Yes! There Is Good News!
Bill Rollins has been publishing each week a column in the local Elk Horn, Iowa paper for the past several years.
Note the original publication date on each blog post
Note the original publication date on each blog post
As we finish this six week study, let me summarize by saying that salvation comes by faith and the reward that our Savior is bringing with Him is based upon our obedience in doing His word and His will – as our father Abraham did.
In Matthew we find a very curious scripture that talks about these two aspects of doing God’s word and His will, it is found in 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Here we find “many” who, after prophesying, casting out demons and doing mighty works in the Lord’s name, have Jesus say unto them that He never knew them and He tells them to depart! Why? Evidently they did not do the will of the Father and they were workers of lawlessness.
Let’s consider this for a few minutes. First of all, what is the will of God? This sounds quite serious because we do want to be able to enter the kingdom of God!! We could possibly fill a book seeking to answer this, but let’s look for our answer in a different area of this scripture in Matthew. Jesus declares that ‘I never knew you.’ This word ‘knew,’ in the Greek language, is “ginosko.” Vine's Dictionary of Biblical Greek tells us that the word frequently indicates a relationship, often between God and man or between a husband and wife. This is a word that shows intimacy and so Jesus is intimating a lack of relationship. If one does not have a relationship with Him, then He does not know them. Hence, it is God’s will that we seek Him with all our heart so as to form a relationship of love with Him!
But what about this statement, “Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” What is a worker of lawlessness? Again, we can go to the Greek to understand this word – it is used of one who “acts contrary to law.” Paul tells us that God’s law is holy, righteous and good and Jesus wants us to be a “worker of the law” or, one who is “obedient in doing His word” as I mentioned in the first paragraph.
In the Gospel of John, chapter 14:23, Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my word. My Father will love him and we will come to him and make our abode with him.” Wow!! The Father and Son will choose to live in me – now that is a heavy statement. A couple of verses before that, Jesus says, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and manifest myself to him.”
Friends and brethren, this is the relationship Abraham had with God. It is as intimate as it gets. There is no greater reward for us to receive than to have this intimacy with the Father and His Son. And this is what we should strive for. Salvation? Yes! Access to God through Jesus’ blood? Of course! But what a reward He has set before us!!! Think about these things.
So, picking up from last week, we read that Abraham kept God’s commands, requirements, decrees, and laws; and he did so some 400 years before God codified them and gave them to Moses and the children of Israel. We know Abraham as a man of faith, but he was also a man of obedience. These laws of God have been in effect since creation.
We read of these laws in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, and many feel that they were just for the Israelites but do not take into consideration that the laws of an all wise God, Creator of mankind, were meant for the benefit of all of Abraham’s children as well as for all of mankind. Yes He loves all of His creation.
Let me pause here so as to help us keep our focus. Our original thought was that which is found in Revelation 22:12, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to his works.” In speaking of the law that is to be obeyed, we are in no way suggesting that salvation may be earned! No, we have already established that Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith … not by works, so that no one can boast.” Let us never forget that!! This is our fifth consecutive article on the dual subject of 1) the rewards for works and 2) the faith and obedience of Abraham.
The writer of the book of Hebrews touches on this subject in a couple of ways. In chapter 3 he gives us a quote that he lifts from Psalm 95:7-11 “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”
Today we do have His voice to hear, for His words are recorded in our Bibles. But oft times we harden our hearts against them. Let us not provoke God as they did! And who were they? Hebrews 3:16 tells us: “For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient?”
So we see that they were unable to enter the Promised Land because of unbelief. Here in the book of Hebrews we learn that disobedience is equated with unbelief. And what “reward” did they receive? They were not allowed the blessing of entering the land promised to Abraham. The book of Hebrews goes on to teach us something more: “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.” And yet Abraham did!! Do you combine faith with obedience? Stay with me here – this topic is important.
Sometimes we think that the New Testament is made up of “new” thoughts and words, when in truth much, if not all, consists of quotes and thoughts brought forth from the Old Testament. For example; we have been considering the scripture from Revelation 22:12, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to his works”, but this is a quote from the book of Isaiah 62:11, “Behold, your Savior comes! See, His reward is with Him and His recompense accompanies Him.”
Our Savior, Jesus Christ, speaks the words that John the Revelator records so that we may see this connection. It is important to understand that without the Old Testament, the New Testament loses some of its meaning.
And so it is with our understanding of our father, Abraham. Jesus says, in John 8:39, “If you were Abraham’s children, then you would do the works that Abraham did.” Paul tells us that if we are in Christ, “we are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.” Oh! Then maybe we should look to Abraham our father for instruction. Follow along with me here: We will go back once again to Isaiah to read his instruction concerning Abraham, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him.” Isaiah 51:1-2
Are you one who pursues righteousness and seeks the LORD?
In the previous article I mentioned that father Abraham has much to teach us. First of all he was faithful in all his ways. Secondly, he was obedient in his service to God. When God appeared to Abraham’s son, Isaac, He told him this; “Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.” (Gen. 26:5) Now this is interesting! This statement made to Isaac comes some 400 years before God gives the Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai.
And here we find Abraham keeping God’s law! Maybe we should also!!
Another thing that God commended Abraham for doing is found in Genesis 18:18-19, “Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him. For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice.”
Are you a person of faith? “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” (Gal 3:7) And Abraham did many wonderful things. Stay tuned, there is much more coming your way.
In the book of Genesis we meet a man by the name of Abram (which literally means – father of height). We know this man as Abraham (God changed his name in chapter 17 to mean father of nations). In Genesis 12, God chooses Abram to be the father of His chosen people and God promises to bless him greatly if, in his obedience, he leaves the home of his family and comes to the land God will show him; and not only show him but also give to his descendants. God states the blessing in Genesis 12:2&3, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
In Chapter 15 God tells Abram that He has a great reward coming, but Abram reminds God that he has no heirs to leave it to, only a faithful servant. God tells him, “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he took him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’. And he believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” This is where we were a couple of weeks ago, when we talked of Paul’s letter to the Romans chapter 4:3. “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” God promised him many, many offspring!
Who is this son that God says will be Abram’s heir. Well, if we keep reading in Genesis we come to find out that his heir is named Isaac. Isaac has a son named Jacob, whose name is later changed to Israel and he has 12 sons who become the nation of Israel.
But wait! There is a curious scripture in Galatians 3:7 “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’”
Paul says that God preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham and what is the gospel? That Jesus Christ, a descendant of Abraham would die for the sins of mankind and that through His resurrection would bring life to all who believed!! What might we deduce from these statements? We should see that all nations have now been blessed through Abraham because his offspring, through time, became the Savior of all mankind, i.e. all nations.
Remember, we have been talking these past few weeks, about receiving the reward that our Savior will have with Him when He returns to earth, Revelation 22:12, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to his works.” This reward consists of both blessing and cursing depending on our works. Jesus tells us in John 8:39, “If you were Abraham’s children, then you would do the works that Abraham did.” I believe in that previous article, we were attempting to see what works Abraham accomplished. And now after laying this ground work, we shall. Sooooo …. Let’s stay tuned because father Abraham has much to teach us.
“If you belong to Christ then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:29)
Here we have a classic, “if / then” statement. So, in order to consider whether or not you are included in the “then” statement, you must be able to claim the “if” part. Do you belong to Christ? Only you can answer this question. The reality of it is between you and God. He knows your heart. He knows every aspect of your heart. Do you?
It may be hard to understand why this ancient Hebrew might be claimed as our father. The words “Abraham’s seed” mean that we are his offspring. But we cannot even claim that unless we know that we “belong to Christ.” So perhaps we should take a look at what that might mean.
First of all we must understand that if a person belongs to another then they are a possession; perhaps a slave or a bond servant. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians concerning the body he writes, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own, you were bought at a price.” What was that price with which we were bought? Peter informs us of that purchase price in 1 Peter 1:18-19, “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
Yes, the purchase price that is demanded in payment for our sins and to buy us back (ransom us) from death and give us eternal life is the “precious blood of Christ.” Have you come to grips with that understanding? This is a pretty heavy thought for us to get our minds around. But get around it we must!!
If you would “belong to Christ” then you have to: know that you are a sinner who has broken the “good, holy and righteous laws of God,” believe and understand that the blood of our Savior is necessary for our redemption, and because of points 1 and 2, you must repent of those sins and be baptized for the remission of those sins, just as Peter told the crowd in Acts 2:38. Those steps are not hard to do – at least not physically. But to do them from the heart, which means that we have humbled ourselves before our God, takes a true movement of the Holy Spirit. To do that from the heart takes a great commitment to live according to God’s ways and to begin to love Him with all our heart, strength, and life.
That is what it takes to ‘belong to God.’ “But hey”, you ask, “What does that mean for me?” It means that you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. We will look at the promises to Abraham of which we will be heirs to, perhaps next time. But for now, let us read the statement Paul makes just prior to this one in Galatians 3:29. In 3:26 he writes, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” O my!! Sons of God – sons of the Creator of all the universe, sons of the Living God who originally blessed Abraham.
Wow, that is good news!!
In the 22nd chapter of the book of Revelation (the last chapter in the Bible), we find the apostle John bringing the entirety of God’s word to completion. In the 12th verse of that chapter he quotes our Savior Jesus, as saying this, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to his works.”
There are some folks who do not think that “works” have any place in the life of a believer. They will quote this scripture in Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith … not by works, so that no one can boast.” But they confuse the concept of salvation with that of reward.
Salvation is the free gift of God and can in no way be achieved by our works. Simply put, it cannot be earned. The Apostle Paul says it this way in the book of Romans 4:1-5, “What shall we say that Abraham, our father according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God. What does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” I hope we all understand this; if not, please let me know.
The concept of reward, however, is different. Jesus clearly tells us that when He comes back to the earth, He will bring a reward to give to everyone based upon their works. Because He will give to everyone a reward, we must understand that there are two sides to this reward; the Bible calls them blessings and curses!
I believe it will do us some good to consider this topic. I am sure we all want to be on the side of getting blessings and not curses. Let us take a look.
Above, I mention Abraham, who according to Paul is the father of us all; that is, all the faithful. In this same chapter of Romans that I quoted above we read, “(Abraham) is the father of us all. As it is written: ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’ He is our father in the sight of God in whom he believed.” (Romans 4:16-17)
Did Abraham have to do anything? Why, yes he did! In Genesis 12, God told Abram (Abraham’s original name) to, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and come to the land I will show you.” God tells Abram that He will bless him in several ways (ah ha, blessings for obedience) and so we see that Abram left just as the LORD told him.
The entire story of Abraham is a beautiful one. From Genesis 12 through 25 we learn of the trials, the joys, the battles, the faith, and the blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience that Abraham, who is called “our father in the faith,” encountered.
Why look at this topic through the life an ancient man of God called Abraham? He is our father in the faith and Jesus said this, “If you were Abraham’s children, then you would do the works that Abraham did.” (John 8:39) We know Abraham was blessed; what works did he do?
Don’t go away folks, there is still more to come!!
“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” I believe we have established the reality that taking God’s name in vain is not so much about the words that come out of our mouths but the actions that come from our hearts.
When talking to the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus had this very concept on His mind; in Matthew 15:7-9 He said, “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” This is an important scripture that Jesus quoted from the book of Isaiah 29:13. It very nicely ties together these three words that we have been considering (lips, hearts and vanity), with our honoring of God.
If what is in our hearts is not in line with what comes out of our mouths then we are worshiping God in vain!! If I have taken the name of God upon myself and proclaim that I am a Christian, yet I do not do those things that honor God, I am worse than a fool; I am an empty worshiper and God will not hold me guiltless.
The prophet Malachi puts it this way, “If you will not listen, and if you will not set your heart to honor my name, I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings.” I don’t know about you, but I do not want God to curse my blessings. I need to get down on my knees and ask God to examine the motives of my heart and give me correction if I need it.
Please note, I mention that God examines our hearts. We as humans are quite incapable of examining ourselves.
Jeremiah tells us this, “Cursed is the man who trusts in humanity, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD …. But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water …. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green …. And never fails to bear fruit.” He goes on to say, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind to reward a man according to his conduct.” (Jer. 17:6-10)
Yes, our hearts can lead us astray. We must align ourselves tightly with our God and with His Son. We take upon us the name of God, we honor Him with our words and with our thoughts and with our deeds, and so we grow to trust in Him with all of our hearts. Then we will never fail to bear fruit that will glorify our Father. “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you. For this is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit and so show yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:7-8) Note that this is contingent upon His words abiding in us.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” (Prov. 3:5-6) I know I have brought this scripture up before, but a reminder is good, for we all desire straight paths. Good news indeed!!
The God of the entire universe has a name and He warns us, in the third commandment, not to take it in vain. These things we began to take a look at in our previous article.
Moses asks God what His name is and God responds by telling Moses that He is “the All Existent One;” i.e. God tells Moses to say to the people that “I AM THAT I AM has sent me to you.” This episode takes place in Exodus 3:13-14. The reality of God’s name is that He is self-existent – He is life itself, and all living things get their life from Him. Isaiah, the prophet, calls Him “the living God” (as opposed to the pagan gods, who are made of wood and stone).
Some translators translate this four letter name of God (YHVH), as “the Eternal” but most translate it as LORD (with all capital letters).
OK, so let’s get to the gist of the matter! We know our Savior by the name of “Jesus.” But in Hebrew His name is really “Yahoshea.” We would pronounce it, in English, as Joshua. Our Savior’s name is derived from two words, “Ya” and “Hoshea.” The first part is the shortened form of God’s name “Ya.” The second “Hoshea” is derived from the Hebrew word for salvation – thus the true name for Jesus is actually “the salvation of YHVH” or “the LORD saves.” Sound complicated? Well maybe!! But I tell you this so you may see that when you are baptized into the name of Jesus, you are taking upon yourself the actual name of God.
Does one need to know all this in order to be saved? No! But it is important to see that when we take upon ourselves the name of the Son of God, we must not do so in an empty manner. The word “vain” has several nuances of meaning in the Bible; it can mean deceit, malice, falsity or emptiness. Some people feel that they should not use the word “God” with other “four letter” derogatory words, and they are correct! But the name of God is really attached to the life we lead as God’s children and as Christians. The negative attributes we present to the world around us truly brings an emptiness and deceit upon God’s name. His name is holy and we are to be holy as His representatives.
From one end of the Bible to the other we find the concept of God’s name being presented as much more than just the four letters that it is made of. My name is Bill. It consists of four letters and is only a syllable spoken to get my attention or to identify me. God’s name on the other hand is filled with His attributes and His personality!!
Let’s take a look at a few scriptures to show you what I mean. In Psalm 29:2 we read, “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name.” His name has glory. In Psalm 33:21 we see, “In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name.” His name is to be trusted. Psalm 52:9, “In your name I will hope, for your name is good.” There is hope in His name and it is good! Psalm 54:1 is interesting, “Save me, O God, by your name.. Here we find the lesson mentioned above concerning Jesus true name. In Psalm 83 the Psalmist asks (in verse 16) that men would “seek your name, O LORD.” And finally, in Psalm 124:8 we see that, “Our help is in the name of the LORD.”
This consideration of the name of God continues throughout the Bible. Perhaps next time we might put it all together and see what our duty is, so as to be “found blameless.”
God has a name! Of course, that is quite obvious. But do you know what it is? Perhaps we should take our time in considering our answer, because one of the Ten Commandments deals exclusively with God’s name. Commandment number 3: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.” I suppose many of us would consider that to be the extent of the commandment but there is more; “… for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who takes His name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)
If you consider each of the Ten, you will find that this is the only one to which God attaches a warning. So I guess we should take into consideration that God’s name is very important. So what is His name?
Hey! What’s our hurry!! Let’s first muse upon what it means to take something “in vain.” The word “vain” has several nuances of meaning in the Bible; it can mean deceit, malice, falsity or emptiness. And each one of these could be used in conjunction with the Third Commandment. But let us first ask the question, what does it mean to “take” something in vain, especially to take the name of God in a deceitful, false or empty way?
If it is raining out and I “take” my raincoat, what I mean is that I will wear it or put it on. My wife might tell me to “take” an umbrella so as to use it. If I must go to the store I will “take” the car; it is a conveyance that I will use. Have you ever taken the name of God? This goes way beyond just speaking the word for His name. Most times today, when a man and woman get married, the wife “takes” the last name of her husband (this custom is very related to what we are talking about – it is a Biblical consideration for the bride of Christ taking upon herself the name of her husband).
Yes, when we enter into covenant with God and accept the sacrifice of His Son for our sins, we enter into a strong relationship with Jesus. When we do as Peter told the crowd in Acts 2:38, to “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” we actually take upon us a great responsibility to honor and obey Him. And we take upon us the name of God!!! This is a marriage covenant we enter into and we are betrothed to the one who loves us and died for us.
The actual name of God becomes a delicate subject. In Hebrew His name is made up of just 4 letters. The letters are: “Yod, Hey, Vaw, Hey.” In English we would write “YHVH” and the pronunciation is much debated for there are no vowels. Yehovah or Yahwah are perhaps the more common way of saying this name. We see this name in the book of Exodus when God confronts Moses from the burning bush and gives to him his commission. Moses asks what God’s name is and God answers, “My name is, ‘I AM WHO I AM’” or “I AM THAT I AM”. This name, when brought into English is best translated as “The Eternal One” the one who is self-existent.
As always we run out of space just when it is starting to get good.
Bill Rollins resides in Elk Horn, IA, with his wife, Sally, and has pastored the Church of God of Omaha, NE for more than 35 years.