The earliest threat to the unity of the church was teaching about the believer’s obligation to the Old Testament law. As the gospel spread out from Jerusalem, more and more Gentiles began to believe and come into the church. Some Jews taught that the believing Gentiles had to keep the law to truly be saved. The apostle Paul and others began to argue strongly against this teaching. As a result, a council was convened in Jerusalem to discuss this question.
Acts 15 summarizes the discussion. Four men spake. Paul and Barnabas then told of how they had taken the gospel to Gentiles in Asia Minor and how God had blessed their ministry. James spoke of how God had foretold the conversion of the Gentiles. The plan to save Gentiles was God’s plan all along. Peter told of how he had first taken to the gospel to the Gentiles of Cornelius’ household. Those Gentiles were saved by faith while Peter was preaching. They received the Holy Spirit without doing anything instructed in the Mosaic Law. The conclusion of the council was that the law is unnecessary for salvation and that Gentiles are under no obligation to keep the law of Moses.
The question of the believers obligation to the law did not go away. The question is addressed in the book of Galatians. The simple, clear answer given in that book is “no.” If salvation begins by faith and the Holy Spirit is received by faith without the keeping of the law, then how could keeping the law be necessary for the Christian life? Salvation and sanctification are accomplished without the keeping of the law. (Galatians 3:1-3)
The New Testament is clear that the law has been done away with by Jesus. First, the law is a unit. If a person is under obligation to keep one part of the law, then he is obligated to keep all the law. (Galatians 3:10, 12) The separating out of the law into civil and ceremonial portions is not a valid division. If one part of the law is done away with, then all the law is done away with. The book of Hebrews makes a strong argument that the priesthood formed by the law of Moses was changed by Jesus. (Hebrews 7) The sacrifice of Jesus took away the sacrifices under Moses’ law. (Hebrews 10) Since the law is a single unit, the doing away of the priesthood and the sacrifices means the entire Mosaic Law has been done away with. Second, the law has been abolished by Christ. (2 Corinthians 3:7-11) Hebrews 7 says the Mosaic law was put away because it could not save. In Hebrews 8 we are told that the Old Covenant under the law of Moses was replaced with a New Covenant in Christ. The New Testament could not be more clear. The law has been done away with by Jesus. “There is a truly a setting aside of the former commandment.” (Hebrews 7:18) The Old Testament law is abolished by Jesus. No one, not even the Jews, are now required to keep the law of Moses because it’s purposes have been fulfilled in Jesus.
Does this mean Christians are not under any law at all? Of course not. The Christian is under Christ’s law. His commandment is simple, “love one another.” (John 13:34) The command to love one another is explained in Romans 13 and James 2 as a keeping of the last six of the ten commandments. Galatians 5 and 1 John 3 describe loving one another as selfless, Spirit-filled living that ministers to those in need. The Christian is under a law. The law of Christ is not the law of Moses but it does shares some commands in common with the Mosaic law. Though there is similarity between the two laws, the Christian must not imagine he is obligated to keep the Mosaic law. The Christian is under obligation to a great law, the law to love God supremely and to love others sacrificially.
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” This command from 2 Corinthians 6:14 is the basis of much teaching about what kind of relationships Christians can enter into with unbelievers. This passage is applied to business partnerships, close friendships and marriage. Is this verse intended to limit relationships between Christians and non-Christians?
2 Corinthians 6:14 comes in the middle of a call to the Corinthian church to live in holiness. The passage asks about what opposites have in common. What does Jesus have in common with Satan? What does light have in common with darkness? Because the righteousness of God has nothing in common with the wickedness of idolatry the Corinthians must come out of the practices of paganism. They must separate themselves from idol worship. They must not even touch the things polluted by idol worship. Instead, the Christian must be a new creature in Christ who puts away the sins of the flesh and grows in holiness.
To illustrate this point Paul brings up being yoked together. A yoke is farming equipment, a collar that connected two animals to one another so they could pull a plow or wagon together. Animals of different sizes that are yoked together cannot work. They are unequally yoked and will end up going in circles or getting in each other’s way. Just like two a full grown ox and a yearling calf cannot work together, so Christians and non-Christians cannot work together.
Does this mean then that Christians should not marry non-Christians. This passage is not a direct prohibition against inter-faith marriages or business partnerships, but such a prohibition would be a wise application of the principles in 2 Corinthians 6. How can two enter into a lifelong commitment with one another if they disagree on the most fundamental, and eternal, issues?
The application of this command extends far beyond committed relationships. The point is to correct the Christian’s life and worship. According to 2 Corinthians 6 the child of God has no business participating in the worship of the unsaved and must have no part in the wickedness of this world. A Christian must not participate in the five Muslim prayers. He has no business giving offerings at a Hindu temple or making a sacrifice at a household shrine to one’s ancestors.
The not so obvious application of this passage relates to the gods of America. Americans worship many things that they do not call gods. Americans worship without obvious temples, hymns or liturgies. Americans may not light candles or set out offerings to their gods, but this does not make their worship any less worshipful. The idols of America are “idols in their heart” (Ezekiel 14:4). They are idols of wealth, ease, entertainment, importance and power. A Christian has no more business being a part of the worship of these gods than he does participating in a feast to Odin.
Being unequally yoked together is primarily a joining together with the unsaved in sinful worship or habits. Whether it be in a temple or a backyard, in a church or a stadium, the Christian must separate from all sinful behavior and all idol worship. “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers” insists upon holiness in life that does not love the things of this world (1 John 2:15) and has no part in the works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11).
The Bible teaches that God is sovereign over all things, including salvation. God has mercy on whom He will have mercy. (Romans 9:16, 18) He loved Jacob and hated Esau so that the purposes of His divine election would be accomplished without the work of men but by His own will. (Romans 9:11-13) God is the potter who makes some vessels to honor and some to dishonor. (Romans 9:22) Passages like Romans 9 seem to indicate that God chooses who will be saved.
Jesus said that the way which leads to destruction is wide. The way that leads to life is narrow and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14) This raises a troubling question. If people are saved by God’s choosing, then why are so few saved?
Passages like Romans 9 are only one side of the story. The Bible also teaches that man is fully responsible for his reception of the gospel. Esau made the choice to sell his birthright. He was the one who despised the promises of God. God in no way caused Esau to sin. God does not sin, does not cause men to sin and does not tempt men to sin. (James 1:13) God is the one who draws men to Himself, but none can say God is responsible for their unbelief. God’s sovereign working in salvation is such that it does not negate the responsibility of the individual to respond to the gracious working of God and to receive the legitimate offer of eternal life.
The Bible does not tell us how God does His choosing. Scripture does tell us some things His choosing is not based upon. God does not choose based upon some favoritism which selects people based upon personal qualities that may be advantageous to Him. God is not a respecter of persons. (Colossians 3:25) Nor can it be said that God chose based upon a knowledge of who would believe Him. That is just another form of salvation by works in which the saved merit salvation because God knew they were the only ones who would believe.
None can imagine that God is cruel or capricious in salvation. The Bible clearly says that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Instead, God’s delight is in the repentance of the wicked so they can have life. (Ezekiel 33:11) God is not willing that any should perish. He desires the repentance of all. (2 Peter 3:9) God’s choosing is not evil in any way, but is the outworking of His compassion and grace.
These truths of Scripture are hard to understand. We will not have a full answer to this question until we reach heaven. Right now we cannot fathom the wisdom, grace and glory of God. We do not understand how God chooses or how His sovereignty works in man’s salvation. We know God is sovereign and man is responsible. God’s sovereignty is not limited by man’s responsibility, nor is man’s responsibility limited by God’s sovereignty. Both are true though we may not be able to explain how they can be true at the same time. Just like we cannot explain how the Father, Son and Spirit are each fully God and yet God is One God. Difficulty in understanding a truth should not cause us to refuse to believe it.
The proper response to this problem is to worship the God who is so wise His plan of salvation baffles the greatest of minds. The right response is to praise the God who is so gracious His salvation can be received by the simplest of children. Those who are saved must rejoice in their salvation. They ought to preach the gospel faithfully to all and pray earnestly for the salvation of the lost. Each Christian must glorify the God who chose to save him and who invited him to receive His salvation.
The hope of every Christian is that they will go to Heaven when they die. But what is Heaven? Common perceptions of Heaven seem to involve sitting on clouds and playing harps, large gates guarded by genial old men, or beautiful golden mansions lining streets of gold. You may be surprised to learn none of those things are found in the Bible’s descriptions of Heaven.
Heaven is a real place, but it probably does not exist in the physical universe as we know it. Heaven probably exists in a the spiritual plane or a spiritual dimension. This is not certain, but what is certain is that Heaven was created by God. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Heaven was created by God and is the place where He dwells (1 Kings 8:30). In Heaven resides the throne of God (Isaiah 66:1) and the temple of God (Revelation 14:17). Heaven itself is called God’s throne (Matthew 5:34)
Aside from God, the other inhabitants of Heaven are the righteous angels (Mark 12:25) and the souls of believers who have died (Luke 16:22; Revelation 6:9). Contrary to popular opinion, Satan has not yet been barred from Heaven. The book of Job describes a time when Satan appeared before God (Job 1:6). Revelation says that Satan always stands before God making accusations against Christians (Revelation 12:10).
Isaiah 6 gives a brief glimpse into Heaven by describing the throne room of God in Heaven. God is seated on His throne and His glory fills the Heavenly Temple. Surrounding the throne of God are mighty angels who cry out the praises of God. Revelation 4 fills in the details of God’s glorious throne room. God’s appearance is described as a brilliant jewel surrounded by a glory like a rainbow hewed gemstone. In front of the throne of God are seven burning lamps and a great crystal basin. Joining the angels in praise to God are saints of God. Heaven echoes with the perpetual praise of God. The glories of Heaven itself are never really described in the Bible because the true glory of Heaven is not found in it’s buildings, streets or environs. The true glory of Heaven is God.
Heaven is the temporary residence of all believers. At death every Christian enters immediately into Heaven (Philippians 1:23). At the end of this age Christ will return from Heaven to take all Christians to be with Him in Heaven. (1 Thessalonians 4:16) In Heaven the Christian’s inheritance is kept secure for them (1 Peter 1:4). Christ will descend from Heaven with His angels and saints to conquer the antichrist and to establish His thousand year kingdom on earth.
Following the millennial reign of Jesus Heaven and the entire physical universe will be destroyed (Revelation 20:1) to be replaced with a new Heaven and a new Earth. But that new Heaven will not be the Christian’s eternal home. Instead, God and all the redeemed will dwell in the New Jerusalem on the new Earth. (Revelation 21:2-3) It is the New Jerusalem, not Heaven, which has its streets paved with gold. Heaven is the glorious dwelling of our glorious God, where the souls of saints reside and where dwells the One who is the hope of all believers (Colossians 3:1-3)
A question came up at church Sunday that offers helpful distinction from the often asked, “Why does God allow evil to continue in this world?” This other question is much more specific and focuses on those who are followers of Christ. A preacher once said to a group of Christians, “You are either facing a trial in your life, just coming out of one or about to go into one.” While such a statement may be overly pessimistic, it does seem to many that following Jesus is the beginning of difficulties, not the end. So why does God allow bad things to happen to Christians?
The Bible offers several reasons why Christians must endure intense trials. Contrary to much popular preaching, the Bible never promises the Christian that faith will lead to an easier life. Instead, “All that will live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12) Jesus told the disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33) and “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20) The apostle Paul told newly formed churches, “That we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) Suffering should not surprise anyone, least of all the Christian.
The Christians suffering is never pointless. James says that the trying of your faith produces patience. (James 1:3) Romans says that tribulation produces patience. (Romans 5:3) Second Corinthians says, “For our light affliction which is but for a moment worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Suffering for the Christian always has a good purpose. The New Testament teaches that tribulation is permitted by God to produce Christlikeness in His children and to bring them eternal benefit.
Sometimes God brings suffering on a Christian to chasten them for sin. This chastening is Divine correction that brings punishment on His children for persistent sin. God disciplines His children in the same way loving parents discipline their children. “For who the Lord loveth, He chasteneth.” (Hebrews 12:6) God does not punish in anger. God does not punish His children because they are irritating Him. God’s brings painful correction for the good of His children. “He (chastened us) for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness. . . afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:10-11) The chastening of God is painful, but it is profitable because it produces righteousness in His people.
God also allows suffering in the life of Christians to make them more fruitful. This suffering is not punishment for sin, but preparation for more fruitful service. In John 15 Jesus likens His followers to branches. The fruitless branches will be cut off and the fruitful branches will be pruned so that they will be more fruitful. The fruitful branch does not escape the cutting, but it will not be entirely cut off. Instead, in God’s grace He cuts away much that is unnecessary and hindering the productiveness of the Christian.
The Christian’s suffering is never pointless. Trials in the believer’s life are never an indication that God has forgotten His child or that His love has decreased. The Christian’s suffering is always a part of the gracious working of God to purge from sin and produce greater Christlikeness. Suffering is never fun, but it is always a cause to rejoice.
Older copies of the Bible include a section that may be unfamiliar to many Bible readers. This section includes books with names like Maccabees, Ecclesiasticus, Tobit, Esdras, and Susanna. These just a few of the fourteen books of the Apocrypha, a collection of books written after the book of Malachi and before the birth of Jesus.
Some of these books, like Maccabees, are historical. They help fill in the gaps of what happened to Israel between the conclusion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New. Some of these books present further stories about Biblical characters, such as Daniel and Esther. Some of them may be aids in worship, like the Prayer of Azariah. Most Protestants do not believe the Apocrypha ought to be considered part of the Bible, while Catholic doctrine teaches that it should.
The Apocrypha was included as part of the Septuagint, a very early Greek translation of the Old Testament. This has lead many to conclude the translators of the Septuagint considered the Apocrypha to be Scripture. The Council of Carthage, a church council held in 397 A.D., declared the Apocrypha to be part of the Bible. This led to the Catholic church viewing the Apocrypha as Scripture. During the Council of Trent in 1547 they officially declared the Apocrypha to be Scripture.
The New Testament may contain some allusions to Apocryphal books, but this is not certain. Even if the Apostles did reference the Apocrypha this does does not mean they considered the Apocryphal books to be Scripture. The Apostles quoted other books they did not consider to be Scripture. For example, Jude quotes the book of Enoch and seems to treat is as an accurate history. Though he quotes Enoch, Jude does not refer to it as Scripture. In the book of Titus Paul quoted a Greek poet and said the poet’s words were true. His use of the poet is hardly an affirmation that those words are Scripture. The New Testament never directly quotes the Apocrypha and it most certainly does not claim that any portion of the Apocrypha is Scripture.
The Apocrypha cannot be Scripture because it teaches several significant errors. Portions of 2 Maccabees seem to present the ideas of praying for the dead to be forgiven of their sins. This passage is a part of the Roman Catholic basis for their doctrine of purgatory. Another example of false doctrine in the Apocrypha is found in the book of Tobit. “Alms do deliver from death and keeps you from going into the darkness.” (Tobit 4:10) Tobit also says, “Alms … shall purge away every sin.” (Tobit 12:9) This Apocryphal book clearly teaches that salvation can be earned by giving to the poor. The Bible plainly teaches that salvation can never be accomplished by any works we do. (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-6) These apocryphal books cannot be considered the Word of God because they contradict the plain teaching of Scripture.
The Apocrypha is not Scripture, but it does have historical value. The histories presented help us better understand the silent years between the Old and New Testaments. However, this information must be treated like any other ancient historical work. The Apocrypha is helpful and interesting but its teachings must be verified before accepting them as true. Most importantly, no doctrine should ever be developed based upon the Apocryphal writings for they are not the words of holy men of God who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (2 Peter 1:21)