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).

Could the Story of Jesus Christ be Human Literary Invention?

“But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”                                                                                                             (Jn. 20:31)

            In the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, He encounters push-back from the religious elites in Israel generally and in Jerusalem specifically, which exhibits the unmistakable characteristic of self-righteousness.

            This is displayed in the lack of empathy for the common people…the attitude of looking-down-their noses at the less-educated general public…which then stereotyped Jesus into the lower category of being a common, middle-class artisan carpenter coming from the insignificant small-town of Nazareth in Galilee (Jn. 7:15). 

            This lack of empathy for the common people was the exact opposite of what we should expect from religious leaders who are supposed to be in the business of helping other people.

            The self-righteous character of the religious elites, painfully pointed-out by Jesus throughout His ministry…is too numerous in the New Testament gospels to be discussed in detail here (Mt. 3:7-12; Lk. 4:16-30; Mt. 5:20, 9:10-13, 16:11-12, 20:25-28; Lk. 11:39-52; Jn. 5:38, 7:19, 7:49, 8:24, 40, 44, 9:34).

            The attribute of humility that is revealed through the incarnation of Jesus Christ the Son of God…in temporarily leaving His position in heaven as the divine Second Person of the Trinity…to be born into a common family in Nazareth as a human and learning the trade of becoming a carpenter from his stepfather Joseph…exhibits the broadest imaginable range of character in assuming the most worldly humble status in contrast to His true identity.

            The life-script of Jesus Christ is Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper…times ten…combining royalty and humility in the same Person.

            Align this with the worldly practical reality that a perfect moral person could never be crucified as the Passover Lamb of God atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world…because it would be socially and culturally impossible to get such a perfect person all the way to the utter rejection of the cross on Calvary Hill…unless they were for starters the most commonplace of persons according to outward appearances…according to worldly conventional status.

            How do you get a perfectly sinless, blemish-free Lamb of God person all the way to the cross at Calvary?

            The story of the life of Jesus Christ is real…because it cannot be human literary fiction…because it is too worldly unconventional.

            The story of Jesus not only requires targeted script-writing of unimaginably insightful creative invention, but also the wherewithal to actually pull it off…to not merely talk-the-talk on paper…but to walk-the-walk in concrete reality in our modern first-century…within a singular life-script that even manages to challenge God Himself in the divinely exclusive area of perfect God-sovereignty…a concept that no human writer could or would invent.

            The brilliance of God here is seen in the journey of faith life-script for Jesus…based upon perfect trust, perfect integrity, and perfect truth…contrasted with the disastrous end-point product of the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes in first-century Jerusalem, their actions being the direct result of crafting our own individual life-script programs according to the self-performance of good-works, of attempting to earn our way to heaven, the exact opposite of the life-story of Abraham justified by faith (Rom. 4:3).

            On the night before His crucifixion…in the Garden of Gethsemane…Jesus reveals the free-will difficulty of staying perfectly within God-sovereignty when He says: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Lk. 22:42).

            If Jesus deviates even a hair’s breadth from His life-script to be the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin, and says this is too difficult as originally planned and that He is going His own way in search of an easier and less costly salvation method than the cross…then the unity of God-sovereignty within the Trinity of the Godhead would have been broken for the first time in eternity.

            Here God is not only revealing something personal about Himself, but He is telling us one of the most profoundly amazing facts in all of eternity…that He can compose a thrilling and suspense-filled final chapter for the life of Jesus Christ on earth…that manages to challenge Himself in the precise area of God-sovereignty that we will have the most trouble with.

            God is telling us here, that not only is Jesus Christ taking upon Himself the sins of the world…on the cross…but that the life-script for Jesus composed by God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8), intentionally factors-in Gethsemane and Calvary.

            The life-script for Jesus contains the unimaginable feature that God can now personally relate to our understandably human struggle to make the transition from self-sovereignty to God-sovereignty…a new and novel experience set-up for the divine Son of God living as a human person on earth, the perfect and indivisible God-sovereignty that as the Son of God in heaven comes naturally to Him and is otherwise unchallenged and untested in that environment.  

            The enormous range and breadth of character for God to “stoop to conquer” sin displayed in the super-humility of Jesus Christ suffering through the demeaning rejection of Roman crucifixion in Jerusalem…on our behalf…displays the diametric opposite quality of being “petty” according to Richard Dawkins, on a scale of mistaken judgment that is so off-base and misguided as to be beyond adequate description

            The disrespect of the current group of New Atheists towards the life and ministry of Jesus Christ…shows a shallow quality of lazy scholarship…an unwillingness to even attempt to dig deeper, to think through and understand the opposing viewpoint.

            If human sin…imperfection of character…cannot be pushed aside as being the mere product of the partially incomplete development of Darwinian evolution, but instead is so important as to require the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Son of God as a human person, this raises the incarnation, life, and ministry of Jesus up into the seriousness of a life-and-death issue…now and for all-time.

            This then requires the most earnestly sober consideration and analysis, worthy of a dignified and proper investigation.

            Some people have called the life of Jesus “the greatest story ever told”…but the worldviews of philosophical materialists like Richard Dawkins relegate human sin…imperfect character…to merely be the work-in-progress actions of matter and energy, according to the tenets of Darwinian evolution…no other viewpoint being open to atheism.

            This worldview enables philosophical materialists to devalue sin as being natural and unimportant, and thereby devalue the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ again as being “petty.”

            Self-righteousness is one of the few character traits within the broad array of moral concepts…that is unsolvable…that is unfixable…because it pushes-out the ability to recognize our shortcomings that produces regret, that in turn can produce genuine and actionable humility.

Without humility we cannot exercise empathy towards other people (Mt. 9:10-13; Lk. 16:15; Jn. 5:44).

            At the cross on Calvary Hill…God introduces Himself to us at the most intimate level…telling us something deeply personal not only about Himself, but also about the way to discovering genuine truth.

            The Intelligent Designer of the grandeur of the physical universe is telling us that He is up to the character challenge of playing the role of the lowest level of selfless humility, when it is in the service and cause of goodness, truth, and self-sacrificing love…a character trait I judge as being the least petty thing imaginable.

            Regarding self-righteousness…why was Jesus Christ the eternal Word of God (Jn. 1:1-3) in the New Testament gospels, continually butting heads with the biblical interpretations, rituals, practices, and attitudes of the Pharisees and scribes (Mt. 5:20, 22, 28, 34, 39, 44, 6:5, 16, 7:29, 9:11, 11:16-19, 12:1-8, 9-13, 14, 24, 38, 15:2, 16:12, 17:22-23, 19:3; Lk. 11:42-44, 52, 12:1; Jn. 7:19, 24, 8:19, 39-40)…while as the Creator of everyone and everything (Jn. 1:3) He freely interacted with them in open dialogue throughout His ministry and outreach to the world?

            The Pharisees and scribes crafted their own revised version of the faith of Abraham and the law of Moses, putting in place their own system of rituals and practices, briefly listed above, that were achievable through the alternative program of the self-effort of self-realization rather than faith…a form of self-salvation through the performance of good-works, and thus placing themselves in direct conflict with Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God and the chief architect of the very Judaic religion they professed to follow. 

            In a genuine biblical-quality journey of faith…starting with the detailed life-script of Abraham…God displaces our ways with His higher ways, in the process automatically removing any pretense on our part to gloat over self-achievement…in the process removing any portion of the God-composed life-script storyline to degenerate into the negative pride of self-righteousness.

            By contrast…in a journey of selfbased upon the performance of good-works, we actually displace God’s ways with our ways, opening wide the gate to invite-in the erroneous, worldly standard for self-evaluation that with some limited measure of “success” easily morphs into pride-filled self-righteousness…of “look at me how good I am.”

            The performance of the many religious rituals and practices the Pharisees and scribes manufactured to afford them a false standard by which to judge themselves…which fell far outside the bounds of the faith of Abraham or the law of Moses…translates today into the secular variation of similarly displacing God’s ways with our ways, this time using the seemingly more sophisticated, human-manufactured worldview of naturalistic materialism that is primarily based upon Darwinian evolution…in place of the good-works program of the Pharisees and scribes. 

            When self-righteousness pushes-out our capacity to recognize that we are all sinners in universal standing before God…are imperfect beings needing the turn-about of regret and repentance in order to purchase the humility that will accept a reconnection back to God, and a heart-felt desire to allow God to introduce Himself to us through the personal relationship of a life-journey of faith, this debilitating character trait of self-righteousness becomes the hallmark…the epitome…of using self-invented worldview programs as the excuse for unbelief, of going our own way apart from God.

            Both Pharisee-ism in the first-century…and Darwinism today…share the same character trait of self-righteousness, inserting their own worldview system, either through the self-salvation performance of good-works, or by the elimination of sin chalked-up to the progressive development of incomplete Darwinian evolution.

            What is sad from the viewpoint of Spirit-born Christians is that the Pharisees and scribes in the first-century, and people like the New Atheists today…were then and are presently now living within a false sense of security.

            False worldviews generate a false sense of security, and God cares enough about us to introduce Himself in person to mankind, and to separate and divide out for us the right way to go in life (Jn. 1:1-14, 11:25, 14:6).

            Staying with this essay a little bit longer…because the issues are so important…the question can be asked: Why didn’t Jesus choose a few of the religious elites in Jerusalem to be among His apostles and disciples, during His ministry?

            The simple answer is that the character trait of self-righteousness is unsolvable, is unfixable, because it takes-up the space exactly where repentance occurs…pushing-out the ability to have an about-face, turn-around change of mind and heart regarding accepting Jesus Christ.

            The Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem come out to the Jordan River to see what John the Baptist is doing.

            John sees right through them, saying in Matthew 3:7-10:

7 O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

8 Bring forth therefore fruits befitting for repentance.

9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

            Some of these same hard-core men were still in the Sanhedrin Council decades later when Paul stands before them on his last visit to Jerusalem…men Paul knew well when he was a Pharisee (Acts 22:30; 23:6, 26:5).

            It took no less than a blinding light from heaven to convert Paul (Acts 9:3)…a special calling and a unique variation of the Great Commission coming from Jesus Christ Himself.

            If Paul, a highly educated Pharisee, was going to have the required empathy to take the Christian gospel message to the pagan, polytheistic, and idol-worshipping Greco-Roman world…he was going to need a large dose of humility obtained through the discovery that he was completely wrong about the status of Jesus of Nazareth…thereby displacing the self-righteousness he shared with his colleagues in the Sanhedrin Council, up until that fateful moment on the road to Damascus.

            John the Baptist imprisoned by Herod, has some difficulty with the adverse reception Jesus is receiving from the established leaders in Jerusalem, justifiably assuming that Jesus by then would be in the process of literally fulfilling Isaiah 9:6-7 in this First Advent.

            Mary the mother of Jesus appears to have profound confusion over this same adverse reception Jesus is receiving from the religious leaders…men she would normally admire and respect…regarding the divine status of her son Jesus, which she is acutely and intimately aware of better than anyone, other than Jesus Himself.

            When Jesus begins to tell His disciples about His upcoming arrest, mistreatment, death, and resurrection (Mt. 16:21-22)…Peter emphatically objects, saying: “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee”…unable to accept the inevitable negative outcome that would occur when radically pride-filled self-righteousness collides with the low worldly status of being considered petty…in the case of Jesus brilliantly camouflaging His true identity.

            In the account of the Messiah’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mt. 21:1-11)…the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 is fulfilled: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon the foal of an ass.” (Italics and bold mine).

            Jesus moderates the impact of everything He does…because He must maintain a perfectly fine-tuned balance so as to remain within the low worldly status of being able to be rejected and crucified (Ps 22; Isa. 53).

            The life-script of Jesus Christ walks this line perfectly, and is a compelling evidence for it being real.

            The life-script of Jesus Christ aims at the very thing that offends Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists…the divine capacity to be able to “stoop to conquer” sin being beneath the dignity of a supposed creator god of the universe, but therein introducing to us a personal character trait of God that is amazing to contemplate…yet is incomprehensible and inaccessible to Darwinists.

            To get a perfect person Jesus Christ all the way to the cross of Calvary, at this one point in time in human history to qualify as the blemish-free Passover Lamb of God atonement for sin, requires a rare mixture of the easily offended self-righteousness in His critics, and the low worldly status of His outward appearance of being petty (Isa. 53:1-6)…both positioned at the extreme opposite ends of the spectrum graph-line of humility and not moderated toward a compromised and more reasonable center.

            The scenario presented here is light-years beyond any Darwinian program to produce human beings as mere hunters and gatherers…and far beyond the literary imagination of human fictional mythology.

            The life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ inspire the most earnestly sober consideration…and the most dignified and proper analysis…because His story cannot be anything other than genuinely real.

A God-Composed Journey of Faith Transcends above the American Dream 2

The narrative stories of faith…as recorded in the Bible…are so different from worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…that they invent an entirely new frame-of-reference for human life.

This frame-of-reference has as its goal the establishment of a personal relationship…between people and God…set-up through the creative mind of God…and on His terms…that must be the new reality if our life-stories are to be elevated up and out of worldly conventional, popular normalcy and thinking (Jn. 8:36).

The biblical narrative stories of faith are not for or against the aspirations of ancient and contemporary versions of the American Dream. 

The biblical narrative stories of faith simply transcend above these universally popular goals, dreams, and aspirations in a way that makes them curiously inapplicable, unimportant, and no longer the chief desire of our hearts and minds.

The life events and circumstances…the goals…and the end-point outcomes in the storylines of the biblical people of faith…have nothing to do with making a success of ourselves in terms of worldly conventional standards…according to the American Dream as translated backwards into every century of time and every cultural setting from the ancient books of Genesis through Acts…in the Bible.

In the Bible…the people who become caught-up in a God-composed adventure of faith life-script mission…discover along the way that their personal relationship with the living God becomes more important and more valuable than anything else in life…even the attractiveness of the American Dream of material wealth, the culturally acceptable validation of ourselves, and achieving through our own efforts a sense of personal security.

The acceptance and validation coming from God…in valuing us enough to call us by His Spirit into a unique and individual life-plan…of having faith in us to the point of calling us individually into a specific mission that only we can perform…with His assistance and partnership…is entirely different from the self-satisfaction of achieving the goals, dreams, and aspirations of the American Dream according to the Frank Sinatra song “I did it my way”…of self-autonomous individualism…that is typically found within worldly conventional normalcy and thinking (Phil. 3:4-10).

The parable of the nobleman away on business…and the instruction of Luke 19:13 to “occupy till I come”…is the commendable, baseline guide for all Christians to be about our Father’s business in whatever capacity we may be assigned in the caretaking of the estate…in this parable…of trimming the walkway shrubs, sweeping the exterior walkways, picking the fruits and vegetables from the orchard, caring for the livestock, preparing the meals for the staff, and the general interior and exterior cleaning and up-keep maintenance of the estate buildings and grounds.

Realizing the American Dream…can be achieved entirely through self-effort…through the application and exploitation of our natural, innate abilities…through autonomous individualism.

Experiencing a biblical-quality journey of faith…by intentional design…requires the direct participation of the living God…within a personal relationship.

These two realities for life are not the same…although they can and do overlap…along the way in a journey of faith…in some areas and in some cases.

What this means…in a practical applied sense…for Christians today is that God can guide and channel life-events and circumstances …inserting unique and individualized life-scripts into the lives of plumbing contractors, stay-at-home moms, auto mechanics, high school teachers, lawyers, accountants, engineers, professional athletes, journalists, small town mayors, church pastors, Christian foreign missionaries, Bible college professors, and Christian book writers…after the pattern of the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible.

For some people…their individual gifts and talents are either outwardly apparent…or internally revealed to them.

Some people know early in childhood that they want to become a medical nurse, or that they possess the athletic ability to play professional sports, or that they have the gift of exceptional intelligence to be able to earn a PhD in mathematics.

For these people…the addition and inclusion of an actively interested and participating God into the mix…enhances the life experience of pursuing their goals with their very best effort…giving it their all…because these unique gifts and talents derive from their Creator God in the first place.

A personal relationship with God can actualize…can come to life…can translate into any conceivable career path, geographical location, personal circumstances, political environment, and economic situation…having enumerable choices and pathways leading to the optimum successful life…at the pinnacle and peak of our intended destiny.

Jesus famously said that He came to earth…that we might have more abundant life (Jn. 10:10).

This more abundant life is based upon the strength of the foundation of a fulfilling relational walk-of-faith with Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit…and not on the satisfaction of the self-works of achieving the American Dream on our own…apart from God…and outside of a brilliantly unique, divine calling for our lives (Mk. 8:36).

God created within us this strong drive to succeed.

This actualizes into the optimum life when it is lived within a joint-venture walk of faith…with Jesus Christ…occupying His correct relational position as King and Ruler in our lives…utilizing His qualities of timeless foresight and divinely unselfish love…perfect in His elevated estimation of our value and worth…demonstrated in His self-sacrifice on the cross at Calvary for our sakes.

This is a key element of the real Christian life…as articulated for us throughout the biblical narrative stories of faith (Rom. 15:4).

A God-Composed Journey of Faith Transcends above the American Dream 1

“No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.”                                                                                               (2 Tim. 2:4)       

The American Dream…in modern terms might be defined by many people to include things like going to the finest college, earning an advanced degree, getting a high-paying job we enjoy working at, having a happy marriage, successfully raising a family, buying a large mansion in a great location, driving a Bentley or Aston Martin convertible automobile, having good friends, enjoying hobbies, playing sports, having good health and a long life, sending our children to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Oxford, or other prestigious colleges, having a healthy stock portfolio, taking European vacations, enjoying our grandchildren, and having a secure retirement.

What could outwardly appear…on the surface…to be more popularly sensible…more conventionally appealing as goals, dreams, and aspirations in life to aim for…than the list of things described above?

Yet the narrative stories of faith in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible are entirely different…in terms of goals, dreams, and aspirations…from any imaginable ancient version of the American Dream…translated back to a previous period in time.

This observation…however offensive and bewildering to the humanistic philosophy of some people…should at the very least stand-out as a waving red-flag to us within the modern marketplace of ideas…but we miss it…in part because most people concentrate on the worldly essentials of keeping our jobs, paying the bills, fulfilling our personal duties and obligations, and carving-out any remaining space for personal time…to have any space leftover to seriously contemplate entering by faith into a God-composed journey of faith…a personalized calling…written just for us (Mt. 6:33).

This is one of the unique facts about the Bible that argues for its divine origin…because this transcendence above popular conventional thinking…would never originate from popular conventional thinking.

This observation…counter-intuitively…is one of the most positive features of the biblical gospel message of God’s very real and rational offer to us of an alternative choice…into an elevated, purposeful life on a higher moral, ethical, and spiritual plane.

To become a willing enlistee of God into a divinely-composed journey of faith life-script…full of risk and adventure…actualizes into having the most profound meaning, purpose, and fulfillment imaginable for human beings.

Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn. 14:6)…not only because He is the Savior, Redeemer, and Light of the world…but also and of equal importance…Jesus Christ is the only person in all of existence who can compose divinely-crafted  journey of faith life-scripts for every believer in the Old Testament…in the New Testament…and for Christians today…that are an attractive, alternative option that transcends above popular conventionality…yet may encompass…along the way…some of the goals and outcomes of the otherwise commendable American Dream listed above.

One of the key biblical concepts that is still partially missing today in contemporary orthodox Christianity…that has not yet been fully recovered following the Protestant Reformation…is that the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible…have little or nothing at all to do with the American Dream…modern or ancient…as the primary thing to aim for in life.

The genuine reality of human life…the validation of our creation and existence…is not found within the autonomous individualism of a pursuit of the American Dream.

The true purpose of human life is found on the higher plane of God-composed journeys of faith life-scripts in pursuit of our created destinies.

The calling of Abraham…the “father of faith” as long ago in history as 2,200 B.C., recorded as beginning in the 12th chapter of Genesis…the first book in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament…as well as the callings of Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David…all the way through the Bible to the calling and ministry of the apostle Paul…are not anything like the America Dream as outlined above.

On the surface, this is a compelling evidence for the divine origin of these unconventional life-scripts.

As Abraham walks from the city of Haran to the Promised Land of Canaan…with each step he takes God is displacing whatever conventionally normal life Abraham might have lived in Haran…with a completely different, elevated life based not upon the American Dream…but upon an entirely unique walk of faith…that opens up the context in which to get to know the real living God on a personal basis.

Instead of becoming the city mayor of Haran, or becoming its international trade ambassador, or serving on the school board, or coaching an ancient version of a youth soccer team…and thereby exiting quietly from history as an unexceptional person living an unexceptional life…Abraham’s calling and life-mission as brilliantly composed by God…was to become the singular “father of faith” example of an elevated life.

This is the through-line theme of every biblical story of faith…repeated in unique variations-on-a-common-theme for the beneficial impact of successive generations…as the divinely created new normal for all relationships between people and the living God…starting with Abraham’s walk of faith…to our present day.

The Real Christian Life 2

This is precisely why God invented time in conjunction with the atomic particles, energy, and the laws of science at the Big Bang…so that we could experience the biblical faith of Hebrews 11:1…spread-out over time…so that we can learn the “hard way”…so that we can experientially learn by our mistakes and failures.

In this uniquely biblical reality, we maintain our free-will choice, but the program of salvation and the journey of faith life-scripts are entirely of God…as logically they must be…if godliness is to come into our lives.

Ephesians 2:8-9 reads: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

That not of yourselves…not of works…because human good-works cannot get us from one end of the spectrum-line…self-sovereignty…all the way over to the other end of the spectrum…God-sovereignty…that is the essential core feature of the real Christian life.

A functionally effective program for salvation that includes a God-composed journey of faith life-script…like that of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Peter, and Paul…to name only a few…must have these components of eternal security, free-will choice, the universal atonement of Christ (in the Old Testament looking forward in time to the coming of the Messiah), the innate capacity of people to be able to exercise faith or to reject God, and the all-important grace of God…to not only forgive our sins through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross…but to make allowances for our flawed performance within our individually scripted journeys of faith…thus removing out-of-the-picture entirely the concept of self-works earning our way to salvation.

Everyone can visualize a young father kneeling on the living room carpet…a few feet away from a chair upon which is standing their two-year old son or daughter…saying unto them: “jump into my arms, and I will catch you.”

After the son or daughter jumps the short distance and is caught into the outstretched arms of their father…laughing and gleefully shouting “do it again, Dad, do it again!”…not only has a fun new game been invented but a bond of trust has been strengthened between father and son or daughter…that Dad will catch me each time in this game when he says “jump” from the chair into his arms.

One important point here is that it is the father who invents this game.  The two-year old does not say: “Dad…I am going to stand at the front edge of this chair and jump…and you are going to catch me.”  All of the logistics and outcomes of this new game…of having fun but also building a relationship of trust…are premeditated within the creative mind of the loving father.

I cannot speak for Abraham as he journeys from Haran to Canaan…or Joseph as he works through his unofficial MBA training in Potiphar’s house and Pharaoh’s prison…or Moses as he walks with his brother Aaron toward Egypt to deliver the Israelites…or David when he approaches Goliath with his sling and stone…or Peter at his personal interview with Jesus on resurrection day…or Paul after he discovers on the road to Damascus that Jesus is the Messiah.

Anyone who has heard the voice of God in the Spirit in their calling…in some way or another senses an authority, a confidence, an assurance of certainty that God is someone I can trust and follow…even more importantly someone I can love…unlike anything else in all of human experience…as we should expect.

This is what see observe in the biblical narrative stories of faith…and it does not make for anything like accurate, human literary fiction.

Good human literary fiction is based upon conventional human experience.

But God inserting life-scripts having His higher ways and thoughts…displacing our ways in the process…is so unconventional it cannot be found anywhere in human literary fiction or anywhere in human experience…outside of the Bible.

The biblical narrative stories of faith are too complex, too sophisticated, too functionally integrated, and too creatively outside of the boundaries of normally conventional thinking to be the product of human literary imagination.

If following God was very similar to everyday normal life…then the God-track would not only be suspect as being a human invention…but it would offer very little benefit in terms of genuine separation, change, and hope for a new, transformed better life…compared to the self-sovereignty track of going our own way.

The more inexplicably implausible the creative origin of the biblical narrative stories of faith might be…by way of humanistic literary invention…in other words the larger the obvious gap between going our own way versus picking up our cross to follow Jesus Christ is…then the more information content, reformation impact, and change-agent value there is in a God-composed journey of faith life-script…designed not only to lead and guide us into all truth (Jn. 16:13) but also to establish a context wherein we can get to know God within a personal relationship…something that is entirely supernatural (Jn. 10:27-28, 11:25-26, 14:8-9).

The concept of split-second, instantaneous revelations and pronouncements by God…spanning the duration of a micro-second within the timeless environment of God (Isa. 46:9-10)…cannot by definition actualize into the first-hand experiences of the biblical faith of Hebrews 11:1…spread-out over the time intervals of “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”…within our dimension of time.

My mother used to say at breakfast on a cold winter morning before we headed off to school that “oatmeal will stick to your ribs.”

This is why God invented time.

This is why God invented journeys of faith life-scripts as the optimum vehicle for the discovery of the knowledge of good and evil…for every believer (Jer. 31:31-34).

The lessons learned first-hand through a journey of faith spread-out over time…will stick to our ribs for all eternity.

This is why a timeless God gives us the assurance of the eternal security of our salvation…before we enter into the risk of an adventure of faith (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13-14).

This is why a timeless God has already factored-in our mistakes and shortcomings into our adventure of faith…covered by God’s grace…not just at our initial acceptance of Christ and becoming spiritually born-again (Jn. 3:3-5)…but throughout our journey of faith…come what may (Eph. 2:8-10).

The Real Christian Life 1

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”                                    (1 Pet. 3:15)

This book is a series of short-length, stand-alone essays that start with the main theme that the biblical narrative stories of faith could not possibly be the product of human literary invention…but instead have a divine origin, composition, and intentional targeted purpose of the highest importance imaginable.

If this is true…and I think this can be convincingly shown to be true using commonsense logical reasoning…then the implications are enormous.

If God is the scriptwriter behind the detailed, biblical narrative stories of faith…from Abraham in the book of Genesis to Paul in the book of Acts…this gives us God’s perspective of what He thinks today is The Real Christian Life…what is productive, genuine discipleship.

How we best live our Christian lives…is powerfully connected to this one question of whether or not the biblical narrative stories of faith could be merely human literary invention…or instead could only come from the mind and heart of a God possessing divinely timeless foresight, brilliantly creative imagination, and a gift for proactive preplanning at the highest level of coordinated multi-tasking.

But before moving on to make commonsense arguments in more detail for the existence of God, the divine origin of the Bible, and how the biblical narrative stories of faith relate to the real Christian life today…in this Introduction I should disclose my theological biases and presuppositions…that have a direct bearing on the logical consistency and strength of my arguments.

I believe that born-again Christians have the full assurance of the eternal security of their salvation (1 Jn. 5:13; Phil. 1:6; Jn. 10:28-29)…through their free-will choice (Mk. 8:34-38; Jn. 4:14; Rev. 22:17) to accept Christ through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). 

This certainty is based upon their knowing (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 1:18) that they have accepted Jesus Christ by faith.

I believe that faith precedes salvation (Rom. 5:1; Acts 16:31; Eph. 1:13)…that upon hearing the gospel message (1 Cor. 15:1-4)…if we believe and accept Christ…then we are saved…and can never lose our salvation (Jn. 3:16).

I believe that the blood that Jesus Christ shed on the cross is the perfect atonement for the sins of mankind (Col. 2:10)…and that this atonement is offered freely to every person for them to either choose to accept or to reject (2 Cor. 5:14; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9; Jn. 1:11).

I believe that the concepts of predestination, election, divinely timeless foreknowledge, free-will choice, the capacity to believe, and the universal outreach of salvation…are all derived directly from scripture…and are brilliantly interwoven, adjudicated, balanced, and resolved…interpreted by God Himself…within the biblical narrative stories of faith.

God is the only person who could blend seemingly contradictory concepts together within the events and circumstances of the numerous biblical life-scripts of journeys of faith…bringing together the unmixable ingredients of God’s will, our free-will choice, God’s timeless foresight, and the intentionally designed benefits of our four dimensions of space and time…slowing events and circumstances down into short-term and long-term experiential lessons that lead the people of faith in the Bible…and modern Christians today…into the “all-truth” of John 16:13.

As I will argue many times in essays throughout this book, this is a compelling apologetic evidence for the existence of God and the truth of the Bible…because the novel and innovative quality of the biblical narrative stories of faith is too worldly unconventional to have originated from a humanistic worldview perspective.

This biblical interpretation has a direct and critical bearing upon the actualizing within our lives of the type and quality of a journey of faith described in the Bible…from Abraham through Paul…due to the high risk-level involved…if our salvation was not secure.

As a practical matter…no one in their right-mind would take the high risk to venture out into a journey of faith following a God-composed life-script…in which we cannot…by divine intention (2 Cor. 5:7)…see around the next bend in the upcoming corner or over the top of the next hill…as to how steep, perilous, or narrow the way may become…if by following this life-script our eternal salvation was placed in jeopardy.

God knows that no one would…or should…accept the risk of a biblical-style walk of faith…if our salvation was in the slightest way dependent upon our often flawed human performance over the course of our lives…if our salvation was dependent upon faith plus some additional measure of our good-works.

No ancient or modern Christian would step into their risk-filled, God-composed life-script…crafted after the biblical pattern of an Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Peter, or Paul…without the upfront assurance of the eternal security of their salvation.

This doctrinal issue bears directly upon the real Christian life…because clearly the biblical narrative stories of faith from Noah through Paul entail their assuming the highest imaginable risks upon first entering into their God-composed callings.

This all-important issue also illuminates a commonsense apologetic argument for the divine origin of the Bible…simply…that a God-composed journey of faith life-script is so foreign to worldly conventional thinking…and therefore by nature highly risk-filled in its reliance upon the good faith and character of God…that God is wisely offering us a safe-conduct upfront…through the blood of Jesus Christ…securing our eternal salvation…before we willingly agree to accompany Him out into the newness and novelty of a walk of biblical faith.

The Heart of the Debate 3

For Holy Spirit filled and empowered Christians during the tribulation, “ye shall be as gods” (Gen 3:5) does actually come true for human beings, but in the narrowly right way in divine loving self-sacrifice as patterned for us by Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary.

This unexpected outcome is to the eternal chagrin, consternation, and judgment of Lucifer the archangel who wanted to become god for all of the wrong reasons (Isa. 14:12-17; Rev 12:12).

God is so imaginatively creative He can bring the destructive words of the temptation in the Garden of Eden back full-circle upon Lucifer’s own head.  God pouring-out His divine power and grace in demonstration of self-sacrificing Christ-like love through end-times Christians would place an emphatic period at the end of the final chapter in the long story of human redemptive history.

Human efforts to create a better world are rife with failure and shortcomings.  The narrative stories of faith in the Bible are the only sure examples of success having eternal benefits.  When God joint-ventures with us in an adventure of faith we have the potential for large results on an unimaginable scale.

God has to initiate drastically enhanced worldwide circumstances one last time to attempt to break through the stubborn rejection of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.  For many people adversity is the only thing that brings focus to our shortcomings that leads to seeking heartfelt repentance toward God.  We therefore need God to set-up the precisely targeted conditions on earth whereby the task of salvation is completed and the church becomes the light of the world.

We need God’s divine help to finish the job at the end of the ages.

The end-times great tribulation is not about what we would like or prefer.  It is about God closing out the human story of redemption in the highest and best way possible according to the extremely tight specifications of the final journey of faith patterned for us in the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible.

It is about Immanuel…God with us…in the penultimate resolution in the pursuit of truth designed to benefit the people of God for all eternity.

It is the closing chapter of the story beginning with Abraham so long ago, of trusting God and letting go in a set of circumstances that divide truth from error in a way that is incomprehensible to the horizontally conventional world of skeptical unbelief.

The example of Paul aptly closes out this book.

In Acts 21, Paul is journeying toward Jerusalem for the last time.  Along the way, Holy Spirit inspired Christians forewarn Paul that he will face persecution, imprisonment, and possibly physical harm in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22-24, 21:10-14).

Paul is arrested in the temple, beaten by the populace, rescued by a Roman guard, almost interrogated by scourging, in danger of being “pulled to pieces” in the Sanhedrin, and threatened with death through an ambush of forty men lying in wait, having taken a vow not to eat until they have killed Paul.

Yet in Acts 23:11, just before Paul learns of the plot to kill him and he is moved to Caesarea for safety, Jesus appears to Paul in the night and says: “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.”

Jesus amazingly…and counter to all worldly conventional thinking… encourages Paul to “be of good cheer” in the midst of deadly opposition and the most unsettling of worldly events.  Paul goes on to witness before the Roman governor Felix, and King Agrippa and Bernice in Caesarea.  Paul then appeals to Caesar for a hearing in Rome, survives a shipwreck in route to Rome as a prisoner, writes his remaining four “pastoral” New Testament epistles, and is finally martyred by the Emperor Nero in Rome.

Is this example of the Apostle Paul the true foreglimpse of the selfless divine love that can go forward in the face of enormous opposition to accomplish the task of salvation for others through the enabling power of the “latter rain” of Holy Ghost evangelical fire?

Is a fully engaged Christian church on earth during some portion of the great tribulation the difficult but privileged calling that will define for all time the true nature and person of Jesus Christ the King of glory?

Is our blessed hope of Titus 2:13 the unbreakable assurance of Jesus with us…come what may?

God supplies Holy Spirit faith, power, and boldness when we need it (Dan. 3:16-18; Acts 4:8).  The world wants to sweep the issues of sin, repentance, and our decision regarding Jesus Christ under the rug.  People want to be distracted from these issues by the everyday concerns of the world.  But the upheaval of the end-times brings these issues to the surface in the same lethally unwelcome way that forced the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in the first century.

The cross element patterned for us in the journeys of faith recorded throughout the Bible, deserves our closest examination as we approach an understanding of upcoming end-times biblical prophecy.

A commendable bias of including the cross and the resurrection in our interpretation of scripture should become part of the knowledge, wisdom, and understanding we bring to our Christian worldview as end-times events begin to come into clear focus.

The cross in the end-times…of God brilliantly displacing our worldly conventional thinking with life-scripts beyond our imagination…is a huge issue.

God validating and authenticating His character and faithfulness is best discovered and demonstrated through the creative details of a God-composed adventure of faith.

The Cross in the End-Times is as large as any other issue at the close of human redemptive history.  The cross fully applied to our lives creates the most space for God to effectively work out His highest ways.

“Therefore be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Mt. 24:44).

The Heart of the Debate 2

What makes the end-times tribulation period unique is not the large volume of end-times prophetic information given to us in the Bible, or that our understanding of end-times prophesy becomes more clear by employing a literal interpretation of scripture as often as possible, or that a dispensational framework of interpretation allows for a confident placement of the rapture at the beginning of the tribulation.

What makes the end-times tribulation period unique in history is the drastic change in the context of the world environment, introducing judgment plagues, the worldly appealing initial introduction of the Antichrist, unprecedented worldwide persecution of Christians, and a monumental last-ditch outreach of the gospel message of salvation to the people who are still undecided.

What drastically changes during the tribulation is an extreme environment of narrowly focused, life-and-death issues and goals, in which every Christian alive on the earth will become instantly transported into the reality of an adventure of faith.

When Joel 2:28-29 commences, every Spirit-born, twenty-first century Christian on earth overnight becomes a “called-out” person, no matter who or what they previously were.  When the latter rain of Joel 2:28-29 and Acts 2:16-21 begins, every Christian on earth will become a called, chosen, and Spirit-anointed vessel for service, similar to what Jeremiah experienced and describes in Jeremiah 20:9.

An argument can be made that Christianity itself is based upon a violent and irreconcilable difference of opinion in first-century Jerusalem regarding the nature of the messiah.  Christianity is born out of a lethally violent disagreement.  Our salvation is based upon God’s working within a massively destabilizing first-century social upheaval and religious crisis of identity, truth, and right living.

This crisis produced redemption and salvation for countless millions of new-covenant believers down through the twenty centuries leading up to our present time.  All of the first-century early church participated fully in these events, according to their individual callings, abilities, and Holy Spirit empowerment.

God has shown us in the Bible that He is able to stand alongside us in the fiery furnace, in the lion’s den, and on the challenging road to evangelizing the Mediterranean world in the first-century.  As Spirit-led Christians, when faced with adversity, we do not fold up our tents and go home.

Godly men and women in the Bible, and Spirit-led Christians today, do not back down in the face of a challenge.

In Mark 4:35-41, when the disciples finally wake up the sleeping Jesus, and rather pointedly ask Him whether or not He cares if they perish in the storm at sea, Jesus counters by saying “Why are ye so fearful?  How is it that ye have no faith?”

Jesus is the Almighty Son of God and Creator of the universe.  Jesus cannot perish in a small boat in peril of a strong storm on a lake.  The Christian church can follow Jesus anywhere, even into the dreaded great tribulation for a few years…if need be.

Spirit-born Christians have the Holy Spirit residing inside them.  Nothing on earth can overturn the Christian who is rooted and grounded in faith in Jesus Christ (Rev. 21:7).

Luke 21:36 can be applied to any appropriate time during the seven-year tribulation.  The fulfillment of Luke 21:36…does not have to occur before or at the beginning of Daniel’s seven-year tribulation period…in order to be a blessing, a relief, and a hope-filled motivation for continued watchfulness.

The Holy Spirit, living within the Christian, is not afraid of the great tribulation.  Jesus Christ securely enthroned in our hearts is not intimidated by Lucifer or the Antichrist.  The Bible tells us from beginning to end that God has complete mastery over spiritual opposition.  This is an extremely important concept to grasp as we approach the upcoming end-times events.

As Spirit-born Christians, if we find ourselves someday soon in the midst of Daniel’s end-times tribulation period, this means God pre-destined us for these times, and this also means we have the capacity through the power of the Holy Spirit and the mind of Christ to step up to the challenge at hand.

If we find ourselves in the great tribulation, Jesus Christ will be there with us.

The tribulation can therefore be alternately viewed as the opportunity for the “ordinary” Christian to become a great hero of the faith.  Instead of something fearful to avoid, the Holy Spirit empowered participation for a period of time in the last great harvest of souls, amidst the tribulation, should be viewed as a privilege of inestimable value.

To be chosen and called…to “be purified, and made white, and tested” according to Daniel 12:10, is no small thing in the grand expanse of the history of the saints of God.

To experience the total abandonment of self-interest and self-preservation, lost through the loving outreach component of the power of the Holy Spirit like Stephen experienced before the Sanhedrin (Acts 6:15), is to become Christ-like in the penultimate demonstration of character…the sacrifice of the cross.

To overcome the “accuser of our brethren” by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of our testimony, and that we loved not our lives unto the death (Rev. 12:10-11), is something that will bring victorious closure to human redemptive history that would endure for an eternity.

The Heart of the Debate 1

“And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself even as he is pure.”                                                                                         (1 Jn. 3:3)

As I venture out into my neighborhood and community, the prospects for massive Christian revival in the very near future have not improved much.

People are still going about their self-absorbed pursuits of obtaining material wealth and possessions, trying to display the prideful outward appearances of their merit and worthiness through the measuring scale of financial success, and showing little or no openness to their need for God in their lives.

People rebuff attempts by Christians to share the gospel message with them, as if this outreach of love was a direct personal insult to their ability to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining.

Accepting Jesus Christ into their lives means to many people a retreat into character weakness, having to lean upon God’s help “as a crutch.”

Without some cosmically drastic negative change in this outward worldly environment, the status quo of difficult evangelical outreach in developed countries would continue on its current slow pace right up to the very edge of the end of time.

I believe it will take major acts of God, as described in the biblical end-times prophecies, to create the quantum shift in the world environment that will be required to shake-up people’s current comfort zone to become receptive to God’s final outreach of redemptive love.

The current context of life issues must be turned upside-down for people to replace their self-centered pursuits with a serious consideration of the offer of a new eternal life through Jesus Christ.

To reach deep into the self-centered group of people currently going about their own way without any regard for God, it will take some drastic shake-up in the world’s social, political, economic, and/or natural environment to get their attention.

When this occurs, what are we actually describing?  Are we then talking about the beginning of the actual seven-year tribulation, or are we looking at a series of preliminary warm-up events on a gradual upward incline of chaos and upheaval leading up to the start of the tribulation?

We cannot control the upcoming natural disasters and judgment plagues of “biblical proportion” that are described in the Bible to occur in the tribulation period.

These great tribulation events will topple proud and arrogant people off the pedestals of their false confidence of being gods on the thrones of their destinies.  Some people will fall to their knees and cry out to God to save them amidst the unprecedented chaos.  Others will continue to shake their fists at God in stubborn defiance.

The great end-times message is that we are not gods.  We were never created to be our own gods.  We have no business being a part of Lucifer’s rebellion against God.

The basis of Lucifer’s recruitment of mankind into his rebellion was a lie.

This end-times message is not new.  What will be new in the end-times is that the world will be coming apart at the seams.  What will be so powerfully new in the last days is the close correlation of this message to repent and step down off our thrones…with the realization of our utter helplessness to affect or control the outward manifestation of catastrophic natural events of a magnitude entirely new to the planet (Mt. 24:21).

The end-times message will closely correspond to unfolding world events.  The upheaval of the tribulation period will compliment and accentuate the end-times message, that we are not gods and we are not self-sufficient kings.

The end-of-time tribulation will set-up upon the earth an environment that will clarify, with powerful finality, the separation between the limits of our capacity as human beings…and the role that Almighty God must responsibly assume in the physical, ethical, and moral management of the universe.

Counter-intuitively, the most loving and thoughtful thing that God can do for us is to allow this temporary and disposable world to fall apart at the end of redemptive history, to reveal to us for one last emphatic time the catastrophic result of our thinking that we are gods capable of living independently apart from Him…in spiritual rebellion.

At first glance, therefore, what may seem like only a surface difference in timing between a pretribulation rapture and the thesis of this book, that the rapture will more likely occur a few years part-way into the tribulation, now separates into two very distinct outcomes.

A pretribulation rapture removes the Christian church off the earth and out of any possible participation in the momentous events of the tribulation.  A pretribulation rapture erases any possibility of Immanuel…God with us…in the midst of issues that will define God’s claim to rightful leadership as King and Ruler…for the remainder of eternity.

But an as-yet un-raptured Christian church on the earth during at least some of Daniel’s final seven-year tribulation, utilizes the unprecedented narrow gate environment imposed upon the entire planet, creating the biblically patterned context for “called, chosen, and faithful” commitment to service for each and every Christian alive on the earth.

The unprecedented combination of the total loss of any option for normalcy as a result of worldwide persecution and the start of the judgment plagues…with the selfless fervor of evangelism empowered by the pouring out of the Spirit upon all flesh according to Joel 2:28-29…enlists and transforms even initially reluctant Christians into life-and-death service to Jesus Christ that they will be grateful for, for all eternity.

The pattern of the cross of Christ contained integrally in the adventures of faith…recorded throughout the Bible…lies at the heart of this debate.

The Cross in the End-Times 2

One Important Lesson at the End of the Ages

One of the most difficult things to do in all of human experience is to keep our composure when we are unjustly or inaccurately criticized.

Our natural inclination is to strike back in hostile anger when someone criticizes us for unjustified reasons.

Jesus is unjustly crucified as a malefactor between two thieves on crosses…when in fact He is acting as the perfectly sinless, atoning Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for the shortcomings of other people (Lk. 23:41).

But Jesus on the cross is operating at the pinnacle of self-sacrificing righteousness.  His performance occurs within the context of the most derisive and unjustly demeaning circumstances imaginable.

Yet Jesus kept His composure throughout His ministry, His trial, and the crucifixion (Lk. 9:55-56).  He did not call down tens of thousands of avenging angels from heaven in righteous indignation while on the cross.

He did not even defend Himself, His honor, or His complete innocence at His night-time trial (Mk. 14:61).

Only divine love…motivated and empowered for a higher purpose…can produce this lofty character trait of absolutely perfect composure in the face of wrongful accusations…patiently born for the benefit of other people.

Only a future-sighted spiritual vision elevated above the horizontally conventional in the present now…could possibly place the needs of others high enough above our own reputation and worldly standing to inspire and maintain self-composure.

Matthew 24:7-14 seems to imply that this is one of the lofty character traits that will be required of end-times Christians to be able to navigate successfully through some portion of the great tribulation without being offended (Mt. 13:21) and falling away (2 Thes. 2:3).

During the period of time when the latter rain of the Spirit of God is poured-out upon the earth (Joel 2:28-29), enabling heroic evangelism and self-sacrificing good works by Christians around the globe, the universal hatred toward Christians prophesied in Matthew 24:9 would be as unjustified as was the rejection of Jesus of Nazareth in the first-century.

The great irony of a successful journey of faith that produces elevated aspirations, morals, and attitudes is that this creates the separation and difference from other people still living in worldly conventional thinking.

The positive change that enables Spirit-born Christians to have something valuable to offer to the world in terms of salvation and transformation…is ironically the very thing that produces the unpopularity of being different and not fitting in.

The farther Christians get away from being worldly-minded through their God-composed and guided walks of faith, the more Christians have to offer but the less they will fit-in and be accepted (Acts 22:22).

End-times Christians must obtain through hard-earned experience the elevated vision to be able to love and pray for our enemies and those who despitefully use us (Matthew 5:43-48).  Genuinely wanting the salvation and beneficial transformation of those disagreeable people in our lives to the point that we can disregard opposition, offensive behavior, and hard speech toward us (Mt. 5:11-12), and push forward in prayer and right responses on our part, is a divine character trait.

Every Christian who has been challenged, exercised, and chastened in this area of maintaining our self-composure in response to unjustified criticism and unfair accusation, knows how unreachable this character trait is in our fallen, natural-man thinking.

Yet Matthew 24:7-14 tells us clearly that the whole world will hate Christians in the last-days and that many will be offended and the love of many will grow cold.

Christians cannot possibly learn and exhibit this spiritually mature behavior at the pinnacle of Christ-like character…without experiencing first-hand the challenging events of the end-times.

The end-times tribulation is the capstone course in Christian character, the final seminar lesson-plan in discovering the real truth behind the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:5).

If end-times Christians can rise to the challenge and put into practice unselfish sacrificial love, this divine character trait will shine in brightness above the egocentric, false light of the fallen covering cherub Lucifer.

This brings the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden full-circle.  It exposes the lie of the character assassination of God in the Garden of Eden, and accomplishes this through the very same agents…human beings…who were originally so easily deceived.

God’s divine love shining through mature and experienced Christians…sacrificing themselves unselfishly for the salvation of others… through their free-will voluntary decision to follow and obey Jesus Christ in a journey of faith even into the spiritual battlefield of the great tribulation…is God’s winning demonstration of the power of thoughtful and giving love over the obstinacy of self-centered rebellion in all of its forms.

This final argument can only be forever decisively articulated through a full assembly of the Christian church in battle array on earth, clothed in the spiritual armor of Ephesians 6:12-17, and motivated by the divine quality of love exhibited by Jesus Christ at Calvary.

The Christian church gets the long-awaited final victory through Jesus Christ, a hard-earned lesson of inestimable value that will last for all eternity.

This great final victory involves a willingness to embrace change at the deepest, most profound level.  Humility produced now through divinely guided training, which is liberated from the cares of this world and is committed to uplifting Christ to the world even at the potential cost of our lives, is the authoritative pattern of the narrative stories of faith in the Bible.

Radical change in the outward world environment, having the loss of the expectation for worldly conventional normalcy combined with the contrast of Spirit-filled, non-worldly minded Christians not going along with the horizontally conventional, temporal message of the Antichrist, will separate and divide the eternal issues of right and wrong like never before.

The willingness to follow Jesus into the uncertain risk of radical change may be one of the required ingredients in the end-times…needed to expose finally and forever the man of perdition of 2 Thessalonians 2:3…aptly and decisively bringing to a close the final chapter in human redemptive history.