That They May Have “Life”

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That They May Have “Life”

James R. Aist

“The thief does not come, except to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

In John 10:10, Jesus was speaking to Jews in Jerusalem who were taking Him to task for healing people. I used to wonder why Jesus would say to people who were obviously living, breathing beings, that He came that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. Don’t they already have life? Jesus seemed to be saying that He came to give them something that they already have. It just didn’t make sense to me.

But, I discovered recently the solution to this seeming contradiction. It all has to do with the translation from the original Greek to the English language. In the New Testament, there are mainly two Greek words having different meanings that are both translated “life” in the English versions. Sometimes “life” refers to our biological life (“psuche” or “biotikos” in the Greek) here on earth; at other times, it refers to the new or “eternal” life (“zoe” in the Greek) in Jesus. In John 10:10, Jesus was referring to the latter kind of life, “eternal life”, not our present, biological life. To help you more fully appreciate the significance of this distinction, here are some pertinent verses from the Apostle John, beginning with John’s definition of “eternal life”: “This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent (John 17:3); “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (1 John 5:11); and “In Him was life, and the life was the light of mankind (John 1:4). In all three verses, the Greek word translated “life” is “zoe.” So, now we can see that everyone has “psuche”, or biological life, but only those who believe in the One who was sent by the Father (John 5:24 and 38; John 6:29 and 40) have “zoe”, or eternal life. This is the life to which the angel was referring when he commanded Paul to “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life” (Acts 5:20).

So, now the question becomes, “In what way did Jesus come that they may have eternal life more abundantly?” I believe that it is in actually knowing Jesus Christ, the long awaited Jewish Messiah, and in knowing that they now possess the “eternal life” that He won for them on the cross. Moreover, this life with God in Christ (eternal life realized) will be far more glorious than the eternal life they may have imagined before Christ appeared. The Apostle Paul described it this way, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him”(Corinthians 2:9; see also Isaiah 64:4). That, my friends, is indeed, “life more abundantly”, and it will be yours if you put your faith and trust in Jesus!

(To read more of my articles on biblical topics, click HERE)

A Note of Concern to Roman Catholics

Catechism ClipsA Note of Concern to Roman Catholics

 James R. Aist

I was a Roman Catholic for 20 years of my adult life. There are a number of things about the Roman Catholic Church with which I agree, and admire and appreciate. And I know several Roman Catholics who, by all indications, are born-again Christians, as I am. But I do have one concern in particular that I feel compelled to share with you.

To the best of my knowledge, the most important single doctrine of the Christian church is the doctrine of salvation, for it is what you believe (or, more precisely, in whom you believe!) about salvation that will ultimately determine your eternal destiny, whether it be heaven or hell. I developed the case (click HERE) for the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), and not by either works alone or faith plus works. In the official Roman Catholic Catechism posted on the Vatican website, under the heading “Merit” (click HERE), the following paragraph speaks about the roles of “merit” (the particular term used in this Catechism to mean “good works” or “good deeds”) in the life and eternal destiny of the believer:

“2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.” (italics mine).

Here is the (italicized) excerpt to which I want to draw your attention: “…we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces neededfor the attainment of eternal life.” Now, with the understanding that “merit” is taken to mean “good works” or “good deeds” in this Catechism, what this paragraph is saying is that, once we are saved, our good works will earn for us the grace needed for eternal life.  Thus, it appears that the Roman Catholic Church clearly teaches a salvation doctrine of faith (in Jesus Christ) plus good works (merit), rather than the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone, and not by works.

Now, you may have the impression that this is probably a trivial and meaningless distinction, but let me bring to your attention the following words of the apostle Paul in this regard:

For we maintain that a person is justified by faith, apart from the works of the law.” (Romans 3:28);

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3);

and now, the clinchers…

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4). In other words, if you are trying to justify yourself by your good works, then you are alienated from Christ and have fallen away from the very grace that is necessary to attain eternal life, rather than having earned that grace by your good works!

AND

For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless…” (Romans 4:13-15). That is to say, if you depend on your good works to qualify you for heaven, then your faith (in Jesus) is nullified and the promise (of eternal life) through that faith is worthless.

AND

“Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:4-5). In other words, if your salvation is wages for your good works, then it is not by grace (a free gift) that you are saved. But if your salvation is a result of your faith in Jesus, then you are saved by grace, not by works.

AND, in Jesus’ own words…

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29). No “works” at all are required, in the usual sense of the word, for one to be saved; only faith is required (belief).

How, then can we understand James 2:14-26, which seems to imply that works play a necessary role in our salvation? When one takes this passage in its entirety, it becomes evident that James is talking about two kinds of “faith” here. One kind is the same as the demons have, is dead, does not lead to salvation and does not produce good works. It is merely “mental ascent” to certain facts about the things of God.  The other kind of faith is alive, leads to salvation (i.e., it is “saving faith”) and produces good works. The good works are a result of, and evidence of, the kind of faith that saves, but they are not what brings about salvation; only saving faith does that.

One might reasonably summarize the teachings of Jesus, Paul and James on faith and works as they relate to salvation with this paraphrase: “A special kind of faith is required for salvation. It is a faith that leads to good works. The good works are evidence that one has “saving faith”, but they do not help one earn a place in heaven. God requires only that we have saving faith in Jesus Christ to qualify for heaven; the good works will follow naturally after one is saved.”

It would seem to me that the distinction I am making here is neither trivial nor meaningless; rather, it is vital and necessary for the attainment of eternal life, according the Bible, that is. For this reason, I sincerely hope that you will weigh my concern carefully, and then make any necessary adjustments, if any, to your professed doctrinal belief regarding salvation. After all, this is the doctrinal belief upon which your very eternal destiny hinges!

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)

A Date with “Fate” at Eight

Rural ChurchA Date with “Fate” at Eight

James R. Aist

“I was found by those who did not seek me;
    I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” (Romans 10:20)

Introduction

I love to hear people tell the story of how God saved them. These stories all have some common ground, of course, but they are all different too, sometimes in interesting and amazing ways. Consider the range of salvation accounts recorded in the New Testament: an Ethiopian eunuch was saved through the one-on-one teaching of Philip (Acts 8:26-35); Simon the Sorcerer was saved through the public preaching of Philip (Acts 8:12); and Saul (later re-named Paul) was saved through the experience of a blinding light and piercing, convicting words from Jesus Himself while on the road to Damascus to persecute the Christians there (Acts 22:6-15). The details of the salvation experience in this day and age can also be far-ranging and fascinating. I know some who came to a gradual realization of the truth of the Gospel, which lead, ultimately, to an awareness that they believed in Jesus Christ, and others who had a sudden, miraculous experience that resulted in the immediate gift of saving faith. Now, regardless of how God brings you to the point of saving faith, you are just as saved as anyone else who gets to that point in life. My personal experience happens to be of the sudden, miraculous nature, and, if you will allow me to do so, I would like to share it with you now.

A Little Brown Church in the Vale…Well, Sort of

My family was Methodist, having moved from Maryland to Arkansas by way of Indiana. We lived on a working dairy farm in central Arkansas, and our house was located on a little dirt road off another dirt road, way “out in the sticks”. This very rural community was called “Cypress Valley”, because Cypress Creek ran through it. The houses were, generally speaking, at least a quarter-mile apart. Well, there was a little, wood-frame Methodist church located only about 75 yards from our front door, so that’s where we attended church, faithfully, every Sunday. Actually, the building itself was not really brown; it was more of a dull, gray color where the white paint was peeling off. Nor was it in a “wildwood”. But it was in a “vale” (which means “valley”). Well, that’s the venue, so on with the story!

An Old-timey Revival Is Coming to “Town”!

In the Summer of ‘53, the powers that be in the Cypress Valley Methodist Church decided it would be a good idea to invite an evangelist to come and preach a revival. Now, I was only eight years old at the time and had never heard of a “revival.” But I soon learned it meant that, during revival week, we would all be going to church not only on Sunday, but on the next three nights as well. That sounded to me like it would be the most excitement that we had seen in Cypress Valley since the dog came home from the creek bottom with swollen jowls from a snake bite! So, although I didn’t know what a “revival” was, I was looking forward to it, nonetheless.

A Date with “Fate”

Revival week came, and off to church we went. We would sing some hymns, have some prayer, listen to the evangelist preach, and then have an “altar call” for those who wanted to get saved. Up to that point, I knew nothing about being “saved” or that I even needed to be saved. Oh, I was aware that I had done some bad things – like lying and cussing and smarting off to my parents – but I was unaware that God would hold me responsible for my wrong doings, after my parents were done with me. I breezed through the first night of the revival, just taking it all in without thinking much about what was really going on. The second night, however, was different for some reason. When the evangelist began to preach, I found myself listening intently to what he was saying; it was as if he was talking to me, personally. He didn’t deliver a “hell fire and brimstone” message at all that night. Instead, he focused on how God loves me so much that he sent His only Son, Jesus, to sacrifice his life for my sins by dying on the cross for me. As he was explaining just how amazing such a love is, I had a “vision.” I first saw something like a dense fog or cloud that parted in the middle, then a soft and diffuse light appeared, and then I heard a voice speak into my mind and say something like, “What he is saying is true. You can depend on it. Believe it and do not depart from it, no matter what.” Then the vision went away, and I was so excited that I could hardly wait for the invitation to come forward and confirm what had just happened: God had saved me through a glorious vision and a message from heaven that validated to me – beyond any doubt — the evangelist’s message of God’s love that night! So, when the time came for the altar call, I was quick to go forward and let everyone there know that I had just believed in Jesus.

I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but now I realize just how perfectly my conversion experience exemplifies what the Bible says: 1) John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”; 2) Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”; and 3) 1 John 5:8, “There are three that testify on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood…” I praise God that the word He sent out to me that night did not return to Him void, but accomplished His purpose (Isaiah 55:11).

We all rejoiced at the good news and went home. But I didn’t tell them the part about the vision and the voice; I was only eight years old.

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)

Are Christians Bound by Old Testament Laws?

Ten Commandments

Are Christians Bound by Old Testament Laws?

 James   R. Aist

 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:17)

Introduction

I don’t know about you, but, until recently, I have not had a well-informed response to unbelievers who say that Christians are hypocrites, because they do not obey all of the biblical laws, but selectively disobey many of the Old Testament laws while insisting that everyone should obey the others. How would you respond to such a charge? Are unbelievers correct in making this accusation, or are there biblically sound reasons why Christians are not bound by some of the laws prescribed in the Old Testament?

Now, I’m not claiming to be an expert on this topic, but I have studied it enough to be able to provide what I believe to be a valid and reliable overview and to point you to some additional resources (links) that will enable you to study this question to your personal satisfaction and draw your own conclusions, if you are so inclined. So, let’s jump right into it.

Categories of Old Testament Laws

While the Bible does not formally and explicitly list categories of Old Testament laws, it is possible for us to recognize and define, in retrospect, three categories of them. This exercise reminds me of the way in which we recognize the biblical doctrine of the trinity, even though the Bible does not directly and specifically name and list it as a defined doctrine. Therefore, I am reasonably certain that this is a valid, biblical approach to this topic.

There appears to be widespread – albeit not at all unanimous – consensus on the following categories of Old Testament laws:

1) Civil Laws – Ancient Israel was a theocracy, in which God himself, through the Jewish religious establishment, provided the civil laws and their enforcement that were necessary for justice and order to prevail in that culture. This represents the legal system of the Jewish theocracy. Therefore, these were the laws comprising the criminal code, and they prescribed the punishment for various crimes, such as murder, adultery and theft. Because there is no longer a biblical theocracy in existence anywhere, these laws do not apply to anyone, including Christians. That is not to say, of course, that Christians are allowed to murder, commit adultery and steal. It just means that those particular laws were established as part of a theocracy that no longer exists, and that one has to look elsewhere in the Bible to find laws that are binding in today’s world;

2) Ceremonial Laws – Often referred to as the “Mosaic Law”, these laws provided the Jews of ancient Israel a temporary process by which their sins could be covered and they could be made, or kept, “clean”. They were a representation, or type, of something better and permanent that was to come at the appointed time. These laws included such things as animal sacrifices to cover sins, mandatory observance of religious festivals, various restrictions on food and washing of the hands before eating. When the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, appeared, He become the perfect, sufficient, final and effective sacrifice for all of the sins of mankind. By dying on the cross to pay the price for our sins, Jesus replaced the ceremonial laws, rendering them obsolete, unnecessary and ineffectual. Therefore, Christians are not bound by these Old Testament laws, and, in fact, are instructed in the Bible to not practice them; and finally…

3) Moral Laws – These laws are distinct from the “Mosaic Law” and are the biblical laws that establish and define how we are to behave toward God and toward each other. They are most notably embodied in the Ten Commandments, but are to be found also in other biblical instructions and commandments, especially as laid out in the New Testament. Examples include laws against idolatry, murder, adultery, fornication, the practice of homosexuality, stealing, lying, gossip, slander, drunkenness etc. In considering the extent of the moral laws, it is important to keep in mind that the Bible does not mention, specifically, many of the sins that people are capable of, such as child sexual abuse and wife beating, but it is not difficult to recognize that such things violate Jesus’ new commandment to “love one another” and are, therefore, sinful. The Bible presents these laws as permanent and applicable to everyone, including Christians. They have not been replaced nor have they expired. Rather, they are universally valid and binding forever. One notable exception is that the Fourth of the Ten Commandments – to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy – expired at the first coming of Jesus (click HERE)

Concluding Remarks

I hope that this brief discussion of Old Testament laws and the Christian will be informative and useful to you. If you would like to read a more comprehensive treatment of this subject, please select an article listed below and click on the link provided. I particularly recommend the series by Morrison (1997) for detailed study.

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)

 

Recommended Resources for Bible References and Further Study:

A) More-or-less brief articles

Wright, C.J.H. 2013. Learning to love Leviticus. (click HERE)

Kretzmann, P.E. 1924. The Difference Between the Moral and the Ceremonial Law.  (click HERE)

Phillips, R.D. 2000. Which Old Testament Laws Must I Obey? (click HERE)

B) More in-depth, comprehensive resources

Anonymous. 2007. The Ten Commandments and the Ceremonial Law (Mosaic Law). (click HERE)

Morrison, M. 1997. Which Old Testament Laws Apply to Christians Today? (click HERE)