What an awful destiny: Thrown into a lake that burns forever with fire and brimstone. To die a second time and suffer eternal destruction.

Revelation 21:8 lists some of those who will suffer that doom: unbelievers who do not trust God, corrupt people (the word means you can’t stand the stench), murderers, immoral people (pornos), those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers (which includes greedy and covetous people), and all liars (fakes).

Pretty much what you expect, right?

But there’s one more on that list. It even begins the roll call: “cowards who turn away from me.”

The Greek word translated ‘coward’ is deilos. It means “timid, fearful.” It’s the word used in Matthew 8:26 of the disciples — “men of little faith” — who were afraid when their boat was about to be swamped by stormy waves.

Does that get as close to home for you as it does for me?

It brings to mind Matthew 10:33, when Jesus warns that whoever denies him before men, he will deny before the Father.

It brings to mind Hebrews 10:39, which draws a frightening contrast between those whose faith assures their salvation and those “who shrink back to destruction.” (NAS)

I think of courageous hearts — Syrian, Iraqi, Ethiopian, Egyptian — forced to kneel before evil men who demand they renounce Christ, yet they refuse … and their throats are slit because of it. I think of “Christians” in the West who cave to cultural pressure and approve as normal what God calls an abomination.

You may not face a knife to your throat, but you may be deprived of your livelihood if you insist on standing faithfully with Christ. If I join the cowards and turn away from Jesus, I face something far, far worse.

“Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid of them! The LORD your God will go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6 NLT)

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NLT)

We proclaim it as a word of warning and promise from God’s lips to the ears of those who have not opened their hearts to Christ — and that it is.

But don’t miss the fact that the author actually is speaking to Christians — those who God’s grace has set free from the law (v.15), whose old sinful selves were crucified with Christ (v.6), who have been set free from the power of sin and will share his new life (vv.7-8).

Why does a Christian need to be reminded that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord”?

Because “whatever you choose to obey becomes your master.” Paul is explaining to Jesus-followers that “you can choose sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God and receive his approval.” (v.16)

Paul says this is easy to understand: “Before, you let yourselves be slaves of impurity and lawlessness. Now you must choose to be slaves of righteousness so that you will become holy.”

And he is saying that to people who already are “free from the power of sin” and “do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life.” (v.22) He is warning them that they must not allow themselves to once again become slaves of impurity and lawlessness (v.19) and do the things that end in eternal doom (v.21)

Salvation is a gift that Jesus has given you, keeps giving you, and will one day give you. Your part at first was to choose to accept that gift, and now your part is to keep choosing to accept it.

You are free from the power of sin! As slaves of God, do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. (v.22) Consider yourself dead to sin and live for the glory of God through Christ Jesus! (v.11)

Because the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

With miracle after miracle, the Lord delivered his people from bondage in Egypt and brought them to the edge of the abundant land he had promised to give them. But the people shrank back in fear of losing the battle for conquest, then (ridiculously) blamed God that they were stuck in a wilderness. Moses begged God to not destroy the people, but those faithless souls had made themselves opponents of the Almighty. His judgment was severe: Not only would the adults of that generation die in the wilderness, as they feared, but their children would wander in that desolate place for 40 years as well.

These words of judgment, however, are particularly chilling: “You will discover what it is like to have me for an enemy.” (Numbers 14:34 NLT)

Not a place you want to be, but that’s where fear, disobedience, and faithlessness will take you. How much better to courageously trust God and take possession of what he has promised!

Godly leaders are calling the church to prayer for great spiritual awakening in America. Like Hosea, they call on the people to “bring your petitions and return to the Lord.” (Hosea 14:2a NLT)

An outpouring of God’s spirit, however, comes only after true repentance. Genuine sorrow and confession precede true repentance and forgiveness. Hosea calls out the sins of the people like charges being read in court.

Today’s church will experience renewal when, like Israel, American Christians recognize they are Gomer to the Lord’s Hosea: enthusiastically engaging in worship that is meaningless before the Lord, following false religion and bearing children that are not the Lord’s, seeking security in military might, making idols of their silver and gold, filling the land with violence and immorality, slaughtering their own children, forming alliances with godless foreign powers, getting rich through injustice. Even the king makes a fool of himself.

Why would God pour out his Holy Spirit on such a church? “They have become as worthless as a half-baked cake!” (7:8b) They are like “an old man with graying hair, unaware of how weak and old he has become.” (7:9b)  They are “a crooked bow that always misses its target.” (7:16b) “They have planted the wind and will harvest the whirlwind.” (8:7) The prophet describes in horrific detail the punishments God is about to personally inflict on his people.

The people arrogantly refuse to walk in God’s ways. “The people have been offered new birth, but they are like a child who resists being born.” (13:13a) O foolish people! You will be destroyed, for you refuse to understand.” (4:14b)

Hosea’s call: “So now, come back to your God! Act on the principles of love and justice, and always live in confident dependence on your God.” (12:6)

Hosea’s warning: “Let those who are wise understand these things. Let those who are discerning listen carefully. The paths of the LORD are true and right, and righteous people live by walking in them. But sinners stumble and fall along the way.” (14:9)

 

John 15:1-8

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing . If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. (NAS)

The “once saved, always saved” expositors consistently assert that the fruitless branch refers to nominal Christians who were never believers in the first place.

If that is the case, why does Jesus say in v.2 that the branch that does not bear fruit is “in me”? How could an unredeemed person be “in me”? How is this verse not speaking to the need for a person who is in Christ to maintain a vital connection to Christ? Isn’t that the point of v.4 — indeed, the entire passage?

The Greek word translated ‘abide’ is meno. Among the various definitions: “not to depart;” “to continue to be, not to perish, to last, endure;” and “to remain as one, not to become another or different.”

If you are in Christ, work at maintaining your vital connection to Christ. Otherwise, this passage warns, you will be cut off, tossed aside, and eventually thrown into the fire. Don’t allow yourself to become dried-up deadwood.

Related: If his branches don’t bear fruit …

No sugarstick sermon here

January 26, 2015

You’ve heard many sugarstick sermons from “once saved, always saved” preachers based on this passage in Luke 12, encouraging you to be a good servant in the Master’s house:

For example, vv.42-44 — And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.”

Then there’s v.48b — From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.

But, from those same preachers, how many sermons have you heard on these words from the mouth of Jesus?

But if that slave says in his heart, “My master will be a long time in coming,” and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. (vv.45-46)

And what do you suppose those words might mean to a servant of the Master?

The Scripture warns believers that unholiness will keep them from seeing the Lord and subject them to his wrath:

“For you died when Christ died, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your real life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual sin, impurity, lust, and shameful desires. Don’t be greedy for the good things of this life, for that is idolatry. God’s terrible anger will come upon those who do such things.” (Colossians 3:3-6 NLT)

The holy soul is consecrated — set apart for God’s purposes. Holiness is more than just a list of what we don’t do (though that must be part of it). Holiness is a positive characteristic of the shalom justice God is bringing to the world. If we want to be part of God’s new earth, our lives must be holy and we must be engaged in God’s mission of multiplying justice in his world.

God’s children must get rid of wicked behavior because it is an evil, ruthless enemy that wages war against our souls. A wild lion is not a pet — keep one hidden in a back closet and it eventually will devour you.

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