Preaching the Gospel to Abraham

Paul makes this interesting observation in Galatians 3:8:

Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”

So what was this gospel? “All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3 NLT).

Paul goes on to explain that this promise (and others made to Abraham) were spoken to Abraham and his main Descendant:

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. Galatians 3:16.

It is hard to overstate the extraordinary impact of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, on our society, morals and culture. Moral norms that we take for granted are enforced using principles of law keeping and justice that are all based on the Word of God, in particular the 10 commandments (Exodus 20). Peace treaties and the principles that save nations from war and bring healing are based on Christian thinking, specifically the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5,6 & 7). Nearly everyone’s sense of fairness in Christian countries is modelled on what Jesus considered fair. His Name, that is, his attitude of compassion, humility and justice to the poor are the ideals we all look up to whether we call ourselves Christian or otherwise. The roots of Western Civilisation are deeply inspired by Jesus Christ and grounded on the Word of God.

As you look around the world, or even out your front door, you realise that most people live in peaceful families, enjoying the common comforts of warm homes, good food and friends. The extreme examples of domestic violence that the news stations and many people’s minds seem to love to focus on are the exceptions rather than the rule. Our nations are generally not at war with each other and most people rest secure in their beds at night. Christian charities are effective the world over in reducing poverty.

I believe all this is the fulfillment of the gospel, good news, preached to Abraham: “All the families on the earth will be blessed through you.”

For some reason, Evangelical Christians can sometimes be the last people to see things this way. I think one reason may be because of the pre-tribulation rapture and the great tribulation yet to come eschatology that so many people have been taught. Unless things are really terrible in the world it is hard to justify God bringing the literal apocalyptic terrors of Revelation upon our neighbours. So people who believe that they will be taken out from the trouble that is coming, and that the Lord is returning soon, must see things as getting a lot worse in the world despite all the statistics that say the opposite. I only wish I didn’t have to link to a humanist book to prove that point. I will address this downside of pre-tribulation rapture thinking in another blog.

Another thing Evangelical Christians can do a lot is downplay the general good to the “unsaved” that the gospel brings. The reasoning goes something like this: Eternity is long and this life is vanishingly short by comparison. Therefore why try and improve people’s lives in this life when we have a so much more important thing to do, that is, preach the gospel to them so they get saved?

It is not an either/ or thing though. Preaching the gospel so that people can believe and appreciate the salvation Jesus has won for them is critical if they are really to know peace, joy and love in this life and to have assurance of eternal life. But there is a danger it will just be words and as James says:
Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 3:18

My wife and I go to a church which majors on the evangelical aspect of things and we support it fully as do our children. We are also involved in other types of Christian charity (as are our children and the church itself) which don’t make telling people that they have to be saved a precondition to doing good to them.

In the same letter to the Galatians Paul explains how he first met with the other apostles in Jerusalem and what they thought was important when preaching the gospel:

James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along. Galatians 2:9 & 10

Don’t underestimate the preserving power of the Gospel for all of the world’s peoples.

Conceiving the Inconceivable

There is a story of twins talking to each other in the womb which is going about the internet in various forms.  Here is my take on it.

The babies are not far from birth and well developed but still completely ignorant of what is to come.  They cannot conceive of what they are about to experience since they have absolutely nothing in their current existence that they can relate to it.  So that is why I have called this blog “Conceiving the Inconceivable” and also because I love puns and playing with words.

The first problem you experience when you start to try and write this is that the twins don’t have words.  They are immersed in water so they cannot speak.  We know that babies in the womb can hear and respond to sounds and that the normal existence for a baby in the womb is to be on their own.  Even this is analogous to our existence now in comparison to what we will be.  Now we are profoundly disconnected from one another because of time and space.  In the next life I believe there is no time nor space in the way we understand those terms and so perfect intimacy and knowledge of one another and God is the inevitable result.

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“So you still think there is some existence beyond this?”  Thomas was having his daily tete-a-tete with John.

“Undoubtedly” John replied. “Don’t you hear all those sounds and Mom’s singing?”

“Nah, that is just the vibrations of this watery world we live in.  You move around and I move around and we disturb the waters and they make noises.”

“Beautiful, coherent noises which can only point to someone greater than us.” John was in his usual philosophic mode.

“No, they happen by chance.  It is like everything else in here, it all started with us being nothing and then the fluids and all the chemicals interacted together and here we are.  You know that we evolved out of creatures which were smaller and less intelligent than we are.”  Thomas had an answer to everything and usually answers that made as little out of any idea of a Mom and Dad as he could.  “We grow up in here until we can no longer fit and then, Boom!, it all explodes and our pitiful existence comes to an end in a terrible mess.”

“I don’t believe all that dystopian future nonsense you seem to indulge in all the time.” John replied.  “For me it is obvious we are here because our Mom and Dad wanted us to be here.  They have wonderful plans for our lives after we are delivered.  Even in here I can hear their loving words and concern for us.  I have felt them on the walls of our barriers, telling me not to fear.  In Mom, we live and move and have our being.  She is love and tells me about love.”

“You can’t prove any of this,” John retorted.  “It sounds great but you know that we are going to die.  You have said yourself that you believe that after delivery (as you call it) we will no longer have water to breathe in.  So what then?  All your stories are just optimistic fairy tales designed by your clever mind just to make this cramped existence more bearable.”

_________________

You can see where I am going with this.  It seems to me obvious that a thoughtful meditation on our existence before delivery can be very useful.  It is a way of helping to explain the enormous gulf in our understanding between where we are now – in time and space – and where we will be after we die (or after we are raptured) in eternity.

Eternity is not lots more time and infinite space.  Eternity is a different state of things altogether, as expansive and as inconceivable to us now as being able to breathe air, talk and walk is to babies in a womb.

This is just one of many possible conversations that our two hypothetical twins can have.  I hope to create a few more conversations in future blogs.

Faith and Desire

God knows your deepest desires and isn’t surprised by any of them.  I believe that He has an answer to them all in Christ both for this life and the next.

As believers one of the things we have to get used to is that the line between this life and the next is very thin indeed.  There is a major transition involved, we need to shake off this mortal body and put on an immortal one.  But apart from that nothing else changes – much!  It does take faith to look over that gap and see our lives continuing on.

However, one of the keys of living a contented Christian life here is to hope and believe in satisfaction and contentment throughout our existence.  Some desires will be satisfied here during this mortal life, many will be satisfied there during the immortal stage.

God commends this kind of faith.  In the letter to the Hebrews, the writer ends up his panegyric about the heroes of faith in chapter 11 by saying this:

“All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.”

The saints of the Old Testament are still waiting for our time to come to a close before they will get all they desire.

So, if you are facing unfulfilled desires in this life, ask yourself whether God hasn’t planned to fulfil them in the next.  No, better still, ask God.  You might be surprised at His answer.

 

Mesmerised

2250 AD Martin was in front of the four living creatures and had fallen over onto his face again.  “I thought you said he would be able for this,” an angel said. “He will be ok it’s just that even in his new body he finds it hard to cope with things that don’t relate to anything else he has experienced before,” Jesus responded.

Martin began to come around.  As he regained consciousness he remembered to prepare himself for the shock.  He didn’t want to go into that catatonic state or whatever it was he had just experienced again.  So he concentrated hard and managed to get a hold of all the various impulses coming to him through all his senses and extra sensory perceptions.  The flood of impressions coming at him from the four living creatures this close up was the closest thing to pain he had felt this side of the rapture.  He could feel himself wobbling again and getting giddy.

“Look at Me.”  It was Jesus saying the only sensible thing to do.  So Martin looked into Jesus’ eyes.  Strength and power flowed through his new body and he found he could stand firm.  His admiration for John, Ezekiel and Daniel grew.

Patricius, the angel, asked Martin if he was ready for a short journey to the regions beyond.  Martin thought he was so he went with the angel into the living creatures.

Sodom and Gomorrah

I am reading a book by Charles Swindoll called: “Abraham: One Nomad’s Amazing Journey of Faith.”  In it Charles includes a very convicting chapter on Genesis 19 and the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah.  It is a word for today’s church.

I am a firm believer that things are improving in many ways but I don’t think anyone could say that things have been improving over my lifetime morally.  There has been more concern for social justice expressed among the richer young people, more eradication of absolute poverty, more education, better living standards for nearly everyone and a less polluted environment in many places.  All these things are good and can in large part be ascribed to charitable impulses arising from Christians who have been reading their bibles, listening to God and making changes to their lives and the lives of those around them accordingly, often empowered by the Holy Spirit.  It is good to see accounts of people like Desmond Doss in the Mel Gibson film “Hacksaw Ridge”, and Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln”.  There are good men & women out there, we know many who are giving their lives selflessly in many places around the world, some at great cost to themselves.

However it is also impossible to deny that many forms of immorality are on the increase.  Things that my ancestors would have thought gross immorality are now lauded as virtues by the peers of my descendents.  The continuous and unrelenting destruction of innocent life by the hands of their mothers and colluding medical staff – if you had told someone at the beginning of the 20th Century that such behaviour was going to be protected by the law at the wishes of the majority of the people, very few would have believed you.  If you had also told my ancestors that we would have a openly homosexual Taoiseach and an openly practicing lesbian (and witch) as our Minister for Children – well no one would believe you 100 years ago.  Or even 50 years ago.  Most young people would laugh at the idea that having sex before marriage was somehow wrong and they don’t know what fornication means.  Adultery is so common no one remarks on it much.

The inevitable consequence of our continuing tolerance of this downward slide among our people here in Ireland and across the western world is judgement.  It cannot be otherwise.  Somewhere along the line God is going to say “Enough” and end it all.  He did it at the Flood, at Babel, at Sodom & Gomorrah and He will do it again.  Most likely in the next 20 years or so He will usher in a new age during which He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (Psalm 2:9, Rev. 2:27, 19:15).  You won’t want to be on the wrong end of that rod when it comes.

On our part we need to be sure we are not becoming like Lot, desensitized, perverted and too fond of the comforts that the improvements are bringing about to want to lift our heads above the parapet and call a spade, a spade.

Why would anyone believe the Pope is the Anti-Christ!?!

People believe all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons.  Many people believe everything they read on the Internet, others believe everything Trump says.  A lot of people believe the Bible literally including when it says the world was created in 6 x 24 hour days.

So it should come as no surprise that for hundreds of years, millions of people believed the Pope was the Anti-Christ.  These people were called Protestants or Reformers and from the 16th to the beginning of the 19th Century they all agreed on this one thing while disagreeing on many other things.  Many well known names agreed that the Pope is the Anti-Christ, people like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and the Wesley brothers.  In fact it wasn’t until the beginning of the 19th century that any significant branch of Protestantism began to dispute this position.  J.N. Darby of the Brethren movement was among the first.

Of course now hardly any Protestants believe that the Pope is the Anti-Christ except a few die-hard Ulster Unionists from the DUP and other cranks on the Internet with small readership.  It is not exactly a popular position among Evangelicals or Pentecostals either.  A lot of people would take the view, understandably, that there is little value in adopting such a position.

Be that as it may I still think it is worthwhile looking at why this position was so universally held by so many significant people for so long.

One obvious reason was they were normally in countries that were at war with countries that allied themselves with the Pope or they were in countries where their lives were in danger because they had a bible.  They had plenty of historical precedent to know they were up against a mortal enemy.  One of the Crusades was sent against a group of people in the South of France whose only crime was to not submit to the Pope. There had been many martyrs before Luther pinned up his famous 95 theses.

The Biblical basis for their beliefs about the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church were also well thought out and convincing.  Apart from several passages in Revelation the main passages in the Bible that talk explicitly about the Anti-Christ can be found in 2 Thessalonians Chapter 2:

  1. In verse 3 the writer (Paul, Silas or Timothy) says that the “man of lawlessness .. will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.”  In the other letters they saw that Paul was very consistent in calling the body of believers corporately (i.e. the Church) God’s temple.  So they understood that the Anti-Christ was going to be someone sitting in the middle of the Church, calling himself God (Vicar of Christ is one of the Pope’s titles which means “in place of Christ”).
  2. In verses 5-8 the writer says this: “Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.”  The common understanding of these verses during Reformation times was that the power that was restraining the Anti-Christ at the time of the first century (when the letter was written) was the Roman Emperor.  Their reasoning went that the Anti-Christ could not achieve world dominion or the secular power that he had during the centuries before and during the Reformation if Christianity was being persecuted and kept underground.  They could also look back on history and note something that was a very striking fulfilment of the verses.  When Constantine became the first Christian Emperor of Rome in the middle of the 4th century he did the most unusual thing.  He moved the capital of the Roman Empire a thousand miles away from Rome to a new city called Constantinople (now Istanbul) on the Bosphorus Straits in present day Turkey.  Once he was moved out of the way, the stage was set for the government of the City of Rome to be taken over by another.  Since there was no separation of Church and State that person was the first Pope.  They also used to say that the reason the writer did not come out and explicitly say that the restrainer was the Emperor was so as not to get people receiving the letter in more trouble than they already were with that power.

There are lots of other verses and passages the Reformers used to back up their position which I will explore in further blogs.

Of course they could have been wrong.

Historical Eschatology

Eschatology is the fancy name for the study of the end times.  There are quite a few theories out there about how things are going to work out usually involving a rapture, a great tribulation, a millennium and an Anti-Christ.  One of the popular theories includes a significant tribulation to come at the end lasting 7 years out of which the Christian church will be raptured, usually before the great tribulation starts (conveniently).  There was even a film called “Left Behind” starring Nicholas Cage produced recently based on this particular view of the end times.

However, had you been born into a Protestant family anytime in the 3 hundred years following the start of the Reformation in 1518 your ideas of the end times would have followed a different tack, one that is not at all popular these days.  In those days the Anti-Christ and the great tribulation were in your face and unmistakable.  A pre-tribulation rapture was not even a consideration.  Your country was possibly in a war with the forces of the Anti-Christ.  If not you were quite possibly struggling to survive in a country under his control.  In those countries the Bible was a banned book and if you were found with one you could be imprisoned or killed.  These are times that many Protestants today seem eager to forget.

But pick up a King James Version of the Bible today from your shelf and you will read these words in the preface:  “…by writing in defence of the Truth, (which hath given such a blow unto that man of sin, as will not be healed,)”

The man of sin referred to here was the pope of the time.  There was very little disagreement among the reformers as to who the Scripture said the Anti-Christ was, i.e. the popes of Rome since about the 4th Century.  They had ample evidence in front of them to come to that conclusion and there are several Scriptures which support this assertion.

The Reformation was an amazing move of God affecting hundreds of millions of people which changed the course of history.  One of the expectations of the Reformers (as mentioned in the KJV preface) was that the Reformation would prove to be a fatal blow to the Anti-Christ but this didn’t happen.  In fact, the papacy has somehow survived that fatal blow (see Revelation 13:3) and spread even further abroad afterwards.  However, it has been much weakened by the Truth that the Reformation and the accompanying printing press made abundantly available through the Bible. It has not the civil power it used to be able to wield but its nature hasn’t changed.

There are several places in the Scripture to which the reformers would refer when it came to explaining the mystery of the Anti-Christ to their listeners.  Here is an institution – the Roman Catholic church with the pope at its head – which ran the lives of the people from birth (baptism) to death (final unction) and all stages in between.  It took their money, ran their schools and hospitals, determined who their kings were and, if required, would withdraw all or any of these services in response to an order from their hierarchical heads based in Rome.

Their adherents considered Canon Law (as laid down by the pope) of greater authority than the civil law (as laid down by their parliaments and kings) and used it to justify the most immoral behaviour.  And if you think that was for then and not now just remember what the Bishop of Cloyne John Magee did when he covered up for paedophile priests in the Diocese of Cloyne during the early part of this century.

And, if you can, read a few good books on the subject.  Here are a couple of my favourites:

  1. D’Aubigne’s History of the Reformation (try and get an unedited and unabridged version) originally written in French with lots of Latin in the notes.  This is a massive work (thankfully available on Amazon) which has been translated into English by Henry Beveridge.  If you are from a Roman Catholic background like me or just need to get a good understanding of what happened during the Reformation from a believer’s standpoint these volumes are the best reading I know of out there.
  2. His Waiting Bride by Edgar F. Parkyns (out of print but there are a few copies available on Amazon).

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.

 

 

The meaning of the word “Antichrist”

The word antichrist has two parts to it. Anti means “in place of” and christ in this context means “anointing”.

John wrote to disciples of Jesus, those who are born again, and says about this anointing that you have no need for anyone to teach you since you have the anointing and know the truth (1 John 2:20,27).

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews quotes Jeremiah and says that no one will need to teach his neighbour to know the Lord for He shall write His laws on their hearts and on their minds (Jer. 31:33, Heb. 8:10; 10:16).

A primary feature of being a Christian according to the New Testament is that you don’t need an intermediary between you and God, there is only One and He is in you.

Don’t let any man, no matter how exalted, take the place of God in your life.

Jesus’ life better than Adam’s sin

In Romans 5 Paul states something a bit obvious – Jesus life is more powerful than Adam’s sin in its effects.

12 When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.  Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. 14 Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did.

Bad news, it only took one man’s sin for death to enter the world and for everyone to die. We see that around us all the time. The inevitability of physical death stares every man in the face no matter how good they are.

17 For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.

18 Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.19 Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.

I find it difficult to understand how the free gift of new life for everyone can be greater than Adam’s sin if, in fact, it doesn’t apply to everyone. What I mean is, death applies to everyone so therefore life must also apply to everyone for it to be greater. That seems obvious enough.

So I would argue from this and from Scriptures concerning the Book of Life, that the default position of every man is that they are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life because of Jesus’ death on the Cross. You have to have your name erased from the Book of Life to lose that life. Only Overcomers are guaranteed that that won’t happen to them (see Exodus 32:32 and Rev. 3:5).

However if you want to appropriate and see the effects of that life in this world then you need to receive it now. Actually, if you are reading this don’t take the risk and presume you are there. Make sure you are experiencing the reality of the love of Christ in your life now. The only people who can really be assured they are in the Book of Life now are those who can hear God the Father’s whisper in their heart to which they respond: “Abba, Father”. No amount of thinking it can give that assurance.

But let God be gracious in your heart, He is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Who knows, perhaps the exclusive evangelical doctrine which says that every man must believe the way we do to be saved is not quite right after all?

Let us not think that everyone around us is going to hell just because they don’t go to our church. God knows their hearts, very often we don’t.