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).