Eternal Life

I am fascinated by the life of Christ, as recorded in the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in the Bible. I can read the stories over and over again and be inspired.

There appear to be two themes, the theme of repentance from sin and the theme of eternal life.

Much ado has been made in theological circles about the fact that we are “saved” by grace. We are saved from eternal damnation, and we are saved from our sins and the operative factor is the unimaginable grace bestowed on us. We don’t deserve it.

The grace of God is extended, through Christ, for forgiveness so that we can inherit eternal life.

Sin corrupts and ultimately destroys an individual and a society. We are offered forgiveness and an opportunity to begin anew. We can leave our past behind. This is an unspeakably wonderful gift.

God has no patience with sin. Sin is the work of the devil. In fact the devil can “possess” people. Jesus spoke strong words to those who accused him of casting out demons through the power of the devil. “You must bind the strong man before you can spoil his goods.” Jesus spoiled the goods. He had the power to bind the devil and destroy the works of the evil one. He delivered the demon possessed.

I don’t think the demonic influence has changed much today, but we don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about the presences of demons or the working of evil spirits. Clearly this was a major part of the ministry of Christ, setting people free from the power and the influence of the devil.

It is only to demonic forces that we can attribute the hatred towards Christ, a man who simply went about preaching repentance from sin and who healed and delivered people who were “oppressed by the devil.” It is this same demonic influence that is destroying the good in the world today.

With Christ, there are only two sides, good and evil. Either one is on the side of good, and on the side of God and Christ, or one is on the side of evil, rejecting God and rejecting good.

Unfortunately I see the grace teaching that is prevalent in our churches today as creating a kind of middle ground where there are a lot of questions about what is actually good. The Bible is not ambiguous when it comes to understanding who will inherit eternal life–only the ones who choose God’s ways and follow the teachings of Jesus.

Freedom from the fear of death

The first consequence of evil, when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, was a sense of guilt and separation from God. In the Old Testament God instituted an animal sacrifice ritual to atone for the guilt of the people. This was a temporary remedy pointing to the coming of Christ.

The Bible teaches us that sin results in death.”The wages of sin is death….” (Romans 6:23). The ordinance of sacrifice was instituted as a reminder that there was a great price to pay for sin, but the blood of goats and lambs could not take away sin indefinitely.

With the coming of Christ, animal sacrifices for sin were done away with. Jesus, God’s Son, born of a virgin and without sin, died and rose from the dead. He was the, “spotless lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

Because Christ was without sin, death could not overpower him and keep him in the grave. Similarly, everyone who believes in him and accepts his gift of “salvation” from sin will experience the resurrection power of Christ. They will live with him for eternity.

This gift of salvation and eternal life is offered to everyone. However, people do not automatically receive forgiveness of sins. We must acknowledge Christ as our “Saviour.”

It is really very simple, but surprisingly difficult at the same time. The reason is that it is not just a matter of praying a prayer asking for forgiveness. If you believe that Christ is the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world, it follows that accepting his forgiveness also means you are committed to his kingship in your life. The Son of God deserves no less than our surrender and worship.

The prayer of acceptance of salvation and commitment to Christ may go something like this,

“Heavenly Father, I believe that Jesus died and was raised from the dead. His life was sacrificed for the sins of the world. I ask you to forgive my sins, in Jesus’ name. I give my life to you. I invite your presence to indwell me and empower me to live for you. Amen.”

When you have prayed this prayer you will want to tell someone about it and you will also want to find a group of people who have come to a similar faith. You may encounter resistance from those who do not believe. This is not uncommon. There are many groups of believers, some meeting in churches, some in homes, some in schools or other facilities.

If you do not find a group of believers immediately, you can still have a growing relationship with God by praying, talking to him daily about all aspects of your life, and by reading his word, the Bible. I encourage you to start reading the New Testament, that is the second section of the Bible. It is easier to understand and more relevant for daily living. It also begins with accounts of the life of Christ.

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Love letters

I think the central message of the Bible is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world….”

On my walk this morning I noticed the new leaves of Spring beginning to open on the trees. My thought was, every leaf, every flower, every blade of grass is God’s love letter to me.

I often meditate on his intricate design and what that means to me. I think about the fact that man has not been able to reproduce even one blade of grass, or one seed that will grow. But God has given us an infinite variety that will fascinate us for a lifetime. What can this be but love?

The reliability of the Bible

Giving credit where credit is due, I have copied the following from The Reliability of the Bible by Kenneth Boa. I think it is important that we understand that the Bible is a reliable document. Some may still argue that it is not authoritative, in terms of dictating how I am to live, but that will be each person’s personal decision. As for myself, I decided some years ago that the claims of the Bible cannot be ignored and I prefer to live my life as though the God of the Bible exists and is interested in my welfare.

The Reliability of the Biblical Documents

This can be demonstrated by combining three lines of evidence: the bibliographic test, the internal test, and the external test. The first test examines the biblical manuscripts, the second test deals with the claims made by the biblical authors, and the third test looks to outside confirmation of biblical content.

The Bibliographic Test

This test examines the transmission of the text of the Old and New Testaments from the original autographs to the present day. The three aspects of this test are the quantity, quality, and time span of the manuscripts.

1. The quantity of manuscripts

In the case of the Old Testament, there is a small number of Hebrew manuscripts, because the Jewish scribes ceremonially buried imperfect and worn manuscripts. Many ancient manuscripts were also lost or destroyed during Israel’s turbulent history. Also, the Old Testament text was standardized by the Masoretic Jews by the sixth century A.D., and all manuscripts that deviated from the Masoretic Text were evidently eliminated. But the existing Hebrew manuscripts are supplemented by the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint (a third-century B.C. Greek translation of the Old Testament), the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Targums (ancient paraphrases of the Old Testament), as well as the Talmud (teachings and commentaries related to the Hebrew Scriptures).

The quantity of New Testament manuscripts is unparalleled in ancient literature. There are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts, about 8,000 Latin manuscripts, and another 1,000 manuscripts in other languages (Syriac, Coptic, etc.). In addition to this extraordinary number, there are tens of thousands of citations of New Testament passages by the early church fathers. In contrast, the typical number of existing manuscript copies for any of the works of the Greek and Latin authors, such as Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, or Tacitus, ranges from one to 20.

2. The quality of manuscripts

Because of the great reverence the Jewish scribes held toward the Scriptures, they exercised extreme care in making new copies of the Hebrew Bible. The entire scribal process was specified in meticulous detail to minimize the possibility of even the slightest error. The number of letters, words, and lines were counted, and the middle letters of the Pentateuch and the Old Testament were determined. If a single mistake was discovered, the entire manuscript would be destroyed. As a result of this extreme care, the quality of the manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible surpasses all other ancient manuscripts. The 1947 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls provided a significant check on this, because these Hebrew scrolls antedate the earliest Masoretic Old Testament manuscripts by about 1,000 years. But in spite of this time span, the number of variant readings between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic Text is quite small, and most of these are variations in spelling and style. While the quality of the Old Testament manuscripts is excellent, that of the New Testament is very good–considerably better than the manuscript quality of other ancient documents. Because of the thousands of New Testament manuscripts, there are many variant readings, but these variants are actually used by scholars to reconstruct the original readings by determining which variant best explains the others in any given passage. Some of these variant readings crept into the manuscripts because of visual errors in copying or because of auditory errors when a group of scribes copied manuscripts that were read aloud. Other errors resulted from faulty writing, memory, and judgment, and still others from well-meaning scribes who thought they were correcting the text. Nevertheless, only a small number of these differences affect the sense of the passages, and only a fraction of these have any real consequences. Furthermore, no variant readings are significant enough to call into question any of the doctrines of the New Testament. The New Testament can be regarded as 99.5 percent pure, and the correct readings for the remaining 0.5 percent can often be ascertained with a fair degree of probability by the practice of textual criticism.

3. The time span of manuscripts

Apart from some fragments, the earliest Masoretic manuscript of the Old Testament is dated at A.D. 895. This is due to the systematic destruction of worn manuscripts by the Masoretic scribes. However, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls dating from 250 B.C. to A.D. 70 drastically reduced the time span from the writing of the Old Testament books to our earliest copies of them. The time span of the New Testament manuscripts is exceptional. The manuscripts written on papyrus came from the second and third centuries A.D. The John Rylands Fragment (P52) of the Gospel of John is dated at A.D. 117-38, only a few decades after the Gospel was written. The Bodmer Papyri are dated from A.D. 175- 225, and the Chester Beatty Papyri date from about A.D. 250. The time span for most of the New Testament is less than 200 years (and some books are within 100 years) from the date of authorship to the date of our earliest manuscripts. This can be sharply contrasted with the average gap of over 1,000 years between the composition and the earliest copy of the writings of other ancient authors.

To summarize the bibliographic test, the Old and New Testaments enjoy far greater manuscript attestation in terms of quantity, quality, and time span than any other ancient documents. It is especially interesting to make specific comparisons between the New Testament and other writings:

Homer ca. 850 B.C. 643 95%
Herodotus ca. 450 B.C. ca. A.D. 900 About 1,350 8 not enough copies
Euripedes ca. 440 B.C. ca. A.D. 1100 About 1,500 9 not enough copies
Thucydides ca. 420 B.C. ca. A.D. 900 About 1,300 years 8 not enough copies
Plato ca. 380 B.C. ca. A.D. 900 About 1,300 years 7 reconstruct
Aristotle ca. 350 B.C. ca. A.D. 1100 About 1,400 years 5 reconstruct
Caesar ca. 60 B.C. ca. A.D. 900 About 950 years 10 reconstruct
Catullus ca. 50 B.C. ca. A.D. 1500 About 1,600 years 3
the Livy ca. 10 B.C. 20 original
Tacitus ca. A.D. 100 ca. A.D. 1100 About 1,000 years 20 original
New Testament ca. A.D. 60 ca. A.D. 130 About 100 years 14,000 99.5%

The Internal Test

The second test of the reliability of the biblical documents asks, “What claims does the Bible make about itself?” This may appear to be circular reasoning. It sounds like we are using the testimony of the Bible to prove that the Bible is true. But we are really examining the truth claims of the various authors of the Bible and allowing them to speak for themselves. (Remember that the Bible is not one book but many books woven together.) This provides significant evidence that must not be ignored.

A number of biblical authors claim that their accounts are primary, not secondary. That is, much of the Bible was written by men who were eyewitnesses of the events they recorded. John wrote in his Gospel, “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe” (John 19:35; see 21:24). In his first epistle, John wrote, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life . . . that which we have seen and heard we declare to you” (1 John 1:1,3). Peter makes the same point abundantly clear: “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16; also see Acts 2:22; 1 Pet. 5:1). The independent eyewitness accounts in the New Testament of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ were written by men who were intimately acquainted with Jesus Christ. Their gospels and epistles reveal their integrity and complete commitment to the truth, and they maintained their testimony even through persecution and martyrdom. All the evidence inside and outside the New Testament runs contrary to the claim made by form criticism that the early church distorted the life and teachings of Christ. Most of the New Testament was written between A.D. 47 and 70, and all of it was complete before the end of the first century. There simply was not enough time for myths about Christ to be created and propagated. And the multitudes of eyewitnesses who were alive when the New Testament books began to be circulated would have challenged blatant historical fabrications about the life of Christ. The Bible places great stress on accurate historical details, and this is especially obvious in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, Luke’s two-part masterpiece (see his prologue in Luke 1:1-4).

The External Test

Because the Scriptures continually refer to historical events, they are verifiable; their accuracy can be checked by external evidence. Notice, for example, the chronological details in the prologue to Jeremiah (1:1-3) and in Luke 3:1-2. Ezekiel 1:2 allows us to date Ezekiel’s first vision of God to the day (July 31, 592 B.C.). The historicity of Jesus Christ is well-established by early Roman, Greek, and Jewish sources, and these extrabiblical writings affirm the major details of the New Testament portrait of the Lord. The first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus made specific references to John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and James in his Antiquities of the Jews. In this work, Josephus gave us many background details about the Herods, the Sadducees and Pharisees, the high priests like Annas and Caiaphas, and the Roman emperors mentioned in the gospels and Acts. We find another early secular reference to Jesus in a letter written a little after A.D. 73 by an imprisoned Syrian named Mara Bar-Serapion. This letter to his son compares the deaths of Socrates, Pythagoras, and Christ. Other first- and secondcentury writers who mention Christ include the Roman historians Cornelius Tacitus (Annals) and Suetonius (Life of Claudius, Lives of the Caesars), the Roman governor Pliny the Younger (Epistles), and the Greek satirist Lucian (On the Death of Peregrine). Jesus is also mentioned a number of times in the Jewish Talmud. The Old and New Testaments make abundant references to nations, kings, battles, cities, mountains, rivers, buildings, treaties, customs, economics, politics, dates, etc. Because the historical narratives of the Bible are so specific, many of its details are open to archaeological investigation. The section above on archaeology and the Bible shows that while archaeology does not prove the authority of the Bible, it has provided external confirmation of hundreds of biblical statements. Higher criticism in the nineteenth century made many damaging claims that would completely overthrow the integrity of the Bible, but the explosion of archaeological knowledge in the twentieth century reversed almost all of these claims. Noted archaeologists such as William F. Albright, Nelson Glueck, and G. Ernest Wright developed a great respect for the historical accuracy of the Scriptures as a result of their work.

Conclusion Concerning Reliability

The Old and New Testaments pass the bibliographic, internal, and external tests like no other ancient books. Most professional archaeologists and historians acknowledge the historicity of the Bible and yet many theologians still embrace prearchaeological critical theories about the Bible. The evidence strongly supports the accuracy of the Bible in relation to history and culture, but in many cases it has been overlooked or rejected because of philosophical presuppositions that run contrary to the Scriptures. This leads to a double standard: critics approach secular literature with one standard but wrongly use a different standard when they examine the Bible. Those who discard the Bible as historically untrustworthy must realize that the same standard would force them to eliminate almost all ancient literature.

We have already seen that Christ cannot be dismissed as a mythical creation of the early church. The evidence supports the historical reliability of the gospel accounts about Jesus. Because of this, a solid case can be built for the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection, in turn, authenticates Jesus’ divine claims about Himself. Because Jesus is God, His testimony concerning the Scriptures is true, and He bore witness to the complete authority of the Word of God. Thus, the historical reliability of the New Testament affirms the resurrection of Christ, and the resurrected Christ affirms the divine authority of the Scriptures.

How does God’s love mix with his judgment?

As you read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, you will find accounts of God’s judgement. The first one is the flood of the earth destroying everyone and saving only Noah and his family in an ark.

Why would God do this? The Bible is pretty clear that it is because of the wickedness of the people. If you read through to the end of the Bible you will find many more places where God destroyed people who were bent on doing evil. He even brought enemy forces against his own chosen nation, the descendants of Abraham, when they turned from him and served idols.

Is this consistent with our concept of a loving God who is for us? Maybe not. But notice, I said, “consistent with our concept.” We say love shouldn’t do that. It makes us fearful. What if I mess up in some way? What will happen to me? Will God be angry with me and destroy me?

This is a heavy topic, but an important one. Why would I want to serve a God who becomes angry and destroys people? Some people try and solve this problem by ignoring the Old Testament, saying either that it is not true, or that it is irrelevant after Jesus came. I don’t think it’s that simple.

I’ll share with you my take on this, and you can think about it and agree or disagree. Try and picture God creating a perfect universe. Imagine you were God. You sculpted these creatures to rule your universe. You breathed life into them. You gave them everything they needed but they turned against you. Do you feel a little put out? A little angry?

I think the part that is difficult to understand is not that God destroys those who turn against him, but that he continues to endure this insolent behaviour through the millennia. There is something within his creation that is so precious and dear to him, that he keeps on searching for those few who will love him. Apparently it is worth enduring all the evil just for this.

Jesus, like Adam and Eve when they were first created, was perfect and did not sin. God was pleased with him and ultimately death could not keep him in the grave. Had Adam and Eve not sinned, they would not have died. Think of it. Their children would not have died. Generations to follow would not have died. It would have been heaven on earth, literally, with no sin and death.

This was God’s will for his creation in the beginning and it is still his will. Something has changed between the Old Testament and the New Testament, but it is not the character of God, as some people would like us to believe. What has changed is that God showed us that love is stronger than war. Laying down our lives is more effective than killing. And God set the example.

Reading the books of the Bible

This morning I read the book of 1 Peter. The Bible is not like a story that has to be read from cover to cover. However, it has individual books that you may want to read in their entirety. They are divided into chapters which in turn are divided into verses. Some people read a chapter a day. Many memorize their favorite verses. If you want to read through the entire Bible in a year, you can do so by reading three chapters a day. This is a good habit to form.

As I said previously, the first four books of the New Testament are documentations of the life of Jesus written by four different eye witnesses. It is remarkable that we have such reliable sources available to us. Historically there have been times when certain rulers tried to abolish and destroy the Bible. This always remains a mystery to me because Christians are taught in the Bible to obey those who have authority over them. Of course this is with the exception of worshipping other deities or committing a sin against others.

Christians have sometimes been persecuted for their faith, but, as a whole, Christians who live in love and humility as the Bible indicates are appreciated and respected around the world. Why would you not want to live next to someone who is kind, peace loving, gentle, faithful to his or her spouse, does not steal or lie, does not give a false witness in court, does not extort money from others but rather is generous?

Christians do not always live this way, but this is the standard that is held up for us in the Bible. If we choose to go our own way and please ourselves, we are turning away from following Christ. In 2 Peter this is compared to a dog returning to its vomit, pretty graphic. Once we have truly understood the extent of the forgiveness that Christ mercifully offers to us we do not want to return to a lifestyle that is self-centred and insensitive to others and grieves Christ.

The most important thing

There are many laws in the Old Testament. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene the Jewish people were practically in bondage to their own laws. Jesus tried to simplify things for them. He told them that his yoke was easy and his burden was light. Even a little child could enter into the kingdom of God.

Jesus taught that all the laws of the Old Testament could be summed up in two laws, love God with all your heart, and love people as you love yourself. In reading the Bible it is necessary to keep these two principles of life in mind. The Bible teaches us how important it is to love God and others. We keep seeing throughout the stories that are told, that this does not come naturally to people.

One of the first verses I ever learned as a child was, “We love him because he first loved us.” The most important message of the Bible is that God loves us. He created us. He designed us. He loved his creation then and he still loves his creation now. The Bible is saturated with the love of God. His love permeates every story and every teaching.

Is God for me or against me?

The message of the Bible is that God is for you. He has plans for you, not to destroy you, but to give you a hope and a future. That is his desire and intention.

Then why am I suffering, you ask? Why don’t I have a job? Why did my wife leave me? Why am I sick, dying, maybe?

I wish I could give a satisfactory answer. I know that I don’t like to suffer, to be in pain, to have broken relationships, to lose a loved one. But do I really think that if I am going through these things, it means that God is against me? Or that God is unjust or unloving?

Many people in the Bible suffered tremendous hardship. Sometimes they suffered as a direct result of what they believed to be true about God. They suffered because they told others what they believed and tried to convince them of the truth they had seen. Was God against them?

I could quote scripture verses here, but I choose not to. Instead I am speaking about the general tone of the Bible and sharing insights and guidance, without chapter and verse references.

How do I, personally, know that God is for me? I know because I believe that I am his creation. He loves his creation. I know because he sent his son Jesus to live among us, to show us his love, to identify with us in our suffering. I know because in his love he has given us guidelines for living in a way to protect us from lifestyles that are harmful. I know because Jesus went to the ultimate length and allowed himself to be killed by people who were against him.

Bad things happen to good people, even the perfect son of God. If God allowed Jesus to suffer, we too can expect suffering. Just as God helped Jesus and raised him in victory, he will help us when we look to him. Jesus’ life and death show us that the fact that we suffer does not mean that God is not for us.

If we suffer, it does not mean that God does not love us. It simply means there is the presence of evil, deterioration, and death in the world and we continue to be affected by it. Accidents will happen. We will encounter people with bad intentions. Our bodies will break down or succumb to diseases. We may lose our jobs. We may be treated unjustly. But the truth about God remains the same. He is for us.

Reading the Bible can be difficult

I speak from personal experience. There are parts of the Bible that I love to read, and others that I do not enjoy. I don’t enjoy the apocalyptic books, the books that speak allegorically about things to come. I don’t enjoy some of the negative, condemning passages. Books like Isaiah and Jeremiah are filled with these. If you are new to the Bible it may shock you how much negative content the Bible contains.

When I was new to the Bible I underlined verses that were especially meaningful to me. I mostly read parts of the New Testament, and the books of Psalms and Proverbs in the Old Testament. It’s OK to stay here for awhile, although eventually you will want to get a grasp of the whole book.

I kind of look at it this way. Someone who is really serious about finding hidden treasure will spend a lot of time digging. The Bible has a lot of hidden treasure.

If the Bible is new to you

If the Bible is new to you, there are a couple of things you’ll want to know. Firstly, it is written over centuries by numerous authors but it has a common theme. The separate books were compiled by the second century A.D. Various criteria were used to determine the authenticity and reliability of each text.

The Old Testament

The first half, called the Old Testament, begins with the story of creation. It then goes on to tell many other stories of God’s dealings with mankind. God makes a covenant with Abraham and promises him that he will have numerous descendants and that through him all nations will be blessed. The Old Testament is not shy about showing the raw side of humanity. It is the story of God’s chosen people continually returning to serving idols. This violates the first commandment of the ten commandments God gave to Moses and the nation of Israel, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

The New Testament

The second half, the New Testament, begins with four accounts of the life of Christ. These four books are called the Gospels. They are followed by the book of Acts which tells the story of how the disciples of Jesus Christ started the early church. The remainder of the books expound the teachings of Christ. The book of Revelation is a book of prophesy of the end times and is allegorical. There are also some allegorical books in the Old Testament.

The New Testament is believed to be a fulfillment of the promise of the Old Testament that God would bless many nations through Abraham. The lineage of Jesus, the promised Messiah, or Saviour, can be traced back to Abraham and it is through the coming of Jesus that many nations are blessed. The New Testament teaches that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead to pay the penalty of the sins of the world and to offer forgiveness to everyone who receives this gift. This is what is referred to as salvation from sin, or re-birth.

Jesus as Saviour

The Jewish nation, which is descended from Abraham, believed that the prophesied “King,” or Saviour, or Messiah, would deliver them from their enemies. Many refused to acknowledge that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, despite the fact that he fulfilled the prophesies given in the Old Testament concerning him. They expected him to set up a throne on earth, but Jesus spoke of an eternal kingdom. He taught people to love and serve each other, not to triumph over one another.

Jesus also claimed to be the Son of God, and to be equal with God. This was considered blasphemy, by the Jews, a violation of the commandment not to have other gods. By their law he had to be killed and they arrested him and had him crucified.

Three days later Jesus rose from the dead and after many appearances he ascended to heaven. A rumor was spread claiming that the disciples stole his body. However, the Jews had asked specifically that a special guard of Roman soldiers guard the tomb. Their request was granted. The reason they asked for this was because they had heard of Jesus’ claim that he would rise from the dead. So their preventative measures turned out to be futile and made their later stories look rather ludicrous.

Before Jesus ascended to heaven he promised he would return one day and receive those who have chosen him to be their Saviour to be with him forever in an eternal home in heaven.