Mass/Energy and Information

            When a famous author like Agatha Christie sits down at her typewriter, or today at her laptop computer, and begins to write a murder mystery novel such as And Then There Were None, the creative inspiration inside her mind is abstract and non-material…being in the form of information only.

            During the entire time of the writing of this fictional novel the creative process remains informational and not actual, Agatha Christie not having to commit real murders as part of the research to inspire the story as it progresses chapter-by-chapter.

            But the writing of this new murder mystery novel changes character as Agatha Christie puts her ideas down on paper, making the fundamental transition from the abstract and intangible nature of informational ideas to the physical, material medium of paper and ink. 

            The interesting observation here is that the letters, words, punctuation marks, spaces, paragraphs, and book chapters could be on any subject.  It could be a murder mystery, foreign agent suspense thriller, romantic comedy, historical biography, or a cookbook filled with recipes.

            The medium of the ink and paper, or the ones and zeros of the word processing computer language code are entirely indifferent and neutral as to the genre category of the information being presented.

            But then another interesting transition takes place.  After the murder mystery novel is completed and enters the published book phase, physical copies now sit on shelves in bookstores waiting for someone like me to see it in its material form, buy it, and take it home to read.

            Then another amazing thing happens.  I open up the physical book and begin to read the text in the form of letters arranged as words and sentences in the English language, and the information that Agatha Christie created has passed through the material medium of ink on paper to become once again information that is the fascinating and engrossing murder mystery story And Then There Were None.    

            This has huge implications for a more accurate and up-to-date scientific understanding of the phenomena in the natural world.

            The non-material nature of information should tell both professional scientists and laymen like me that a purely materialistic worldview of the universe, absent the input of agency, is unnecessarily and nonsensically limited. 

            The organized complexity of the system of information that comprises a murder mystery story is not the same thing as that same story in physical print form in a book I can hold in my hands.

            The abstract and intangible creative thought behind the murder mystery story is not the same as the hands and fingers of Agatha Christie physically typing-out the story day-by-day using the materials of ink and paper.

            Information is abstract and non-material…and mass/energy by contrast is physical and material.  

            Information and intelligent agency go together.

            Mass-energy on its own cannot create complex, specified, and coherently integrated systems of information.

            The worldview of scientific materialism is nonsensical because it attempts to tell modern audiences that And Then There Was None typed itself…that it did not need the intelligent agent Agatha Christie as the explanation of its origin.

The present is the key to understanding the past

                The great geologist Charles Lyell in the 1820’s provided the general methodology for doing research in what are now called the historical sciences, of making reasonably accurate inferences about the past by observing what occurs in the natural world today…because the past is not directly accessible to us.

            Thanks to the present-day understanding of molecular biochemistry due in large part to the unraveling of DNA through the ten-year long Human Genome Project, and the advancement of computers and computer programs, we now can identify in living cells the developmental gene regulatory networks that instruct the molecular machines inside cells to assemble the different cell types and then tells them specifically where to go in the developing embryos…to produce elephants, lions, hawks, and human beings.

            The material properties of the typewriter keys, the ink ribbon, and the sheets of paper that translate the abstract creative storytelling from the mind of the book writer into the physical medium of paper and ink, is an easily understood reality analogous to the translating of the abstract creative information from the genetic code in DNA into the material “flesh and bones” of living organisms.

            Scientists correctly study the material mechanics of the processes taking place inside living cells, and we can make reasonably accurate inferences going back in time regarding the increasing complexity of life-forms on earth following the gradually linear addition of differing new cell types to support increasingly more complex architectural body-plans.

            But in the same way that the physics and chemistry of how ink bonds to paper to create the rough drafts typed by Agatha Christie cannot explain the inspired artistic creation of the fictional murder mystery story itself, a complete understanding of how the material mechanics of the nanotechnology occurring within living cells will not explain the translation of the material parts of flesh and bones coordinating together as a whole functioning unit, into the adult instinctual lifestyle habits of a charging African bull elephant chasing lions away from a watering hole.

            Not only do developmental gene regulatory networks and epigenetic factors now tell us how different cell types are constructed on-time and in the proper sequence from the DNA code and then sent-off to their specific xyz-coordinate locations in their unique body-plans during embryonic development, but there is another source of information that matches flesh and bones with extremely fine-tuned lifestyle habits…to successfully function as mature organisms within differing past geological eras, within the interrelated biodiversity of predator/prey relationships, and within the unimaginable complexity of diverse ecosystems. 

            Like Charles Lyell’s program of using the present to study the past in geology, we now today have a large part of the understanding of the molecular biochemical processes in living organisms.

            During a particular season every year in Africa functional baby elephants are born.  This is just one amongst enumerable examples of the present-day phenomena we can scientifically study, extrapolating backwards through the embryonic development phase to genes, chromosomes, and DNA.

            In other words, science has an enormous sample size of finished products in the form of ten million living species to study, working backwards through the completed architectural body-plans and lifestyle habits…to the initial genetic information contained in the paired chromosomes of the male and female parents.

            In plain language, we know that the material mechanisms in operation inside living cells can produce finished organisms that can survive and reproduce, because we see these living organisms all around us in action.

            The challenge since Darwin in the scientific field of biology is to figure-out how this all works.

            But the worldview of scientific materialism that attempts to reduce the charge of a full-grown African bull elephant to its flesh and bones material parts is as nonsensical as saying that the book And Then There Were None can write itself.

            Science cannot exclude agency and still be fully explanatory.  The creative origin of information cannot be reduced to a mass/energy causation.

            The charge of an elephant or a lion is a very physical action having a purely empirical outcome for whatever creature is being chased, but this full-speed charge at its fundamental essence is information-based…is an intangibly abstract form of an instinctual lifestyle habit in action.

            We therefore make a categorical mistake when we confuse abstract information with material mass/energy.

            One of the themes of this book is that no matter where the current research in the field of molecular biochemistry finally lands in terms of a more complete understanding of the material mechanisms at the genetic level in living cells, the complexity of these coordinated and integrated mechanical molecular systems has already left the unguided and undirected program of naturalistic materialism miles behind.

            Intelligent agency is not only required at the front-end to furnish the information needed inside living cells to produce over time the vast diversity of material life we see in the natural world, but also the abstract and intangible end-point functions that differentiate between the instinctual lifestyle habits of an elephant, lion, leopard, cheetah, zebra, wildebeest, water buffalo, rhinoceros, and giraffe…to name some of the large mammals in Africa.

            Returning to the analogy of the writer Agatha Christie, abstract creative information not only enters in at the front-end of the process, passing through the required material medium of ink, paper, and the finished book form, but then expresses itself to the book reader as again the creative storyline of the murder mystery Agatha Christie intended, as the intelligent designing agent.

            The God of the Bible, who can introduce all of the material mass/energy and the non-material laws of physics, chemistry, and mathematics in the first split-seconds of the creation of the universe at the Big Bang, into the incredibly operational realities of the force of gravity, the speed of light, and the expansion rate of the universe…to my thinking is also therefore capable of inputting all of the information, the instructions, and the timetables inside living cells to create the remarkable material mechanisms now being studied by molecular biochemists.

            I need to say here at the outset of this book that I am not a theistic evolutionist, and I am not a deist. 

            Having worked in building construction as a career, I am skeptical of complex things falling into place on their own, especially living organisms that must be up-and-running with operational function in-place at a minimum just to be able to survive and to reproduce.

            To my thinking, the informational package within living cells beginning 3.8-billion years ago has the preprogrammed agenda to pump-out increasing complexity starting with the single-cell bacteria, by adding new and different cell types over time to support new and innovative architectural body-plans.

            But one of the themes put forward in this book is that this ever increasing complexity that has produced the vast diversity of life-forms we see today…is always introducing living organisms that are at the leading edge of specified refinement within what could otherwise conceptually be within a possible range of incomplete and unfinished expression on one side of a continuum-line…to functionally complete and fully operational at the other side of the continuum-line.

            What is staring us in the face, when we look at biology, is the reality that human designed and manufactured products are always complete and functional…are at the forward edge of specified, refined completion for their intended use.

            Human agency universally produces functionally complete objects, from fully cooked baked lasagna at our favorite Italian restaurant, to a bicycle that has two wheels, to a new automobile that has brakes, to computer software programs that are debugged and operational, and to completed murder mystery books that are spell-checked.

            We do not see in the vast diversity of life today any organisms that are in major transitional development part-way towards some future outcome.  We presently do not see “works-in-progress.”

            Using Charles Lyell’s dictum of using the present to interpret the past in the historical sciences like geology, this present-day evidence then tells us that living organisms enter into existence with specified, refined maturity at the forward edge of their conceptual essence…functionally complete enough to smoothly fit into their biodiverse and ecologically balanced niches, to be able to survive and to reproduce “right out of the box, no assembly tools required.”

            This line of thinking is in direct contrast to the simple-to-complex ideology of scientific materialism that must, in order to plausibly work, replace intelligent agency with the gradual small steps of incremental progressive development over time, through the Darwinian mechanism of accidental, trial-and-error, unguided, and undirected naturalistic processes.

            I see the nearly saltational (miraculous) transitions of early life at 3.8 billion years ago from the single-cell bacteria to multi-cellular algae floating on top of the oceans, to the Precambrian jellyfish having 10 to 12 new and different cell types, to the radiation of new creatures with architectural body-plans having 30 to 40 different cell types during the Cambrian Explosion at 535 million years ago, throughout geologic history to our present day…always occurring at the guided and directed level of putting-out functionally mature organisms able to adapt and survive at the first moments of their introduction…factoring-in the genetic mutations that also over time put-out beneficial variant traits to be chosen by natural selection to enhance adaptation to changing environments.

            This non-Darwinian thinking encompasses large leaps in development without transitional intermediates, which empirically is the fact-based evidence in the fossil record.

            This non-Darwinian approach requires the well-timed, physical expressions of information that consistently produce fully functional living organisms…of strategically released inputs of information coming from within living cells, that could not plausibly be explained through an accidental, trial-and-error, naturalistic gradual process over long stretches of time that would be easily detectable to molecular biochemistry today.

            Because we see in the present the “miracle” of information in living cells using material molecular mechanisms to build and place the different cell types in architectural body-plans to create such diverse organisms as hawks, spiders, sea crabs, whales, wolves, and humans…conceptually we can extrapolate backwards to envision this same high quality of functionality producing new phyla types in their completed form through the introduction of massive inputs of information released according to prearranged timetables…the same quality of actualized information that can produce the architectural body-plan of the African bull elephant but also the instinctual lifestyle habit of its intimidating full-speed charge. 

            Again, this line-of-reasoning rejects the trial-and-error, incremental small steps of gradual development progressing from the simple to the complex…which is the accidental, unguided, and undirected methodology of the atheistic worldview of naturalistic materialism applied to the living and non-living world…absent intelligent agency.

            It is inconceivable that Agatha Christie would sit in front of her typewriter or laptop computer and randomly hit the keys with her eyes closed and her mind on other things, hoping through a trial-and-error, accidental process that she could produce a classic murder mystery who-done-it story.    

            It is inconceivable that the complexity and specificity we find inside living cells could be the product of random and undirected processes.

            Finally, the sequential logic of writing a book using arrows…goes from abstract information from the author→to physical ink on paper in the form of a book→to abstract information being read by the book reader.

            Another way of expressing this is to say that the “ought” of the potentially captivating storyline progresses to the actual “is” of the story in print-form, and again back to the “ought” of the unfolding story being read by the book reader late into the evening beyond bedtime.

            In a nutshell this philosophically sums up the human enterprise of scientifically investigating the natural world…encompassing the two realities of mass/energy and information.

            Even the skeptic David Hume said that the “is” of how things actually are cannot transition to the “ought” of how they should be…the actual existence of an ”is” and the moral concept of an “ought” being in two entirely different realms of reality.[1]

            Boiling this down further, another way of expressing this is to say: that the abstract information of DNA and developmental gene regulatory networks inside cells→translates into the architectural body-plan of an African bull elephant→expresses itself materially in the instinctual lifestyle habit of an intimidating elephant charge.

            In understanding how we get from biological embryonic development to full physical maturity the arrows go in only one direction…forward.

            But by adopting the program of Charles Lyell for use in the historical sciences, in which the field of biological origins belongs, the arrows describing the process can go in both directions backwards and forwards…in the same way that a published book on the shelf in a bookstore tells us that the author of it exists, but also gives us their name on the front cover of the book and the date of printing on the copyright page…pointing backwards in time when the book was in its creative writing phase.

            That there are no partially completed books for sale in bookstores, or on the bookshelves in university or public libraries…also tells us that for new books to be able to enter into the marketplace of ideas, they must be functionally complete.

            That the gradualism of unfinished projects part-way along their progressive development toward becoming fully functional, is not what we observe in the natural living and non-living world, then we can reasonably conclude that naturalistic materialism cannot be the ruling paradigm that is workable in either scientific investigation or in our philosophical worldview.

            Darwin’s brilliant extrapolation in 1859 from microevolution to macroevolution in his book The Origin of Species as an explanation for the vast diversity of life on earth…no longer works because the discovery of the complexity and specificity of information in the natural world is now recognized and understood in this modern Age of Information.

            This is how science works.  New more correct information clarifies or replaces earlier theoretical hypotheses.


[1] John Lennox: Socrates in the City in Labastide, France, Part 2, Jan. 23, 2018 on You Tube.

A Fourth Cross on Calvary Hill

“Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”                                                                                           (Heb. 12:2)  

            One of the basic messages of the Bible is that God’s ways are higher and better than our own. 

            This is one of the pivotal, fundamental lessons of the Christian experience.  Only the real, supernatural God can compose and direct circumstances in our lives that will lead to genuine, everlasting spiritual growth. 

            It is within God’s unique character-manufacturing furnace of present-time experience that He forges mature saints who can trust and follow Him.  Peter and Paul are two of the best examples of this process from scripture.

            Before the crucifixion, Peter thought (according to Peter’s understanding in the realm of the “natural man”) that Jesus was in peril from the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, and that Jesus needed Peter’s personal help for physical protection (Mt. 16:22). 

            When Peter utterly failed in this capacity, to the point that he actually denied knowing Jesus using cursing to save himself out of a difficult situation in the courtyard, Matthew 26:75 says: “And he went out, and wept bitterly.” 

            Peter was not just mildly disappointed in himself.  He thought he had failed in the critical, defining moment in his life. 

            But this was not the defining moment in Peter’s life.  God the Father knew from eternity past that Jesus would die on the cross, and that He would raise Jesus from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea.  God did not need or want Peter’s help to prevent the crucifixion of Jesus.  That was merely Peter’s best intentions according to his own thinking. 

            The critical moment that God had planned for Peter was not at the midnight trial standing alongside Jesus as a faithful companion, but on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, at the birth of the Christian church, as described in the second chapter of the book of Acts. 

            On Resurrection Day, when Peter first sees the risen Jesus (1 Cor. 15:5), Peter realizes in an instant that God did not need his well-intentioned help to guide these final events.  God did not need Peter to prevent what Peter thought would be a guaranteed negative outcome if Jesus fell into the hands of the Jewish authorities. 

            God the Father had raised and transformed the broken and mutilated body of Jesus Christ His Son from the effects of a violent death that had occurred only a few days before, into a new and glorious resurrected body.  In a moment of realization…in the light of finally understanding…it all comes together for Peter. 

            Peter thinks back upon Jesus by the lakeside, in a boat because of the press of the crowd, as He is brilliantly teaching truth like no one has ever heard before (Lk. 5:3).  Peter remembers the oversized catch of fish in the nets that nearly overturns Peter’s boat (Lk. 5:4-11), the miracle of the feeding of the thousands on the hillside (Mt. 14:15-21), Jesus walking on water (Mt. 14:22-36), the transfiguration (Mk. 9:2), lepers cleansed (Lk. 5:12-15), the blind receiving sight (Jn. 9:1-41), and the dead raised (Jn. 11:1-44). 

            When Peter intently gazes upon his risen Lord on Resurrection Day in amazement and appreciation, he cannot take his eyes off Jesus.  He realizes in a series of quick flashbacks the always up-to-the-challenge Son of God, working masterfully with the Father and the Holy Spirit through every imaginable human issue and crisis, but especially in this final, amazing, unexpected event of salvation for mankind through the bodily resurrection of Jesus after the seeming finality of death on the cross. 

            Peter realizes that Jesus had Peter’s denial in the courtyard factored into the whole process all along (Mt. 26:34).  With an enormous sense of relief, Peter now understands that his personal failure at the critical time…when under normal circumstances Jesus might have otherwise needed his support the most…that any well-meaning attempt on the part of Peter to physically protect Jesus, could not possibly have prevented or affected in any way the monumental work of salvation planned by Almighty God so long ago. 

            Peter was also resurrected to an eternal hope in that single moment of time upon first seeing the risen Jesus (1 Peter 1:3). 

            In a bright flash of spiritual light, Peter in that instant finally realized that God was infinitely bigger than he was.  Peter saw with his own eyes the capacity of God to overcome anything, no matter how hopeless, when he saw the risen Jesus. 

            This experience changed Peter forever. 

            At that moment Peter shifted his reliance from self to God.  Peter could go forward from that day onward with the rock-solid hope of a living faith, and a vessel emptied of self-reliance, to serve his Savior to the end of his life. 

            This is how Peter was able to stand up before thousands of people in the center of Jerusalem during the celebration of Pentecost, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and not through his natural leadership ability and bold personality, to successfully proclaim the truth that Jesus was indeed the Christ of God.      

            Peter’s prior overconfident statement, before Gethsemane, that even though all other men might forsake Jesus, that Peter under no circumstances would forsake Him (Mt. 26:33), revealed a person who was still partially self-led.  Peter was talking out of his un-crucified self-in-charge nature, and this led to bitter spiritual defeat. 

            Peter, in the courtyard of Caiaphas the High Priest, was not operating “in the narrow gate” (Mt. 7:13-14) of listening to and following the Holy Spirit, as an apostle of Jesus Christ should.  Trouble found and exposed a vulnerable flaw in Peter, because self was still in-charge in this instance. 

            The character transforming lesson of Peter’s denial of Jesus in the courtyard, and the loving forgiveness he experienced in his personal interview with Jesus on Resurrection Day, changed Peter from self-led failure to a Spirit-led overcomer.  Peter’s encounter with the risen Christ is an example of experiential faith that actualized into spiritual victory.

            Rewinding these events backwards in time, Peter could have faithfully and courageously stood at the side of Jesus, as he said he would, and been condemned to death as a follower of Jesus. 

            Peter would then have occupied the fourth cross on the hill of Calvary that Passover Day. 

            But God the Father had a much different plan for Peter. 

            How infinitely better and more exciting would it be, to be filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and to stand up before thousands of people in Jerusalem and preach powerfully about both the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ the Messiah (Acts 2:14-36)? 

            How much more exciting would it be to bring Tabitha back to life (Acts 9:40), or to heal the crippled man at the gate to the Temple (Acts 3:7), or to participate in the revival in Samaria (Acts 8:14-25), or be preaching to the Gentiles when the Pentecost “gift of the Holy Spirit” was poured out on them as well (Acts 10:44-48), or be miraculously released by an angel in the dead of night from Herod’s prison (Acts 12:7-11)? 

            How much better was God’s plan for Peter than what Peter had in mind for himself prior to the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane?  To what purpose would a fourth cross on Calvary, bearing Peter, have served? 

            According to historical tradition, Peter was eventually crucified in Rome, sometime in the early to middle 60’s A.D.  Peter was finally crucified physically, but not before living a full life in service to his Lord Jesus Christ according to the much higher plans of God.

The Narrow Gate for Paul (Mt. 7:13-14)

            Paul’s appeal to Caesar in Acts 25:11 is another excellent biblical example of God’s foresight and intervention in guiding the fine details of the lives of people who are in the midst of a walk of faith with Jesus Christ. 

            Paul is under arrest in Caesarea for the tumultuous uproar that occurred in Jerusalem.  Paul does not know that the sympathetic Roman ruler, King Agrippa, will arrive in Caesarea in the near future.  Agrippa apparently would have released Paul (Acts 26:32). 

            The Jewish authorities want Paul to be returned to Jerusalem for trial.  Paul knows that there are forty Jews sworn to attack his escort of Roman soldiers conducting him back to Jerusalem, but even if Paul makes it safely back, any hearing in Jerusalem would be prejudicial against him. 

            But Festus, the Roman official having jurisdiction over Caesarea, suggests in an open hearing, for political reasons, that Paul be brought to Jerusalem to be judged before Festus regarding the accusations against Paul.  Before Agrippa arrives, Paul has no choice but to appeal to Caesar.

            This is a fascinating and instructive development in the story of Paul.  It provides all Christians with a window into how God works in our lives if we will follow Him completely and not lose faith. 

            As events narrowly unfold in this account of Paul in Caesarea, Paul is compelled to appeal to Caesar for a hearing in Rome.  This changes the entire nature of the ministry of Paul from being a man of action…planting new churches in Asia Minor…to a man with quiet time to contemplate and compose the upcoming “prison epistles” written while in Rome (Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians). 

            At this late stage in Paul’s career, more new churches in Greece and Italy are probably not needed.  History shows that the number of churches in existence when Paul set-off for Jerusalem for the last time, were enough in number and quality to create a strong foothold for the spread of Christianity in the first-century. 

            If left up to Paul, he would have continued to faithfully pursue his original calling, traveling and planting new churches in Greece, Italy, and he hoped even in Spain (Rom. 15:24).  But it was the God-appointed quiet time in Caesarea and in Rome that enabled the writing of these crucial last epistles to the churches that completed his inspired New Testament contribution of Christian doctrines and practices. 

            It is also this abrupt change in plans that provides the narrative story for the distinctly different final four chapters in the book of Acts, providing us with a look into the customs of Roman public hearings, an ancient shipwreck, and Luke’s unfinished history of Paul in Rome that enables conservative scholars to date the ending of the book of Acts as a milestone event sometime in the early to middle 60’s A.D. 

            This has enormous apologetic value in validating the authenticity of the New Testament gospels in relation to the activities of Paul, placing the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts so close to the time of the ministry of Jesus as to remove the possibility of legendary development or exaggeration entering into the New Testament. 

            It took God intervening in the situations and circumstances during this period of Paul’s detention in Caesarea for this change-in-mission to occur.  Through these tightly inter-related events, God closed one door and opened another door in the ministry of Paul.  

            The lesson here for every Christian is that no matter how fierce are the winds and the seas of the storm of circumstances around us, the eye of the hurricane is in the center of God’s will.  God sets up, guides, and molds events in the life of Paul, above anything that Paul could manufacture on his own, which results in the optimum final outcome for a life that is totally and completely surrendered to Jesus.    

            What is uniquely instructive about this episode in the life of Paul is that after this final visit to Jerusalem, he is under Roman arrest for most of his remaining years.  Not only is solitude imposed upon him for the purpose of quiet reflection about all that he has learned and experienced, but Paul is also made safe from the external threat of harm that he daily lived with while he was out on the road, from the Jews or from any of his other enemies.  Tradition does say that Paul was released for some period of time in Rome between a first and second imprisonment. 

            But from Caesarea onward, Paul was for the most part within God’s bubble of protection through the use of Roman officials and the Roman judicial system.  Paul could not be safer (other than eventual martyrdom by Nero around 62-65 A.D.) in the Roman world of the first century than to be under house arrest in Rome in the care of a Roman soldier.  Paul no longer had to worry about hostile Jews from a previous city showing up suddenly, with deadly intentions, in the city he was currently ministering in (Acts 13:50; Acts 14:5; Acts 14:19; Acts 17:5; Acts 17:13; Acts 18:12; Acts 19:26). 

            Through the clarity of hindsight, we see that God accomplished two things at the same time…first a change in the nature of the ministry of Paul…and second in the protective environment for Paul to compose his final letters to the churches. 

            This is a clear-cut demonstration of the narrow gate that Jesus is referring to in Matthew 7:13-14.  It is an example of the benefits and outcomes that God would like to perform in our lives through experiential faith.  

The Character Manufacturing Furnace

            Nearly every Christian can look backwards in time and say: “Now I understand why God took me through that trial.”  Every Christian looks forward to the future with hope that we will improve as people and that things will get better. 

            It is the present time that we all have difficulty with.[1]  Knowing, without a doubt, that we have surrendered and yielded our lives to Jesus Christ, and that the present situations and circumstances in our lives are not an accident but are in the control of God, is a mark of the mature Christian.  The mature Christian can apply every line of Psalm 23, along with David, with full assurance and confidence to their lives.

            In-the-moment, present-time situations and circumstances is the furnace where Christian character is manufactured (Jas. 1:2-4). 

            Our self-in-charge natures will not venture anywhere near the character-manufacturing furnace.  Self-in-charge is terrified of the risk of potential failure that is associated with this furnace. 

            In the furnace of present-time, in-the-moment situations and circumstances, the issues are so important according to outward appearances that a real spiritual test is set up. 

            Is God reliable enough to place my faith in as the Lord and Sovereign King of my life, in the present-time circumstances, or do I have to take matters into my own hands because the issues are simply too important to trust to anyone but myself alone (1 Sam. 13:12)? 

            This is a fundamental, pivotal issue of faith outlined for us throughout the Bible.  Gideon was in the present moment when he went to battle with 300 men against tens of thousands of the enemy.  David was hunted by Saul in-the-moment.  Queen Esther made her decision to risk personal safety, in-the-moment, in approaching the King and opposing Haman to save her people from destruction. 

            God told the young prophet Jeremiah not to be afraid of the countenance of the people’s faces when Jeremiah delivered God’s message to them, thus declaring plainly that it took some courage on Jeremiah’s part to be God’s spokesman.  This challenge for Jeremiah occurred in-the-moment. 

            In the New Testament, Peter and John defending themselves before the Sanhedrin in Acts 5:29-32, had the very real risk of being stoned to death like Stephen a few chapters later (Acts 7:58-59). 

            These accounts are all variations of the central question of the reliability of God’s character in the fiery trial.  These people all put their faith and trust in God…in-the-moment of their present-time circumstances…thus declaring that they believed that the character of God was trustworthy.

            The Holy Spirit is charged with the task of taking us to the character manufacturing furnace of personally tailored situations and circumstances, but only if our self-in-control nature is subordinate to the will and plans of God. 

            Any attempt to skirt around the Christian character manufacturing furnace is self-deceiving.  Certainly God is not fooled.  God is only dismayed and hurt that we do not trust Him enough to let go of self-in-control.  When we exercise faith and trust in God in the present-time, no matter what is happening or how bleak the circumstances look, we are saying we believe in the goodness and reliability of God’s character.

            The furnace of in-the-moment situations and circumstances is always a test of character, both God’s and ours. 

            This is where the value of a real relationship with the living God rises to the fore.  It is not some homogenized, new-age diluted humanistic slogan like “let go, let god.” 

            People who say and teach these kinds of cleverly reduced, cheerleader-type motivational phrases generally have no actual intention of stepping down off the thrones of their lives and following the Holy Spirit into real-life circumstances that require genuine release and trust in the one living God. 

            The cross is difficult.  Death to self-in-charge is not easy. 

            Whether it is financial challenges, family issues, health struggles, or the opposition of people to our Christian ministry, God will set up the issues in our lives specifically to create this furnace of character manufacturing for our spiritual growth. 

            That is why the outward appearances of some of these situations and circumstances are frightening and terrifying.  Without the genuine challenge of real consequences that matter, the decision to follow God would be too easy.  If the Christian life went perfectly smooth from beginning to end, we would never learn anything about ourselves, about eternal truths, or about God.   


[1] Bob Mumford, Fifteen Steps Out (South Plainfield, NJ: Bridge Publishing, Inc.) 5-7

God’s Optimum Training Program

“I council thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with salve, that thou mayest see.  As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore, and repent.”                                                                                           (Rev. 3:18-19)                      

            A truly great high school football coach who cares about his players will work them hard during the late summer two-a-day conditioning drills.  The football team that is heading toward a successful season can be heard groaning and complaining about the coach’s tough training methods and seemingly impossible standards for the entire six to eight weeks leading up to the first game of the regular season. 

            It is only after the team takes the field and discovers that they are well prepared to play high-quality football that they can look back at their coach’s emphasis on physical conditioning and the constant repetition of the same basic plays over and over again until they finally got them right. 

            The character lessons these players learned from their coach, about how to approach a particular challenge with intensity of purpose, hard work, and a will to never quit, often last them throughout their lifetimes, long after they stop playing football. 

            A God who asks little of us cannot have much of an impact upon our lives…and can never be considered great. 

            A compromised message from the pulpit tailored to please people will never inspire the type of commitment that will produce excellence of character in us. 

            A book like this one, on the subject of the second half of the cross…to have real value must inspire committed Christians to continue forward on their present journey of faith, and to jolt less dedicated Christians out of complacency. 

            The story of the Bible is God’s call to people to give their best, to surrender all to Jesus Christ in trust and faith. 

            God is a spiritual coach who demands the very best, by setting up a rigorous training program of situations and circumstances for our benefit.  He does this because He loves us enough to want to see us victorious on the playing field in the actual game of life. 

            Dumbing-down and diluting the Christian experience to a more comfortable level, results only in mediocrity.  The Holy Spirit would never inspire or condone “Christianity Light” (Acts 4:8).  God is not and never has been interested in producing mediocre saints.  That is why He gave us outstanding natural talents, abilities, and capacities, like His own.  God created us in His image.  That is why God says to us “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16).

            God is the great playbook writer of the lives of faith portrayed in the Bible.  The reason that God wants to compose the playbooks for our lives is that He wants to set up a regimen of spiritual training where we can be challenged to give our all…the very best we have to give. 

            In the area of assimilating godliness, which we initially know nothing about, we need a demanding coach to set up the program and to push us to our limits. 

            We won’t reach excellence in the area of Christ-like character on our own.  Like learning to play championship football as a team, or learning to play classical piano at an advanced level, we need someone who is more knowledgeable than ourselves to show us the way and to push us toward a greater effort and a higher outcome. 

            The truly great teachers, coaches, and role models in our lives obtain our total commitment to do our best because we sense that their demanding standards are based upon the fact that they really care about our development as people. 

            The respect and sense of worth that is shown toward us through a coach or a teacher, who cares enough about us to demand our very best effort, will often inspire us to perform at our highest level for a lifetime.

            Jesus said that He is the way, the truth, and the life.  Jesus is telling us here that He has the winning play-book, and that He is the Championship Coach.  Only God knows what it takes to have godly character.  If we will join the team, and not quit, God will set-up a tough spiritual training program for us. 

            God does this because He cares about us.  Like an inspiring college professor, a demanding high school athletic coach, or a respected parent, we will find ourselves wanting to please God and get His approval in everything we do. 

            That is the greatness of Jesus Christ. 

            Jesus inspires a life-long commitment to excellence in the course of our life.  God takes people like Abraham, Joseph, David, and Paul, and transforms them into people with spiritual character and power in the areas of life that really matter. 

            Abraham becomes the father of faith, Joseph leads the nation of Egypt through seven years of famine, David becomes a godly king, and Paul evangelizes the Mediterranean world. 

            These are the world-class results when God is our coach and we submit ourselves to His program of spiritual conditioning and training.

The Easy Route Won’t Produce Results

            When we pick up our cross and are following Jesus, God is intimately involved with our spiritual training program.  The cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ set up this initial beneficial environment.  Through Jesus, man can re-establish fellowship with God with a fresh start as new creatures in Christ. 

            God the Father looks at us through Christ.  Christians are sinless in the sight of God the Father through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross, so that we can experience a walk of faith through the situations and circumstances God composes for the believer in this life. 

            This program of spiritual training is extremely important to God.  In the Old Testament, God was constantly fine-tuning, changing, and using the outward political environment to get the Israelites back into a relationship of trust and faith in Him. 

            The various challenges of invading foreign armies, temporary military occupations of their homeland by surrounding nations, the powerful messages of prophets sent by God, and the Babylonian captivity, constantly re-established the correct environment for trust and faith in God for the Israelites during their long history. 

            The letters to the churches in the New Testament are designed to keep Christians within the purity of an environment of faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

            As always, Satan attempts to get Christians off course by subverting and attacking the God-composed environment created for faith and trust to operate.  Satan’s strategy is a straight-on attack at the very program that God sets up in this physical world designed for the people of faith to discover His love and His care.

            If Satan incites the Midianites to attack Israel, God responds with the calling of Gideon and the uniquely creative plan of the counter-attack with the 300 Israelite soldiers.  This re-established an environment in Israel for active faith in God. 

            If Satan incites the Philistines to invade Israel and defy the God of the Jews through a warrior champion like Goliath, God counters with the raising up…seemingly out of nowhere…of a courageous young man named David. 

            David kills the giant with one sling-shot stone perfectly aimed into the forehead of Goliath.  This starts in motion a process to establish the reign of a godly king in Israel that sets up the environment for the Jewish nation to again exercise trust and reliance upon God.

            The scriptures tell us that Satan desired to “sift” Peter during the faith-testing period of the arrest and trial of Jesus (Lk. 22:31), to destroy Peter forever in self-incrimination and despair over failing to remain true and faithful to Jesus at the critical moment.  Satan successfully uses the unfamiliar, intimidating surroundings of the home of Caiaphas the high priest, as an unanticipated and underestimated new environment for Peter, who utterly fails in courage to acknowledge Jesus before a group of people assembled around a fire in the exterior courtyard. 

            Yet God counters by using this very same crushing defeat in Peter’s life to create a life-changing, positive character transformation in Peter, from previously being foolishly self-confident and self-reliant…to becoming humbly and wisely reliant upon the Holy Spirit for the remainder of his life.

            Satan attempts to discourage and weaken Paul’s resolve for service by inciting a near-death stoning of Paul by the Jews at Lystra.  Satan tries to bring disruption and doubt into Paul’s calling, to bring in an element of fear and possibly unforgiving resentment and bitterness toward the Jews into Paul’s God-inspired program of evangelizing the Greco-Roman world. 

            Instead, this failed attempt by Satan to attack the ministry of Paul… probably only created more spiritual freedom in Paul’s outlook.             

            From that time forward Paul could consider that he was now operating on borrowed time.  Paul had looked a horrible death square in the face, and got up and carried on. 

            If Jesus Christ could raise Paul up from this stoning experience at Lystra, what more could Paul have to fear from opposition to his ministry?  Paul could look at each current threat and say to himself that he already experienced far worse and had survived. 

            But on a deeper level, 1 John 4:18 says: “but perfect love casteth out fear.”  This extreme physical attack upon Paul did not dampen his love for his Jewish brethren (Rom. 9:1-3). 

            Paul exhibits fearless ministry in perfect love (within human limits) throughout his calling to evangelize the first-century world, because Paul stayed faithfully within the rigorous training environment that Jesus Christ set-up for him.  No matter what was occurring in the natural realm in terms of the deadly malice and hatred of the opposition, Paul remained steadfast.

            These are all examples of a great, championship-quality Coach instilling the high standards of character and preparedness that produce victory on the field of play.

            The greatest harm that man can do to the ways of God is to tinker with the training environment of faith that God sets up. 

            Mankind is constantly trying to replace the spiritual training program of a walk of faith with God, with empty religious practices that homogenize, sanitize, and nullify the environment of situations and circumstances whereby God can interact with faithful believers. 

            This occurred throughout the Bible.  It starts with the lethal contrast between Cain and Abel.  Cain wants to change the rules to suit his ideas.  Cain wants to do things his way, with deadly tragic consequences. 

            In the New Testament, replacing God’s ways with our ways is one of the underlying causes of the lethal differences between the Jewish religious rulers…and Jesus…which culminated in the crucifixion of Jesus the Son of God. 

            There is no basis for the extreme outcome of the crucifixion of Jesus…the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of man…if there are not stubborn and hard-hearted hypocrites sitting in the seats of power as religious and political rulers in Jerusalem. 

            The religious leaders of that day, and Jesus and His disciples, are in two totally different realities…two different character-building programs…two different spiritual “training camps” that are worlds apart.  This difference is what fueled the tension that finally resulted in the crucifixion of Jesus.

            The Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and lawyers did not submit themselves to the spiritual equivalent of the grueling two-a-day August workouts that typically lead up to the start of the high school football season, orchestrated by a demanding coach getting his team into top physical shape to be winners on the football field. 

            The ministry of Jesus Christ exposed the fact that they had not gone through God’s spiritual training program.  Otherwise, they would have recognized the voice of God their divine Coach during the Sermon on the Mount.  They would have been conspicuous within the listening crowd of people…with heads nodding up and down in agreement with what Jesus was teaching, walking in amongst the audience patting people on the back and encouraging them to listen to what Jesus was saying. 

            Instead, Luke 11:52 reads: “Woe unto you, lawyers!  For ye have taken away the key of knowledge; ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.” 

            The ministry and teaching of Jesus exposed the fact that these religious leaders were outside of the uncompromising environment of faith that God sets up for the benefit of all. 

            Jesus exposed the Pharisees and scribes as unskilled and untrained players, posing as qualified players in the starting line-up on the field, and they killed Him for this (Mt. 27:18).         

            When the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John the Baptist at the river Jordan, John said “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bring forth, therefore, fruits befitting repentance” (Mt. 3:7-8). 

            In other words, John the Baptist said “show that you are genuine athletes prepared for real play on the field, and not just pretenders and frauds wanting to wear the uniform during the game, and wanting to walk around campus wearing the varsity jacket during the week.”

            The context of situations and circumstances in which God sets up faith and trust to operate, is not a matter to be taken lightly.  God and Satan are in a constant spiritual battle over who controls the territory of the environment of situations and circumstances.

            The Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt, and the method of preparation for them to be able to conquer their promised land, is a straightforward biblical example of this concept. 

            God took Israel out of the context of Egypt and into the Sinai desert.  God changed the environment altogether.  In the desert God had more exclusive access and control of outward situations and circumstances to craft lessons of trust and reliance upon Him.  The external issues for the Israelites in the desert were narrowed down to the basics…food, water, and getting the memory of Egyptian idol worship out of their thinking. 

            In the desert God was able to get the undivided attention of the Israelites, and to get them trained in the spiritual areas of trust and reliance upon Him, so that they would follow Him and Joshua into the all-important impending military battles. 

            God did not want the Israelites to be terrified at the first sight of warfare.  God wanted the Israelites to march forward into battle with determined resolve and courage, for their own benefit and welfare.  God’s demanding and challenging training methods with the Israelites, at the very real risk to Himself of becoming temporarily unpopular, proved to be of the highest championship quality. 

            Satan, by contrast in this environment of the Sinai desert, had fewer tangible outward opportunities to work with.  The usual glittering worldly temptations and allurements were not present in the desert.  Spiritual military “boot-camp” provided fewer openings for Satan to operate within.

            One of the fallacies that should be addressed as we approach the upcoming end-times is the idea that just because we are born-again Christians, God is satisfied with spiritually out-of-shape and overweight players on His team. 

            This idea of a soft brand of Christianity is not biblical. 

            Every born-again Christian will be raptured when the time comes, regardless of what shape we are in.  The thief crucified next to Jesus, who that very day would be in paradise with Him, with no future opportunity to live out his new faith on earth, tells us that salvation is entirely by grace through faith… and not conditioned upon works. 

            But the idea that Jesus Christ will not set-up a rigorous training environment to get us all into top spiritual shape before the end, whatever particular eschatology the end-times may entail, needs some serious re-thinking within contemporary Christendom. 

            This current environment of earth is a one-time, non-repeating event.  The end-time is the last “football” season for all eternity.  Jesus Christ will not allow His team to go out with a losing final season, because we were out-of-shape, unprepared, and poorly coached. 

            The perfect, divine coach Jesus Christ unselfishly loves each one of us too much to allow that to happen. 

God Has Our Back

“But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”  (1 Cor. 2:10)

            God has our back in a crisis.  The only way we would know this for sure is by actual experience, by being in the middle of a shooting war.  

            This has to be true, because it cannot be fiction.  It does not hold up as fiction.  Once it rises to the level of becoming recorded in writing, put down on paper, it enters the arena of being universally testable and falsifiable over time. 

            The interaction between the living God and David, memorialized forever in David’s 23rd Psalm, is true because it cannot be otherwise…it cannot be fictional writing.  Once David writes about walking through the valley of the shadow of death with God at his side, then fiction-writing as the source of its inspiration and origin becomes nonsensical. 

            The uniquely biblical concept of the living God participating in our lives to this extent of personal interaction…at the very center of our life-scripts…is too far outside of the default, conventional worldview thinking of sitting atop the thrones of our lives in self-sovereignty to make the huge leap across to the other side of the spectrum in placing our lives on-the-line in sacrificially following, through a journey of faith, the living God.

            According to worldly conventional normalcy and thinking, David should be telling us how great and powerful he is, not about successful faith in God, because self-adulation surrounding his achievements would be the normally expected outer limits, the extent of his possible experience.

            What would be the point, the motivation, the source of inspiration for David making this Psalm 23 up…if the actual boundaries of human experience stop at the edge of self-sovereignty, self-reliance, and autonomous individualism? 

            Following God into an adventure of faith would not hold water, would not stand-up, for any period of time within actual lived experience unless God is real and that we can experience His active participation in our lives.

            Religious “faith” that is still rooted in self-reliance and self-rulership is not biblical faith.  Biblical faith will connect us with the real God who according to the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible will displace our ways with a higher life-script that reflects His higher ways and thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9).

            This is the root of what was so threatening to the religious leaders in Jerusalem in the first-century that led to crucifying Jesus Christ, a line of reasoning revisited several times in more detail throughout this book. 

            The religious leaders in Jerusalem were exposed by Jesus as being blind hypocrites, as being fraudulent religionists. 

            They said they were the authorized representatives of God (Jn. 8:33, 39, 41) when in fact they were the deadliest enemies of applied biblical faith. 

            They were firmly committed to the default worldview of self-sovereign self-rulership, of maintaining complete control over their lives to the point of instigating the death of Jesus through Roman crucifixion, in order to remove the threat of having to surrender this self-guided, self-sovereign status quo (Jn. 11:47-48). 

            They knew roughly about biblical faith, had been exposed to it as they studied the Hebrew Bible, but did not want any part of it themselves (Lk. 11:39-54).    

            This is a component of the “mystery” of iniquity, the conflict between self-sovereignty and God-sovereignty in our lives that produced the radical outcomes of the cross, the resurrection, and our salvation, which again is analyzed and discussed throughout this book from many angles and in more detail.

            The risk-factor involved in the novelty of voluntarily and willingly walking through a genuine journey of faith following the living God is on its own powerful and persuasive evidence that supports the divine origin of the Bible.  As human invented literary fiction the concept of God-sovereignty displacing our self-sovereignty…as imaginary fictional invention…cannot and would not exist for any length of time in real practice. 

            Minutes, hours, or days of actual tested experience would quickly expose this concept, if fiction, as empty fantasy and be discarded as functionally worthless.

            If God is in actuality “not home,” then His brilliantly imaginative solutions in the biblical narrative stories of faith, that soar above human creativity and invention would not only be inaccessible as real experience to be recorded as life-history on paper…they would also be beyond the creative imagination of human contemplation altogether. 

            David or some other writer inventing the 23rd Psalm as fiction has no motivational or conceptual legs to stand on.  It does not take us anywhere within worldly conventional normalcy and thinking. 

            A real journey of faith following the living God, as recorded in the Bible is inconceivable and incomprehensible to a person committed to following their own way according to self-rulership.

            This dichotomy of worldviews…two different approaches to life as unmixable as oil and water…should be an obvious red-flag jolt to anyone involved in the debate over the existence of God. 

            The fundamental first question, like the causal explanation of the Big Bang, is what or who is the source of the completely novel and innovative, alternative worldview of a God-composed journey of faith life-script starting with the life of Abraham, continued through all of the biblical narrative stories of faith?

            What explains the origin of this consistent storyline pattern in the Bible of  the cross of Christ (Lk. 22:42) continuing down to contemporary Christian experience in our modern times that is so utterly contrary to the conventionality of the accepted life-approach of going our own way in self-reliance and self-autonomy?  

            In modern speech a biblical-quality adventure of faith, if it is fiction, if it is false, then it would be a “non-starter”…it would have no “there/there.”  It would be without tangible, supportive substance. 

            If there is no active engagement between God and people…then there is nothing extraordinary, unconventional, or supernatural to write about…nothing that could “get-off the ground” and sustain air-born flight. 

            This is why God-composed adventures of faith life-scripts having God displacing our ways with His higher ways are non-existent in other religions, philosophies, and worldviews, outside of the Bible. 

            This is why biblical adventures of faith fall far outside of and above the zone of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking.

            This dichotomy of two distinct worldviews delineated exclusively in the Bible and miles apart in their practical application to human purpose and meaning in life, is a major, commonsense apologetic argument for the divine origin of Old Testament Judaism and New Testament Christianity. 

            It is never raised by atheists and skeptical critics because they cannot even see it as a target to attack in scripture, as a debatable talking point.

            It can only be raised by Spirit-born and Spirit-led Christians who have themselves been in the danger zone of faith in a “shooting war” that has real consequences in life, because people personally led and taught of God are the only people on the planet aware of this reality.

            The idea that God-scripted life-plans fall so far outside of conventional thinking is itself a compelling and persuasive argument for the truth of their divine origin, because this unique genre is inexplicable as humanistically invented, literary fiction.

            If Christians do not see the unconventionality of the cross of Christ skillfully embedded within the script of every biblical narrative story of faith, because they have not experienced God having our back in a crisis, then this positive and compelling apologetic argument for the divine origin of an adventure of faith…completely unknown outside of the Bible…will not be made. 

            It will be missed in the competing marketplace of ideas.

            This is the dual choice we all have as cognitive beings having free-will to follow God down an adventurous path of discovery…or to go our own way in self-lead, conventional normalcy and thinking.

Repentance and the Vehicle of a Fallen Nature

            The blood that Jesus Christ shed on the cross covers my sins past, present, and future through the uniquely biblical reality of grace through faith.

            But when I became a Spirit-born Christian at age 18, I was not instantly transformed into a perfectly virtuous moral person. 

            After the night I asked Jesus Christ into my life, I did become a noticeably changed and better person now having hope, direction, and a new purpose for living…but in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead I was and still am occupying my fallen, imperfect moral nature.

            This is such a universally commonplace experience for the people of faith in the Bible, and for Christians throughout the past two thousand years, that we take it for granted without much thought.   

            But we can and should ask the probing question of why it is the case that within the biblical narrative stories of faith, without exception other than the life-script for Jesus Christ the Son of God, each God-composed journey of faith life-script combines a divinely crafted mission-plan being experienced and performed by people occupying imperfect moral natures.

            We quickly assign this to the notion that we are simply “human” and leave it there.

            Paul “complains” about this reality in Romans 7:15-25, then supplies the brilliant answer in Romans 8:1 that opens up one of the deepest concepts within the human marketplace of ideas, and validates a walk of faith following Jesus Christ as being a creation of God outside of human literary invention: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

            A concept that I think has near equal importance with the re-discovery by Martin Luther of salvation by grace through faith that launched the Protestant Reformation is the verse: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” (2 Cor. 4:7).

            The entirely biblical but revolutionary concept here that becomes empirical experience through God-composed journey of faith life-scripts, overlaid and inserted into the events and circumstances of our lives as Christian believers…is that the redemptive salvation through Christ enables me to enter into a risk-filled journey of faith with impunity and without the threat of jeopardizing the eternal security of my salvation through falling short of perfect moral performance.

            The reality of the connection of the verses 2 Corinthians 4:7, Romans 7:15-8:4, John 8:36, and Matthew 5:6 give us a scriptural roadmap that reveals the divine brilliance of God in being able to flip our imperfect fallen nature into the very vehicle needed to venture-out into this fallen world to explore and discover the knowledge of good and evil…to utilize this current environment as the research program to be able to understand the subtle nuances of the broad array of moral concepts within the knowledge of good and evil.

            This has enormous implications for appreciating the moral difference between belief and unbelief, because this uniquely divine set-up of a research program exploring this fallen world through a fallen imperfect nature, is only and exclusively accessible through the repentance of first acknowledging our fallen sinful nature.

            The detailed life-scripts of Abraham through Paul (not excluding Enoch and Noah) cannot be experienced without first allowing God to displace our ways with His higher ways and thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9)…which starts with the honest admission that we have a fallen, imperfect moral nature that needs the redemptive salvation touch of the God of the Bible personally participating in our lives.

            If we stop to think about it, the timeless foresight of God is so brilliant that He can take the negative outcome of the fall in the Garden of Eden and flip it into the four-wheel drive vehicle that can take us through the rough terrain of this world into a first-hand knowledge of good and evil…that merely eating a piece of forbidden fruit could never actualize into an empirical reality…which probably forms most of the reason why God told Adam and Eve to not eat this fruit in the first place.

            The words of God and His motivations that were slandered by the serpent, turns out to have the highest imaginable purpose and meaning in this current universe and for all time into eternity, as seen in the divine capacity of the God of the Bible to take this negative event and craft it into a positive…in flipping my imperfect moral nature into the means and method to understand the knowledge of good and evil…in the only way that will stick to my ribs like warm oatmeal cereal as my mother used to say on cold winter mornings before we went off to school.

            That this research program could only and exclusively be accessible through repentance…of the ability to admit that we can be wrong and the willingness to do an “about-face” and turn around, separates the divine origin of the Bible from worldly conventional normalcy and thinking by a gulf as wide apart as the Grand Canyon.

Non-Racial Anti-Tribalism is at the Core of the New Testament

            Virtue from the biblical perspective has nothing to do with race, nationality, or place of origin.

            Ultra-conservatives would like to keep America racially white, to keep white people in the voting majority which implies that only white people can be virtuous citizens.

            Ultra-conservatives are welcome to their opinion, but this viewpoint is as unchristian as is imaginable.

            The Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-20) at the beginning of the new Christian church is race-neutral by divinely timeless foresight and intention (Gen. 12:3; Isa. 42:6; Jn. 3:16, 4:9-10, 8:5, 8:26-29, 10:34-35, 22:21: Rom. 3:29).

            The name given to the believers in the church at Antioch of being first called Christians is a name that is universally race-neutral and nationality-free (Acts 11:26).

            But the small nation of Israel in a rough and unwelcoming neighborhood must remain culturally intact for roughly 1,400 years until the arrival of Jesus Christ the Passover Lamb of God atoning sacrifice for sins in the first-century, which on a practical level requires the Jews to not mix or intermarry with the people of the surrounding countries. 

            The Jews cannot allow their religious and cultural heritage to be diluted by mixing with the surrounding pagan cultures, or the positive context for the cultural explosion of the forerunner John the Baptist (Isa. 40:3-5; Mal. 3:1; Mt. 11:10-14; Lk. 1:17), the ministry of Jesus, the cross and resurrection, and the rapid growth of Christianity coming out of Jerusalem…would not be the extremely fine-tuned environment needed to inaugurate redemptive salvation as it actualizes for new covenant believers around the world to this present day.

            But this was not supposed to morph downward into the self-righteousness of parochial tribalism, of prejudicially looking down our nose at other people…which unfortunately was the social dichotomy between Jews and Gentiles at the start of the new Christian church (Acts 11:1-3, 17, 19-26, 22:21-23).  

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Rom. 3:10).

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23).

            Saul/Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-1-6) is designed to remove the Judaic prejudicial tribalism against the pagan, idol-worshipping, polytheistic Greeks and Romans.  This event is a variation of the miracle that occurred on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit is poured-out on the disciples, at the very time that peoples from all over the Mediterranean region were present, listed in Acts 2 as worshippers of God gathered together on that festival day (Acts 2:9-11).

            To successfully carry-out his evangelical mission to the first-century Greco-Roman world, Paul must be free of any self-righteous condescension towards the clearly mistaken Gentiles in worshipping dumb idols.

            Paul must painfully discover his own entirely wrong viewpoint regarding the person of Jesus of Nazareth, along with his mistaken colleagues back in Jerusalem in not only opposing the new Christian church, but in persecuting the church to the extent of arresting Christians and putting some to death.

            In order to be rid of his racial, religious, and cultural prejudice against the Gentiles which was a normal part of his Jewish upbringing and shared by every highly educated Pharisee in Jerusalem at the beginning of the Great Commission outreach to the larger world, the radically extreme turnaround needed for Paul was to discover that as a Pharisee his rejection of Jesus Christ as Messiah was far worse than the misguided idol-worship of false gods practiced by the Gentiles.

            To successfully fulfill his created destiny, the apostle Paul not only needed to broaden his horizon as to the divine nature of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel, but also incredibly to include a new prejudicial and positive bias towards the Gentiles he will soon be called to evangelize.  

            Paul realized in his divine encounter at Damascus that he of all people should have known better…that of course the long-awaited coming Messiah could also be the Passover Lamb of God atoning sacrifice for sin (Ps. 22; Isa. 53), and the unmerited yet instantaneous forgiveness of God towards him by grace through faith could then just as quickly be applied to the Gentiles through belief and acceptance of the gospel message of salvation through the cross and the resurrection of Christ.

            Improved virtue of character is obtainable by anyone regardless of race, nationality, or place of origin…through faith placed in Jesus Christ as Savior (Rom. 1:16-17, 2:10-11, 3:22, 4:16, 4:24, 8:1-4, 10:9-13).

            Racial prejudice in America is unchristian and unscriptural in the most injurious way to Christian evangelism.  It introduces a negative opinion of the worth and value of other people created in the image of God, that as Christians we of all people are not entitled to make.

            Whites, Blacks, Mexican-Americans, Latinos, Asians, and any other races are equally capable of virtuous citizenship in America because all human beings according to scripture are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27).

            From an evangelical perspective, every person is capable of freely choosing to trust the God of the Bible, listen in the Spirit, and enter into a God-composed journey of faith life-script after the pattern of the biblical narrative stories of faith.

            Other peoples and cultures around the world can certainly engage in promoting and practicing the concept of extending value and worth to all people regardless of race, gender, nationality, and place of origin.

            But Spirit-born Christians have a divine mandate to throw-off racial prejudice and negative bias if we are to successfully fulfill our calling of the Great Commission in the end-times.  

Purpose and the Cross

            No writer in the history of literature has ever attempted to create a fictional character absolutely devoid of purpose.  Like reaching absolute zero temperature, creating an absolute vacuum, or producing the conditions for motion having zero friction…humans cannot conceive of a literary character having absolute zero purpose. 

            A person without purpose is a fiction beyond our imagination.  Every human being on the planet cares about someone or something, to some extent.  This aspect of our world, in which every person has some measure of purpose, whatever its direction or quality, should come as a surprise to us.

            But this is another of the many features of our present reality that we just accept and take totally for granted.

            This reality regarding purpose can be used as an apologetic argument for the existence of God.  Acknowledge even the smallest quantity of purpose in the recipe for meaningful human life…and this then requires a reasonably plausible explanation for where purpose comes from. 

            This is one of the philosophical inconsistencies inherent in skeptical unbelief.

            But purpose and meaning in life go much deeper than this.  The old proverb: “Do as I say, not as I do” reveals an inconsistency in all human behavior. 

            A common notion among many people is that we typically live around 75 or 80 years, then die, are buried, and this covers all there is to reality. 

            But if this were true in a purely absolute sense…if taken to its logical extreme…then people would live in total detachment and disinterest about anyone or anything.  If we are made up solely of atoms, molecules, and quantum energy, then existence should be a cold, empty, emotionless, absolute zero-purpose reality having no caring, no passion, and no meaning. 

            The one thing that is absolutely consistent about the application of purpose in our lives, is that none of us are absolutely consistent. 

            Christians are accurately criticized by the skeptical world of unbelief for not living up to the high standards of Christ.  Admittedly, Christians do not practice what they preach perfectly.  But neither does anyone else. 

            Some people say they do not believe in God, and do not believe in anything transcendent beyond this present life in the here and now. 

            But the inconsistency of their verbally stated belief system is betrayed by their fully engaged and sometimes active passion for social and political reforms, their insistence upon personal integrity in their lives, their solid endorsement of the standards and laws that govern society, and their unabashed enthusiasm for the welfare of their children and grandchildren. 

            This clear and unwavering preference for high standards and commendable outcomes in life has no place in a world having zero purpose or meaning.  Actions here shout louder than words, and in everyday practice these actions self-refute the theoretical foundation for the purely absolute, naturalistic worldview.  

            If all we do is live, die, and are buried, then why care deeply and passionately about anyone or anything?  What would be the point?  Is someone keeping score…and if so, what for? 

            Doing the right thing and caring about others becomes absolutely meaningless.  Making our mark in life and leaving behind us a better world for posterity has no enduring purpose. 

            Things like friendship, loyalty, honor, character, and self-sacrifice not only become meaningless…they do not even exist.  Even caring solely about oneself becomes meaningless in a world having no real purpose beyond atoms and molecules.   

            In my view, some people incorrectly use the argument that evil exists in the world, which greatly disrupts our good order and well-being as evidence that God does not exist. 

            The presumption here is that a wise and caring God would not create such a beautiful and orderly world as this, yet allow evil to mar its existence.  But we have to search in an entirely different area than fundamental purpose, for an explanation for the existence of evil in our world.   

            If a brilliant craftsman God did not create within us this facility for purpose and meaning in life, then no one would care about the issue of the existence of evil in the first place.  We would not possess the capacity to care about anything. 

            The inability to be absolutely detached and disinterested in terms of purpose and meaning in life to the point of not even being able to imagine such an extreme purposeless condition devoid of any appreciation of justice, fairness, and equity…severely undermines a materialistic explanation of reality based solely on atoms, electrons, and the physical elements.

            Every single human being is covered by the broad brush-stroke of hypocritical inconsistency in this area of the gap between what we say verbally…and what we actually do in practice.  Christians and non-Christians alike are merely at different points on the same spectrum graph-line of purpose in life.  No one escapes this issue of hypocritical inconsistency. 

            Christians aspire to moral perfection, but don’t quite get there.  Skeptical unbelievers aspire to a totally rational and intellectual existence consistent with a naturalistic worldview, devoid of any transcendent purpose or meaning…but don’t quite get there.  Although everyone has purpose of one sort or another, everyone falls short of absolute purity in the pure application of their particular worldview.

            One of the themes of this book is that it takes the cross of Jesus Christ applied to our lives, actualized through the spiritual rebirth described in the gospel of John chapter three, and symbolized in believer’s water baptism, to effectively remove the debilitating aspects of our self-in-charge natures. 

            This creates the space for God to insert His higher ways into our lives. 

            When we allow God to displace our plans with His life-script for us, even though our performance may be flawed at times, the game-plan itself is absolutely perfect.  When we willingly submit to the God-inspired destiny for our lives, we embark upon a journey having the tightest specifications…crafted exclusively to match our created abilities, talents, and purpose. 

            A God-composed journey of faith provides structure, direction, and momentum to the element of purpose we already have designed within us.  A biblical quality journey of faith through the cross enlists and connects to purpose at the fundamental core of its meaning.

            The beauty of this is that the cross element in the biblical narrative stories of faith is as orthodox as orthodox can get.  The narrative stories of faith in the Bible are just as authoritative as the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount. 

            If we can clearly see the cross within the God-composed life-scripts of the great men and women of faith in the Bible, then we are viewing the precise handiwork of God perfectly integrated to the facility for purpose He placed within each of us.     

            For example, when Moses is in the middle of the ten miraculous plagues in Egypt designed to procure the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage as slaves, Moses is walking through the narrowest of circumstances having little or no wiggle-room (Mt. 7:13-14). 

            Each morning that Moses wakes up, he listens to God in the Spirit and desperately seeks God’s new and unique solution for that day to persuade the despotic Pharaoh to release the Israelites.  In the middle of any of the ten plagues, Moses is engaged within the tightest life-and-death scenario of events designed to progress toward a positive outcome that by all outward appearances…in the present moment…borders on the edge of being hopeless.

            As one miraculous plague after another fails to move Pharaoh off of his stubbornly entrenched position, the faith and trust of Moses in the character and ability of God to come through with the next brilliant step…is daily put to the test. 

            Today we miss much of the in-the-moment suspense and drama when looking back in hindsight at the entire story, because we already know the positive ending.

            During the ten plagues in Egypt, Moses is in the center of extreme opposing forces working themselves out within the most horizontal of worldly conventional realities. 

            Moses is in the middle between the earthly ruler Pharaoh intent upon keeping the Israelites within the borders of Egypt as economically and socially valuable slaves, and the supernatural God intent upon physically and spiritually liberating the Israelites entirely out of the country of Egypt to create the new nation of Israel. 

            The lesson here for all Christians is that the plans and purposes of God are located way over at the far extreme, risked-filled, totally committed faith-end of the purpose-spectrum that we cannot possibly reach through our own efforts, or even conceive of in our wildest imagination. 

            Moses does not deliver the Israelites through some exceptional gift for oratorical persuasion or appeal to enlightened reason in the presence of Pharaoh, according to some humanistic construction.  The deliverance of the Israelites is not the result of a win-win compromise based upon mutual benefits to both parties obtained through expert worldly diplomacy.  The successful deliverance of the Israelites occurs in a zone of reality that is not only entirely supernatural…but beyond our capacity to inventively imagine.  

            The capacity of innate purpose in Moses is stretched to its fullest through active faith, bonded with the higher ways and purposes of God to produce this incredibly brilliant outcome of the birth of the nation of Israel.  This in turn produces all of the benefits of the Old Testament events leading up to the eventual redemption through Jesus Christ our Savior at Calvary, which will endure for all eternity. 

            God accomplishes all of this in the middle of the most daunting and discouraging worldly conventional circumstances imaginable.

            Some Christians would like to have the typically modern 3-step or 5-step program to begin to apply a biblical quality journey of faith to our Christian lives.  But the biblical message of the narrative stories of faith tell us that only God Himself has the step-by-step life-plans of carefully designed events and circumstances to connect with the element of purpose He has placed within us. 

            This is part of the journey of faith that authenticates and validates the competence of the one true living God as King and Ruler of the realm.  Only God Himself can be the competent administrator of this life-purpose program. 

            The reason that the experience of Moses…with God…in the midst of the plagues in Egypt…is an interactive joint-venture effort between an ordinary man engaged in a committed adventure of faith, and the Almighty God is that Moses could not possibly self-produce the supernatural ten plagues in Egypt or the parting of the Red Sea. 

            The absolutely perfect plans of God integrate seamlessly with our innate sense of purpose in a way that is unattainable when we are stuck in the humanly limited position of self-in-charge. 

            Moses experienced the high privilege of daily walking within the tightest and narrowest of life-and-death circumstances in Egypt, to discover the absolute perfection of God’s ways and purposes in the miraculous deliverance of the Israelites.

Jesus and Purpose

            The best example to illustrate the perfection of the purposes of God is the life-script of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. 

            What is seamlessly perfect about the divinely composed life-plan of Jesus is that it is absolutely unselfish.  Jesus is not leisurely sailing the Mediterranean Sea with people waiting upon Him to satisfy His every need.  Everything that Jesus does is for us.  Even though the suffering of the cross adds a new perspective to God’s reality that He never experienced before (Heb. 5:7-9), there is no redemptive value for Jesus Christ on the cross…because Jesus does not need redemption from sin.

            Jesus is the perfect Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of the world.  The sacrifice on the cross is for us.

            What is astounding is that God is so brilliantly creative that He can compose a life-script for the perfect Son of God Jesus Christ, which actually contains an element of challenging difficulty.  God knew that we would have difficulty with the second half of the cross that requires our self-in-charge nature to be set aside so that God can effectively work with us. 

            Jesus says in Luke 12:50 “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am straightened till it be accomplished!”  Jesus says this not because He is in need of character growth through adversity.  The character of Jesus is already divinely perfect. 

            In Luke 22:44, it is recorded that Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane went back a second time to “pray more earnestly.” 

            This is beyond our comprehension.  We would normally assume that everything Jesus did, especially prayer, was perfect the first time. 

            In Luke 22:42 Jesus prays “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.” 

            How can God be so brilliantly creative to be able to write into the earthly experience of the divine Son of God Jesus, the element of difficult challenge which is totally foreign to the perfect nature of God, just so He could tell us He personally understands our own difficulty in picking up our cross in order to follow God…our difficulty in making the transition from self-sovereignty to God-sovereignty? 

            Even within the absolute perfection of the ways and purposes of God, the life-script of Jesus manages to contain God-challenging elements of difficulty written-in for our future consolation and encouragement.  This touches me at the capacity of my intellect and the depth of my heart.    

            It is the precise and intricate ways and purposes of God that enlists our own in-built facility for purpose, which can be integrated by God into any set of current life circumstances and events. 

            Whether we are a heart surgeon, congresswoman, appellate court judge, school teacher, auto mechanic, pastor of a small-town church, writer of Christian books, or housewife raising children…God can overlay and integrate His higher ways and purposes into our lives if we will surrender and yield our self-wills to Him in faith and trust. 

            The deliverance and salvation of God within the challenges of life, expressed so beautifully throughout the Psalms, takes place within the plans of God, and not our own. 

            Innate purpose translates into reality at the highest most glorious level when orchestrated and directed within the framework of a God-composed journey of faith.

            Sometimes purpose and worldly conventional normalcy do not mix.  Sometimes we cannot have both the risk-filled pursuit of truth and the security of conventional normalcy…simultaneously within the dynamics of this broken world. 

            Jesus, the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of the world can only die and be resurrected if His generation rejects and crucifies Him.  Only God can knit together a meaningful and purposeful tapestry of the commendable aspects of the Protestant work ethic (Lk. 19:13)…with the worldly incomprehensible, biblical journey of faith through the cross of Calvary. 

            All of the people of faith in the Bible gave up some measure of worldly conventional normalcy in following God’s life-script for them.  This separates out and elevates the quality of purpose and meaning into a higher zone that only God can orchestrate. 

            This highlights the wisdom of God in the area of purpose, and like the scriptural example of God composing a life-script for Jesus that contained challenging difficulty for our consolation.  It reveals an imaginative creativity that is at the edge of perfection regarding brilliantly directed purpose. 

            If even our hardships work an eternal glory in us that we cannot fully understand in the present moment…orchestrated, managed, and moderated by a loving and brilliantly wise God at the limits of perfection…this should bolster our faith and confidence when outward appearances seem close to hopeless. 

            The narrative stories of faith in the Bible tell us that God knows precisely what He is doing, dovetailed perfectly with the type and measure of purpose He has placed within us.  Laws, rules, precepts, psalms of praise and encouragement, prophetic warnings, and historical events all occupy their place in the revelation of God to man.  But the biblical narrative stories of faith demonstrate in action the will and ways of God within life-events to reveal His craftsmanship in the management of our journeys of faith and discovery.

            At the advanced Christian end of the spectrum of purpose and meaning in life, God will ask us to place our own personal Isaac on the altar of sacrifice.  Isaac is not just Abraham’s son.  Isaac is the son of promise.  Wrapped up in Isaac are all of Abraham’s commendable hopes, dreams, love, and care.  Isaac does not represent some bad character trait or secret sin that Abraham must surrender to God. 

            If the purpose and meaning of life were just about smooth sailing through calm seas, then Abraham and Sarah could have started a large family upon correctly obeying God to leave Haran and journey to Canaan. 

            But Abraham and Sarah wait for Isaac, and Abraham is maneuvered by God through long-range circumstances to this pivotal moment on Mount Moriah, for a monumental reason

            The lesson for the “father of faith” (and all of us) is that he must completely and totally rely upon God and give up any remaining residue of self-reliance. 

            This is one part of the Bible that cannot be manufactured by man through conventional thinking.  This was the God-manufactured reality in Abraham’s life that qualified him to be called the “father of faith,” initiating a new, higher way of life with God.  As Abraham lifts his knife up to thrust it down into his beloved son Isaac, Hebrews 11:19 reads that Abraham accounted “that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which also he received him in a figure.” 

            No ordinary person conquers death.  Through the incarnation, cross, and resurrection, Jesus conquered death…our last great enemy.  We are raised to new life in Christ because Jesus was raised from the tomb by God the Father. 

            This is the central message of the Bible.  God can and will do for us in a better and much higher way what we cannot possibly even imagine for ourselves. 

            The most painfully difficult, yet liberating, faith-producing events in our lives are when God maneuvers our circumstances to the point where we willingly make the decision to let go of our own plans, schemes, self-efforts, and even our personal hopes and dreams in a particular area. 

            As God shouts to Abraham “Stop!” as he is about to plunge his knife down into Isaac, Abraham has totally let go of all self-generated assistance regarding helping God out toward the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. 

            God would not and never has unjustly asked anyone to take the life of someone else.  The sacrifice on Mount Moriah was a foreglimpse, a “type” of the real sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary Hill two thousand years later that would go forward to full consummation in the death of God’s own beloved Son. 

            The foundational example of a biblical journey of faith, starting with Abraham, begins with Abraham placing his Isaac on the altar of sacrifice…and God taking this unconditional faith and trust and literally turning it around into life from the dead. 

            Like all Christians, I have experienced trials, tragedies, and heartbreaks in my life.  Although excruciatingly painful at the time, I would not trade these experiences for anything.  When shaped, orchestrated, and moderated by God, they make me into a better person. 

            Could one of the things that conventional, worldly thinking chokes on and stumbles over so badly…the presence of suffering and periods of hardship in this life…be an important ingredient that produces the continue-on-at-all-costs, come-what-may, get-up-and-carry-on resiliency of character that can overcome any life-challenge that comes our way? 

            I cannot discover the inspirations to write this book unless I allow God to lead me through a personal guided tour of life’s valleys and mountaintops to demonstrate to me His faithfulness and His management skills. 

            The partially hypocritical “do-as-I-say” moves step-by-step closer to the absolute ideal of “do-as-I-do,” when divinely-guided purpose is actualized within God-composed journeys of faith.   

            Purpose and meaning are inextricably connected with this concept of Jesus walking alongside us through the most challenging of life’s circumstances. 

            The purpose in the cross is all over this encouraging reality of a journey of faith following Jesus Christ through the hills and valleys of life, ironically fulfilling in the most commendable God-scripted way the tempting seduction of Satan in the Garden: “ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5).

            As King Saul’s deadly pursuit of David is on several occasions within a hair’s breadth of succeeding, David must think to himself whether God’s promise to him through the prophet Samuel will ever come true. 

            Joseph’s own attempt to get Pharaoh’s butler and baker to speak well of Joseph to Pharaoh and hopefully procure his exoneration and release from prison, falls flat. 

            When the Israelites are trapped against the banks of the Red Sea with the Egyptian chariot army in deadly pursuit, it never entered the minds of the Israelites as a plausible solution that God could open up the Red Sea.  If the Red Sea bordered on a forest, some small number of people might have used driftwood and logs as floatation devices to swim safely on top of the surface of the water to the opposite shore. 

            But this body of water was in the middle of a desert.  There were no trees or driftwood.  Some daring people might have considered attempting to swim across the entire width of the Red Sea. 

            Opening up a dry land passage through the midst of the waters was something that only God could even imagine, much less actually accomplish. 

            Upon first hearing God’s plan to successfully defeat the opposing army, we can imagine Gideon asking God “Did I hear you correctly…you want us to do what?” 

            Esther throws all personal “caution to the wind” in seeking an uninvited audience with the king…in an extremely tight set of deadly circumstances forced upon her by the expediency of the crisis…not at all of her making.

            Even on Resurrection Day, as the two disciples are walking toward Emmaus and speaking with the as-yet unrecognized Jesus, after some of the disciples had already reported discovering the empty tomb, they still did not understand the magnitude of the power of the resurrection.  They say about Jesus that He was “a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Lk. 24:19), and that “we hoped that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel” (Lk. 24:21). 

            They did not realize that Jesus, a “prophet mighty in deed and word,” had that very day conquered the great final enemy of death and hell for them, through His divinely empowered resurrection from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea.

            Most of us did not fully understand the second half of the cross…the surrender of the sovereignty of sitting atop the thrones of our lives as self-autonomous kings…when we experienced believer’s water baptism.  When we were submerged briefly below the surface of the water, and then assisted up into a vertical standing position representing resurrection into new life, we grasped the basic outlines of the cross and the resurrection. 

            Only after some length of time in our journey of faith do we begin to comprehend in some measure the depth of God’s purposes, patterned for us in the narrative examples of faith recorded in the Bible. 

            This concept of placing our personal Isaac on the altar of sacrifice so that God can insert His higher ways into our lives, will crystalize into a major theme for Christians as we enter the last-days to close-out the long redemptive history of mankind. 

            This is another key to our success as the Christian church in the last-days. 

            Just as the cross and the resurrection conquered death in a way that was beyond our capacity to accomplish for ourselves, the second half of the cross is a divine creation beyond human imagination or creative literary invention. 

            The narrative stories of faith in the Bible, and our own personal experience of salvation and a journey of faith following Jesus Christ, will be a calm harbor of refuge and a sturdy anchor of protection through whatever worldwide turbulence lies ahead.

            A journey of faith through the second half of the cross is at the pinnacle of divinely inspired and revealed orthodoxy, as orthodox as orthodox can be. 

            This is the part of the message of the Bible that is designed to illustrate the Spirit-born transformation that takes place within a person, from having merely an impersonal knowledge about God, to a personal, purpose-filled, new covenant adventure of faith following Jesus Christ (Jer. 31:31-34).  

The Thief on the Cross

            The story of the thief on the cross recorded in Luke 23:39-43 is the minimum baseline example given to us in the New Testament gospels that defines faith plus our good-works for salvation…that will pass the test of fire (Jn. 6:28-29; 1 Cor. 3:13; 1 Pet. 1:7).

            This baseline example is illustrated through an actual event in history spread-out over the short interval of a few hours…rather than a doctrinal concept given to us in explanatory, expository words alone.

            This baseline standard for measuring salvation is given to us by no less an authority than Jesus Christ Himself, the Passover Lamb of God atoning sacrifice for sin, at the precise moments of that sacrifice and from the very instrument…the cross on Calvary Hill…that procured our salvation.

            This condemned thief is not coming down off the cross to start a positive, God-composed journey of faith life-script for the remaining years of his life.  His wrists and feet are immovably pinned by long metal spikes to the wooden cross-beams of Roman crucifixion.  He will die there in a few more hours.  There is no time left to do anything good or bad from that moment forward, in any major way.

            The thief on the cross at that moment in time has nothing by way of reformed, future good-works to offer to God on behalf of his salvation to qualify himself before God.  There is no second chance for him to come down off the cross with the promise to live a better life going forward.

            Yet when Jesus says to the thief on the cross…crucified alongside Him and sharing His fate that eventful Friday in history: “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise”…this thief can then confidently take this promise “to the bank.”  He can “bet the farm on it”…in utter and complete assurance.

            This is not just the word of a great prophet declaring a future event.  This promise comes from Jesus Christ the divine Son of God…the very Word of God in the flesh.

            The thief on the cross can rest in the inner peace and assurance of eternal salvation for the remaining few hours he has on this earth, from the extremely privileged position of observing the exemplary character of Jesus Christ the Son of God in action dying next to him as the Passover Lamb of God for the sins of the world.

            I believe this real-life example spelled-out for us through an action event recorded in the Bible, resolves the controversial theological issue of the eternal security of our salvation while we are still in this life and engaged in our journey of faith, by combining in this specific example both ends of a short time-interval defined as biblical faith in Hebrews 11:1…”the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”…in this salvation story of the last final hours of the thief on the cross.

            A fundamental problem here with the general biblical interpretation believed by some people today…that we can lose our salvation…is that Jesus at that moment in time is telling the thief that later that same day he will be with Jesus in His kingdom. 

            Jesus as the divine Son of God either possesses Himself…or is perfectly exercising through God the Father…timeless foresight.

            In my opinion, the part that confuses the issue of eternal security is the seemingly incoherent blend of a God who exists in a timeless environment and human beings that live in the four dimensions of time and space. 

            These two things do not appear on the surface, at first glance, to easily mix.  But both these realities…God’s timeless existence and our lives spread-out within the forward march of the God-created dimension of time, are absolutely essential for developing confidence in the wisdom and leadership of God, and our placing trust in a God-composed journey of faith for our lives that have this Hebrews 11:1 risk-element of elongated and stretched-out time.

            Our future actualized promise of salvation…the “evidence of things not seen” regarding eternal life…does not occur yet in this current lifetime.  This culminating event occurs at our resurrection, at the last trumpet sound, at the great Judgment Day and our entrance into heaven. 

            This is what seems to introduce an element of confusion, which in actuality is instead another strong apologetic evidence for the existence of God and the truth of the Bible. 

            The interval of time, the gap in practical, lived experience between where we are now and where we need to get to…this unique feature of biblical faith as defined by Hebrews 11:1…is an inseparable part of the storyline of every positive person in their biblical-quality journey of faith life-scripts, whether we are Moses, David, or the thief on the cross. 

            Whether our destiny-of-faith moment in history spans years, months, or a few short hours on the cross alongside Jesus the Passover Lamb of God of Isaiah 53…like this thief…the surety of our salvation is not dependent upon any specific duration of time or more importantly is not dependent upon our performance over that period of time.

            With a timeless God having divine foreknowledge there is no future earthly span of time that conditionally determines our salvation…whether years, months, or hours.     

            The simplistic yet powerful lesson of the thief on the cross is that he cannot “mess-up” his salvation during his remaining few hours, this short interval of Hebrews 11:1 time remaining for him…the brief entirety of his faith-journey…on his cross of execution alongside Jesus as the sky overhead darkens and the earth rumbles that Friday afternoon.

            This is the case because the promise of the assurance of eternal salvation comes from the mouth of the divine Son of God, Jesus Christ of Nazareth from the cross in the very act of being the Passover sacrifice for sin. 

            Jesus that moment on the cross…either has Himself or is exercising from God the Father…divine timeless foresight.

            This pivotal moment in time and the dramatic circumstances of this historic event could not be more definitive and decisive on the topic of eternal security…because Jesus Christ here cannot misspeak.

            That Jesus Christ our eternal Savior and King and this remarkable human thief on the cross having no merit or achievements to argue on his behalf for salvation should come together in this moment in history…is not an accident (Isa. 53:12).

            The promise of entering shortly into paradise, coming from the timeless foresight of Jesus Christ the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of the world, while He is suffering and dying on the cross to the thief also suffering and dying alongside Him…is an iron-clad, irrevocable, unalterable event that cannot change within the span of a few short hours, for both Jesus and the thief on their respective crosses.

            The word of God is sure not only because it is based on the high-quality of His character, but also because it is timeless.

            This is a product of the timeless nature of God (Isa. 46:9-10) and the functional nature of the limitations of time and space that God created for us so that we might experience and discover the knowledge of good and evil…not in split-second, instantaneous flashes of time but spread-out over longer intervals of time…sometimes only hours as in the case of the thief on the cross as expressed in Hebrews 11:1 and as so beautifully told in Luke 23:39-43.

            The scriptural arguments for and against eternal security have already been written and fill entire books.

            But for the purposes of this book, the biblical narrative stories of faith are the God-designed vehicles that actualize the context of events wherein our souls are measured.”

            This is an apologetic argument for the divine origin of the Bible.

            The events and circumstances of the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible…unlike any other form or genre of human literature…measure our souls on the basis of our faith and relationship with God. 

            Our souls are not only measured by courage in battle, or the resilience to bounce back from numerous defeats to accomplish greatness, or by an epiphany that changes us from being a crass, self-centered person to becoming a loving person through character growth…being the theme of countless books, theater plays, and movies.

            The quality of life-script events that will measure our souls at the apex…at the zenith…of moral reasoning and decision-making regarding our relationship with God…can only originate from God. 

            The thief on the cross could never have orchestrated the cascade of events that placed him that fateful Friday on a cross of execution alongside Jesus Christ the Son of God…with the opportunity to go along with the crowd in verbally mocking Jesus (Lk. 23:35-39) or amazingly for the first and only time in his life…to discover the power, conviction, courage, and liberated audacity to resist the peer pressure in the moment…and to instead proclaim publicly through the Holy Spirit a faith in the God/man Jesus crucified alongside him.

            The thief on the cross manages to find his destiny at the last possible moment, summoning the Holy Ghost courage to testify of this newfound faith after this brief encounter with Jesus being crucified alongside him…to his fellow thief and to any and all others standing around the crosses and listening, that would pass the test of saving faith for time eternal (Lk. 23:43).

            On that fateful day…and over a few short hours…the soul of the thief on the cross was measured and found brilliantly passing the test for salvation according to God’s terms and standards.

            The point I want to make here is monumental in its importance. 

            We need God-composed journey of faith life-scripts to actualize for us a context of life-events wherein our souls are measured…precisely so that we can succeed on God’s terms and by His standards and not through the futility of good-works and self-realization according to our ways (Isa. 55:8-9).

            This is the record of the biblical narrative stories of faith including this incredibly inspiring story of the thief on the cross.

            Choosing amongst the smorgasbord buffet of the wants and aspirations of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…a great education, a good job, high salary, good marriage, a big house, luxury automobile, European vacation, a stock portfolio, good health, and sending our kids to Harvard or Oxford…will not measure our souls in the way that the life-scripts of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, and the thief on the cross were measured.

            The thief on the cross could not have orchestrated the events that led to his salvation that day any more than Abraham could have orchestrated his life-script of faith, any more than Paul could have orchestrated the events that led to him becoming the premier Christian evangelical missionary to the first-century Greco-Roman world.

            The grand irony here that is far beyond the contemplative imagination of human literary invention is that the Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, and scribes standing around and mocking Jesus on the cross…who attempted to self-craft “perfect lives” according to their way (Mt. 6:2, 5; 9:12-13; 10:33; 11:16-19; 15:7-9) end-up unknowingly killing Jesus their Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin (1 Cor. 2:8).

            The grand irony is that the one person who obtained on that day on Calvary Hill the assurance of the eternal security of salvation, for the short but priceless few hours from sometime around mid-morning to when he died at dusk that late afternoon was the thief on the cross alongside Jesus.

            There are two massive takeaways from this dramatic scene taking place in Jerusalem in the first-century.

            Imagine in our mind’s eye the religious elites standing around the three crosses mocking Jesus, the Roman soldiers who carried out the execution nearby, the women disciples of Jesus including His mother at the base of His cross weeping over what has occurred, and the two thieves crucified on each side of Jesus.

            The first massive takeaway from this scene is the huge gulf between the two opposing outcomes of going our own way in self-sovereignty…in contrast to God-sovereignty.

            Jesus is the perfect, blemish-free Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin.  To qualify to be the atonement for sin…Jesus must be perfect.  A flawed sacrifice in terms of substandard moral performance in life would be unacceptable.  Wealth, popularity, and political influence are not qualifiers in this Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin.

            The problem of human sin is the precise target homed-in on by the blemish-free moral life of Jesus Christ…perfectly lived according to a life-script composed by God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit.

            The perfect life and the perfect life-script of Jesus…lead to the cross on Calvary Hill. 

            But trying to be perfect according to the worldview of going our own way, as demonstrated by the self-reliant religious elites mocking Jesus…leads to placing Jesus on the cross.  These two outcomes could not be more diametrically opposite…could not be more clearly separated.

            The second massive takeaway from this scene on Calvary Hill two thousand years ago is that the thief on the cross, immovably stuck there and not going anywhere or able to do anything secular or religious in the slightest way…surprisingly and unexpectedly experiences that fateful day in his life the “joy unspeakable and full of glory” assurance of the eternal security of salvation for the otherwise physically agonizing hours he spends being executed by Roman crucifixion…through the sure words of promise spoken to him by Jesus the Son of God being crucified alongside him.   

            If we incorrectly believe that we can lose our salvation, this opens the door ever so slightly for self-achieved good-works and self-realization to creep in as the missing ingredient to fill-in the gap of our imperfect moral nature…missing the point entirely as to the redemptive salvation by grace through faith that provides absolute coverage of our sins past, present, and future…even for the thief on the cross experiencing the “peace that passes all understanding” while dying on his cross.

            The story of the thief on the cross, composed and orchestrated by God Himself, being totally outside the contemplative imagination of human literary invention tells us our salvation based upon faith in Jesus Christ…in this divinely illustrated case of the thief on the cross…is eternally secure (Jn. 8:36; 2 Cor. 4:7).