Faith and Heart Attitude

How do you get into heaven?

Jesus says you have to be a certain way.  He sums up this way in the beatitudes:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.” (Matt. 5:3)

Alternatively, you can suffer and qualify that way:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.” (Matt. 5:12)

On the other hand Paul is also quite clear:

“But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”  Romans 3:21-28.

The classic protestant understanding of the gospel – justification by faith apart from works – is summed up in the above passage from Romans and backed up by many other passages from the New Testament.

So how does that fit with what Jesus says to people in the sermon on the mount?  I believe the key is in heart attitude.

There are so many people in this world that won’t ever read Paul’s writings.  There are a huge amount of them – billions – who, even if they did read it won’t understand it intellectually.  In general, people are not cerebral.  However, even the smallest baby knows how to trust.  God has made our hearts trusting, we have to be taught not to believe in Him.  In that way, the intelligent and those with the leisure and money to spend time reading up all sorts of things on the Internet  are handicapped.  We believe clever false teachings about life so easily.  The humble poor however simply believe and trust God will look after them.  To them Jesus speaks and says: “Yours is the kingdom of heaven.”

Those who follow their unspoiled conscience and find themselves persecuted for persevering in doing the right thing are also showing that they believe in their hearts in God.  Paul talks about them in Romans 2:

God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.

12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.  Romans 2: 6-16.

Some of those who are poor in spirit will have been discouraged by now and not have read this far.  Others will have read to this point and not understood it.  Some will have read and understood and to those I hope this is helpful.

But you don’t have to understand Paul’s writings to be saved.  You don’t even have to consciously understand the Good News to believe.  Jesus died for your sins so you don’t have to and rose again so He can bring you with Him to His place when you die.  That isn’t complicated.

If you don’t think you are much and feel you can’t keep up with the intellectual demands of our technically complicated society don’t worry.  It will all be burnt up in the end and your soul will be with the One you trust in.  Just keep going.

Coherence

“What is the difference between a bird and a car?” I heard the Holy Spirit saying to me in my thoughts this morning.

Don’t mock, God is quite capable of speaking to you too in plain English.

A wagtail had just mounted my car outside and flitted about in its inherent freedom.

A bird is so much part of God’s creation, it is coherent in it I thought in reply.  It has that peculiar thing called life about it, autonomy, awareness of its environment, capable of responding dynamically to things.  When it dies it will decay quickly and be recycled.

A car has to have an artificial man made environment created so it can function in it.  It needs roads, petrol stations, parking lots.  It is dead, hardly aware of its surroundings, capable of little or no autonomous action, has little capability of responding to dynamically changing surroundings.  It needs to be driven. When it breaks down it will have to be scrapped and the parts recycled with difficulty.  It moves through God’s creation but doesn’t really cohere to it or fit in very well.  The quest to create autonomous cars still won’t give the things life.  We haven’t understood what does that properly yet in our education system.

I had been asking God about inventions.  He was pointing out to me that an element of invention that He values greatly is how it might cohere or fit into His creation.

Later on today my daughter was going over her biology homework with me.  She needed to learn about the carbon cycle and the nitrogen cycle.  In a similar way to the way water is recycled (Eccl. 1:7) God wastes nothing.  Paradoxically, when things can be recycled efficiently then it is possible to introduce huge amounts of waste without damaging the environment.  Hence the fact that God allows trees and plants to produce a super abundance of seeds, most of which never become trees or plants like their parents.  Waste is not waste when it is recycled.

A narrow view of the Gospel would have us ignore or play down care for the environment.  Climate change and dealing with plastics are the realm of the liberal, ungodly left  in popular evangelical teaching.

However I believe God cares a lot about these things and He wants His followers to do the same.

 

The Innocence of Children

Everyone somehow knows how special young children are.  Jesus said not to look down on them for their angels always behold the face of His Father in heaven (Matt. 18:10).  But we also know that while they are growing up they lose this innocence.  Paul describes the process in Romans Chapter 1.  It starts off in this way in Romans 1:21-22:  “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise they became fools.”

So if you want to retain that innocence for as long as possible teach your children to give thanks to God for everything at every opportunity.

The school system is set up to undermine this mainly through peer ridicule. Children can be merciless to each other in the playground.

I have the joy of having three teenagers who are all loving God (none of them are perfect but their direction is the right one) and one of the keys has been their ability to cope with peer pressure.  It helps that they started school later than most and are old for their classes.  The other key has been peers who have encouraged them, which is why being part of a living church with lots of young people in it is so important.

The other reasons the school system undermines childlike faith is because of godless, cynical teachers and a curriculum informed by secular values that, even in Ireland, largely ignores God.

It is no wonder then that teenagers end up exchanging the glory of God for images of the Kardashians and other YouTube gods & goddesses.  The inevitable next stage of that exchange – as Paul points out in Romans 1: 23-25 – is impurity and the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves.  By the time they get to college sex before marriage has become the norm.  Paul then goes on to point out how things continue to deteriorate until all forms of perversion and evil are accepted.  As people grow older the realisation that these things are wrong doesn’t go away but, nevertheless, they cheer each other on (Romans 1:26-32).

Jesus took away the barrier between us and God on the Cross and young children somehow seem to know this.  When we live with very young children you can see something in them that reflects the fact that their angels are looking at the face of God.  This “innocence” is so prized, every parent wishes that somehow it could be retained.  If we are honest, it is impossible to think that any young child that dies could somehow not be going to heaven.

So how do we encourage our children and ourselves to keep that childlike understanding that Jesus says we must have if we are to enter the kingdom of God (Matt. 18:3)?  Paul has told us how already in Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes”.  The gospel (or good news) is that Jesus died for your sins on the cross and rose again to prove his power to bring you to heaven to be with Him when you die.

Tell that good news to your children from a young age and if they go from faith to faith, believing more strongly in this truth and talking to God (starting with giving thanks) every day they will never lose their innocence.

The Gospel Truth – This Happened!

There is a reason Jesus and Paul were able to say to us all that there is good news for everyone.  There is!  Jesus, the Son of God, died for your sins and then rose again.

Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said.He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve.After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him.

(1 Cor. 15:1-8 NLT).

Repent of your sins and believe the Good News! (Mark 1:15)

 

The Book of Life

According to an understanding of the Scriptures by many people (e.g. C.S. Lewis) everyone’s name is in the Book of Life because of what Jesus did on the Cross.  But are you living in such a way that God will have to blot you out of it?

So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”  The Lord replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. Exodus 32:31-33

May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous. Psalm 69:28

The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Rev. 3:5

Anyone whose name was not found written in the Book of Life was thrown into the Lake of Fire. Rev. 20:15.

Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Rev. 21:27

According to the bible, Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection is not a partial means of salvation for the sins of the world.  Jesus is called the Lamb of God who was slain to take away the sins of the world – all its sins for all time, not just some of them:

But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Hebrews 10:12

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor. 5:21

As a result, many theologians over the centuries have come to the conclusion that the default position of everyone born into the world is that they start off with a clean slate and are written into the Lamb’s book of life.  This means, for example, that every innocent aborted child is in heaven.

The consequence of this way of thinking is that God has to – reluctantly – blot people out of the Book of Life when they consistently choose the devil and his ways over God and His ways.  John mentions this possibility in 1 John 5:16-17.

So this understanding means everyone is saved (in the sense of not going to hell or the lake of fire when they die) but it is possible to lose that salvation by persistently sinning in destructive ways.  Sadly, many, people do persist in sinning in that way, they are children of Adam after all.

By contrast, other evangelical theologians would say that no one is in the Book of Life to start with and that you have to consciously believe in Jesus – have faith – to be written into it.  Since faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10 – read the whole chapter), the consequence of that way of thinking is that unless you preach the gospel to every creature they are all going to hell, innocent children included.

Taking this position explains the emphasis found in evangelical churches on simply telling as many people as possible the good news and not speaking a lot about the other things the bible says – because none of them are as important as this.  People who sincerely believe this position have to say that anyone who hasn’t heard the gospel and believed in Jesus is going to hell but it is possible to avoid that fate if we can only tell people the gospel soon enough and give them a chance to believe.

It is not an easy subject.

Personally, my position is that people have to make consistent choices to walk away from God before he, reluctantly, removes their names from the Book of Life –  I follow the reasoning of the first group above which includes people like C.S. Lewis.  Having studied the subject for many years I think it is more consistent with Scripture.

The reason we preach the gospel then is so that people will fall in love with the One who has saved them without them having to do anything (by grace you are saved), know why they should continue to persevere in doing right and, by having a relationship with God through the Holy Spirit, receive the power to do so.  Otherwise we do have a tendency – inherited from Adam – to walk away,   the history of the human race as shown in the Scriptures makes this clear.

 

 

Trust Networks

Can you be trusted?

A man of integrity engenders trust among those he works for, with and to.

His bosses trust him to deliver and let him get on with it. They don’t have to continually look over his shoulder and call him to account for they know that he will do a good job and work hard without having to be micro-managed. When they ask him to do something he delivers on time and on budget.  He doesn’t rob his employer, he does a good day’s work as unto Christ not man and is content with his pay.

Those he works with confide in him and call on him when they want something done for they know he will deliver.  When he needs them to do something for him they will re-prioritise their work schedule to help him if at all possible.  As the years go by and circumstances change he will be there for them and them for him.

Those who work for him are confident that he has their back.  They are motivated to work hard for him since they know that when he asks them to do something he isn’t just thinking about the boss and the share holders but he is thinking about their long term careers as well.  He retains their loyalty and they will leave other bosses to work for him.

One of the main reasons all these people trust him is because they know what he believes and his life is consistent with his beliefs.  He isn’t telling them about Jesus and eternal life on the one hand and acting deceitfully or with malice on the other.  Where there are inconsistencies – for no one is perfect – he is transparent about them and rectifies them even to his own cost.  For he sees the reward, his hope is in the next life, not this one.

Ungodly, unscrupulous men whose god is mammon and whose hope is in this world will exploit such a man but his God is on his side and no weapon formed against him will prosper.

He may not be rich in this life but he will have love, peace and joy and the hope of eternal rewards.  His family will be blessed.  His reputation with the church and outsiders is untarnished.

On that last day he will hear the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master!”

Not in your control

When you were born you had no choice about it nor anything connected with it.  Your parents were not your choice.  Your skin colour, the colour of your eyes and hair, what kind of body frame you have have nothing to do with your free will.  When you were born and where were not your choice.  Most of the significant events of your early childhood were also outside your control.  You probably didn’t have any say in the kindergarten you went to nor your primary school and probably not even your secondary school.  Your relatives were not your choice.  Where you lived growing up and the places you moved to were also probably not your choice.  Whether your parents stayed together or divorced was also outside your control.

Likewise when you die what will happen to you will be completely outside your control.  You cannot prevent the dissolution of your body, soul and spirit into the dust and soul state that is coming at your death.  Whether, and how, you are resurrected is also totally outside your control.  What happens after you are resurrected is…… actually, according to the bible, you can have a say in that.

Jesus said: “Make peace with your adversary while you are on the way to the judge lest, when you arrive there, the judge throws you into jail.  You won’t get out until you have paid the last penny.”  (Matt. 5:25; Luke 12:58, 59).  He also says: “Do not fear those who, after they have destroyed your body, have nothing else they can do to you.  Fear Him, who after you have been destroyed can cast both your body and soul into Hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:4,5).

Make peace with God through Jesus Christ by believing in His death for your failures on the cross.  He paid the price so you don’t have to (2 Cor. 5:21).  When you believe He will give you assurance in your heart that He loves you (Eph. 1:13, 14; 2 Cor. 1:22).

He will then take care of your body, soul and spirit on that day when you will have no control over your final destiny: the day after your death.

Our hope is in the next life not this one

Our lives are hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is our life, appears, we also will appear with Him in glory.  (Col. 3:3-4)

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens (Beatitude 1: Matt. 5:3)

Blessed are those who mourn now for they will be comforted (Beatitude 2: Matt. 5:4)

We are barking up the wrong tree if we are looking for fame or recognition as a follower of Jesus in this life.  The beatitudes can only be understood in this context.  We mourn now because we do not have the glory, honour and immortality we look for in this life even though we persist in doing good (Romans 2:7).  Jesus is quite happy that it should be this way.  He Himself lived a life of obscurity in the back end of the Roman Empire.  His followers should expect to do the same.

Place your hope fully on the grace to be given to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13)

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:19)

Rejoice in this hope for why would we hope for something we can already see?

...we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:23-25)

The hope in this case is the redemption of our bodies.

The Self-Effacement of God

It is a curious paradox of the Christian faith that the God we worship is one who simultaneously reveals Himself very clearly to those who are born again and hides in a dark cloud from those who are not.  Paul says that God has transferred Christians from a kingdom of darkness to a kingdom of light which I guess explains that.

When God was speaking to Moses before the Exodus He said that Moses would appear to be God to Pharaoh.  It seems that in the subsequent catastrophic and dramatic judgments and events Pharaoh and most of the Egyptians ascribed them to Moses rather than God – which seems astonishing.

Many people do that to church leaders as well.  Rather than understanding that God is the one who is enabling things to happen they see the natural abilities of man.  The blindness can go so far as to deny anything supernatural at all about the works of God in the world.  Despite the miracle of a Church that has persisted for over 2000 years and was started by a man who claimed to be God in the backside of the Roman Empire, who wrote nothing and lived and died in obscurity and despite the claims of billions since to have encountered Him in their lives because they have believed He rose again and is still alive….  Despite countless miracles of healing and changed lives that continue to the present day…. according to what Jesus said (and Paul says the same thing) you still won’t believe or see any of it unless you are born again.

According to the bible, you must be born from above to enter into the realm where Jesus – God – reigns (John 3:5). If you are not it will all appear to be nonsense (1 Corinthians 1:18).

The Heavens

Fix your hope fully on the grace that is to be given you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13)

In the beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12), all the rewards promised are exclusively related to the next life, not this one.  The parallel passage in Luke 6:20-26 makes this even more clear.

One of the interesting expressions Jesus uses (in verses 3, 10 & 12) is the plural word “heavens” when speaking about the rewards that the poor in spirit and the persecuted will receive.

The Scripture is clear that there is more than just one heaven.  Paul talks about having gone into the third heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2 and we know there is a new heaven coming (Revelation 21:1).  There are also several places in the Old Testament where the phrase “Heaven of Heavens” is used (Genesis 28:12, Deuteronomy 10:14 and 1 Kings 8:27). For more details on the heavens in Scripture look up an earlier blog I wrote on the subject.nature_clouds_heaven_019281_

What excites me about this is the endless possibilities it raises.

Keep going, the rewards are great for those who are faithful to the end.