but not God.  An image is never exactly like the original.  Thatís why itís called an image or representation.  Actually, we resemble God in our basic nature.  Tselem represents the part of us that makes us like God, but different than every other form of life that God created - we are a living soul.

Here, God is saying that weíre going to be like Him, but not like Him in every way.  I would suggest that the difference has something to do with the fact that God has no beginning and no end.  He is eternal and unchanging.  The fact that He is unchanging tells us that He has always existed and always will exist.  The difference is that we will always exist, but we necessarily had a beginning.  That beginning is described in this verse.  So, while God is eternal in His existence, man is everlasting.  There is similarity, but there is a definite difference.

The second word is demuth and means "a model or pattern".  God used Himself as the pattern He would follow in the creation of the man and the woman.  God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit all possess the same essence; that is, they all possess the same character and attributes and all three are equally God).  But, they are all three different, distinct individuals.  In the same way, all members of the human race have the same essence of soul, but all have distinctly different manifestations of that soul or varying personalities.

Then, the next verse tells us that God "created" mankind.  This word is bara and is very specific.  It emphasizes the initiation or beginning of something as opposed to the manipulation or changing of something that already exists.  It is literally the creation of something where nothing existed before, making something out of nothing.  This is the creation (the beginning) of the invisible, immaterial, yet real souls of mankind.  This is the beginning of life for the man and the woman.

Which takes us then to Chapter 2, verse 7.  And it might help to notice at this point in the narrative that the 6 days of creative activity and the seventh day of rest have ended.  So, after the dust had settled, so to speak, the Lord forms the body of the man.  The word "formed" is asah and means to fashion or mold.  The manís soul had already been created on the sixth day, but he still needed a body, a body fashioned from already existing dust.

As we continue in this verse we see the act of God giving life.  Did the first man have the ability to give himself life?  Did everything in the universe align in just the precise way necessary to produce some mysterious combustible spark that made him live and thus give him the ability to reproduce and give his offspring life as well?  Thatís what the great thinkers of our day want us to believe.  No, God gave the first man life.  It was a deliberate, purposeful act.  Without Godís action, Adam would never have drawn his first breath.

The text goes something like this, "and (God) breathed into him the breath of life, so the man became a living soul."  The term "breath of life" is neshamah used with chay.  The first word comes from the root word nasham, meaning to breathe.  Neshamah describes the action taken by God that allows us to breathe.  The result is that we are alive, which is the meaning of chay. This is the action of God placing the soul that He created in the body He had formed, producing a living soul.  This is why Job says in Job 12:10 "in His hand is the breath (neshamah) of all mankind."  The term "living soul" is chay again used with nephesh, a self-conscious, rational, functional soul giving the body the ability to live.

I donít want to go on and on about this, but I think a few comments are necessary at this point.  God didnít form our bodies personally like He did Adamís.  He gave us the ability and His permission to produce offspring (Genesis 1:28).  But, make no mistake, while we have the ability to produce physical, functioning bodies, we do not give life to our offspring.  Only God can do that.  While the fetus is developing in the womb, it is simply going through a growth process that will eventually enable it to live independent of the life support system supplied by the motherís womb and umbilical cord.  At the moment of birth God is present to place the soul He created into the body the parents have formed.

Physical life is possible only in one of two ways: the presence of a soul in the body, or the body being connected to a life support system.  Doctors can keep a body functioning with machines that keep the heart and lungs working.  But in the absence of brainwave activity, they know when they turn off the machines the body will not function on its own.  The soul is what allows our autonomic nervous system to function.  We donít have to tell our heart to beat or our lungs to breathe.

Human life is the result of a direct act of God.  Old Testament writers understood this fact (Job 10:18, 33:4, Psalms 22:9, 71:6, Isaiah 46:3).  And for all you would-be theologians, simply apply the principle of precedence.  God through His Holy Spirit tells us in Genesis 2:7 how the first man received life.  When we get to Genesis 2:21, 22 we see God making the womanís body out of one of Adamís ribs (the verb here is banah and means "to build for a specific purpose" and the context tells us that the purpose was to make the man complete, and itís interesting to note that it only took one woman to complete the man, andÖIíd better not get started).

What we have to notice in verses 21 and 22 is what isnít there.  Thereís no description of how the womanís body came to life.  This is the principle of precedence.  God has already explained to us how Adam was made a living soul.  So, when we get to the account of how He formed the womanís body He assumes weíre smart enough to remember what He did next.  Then, when we consider everyone else that has ever lived on this earth, including ourselves, He assumes that weíre smart enough to figure that out as well.  The rules didnít change.  God hasnít changed.  What Job, David, Isaiah and others understood is still as true now as it was in their day.  Human life is the result of an individual, personal act of God when at birth He places the soul that He created in the body that has been formed.  It is an act of His grace.  It is part of His plan.  And if He doesnít do it, it wonít get done.  Because God is the only One Who can carry out His plan!

One more thing before we move to the second point.  Earlier we were talking about being created in Godís image and how we were a representation of Him, like Him, but not exactly.  God has no beginning and no end.  We have a beginning, but no end.  Our existence (our life) has a starting point.  It starts when weíre born and God gives us life.  The physical body that we get from our parents will eventually wear out and die, but the soul we received from God will never die.  Thatís why we need to understand Godís plan of grace.  Itís His plan to deliver us so we can spend eternity with Him, instead of without Him.  In II Corinthians 5:1-8 Paul makes it clear that when this earthly body dies we still have a life that came from God, not made with hands (that is, not having human origin), that is eternal.  He makes it clear that physical death is not an end, but there is a continuation of life beyond physical death for which we must prepare.

Point Two Ė God Condemns Us

The second point in Godís plan of grace doesnít sound like grace at all.  Trust me, it is.  Man cannot, indeed would not, condemn himself.  So God in His perfect justice has already done it.  To me, one of the more significant verses on this subject is Romans 11:32.

"For God has delivered all men to condemnation, so He could have mercy on them all in the same way."

Now if you read this verse in the KJV itís not going to say that.  So what else is new?  The KJV reads "For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all."  The word translated "concluded" in the KJV and "delivered" above is sunkleio, which means, "to shut in together".  It could be rendered "included", but when you look at the context, "delivered" is accurate.  And the word translated "unbelief" in the KJV and "disobedience" elsewhere is apeitheia.  In the context of this verse, apeitheia is not simply a reference to disobedience, but to the result of disobedience.  This result is, of course, condemnation.

This verse does not stand alone, and it cannot be used to promote the idea of universal salvation as some fantasize.  When you read the KJV rendering of this verse given in the paragraph above, you can see why some might want to promote this idea.  It only strengthens my argument regarding the weakness of this version.  In the full context of the passage that runs from verse 25 through verse 32 Paul is telling us that God has convicted all men of disobedience and that there can be no escape from this condemnation through human merit.  The only escape is through His mercy as it is offered in His plan of grace, which is available to all alike, regardless of national distinction.

Now all this talk about disobedience and condemnation is forcing me to get into something that most religious types try their best to avoid.  You can go to traditional, institutional churches every week for years and not hear much of anything about this.  Iím talking about the s-word, you know, SINChurches today will present you with an endless series of self-help, feel-good, empty promises that arenít there, messages that avoid dealing with anything pertinent to a real understanding of Godís plan and purpose.

The goal is to keep people happy, keep them entertained.  Keep them excited or at least interested.  Tell them what they want to hear, no real surprises, and above all, donít say anything negative.  The last thing you want to do is tell people theyíre sinners.  Telling them theyíre condemned is definitely not entertaining.  Telling them that their sin has separated them from God is not what they want to hear.  Itís all just too negative.

Instead, tell them constantly how God loves them (emphasize His grace and mercy, but never mention His righteousness and justice).  Tell them He wants to bless them, that He wants to heal them or make them rich.  Or if youíre up to it, quote the first half of a single verse to give the message some semblance of validity and religiosity, then give them five steps to overcome depression from the worldís philosophy.  Throw in a few jokes to make them laugh, jump around a little to keep them awake and youíve got them right where you want them and right where they want to be Ė self-satisfied, self-righteous, asleep at the wheel, headed for hell at break-neck speed!  Sorry.  Every time I mention the traditional church something comes over me. 

Enough of that, letís look at some scriptures.

"So sin came into the world through one man (Adam), and spiritual death came as a result of sin, and this spiritual death spread to all men, because all of them sinned." (Romans 5:12)

When we look at this verse, several things stand out.  All men are sinners, sin brings Godís condemnation and the result of this condemnation is death.  The death that comes is not physical death.  Itís spiritual death.  God told Adam the very day he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he would surely die (Genesis 2:17).  Yet we know that later, Adam and his wife hid from God (Genesis 3:8).  Actually he must have lived for quite some time after the occasion of his original sin, since the record tells us that he lived for 930 years (Genesis 5:5).  Itís obvious that Adam did not die physically as a result of his sin.  So, how did he die?  His sin separated him from God in time.  Fellowship was broken.  He was hiding from God.  This is spiritual death.  Romans 5:12 tells us that we are under the same condemnation that Adam suffered.  Paul revisits the same argument in Romans 5:17-19 and I Corinthians 15:21,22.

In addition to this, you can easily find a recurring theme in Paulís letters regarding the existence of an inherent quality or nature in man that predisposes him to sin.  We all sin because it is our nature to do so.  However, Paul does not attribute this sinful disposition to some mysterious or even mystical cause.  He tells us through the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit that our sinful nature is not a part of the soul that God creates, but a physical part of the body that we form through reproduction.  In plain terms, our sin nature resides in the cellular structure of our physical bodies and has been passed on from generation to generation from the first man who sinned.

Thatís why Paul calls it the "flesh" (Romans 7:14-21, 8:3-6), the "body of sin" (Romans 6:6), the "sin that reigns in our mortal bodies" (Romans 6:12), and "the old man" (Ephesians 4:22, Colossians 3:9).  This last reference to the "old man" is actually a metaphor illustrating the genetic perpetuation of the sin nature from one man to another through each successive generation from Adam until now.

And so, when you consider everything weíve talked about so far, several conclusions may be reached.  We are born physically alive, but spiritually dead.  The soul that God creates and gives is flawless and perfect as it comes from His hand to our body at birth.  However, it is immediately corrupted when it comes in contact with and under the influence of the sin nature present in the body.  In Adam this corruption took place the moment he sinned, with us, at the moment of birth.

In Godís plan of grace we are all condemned by sin at birth, not at some religious, ambiguous, self-determined time.  He doesnít wait for us to realize that weíre sinners.  He doesnít give us the luxury of justifying or denying our sin.  Our personal sins have absolutely nothing to do with our condemnation.  God is totally balanced and in His grace has exercised His perfect judgment and has condemned us on His terms, not ours.  He is completely fair and impartial.  He is no respecter of persons.  He deals with each one of us exactly the same.  The playing field is perfectly level.  No one has an advantage or a disadvantage.

Before we move on, I know there are those who struggle with the term spiritual death.  And it is my sincere desire that before this paper is concluded you would have a better grasp of this important issue.  For now just let me point you to the passage found in John 3:1-21 where we find Jesus talking to Nicodemus.  The conversation centers on the necessity of a spiritual rebirth, something that this Pharisee obviously didnít understand.  But may I suggest to you that he didnít understand spiritual rebirth because he didnít know anything about spiritual death.  The connection is undeniable.  Spiritual death is what makes spiritual rebirth a necessity, exactly the point Jesus is driving home in this passage.  Weíll have more to say about this in Point Six.

Now, thereís one more thing we must take up before we can go to the next point in Godís plan of grace.  This has to do with the genetic perpetuation of the sin nature from generation to generation and is essential to our understanding of what God does in Point Three.  As Iíve said earlier, God not only had to come up with a plan, He had to carry out His plan in every detail.  We couldnít do it and in some cases probably wouldnít, if we could.  His plan is His plan.  And the more we understand it, the better we should appreciate it.  Now pay close attention to the next couple of paragraphs, concentrate and try not to go to sleep on me.

The physical mechanics of the genetic perpetuation of the sin nature in man can be found in a few good embryology textbooks, though it is not generally understood by the world how they apply to this specific spiritual truth.  For the purposes of growth, repair and replenishment body cells divide by a process called mitosis.  In mitosis one cell with 46 chromosomes divides into two with each new cell then identical to the original, each having 46 chromosomes.

However, in reproductive cells, a more specialized process called meiosis produces the male sperm and the female ovum.  In meiosis one cell with 46 chromosomes divides into two cells, but each new cell contains only 23 chromosomes.  Are you still awake?  You might want to get up and walk around a little or stretch, maybe throw a little cold water on your face.

With the male, one cell with 46 chromosomes divides into two cells having 23 chromosomes each.  Then both of these new cells with 23 chromosomes each divide again into two more cells, again with 23 chromosomes.  The result is that from one original cell with 46 chromosomes come four mature sperm cells with 23 chromosomes each.  So far, so good.  Now it gets interesting.

In the female the process of meiosis is different.  It has two stages like male meiosis.  But, while meiosis in the male produces four sperm cells, meiosis in the female produces only one ovum or egg.  This is called oogenesis.  Here, one cell with 46 chromosomes divides into two cells with 23 chromosomes each.  But, only one cell remains intact, the other disintegrates.  The surviving cell with 23 chromosomes then divides again into two new cells with 23 chromosomes each.  Again one cell remains and the other disintegrates.

Now we get down to the really pertinent part of this whole (and I hope not too confusing) discussion.  In each cell that disintegrates cellular material called polar bodies concentrate or polarize themselves on one side of the cell before the division takes place.  After the cell divides, the one with the concentration of polar bodies is the one that disintegrates.  When the two stages of division in oogenesis are completed, the one ovum produced by this process is completely free of polar bodies.

This process is Godís ingenious way of cleansing the female ovum of the contamination of the sin nature that is a part of every other cell that makes up the human body, whether male or female.  From this we must draw several conclusions.  The first is what we have already alluded to earlier in the fact that scripture tells us that we are all possessors of Adamís sin.  That it is a part of our physical makeup and passed on from generation to generation by the man starting with Adam is clear when you consider the difference illustrated by the male and female reproductive systems.  In the male, all four mature sperm cells produced contain the exact same makeup, therefore, the same contamination as the original, contamination that is immediately passed on to the uncontaminated female ovum at conception!!!  The exclamation points are to get your attention and let you know Iím getting excited about this, because I know where itís leading.

The second thing is that all this boring talk about cells, chromosomes and polar bodies illustrates Godís provision to fulfill His promise of the coming of the Christ through the "seed of the woman" in Genesis 3:15.  In oogenesis God provided the way for the Son of Man to enter the world through a physical birth with a human mother and be born free of the contamination of the sin nature, yet in a physical body.  Make no mistake about this, in Mary a real conception took place, but no man was involved.  It was the Holy Spirit that made it possible (Matthew 1:20, Luke 1:34,35) for the Lord to be born a perfect, sinless man, absent Adamís sin, the only One qualified to go to the cross as our substitute.  Mary had a sin nature like everyone else.  But, because she was a woman, she could not transmit it to her progeny.  After Christ was born she delivered six other children by her husband Joseph through normal procreation.  All six were born spiritually dead with a sin nature passed on to them by their father.

At this juncture I should probably just move on.  But I canít pass up the opportunity to tear down a few religious concepts.  The idea that Jesusí sinless perfection is somehow connected to Maryís virginity is ludicrous at best.  One has absolutely nothing to do with the other.  The idea that God would have to depend on human merit to accomplish His plan is nothing more than religious arrogance and ignorance.  Mary was a sinner in need of a Savior, not unlike any other woman who ever lived.  She was condemned as soon as she drew her first breath, just like everyone else.  And while I have no intention of diminishing her special place in history and the favor God showed her, I canít elevate her to a prominence that exceeds even the Lord Himself as some do.

The fact is her virginity was only a sign, a signal to all who awaited the coming of the Holy One (Isaiah 7:14).  If it had not been for the prophecy requiring the mother of the Lord to be a virgin, this provision of God would have allowed Him to be born to any woman at any time providing she had a healthy, functioning reproductive system to produce the pure egg.  And if there can be any question regarding what God thinks about depending on us to help Him carry out His plan, consider Isaiah 64:6,7.

"Because we have all become like one who is defiled and unclean, even our best efforts before God are like filthy rags to Him.  Weíre so frail and here for such a short time and it is our own depravity that carries us like a strong wind far away from Godís favor.  No one calls Your name and there are none that struggle to embrace You.  And so Your face is hidden from us and we are left only to the consuming power of our own sin."

I know thereís a sermon here somewhere, but Iíll stick to the subject.  The KJV uses the term "our righteousnesses" where you see "our best efforts" in the verse above.  Both are a reference to self-righteousness (see Philippians 3:9).  What follows describes Godís attitude towards self-righteousness or human effort.  He sees them as "filthy rags".  Here, the word translated "filthy" is the Hebrew ed and means, "to set a period (of time)".  In the context of the verse it is used to illustrate the womanís monthly menstrual flow.  In other words, God considers our self-righteousness to be right up there on the same level of rags used by women to control the flow of blood from their monthly period.

Now you might be wondering why I bring this up at this particular time, so Iíll tell you.  Remember back when we were talking about oogenesis and how every time a cell would divide, the cell with the polar bodies (the physical contamination of the sin nature present in every cell) would disintegrate?  The menstrual period is the means by which the material from these disintegrated cells is sloughed off through a discharge of blood from the uterine wall.  Every month the woman discharges a small but significant portion of the sin nature that resides in her body.  The illustration in the verse above is simply comparing our best efforts to our own sin.  To God thereís no difference.  No real righteousness exists but His.

Point Three Ė God Pays Our Penalty

Now we have to talk about Godís justice.  In order to give us the opportunity to be delivered and brought to a place where we could be acceptable to a Holy God, something had to be done to satisfy His perfect justice in the matter of our sin.  As we have already established, all men are sinners, spiritually dead and consequently separated from God in time.  But it is Godís purpose to draw us to Him.  However, there necessarily is a judicial matter that must be settled.  There is a penalty required for the violation of Godís standard of character and nature.  The question of sin and the payment for sin must be answered.

Godís plan of grace does that once and for all.  What payment did Godís justice demand for our sin?  To understand what payment was required for sin, we must understand its penalty.  And that has already been established in Point Two.  The penalty for sin is spiritual death.  Therefore, the payment had to be the same.  It was the spiritual death of Christ on the cross that paid our debt in full and paved the way for us to come to God.  Christ took the penalty upon Himself.  He stood in for us.  He took our place.  The principle is substitutionary death.

As in all points of Godís plan of grace, we are unable of ourselves to do anything that could ever be acceptable to God.  Again, itís His plan and He had to carry it out to the full.  In the matter of paying the penalty for our own sin, we are helpless.  This is Romans 5:6.

"When we were unable to help ourselves, at the appointed time Christ died on behalf of the ungodly."

In the KJV we find the term "without strength", the word "unable" is used above.  In the original text the Greek word is asthenes and means, "weak or powerless".  In the context of this verse it is used to illustrate the fact that man does not possess the spiritual qualification necessary to pay his own penalty.  The logic is inescapable.  How can a man who is already spiritually dead stand in for himself and die a spiritual death to make payment for his own sin?

When we apply everything weíve discussed so far to the birth of Christ, we can conclude the following.  That wonderful night in a Bethlehem stable when the fetus emerged from Maryís womb, God breathed life into it in the form of Christís human soul.  The result was, as it is with every other member of the human race, human life.  But, when the justice of God would normally have condemned this newly born child to spiritual death, no such condemnation was possible!  Since Christ had no human father, He had no genetically formed sin nature.  Adamís sin was absent.

Letís go back to the words of Paul.  This is Romans 5:14.

"And yet spiritual death held dominion over all men from Adam to Moses, even though before the Law was given they had no understanding of their transgressions as Adam did when he directly disobeyed what God had told him.  Yet before that happened Adam was a figure of Him (Christ) Who was to be born."

Thereís just one thing I want to look at in the verse.  It has to do with the word "figure".  The Greek word is tupos and means, a type, facsimile or representation.  This verse is telling us that before Adam transgressed and experienced spiritual death; he was a type of Christ.  As already noted, Adam was created perfect.  He had no sin nature, no condemnation, and no spiritual death.  Therefore, Jesus was born a facsimile of Adam before he sinned, with no sin nature, no condemnation and no spiritual death.  The point is that Jesus Christ is the only man born with the qualifications to be our substitute and pay for the sins of mankind.  He could die a spiritual death, because from the moment of birth to the instant He was nailed to the cross, He remained sinless, spiritually alive.

There are several more things we should discuss here to give this point the balance it deserves.  First, letís consider the implication found in the following:

"Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not reckon against him." (Romans 4:8)

"But sin is never charged to the ones who commit them." (Romans 5:13b)

"It was God through Christ restoring the world to favor with Himself, not counting against men their trespasses, but instead, committing to them the message of reconciliation." (II Corinthians 5:19)

These verses, at least for me, bring focus to this whole idea of God having a plan of grace in which He offers to deliver us.  Our sin is a reality, regardless of any attitude, emotion, rationalization, justification or just plain denial we might apply to it.  Weíre sinners.  We have a sin nature.  We live under a cloud of condemnation and itís resulting spiritual death whether we like it or not, whether we agree with it or not.  But listen to me, while our condition is the result of a judicial sentence imposed by God, His plan of grace delays the time when the sentence will be carried out.

Instead of holding us accountable for our sin and demanding immediate payment, Godís plan of grace steps in and makes the payment for us.  Instead of charging us with our own sin, God determined to put them all on His Beloved Son.

"The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and shouted, Look!  Here comes the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world!" (John 1:29)

"For our sakes He made Christ, Who had never experienced sin, to be sin for us, so that we could have the opportunity to become the righteousness of God." (II Corinthians 5:21)

"He bore our sins in His body on the tree, so we could be freed from sin and live to righteousness.  By His wounds you have been restored to spiritual health." (I Peter 2:24)

I hope you recognize the dilemma had God determined to carry out His sentence immediately.  We would emerge from our motherís womb, draw our first breath and before we could exhale, weíd find ourselves in hell.  Actually, thatís not correct.  If God carried out His sentence immediately, both Adam and his wife would have gone to hell the moment they sinned, they would have had no children, and we wouldnít be here.

But that wasnít Godís plan.  Instead His grace brings us a reprieve (in Romans 3:25 itís called the "forbearance of God").  We have time to access His gracious offer and accept His payment for our sin.  But, make no mistake.  This is only an offer, and a limited one at that.  The offer expires when we experience physical death.

"And just as it is clear that all men will die and after that, will face a certain judgment.  It is just as clear that Christ was offered once to take upon Himself the sins of many, and is certain to appear a second time.  Not to deal with sin again, but to complete the deliverance of all those who have put their hope in Him." (Hebrews 9:27,28)

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ so each of us can receive what we deserve according to what weíve done while in this body, whether good or evil." (II Corinthians 5:10)

Everyone will die.  Everyone will face judgment.  The Lord is going to judge us on the basis of what we did "while in this body".  These are clear references to the time span that is our physical life.  The time will come when each one of us will stand, alone, before the King of Kings.  And He will examine us to see if He can find anything in us that looks like Him.  Again nothing will be hidden from Him (Hebrews 4:13).

If we despise the grace of God, if we embrace our sin, if we refuse the Holy sacrifice made on our behalf, then God will allow us to make our own payment.  This is the "second death", an eternity in Hell with the Devil and his angels, referred to in Revelation 20:14.  Check it out.

Before we go on to Point Four, there must necessarily be a parenthetical explanation inserted between Points Three and Four.  As has already been stated, Godís plan of grace is His plan.  It came from His heart and mind, and He alone had to carry it out to the full.  But, if you remember the gist of the first paper in this series ("Grace, Faith and Salvation"), weíre not saved or delivered by Godís grace alone.  Our faith is an essential part of the process and the good works that God planned beforehand for each one of us are what He uses to recreate us in the image of His Son (Ephesians 2:8-10).  So, it is safe for us to conclude that at some point in Godís plan of grace our faith is required.

May I suggest that we have now arrived at that point?  In Point One every single person who was ever born into this world received human life the same way the first man and the first woman received theirs, by an individual, personal act of God (Isaiah 46:3).  In Point Two every person ever born following the original sin of the first man and woman was born a sinner with a sin nature, condemned at birth and spiritually dead (Romans 3:9,10,23).  In Point Three Jesus is the only One qualified to pay the penalty for the sins of the world (I John 2:2).

So, every person who has ever lived on the earth has been a part of Godís plan of grace through these first three points.  And, as you will quickly see, faith is required if any will continue through Points Four, Five, Six and Seven.  Before we move on to the next point, letís revisit what Paul says about the relationship between grace and faith.  We looked at this passage in the paper "Grace, Faith and Salvation".  Itís Romans 5:1-3.

"Now, since we receive right standing with God only through the exercise of faith, let us rejoice in that wonderful peace that comes from our reconciliation with Him through Jesus Christ our Lord, the unspeakable privilege of living face to face with Him.  It is through Christ that we have access by means of faith into this grace (opportunity) in which we stand. And let us exult in our hope of experiencing the reality of God.  And not only that, let us triumph in our tribulations and sufferings as well, knowing that the pressures of these hardships will only produce that patient endurance we all need to follow after Him."

Here Paul is so clear.  This is not open for debate.  Itís not arguable.  Our right standing with God comes only one way.  We have to access His grace through our faith.  And faith has only one definition.  Itís not based on what we know or what we believe.  Itís a result of what we do, with God.  Faith requires knowing what God wants, or understanding what Heís saying.  Faith is submitting to and obeying what God reveals to you personally.  Faith is defined by your experiences with God Himself.  It has nothing to do with what we think, what weíve learned in church, what others tell us about what God is supposedly saying, or what any group or denomination has settled on as true.  It has only to do with what passes between you and God on a personal, individual basis and with what you do about it, period!  And if you disagree with that, then you donít understand what youíre reading when you pick up your Bible and see experience after experience chronicled in detail to show you how God worked in the lives of men and women in the past by faith (read Hebrews 11).

Point Four Ė God Gives Us His Righteousness

As we have noted from Isaiah 64:6, we have no righteousness of our own.  The only righteousness that exists in this age belongs to God.  Paul establishes that pretty well in Romans 3: 9, 10, 23.  In Point Three Godís perfect justice demanded perfect justice, so the Son of God was the only One qualified to pay the penalty for our sins.  In Point four you will soon see that Godís perfect righteousness demands perfect righteousness, and since we have none of our own, He offers to give us His.

Everything that makes up the character and nature of God is perfect and unchanging.  The fact that God will not, indeed cannot, compromise His character or nature defines His integrity.  Godís plan of grace is His way of bringing us into conformity with His integrity.  His plan of grace gives us the opportunity to be like Him so we can be with Him.  And, as weíve previously discussed in the paper entitled "The Greatest Commandment", our willingness to forsake who we are and prove that weíre willing to be like Him is a key issue with God.

But, as we have also previously discussed, contrary to what religion tells us, Godís offers are always conditional.  We must meet His conditions to receive what He offers.  Nowhere in scripture is this presented any more clearly than in the passage that follows.  Here, in Romans 3:19-31, Paul lets us know in no uncertain terms that righteousness in the believer is the result of faith (our submission and obedience to what God is doing or saying individually to each of us).  And it can never be gained through a system of pre-determined, manmade, religious efforts.

"Now we know that regardless of what the Law says, it was written to us for a reason: to stop us from making excuses for our sin and hold us accountable to God.  And no one could ever be made righteous in His sight by keeping the rules prescribed by the Law.  Because the real function of the Law was to make us recognize our sin and lead us to repentance.  But now the righteousness of God has been revealed entirely independent of the Law, even though the Law and the prophets spoke of it.  This is the righteousness of God that only comes by faith in Jesus Christ, meant for all that trust in Him completely.  There is no racial distinction.  And since all have sinned and could never achieve the perfection revealed in Godís character and nature, all must necessarily be made righteous by His plan of grace and the redemption provided by the sacrifice of Christ Jesus: Whom God appointed to be our life-giving sacrifice, accepted through faith.  And this was to demonstrate His righteousness, because He had passed over those sins previously committed through the delayed judgment of God.  This proves for all time that He Himself is righteous and that He accepts as righteous only those who follow Jesus in true faith.  Then what about pride and our tendency to brag about the good things we manage to do?  Theyíre excluded all together.  Why, you ask?  Simply because man has determined to gain righteousness through his own efforts, but God has determined to grant it only through our faith in Him.  And so we hold that a man can only be made righteous by his faith, independent of anything else he might do on his own.  Now, is God only the God of the Jews?  Is He not the God of the Gentiles as well?  Of course He is!  It is the same God Who will credit righteousness to the circumcised, because of the faith they learned from Abraham, and to the uncircumcised, because of their newly acquired faith.  Either way, it is the same trusting faith.  Do we then by this declaration of faith make the Law obsolete?  On the contrary, this only shows us that what the Law said is true."

For your convenience Iíve underlined all the references to faith in this passage.  Now that youíve read it through once, let me encourage you to go back and read it a second time.  This time look for all the references to righteousness and see how they correspond to the use of faith.

Do you see what I mean? Paul sounds like a broken record here.

"This is the righteousness of God that only comes by faith"

"All must necessarily be made righteous by His plan of graceÖaccepted by faith"

"He accepts as righteous only those who follow Jesus in true faith"

"But God has determined to grant it (righteousness) only through our faith"

"A man can only be made righteous by his faith"

"It is the same God Who will credit righteousness to the circumcised, because of the faith they learned from Abraham"

"And (God will credit righteousness) to the uncircumcised, because of their newly acquired faith"

Now, if you can resist the temptation of your flesh to revert back to your religious training and allow faith to be defined correctly (that is, your willingness to submit to and obey what God is doing and saying to you personally and individually), then you can easily see what Paul is saying here, over and over again.  As Iíve said before, faith is defined by our experiences with God.

But, maybe it would help to look at faith another way.  When we submit ourselves to God, the experiences that follow are designed by Him to help us understand Who He is, what He does and what He wants.  The obedience that He requires gives us the opportunity to prove that weíre willing to be like Him, and it changes us.  The exercise of our faith in this way puts us in the enviable position of having Godís approval.  Weíve just rejected who we are and chosen to be like God.  Weíve just said no to our flesh and yes to Him.  And in the expression of our faith God credits us with His own righteousness.

Let me show you what I mean.  In scripture, Abraham is the obvious example.  This is what follows immediately after the passage quoted above.  This is Romans 4:1-5.

"And if all this is true, what can we learn from the life of our forefather Abraham?  If Abraham had been declared righteous because of the good things he determined to do, then he would have reason to be proud of himself.  But then God would not have been involved in any way.  But what does the Scripture say?  Abraham trusted in God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.  Now, when someone works, his wages are not considered a gift, but an obligation.  But to the one that doesnít work by keeping his religious rules, but instead trusts fully in the One Who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited to him as righteousness."

When we trust God, when we submit to Him, when we do what He wants us to do, what He tells us to do, He approves and rewards us with His own righteousness.  As already discussed, when we do our own thing, regardless of how good we think it might be, itís filthy rags to God.  Our efforts are worthless, mere expressions of our sin nature.

This is a great time to point out, again, the difference between morality and spirituality.  Regardless of your perspective (and Iím going to be dogmatic here), God has not called us to be moral; in fact, He requires that we be spiritual.  Morality is nothing more than human viewpoint.  Morality is based on what men think is right.  And if youíre paying any attention at all to whatís going on in the world today as opposed to what has gone on in the past, you have to know that morality is always changing.  If morality came from God, it wouldnít change, because He doesnít change!

Morality is what people do when they know other people are watching.  And their attitude in regard to what theyíre willing to allow other people to see changes, when they sense public acceptance or at least the absence of outrage.  Because of this, things that were unacceptable or even outrageous in the past are considered normal today.  And so morality is nothing more than an ambiguous, ever-changing set of manmade standards of behavior that are a product of the collective influence of the sin nature.

And, to make matters worse, religion is the chief proponent of morality in the world.  Every religious group that exists today promotes their own version of morality.  And herein lies the problem.  Those who claim to represent God in the world teach people the principles of morality and in most cases add to it a really twisted doctrine of fairness and false compassion.  The result of all this is a self-centered, human rights oriented culture that only pretends to care about others.  And by the way, if youíre interested, that is exactly the indictment God brings against Israel through the prophet Jeremiah.  I only mention it to let you know that nothing has changed in the human condition from then until now.

The end result then is that morality is presented as a solution, but is actually the problem.  Those who embrace morality can resolve to reform themselves to some degree and experience the counterfeit version of Godís purpose, which is to change us.  They can see theyíve changed.  Others can see it too.  They can give God the credit (remember, in religion, everything has Godís name on it) and feel really good about themselves and about God.

Listen to me and listen well, the incredibly effective deception in religion and morality is that people are trained to equate Godís presence or His approval with their own good feelings.  The only problem with this is that in both religion and morality, these good feelings are produced by people doing what theyíve decided to do.  It has nothing to do with God.  Itís self-righteousness, and God hates it.

On the other hand, spirituality is simply following God by faith.  Heís in control.  Heís calling the shots.  Weíre trusting His judgment, not our own.  What we do is what He wants.  And what He wants will not always make us feel good.  Sometimes it hurts.  Weíre proving to God, and to those who are smart enough to recognize it that we want to be like Him.  He approves and credits us with His righteousness.  And itís not based on our feelings; itís based on whether or not we really know Him in an experiential way (Matthew 7:21-23).

Now, in case youíve forgotten what we were talking about, this is Point Four in Godís plan of grace.  Since we have no righteousness of our own, He has determined to give us His righteousness, but only on the condition that we add our faith to His grace.  I need to discuss one more thing, and then weíll move on to Point Five.

Paul understood the difference between morality and spirituality, though he used different terms (self-righteousness and righteousness).  In Romans 6:15-23 he talks about this issue and why itís important to seek Godís righteousness.  Iím not going to cover the complete passage, because this paper is going to be too long as it is.  But I want to hit the high spots to show you what Iím talking about.

"Donít you understand that when you surrender yourselves to do what others tell you to do you become subservient to them, whether it be to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness.  But thank God, though you were once the slaves of sin, you have become consistently obedient to the ways of God in which you were instructed and to which you have committed.  And so you have been set free from the sin that held you and have become servants of righteousness.  Let me speak plainly.  With the same enthusiasm that you used to give yourselves over to be the servants of impurity and lawlessness, so now give yourselves over to be servants of righteousness that leads to holiness." (Verses 16-19)

In these verses Paul contrasts morality and spirituality.  But he then commends these Roman believers for their commitment to spirituality.  Then he encourages them to continue to be the servants of righteousness, because righteousness leads to holiness.  When you consider the context and grammatical structure of this passage, Paul is illustrating that holiness is the accumulation of righteousness over time.  And why is this important?  Iím glad you asked.  The answer is down in verse 22.

"But now that you have been freed from sin and have become the servants of God, you have your present reward in holiness and itís end is eternal life."

Does that put things in a little better focus for you?  As we follow God in faith, trusting Him and obeying Him, in His plan of grace He credits us with His righteousness.  As we continue on this course, the accumulation of His righteousness becomes holiness.  And holiness results in eternal life.  The plan of God from beginning to end (from Leviticus 20:7 to I Peter 1:16) was always to give us the opportunity to be holy like God is holy.  And holiness only comes from the grace of God as we follow Him by faith and receive an accumulation of His righteousness.

This is what Paul says in Colossians 1:22,23.  It should tie everything up for you.

"Yet now has Christ reconciled you to God in His own body through death so He could present you holy and without reproach in the presence of His Father.  And this He will certainly do if you continue in the faith, steadfast, holding to the hope that rests in the good news, which you heard and which has been offered without restriction to every person under heaven, and of which I, Paul, am a minister."

May I suggest that the occasion of Christ presenting faithful, mature, holy believers to the Father is the "joy that was set before Him" in Hebrews 12:2, and is, in fact, described as the marriage of the Lamb and His bride.  And before we move on, I must quote this last passage from Revelation 19:7-9.

"Let us rejoice and shout for joy!  Let us celebrate with all our strength, giving to Him all honor and glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come at last and His bride has prepared herself.  And she has been permitted to dress herself in fine linen, radiant and white, signifying the righteousness of Godís holy people.  Then the angel said to me, write this down.  Blessed are those who are called to the marriage feast of the Lamb.  And then he said to me, write this also.  These are the exact declarations that God Himself has made."

There are two things I hope you noticed in these verses.  The first is that it says the "bride has prepared herself".  Contrary to religious fantasy, God does not magically prepare the bride against her will or without her full participation and cooperation.  It is up to the bride to prepare herself!  Thatís what real faith is all about.  And it will never be any different, either now or in the future.  This baloney about an end-time revival that will instantaneously sweep millions of people into Godís Kingdom is just so much religious smoke and mirrors, pure deception.

And the second thing I want you to see proves it.  This passage also says that because the bride has prepared herself, she is permitted to dress in white linen "signifying the righteousness of Godís holy people".  And at this point I have to hope that our memories are not so short that we don't remember what weíve been talking about in Point Four of Godís plan of grace.  How we obtain Godís righteousness that leads to holiness that results in eternal life, which is what this passage confirms!

And being one that loves the Word of God (both written and spoken by revelation) I canít resist pointing out this one last thing spoken by the angel and recorded by John.  Regardless of what you want, what you think or how you feel, this is the true and "exact declaration that God Himself has made" on the subject.  Donít try to figure out why it might be wrong, because it doesnít agree with your religion.  And donít try to figure out how you can manipulate the truth so you can avoid it.  Just accept it and cry out to God for help.  We all desperately need His righteousness, and thereís only one way to get it.

Point Five Ė God Deals With Us in Time

Once we get a glimpse of the fact that Godís purpose is to change us and we turn our hearts toward Him, He will begin to reveal Himself to us.  He will then begin to teach us His ways, give us opportunities to submit to and obey Him, and give us His righteousness when we make right choices.

Earlier in this paper towards the end of Point Three I quoted Romans 5:1-3, you might want to flip back and read it.  There are two things in that passage that are pertinent to our discussion here.  In verse one Paul talks about our reconciliation with God.  Reconciliation illustrates the fact that the wall that had separated man from God has been broken down and removed.  Of course, the wall represents our sin, which Christ took upon Himself on the cross.  What Paul says here is that since weíre no longer the enemies of God, we have this unbelievable privilege of having an intimate relationship with Him, "living face to face with Him".

Then in verse two he tells us that we have the opportunity to "experience the reality of God" in our lives and to be strengthened by the "tribulations and sufferings" that are designed by God to give us the determination to follow Him.  The point is that God wants us to live our lives with Him.  He wants to participate, to be involved.  And in this part of His plan of grace weíll see the extent of that participation.  God could not compromise His integrity by having a relationship with men held in the bondage of their sin.  But with the payment of our penalty (reconciliation) and Godís willingness to credit us with His own righteousness when we exercise faith (justification), He is now free to deal with us in time and prepare us for an eternity with Him.

His dealings with us include many things.  This presentation will most certainly not be complete, but Iíll try to point out what I think the important or more obvious things might be.  There are blessings, both spiritual and material.  There is also suffering and discipline.  Letís look at the blessings first.  And I have to say at this point, again contrary to what many in religion today claim, His emphasis is on spiritual blessing, not material or physical.  There are those who will always and absolutely refuse to accept the fact that God is not interested in giving us what our flesh craves.  He wants to kill our flesh, not strengthen it!  Weíll talk more about this a little later.

This following passage is as good an example as youíll find that shows the Father heart of God and His desire to bestow spiritual blessings upon His children. This is Ephesians 3:14-21.

"And for this reason (considering the greatness of His plan to build you up into the image of Christ), I bow my knees to the Father, the One Who shows us what being a father is all about.  May He grant you out of the unlimited riches of His glory to be strengthened in your spirit man through the ministry of His Holy Spirit in your life.  May Christ through the exercise of your faith actually make His home in your hearts, so you can know the stability of His great love, and be able to comprehend with all of Godís people what the full scope of that love means.  So you can understand the difference between the real love of Christ that you experience in your life and the mere head knowledge that religion promotes.  And so you can be filled in every part of your being with all the fullness of God and be like Him.  Now to Him Who through the action of His plan working in us is able to accomplish His purpose far and above anything we could ever ask or think, to Him be glory in the church in Christ Jesus, from generation to generation, forever and ever.  God, let it be so."

The overwhelming desire of God is for us to know Him.  Not for us to know about Him but know Him on an individual, personal, intimate level that allows Him to influence and change us.  The focus of Godís efforts towards mankind has always been concentrated on this one thing and one thing only Ė to restore us back to fellowship with Him.  Godís plan points to a time yet future when He will be able to fellowship with us like He did with Adam and his wife in the garden before they sinned (Genesis 3:8,9).

The purpose of Godís plan of grace is to position us in such a way that He is able to reveal Himself to us and have a relationship with us in time.  And with the limitations that exist with our free will, sin nature, the influence of the world and the enemies of God, still change us from who we are into who He is.  In our free will, God gives us permission to make our own decisions, regardless of whether theyíre right or wrong.  And He will not interfere.  Our sin nature is a definite disadvantage to us, because it continually influences us to make wrong decisions.  The world continually tries to distract us away from God.  And the enemies of God lead us astray and deceive us.

But His plan takes all this into consideration by making it a priority to strengthen us in our spirit man.  In other words, God sets out to strengthen us in our spirit, because our spirit is that part of us that pursues Him, is willing to submit to Him and craves fellowship with Him.  It is our spirit that is willing to put down the sin nature, reject what the world has to offer and stand firm against the enemies of God.  So God wants us to be strong in our spirit.

And how does God strengthen our spirit man?  This is a simplistic answer, but the right one.  He loves us.  As the passage above tells us, God wants us to understand His love in a full, complete way, because it will stabilize us, make us strong and enable us to really know Him and that is what changes us.

And here I have to say just a little bit about the concept of love.  Depending on how many people you ask you can get any number of definitions of love.  And Iíll not go into that now.  But there is just one legitimate definition of love and itís found in the last phrase of I John 4:8 that says, "...for God is love."  Literally, what that means is, "Who God is, is what He does". Everything that God does towards us is an expression of His love for us and has its source in His perfect, unchanging character and nature.  When God loves us, in reality, what He does is reveal to us on a personal basis Who He is and what He does.  And His intention is that we would then experience it, understand it and then emulate it, both in our relationship with Him and with others.

In order to explain this more fully, I really should take you verse by verse through II Peter 1:1-9.  But instead, let me just say that in this passage Peter talks about our being called to be partakers of the divine nature (verse 4).  Through the exercise of our faith God will see to it that we have the opportunity to develop the characteristics that are listed.  Iíll just quickly mention them for you here.  There are seven.

Virtue is spiritual courage as expressed in our loyalty to God.  Anyone who determines to pursue God will learn that He demands loyalty.  God will always give us plenty of opportunities to show which side weíre on, His or the Devilís.  Knowledge in this text actually means discernment.  God wants us to have the ability to hear His voice and recognize Him in our circumstances so we can understand what He wants.  Temperance is the ability to control our lust for the things of the world, so weíre not tempted or distracted.  Patience is the ability to face trials and sufferings with determination, but without complaint.  He wants to teach us to face any hardship and come out of the experience stronger instead of weaker.  Godliness is a singular devotion to God, making Him the first priority in your life.  Godliness actually illustrates a passion for God.  Brotherly affection is the care you have for fellow believers, when you make them the second priority in your life.  And the last is Charity, which is Christ-like love, the fullest expression of a selfless life, and the culmination of all the characteristics listed here.

A solid understanding of these seven characteristics gives us all the ability to see where we are in our walk with God.  Look at them.  What are your weaknesses?  Can you see some of your strengths?  Thank God for the strengths, then go to Him in repentance and ask Him to work in your life to correct the weaknesses.

Letís move on to material blessings.  There are those who call themselves Christian who want us to believe that the only purpose God has is to make us wealthy.  They want us to believe it because thatís the gimmick they use to manipulate people and appeal to their lust for wealth.  They claim to have an "anointing" to make others rich.  Of course the way it works is that you have to send them your money.  It doesnít take a genius to figure out who is getting rich.  I always thought if they had the "anointing" then they should be sending me their money!  Itís interesting how religion tends to appeal to the flesh.  In Galatians 3:3, Paul says itís foolish to think that appealing to your flesh could perfect you.

As Iíve already said the emphasis that God has and that scripture confirms is spiritual blessing over material blessing.  God is clear.  We donít have the ability to serve Him and manage material wealth (Matthew 6:24).  But that doesnít mean God is indifferent to us in the area of material things.  Heís not.  In the context of everything weíve been talking about in Godís plan of grace, even a casual look at Matthew 6:24-34 shows us that God is deeply interested.  However, the obvious difference between truth and traditional religion is that God doesnít care what the religious hucksters and their followers want, but He does care about what His children need.

When you read this passage, Jesus encourages us with the fact that the Father has more than proven His ability to care for His creation and that in the scope of everything that He does to care for it, His children are His first concern.  He continues to tell us that when we worry about such things itís because weíre weak in faith (and you might want to stop here and contemplate the true meaning of faith).  And then, just in case we still didnít get it, He gives us a principle for getting the Fatherís attention so He will give us what we need.  This is Matthew 6:33.

"But strive to make the rule of God real in your life and pursue His righteousness, then along with the spiritual blessings, youíll be given the other things you need, as well."

Do you want the Father to give you what you need?  May I remind you that the verse above is yet another conditional promise of God?  If we meet His conditions, Heíll supply our needs.  Making the rule of God real and pursuing His righteousness is Jesusí way of telling us to walk with God in true submission and obedience.  When we do that, Heíll make sure we have what we need.

Itís worth noting that God doesnít always give us what we think we need.  And, He doesnít always give it to us when we think we need it.  He will never allow our relationship with Him to become so predictable that we mistakenly suppose that weíre in charge.  If Iíve learned anything in my walk with Him, itís that He continually reinforces my dependency on Him.  He wants His children to learn that their dependency on Him is actually their security in this world and the next.  When He used Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt and into the wilderness, thatís what He wanted to teach them.  But they refused.  This will be the subject of the last paper in this series.  It will be called "Grace, Faith and the Rest of God".

In Romans 12:16 we find this statement in the KJV, "Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate."  Without getting into a lengthy discussion of this really weak translation, let me just give you a simple paraphrase.  "Control your lust for wealth, position or power, and be willing to live a simple, uncomplicated life with those who care little for the things of this world."  Thatís Paulís advice for believers (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, of course), and itís good advice.

The Father can supply all our needs.  That will never be a problem for Him (Philippians 4:19).  And if we have a true relationship of intimacy with Him, then we can approach Him with confidence to receive mercy for our failures and help for our need (Hebrews 4:16).

Now, as much as you probably donít want me to, I need to talk about suffering.  As Iíve said several times before in other papers, itís part of the deal (John 16:33, Philippians 3:10, I Peter 4:19).  But letís look at suffering in a positive way, if thatís possible.  In Romans 8:14-27 Paul gives us some insight into the purpose of our suffering.  This is what it says.

"And all that are guided by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.  For you have not received a spirit of slavery that holds you in bondage to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption and in joy we cry out, Blessed Father!  The Holy Spirit then confirms to our own spirit that we are the sons of God.  And if we are His children, then we are His heirs as well, making us heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.  But we must share in His sufferings, if we expect to share in the inheritance of His glory.  But, so what!  The sufferings of this life could never compare to a share of His glory!  And all of creation longs to see the sons of God revealed.  This same creation is subject to misery and is condemned to frustration, not because they wanted it, but because God willed it so.  Yet they cling to the hope that they will eventually be set free from this bondage to depravity and enter into the glorious freedom that belongs to the children of God.  All of creation groans under the weight of this hardship, even to this day.  But the corrupt and depraved of this world are not the only ones waiting.  Those of us who know the presence of the Holy Spirit suffer and wait as well.  We yearn to see this final transformation from mortality to immortality.  And our hope of this final deliverance is real.  You canít really hope for something you can already see.  Thatís not real hope.  But we hope for something that is unseen by us, yet we wait for it with confidence and composure.  And when we get tired of the suffering and waiting, the Holy Spirit comes to help us.  If we donít know what to pray or how to pray, He does it for us, using our silent sighs and meaningless groans.  And He Who searches the hearts of men understands what the Spirit is saying, because the Spirit can intercede for us only according to the will of God."

Iíve really quoted more from this passage than I needed to make my point, but I couldnít help it.  I really like what Paul is saying here.  The part I want you to notice though is about two-thirds of the way through this passage (verse 23) where heís talking about the children of God suffering and waiting, yearning for the final transformation of their bodies.  Here Paul is explaining that God uses suffering to make us look beyond our present circumstances and develop hope (an anxious anticipation) for our future with Him.  The time will come when the suffering will end and the promised inheritance will become a finished reality (Isaiah 25:8,9, Revelation 21:3-7).  God knows that any suffering we endure now will only heighten our appreciation and enjoyment then.

When you read I Thessalonians 2, 3, you can recognize another purpose for suffering.  Paul warned the little group of believers in Thessalonica what was in store for them.  But the suffering and affliction failed to turn them away from God, and instead, gave them a love for Paul and for each other that helped sustain them through the worst of times.

Then, the last thing mentioned back at the beginning of this point was discipline.  The reality and purpose of this is found in I Corinthians 11:31,32.  This is found in the context of Paulís instruction regarding the Lordís Supper.  But donít think that the principle illustrated here has only to do with Communion.  Let me quote it for you.

"For if we carefully examine ourselves (recognizing our own faults), we would not be judged by God.  But when we fall short in this, we will be judged by the Lord and disciplined by Him.  This is so we may not be condemned to eternal punishment with the world."

How many millions of times have ignorant people made a statement similar to this?  "Why would God allow such a terrible thing to happen?"  Generally speaking, the common attitude in the world has always been that God exists to protect people, make them happy and give them what they want.  And theyíre confused when that doesnít happen.  May I propose to you that every time a ship sinks, an airplane crashes, a car wrecks, or we see a volcano, a hurricane, an earthquake or a flood and people are hurt or killed God may be trying to get our attention?  Maybe, just maybe, God is trying to get people to understand that thereís a vast difference between what they want and what they need.

He wants to give us what we need, not what we want.  What we want wonít deliver us and keep us from eternal punishment.  What we want wonít help us understand Who God is and what He requires.  And itís only His perfect, uncompromising character and nature that allows Him to try to help us.  God allows bad things to happen to create in us a need for Him.  His mercy and grace are at work trying to give us what we need before His justice is forced to give us what we deserve.  If we refuse to recognize or acknowledge our need of Him, He at least tries to help us out.

And if we are wise enough or lucky enough to recognize our need of Him, the discipline doesnít stop, but at least we begin to understand it and benefit from it.  The world doesnít comprehend this, but discipline is the proof of Godís affection and acceptance.  And it results in security and stability in the one being disciplined.  This is what is explained in the passage in Hebrews 12:5-11.  This is another fairly long passage, but an important one.  So, I think Iíll include the complete translation of it here.

"And have you forgotten the word of encouragement given to you as children?  My child, do not reject the discipline of the Lord, or grow weary when He reproves you.  For the Lord disciplines everyone He loves and punishes every child that He has accepted as His own. You must endure this chastening: God is dealing with you as He does with all His children. For what child is there who is not corrected by his father in this way?  And if you are not experiencing the discipline that all of Godís children share, you must not be His child.  Now, we all have had earthly fathers who trained us in much the same way, and we respected them.  Should we not more eagerly submit to the One Who created us so we could live with Him forever?  Our earthly fathers chastened us for only a short time and they did the best they could, but God disciplines us for a definite, lasting and good purpose - so we can become partakers of His holiness.  And while itís happening no discipline seems joyous, itís painful!  But it brings real peace to those who experience it because they know theyíre right where the Father wants them to be."

The word translated "chastening" in the KJV and "discipline" above is paideuo.  This is a word that is generally used to indicate education or training by the use of the infliction of physical punishment, evils or calamities.  In other words, God uses a broad range of things to discipline us.  It could be physical injury, sickness or emotional distress.  He could turn demonic forces against us, or allow us to be opposed or even persecuted by His enemies.  Or, He could allow us to experience devastation and loss through accidents or disasters.

But one thing is certain and we all must keep this in focus.  Whatever He does, regardless of what we think or how we feel about it, or what the severity of it might be, Heís doing it for our good.  Heís putting us in situations and circumstances that give us the opportunity to make the decisions He wants us to make and do the things He wants us to do so we can be partakers of His holiness.  And if you donít remember how important that is, you have a really short memory.  We just talked about it in Point Four back on pages 17 and 18.

There is one more issue that I should mention before we move on to Point Six.  This is Godís final blessing to those who lived by faith.  When you read the last four chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy you see that Moses got up the morning of his 120th birthday only to hear God tell him he wouldnít live to enjoy it.  In fact, God told Moses to write a song to Israel about rejecting other gods, teach it to the people, and then go up on Mount Nebo and die.  Which is exactly what Moses did and God was the only One that attended his burial (Deuteronomy 34:5,6).

The point is that when God gave Moses his final instructions, Moses carried them out to the letter and died with no regret, no complaint and no fear.  Now you might think that under the circumstances Moses might have had some regret, since God told him he couldnít go into the Promised Land because of his disobedience years earlier in Kadesh (Deuteronomy 32:48-52). And you might be right.  But you donít see any hint of it in what you read there.  Moses died and according to the record (Deuteronomy 34:7), his eyesight was still good and his body was strong and healthy.

What Iím talking about is the ability of a true believer who has followed God by faith to die peacefully, when the time comes.  Paul is a great example, especially when you consider the circumstances of his death.  When you read II Timothy 4:6-8, Paul knows heís about to die.  Heís in prison for the second time.  He has a sense this time God isnít going to rescue him.  Thereís no remorse, no anger, no panic.  All you see is a calm expectancy.  Paul is finally going to get what he wants Ė to be with the Lord.  A short time after this letter was written Paul was escorted to his executioner to have his head cut off by the sword.  Tradition says that Paul embraced his executioner, thanked him, bent down and pulled his coat back to expose his neck.  Religious traditions are not all that trustworthy, but in this case I donít doubt it.

And by the way, this is completely off the subject, but I canít help mentioning the religious hoax based largely on traditional writings, otherwise known as Fox's Book of Martyrs.  With the exception of some of the references in Chapter One, most of this book has nothing to do with real martyrs.  Martyrs are those who died because they experienced real faith in God.  Most of the incidents chronicled in this book are nothing more than religious people who were killed because the religion they embraced was not Catholic.  Catholicism has murdered thousands and thousands of people over the centuries that refused to embrace the so-called Catholic Faith.  And, no doubt, a few of them could have been true martyrs.  But, donít be confused.  Protestantism has never been representative of truth just because it opposed Catholicism.  Both are perversions of truth.  This book only records the bloody history the two have had.

Point Six Ė God Gives Us Eternal Life

Remember, in Godís plan of grace, if He doesnít do it, then it wonít get done.  And that could not be any more evident than here in part 6.  At some point in time God will give eternal life to those who submit to Him.  However, it must be understood that the Scriptures give us two perspectives on this.  And itís also important to emphasize that these are not opposing or contradictory.  One perspective is that eternal life is granted to the believer when he first begins his walk with God.  The other seems to indicate that eternal life is given only after the believer has successfully completed his earthly walk and is ready to enter that eternal state.

You will see both perspectives in this presentation.  But first, let me attempt to reconcile the two.  First of all, we must recognize the fact that the Scriptures represent Godís point of view.  They are, after all, Godís Word to us.  And His point of view is an unbroken, clearly defined understanding of the history of mankind, both corporately and individually, from beginning to end.  He knew me before I was ever born.  And He knew I would eventually make the decision to submit to Him and follow Him.  And He knows whether or not I will be faithful to this decision in the days to come.  He knows the same things about every other person who was ever born in the past or who will be born in the future.

And on that basis, what difference does it make whether or not those who follow Him are seen to receive eternal life at the beginning of their walk with Him, or when their life on this earth is over and it's all said and done?  I think the truest picture of what God intends can be found in Jesusí statement in John 10:10: "I came that they may enjoy a life that overflows (from time into eternity)."

The word translated "more abundantly" in the KJV is perissos, and means, "overflowing".  You see itís Godís intention that we enjoy a life with Him in time as we walk with Him by faith in this life and then see that same life continue or overflow from time into eternity.  Our physical death brings about a change in our geography and eventually some other changes as well (a new body and so on), but our relationship with God is unchanged and uninterrupted.

And on this note, maybe this is a good time to define eternal life.  One of the best passages in scripture for this is John 17:1-3.

"And after Jesus had said these things, He looked up into heaven and said, Father, the time has come.  Glorify Your Son, so that Your Son may in turn glorify You.  Just as You have given Him authority over all men, now glorify Him so He may give eternal life to all whom you have given Him.  And this is eternal life: to know and understand You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the One Whom You have sent."

The verb translated "know" in the KJV (know and understand above) is ginosko and means, "to know by experience".  This is the word generally used to illustrate real relationship.  In other words, according to what Jesus is saying here, having a relationship that is based on experience with the Father and with the Son is synonymous with the concept of eternal life.  John says it another way in I John 5:11-13.

"And this is what God has said (about His Son): God gave us eternal life and this life is in His Son.  He who possesses the Son has that life, but he who does not possess the Son of God does not have that life.  Iím writing this to you who have learned to put your complete trust in all that the Son of God has said, so you can know with absolute certainty that you have this eternal life."

Now, thereís no way we can talk about eternal life without talking about the connection it has in scripture with the new birth.  So we have to look at Jesusí conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:1-21.  I recommend that you stop and read this passage so youíll be familiar with it.  Iím not going to quote this long passage, but instead, weíll just look at the most important parts.

In verse 3 Jesus introduces the idea of the necessity of being "born again".  Actually the word translated "again" is anothen and literally means "from above".  And since poor Nicodemus doesnít know anything, except what his dead religion has taught him, he questions Jesus in verse 4 The concept of more than one birth is confusing to him.  But Jesus comes back in verses 5 through 8 and describes the two births.  One is fleshly and physical.  Nicodemus understands this one.  But the other is spiritual, immaterial and invisible, but real.  Jesus compares it to the wind.

None of Nicodemusí religious training prepared him for this.  And let me reemphasize something here that Iíve mentioned several times before.  Religion always appeals to the flesh and to the physical senses.  Nicodemus was typical.  He was religious, but not spiritual.   He understood only what he could discern with his natural senses and understand with his natural mind.  He had absolutely no understanding of anything that had to be spiritually discerned, no real understanding of the invisible God.  But he was a Pharisee and had the best religious training possible.  Nicodemus makes my case, again.  Traditional, institutional religion does not lead men to God it keeps them from God.  It substitutes doctrinal teaching, dead ritual, emotion and demonic manifestation for the reality of Godís purpose and a relationship with God by faith that is defined by real, personal experience.

Nicodemus is incredulous and in verse 9 he questions Jesus again.  "How is this possible", he asks?  To which Jesus answers in verse 10, "Youíre a teacher in Israel and you donít know these things?"  And the statement that Jesus makes in the next several verses must have put poor Nicodemusí religious brain on overload, because it looks as though from the text that he doesnít say another word.  This is a short paraphrase of verses 11, 12 and 13.

"Iím telling you the truth, We know exactly what Weíre talking about.  Weíve actually seen it happen with Our own eyes, yet you reject what Iím telling you.  But, when I tell you about things that happen right here on the earth, you donít believe Me either; so I shouldnít be surprised when you struggle to understand things that happen in the heavens.  No one has ever gone up to heaven so they could see these things, but there is One Who has come down from heaven Ė the Son of Man."

Jesus had actually witnessed Old Testament saints experiencing this spiritual birth in His heavenly, preincarnate existence.  And without getting too far off the subject here, Jesusí statement about no one ever going up to heaven is consistent with what the Scriptures tell us about Old Testament saints going to the compartment of Sheol, called paradise or Abrahamís bosom, to await their release following Jesusí resurrection.  Also, I didnít want to leave Nicodemus in a negative light, so Iíll mention that the time came when he defended Jesus (John 7:50-52) and assisted in His burial (John 19:39), indicating the real possibility that he may have come to an understanding of what Jesus was talking about here.

What comes next in this passage is the most well known verse in all of the Scriptures, John 3:16.  Religious people love to quote this verse from the KJV.  It makes them feel good.  It makes them think theyíre secure.  If the King James boys had translated it properly (instead of poetically), it would probably have been a little more obscure.  Iíll quote it here with verses 17, 18 and 19.

"For God loved the world so much that He gave His uniquely born Son, so that all who learn by experience to put their complete trust in Him would not suffer eternal death, but have eternal life instead.  And God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but He did it so the world could find deliverance through Him.  He that learns by experience to trust completely in Him will never be condemned, but he that does not learn to trust Him is condemned already and his sentence awaits him, because he has not learned by experience to trust completely in the character and nature of God as it is represented in the person of the Son of God.  And this is the basis of that condemnation, that Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness more than the Light.  They were evil, because they chose to follow the darkness of the god of this world."

Letís make just a few comments here.  First, Jesus was not simply the "only begotten" Son of God, He was the "uniquely born" Son of God.  The only man born of a virgin, having the Holy Spirit as His father, born without Adamís sin, no sin nature, no resulting condemnation and spiritual death, the only One ever qualified to go to the cross to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind.

Second, letís reaffirm the real meaning of "believe".  Again, this is pistueo, the verb form of the noun pistis, which is translated "faith".  Both "faith" and "believe" mean the same thing, "to learn by experience to trust completely".  It implies submission and obedience to God and an understanding of His will and purpose, which is to deliver us by changing us into the image of Christ.  Both of these words are in direct conflict with religion.  In religion, man is in charge, telling God what to do, how to do it and when to do it.  Itís false and demonic.  Religion seeks to reverse the natural order of the universe and put God in submission to man to do his bidding.  Itís ludicrous!  "Faith" and "believe" are words that are used in the Scriptures to illustrate a real relationship with God that is based on experiences with Him and has as its necessary foundation the realization that man must be in submission to God.

Iíll say this as often as the opportunity arises, these two words do not imply mental assent or agreement.  Believing in Christ is not simply agreeing that He exists.  And supporting an institution is not evidence of your faith.  Going to church every Sunday, giving them your money, following their rituals and traditions and agreeing with their doctrinal statement is not faith.  Participating in church activities that make you feel good or that arouse your emotions or leading a "ministry" in the church that puts you in the spotlight isnít faith.  If youíre not personally experiencing God in ways you can identify and if youíre not being changed into the image of Christ by your submission and obedience to Him as you go through these experiences, then you are not "believing" in Him and you have no real "faith" from a scriptural context.  And if you donít think about anything else you read in this paper, I hope youíll at least think long and hard on this.

The third thing I wanted to point out in this passage is found in verse 18.  And the reason is that it confirms something I talked about earlier on page 13 when I said "So, it is safe for us to conclude that at some point in Godís plan of grace our faith is required."  I went on to explain that everyone who has ever been born on the earth has experienced the first three points, God gave them life, condemned them at birth and Christ paid the penalty for the sins of everyone who would believe.  But in order to continue through points 4, 5, 6, and 7, we have to access Godís grace by our faith.

This is what Jesus confirms in verse 18 when He says those who havenít believed are already condemned.  Like everyone else, they were condemned at birth.  And like everyone else, if they want to escape this condemnation, they have to begin to submit themselves to God, determine to be obedient to Him and begin to experience Him in real, definable ways.  In other words, they have to "believe" in Him.

So, let me break this down for you. When you look at the complete passage in John 3, Jesus connects these three concepts, the spiritual birth, "believing" on the Son of God in the fullest sense of the word, and eternal life.  And thatís why I wanted to show it to you.  In case youíve forgotten by now, Point 6 in Godís plan of grace is that He gives us eternal life.  And here Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus that being born from above is a spiritual transformation that involves learning by experience to trust in Him in a personal relationship (believing), and that results in eternal life.  John 3 is nothing more than a longer version of John 17:1-3 and I John 5:11-13 already mentioned.

There is another passage found in Titus 3:3-7 that connects the ideas of a new birth and the ministry of the Holy Spirit with eternal life (something that Iíll talk about in much more detail in the next paper in this series, "Grace, Faith and the Ministry of the Holy Spirit").  But for now let me just quote this one passage for you.

"In the past we were also foolish, obstinate and deceived, slaves to the flesh, wasting our lives in wickedness, hated by others and hating them in return.  Then the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Savior appeared to us and we were delivered, not because of any righteousness we had done, but because of His mercy and the cleansing regeneration and renewing ministry of the Holy Spirit, which He poured out so richly and generously upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior.  And now, as much as we donít deserve it, we stand approved by Him, so that according to the confident assurance Heís given us, we might become heirs of eternal life."

In this passage Paul explains to Titus that eternal life is the result of a spiritual renewal that has a cleansing affect on the soul and is accomplished through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  The word translated "regeneration" in verse 5 is palligenesia and is used to illustrate the idea of recovery, restoration or regeneration (re-creation).  Here it is used to convey the idea of re-creating a soul in the image of Christ.

As you read through the New Testament, you will find many different words and combinations of words and ideas that all represent pretty much the same thing.  Born again, born from above, born of the Spirit, renewing of the Holy Spirit, regeneration, and more, all of which are references to the process of deliverance or salvation.  These terms are synonymous with terms found in other passages that describe the same thing Ė deliverance.  Read Romans 8:29 (conformed), 12:2 (transformed), II Corinthians 3:18 (changed), and Ephesians 4:24 (renewed), and see what I mean.

At the beginning of our discussion of eternal life I mentioned the two perspectives found in scripture, that is, eternal life seen as a reality now for all who are really trusting in Christ, and eternal life granted in the future to those who have been faithful in their walk with Him.  Most of what Iíve shown you so far assumes eternal life in time, so for balance, letís look at a couple of references that indicate that itís something granted in the future.  This is Romans 2:4-8.

"Are you so foolish that you would look at Godís kindness, forbearance and patience with contempt?  Donít you understand that Godís graciousness is intended to lead you to repentance (to give up your will and submit to His)?  But your stubbornness and unrepentant heart are leading you straight towards His indignation and to the day of His certain judgment, when He will give every man just exactly what he deserves.  To those who remain faithful to His good purpose and patiently seek that unseen but certain glory and honor, and the blessedness of immortality, He will give eternal life.  But to those who are self-willed, disobedient to the Truth, and subservient to the god of this world, there will be only anger and punishment."

These verses are fairly clear and easy to understand.  Paul is succinct.  Do your own thing and youíre headed straight for Godís anger and judgment.  Submit to Him and be faithful and the time will come when Heíll give you eternal life.  Hereís another verse that presents eternal life as something yet future.  This is Jude 20, 21.

"But continually build yourselves up in your holy faith, beloved, keeping your prayers submitted to the Holy Spirit and to the will of God.  And keep yourselves in the tight embrace of Godís love, patiently waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, which will eventually bring you into eternal life."

I should also mention one last passage found in John 5:19-29.  Again, I wonít quote the whole passage, but in verse 21 Jesus tells us that the Father can "raise the dead and cause them to live on."  Jesus then explains that He can do the same to whomever He chooses.  But verse 24 is the definitive verse.  This is what it says.

"Iím telling you the truth, the one who hears My words and learns by experience to trust completely in Him Who sent Me has eternal life, and will never suffer the penalty of his own sin, because he has passed over from spiritual death into eternal life."

If you search the Scriptures, youíll find a consistent pattern of eternal or everlasting life being tied to the concept of having a consistent, personal relationship with God over time that is defined by real experiences with Him and real changes in you, changes that transform you from who you are into Who He is.  Your relationship with God is nothing less than your experiences with Him, designed by Him to accomplish His purpose in you.  This is your deliverance, your salvation.  And the promised result of your salvation is eternal life.

And I have to say at this juncture, for the life of me I canít understand how so-called Evangelical Christians, if they had any more than just a casual understanding of Scripture, would ever think that salvation could be accomplished in a moment of time by reciting a simple prayer.  Even more difficult to understand are all the denominational types who assume that salvation is based on religious ritual, tradition or some ambiguous moral standard.

Point Seven Ė Blessings In Eternity

It seems almost impossible when I think about this, but one day, time, as we know it and as we understand it will be over.  The Scriptures have several references to this in both the Old and the New Testaments and to the changes that will take place.  New Heavens, a new earth, no more sea, the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, streets of gold, foundations of precious stone, no sun or moon because the glory of God will be our source of light and heat, a new song, new names, all things made new, and more that I havenít mentioned.

Jesus Himself gives us a glimpse into eternity following His resurrection when He appeared on the earth in His new body.  The Gospel accounts intrigue us as Jesus demonstrates a physical body that seems to defy physical laws.  He appears to the disciples inside a house apparently able to pass through solid walls, yet they touch and handle His body.  He seems to have the ability to travel long distances in no time and with no effort.  Thereís no evidence that He gets tired, needs sleep or gets hungry, but He does enjoy a fresh fish broiled on an open fire.

Paul tells us in I Corinthians 2:9 that "eye hasnít seen, nor ear heard, neither has man in his wildest imagination ever dreamed of all that God has prepared for those who reverence Him and are quick to obey Him."  And, in defense of his apostleship in II Corinthians 12:1-4, he talks about being taken up into heaven and given visions and revelations about God that he was not allowed to speak.

What Iím trying to show you here is that as much as we do know about eternity, thereís much that we donít know.  In my experience, God is more eager to reveal Himself to us than He is to reveal what He intends to give us.  His promise has always been "if you seek Me, youíll find Me." (Jeremiah 29:12,13)  Jesus said, "The one who keeps My commandments is the one who loves Me, and whoever loves Me will be loved by My Father.  And I will love him too and will reveal Myself to him." (John 14:21)

Itís clear that God loves us and that He wants us to love Him.  When you go all the way back to Genesis 3, you see God seeking out Adam and Eve looking for fellowship.  He wanted to have relationship with them.  And in the thousands of years that have passed since that day, nothing has changed.  As Iíve already mentioned earlier in this paper, Godís plan of grace is nothing less than the manifestation of His determination and purpose to bring mankind back to the place of unbroken, unhindered relationship they had before sin entered the world.

Then thereís a second issue that I believe is essential to our understanding of Who God is and what He wants.  One of the most distorted and deceptive tenets of religion is the way it tends to appeal to the lust of the flesh in the areas of prosperity and materialism.  In spite of Godís warnings and instruction, people are urged to come to God almost solely for the material benefit (again, salvation is not an issue, itís assumed).  Iím not going to go on about this greedy manipulation, Iíve said enough about it in other places.

But this is a good place to explain to you why itís so false.  There are those who love to make wild statements about God and His ability to do whatever He wants to do.  But thatís a religious half-truth.  The whole truth is that God is restricted from certain things by the fact that He will not violate His Own integrity.  Weíve talked a little bit about this in the past.  His integrity is made up of His character and nature.  Both are static and unchanging.  Who He is and what He does is Who He has always been and what He has always done.

Thatís not a bunch of double talk.  Iím not trying to confuse anyone.  Iím trying to explain to you that the integrity of God makes it impossible for Him to tempt, bribe or manipulate us in any way (James 1:13,14).  And why am I talking about this now, when Iím supposed to be talking about Godís blessings in eternity?  Because God has never wanted people to come to Him because of what He could give them, either in time or in eternity.  He wants us to come to Him because we love Him.

His promises are real.  Iím sure that as little as God has chosen to reveal to us, eternity will be extraordinary by any standard.  And I have little or no concept of what it will be like.  But God has purposed that our walk with Him, our submission to Him, our determination to follow Him and our desire to spend eternity with Him cannot be motivated by our flesh.  Therefore He will not appeal to our flesh.

As always, this is a heart issue.  And thatís where Godís appeal to us lies.  His plan of grace reveals His heart to us, and pulls us towards Him.  It shows us the incredible love He has for us, and beckons us on.  It proves His determination to overcome every obstacle to restore us back to the place that we can come into His presence free of any self-doubt, having no fear, with the weight of guilt gone, able to look on His glory and majesty, and enjoy Him forever!

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