“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.” (1 Thessalonians 4:15, NKJV)
The authority of Christ’s word must support what we teach. Paul knew this, and so he made it very clear that he was not giving his opinion about what will happen to Christians who die (vss. 14, 15). What we teach, including things about the return of Jesus, must be in harmony with His word (Matt. 28:19-20). With that assurance, the apostle tells why we do not hopelessly sorrow over the death of Christians (v. 13). It is because they will not miss out on anything that happens with Christ returns! In fact, the dead saints “will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16). Then, the living saints will be “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17; 1 Cor. 15:52). We do not know when the Lord will come, but we know that when He does, every saint – dead or alive – will fully participate in the glory of that moment (Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:4). But, it will also be a moment of fiery indignation – a fearful expectation of judgment – for His adversaries (Heb. 10:27; 2 Thess. 1:7-9). Do not be the Lord’s adversary. Serve the Lord faithfully, and you will be ready for the day He returns (1 Thess. 5:1-11).
13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 4:13–14, NKJV)
What is going to happen when Jesus returns? Bible teachers tell us all sorts of different things. Some say Jesus is coming back invisibly before a great tribulation, later to return visibly to defeat evil and reign on earth 1,000 years. Others deny the future bodily resurrection completely. Many beliefs of what will happen are somewhere in-between. We believe we can learn from the Bible what will happen when Jesus returns. By letting more simple passages enlighten us on the more complex, we can understand God’s word and live by faith (2 Pet. 3:16-18). In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, the Holy Spirit gives us snapshot of what Christians will experience when Jesus returns. (Other passages explain events that will include unbelievers, like Matt. 25:31-46, Rom. 2:5-11, Heb. 9:27, and many more.) Christians are not overwhelmed with hopeless sorrow when fellow-Christians die (fall asleep). Those who “sleep in Jesus” (dead Christians, v. 14) will certainly rise again, just as Jesus did.
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17, NKJV)
The universe is an arranged system of celestial bodies we call the cosmos. Here, John speaks of another world or “kosmos” – the system of evil that is in opposition to God and His will. This arrangement of evil – the world – consists of the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (v. 16). The god of this world, the devil, uses these three avenues to deceive and entice souls to their eternal demise. At least one of these three elements is at the heart of every sin and false doctrine that exists. Cleverly disguised as pleasure, success, fulfillment, joy, and self-satisfaction, and many other things, Satan uses them to lure people away from God. The world offers a counterfeit love. We must love God genuinely. That means we must not love the world. It is fading away, but life everlasting is for those who do the will of God.
A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of wicked intentions is hated. (Proverbs 14:17, NKJV)
Reason and good judgment exit the scene when anger enters the stage. “He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly (Prov. 14:29). The short fuse of anger and wrath destroys relationships we claim to be valuable to us – family, friendships, brethren. We have chosen foolishness and evil intentions over discretion and peace when we lose control of our emotions and let anger rule our spirit (Jas. 1:19-20). Anger expresses ill will, even hatred, toward others. Getting angry does not remove being accountable for our words and actions. Cain was very angry and hated his brother Abel, leading to murder (Gen. 4:5-7; 1 Jno. 3:12-15). His anger led to great folly. It is not enough to know we should not lose our temper. Knowing this, we must add self-control to our knowledge to help us master our emotions (2 Pet. 1:6). Even when others hurt us we dare not be quick-tempered and play the fool. “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression” (Prov. 19:11).
11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised. (Romans 4:11–12, NKJV)
God commanded circumcision of Abraham as a “sign of the covenant” He made with him (Gen. 17:1-14, esp. 10-11). The apostle calls attention to that historic moment. Like a seal marking authenticity, Abraham’s circumcision served as a sign or indicator “of the righteousness of the faith which he had” while still uncircumcised. This distinction is notable and confirms the blessings of Abraham are offered to all (Jews and Gentiles). It also confirms that faith is the means of justification, not the works of the law of Moses (Rom. 4:13). Verse 12 says Abraham is the father of those who “walk in the steps of the faith” he had before circumcision. Walking is active. Thus, faith is active – it involves steps. Faith obeys God, just like father Abraham. He did not earn the blessings of the covenant through keeping law. He was sinner, saved “by grace, through faith” (Rom. 4:1-5). His (obedient) faith expressed his trust in God, and his faith was accounted to him for righteousness. Obedient faith is the only kind of faith that saves us (Jas. 2:17, 20-24).
9 Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised.” (Romans 4:9–10, NKJV)
The blessedness of which Paul speaks is the forgiveness of sins, given by God as He imputes righteousness to sinners by faith (Rom. 4:5-8). This blessed forgiveness is available to all, and is revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:19-20; Rom. 1:16-17). Those who tried to define forgiveness through keeping the law of the circumcised (the Law of Moses given to the Jews) failed to recognize that Abraham’s faith was counted to him for righteousness while he was uncircumcised (Gen. 15:6). Binding any part of the Law of Moses as essential for salvation is inconsistent with this fact (Acts 15:5-11). When we “walk in the steps of the faith” that Abraham had (while he was still uncircumcised), our faith will also be accounted to us for righteousness. Justifying faith is active (it is a walk), it is obedient. We walk in the footsteps of Abraham when we obey the gospel by believing in Christ, confessing our faith, repenting and being baptized (Jno. 8:24; Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 2:37-38). God is not a respecter of persons. Whoever “fears Him” and “works righteousness” is “accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34-35). We are justified by faith when we believe and obey God like Abraham did (Jas. 2:20-24).
6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.” (Romans 4:6–8, NKJV)
Abraham was not the only person justified by faith. Truly, everyone who is justified will be justified by faith, not by works of law. The reason is clear – “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23). Importantly, it was Abraham’s faith that was accounted to him for righteousness (Rom. 4:3). The same is true of every soul who is justified by faith – “his faith is accounted to him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). David supported this vital truth in Psalms 32:1-2, which Paul now quotes (v. 7-8). The Lord does not charge the account of the sinner who is justified by faith. Instead, God accounts that person’s faith for righteousness. (Remember, saving faith is includes obedience to God – the works of faith. It is this complete or “perfect” faith that justifies the sinner, Jas. 2:20-24.) This verse does not say the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner. It supports the truth of Genesis 15:6 that is quoted in Romans 4:3, “Abraham believed God, and it (Abraham’s faith, jrp) was accounted to him for righteousness.” When we have the type of faith Abraham and David had, our sins are forgiven because our faith (like theirs) is imputed to us (put to our account) for righteousness.
1 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, (Romans 4:1–5, NKJV)
Abraham is the great example of justification by faith and not by works of law. Remember, “works” in Paul’s context is sinlessness – never violating God’s law (Rom. 3:20, 23, 27-28). The boast of justification by works is sinlessness (v. 2). Just one sin forever eliminates the ability to claim justification by works of law. Only sinlessness make righteousness a debt owed (v. 4). Like us, Abraham was a sinner in need of grace. And so, his faith was counted to him for righteousness (v. 3, 5; Gen. 15:6). The nature of Abraham’s faith is described in James 2:21-24. There, Abraham’s works of faith (obedience) were essential to his belief (which was accounted to him for righteousness, cf. Heb. 11:17). Even so today, saving faith is obedient faith, not to earn salvation, but so that we have a complete faith – the kind of faith that is accounted to us for righteousness.
28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. 29 Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” (Romans 3:28–30, NKJV)
God’s promise to Abraham was that “in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). The seed of which He spoke was Christ (Gal. 3:16). In this age of inclusiveness it is vital to see the inclusive nature of the gospel is not about everyone deciding truth for themselves (whether that “truth” is Hinduism, Buddhism, Islamic, Judaic, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, atheistic, agnostic, ad nauseam). God includes all of humanity in one blessed way of justifying sinners. The way of salvation is Christ and is revealed in His gospel. Israel was not justified by the law of Moses (Rom. 2). Gentiles were guilty and under wrath through their unbelief, idolatry and immorality (Rom. 1:18-32). There is one God over all humanity. God justifies Jews “by faith.” The gospel (the law of faith, Rom. 3:27), not the law of Moses, is how Jews are saved. God justifies Gentiles “through” faith. The gospel (the law of faith, Rom. 3:27), is how Gentiles are saved. We do not keep the law of Moses or add anything else to the gospel in order to be saved (see this applied in Gal. 5:3-6). God justifies sinners by “faith” – one faith, not many (Eph. 4:5). The gospel of Christ is sufficient to save sinners (Rom. 1:16). To include other “faiths” nullifies its power and forfeits grace (Gal. 1:6-9).
27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. (Romans 3:27–28, NKJV)
No one has room to boast before God of being a perfect keeper and therefore, of being justified by law. Everyone under the law of Moses sinned against it and were condemned as sinners by it (Rom. 3:19-20, 23). By the works or “deeds of the law,” no one is justified because all have sinned against it. It is the “law of faith” (the gospel), which is “apart from the deeds of the law,” that justifies sinners. Paul defines “works” in this context as “the deeds of the law” (the Greek text does not include the article, so literally the phrase here is “deeds of law”). Keeping law for justification demands sinless perfection. That is earning salvation. But, that avenue is forever impossible to us, since we have all sinned. None of us can earn our salvation. Scripture says we are justified by faith (v. 28). The gospel (the faith, Gal. 1:11, 23) produces personal faith (Rom. 1:16-17). Personal faith includes obedience, but an obedient faith is not “works” that earn salvation. Obedience is the action of trust in Jesus to save you when you obey Him (Heb. 5:8-9). When we trust and obey the gospel our only boast is in Jesus, not in ourselves (Lk. 17:10; Gal. 6:14).