Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Good News

I believe when man was created in the image of God, we had perfect fellowship with Him. Wanting us to love and obey Him willfully, God gave man a choice and provided guidelines and told him to eat freely of any tree in Eden except for one; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Gen 2:15-17
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."
(from New International Version)

With some help from a certain serpent, Eve chose to eat of this tree anyway as she saw that it was attractive and would certainly be good to taste.

Gen 3:1-5
3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" (notice here that the serpent takes what God said out of context by saying, 'any tree'; he has not changed his strategy a bit!)
2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"
4 "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
(from New International Version)

Eve perceived that understanding between good and evil would make her more like God, so pride was ultimately her downfall, and Adam gave in to the same temptation.

Gen 3:6-7
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
(from New International Version)

I find God's treatment of the situation to be a very interesting view into the character of God:

Gen 3:8-9
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"
(from New International Version)

As the Bible says that God is omnipresent (existing everywhere) and omniscient (knowing all things), this question seems out of character, but I believe God wasn't trying to ascertain Adam's geographical whereabouts as much as He was trying to help Adam to realize what had occurred when he disobeyed. What He was really asking was, "Adam, where is your heart with me?" so Adam would do some analysis of himself and realize fellowship with his Creator had been broken. God's only concern is our hearts, and He uses every circumstance in life to help us realize where we are with Him; as creatures of His creation made for His enjoyment and glory, this is the most important question that can be asked.

Now the bad news; since Adam fell and sinned against God, and was subsequently cast out of God's fellowship, we, being from the same bloodline, inherited that same propensity to disobey God. I speak of what the Bible describes as the "sinful nature". This is that force within us that causes sin, and must be dealt with above all. The acts of sin that we commit are just a result of this nature working in us, so there are two kinds of sin, the act, and the nature that produces the act.

Rom 5:12
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned-
(from New International Version)

So the sin nature was passed to us from Adam, and the result was that we committed the act of sin, in fact, we can do nothing else.

Rom 3:23
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
(from New International Version)

Eccl 7:20
20 There is not a righteous man on earth
who does what is right and never sins.
(from New International Version)

Gal 3:22
22 But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin,
(from New International Version)

1 John 1:8
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
(from New International Version)

It would be to your benefit for me to leave you at this point for a time to ponder your fallen state before a righteous and holy God. What comes next is grace, which is never sweeter than when it is given in our hour of most dire need; when we are laid low and understand how unworthy we really are.

But on to the good news. God did not leave it at that, but carefully restored us to fellowship with him by making the ultimate sacrifice. In the Old Testament, in order for sin to be forgiven, the blood (or life) of a spotless animal had to be spilled annually. The animal died as a propitiation, or appeasement, for the sins that were committed, so God's justice was satisfied for all the sinful acts of the prior year and punishment, which sin deserves, was avoided (phew!). These animal sacrifices were not the end, but were a shadow of things to come and in fact only dealt with the act of sin and not the nature that was guilty of committing them.

God desired to make one final sacrifice, which would satisfy His justice once and for all, so that we could be restored to fellowship with Him unconditionally and permanently. What He did was send a perfect man, Jesus Christ, to live on the earth for 33 years without sin (the lamb without blemish or spot):

Isaiah 53:9
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
(from New International Version)

Jesus lived on earth for the purpose of being the ultimate example of a life that was lived to please God. But even He knew that His purpose in coming here was to die, to be a propitiation for all of mankind.

1 John 2:1-2
2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
(from New International Version)

2 Cor 5:21
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(from New International Version)

Rom 5:6-8
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
(from New International Version)

Christ satisfied the Law of God through His death.

So you see, the answer to the big question, "How does one get to heaven?" what I like to call enjoying fellowship with God forever, is really very simple.

Rom 10:9-11
9 That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
(from New International Version)

Notice I have said nothing about some number of works that you must do; no pilgrimage, no chants, no "Our Fathers". The verse above clearly states, "It is with your heart that you believe and are justified". So it is a matter of belief! Christ did everything, and we must simply lay hold of it! That really is "good news"!

What must one do to avoid heaven? That too is simple. Ignore the facts that were just given to you and you will die separated from God, which is the second, or spiritual, death.

Rom 6:23
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(from New International Version)


Outside the Box said...

Thanks, Bullfrog.

I have a couple of questions.

Is it necessary to live one's life a certain way?

Is Hell all fire and brimstone?
Or is Hell, as some explain, simply the absense of God in one's life? Or is it afterlife?

Bullfrog said...

Great question. You probably noticed the absence of any regulations or rituals in the gospel (good news) I presented, and that is no accident.

The Bible teaches that genuine faith produces good works, in fact, it says "Faith without deeds is dead". An important distinction is that faith comes before works, not vice-versa.

True believers would exhibit a change in behavior, desires, etc. as a response to what God is doing in their heart.

James 2:26
26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
(from New International Version)

What is important to note here is that any behavior change only glorifies God and does not change our standing with Him. Our justification is attained on behalf of the death and resurrection of Christ, and we need not add to that any works.

Eph 2:8-10
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
(from New International Version)

Some religions, and even some claiming to be followers of Jesus Christ, refute this assertion because they believe we are responsible for exhibiting good behavior. I believe this is a matter of simple pride, our desire to do something good for God or earn our salvation somehow. This contradicts and even belittles the sacrifice made by Christ on our behalf, implying that His precious blood that was spilled was ineffectual in accomplishing it's goal.

The Bible teaches that when the body dies, the soul separates and is judged. Those whose name is written in God's "Book of Life" go to be with God for eternity, while the rest go to Hell, which is described as an eternity separated from God. It is referred to as "eternal fire",
"the unquenchable fire" and "where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched."
(from Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright (c)1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

Needless to say, it is a place of eternal torment, but the nature of that torment is debated.

The suggestion that this earth is hell is held by some, but the Bible doesn't support that, although as inhabitants of the earth we experience the consequence of the fall of Adam all the time, and are subject to trials.

Outside the Box said...

Again, thanks, Bullfrog.

Another question, if I may:

(I'm not sure how to phrase it, so please bear with me.)

Considering the enormous amount of translations that the Bible/Gospels went through til they finally made it to you, and taking into account the...hmmmm, let's say "influence" that the Bible was under from the Catholic church, how do you accept the Bible so readily?

Bullfrog said...

@OTB: I think many blow out of proportion the influence tha Catholic church had on the Holy Bible. If you are speaking specifically the Council of Nicea, my research shows no there was no revision of the Bible as a result of that, and in fact they only met to discuss heresies and the deity of Jesus Christ as it was being challenged by a small group of gnostics at that time.

Maybe you will find these 2 reads interesting:

1. My testimony, or how I came to be a Christian.

2. Some research I did on the Historicity of the New Testament.

Mr. Grey Ghost said...

Great post....my question would be about what do you think about the alleged "missing books" of the Bible and its role in how people argue its authenticity.

Bullfrog said...

@Grey: Glad you enjoyed it. I did some research on the extra biblical gospels, ie. "The Book of Judas" and it doesn;t take long to see why they are have no credibility with serious Bible scholars as they were written centuries after the events they supposedly depict, and although were named for specific Bible characters, were authored by someone else. These accounts are particularly intriguing to Gnostics and anyone looking for reasons to discredit God's word.

Outside the Box said...

Ok, two more questions!

What do you consider to be God's greatest gift?

What would it take for you to doubt, much less change, your belief in God/Jesus?

Bullfrog said...

What do you consider to be God's greatest gift?

The gift of eternal life through His son Jesus Christ surpasses all.

What would it take for you to doubt, much less change, your belief in God/Jesus?

Salvation is by faith alone as I have specified before. This faith is a gift from God, and not something I can "muster up" by the power of my own will. As also stated before, man is utterly sinful and cannot, in and of himself choose God unless God grants him the faith to do so. By that same token, it is also God who causes us to persevere.

So to answer your question, God would have to rescind the gift of faith in order for me to fall away.

Rom 8:29-30
29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
(from New International Version)

John 10:28-29
28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.
(from New International Version)

Ezek 36:24-27
24 "'For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
(from New International Version)

Cynthia said...

I'm still waiting....

Outside the Box said...

Thanks again, Bullfrog.

Upon reading your answer to my first question, "What is God's greatest gift?", I thought "but without Free Will nothing else could happen."

But then I read your second answer.

I'm sure I'm wrong, but it certainly sounds like there is no Free Will, or at least very little, when it comes to believing in God.

Using phrases like "God's gift of faith" make it sound otherwise, but it's certainly there.

Am I getting it wrong?

Bullfrog said...

@OTB: The free will question. I saw this debate on your blog and thought you might draw me in at some point.

Free will may be something that we can never fully explain, but I believe our will is ultimately not really free, as it is influenced by many factors. A very simplistic analogy that almost explains it adequately:

You own a horse named Silver and it is once again time for Silver to eat. You lead Silver to 2 troughs; one filled with oats and hay, the other filled with roast beef.

Which trough will Silver eat from?

The answer is easy, Silver will eat hay every time because that is what horses eat, that is what appeals to them. So the question becomes, if Silver NEVER chooses to eat the roast beef and we can predict with 100% accuracy which trough he will choose, is his will really free?

How that applies to you and I is referred to as the universality of sin, the concept that, unless God intervenes in a devine way and enables us to choose Him, we will only choose evil.

Ps 14:2-3

2 The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.
3 They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one

Jer 4:22
22 "My people are fools;
they do not know me.
They are senseless children;
they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil;
they know not how to do good."

Rom 3:10-11
There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
(from New International Version)

In order fo us to choose Him, God must initiate:

Isa 65:1-3
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me;
I was found by those who did not seek me.
To a nation that did not call on my name,
I said, 'Here am I, here am I.'
2 All day long I have held out my hands
to an obstinate people,
who walk in ways not good,
pursuing their own imaginations--
3 a people who continually provoke me
to my very face,
(from New International Version)

Obviously, this is a concept that I still meditate on as I have not yet fully grasped it, but suffice it to say, salvation depends on God and God alone (and His gift of faith) and not my ability to willfully choose good over evil.

Outside the Box said...

Please don't get the wrong impression. I'm not attempting to "lure" you in or anything like that.

Whether Free Will is a current post on my blog or not, it is a common question that I ask of Christians. I always find their answers interesting. Probably because they are always different. This is the first time that I have ever been The Lone Ranger, so this one is definitely my favorite!

More questions to come.

Bullfrog said...

LOL! I didn't even realize when I chose Silver as the horses name that I was choosing the famous moniker of the Lone Ranger. And I thought I had picked one at random.

I suppose the concept of "random" could be part of this discussion as well.

Look forward to your questions.

Outside the Box said...

Again, not sure how to phrase this question, so bear with me.

What are the rewards and punishments according to the Bible (upon death)? And how do they work?

(Basically, is there Heaven and Hell or is more complicated than that, and how do you get into them?)

Bullfrog said...

What are the rewards and punishments according to the Bible (upon death)? And how do they work?

The Bible teaches a literal Heaven:

Rev 7:16
16 Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat.
(from New International Version)

and Hell:

Matt 13:49-50
49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
(from New International Version)

There are alot of places in the Bible that descrbe Heaven and Hell, but as the author is using earthly language to describe spiritual places, describing them accurately is difficult and ultimately one must see them with their own eyes to full appreciate what is being described. Suffice it to say, Heaven is meant to reward and Hell is meant to be a deterrent and a punishment.

I think I was pretty clear about how to go to either place. It hinges on accepting or rejecting the sacrifice of Christ as a propitiation for your sin.

Outside the Box said...

Ok, I think I understand the Heaven and Hell part. They are actual places (although spiritual) and they seem to be, according to your beliefs, what people traditionally picture when thinking of them.

But I do want to double-check the "Getting into Heaven or Hell" part.

If I understand you correctly, I need God's gift of faith before I can accept Christ, which (to my knowledge) hasn't happened as of yet, so if I were to die today an angel would deem me "wicked" and throw me into the...wait, let me read that again, yes, yes, that's it, a fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Or if I were explaining it to a 10 year old:

In order to not go to Hell, you need to believe in Jesus, but that can't happen until God lets you. Try not to die before then, kid.

Sorry for being a bit facetious, but do I have it right?

Bullfrog said...

@OTB: The truth of the Gospel is available to everyone, and in fact, I believe there are few who are not familiar with the story of Jesus; His birth, life, death, and resurrection. That is the key to salvation and while it is true that ultimately it takes faith to believe, and that faith is God given, if you believe Jesus died for your sins so that you can be reconciled to God and accept Him as your Savior, God honors that. Trying to intellectualize faith is certainly interesting, but not really that beneficial spiritually, because if we hold out until we understand everything, we really are not acting by faith at all.

When I asked Jesus to be my savior, I had zero understanding of what faith was, or if God gave it to me before or after my conversion. It didn't matter.

Outside the Box said...

I have so many questions at this point, but I think we should clarify something so that I understand where you are coming from.

How do you define/explain "faith"?

Bullfrog said...

Probably the most important Bible verse regarding faith is the following:

Rom 10:17-18
17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
(from New International Version)

So, faith comes through the word of God and doesn't just magically appear. The most commonly used verse describing faith in Christian circles is:

Heb 11:1
11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
(from New International Version)

This gets close to defining it, but I think it is a bit confusing at first. Chapter 11 of Hebrews is commonly known as "The Hall of Faith" because it lists Old Testament people who lived and acted by faith. A verse further down the chapter sheds a little light on this:

Heb 11:13
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.
(from New International Version)

...and this...

Heb 11:39
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.
(from New International Version)

Ultimately, it is not faith itself, but the object of that faith that is really what is important. When God's word builds our faith, He becomes the object of that faith. And He is forever faithful and never dissappoints.

Heb 10:23
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful
(from New International Version)

Gen 15:6
6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
(from New International Version)

Rom 4:20-22
20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
(from New International Version)