“We preach Christ crucified”
1 Corinthians 1:23

Grace and Faith A Divine Synergy

“We gained our entrance by faith into this grace, in which we now stand.”  Romans 5:2

God has set up the spiritual dynamics of His kingdom so that grace and faith work together in a synergistic manner. Just as hydrogen and oxygen combine to form the elemental basis of water, grace and faith combine to form the basis of man’s relationship with God. Without grace, faith cannot function; and without faith, grace cannot be obtained. To use the analogy of electricity, if grace is the power, then faith is the “on” switch within our spirit that enables us to receive grace. However, before we continue, let us define grace and faith from a Biblical perspective. The New Testament Greek word for grace is charis, which means God’s divine favor toward man. More specifically, grace is God’s undeserved kindness toward sinners, so that we might be saved from the curse of sin. How did God accomplish this great salvation? The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God’s grace (John 1:14). God sent Jesus His only Son to die on the cross as the avenue of His grace to redeem us from sin (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). Therefore, the Bible says that Christ’s sacrificial death is the free gift of God’s grace to sinners (Romans 5:15-17; 6:23). Thus grace has been called God’s Riches AChrist’s Expense.  Now let us look at the Biblical meaning of faith. The New Testament Greek word for faith is pistis, which means to believe or trust. Faith must be based on the truth of God’s Word, or it is not true Christian faith. The Bible says that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1).” Just as physical eyesight enables us to see the natural world, faith is the spiritual eyesight that enables us to see God and understand His heavenly world. For this reason, the Bible says, “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen; for what is seen is temporal, but what is unseen is eternal… for we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 4:18; 5:7).” Thus God has made faith essential to see Him and know Him (Hebrews 11:3, 6). As the Bible says, “God is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written, ‘The righteous will live by faith (Romans 1:17).’” Therefore, faith is the underlying basis of man’s relationship with God, and the means by which man can apprehend God’s grace. In this regard, the Bible says that our attitude should be one of faith toward God and His revealed truth in all that we do (Romans 14:23).  How do grace and faith work together? The Bible says we are saved by both God’s grace and by our faith (Ephesians 2:5; 1 Peter 1:9). “It is by grace that you have been saved through faith; and not from yourselves, it is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).” However, salvation is only the beginning and not the end of God’s plan for our lives. Therefore, just as we entered into the grace of God’s salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, we must now live by faith in the Son of God who indwells us, if we want to continue in God’s grace and sanctification (Romans 1:17; Galatians 2:20). In fact, if we do not continue standing by faith, we will be cut off from God’s grace (Galatians 3:2-3; 5:4; 1 Timothy 4:1). The Bible says, “They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand by your faith… continue in His kindness (grace); otherwise you also will be cut off (Romans 11:20-22).” One verse in the Bible that sums up the complementary relationship between God’s grace and man’s faith is 2 Thessalonians 2:13: “God has chosen you to be saved through the sanctifying work (grace) of the Spirit and through faith in the truth.”  Once again, it is essential to spotlight what is the specific truth upon which our faith must be based to ensure our salvation and sanctification. This is the divinely powerful truth that sets us free from the tyranny of sin: by the grace (the undeserved gift) of Christ’s death, God freed us not only from the penalty of sin (by forgiving our sins); He also freed us from the power of sin (by removing our sinful nature), so that His Son’s Spirit could dwell in us (Romans 6:1-11; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 2:11). When we apply this grace and truth of the cross to our lives each day by faith, we are forgiven for our sins and we are able to “put off” our old sinful way of thinking and acting and “put on” Christ’s way of thinking and acting (Romans 8:13; Ephesians 4:22-24). This is the only way by God’s grace we can overcome sin and walk in sanctification: by faith in the truth (Acts 26:18).  A couple of more points to consider: faith always springs from a heart of humility. Without a humble heart, it is impossible to have the true faith required to receive God’s grace. “For God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).” In this way, God has safeguarded His kingdom from those who are proud, rebellious, religious deceivers and hypocrites by ensuring that only those who are truly humble in heart will have true faith needed to enter His kingdom. Also, remember that our faith must have corresponding action to be effective. True faith is not a feeling; it is a decision to believe and act on the truth of God’s Word; otherwise God’s grace will have no effect in our lives (Hebrews 4:2; James 4:14-26). The Bible says that real faith in Christ is always manifested by our corresponding action (Luke 6:46-48).  In closing, the cross of Christ is the door to God’s grace, and our faith is the key that unlocks this divine door. Neither our initial salvation nor our ongoing sanctification depend on any of our natural strengths, virtues and efforts; instead they depend solely upon our faith (believing and acting) in the grace and truth of the cross of Christ. Remember that grace is always at God’s initiative, but faith should always be our proper response. This is why the whole gospel of God gives equal emphasis to both grace and faith. When either grace or faith is over emphasized to the neglect of the other, it results in a gospel that is out of balance, distorted and incapable of producing healthy spiritual fruit. A beautiful picture of the divine balance between grace and faith can be found in Michelangelo’s famous painting in Rome’s Sistine Chapel. On the chapel’s ceiling dome, the painting depicts God’s hand reaching downward to touch man’s hand that is reaching upward. We can even envision that when God’s hand of grace and man’s hand of faith join together to form an interlocking handshake, their divine relationship and friendship is complete and inseparable. 

 “Therefore, let us draw near with confidence (faith) to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  Hebrews 4:16

Grace and Truth United and Indivisible

“For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  John 1:17

Many Christians today live by the creed: “It is all about grace!”  What they mean is that grace covers all their sins: past, present and future. They believe Christians are sinners who cannot stop habitually sinning (just like unbelievers).  They think the only difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that God’s grace covers all of a Christian’s sins so a Christian does not have to worry about God’s judgment for their chronic sins.  As one so-called “Christian” put it: “God grades on a bell curve and everyone gets a passing grade.”  In other words, they mistakenly believe that some Christians may sin more than other Christians, but all Christians will still go to heaven, no matter how much they practice sin.  Some Christians even go so far as to say they no longer need to ask forgiveness for the sins they commit because all their sins (past, present, and future) have already been covered by God’s grace.  And far too many Christians think the “good news” of the gospel is that they can receive forgiveness for their sins and yet continue to live in them.  This philosophy may be soulishly comforting to those who cannot or do not want to stop practicing sin, but it is not Biblically true.  When Jesus told people that their sins were forgiven, He also told them, “Go, and sin no more!” (John 5:14; 8:11)

It is said that every good lie has an element of truth in it.  This is the reasoning behind this falsehood: “Since we could only be saved by grace, then grace must cover all of our sins; otherwise we could be saved by our works.”  The problem with this way of thinking is that it does not line up with the truth of God’s Word.  Because of spiritual ignorance, many Christians do not understand the relationship between faith and works.  What does the Bible mean by “faith” and “works?”  Faith is “what we believe” and works are “what we do,” or the fruit of what we believe.  The Bible says we are saved solely by faith in Jesus Christ because there are no works which could ever earn us God’s righteousness.  Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith… not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).”  But once we are saved, the Bible says we must then express our faith by our works; otherwise our faith is not valid.  James said, “Faith apart from works is inactive and ineffective and worthless (James 2:20).”  Therefore, salvation is not a result of our works, but works must result from our salvation if our faith in Jesus Christ is authentic. Thus we are not saved by obeying God’s commands; however, after we are saved, we will obey God’s commands if our salvation is real.  This obedience is what the Bible calls the “obedience of faith” and the “works of faith” that every Christian should have if they are truly living by faith (Romans 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:3).  As James said, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith, but he has no works?  Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14)

As a consequence of this misunderstanding about faith, many Christians are also spiritually ignorant of the true Biblical meaning and purpose of God’s grace.  In order to understand God’s grace, we must look to the plumbline of truth, which is God’s Word; otherwise man’s natural tendency is to embrace some form of humanistic grace that, like soft clay, can be molded to the world’s changing tides of culture, values, ethics and morals.  This is why the Bible says both “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).”  The Biblical truth is that we can only be saved by God’s grace (not by our own works); but after we are saved, God’s grace enables us to stop sinning.  What does this mean?  God’s grace (made available through Christ’s death on the cross) has given us a two-fold deliverance from the curse of sin.  By God’s grace, we have been freed from the penalty of sin; and by God’s grace, we have also been freed from the power of sin (when God removed our sinful nature when we were saved).  However, since most Christians are spiritually ignorant of this second provision of the cross, they think they cannot stop practicing sin.  As Paul said, “Come back to your senses as you should, and stop sinning; for there are some of you who are ignorant of God (1 Corinthians 15:34).”  And Paul also said, “Should we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  May it never be!” (Romans 6:1)   God’s grace must never be used by Christians as a license to keep practicing sin.  The Bible says, “My brothers, you were called to be free, but do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge in sinful behavior… and do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil (Galatians 5:13; 1 Peter 2:16).” God’s grace (available through Christ’s death on the cross) has been given to enable us to stop practicing sin.  The Bible says, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, and instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11-12).”  If we believe and act on this truth of the cross, then living a godly life is the proof that our faith in Christ is genuine.  However, if we continue to habitually practice sin, the Bible says that we walk in darkness, and we cannot have fellowship with Jesus Christ here on earth or in heaven.  John wrote, “No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning.  No one who continues to sin has seen Him or knows Him… the one who practices sin is of the devil (1 John 3:6-8).”

The Bible says that any Christian who keeps practicing unrepentant, chronic sin after they are saved can no longer count on receiving the grace of God’s forgiveness; instead they can only expect to receive the wrath of God’s judgment.  “For if we go on sinning willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for (forgiveness of) sins, but only a terrifying expectation of judgment (Hebrews 10:26-27).”  If we never master the sins that habitually entangle us, then the grace of God (made available through Christ’s death on the cross) will have been of no use to us.   In the words of our brother Paul: “As God’s fellow workers, we urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1).”

 “You have already heard the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you… you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.” Colossians 1:5-6

Jesus Christ – Our Way of Holiness

“You are in Christ Jesus whom God made to be our … holiness.”  1 Corinthians 1:30 

The Bible commands us to “pursue… holiness, for without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).”  However, most Christians who pursue holiness lack a Biblical knowledge of how to practice holiness. There are two extremes that every Christian should avoid in trying to practice holiness:  legalism and licentiousness. Legalism is the attempt to please God by your own works rather than relying by faith solely on what Christ accomplished on the cross. Legalism produces an outwardly “moral” behavior, instead of a heart that has been inwardly and authentically transformed by faith. Since legalism is performance-based and not faith-based, it is only natural that when you perform well (according to your standard of holiness) you will feel good, but when you perform poorly, you will feel bad.  It is also natural that you will feel resentful towards other Christians who are not trying as hard according to your standard of holiness.  Legalism means you must do something to obtain God’s righteousness, whereas grace means God did something to impute righteousness to you, which you then receive by faith. Therefore, God’s righteousness (based on grace) depends on your faith in Christ’s completed work on the cross; whereas man’s righteousness (based on legalism) depends on your natural willpower and self-effort.  Legalism and grace are mutually exclusive.  If you are practicing legalism, you are not under grace. Paul warned, “Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by your human effort?… You have been severed from Christ… you have fallen from grace (Galatians 3:3; 5:4).” Legalism is the erroneous belief that if you follow religious rules and regulations, you will be righteous in God’s eyes.  Paul warned believers against the futility of religious legalism: “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of the world… why do you submit to its rules?…  Such practices have the appearance of wisdom with their self-imposed religion, false humility and ascetic discipline, but they have no value in restraining sinful desires (Colossians 2:20-23).”  For example, legalism is the false belief that if you follow certain rules (such as attending church twice a week and tithing ten percent of your income to the church), you will be righteous in God’s eyes.  Or, legalism is trying your best to be holy by following Christian disciplines, such as Bible reading, witnessing, prayer and fasting, and acts of service. Thus, legalism is the religion of “always trying harder.”  Ultimately, the root of legalism is self-righteousness.  It is the sin of pride to think you have the moral ability to live a holy Christian life, whereas other Christians who cannot are inferior.  When Christians become “burnt-out” from legalism, they often fall into the second extreme: licentiousness.  Licentiousness is a lack of godly self-control, which leads to unrestrained worldly excess. The word licentiousness is derived from the same Greek root word for license. In other words, licentiousness misuses God’s grace as a license to practice sin.  As Paul warned, “Do not use your freedom as a license to gratify sinful desires… for the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, training us to deny ungodliness and worldly passions and to live sober-minded, upright and godly lives in this present age (Galatians 5:13; Titus 2:11-12).” The Bible uses the term “dissipation” to describe the fruit of licentiousness (Luke 21:34; 1 Peter 4:3-4). From a Biblical perspective, dissipation means wasting your life on worthless worldly things (such as accumulating riches and indulging in sinful, sensual pleasures).  Christians who practice licentiousness usually have a wrong concept of grace. They believe that God’s grace covers all their present and future sinful actions, even if they live a life of unrepentant lawlessness. This is “cheap grace,” which is not God’s grace at all!  The Bible warns us to beware of “ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness (Jude 4).” The problem of legalism and licentiousness is not new.  Back in the first century, the Galatians fell into legalism and the Corinthians fell into licentiousness. Both churches had to be exhorted to turn back to the straight and narrow way of holiness in Christ.  Now that we have examined the problem of legalism and licentiousness, let us look at God’s remedy for dealing with the true root of our dilemma, which is sin-sickness. The only antidote for sin-sickness is the cross of Christ.  According to the gospel, Christ not only died to free us from the penalty of sin by forgiving our sins; He also died to free us from the power of sin by removing our sin nature (Ephesians 1:7; Romans 6:6).  After we are saved by faith in God’s grace, we must be careful to avoid the extremes of either legalism or licentiousness as we pursue Christ’s way of holiness.  Whenever we step out of faith in the cross of Christ and enter into our own self-effort, we take the burden for our sanctification out of God’s hands and put it in our own hands.  This act of unbelief prevents God from doing the sanctifying work of the Spirit in us that comes only from believing and acting on the divine truth that we no longer have a sinful nature and Christ now lives in us (Galatians 2:20).  Whenever we find we have lost the joy of the Lord, it is a red flag that we have stepped out of this place of faith.  Whenever we find ourselves overcome by sin, it is a sure sign we have forgotten the freedom from sin that we possess in Christ.  Whenever we are overwhelmed by a sense of failure, it reveals we are trying to be holy in our own strength instead of fixing our eyes on Jesus and abiding in Him. Whether we come under the unbearable yoke of legalism or the ungodly yoke of licentiousness, it is because we have stepped out of the yoke of faith in Christ (Matthew 11:28-30).  Christ’s yoke of discipleship is easy when we are living by faith.  For where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty and mercy; not legalism and carnal severity (2 Corinthians 3:17).  What should we do if we stray from the way of holiness in Christ and wander down the wrong path of legalism or licentiousness? There is no condemnation in Christ.  We turn around (repent), ask God to restore the joy of our salvation, and fix our eyes back on Jesus.  If we abide in Christ, He will abide in us.  Then we will walk in His holiness and not fall into either legalism or licentiousness.

“For the kingdom of God is… righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 14:17

Faith Works Through Love

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith working through love.”   Galatians 5:6

The Bible says true faith only works through love. The Greek word for love used in this verse is agapē.  This is the love that comes from God and is the heart of His Divine Being.  Jesus said agapē love is the primary evidence we are His disciples: “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35).”  John wrote, “Beloved, let us love (agapē) one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love (1 John 4:7-8).” The Bible says we cannot say we love God if we disdain others (1 John 4:20).  Paul described agapē love this way: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians13:4-8).” Whereas God’s love is pure and unselfish, man’s love is soulish and based on mutually beneficial interests.  For example, people who belong to the same club have natural affection for one another.  We might call this “club love” or even “neighborly love.”  This can also be true when people belong to the same church.  However, affection that comes from belonging to the same neighborhood, club or church is not the same as God’s love, which comes solely from our abiding in Christ.  Furthermore, it is one thing to love your neighbor, but what if your neighbor is your enemy?  Jesus taught, “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44).”  The Bible says I can have faith to function in the supernatural gifts and to even move mountains, but if I do not have love, I am nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2).  Why is this? There is a difference between the supernatural gift of faith that empowers us to perform miracles, and the fruit of faith that enables us to love others (1 Corinthians 12:9; Galatians 5:22).  Whereas the gift of faith is received and exercised spontaneously (Romans 12:3-6), the fruit of faith (God’s agapē love) is produced over time by abiding and persevering in faith (Luke 8:15).  Therefore, simply exercising the gift of faith to perform miracles does not necessarily reflect someone’s spiritual character and sanctification, whereas expressing spiritual fruit is a reflection of someone’s character and sanctification.  Consequently, Jesus said we may function in the gift of faith to perform miracles, but unless we exhibit the spiritual fruit of faithfulness to Him, we will not enter into our inheritance in heaven (Matthew 7:21-23).  Since faith only works through love, this should surely motivate us to practice loving others (especially forgiving others).  As Paul said, “Let love be your highest aim (1 Corinthians 14:1).”  The Bible says if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us, and if we mistreat others, God will not hear our prayers (Matthew 6:14-15; 1 Peter 3:7).

Some people are naturally more kind and merciful, but this does not mean they have God’s agapē love.  Since agapē love is the essence of God Himself, it can only be expressed as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and not as a natural attribute produced by our human efforts (Galatians 3:3; 5:2). We cannot express God’s love by trying harder to be more patient and kind.  How then can we manifest God’s love?  There is only one way.  We must believe and act on what Jesus Christ has accomplished for us on the cross.  When we were born again, God spiritually included us in Christ’s death in order to remove our sinful nature, so that His Holy Spirit could live in us (Romans 6:3-11). Now that we no longer have a sinful nature, we have been freed from the tyranny of sin.  Although we no longer have a sinful nature, our soul (our will, intellect and emotions) was not automatically converted into Christ’s image.  But since we are no longer under the power of sin, our soul-life can now be transformed, so that we can love others with a pure heart as God loves us. The Bible says, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:2-3).” Purity means something is wholly of God’s Spirit, whereas impurity means something is a mixture of the unconverted soul and His Spirit.  For example, Paul warned that some ministers “preached Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives (Philippians 1:17).” Carrying our own cross and losing our unconverted soul-life by believing and acting on the truth that Christ’s death has done away with our old sinful nature is the way God has designed to purify our soul from impure attitudes, so that we can fully express His agapē love.  As Paul wrote, “The goal of our teaching is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).” And Peter wrote of this sanctification process: “Since you have purified your souls by obeying the truth, so that you have a sincere love for the brethren, then love one another fervently from the heart (1 Peter 1:22).”      If our soul-life is not purified by God’s process of sanctification, it will remain a mixture of impure motives and attitudes that can stop God’s love from being manifest through us.  Even if we try to apply the truth of the cross that we no longer have a sinful nature, our “faith” will not work for us and we will continue to be overcome by sin if we are not motived by God’s love for others.  So faith works through love, and love can only be expressed from a pure heart.  Therefore, after we are saved, we should desire to be progressively sanctified (purified) by the Holy Spirit, so we can love others as God loves us.  Otherwise, we will continue to be entangled in compromising sins no matter how many times we tell ourselves that we are dead to sin, and our so-called faith and holiness will be worthless.  If we want our faith to work, so we know God and live in Him, then let us pursue the holiness which produces His love for others.

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else… now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”   1 Thessalonians 3:12 & 1 Corinthians 13:13

Our New Birth
The Miracle of the Cross

Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”  “But how can anyone be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked Him.  “He cannot enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?”  Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.  Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be surprised that I said, You must be born again.”   John 3:5-7

What did Jesus mean that you must be born again to enter the kingdom of God?  The Bible says when we were physically born, we were born with a sinful nature that separated us from God (Psalm 51:5; Isaiah 59:2).  Our sinful nature was like a “sin factory” within us, continually producing sinful attitudes and actions. This was our spiritual condition before we were born again.  We were sinners by nature and no matter how hard we tried, we could not escape the destructive effects of sin.  God’s solution to our sin problem was to get rid of the “sinner,” or the “sin factory” within us.  Since we were born into sin, the only way we could be freed from sin was through death. God’s remedy was to spiritually include us in His Son’s death in order to remove our sinful nature, so that the Spirit of His resurrected Son could live in us (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 1:27).  The Bible says, “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ (Galatians 4:6).”  This death of our sin nature was not merely symbolic.  When we were saved, God actually removed our sinful nature, which was at the core of our inner being and the root of our self-identity and rebellion toward God (Romans 6:6; Colossians 2:11).  Since our sin nature died when we were born again of God’s Spirit, we have been set free from sin’s dominion and destruction. The Bible says, “Whoever has died has been freed from sin… count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:7, 11).” Thus, when we received Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, God performed what we might call a “divine heart transplant.”  God used His Son’s eternal sacrifice to spiritually remove our terminally sin-sick heart and replace it with His Son’s divine heart (Romans 6:6; 2 Corinthians 13:5).  This New Covenant divine heart transplant was foretold six centuries before Christ’s birth when the Old Testament prophets declared that God would remove our sin-hardened heart and replace it with a new spiritual heart when He put His Spirit within us (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27).  Thus God delivered us from the power of sin by removing our sin nature, so that Christ could live in us (Romans 6:7; 8:9; Galatians 2:20).  This divine heart transplant is the promise of the New Covenant, the purpose of Christ’s Atonement, and the cornerstone of God’s church. We see that God’s way to permanently deal with our chronic sinning was to remove the sinner (the sin factory) from within us and substitute Christ in its place.   This is the miracle of our new birth made possible by Jesus being willing to die in our place. Whereas we were once sinners by nature, God now calls us His saints or “holy ones,” who are partakers of Christ’s nature and members of His heavenly family (1 Peter 2:5 & 9).  

The New Testament Greek word used for eternal life is zoē.  Of the two kinds of life, psychē or soul-life originates from man, but only zoē-life originates from God and is divine.  This is the divine life Jesus described when He said, “I have come that they may have zoē-life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).”  This is the life that John referred to when he wrote, “He who has the Son has the zoē-life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the zoē-life (1 John 5:12).”  Before Jesus saved us, we did not have zoē-life.  Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no zoē-life within yourselves (John 6:53).” Consequently, our life before Christ consisted of our psychē soul-life (which we inherited from our natural parents) and our inward sinful nature (which we spiritually inherited from Adam, the first man).  However, when we were born again of God’s Spirit, we received Christ’s resurrection zoē-life into our spirit.  As Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6).” In God’s divine order, everything reproduces after its own kind.  Plants reproduce plants, animals reproduce animals, and humans reproduce humans.  In the same way, just as earthly seed reproduces the image of the earthly, only heavenly seed produces the image of the heavenly (1 Corinthians 15:45-49).  According to God’s plan of redemption, Jesus Christ is the heavenly seed that reproduces His church.   Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single seed; but if it dies, it produces much fruit (John 12:24).”  Jesus spoke here of His death on the cross by which He would birth His church and bring many new-born sons and daughters into His divine glory (Hebrews 2:10).  The Bible says, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God (1 Peter 1:23).”

Jesus did not have a sinful nature.  He was born with a human body and soul (his will, intellect and emotions).  However, since Jesus was born of a virgin, God was His Father and He was indwelt by God’s Spirit.  Jesus did not inherit Adam’s sinful spiritual nature like we did.  This is why He was able to obey God and live a sinless life.  If Jesus had a sinful nature, even He would not have been able to overcome sin.  Now that we are born of God and indwelt by God, we no longer have a sinful nature and are capable of obeying God and not practicing sin (1 John 3:6-9).  Whereas Adam was the first born of God’s old creation of humanity, Jesus is the first born of God’s new creation of a divine race indwelt by God (Colossians 1:18).  But before God could make us His new creation in Christ, He had to first deal with the old Adam creation.  Thus God used the death of His Son to not only deal with the fruit of the old fallen creation (by forgiving our sinful deeds), but to also get rid of its root (by removing our sin nature). The Bible says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old life is gone, a new life has begun (2 Corinthians 5:17).”

 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  1 Peter 1:3

Now That I Am Saved, What Should I Do Next?

“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart, and asked Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Then Peter answered, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’“ Acts 2:38

My brothers and sisters, this message is for those of you who have just asked Jesus Christ to be your Lord and Savior. Now that you are saved, you may ask, “What should I do next?” Just as you were saved by faith, all progress in your Christian life is also by faith; that is, by believing and acting on the Word of God. You repented (turned away) from your sins when you were saved. The Bible says your next step of faith is to be water baptized in name of Jesus Christ. Jesus commanded that all new disciples should be water baptized (Matthew 28:19). When you are baptized in water, it signifies that by Christ’s death on the cross, your sins have been forgiven and washed away (Titus 3:5; 1 John 1:9). However, water baptism also signifies much more. The Greek word for baptize means to immerse. When you were born again, the Bible says you were spiritually baptized (immersed) into Christ’s death so that you might enter into His resurrection life (Romans 6:3-5). There are two stages of water baptism which express this truth of the gospel. First there is a burial and then there is a resurrection. Whenever anyone was baptized in the early church, they were immersed under water, which represented the burial of their old sin nature. The Bible says, “We have been buried with Him through baptism into death (Romans 6:4; see also Colossians 2:11-12).” The burial stage of water baptism demonstrates that when you were born again, your sin nature died and was removed from you. The Bible says, “For we know our old man was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin (our sin nature) might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin (Romans 6:6).” This is not just conceptual or symbolic: your sinful nature, which was at the very core of your inner being and the root of your self-identity and rebellion toward God, actually died when you received Jesus Christ as Lord into your heart.

In this way, water baptism reveals the heart of the New Covenant. God knew we needed forgiveness for our sins; He also knew we needed deliverance from our sin nature. Otherwise, we would remain captives to sin. Therefore, when Jesus Christ died, He bore not only our sins on the cross; He also bore our sin nature on the cross with Him. The Bible says, “God made Christ who had no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).” Since our bondage to sin came when we were born sinners; our deliverance from sin came when God spiritually included us in Christ’s death. “Because anyone who has died has been freed from sin (Romans 6:7).” In the next phase of water baptism, we are raised in new resurrection life out of the watery grave. This demonstrates that Jesus Christ now lives in us by His Spirit (Romans 6:4-5; 2 Corinthians 13:5). Therefore, water baptism is God’s way for new disciples to be taught that their old sinful nature has died and they are now a new spiritual creation in Christ. The Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new person; his old being has perished, a new life has begun (2 Corinthians 5:17).” Thus water baptism outwardly expresses the divine transformation that occurred within you when you were born again of the Spirit. This is the important spiritual lesson that God wants every new Christian to learn from water baptism. 

After you are water baptized, your next step of faith is to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. For Jesus not only commanded His disciples to be baptized in water, He also commanded them to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Just before His ascension, Jesus gathered His disciples together and “commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the gift My Father had promised, which you have heard Me speak about. For John baptized in water, but in a few days you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit … you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be My witnesses… (Acts 1:4-8).” When you were born again, you received the Holy Spirit into your heart; however, after you are saved, Jesus wants to baptize (spiritually immerse) you in the Holy Spirit in order to supernaturally empower you, which you will need to be His effective witness in this sinful world. You can receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit the same way you received Christ when you were saved – by faith. Jesus said, “How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him (Luke 11:13)?” Our heavenly Father has promised to give you the gift of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and His Son is the One who will baptize you in the Spirit. When you ask Jesus to baptize you in the Holy Spirit, you can count on His Word that He will! When Jesus baptizes you in the Holy Spirit, He will also give you the supernatural ability to speak directly to God in the spirit through a new language (Mark 16:17; Acts 2:4; 10:44-48; 19:5-6). 

After you are baptized in water and in the Holy Spirit, you may wonder why you still continue to sin. The reason is this: although you no longer have an old sinful nature, you still have an old sinful way of thinking that needs to be transformed by reading, believing and acting on the Word of God (Romans 12:2). Although God does not expect you to be sinless, He does expect you to stop practicing chronic sin; otherwise you cannot fellowship with Him (1 John 1:6; 3:6). The key to overcoming sin is to continually remind yourself of the Biblical truth that you are dead to sin because you no longer have a sinful nature and are now a new spiritual person in Christ. As you continue to stand firm by faith in this truth of the cross, you will find that you sin less and less, and increasingly know Jesus Christ more and more.

Finally, try to find real believers to fellowship with, who can encourage you in your new found faith. And if you cannot find another Christian of true faith, it would be better for you to fellowship alone with the Lord than to get mixed up with unbelieving, fake Christians. Jesus Christ will always be with you and will reveal Himself to you.

Building the Temple of God

“In Him (Christ) the whole building is being fitted together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you also are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”  Ephesians 2:21-22

Under the Old Covenant, the temple of God was a physical building in Jerusalem that was made of stones cut and carried from local quarries. Imagine if we could ask one of the laborers carrying a stone to the temple site what he was doing, and he replied, “Nothing at all important; I am just carrying stone every day.” But what if we asked another laborer the same question and they responded, “I am carrying stone every day to help build the greatest and most beautiful temple ever made for God to inhabit!” This illustrates the importance of having God’s heavenly vision in our daily lives. Indeed, the Bible says, “Without vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18).”

Now that we are under the New Covenant, the Bible says we are like living stones that make up God’s spiritual house and holy temple (1 Peter 2:5). Yet many of us do not outwardly appear to be involved in any glorious work for God. We go to work each day and do the same job over and over again. Or, we may be a homemaker and clean house, wash the dishes, do the laundry, and change diapers every day. After years of doing daily repetitive tasks, it is natural that the rhythm of our lives can sometimes feel routine, monotonous and of no real importance. This is why it is essential to remind ourselves of God’s heavenly purpose for our lives. Salvation is only the beginning and not the end of God’s plan. The Bible says, “God has saved us and called us to a holy life… it is God’s will that you should be holy… for God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life (2 Timothy 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:3 & 7).” Why is holiness important and how does it relate to building God’s temple? God’s desire is that we would know Him and abide in Him. And the Bible says the only way we can know Him and abide in Him is to practice holiness (Hebrews 12:14; 1 John 3:6). This is why Jesus said we must deny ourselves and carry our own cross daily for His sake (Mark 8:34). But how can we deny ourselves, carry our cross and live a holy life in this sin-filled world? There is only one way: we must believe and act on the Biblical truth that Christ has freed us from the power of sin by destroying and removing our sinful nature when we were born again, so that He could live in us (Romans 6:6-7; Colossians 1:27; 2:11-12). When we believe and act on this powerful truth of God’s grace, we are able (by the Spirit) to “put to death” our old sinful way of thinking and acting and put on Christ’s way of thinking and acting (Romans 8:13; Ephesians 4:23). This is the only way by God’s grace we can be a holy and faithful member of God’s building team.

Paul said, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). We do not want to lose sight of the grace that God has called us to in Christ Jesus. Otherwise, why would we suffer and deny ourselves the pleasures, riches and approval of this world? For example, what if we asked a Christian what he is doing and he halfheartedly replied, “Nothing at all important; I am just carrying my cross every day.” This kind of discouraged attitude will lead to spiritual defeat. But what if we asked another Christian the same question and they responded, “I am carrying my cross every day so that I can help build the greatest and most beautiful temple ever made for God to inhabit!” This is the truth: when we carry our cross daily, we are building God’s temple, which is His church. This is the truth that encourages and inspires us to persevere by faith in the daily struggles of life. 

Under the Old Covenant, when the temple was built in old Jerusalem, the master craftsmen had to fashion each stone into the right form and appearance to make sure they fit properly into God’s temple. In the same way, we must allow God (the Master Craftsman) to fashion us as living stones into Christ’s image, so that we properly fit into His holy temple, which is Christ’s body. The Bible says “we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, that is, Christ; from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by every supporting joint, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Ephesians 4:15-16).”

It should be the heart’s desire of every Christian to build up God’s temple, His church. However, just as we can build up God’s temple by believing in what Jesus has accomplished for us on the cross (that we are made righteous and holy by God’s grace), the Bible says we can also tear down the temple of God if we practice unbelief and sin. Paul warns, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him; for the temple of God is holy and you are that temple (1 Corinthians 3: 16-17).” There is only one way we can build God’s temple: we must practice living righteously by faith in Christ and His completed work on the cross (Romans 1:17). Therefore, let us ask ourselves: “Are we practicing righteousness or practicing sin? Are we building up or tearing down God’s temple, His church?”

At the end of this age, all of God’s elect who carry their cross daily will be joined together like living and holy stones to form God’s heavenly temple. “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be among them (Revelation 21:2-3).” This is why we must stay heavenly-minded by believing and acting on the truth of the cross that we have died with Christ, so that He can sovereignly live in us, His body, His tabernacle.

“Since then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on heavenly things above, not on earthly things. For you have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, is revealed; then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”  Colossians 3:1-4

Who Are My Brothers and Sisters?

“Both He (Jesus) who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.”  Hebrews 2:11

The desire to belong to a family is a deep need in every person. When we are born again of the Spirit, this desire and expectation is intensified now that we belong to the family of God. Unfortunately, for many sincere Christians, their yearning to have fellowship with a loving and godly church family will not be met, and some will even have their hopes completely devastated. Why does this happen? It will help if we understand what the Bible says about Christian fellowship. The apostle John said, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ… God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:3, 5-7).” John goes on to say, “No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has seen Him or knows Him… by this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God (1 John 3:6, 10).”

Some Christians think that you can have spiritual fellowship with any person who is saved and has God’s Spirit in them. But this is only true if that person is practicing righteousness that is based on faith. If that person is practicing unrepentant sin, then they are walking in darkness and rebellion to God’s Spirit, and it not possible to have spiritual fellowship with them (1 Corinthians 5:11). The Bible is clear that we can only have spiritual fellowship with other Christians who practice righteousness and do not practice sin. Of course, none of us can expect to find a perfect church, but we should expect to belong to an authentic church that is growing in the grace and truth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Since only those Christians who practice righteousness are genuine believers with whom we can experience true spiritual fellowship, we must ask ourselves, “How can we practice righteousness so that we can have fellowship with God and with His people who also practice righteousness?” Once again, the Bible is clear: you can only practice righteousness if you have been freed from sin’s power (Romans 6:18). And how can you be freed from sin’s power? The Bible says you were freed from sin’s power when you died to sin (Romans 6:7). But when did you die to sin? The Bible says you died to sin when you were born again and your sinful nature was destroyed and removed from you (Romans 6:6; Colossians 2:11.) Therefore, if you believe and act on this Biblical truth, you can practice the righteousness that is based on faith (Philippians 3:9). Consequently, the only way you can practice true righteousness is to believe and act on the Biblical truth that God removed your sinful nature when you were saved in order to free you from the power of sin. Just as there is only one door to enter into salvation, there is only one door to walk in righteousness: believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross. There is no other way to practice righteousness that is based on faith. Anyone who tries to practice righteousness by any other way is unbelieving and disobedient to the Word of God. Instead of submitting themselves to God’s righteousness, they are practicing a false righteousness and a counterfeit Christianity. They may outwardly appear righteous to men, but they are lawless and full of hypocrisy on the inside. They have a different faith (really a false faith), a different gospel, a different spirit, and a different Jesus. Is it any wonder that when true Christians try to fellowship with these unbelieving “Christians,” they are attacked by Satan? Of such, the Bible warns: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers, for what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness or what fellowship can light have with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with the devil? (2 Corinthians 6:14-15).” This is why true Christians will encounter rejection, hostility and persecution if they try to fellowship with false Christians who do not practice true righteousness based on faith in the cross of Christ.

Jesus said that in the Day of Judgment there would be many people who claim to be Christians and say that Jesus is their Lord, but God will not allow them into His family because they do not practice Biblical righteousness that is based on faith (Matthew 7:21-23). The Bible says that in these last days many people will practice an outward form of Christianity, but their lives will deny the power of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. The Bible warns us to not to have any fellowship with such people (2 Timothy 3:5). When a church is filled with these false Christians, it is false church. It does not matter whether you belong to a house church or a mega church, if it is filled with false Christians, get out! Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8).” This would indicate, that when Jesus returns, there will be very few Christians who are practicing God’s righteousness based on faith in the truth of the cross of Christ.

In closing, who are My brothers and sisters? Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister (Matthew 12:48).” Although God has called many to salvation, it is only those few who do the will of God and practice true righteousness based on faith who will be chosen worthy to belong to His heavenly family (Matthew 22:14). In these last days, it is far better to go outside the camp of counterfeit Christianity and suffer reproach with Christ than to belong to a false church and try to have fellowship with false Christians (Hebrews 13:5). And if our heart’s desire for fellowship with the family of God is not met until the age to come, we can be more than content today with our fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we would be called children of God! And that is who we are!”  1 John 3:1

Birthright – Our Spiritual Identity in Christ

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new person; his old being is gone, a new life has begun!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

The word birthright signifies the rights and responsibilities inherited due to one’s birth. This especially applies if one is born into royalty. In the same way, since we have been spiritually born of God into His royal family, we have been endowed with certain rights and responsibilities. However, before we discuss these, we let us first examine the complete transformation of our spiritual identity that occurred with our new birth in Christ. The Bible says that when we were physically born, we were born with a sinful nature. Our sinful nature was like a “sin factory” within us, continually producing sinful attitudes and actions. The Bible says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7).” In other words, a man speaks and acts based on who he is – in his inner being. This is why Jesus said that a man’s sinful thoughts and deeds originated from out of his sinful heart (Matthew 15:18-19). This was our spiritual identity before we were saved. We were sinners by nature and no matter how hard we tried, we could not escape our identity problem.

God’s divine solution to our identity crisis was to get rid of the “sinner” – the “sin factory” within us. Since we were born into sin, the only way we could be freed from sin was through death. God’s remedy was to spiritually include us in His Son’s death in order to remove our sinful nature, so that the Spirit of His resurrected Son could live in us. This was not merely conceptual or symbolic. When we were saved, God actually removed our sinful nature, which was at the very core of our inner being and the root of our self-identity and rebellion toward God (Romans 6:6; Colossians 2:11). As a result of our new birthright in Christ, we have been set free from sin’s dominion and destruction. The Bible says, “He who has died has been freed from sin… count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:7, 11).” This is the miracle of our new birth, made possible by the divine operation of the cross of Christ.

The universal search for self-identity is the central issue that motivates all unbelievers and accounts for their self-centered behavior (even when it is sometimes cloaked in outer morality). Yet, tragically, even many Christians continue to have an identity crisis after they are saved. They mistakenly believe that they are still a “wretched” sinner with a sinful nature. As a result, they live lives of secret guilt and desperation, always afraid that their “dark side,” which continually ensnares them in sin, will be publically exposed. If you are a born again Christian, this is not your divine birthright! This life of defeat and shame is not the life of victory over sin that Jesus Christ died on the cross to give you! Here is the Biblical truth: when you were born again, God made you a new person in Christ. However, before God could give you a new spiritual identity with Christ’s divine nature, He had to first deal with your old sinful identity (that you inherited from Adam). Therefore, God not only dealt with its fruit (your sinful actions) by forgiving your sins; He also got rid of its root (by removing your sinful nature). Your old sinful nature is now dead and gone, and Christ now lives in you by His Spirit (Colossians 1:27). This is the truth that sets you free from slavery to sin (John 8:32-36). You are no longer a sinful person; you are now a new person in Christ who loves God and can obey God, if you believe and act on this truth.

Jesus said that, in order to find your new spiritual identity in Him, you must lose your old soulish identity for His sake (Matthew 16:24-25). How do you do this? You took your first step when you received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and surrendered control of your life over to Him. After you are saved, you can now “put to death” each day your old soulish way of thinking and acting and put on Christ’s way of thinking and acting (Romans 8:12-14; Ephesians 4:22-24). If you believe and act on the Biblical truth that you longer have a sinful nature and you are now a new spiritual person in Christ, you will see new Christ-like attitudes and actions spring out from your new identity – who you are in Christ! Your personal testimony of faith will then become like the apostle Paul’s: “I (my old self) have been crucified with Christ, and I (my sinful nature) no longer live, but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20).” When your identity is in Christ, this is real freedom, this is real security!

Now that we have been born of God, we have been endowed by God with certain unalienable (unchangeable) rights that no one (not even the devil) can take away from us (unless we let them). We have the right to be the children of God, and to know God as our heavenly Father (John 1:12; 2 Corinthians 6:18). We have the right to serve God without being afraid of sin’s ensnarement (Luke 1:74; Romans 8:15). If we walk in God’s truth, we have the right to live free from the guilt and condemnation of sin (Romans 8:1). And we have the right to live free from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15). We also have certain God-given responsibilities. We have the responsibility to love one another as God loves us (John 13:35). We have the responsibility to stop practicing sin and be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:10; 1 John 3:6). We also have the responsibility to share the gospel with the world around us (Matthew 28:19-20). 

If we believe the truth, we will realize we are not hopeless sinners! We are saints – holy ones – who are dead to sin and alive to God because we no longer have a sinful nature, and Christ’s Spirit now lives in us. If we believe and act on this truth of the cross every day, we will progressively lose our old sinful way of thinking and acting, and we will increasingly be transformed into Christ’s likeness and His way of thinking and acting. This is our divine birthright in Jesus Christ! This is the easy yoke that Jesus promised us (Matthew 11:28-30).

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9

Love – The Crowning Fruit of Discipleship

A new command I give you, that you love one another, even as I loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35

  The Greek word used for love in this verse is agape.  This is the love that comes from God and is the heart of His divine nature.  Jesus said agape love is the primary evidence that we are His disciples.  Note that Jesus did not say ministry or spiritual gifts were the evidence.  John wrote of agape love, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love (1 John 4:7-8).”  Paul described agape love this way: “Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).”

   Whereas God’s love is pure and unselfish, man’s love is soulish and based on mutually beneficial interests.  For example, people who belong to the same club have natural affection for one another.  We might call this “club love” or even “neighborly love.”  This can also be true when people belong to the same church.  However, affection that is based on belonging to the same neighborhood, club or church is not the same as true Christian love, which is based solely on our belonging to Christ.  Furthermore, it is one thing to love your neighbor, but what if your neighbor is your enemy?  Jesus taught, “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them (Matthew 5:43-44; Luke 6:32).” The goal of the gospel is to produce a people who have God’s agape love.  Paul said, “The goal of our instruction is agape love that comes from a pure heart (1 Timothy 1:5).”  Does this kind of love sound difficult?  It is not just difficult, it is naturally impossible.  Yet this is the agapelove of God that Jesus told His disciples they must have. 

   Some people are naturally more patient and kind than others, but this does not mean they have God’s agape love.  Since agape love is the essence of God Himself, it can only be expressed as a fruit of His Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22), and not as a natural attribute produced by our human efforts (Galatians 3:3).  We cannot express God’s love by trying harder to be more patient and kind.  How then can we have God’s love?  There is only one way.  We must abide in Christ (John 15:4-5).  How do we abide in Christ?  We must believe and act on what Christ accomplished for us on the cross.  When we were born again, God spiritually included us in Christ’s death in order to remove our sinful nature and replace it with Christ’s holy nature (Romans 6:3-11).  This is the full provision of the cross of Christ. However, we must remember that although our sinful nature was removed when our spirit was made alive in Christ, our soul (our natural personality with its attitudes, affections and abilities) was not automatically converted into Christ’s likeness.  But now that we do not have a sinful nature and Christ’s Spirit indwells us, our soul can be transformed so we can love others with a pure heart as Christ loves us.

   Peter wrote of this: “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently from a pure heart (1 Peter 1:22).”  This is the divine truth: carrying your own cross and losing your unconverted soul-life is the way that God has ordained to purify your soul so you can express His agape love.  Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his soul-life will lose it; but whoever loses his soullife for My sake will find it (Matthew 16:24-25).”  If you know (and believe and act on) the Biblical truth that God destroyed and removed your sinful nature when you were saved, then you are able to carry your own cross and lose your unconverted soul-life daily for Jesus Christ.

   God does not want to destroy your soul; He wants to restore it to His original, eternal purpose.  Therefore, when you lose your unconverted soul-life for Christ, you will find your soul restored into Christ’s likeness. What does it mean to carry your own cross and lose (or lay down) your soul-life for Christ’s sake?  It means that each day you “put to death” your old soulish way of thinking and acting and put on Christ’s way of thinking and acting.  Paul said, “If you are living according to the flesh (your unconverted soul-life), you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live… put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your soulish nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed… now those who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death on the cross the flesh (their unconverted soul-life) with its passions and desires (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5; Galatians 5:24).”

   Jesus said the foremost law is to love God and love others (Matthew 22:36-40).  And Paul taught, “Do everything in love… love is the fulfillment of the law… walk in love just as Christ loved us(1 Corinthians 16:14; Romans 13:10; Ephesians 5:2).”  The Bible says the only faith that counts for anything is faith expressed through love; otherwise it is worth nothing (Galatians 5:6; 1 Corinthians 13:2).  Just as true faith can only be expressed through love, true holiness can only be expressed through love.  If we do not love others, our holiness is worthless (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13).  The extent to which we love Christ’s body shows how much we love Christ Himself (Matthew 25:34-46).  “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his soullife for us; and we ought to lay down our soullives for the brethren (1 John 3:16).”  Just as Jesus was motivated by love to lay down His soul-life for us; if our love is godly and true, we will lay down our soul-life for His body.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his soul-life for his friends.”   John 15:13

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