Friday, July 29, 2011

Dead or Alive?

One of the paradoxes of the Christian life is that we must die to truly live. A dried up seed planted in the ground must be dead before it can give rise to new life, first as a tender shoot bursting through the soil, then as a mature plant bearing fruit and seed propagating new plants (1 Corinthians 15: 36-38). Jesus suffered and died on the cross to pay the price for all our sins, and rose again to a glorified body and eternal life.(1 Corinthians 15: 1-4).

As we trust Christ as our Savior and turn away from our sins, we die to our flesh, that is, our sin nature, that would control us (Romans 6:6-14), and we become a new creation in Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

Until we receive our glorified body at the Rapture, however, and are truly sanctified or made into His image, we must fight the spiritual battle daily between our sin nature and the indwelling Holy Spirit, putting on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-17). The Gospel, or Good News, of grace that Paul preached to the Gentiles is that salvation comes from faith in Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection to new life.

1 Cor 15: 1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. 3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

Before the beginning of the world, God knew who would accept this amazing offer to become His child and share in all spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3-15), yet the mystery is that He did so without taking away our free will to choose eternal life in Christ or to reject Him and suffer eternal death in hell.

Although we must daily fight the battle between sin, which ultimately results in death (Romans 6:23), and the new, abundant life we received at the moment of salvation through the indwelling Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ has won the war on our behalf. We know how it will all turn out; we can look forward not only to the Rapture but to His glorious appearing as we return to earth with Him to fight the Battle of Armageddon; and we can stand victorious on His promise of eternal life.

1 Cor: 15:20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

…55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Love in Christ,

Laurie Collett

Friday, July 22, 2011

Is God “Unfair”?

As we have been studying, the Gospel of grace is that Jesus, Son of God, came to earth as the perfect sacrifice, to die to pay for all our sins, and to rise again that all who turn away from their sins and believe and trust Him as Savior will have eternal, abundant life with Him in Heaven. God, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, owes us nothing, yet He has so graciously extended this offer to “whosoever” will accept it (John 3:16; Romans 10: 9-13).

Despite this awesome, all-inclusive offer, sometimes unbelievers and even Christians struggle with their perception that God is unfair. Reasons they state for His “unfairness” include:

--He is intolerant and exclusive, because “good” people and people with sincere faith in other paths to salvation will not be allowed into Heaven. Yet the Bible clearly teaches that belief in Christ is the only way to Heaven (John 3:18; 14:6; Acts 4:12;) and that no one is good or righteous (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:10-23). Only His grace can save us, and no amount of good works we do could counterbalance the fact that we are all sinners, deserving eternal separation from God and eternal punishment in hell (Romans 3:24; Ephesians 2:8-9). Belief, no matter how sincere, in a path to salvation that is untrue will not make it true, and genuine faith that is misplaced cannot save anyone.

--Or, people may believe that God is unfair because those who have reached the age of accountability but who have never heard the Gospel will not go to Heaven. Yet the Bible clearly tells us that it is our responsibility to spread the Gospel ourselves (Matt. 28:18-20) and to send preachers to places where we can’t go (Romans 10:14-17).

If people who had never heard the Gospel would go to Heaven by default, then we as believers would lose our awesome privilege and duty to share the Gospel with others. What incentive would we have to tell others the Good News, if they would go to Heaven anyway provided they had never heard of Jesus? Actually, we would just sit at home and be afraid to ever even mention Jesus’ name, because if we presented the Gospel only to have those we told reject it, we would feel responsible for their going to hell.

--Or, people may wonder why those who are saved on their death bed get to enjoy the blessings of eternal life in Heaven with Christ just as do those who were saved at an early age and led full, productive lives committed to and obedient to Christ. But Jesus told the parable of those who were hired to work in the vineyard all receiving the same wage they were promised, regardless of whether they began work at daybreak or sundown (Matt. 20:1-16).

Jesus also promised that all believers would face Him at the judgment seat, so that those who had earned crowns for what they had done in this life to further His kingdom would be able to lay down those crowns at His feet and be rewarded with responsibilities in the Millennial Kingdom in proportion to the good works they had done for Him with the right motives (1 Cor 3:11-15). In the parable of the talents, Jesus also explained that those who are faithful to use their gifts to further His kingdom will be rewarded proportionately (Matt. 25:14-30).

--Yet another objection people bring up about God’s alleged “unfairness” is that those who have been “working toward” trusting Christ, by attending church, struggling intellectually with belief in how to be saved, and obtaining a “head knowledge” of the Gospel will still go to hell unless they are born again, repenting of their sins and trusting Christ, and Christ alone, as their Savior (2 Tim 3:1-9).

Well, just as you can’t be a liitle bit pregnant, you can’t be a little bit saved – it’s an all or nothing experience. Until the sinner realizes that he is a sinner who can do nothing to help himself (John 15:5), and that it is only God’s grace through faith in His Son’s finished work on the cross that can save him (Ephesians 2:8-9), he is bound for hell. Trusting his good works or his good intentions or his spiritual seeking to get him to Heaven simply won’t work. There may be levels of punishment in hell, and those who never heard the Gospel will still be separated from God, but those who sat in a church pew week after week and heard the Gospel, yet rejected it and trampled it underfoot, may face not only separation from God, but punishments so severe that we can’t begin to imagine them.

Yes, God is “unfair,” but only in the sense that He has rewarded those who don’t deserve one iota of His blessing with His infinite mercy, love, and grace. He is the Creator and Ruler of the universe Who owes us nothing. We are wretched sinners, unable to take our next breath unless He so wills it, and unable to resist sin and to do anything good unless we are empowered to do so by His indwelling Holy Spirit.

Before we were saved, we were enemies of God and rebels against God, yet God forgave each of us who has repented and trusted Christ. He has let us out of the prison of sin, death and hell. Not only that, He has adopted us as His children and granted us His inheritance. Beyond that, He has made us His ambassadors to spread the Gospel, so that He can reward us not only with eternal life in His presence but with blessings beyond human imagination. Praise God that He is so “unfair!”

Love in Christ,

Laurie Collett

Friday, July 15, 2011

Devotions for Tea Time

As our ladies’ Bible study group has been looking forward to enjoying traditional English tea together, I began thinking about the custom of sharing tea with friends and what it represents.

In addition to quenching our thirst, tea revives, comforts, warms and relaxes us all at the same time. It reminds me of how the Holy Spirit lovingly cares for every believer by His indwelling presence. God promises that all who trust Him as Savior will have an inner source of “rivers of living water” (John 7:38)

John 4: 14 [W]hosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

A hearty cup of hot tea can give us our second wind when our spirits sag, but God Himself has promised to revive our spirit and our heart when we turn to Him in sorrow and repentance for our sins, and in the humility of realizing that without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).

Isaiah 57:15 For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.

Tea not only comforts us when we are feeling cast down, but offering another person a cup of tea is a comforting gesture of kindness and hospitality. It brings to mind images of a grandmother inviting her sick grandchild to snuggle under a warm blanket in her rocking chair while sipping tea, or a family allowing a stranger to come in out of the storm and warm himself by the fire as a cup of hot tea takes the chill off his bones. It reminds me that God comforts us in our sorrow and trials by showing us His tender mercies, so that we can comfort others who are suffering.

2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

When we are tense, a cozy cup of tea can relax us, especially when we take the time to enjoy the ceremony of serving and drinking tea from fine china, with all the accompaniments, in the presence of friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. No matter what is making us anxious, we as believers have our own source of the peace of God that passes all understanding and keeps our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

2 Corinthians 13:11 Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.

So let’s enjoy our tea as a time of sweet Christian fellowship, and use the occasion to pause to remember and thank God for His many blessings.

1 Corinthians 10:31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Do You Know the Gospel?

As we have seen in our study of the evidence for a Pretribulation Rapture of believers, it is apparent that God in His Word and in His divine plan has always dealt differently with the Church and with Israel. The Church is the body of believers, predominantly Gentiles, who have repented of their sins and trusted Christ as their Lord and Savior. Israel is God’s chosen people, a nation of Jews, most of whom have not yet realized that Jesus was their promised Messiah (Romans 11:7-12). As we study God’s Word, we must “rightly divide” it (2 Timothy 2:15), distinguishing what applies to the Church from what applies to Israel.

The Church will be Raptured to meet Christ in the air (1 Thess 4:16) and be spared from the wrath, or tribulation, to come (1 Thess 5:9). During the tribulation, or “time of Jacob’s trouble,” (Jeremiah 30:7), many Jews will be saved through the evangelization of the 144,000 Jewish male virgins (Revelation 7:4-8) who will suddenly and supernaturally realize that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Son of God.

The Gospel of the Kingdom, preached to the Jews by Jesus and the apostles during His earthly ministry (Matt. 4:23; 14:17; Mark 1:14-15), is that Jesus was the promised Messiah who will rule over the Millennial Kingdom for 1,000 years with true peace on earth.

The Gospel, or Good News, of the Kingdom was first preached by John the Baptist as he warned Jews to repent, or turn away from their sins, to be baptized as a symbol of that purification, and to prepare for the coming Messiah and His Kingdom (Matt. 3:2; Mark 1:4).Once the Church is Raptured, God will again turn His attention to Israel, spreading the Gospel of the Kingdom to that nation as well as to all nations (Matt. 24:14).

But the Gospel first preached by Paul to the Gentiles is a different Gospel – the Good News, of the grace of God (2 Thess 2:13-14; Romans 1:1-6; 1 Cor. 15:1-4). This Gospel is what every believer must trust in to be saved. This Good News is that Jesus, Son of God and God Himself (John 1:1) left Heaven and came to earth as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, to take the punishment and pay the debt for all the sins of mankind, past, present and future, by suffering and dying on the cross and being buried (Col. 1:12-29).

Only in this way can sinful man be reconciled to a just, holy God, for when God the Father looks at a saved person, He sees not our sins, which have been completely attributed to Jesus’ account. Instead, He sees the complete, perfect righteousness of His Son, which through a spiritual transaction that can only be described as a “mystery,” (Col. 1:26-27; Romans 16:25; Ephesians 1:6-14) is attributed to our account. Just as Jesus conquered sin and death by being resurrected on the third day, so can every believer on Him have eternal life with Him in Heaven.

The baptism that believers undergo as an act of obedience to Christ symbolizes our faith in the Gospel of grace by portraying the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It also symbolizes our commitment to die to our sins and walk with Christ in the newness of life (Romans 6: 3-11).

2 Thess 2: 13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: 14 Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, as we observe the signs of the times and feel the Rapture to be even closer today than it was yesterday, let us follow Christ’s Great Commission and spread the Gospel of God’s grace by going forth, teaching all nations, and baptizing them in His name! (Matt. 28:19-20).

Love in Christ,

Laurie Collett

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Don’t Be Fooled! Don’t BeTroubled!

As we have been studying, God has promised that all those who have been saved by trusting in Jesus will not go through the great tribulation (1 Thess 1:10; Romans 8:1). Those who know Jesus as their personal Savior Who died on the cross as full payment for all our sins, Who was buried, and Who rose from the dead to give eternal life to all who trust Him, will be spared from the wrath to come.

1 Thess. 5:9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Instead of going through “Jacob’s trouble,” (Jer. 30:7-22) believers will be Raptured, to meet with Christ in the air (1 Thess 4:16-18), and to spend the 7-year tribulation with Him in Heaven, before returning to earth with Him to fight the Battle of Armageddon. Paul had explained all this to the Thessalonicans, but false teachers crept in as soon as he was gone, and they believed the misinformation that the tribulation had already begun even though they had not been Raptured (2 Th 2.1-6). Today we have the truth clearly spelled out in the Bible, but are all too easily swayed by false teachers who want us to think that we must go through God’s wrath, or, worse yet, that He won’t come back for us at all.

As Paul explains, the tribulation cannot occur until the Antichrist is revealed, and the Antichrist can’t begin to commit the atrocities he is destined to commit until he is let loose, so to speak, when the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit leaves the earth (2 Thess 2.7-9). The Holy Spirit indwells each believer, so when the church is Raptured, the Holy Spirit is no longer present on earth to keep the Antichrist in check. This will allow him to commit the “abomination of desolation” (Matt. 24:15) midway (3.5 years) through the tribulation, desecrating the altar and declaring in the temple that he is God. Finally, the Jews will realize they have made a terrible mistake in thinking that he would bring them peace, and they will flee for their lives (Matt. 24:16-22.

So Paul urges the church at Thessalonica, and all believers who read his words as they have been recorded in Scripture, not to be fooled or troubled by false teachings, but to hold fast to God’s promise to return for His children and to spare them from the wrath of the great tribulation. What should we do until then? Paul says to stand fast, know what we believe, be comforted by His Word, and continue in good words and works (2 Thess. 2:13-17).

We must follow Christ’s Great Commission, to go and teach and baptize those in all nations (Matt. 28:19-20). The signs of the approaching second coming (Matt. 24) should make us realize that time is short, and that we should make salvation of the lost our highest priority. This is especially important because Paul explains that those who heard and understood the Gospel before the Rapture, but rejected it, will be deceived by the supernatural acts and powers given to the Antichrist, and their hearts will be blinded to the truth of the Gospel (2 Thess. 2: 9-12).

Those who openly rejected the Gospel before the Rapture, and those who professed to be Christians and regularly attended church, yet never had a personal relationship with Christ, will not be saved during the tribulation. It so important, now more than ever, to witness to and pray for our loved ones and others who are unsaved. There is more hope for a faraway tribe who has not yet heard the Gospel, because they could be saved during the tribulation, than there is in America, especially the Bible belt where the Gospel is so widely preached.

1 Cor. 15: 57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

That is why studying prophecy is important – Jesus wanted us to realize that He could return for us at any moment, to recognize the signs of the times and to know what lies ahead. That way, we can use what He told us about the future to realize the urgency of living for Him every moment of every day we have left.

Love in Christ,

Laurie Collett