Here’s what I like about Christianity. It deals with the most important issues and questions of life. The past, the present and the future. Origins and destinies. How to live and how to die. Our most important problem. Our purpose. Love, freedom, security, hope, joy and peace. Eternity with God. It’s good news that changes everything. And it’s based on the most important person who ever lived. The best hero.
One of the beautiful things about Christianity is that Jesus has done everything for us. This means we don’t have to strive to do anything to please God. Salvation depends on acknowledging and confessing one’s sin. It’s a gift from God (Eph. 2:8). And it’s not difficult to understand or accept.
Christians are part of a world-wide spiritual family with whom they share a spiritual life, union and inheritance that never ends. It’s a relationship that surpasses all other human relationships. It crosses racial, cultural, social, age, and gender distinctions (Gal. 3:28). As Christians are all children of God, they are all equal before God. Every believer has the same spiritual status before God. And they have spiritual fathers and mothers to encourage and help them. Spiritual brothers and sisters to share life with. And spiritual children to nurture. So Christians shouldn’t be lonely. They have a ready-made spiritual family.
Christianity is unique because:
– God reached out to us, whereas other religions involve people reaching up to God and looking for the meaning of life.
– It’s a relationship with God (initiated and maintained by God) and not a list of rules and regulations.
– It’s based on the Bible, which is the written word of God. Most of our deepest moral instincts (like equality, human rights, and justice) come from the Bible.
– Its leader (Jesus) rose from the dead and performed many miracles to prove His claim of divinity. Christians serve a living God, whereas most other religious leaders are dead.
When the Philippian jailer became a Christian (Acts 16:24-35), his immediate problem was solved (he was about to kill himself), his family was helped (they didn’t lose a husband and father), he gained new and better friends (Paul and Silas), he was filled with joy (v.34), and he was assured of a home in heaven when he died. How did this happen? First, he was convicted of his sinfulness (v.30). Then, he believed that Jesus took the punishment for his sin (v.31, 34). How about you? If you are a Christian, you can share in similar benefits. If not, then you can become a believer just like the Philippian jailer.
Written, September 2019
Freedom from the presence of sin
Do you look forward to good times on weekends and vacations? It’s relaxing to get away from the pressures of life. John Bunyan likened the Christian life to a journey which he called “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (Appendix A and B). The journey begins with justification (deliverance from the penalty of sin), continues with sanctification (deliverance from the power of sin) and ends with glorification (deliverance from the presence of sin).
In this blogpost we look at the topic of the believer’s glorification. We will see that the best is yet to come for believers. They can look forward to living with Jesus Christ in heaven where there is no sin, suffering, disease or death. It’s the best time of their life.
The meaning of “glory”
Isaiah had a vision of “the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple” (Isa. 6:1NIV). And the angels were calling out: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isa. 6:3). This verse suggests that the glory of God is when His holiness is visible. It’s the display of God’s holiness – the fact that He is unique, perfect, great, and incomparable.
The Hebrew noun kabowd (Strongs #3519) translated “glory” in this verse means the splendor, wealth and honor of a person or God (Brown-Driver-Briggs). When used in respect of God it means the greatness of His entire character.
The apostle John had a vision of God seated on a throne being worshipped with glory, honor and power (Rev. 4:10-11). And a vision of every creature in the universe worshipping God the Father and God the Son with praise, honor, glory and power (Rev. 5:13). Here the word “glory” is linked with praise, honor and power. It means to be exalted, extolled, and honored.
The Greek verb doxazo (Strongs #1392) translated “glory” means to exalt to a glorious rank or position (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). It’s used to describe both God (Jn. 7:39; 12:16; Acts 3:13) and believers (Rom. 8:30). The equivalent noun doxa (Strongs #1391) used in the verses in Revelation means glorious and exalted.
We have already seen that glory is one of the attributes of the eternal God. Jesus shared that glory with the rest of the trinity in eternity past, which was visible to the angels.
But Jesus gave up that visible glory when He was born and lived on earth (Phil. 2:5-8). Instead, He was seen as the son of a carpenter. Before His death Jesus prayed, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence [in heaven] with the glory I had with you before the world began” (Jn. 17:5). “Now” indicates that Jesus had finished His work on earth and He was ready for the next phase—His crucifixion and return to heaven. His glory was shown in His resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand in heaven. The principle of this verse is that after His ascension, Jesus returned to His glory as God. Jesus now shares that glory with the rest of the trinity in eternity future, which is visible to the angels. And it will be visible to all creation at His future appearing on earth in great power and glory. The giving up and regaining of Christ’s glory is shown in the schematic diagram.
At the transfiguration Jesus briefly showed His glory to Peter, James and John when “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Mt. 17:2).
How often do we praise God for His glory like Paul and Jude? “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim. 1:17). And “to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (Jude 25).
In God’s plan of salvation, God shares His glory with believers. Let’s investigate the nature of this salvation.
Is salvation an event or a process?
The answer is yes and no! Justification, which is freedom from the penalty of sin (Rom. 8:24), is an event (Eph. 1:13-14). It’s receiving a gift from God. To be physically alive, we need to be born first. It’s an event. To be spiritually alive, we need to be born again (Jn. 3:3-21). It’s also an event.
Those who came forward at the recent Franklin Graham Tour in Australia were given a booklet titled “Living in Christ”. In the front of this book there was a form to fill out with the date they accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
And in “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, Christian was saved at the cross when his burden of sin fell from his shoulders and he was given the scroll to enter the Celestial City (heaven). That’s when he was justified and his name was written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 21:27).
But deliverance from temptation and sin during the life of a believer is a process. After Christian was saved he was tempted by Formality and Hypocrisy near the Hill of Difficulty. He was attacked by Apollyon, one of Satan’s demons who tried to force Christian to return to his domain and service. He was tempted by worldliness at Vanity Fair. When he was tempted to take an easier path through By-path Meadow, he was captured by Giant Despair and imprisoned in Doubting Castle.
Sanctification (holiness) is freedom from the power of sin. God calls believers to “a holy life” (2 Tim. 1:9). This means being set apart for Him, and serving Him by living fruitful lives. Believers are already sanctified positionally before God. That’s their status before God. But they are expected to show this practically in their daily lives. Sanctification (holiness) is a progressive change in character. It’s a process, not an event.
Glorification, which is freedom from the presence of sin, is God’s final work for the believer. It’s a heavenly experience. Justification is the beginning, sanctification (holiness) is the middle and glorification is the end of the process of salvation.
It the past, Christ’s love was shown in the believer’s justification. In the present, it’s seen in their sanctification. In the future, it will be shown in their glorification.
The process of salvation is described in the book of Romans, as follows:
– We are all sinners who need salvation (1:18-3:20).
– The gospel is God’s solution to our sins (3:21-5:21). This includes justification through Jesus Christ (5:12-21).
– Justification is followed by sanctification (holiness); living in the power of the Holy Spirit (6:1-8:17).
– Sanctification is followed by glorification (8:18-39). We will now look at the main points in this biblical passage.
Glorification in Romans 8
“Since we [believers] are His [God’s] children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share His glory, we must also share His suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who His children really are” (8:17-19NLT). This is a promise that each believer will share Christ’s glory. Like Jesus, in a future day, this glory will be revealed when Christ returns in great power and glory to rule upon the earth. But a little suffering precedes the massive glorification.
In “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, Christian and Faithful were arrested and persecuted at Vanity Fair. Faithful was put on trial and executed and Christian was imprisoned.
And it looks like Israel Folau is being banned from playing Rugby Union in Australia, because he quoted the Bible on his own social media page. Outspoken Christians are not tolerated today. But our suffering as a Christian is insignificant compared to our future glory.
“… we ourselves [believers], who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23). The Holy Spirit is the first instalment of the believer’s glorification. As an engagement ring involves a promise of a future wedding, so the indwelling Holy Spirit is God’s promise of the believer’s future glorification. And the coming glory is associated with the resurrection of believer’s bodies which occurs at the rapture. Click on this link for more information about the sequence of future events according to the Bible.
“We [believers] were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently)” (8:24-25NLT). Believers don’t receive all the benefits of salvation at the moment of conversion. So they can look forward to being delivered from sin, suffering, disease and death. That’s the hope of heaven. Something better lies ahead.
What are you looking forward to? What are you anticipating with joy? An achievement, an event, a holiday, a purchase, or a stage in life? But these are all momentary compared to eternal life in heaven.
“And we [believers] know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him [believers], who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son [made holy], that He [Jesus Christ] might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those He [God] predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified” (Rom. 8:28-30). Believers can look back and see that God foreknew, predestined and called them to trust in Jesus. Then they were justified. God has called them with a purpose: “to be conformed to the image of His Son [Jesus]”. They are being sanctified (made holy). That’s the context of Romans 8:28. Whatever God permits to come into their lives is designed to make them more like Jesus, to make them more holy. Their lives are not controlled by impersonal forces like chance, luck or fate, but by their personal Lord. And in future they will be glorified. In heaven they will be holy like Jesus and be free from the presence of sin and have glorified bodies like His.
We will now look at the sequence of events associated with the glorification of a believer.
Glorification of the soul
In “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, the river that Christian crossed to get to the Celestial City was called the River of Death. When a person dies their spirit and soul separate from their body. In the case of a believer, their body stays on earth until the resurrection, while their spirit and soul goes to be with the Lord. In view of future glory, Paul longed to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). It will be better in heaven without a body than living on earth in our sinful bodies.
Colossians says, “… now He [God] has reconciled you [believers] by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Col. 1:22). At this time believers are presented to God the Father as holy and “without blemish and free from accusation”.
Ephesians says, “For He [God] chose us [believers] in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight” (Eph. 1:4). And the Lord Jesus will present believers “to Himself as a radiant [glorious] church [of believers], without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27). When believers get to heaven they will be “holy and blameless”. Being “radiant” or glorious is a figuratively equivalent to being free from sin. And “without stain” means to be pure.
And Jude says, “To Him [God] who is able to keep you [believers] from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24). Believers will be faultless in the throne room of the universe.
The Daily Meditation Podcast is doing a series on mental cleansing to purify your thoughts, but it won’t make you holy and blameless.
In the Lord’s presence in heaven, believers are perfectly holy. Their sanctification (holiness) is complete in a place where Satan can no longer tempt people into sin and evil. Their soul is separated from sin and the capacity to sin. So at death the spiritual aspect of human nature (the soul and spirit) is glorified.
Do we view death as the access to heaven? It enables the believer to be “at home with the Lord”.
Glorification of the body
Paul describes the rapture when Christ comes to take His people to heaven as follows. At the trumpet of God, “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we [believers] who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Th. 4:16–17). And, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We [believers] shall not all sleep [die], but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we [who are alive] shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51-52).
The bodies of those who have died will be resurrected and reunited with their spirit and soul in heaven. The bodies of those who are alive will be transformed and they will be transported to heaven. This is not science fiction! But in the Bible God tells us about future events. These new spiritual bodies will not decay or be affected by disease or death (2 Cor. 5:38-50). And they will be glorious and powerful like the resurrection body of Christ (Phil. 3:20-21).
Paul said that the Corinthian believers “will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:8). And he prayed that the Philippian believers would live pure and blameless lives now so that they are ready “for the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:9-11). The day of Christ is the rapture when Christ comes to take believers to heaven and they become all that God intends them to be. And they will be finally and forever delivered from the presence of sin.
South Korean scientists are working to resurrect the prehistoric woolly mammoth using cloning technology and the flesh of perfectly preserved specimens once buried in Northern Siberia. They hope to find an active cell from the meaty leg of a frozen mammoth, which could hold the keys to bringing back the extinct species. But despite dedicated effort, scientists have not yet managed to clone a woolly mammoth, although they keep trying. Of course, God has a better resurrection record. And at the rapture, there will be transformations to perfect bodies, not just resurrections of old imperfect ones.
Having perfect bodies in heaven will be better than living in their sinful bodies on earth and better than when believers have no bodies (between their death and the resurrection) (2 Cor. 5:1-8). It’s the fulfilment of God’s promises to the believer and the best time of their life.
Are we looking ahead to the rapture and new heavenly bodies?
We have already mentioned that Christ’s glory as God will be visible to all creation at His future appearing on earth in great power and glory. And that believers will “share in His glory” (Rom. 8:17).
When Jesus comes as a warrior to reign on the earth for 1000 years, “The armies of heaven were following Him” (Rev. 19:14). They are “dressed in fine linen, white and clean”. At the wedding of the Lamb, believers are given “fine linen, white and clean” to wear (Rev. 19:7). These armies are angels (Mt. 25:31; Mk. 8:38; 13:27; 2 Th. 2:7-8) and believers (Col. 3:4; 1 Th. 3:13; 2 Th. 1:7, 10; Rev. 17:14). At this time, Jesus conquers and judges His enemies and sets up His kingdom on earth.
Colossians says, “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you [believers] also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). When Jesus appears in great glory, believers will appear with Him. It will be to His glory to have His followers with Him. And believers will be glorified to come with Him and be with Him for ever. The word “then” shows that God links believers to Christ’s coming.
2 Thessalonians says, “on the day He [Jesus Christ] comes to be glorified in His holy people [believers] and to be marveled at among all those who have believed” (2 Th. 1:10). At His second coming Jesus will be glorified “in”, not “by”, believers. He will be honored because He transformed the lives of so many people. Their justification, sanctification, and glorification will be tribute to Christ’s amazing grace and power.
After the second coming, Christ will reign on earth. And Paul says “we [believers] will also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:12). This includes judging in the Millennial reign of Christ (1 Cor. 6:2; Rev. 20:4) and judging angels (1 Cor 6:3). Meanwhile, positionally, in Christ Jesus believers are already seated “with Him [Christ] in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 2:6).
On April 11 2019, Scientists revealed the first-ever photograph of a black hole. They say it’s a picture of the super-dense object that’s billions of times more massive than the sun and about 55 million light-years from Earth. But this is a minor revelation compared to the revelation of believers coming in glory with Christ at the second coming.
So believers will share in Christ’s glory when He returns to the earth in great power and glory. And when they rule with Him during the Millennial kingdom.
The process of a believer’s salvation from justification to sanctification, and then to glorification is shown in the schematic diagram.
Assurance of glorification
In Romans 8, after Paul presented God’s way of salvation through justification, sanctification (holiness) and glorification, he assured the readers of its certainty (Rom 8:31-39).
“He [God] who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He [God] not also, along with Him [Jesus Christ], graciously give us [believers] all things?” (Rom. 8:32). Since God gave believers His greatest gift, He will give them any other gift they need. If God did the greater, He will surely do the lesser. “All things” here refers to glorification in eternity. So the believer’s glorification is guaranteed by God! They are eternally secure. Nothing can separate them from eternal life with God. Paul was convinced of this (Rom. 8:38-39); are we convinced? He was certain about the promise of eternal life. Our confidence in future glorification is based on God’s revelation to us in the Bible. It says that, God is bringing many believers to glory (Heb. 2:10). God’s purpose is to bring all believers to His eternal glory.
The author of Hebrews gives four illustrations of our confidence in future glorification and eternal salvation. He says, “we [believers] who have fled to Him [God] for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary [heaven]. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:18-20).
The illustrations are:
– Heaven is a safe place like a fortress or a city of refuge.
– The believer’s hope in heaven is like an anchor for their souls that’s anchored in Jesus.
– Jesus is like a forerunner who believers will follow to heaven. John the Baptist was the forerunner for Jesus (Mt. 17:10-13). And a forerunner goes ahead of the pack.
– Jesus is like a High Priest who intercedes for believers with God the Father. His eternal priesthood guarantees their eternal security in heaven.
On 17 April 2019, Scott Morrison (leader of the government in Australia) pledged $100 million for farm irrigation in Tasmania, and Bill Shorten (leader of the opposition) promising $20 million for blood cancer trials. But sometimes politicians make excuses for not fulfilling election promises. Fortunately, God’s promises are reliable.
Scriptural hope is confidence in what God has promised. It’s an anchor for believers. One of these promises is “the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27); the confidence that all believers will share in the glory of Christ (Col. 3:4; 1 Pt. 5:10).
Did you notice in our readings the pattern of suffering and glory for both Jesus and believers?
Pattern of suffering and glory
The pattern for Jesus
Through the Old Testament prophets, the Holy Spirit “predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow” (1 Pt. 1:11). But they didn’t know that that these two events would be separated by at least 2,000 years.
Jesus told the two on the road to Emmaus that the Old Testament prophets taught that the Messiah had “to suffer these things and then enter His glory” (Lk. 24:26). For Jesus, suffering precedes glory.
Although humanity lost dominion over God’s creation because of their sin, “we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while [for 33 years], now crowned with glory and honor [forever] because He suffered death … for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). Because He suffered death, Jesus is now “crowned with glory and honor”. The cross led to the crown.
Paul said that after Christ suffered “death on a cross”, “God exalted Him to the highest place” (Phil. 2:8-9).
The pattern for believers
Paul said, “I consider that our [believers] present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). The difference between the believer’s sufferings and glory is so great, they are not worth comparing. And the suffering is present, while the glory is future.
Paul also said, “For our [believers] light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18). What a contrast, insignificant and quick troubles, compared to significant and endless glory.
Some say that if you’re suffering or not successful, then it’s due to a lack of faith. Others say that when bad things happen it’s outside God’s control. But the Bible says that suffering is part of God’s plan for believers.
How patient and resilient are we in suffering? Can we see the big picture that present suffering leads to future glory?
So for Jesus, suffering preceded glory. The same is true for believers. It’s the sure hope of glory that makes suffering bearable. The essential perspective to develop is that the eternal purpose of God is to make believers holy or Christlike.
Let’s be assured of our justification. Since then we are free from the penalty of sin. And be patient with our sanctification. Each day we are being freed increasingly from the power of sin. And be eager for our glorification. One day we will be freed from the presence of sin.
The best is yet to come for believers. They can look forward to living with Jesus Christ in heaven where there is no sin, suffering, disease or death. It’s the fulfilment of God’s promises to the believer and the best time of their life.
Let’s look forward with joyful anticipation to our glorious future.
Appendix A: First summary of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (From: Encylopaedia Britannia)
Part I of Pilgrim’s progress was published by John Bunyan in 1678. It’s the story of a journey “from this world to that which is to come”. It’s the spiritual journey of a man named Christian from where he lives in the City of Destruction to the Celestial City (meaning heaven). “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is an allegory or parable in which the literal, physical level of action is intended as a picture of something else. For example, if you are living in sin, you are in the City of Destruction. The Lord on the hill is God. The Shining Ones are angels.
It’s a story of the author’s dream of the trials and adventures of Christian (an everyman figure) as he travels from his home, the City of Destruction, to the Celestial City. Christian seeks to rid himself of a terrible burden, the weight of his sins, that he feels after reading a book (the Bible). Evangelist points him toward a wicket-gate, and he heads off, leaving his family behind. He falls into the Slough of Despond, dragged down by his burden, but is saved by a man named Help. Christian next meets Mr. Worldly Wiseman, who persuades him to disregard Evangelist’s advice and instead go to the village of Morality and seek out Mr. Legality or his son Civility. However, Christian’s burden becomes heavier, and he stops. Evangelist reappears and sets him back on the path to the wicket-gate. The gatekeeper, Good-will, lets him through and directs him to the house of the Interpreter, where he receives instruction on Christian grace. As Christian continues his journey, he comes upon a cross and a sepulchre, and at that point his burden falls from his shoulders. Three Shining Ones appear and give him a sealed scroll that he must present when he reaches the Celestial Gate.
Christian continues on his way, and when he reaches the Hill Difficulty, he chooses the straight and narrow path. Partway up he falls asleep in an arbor, allowing the scroll to fall from his hands. When he wakes, he proceeds to the top of the hill only to find he must return to the arbor to find his lost scroll. He later arrives at the palace Beautiful, where he meets the damsels Discretion, Prudence, Piety, and Charity. They give Christian armour, and he learns that a former neighbour, Faithful, is traveling ahead of him.
Christian next traverses the Valley of Humiliation, where he does battle with the monster Apollyon. He then passes through the terrifying Valley of the Shadow of Death. Shortly afterward he catches up with Faithful. The two enter the town of Vanity, home of the ancient Vanity Fair, which is set up to ensnare pilgrims en route to the Celestial City. Their strange clothing and lack of interest in the fair’s merchandise causes a commotion, and they are arrested. Arraigned before Lord Hate-good, Faithful is condemned to death and executed, and he is immediately taken into the Celestial City. Christian is returned to prison, but he later escapes.
Christian leaves Vanity, accompanied by Hopeful, who was inspired by Faithful. Christian and Hopeful cross the plain of Ease and resist the temptation of a silver mine. The path later becomes more difficult, and, at Christian’s encouragement, the two travelers take an easier route, through By-path Meadow. However, when they become lost and are caught in a storm, Christian realizes that he has led them astray. Trying to turn back, they stumble onto the grounds of Doubting Castle, where they are caught, imprisoned, and beaten by the Giant Despair. At last, Christian remembers that he has a key called Promise, which he and Hopeful use to unlock the doors and escape. They reach the Delectable Mountains, just outside the Celestial City, but make the mistake of following Flatterer and must be rescued by a Shining One. Before they can enter the Celestial City, they must cross a river as a test of faith, and then, after presenting their scrolls, Christian and Hopeful are admitted into the city.
Appendix B: Second summary of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (From: Wikipedia)
The allegory’s protagonist, Christian, is an everyman character, and the plot centers on his journey from his hometown, the “City of Destruction” (“this world”), to the “Celestial City” (“that which is to come”: Heaven) atop Mount Zion. Christian is weighed down by a great burden—the knowledge of his sin—which he believed came from his reading “the book in his hand” (the Bible). This burden, which would cause him to sink into Hell, is so unbearable that Christian must seek deliverance. He meets Evangelist as he is walking out in the fields, who directs him to the “Wicket Gate” for deliverance. Since Christian cannot see the “Wicket Gate” in the distance, Evangelist directs him to go to a “shining light,” which Christian thinks he sees. Christian leaves his home, his wife, and children to save himself: he cannot persuade them to accompany him. Obstinate and Pliable go after Christian to bring him back, but Christian refuses. Obstinate returns disgusted, but Pliable is persuaded to go with Christian, hoping to take advantage of the Paradise that Christian claims lies at the end of his journey. Pliable’s journey with Christian is cut short when the two of them fall into the Slough of Despond, a boggy mire-like swamp where pilgrims’ doubts, fears, temptations, lusts, shames, guilts, and sins of their present condition of being a sinner are used to sink them into the mud of the swamp. It is there in that bog where Pliable abandons Christian after getting himself out. After struggling to the other side of the slough, Christian is pulled out by Help, who has heard his cries and tells him the swamp is made out of the decadence, scum, and filth of sin, but the ground is good at the narrow Wicket Gate.
On his way to the Wicket Gate, Christian is diverted by the secular ethics of Mr. Worldly Wiseman into seeking deliverance from his burden through the Law, supposedly with the help of a Mr. Legality and his son Civility in the village of Morality, rather than through Christ, allegorically by way of the Wicket Gate. Evangelist meets the wayward Christian as he stops before Mount Sinai on the way to Mr. Legality’s home. It hangs over the road and threatens to crush any who would pass it; also the mountain flashed with fire. Evangelist shows Christian that he had sinned by turning out of his way and tells him that Mr. Legality and his son Civility are descendants of slaves and Mr. Worldly Wiseman is a false guide, but he assures him that he will be welcomed at the Wicket Gate if he should turn around and go there, which Christian does.
At the Wicket Gate begins the “straight and narrow” King’s Highway, and Christian is directed onto it by the gatekeeper Goodwill who saves him from Beelzebub’s archers at Beelzebub’s castle near the Wicket Gate and shows him the heavenly way he must go. In the Second Part, Goodwill is shown to be Jesus Himself. To Christian’s query about relief from his burden, Goodwill directs him forward to “the place of deliverance.”
Christian makes his way from there to the House of the Interpreter, where he is shown pictures and tableaux that portray or dramatize aspects of the Christian faith and life. Roger Sharrock denotes them “emblems”.
From the House of the Interpreter, Christian finally reaches the “place of deliverance” (allegorically, the cross of Calvary and the open sepulchre of Christ), where the “straps” that bound Christian’s burden to him break, and it rolls away into the open sepulcher. This event happens relatively early in the narrative: the immediate need of Christian at the beginning of the story is quickly remedied. After Christian is relieved of his burden, he is greeted by three angels, who give him the greeting of peace, new garments, and a scroll as a passport into the Celestial City. Encouraged by all this, Christian happily continues his journey until he comes upon three men named Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. Christian tries to help them, but they disregard his advice. Before coming to the Hill of Difficulty, Christian meets two well-dressed men named Formality and Hypocrisy who prove to be false Christians that perish in the two dangerous bypasses near the hill, named Danger and Destruction. Christian falls asleep at the arbor above the hill and loses his scroll, forcing him to go back and get it. Near the top of the Hill of Difficulty, he meets two weak pilgrims named Mistrust and Timorous who tell him of the great lions of the Palace Beautiful. Christian frightfully avoids the lions through Watchful the porter who tells them that they are chained and put there to test the faith of pilgrims.
Atop the Hill of Difficulty, Christian makes his first stop for the night at the House of the Palace Beautiful, which is a place built by God for the refresh of pilgrims and godly travelers. Christian spends three days here, and leaves clothed with the Armor of God (Eph. 6:11–18), which stands him in good stead in his battle against the demonic dragon-like Apollyon (the lord and god of the City of Destruction) in the Valley of Humiliation. This battle lasts “over half a day” until Christian manages to wound and stab Apollyon with his two-edged sword (a reference to the Bible, Heb. 4:12). “And with that Apollyon spread his dragon wings and sped away.”
As night falls, Christian enters the fearful Valley of the Shadow of Death. When he is in the middle of the Valley amidst the gloom, terror, and demons, he hears the words of the Twenty-third Psalm, spoken possibly by his friend Faithful: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you [the Lord] are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4). As he leaves this valley the sun rises on a new day.
Just outside the Valley of the Shadow of Death he meets Faithful, also a former resident of the City of Destruction, who accompanies him to Vanity Fair, a place built by Beelzebub where every thing is to a human’s tastes, delights, and lusts are sold daily, where both are arrested and detained because of their disdain for the wares and business of the Fair. Faithful is put on trial and executed by burning at the stake as a martyr. A celestial chariot then takes Faithful to the Celestial City, martyrdom being a shortcut there. Hopeful, a resident of Vanity Fair, takes Faithful’s place to be Christian’s companion for the rest of the way.
Christian and Hopeful then come to a mining hill called Lucre. Its owner named Demas offers them all the silver of the mine but Christian sees through Demas’s trickery and they avoid the mine. Afterward, a false pilgrim named By-Ends and his friends, who followed Christian and Hopeful only to take advantage of them, perish at the Hill Lucre, never to be seen or heard from again. On a rough, stony stretch of road, Christian and Hopeful leave the highway to travel on the easier By-Path Meadow, where a rainstorm forces them to spend the night. In the morning they are captured by Giant Despair, who is known for his savage cruelty, and his wife Diffidence; the pilgrims are taken to the Giant’s Doubting Castle, where they are imprisoned, beaten and starved. The Giant and the Giantess want them to commit suicide, but they endure the ordeal until Christian realizes that a key he has, called Promise, will open all the doors and gates of Doubting Castle. Using the key and the Giant’s weakness to sunlight, they escape.
The Delectable Mountains form the next stage of Christian and Hopeful’s journey, where the shepherds show them some of the wonders of the place also known as “Immanuel’s Land”. The pilgrims are shown sights that strengthen their faith and warn them against sinning, like the Hill Error or the Mountain Caution. On Mount Clear, they are able to see the Celestial City through the shepherd’s “perspective glass”, which serves as a telescope. The shepherds tell the pilgrims to beware of the Flatterer and to avoid the Enchanted Ground. Soon they come to a crossroad and a man dressed in white comes to help them. Thinking he is a “shining one” (angel), the pilgrims follow the man, but soon get stuck in a net and realize their so-called angelic guide was the Flatterer. A true shining one comes and frees them from the net. The Angel punishes them for following the Flatterer and then puts them back on the right path. The pilgrims meet an Atheist, who tells them Heaven and God do not exist, but Christian and Hopeful remember the shepherds and pay no attention to the man. Christian and Hopeful come to a place where a man named Little-Faith is chained by the ropes of seven demons who take him to a shortcut to the Lake of Fire (Hell).
On the way, Christian and Hopeful meet a lad named Ignorance, who believes that he will be allowed into the Celestial City through his own good deeds rather than as a gift of God’s grace. Christian and Hopeful meet up with him twice and try to persuade him to journey to the Celestial City in the right way. Ignorance persists in his own way that he thinks will lead him into Heaven. After getting over the River of Death on the ferry boat of Vain Hope without overcoming the hazards of wading across it, Ignorance appears before the gates of Celestial City without a passport, which he would have acquired had he gone into the King’s Highway through the Wicket Gate. The Lord of the Celestial City orders the shining ones (angels) to take Ignorance to one of the byways of Hell and throw him in.
Christian and Hopeful make it through the dangerous Enchanted Ground (a place where the air makes them sleepy and if they fall asleep, they never wake up) into the Land of Beulah, where they ready themselves to cross the dreaded River of Death on foot to Mount Zion and the Celestial City. Christian has a rough time of it because of his past sins wearing him down, but Hopeful helps him over, and they are welcomed into the Celestial City.
Written, April 2019
Also see: Outline of future events
The Bible tells us how to overcome the obstacles that prevent us from being reconciled with God. First, we need to recognize God’s purpose for us.
God’s purpose for us is peace and life
God loves you and wants you to experience peace and life – abundant and eternal.
The Bible says:
– “We have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us” (Rom. 5:1NLT).
– “This is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
– “My purpose is to give them [people] a rich and satisfying life” (Jn. 10:10).
So we need to recognize that God’s purpose for us is peace and life. Why don’t most people have this peace and abundant life that God planned for us to have? Because there is an obstacle or barrier in the way. In order to remove the obstacle or barrier, we need to realize our greatest problem.
Our problem is that sin separates us from God
God created us in His own image to have an abundant life. He did not make us as robots to automatically love and obey Him. God gave us a will and a freedom of choice. We choose to disobey God and go our own wilful way. We still make this choice today. This results in separation from God.
The Bible says:
– “Everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Rom. 3:23).
– “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
So we need to realize that our choice results in separation from God. But people have tried many ways to remove the obstacle or barrier that separates us from God.
The Bible says:
– “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death” (Prov. 14:12).
– “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, He has turned away and will not listen anymore” (Isa. 59:2).
So none of these ways remove the obstacle or barrier that separates us from God. We need to realize what God has done about our greatest problem because that’s the only way to remove the obstacle or barrier that separates us from God.
God’s remedy for our problem is Christ’s substitutionary death
Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave. He paid the penalty for our sin and removed the obstacle or barrier that separates us from God.
The Bible says:
– “There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
– “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but He died for sinners to bring you safely home to God” (1 Pt. 3:18).
– “God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Rom. 5:8).
So Christ’s death is the only way to overcome the obstacles so we can experience God’s peace and life. Now that God has done His part, we need to respond by doing our part. We need to respond to God’s remedy.
Our response is to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord
God’s remedy to overcome the obstacle that separates us from God is a gift that can be accepted or rejected. To receive the gift we must trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
The Bible says:
– “Look! I [Jesus Christ] stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (Rev. 3:20).
– “to all who believed Him [Jesus Christ] and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12).
– “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
So the steps you can take for peace with God by trusting in Jesus Christ right now are:
– Admit your need (I am a sinner).
– Be willing to turn from your sins (repent) and ask God to forgive you.
– Believe that Jesus Christ died for you on the cross and rose from the grave.
– Invite Jesus Christ to control your life through the Holy Spirit.
This can be expressed in a prayer:
Dear God. I know that I am a sinner. I want to turn from my sins, and ask for your forgiveness. I believe that Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe that He died for my sins and that You raised Him to life. I want Him to take control of my life. I want to trust Jesus as my Savior and follow Him as my Lord from this day forward. Amen.
Assurance of salvation
If you followed these steps to peace with God, the Bible says:
– “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).
– Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and He is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand” (Jn. 10:27-29).
– “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Eph. 2:8-9).
– “Whoever has the Son [Jesus Christ] has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life. I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:12-13).
It says “will be saved”, not “might be saved”. Salvation is one of God’s promises. One of the purposes of the Bible is so we can know that we have eternal life. So we can know that we are forgiven and restored because God says it in the Bible.
This post is based on information from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Written, March 2019
Also see: Obstacles in life
In Sydney we can expect lots of promises over the next few months, with a State election in March and a national election in May. Between Genesis and Revelation, the Bible is full of God’s promises. There are thousands of them. This post contains a survey of God’s promises in the Bible in order to determine which one is the greatest. We will see that the promise given to Abraham to bless all nations is the greatest because it was fulfilled in Jesus Christ and it leads to God’s other promises.
Promises in the Old Testament
The best known promises from God in the Old Testament are called covenants. We will summarize five of these that were given to Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Jeremiah.
After the flood, God told Noah’s family, “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen. 9:11NIV). He called it “a covenant for all generations to come” and an “everlasting covenant” (Gen. 9:12, 16). It was between God and every living creature on earth and was symbolized by the rainbow (Gen. 9:13). It was an unconditional promise of God’s protection. God has kept this promise: there hasn’t been another global flood.
Promised nation, land and blessing for all nations
After the tower of Babel, people scattered across the earth into different nations that spoke different languages. And God promised to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation and to give them the land of Canaan from the Wadi of Egypt to the Euphrates River (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:18-21NIV). He also promised that “all peoples [nations]on earth will be blessed through you [Abraham]”. This was an unconditional and everlasting promise (Gen. 17:7-8). The sign of this covenant was male circumcision (Gen. 17:11). So this covenant was a promise of a nation and their own land. God partially fulfilled this part of the promise when David and Solomon were kings over Israel. But the Bible indicates that Israel will be restored again in the future (Rom. 11). The other part of the promise (blessing for all nations) is discussed below under “The key promise”.
After Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, at Mt Sinai, God promised the Israelites they would be His special people – “my treasured possession” (Ex. 19:5) and He would drive out the Canaanites so they could occupy their land (Ex. 19 – 31). It was conditional on obeying God’s laws, and there were blessings for obedience and punishment for disobedience (Lev. 26, Dt. 28-29). The Sabbath day was given to Israel as a sign of this covenant (Ex. 31:13, 17). So this third covenant was a promise of a special relationship with God. God kept His part of this promise, but Israel failed to keep their part, and so were invaded and driven from Palestine.
When king David planned to build a temple for God, God promised him an everlasting dynasty, a great name, and peace for the nation of Israel (2 Sam. 7:5-16, 28; 1 Chron. 17:11-14; 2 Chron. 6:16; Ps. 89:3-4). This covenant was unconditional. But it was conditional for Solomon’s descendants (Ps. 132:11-12). A descendant of David ruled in Judah until the Babylonian conquest in 586BC when the descendants went into exile and there was no kingdom and no king for about 400 years. Then King Herod ruled but he wasn’t Jewish as he had Edomite (Idumean) ancestry. At this time Jesus was rejected as king, but since His ascension, He is on His throne in heaven. Peter and Paul said that Jesus Christ was the fulfilment of God’s promise to David (Acts 2:29-36; 13:20-24). Jesus is a descendant of David (Lk. 3). And His kingdom is everlasting.
So this covenant was a promise of a dynasty. Because Israel failed to keep their part, the physical dynasty ended. But after a 400 year gap, Jesus established a spiritual dynasty.
We’ve seen that the Israelites couldn’t keep the old covenant that came through Moses. The prophet Jeremiah said that because they had broken the covenant by disobedience and idolatry, God would bring a disaster (Jer. 11). He predicted a Babylonian conquest, followed by a 70 year exile and then restoration for Israel (Jer. 12-13; 25; 27; 30-31).
Jeremiah also promised the Israelites a new covenant, which becomes effective after the 2nd advent of Christ (Jer. 31:31-34). The nation will be revived and indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:25, 27); they willingly obey the Word of God; they have a unique relationship with God; everyone will know the Lord; their sins are forgiven and forgotten; and the nation continues forever (Jer. 31:35-37). In fact Paul says that Jews will begin to turn to God after the rapture (Rom. 11:25-26). This was a mystery to people in the first century and many are ignorant of it today. This is called the “New covenant” (Heb. 8). It’s an unconditional promise for the Jews, involving Christ’s millennial reign on earth. This covenant was a promise of a future Jewish revival and peace on earth.
That’s five covenant promises. The Old Testament prophets also predicted a Messiah who would bring peace and prosperity.
In about 980BC David prayed for deliverance when facing death (Ps. 16). He finishes with joy because he is assured that he will not die (Psa. 16:9-11). But Peter said that this refers to the resurrection of the Messiah (Acts 2:25-33). And Paul agrees (Acts 13:35-37).
In about 700BC Micah said the messiah would be born in Bethlehem of Judah (Mic. 5:2). And about that time Isaiah said that he would be more than an ordinary child because he would be called Immanuel which means God with us (Isa. 7:14; Mt. 1:22-23). Isaiah also taught about the suffering servant (messiah) who would:
– Suffer for our sins to bring us peace and spiritual life (Isa. 53:5).
– Die among the wicked but be buried with the rich (Isa. 53:9).
In about 520BC Zechariah said the messiah would be humble (riding into Jerusalem on a donkey) and victorious (Zech. 9:9-10).
But all the promises in the Old Testament were given to Jews as individuals or as a nation. They weren’t given to Christians or Gentiles like us. But there are promises given to Christians in the New Testament.
Promises in the New Testament
When I looked at the 60 verses in the New Testament that include the Greek word for promise (epangalia, Strongs #1860) and its close derivatives, I found that they involved four main types of promise:
– Promises given to Abraham and his descendants.
– Eternal life.
– The Holy Spirit.
– The second coming of Christ or end times.
We will briefly look at these in turn.
An email says you’ve won a new car or free airline tickets. Or that you can make easy money working from home or from bitcoin. The promise of romance cost a Canadian woman more than $40,000. Some promises are worthless! But God’s promises have lasting value.
Promises given to Abraham and his descendants
These promises involved three topics:
– God keeps His promises. “After waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised” (Heb. 6:15). God is reliable.
– Jesus was the promised Messiah. We will look at this soon under “The key promise”.
– Salvation (and eternal life) is a gift to be received by faith, not something to be earned. As a result of this salvation, all believers are assured of participating in and receiving the remaining promises.
Eternal (spiritual) life enables us to live for Christ today and to look forward to life after death (1 Jn. 2:25; 1 Tim. 4:8). All believers have eternal life and can look forward to new bodies, the marriage supper of the Lamb and living with the Lord in heaven where rewards are given for serving the Lord.
The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit indwells a believer when they trust in the good news of God’s offer of salvation. He is God with us on a continual basis—God speaks to us today through the Holy Spirit. He is a great helper and teacher and will remind us of relevant Scripture.
The second coming or end times
The second coming of Christ has two stages. The first is when the Lord returns to resurrect believers and take them to heaven, called the rapture. The second is when He returns in great power and glory to rule the earth with justice. Believers are to look forward to “a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Pt. 3:13). This is the eternal state after God has triumphed over Satan and evil.
The Key promise
One of the promises given to Abraham was that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you [Abraham]” (Gen. 12:3; 18:18). This was explained more fully as, “through your [Abraham’s] offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Gen. 22:18; 26:4). Jacob was given a similar promise, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you [Jacob] and your offspring” (Gen. 28:14).
Who is being blest in these Old Testament verses? According to Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB), the Hebrew word:
– mishpachah (Strongs #4940) means “people, nation” (Gen. 12:3; 28:14; 28:14).
– goy (Strongs #1471) means “nation, people” (Gen. 18:18; 22:18; 26:4).
Although the same word is used for family, in this context, it’s not just a family or a tribe, but a larger group of people like a nation.
This promise is explained in the New Testament. Peter quoted this promise to unbelieving Jews, “Indeed, beginning with Samuel, all the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days [the millennial reign of Christ]. And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring [Jesus Christ] all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ When God raised up His servant [Jesus Christ], He sent Him first to you [Jews] to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways” (Acts 3:24-26). Peter applies the promise that was made to Abraham to Jesus. Jesus was the fulfilment of the promise. Through Jesus all peoples earth will be blessed. In this instance, “offspring” means Jesus.
Paul quoted this promise to believers who were being influenced by legalistic Jewish Christians, “Understand, then, that those who have faith are (spiritual) children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you [Abraham]’. So those who rely on faith [believers] are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal. 3:7-9). Paul says that all believers are spiritual children of Abraham. They are saved by faith like Abraham was and not by good works. This is the gospel message, that both Jews and Gentiles can be saved by faith in Christ. This explains how the nations are blessed through Jesus.
Who is being blest in these New Testament verses? According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, the Greek word:
– patria (Strongs #3965) means “nation, people” (Acts 3:25).
– ethnos (Strongs #1484) means “nation, people” (Gal. 3:8).
Although patria is used for family, in this context, it’s not just a family or a tribe, but a larger group of people like a nation.
Paul then explains how this happens, “He [Christ] redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Gal. 3:14). It’s through Jesus Christ. And he says it again, “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ” (v.16). In this context “seed” means Jesus. And he says it a third time: Jesus is “the Seed to whom the promise referred” (v.19). Christ is the seed promised to Abraham. And he says it the fourth time: What was promised to Abraham is “given to those who believe” through “faith in Jesus Christ” (v.22). This says that the blessing is salvation through Jesus. Then he says, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (v.29). Christians are Abraham’s spiritual descendants as we share his faith (Rom. 4:1-25).
All those with faith in God are spiritual descendants of Abraham (his offspring or seed) (Rom. 4:13, 16, 18, 9:6-9). This includes Isaac but not his half-brother Ishmael, Jacob but not his brother Esau, and believers but not unbelievers.
The promise of Gen. 12:3 was to bless all nations of the earth in Abram. The promise of salvation through Jesus included Gentiles as well as Jews. The “seed” referred to Jesus Christ, who was a descendant of Abraham (Lk. 3:34). God promised to bless all nations through Christ. It was through Christ that God intended to fulfill this promise to Abraham. The New Testament version of the promise is, “For God so loved the world [nations] that He gave His one and only Son [Jesus], that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
The promise of salvation was meant to be received by faith in Christ. This is evident by hindsight after being revealed by the apostles, although it is not clear from reading the Old Testament alone.
When he was accused of being unreliable, Paul said that “all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ” (2 Cor. 1:10NLT). This is shown in a schematic diagram. The promise of blessing for all nations was made to Abraham. Jesus was the fulfilment of the promise. Through Jesus people from all nations can be blessed. Here’s how it happens. Those who trust in the work of Christ by faith are saved and delivered from the penalty of their sinfulness. Consequently:
– They enter the new covenant (a special spiritual relationship with God, which is much better than the old covenant).
– They have eternal life, which is spiritual life that endures forever.
– They are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
– They will be resurrected at the rapture and will share in Christ’s second coming to set up His kingdom on earth.
It’s a key promise because it is the original messianic promise (see Appendix A) and it is the source of the other promises. Paul said, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us [believers] with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ” (Eph. 1:3NLT). The spiritual blessings that we are promised are consequences of our faith in Christ. So they were included in the original promise. The diagram shows God’s plan of salvation over a period of at least 4,000 years: the promise was given to Abram in about 2,000BC, Jesus died about AD 30 and we live in AD 2019. That’s the big picture.
So, God’s greatest promise is that people from all nations can be blessed through Jesus. Jesus is the fulfilment of the greatest promise. And salvation through Jesus is the fulfilment of the greatest promise. He is the means by which people can come into God’s blessing.
The guaranteed promise
But promises can be broken. Construction of Sydney’s light rail project was meant to go smoothly and be finished before the State election in March, but there were problems, delays and broken promises and now it’s running at least a year late. But God always keeps His promises.
The writer of Hebrews assures us that “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). Abraham was given a son after waiting for 25 years. Likewise, God will keep His promise of our eternal salvation. Because of this, those who have come into God’s salvation “may be greatly encouraged”. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb. 6:19). Like an anchor holds a ship safe and stops it being shipwrecked in a storm, our hope in Christ guarantees our safety. The storms of life can lead to doubt and despair if we forget that God’s greatest promise can be our anchor.
Today’s meaning of ancient promises
The Bible was written in ancient times. What do promises written thousands of years ago mean for us today? It was also written over a period of at least 1,500 years. Because of this, the Bible is a progressive revelation. Truth gets added as we move from the beginning to the end (the graph goes up with time). So we should read it as those who have the whole book and know God’s whole program of salvation. Let’s look at what the promises we have mentioned above mean to us today.
Protection. This was a promise with Noah and his sons and their descendants and “every living creature on earth” (Gen. 9:8-9). They were the only ones on earth after the flood. So this promise applies to all people and creatures on earth today. We can be assured that the earth won’t be destroyed by a flood or by climate change (a euphemism for the enhanced greenhouse effect). Part of the promise was “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Gen. 8:22). It’s an unconditional promise that as long as the earth exists the climate will remain within acceptable ranges for plants to live. Of course the Genesis flood was the greatest climate change event in history.
A nation and a land. Abraham and Jacob were promised that they would have many descendants (the Jews) who would be given the land of Canaan (and they did live there). These were promises for the Jews, so it doesn’t mean that God will give us many children and a house. Those who follow Jesus live under the new covenant and their promised blessings are spiritual, not physical (Eph. 1:3). So the equivalent promise for us is spiritual blessings. That’s the inheritance that we can look forward to – being part of the family of God and having eternal life in heaven.
Blessing for all nations. We have already seen that that the equivalent promise for us is the blessing of salvation through Jesus.
Promised relationship. This was a promise to the Israelites who were to live under the laws of Moses. But that doesn’t mean that we need to obey these laws in order to have a relationship with God. The old covenant wasn’t given to Gentiles like us. The equivalent relationship for us in the new covenant through faith in Christ and His commands in the New Testament.
A dynasty. The Bible says that Jesus Christ was the fulfilment of God’s promise to David of an eternal dynasty.
Revival. Although the Jews were promised a new covenant, the Bible says that believers enter into it spiritually and enjoy its spiritual blessings. Our sins are forgiven and we have peace with God if we accept the good news by believing that Christ paid the penalty for our sin. The Lord’s Supper is a symbol of this new covenant (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). Do we celebrate it regularly and recall our spiritual blessings?
A messiah. Jesus was the promised Jewish messiah. Because He was rejected by the Jews, salvation by faith in His finished work is now available to all nations.
As the other promises we have looked at were made to Christians, this means that they still apply to us today. So Christians have eternal (spiritual) life; they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit; and during the end times they will be resurrected when Christ returns to take them to heaven.
Consequently, we need to be careful in our understanding and application of promises in the Bible (see Appendix B).
Lessons for us
We have seen that God gave Abraham a promise to bless all nations, which was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and which leads to God’s other promises. Through Jesus all nations can be blessed. The blessing is salvation through faith in Jesus and all that it brings including the Holy Spirit and eternal life.
This is the greatest promise because it’s the source of all God’s promises to believers. Believers have every spiritual blessing because they are united with Christ. The Bible says it’s like an anchor to get through the storms of life. Do we have this anchor to get through difficult times or do we get shipwrecked?
It’s greater than all promises outside the Bible because it’s given by the God who made the universe and continues to sustain it.
In Old Testament times, the physical descendants of Abraham had a special relationship with God, which other people lacked. Likewise, today those who have trusted in Jesus have a special relationship with God that helps them get through life and gives them something to look forward to. What about us? Do we have that special relationship with God? Salvation is a gift to be received by faith.
If we are part of God’s special people today, we receive the blessings of God’s promises. But we don’t know about them unless we read them in the Bible. And we can’t recall them unless we read them in the Bible. So let’s read about them in the Bible so we can appreciate how great and precious they are (2 Pt. 1:4). For example, are we looking forward to Christ’s return to fulfil His promises concerning the future?
Let’s remember that God’s greatest promise is Jesus and salvation through Jesus.
Appendix A: Is Genesis 3:15 a messianic promise?
You may wonder why I haven’t included Genesis 3:15 as the original messianic promise. God’s judgment of the serpent after mankind sinned was, “14So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:14-15).
This has been called the Protoevangelium, which means the first announcement of the gospel. It has also been called the first messianic prophecy. In this interpretation, the serpent represents Satan and the offspring of the woman represents Jesus. Jesus’ death and resurrection secures victory over Satan which will be finalized when Satan is thrown into the lake of burning sulfur for eternity (Rev. 20:2, 10).
I haven’t mentioned Genesis 3:15 in this post because:
– I can’t see any direct reference to the statement in Genesis 3:15 anywhere else in the Bible. However, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20) could be an indirect reference. This verse seems to be saying that believers will share in Christ’s victory over Satan. According to the NET Bible, “Rom 16:20 may echo Genesis 3:15 but it does not use any of the specific language of Genesis 3:15 in the Septuagint [the earliest Greek translation of the Old Testament]. Paul uses the imagery of God soon crushing Satan’s head under the feet of the church. If Paul were interpreting Genesis 3:15, he is not seeing it as culminating in and limited to Jesus defeating Satan via the crucifixion and resurrection, but extending beyond that”.
– According to the NET Bible, “Many Christian theologians (going back to Irenaeus) understand v. 15 as the so-called protevangelium, supposedly prophesying Christ’s victory over Satan (see W. Witfall, “Genesis 3:15 – a Protevangelium?” CBQ 36 : 361-65; and R. A. Martin, “The Earliest Messianic Interpretation of Genesis 3:15,” JBL 84 : 425-27). In this allegorical approach, the woman’s offspring is initially Cain, then the whole human race, and ultimately Jesus Christ, the offspring (Hebrew “seed”) of the woman (see Gal. 4:4). The offspring of the serpent includes the evil powers and demons of the spirit world, as well as those humans who are in the kingdom of darkness (see Jn. 8:44). According to this view, the passage gives the first hint of the gospel. Satan delivers a crippling blow to the Seed of the woman (Jesus), who in turn delivers a fatal blow to the Serpent (first defeating him through the death and resurrection [1 Cor. 15:55-57] and then destroying him in the judgment [Rev. 12:7-9; 20:7-10]). However, the grammatical structure of Genesis 3:15b does not suggest this view. The repetition of the verb “attack,” as well as the word order, suggests mutual hostility is being depicted, not the defeat of the serpent. If the serpent’s defeat were being portrayed, it is odd that the alleged description of his death comes first in the sentence. If he has already been crushed by the woman’s “Seed,” how can he bruise his heel? To sustain the allegorical view, v. 15b must be translated in one of the following ways: “he will crush your head, even though you attack his heel” (in which case the second clause is concessive) or “he will crush your head as you attack his heel” (the clauses, both of which place the subject before the verb, may indicate synchronic action)”.
So, Genesis 3:15 isn’t included in this post as the original messianic promise because its meaning isn’t as clear or as robust as the other promises.
Appendix B: Application of biblical promises
As a result of the findings under “Today’s meaning of ancient promises”, when we read a promise in the Bible, let’s be careful to note:
– The context. Read the chapters and paragraphs of the Bible that describe the context in which the promise was given. Who was it written to? Did they live under the old covenant or the new one? How did they understand the promise? For example, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14) was a promise to the nation of Israel. Under the old covenant, there was a direct correspondence between their obedience and their prosperity, and their disobedience and their hardship (Dt. 28). If they disobey, they will be judged. But if they repent, God will rescue them from the judgment. It doesn’t apply to any other nation because God never promised that if a righteous remnant repents and prays for their nation, that the nation will be saved spiritually or be prosperous. And as noted above, the equivalent promise for us is spiritual blessings (not physical ones).
– The conditions. What conditions need to be satisfied to receive the benefits of the promise?
– The fulfilment. Has the promise been partially or totally fulfilled already? Or has it not yet been fulfilled? Read subsequent portions of the Bible.
– History. Is the promise explained in subsequent portions of the Bible?
Written, January 2019
Also see: God’s great and precious promises
In the last few days, millions of people were evacuated due to floods and landslides in Japan. Tough times come to everyone at some point. Serious illness, disability, unemployment, financial problems, family strife, conflict at work, the death of a loved one. Life doesn’t always work out the way we would like it to. We find ourselves thinking, why is this happening to me? How could a loving God allow this hardship? Why aren’t you doing something about this, God?
And we wonder, how can we get through such difficult times? In particular, how can God help us get through hardship? In this article we’re going to answer this question from the letter of 1 Peter in the Bible. There will be three main points:
– God helps us through the privileges of salvation.
– God helps us through Christ’s example.
– And God helps us through godly living.
Peter was a disciple of Jesus and an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry. He was put in jail more than once for proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead (Acts 4:3; 5:18; 12:4). He knew that Christians had faced opposition since the beginning of the church. They were jailed and interrogated by the Jewish leaders and commanded not to speak about Jesus (Acts 4:1-22; 5:17-42). These leaders seized Stephen and made false accusations against him and stoned him to death (Acts 6:8-7:60). Then “a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1NIV). Some went to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch (Acts 11:19). Saul made “murderous threats” against the Christians and went to Damascus to arrest them and take them as prisoners to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2, 21). Then king Herod arrested some Christians “intending to persecute them” and he executed James the brother of John who was an apostle like Peter (Acts 12:1-2). Paul also suffered for following Jesus (2 Cor. 11:23-26).
1 Peter is a letter from the Apostle Peter to Christians living in provinces of Asia Minor (now Turkey). It was written about AD 62, in the middle of the reign of Emperor Nero, who persecuted Christians. You can see this on Peter’s timeline. These Christians faced threats, slander and the possibility of having to “suffer for what is right” and to “suffer for doing good” (1 Pt. 3:13-17). And they were being persecuted, which is described as to “suffer grief in all kinds of trials”, “abuse”, a “fiery trial”, “the sufferings of Christ”, being “insulted because of the name of Christ”, to “suffer as a Christian”, unjust suffering, and being wrongfully accused of wrong doing (1:6, 17; 2:121; 4:3-4, 12-16). This hostility towards Christians was being experienced across the Roman Empire: “the family of believers throughout the [known] world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (5:9).
The purpose of the letter is to encourage them to persevere and endure in their trials and suffering and not give up.
1 Peter’s themes
Peter says that those following Jesus will face trials and suffering. It’s inevitable. They will “suffer for what is right” and “suffer for doing good”. They lived in a world that was hostile to Jesus. And so do we. Do you notice how often Christians are ridiculed in the media? So we will look at this letter as though it was written to us.
If trials and suffering are inevitable in the life of a Christian, what do we do about it? We have a choice to trust God and endure the suffering or go our own way into bitterness and resentment. Will we draw near to God or turn away from Him? These two responses are shown in the schematic diagram.
Peter says we are to prepare for suffering and hostility beforehand, and endure it by persevering in the Christian faith. He gives three ways to ensure endurance. These are: the privileges of salvation, Christ’s example, and godly living. We will look at these themes in turn and they are shown in the schematic diagram.
Prepare for suffering
Some people stumble in their faith when they are impacted by suffering. They think how can a good God allow such suffering?
Peter tells them how to get ready to face suffering because it’s coming (3:13-17; 4:2-6). When they face criticism and hostility they should, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. And do this with gentleness and respect” (3:15-16).
If we live in a wildfire (bushfire) zone, we need a wildfire (bushfire) emergency plan. If we live in a flood zone, we need a flood emergency plan. We need to get ready and be prepared. Likewise. Christians need to be ready to face criticism, ridicule and hardship. This means being ready to answer questions like. How can anyone believe in God after a disaster? Hasn’t science disproved God? Why would you read the Bible? Why do you go to church? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why don’t you sleep with your girlfriend or boyfriend?
We don’t know when this situation will occur. Can we say why we are a Christian? Are there good reasons for what we believe? Have we thought through what we believe so we can testify to others? We need to know why we believe what we believe. Do we respect those we are witnessing to? Is what we say supported by a consistent life? We need to both show and tell.
So it’s good to prepare for suffering. But what should we do when trials and suffering appear?
Peter also tells them how to cope with suffering (4:12-19):
- He says, don’t be surprised about suffering as a Christian. It’s not unusual. It’s the normal Christian experience.
- “All kinds of trials” can test our faith (1:6-7). Traffic jams, the slow queue at the supermarket, cancer, depression, mental illness, marriage problems, and hostility from others because of our faith, all test our Christian faith. Some of these things happen to us sooner or later. Hard times prove our faith is genuine. James says that the testing of our faith by “trials of many kinds” produces perseverance (Jas. 1:2-3).
- Also, suffering can train us and mould our character. Those who endure suffering are strengthened and become more spiritually mature (5:10).
- And suffering is temporary; “for a little while” (1:6; 5:10). It’s only for this life. “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (5:10).
- Peter also says, “it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God … But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God” (2:19-20). God is pleased when we endure undeserved suffering without retaliation. “Endure” means to hang in there. To carry a heavy load without complaining. To be strong. God gives that ability. He does not want us to suffer from a sense of duty but from a conviction about His purpose for us. He wants us to patiently endure suffering even when we do good. How much hostility can we take? Are we resilient?
At the end of the letter, Peter says, “I wanted to encourage you and tell you how kind God really is, so that you will keep on having faith in Him” (5:12CEV). It was written to encourage them to endure and persevere in trials and suffering and not give up trusting God.
The summary statement for Christian suffering is, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (4:19). Nothing can happen to us without God allowing it. He wants us to put our trials into His care. He will sustain us. “Doing good” means to the benefit others. Hardship isn’t an excuse for wrongdoing.
So it’s good to prepare for suffering, and to endure during trials. But Peter also reminds them of some other reasons for enduring and persevering in trials and suffering.
God helps us through the privileges of salvation
The first way that God helps us through hardships is through the privileges of salvation. Peter focuses on three of these: our secure future (1:3-12), our direct access to God (2:4-8), and the fact we are special to God (2:9-10).
We have a secure future
The Bible says that “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” Christians have “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1:3-4). And “this inheritance is kept in heaven [by God] for you”.
It‘s human nature to break promises. Governments make and break promises. Advertisers and politicians make and break promises. And people make promises to each other which are often broken. Many of these promises do not materialize. Thankfully, God’s promises are not like ours. Every promise He makes, He keeps. The promise of a secure future is certain to be fulfilled.
So Christians should be confident about their future. Their inheritance is guaranteed.
And God is protecting them until it’s revealed when Jesus comes back. This promise gives them joy even “though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1:6). They have inner peace despite these trials.
We have direct access to God
Peter says that each Christian is like a “living stone” in a new building and Jesus is like the cornerstone. God builds this spiritual building by adding Christians to the global church. One day this building will be finished, then Jesus will come again. This spiritual house is like the temple in the Old Testament, where the priests had access to God. Today Christians are like these priests: they have direct access to God. They are “to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices” to God.
When a relationship breaks down and the couple have children, the Family Court may deny one parent contact with a child if there is a serious physical or emotional risk for the child. In this case, one parent has direct access to the child, but the other doesn’t. In the same way, Christians have direct access to God, they are no longer separated from Him. This means they can pray to God anytime. We can confess our sins to God, pray for others and offer ourselves to God.
We are God’s people
The Bible also says that Christians are God’s special people (2:9-10). They are “a chosen people”. Like the Israelites were God’s chosen people in Old Testament times, Christians are His chosen people today. They are “God’s special possession”. They are safe because of His protection. And their purpose is to praise God.
At the Australian State of Origin Rugby League Football game this week, supporters were praising their teams. And Queenslanders even think they are chosen people, but those from New South Wales don’t agree! Anyhow, this gives people an identity, a purpose and something to celebrate. In the same way, Christians have a special identity, a purpose and something to celebrate. So we can feel safe and represent God in our world.
So their secure future, their direct access to God, and their identity as God’s people helps believers to endure and persevere in trials and suffering. They don’t worry about ridicule or persecution. Besides these privileges of salvation, Christ’s example can also help.
God helps us through Christ’s example
The second way that God helps us through hardships is through the example of Jesus who suffered when He was unjustly crucified (1:11; 2:24; 3:18; 4:1, 13; 5:1). It’s mentioned in every chapter of this letter.
Jesus was a model for how to deal with a hostile work situation (2:21-25). After commending those who bear up “under the pain of unjust suffering”, and who “suffer for doing good” under harsh employers, Peter says, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth’. When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted himself to Him [God] who judges justly” (2:21-23). Peter also says, “since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude [as Jesus], because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin” (4:1).
In Peter’s day, retaliating to a personal insult or injury was considered a virtue. Non- retaliation was interpreted as a sign of weakness. Our society is much the same. Our heroes tend to be those who fight back with physical strength or litigation. But Jesus didn’t do that when He suffered unjustly and for doing good. Instead He prayed for His killers, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34). When He was falsely accused, insulted and abused, He didn’t retaliate. Instead, He left these things in the Father’s hands.
Christians should expect hostility because they follow Jesus. They should be prepared to endure trials and suffering. Believers have a choice between sin and suffering. If we live like an unbeliever, we can avoid hostility and suffering. But if we live in a godly way and not under the power of sin, we will face hostility. Do our friends know that we follow Jesus? Are we willing to endure ridicule because of this?
So the privileges of salvation and Christ’s example can help us to endure and persevere in trials and suffering. Godly living can also help.
God helps us through godly living
The third way that God helps us through hardships is through godly living. The previous helps were what to know (doctrine), now they are told what to do (practice). They are instructed how to live and behave in a pagan society where they were misunderstood and insulted for their faith.
First, they are urged to be holy (1:13-2:3). God says, “for it is written [in the Old Testament]: ‘be holy, because I [God] am holy’”. This would have reminded them of the Israelites who were to be devoted to God and different from the other nations by following God’s laws for them (Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7, 26; 21:8). Now Christians are to be holy and live for God and so be different to unbelievers.
The hippies who dropped out of society in the 1960s were counter-cultural. Today it might be those who aren’t online watching things like Facebook or Youtube. Or those home schooling. Or those in an outlaw bikie club. These ways of life and attitudes are completely different from those accepted by most of society. Likewise, God wants Christians to be different from our pagan society.
Christians are like foreigners on earth because our ultimate allegiance is to a heavenly kingdom (2:11). We are to behave differently to our previous sinful lifestyle. God wants us to be like Him and He gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us. We are to be driven by the Holy Spirit and not the sinful nature (Gal. 5:16). The standard for distinguishing what’s sinful and what’s holy is the Bible, because it’s God’s message to us.
An example of holiness is the fruit of the Spirit which is “ love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23NLT). What do we do with our sexual desires and how to we use our money? We are regularly bombarded with temptations by the media. How do we react to these?
Second, Peter urges them to show godly behavior in their relationships with others.
He mentions at least four areas of life where we should be humble, submissive and respect others. These are: towards governing authorities (2:13-17), at work (2:18-20), in the family (3:1-7), and in the church (3:8-12; 5:1-10).
The media often depict those in positions of authority as incompetent, disrespected, and corrupted. And if we criticize a teacher, a cop, or a spouse, it shows our lack of respect for authority figures. If we want our kids to respect us, we need to demonstrate that we respect others.
So the privileges of salvation and Christ’s example and godly living can help us to endure and persevere in trials and suffering.
Enduring hostility today
Jesus faced hostility. Peter faced hostility. The Christians that Peter wrote to faced hostility. And today Christians face hostility. Since the times of Jesus, the world has been hostile to Christ and His representatives.
In our postmodern world, Christians are viewed as intolerant and unloving bigots because of their view on marriage, abortion and euthanasia. They are characterized by hate, fear, oppression, abuse, power, and violence. And Christianity is misrepresented and ridiculed. While non-Christians are seen as being tolerant and compassionate because of their love, justice and mercy.
How resilient are we? When trials and suffering come our way, do we choose sin or suffering? Trouble is meant to draw us closer to the Lord, not push us further away.
Peter quotes from the Old Testament to prove his point. We need to substantiate what we believe from the Bible. That’s why it’s important to read and study the Bible.
Our original question was, “How can God help us get through hardship?” To answer this we have looked at the letter of 1 Peter. And we’ve seen three ways that God helps us get through trials and suffering. He helps us through:
– The privileges of salvation – like our secure future, our direct access to God and being God’s people.
– Christ’s example, of enduring unjust suffering.
– And godly living, by being holy and respecting others.
Trials and suffering can cause us to sin and give up following Jesus. But God offers us the privileges of salvation, Christ’s example and godly living. Now we must use these to persevere in hard times and not give up.
It’s the Football (Soccer) World Cup once again. But the team getting most attention last week was the one rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand. It was a great example of perseverance, hope, heartbreak, and victory. Just like the way Christians should respond to a hostile world. They escaped a dangerous situation. But the Bible says that those who don’t follow Jesus are in a more dangerous situation. The letter of 1 Peter was written to those who followed Jesus. As we have seen, they have plenty of resources to endure tough times. To get these resources we need to realize that our relationship with God the Father is broken. And if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we can be reconciled with God. And He can become the cornerstone of our life.
Written, July 2018
Indonesia’s reputation for religious tolerance is expected be tested at the blasphemy trial of Jakarta’s Christian Governor Basuki Purnama (Ahok). Blasphemy is speaking irreverently of God or sacred things. Apparently Ahok told voters that they were being misled by Islamic clerics who said Muslims were not permitted to vote for a Christian. This remark sparked inaccurate reports that Ahok had criticized the Koran, not the clerics. Mass protests followed as conservative Muslims campaigned for Ahok’s jailing. Blasphemy is a criminal offense in Indonesia and punishable by up to five years in prison.
(Postscript: In May 2017, Ahok was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy against Islam. The sentence was harsher than what prosecutors had asked for – two years’ probation on a lesser charge, which would have spared him prison time. Ahok’s conviction and imprisonment reignited fears that the country’s secular government could be hijacked by Islamic extremists).
It is estimated that about 25% of the world’s population is Muslim. This increases to over 90% in the Middle East and North Africa. The Islamic faith is monotheistic like Judaism and Christianity. But do Muslims worship the same God as Jews and Christians?
True or false?
The Bible contains three clear tests for determining whether a belief, teaching or philosophy is true or false. To be true it must pass each of the three tests.
The Jesus test
This test states that, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist … This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 Jn. 4:2-3, 6NIV). The question to be answered in this test is: What does it say about Jesus Christ? Is it consistent with Christ’s unique birth, divine and human nature, sinless life, sacrificial death, resurrection, and second coming (1 Jn. 4:1-3)?
The gospel test
The Bible warns about those promoting a different gospel, “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” (Gal.1:9). The question to be answered in this test is: What is its gospel? In other words: what is the core belief or hope? The Bible says that the root cause of all our problems is that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s requirements—resulting in death. The only means of rescue is salvation by repentance of sin and faith in the work of Christ. ‘Different gospels’ are those that differ from this. They either add to it or take away from it. There is a warning against adding to or taking away from the words of the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19).
The fruit test
Jesus Christ warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Mt. 7:15-20). The question to be answered in this test is: What kind of fruit is evident? In other words, what type of attitudes and behavior does it encourage? Is the divine nature or the sinful nature most evident (Gal. 5:19-23)?
Testing the Islamic faith
The Jesus test
Jesus is mentioned in 93 verses of the Quran. But what do Muslims believe about Jesus Christ? See Appendix A: “What Muslims think about Jesus?” In summary, they believe that:
– Jesus was a Muslim prophet.
– He had a miraculous birth.
– He performed many miracles.
– He wasn’t crucified or resurrected.
– He wasn’t God or the son of God.
– He announced the coming of Muhammad.
– He will return in the end times to help bring the world to its end.
Islam clearly fails the Jesus test. The Islamic Jesus is different to the Biblical Jesus. The main shortcomings are a failure to acknowledge Christ’s divinity and His sacrificial death (crucifixion) and resurrection. This means that Muslims reject the climatic part of the Bible when God solves the problem of humanity’s sinfulness. He does this by sending His only Son Jesus to the earth as a substitute to take the punishment that we all deserve.
The Islamic view of Jesus lies between two extremes. The Jews rejected Jesus as a prophet, while the Christians considered Him to be the Son of God and worship Him as such. The Islamic claim that Jesus was not executed by crucifixion is without any historical support. One of the things that all the early sources agree on is Jesus’ crucifixion.
But is Allah like God the Father? They are similar in being omnipotent, omniscient, creator, and sustainer. But there is a major difference: Allah didn’t send Jesus to die for our sins. So Allah isn’t the God of the Bible.
The gospel test
The Quran mentions Paradise and Hell as future destinies for humanity. But how do Muslims believe one gets to Paradise instead of Hell? See Appendix B: “What Muslims think about Salvation” In summary, they believe that:
– Allah sent prophets to show us the right way of living.
– Salvation is possible through belief/faith in Allah and good works, including keeping the five acts of worship (pillars of Islam).
– The essential belief/faith is that “There is no God but Allah” and “Muhammad is God’s Prophet”.
– On the day of judgment, if a Muslim’s good works outweigh their bad ones and if Allah wills it, they may be forgiven of all their sins and then enter into Paradise. So salvation is based on Allah’s grace/mercy and a Muslim’s good works.
This is different to what Christians believe about salvation. The Bible teaches that salvation is by God’s grace alone: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith … not of works” (Eph. 2:8-9). The Christian gospel may be summarized as: “Because of His infinite mercy, God sent His Son (Jesus) to earth to save people so they could live right. He was the sacrifice which would permit God to blot out all our sins, and enable us to be clean so that we could dwell eternally with our holy God. Jesus died for the sins of humanity”. But Islam teaches that faith in Allah alone is not enough for salvation. It is a religion of salvation by works because it combines a Muslim’s works with Allah’s grace/mercy.
Christ’s substitutionary death is the core of a Christian’s salvation. But Muslims deny that Jesus came to this earth with the purpose of sacrificing himself for the sin of humanity, freeing them from its burden.
A Muslim’s salvation is never guaranteed. There is no assurance of going to Paradise, regardless of how devout they may be. They must do good works and hope that at judgment day Allah will grant favor. By contrast, the Christian’s salvation is sure and confident. God’s promises are never broken, and we can rely on scripture when it declares that faith in Jesus saves (Acts 16:31) and we can rest confidently in this assurance (1 Jn. 5:13). Our forgiveness and salvation are completely based on the work of Christ on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24) and not on any of our deeds because we have a sinful nature (Rom. 7:18).
It would seem the Islamic system of salvation is more a reward than grace. Faith in God alone saves a Christian (Rom. 5:17, 19), but faith in Allah alone isn’t sufficient to save a Muslim. The problem with being saved by God’s grace and human works is that human works are never sufficient to please God. God is infinite and holy. How can we finite sinners ever hope to please God by our deeds? By the way, works do have a place in the life of a Christian, but only as evidence of a pre-existing faith (Jas 2:18).
Islam is also different to Judaism where the death of a sacrificial animal dealt with one’s sin. And one of the characteristics of God was a Redeemer who delivered and rescued His people from Egypt. There are no substitutionary sacrifices or redeemers in the Islamic faith.
So, Islam fails the gospel test.
The fruit test
It’s difficult to assess attitudes and behavior objectively. I have just visited Morocco and France. Cultural and religious pressure makes it difficult to be Christians in these countries. About 1% of the people in Morocco are Christians and most of these are foreigners. And less than 1% of the French are evangelical Christians.
There seems to be a lack of religious freedom in Morocco. I was unable to find a Christian church anywhere near where I was staying in Casablanca (a city of about 4 million people). Attempting to convert a Muslim to another religion is punishable with up to three years imprisonment and a substantial fine. And Moroccan Christians have to meet secretly in houses. They are not free to worship at a Christian church. Whereas in Lyon (a city of 500,000) there were several evangelical churches nearby. Also, although some Moroccan stores had Christmas decorations, there were no depictions of the nativity. There is no freedom for Moroccan Christians to practice their faith in Morocco or to organize a Christian celebration. Yet in Australia (where ~2% are Moslem), all Muslims are free to worship at an Islamic mosque.
There also seems to be a lack of individual freedom and joy in Islam. It’s a demanding religion that doesn’t tolerate independent thinking or probing questions,which is supported by the prohibition on translating the Quran into other languages. There are many man-made rules created by Muslim imams (who lead Sunni Moslems in prayer) for circumstances that aren’t mentioned in the Quran, which can result in legalism and coercion. In contrast, the word “joy” appears frequently in the Old and New Testaments.
Islam also makes a habit of demanding and complaining in order to insist that others view the world in the way that they do. The blasphemy trial of the Christian Governor in Indonesia is an example of this. In 2011, all Islamic nations had criminal laws on blasphemy. And thousands of people in these nations have been arrested and punished for blasphemy of Islam. In some Muslim countries Christians live in fear because of what a careless word or a false accusation might lead to. Is blasphemy a criminal offense in any non-Moslem country? Have any blasphemy trials been held recently in these countries? Have you ever heard of Christians trialing those who criticize Jesus or the Bible for blasphemy?
What type of attitudes and behavior do you think the Islamic faith encourages?
Results of the tests
So the Islamic faith fails the Jesus Test and the Gospel Test and the results of the Fruit Test are debatable. This means it’s a false teaching, which isn’t consistent with the overall message of the Bible.
Islam regards itself, not as a subsequent faith to Judaism and Christianity, but as the primordial religion. They believe that the Biblical prophets were all Muslims. They also believe that in the generations after Jesus’ departure from this world, his teachings were distorted and he was elevated to the status of God. Six centuries later, with the coming of Prophet Muhammad, the truth about Jesus Christ was finally retold and preserved eternally in the last book of divine revelation, the Quran. Furthermore, many of the laws of Moses, which Jesus followed, were revived in their pure and unadulterated form and implemented in the divinely prescribed way of life known as Islam.
The Biblical narratives are rich with historical details, many confirmed by archaeology. They cover more than a thousand years, and reveal a long process of technological and cultural development. In contrast the Quran’s sacred history is devoid of archaeological support. Its fragmentary and disjointed stories offer no authentic reflection of historical cultures. No place name from ancient Israel is mentioned, not even Jerusalem. Many of the supposed historical events reported in the Quran have no independent verification. And many Quranic stories can be traced to Jewish and Christian folktales and other apocryphal literature.
There is a fundamental difference between Christian attitudes to the Jewish scriptures and Islamic attitudes to the Bible. Christians accept the Hebrew scriptures as authentic. They were the scriptures of Jesus the apostles and the early church. In contrast Islam’s treatment of the Bible is one of complete disregard. Although it purports to ‘verify’ all earlier prophetic revelation, the Quran is oblivious to the real contents of the Bible. The claim that Christians and Jews deliberately corrupted their scriptures is made without evidence, and this only serves to cover up the Quran’s historical inadequacies.
Islam is characterized by many laws and salvation through good works. In this aspect, it is like the Old Testament. It’s like an Arabic version of the Old Testament that also mentions Jesus. But the new covenant (of Christianity) is superior to the old ones (the laws of Moses and the laws of Islam).
So Islam is a retrograde religion. It’s like the false teachers at Galatia who were putting Christians back under the law of Moses. In the book of Galatians Paul opposed these false teachers and stressed that good works are not a condition of salvation, but a fruit of it. The false teachers were zealous because they wanted a following and they enslaved people with rules and regulations (Gal. 4:17-31). Islam is like Ishmael who was born into slavery. But Jesus can set us free from the need to slavishly following such rules and regulations (Gal. 5:1).
Some Muslims are zealous and devout, but salvation is dependent on the object of one’s zeal and devotion and not on the zeal itself. Their focus/object is the teaching of Muhammad and the Quran, which we have shown to be false. Like Judah in Jeremiah’s time, Muslims are “trusting in deceptive words” (Jer. 7:8). In Judah’s case the deceptive words spoken by the false prophets was that God wouldn’t destroy Jerusalem because He wouldn’t allow the Jewish temple to be destroyed. This superstitious belief was stated repetitively, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (Jer. 7:4), which reminds me of the repetitive nature of Islamic prayer. But repetition doesn’t increase the truthfulness of a statement. In Islam’s case, the deceptive words were spoken by Muhammad who was a false prophet. Because of false prophets, Judah followed “other gods” (Jer. 7:9) apart from the real God, while because of Muhammad, Muslims follow the “other god” of Allah.
Muslims also claim that Christians believe in three Gods: Father God, mother Mary, and son Jesus. And they say the trinity is polytheistic. This isn’t true. Mary wasn’t divine. And the Bible says that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three aspects of one God. So, Christianity is monotheistic.
We have tested Islam against three tests from the Bible. It clearly failed two tests (about Jesus and the gospel) and the results of the third test are debatable. This means it’s a false teaching, which isn’t consistent with the message of the Bible. So Muslims don’t worship the same God as Christians.
Appendix A: What Muslims think about Jesus
According to Islamic tradition, the main Muslim prophets were: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Jesus was a precursor to Muhammad. Jesus announced the coming of Muhammad. They claim this is also mentioned in the New Testament – “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (Jn. 14:16-17).
Jesus was one of the greatest messengers (prophets) to humanity. He was created miraculously like Adam with no parents. His mother was a virgin named Mary (but this doesn’t mean that he was the son of God). He performed many miracles. He will return in the end times to help bring the world to its end.
Jesus wasn’t crucified. For Jesus to die on the cross would have meant the triumph of his executioners; but the Quran asserts that they undoubtedly failed. Jesus wasn’t resurrected – it was spiritual, not physical. The Quran says that the original biblical message has been distorted or corrupted over time.
Jesus is not divine. He’s not God or the son of God. The miracles of Jesus and the Quranic titles attributed to Jesus demonstrate the power of Allah rather than the divinity of Jesus—the same power behind the message of all prophets.
Islam regards all prophets, including Jesus, to be mortal human beings who were righteous messengers of Allah. They view Muhammad as the perfect man, not Jesus.
Appendix B What Muslims think about Salvation
Salvation is defined to be the saving and deliverance of people from sin and its consequences. It’s difficult to determine what Muslims think about salvation, because individual statements don’t always cover all the general beliefs that are held on this topic. The following is compiled from a range of sources.
The core belief of Islam is: “There is no God but Allah” and “Muhammad is God’s Prophet”. Allah gave this teaching to Muhammad. In this way, he showed Muslims how to live. This belief is an essential part of the Islamic faith.
The Quran teaches the necessity of both belief/faith in Allah and good works for salvation. The good works include doing honorable deeds plus keeping the five “pillars” of Islam: witness (“There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet”), ritual prayers five times daily, giving money to charity, fasting during Ramadan, and a pilgrimage to Mecca. On the day of judgment Allah will have a set of scales to weigh one’s good deeds against their bad deeds. Salvation is achieved by having more “good” deeds on account than “bad” ones, thus hoping to win Allah’s favor. And if Allah wills it, they may be forgiven of all their sins and then enter Paradise. So salvation is based on Allah’s grace/mercy and the Muslim’s good works.
Islam teaches that on the Day of Judgment every person will be resurrected and will be accountable to God for their every word and deed. Consequently, a practicing Muslim is always striving to be righteous while hoping and praying for Allah’s acceptance and grace. Salvation is only through belief and practice.
Islam stresses the notion that God can forgive all sins, if a person truly repents and then refrains from repeating it. God does not need any blood sacrifice for that, let alone descend in the form of man himself and die for everyone’s sins (like Christians believe). Rather, God’s mercy extends to all creatures, believers and disbelievers alike.
Written, December 2016