The Same Gospel, The Same Salvation

New Testament Introduction has been a favorite subject of mine for many years. Learning about the historical context in which the New Testament books are written is, to me, quite enjoyable.

So, when I found a theological seminary offered the public the opportunity to listen to all of the lectures in its class on the subject, I couldn’t click on iTunes U fast enough.

It was an immensely enjoyable series of lessons. That is, until the instructor arrived at textual and historical criticism and applied some of the things he had very nonchalantly said earlier in the class.

The professor said that Jews and Gentiles had a dichotomy of faith. The Jews arrived at faith from quite a different perspective, so their approach to faith was on one path. Gentiles arrived at faith from an entirely different perspective, therefore their path to faith was different. He said the two paths did not converge until the second or third centuries A.D.

Suddenly, I understood why he had been saying some of the innocuous things he had said during the initial lectures. While I understood what he said, I didn’t agree. My instructor wanted me to believe in a “Hegelian” thesis, antithesis and synthesis arrangement in which the Jews came up with the thesis of Christianity. The Gentiles developed the antithesis and both diverged into a synthesis in the third century A.D.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Yet, there are some severe problems in the “Hegelian” model he produced.

This kind of thinking introduces the possibility there is no unified path to salvation. The Jews believed what they did and the Gentiles believed what they wanted. Therefore, different people arrive at faith with divergent ideas. Yet, that’s not what the Bible teaches.

Acts 8 relates the events when an Ethiopian Jew decided to obey the gospel. A good preacher friend of mine has written a brilliant sermon outline on the events of Acts 8. In analysis of this outline some facts are evident. The eunuch had an open heart (8:27-28), there was an open conversation (8:30-35) and there was an open confession (8:36-38) that led the eunuch to obey the gospel.

Yet this is exactly what Paul told the mostly Gentile Romans in chapter 10 verses 9-10 of his letter to them. He wrote, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

That doesn’t sound like a dichotomy to me. That sounds like both Jew and Gentile generated the same faith in their hearts and that they obeyed the same gospel the same way.

The apostle Paul also told the Romans, “So, then, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God,” (Romans 10:17). The Ethiopian Jew believed at the preaching of the word. So did the Romans. Faith in the Jew and in the Gentile was generated the same way.

Now, while it is correct that Jews and Gentiles came to the gospel from different perspectives, it is not true that the divergent groups were believing different gospels and didn’t come to a common path until the third century. The evidence says that proposition just isn’t so. While there were disagreements and misunderstandings, Paul wrote the books of Romans, Galatians and Corinthians to show them how SIMILAR these two groups were, not how different. The Christians in Macedonia were aware of this (2 Corinthians 8-9).

There is only one gospel, Paul said (Galatians 1:6-9). People come to faith the same way (Romans 10:17), people obey the same commands Jesus gave (Matthew 28:18-20). They become members of the same body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 [written to mostly Greek people]).

But, if we accept the idea that people can believe different things and arrive at the same salvation, then whatever they believe is true may be true, and what we believe may also be true. No, that’s relativism and that’s not right.

Inside My Head

A verse in Hebrews has been caught inside my head.

You might say, “Well, it has room to roam,” and you would be right. Still, it is my belief that it is circling inside there because something is trying to get out.

Here’s the verse, and its complete thought: “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives,” (Hebrews 2:14-15 NASB).

These two verses teach some amazing and beautiful truths.

First, since the children have flesh and blood, their Savior necessarily must have flesh and blood, too. Jesus, God the Son, was human and divine. He had a human body that suffered hunger, thirst, pain and, finally, death.

Next, and this is the part that’s been making laps in my head, “that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.”

The condition in my head got a little better with study. The word, “through” is usually a word indicating instrumentality. Meaning? It was through the death Jesus suffered that took away the only real power Satan ever had.

Surely, Satan can tempt. He showed in Genesis 3 and Matthew 4 that he can use deceit in his temptations, but he has no power to force someone to sin. We choose to do that. “The Devil made me do it” is not a true excuse for sin.

The power Satan possessed was the fear of death. It was that fear that had people suffering in bondage.

Thanks be to God! Jesus took that weapon from Satan’s hand! He no longer possesses it. Therefore, he no longer has any power over those who have through faith, repentance, confession and baptism been saved by the grace of God!

Man, am I glad I got that out.

God’s Way of Thinking

In our relativistic society where truth is in the eye of the beholder, people sometimes learn philosophy has more influence than we think.

Last week, the news anchor of NBC Nightly News said he embellished a news report he filed from Iraq by saying the helicopter in which he was riding had been fired upon by insurgents.

We often don’t think of relativism and pragmatism as being philosophies that teach dishonesty is the best policy, but they do. Relativism seeks to throw away the objective moral law of the Bible for a more lenient, personally pleasing set of vague ideas. Pragmatism accuses the Bible of not being a workable set of laws and would ignore what God said.

I omitted the name of the anchor because I wanted to showcase the thinking that is at fault. Yes, he lied about the incident, but he didn’t admit a lie. He only made a mistake, he said. His relativistic and pragmatic mind gave him a ready exit. The brouhaha that followed occurred because there are still people who know there is an objective truth.

The lesson? God wants us to CHANGE, not explain. He wants us to repent, not rationalize our behavior. God wants us to go back to his way of thinking.

The word, “confession,” in the New Testament means, “to say the same thing.” God wants us to say the same thing he has said. He wants us to admit the truth and obey him. He wants our obedience to his way of thinking.

Opposing Christ

Opposition has always existed to the kingdom of Christ, and that opposition remains to this day.

In the first century, the Jews opposed the kingdom. A young man named Saul imprisoned many people because they followed Jesus. This continued until Saul himself learned the truth and became a Christian.

The opposition to the kingdom was prophesied in Psalm 2, in which David wrote, “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and his anointed saying, ‘Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!’” (Psalm 2:2-3 NASB).

Of these verses, Matthew Henry wrote, “One would have expected that so great a blessing to this world would be universally welcomed and embraced, and that every sheaf would immediately bow to that of the Messiah and all the crowns and scepters on earth would be laid at his feet; but it proves quite the contrary.”

Indeed, Satan has thrown his full weight into the attempt to destroy the church, the kingdom of Christ on earth. He has created huge religious bodies that contain many thousands of people who believe they have become members of the Lord’s church. But, sadly, they have not. They have become members of bodies Satan created.

Are you a member of the church that Jesus built? Are you a member of the kingdom he spoke of in Matthew 16:16-18? Have you obeyed the conditions of salvation as laid down by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 and by the apostles in Acts 2:38 and in 1 Peter 3:21?

If not, it may surprise you to know you are a part of the prophecy in Psalm 2. If not, then you are an adversary of Jesus.

Come out of that adversarial relationship. It is not a relationship God wants with you. Obey the gospel today.

Christianity Found Difficult, Not Tried

A good friend posted a quote from G.K. Chesterton that really started me to think.  Chesterton wrote, “Christianity has not been ‘tried and found wanting;’ it has been found difficult and not tried.”

Several years ago, someone who used to be a close friend invited me to attend the United Methodist Church. Got to admire that’s person’s pluck, inviting a Church of Christ preacher like that. But what that person said after the invitation really stuck in my mind. “I think you’ll find the Methodist Church to be much less restrictive than the Church of Christ,” the person said.

Well, you see, living the Christian life is not a matter of having life easier or less restrictive. I don’t believe that if anyone ever had an opportunity to speak to Christians who were persecuted by Rome and died in the arena if they wanted to become involved with something “less restrictive.” I think Christianity is, itself, restrictive because we need it like that.

Imagine a religion that requires or asks nothing or refuses to require devotion and dedication. That’s not religion, is it? If religion is supposed to make us better people, then it is going to have to require its adherents to obey its commands.

Chesterton was right that “Christianity… has been found difficult and not tried.” Because obedience to God’s commands is not easy, there will be many who will not want to try it. But, because many will not try it, many will be lost eternally.

Most of us know the really important things are not easy. Doing what the Bible says is not easy, but it is worth doing because only obeying God can make better, saved people.



It’s My Birthday

It’s my birthday. It has been a day of introspection. When you start getting older, that’s what birthdays become.

One begins to understand there are fewer days ahead and more behind. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not depressed because it’s my birthday or that I’m older. I just look at things a little differently now.

Actually, I’m happy that for the last 25 years I’ve been able to realize more of my potential. When I was in the eighth grade, I had an English teacher everyone hated. She was tough on everyone, but she was especially tough on me. Almost every day she told me the reason why. She’d say, “You have such great potential!”

What was missing was my decision to do something about the potential I had.

I made a very difficult decision 25 years ago to leave Federal employment (I could have held for 30 years) to preach God’s word. I believed (and still do) that if I wanted to save my soul, I would have to start preaching and never stop. It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.

Preaching has helped me turn potential into kinetic. Preaching helped me turn possibility into actuality. The Army used to have this slogan, “Be all that you can be.” Preaching gave me the way to be all I could be, to do all I could do. I shudder to think what my life would have been without it.

So, “Happy birthday,” to me. I’m happy about it. I have a life that fulfills.

A Prayer Each Day in November: For 11/29

Dear Lord, Holy and True,

This morning I pray for those who do not believe you exist. I pray that they will learn to believe their eyes and see you in the work of your hands.

I pray, Father, those who don’t believe in you will believe in blood. I pray they will understand that all men have one kind of blood because there is only one creator. I pray they will understand that all men have only one color of blood because you have made all of us, no matter the color of our skin. I pray those who do not believe in you will see that red blood cells in all people are the same and have the same function. I pray they will see and understand we are all created from one blood.

I pray, Father, those who don’t believe in you will come to believe that your purpose for all the nations is that we should all come to believe in you and seek you and feel after you and find you before it is everlastingly too late.

In Jesus name, Amen.