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February 3, 2018, 10:21 AM

A Matter of the Heart: Identity Crisis


Life is not about the many peripheral things we make it about. When we look at all the things around us but our God-given purpose and identity, we will constantly be disappointed in one way or another. We will be disappointed in our spouse. We will be disappointed in ourselves - our looks, our lovableness, or our skills. We will be disappointed in our jobs. We will be disappointed in our country. We will be disappointed in our church. We elevate those things to a high place where they shouldn't be and thus they fail us. If you want true happiness, there is a way to do it. And yes, it is within God's will for you to be happy. I don't say that to mean you'll feel comfortable but happiness is a reachable condition of your heart and mind. Proverbs 3:13 says, "Happy is a man who finds wisdom and who acquires understanding." The key to happiness is having the right perspective, which comes through wisdom and understanding. Let's get to the right perspective after looking at someone who had the wrong one.

 

Someone who was truly disappointed in life was Leah in Genesis 29. She was the oldest daughter and thus in her culture should have been the first to be married. The Bible says in verse 17, "Leah had delicate eyes, but Rachel was shapely and beautiful." When Jacob came to marry one of Laban's daughters, Jacob wanted the younger beautiful daughter Rachel. I'm sure he loved Rachel for other reasons besides beauty, but the Bible does depict Leah as the lesser sister in that aspect. Jacob and Rachel planned to be happy with one another, but Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah when Jacob thought he was getting Rachel. Leah was given to a man who wanted another woman - her sister. On top of that dagger,  Laban still gave Rachel to Jacob and the wife rivalry and bitterness began. These sisters who I'm sure loved each other were pitted against each other in a marriage where there was unequal love given. The favor, the twinkle, the spark in Jacob's gaze was towards Rachel of course. Leah was just a legal agreement . . . a mistake. Her future was lost and her longing for acceptance ever evaded her in light of the greater wife Rachel. 

 

Verse 31 says, "When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren." First of all, this demonstrates the loving nature of God, especially for the weaker. God acknowledged and took note of Leah's pain. He provided a comfort to redeem the disappointment of her situation. He opened her womb so she would be loved, also demonstrating His own love for her. It is not likely God thought Leah having children would cause Jacob to love her since He can foresee everything. But God in His compassion wanted her to experience a tightly bonded love, acceptance, and loyalty that is created between a mother and her children. The comfort God was providing was from something other than Jacob. Though God tried to bless Leah, she seemed to misunderstand the point. She had four children by Jacob in this chapter. After each one was born, she thought it would earn her favor with Jacob. After Reuben was born, Leah said, "The LORD has seen my affliction; surely my husband will love me now." (vs 34). After Simeon was born, she said, "The LORD heard that I am unloved and has given me this son also." (vs 33). After Levi was born, she said, "At last, my husband will become attached to me because I have borne him three sons." (vs 34). But after Judah was born, she said, "This time I will praise the LORD." (vs 35). This time. While God was trying to bless her during that time because He loved her, she was still seeking the approval and acceptance of her husband, which she couldn't attain. But finally she surrendered, accepting that what God had given her was plenty to be joyful. Instead of looking to Jacob to find happiness, she finally looked up to God. She took her eyes off of the circumstances she couldn't control and she praised God for what He did control. 

 

Later, Leah did lose focus again and her jealousy of Rachel resumed. We act according to what we actually believe. Leah still believed in her heart if she was worth something, she would be loved by Jacob. Rachel, on the other hand, thought her own worth would come from being able to have children. Really, where does this dissatisfaction come from? It comes from a lack of identity. When someone is unsure of their worth in who they are, they search for ways to feel secure - validation for being enough. Though Leah behaved as if her worthiness depended upon Jacob's favor, what God said about her worth is what was true. Many times the surrounding culture teaches us what makes us worth something - large homes, name brand clothes, a college degree, marriage, children, etc. And if we get any less than that, we feel we are being deprived of something we should have if we were worth as much as our neighbor. Though it is the wrong mindset, our worth seems less without those things sometimes.  In the spiritual realm, your worth is not based on what you have to show for yourself, how people treat you or what they say about you. It's not based even on how well you behave. Any worth we do have has been given to us by God Almighty. God has invested so much in us. Not only did He invest His energy into creating us intricately down to each tiny cell, He has thrown His own emotional and morally-fair regard aside to have relationship with us. Why would someone do that? Because the love just exists. Over and over as people within the Bible stories screw up, God desires relationship with them anyway, even while they resist Him. How valuable and precious we must be to God's eyes for Him to pursue people who behave more like enemies! He still chooses us to be His heirs. Isaiah 54:17 in the Amplified Bible says, "This [peace, righteousness, security, and triumph over opposition] is the heritage of the servants of the LORD." It's our heritage if we've been spiritually born into God's family. We should live like we have security from our Father in not only how He made us but also in how much affection He possesses for us. It's ours to simply receive and not try to make sense of it. This security of identity is our spiritual bloodline as His sons and daughters through Christ. It didn't matter if Jacob thought Leah was special or if he treated her like she was special. It didn't change the fact that she was special. She was so special in fact that God cared about her emotional pain and blessed her in a way He wasn't blessing Rachel. She was valuable but she couldn't see it even as God was pouring His love on her, because she was constantly reminding herself that the goal was to find worth from Jacob. Let's not do what Leah did. Do not believe the lie that your worth comes from anything else besides God Himself. 

 

There is an intriguing parallel between this story about Leah and other scripture in Isaiah 54. In comparison to the lack of affection Leah experienced with her husband, God makes the analogy of a spiritual husband to His people in verse 5 (NIV): "For your Maker is your husband - the LORD Almighty is his name - the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth." God is pretty clear which husband we should be deriving our worth and identity from. He is the husband. He says in verses 9-10 of the same chapter, "To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed." Now that is favor. Acceptance. Loyalty. That's someone looking at you with a twinkle in His eye. That twinkle was always there. In the beginning of creation, Genesis 3:8 indicates God routinely walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. He designed us for personal relationship with Him; as we've already seen, the relationship is comparable to the radical intimacy between husband and wife. Anything other than that is less than God's intention and design. Colossians 1:16 says, "by Him everything was created, in heaven and on earth, ....all things have been created through Him and for Him." Micah 6:7 says, "He has told you ....what it is the LORD requires of you: only to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God." Finding happiness that lasts in anything other than that divine relationship will fail.

 

If you can't muster up enough approval from others or even from your own self, take a look again at the intensity of God's love for you here in these verses. That should put a pep in your step every day. It should help you forgive others because of your own strength and security in His love. It should help you rejoice for others instead of envying them because you're already rich and secure, aware of your eternal value. It should help you let things go that are irrelevant to eternity, because they're only distractions from our Enemy, Satan.. Keeping our identity in perspective is the key to most of life's problems. You will still probably try to seek after and depend on the things around you to bring you happiness - relationships, careers, medications, physical appearances, finances. But be intentional about reminding yourself every day that God never intended for us to find our stability in those things. If you want to experience lasting happiness, you have to start each day with the wisdom and understanding of your identity in Christ. Nothing can remove that value from you.

 



Comments

06-20-2018 at 5:04 PM
Jim Schmidt
There are those who merely look AT the Word. And then there are those, like yourself, who are especially blessed and strengthened because being guided by the Spirit of God and hunger for Him that they look INTO the Word of God. I am so glad that my sweet daughter has found the fountain of life and that you drink from it!
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January 28, 2018, 12:00 AM

A Matter of the Heart: Am I Enough?


 

There is a question that haunts mankind and drives both life's successes and failures: Am I enough? Our response to this question varies from personality type to personality type and from life circumstance to circumstance. We care about being accepted, either by those around us or maybe even God Himself. It's not only the insecure introvert in the corner who spends mental energy on this question as you might expect. The bold and confident extrovert faces the same question. It may be subconscious, but the fact that we score ourselves on a sliding scale is evidence in itself. We score ourselves in comparison to each other because we care where we stand. We may not expect to be the best, but we are great at finding the person who is worse than us to make our egos feel better. Even on mental autopilot, we're frequently critiquing the worth of ourselves and those around us. We either beat ourselves up, which is focusing on our lack of value. Or we over-exalt ourselves in comparison to others. . . because we want to be valuable so much. Why else keep score? The score seems to matter to humans. It seems to be deeply rooted in our cells, whether we say it out loud or not. Most of this is related to the sin of pride. It's not all bad to have the desire for acceptance and relationship, but deep down we are concerned about that acceptance because we know we're not enough to be accepted unconditionally. If you're faint of heart, don't read on.... No, you're not enough. But none of us are. 

 

Coming from an insecure person, this battle is more visible in me than other personality types. It's a weekly - if not daily - war inside. When I enter into these battles of self-worth, I complain that I didn't do a good enough job at something or I fret that people don't feel about me like they did last year, etc. The same conversation always follows these insecure moments; my husband argues that my perception is not realistic. He reminds me of the evidence to refute my insecurity: "[So-and-so] told you that you do a great job at this," or "[So-and-so] has said this affirming thing about your personality or how much they care about you." My response, which I stand by still, is that people change their minds. A compliment or encouragement from 8 months ago does not mean people still feel the same way about you today. A compliment is not an everlasting compliment! It was a compliment for that moment in time. I do believe people can change their minds, which makes a high-standing name with people very easily lost. Works-based, if you will.... What I find relieving is that God is not like us. His nature doesn't change. It isn't conditional or constantly re-adjusting "the score."

 

If you read through Genesis, you will find a lot of unsavory truths about even the heroes of the faith, like Abraham. There are several beautiful and anointed encounters between Abraham and God. Abraham will be looking good in one moment, lifted in honor by God Himself and also the people around him. It seems like in the very next chapter after a peak of good character, I'm growling in frustration and grabbing my hair in my fists watching Abraham's foolish life mistakes unfold. I watch these moments go by thinking to myself, God, did he really deserve this kind of honor or devotion? By Cheryl's standards, there were a few moments Abraham and Sarah didn't deserve patience. They even repeated and passed on to their son Isaac big mistakes! But while I'm cringing at Abraham's mistakes like I would my own, God's response to Abraham's behavior is very slow and patient. Not only was God not hasty to discipline Abraham, God even keeps reassuring Abraham of the promised blessing over Abraham's life and of the descendants to come. Abraham didn't deserve that kind of grace. God was very patient. Apparently He always has been.

 

In James chapter one [HCSB], God is referred to as {the Father of heavenly lights}, the Creator of all luminary bodies: sun, moon, and stars. The analogy continues in verse 17, "With Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning." The NIV says He "does not change like shifting shadows." Why do shadows move? Because the source of light or the object in relation to the light has moved. As the sun and planets rotate and orbit in space, changing positions in relation to each other, the light is cast at different angles, causing the shadows to change shape and direction. The light source or the planet moves. It's the same with someone holding a candle who turns away, causing the shadows to move and change as the light moves away. This verse makes the analogy to say God is a light that doesn't move. As for Him, He won't cast a shadow by turning away from us or by orbitting through His flucuating moods toward us. His position with us is unmoving. Positionally-fixed. Why is He fixed in regards to us?  Verse 18 reads, "By His own choice, He gave us a new birth by the message of truth so that we would be the firstfruits of His creatures." Our relationship with Him is what it is because it was His own choice out of love. A decision. God knew before He even made the first promise to Abraham all the things Abraham and his descendants would fail to do. God chose anyway. It was a concrete one-sided decision made based on His loyalty to us. Takes a load off, doesn't it? No matter what we may do to embarrass or shame ourselves, God's position with us hasn't moved. 

 

Not only are we accepted in our broken condition by God, but He still elevates us to the value of being His "firstfruits." The firstfruits of someone's work or creation is someone's best. The cream of the crop! As was the ritual tithing in the Old Testament, when someone offers their firstfruits, it means they offered their most valuable, whether sheep or produce from the field. That's the kind of favor God looks on us with. He looks at His creation - angels included - and sees broken mankind as His most prized possessions.  Our spiritual transformation into His most valuable treasures comes because He chose to make us invaluable. If you're worried about your value or your worth, be comforted that your contrite soul is of invaluable worth to God. He chose you, and it wasn't based on anything spectacular you did. His faithful unshakable love is the reason He makes the choice. Can you fathom such love? It seems unfair and even irresponsible to freely give such broken people this kind of faithfulness, but His love is that extreme. It's reckless, relentless, and beautiful.

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April 29, 2016, 12:22 PM

A Matter of the Heart: Experiencing Victory.


Our current Thursday small group Bible Study is called Seamless. It has been very enriching in my personal spiritual life, and mainly I believe that’s because it is a commitment I’ve made to soak in the meaning of His Word on a daily basis, more than just superficial reading or a “verse of the day” to contemplate. Spending time in the Word truly will make your faith come to life. I’ve been thinking of these Bible stories and characters throughout my day, even hours after my Bible has been closed.  I highly recommend it! And depending on what is going on in your life at the time will influence what meaning you see in the scripture. This time reading these Old Testament verses a particular application stood out to me.

All around us in our busy un-grounded lives, we see each other – Christians included – not being able to have victory over trials. Our trials can involve the lack of strength and will-power to give up things that enslave us, whether poor carnal attitudes (even if we think they are warranted), addictions, hauntings from the past or overcoming disappointing pain and losses. This earth is oh-so-fallen. And we will continue to face brokenness whether we are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life or not. In the book of Exodus, God’s chosen people who have been enslaved to brutal unrelenting taskmasters for 400+ years are about to witness God deliver them from their oppression. Put yourself in their shoes. Even if they did see proofs of God’s power, in order to actually escape people that have abused you and who possess cold hearts would seem impossible. They’ve set out to murder your children and have left whip lashes on your back personally. There are no limits to their cruelty. You’ve experienced the damage. You’re enslaved, helpless, hopeless to their power. If you’ve ever been abused or felt captive to anything in your life, you can empathize with the psychological struggle in their hearts and minds. How will God ever get me through this? I know theoretically that He should be able to, but I can’t see what His plan is, so I’m not sure it will or can happen. But God (through Moses) tells them in Exodus 14:13-14, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians (your overpowering enslavement) whom you see today, you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” I believe this is what God tells us about all of our chains that He wants to free us from – the ones that we “see” and cannot even imagine how we will get away from them. Be still and let God fight for you. It is the only way. Also, as they take their first step of faith into the Red Sea that God is parting with Moses’ staff, the Bible says that “the Angel of God, who was going in front of the Israelite forces, moved and went behind them. The pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and stood behind them. It came between the Egyptian and Israelite forces . . .  So neither group came near the other all night long.” [Exodus 14:19-20]. First this “Angel” was God Himself, whether it was Jesus Christ as a cloud or Yahweh, it doesn’t matter. It was the essence of God first leading them on a path that they had not seen before that moment – one they probably were not expecting to appear: the dry ocean floor. Parallel that to your own life as the way God rescues you is often not the way you expected. Secondly the essence of God was behind them, protecting them from their past, from their oppression, from their fears, from the enemy. Visualize God being this for you in your own seemingly impossible battles.

In another Exodus passage further on along in the story where the Israelites are wandering in the wilderness from place to place, a group of people under Amalek attack them. Their plan for battle was for God to fight it for them. This entailed Moses standing on the hilltop above holding his staff in the air. If it dropped at all, the Israelites started losing the battle. As soon as it was lifted back up, they were conquering again. If you’ve never held anything up for an extended time, you won’t be able to empathize. It will exhaust you quickly. Exodus 17:12-13 says, “When Moses’ hands grew heavy, they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat down on it. Then Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other so that his hands remained steady until the sun went down. So Joshua defeated Amalek and his army with the sword.” Have you ever gone through a trial and felt like you couldn’t hold out much longer? Or you actually collapsed already? It’s called being “at the end of your rope.” I like the underlying message of how this battle was fought. It required obedience to a radical point – beyond what you can do, and it may require the spiritual church to help hold you up. Many times God rescues us or helps us endure by sending others to fight along with us and to be our strength. That is good stuff.

After much time of waiting to receive God’s promise has passed and events transpire, the next generation gets to enter the Promised Land that is already populated with cultures – evil and demented cultures from what I read. God gets Joshua and the Israelites across the Jordan River to enter Canaan, the Promised Land, only to begin the battling. This Promised Land is a lot of work! I would be so tired. At what point will we reach our goal? At what point will we be able to rest?! But there is a lesson here: in order for victory, in order to receive God’s promises and blessings, we will have to fight battles. When I can foresee a battle ahead in my own life, my first instinct is to run away. I am not brave. We have to remind ourselves that the Lord always has something better for us, a richer plan, but He wants us to receive it through trust and obedience, despite how the journey looks, and it may be beyond our breaking point. Remember Moses had to have an outside strength to make him able to uphold his staff. A challenge like that doesn’t sound pleasing to enter into. But most of the time, we don’t have a choice in the matter but rather find ourselves in the middle of these dreaded situations.  With whatever impossible battles that you feel you are losing in your personal life, claim the promise God gives us that He wants to fight our battles and will provide the strength. He’s the only way to be victorious.



Comments

05-02-2016 at 10:36 AM
Karen Schmidt
I really appreciate how you approach this. Life is a battle, but we, as those in the old testament, face great battles in our lives but praise God we are never alone. He will give us the strength to fight. Our final rest is when the Lord calls us home. I want to be like these warriors of old, I want the Power of the Lord to sustain me every day through every battle. He says he will and proved it over and over. We just have to have the eyes of faith to believe it. Good article Cheryl.
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February 25, 2016, 5:14 PM

A Matter of the Heart: Matthew 25 Sheep and Goats



Propelled by an in-depth Thursday night Bible study discussion, the controversial topic of eternal salvation, or more specifically “once saved always saved,” has been in our little church community’s hearts and minds recently. It was a good Thursday night experience for us to be questioned on why we believe what we believe. And can we back up our beliefs and explain them when asked the stumping questions out in the world and even within our own church? I know in a couple cases some serious prayer and studying went into motion after this discussion about controversial scriptures and controversial life experiences. As a result, last month’s newsletter article began with tackling one of the major speed-bump passages that seems to say salvation is not permanent but must be maintained by your works: Hebrews 6:4-6. This month I’d like to walk through the troubling passage of Matthew 24:31-46 for it seems to say you cannot make it to heaven if your faith is without works. It reads as follows:

                “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’ And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ Then He will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!”

And the rest of the passage (vs 42-46) goes on to say that the metaphorical goats didn’t feed, clothe, and care for Him. First of all, when we read this, we interpret these poor people without food, clothing, and good health to be a general description describing all of humanity in need – whether past, present, or future. We visualize the people on the corner of McDonald’s that are begging for money and probably haven’t showered in weeks. Or we picture the single mom with five children. It’s very admirable of us to make this passage so applicable to our everyday 21st century lives, but these poor brethren Jesus is speaking of in the passage may not be alluding to who we think they are. We need to get a better context to interpret what Jesus is talking about. If you jump back many chapters in Matthew, you will find some parallels and definitions even.

In Matthew 10:6, Jesus tells his disciples to begin seeking out and ministering to the “lost sheep” of Israel. Jesus was sending them on a mission to spread His gospel. He also gives them some specific instructions before embarking on this journey. In verses 9 and 10, He says, “Don’t take along gold, silver, or copper for your moneybelts. Don’t take a traveling bag for the road, or an extra shirt, sandals, or a walking stick.” Basically they were going to be nomads with a purpose. In fact, they were probably going to be traveling lighter than a nomad – with no possessions at all! They were going to be poor, hungry, thirsty, tattered, exhausted controversial strangers that would likely be threatened with prison in communities where they were not well received. Jesus tells them in Matthew 10:12 and 14, “Greet a household when you enter it…If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off your feet when you leave that house or town.”

Are you seeing a parallel yet? The disciples were instructed to spread the gospel by traveling door to door, town to town, with nothing material to bear but good news of salvation. If their message was received well and individuals cared about knowing this Christ they spoke of, they would take the disciples in, feeding them, clothing them, giving them shelter, staying in contact with them through whatever pains befell them. Receiving them meant receiving Jesus Christ. And indeed, being imprisoned was within the possibilities just as the scripture says, “I was in prison, and you visited me.” In Matthew 10:16-18, Jesus warns His disciples, “Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves. Because people will hand you over to sanhedrins and flog you in their synagogues, beware of them. You will even be brought before governors and kings because of Me, to bear witness to them and to the nations.” Wow! Sounds like they were going to face imprisonment to me!

A skeptic might say, “Is that all there is?” The answer is: no, there is more that may be reason to interpret this passage in a new light. In another section of Matthew before our troubling passage, Jesus defines who His “brothers” are that He talks about in Matthew 25:40 when He said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.” While Jesus is teaching the crowds in Matthew 12, the Bible says his mother and brothers (assumed to be biological) were standing outside the group waiting to speak with Him. Matthew 12:47-49 narrates, “Someone told Him, ‘Look, Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak with You.’ But He replied to the one who told Him, ‘Who is My mother and brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers!’” So as Jesus clarifies, He considers His brothers to be His disciples or his followers. And we can metaphorically extend that to include ourselves here in the future. But for this passage in chapter 25, for that group of people in thatsetting, when He referred to whether or not people fed and clothed His brothers, it is very possible that He was referring to whether or not people received His disciples that were on a spiritual mission traveling from town to town.

We have that same invitation today. We may not have one of the twelve disciples at our doorstep to physically receive/protect him and his cause for Jesus in our mildly persecuted Christian culture. But we still have the opportunity to receive Christ into our homes and lives or deny His message. If you deny it, the ugly truth is: yes, by your own choice, hell (or eternal separation from God) is what you will get! But as is consistent with the abundance of scripture on eternal salvation that is not based on works, you can continue to interpret this passage Matthew 25 to mean salvation is still based on faith. The decision to receive His gift (just as it was theirs to receive the disciples’ message) is what separates the sheep from the goats.

For those who do not accept this interpretation of the passage or believe the verses could mean both interpretations (including that feeding and clothing needy people is a condition of making it to Heaven): the passage could still be defended in that God accepts [the sheep who do good works] because they had a genuine life-changing encounter with Christ. Their acceptance of His gift wasn’t done half-heartedly, with shallow intentions, or superficially as a “get out of hell free” pass. Those that accept Christ as THE relationship of their life and the desire of their hearts, will bear fruit, even if only a little. People that don’t understand the point of salvation (communion and right relationship with God) will not minister to and love those who are lacking. Either way, Matthew 25 does not prove we have to earn our way into acceptance by doing good deeds. It's still by grace! Praise the Lord!



Comments

03-12-2016 at 9:30 AM
Karen Schmidt
Very good teaching on this matter. I do not recall having this explained so well. Comparing scripture with scripture we always get the full picture. Thanks Cheryl for this message. God is using you for His Glory!
03-03-2016 at 8:11 AM
Mark Tatum
You have great insight and a good grasp of scripture....you've done an awesome job in these last two posts of explaining what Salvation really is! Love you!
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January 31, 2016, 10:25 PM

A Matter of the Heart - Eternal Salvation



One topic that people find hard to swallow is eternal salvation that cannot be lost. And honestly, hearing that God forgives future sins before they’ve happened and will still allow you to live with Him forever either after or WHILE you’re being unfaithful doesn’t seem right or even possible in our earthly judgmental minds. Hearing radical phrases such as, “even if he cheats on his spouse” or “even if she murders her child via psychosis, she will continue to be covered by Jesus’s blood" sounds very wrong and even blasphemous. We try to build arguments to explain why that wouldn’t happen: that if a person committed those sins or fell away from God for whatever amount of time, it only can be explained that they likely were never really saved, which sometimes is the case but not always. But it’s just that illogical nature of His promise for unconditional sealed salvation that makes it so special and is the only way any of us will make it to Heaven.

We tend to look at sins in degrees and downplay our own sins that we have grown to think aren’t that terrible. But whether you have the inward thought that you would rather keep your tithe this month for something more urgent or if you’re justly bitter or unforgiving inside towards someone without saying a word, God sees the motives of your heart. Every time we don’t trust Him with the little details of our lives and every time we have selfish thoughts, it is falling short of God’s standard of perfection. Isaiah 64:6 says it perfectly about when we’re left to our own efforts: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…like the wind our sins sweep us away.” To meet His standard of holiness (The Ten Commandments), the stipulations of the covenant had to change. And it couldn’t be conditional on us or that’s being set up to fail! Left up to our own will power and trusting ourselves to be able to make the right choices daily (even with the presence of His Spirit) is impossible, because even after salvation, we have free will. To make this article as concise as I can, I wanted to address only one passage that people use to say that a person’s salvation can be lost.

Hebrews 6:4-6 says, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” It has been hard for me to explain this one away when brought into a conversation. I was trying to reason out some excuses, that it must not be talking about what it sounds like. I thought initially: a person can “taste” God’s goodness in life without entering a relationship with Him. It must be talking about a person that had opportunities to be saved and turned away. But then there’s the problem of: so if you deny God’s proposal of salvation, you can’t get another chance, because it says “it is impossible….to be brought back to repentance.” And let’s say it is talking about one who is sincerely saved and walks away from God, this would then mean you only get one chance, because “it is impossible….to be brought back to repentance.” The number one rule to interpreting scripture is: CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT. So I read the passages surrounding this scripture.

In Hebrews 4, it begins with Jesus being our great high priest and since He is our priest, we can hold firmly to our faith (v14). Also God empathizes with our weaknesses, since he was an earthly man himself and was tempted “in every way” that we have been (v15), so we can approach Him with CONFIDENCE and receive His mercy and grace when we are in need (v16). Then chapter 5 begins by defining what a high priest does: (v1) “Every high priest is selected among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. (v2) He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.” Even though this is talking about the high priests before Jesus, he also fits perfectly, because He was from among us, he was a man with us, subjected to temptation with us. Then at the end of chapter 5, Paul scolds them for not being more mature. He said they should be eating solid spiritual food instead of spiritual milk, the elementary truths (v11-14). Now we’re getting closer to our problem scripture. Chapter 6 begins with Paul telling them to move beyond their elementary teachings about Christ, one specifically about repentance from actions that lead to death. This makes me speculate that because of their immaturity, they were continuing to seek forgiveness through ritualistic repentance when they failed as was their habit before Christ - to make religious sacrifices for sin routinely. They had the repentance part down, but they may have been stuck in a cycle of repetative repentance without understanding what new repentance meant and growing in maturity. So Paul explains in 6:4-6, “It is impossible for those” [who have known God and fallen away into a sin again] “to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” In other words, once you’ve been forgiven and made righteous through Jesus’s sacrifice, you can’t become re-saved. You can’t do it over again. The act of doing so for the sake of salvation is like asking Jesus to sacrifice himself again for your new sins or ask for a little more blood to cover this week’s sins. It makes a mockery of the sacrifice he already made that covered all prior and future sins of all mankind!

The next couple of verses right after this says, “Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God (v7). But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned (v8).” It almost sounds like if you’re not living right, your destiny will be hell. But these scriptures are talking about the fruit of your life on earth, not where you will end up in the afterlife. Paul is explaining the profitable-ness of living for God and the blessings that will be missed if you do not. Despite your salvation status, there are still earthly consequences for your actions and there is still a relationship with God to be nurtured to receive all He wants to give you and do through you for His Kingdom.

In verse 9, Paul says, “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case, with your salvation… (v11) we want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. (v12) We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (like Abraham who is mentioned in a minute). In other words, we want you to press on in faith instead of being lazy (or continuing in a cycle of immaturity) so that you can fully realize (or experience) the promise and blessings of God. You have a choice about how you experience God from your point of salvation to death. You can fall lazy and stay immature or press on into maturity and experience a life of “faith and patience” and inherit his promise through a profitable and joyful journey. He explains the meaning of patience in the following verses and how when God makes a promise, it is not conditional.

Verse 13 says, “When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, (v14) saying, ‘I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.’ (v15) And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. (v16) People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. (v17) Because God wanted to make the UNCHANGING nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. (v18) God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be encouraged. (v19) We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, (v20) where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

This previous excerpt seems to explain itself. But to add a point, when God made Abraham a promise about his descendants, if you remember, Abraham DID grow impatient with God and took matters into his own hands by sleeping with a handmaid for an heir. He disobeyed God and sinned, but it didn’t affect the result of the promise. It wasn’t conditional on Abraham’s behavior or it would’ve been broken. But God kept his promise to Abraham and gave him Isaac. This is the same unconditional nature of the covenant of salvation God has with us. And it is only possible through Jesus being our high priest that enters into God’s presence on our behalf to be the sacrifice. Because of Christ’s shed blood, God looks at us as righteous. He sees His son’s sacrificial blood over our sins, and it is His only way of being able to dwell inside of us as the Holy Spirit. Christ made us righteous in God’s eyes so that we can experience Him as an inward Helper and Comforter and Convicter. He can walk with us and speak to us and help us live the life we were called to live. But the Holy Spirit could not enter into our hearts if not for the blood! Nothing of us is good enough aside from Christ’s blood! Even our best humanly performance is “as filthy rags.”

Jump down to Hebrews 7:11, “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood – and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood – why was there still need for another priest to come? (v18) The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (v19) [for the law made nothing perfect], and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” Well that is good to hear!! This hope is not dependent on following laws anymore if we accept Christ as our savior. There would be no need to make the contrast that the law didn’t help if we still needed to obey it for salvation. If God still required obeying the law to be saved, just with an added Holy Spirit to assist us in minding the law, it would’ve said so. But it says it was USELESS. Did the law have a purpose at its time? Yes, to show us God’s perfection that we could never match. Can we still use it to understand God and what he wants for us? Yes. Will following it alone save us? No.

Hebrews 7:25 is also encouraging: “Therefore he (Jesus) is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” If the rest of the surrounding scripture didn’t explain eternal salvation, that one should have!!! He will always intercede for me. Maintaining salvation is one thing I can’t screw up, because He promises to intercede for me. “Always.” “Completely.”

Verse 27 says, “Unlike the other high priests, he (Jesus) does not need to offer sacrifices day after day… He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” So when you have that bitter unforgiving thought next week, you can tell God you are sorry for it and ask for Him to remove it, but it’s already been forgiven. He doesn’t need to make another sacrifice because this is a “new” sin brought to His attention. You’ve been bought by the blood! You are covered. REJOICE IN THAT!!! It’s a surreal freeing truth to wrap your mind around and is totally undeserved. Our God is so good. So so good.  



Comments

03-14-2016 at 12:50 AM
Jim Schmidt
Proud father of a great daughter! Bearing down on important Bible doctrines will edify other Christians, and also keeps the messengers' heart fine tuned.
02-13-2016 at 1:10 PM
Karen Schmidt
So glad you wrote about this precious promise. How sad to go through life not believing God is true to His Word. There is so much joy knowing The Heavenly Father keeps us secure in His Mighty Hand. Thank you Jesus for the cross, thank you Holy Spirit for your presence in my life.
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