Without partiality, every lost soul who “fears God” is told to do the same righteous works to be accepted by God. We hear preachers on radio and TV inviting lost sinners to pray to God with faith in Jesus to be saved. If prayer is the way sinners access the saving blood of Jesus, then the Scriptures will plainly teach it. Yet, without exception, when lost sinners were told what to do to be saved in the New Testament, they were never told to pray what is often called “the sinner’s prayer” (Acts 2:37-38; 9:6; 16:30-34). What were sinners told to do to be saved? Jesus told lost souls to hear His gospel to be saved (Jno. 5:25; 6:45). Jesus told lost souls to believe He is the Son of God to be saved (Jno. 8:24). Jesus told lost souls to confess their faith in Him to be saved (Matt. 10:32; Rom. 10:9-10). Jesus told lost souls to repent to be saved (Lk. 13:3, 5; Acts 17:30). Jesus told lost souls to be baptized to be saved (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:37-38). God expects lost souls to do some things to be saved. But, praying a sinner’s prayer is not one of them. Otherwise, we could read about it in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us be content with the gospel plan of salvation, believe in its power to save, and teach it to lost souls (Rom. 1:16-17).
10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:10–11, NKJV)
Jesus will come from heaven in the same manner the apostles saw Him ascend into heaven – visually, personally, powerfully (Acts 1:9; 1 Thess. 4:16). Scriptures plainly tell us what will happen when Jesus returns. We do well to learn and reflect on what will take place when the Lord returns, then conform our hearts and lives to the will and word of the Son of God (Matt. 7:21-27). These things will happen when Jesus returns: 1) Resurrection of all the dead (Jno. 5:28-29; 1 Cor. 15:20-22). 2) Change of all the living from mortal to immortality (1 Cor. 15:52-54). 3) Judgment of every person (Matt. 25:31-46; Acts 17:30-31; 2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 9:27; Rom. 2:5-11; Rev. 20:11-12). 4) The fiery destruction of the material realm (2 Pet. 3:7, 10-12). 5) Delivery of the kingdom to God the Father – eternal life in heaven (Matt. 25:46; 1 Cor. 15:24-28; 2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 21:6-7). 6) The eternal punishment of the disobedient – eternal death in hell (Matt. 25:46; 2 Thess. 1:7-9; Rev. 20:13-15; 21:8). Jesus has ascended to the right hand of God, and He will return. May the truth convict us to faithfully serve Him and attempt to persuade others to prepare for that great day (1 Thess. 5:1-11; 2 Cor. 5:11).
Our last Sword Tips (#2203) emphasized the certain steadfastness Jesus affixed to His words – they will “by no means pass away” (v. 33). Jesus set the enduring nature of His words in opposition to the temporary nature of the “heaven and earth” that “will pass away.” Just as the generation that saw the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple passed away (no longer exists), this physical universe (heaven and earth) will also pass away. Some gospel preachers are teaching planet earth will not “pass away.” They are saying the earth will be renovated or restored, and that heaven (God’s dwelling place) will come down to earth. We are being told we will not go to heaven, but that heaven will come to us. Here are a few of reasons why this is a false doctrine. 1) The things we see are temporary, not eternal (2 Cor. 4:18). That includes planet earth. 2) The material world will “pass away” with a great noise and fervent heat (2 Pet. 3:10, the same word in Luke 21:32, 33). 3) The heavens and earth God created will perish, but He will remain (Heb. 1:10-12; Psa. 102:25-27). 4) There will be no place for earth and heaven before God’s great throne of judgment (Rev. 20:11). Scripture exposes this error as a perversion of the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:6-10). So must we (Eph. 5:11, 13-17; 1 Jno. 4:1, 6).
Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. (Luke 21:33, NKJV)
The certainty of Christ’s words comforts Christians. His explanations are sure, and His promises are steadfast. His truth abides. In this context, Jesus answered questions from His disciples about the destruction of the Jerusalem temple by telling them to watch for signs to come (Lk. 21:5-7). He warned them not to be deceived by false teachers and fake news “in His name” (Lk. 21:8). Jesus told them not to be frightened when they heard of wars, national upheavals, and natural calamities (Lk. 21:9-11). He warned them of persecution, betrayal, and hatred from their enemies, but also of the inspiration He would give them and deliverance they would receive through their patient endurance (Lk. 21:12-19). Armies would surround Jerusalem – a clear sign for believers to “flee to the mountains” to escape the divine vengeance that would befall Jerusalem (Lk. 21:20-24). The sacking of Jerusalem by the Gentiles would be ample evidence that the Son of Man is ruling in heaven and executing judgment against faithless Jerusalem (Lk. 21:25-31; Matt. 23:37-39; 24:29-31). Jesus boldly affirmed all these things would occur before that generation died (Lk. 21:32). And, so they did. The Roman armies led by Titus attacked Jerusalem in A.D. 70, destroying the temple and enslaving tens of thousands. When Jesus speaks, His word comes to pass. Like those disciples, let us be patient and possess our souls (Lk. 21:19). Redemption is near (Lk. 21:28; Jas. 5:7-11).
God deplored the insincere faith of Ephraim and Judah: “O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away” (Hosea 6:4). He still does. In defense of His interaction “with tax collectors and sinners,” Jesus explained that He came to call sinners to repentance – those who need spiritual healing (Matt. 9:11, 13). He applied Hosea to His critics, “But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’” (Matt. 9:12). Accurate knowledge of God compels mercy toward sinners without forgetting one’s dutiful offerings to God (Matt. 23:23; Psa. 85:10-13). We have received His mercy and are to be merciful as we serve God (Matt. 18:33). Yet, being a Christian is often reduced to rituals and formalities in not a few churches. Sinful conduct of members is winked at and ignored because they are large donors, prominent in the community, in regular attendance at worship services, or otherwise highly regarded (1 Cor. 5:1-2). They may “fast twice a week” and “give tithes of all” they possess, but such things are meaningless to the Lord when hearts are far from Him (Lk. 18:10-14). God foretold and executed judgment upon Ephraim and Judah for their insincere, disobedient faith (Hosea 6:5). Let us learn from their failures and not repeat their sins (1 Cor. 10:5-13). Genuine and enduring faith must be driven by mercy toward others as we keep the commands of God.
12 For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. 13 Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, 14 knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me. 15 Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease. (2 Peter 1:12–15, NKJV)
One of Peter’s goals in 2 Peter was to remind his fellow Christians they partook of the divine nature through “exceedingly great and precious promises” as they diligently made their “call and election sure” through spiritual growth and fruitfulness (2 Pet. 1:2-10). By doing so, they would enter the everlasting kingdom (2 Pet. 1:11). Note that Peter was not telling them a new message. They knew the “present truth” and were firm in it. He reminded them of these great truths so that after his death, they would continue to remember them and remain faithful. Teaching the gospel is not about hearing and telling some new thing like the Athenian philosophers (Acts 17:21). It is about telling “the old, old story” to each generation with repetition, clarity, and resolve. Like Peter, this present generation will die. May we continue to secure and arouse faith in our generation and the next by preaching the gospel truth that abides forever (1 Pet. 1:22-25).
20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. 21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 9:20–22, NKJV)
Saul’s conversion from persecutor to preacher was exemplary. His transformation of heart and life demonstrates the change of heart and life to which Christ calls every disciple (Eph. 4:20-24). 1) The immediacy of a disciple (v. 20). Saul immediately changed his life of sin against Jesus after being baptized to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16). He began preaching the gospel without delay. One does not become a Christian in phases. It is not a decision to be different, “one of these days.” Salvation in Christ brings an immediate change of faith and conduct (Rom. 6:4-6). 2) The identification of a disciple (v. 21). People recognized the change in Saul. Becoming a Christian means making drastic and dramatic changes in character and conduct. People will see the difference. 3) The increase of a disciple (v. 22). Saul grew in strength and vigorously preached and lived his faith that Jesus is the Christ. Christians must not shrink back into sin’s destruction, but “press forward toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).
10 The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect. 11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations. 12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance. (Psalm 33:10–12, NKJV)
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” is often cited as a benediction on behalf of nations today (for example, America). It is true that any nation that honors God will be blessed (Prov. 14:34). But, please note the contextual application of the great declaration of this passage. It sets the plans of the nations in contrast with the plans of Jehovah. The Lord rules over the nations of men, and no counsel prepared and executed by men will ever overthrow His sovereign counsel (Jer. 18:5-11; Dan. 4:25, 34-35). The nations and their rulers vainly plotted against the Lord and His Anointed, Jesus Christ, whom He raised from the dead and crowned at His right hand as Ruler over His people (Psa. 2:1-9; 110:1-2; Acts 2:30-36; 4:23-28). The people God “has chosen as His own inheritance” in today’s passage no doubt initially applied to the nation of Israel (v. 12; Exo. 19:5-6). But now, with Jesus Christ ruling as King of God’s kingdom (the church), “the nation whose God is the Lord” is the church (Matt. 16:18-19; Heb. 12:22-23; Gal. 6:16). The church of Christ is God’s “holy nation,” and therefore, we must honor and obey the Lord’s will to be His blessed people (1 Pet. 2:9-10; Jno. 18:36).
As the USA celebrates Independence Day, the Savior’s statement in today’s passage rings especially true. Our history tells us that independence from tyranny’s oppression did not remove our responsibility to live under law as free men and women. It is a self-defeating premise and pursuit that declares liberty is freedom from the restraint of law. Free men and women understand and want the protection and constraints that law provides against evil (Rom 13:3-5). Those who seek good know that law serves good purposes (1 Tim. 1:8-11). Freedom from sin’s bondage, tyranny, and death is available through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Obeying the gospel from the heart ends our slavery to sin, not so we can declare ourselves free from every restraint, but so we may become “slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18). The truth, the word of Jesus, marks the boundary of our liberty in Christ (2 Jno. 9; Gal. 1:6-10). We are “under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21, ESV). The gospel of Christ declares our freedom from sin and defines our life of freedom in Christ to serve righteousness according to His word of truth.
1 Hear the word which the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. 2 Thus says the Lord: “Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; Do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the Gentiles are dismayed at them. 3 For the customs of the peoples are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax.” (Jeremiah 10:1–3, NKJV)
The principle behind this warning against idolatry given to Israel by God’s prophet continues to be relevant: “Do not learn the way of the Gentiles.” Christians must not learn the ways of unbelievers who are not the people of God (1 Pet. 2:9-10). Yet, the currents of social conformity and worldly lusts persuade saints to become “unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14). The temptation to fashion ourselves according to this age is strong (Rom. 12:2). The Gentiles are those who are “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without Christ in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Do not learn to follow their false gods. Do not assimilate their futile customs that ingrain sin into their hearts. Stand apart, “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you” (2 Cor. 6:17). Do not learn the way of the Gentiles. Learn the way of God (Psa. 18:21, 30; Jno. 14:6).