A Lesson Learned From a Poor Widow

Monetarily speaking, the greatest giver of all time was not a rich industrialist who made his billions and then contributed a portion of his wealth to philanthropic efforts. Instead, it was a poor widow who placed two small coins in the treasury of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Her story is told in Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4.

The Greek word that is used to describe each of her offertory coins is lepton. This was the smallest coin in circulation in Israel. In our American economy, such a coin would be the equivalent of one-eighth of a penny. In other words, it would take eight such coins to add up to even one penny.

The plural of lepton is leptra. In the Roman empire under which the Jews lived, the widow’s offering of two leptra was the equivalent of one-sixty-fourth of a Roman denarius. Since a denarius was the average daily wage for a worker, the poor widow would have had to repeat her offering 63 more times just to reach the monetary equivalent of an average day’s pay for a Roman.

In his commentary notes on the story, Herschel H. Hobbs explains that the widow gave her offering in The Court of the Women, the part of the Jewish Temple complex that was devoted to women. He goes on to say there were thirteen receptacles in that Court. These receptacles were called “trumpets” because of their shape, and each “trumpet” was designated to receive specific offerings for specific purposes.

What the widow didn’t know was that she was being watched as she placed her two leptra inside the appropriate receptacle. On that day, Jesus was sitting on the other side of the Court watching people come and go and place their offerings inside the receptacles. When He saw the widow contribute her scant offering, He called the chosen 12 over to Himself and told them that she had contributed more than anyone else who had given to the Temple treasury.

How could that be? According to Jesus, all the others contributed out of their abundance, but she contributed out of her poverty. As a matter of fact, He went so far as to say that she contributed her entire livelihood. That means that when she left the Temple that day, she didn’t have any money whatsoever to her name.

Tell me, if you had been in that woman’s place, do you think you would have been tempted to not give any offering at all? Even if you were determined to contribute something, would you have been inclined to contribute one lepton and hold back the other one? I’m sure that thought would have crossed my mind,

Being a widow, it’s not like she could depend upon her husband to meet her future financial needs, either. In that way, her placing both those coins in that receptacle was an act of real faith. It was her acknowledgement that if her needs got met, God would have to meet them. Even if she did hold down some type of job (which was certainly not a given in that culture), it obviously didn’t pay much.

Now, there are numerous spiritual lessons that we can glean from this story, but for the purposes of this post I just want to leave you with one. It goes like this: As far as the Bible’s records goes, this woman lived her entire earthly life and never knew that Jesus not only noticed her offering but praised it to the skies. You see, that widow’s offering is like the myriads of good deeds that Christians do around the world each day. These deeds go completely unnoticed and unrecognized by the world, but they rate high marks with Jesus and earn great rewards in eternity.

So, Christian, take heart in this and keep faithfully serving the Lord. He really is watching, and all those behind-the-scenes good things you are doing for Him really are getting noticed. Even more than that, in eternity He’ll reward you for them with eternal blessings beyond your wildest dreams. Remember, nothing ever goes unnoticed by Him. Yes, that can be a bad thing when the subject is sin, but it can be a great thing when the subject is holy deeds.

Posted in Commitment, Discipleship, Doing Good, Encouragement, Faith, Faithfulness, Giving, God's Omniscience, God's Work, Heaven, Humility, Ministry, Money, Needs, Reward, Sacrifice, Service, Stewardship, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Born Again

“Salvation” series (post #9, last one)

Jesus answered and said to him (Nicodemus), “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3, N.K.J.V.)

The Bible teaches that each individual consists of a body, a soul, and a spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Just as it takes God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit to make up one God, it takes a body, a soul, and a spirit to make up one person. In this way, we are somewhat like God in that we are triune beings. The difference is that our body, soul, and spirit aren’t each distinct persons, as is the case with the three members of the holy Trinity.

Now, Jesus said that an individual cannot see the kingdom of God unless that individual is born again. But what exactly does that mean? To answer that, let’s refer back to those three different parts of a person.

First, does the person’s body need to be born again? No. That’s the question Nicodemus asked when he replied, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Second, does the person’s soul need to be born again? No. The soul is eternal; it cannot die. The soul is that part of you that goes into the afterlife when your body dies (Genesis 35:18). We might say that your soul is the real you. This explains why verses such as Psalm 6:3 and Ezekiel 18:20 use the word “soul” to speak of the entire person. Think of this way: You are a soul who is right now living inside a body.

Third, does the person’s spirit need to be born again? Evidently, this is the case. A parallel passage on this subject is Ephesians 2:1, which speaks of people as being “dead in trespasses and sins.” If neither the person’s body or soul is dead, that only leaves the spirit. So, while in one sense the spirit is that part of the individual that animates the human body (James 2:26; Ecclesiastes 12:7), in another sense it is that part that houses the capacity for the kind of worship and communion with God that Adam and Eve enjoyed before the fall.

This is what Jesus meant when He told the Samaritan woman at the well, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24, N.K.J.V.). You see, Jesus didn’t say that we must worship God “in body” or “in soul.” It’s the spirit that earns that unique distinction.

Putting everything together, what scripture seems to teach is that each of us is born with an inner spirit that isn’t functioning as it was originally designed to function. It’s doing fine at bringing life to our otherwise lifeless body and thus creating physical life, but it’s downright shut down when it comes to creating spiritual life. Therefore, each of us is born “dead in trespasses and sins” and needs what we might call a resurrection in our spirit. That’s why Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7).

But just exactly how do we go about being born again? What does it take to be spiritually reborn? Is there a course we must purchase? Is there a five-step process? The answer is: The moment you place saving belief in Jesus, you are instantly born again. Believing in Jesus is your part; bringing you to life spiritually is God’s part.

Let me explain how this works. In John 3:5-8, Jesus describes being born again as being born “of the Spirit” (capital S, referring to God the Holy Spirit). Specifically, He says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” You see, the moment you place saving belief in Jesus, God the Holy Spirit comes to take up literal residence inside your body (Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 6:19), and He is the one who fixes your defective spirit and allows it to function as it should. This is all part of the “new birth” experience the Holy Spirit creates inside you.

The apostle Paul described the Holy Spirit’s entrance as “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5), and the apostle John described it as being “born of God” (1 John 5:1). What else could John have been referring to except being “born again”? So, to be born again is to be born of God the Holy Spirit.

John also associated the new birth with having “eternal life” (1 John 5:10-13). Most people hear that term “eternal life” and wrongly put the emphasis on the word “eternal,” as if having eternal life simply means existing forever somewhere in the afterlife. The fact is, though, that everyone will spend eternity somewhere in the afterlife, either with God in perfect bliss or separated from Him in torment. That’s why the emphasis in “eternal life” should be placed on the word “life.” The idea is that the indwelling Holy Spirit has entered into the body of a person who was spiritually dead in trespasses and sins and brought that individual back to spiritual life.

The Bible’s most well known way of describing the Holy Spirit’s entrance into the believer’s body is to refer to the experience as “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33; 1 Corinthians 12:13). The first people to ever enjoy the blessing of this “baptism” were a group of Christ’s followers who were meeting for worship services in an upper room in Jerusalem in the days following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven. Just before Jesus ascended, He promised them they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from then (Acts 1:4-5). The fulfillment of that promise, as well as all the incredible events that accompanied it, is recorded in Acts 2:1-41.

Someone asks, “So, is Acts 2:1-41 indicative of every instance of someone experiencing the baptism of the Holy Spirit (getting born again)?” No, it isn’t. For example, those believers all began to speak in “tongues” (foreign languages they had never learned). That in turn created quite a stir in Jerusalem, so much so that Peter ended up preaching a powerful sermon there on the spot, a sermon after which approximately 3,000 people believed in Jesus and agreed to water baptism (Acts 2:14-41). No mention is made, however, of those 3,000 new believers speaking in foreign languages. The same holds true for the additional 2,000 new believers who placed saving belief in Jesus shortly afterward (Acts 4:4), the scores of others who did so even later (5:14; 6:1), the Ethiopian eunuch (8:26-39), Saul of Tarsus (9:1-19), Lydia and her household (Acts 16:11-15), the Philippian jailer and his household (16:25-34), the believers in Thessalonica (17:1-4), the believers in Berea (17:10-15), etc.

The fact is, the book of Acts is a transitional book that serves as the record of the early years of what we call “the church age.” Those years were filled with all kinds of uncommon stories and miraculous happenings, none of which have ever been commonplace and certainly aren’t today. For this reason, we must always be hesitant about building core doctrine around the stories from Acts. Romans is considered the New Testament’s greatest doctrinal book, and it devotes pretty much an entire chapter — chapter 8 — to the subject of Holy Spirit baptism. Significantly, though, the chapter never once mentions speaking in tongues as the evidence of the experience.

Someone else might ask, “But what about the saved believers from the Old Testament? Didn’t the Holy Spirit indwell them? Were they not born again?” The truth is that Holy Spirit baptism (the new birth) was not part of God’s work in the lives of those believers. Just as those believers lived in a pre-Jesus era, they also lived in a pre-Holy Spirit baptism/new birth era.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that those believers didn’t worship God and commune with Him in their own limited capacity. No one is saying that believers such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel couldn’t worship God, commune with Him, fellowship with Him, and be in right relationship with Him. However, the idea of having Him literally dwell inside their bodies was something completely unknown to them. In God’s plan, such a thing just didn’t happen in those days. This leads us to conclude then that the worship and communion those believers enjoyed with God, as legitimate as it all was, was curtailed to a fair degree by the fact that the spirit part of their bodies remained defective. Unfortunately for those believers, that was one of the many spiritual disadvantages — along with not having a completed Bible, not having any churches, and not being able to look back upon Jesus’ death an an historical event — with which they had to live.

But now as I wrap up this post and this “Salvation” series, let me just ask you: Have you placed saving belief in Jesus and thereby been born again by the baptism of the indwelling Holy Spirit? Has the Holy Spirit taken up residence inside you and fixed your defective spirit? Since God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are one, has the indwelling Spirit changed your way of thinking, talking, dressing, conducting yourself, etc. and made them more pleasing to God? As 1 Corinthians 6:19 describes, has the Spirit transformed your body into His temple?

Friend, rest assured that these are not unimportant questions. The “born again” experience is nothing to take lightly, and if you doubt that you have had it, then you have every right to doubt that you have placed saving belief in Jesus and are on your way to heaven. Please understand that I’m not trying to cause you to doubt your salvation, but if I can cause you to doubt it by merely asking a few basic questions that come out of scripture, then you need to check up on whether or not you are authentically saved. That is the point I’m trying to get across to you, and it’s a point that I’ll leave between you and God. Always keep in mind, though, those emphatic words from Jesus: “You must be born again.” The man to whom He first spoke those words was Nicodemus, and all indications are that Nicodemus was part of that original group who experienced Holy Spirit baptism in Jerusalem. So, Nicodemus took Jesus’ words deathly seriously and brought his life in line with them. Now the question is, Will you do the same?

Posted in Baptism, Belief, Christ's Resurrection, Church, Heaven, Hell, Human Life, The Holy Spirit | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saving Belief

“Salvation” series (post #8)

Jesus died on a Roman cross to pay the penalty for the sin debt that every individual owes to holy God. On the third day afterward, He arose from the dead. He then spent the next 40 days making various appearances in His resurrected, glorified body to His disciples and others (Acts 1:1-3). At the end of those 40 days, He ascended up to heaven (Acts 1:4-11) to retake His place at the right hand of God the Father (Acts 7:56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1). From there, He now offers salvation to one and all.

We must not make the mistake, however, of assuming that Christ’s death on the cross means that every individual’s sin debt is paid. As I noted in the previous post, Christ’s death was sufficient to pay for everyone’s sins but it isn’t efficient to pay for them. A simple illustration here might help.

Let’s say that a man walks into a crowded restaurant, hands the cashier $10,000 in cash, and announces to all the patrons, “I’m paying for everybody’s meal. When you get your bill, just bring it to the cashier, sign your name on a piece of paper, and your debt will be paid.” Okay, so what must happen for a customer to have his or her bill paid? That customer must follow the instructions and in so doing accept the payment, right? But what if a customer insists on paying his or her own bill? Obviously, the man’s payment won’t help them. This illustration isn’t perfect, but it at least showcases the reason why Christ’s death on the cross stands as the payment for the sins of some people but not the sins of others. Some people just don’t accept the payment.

Of course, this begs the question, “And how does a person accept the payment?” The Bible’s answer is: You must believe in Jesus as your personal Savior. There’s a reason that John 3:16 is the most famous verse in the Bible. It says:

“For God loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (H.C.S.B.)

Before we blow right past this matter of belief, though, let’s be sure that we understand it properly. The problem is, there are different types of belief, and they don’t all equate to salvation. For example, James 2:19 tells us that even the demons (fallen angels) believe there is one God. As we know, though, demons aren’t saved.

Likewise, John 2:23 says that many believed in Jesus’ name when they saw the miracles He did, but He did not “commit Himself” (N.K.J.V.) to them. Actually, the same Greek word is used in that verse for both “believed” and “commit Himself.” It’s the Greek word pisteuo. For that matter, pisteuo is also the word used in John 3:16. So, the teaching of John 2:23 is that even though some people believed in Jesus, He didn’t believe in them. In other words, their belief wasn’t the right kind for them to experience salvation.

Another relevant passage on this is Matthew 7:21-23. Jesus can’t be much clearer there when He says that many so-called “believers” who evoke His name and supposedly have impressive religious works on their resumes are, in reality, still unsaved. He says in those verses:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (N.I.V.)

It is because of passages such as John 2:23 and Matthew 7:21-23 that the term “saving belief” has been coined. This term isn’t scriptural, but I have no qualms about using it and do so often when I preach. The term is merely an attempt to draw a line of distinction between the kind of belief that leads to salvation and the kind that doesn’t.

It has often been noted that saving belief is much more than just intellectual assent to the facts about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as they are presented in the Bible. It’s more than just celebrating His birth at Christmas and His resurrection at Easter. It’s more than just calling yourself a “Christian” simply because you were born into a “Christian” family or a “Christian” nation. No, true saving belief in Jesus runs much deeper than any of that.

Allow me to list the New Testament’s various ways of explaining what saving belief entails. As you read these, keep in mind that they aren’t separate decisions or various “stages” of belief. Each one is, instead, a way of describing what saving belief in Jesus is. In other words, when a person places saving belief in Jesus, that person will automatically be doing all of these things simultaneously. Salvation is a moment-in-time experience, not a process. Here’s the list:

  • To place saving belief in Jesus is to come to Him: Matthew 11:28-30; John 5:39-40; John 6:35-37
  • To place saving belief in Jesus is to follow Him: Matthew 4:18-20; Mark 2:14
  • To place saving belief in Jesus is to call upon Him: Romans 10:9-13
  • To place saving belief in Jesus is to put your faith in Him: Romans 3:21-23; Colossians 3:15
  • To place saving belief in Jesus is to receive Him: John 1:12; Colossians 2:6
  • To place saving belief in Jesus is to open the door to Him: Revelation 3:20
  • To place saving belief in Jesus is to trust in Him: Ephesians 1:11-14; 1 Timothy 4:10

Mark 1:15 and Acts 20:21 also bring repentance into the mix. To repent is to turn from your sins and go in the opposite direction. Because of this, some have erroneously concluded that salvation can’t be genuine unless there is first a turning from sin. For example, an alcoholic must first quit drinking before he or she can genuinely believe in Jesus and be saved. Such a teaching misses the point that saving belief, by necessity, includes a certain amount of repentance.

Here again, an illustration might help. In your mind, picture yourself walking down a road. Now think of Jesus coming toward you, walking down the same road but in the opposite direction. As the two of you pass, He says to you, “Follow Me.” Now, in order for you to follow Him, what are you going to have to do? You’re going to have to turn and start walking in the opposite direction. In this way, your decision to follow Jesus, by necessity, included repentance on your part. Do you understand?

Now let me clarify something else: The saved people from the pre-Jesus era were saved in the same way as those from the post-Jesus era. There never has been and never will be two different plans of salvation. Salvation has always required saving belief.

In a previous post, I explained how the blood sacrifices offered up in the Old Testament era all pointed to Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. In God’s eyes, the blood from those sacrifices covered the sins until Christ’s blood could be shed in time and history to eternally cleanse the sins. In that way, Christ’s death and all those Old Testament sacrifices were part of the same grand plan. Well, the same type of thing is true of saving belief.

Romans 4:1-8 explains that both Abraham and David, two of God’s choicest servants from the Old Testament, were saved by belief. The only difference between them and saved people from this present-day is the fact that they didn’t have as much revelation concerning God as we do now. What I mean is, God hadn’t formally revealed Himself as a Trinity yet.

But the Old Testament believers’ lack of knowledge about God being a Trinity didn’t render their belief in Him illegitimate. Make no mistake, when the likes of Abraham and David placed their belief in God, they were placing saving belief in the same God as we do today when we place saving belief in Jesus (God the Son). What makes this possible is the fact that God is ONE God.

When Jesus told His followers to make disciples of all nations and baptize them, He didn’t say, “Baptize them in the names (plural) of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). To the contrary, He said, “Baptize them in the name (singular) of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In another place, He even said, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). And then there is 1 John 5:7, which says:

For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word (a title for Jesus), and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. (N.K.J.V.)

So, when you understand that God is one God who has eternally existed in three distinct persons, you can understand that when Abraham, David, and all the other saved believers from the Old Testament placed their belief in God, they were, in a very real sense, placing their belief in Jesus. Don’t penalize those believers over the fact that God, in His plan, didn’t fully reveal Himself as a Trinity to them. He certainly doesn’t penalize them for it.

Someone asks, “But what about good works? Don’t they have something to do with salvation?” No, they don’t. For one thing, even our so-called “good” works carry the taint of sin (Isaiah 64:6). For another, in order for you to be saved by works, you would have to never commit even one sin (James 2:10; Galatians 3:10). Even more than that, your sinless perfection would have to include not just your outward actions but also your inward thoughts, motives, and desires (Matthew 5:21-48; Mark 7:20-23). Good luck with that.

And so we are brought back to the eternal truth of salvation through saving belief in Jesus. Nothing else will do if you want to have all your sins forgiven and spend eternity in perfect bliss with God rather than remain unforgiven and spend eternity in torment apart from Him. I haven’t mentioned the eternal lake of fire in this series, but I assure you that it’s a very real place, a place where all of history’s unbelievers end up.

Really, then, all that is left to be asked is, “Have you placed saving belief in Jesus and thereby experienced salvation?” If you haven’t done so, I beg you to do it now. Even if you think you might have but aren’t 100% sure, I beg you to do it now. (If you are already saved, God won’t penalize you for trying to get saved again, but if you aren’t, the decision will literally alter your eternal destination.) What a shame it is that even though Jesus has paid the sin bill for the entire human race, the vast majority of people walk around unsaved. But you don’t have to be in that majority. I’ve explained to you, as best I can, God’s plan of salvation. Now it is up to you to decide what you will do with that plan.

Posted in Belief, Christ's Death, Demons, Repentance, Salvation, The Old Testament Law | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jesus: The Final Blood Sacrifice

“Salvation” series (post #7)

We are in a series on the all-important subject of salvation, and the last couple of posts have dealt with blood. One explained the theological concept of blood atonement, and the other one traced the offering of blood sacrifices down through the Old Testament era and into the early decades of the New Testament era. Now, with all that foundation firmly in place, we are ready to bring Jesus Christ front and center.

Jesus left heaven and came into this world to be nothing less than the one, final, all-encompassing, all-sufficient, eternal blood sacrifice for every sin the human race had ever committed and would ever commit. Because of that, the blood He shed in dying on the cross put a permanent end to the need for any more sacrificial blood. I’ll cite seven passages here because seven is a good Biblical number, but there are other passages. These, however, make the case: (all from the N.K.J.V.):

  1. Matthew 26:28: (Jesus speaking) “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”
  2. John 1:29: The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
  3. John 1:35-36: Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!”
  4. Ephesians 1:7: In Him (Jesus) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.
  5. 1 John 1:7: But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His son cleanses us from all sin.
  6. Revelation 1:5: and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.
  7. Revelation 5:8-10: Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb (Jesus), each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying: “You (Jesus) are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; For you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.”

You’ll notice that in that first passage (Matthew 26:28) Jesus speaks of the wine He used during The Lord’s Supper, and He explains that the wine symbolized His blood. Then He associates His blood with a new covenant. The Greek word translated as “covenant” is diatheke. It is the same word that oftentimes gets translated “testament.”

The point is that just as God entered Himself into a covenant with the people of Israel in Old Testament times  — that’s where the term “Old Testament” comes from — anyone who places his or her belief in Jesus as Savior enters into Christ’s new covenant (testament). And just as the Old Testament covenant between God and Israel was based upon shed sacrificial blood, the New Testament covenant that Jesus instituted is also based upon shed sacrificial blood. The difference is, whereas there were thousands upon thousands of blood sacrifices offered during the days of the Old Testament, Jesus’ death on the cross serves as the only blood sacrifice required for the new covenant.

What must not be lost in all this, however, is the fact that there has always been just ONE plan of salvation. Going all the way back to God killing those animals in the garden of Eden for Adam and Eve, and running all the way up to Jesus dying on the cross, there was always just ONE plan salvation. Just because there was an old covenant and now there is a new covenant, that doesn’t mean the two stand in conflict or contrast with each other. To the contrary, the new covenant that Jesus created actually fulfilled the old covenant.

Let me explain. Adam and Eve eating that forbidden fruit did not catch God off guard. He knew in His perfect foreknowledge they were going to do it. Therefore, He already had in mind a plan by which He could provide them, as well as all their descendants, forgiveness of sin. That plan was all about Jesus. Did you know that Revelation 13:8 calls Jesus “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world?” As amazing as the idea sounds, in the foreknowledge of God, the lifeless body of Jesus hanging dead on a cross was a done deal even before Genesis 1:1.

Obviously, we are getting into the doctrinal waters of the Trinity here. Yes, the Bible really does teach that God is one God who has eternally existed in three distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit. There are various analogies that get used to try to illustrate God being a triune God, but I don’t think any of them are adequate. For example, just as water can exist in the form of running water, ice, or vapor, God exists in three distinct persons. Or, just as one male can play the roles of son, husband, and father, God can play the roles of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I won’t say any more about the Trinity, but you can consult the following passages for further study: 1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 Peter 1:1-2; 2 John 2:3; John 1:1-3,14; John 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Acts 5:3-4; Acts 13:2; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Matthew 28:19; James 2:19; Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 John 5:7

Getting back to the plan of salvation, God always knew that humans would turn themselves into sinners, and He always knew that God the Son would shed His divine blood in dying for all their sins. But, for reasons known only to God, God the Son would not literally come into the world and die that death until approximately 4,000 years after Adam and Eve’s sin. So the question was, How could sinners who lived before Jesus’ death be made right with God? Answer: by offering up blood sacrifices.

What must be understood, though, is that the best the blood from those pre-Jesus sacrifices could do was COVER sin and stay the wrath of God from falling upon those who offered them. What that blood couldn’t do was eternally CLEANSE sins. This is seen in the Old Testament word “atone,” which simply means “to cover.” As God told the people of Israel:

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement (a covering) for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement (a covering) for your souls. (Leviticus 17:11, N.K.J.V.)

But the divine blood that Jesus shed in dying can do much more than just COVER sin; that blood can eternally CLEANSE it. Read carefully the following passages:

For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. (Hebrews 10:4, N.K.J.V.)

And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man (Jesus), after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-14, N.K.J.V.)

You see, in a very real sense, the blood Jesus shed in dying authenticated all that blood that had been shed via all those Old Testament sacrifices. In God’s eyes, each one of those sacrifices had foreshadowed and pointed toward Jesus’ eventual death on the cross. Think of it this way: Whenever God watched an Old Testament sacrifice being offered upon an altar, He had one eye on that sacrifice and the other eye on Jesus (in the future) hanging dead on the cross. In that way, God could allow the blood from that sacrificial animal to cover the individual’s sins until Jesus could come in time and history and shed His blood in dying to cleanse those sins completely.

And that’s where we will put a period on this post. Next time we’ll talk about what it takes for you, as an individual, to get Jesus’ shed blood applied to your sins. Certainly His blood is sufficient to provide eternal cleansing for everyone’s sins, going all the way back to Adam and Eve’s, but His blood isn’t automatically efficient to do so. No, something is required on your part to get His blood applied to your sins. Come back next time and we’ll identify what that something is. 

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The Need For a Blood Sacrifice

“Salvation” series (post #6)

In our last post, we looked at the concept of blood atonement. That is the idea of the innocent (sinless) dying by way of the shedding of blood for the guilty (sinful). Adam and Eve were the first people to learn about blood atonement as God killed two of Eden’s animals, quite possibly lambs, in the wake of the couple eating the forbidden fruit. The animals’ skins served as coverings for Adam and Eve’s bodies, while the animals’ shed blood served as coverings for their sins.

Following that event, Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:22-24). Presumably, the killing of the animals and the casting out took place on the same day, the day the couple ate the forbidden fruit. The lesson here is that sin, even sin for which you have received atonement, always brings consequences.

Indications are that Adam and Eve settled in a place not far from Eden. Sometime afterward, Eve became pregnant. She gave birth to a son the couple named Cain. Then she bore a second son, and they named him Abel. That’s when things got interesting.

Genesis 4:3-5 says:

And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. (N.K.J.V.)

Now, the question we need to ask is this: How did Cain and Abel even have a clue that they each needed to bring an offering to the Lord? The obvious answer is that Adam and Eve had taught them about blood atonement. Apparently, Adam and Eve continued to periodically offer up sacrificial animals after they were banished from Eden. Then once Cain and Abel came along, the parents passed the practice down to the sons.

Abel, being a keeper of sheep (Genesis 4:2), did as he was instructed and sacrificed of the firstborn of his flock. But Cain, being a farmer (Genesis 4:2), went rogue by bringing an offering of his finest fruits and vegetables. And what was the problem with Cain’s offering? It was the same problem Adam and Eve’s fig leaves had once showcased: no blood. Therefore, God rejected Cain’s offering.

You say, “Oh, c’mon Russell, you are reading too much into the story. God could have rejected Cain’s offering for any number of reasons.” Really? Then how do we explain Cain being classified as an apostate in the Bible’s book of Jude? Remember that an apostate is someone who has fallen away from revealed truth. Think about it, the only way that Cain could have gone apostate is for his parents to have revealed the truth to him about forgiveness of sin only coming through blood atonement.

If you know your Genesis, you know that rather than kill an animal and bring it to God, Cain killed Abel. God cursed him for that, after which Cain left home and made his way to a place called Nod, which was east of Eden. At some point, he took a wife — a woman who had to be one of Adam and Eve’s daughters (Genesis 5:5) — and fathered a son through her. The son’s name was Enoch. Cain then built the world’s first city and named it after his son. Enoch was the beginning of the line of Cain, an ancestral line of spiritually lost people who were all doomed to die in the great flood.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Adam and Eve produced another son. They named him Seth, and through him Adam’s line of saved people continued. That line culminated in Noah. And did Adam and Eve teach Seth not only the concept of blood atonement but also the specifics of how to build an altar, kill and animal, and offer the animal up as a sacrifice? Yes, they did. Let me explain how we know this to be true.

One thing you might not have heard about Noah is that he knew about blood atonement and how to offer up blood sacrifices to God. The proof is found in Genesis 8:20. That verse tells us about the first thing that Noah did once the ark was unloaded in the new world. The verse says:

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and sacrificed on it the animals and birds that had been approved for that purpose. (N.L.T.)

Someone might ask, “But if there were only two of each kind of animal aboard the ark, does that mean that Noah made those sacrificed animals extinct?” No, the explanation is that God had told him before the flood to collect seven (not two) of every type of animal that was “clean” and bring them into the ark (Genesis 7:2). A “clean” animal was a species that was eligible, in God’s eyes, for sacrificing.

The real question, though, is this: Who taught Noah how to build an altar, kill animals, and offer them up as sacrifices to God? Well, it must have been his father, Lamech, who had learned it from his father, Methuselah, who had learned it from his father, etc., etc., etc., all the way back to Seth.

Noah then taught the practice to his three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. How do we know this? We know it because one of Shem’s descendants, Abraham, periodically built altars in his travels (Genesis 12:7; 12:8; 13:3-4; 13:18; 22:9), and on at least one of those altars he sacrificed a ram (Genesis 22:13). Furthermore, Genesis 22:7-8 clearly shows that both Abraham and his son, Isaac, understood perfectly well that a built altar goes hand in hand with a sacrificed animal.

So, while it’s true that Abraham’s father, Terah, worshiped false gods in Ur (Joshua 24:2; Genesis 11:27-30; Acts 7:1-4), the family tree must have contained some remnant of the idea of building altars and offering up animal sacrifices. How else would Abraham, upon his arrival in Canaan from Ur, have known that building an altar was a legitimate act of worship? One thing is for sure: If Abraham ever needed a refresher course on the value that God placed upon the shed blood of animals, he got it when God instructed him to kill a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon as part of the ceremony in which God formally entered Himself into a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:1-21).

It is not surprising, then, that Genesis provides us with accounts of Abraham’s descendants also building altars and, apparently, offering up blood sacrifices upon them. For example, Abraham’s son, Isaac, did so long after Abraham’s death (Genesis 26:25). Isaac’s son, Jacob, did as well (Genesis 31:54; 33:20; 35:1-7; 46:1).

And you’ve heard of Moses, haven’t you? Sure you have. He was another of Abraham’s descendants. But have you heard that Moses understood the doctrine of blood atonement and the value of a blood sacrifice? What most people don’t realize is that Moses’ first request to Pharaoh concerning the Israelites was not that Pharaoh would release them completely from their Egyptian bondage. Instead, the request was that Pharaoh would allow them to journey three days outside of Egypt and offer up sacrifices to God (Exodus 3:18; 5:3).

As we know, Pharaoh refused that request and dug in his heels against Israel’s God, but in the end God won the victory by laying waste to Egypt through ten devastating plagues. The tenth plague was one in which God killed all the firstborns in Egypt in one night. But none of Israel’s firstborns were killed. Why not? It was because God gave the Israelites highly detailed instructions as to how each family was to kill a lamb and smear its blood on the tops and sides of the door frame of their house. God said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13). This was the beginning of the Jewish holiday known as Passover. Passover is really the celebration of the night that scores of lambs died so that scores of Israelites could live.

Following that first Passover night, Moses ultimately led the Israelites to Mount Sinai. There, God imparted to them His law. And you’d better believe that He built into that law various commands concerning the offering up of blood sacrifices (Leviticus 1:1-17; 3:1-17; 4:1-35; 5:1-13). That explains why the rest of the Old Testament features an assortment of references to the people of Israel atoning for their sins by offering up blood sacrifices to God. In the beginning of the law period, those sacrifices were offered upon the altar at the Tabernacle, the worship complex that God instructed the people to build. Later on, however, when the Temple was built to replace the Tabernacle, the sacrifices were offered upon the Temple’s altar.

And so we see that what started in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve wound its way down through Noah and his sons, and eventually wound its way down through the centuries of the history of Israel. Even more than that, it continued on even into the early days of the New Testament. That’s when Jesus Christ came upon the scene. He would be the one to bring an end to blood sacrifices. He didn’t do away with the doctrinal concept of blood atonement, but He did change how the need for a blood sacrifice would be met. And that’s what we’ll talk about next time. See you then.


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Blood Atonement

“Salvation” series (post #5)

When Adam and Eve became sinners by eating of the forbidden fruit, God had all kinds of options as to how He could respond. He could give them a good scolding, pat them on the heads, and say, “Now go about your business.” He could throw down a couple of lightning bolts to kill them on the spot and create another man and another woman to pick up where they had left off in Eden. Or He could delete all of creation, including them, and start the whole Genesis chapters 1 and 2 process all over again from scratch for another try.

But God didn’t do any of these things. Instead, He personally came down to Eden and pronounced various judgments upon Adam, Eve, and the serpent (with the fallen angel Satan still being inside the serpent’s body). And then He did something completely unexpected: He killed a couple of Eden’s animals. Our best guess is that the animals were lambs, but the Bible doesn’t specifically say what type they were.

Okay, so why did God kill those animals? Well, He was working on multiple levels there. First, He wanted Adam and Eve to see firsthand what the horror of physical death looked like. Up until those deaths, they hadn’t had any visual reference on that subject.

Second, since their sinful state had now created a newfound shame within them concerning their nakedness, God had to address the practical need of them requiring clothing. They had tried to meet this need by covering themselves with fig leaves, but those fig leaves weren’t acceptable to God. So, He made them clothes from the skins (hides) of the dead animals. Evidently, He fashioned one set of clothes from each animal.

Third, however, and most important, God killed those two animals to provide Him with a way to forgive Adam and Eve for their sin. You see, what Adam and Eve did not know, because God had never told them, is that He holds to the concept of blood atonement. Blood atonement is the idea that the innocent can die to pay the sin debt owed by the guilty. What did those two animals do to deserve dying? Absolutely nothing. In that sense, they were innocent. So why did God kill them? They died as substitutionary sacrifices for Adam and Eve. It’s that simple.

As Adam and Eve stood there, watching the red blood ooze out from the lifeless bodies of those animals, they must have been aghast. Never before had they seen the stuff that flows through the bodies of humans and creatures. Perhaps they thought, “Oh, this is what God meant when He said concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, ‘In the day you eat of it you shall surely DIE.'” Standing there looking down upon those animals, Adam and Eve undoubtedly had a whole new level of appreciation for that warning.

The husband and wife didn’t know it at the time, but God had just evidenced to them a couple of major theological truths that He would later on reveal more fully to the human race. One of these truths is summed up in Leviticus 17:11, where God says to the people of Israel:

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul. (N.K.J.V.)

This verse explains why God wouldn’t accept Adam and Eve’s fig leaves as coverings for them. Those fig leaves might have covered the couple’s nakedness, but they could never cover the couple’s sins. Why not? It was because those fig leaves didn’t have blood. It’s blood that indicates life, and the only way that God will accept a substitutionary sacrifice is upon the basis of life-for-life. Actually, Adam and Eve’s fig leaves have been called “the world’s first religion.” In other words, it was the human race’s first attempt at addressing the sin problem. But it didn’t work because it didn’t approach the problem in God’s way.

The other major theological truth that God killing those animals evidenced is very similar to the first and is summed up in Hebrews 9:22. There we read these vitally important words:

…and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (N.I.V.)

Here again we see that for Adam and Eve to receive forgiveness for their sin, blood had to be shed. If their problem had been no more than them needing clothes, God could have handled that by merely shearing a couple of sheep, without actually killing the sheep. But Adam and Eve’s problem ran much deeper than that. They were now sinners, and God only forgives sin on the basis of blood shed via literal death. The innocent must die for the guilty. Anything short of that, and the sinner still stands condemned in his or her guilt. In that regard, fleeces from sheep wouldn’t have helped Adam and Eve any more than fig leaves did.

And here’s where we will put a period on this subject for now. Rest assured, though, that we will pick things up from right here in the next post. Now that we understand the concept of blood atonement, how far back it goes for the human race, and the incalculably high value God places upon it in regards to the forgiveness of sin, we can trace the concept down through history. Trust me, it will be an interesting ride. And where will it end? It will end with a man named Jesus dying on a Roman cross. Stay tuned…..

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You Are a Sinner

“Salvation” series (post #4)

Now that we have Biblically determined that there is a God and that He is perfectly holy, we must next turn our attention to ourselves. That’s why I’ve entitled this 4th post in the “Salvation” series “You Are a Sinner.” But please don’t think that I’m singling you out for indictment. The post’s title could just as easily be “I Am a Sinner” or “We Are All Sinners.” The point is, the description “sinner” fits each one of us.

The human race became a race of sinners when its genetic, biological father, Adam, sinned by eating the fruit of the garden of Eden’s tree of the knowledge of good and evil. While Adam’s wife, Eve, took the lead in that sin by eating the forbidden fruit first, Genesis 3:6 tells us that Adam was right there with her when she did it and quickly joined her in the sin.

Actually, Adam eating the fruit was even more blatant sin than Eve eating it. I say that for two reasons. First, it had been straight from God Himself that Adam had received the command not to eat that fruit (Genesis 2:15-16). God hadn’t even created Eve yet when He had told Adam to stay away from that fruit (Genesis 2:18-25). Evidently, then, Eve had received the command from Adam rather than God.

Second, 1 Timothy 2:14 teaches that Eve eating of that fruit can be explained by the fact that she was deceived by the serpent (with the fallen angel Satan demon possessing the serpent’s body and speaking through it). Adam, on the other hand, was not deceived. In other words, Eve didn’t fully understand the ramifications of what they were doing, but Adam did. I’m in no way saying that Eve should get a free pass or that her lack of spiritual discernment should let her off the hook, but her sin really was the result of her being deceived. In Adam’s case, though, he knew perfectly well that biting into that fruit would set him in direct violation to God’s command.

Some have theorized that once Adam saw that his wife had eaten of the fruit, his motivation for joining her in the sin was his great love for her and his desire to remain with her, even in a sin-lessened existence. While this attempted explanation for Adam’s willful disobedience makes some sense on the surface, there is no clear scriptural support for it. What the Bible does is place Adam right alongside Eve standing before the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, watching her take some of the fruit and eat it,  accepting the fruit when she hands it to him, and eating the fruit himself (Genesis 3:6). He never objects to what she is doing, and he certainly never stops her. His job as the head of the home was to do his best to keep Eve and himself innocent and righteous, but he failed at doing that.

And so it was with this one catastrophic act that Adam introduced sin not only into his own physical body but into the physical body of each of his future descendants. In doing so, he brought death into his race as well. God had warned him, “…in the day that you eat of it (the forbidden fruit) you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). This death is not only a physical death but also a spiritual one.

First, there is the fact of physical death. As Romans 5:12 says:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all have sinned… (N.K.J.V.)

It should be noted that the Hebrew wording of God’s warning to Adam literally means “dying you shall die.” This explains not only the fact of physical death itself but also the typical aging process that culminates in death. You see, Adam’s sin didn’t just introduce sin and physical death into his race, it also introduced weakening eyes, weakening hearing, heart disease, cancer, strokes, breathing conditions, backaches, mental disorders, gum disease, lost teeth, sore joints, and all the other physical ailments that we humans must deal with as the aging process takes its toll on each of us before we finally take our last breath. The Bible’s most descriptive and poetic passage on this aging process is Ecclesiastes 12:1-7. Those verses describe the aging body as a silver cord that becomes loosed, a golden bowl that becomes broken, a pitcher that becomes shattered, and a wheel that becomes broken.

But then, second, there is also the fact of spiritual death. Passages such as Ephesians 2:1-5, Colossians 2:13, and 1 Timothy 5:6 teach that each person is born “dead in trespasses and sins.” To be “dead” in this way cannot refer to physical death because the people being described in these passages are still very much physically alive.

Here again we must take things all the way back to Adam to find the explanation. When Adam ate of that forbidden fruit, he didn’t instantly die physically even though the aging process that would eventually lead to his death was begun. He did, however, instantly die spiritually. What this means is that he instantly became separated from God. He was no longer walking in perfect relationship with God. He was no longer in daily fellowship with God. He was no longer in unity with God. Figuratively speaking, a great gulf now stood between him and his Maker. He was now cut off from God’s spiritual life (Ephesians 4:18) as well as God’s spiritual light (Ephesians 4:18; Romans 1:21; 1 Peter 2:9). For that matter, so was Eve. Thus began the sinful state of the entire human race.

One thing that most people don’t understand is that an individual doesn’t become a sinner the moment he or she commits their first sin. No, that individual commits that first sin because he or she is a sinner. Does a fish swim to become a fish or does a fish swim because it is a fish? You know the answer. Likewise, you don’t sin to become a sinner, you sin because you are a sinner.

And when did you become a sinner? It occurred at your moment of conception in your mother’s womb! In Psalm 51:5, David says of himself, “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me” (N.R.S.V.). To be conceived in sin means that you had Adam’s nature of sin and rebellion against God coursing through you from the first moment the spark of physical life was struck in you. This is the consequence of being a product of the tainted seed that began in Adam’s body and has flowed down through his entire race ever since. A newborn baby might have its mother’s eyes or its daddy’s nose, but there’s no doubt that it has Adam’s sinful nature. And it’s this sinful nature that will inevitably cause the child to commit specific acts of sin as the child grows. For example, Psalm 58:3 says:

Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies. (N.I.V.)

The conclusion of all this, then, is that the entire human race abides under the sentence and doom of sin. As Ecclesiastes 7:20 says:

Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. (N.A.S.V.)

Likewise, in Romans 3:23 we read:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (N.K.J.V.)

Friend, you’re in this sinking boat and so am I, and in light of the fact that our Creator God is perfectly holy, it’s the worst possible boat in which we could find ourselves. But thank God the story doesn’t end there. Thank God there are more posts to write in this series. Thank God that He loves us enough to have provided a way by which we can have all our sins forgiven and be brought back into right relationship with Him. This provision has come to be known as the plan of salvation, and in my next post I’ll lay out the details and particulars of this plan. So be sure to come back for that post, and we’ll discover together how unholy sinners can get to spend eternity with a holy God. Until then, hang in there fellow sinner. We’re getting to the good part now.

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