You’ve Got Questions: Do Children/Babies Go to Heaven?

You’ve Got Questions: Do Children/Babies Go to Heaven?

The Age of Accountability

The idea of the “age of accountability” is that children are not held accountable by God for their sins until they reach a certain age, and that if a child dies before reaching the “age of accountability,’ that child will, by the grace and mercy of God, be granted entrance into Heaven. Is the concept of an age of accountability biblical? Is there such a thing as an “age of innocence”?

First of all, it is important to mention that the fact that children, no matter how young, are not “innocent” in the sense of being sinless, and this is frequently lost in the discussion regarding the age of accountability. The Bible tells us that even if an infant or child has not committed personal sin, all people, including infants and children, are guilty before God because of inherited and imputed sin. Inherited sin is that which is passed on from our parents. In Psalm 51:5, David wrote, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” David recognized that even at conception, he was a sinner. The very sad fact that infants sometimes die demonstrates that even infants are impacted by Adam’s sin, since physical and spiritual death were the results of Adam’s original sin.

Still, what about babies and young children who never reach the ability to recognize sin? The age of accountability is a concept that teaches those who die before reaching the age of accountability are automatically saved, by God’s grace and mercy. The age of accountability is a belief that God saves all those who die before reaching the ability to make a decision for or against Christ. Thirteen is the most common number given for the age of accountability, based on the Jewish custom that a child becomes an adult at the age of 13. However, the Bible gives no direct support to the age of 13 always being the age of accountability. It likely varies from child to child. A child has passed the age of accountability once he or she is capable of making a faith decision for or against Christ.

David’s Confession

The one passage that seems to identify with this topic more than any other is 2 Samuel 12:21-23. King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, with a resulting pregnancy. The prophet Nathan was sent by the Lord to inform David that because of his sin, the Lord would take the child in death. David responded to this by grieving, mourning, and praying for the child. But once the child was taken, David’s mourning ended. David’s servants were surprised to hear this. They said to King David, “What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” David’s response was, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” David’s response indicates that those who cannot believe are safe in the Lord. David said that he could go to the child, but that he could not bring the child back to him. Also, and just as important, David seemed to be comforted over this. In other words, David seemed to be saying that he would see the child (in heaven), though he could not bring him back.

Conclusion

While these passages imply that God applies Christ’s payment for sin to those who cannot believe, the Bible does not specifically say that He does this. Therefore, this is a subject about which we should not be adamant or dogmatic. God’s applying Christ’s death to those who cannot believe would seem consistent with His love and mercy. But we can safely assume that God applies Christ’s payment for sin to young children and those who are mentally handicapped, since they were not mentally capable of understanding their sinful state and their need for the Savior, but again we cannot be dogmatic. Of this we are certain: God is loving, holy, merciful, just, and gracious. Whatever He does is always right and good.

 

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You’ve Got Questions: How Many People Are Going to Heaven?

You’ve Got Questions: How Many People Are Going to Heaven?

While the Bible does not give a specific numerical answer (Ex. 3,400,832), there is a passage of Scripture that gives us an answer we can work with. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Christ is calling His listeners to enter by the narrow gate and He gives a warning concerning the wide gate. What are these two gates? They are the entrance to two different “ways.” The wide gate leads to the broad way, or road. The small narrow gate leads to the way that is narrow. The narrow way is the way of the godly, and the broad way is the way of the ungodly.

The broad way is the easy way. It is attractive and self-indulgent. It is permissive. It’s the inclusive way of the world, with few rules, few restrictions, and fewer requirements. Tolerance of sin is the norm where God’s Word is not studied and His standards not followed. This way requires no spiritual maturity, no moral character, no commitment, and no sacrifice. It is the easy way of following “the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). It is that broad way that “seems right to a man, but end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12).

The gateway to eternal life, called “narrow” does not mean that it is difficult to become a Christian. But it does mean that there is only one way to live eternally with God and that only a few decide to walk that road. Believing in Jesus is the only way to heaven, because He alone died for our sins and makes us right before God. Living His way is not popular, but it is true and right. The narrow way is the hard way, the demanding way. It is the way of recognizing that you cannot save yourself and must depend on Jesus Christ alone to save you. It’s the way of self-denial and the cross. The fact that few find God’s way implies that it is to be sought diligently. “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). The point is this that no one will stumble into the kingdom or wander through the narrow gate by accident. Someone asked Jesus: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” He replied, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:23-24).

Jesus knows that many will choose the wide gate and the broad way which leads to destruction and hell. Correspondingly, He said that only a few will choose the narrow gate. So how many people are going to heaven? According to Matthew 7:13-14, there is no doubt that more will go to hell than to heaven.

In addition, many are confused by thinking that the reference to the 144,000 in Revelation 7:4 is a reference to how many people are going to heaven. However, that is a claim from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They claim that 144,000 is a limit to the number of people who will reign with Christ in heaven and spend eternity with God. The 144,000 have what the Jehovah’s Witnesses call the “heavenly hope.” Those who are not among the 144,000 will enjoy what they call the earthly hope—a paradise on earth ruled by Christ and the 144,000. First, this claim should be rejected because Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. In fact, they believe that the church has corrupted the Bible over the centuries. If they do not believe that every word is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), and therefore without error, then how can we even begin to lean in their direction of interpretation? Additionally, the governing body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society) is the only body in the cult that claims authority to interpret Scripture. In other words, what the governing body says concerning any scriptural passage is viewed as the last word, and independent thinking is strongly discouraged. By stark contrast, the Bible teaches that we should all study the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15).

Finally, while there are varying views among evangelical Christians as to how to interpret Revelation, we Christians can all agree that the Bible places no numerical group on the children of God.

Further Resources: Who Are the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Ephesians: He Himself is Our Peace (2:14-18)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 24th day of November 2013:

The Design of the Death of Christ

If you care about the Son of God, if you care about the blood of Christ, if you care about the death of the greatest person who ever was, you have to care about the design of the death. (1) That’s where Ephesians 2:14-18 comes in. These verses form the centerpiece of this entire section (2:11-22) because they explain how the Gentile readers’ coming near to God was made possible through Christ’s death. The Gentiles, who were completely separated from Israel and her God (2:11-12) have now been brought near to Him (2:13). God’s Word to us tonight explains how.

The Text

“14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

He Himself Is Our Peace

“For he himself is our peace. . .” (v. 14a). This is an important, but strange affirmation about Jesus. If you’re like me, you’re used to seeing Jesus as making peace (“We have peace with God. . . through Jesus” Romans 5:1.) or as proclaiming and commanding peace (“Blessed are the peacemakers. .” Matt. 5:9). But here Paul says, “He himself is our peace.” The reason Paul says this is because Jesus is the central figure in establishing peace (as you will see in this passage) between both Jew and Gentile. Christ is the central figure who effects reconciliation and removes hostility in its various forms. If you notice in 2:14-18, every time Jesus in named, He is followed by the word or phrase peace. 1) v. 14 “He himself is our peace.” 2) He established peace (v. 15) 3) He came and preached peace (v. 17). And once you take a good long look at Christ’s reconciling work through the cross, you will have no wonder why Paul states, “He himself is our peace.”

Made Us Both One

“. . who has made us both one” (v. 14b). This refers to the resulting unity of Jewish and Gentile believers. Christ has made both Jew and Gentile one. You may say, “Okay. Great.” But do you understand what a great accomplishment this was? The Jews hated the Gentiles. A. T. Lincoln rightly says, “In accomplishing this, Christ has transcended one of the fundamental divisions of the first-century world” (2). And that’s what makes this verse so amazing. He has made both one. They have been brought into a mutual relationship and a unity which surpasses what they once were (vv. 15, 16, 18).

How did Christ make the two one? “[He has] broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances” (v. 14c-15a). This is a rather strange metaphor from the apostle Paul, mainly because no such parallel exists in the entire New Testament. But by simply stating this, Paul indicates that there was a real dividing wall that existed between the Jews and Gentiles. There was an inscription on the wall of the outer courtyard of the Jerusalem temple warning Gentiles that they would only have themselves to blame for their death if they passed beyond it into the inner courts. This was segregation for them. If you grew up during that time, then you can best grasp what life was like for Jews and Gentiles. Though this serves as a great picture of the hostility between Jews and Gentiles, this isn’t what Paul is referring to here. The “dividing wall of hostility” was, in fact, the Mosaic law itself with its detailed holiness code. It separated Jews from Gentiles both religiously and sociologically, and caused deep-seated hostility. “The enmity which was caused by the Jews’ separateness was often accompanied by a sense of superiority on their part,” says Peter O’Brien (3). Paul isn’t ‘downing’ the Law here. Why would he count the Law as worthless when he says, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means!” over in Romans 7? Paul is saying here that what has been abolished is the ‘law-covenant,’ that is, the law as a whole conceived as a covenant. In addition, Christ said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). It is not the Law as revealing the will and character of God that Christ has abolished, it is the ‘law-covenant.’ It is then replaced by a new covenant for Jews and Gentiles.

Barriers

If the Law in some way was the dividing wall in the ancient world, for us it is racial difference. The hostility between races, especially between blacks and whites, in virtually all countries continues as an embarrassment. Did Christ’s death abolish all the barriers? The barrier between Jew and Gentile was one of the most obvious in history. If this barrier has been “broken down,” what other barrier can be justified? If God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:11), if all are created in His image, if God’s purpose is unity, if we are to love even our enemies (Matt. 5:44), if Christ took the hostility into Himself to destroy it, on what grounds can we justify keeping any barriers in place? If this hostility was so deep, large, and wide that God desired it be broken down through the crucifixion of the most important person who ever was, then who do we think we are to hold prejudices and hostility against a brother or sister in Christ? “He has made us both one!”

If you belong to the family of God, “He has made us both one!” You will have differences with one another. But our differences shouldn’t create hostility because the cross is at ground level. No one has higher value than someone else in the church of God. If you are male and she’s female, if you’re rich and he’s poor, if you’re black and she’s white, if you’re Calvinist and he’s Arminian, if you wear Blue Jeans and he wears a suit, if you’re older and she’s younger, if you like Contemporary and he likes Bluegrass, if you’re country as cornbread and she’s a city-girl, and if any of those things create hostility between you, remember this: None of our barriers, none of our ways of devaluing, limiting, and taking advantage of others, has any basis. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Abolishing the Law

The purpose of Christ’s removing this hostility was twofold: (1) to create in Himself one new man in place of the two (v. 15b), and (2) in this one body to reconcile both of them to God (v. 16a). If Christ has broken down, crushed, and shattered the “dividing wall of hostility,” then how did He do it? The first part of verse 15 tells us. Christ brought them together in a sovereign act that was nothing less than a new creation. Paul has already spoken of God’s salvation in terms of a new creation (2:10). Believers are his workmanship who have already been created in Christ Jesus for good works, and these are part of God’s intention for that new creation. If God had in mind to create a new humanity, His church, it could not take place by transforming a Gentile into a Jew and it could not take place by transforming a Jew into a Gentile, the only way it could take place was by transforming sinners into new persons through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Reconciliation between Jew and Gentile takes place through the death of Christ by the one similarity that they actually shared: they were sinners in need of salvation.

Reconcile Us Both to God

If Christ has removed the hostility between Jew and Gentile and has reconciled the two into one body, then it follows that we must both be “reconciled to God.” Do you hear the vivid language in verse 16? “And might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” What an oxymoron! While “creating in himself one new man” (v. 15), Christ also kills the hostility. Christ has abolished the law as a divisive instrument separating humanity from God and Jews from Gentiles. He has created a single new humanity that transcends the former deep divisions and made peace between them. He has reconciled both Jew and Gentile in this one body to God, killing the hostility. This does not mean, however, that the whole human race has been united and reconciled.

Is God Distant?

Sometimes, as believers, we can think of God as distant or unapproachable. This lack of a sense of the nearness to God lies at the root of much of human failure. But the Bible tells us here that we have been “reconciled to God.” In Christ, we have been brought to God, and the barriers blocking access to Him, such as sin, hostility, and the weakness of the flesh have been removed. But when we feel distant from God, it isn’t He who has moved. It is us. God asks Israel in Jeremiah 8:4-5, “When men fall, do they not rise again? If one turns away, does he not return? Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding?” Backsliding starts in such a subtle way that most of us are not aware of it, and many of us may be backslidden and may not realize it. And while we need to fall on our face in repentance and return to God, we are no longer separated from God. J.D. Greear captures this truth by means of prayer, “In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less.” (4)

Christ the Preacher

Having dwelt at length on Christ’s work of reconciliation, Paul now turns to his proclamation of peace to both Gentile and Jew. “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (v. 17). The One who is ‘our peace’ and who made peace through His cross now announces that peace to those who were far off and those who were near. Christ Himself is the evangelist, the herald of good tidings from Isaiah, and His announcement, which is based on His death on the cross, is a royal proclamation that hostilities are at an end. You see, the Jews were near to God because they already knew of Him through the Scriptures and worshiped Him in their religious ceremonies (the outward expression of the Law). The Gentiles were “far off” because they knew little or nothing about God. Because neither group could ever be saved by good works or sincerity, both needed to hear about salvation available through Jesus. Both Jews and Gentiles are now free to come to God through Christ (v. 18).

Commanded and Commissioned

If preaching peace to all was good enough for the Man who died on the cross, then it ought to bee good enough for us. And while Christ is our example in everything, what’s more is we have been commanded and commissioned by Christ Himself to take this message of peace to our communities, our nation, and to the nations (Acts 1:8; Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15). Did you know that are 2,925 unreached people groups and 6,578 people groups where evangelical Christians make up 2% of the population? (5) We must “Go and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). You see, you may know a great deal about God and the teachings of Scripture, but do not forget that you were once without Christ and in need of a Savior, just like everyone else on the face of this planet. Do not forget your plight before Jesus stepped in (Eph. 2:11).

Access in One Spirit to the Father

To draw near to God and to enjoy Him forever in a new creation is both mankind’s greatest good and the ultimate accomplishment of Christ’s earthly work of redemption. “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (v. 18). What an appropriate conclusion to this section of Scripture! Through Him, we of different races, different interest, different social status, different economical status, different looks, have access in one Spirit to the Father. Paul’s focus here is on their (Jew and Gentile) continuing relationship with the Father which is the result of Christ’s act of reconciliation. This is important because if Christ has in fact “created in himself one new man (v. 15), then this verse tells us how this new creation will continue to grow. The Holy Spirit will continue to apply the work of redemption to people’s lives and the Holy Spirit will continue to give new spiritual life to the undeserving. And it is the Holy Spirit who will empower us to carry this message of peace to the lost, to the dying, and to those in need of salvation.

Through this reconciliation work of Christ on the cross, we have access to the Father in a relationship with Him. It isn’t the Law that is the expression of our covenant with the Father, the sacrificial death of Jesus is the expression of our covenant with the Father. Indeed, He Himself is our peace.

You’ve Got Questions: Does Acts 2:38 Mean That Baptism is Necessary for Salvation?

You’ve Got Questions: Does Acts 2:38 Mean That Baptism is Necessary for Salvation?

“And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

Peter in his sermon at Pentecost connects baptism to the forgiveness of sins. Does baptism really forgive sins? If so, what about the unbaptized? The connection of baptism with the forgiveness of sins has already occurred in Luke-Acts, for in Luke 3:3 the author has already mentioned “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (see also Mt. 3:6; Mk. 1:4). What is more, baptism is connected to salvation in 1 Peter 3:21. Thus what we are looking at is not an isolated text, but the function of baptism, not only in Acts, but also in other New Testament documents. In effect, we are asking about the process of Christian initiation in the New Testament: how does one come into the Christian faith?

In Acts Peter outlines the process in logical steps. First, there is repentance. That is, one first realizes that he or she is in a bad position. Repentance in general is turning from one’s own way because now he or she knows that it is not God’s way. The second step could be broken into two parts. Peter expresses it as being “baptized. . . in the name of Jesus Christ.” If repentance is a turning from, this is a turning to. It is not enough to simply reject one’s former way of life as not being God’s way; a person must turn to go God’s way. What constitutes God’s way is Jesus Christ (John 14:6). The early Christian confession was “Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10:9, 10). “Faith in Jesus” could also be translated “commitment to Jesus” or “trust in Jesus.” In other words, the person acknowledges and Jesus is indeed the Messiah, God’s designated ruler (not a criminal justly condemned), and Jesus is living and worthy of obedience and worship.

If that is the commitment, how does one make it? The answer given by Peter is baptism. It is in baptism that the early Christian (and in many places, the Christian today) made his or her official pledge of allegiance to Jesus. That is why 1 Peter 3:21 refers to a “pledge of a good conscience,” that is the pledge to God to follow Jesus made, not deceptively, but in a good conscience. It is no wonder, then, that baptism is connected to the forgiveness of sin, and this is the normal way in the New Testament to make that commitment. In other words, baptism is viewed in Acts something like a marriage ceremony: it is the time when one takes the pledge of identity with Jesus. It is how one expresses faith.

The third step in the process is not one which the person does, although on at least some occasions in Acts the leaders of the church do function as vehicles for it (Acts 8:17; 9:17; 19:6). In this step God grants the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul will argue that a person can know that they are truly a Christian by the fact that they have received the Spirit (Rom. 8:9), and Acts agrees. With this response of God, the process of Christian “initiation” is complete. The person is a full part of the church, equipped for all that God has called him or her to do, although there will certainly be a process of learning and maturing to go through as they begin to live out the new life.

 The reason that Peter’s statement in Acts seems so strange to us is that in the modern church we sometimes do things differently. Because so many different understandings of baptism exist, evangelists who work across denominational lines generally avoid talking about it. Even those working within a single denomination often separate baptism from the conversion process. Thus in some Baptist groups one “prays a sinner’s prayer” and/or signs a “decision card” at the point of conversion and then may be baptized as part of “joining the church” or “giving a public testimony” to one’s faith. Yet the individual is recognized as a full Christian even without baptism. On the other hand, some (but by no means at all) people baptized in mainline denominations may have grown up in families that rarely attended church. They come to adulthood with a baptismal certificate and no conscious faith. Then they hear an evangelist and make a conscious commitment to Christ. They too prayer a prayer and/or sign a card. But unless they decide to leave their old denomination, they will not be baptized. They will perhaps say, “I have finally personally actualized those vows that my parents spoke over me.” In either case the prayer and decision card substitute for the role of baptism in Peter’s speech.

 So what of the unbaptized believer? The critical issue is the making of a pledge in a good conscience. God looks on the heart. This verse in Acts in no way indicates that baptism is the means by which you receive the Spirit of God into your heart in life or the justification for sin. As an old preacher once said, “Baptism isn’t a have to thing, but it is a need to thing.”

Recommended Resource: Hard Sayings of the Bible

You’ve Got Questions: How Do You Know if You’re Doing What God Desires/Wants?

You’ve Got Questions: How Do You Know if You’re Doing What God Desires/Wants?

There are a few practical questions you need to ask yourself in every situation that will help you determine whether or not you are doing what God wants. Here are a few:

1) What would be the best way to glorify God right now?
2) The classic: What would Jesus do?
3) Does the attitude or action please God?
4) Would God say it is good?
5) Would it cause me or someone else to lose touch with God?

While these are essential questions to ask yourself in every situation, I think there is a green-light indicator that shows whether or not you are doing what God desires. Fruitfulness. Fruitfulness is the evidence of our doing what God wants. Fruit is the direct result of whatever controls our hearts (Matthew 15:19). The fruit of a life not surrendered to Jesus includes “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage,” and many more evil acts (Galatians 5:19–20). In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit of God is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). In addition, God the Father is the gardener (John 15:1), and He desires for us to be fruitful. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). As branches cling to the vine, we cling to Christ, drawing our very life from Him. The goal is “much fruit,” as Christ uses us to bring about blessed, celestial results in a broken, fallen world.

The evidence that you are being obedient and doing what He desires is the fruitfulness of your Christian life. Are you producing fruit? Fruit-bearing isn’t always winning souls or gaining a greater number in your Sunday attendance, but your attitudes will be different, your desires will be different, and your actions will be different. So how do you know if you’re doing what God wants? It is helpful to ask the questions above in every situation, but we need not forget about fruitfulness in our Christian lives.

Ephesians: Therefore Remember

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 27th day of October 2013:

Introduction

Memory is a wonderful gift from God that enables life; without it true living is virtually impossible. Remembering structures our minds to live for God. It frames our identity and sets us on course for life in Christ. We need to remember sin, because part of sin’s delusion is that it keeps us unaware of sin. And that is the Word of God to us tonight, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles. . . were separated from Christ. . . having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:11, 12). This is a command, not a suggestion. It is not something that the apostle Paul found the people doing, and then said, “Stop doing that.” It is part of the Christian walk. It is important. It is not to be leapfrogged over so that you only begin reading at verse 13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” That kind of leapfrogging is extremely dangerous.

The Text

“11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

Therefore Remember

The passages up until now, are long elegant sentences in the original Greek (1:3-14; 2:1-10), and in this first verse is the first time Paul says “Therefore” in this entire letter. You know what that tells us? That what Paul is about to say is really important. By Paul saying this, he is indicating that what he is about to say is his very reason for saying what he has already said in this letter. He says “Therefore” in light of the glorious change that God has effected (2:1-10), and the completely unmerited blessings God has imparted to them (1:3-14), these Gentile readers are to “remember” their pre-Christian past from another standpoint.

Recall in the passage above (2:1-3) that Paul was reminding his readers of their pre-Christian past to draw attention to God’s mighty acts in Christ. Now here in verse 11, Paul gives the command to “remember” not because his readers have forgotten what they were, but that the privileges they now enjoy would be appreciated all the more if they remembered the spiritual condition from which they had been rescued. So Paul says, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision. . .” You will notice that there are two camps that come into play in this passage of Scripture: the Jews and the Gentiles. And to be called “uncircumcised” was a Jewish term of ridicule, and it signified that someone was a Gentile, outside the covenant people of God. For the Jews, circumcision, which had been given by God to Abraham (Genesis 17) was the physical sign of their covenant with the Lord, the God of all the earth. It pointed to the special relationship that Israel had with the God of that covenant. The “uncircumcision” of Gentiles was evidence of their separation from God.

Five Deficiencies

After this lengthy description of his Gentile readers, Paul returns to his main point of urging them to remember (v. 12) the deficiencies of their pre-Christian past so that they might appreciate more fully the many spiritual blessings of who they are now in Christ. Five of these deficiencies are explicitly stated and I would like to point them out to you:

1) “separated from Christ.” A more natural reading of the Greek here is to understand separated from Christ as the first of the Gentile’s former disadvantages. In other words, “you were, at that time, apart from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” What you need to make note of is that Paul is using things pertaining to Israel, God’s chosen people, to prove a point of importance. Paul is building on a powerful argument by using things pertaining to Israel. If that is the case, then how does “separated from Christ” relate to Israel? Well, we know that Jesus’s last name is not Christ. Christ is a title and it is given to Jesus meaning “Messiah” or “chosen one.” The Messiah, according to the Bible, is the first and foremost king of Israel through whom God’s saving purposes are accomplished. So, although unbelieving Jews may have been separated from Christ, they were not separated from the knowledge of the promises of what the Messiah would do. Paul says in Romans 3:2, “the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God”, and these oracles spoke of the Messiah.

2) Secondly, Paul commands the Gentiles to remember that they were “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel.” If you were separated from the chosen people of Israel, then you were at a serious disadvantage; being separated from Israel meant being outside of any covenant relationship with Him.

3) So if that is the case, that these Gentile readers were separated from the chosen people, then it makes sense too that they also were “strangers to the covenants of promise.” The Gentile’s separation from the community of God’s people meant that they had no share, no access to the covenants which promised the Messiah and what He would do.

4) Now the Gentiles’ serious condition comes to a tragic climax: they had been without hope. That is serious business. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t have plans or hopes for the future, but rather that they were outside the sphere of God’s people and His promises. So they did not share in the hope of Israel in the promised Messiah and the salvation He would bring.

5) Finally, their being “without God in the world” signifies that they had no real relationship with the true God, the God of Israel.

Remember That God Was Once Not Your God

Paul’s command here for the Gentiles to remember their former plight is just as urgent for us as it was for them; especially since we are the Gentiles! When Paul says “Remember that you were without God,” he didn’t just mean, “Remember that you once lacked some knowledge about God.” He meant, “Remember that God was once not your God,” and if He was not our God, then He was not for us, but against us; He was not our justifier, but our condemner; not eternal life, but eternal damnation lay before us. And it’s just this that Paul wants us to remember. Remember that apart from Christ, Almighty God would be against us; apart from Christ, we would be storing up wrath for ourselves on the day of the righteous judgment of God (Romans 2:4, 5; Ephesians 2:3); apart from the free and unmerited mercy of Christ, we would go away into “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46).

Concerning your plight before Christ, Paul means “Let it grip you.” Let the memory seize you and move you. Feel the memory. Feel the plight you have been saved from. An intellectual recollection of facts will be of no spiritual benefit if it does not move the heart. Any Christian can list what they have been saved from if you ask them. But they don’t feel it. It does not move them. It’s not real to them. John Piper gives us a memorable illustration of this fact:

“It’s like the lady in the circus who spins on the wheel while the knife thrower pretends to throw knives around her. If you ask her at the end, “Don’t you feel glad that’s over? Aren’t you happy you’re still alive?” And she says, “It’s just a trick. The knives pop out of the wheel. What’s to get excited about? It’s just a fake threat” (Remember That You Were Hopeless, Dec. 27, 1981).

And so it is true of many Christians: if they remember their plight without Christ at all, they remember it like a fake threat. They have never begun to imagine the horror of the reality from which they have been saved! But when Paul says, “Remember that you were without hope,” he does not mean, “Treat your plight without Christ like a fake threat.” He means, “Know it, feel it, be gripped by it.”

But Now in Christ Jesus

We do need to remember our former selves, but we need also to remember who we are in Christ. Paul lists a number of things concerning who we are in Christ over in Ephesians 1, but he names the greatest of these in v. 13. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” He says that a dramatic change has occurred. In contrast to their former position as deprived Gentiles who were separated from Israel and her God, Paul’s readers have now been brought near to God through the sacrificial death of Christ. The Gentiles who had no part in ‘Christ,’ the Messiah through whom God’s saving purposes were being worked out, had actually come to know Christ Jesus.

Did you know that that the highest, most supreme good of the gospel is not heaven? It is not forgiven sins, it is not a clear conscience, it is not a sanctified life, it is not inclusion into the church of God, and it is not escaping from hell. The highest, most supreme good of the gospel, and of reconciliation is God! God is what makes heaven good. The ultimate aim of everything that happened on the cross of Calvary was to bring us near to God! Whenever you think of propitiation or redemption or justification or substitutionary atonement or reconciliation (v. 13), the ultimate aim of them all is summed up in the ultimate gift of God Himself. First Peter 3:18 is the clearest about this: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” And verse 13 is the second clearest statement of that truth: “But now in Christ Jesus. . . you have been brought near to God.” God did everything necessary, most painfully in the death of His Son, to enthrall us with what is most deeply and durably satisfying: God Himself. If God is enjoyed as the highest and greatest good of the gospel, then all His other gifts will be enjoyed accordingly.

Why is all of this important to know? I think the Presbyterian minister, Matthew Henry, tells us why very well: “Every believing sinner owes their closeness to God to the death and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”

You’ve Got Questions: How Am I Really a Sinner?

You’ve Got Questions: How Am I Really a Sinner?

This question is vital because if you do not realize that you are a sinner, then you will not recognize your need for a Savior. If you don’t first understand the serious consequences of being an unsaved sinner, then you will never see the worth and value of what Jesus did on the cross.

Sin Defined

First of all, what is “sin?” In short, sin is a word that describes anything that fails to meet God’s standard of perfection. The Scriptures make it clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin is not just murder, rape, or robbery. Sin is failing to do the things we should and doing those things that we should not. Failing to do the things we should are called sins of omission, and doing those things that we should not are called sins of commission. In other words, when the Scriptures say “You shall not” and you do, that is a sin of commission. Equally, when the Scriptures say “You shall” and you do not, that is a sin of omission. Again, sin is failing to do what is required of us, and doing those things which God has prohibited.

Summarized, sin is the barrier between you and a satisfying relationship with God. Just as light and dark cannot exist together, neither can God and sin. Furthermore, sin is a barrier between us and other people. You need only to read the newspaper or listen to a news report to see how true this really is. We live in a time when terrorism abounds and when the world as we know it can be instantly obliterated by nuclear aggression. Finally, sin is the deprivation of good. As such, sin is characterized by a lack of something rather than being something in itself. As noted above, sin is a break in relationship to God and others rather than being an ontological substance. David Horton brings this concept to light and he is worth quoting at length:

“Evil is not a substance but a corruption of the good substances God made. Evil is like rust to a car or rot to a tree. It is a lack in good things, but it is not a thing in itself. Evil is like a wound in an arm or moth holes in a garment. It exists only in another but not in itself. . . To say that evil is not a thing, but a lack in things, is not to claim that it is not real. Evil is a real lack in good things, as the blind person know only too well. Evil is not a real substance, but it is a real privation in good substances. It is not an actual entity but a real corruption in an actual entity” (The Portable Seminary, David Horton. p. 360).

The Fall

God made this world and all that is in it: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. … God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:1, 27). He created human beings to be like Him and to have unhindered fellowship with Him, and when His work of creation was finished he saw that it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Although the first people God created, Adam and Eve, had complete freedom to live in friendship and trust with him, they chose to rebel (Gen. 3:1–7). Because God designed that Adam would represent the entire human race, his sin was catastrophic not only for him but for us: “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Rom. 5:18). Our fellowship with God was broken. Instead of enjoying His holy pleasure, we instead face His righteous wrath. Through this sin, we all died spiritually (see Rom. 3:1–20; Eph. 2:1–10) and the entire world was affected. “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it” (Rom. 8:20). And we all individually sin against God in our own lives: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

He Who Sins

If someone lies, what do you call him? A liar. If someone steals he is a thief. It concludes that the one who commits something is categorized from the act he committed. If someone sins, he is a sinner. But who has sinned? As quoted above, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Everyone is a sinner. The Bible says that we are sinners in Romans 5:8, “But God shows his love for us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (emphasis mine). We are really sinners because we sin.

You’ve Got Questions: If God Made the Universe, Then Who Made God?

You’ve Got Questions: If God Made the Universe, Then Who Made God?

A common argument from atheists and skeptics is that if all things need a cause, then God must also need a cause. The conclusion is that if God needed a cause, then God is not God (and if God is not God, then of course there is no God). Everyone knows that something does not come from nothing. So, if God is a “something,” then He must have a cause, right? The question is tricky because it sneaks in the false assumption that God came from somewhere and then asks where that might be. The answer is that the question does not even make sense. It is like asking, “What does blue smell like?” Blue is not in the category of things that have a smell, so the question itself is flawed. In the same way, God is not in the category of things that are created or caused. God is uncaused and uncreated—He simply exists. Scripture attests, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2).

In addition, we know that from nothing, nothing comes. So, if there were ever a time when there was absolutely nothing in existence, then nothing would have ever come into existence. But things do exist. Therefore, since there could never have been absolutely nothing, something had to have always been in existence. That ever-existing thing is a Being that the Scripture calls God. God is the uncaused Being that caused everything else to come into existence. God is the uncreated Creator who created the universe and everything in it.

You’ve Got Questions: What Happens if a Christian Dies by Suicide?

You’ve Got Questions: What Happens if a Christian Dies by Suicide?

It is a sad fact that some Christians have committed suicide. Adding to the tragedy is the false teaching that committing suicide automatically consigns one to hell. Many believe that a Christian who commits suicide will not be saved. This teaching is not supported in the Bible. Scripture teaches that, from the moment we truly believe in Christ, we are guaranteed eternal life. According to the Bible, Christians can know beyond any doubt that they possess eternal life (1 John 5:13). Nothing can separate a Christian from God’s love (Romans 8:38–39). No “created thing” can separate a Christian from God’s love, and even a Christian who commits suicide is a “created thing”; therefore, not even suicide can separate a Christian from God’s love. Jesus died for all of our sins, and if a true Christian, in a time of spiritual attack and weakness, dies by suicide, his sin is still covered by the blood of Christ.

Suicide is not what determines whether a person goes to heaven or not. Only by trusting in Christ for salvation are you guaranteed entrance into heaven. You must be justified by faith in Christ. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Of course, if the unsaved person commits suicide, all he has done is expedite his journey straight into hell. There is no way to sugar coat that truth. But will that unsaved person go to hell because he committed suicide? No. The reason for his going to hell isn’t because he committed the act, but because he is an unsaved sinner. Sin is what separates us from God. We are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), “children of wrath,” and enemies of God; hostile to God.

Suicide is not the “unforgivable sin” as many say, but those who take the sacred name of Christ upon their lips dare not contemplate it. Our lives belong to God and He alone has the prerogative to bring them to an end. In the very words of God, “See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand” (Deut. 32:39 NIV, emphasis mine). The Bible views suicide as equal to murder, which is what it is—self-murder. God is the only one who is to decide when and how a person should die. We should say with the psalmist, “My times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:15). God is the giver of life. He gives, and He takes away (Job 1:21). Suicide, the taking of one’s own life, is ungodly because it rejects God’s gift of life. No man or woman should presume to take God’s authority upon themselves to end his or her own life.

Characters in the Bible

In addition, the Bible mentions six specific people who died by suicide: Abimelech (Judges 9:54), Saul (1 Samuel 31:4), Saul’s armor-bearer (1 Samuel 31:4–6), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18), and Judas (Matthew 27:5). Five of these men were noted for their wickedness (the exception is Saul’s armor-bearer—nothing is said of his character). Some consider Samson’s death an instance of suicide, because he knew his actions would lead to his death (Judges 16:26–31), but Samson’s goal was to kill Philistines, not himself.

Furthermore, many people in Scripture felt deep despair in life. Solomon, in his pursuit of pleasure, reached the point where he “hated life” (Ecclesiastes 2:17). Elijah was fearful and depressed and yearned for death (1 Kings 19:4). Jonah was so angry at God that he wished to die (Jonah 4:8). Even the apostle Paul and his missionary companions at one point “were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). However, none of these men committed suicide. Solomon learned to “fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Elijah was comforted by an angel, allowed to rest, and given a new commission. Jonah received admonition and rebuke from God. Paul learned that, although the pressure he faced was beyond his ability to endure, the Lord can bear all things: “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

Conclusion

In conclusion, suicide is a sin. It is not the “greatest” sin—it is no worse than other evils, in terms of how God sees it, and it does not determine whether or not a person goes to hell. However, suicide definitely has a deep and lasting impact on those left behind. The painful scars left by a suicide do not heal easily. May God grant His grace to each one who is facing trials today (Psalm 67:1). May God grant the psalmist’s perspective to each one who is facing trials today: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 43:5).

You’ve Got Questions: What are the Different Views on the Inspiration of the Bible (and Which One is Correct)?

You’ve Got Questions: What are the Different Views on the Inspiration of the Bible (and Which One is Correct)?

Everyone who claims the name “Christian” must believe that the Scriptures are inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16). Yet, a wide variety of meanings are attached to the word “inspired.” There are four main views on the inspiration of the Bible:

1. Neo-Orthodox Theory. This view holds that God is utterly transcendent; that is, He is absolutely different from us and far beyond our comprehension (see What is the Incomprehensibility of God?). We can only know something about him if He reveals Himself to us, as He did in Jesus Christ. Neo-Orthodoxy asserts that the Bible is a witness to the Word of God or contains the Word of God. According to this view, as people of biblical times experienced God, they recorded their encounters the best they could. Sometimes their reports contained paradoxes or even errors, but their descriptions nonetheless help other understand God better. And as others experience God through these accounts, the accounts become God’s Word all over again.

Evaluation

Neo-Orthodoxy does have a high view of God. However, the Bible claims to be more than simply a witness to the Word of God. It testifies that it is God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Bible also claims that as God revealed Himself, people inspired by the Holy Spirit recorded His message (2 Peter 1:20-21). They could do so because God accommodated Himself to their limited understanding. Neo-Orthodoxy, thus fails to provide an adequate explanation for all the biblical evidence, and should be rejected entirely.

2. Dictation Theory. This view, as the term implies, suggests God simply dictated the Bible to human scribes. God chose certain individuals to record His Word and gave them the exact words He wanted. The writers wrote only what God dictated to them. This view is generally rejected by most, but has been suggested by segments of conservative Christianity.

Evaluation

Scripture does suggest that sometimes God may have communicated a precise, word-for-word message to human authors (Jer. 26:2; Rev. 2:1, 8). At other times, He allowed writers to express their own personalities as they wrote (Gal. 1:6; 3:1; Phil. 1:3, 4, 8). Still, the Holy Spirit ensured the finished work accurately communicated God’s intention. Thus, the dictation theory does not account for all the biblical evidence and is therefore inadequate as a theory of inspiration and should thus, be rejected entirely.

3. Limited Inspiration Theory. This view holds that God inspired the thoughts of the biblical writers, but not necessarily the words they chose. God guided the writers, but He gave them the freedom to express His thoughts in their own ways. Because the writers had this freedom, the historical details they wrote may contain errors. However, the Holy Spirit protected the doctrinal portions of Scripture from any error to safeguard God’s message of salvation.

Evaluation

The Bible is used for doctrine (2 Tim. 3:16), but the historical records of the Bible are absolutely vital for the doctrinal parts of the Bible to be confirmed. An actual historical Adam is central to Paul’s argument in Romans 5:12-21. Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:41 imply that the book of Jonah is not merely a parable; rather, a real historical prophet named Jonah who actually preached to the Ninevites. Now, most Bible students recognize that there are statements in Scripture that are hard to reconcile. But is the best solution to admit error? If God allowed for error in His Word in Genesis 1, why would I consider believing that John 3:16 is true also? This view is therefore inadequate as a theory of inspiration, and should be rejected.

4. Verbal Plenary Theory. Like the other views, verbal plenary inspiration asserts the Holy Spirit interacted with human writers to produce the Bible. Verbal refers to the words of Scripture. Verbal inspiration means God’s inspiration extends to the very words the writers chose, but it is not the same as the dictation theory. The writers could have chosen other words, and God often allowed them the freedom to express their own personalities as they wrote. But the Holy Spirit so guided the process that the words they chose accurately conveyed the meaning God intended. Plenary means “full” or “complete.” Plenary inspiration asserts that God’s inspiration extends to all of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. God guided the writers no less when they recorded the historical details than when they discussed doctrinal matters.

Evaluation

The verbal plenary inspiration view seems to deal best with all the biblical evidence. It recognizes the human element in Scripture, and allows that different writers wrote in different ways. But it also affirms the Holy Spirit as the Bible’s ultimate Author. The Spirit of God prompted human authors to communicate God’s message of love and salvation to a world that desperately needed it.

Implications of Verbal Plenary Inspiration

If the Word of God is indeed, dually authored as the verbal plenary inspiration view asserts, several implications are true for the way we approach the Bible:

First, it means the Bible is trustworthy. We can trust it to provide reliable information. It provides many insights into the history of God’s people and also describes God’s plan for the world and for our lives. It reveals life’s highest meaning and purpose, and tells us how to become all God wants us to be.

Second, verbal plenary inspiration means the Bible is authoritative. Because it is God’s Word, it speaks with God’s authority. It calls us to read it, to understand its meaning, and to submit to it. And it remains God’s truth whether or not we choose to submit.

Recommended Resources: Encountering the Old Testament and 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible