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What Is Heaven Like?

Bible Study Tools

What Is Heaven Like?

  • Dr. Ray Pritchard
  • Keep Believing Ministries
 

“Heaven is a place, just as much a place as is New York or Chicago.” Charles Ferguson Ball

Everyone wants to know about heaven and everyone wants to go there. Recent polls suggest that nearly 80% of all Americans believe there is a place called heaven. I find that statistic encouraging because it tells me that even in this skeptical age there is something deep inside the human heart that cries out, “There’s got to be something more. Something more than the pain and suffering of this life. Something more than 70 or 80 years on planet earth. Something more than being born, living, dying, and then being buried in the ground. Sometimes we talk about a “God-shaped vacuum” inside the human heart. I believe there is also a “heaven-shaped vacuum,” a sense that we were made for something more than this life. We were made to live forever somewhere. In a real sense we were made for heaven.

There is another fascinating statistic I should mention. Not only do most Americans believe in heaven, most people expect to go there when they die. If you took a microphone to the streets of Chicago and asked, “Do you think you will go to heaven when you die?” the vast majority of people would answer, “I hope so,” or “I think so,” or perhaps “I think I’ve got a good chance. Not very many people would say they aren’t going to heaven. Perhaps one modest point is in order. Whenever you talk about living forever somewhere, it would help to know for sure where you are going. After all, if you’re wrong about heaven, you’re going to be wrong for a long, long time.

With that as background, I turn now to consider some of the most frequently-asked questions about heaven. But before I jump in, I should make one preliminary point. The only things we can know for certain about heaven are the things revealed in the Bible. Everything else is just speculation and hearsay. The Bible tells us everything we need to know and I believe it also tells us everything we can know for certain about heaven.

I. Where is heaven?

There are three things I can tell you in answer to this question. The most important fact is that heaven is a real place. Listen to the words of Jesus on the night before he was crucified:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:1-3).

Twice in three verses Jesus calls heaven a place. He means that heaven (“my Father’s house”) is a real place, as real as New York, London or Chicago. The place called heaven is just as real as the place you call home. It’s a real place filled with real people, which is why the Bible sometimes compares heaven to a mansion with many rooms (John 14:1-3) and sometimes to an enormous city teeming with people (Revelation 21).

The Bible also tells us that heaven is the dwelling place of God. His throne is there, the angels are there, and the Lord Jesus Christ is in heaven. Philippians 3:20 says very plainly that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s why Jesus told the thief on the Cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Third (and I find this fact fascinating), the Bible hints that heaven is not as far away as we might think. Because heaven is a real place, we sometimes think it must be outside our present universe – which would mean that it is billions and billions of light years away. However, it’s very clear that the early Christians understood that they would pass immediately from this life into the presence of Christ in heaven. How can that be possible if heaven is beyond the farthest galaxy? Hebrews 12:22-24 tells us something amazing about what the gospel has done for us:

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

The writer is here comparing Mt. Sinai with Mt. Zion. Under the old covenant no one could come near God except under very strict conditions. That’s why the mountain shook with thunder and lightning. [Note: three times the writer of Hebrews uses a Greek word that means "to come near" or "to approach closely.] But now in Christ we have been brought near to heavenly realities. Think of what he is saying:

  • We’re not that far from heaven.
  • We’re not that far from the angels.
  • We’re not that far from our loved ones in heaven.
  • We’re not that far from God.
  • We’re not that far from Jesus himself.

Heaven is a real place, it’s where Jesus is right now, and it’s not far away from us.

II. What is heaven like?

This question came from one of our junior high students. I would answer by saying that the Bible doesn’t give us a great deal of information. What we have are images and pictures of heaven and comparisons with life on earth.

What is heaven like? Here are some biblical facts about heaven. It is …

Most of us have heard that heaven is a place where the streets are paved with gold, the gates are made of pearl, and the walls made of precious jewels. Those images come from Revelation 21, which offers us the most extended picture of heaven in the entire Bible. If you ask me if I believe those things are literally true, the answer is yes and no. Yes, they are literally true but no, heaven won’t be anything like we imagine. It will be much greater.

Here’s a delightful legend that makes the point very well:

I love the old story of the rich man who, on his death bed, negotiated with God to allow him to bring his earthly treasures with him when he came to heaven. God’s reaction was that this was a most unusual request, but since this man had been exceptionally faithful, permission was granted to bring along just one suitcase. The time arrived, the man presented himself at the pearly gates, suitcase in hand- BOTH hands, actually, since he had stuffed it with as many bars of gold bullion as would fit. St. Peter said, “Sorry, you know the rules-you can’t take it with you.” But the man protested, “God said I could … one suitcase.” St. Peter checked, found out that this one would be an exception, prepared to let the man enter, then said, “OK, but I will have to examine the contents before you pass.” He took the suitcase, opened it, saw the gold bars and asked quizzically, “You brought PAVEMENT?” [Note: This story is from the sermon "Heaven" by Dr. David Leininger, March 30, 1997]

When John writes about a street paved with gold, I do not doubt his words. He simply reports what he saw in his vision. Thus his words are literally true. They are also meant to tell us that the things we value so highly in this life will be used to pave the roads in heaven.

III. Who is in heaven right now?

This question is not difficult to answer. God is in heaven because heaven is his dwelling place. The Lord Jesus has been in heaven ever since he ascended from the earth shortly after his resurrection (Acts 1:9-11). The Bible tells us that angels are in heaven. In fact there are myriads of angels-uncountable numbers of heavenly beings-all of them serving the Lord in various ways.

And the saints of God who died on this earth are in heaven. [Note: I mean by this that heaven includes the Old Testament Saints who by faith trusted in God's Word and looked forward to God's redemption at Calvary (which they did not fully understand). It also includes every true believer from every continent and every denomination. Everyone who has genuinely trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior will be there. I also think that children who died before the "age of accountability go to heaven and I would also include those born with such mental limitaitons that they cannot understand the gospel.] The Bible teaches that the moment we die we go directly into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul spoke of this in 2 Corinthians 5:7-8 and Philippians 1:21-23.

But I do not want to be ambiguous on this point. Not everyone is in heaven now. Some people won’t make it. The Bible speaks of the saved and the lost. The saved are those who trust Jesus Christ as their eternal Savior. The lost are those who do not trust Christ as Savior. This is the great dividing line of humanity-you are either saved or you are lost. And there is no middle category. You will either spend eternity in heaven or eternity in hell.

Last night a man I do not know called me to talk about the moral crisis currently engulfing our community. “You’re on record,” he said, “as saying you don’t believe that people who disagree with you will go to hell.” “That’s right,” I replied. “My job is not to decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. That’s God’s job. I’m in sales, not administration.”

I simply want you to know what God has said about heaven and who will go there. The saved of all the ages will be there – and that vast throng will no doubt include many people who would surprise us if we knew it now. Certainly heaven will be more wonderful than our imagination and it’s population more diverse than we expect.

But I am sure of this one truth. No one will go to heaven except by the grace of God and through the merits of the blood of Jesus Christ. If a man says “No” to Jesus, he has no hope of heaven.

IV. Will we know each other in heaven?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions about heaven. I would like to share an answer given by a Bible teacher of another generation – a man named William Pettingill. [Note: see the book 1001 Bible Questions Answered, William Pettingill and R.A. Torrey, Inspirational Press, 1997, p. 157. This is a reprint in one volume of two books first published many years ago. I highly recommend it as a handy reference tool for Bible students and Sunday School teachers.] He said, “We may be sure that we shall not know less in heaven than we know here.” In proof he quotes 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” How does God know us? Answer: He knows us completely, intimately, thoroughly, inside and out, with nothing hidden but everything seen as it really is (Psalms 139:1-4Hebrews 4:12). When we get to heaven we’ll know each other as God knows us because all the imperfections of this life will be removed. In this life sin causes us to cover ourselves-not just physically but emotionally and spiritually. But when sin is finally lifted from us, then we can be ourselves with no shame, no pain, no embarrassment, and no covering up. Dr. Pettingill concludes that in heaven we will know every person in heaven and all of them will be friends and loved ones to us.

In his very helpful book on heaven, W.A. Criswell makes the additional point that individual personality survives into eternity. I’ll be the same person then that I am now-only with all the imperfections and limitations of sin finally removed. This is a wonderful thought-that the essence of who we are will remain throughout eternity-yet vastly improved by God’s grace. [Note: W.A. Criswell and Paige Patterson, Heaven, Tyndale House Publishers, 1991, pp. 33-38. He also says that in heaven we can eat all we want and not get fat. I certainly hope he's right about that.]

That helps me think about a related question that people sometimes ask: How old will we be in heaven? I once heard a preacher say that we will all be 33 years old because that’s approximately how old Jesus was when he died. Of course there is no scriptural support for that statement. The truth is, there won’t be any age in heaven in the sense we speak of age on the earth. Growing old is a function of the decaying effects of sin. I do not believe that babies who die in infancy will be babies for eternity nor do I believe that people who waste away of cancer will appear emaciated in heaven. It will be something else entirely – which I can barely explain and certainly do not understand.

In heaven we will know each other intimately. That’s why Peter, James and John recognized Moses and Elijah, even though they had been dead for hundreds of years, on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9). I don’t think they had nametags on. I think there was something about those two men that made Peter, James and John recognize them even though they had never seen them before.

That’s why a wife whose husband died when she was young will be able to pick her husband out of a crowd of billions of people, even though she hasn’t seen him for 50 years since he died on the earth. In heaven she will say, “Sweetheart! I knew it was you.” And he will know her.

How this can be I do not know, but I believe it to be true. In heaven there will be no strangers.

V. What will we do in heaven?

One of our more honest junior highers put the question this way: “Worshipping God forever in heaven sounds boring – is it wrong to feel this? Is heaven going to be fun?” Again, the Bible doesn’t tell us everything we would like to know, but of this we can be sure: Heaven won’t be boring and it will be more fun than the best party you ever attended.

So what will we do for all eternity? The answer is, we’re going to help God run the universe. Do you remember the story Jesus told about the man of noble birth who gave his servants money to invest? One servant had doubled his money so the man said, “You will rule over ten cities.” The next servant had seen a 50% increase so his master said, “Rule over five cities.” And the man who hid his money had even that amount taken from him in punishment (Luke 19:11-27). The story is a picture of what heaven will be like. We will use our gifts to administer the new heaven and the new earth. Bakers will bake, teachers will teach, singers will sing, and I suppose that preachers will preach. For all I know, soldiers may march off to battle and quarterbacks will throw passes. Think of the flowers the botanists will study. Gifted astronomers will go from galaxy to galaxy studying the wonders of God’s creation.

I can guarantee you this: No one will be sitting around on a cloud eating grapes and polishing his halo. No, we’ll all be too busy for that.

Here are five things that will occupy us in heaven. We will …

  • Worship without distraction.
  • Serve without exhaustion.
  • Fellowship without fear.
  • Learn without fatigue.
  • Rest without boredom.

[Note: this is not original with me. I found this list in a sermon by David Burns, Minister at the Homer Church of Christ, called "Heaven is a Wonderful Place," Feburary 25, 1996.]

The best part of heaven will be seeing Jesus himself face to face. We will worship the Son of God and celebrate his great victory over sin while the endless ages of eternity roll on and on. The best music you’ve ever heard will pale compared to the music of heaven. The most awesome worship you’ve experienced on earth is but a dim reflection of the praise we will render around the throne of God.

VI. How can I be sure I am going to heaven?

This is the most important question of all. Here is a wonderful truth: God has made it easy for you to go to heaven. He did the hard part when he sent his Son to die on the Cross for you. He paid the price for your sins so that you could one day stand before God in heaven. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He also said, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved” (John 10:9, NASB). Jesus is not only the way to heaven, he is also the door to heaven. If you want to go to heaven, you’ve got to go through the door marked “Jesus Christ.” There is no other entrance.

Several years ago Dr. D. James Kennedy, pastor of the famous Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL, joined other evangelical leaders in a meeting with President Ronald Reagan at the White House. During the meeting Dr. Kennedy asked the president this question, “Suppose you were to die and found yourself standing at the door of heaven. If God were to say, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ what answer would you give?”

Before I tell you how the president answered that question, let me ask how you would respond. Picture the scene. You are standing at the very gates of heaven. It’s more beautiful than you ever dreamed possible. This is where you want to spend eternity. This is where you belong. But before you enter, the Lord himself asks what possible reason you have to claim admission. You pause, knowing that all eternity hangs on your answer. What will you say?

Back to the White House. The President paused, thought for a moment, then replied, “Well, I guess I’d have to answer with John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” That is indeed a good answer because your only hope of heaven is through the Lord Jesus Christ. [Note: I have heard this story from several sources and was reminded of it by something Paige Patterson wrote in his introduction to the book he co-authored with Dr. Criswell.]

Let me make this very personal. If you were to die tonight, do you know for certain that you would go to heaven? I’ve already said that this is too important to say “I think so” or “I hope so.” If you’re wrong, you’re going to be wrong for a long, long time.

What we need is solid ground on which to stand. And we have it in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our entire hope of heaven is wrapped up in what Jesus did when he died on the cross for the sins of the world and rose from the dead on Easter Sunday morning. [Note: Charles Ferguson Ball, Heaven, Victor Books, 1980. Dr. Ball served for 30 years as the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of River Forest, IL. This little book is a wonderful compilation of truth about heaven. His last chapter - "What is your hope of heaven?" - is a wonderful presentation of the gospel.]

One of our most beloved hymns puts it this way:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

That says it all. If you want to go to heaven, you must base your hope on the solid rock of Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Are you standing on the Rock this morning? Are you wholly leaning on Jesus’ name?

One final word and I am done. No one goes to heaven by accident. Heaven is God’s prepared place for prepared people. We prepare for heaven and then God prepares heaven for us. I’ve already told you that most people believe in heaven and most people think they are going there. But are they on the right road? Are they building their lives on Jesus Christ-the solid rock? Too many, I fear, are standing on sinking sand and do not know it.

What is your hope for heaven? Mine is Jesus Christ. I’ve staked everything I have on him. If he can’t take me to heaven, then I’m not going there. What about you? When the dark night falls, the lights go out, and the waters of death swirl around you, what will happen to you then? If you know Jesus, you have nothing to fear. Put your trust in Jesus. Run to the Cross. Stand with your full weight on the Solid Rock of our salvation. May God help you to trust in Jesus Christ and him alone for your salvation. And may God grant that we will all meet one day in heaven.

Safe at home. In heaven at last. I’ll be there. What about you?

[Content provided by Keep Believing Ministries.]

 
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Your Most Courageous Resolution for 2014

desiringgod.org
Your Most Courageous Resolution for 2014
by JON BLOOM | DEC. 27, 2013

“Pursue love.” (1 Corinthians 14:1)

Resolutions are good things. They’re biblical: “may [God] may fulfill every resolve for good” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). And I think developing New Year’s resolutions is a very good idea. A year is a defined timeframe long enough to make progress on difficult things and short enough to provide some incentive to keep moving.

A resolve is not a vague intention, like “one of these days I’m going to get that garage cleaned” or “I’m going to read the Bible through this year,” but without any clear plan to do it. Resolves are intentions with strategies attached to them. You don’t just hope something is going to happen; you are planning to make it happen. To be resolved is to be determined.

Make Love Your Aim
But resolves can either be rooted in our selfish ambitions or in the love of God. We must think them through carefully. So as we make our resolutions for 2014, God wants them to all serve this one great end: “pursue love” (1 Corinthians 14:1).

“Pursue” is a very purposeful word. In Greek this verb is “dioko” (dee-o’-ko), meaning to“ seek after eagerly,” like a runner in a race seeks eagerly to win a prize.

The RSV’s translation of this phrase is clearer: “Make love your aim.” It has a sense of single-minded focus to it. The NIV falls short: “Follow the way of love.” It has no edge to it. It sounds like a platitude that the most polite company could smile and nod to without feeling unnerved. It does not capture Paul’s intensity.

No, “dioko” is an aggressive verb. In fact, it can mean to “pursue with hostile intent.” That’s why in the New Testament it is frequently used to mean persecuting or harassing someone.

That sounds like Paul, the former persecutor who became the persecuted. What he is saying to us is that we should pursue love with no less fervency and determination that he once pursued Christians to Damascus — only our aim is not to stop love, but to unleash it and be captured by it, or, I should say, by Him (1 John 4:8).

Plan to Make Love Your Aim
Let this be the year that we pursue love. Let this be the year that we stop talking about love, that we do less regretful moaning about how little we love and how much we need to grow in love and actually be determined to love more the way Jesus loved (John 15:12). Let this be the year and actually put into place some strategies to help us love.

Each person’s situation is so unique that we can’t craft strategies for each other to grow in love. It’s something that we must each do with God, though some feedback and counsel from those who know us best are helpful.

But here are some of the Bible’s great love texts to soak in during 2014 that can help loving strategies emerge:

1 Corinthians 13: soak in or memorize it and let each “love is…” statement in verses 4–7 search your heart. With whom can you show greater patience, kindness, etc.?

John chapters 13–15: soak in or memorize them. Ninety-five verses are very doable. You memorize them in 3–6 months and be transformed.

The Epistle of First John: Soak in or memorize it. You can do it! Forcing yourself to say the verses over and over will yield insights you’ve never seen before.

Take 2–4 weeks and simply meditate on the two greatest commandments according to Jesus (Matthew 22, Mark 12, Luke 10). Look and look at them and pray and pray over them. You will be surprised at what the Lord shows you.

Read Hebrews 13:1–7, take one verse per day and prayerfully meditate on what you might put into place to grow in each area of loving obedience. It may be one thing or ten things.

You get the idea. We don’t need all our strategies in place by January 1st. But we can make 2014 a year where we pursue love with more intentionality than we ever have before. And as we meditate, letting the Word of God dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16), the Holy Spirit will guide us in creating the strategies we should use.

The Most Courageous Resolution
But lets also be clear: making love our aim in 2014 will demand more courage and faith than any other resolution we can make. Nothing exposes the depth of our sin like really seeking to love God with our entire being and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27).

So we must let our pursuit of love drive us to the gospel. None of us has ever kept either of the two great commandments. Ever. Our very best efforts have been polluted by our prideful sin. And we have rarely been at our very best.

We can only love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19) and sent his Son to become our sin for us so that we could become the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ has kept the greatest commandments (and the rest) perfectly for us! So we are forgiven of our constant failure to love as we ought and are given grace to grow in the grace of love. And because of Jesus someday we will love perfectly just as we have been loved.

So let’s make our resolution to pursue love this year more than we ever have knowing that we have been loved with an everlasting love (Psalm 103:17).

Recent posts from Jon Bloom:
Your Most Courageous Resolution for 2014
by JON BLOOM | DEC. 27, 2013

“Pursue love.” (1 Corinthians 14:1)

Resolutions are good things. They’re biblical: “may [God] may fulfill every resolve for good” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). And I think developing New Year’s resolutions is a very good idea. A year is a defined timeframe long enough to make progress on difficult things and short enough to provide some incentive to keep moving.

A resolve is not a vague intention, like “one of these days I’m going to get that garage cleaned” or “I’m going to read the Bible through this year,” but without any clear plan to do it. Resolves are intentions with strategies attached to them. You don’t just hope something is going to happen; you are planning to make it happen. To be resolved is to be determined.

Make Love Your Aim
But resolves can either be rooted in our selfish ambitions or in the love of God. We must think them through carefully. So as we make our resolutions for 2014, God wants them to all serve this one great end: “pursue love” (1 Corinthians 14:1).

“Pursue” is a very purposeful word. In Greek this verb is “dioko” (dee-o’-ko), meaning to“ seek after eagerly,” like a runner in a race seeks eagerly to win a prize.

The RSV’s translation of this phrase is clearer: “Make love your aim.” It has a sense of single-minded focus to it. The NIV falls short: “Follow the way of love.” It has no edge to it. It sounds like a platitude that the most polite company could smile and nod to without feeling unnerved. It does not capture Paul’s intensity.

No, “dioko” is an aggressive verb. In fact, it can mean to “pursue with hostile intent.” That’s why in the New Testament it is frequently used to mean persecuting or harassing someone.

That sounds like Paul, the former persecutor who became the persecuted. What he is saying to us is that we should pursue love with no less fervency and determination that he once pursued Christians to Damascus — only our aim is not to stop love, but to unleash it and be captured by it, or, I should say, by Him (1 John 4:8).

Plan to Make Love Your Aim
Let this be the year that we pursue love. Let this be the year that we stop talking about love, that we do less regretful moaning about how little we love and how much we need to grow in love and actually be determined to love more the way Jesus loved (John 15:12). Let this be the year and actually put into place some strategies to help us love.

Each person’s situation is so unique that we can’t craft strategies for each other to grow in love. It’s something that we must each do with God, though some feedback and counsel from those who know us best are helpful.

But here are some of the Bible’s great love texts to soak in during 2014 that can help loving strategies emerge:

1 Corinthians 13: soak in or memorize it and let each “love is…” statement in verses 4–7 search your heart. With whom can you show greater patience, kindness, etc.?

John chapters 13–15: soak in or memorize them. Ninety-five verses are very doable. You memorize them in 3–6 months and be transformed.

The Epistle of First John: Soak in or memorize it. You can do it! Forcing yourself to say the verses over and over will yield insights you’ve never seen before.

Take 2–4 weeks and simply meditate on the two greatest commandments according to Jesus (Matthew 22, Mark 12, Luke 10). Look and look at them and pray and pray over them. You will be surprised at what the Lord shows you.

Read Hebrews 13:1–7, take one verse per day and prayerfully meditate on what you might put into place to grow in each area of loving obedience. It may be one thing or ten things.

You get the idea. We don’t need all our strategies in place by January 1st. But we can make 2014 a year where we pursue love with more intentionality than we ever have before. And as we meditate, letting the Word of God dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16), the Holy Spirit will guide us in creating the strategies we should use.

The Most Courageous Resolution
But lets also be clear: making love our aim in 2014 will demand more courage and faith than any other resolution we can make. Nothing exposes the depth of our sin like really seeking to love God with our entire being and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27).

So we must let our pursuit of love drive us to the gospel. None of us has ever kept either of the two great commandments. Ever. Our very best efforts have been polluted by our prideful sin. And we have rarely been at our very best.

We can only love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19) and sent his Son to become our sin for us so that we could become the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ has kept the greatest commandments (and the rest) perfectly for us! So we are forgiven of our constant failure to love as we ought and are given grace to grow in the grace of love. And because of Jesus someday we will love perfectly just as we have been loved.

So let’s make our resolution to pursue love this year more than we ever have knowing that we have been loved with an everlasting love (Psalm 103:17).

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Believing in Jesus: A Deeper Meaning

Believing in Jesus: A Deeper Meaning
Fifty days had passed after the Jewish religious leaders had secured Jesus’ death. It was rumored that God had raised Jesus from the dead, but only his disciples were witnesses to this fact. Jesus had been the talk of Israel while he lived with them and performed miracles, so his death remained a subject of much discussion. Many with sincere hearts felt a sense of shame and guilt about the fact that such a good person had been so badly treated. Some blamed the religious leaders, some the Roman government, and perhaps others felt, after the fact, that they might have done more to save Jesus.
When the day of Pentecost came, and after the Spirit descended on the disciples in the form of “cloven tongues” bestowing the gift of languages upon those assembled, the Apostle Peter addressed the crowds. They were amazed to hear their own languages spoken, even though the assembled Jews came from fifteen different nations and languages (Acts 2:2-12). The Lord, who had confused the tongues at Babel, was not going to allow language barriers to hinder the spread of the Gospel. With the gift of tongues or languages the apostles were able to bridge the translation barriers. The assembled Jews were each able to hear the Gospel in a language they understood.
Peter’s Pentecostal Sermon
Acts 2:36-38, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” 
Peter had laid the matter clearly before them. They were a part of a nation that had “crucified” Jesus. Those standing there were not personally responsible for Jesus’ death, yet they could not help but feel some shame and guilt. They wished to be relieved of this burden as well as for their own personal sins. They did not ask for “eternal life,” nor did they ask that they might go to heaven. Peter had told them to “Save yourselves from this untoward generation” (Acts 2:40). This is what they wished to do. Three thousand repented and received exactly what they were promised: “remission of sins” and the “gift of the Holy Spirit.”
It is conceded that everyone who is begotten of the holy Spirit is imbued with the hope of a Heavenly birth. We are called in the “one hope of our calling” (Eph. 4:4). In the natural realm, all begotten do not come to birth. Miscarriages are very common. Some fetuses may be carried to birth and then be stillborn. Hence, everyone who received the begettal of the holy Spirit had a legitimate hope of a spiritual birth, but not a guarantee. 
The logical question is, has anyone ever received more than the Pentecostal converts did? There is no reason to believe so. Anything more is not possible. To receive the free gift of “justification” and to be imbued with God’s Spirit of sonship is unspeakable grace. This is the starting place where disciples are enrolled in the Christian racecourse. Paul says, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor. 9:24-27). “Many are called, but few are chosen” and fewer still remain “faithful” (Matt. 22:14; Rev. 17:14). 
The Philippian Jailer
When the Philippian jailer received Paul and Silas under his guard, his life depended on securing them so they could not escape. Had they escaped, according to Roman law, the jailer would be put to death. When an earthquake freed Paul and Silas, the jailer thought his prisoners had escaped. He was prepared to take his own life rather than submit to a Roman execution. So Paul and Silas actually saved his life by telling the guard, “Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.” The jailer found Paul and Silas and led them out of the prison. He then asked them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The answer was, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved [Gk., sozo], and thy house” (Acts 16: 28-31).
These fourteen words did not represent the full conversation that took place that night. We believe much more was said, but the jailer whose literal life had already been saved that night, was seeking salvation from the sin and judgment standing against him. The jailer and his household received the same blessing as the Pentecostal believers, “remission of sins” and the “gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 3:37, 2:38). This placed them on the path leading to eternal life, but did not instantly provide them the character attainments that are also necessary.
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and Thou Shalt be Saved”
This phrase has become the stock and trade keynote of many evangelical preachers. They have shouted these words outside taverns, on the street corners or wherever they can capture an audience. In contrast, never did Jesus cry aloud for people to believe on him. He spoke in parables and dark sayings, so that the people could not grasp the full weight of his ministry. His disciples later asked him why. Jesus told them, “Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them” (Mark 4:11, 12). Jesus invited only believers to enter the “strait [difficult] gate” and the “narrow” way that leads unto life (Matt. 7:14). It seems evident that Jesus’ ministry was very focused, as compared with many of today’s frenzied efforts to save everyone in sight.
Consider again the words of Paul and Silas in Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” The most overlooked part of this formula for salvation is the true meaning of the word “believe.” In the Greek, this is “pisteuo.” It is defined as “to adhere to, [to] trust, [to] rely on” (Young’s Concordance, p. 86). If one really relies upon Jesus as his Savior, trusts in him fully, clings to him, and is convinced that he is the redeemer of the world, what a change will be wrought in his life! Such a believer no longer lives to self, but renounces self will and gladly dedicates his life to doing the will of God. Jesus’ words become the keynote of his life: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).
Thus, the seemingly simple scriptural declaration that belief in Christ leads directly to assurance of salvation takes on added meaning. The account of Paul and Silas in Acts 16:30, 31 as rendered in the Amplified Version seems especially incisive: “Men, what is it necessary for me to do that I may be saved? And they answered, Believe in and on the Lord Jesus Christ [that is, give yourself up to Him, take yourself out of your own keeping and entrust yourself into His keeping], and you will be saved. … And they declared the Word of the Lord [that is, the doctrine concerning the attainment through Christ of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God] to him.”
John 3:16, perhaps the most beloved verse in the Bible, is rendered thus in the Amplified Version: “For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He (even) gave up His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts, clings to, relies on) Him may not perish-come to destruction, be lost-but have eternal (everlasting) life.” Be it noted that this is the kind of belief spoken of and required in the Bible-relying intimately upon the Savior and laying down life itself in his service. This is the mature belief that leads to justification of life, full salvation and peace with God. We trust that all can see that this is quite different from a mere nominal expression of belief or glib utterance of words.

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Why Does God Test Us? Why Can’t We Test Him? A Bible Study

Why Does God Test Us? Why Can’t We Test Him? A Bible Study
by JACK WELLMAN on
Does God test us and if so, why? What is God’s purpose for testing His children? Why can’t we test Him?
God Tests His Children
The Bible is full of stories about those who had no other choice but to trust in God. Our trust is like faith and our faith is only as strong as the Object of our faith – and that is God. God is completely trustworthy and never breaks His promises but God does test us and there is a purpose behind this. God wanted to test or try Abraham’s faith when He told Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son Isaac. This was the son of promise which was given to Abraham in his old age. Abraham was old and thought past the age of being able to have children through his wife Sarah. When Abraham finally did have a son, God wanted him to sacrifice his son. We read this account in Genesis 22:2 where God told Abraham to “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Interestingly, Moriah was the same place that God the Father would literally sacrifice His only Son Jesus Christ at Calvary. Abraham was obedient and “Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance” (Genesis 22:3-4). Just think about that. Abraham didn’t delay. He left early in the morning and for three full days and nights must have thought about his son Isaac being sacrificed. This is the same son through whom the promised seed would bring “many nations” into being and through this same linage, the Messiah would be born.
One wonders what Isaac must have been thinking when “Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:7-8). What did Isaac think as he was being tied up (Genesis 22:8) and coming to a realization that he was to be the sacrifice? There is no indication that Abraham hesitated or that Isaac resisted. Talk about a test! Ironically, Abraham’s words would be fulfilled in reality that “God Himself will provide the lamb” and that would later be Jesus Christ, the Perfect Lamb of God…given as a sacrificial sin offering. Abraham passed his greatest test of all and God told him, “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” (Genesis 22:12). This is why Abraham is called the father of the faithful and is said of him in Hebrews 11:17, “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son.” James wrote that “his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did” (James 2:22). God may not test us just to see how strong our faith is but to see our faith grow. God proves every son and daughter of His.
The Faith Test
God may not test us just to see how strong our faith is but to see our faith grow.
Abraham is not the only one who had to be tested by faith. So too will believers be today as it is written, “we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). Paul sees God as testing our hearts and that this testing proves the strength of our faith. Joseph was also tested by God as “He sent a man before them [Joseph], who was sold as a slave. They afflicted his feet with fetters, He himself was laid in irons; Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the Lord tested him” (Psalm 105:17-19).
Trials can test us too as James wrote to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-5) because “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). When I bought my last car I took it for a test drive. Wouldn’t you? I never buy anything without first testing it and if I didn’t test it and it doesn’t work well or breaks down, then that is my fault. God also tests us with trials to ensure that our faith in Him is strong. Trials can not only test our faith, they can strengthen it, making us more dependent upon God and to be determined to trust Him in all circumstances.
Jesus Himself tested His own disciples once as recorded in John: “When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.” They obviously failed the test because Phillip and Peter said, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many” (John 6:5-9)? I cannot judge Phillip and Peter though for I can’t count the times that I failed in trusting God.
Do Not Test God
If God can test us, then why can’t we test Him? Why would we need to because God is faithful and just and never breaks a promise that He makes? He is completely trustworthy in every way. God is not pleased when we put Him to the test as Jesus rebuked the Devil in the Temptation in the Wilderness, where Jesus was tempted. “Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. If you are the Son of God, he said, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4:5-7). Jesus plainly said that we are not to put “God to the test.” Why not? If we are testing God then we are showing a lack of trust in Him. Here, Satan not only took text out of context, he used it as a pretext – and a false one at that.
God’s Appointed Leaders
God has not changed. He also forbid Israel to test Him as in Deuteronomy 6:16 saying “Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.” Earlier in Israel’s history, they tested God at Massah and Meribah when they said, “because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not“ (Genesis 17:7). Every time God is put to the test, it proves disastrous for Israel. In Genesis 17:3 they tested God by grumbling against their leader Moses, “But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
Today when we speak evil of pastors, elders, deacons, or church leadership, we are testing God for whoever God has put into the Body of Christ as His leader, He did so intentionally. When you grumble against church leadership, you are actually grumbling against God Himself. Paul must have heard his fair share of grumbling against church leadership, including himself, and perhaps this is why he wrote a serious warning to the church at Corinth, “And do not grumble, as some of them did–and were killed by the destroying angel” (1 Corinthians 10:10). In Numbers 16:11 we see that “It is against the LORD that you and all your followers have banded together. Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?” Moses said, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: If these men die a natural death and suffer the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt” (Numers 16:28-30). Read all of Numbers chapter 16 and you will see how displeased or angry that God gets when He is tested and by grumbling against leadership; you grumbling against that man that God put into that position. God warns us all throughout the entire Bible, “Do not touch My anointed ones, And do My prophets no harm” (Psalm 105:15).
Proving God is Not Testing God
In Malachi, many have the misconception that we can test God with our tithes and offerings as it is written, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” (Malachi 3:10). The better translations have it right as it should read, “Prove me now” instead of “test me in this.” Besides, you can see by the context of Malachi chapter three that it is about trusting in God to provide for our needs when we are faithful and trusting in our giving to Him. Israel had been robbing God by withholding their offerings and wanted them to trust Him or prove that He would reward those who were faithful in their giving.
The example of Gideon putting out the fleece is not a good example to use that we can test God because God took the initiative in calling Gideon to do something for Him and not the other way around (Judges 6). Gideon’s clan was the weakest in Israel, they were the smallest, and they were farmers and not skilled in war or battle-hardened like those who God asked Him to destroy. Now if God comes down to speak to you in an audible voice and requires or asks of you something that seems impossible, then you can most certainly test Him but until that happens, I wouldn‘t recommend it. The Bible is full of examples where God is angered when tested. Why do we need to test God? He is the Supreme Creator, the Maker of the Universe, and He is omnipotent (all-powerful). God says, “Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son” (Genesis 18:14), “For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37), Paul understood that “God had power to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:21). Job who went through the greatest trial of any (save what Jesus endured) and said, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). So my question is why would we want to test God if nothing is impossible for Him?
Conclusion
Here is the greatest test of all. Will you put your trust in God? By trusting in Jesus Christ, you will be saved and receive eternal life. Jesus says to those who have put their trust in Him, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God’ believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3). Will He be coming back for you? It is your time now, if you have not already done so, to put your trust in Him and believe in Him because “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this” (John 11:25-26)? I hope you will believe this. Jesus said it and since He is God, He can not lie (Hebrews 6:18).

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Only Socks

Originally posted on :

Colossians 1:24-4:18

What did you think of this verse in today’s reading?

Colossians 3:5 “Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.”

I don’t want to be this person anymore. I don’t want to be greedy.

I don’t know about you but after yesterday’s message from Pastor Mark I’m saying yes to what God has told me to do!  (Side note: If you weren’t in service yesterday, go check it out on the app or podcast this week). No matter how scared I feel about saying yes to God about some things, I know I will feel better once I just listen and obey.

I’ll let you in on one of the things God keeps telling me to do.

There is an old (and I think a little bit crazy) guy that roams around Gainesville.  I didn’t think much of it…

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Only Socks

Originally posted on :

Colossians 1:24-4:18

What did you think of this verse in today’s reading?

Colossians 3:5 “Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.”

I don’t want to be this person anymore. I don’t want to be greedy.

I don’t know about you but after yesterday’s message from Pastor Mark I’m saying yes to what God has told me to do!  (Side note: If you weren’t in service yesterday, go check it out on the app or podcast this week). No matter how scared I feel about saying yes to God about some things, I know I will feel better once I just listen and obey.

I’ll let you in on one of the things God keeps telling me to do.

There is an old (and I think a little bit crazy) guy that roams around Gainesville.  I didn’t think much of it…

View original 158 more words

Leave a comment

The Lifter of My Head

The Lifter of My Head

Depression isn’t a word I ordinarily associate with myself. It’s touched my occasionally, but only three or four times in my life have I fallen to a low, low spot. When I’m down, my body shows it. For example, I hang my head, unable to look up.

When I hang my head it reflects my state of mind–shame, depression, despair, or uncertainty.

This makes me think of King David when Absalom, his son, usurps the throne. Instead of staying and fighting, the elderly monarch and a few trusted friends leave Jerusalem on foot. “But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up” (2 Sm 15:30, NIV).

That may sound a little more extreme than the way we would respond today. They acted out what they felt.

If we are to believe the titles under the psalm, which are not part of the original text, Psalms 3 tells the poetic version of David’s flight from his own son. It calls for deliverance, but in the middle of it, David makes a striking statement: “You are a shield around me, O LORD, you bestow glory on me and lift up my head” (3:3).

In thinking of that psalm, I particularly meditate on the phrase, “lift up my head.” It presents a beautiful image for us. It’s as if we are kneeling before a king, our heads lowered, perhaps even fearful, supplicants prostrate before the throne. We’re facing the one who has the power of life and death by his word. The king reaches down, clasps our chins and with his own hands lifts our face upward. Now we look directly into his face. That gesture is to show that we have found favor with the ruler. The literal translation is to “make high” the head.

In the Bible, it’s intriguing to see ways in which the idea of the position of the head is used. For instance, Nehemiah tells of the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the exile in Babylon. When Sanballat and others try to stop their work, the writer cries out, “Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads” (Neh 4:4a, NIV). Psalms 7:16 reads, “The trouble he causes recoils on himself; his violence comes down on his own head” (NIV).

Or, “For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me” (Ps 27:5-6a, NIV).

Here’s a nice contrast: “O Sovereign LORD, my strong deliverer, who shields my head in the day of battle—do not grant the wicked their desires, O LORD…. Let the heads of those who surround me be covered with the trouble their lips have caused” (Ps 140:7, 8a, 9, NIV).

The best image of the lifting up of the head comes from an incident recorded in the story of Nehemiah, the cup bearer of King Artaxerxes of Persia. He writes: “In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; so the king asked me, ‘Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.’ I was very much afraid…” (Neh 2:1-3a, NIV).

Nehemiah tells the king about his sadness for the destroyed city of Jerusalem. The king lifts Nehemiah’s head by listening to his servant and granting him permission and provision to rebuild Jerusalem.

This is the lifting up of the head—something all of us need at times. I can think of a couple of times when I’ve said harsh words, done something stupid, or behaved badly. I felt so guilty and ashamed of my actions that I couldn’t look anyone in the eye. I kept my head down and my eyes averted.

The other day I pulled out in front of another driver. I honestly didn’t see him, but that didn’t excuse me. He leaned on his horn and swerved around me. I held my head low and avoided his gaze. I knew I was wrong.

Isn’t that the way we are with God? Awareness of failure makes us drop our gaze, or even avoid praying.

Here’s another example. In an irritated mood, I had said several harsh things to a man that calls me three or four times a week and wants to chat for half an hour. During a morning jog the next morning, as I ran down the quiet street, I kept thinking of what I had said to the man. Even though I had apologized immediately, I felt ashamed. It was as if I couldn’t look God in the eyes as I prayed. I raced along the road, my eyes on the ground in front of me.

“I’m sorry,” I kept saying. “I’ve hurt someone and I know that pierces your heart too. Forgive me.”

I kept running, my heart heavy, and my steps seemed too slow. I probably told God a dozen times I was sorry. Then I felt a wave of peace come over me. It was as if God lifted my chin so that I could look into divine eyes, and then said, “I forgive you.”

I didn’t hear words. I didn’t need to.

I knew that God had lifted my head and shown me favor.

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God. –Psalms 42:11, NKJV

But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. I cried to the LORD with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill. –Psalms 3:3-4, NKJV

Lifter of My Head,
thank you for making me look upward,
and thank you for looking down on me with favor.
May I ever be faithful to you. Amen.

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