A Death and Life Matter

cross in clouds

“…I am the resurrection, and the life:
he that believeth in Me,
though he were dead,
yet shall he live:
and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.
Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26).

Before He went to the cross to die, Jesus told His followers that He is the resurrection and He is the [eternal] life. Then He told them that whoever lives and believes in Him will die also—yet they will live! This means that they will also be raised from the dead (resurrected) and will live with Him forever in Heaven. Then, when Jesus’ time came to be hung on the cross to pay for the sin of all mankind, He told those who believed in Him that He would go through with it. Afterward, He said that the heavenly Father would raise Him up from the dead and glorify Him (make Him bright, shining and magnificent, like God). Jesus could not be glorified unless and until He was resurrected. And all of His followers will also be saved, and glorified after they die, because He promised that they will be like Him.

The one main thing that makes Christianity different from other faiths is the supernatural power of the living God. And the highest demonstration of this power was Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

The only way the truthfulness of what He taught could be checked out was by Him being raised from the dead like He had promised. First He was alive—then He was crucified and buried—and then He was alive again, just like He had promised! He became known as Lord of the living and of the dead. He said “…I am…the living one…I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore” (Revelation 1:17-18).

Jesus also said that His followers would be able to live again like He did, because they believe in Him. His death on the cross, and God raising Him from the dead, were for everyone—in order that they would live for Him, not just for themselves anymore. He convinced His followers that they would be taken where He went when they died. His resurrection guaranteed the work He did on the cross.

Everything mankind lost when Adam fell, Jesus took care of on the cross. But His people only have part of what He won for them. The rest will come when we are resurrected too.

In the meantime, those who now live for Christ are eager to join Him. We groan and sigh as we wait and hope for God. When He comes back, then our bodies will be transformed to be like Jesus. We will go from being corrupt to being glorified and immortal.

True faith in Christ doesn’t come from thinking of Him raised from the dead, though. True faith only comes from thinking of Him hanging on the cross to pay the price for our sins that kept us from God. He is not only the way to eternal life—He is the eternal life we are after! This means that being “in Christ” is even more important than being raised from the dead. We who belong to Christ (symbolically) died with Him—we were buried with Him—and we will be resurrected in Him, to “newness of life.” He is the life which He gives in order to give life back to our dead souls.

Jesus’ voice commands dead souls to wake up. He has the authority to do this. His command makes those who are dead in sins become alive. They that hear His voice live. And His voice, speaking to you through His Word [the Bible] will cause you to die to sin. It will also encourage you to leave everything and follow Him.

Jesus died on the cross so that He could raise us from death in sin, which He proved by His own resurrection first. If you don’t hear the voice of Jesus, you will remain asleep and will die in your sin. Then you will never go to Heaven where He has gone.

One day a trumpet will proclaim Christ’s call to believers, like the military call to depart. This signal meant that it was time to march to another place. God is going to take us to another place to be with Him. Suddenly, in only a moment, those who have died in Him will be raised in glorified bodies, never to suffer from disease and death again. The believer’s hope in Christ is not just for the time they are here on Earth. Our hope is to be raised from this life to be personally with Jesus Christ, in order to rule and reign with Him forevermore. Then, when “Death is swallowed up in victory,” our triumph over death will be complete in every way. Let these words of Jesus Christ become a part of you: “… because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19).

If you have just read this and you would like to know more about how to be free from the bondage of sin and the assurance of life for eternity please click here.

Character Pleasing to God

young woman sitting by tree

What we say and what we actually do can be miles apart. But God doesn’t judge us by these as much as He judges us by our character. The one thing He really wants to see is godly character being built up in us. This means the way we behave according to our code of correct behavior, which is then demonstrated by the actions of our body. But we seldom think of character in terms of our body. The character we form is made known by the disposition that rules within us—referring to our customary moods and attitude toward life around us. God can change our disposition, but He is not the one who forms our character. We have to do that ourselves.

There is no quick and easy way to Heaven. This is also true in forming godly character. Choosing a quick and easy way to the ways of God does not benefit us. The only sure way is long and careful. We therefore need patience in the process. We can choose to ignore God and refuse to obey Him, or we can obey Him by bringing every thought and imagination under control. Then His life will be displayed in our body. The issue is not simply keeping us from going to Hell. The issue is that we have been saved for the very purpose of displaying Christ in our everyday life—in everything we do. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them,” said Jesus (John 13:17 emphasis mine).

headshot of a middle aged man

Patient striving for godly character shows the power of our love for God. Jesus did not choose the quick and easy way to the throne and kingdom He was destined for. He chose the long way of humility which took Him first to the Cross of Calvary. The heavenly Father’s perfect standard for a man’s character is represented by the life of Jesus. The Father does not make us walk right. Instead, He gives us the very life and Spirit of His Son, so His patience, love, and gentleness can be displayed in us. Then consistent godly Christian character is formed as the life of Jesus is made evident in our mortal body.

The only way to clearly understand the will of God is by developing godly character. Different Christians interpret His will in various ways at various times, but the Holy Spirit is the only true interpreter. When we first receive the Holy Spirit, we learn the most valuable lesson of spiritual life—that God’s will is revealed according to our character’s condition. But His will doesn’t change our character. It is our attitude toward His will, expressed in our newly-forming character, which begins to reflect His will. Paul said to work out our salvation, and to be consistent in character with what God has worked in, “That ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).

two indigenous children washing dishes

Our character cannot earn or make us deserve a right to come before God. It is only by His grace that we can ever stand before Him. Let’s be wary of having an arrogant interest in our own character, which can then turn into our reason for believing in God. Be careful that nothing interferes with our proper relationship with Him. Anything that damages this relationship will interfere when God wants to use us to influence others toward Him. It will also mar our reflection of Him in the eyes of others.

“The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin” as we are “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (1 John 1:7; 2 Corinthians 7:1 emphasis mine).

Are we guilty of encouraging a false, unhealthy holiness that does not come from the fear of God? If we focus on our own holiness, a subtle pride of the flesh which is not in the Word can slowly rise up in us. It does not lead to building character, but only to having experience. Then we tend to take ourselves too seriously and God not seriously enough.

three crosses in a field

God gives us the right disposition through the Atonement (Jesus shedding His blood on the cross for our sins). He puts it into us when we are born again. But it is up to us to work it out in everyday life, in and through our physical body. This is also the way our character is made and displayed. It cannot be expressed in any other way except through our body. And how can we tell if our emerging character is of the nature of God? only when the life of His Son is being made manifest (evident) in our body.

Strength in moral life depends on the quality of our morals. But in spiritual life, we need to deal with things that oppose us by drawing from the life of Jesus. This will produce holy character which is wholly pleasing to God. Can we save ourselves or set ourselves apart unto holiness? No, only God can. Our treasure in Heaven is the wealth of character we are storing up by remaining true to Jesus’ faith, not to our faith in Him. But it is dangerous to allow holy character to replace our faith in God. Let’s think long and hard about our development of godly character, and work out what these thoughts concerning what God have worked into us. Then we will know that the character we have developed is pleasing to God.

Counterfeiting the Truth

three bills of United States currency on scannerdrawing of stack of three books

“He that hateth [hides his true motives] with his lips, and layeth up deceit within him; when he speaketh fair, believe him not: for there are seven abominations in his heart” (Proverbs 26:24, 25).

We locate what we want to buy at the big department store, proceed to the checkout and hand the clerk large sums of our money. The clerk takes the larger denominations of our cash, and with a quick swipe of a special felt-tipped marker, verifies that the bills are genuine. If our money passes this quick test, the clerk finishes the transaction, hands us our change and away we go with goods in hand, ready to head for our next destination. But if one or more of these bills do not pass the test, a member of the store’s management will be summoned. He will also contact the police. Now we are in for quite a bit of questioning by the authorities, as well as confiscation of this suspect cash.

Why do larger denominations of money need to be analyzed before they are accepted? Why are there so many security measures on paper currency? Why, especially, are the twenty and the one hundred dollar (US) bills among the most counterfeited money in the world? Why don’t we find one dollar (US) notes or even pennies frequently counterfeited? The answer lies in value. A twenty dollar bill has far more value than a dollar bill, and a one hundred dollar bill has more value than a twenty and a single dollar bill combined. On the other hand, for convenience, a twenty dollar bill is more likely to be exchanged than one for five, ten, or a hundred dollars. As to pennies, producing one costs more than it is worth. Why take a great amount of time and money making lots of illegal copies (two thousand pennies only equal one twenty dollar bill) or small bills, when just a few larger bills would accomplish the same thing?

Counterfeiting is not limited to currency only. All over the world, numerous kinds of goods are copied and sold for far less than the original. The more valuable something is perceived to be, the more likely it is to be forged. But the more it is forged, the less valuable it becomes! This resembles pouring purple-colored, grape-flavored, sweet water into pure grape juice. The more that is added, the less pure the juice. It may still look and taste a lot like pure grape juice, but eventually it will be so diluted that no nutritive value remains.

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6 emphasis mine).

The devil knows how powerful and valuable the Truth is, so he produces imitations of it. He knows that when enough forgeries of the Truth are circulated, people no longer find value in it. Then they lose interest in, or become indifferent toward, God and His Son. The devil delights in these ‘counterfeit Christians’. They consider themselves followers of Jesus Christ, but don’t want to fully obey Him and His Word. They readily follow something that resembles the Truth but has no value in the end, thereby leading them away from the Truth. Jesus said, “For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit” (Luke 6:44).

‘Counterfeit Christians’ do not produce good fruit. How could they, when they are not feeding solely on God’s Word? They are living a life that is corrupting what little fruit is produced.

When unbelievers look at them, they don’t see Christ. They see a mixture of Him and the sinful world they live in instead. Therefore these unbelievers see no reason to leave their worldly lifestyle, since these ‘counterfeit Christians’ are not that much different from what they are. Worse yet, they may likely assume that all Christians are the same as the counterfeits.

Jesus mentions such in one of His parables. “Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in [here] not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and [grinding] of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:9-14). The man the king singled out was not wearing the proper garment—a garment of righteousness (being in right standing with God). At face value, the man appeared to be just like the other guests. But the king could see through all of this, and recognized that he was a hypocrite. God does not look lightly on those who proclaim to follow Him yet have no intention of knowing the Truth or doing what He commands.

True children of God should never be like such people. We must not readily accept others as true Christians just because they claim or appear to be one. If they are not producing godly fruit, we need to rethink how much we should be interacting with them, especially on a spiritual level.

Our lives should become transparent to the point that, when others see us, they only see Christ. We need to decrease our dependence on our self, so that He can increase more inside of us by His Spirit.

This is why we are to be reliant upon God for our guidance, like a child. The world we live in is getting worse every day. There will continue to be more and more counterfeiting of the Truth—whether it is via another Christian, a pastor, or what is purporting to be from the Bible itself. Jesus said, “Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them” (Luke 21:8). How do we keep from being deceived? Jesus tells us in Mark 13:33: “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” We should continue to ask Him for discernment, and have our foundation in His Word, the Bible. The more we increase and intensify our relationship with Him, the less we will fall for counterfeits of the Truth.

 

The Fountain of Youth

outdoor fountain

A variety of folktales about a possible “Fountain of Youth” have circulated across the world for thousands of years. Greek historian Herodotus in the fifth century B.C. wrote about a fountain supposedly in Ethiopia, with a very special kind of water which gave the people superior duration of life. A tale was also told about Alexander the Great crossing the Land of Darkness with his servant to find the spring with the power to restore youthfulness. Juan Ponce de León was searching for such a fountain back in 1513 when he was exploring Florida. Do any such fountains really exist?

There was another account of an eternal source of the water of life. It was during the time of Jesus’ ministry when He was taking the road from Judea to Galilee which went through Samaria, where Jacob’s well was located. As He made the long, hot journey that led Him near this well, He became tired. So He sent His disciples ahead to get food while He rested by Himself at the well during the hottest part of the day. Then a woman from Samaria came to draw water from the well. Jesus looked at her and said, “Give me to drink,” because He had no means to draw water from the well Himself. She looked at Jesus in disbelief and asked, “…How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9). There was great hatred then between the Samaritans and the Jews. It surprised her that Jesus did not show the anger His own nation had against the Samaritans.

Jesus replied, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water” (John 4:10). Then she said, “Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?” (John 4:11-12).

The well was a very deep one indeed, not only physically, but also spiritually—deeper than anyone could have imagined. This woman did not realize that the man she was speaking directly to was Jesus. She only recognized Him as a Jew dealing with a Samaritan woman. But He was the very Savior her heart and soul had been longing for. She was trying to understand what Jesus was saying to her about living water. But she did it in her own natural way.

Jesus took this opportunity to teach the woman divine things. But what He told her figuratively, she took literally. He helped her to see her ignorance and sinfulness and need of a Savior. He showed her that the water from Jacob’s well would give very limited satisfaction. But the woman had not asked Jesus to give her living water so she could have everlasting life. She only asked Him so she would not have to come back to the well again to draw more water. Then the Lord Jesus severely reproved her current way of life, convicting her conscience.

The woman was going to drop the issue without making a decision until the Messiah comes back. Then Jesus told her, “I that speak to thee am He” (John 4:26).

She was a Samaritan, not part of Israel. Merely talking to her would have been considered a disgrace to a Jew. But this was the woman Jesus revealed Himself to more fully than He had to any of His disciples to that point.

The woman wondered what she needed to do to have eternal life. The answer was very simple: believe and receive Jesus Christ as the divine source of the eternal water of life. These waters spring up into life everlasting, through a “new birth”—the beginning of a new life. This is also referred to as being “born again,” which means beginning to live a new life of holiness for those who have lived the wrong way, or not to much purpose.

In our first biological birth, we were born in sin and were corrupt. We therefore needed to be re-created as new, sinless beings. We must be entirely different from what we were before. We can drink from Christ’s heavenly source of the “eternal water of life,” with its power of regeneration known as the new birth. It comes through this great transformation in the heart of a sinner, by the power of the Holy Spirit, which always produces eternal life. This new birth is from Heaven, meaning believing spiritually in Jesus Christ. None of the sins in our past can keep us from being accepted by Him, if we will just humble ourselves before Him, repent of our sin, and believe in Him as the Christ—the source of the eternal water of life and the Savior of the world .

Man continues to search for the mythical “Fountain of Youth.” But even if one could be found, it cannot produce eternal life for those who drink from it.

No matter what kind of earthly waters we drink to try to extend or restore our youth or to comfort ourselves, we will still thirst again. Jesus said: “…Whosoever drinketh of…” this natural source of “… water shall thirst again: but whosoever 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” (John 4:13-14). Not a “fountain of youth,” but a “fountain of life” really exists. The Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well was searching in her heart for someone to save her from her sins. She found the “living water” that gave her new life. The Lord Jesus is sitting beside you right now. Why not tell Him, “…Sir, give me this water…” (John 4:15) and you will never have to thirst again—because you have found the true “fountain of life”!

No Power

lighted tent at nightunlit tent at night

While cleaning his attic one afternoon, the pastor of a small church rediscovered a medium-size tent he had purchased years ago. As a result, he considered doing something different for vacation that year. Instead of staying at their usual retreat near a large lake, he convinced his wife that they should head out camping in a tent and travel to different campgrounds across the region. After considerable preparation, their vehicle was fully packed and they hit the road.

The most commonly asked question whenever they checked in at the campgrounds was, “Do you want a site with power (electrical hookups) or with no power (no electricity)?” Being the rustic and frugal type (sites with power cost more), his usual response was that ‘no power’ would be fine. But his wife (who always brought the microwave) would often beat him to it, and insist on a site with power. Not being one to start an argument, especially on vacation, he would always agree and pay the extra amount. After several attempts to impress his wife with his fine outdoor cooking skills over a fire, he concluded that a microwave on hand wasn’t such a bad idea after all. In the end, they had a delightful trip overall, although he conceded that a motel room would probably have been better in the long run, and considered doing this again at some future date.

After they returned home, the pastor began thinking about the “power or no power” question—that churches today are offering the same kind of deal. But the difference is that they don’t ask those who regularly attend which choice they want, because the overseers of the church have already chosen “no power.” Then he considered the multitude of churches that are spiritually in the dark. Sure, the lights are on, the music is playing, and the temperature is adequately controlled—but spiritually there is “no power.”

Why is there no power? How do these churches survive without it? They are operating in their own human power, not the power of God. Most of us are taught that to make it in this world, we have to be strong and powerful. We have to be constantly building up our mind, soul, body, spirit, etc. If we show any signs of weakness, we will be overtaken and dominated by someone else. How often this is seen in the business world, where ‘stepping on someone else’ is necessary in order to get ahead and be considered successful. “Survival of the fittest” is definitely the modern motto!

Yet God would have us do the opposite. He wants us weak so that our strength and power come solely from Him. This means that we are to yield our self-centered life over to Him, similar to the way that children submit to their parents and are dependent on them to provide a way through difficult situations. The Apostle Paul was considered to be one the most powerful men spiritually in the Bible. He wrote that Jesus “…said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10 emphasis mine). The power of any body of believers in Christ can only come through God and Christ.

man doing pull-ups

man standing with arms folded in prayer

It is good to build ourselves up physically. We need to strengthen our muscles and keep our bodies in shape. When our physical bodies are inactive, we begin to waste away and leave ourselves prone to sickness. But spiritually, our self-centered flesh (the part of us that desires the sinful and godless things of this physical world) needs to surrender and no longer be allowed to control us, so that our spirit can grow strong through Christ. We need to yield ourselves to Him because He must be in control of our lives, not us.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth…” (Romans 1:16 emphasis mine).

“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18 emphasis mine).

When “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” is the focal point of the message being proclaimed in the church, then there will be power. The churches with no power have downplayed or rejected what Christ accomplished on the cross. They seek and worship God in their own strength and power. They therefore have “…a form of godliness, but [deny] the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5a emphasis mine). If they preach a crucified Christ instead, they go in the opposite direction of what they have been taught. This makes them appear weak to others. Then they lose their ‘dignified image’ to the sinful and ungodly community around them. In other words, their true colors are exposed—that they are pleasing the world and not God, in order to get ahead. They fully realize that people are not going to give generous sums of money to a church that appears weak and powerless. But God will not honor or bless the works of self or the flesh. This is what happens when a church tries to win the favor of the world.

cross on mountain

A church that has no power leaves those who attend with no power to overcome bondage. Only belief in Jesus and His finished work at the cross can bring true victory. That is where the power is. When a church leader proclaims that we have to work our way to holiness or righteousness ourselves to be in right standing with God, he cancels out all that Christ taught when He was here on earth. Sin continues to control us if we don’t confess it and turn it over to Him. No multi-step programs, secret codes to be unlocked, or special seminars, meetings or retreats will set us free from the oppression of sin. Only by faith in the victory of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross can true freedom be brought into our life, because we then have access to the power we need.

Has your church or fellowship chosen power or no power? Do you leave satisfied in your spirit after each service? Or does emptiness still remain in your heart? Is the finished work of Christ and His sacrifice on the cross proclaimed from the pulpit? Do you know more about the latest events on television or some popular movie than you do about the Bible? Is there a passionate desire to know God more intimately, or another fundraiser or new building program continually? Does your place of worship leave you confident that you are able to take on the world by yourself? Or does it bring you to the altar, knowing that you have no power unless Christ is leading you each day?

dark gothic building at sunset

If your church or fellowship has lost its power (or never really had it in the first place), seek God to lead you to one that has the power of God. Maybe the power is dimming where you currently attend. Your prayers are greatly needed there. Call upon the Lord on behalf of the church and plead with Him earnestly that they would choose power instead of no power. Impress upon other believers to do the same, and put to flight the efforts of the devil to kill the power of God there completely. Don’t succumb to peer pressure from other members of your church or fellowship and do nothing. There is no power in inertia or tradition. These things should not dominate your actions. A church that chooses the “no power” option yields a congregation that has no spiritual power.